Last Sunday, I finished a life work. I mean, finished it to my satisfaction. It’s done – as I always hoped it could be.
Some years back, I had published an earlier version of this memoir under a different title. My attitude toward the present version is markedly different to what it was toward my story’s first appearance in book form. Then, what I hoped was that the world would understand and accept me.
The vindication I looked for from outside did come, in a measure, from the people who counted most for me as justifiers. A tough-minded philosopher I greatly respected, whom I privately called “the prince of Australian materialists” and who – as a materialist — shared none of my beliefs, wrote comparing the book to Augustine’s and Rousseau’s classic Confessions, adding, “Has any woman ever done this?” A writer for whom I have the highest regard wrote that the book would take its permanent place among Bildungsromans (coming-of-age novels). The thief of my innocence wrote back in French that reading it had made him “better, or [more candidly] less bad.”
Otherwise, in the world at large, it sank like a stone. My editor told me that the publisher had done absolutely nothing for the book, so I should not take that as a measure of how the new version would fare. Still, my sense of frustration at that time was tremendous.
With the present version, it’s different. I no longer feel that I’m awaiting validation from future readers. Not that I’m indifferent to how readers may respond. Not at all.
What I feel is that the meaning I was seeking is what I have found. The book can shed light on life – what life is about — for others too, and that is its purpose. Marcel Proust wrote a many-volume work whose overarching title was (in French) In Quest of Lost Time. His last volume, Proust called, The Time Found. If I were to come up with a similar title for my book, tying its different parts together, I would go from, In Quest of Lost Sense to The Sense Saved. The book reads like a novel (though it’s all true) but I believe it’s a teaching tool. It’s instructive.
With so serene a confidence in what I had achieved, I asked a top-of-the-line literary agent if he would take a look at the book with an eye to representing it. After a couple of days, he emailed back that he can’t sell memoirs unless they Tell All about celebrities (e.g., what a ghastly mommy that glamorous movie star was) or else have some uniquely horrible experience to share.
I think the spiritual journey of which I tell includes chapters pretty uniquely horrible but, unfortunately, I had a pretty happy childhood.
Of course, no matter how serenely “above” caring about the world’s opinion you may think you are, any rejection hits like a torpedo amidships.
So what do I really think about the (possibly) long long trail awinding between where I stand now and the right place of publication for Confessions of a Young Philosopher?
Oddly, I still approach that long passage with confidence.
The way to the destination
is part of the destination.