First, news. The New Quarterly will be publishing not one but THREE new stories from this (nearly) completed collection in their upcoming fall issue. I will notify you and harass you at that time to go forth and purchase said truly lovely literary magazine. And because you are patiently accompanying me on the writing journey, here follow a few encouraging words from the editor on these stories: “I’ve read all three stories now and am excited about them, about these characters which have both complexity and mystery, and about what you are doing with the narrative structure and the language … to get at the complexity of human relationships and feelings which are seldom simple and straight-forward but more often ambivalent and contradictory. You put it so well yourself in one of the stories: She wants every moment to yield to possibility. She wants every moment to remain in motion, to admit that it is many things, all at once.”
It is lovely news indeed, both to be anticipating publication, and to hear from an editor that she is reading these stories as I have written and intended them.
Second, I feel myself coming around toward a decision (how’s that for muddling) about this coming year (by which I mean this coming school year, since that’s when the new year really starts for those of us who are parents). I am seriously entertaining the idea of babysitting another child, close in age to CJ, two days a week. That would mean I wouldn’t be doula’ing, which has given me pause; but this most recent doula experience (which I didn’t blog about) really clarified the difficulties of committing to that work at this time in my life … and more importantly at this time in my children’s lives. Look at that kid up there. He’s 14 months, active, energetic, busy, animated, bursting with New, open like a sponge to learning, and I have the opportunity to stay home and share this time with him. As I’m envisioning it right now, I will commit to two full days at home, very child-focussed; and at least one full day of writing; and one more day when I’ll exchange childcare with a friend. That will leave one day free and unscheduled. I also plan to take one night class this fall toward the eventual re-education plan.
Life will be easier and I’ll feel less muddled, less distracted, when I commit. But I take commitment pretty seriously, which is why I want to be certain, gut and heart.
Printed a copy of the new, completed manuscript. Apple-Apple read the first paragraph to me and Fooey, while CJ played, in our basement. (It isn’t really for children, but on the other hand, it won’t harm them if they do read it; an interesting consideration that hadn’t crossed my mind till this very afternoon). Now I’ll put this copy away and wait to hear what may happen next. (Be warned: this could take awhile. But it’s nice to have completed this first step.)
(Nice? Sorry, as a writer, I should definitely come up with a better word for the feeling, but that’s as good as it gets. In platitudes, may many layers be found.)
Writing day, and I’m afraid to tackle this opening story. The project feels close to its end, and rather than filling me with delight, I’m slowing down, dragging heels, aware of enchroaching emptiness.
I almost never watch television, so it seemed fated that last night, while folding mountains of laundry, I should switch on the glowing box and be immediately confronted by gorgeous, haunting black and white photographs, swept into the middle of a documentary on Sally Mann, a photographer whose body of work has been intensely personal, and controversial. Her own three children were and are her subjects, as is the land she lives on. The documentary follows her journey to create a new collection called “What Remains,” which is about death; the show is planned for a major gallery in New York who cancel at the last minute. The camera captures her shock and self-doubt and grief at rejection, and her husband’s grief too, and his silence, how he has no way to comfort her other than to listen and be present, and I turned to Kevin and just stared, struck dumb. She was saying the same words I say, at low moments, yet how could she possibly doubt, when what she’d created was so obviously of merit and worth and beauty? That moment also gave me a glimpse of what it must feel like to be the one absorbing that grief, on the artist’s behalf. Later, as she walks with her son in the woods, she says that it doesn’t matter if what she’s making is going to sell, she has to make it. She has no choice. I was in tears. It felt very close to the bone.
Her photographs are eventually shown in a museum in Washington D.C., and well-reviewed and celebrated.
My stories … well, it’s presumptuous to compare myself to someone who has succeeded as an artist; my success feels transient, and sporadic, and there’s no telling whether these years of work will this time add up to something of beauty and merit, but I felt a kinship watching her struggle, mourn, reflect, create. It’s a blessing and curse to want to translate experience into art–not just to want to, but to do it. The work involved. Working toward an end you can’t see until you find it. Will it be whole, or still-born? All these infinitessimal choices along the way that shape the final artifact, that leave you wondering–why this and not that? So much room for criticism, self and other. There’s the artifact created, and the one intended, and the multiple ones that might have been.
At times I question whether I’m too patient, too painstaking. A year feels like nothing to me anymore, writing-wise. Will I rest, at peace with this project, or will I keep chasing the ones that might have been? How will I know when I’ve arrived? Is it only when someone else tells me so? (Hair Hat might never have been finished either, in my mind, had it not been picked up for publication). Can I accept and find an ending in solitude?
The answer might be … no. Which is terrifying. Which is why I’m typing this, and not that.
Thinking about why I like blogging–because I do–and have come up with a very rudimentary hunch that there’s something mysteriously satisfying about publishing immediately upon typing, and imagining the connection between these words and another set of eyes. Today, I had no internet. This wasn’t a self-driven retreat from the Evil Distractions of the Internet, oh no; a cable in our house went on the fritz, and it was more like being forced into a chastity belt. No email. (There is the phone, you might point out). No internet radio. (There is, um, actual radio). No Facebook. (That might be a good thing actually, as I’ve recently noticed myself updating my status imaginarily at regular silent intervals throughout the day, such as, “Obscure Canlit Mama would like to know why her baby is so impressively wide awake at 6am,” or, “Obscure Canlit Mama has just escaped the library with a small shred of her parental dignity intact,” or, “Obscure Canlit Mama is frying bacon at mid-day. Don’t ask. Or, do.” You can see how addictive this becomes. Where was I?)
Right. No internet–therefore, no blog. No blog. No mundane moment grabbed and translated into words and chucked into the mess that is Blogland. I’m only just beginning to get a sense of what Blogland looks like. It’s crowded in here. Downright claustrophobic. There don’t seem to be filters, just personal taste, and the taste of one’s friends and fellow bloggers. There’s some really good writing out there, and amazing photographs, and recipes; but it feels overwhelming, like being at a trade show in a mosh pit with everyone shouting and screaming and you’re just sort of turning to the next person over and going, uh, what are you here for? And that person doesn’t really know, and then it occurs to you–neither do you.
Oh tumbled, jumbled metaphor. This is why I like Blogland. I can make a real hash of words in here, and not sweat it. When I’m writing a story everything has to fit, I have to be ruthless. I actually think that writing a good story bears no relationship to the metaphor commonly attached: that it’s like birthing a baby, or that the art is the artist’s baby. Pity that baby. Coolly reshaped to fit the parent’s vision, then frozen into position for eternity. But the blog feels more like a real baby. It comes out whole, there’s not a lot of editing, and it grows and changes–every day, or every post, forever replacing what was with what is, and is, and is, this permanent present. Which is pretty much exactly like parenthood. Maybe that’s why so many parents seem drawn to Blogland. We’re already living this, day-by-day, this sweet mundanity, these moments that feel so vital while amidst them, only to disappear, buried by routine; we’re already attuned to the bittersweet pull of time. How quickly a blog entry feels stale–that’s one of its peculiarities. Whereas a story can be read over and over again. I’m not saying old blog entries can’t be read again, and enjoyed (though perhaps mainly by the blogger herself); just that a large part of the pleasure is the immediacy, the realization that what you’re reading actually just happened, and the desire to check in again soon to see what will happen next. Even if nothing much really ever does.
File this entry under Big Thoughts. A favourite late-night-oughtta-be-in-bed-category.
Oh, let’s do one more thing, something new. Confession of the Day: This morning, I convinced Fooey to sit in front of a computer in the children’s section of the library, and signed in on it using her card (adults are not allowed), solely for the purpose of checking my email account. The good news is, I hadn’t missed any important messages.