How I Wrote the Book

6 01 2010

At various points in my life I have kept a journal but have seldom gone back to read them, except for the one I kept at the time of the breakup of my marriage.

That one is also unique in other respects: it stretches to almost two thousand pages and covers a period of about six years. My marriage took a long time to unravel and there was plenty to write about. And a great need to write. The journal, a chronicle of the breakup of my marriage, written in real-time in London in the early nineties, would become my book BREAKUP.

During my mid-forties I was feeling low, a sort of dark night of the soul. My work situation was unsatisfactory and my relationship with my wife was at a low ebb after about eighteen years together. As a way of dealing with my predicament I decided to go into therapy and immediately began to record my sessions with my therapist. This was the start of my journal.

To my dismay, after a few months of weekly sessions I began to suspect that my wife was having an affair and I confronted her. My suspicions proved correct: she had begun a relationship with a work colleague two months earlier. It came as a terrible shock – a real blow. The world seemed to collapse around me. I was thrown into turmoil, shaken to the core. I ached and agonized as the implications of the revelation gradually became clear to me.

What I was experiencing immediately expressed itself in my journal and I began to write furiously to keep pace with events. Every day, at all hours, I poured my heart and soul into my journal, unexpurgated and unfiltered. I just wrote, page after page. Sometimes the writing took the form of reams of flowing prose. At others it appeared as telegraphic notes, numbers or even doodles and symbols. In parts it is elegant, quasi-poetic script in others an almost illegible, crude, disjointed scrawl – all faithfully reflecting the fluctuations of my mood.

I had to get my feelings out of my system and onto the paper. The very act of writing was cathartic; things written suddenly assumed a clarity that was absent before. In short, my journal became my veritable “shoulder to cry on,” my refuge, my confidant. Of course I continued recording my therapy sessions as well. Sometimes it is difficult to know where the therapy ends and where “life” begins.

As my wife and I went through the torture of alternately trying to split up and battling to stay together, on and off over a period of a few years, I would religiously go to my journal and transfer to the page what had happened. It is my version that exists, not my ex-wife’s. It is subjective and one-sided, maybe in the extreme, in this case. However, for all its shortcomings, it has the virtue of being a brutally honest record of what I felt and thought at the time. It’s an insider view of marital disintegration, with all its agony and pain, as well as a testament to my process of transformation, leading to a new life.

The journal, all two thousand pages, was hand-written, mainly on A4 sheets of paper but also in two smaller hardcover diaries and twenty-three little notebooks of the sort I kept on me at all times. Being a semi-organized person, I dated every entry. When I left London in 1998 I stored all this material in boxes in a friend’s garage in Muswell Hill.

In July 2005, while sitting on the veranda of my pottery studio in the Jerusalem hills, the thought crossed my mind that my life story was encapsulated in an object that hung behind the studio door – a sweater. A green jersey as I like to call it. That jersey was knitted for me by our maid Johanna when I was a teenager in South Africa in the early sixties. Since that time I have lugged it across three continents and worn it for almost fifty years.

The jersey provided me with the inspiration to resurrect my journal, at the time still in my friend’s garage in London, as a book. Initially I had severe hesitations about publishing the journal because it is personal, intimate and confessional, but chiefly because my present partner felt a certain discomfort at the thought of my dabbling in my previous relationship. I put my doubts aside and when I was next in London I boldly decided to have all two thousand pages scanned onto a disc. I then got rid of all twelve thick folders of A4 sheets by putting them into the paper recycling bin. Somehow this act symbolically terminated the journal’s direct emotional association with the breakup of my marriage and placed it in less emotionally-laden territory.

Back home in Israel I began to type up on the computer the contents of the journal, which I could now see digitalized on an adjacent screen. Given the great length, the multiple, obsessive repetitions and the excessive detailing, I had to exclude a lot if I wanted it to approximate a standard book. I made a point of reducing but not adding anything. As to distancing me from the trauma, the digitalized format from the disc failed to keep all my emotions at bay. Despite the time lapse of some fifteen years, rereading the journal upset me. It really was a grim time.

Over the next two years I continued cropping the text. It now stands at 260 pages, just over 100,000 words – a good length. In the meantime I have added a prologue as background, a short introduction and an epilogue, divided the text into chapters and made some minor cosmetic alterations to facilitate reading. It has undergone copy-editing. Essentially BREAKUP, my book, is taken word-for-word from my original journal.

The Green Jersey, which gave me the inspiration to write the book, became its working title but I dispensed with the name, on the grounds that its connection to the subject was incidental. I did, however, go in search of the woman who knitted the jersey for me. In September 2007, after a nationwide effort in South Africa to track down Johanna Maart, I eventually made contact with her family. Sadly, she had died but I had an emotional reunion with her sister and four daughters in Wellington, near Cape Town, where I showed them the jersey. For me it represented the closing of a circle.

Green jersey