I've been struggling lately. I left my full-time job last September to do some consulting projects that exciting me. The risk, I knew full well, was that when they ended in a few months, I could be left with nothing. However, I justified the decision by noting that I could also spend more time working on the book I want to write about my grandfather, which requires extensive research at libraries and institutions with limited hours. Also, I hoped I might find a meaningful full-time job. The economy laughed in my face on the consulting and full-time employment dreams, and then writer's block spit on me. Then last Friday I had lunch with a former school mate. She studied fiction, and although we knew each other through weekend courses and mutual friends, we had never really discussed our work. She was intrigued by my book project. "Have you considered writing it as a hybrid fiction-nonfiction book?" she asked. I told her that I had, since it was clear that I would never get the full amount of information necessary to craft a compelling story, but that I didn't know how to handle it. She suggested alternating chapters. I took her suggestion and filed it near the front of the information storage tank that serves as my brain.*
On Wednesday, I went to the New York Public Library to read about book about Warsaw between the two world wars, since that is where and when a good chunk of my grandfather's missing story takes place. I knew that I was losing it when the following sentence made me laugh for a good two hours: "The decades of Russian rule had seriously retarded the development of a hospital system able to meet the needs of [Warsaw]." Aside from that, I learned a lot and was particularly pleased that the book mentioned the specific challenges facing Warsaw's Jewish community and their accomplishments. (Anyone who denies that Poland has a history of anti-Semitism really should look at the laws passed over time, including one specifically granted full rights to all minorities except Jews, but that is another topic. And I am not saying that all Poles are anti-Semites because there are many, many people who are not.)
All of this lolled around in the primordial ooze of my mind. By Wednesday evening, a structure for the book emerged: -Part I will be fiction, set in Warsaw from 1927 (when my grandfather's father died) to 1939 (when he left Warsaw). I will use the few facts I have and, well, make up a story about them in the context of history. -Part II will be memoir, set in Chicago from 1983-1995. I will write about the relationship I had with my grandfather. -Part III will be fiction, set in Poland and the USSR from 1939 (when my grandfather arrived in Bialystok, only to be arrest and deported to Russia) to 1946 (when he was repatriated to Poland). Again, I will use the facts I have and then fill in the rest in a historical context. -Part IV will be memoir, set in New York from 2004 to the present. I will write about my quest to find out what happened to my grandfather's family, including some trips that I made to Paris, Tel Aviv, and Warsaw.
OK, so I said it, so now I need to do it. I'm terrified. I'm terrified that this will be yet another false start. I'm terrified to write fiction, which I have not done since I was in junior high (see: Always, the YA novel I wrote in 8th grade). I'm terrified to get the details (like what people ate at Rosh Hashanah dinner in 1939 or what they wore to a funeral in 1927 and then had at the shiva) wrong. I'm terrified to write a story that has nothing to do with the actual life someone led. I'm terrified to fail.
But I'm also excited, maybe more excited than I have been before (see: fear of false starts), and I'm optimistic. For the first time in ages, I wrote all day and I loved it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. As they say,** sometimes when one door closes, a window opens up the tiniest bit to let in some fresh air so you don't suffocate.
*Powered, as I have mentioned before, by a hamster named Maurice who runs on a wheel. **Note: Whenever I say "as they say," I am making up the following aphorism.