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PARKER'S PLACE

Pregnant Pause to Celebrate Impending Birth of Book

February 11, 1993|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County

Sometimes big events in our lives go uncelebrated, which is just the way some of us like it. It seems that the traditionally festive moments--birthdays, holidays, anniversaries--are often little more than the mile markers of time, whipping past with the approximate importance of an odometer check sign on the freeway. Between these moments we make quieter passings that ring with a greater internal resonance--private and unremarked as it may be.

The event in question, specifically, was the completion of my new book. There will be celebrations--parties, signings and readings--when the book is published some months from now. But the real work ended on a recent Monday, when I express-mailed the last changes to a 450-page manuscript that has been the center of my working life for the past two years.

This moment--when the book is alive but yet to be born--is the closest thing to satisfaction a writer gets, aside from the occasional joy of creating a good sentence. This is because once the book is published, it becomes public property: It will be talked about, reviewed, bought, sold, ignored, deprecated, praised, loaned, burned, hurled across rooms, dog-eared, coffee-stained and shelved over and over again for months, years, maybe even generations to come.

By that point it is clearly no longer the property of the author; in fact, it is hardly a property at all. It is a living organism that will emanate its spirit from wherever it sits to whomever has read it, until every volume and every reader crumbles into the dust to which we must all eventually return. In this sense, a writer is never finished with a book. He has simply helped give it life, and, much as if it were his child, will be deeply connected to it for the rest of his living days.

So, given the impending birth of something I'll be more or less stuck with for a long, long time, it seemed important to in some way acknowledge this event. It was a Monday night. I had made no plans to celebrate, mentioned my triumph to maybe all of two people and was in no mood to make small talk.

What a perfect time to be alone!

I ate dinner in a local restaurant, had a few drinks, watched Orlando demolish the Lakers, put the last of my uneaten steak in a doggie-box and walked out into the surprisingly warm February night.

The town was dead, as one expects this time of year.

The Pacific was black and glittering, spliced by an invisible horizon to an identically black and glittering sky. The sand beneath my feet felt cold and hard, saturated and packed by the recent rains. To the south, the lamps of an old hotel made crescents of shadow and light on the beach; to the north, someone flew through the air in repeating arcs on a squeaking swing set. Very suddenly, four young men appeared before me and came up close.

"Don't worry," said one, "we're from the Inland Empire Bible study group. Do you believe in the Lord?"

"I read the Bible."

"Great, Brother! Would you like to pray with us?"

"No. Not really."

"God bless you, Brother. Celebrate the Lord!"

"Thanks."

Walking back toward my car, I noticed a girl in a tree. She was about 50 feet up, in one of the handsome old eucalyptus that line many of the streets in this town. On the sidewalk below waited two of her friends, one using a little camera to catch her tree-borne buddy in action.

The girl in the tree looked about 16. She had long blond hair, a strong small body and a smile that easily penetrated the leafy space that separated us.

"Hi," I said.

"Hello," she said back.

"Looks nice up there."

"Come on up. Or are you too old?"

"Yep. What are you doing, exactly?"

"Celebrating."

"What?"

"Being alive."

She climbed down with the careless grace of the young and walked up to me. The front of her black blouse was covered with tree dust, her jeans with more of the same.

"What's in the box?" she asked.

"Steak for my dogs. Want it?"

"I don't eat red meat."

"May I have your autograph?"

"Sure."

She signed the top of my doggie-box: "Jennifer." Tiffany, one of Jennifer's friends, told me that Jennifer always did stuff like this.

Back home, I poured a glass of wine and walked up into the hillside behind the house. On a flat spot about 100 yards up, I sat down. Below, Laguna Canyon Road was only a sparse ribbon of light, occasionally traversed by a miniature car. The sounds of their engines reached me late, then continued their soft report against the hillside after each car had disappeared from sight.

I reflected that this canyon, and the house below me, and the city beyond the house all played big parts in the book I had just finished. There is even a "clue" involving a hill formation on the west side, which I could see perfectly from my vantage point. Writing about this place had made it more beautiful to me, even though it was beautiful to start with, and I hoped that some of the beauty of this county--as well as some of its horrors--would be as real for the people who read it as they are for me. For a moment, I felt at peace.

So that was my celebration. I'll uncork the champagne some other time, smile and laugh and get stupid. Until then, I'll enjoy the satisfaction of a job done and anticipate the day when what has been so private will become so public.

By then, I'll be on to other things, and this should all be behind me. But it won't be. Nothing ever really is, if you've lived through it, given it some thought, taken a picture of it, painted it, sculpted it, brought a melody from it, or even just scribbled a few notes. It's hard to celebrate something that isn't quite over.

T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

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