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Last Week in Philadelphia

October 28, 2015

This time six years ago, I was beginning to plan my first move to Athens, Georgia. I had conceived the project one summer prior, and spent the next year doing what I could from State College, Pennsylvania—some phone calls and emails, a jaunt to Pittsburgh for the first Holiday Surprise tour, a winter break pilgrimage to Athens to see it for myself—while I finished up with college. I graduated and moved back home in the summer of 2009, spent a few months at a desk job while I came to terms with my Millennial job prospects, and then packed up my car and moved down south for real in January of 2010.

After about eight months down there interviewing people, trawling through personal archives, and generally laying the foundation for this project, I moved up to DC and spent three years there, working and devoting whatever free time I could find to transcribing, outlining, writing and conducting additional interviews (typically by phone). I moved back to Philadelphia in April of 2013 and continued that routine here.

This time last year, I made my most recent visit to Athens. I went down for a little less than a week, to check out a few retrospectives of visual art that came from the Elephant 6 folks at galleries around town: show posters, paintings, etc. In the years since I first moved away from Athens, I’ve had less and less time to devote to the project. I was finding maybe an hour or two each week to work on it, and it was beginning to feel like it would never be finished. That trip recharged my enthusiasm for this adventure, but it also put into relief the difficulty I was facing in trying to hedge against the vagaries of the publishing industry with a burgeoning career in another field while also trying to complete an ambitious writing project.

Replete with anxiety and existential dread stemming mostly from my desk job (and due in part to the realization that I’d never be able to finish this book while maintaining such a job) and sincere envy for friends with ostensibly more bohemian lifestyles, I resolved this past spring to find a way to finish the book, even if it meant leaving my job.

Especially if it meant leaving my job.

I decided it meant leaving my job. I came up with a plan, gave notice in August, left at the beginning of this month, and have spent the last few weeks gearing up for another move.

This time next week, I will be in Athens again. Without a full-time job occupying 50+ hours of my week and a great deal of mental real estate, my “I’ll never finish!” malaise has been replaced by unbridled enthusiasm. I can do this, and I will.

Though I had only a bit of time each week to work on this the past five years, those bits did add up, and I’ve got a pretty solid foundation. The next step is to pull everything together into a rough (rough) draft and figure out what holes I have to fill, while simultaneously conducting interviews (mostly with both people I have already talked to, but a few with people I haven’t yet) to fill those holes. As I do those interviews, I’ll be folding the new material into that foundation to flesh out a real first draft of the manuscript. From there, I’ll be rewriting aggressively, draft after draft, until it’s in a place I’m happy with.

This time next year, I will be long finished the writing process for this book. I don’t know enough about the publishing industry or even publishing itself to know yet how or when the book would be released (even assuming everything goes to plan), but from conversations I’ve had already, I don’t expect it to be much of a challenge, at least not in comparison to composing the work. Maybe that’s naïve, but it’s not worth worrying about now at any rate.

I am way past the point of no return, which is to say that given the amount of work I’ve already put in But only a few months ago, this project was beginning to feel impossible. Now, though, it feels not only possible, but imminent. When you work on something for so long (especially something like a book, where it’s only done when I say it’s done), the endpoint becomes so abstracted that a path toward it is hard to see. But with a shift in my priorities and dramatically increased focus, I can see that path with more clarity than I ever have. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, but it’s just a matter of time before I’m finished.

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