8.24.2011

Not Lost

From my airplane window seat I am struck as always by the sudden remoteness of the world as viewed from above. Looking down at my own city, at the streets and trees familiar to me most of my life, I recognize nothing, all the humanizing details of the locale invisible from the sky. Inaudible too, as no bird song can be heard over the blare of the jet engines, no rustling of leaves, no waft of music from a passing car stereo.

And I think as always how easy it would be to get lost, either by accident or on purpose, in a landscape as vast and remote as ours, as viewed from the sky. I feel too a little lost already, searching the ground in vain for a sign of the known. It seems at any moment the plane might drop me into this strange landscape and I must find my way, but on the ground, in my nightmare, the streets would be as flat and foreign as they look from the sky.

We expect to feel this alienation in travel, and I both savor and dread it. To break from the familiar and surround myself with the new gives shine to both the new and the familiar: upon return the sights and smells of home are twice as sweet. In this middle place, between home and my destination, the sight of the flat anonymous streets I should know gives me a quiet chill.

But I am going toward a home, one of mine: the company of a childhood friend and her new baby. The visit allows me many pleasures, one of which is to stare out of the plane window, feel the chill. Another is to complete a kind of happy circle offered sometimes in life: my friend and I were in diapers together, so to marvel and share and abide through her daughter's diaper time together, even if only for a weekend, is a satisfaction.

There is a neatness to this completing and continuing, but there is a sense too that we have survived the vastness I see from the plane window: we have not gotten lost from each other. Through this time and others, we each will be a light on the wide, cold landscape by which the other can navigate.

In class this week are writing about the places, people, items, tastes, sounds and experiences that make us feel a deep sense of belonging: our "homes". Most students take to this topic easily, which I think must be a hopeful sign: they are already girding themselves against the chill.









8.08.2011

How To Remove Your Clothes In Public, and Why

The good news is that my novel is undergoing a revision. The other good news is that there is a lot that I am keeping.

The patient will retain most of her vital organs in this home surgery, but some long-term festering ulcers of lameness will be removed, and certain systems will have to be rearranged as a result. It's a procedure, an ECTOMY, with some resulting lateral alterations.

There will also be new organs added, which should give her more pep.

As the patient sits, noticeable white, on the table next to me, it occurs to me that to begin this surgery takes a lot of courage. And so does every other damn thing worth doing in life.

Backtalker inside my head says, "Not the dishes. The dishes are worth doing, but don't take courage."

Actually, they do. Because to have to do the dishes implies that you are not living alone, as anyone in their right mind would never wash a single plate if no one was looking.

Dishes-doing is part of the responsibility-spectrum of tasks associated with living in a community, even if it is just a community of two. And living with others takes courage, because it is making a promise that you will endure the company of others, and make yourself endurable, that you will take hold of the rope of cooperation and not let it drop, that you will be human and humane to a degree that you wouldn't need to if living alone.

But beyond dishes and revisions, I thought of this..what is worth doing that doesn't scare us? Relationships, marriage, yes. Scary and worth it. Having children? Scary certainly, and worth it. Art, yes. Social justice, yes. Speaking up, speaking out, yes. Providing help and aid to those in need? Even this can be scary, can take courage, and in many cases, takes a lot of courage. And is worth it.

All these precious acts and processes take courage, which can be in short supply. I often feel I'd rather clothe myself in familiar comforts than feel the chill of the new. But though it is a sad fact that I am no mathematician, the problem can be stated in terms of a Cost/Benefit analysis.

What does it cost us to take a risk? To try the new, over the old? To summon up our courage and leap? The fear of failure sits like an attentive and vicious dog, waiting for its cue to bite. So that is the cost.

What do we gain from risk? To leave the warm living room of Same and enter to cold basement of Different? Simply this: we gain the very thing that it takes to try: Courage. By exposing ourselves we learn that we are capable of much, including great acts of courage. Our very idea and notion of ourselves grows with new acts and risks. With practice, it may not take so much to leap each time we come to the brink.

But I will posit there is another cost. This is the cost of safety, of sameness, of the familiar. Without the courage to take risk, we are dulled and lulled. Our idea and concept of ourselves shrinks. It is this cost which is so deadly.

The third option, obviously, is to write about courage until you have enough of it to begin your task, to take your act.

Sometimes these things take a little warming up to. I think I'm ready now.





8.01.2011

Bookstore-Itis

Parties are boring. This we have decided.

Not that we are drowning in invitations, but my husband and I do attend the occasional parties, and always end up together (thankfully) in the kitchen, talking to each other and helping out the host with dishes, clean-up, etc. Explanations for this strange behavior vary, but can be summed up by saying we like each other, have outgrown most of our vices, and don't enjoy chit-chat.

On one of these nights recently, while the other guests stumbled past in togas, we had an important conversation. We are both artists; he is a sculptor, I'm a writer. Between kids, work and life, our time to pursue these passions is a narrow slice between dinner and bed, or a few hours here and there on a Sunday afternoon.

But the passion we feel for these pursuits is in inverse proportion to the time we have to give to them.

This necessitates planning, though planning what to write is a bit like planning how to fall in love: not much good. You can't plan a trance, you can't plan a swoon, you can't plan passion. Nevertheless, when stuck in that place where all your brain and heart want to do is WRITE, but your body is in a kitchen at a party full of people wearing bed sheets, plan you will. It's the next best thing.

Late last year I finished the first draft of a novel. I'm happy about that. Somewhere along the five year way of this novel, I decided it was young-adult in nature, however, and I think that's where I may have lost my way. In other words, by putting that frame on it, I think I may have skewed it in a direction I don't like.

I don't know this, but I sense it.

I sent it off, as recorded in this space, and it was at first greatly received and then rejected by the agency. They were kind and gave fair criticism.

Most of the way through the next year now (month 8) I have realized two things: One, I think the novel needs major revision. Two, I miss writing, and should not forestall writing because I don't know how to approach these major revisions.

At the toga party, my husband told me he thought I should set a regular writing time which was unbreakable, and work on some poetry and shorter prose pieces. Have some fun.

I think he's right. In fact, I know he is, the way that when someone says something out loud that's what you've been thinking all along.

Whenever I go to a bookstore I feel a little ill...so many books, so many great ones and so many mediocre ones. And I come away with two thoughts...what an odd thing it is to do. And if you're going to do it, make it the best, strongest, purest, wildest thing you can. Love it.

But if you can't, at this point, reach the shores of revision on that novel, as I can't seem to, continue to practice your art, craft, or whatever you want to call it. Not because you should, or I should, but because when it isn't being the worse toothache in your life from the want of it, it is the best feeling ever in the doing of it.