What to Expect When You're Expecting a Book
When current Memoir Incubator student Kristen Paulson-Nguyen received her acceptance to the program, she didn't expect her friends and colleagues to notice such a change in her affect.
The first query came from my neighbor Kate. “When are you due?”
Kate had approached me after a yoga class in Jamaica Plain. For a moment I just stared at her, lost in the pleasant lag of post-yoga time. We both burst into uncomfortable laughter simultaneously. When that ran out, I stammered, “I’m about to turn forty-nine. I just got fat this winter.” I stopped short of volunteering information about my sex life.
“You just got fat?” Kate asked.
“Yes, I just got fat. I’ve just got the one child. One and done, I like to say, hahahha,” I blathered. HELP.
Hers was the tidiest and most elaborately landscaped lawn on our street. She was the only neighbor I could think of to call when my husband Tuan freaked out about our trash cans. Our family was en route to the U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C., where we were visiting my in-laws.
“We need somebody to bring in our trash cans,” Tuan said in the tight way that told me he envisioned a number of disastrous outcomes. The cans might be lost or stolen, or roll onto the Arborway and be damaged in our absence.
I was used to these tiny problems, and weary of solving them.
Why couldn’t I just stop solving them?
I only wanted to look at bonsai in peace, so I looked up Kate’s number online. I didn’t know her full name; by necessity I referred to her as “Kate from 58,” her street number, so I wouldn’t forget her first name.
I’ll be forever grateful to Kate for fielding my strange call and for dragging our trash cans to safety, but I don’t know if I want Kate to see the messy interiors of our lives, the anxious dynamic that prompted my call. I have generalized anxiety disorder, and Tuan has hoarding disorder, a form of anxiety disorder, although he doesn’t think so.
The second query came from my coworker Uju, a woman I admire for her effortless style. Seriously, she can wear stripes and houndstooth together and still look chic. The woman can pull anything off.
We approached each other in the hallway and stopped to chat.
“Are you expecting?” she asked.
“Am I really that fat?”
Uju looked puzzled.
“Fat? No, you’re not fat, I was talking about your glow.”
I have a glow?
Later that day, as I recounted these stories to my therapist, insight replaced my confusion.
I was recently accepted to the 2016 Memoir Incubator, GrubStreet’s year-long intensive program, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself.
This was a new sensation.
It took root when I began working on a memoir about marriage and hoarding in Dorian Fox’s Memoir in Progress class in fall 2015. The feeling expanded when Dorian nominated me to read at GrubStreet’s December Showcase.
I read an excerpt from what had become To Have and To Hoard at the showcase. Dorian was in the front row, along with Suzanne Carter, a friend I made in his class; our classmate Bob Smith lounged in the back.
I had found my tribe.
That winter, in Master Memoir with Alysia Abbott, I dug deeper. She supported my Incubator candidacy, and Dorian helped me decide the best order for the pages I’d submit with my application.
Somehow, I had become part of a cherished community. I also felt free, exhilarated, and alive to possibility.
I decided that that was the glow Kate and Uju had sensed.
No, I could no longer have a baby, but yes, I was pregnant (with potential), and yes, I was expecting (a book).
It’s crazy how the months fly when you’re expecting.
I have about ten more months to go, just in case anyone is wondering.
Kristen is a writer working in higher education as well as the Memoir Incubator’s social coordinator. She loves posting wacky pictures of her daughter’s hamster Cherry Blossom on social media. You can read more of Kristen’s work at kristenscarousel.com.
Kristen was the first graduate of both the Memoir and Essay Incubators and kicked off GrubStreet's Book Club. She instructs adults in the micro-flash form; the memoir proposal; the hermit crab essay; flash and other essays, and youth in nonfiction, being a writer; and flash. Kristen's memoir was a Summer 2023 Graphic Lit Editor's Pick in Solstice Magazine. Her story "Neighbors" was a 2020 winner of micro-flash contest Boston in 100 Words. Kristen's work has been published in the Boston Globe
(where she was a singles columnist); New York Times; Creative Nonfiction; Flyway Journal of Writing & the Environment; The Keepthings; Solstice and the Publish Her Anthology Better Together: A Collection of Essays on Women Gathering. She edits the Writing Life column for Hippocampus Magazine and has presented at HippoCamp, Gotham Writers Workshop, More to the Story, and the Boston Book Festival. Kristen is a founder of Tell-All Boston, the city's only nonfiction literary series. Through her service Title Doctor, she has titled more than a dozen works of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, a craft book, a memoir-in-essays, and The Writer’s 2021 contest-winning essay. Kristen is earning her licensure to teach middle-school English at Lesley University. She seeks representation for her memoir.See other articles by Kristen Paulson-Nguyen