Editor's Note: For our newly released anthology, The Spirit of Disruption: Selections from The Normal School, we'll be running a series of author reflections excerpted from the book. If you like what you read, you can order the book here.
Reflection on “Visions” by Kristen Cosby
I wrote the first draft of “Visions” seven years ago. It was my second attempt to write about living aboard my family’s boat. At the time, I was in my late twenties, happily teaching and writing for a small but well-regarded science magazine. Sailing and family were two aspects at which I considered myself a failure and I saw no reason to display myself at my weakest. Until I wrote this essay, I was a writer who hid her personhood behind her writing. I used esoteric vocabulary and complex syntax to make reading my work more difficult. The production of this essay demonstrated a huge change in my writing process and my willingness and ability to represent my memories without pretty distractions. I’d finally understood the necessity of being vulnerable on the page.
Writing the piece didn’t feel like a calculated strategy. I sat down one morning at my computer and an essay about how living on the water changed my way of seeing the world began to happen. I didn’t understand what the piece was about until long after I’d finished it. I don’t mean to say it was effortless; it required a huge amount of discipline and it pushed the limit of my skills at the time, but it was as if the decision to write about my family-life aboard had been made by someone else. I submitted the essay to The Normal School’s nonfiction contest with much trepidation. At one point, I almost called the editors to withdraw from the contest because I couldn’t stand the idea of showing something so raw.
As with most of my projects, when I came to the end, I felt the work was incomplete. I tinkered with it constantly. That urge to improve and amend the piece did not stop after it was published. I continued to pursue and grow the piece into a book manuscript, which I am still working on six years after the first appearance of “Visions” in The Normal School. In a manner of speaking, the essay hasn’t ended, it just became much longer. I’m uncertain when it will “end” or whether or not it has, or will ever, succeed in capturing the complexity of a family as crew.
The metaphorical journey of writing this piece, and, by extension, the manuscript that’s emerged out of it, has led me on several very real journeys. The pursuit has taken me to from Pittsburgh to Texas, Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine, Barcelona, Budapest, London, and San Francisco. It’s caused me sadness, stolen sleep, appetite, and many precious hours with beloveds. And yet, I continue to prize this piece and to enjoy the opportunities it’s afforded me. Whether or not the essay succeeds in displaying how living on the ocean changed my perspective, it gave me the idea for my first book-manuscript and instilled in me new skills and standards for my craft.