Reflections on love, loss & Adobe Garamond Pro.

Page Proofs & Belle 1x

[That big stack of paper beside Belle, my editing buddy, is my typeset memoir.]

The past couple of weeks I’ve worked my way through page proofs for my book. My last crack at perfecting Shepherd: A Memoir. As I’d leave classes for the day, walking across the campus’s lovely old green I’d think, I can’t keel over dead. Not yet. Not under this ginkgo tree. Not until I submit my edits!

So life went on. I nursed Kathy through emergency dental surgery. Walked the dog. Went to committee meetings. Ordered a new computer. Read lots of student essays. One was heartbreaking. And a brave work of art. It was rewarding to see some of my teaching come back, or at least see what grew in a space I created, but celebrating it was fraught. I told its author what Augusten Burroughs recently told me, in This is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t (which recently I too briefly reviewed):

As it happens, we human beings are able to live just fine with many holes of many sizes and shapes.

And pleasure, love, compassion, fulfillment—these things do not leak out of holes of any size.

So we can be filled with holes and loss and wide expanses of unhealed geography—and we can also be excited by life and in love and content at the exact same moment.

Though there will always be days, like the weather, when the loss returns fresh and full and we will reside within it once again, for a while.

Loss creates a greater overall surface area within a person. You expand as a result of it.

That’s me, I’d say. Expanded all over the place. And Augusten is right, love and loss are a pair. Reading my page proofs, typeset in elegant Adobe Garamond Pro, was to sit side-by-side with love and loss. There on the couch, with the dog. (She’s a strange, furtive thing, and I love her too.)

I found only one typo, a truncated word. And too many instances where I repeated the same word several times within a few sentences. Set in type, words jumped out in a new way. Sentences I’d recast in one mood, years ago, I felt the urgent need to alter. Or even to change a few back to what I recalled doing in the first place. Not for the first time, I thought, I am not smart enough to do this work.

Then someone called my attention to the fact that already my book, not due till May 1, has an Amazon page. And then I received this amazing endorsement from Lee Martin, a Pulitzer finalist in fiction, a great memoirist, and one of my writing heroes:

Shepherd is the story of one man’s dream of returning to the land, but Richard Gilbert’s glorious memoir is more than that. It’s a universal story of families, the ones we try to redeem and the ones we strive to create and maintain. Gilbert writes with a keen eye and a quiet grace. His portrait of the natural world takes us into the interior landscape of its very human, very likeable guide—an honorable, courageous man. I’m so very happy to have had the chance to meet him in these pages.

—Lee Martin, author of Such a Life and From Our House

As Dad used to say, That’s better than a sharp stick in the eye!

Belle, Soulful x

[Editing is hard work.]

Oh, that’s another thing. How I missed Dad and Mom as I worked this last time on Shepherd. The book is so much about them, really, as Lee saw. Dad died a few years after he couldn’t physically operate his nursery anymore. The book he wrote before my birth, Success Without Soil, as I’ve noted, goes on and on. It has its own listing on Amazon. Some of his oaks, raised from acorns he collected, must be a hundred feet tall.

Writers and their books, farmers and their crops. Gotta see how they turn out. That next bunch of calves, foals, lambs. That extra three-bushels an acre corn. That perfect next composition. You see your work, you see your failure, you love the thing itself.

I could keel over now. My war-hero uncle used to say, when aged, “I’m under consideration.” Aren’t we all? But though the winter comes, ushered on a low November sky, my publisher is sending me bound galleys, made from uncorrected proofs, and it would be nice to hold them.

And in spring, the book.


  • Dear Richard, I love the tone of this piece, and feel that its somewhat elegiac quality comes from your awareness not only that you only have a finite amount of time to continue working on this particular book, but also from the sense that now you have to do another one! We’re counting on you–when all the excitement of the first book is starting to wear off (if it ever does), we’ll be looking for a follow-up, or as one of the authors you’ve reviewed says, a “serial memoir” effort. Do enjoy these final days of completion–they won’t come again on this book. And give Belle a pat from me.

  • J.V. Wylie says:

    Richard, I am so exited for you. I want to hear every single detail of the roll-out as it happens so I can savor it with you.

  • I enjoyed this post so much, Richard, and what a wonderful endorsement from Lee Martin. There are so many steps and stages of publishing a book. It’ll be great to follow along on your trip.

  • Lovely Richard. Gretel Erlich opens her book The Solace of Open Spaces with a line I’ve always loved: Finally the lessons of impermanence have taught me this:Loss constitutes an odd kind of fullness, despair opens into an unquenchable thirst for life.
    Thank you for sharing not only the story of your work, but also that of your teaching. It’s nearing the end of the semester here and your words were particularly poignant.
    All best,

    • Richard says:

      Christin, That is a wonderful line, and in the same spirit as Burroughs’s thought. I had a long discussion with my wife this morning about what my teaching consists of, and I think it is showing examples and making space for risk. Of course, we’re all very tired at this point too . . .

  • Kate Hopper says:

    Dear Richard, this is just lovely. I’m so pleased to know about your wonderful blog and also your book! I look forward to reading it this spring.

    I know all too well the way the words jump out when they are set in type. I cross out words and exchange them for different ones even now, as I hold my published memoir in my hands. How can that be after all those drafts?

    I look forward to being in touch!


  • Yay! I can’t wait to read Shepherd. Off to visit your author page and pre-order a copy.

  • Richard, so lovely and moving! You made me want to reach through my computer screen and touch the stack of papers by the sweet watchdog on the sofa, or the cover of your book on Amazon (already!), and to read that resounding endorsement must have been a high point during the drudge days of life getting a book finished. As I push through the writing of the last half of mine, I begin to wonder if I’m repeating myself and yet the comfort of knowing one day I’ll read it as printed matter before anyone else does strangely brings me peace. But today my peace came from reading your poetic prose in this post. BTW, my husband uses the same phrase about something being “better than a sharp stick in the eye.” Do you suppose this is farm- or agriculture-related? Husband was raised on a farm!

    • Richard says:

      I appreciate your comments, Sherrey. I do wonder about the origin of that phrase! It’s something I have heard no one else say. My father lived on a Michigan farm, so maybe he heard it there…

  • I remember catching a few errors in my final galley. I was mortified and disappointed that the editor missed so many mistakes. I had read the ms no fewer than 454,000 times so I wasn’t catching anything else. (There’s still about a dozen errors in the book, which make me mad to this day. Oh, well.)

    There’s a sense of mild panic though before you go print. That’s it. It’s done. (Unless you go to paperback and you can make amends then.) I remember feeling more anxiety than joy when I sent off that final Adobe file.

    I’m excited for you and can’t wait to buy it up and get you on the podcast.

    • Richard says:

      How true, Brendan. My wife accused me of sounding somber in this post. Actually the experience was not somber for me but was sober. With, as you say, trills of panic. The Last Chance. I cannot believe how much we all missed, either. I wished I had hired a great copy editor, though at the time it seemed unnecessary. I would advise writers to print out their work in different ways because when it looks different it helps glitches stand out.

  • Beth says:

    Love and loss is my essential duet, too, Richard. Maybe it’s the same for all of us, only in different iterations. Beautiful piece. Your reflections resonate.

    Buck and I have been living in a surreal universe as we have moved way beyond our comfort zones in preparing his novel manuscript to go out into the world. We’re at the query stage, the mysterious over the transom phase when would-be authors not in the business or even the neighborhood must (if their eyes are wide open) believe in fate and miracles lest they simply say, “It’s done,” and slip the manuscript into a safe deposit box or a time capsule.

    Last week, he sat in my study and read every one of his 97,569 words while I watched them trail by on my computer screen. We did this for five nights and six days. I have been to Longleaf Bootcamp for Editors, and discovered to my astonishment that I love my sharp pen. This exercise has improved my own writing in ways I will only be discovering in the new year (may it come soon).

    This making of books is not for the weak of heart. I come to it as a supplicant to God might, on my face every morning, astonished by the conundrum of this love of story, this hunger to scrawl on the cave wall of our infinite cloud.

    I have a small stuffed animal sheep. It’s gray and wooly. It sits in a reading chair near my desk. I’m looking at it now, and contemplating the enjoyment of reading Shepherd in just a few more months.

    • Richard says:

      What a great process for co-editing Buck’s novel, Beth. I will hold good thoughts for placement. Your toolbox trilogy of sharp pen, strong heart, and supplication sure resonate with me.

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