It was only when Russell Smith at Dundurn Press asked me to try turning my copious pandemic Facebook posts into a book (These Days Are Numbered) that my conception for the posts started to shift from “what do I think right now?” to “what story have I been living for these past two years?” to eventually, “what is the story I have been telling for these past few years?”
It’s not that I made anything up—I’m a pretty honest person, nearly to a fault. But over months of posting about whatever I felt like, and never posting about anything I wasn’t interested in, a story emerged that was the truth but not the whole truth. What did I omit? Oh, the usual things. Who mulls over the hours spent on dishes, searching for a lost tax document, Wikipedia reading, hair-brushing, dinner scorching, computer rebooting. These parts of life happen—no one ever claims they don’t—but they disappear from even the most realistic of narratives. Like Ramona Quimby bemoans, we never see in books when the construction worker goes to the bathroom. They aren’t trying to convince us they don’t use the toilet, it just doesn’t appear front of mind when they construct the story. The mind edits by forgetting, and so even in what I felt was 100% uncensored truth-telling mode, I edited in the sense that I bothered to tell certain things and let others sit in the runoff gutters of my brain.
When I went back over the material of two years, I expected to find an accounting of my life during that period. And I did, kinda—a hodgepodge of high-highs and low-lows of the weirdest time for everyone. But there was a lot missing, either because those moments had been so intense that they left no time for writing, or it was something private and either I didn’t want to write about it or someone asked me not to. And things that hadn’t seemed important enough to write about at the time that somehow loomed larger in retrospect. Or just—that fabric of life stuff was missing. The holes in the couch. The rain and the end of the rain and the rain starting up again. And so, while the posts were about my life they weren’t my life—there was so much missing and I missed it. But like an impressionistic painting, without the colour between the dots, your eye blurs it in for you and creates something else—another, not realistic but evocative painting, out of what is there.
And that’s before I started cutting with editorial intention. The draft that I actually had to hand in was supposed to be about 70,000 words, and I had over 200,000 words in posts. I started cutting—and the dots started getting further apart. Gradually, I created another kind of world for myself. Another kind of story. Not false, not untrue—just condensed, elliptical. And in the elisions, different. The edited book—over 70,000 words but substantially under 200,000—is very different from my life as I lived it during that period, although still recognizably taken from my life. Through all the details, incidental and on-purpose, and nuances added on purpose to do one thing but incidentally doing something else, I started to see how it happened: the story started to have a shape and a point. The book started to seem like it was written on purpose—like I was trying to make a point. When I teach fiction writing, I sometimes tell students first drafts are the block of wood, and editing is the carving—you carve the story out of the blocky excesses of the first draft. But to do it with your life? A sculpture isn’t a lie about wood, and a 300-page book isn’t a lie about my life—it’s just some living with a story carved out neatly, to show you.
Rebecca Rosenblum is the author of the short-story collections Once and The Big Dream, and the novel So Much Love. Her work has been shortlisted for the Trillium Award and the Amazon First Novel Award. Rebecca lives with her husband, author Mark Sampson, and their two cats in Toronto. Learn more here.