I’m not one to look back at, wax nostalgic over or live in the past. If I’ve done it once and didn’t particularly enjoy it (or him) there’s a very good chance I’m not doing it (or him) again. There are always far more interesting prospects for the future to think about or plan for to keep me occupied.
Yet 12 months ago, I wasn’t so sure. I was in a dry spell, trying hard to create sparks of any kind by lighting wet matches to my stagnant life. It was completely surrounded by water. Like many people in Florida, I had purchased my home during the real estate boom and put more than half down. Seven years and 84 mortgage payments later, the value of my house had plummeted to less than half its original value. You do the math. It's the stupid economy, not the economy, stupid. I could have opened my front door and walked in any direction and purchased another house in my neighborhood for less than my down payment seven years earlier. But I still would have been living in Florida, which I was desperately trying to leave. I just couldn’t figure out how without walking away and starting over.
365 days ago, I decided to tackle the invisible monster of my life and seriously work on my memoir. I had an agent in wait and an editor at the ready. Considering my first draft (all 176 pages of it) had been lost in the great MacBook crash of May 2010, I took it as a sign that I should start from scratch. Instead of attempting to rewrite what had devastatingly disappeared (Steve Jobs, if you happen to find it, please consider magically making it reappear), I approached my memoir with a renewed vision and angle: I was going to write my way out of Florida and incorporate it into the story.
This premise may seem implausible, but I’ve had some experience with this concept. In my 20’s, I wrote my way into Athens, Greece (via Cairo, because that’s the more exciting route to take) and ended up becoming a lyricist for EMI Records as result. I wrote my way into a storybook life in the south of France without ever publishing a single word and wrote myself out of it nearly a decade later to move to Paris, hoping for a different outcome. Apparently, someone or something else was writing my immediate future and the edited version of me had to make some choices.
When I relocated back to the states a few months shy of 9/11 and settled in Florida, I would drive by the offices of the local newspaper and think to myself that before long, I would be writing for them. A few months later, I was given my own column and became a restaurant critic. I had an editor who took great pleasure in trying hard to define my writing as it was not rather than seeing (or reading) me for who I was. Never trust an editor who uses the word, “gendre”. Just saying.
In 2005, two hurricanes in less than three weeks devastated our region, yet I still lived to write about it and them. An unfortunate restaurant review cured me of wanting to express an opinion in writing ever again. So I did what the average person in the worst economy would never think of doing to make a living. I took up painting instead. I never said it was a sane idea, but I knew that nobody could take a big red pen to my creativity. Just a year and half and 150 paintings later, I had my first solo exhibition in Chicago. If I couldn’t write my way out of Florida, I could surely paint my way to somewhere else.
24 x 36 Acrylic on Plexiglass
Patricia A. Smith 2010
But a funny thing happened on my way to my brillant new career. Galleries across the country began closing and those that remained in business minimized their risk and expenses by showing artists whose work didn’t require expensive shipping. Florida was not exactly my art market and paid freelance writing opportunities were becoming fewer. The economy may have temporarily painted my life into a corner but my creativity would not allow it to stay there. It's a formidable opponent.
As I started to write my memoir for the second time, I was approached with a freelance project. What started as recipe editing quickly evolved into my becoming the co-author with Two Star Michelin Chef Josiah Citrin of Melisse Restaurant and relocating to Los Angeles to complete his first cookbook. I look back at my double writing life at that time and see the beginning of that book with emails from last year when recipes were sent in small batches. I read chunks of abandoned ideas and text from my memoir, hundreds of versions of single sentences and the thousands of recipe revisions that followed. In less than six months, there was a cross-country move and learning that you can put just about anything in storage except your creativity.
As far as the memoir is concerned, I guess it’s not quite ready for primetime. When I do eventually get around to writing it, there’s a good chance I’ll call it “Necessity Breeds Reinvention” because my life has proven this to me more than once (and I’ve already bought the domain name). For the time being, I’ve written my way into something that I’m not quite ready to write my way out of. And people are suddenly interested in my artwork once again. Go figure.
What a difference a year makes.