Wednesday, April 28, 2010

from 1997, Part 1

I have too many books. Wait, is there such a thing? I have decided that there is. Before we move, I've decided to parcel down my library to a few hundred. I am always buying new ones, so there's that. I hope to move into my new apartment with an empty bookcase.

In the shuffling around, I came across a blank book that was, for three days in 1997, my journal. I have never been good at keeping a journal, they always seemed like too much work going into something that wasn't "the work." But this was a nice surprise. Here's what I was writing on the day before I arrived in New York City, when I was 19:
12-31-97. 7:53am.
Just left Chattanooga for NY. Been driving for only 20 minutes. My cold is annoying but if I can live through my parents doing what they do I'll be fine. I left T at home. I think I really got to him last night. Like me, he is a sentimentalist. I just told him the truth. That we are all worried sick and we loved him too much to watch him do what he does lately. Or what he doesn't do I should say. I think T has always existed inside his head and I suppose he'll go right on.
A new environment will be good. I don't know about all of us in that place. Everyone is counting on me to bring something to it, some kind of maturity, or something. I'm ready. I'll get to play housewife for a while.
Saw my parents holding hands in a movie the other day. Haven't seen that in a while. It made me glad. The snow outside is beautiful. It's nice to have it on the ground. The world is uncomfortable and vulnerable, just as I start to go.
Success has to be in the plan. If not, what? Wish I had my CDs and stuff. Maybe the silence will be good for me. Well, escape only a little bit. I wish I had a puzzle or something. I am amazed at our ability to continue.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

from Wendell Berry

In Wendell Berry's fantastic essay "In Distrust of Movements," he manages to say clearly what I have been thinking for years, but have never been able to articulate as wisely and wittily. The essay is primarily a discussion of the intersection between the food movement and all other movements, but also speaks to the tendency to reduce action and activism to too-specific ideals.

He writes:
People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.

And so I must declare my dissatisfaction with movements to promote soil conservation or clean water or clean air or wilderness preservation or sustainable agriculture or community health or the welfare of children. Worthy as these and other goals may be, they cannot be achieved alone. I am dissatisfied with such efforts because they are too specialized, they are not comprehensive enough, they are not radical enough, they virtually predict their own failure by implying that we can remedy or control effects while leaving causes in place. Ultimately, I think, they are insincere; they propose that the trouble is caused by other people; they would like to change policy but not behavior.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Apartment Hunting

For the past six Sundays--my only day off from three "day jobs"--Kip and I have run ourselves all over parts of Brooklyn looking at apartment after apartment, in many different neighborhoods, at many different levels of nice and nicer (some were decidedly not nice) until, this week, we decided to move ahead with a beautiful space on East 7th Street in Kensington. Barring any unforeseen strangeness on the part of the owner, or, say, plumes of volcanic ash, we should find ourselves unpacking boxes and arguing about paint chips on June 1.

So, today, I got to spend the time doing what I like to do best: eat, sleep and watch TV. Kip can sleep through anything, and does, so I usually wake up before him, sit around surfing the Internet and chatting with other early risers, and then after and hour or so, I crawl back into bed and see if I can get a few more minutes rest. Then we lay there petting the cats and talking about what we plant to do with the rest of the day.

We decided that since we didn't have to schedule or re-schedule apartment seeing, wrestle with agents who show up or don't, whose listings are either genuine or not, and whose interest level is probably in direct proportion to the amount of distrustful, shocked looks we tried to hide while they showed us something that had been on the market for many, many months. Not to readers: You don't want to live in an apartment with floor drains in the middle of every space they are calling a bedroom.

There were, however, some incredibly beautiful spaces, and for not that much money. We looked at a place in Crown Heights that retained all the original woodwork from the 1910s, and, oh yeah, had three fireplaces. But, ultimately, the layout was a bit strange and we couldn't figure out how to use the space with the way we wanted. We also looked at a full three-floor house in Lefferts Gardens that was, quite simply, not to be believed. Front porch, backyard, two-car garage, three bedrooms upstairs, three bathrooms, washer and dryer, dishwasher, antique stove, and more and more and more. We decided that we couldn't afford it. Or that we could afford it, but then we'd find ourselves house poor. (Additionally, I didn't want to pay the outrageously high broker's fee to a broker who showed up 15 minutes late in his white Corvette and departed quickly to make it to his martial arts class.)

I'm nervous about the changes ahead. But also looking forward to them. Here's hoping that the cats make friends, that the presence of the dishwasher means that Kip actually does the dishes that I dirty when I cook, that the central air lulls us to sleep every hot summer night, and that the small square of dirt in the back bursts forth with whatever we plant there. Movin' on up, indeed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

If You Can Hear Me

If you can hear me,
know that I love you.
Years from now, after
you have solved the housing crises
of the thin, coast-stroking nations
of Southeast Asia,
and rounded the spikes of classism
in the wide, collapsing communities
of South America, with
your youthful grin,
I will smooth myself against you
like a balm of kisses.

After you have wrestled with
the sea monsters of all literature
you tuck yourself inside a wooden shoe,
and sleep the great sleep of
a brave boy who jogs up and down stadiums,
absorbed by the sound of
your heartbeat, which does for me,
what hope does for you.

Monday, April 05, 2010


I'm sitting here with the unbound version of Yield that will soon go to a printer to be returned to me in galleys. I've been told by the production editor at Kensington to check for "the accuracy of data, typesetting and editing." This is the first time I've seen the book look the way it will look when it is actually a book. Initially, I wrote in 11-point Times New Roman--probably because this was the default on my Word at the time. Then when I started sending the manuscript around to agents I changed it to 12-point Courier because this seemed to be the way they all wanted it. (I was probably wrong about that, but here I am.) Now the book is in something else, I don't know what it is, but it's fluid and has a nice blankness to it, a kind of anonymous-looking font that fits well with the story. But, I've never seen the book like this, and it's proving difficult to adjust.

When I was writing, I paid close attention to the white space on the page. I paid close attention to single words hanging off a line. If a single word fell at the beginning of the line by itself, then I changed the sentence so it wouldn't be like that. I think, now that I've had some distance from the writer I was in my early 20s, that this was all: an attempt to control what you can't control, a concern for something that doesn't really matter that much to the reader, who isn't you, and who doesn't care about that kind of thing, or at least doesn't notice, and also the only way I knew how to tell if the writing was, well, musically, how it should sound.

Suddenly, the book is new again, looking beautifully together, but still strange to me. I'm reading it again, page by page, remembering all the nights spend struggling with it, all the weeks that summer where the pages were plastered all over the walls, the circled verbs, the highlighted sections of imagery, the re-ordered chapters just to see what that was like.

Books sitting on hard drives only serve to corrode the will. But as grateful as you are that you're being published, you feel a certain sadness--not sadness, actually. Growing pains, maybe. You relive the insecurity of starting the thing, the uncertainty of the characters in the beginning, and you remember all the nights spent alone at the desk and the amount of work you have put into it is overwhelming and, perhaps as self-protection, almost impossible to remember.

I'm excited. But also anxious. And insecure, and suddenly shy about it. The reader won't have the same emotional peaks that I have when I read the book--they will have their own, of course, at least one hopes--mine are mostly about my own experience during the crafting of it.

So many disparate things can be true all at once.