Having recently emerged from a long labor, I am again amazed at how like childbirth is the creative endeavor.
The creative endeavor in question was a new book. Not that kind of book, I hasten to assure my friends and relatives who are published authors. My speciality is Shutterfly photo books—primarily for our grandchildren—with titles like The Art of Frederic Edwin Church, The Cantons of Switzerland, and Grandma and Dad-o Visit the Gambia. But if my artistic efforts are on a small scale, they are nonetheless artistic efforts, and extraordinarily like that highest of creative works of which mankind is capable, the co-creation with God of a unique human being.
As usual, this book began with nothing but a joyful idea and a due date: I had an offer for a "free" (pay only for shipping & tax) Shutterfly book with an expiration date of June 30. At that point I had no idea what the book would be about, just that it would be. The project perked along happily in the back of my mind as I occasionally thought about possibilities and laid the groundwork. Ah, the early days, when the delivery date seems so far away! I had plenty of time, and expected an easy "pregnancy."
As happens all too often, life took some unexpected turns, some good, some bad. Complications developed.
We had planned a major trip in May and June, which always plays havoc with my projects, but in this case there were two time periods in which I thought I could count on quiet time for some intense work. During our New Hampshire visit, all of the family but me were to have gone on a four-day camping trip, leaving me alone in the house to create. Later, during the Connecticut portion of our trip, we were to be there a full week before the main event, and our plans were simple: Porter—talk with his dad, work around the house, and play board games with his sister; Linda—work on this project! Almost two weeks of very little else to do? Surely I could accomplish much!
Yeah, right. First monkey wrench? Not long before the start of the trip, Porter experienced what turned out to be an intense sciatica attack. It was a miracle he was able to lie down flat for the MRI—which showed that his spine is a ticking bomb, ready to cripple him whenever the bulge hits the sciatic nerve. Despite this, we prepared for the trip in between medical necessities, and had some unexpected company (of the best kind!); in the end he was feeling well enough to want to make the trip. I wasn't so sure, but by another miracle he managed to make the long, long drive, only stopping more frequently than usual to rest and stretch. We arrived in New Hampshire only one day later than planned, and the camping trip was the following day! At that point, I felt I needed to be wherever Porter was, especially in a camping situation. We both decided to go, and it was great fun.
But there went the first writing session.
The second one was obliterated through two factors: (1) Porter's 92-year-old father became ill, and (2) we decided to bring two of our grandchildren with us when we left New Hampshire. So that week was spent on other activities—those more important than writing and those more fun. That's "fun" in the general sense—I find the creative process immensely satisfying, and yes, fun (most of the time), but not many agree.
When finally home (though not back to normal), I realized my due date was rapidly approaching and something had to be done about it. We all know that induced labors are more intense and painful than natural labors, and so it was in this case. Soon I was in my least favorite part of the book-creating process: wading through huge piles of data, making painful decision after painful decision necessary to make it all manageable. When the pain was at its worst I was ready to give up due to frustration and exhaustion. Of course, I was then in "transition," the point where laboring women are ready to jump out of windows—or defenestrate their husbands.
On to the blissful agony of the "pushing" stage, where the labor pains finally make obvious progress and the end is in sight. I had created the covers—for some reason, having the covers done makes everything else seem possible. I was on a roll. Only the necessities of life stopped me. I love this stage! The work was still tedious and painful: the process of making a photo page consists mainly in deciding what not to use, reluctantly casting aside photo after photo that just won't fit. To use another analogy, you can't make a sculpture without removing the wood or the stone, and the closer you get to the finished work, the more important and delicate each removal is. But oh the thrill as each page fell into place! Normally I'm good for nothing but sleep after nine o'clock at night. I blew past that mark, unheeding. Rarely do I work as efficiently and as effectively as I did that night, despite the lateness of the hour. Nine, ten, eleven, midnight—the hours passed and the pages slowly and steadily fell into place. It seemed nothing would stop me.
But finally, at 3:30 a.m., something did. My Shutterfly deal expired at midnight Pacific Time, and I still had four pages to go. Often, when I've barely beaten a deadline (never this late before!), once the deadline is actually past, Shutterfly will extend the offer by one more day. Not so this time, when I could have used it. By 3:30 it was clear that there was no point in pushing myself any further. I had another offer almost as good that didn't expire for another week. I went to bed at an hour very near to the time I often arise in the morning. Not since the birth of my firstborn had I worked through that much of the night.
The next day I was glad I had gone to bed, albeit for what turned out to be only a couple of hours' sleep, because there was still most of a day's worth of labor ahead of me. Of course, my sleep-deprived brain wasn't as efficient as it had been the night before! But I made it, and—after much more proofreading and editing than if I had finished the book at 2:55 the previous night—I clicked on the "Order" button and the baby was born!
And here's where the childbirth analogy breaks down. I won't actually have the book in my hands for at least a week, for one thing, and for another: with this particular book the pain is gone and the sleepless nights are done.
I chose the subject of this book for two reasons. One: I think it will bring delight to Porter's father, who could use some sunshine in his life right now. Two: since I could make it with no text, and I had plenty of appropriate photos at hand, I thought I could do the job quickly. I even thought of trying Shutterfly's feature where they take your photos and make them into a nice book for you. But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I have my standards, and I must tell the story myself. So be it.