A Manuscript, a Menorah, and Stella Adler

Stella Adler circa 1937

Stella Adler circa 1937

Since I wrote my last blog post my life has turned up side down. I’m sitting at my computer 13 pounds heavier, on mood stabilizers and working with a copyeditor’s mark up of a biography I spent the last thirteen years fretting over. And fretting is the right word. Yes, the book has been my best friend, but also the bane of my existence.

Although over a decade has passed working on this one book, I did not spend all that time writing it. I did spend a lot of time trying to grow up. The book was my salvation, tucked away while I landed that interview with De Niro or Bogdanovich, while I awaited the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (4 years), while I awaited (in between Fibro flares) the energy to come back  so I could get out of bed, while I awaited Stella’s Papers to be archived at the University of Texas, while I awaited the passing of the heartbreak of the “one that got away,” while I awaited the birth of my first son, while I awaited a literary agent to come along and shepherd the book into existence.

In the back of my mind, there was always this: if I die before I publish the biography, who is going to know how to put it together (my computer files are not very organized) and publish it? Which vied with a worry of equal preoccupation: when will I feel this manuscript is great? Neither of these concerns, however, competed with the comfort the book gave me knowing one day it would be published. That was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Drama Mask by Zakhren

Drama Mask by Zakhren

And now, supposedly, it’s here and my life has turned up side down. I have dealt with what the American Medical Association calls Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) since puberty, which has sometimes made me feel as if I were going bat shit (it’s like PMS on steroids). It has progressively worsened as I age. Almost one month ago I began having symptoms of irritability, which although not foreign to me and I chalked up to PMDD, quickly escalated to rage. I had no patience with grocery lines, driving, folding clothes, and worse of all, my five year old. The rage cycled with racing thoughts and then sudden sobbing. After 10 days, I was put on “mood stabilizers,” a drug I later learned is an anticonvulsant, and is used off label to treat manic-depression. Within 5 days on the medication, the rage quieted, the crying ended and I was “myself” again.

A month prior to this episode, for lack of a better word, my mother had come to live with us so I could help her figure out why her health was languishing. While under deadline to get the first version of my manuscript to the publisher by October 1, I was also scheduling and taking my mother to doctor’s appointments, administering her medication, assessing her response to new medications prescribed, and trying to keep my 5 year old from agitating her already riddled nerves. After three weeks without an answer as to why my mother’s physical and mental health were collapsing , and a week late for my deadline, she left my house to go home because she had become paranoid that my siblings and I were trying to “run her life.”

All this to say, I don’t doubt that my episode was at least in part caused by the mounting stress I was under while also working against a book deadline and “building my author’s platform.” I was bound and determined to revamp my website, build an email list, make a book trailer, and research every podcast, blog, television and radio show that would be interested in Stella Adler’s life. In fact, that list of things to do is ongoing and growing. The book trailer, it turns out, features clips with copyright in question so my publisher can’t put it on their website, which means I’ll have the same trouble elsewhere.

flying letterPresently, and this is what I’m getting at, a week ago I received the copyeditor’s mark up of the manuscript I finally turned in a week after its deadline. I have two weeks to review, answer, and edit the copyeditor’s work. For those of you who don’t know, a copyeditor is not looking at story structure, pacing, tension, and all those indispensable components that make a book “great.” That would be the job of a developmental editor. The copyeditor edits for grammar, punctuation and consistent style.

As I’m reading my book, in its most complete form to date, I feel a lull somewhere. I can’t figure out exactly what is causing it or even exactly where it is, but there’s something I’m not satisfied with and so my thought process is: after 13 years dedicating my life to this one book I am not only going to launch it without a proper “platform,” but it isn’t going to be “great.” I feel I need a developmental edit, but the publisher has set a release date, and come Friday I need to get the manuscript back to the copyeditor to reflect the final “edits.”

But the clincher, the clincher is this: it’s that time of the month again. It has come a week early. My husband is exhausted with me. He also wants to take a family photo tomorrow for holiday greeting cards.  A photo? Are you kidding? My face has broken out, my world-view dark, my hair is dirty, and I’m bloated. These mood stabilizers aren’t touching the PMDD. Wednesday I go to visit my obstetrician to see about a hysterectomy. That’s how bad it is.

This is where I stand. I stand here on mood stabilizers, 13 pounds overweight and feeling like a second rate writer with serious drama in her life. Where do I go from here?

My second-hand menorah (the photo is my mother as a baby)

My second-hand menorah (the photo is my mother as a baby)

Okay, I can’t end this post on that note, although it was tempting. I actually do have an idea of what to do next. Right now, I’m going to walk my dog and get some perspective. Then, I’m going to do something I’ve never done in my life. My husband is Jewish and I have felt Jewish since I was a girl (that’s another story). It’s Hanukkah. Earlier today on a writing break I decided we needed a menorah. But it’s Saturday so all the shops that sell menorahs were closed. I finally found a used one at a thrift store.

When I get back from walking the dog, I’m going to light those four candles. I think that would have made Stella happy.


5 responses to “A Manuscript, a Menorah, and Stella Adler

  1. Sheana, powerful stuff here in this blog. I would say let it all go and just accept the copy editor’s changes and take care of you but you are the book. It eventually will come out, people will buy it and whatever interest they have in Stella will be theirs to take away. I love you and would like to see you just relax and be able to let it fly. You have done the work now think about your own life and move to new things. Take a rest. Enjoy the ride now.

  2. Wow Sheana! I fee, for you girl, what turmoil you must feel to live such medical problems and then so much stress to boot! Oh the book, I can empathize. I’ve had a mountain of hurdles in an effort to launch my book this week since last week didn’t cut it and I don’t see it happening this week. I know about self-imposed deadlines albeit, as we cannot continue without deadlines to keep up progression. Since this is your blog and not mine, I’ll spare you my agro. Just want you to know you are not alone and it’s great to be able to write about things to let out some steam and perhaps know that there are people out there routing for you! 🙂

  3. Um, that would be feel and rooting, ahem 🙂

  4. Thank you for comments Madge and Debbie. Everyone keeps saying “let it go,” so I guess that’s what I need to do.

  5. I agree with Madge and Debbie, you’ve put sooo much into this book, and since I’ve known you and your writings for a long time, I know for a fact its a great story, so its time to let it go. Stop being your hyper-critical self 🙂 Finalize the edits and leave it up to the god of books…..time to focus on yourself and family.

    ps – love the menorah and have always felt the Jewish in you 🙂

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