I had a dream a while back after making 30 hardcover leather bound books.
It was late. I had work the next morning. I was immersed in an audiobook of Ender’s Game on Youtube and skiving the last piece of mauve leather. I pressed the razor down and skimmed the plush layer of hide off so that the skin became thin. With a thin layer of leather the cover would be adhered smoothly against the book board. Before finishing, I left this piece of leather on my desk and went to sleep. I wasn’t ready, and wanted to keep the project going one more night.
That night I dreamt I had three sons. They were barely new, they were dripping, practically gestating there on a table in a house. But they were happy boys. Two were normal looking but one, had a strange face, a square face whose expression I couldn’t explain. He ran into my open arms, laughing as I crouched on the wooden floor. I held him. His mouth was next to my ear and I perceived the rolling laughs becoming panicked, high pitched screams.
I distanced myself from him and saw that his skin had been so thin that his intestines were falling onto the wooden floor. I woke with a start, sobbing.
It took me a long time to connect this dream to the books I was making. I had worked for months on the edition, folding, sewing, gluing. Skiving was that close attention to the thickness, flow, and consistency of leather. I’m as woowoo as it gets, but I’m sure you can buy that there was something of a spirit within those skins that I paid such close attention to.
Before beginning the project, I had never bound an entire edition. The task was much larger than I had imagined it would be. So close to the end, I was facing another kind of end. Unlike writing who’s process can be infinitely tweaked, there are countless ways to use language to express or weave story. With books, you already have the material. By the end you have made and used all the paper, all the ink, all the leather the project can give. Once they are done they are in front of you, imperfect perhaps, faulty in their junctions. But there the way these sons sat on the table.
In the creative process there are many stages, but the one I understood for the first time that night is simple, necessary, and profound. There is a moment where you have to let go. In letting go will feel like a death to end the creation of it. It will feel like the work is not ready sometimes. Living its own life to be adored, hated, to be used, or forgotten or all of these. And it dies in your arms as it goes. You can name it, you can speak to the time it took to make it, and the way it was formed.
But it must move forward or you will not have given it the life it deserves.
I haven’t been able to overcome this struggle, and often it is difficult to finish projects for this very reason. The release has not become easy, and perhaps it never will. But at least I know that the love exists. The love is what matters in the end.