One of mine today!
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015
I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.
I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend from my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.
One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror. And repeat. I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.
I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.
Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.
A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food. People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs. These spices of experience. Fragments of mercy.
I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.
It is yours.
I’m delighted to be longlisted for the:
2018 Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction
Thanks, Prism! Congrats, longlist!
In no particular order:
A Girl’s Guide to the End of the World by Elle Wild (Bowen Island, BC)
Baptism of Alleluia Gomez by Michael Mendonez (Pemberton, NJ)
North Coast, Late Sixties, with Soundtrack by Jane Kinegal (Vancouver, BC)
Bodies in Trouble by Diane Carley (St John’s, NL)
She Figures That by Rachael Lesosky (Victoria, BC)
Sisters on a Quest by Mi-Kyung Shin (New York, NY)
Hawthorne Yellow Lisa Alward (Fredericton, NB)
Pooka by Angelique Lalonde (Hazelton, BC)
Ursa Minor by Quinn Mason (Montreal, QC)
Whiteout January by Jessica Waite (Calgary, AB)
Chosen by Marilyn Abildskov (Emeryville, CA)
Potlatch Returns to Wazhashk Creek by D.A. Lockhart (Windsor, ON)
Catch by Jennifer Dickieson (Vancouver, BC)
A Wager by Gord Grisenthwaite (Kingsville, ON)
The Gravity of Rocks by Jane Eaton Hamilton (Salt Spring, BC)
sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, March, 2018, mixed media, 9×12, paper
Pharting around at sketching today, late today because I had an ultrasound at the hospital–yay! stand down on cancer scare! When I arrive at the atelier (which, here, is upstairs at the Lion’s Club), the model is usually doing one and two-minute poses, and my hand warms up, drops its daily concerns, finding its lines, remembering how to draw into the body, remembering how to make lines occupy space. Today I was only there for two long poses (long poses are usually 20 minutes). Since I started with this group in Jan, I’ve done something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now–I’ve let myself play.
A long time ago, I started sketching in Bali. I was a photographer and couldn’t (from overseas) find a model, and so I signed up in Ubud for a day-long sketching session. I was really pleasantly surprised at what came out of my pencil, and I kept drawing. I’d drawn as a kid, a lot, and had been put into art classes which bored me to tears (perspective! it still bores me! I would fall down dead if I had to draw architecture!), but then I was told to do a self-portrait, which I did in front of my mother’s makeup mirror, above the mascara cake she always spit in, its little brush, her foundation and rouge, her pair of yellow earrings. I contorted my expression, and finally settled on horrified. I drew myself like The Scream, and I was really proud. I’d only ever been proud of horse drawings before that. But people were uniformly horrified. My mother, aghast. My teacher revolted.
So I quit. I must have been in grade six, so eleven, and I quit drawing for forty years. I was terrified of it, in fact. Any time someone said, “Pictionary?” I froze.
Until Ubud. From Ubud, I started taking night classes, some with James Picard. I started going to the Vancouver atelier which had just then moved to Main Street–what was cool about it was that it had sessions every day. What was uncool was that I was too disabled to park far from it and walk carrying a portfolio (not really a portfolio, just drawing supplies, which are heavy), so I had to stop. I kept taking classes, classes with Emily Carr, classes with artists I met through the atelier, and a shit-ton of classes with Justin Ogilvie. I liked Justin; I loved his work. One day, though, he said something very unkind–something like Well, you’ll produce something worth looking at in six years. On the spot, I quit for six years.
When I got over myself again, I started a certificate program at Emily Carr. But I kept having heart surgeries and not getting to class. And then I kept coming up against the fact that Emily Carr wanted me to have a broad education–which is to say, take that perspectives class again and a class on running a business, and these I had and have utterly no interest again. I want to draw figures, and I want those figures to be women or non-binary or trans. I have no interest in drawing cis men. When you are as sick and disabled as I am, you get particular. I started teaching myself at home instead, which made sense because I was mostly relegated, then, to a chair with my feet up against heart failure, and I could hold small drawing paper on my lap. I spent some time living in a friend’s apartment in Paris, and I found I was too disabled to use the transit system, so I was house-bound, and I gesso’d paper and painted on that, nothing too large to carry home in a suitcase (I was too disabled to get to the PO). I found some double sided tape and taped these (bright) paintings to the walls of the apartment, ceiling to floor. I only went out for two reasons: food, with a little cart/bag that I pulled, or art galleries, where I could borrow wheelchairs. I spent that time intensely engaged in writing and art/art history.
I’ve been seeking something in my fingers. It’s been inchoate–I guessed it was a “breakthrough,” but I don’t actually draw or paint often enough to have one of those. Still, suddenly, it seems far closer to me.
I’ve always previously been preoccupied with an accuracy I could never obtain, which kept my style stiff, and I have thrown that concern the hell out the window now. For a few years, mostly outside ateliers, classes and degrees, I’ve taught myself to draw lines. Over and over again, drawing without looking at the page, drawing without lifting the pen, drawing without lifting the pen while not looking at the page. Over and over, practicing lines, which is to say, rather than doing a figure with chicken-scratch, a thousand teeny tiny lines to get from armpit to waist, as is my natural wont, I’ve forsaken that for long lines in ink or paint and no chance to re-do. Committed, as you will. I’ve also tried to take poses to the fewest lines I could manage (a la Picasso’s animals). This was a very useful home-study. Now I’m just sitting in the atelier each week with my body screaming in pain (from the setup, from my auto immune disorder, from carrying in supplies), having fun. Not second-guessing my impulses, not thinking–in paper, in media, in line–just scribbling like a kid, making happy and occasionally felicitous mistakes. I don’t care what mediums I’m combining–I’ve put acrylic with charcoal with conte with pastels with watercolour blocks and back again. I just want my representation of a person to breathe on the page–and care nothing at all if the model is represented. (Partly I just don’t see well enough to do that sort of drawing any longer.)
All the while, I’m working beside actual artists who are honing their considerable skills. I watch with awe. And awe again at my luck in being able to be near people so talented. When I get over my shyness, I’ll ask if I can sit beside them to learn.
So, here is Marianne from today, hot off the presses, and some other sketches from other weeks from the 1-5 min bunches:
The über cool festival on every social justice tongue is of course The Fold, which takes place in Brampton, ON, every May. I’ll be joining such exciting talents as Lisa Charleyboy, Kyo Maclear, Fartumo Kusow, Catherine Hernandex, Tanya Talaga, Michele Kadarusman, Kim Thúy, and Rabindranath Maharaj. It is my great honour. Thank you to Jael Richardson for inviting me!
Bags of potpourri that the Littleton, Colorado, fire department made from flowers placed at Columbine High School: 3000
It was hard to drop her at school
that spring. She made me leave her
two blocks away
Low on her hip she
flicked dismissive fingers at me
in a way she hoped would be invisible
to other kids
It wasn’t just Columbine
Children were dying video gun deaths
all over the US
Other teens were being snapped in two in car accidents
breakable as bread sticks
or taken to lonely woods
and crumpled like test papers
At the swimming pool after
I watched a teen boy toss Meghann like pizza
his arms newly strong, voice
loud, sure, traveling out over the heads of toddlers
and kids in grade school
moms with infants at breast
She fought for footing on the bottom of the pool
came up sputtering
happy to be vanquished
I wanted to tell someone I loathed potpourri
I hear the repetitive hit of a hammer–the neighbours putting in a suite, I think. I notice motion, see a pileated woodpecker nailing the top of a countertop I have leaning against the porch railings. The woodpecker’s done a lot of damage–to the old junk countertop, but also, I see, to the porch beams, and I think how stupid it is to look for insects in new wood, the scars bright and bare. As I move closer to the doors, the woodpecker dives out of sight, makes three ovals so I can only briefly note its raised red alarmed crest. Like a cartoon, really, all wheeling motion.
I’m blue like the shortest day, the blue of indigo. I’ve been trying to keep my pecker up, as they say, and indeed here at the manse there are many other peckers up–this morning six flickers at a time, along with downy and hairy woodpeckers, and of course the big mama of them all, the huge pileateds who swoop in for leisurely meals of suet or peanuts before dashing away.
This woodpecker’s in trouble. This woodpecker, I see, on stepping outside, is entangled in the netting I use for clematis, in effect, caught just as certainly in a doll-size sea of six-pack plastic as any turtle or whale. I rue the problems with feeding birds, the list of which sweeps through me as the bird thrashes, hung by one over-extended claw … the window hits, the rodents, the birds of prey, the starlings (does one give in and just feed the things? I shout, Go murmur! as I bang the window, but they are never dissuaded), the expense, and now this.
Entirely my fault.
Whisper, I tell myself. So I go quiet and inside my head I tell her I know she’s stuck, and I’m going to go into my house and fetch something to free her, but the important part will be for her to make herself calm because when she struggles, I can’t get the netting off. When I get back with scissors the bird is wild, and wilder still as I extend an arm. I tell her, internally, I can’t help if you don’t stay still. I size up her bill, a fat three-inch needle. She heaves herself upright and lies out along the top of the counter’s edge with her snagged leg extended back toward me. Without thinking, I snip as close to her foot as I can get and before I can try a second time for the netting on her claw, she’s long gone. I watch her lift into the trees and snag herself onto pine bark.
I feel sad, though. Sad to have inadvertently caught her in a kind of leg-hold trap, as I’m sad when birds hit my windows. I’m trying two group whispers now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and the first is to stop the window carnage. It seems to be working here at the end of a week. Too soon to know for sure, but the rates seem down.
Is there a whisperer available to just talk to me? I haven’t been able to see my pipsqueak g-babies in weeks because of illnesses, even for tree trimming, and I am worried, tormented, filling up with more and more concerns, the personal ones, the bigger ones. There isn’t any point, is there, to struggling? I’m post-natal on (draft of) a major project. I’m agonizing about money. I’m worried for the welfare of friends, especially in the hot zones like Vancouver and the US. I’m cranked about desertification, jellification, plastics. I’m frantic about who will take in climate and political refugees, about Trudeau being so right-wing, about the Congress and omnibus bills and Mueller not being allowed to finish. I’m worried about the dreamers. I’m worried about the ACA. I’m worried about my disabled friends, because whatever problems others are having, they’re magnified for the disabled. I’m worried about the loneliness that capsizes people during the holidays.
I think about my dead parents-in-law, my dead cat, my dead marriage. I light what I call the “mama candle” for my dead mother and m-in-l, which is blue like my mood. It’s a green night tonight, small flame notwithstanding, with patches of white heavy on cedars, on today’s day that is seconds longer than yesterday’s. The dark falls like tree boughs in wind storms, and I can’t shake my depression.
I hope your holidays are the best they can be, with warmth and intimacies that cherish you. I wish you the return of light.
1946 Femme au collier jaune; Picasso
painting of Françoise Gilot with cigarette burn on her cheek–if we view this, are we complict?
I found this article by Claire Dederer useful in thinking through what has been an obsession without answer during my artistic career. Should we love the art and ignore what we know of the artist? Should art be held to standards? All I ever could answer with were questions.
What is art? What does it mean? Whose art? Whose history? What art was left out? This is as true of literature of course as it is of visual art or films or photography.
I want to see the world we’d have if the people who had been left by the wayside were white men. I want to see the films, read the books, look at the photography and visual art that wasn’t captured or wasn’t kept or wasn’t remarked upon. I long to know the world without patriarchy. Would it be better, or only different?
I wrote a new poem. I’m sure you can guess whose voice I wrote it in. Louis CK has been accused of showing his penis and masturbating to colleagues. I watched Tig Notaro’s One Mississippi Season 2 reference to one of his assaults recently, as it happens, and I wondered about the male privilege and disregard for others you’d have to experience to commit assaults like these. What relationship would you have to have to your penis? I bet you’d have to think it was pretty great, at least superficially, wouldn’t you?
I Show My Dick
I carry my dick in front of me
It’s an easy-glide dick
It’s a strong dick
It’s a big dick
a stand-up dick
It’s a straight dick, it doesn’t bend
My dick’s a trophy dick
My dick’s a race car dick
It’s a stallion dick
an elephant dick
a blue whale dick
In a bag of dicks, my dick perks up
In a bag of dicks, my dick’s a fountain
In a bag of dicks, my dick’s Dick of the Bag
-Jane Eaton Hamilton
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton
Out presenting at Surrey International Writer’s Festival this past weekend, I popped into a workshop held by Meg Tilly to help improve writers’ reading skills. Here she is sitting on a participant’s feet. There’s probably a great story behind that, but I’m not whispering it.
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton
After appearing at the Whistler Writer’s Festival on Oct 14, I’ll be at the Surrey Festival from Thursday Oct 19 through Sunday Oct 22 presenting at the Surrey International Writer’s Festival. Join writers Dong Won Song, Juliane Okot Bitek, Sean Cranberry, Zsuzsi Gartner, Meg Tilly, Jack Whyte and many more for a weekend of skill-honing and fun. #siwf17
Jane Eaton Hamilton
Friday, October 20, 2017
Writing about activism is writing that promulgates a progressive view of our world and motors towards change. Is it possible to write social justice poetry or fiction, along with the more usual non-fiction and memoir? Is writing about social justice risky? What will happen to a writer’s career if they become associated with a cause or causes? What about lawsuits and trolls? We’ll spend the workshop engaged in a lively exploration, using social justice writing prompts, learning how to be an effective activist in Canlit. Bring your questions!
Jane Eaton Hamilton
Saturday, October 21, 2017
3:45 – 5:00 pm
Writing across genres means writing in more than one arena—poetry, short fiction, memoir, essay, non-fiction or cross-genre within a piece. What makes a piece one genre or the other? Are there conventions that can be carried from one genre to the others to create new cross-genre pieces? What are the implications to your Canlit career of crossing genres? Using a single writing prompt, we’ll explore how to cross genres. Bring your questions!
This is a literary blog and exactly the place literary essays about domestic violence belong.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month in the US. November is Domestic Violence Awareness month in Canada.
S/he/they don’t have to be hitting you for you to be a victim; abuse happens with gaslighting, lying, cheating, yelling, sexual abuse, dehumanizing you, demeaning you, threatening you, throwing things, frightening you/the children. This month and next, I ask everyone to remember that this is not just a heterosexual, able-bodied crime. The disabled are victims of violence at home at a much higher rate than are the able-bodied. Queers and trans people are frequent victims of violence both outside the household perpetrated by strangers, and inside it perpetrated by their intimate partners. If you want to read more about queer violence, I started a website to collect the pieces I could find about it at www.queerviolence.com.
Thank you, readers, for having the interests of victims at heart this month and next. It is your understanding that will make a difference. Thank you for educating yourselves.
All a household needs for domestic violence to occur is one partner who feels entitled and willing to batter. It’s not about the victim. It’s entirely caused by, about and the fault of the offender.
Why doesn’t she leave? S/he/they have told her that she’s crazy, she’s imagining things, it’s not that bad, s/he/they love her. Periodically, the violence ends and the loving relationship begins anew, refreshed and revitalized This pattern of violence broken by love broken by violence broken by love eventually twists a victim’s mind. She believes in the love. She hungers for it. She needs it. It’s the “real” relationship, after that. The violence is just something to be borne. This creates a psychological condition called trauma bonding. (In a hostage situation the same dynamic would be called Stockholm Syndrome.) When there’s violence, she would give anything, do anything, be anybody just to have the pendulum swing back to where her partner loves and approves of her again.
Kids are often caught in the crossfire and this is particularly grievous because they are observing behaviour that will make them feel “at home” as adults. They won’t know how to form healthy relationships with healthy people. If you can’t make yourself leave for yourself, make yourself leave on behalf of your children.
Call your local transition house because, there, you will have breathing room to think through your circumstances and to begin the process of healing and figuring out the next steps to your free future.
What can you do? Support resources helping battered women. Educate yourself on feminism and why it’s critical to everyone’s future. BELIEVE THE VICTIMS. If you like the offender, and you don’t like the victim, nevertheless, BELIEVE THE VICTIM.
Below, I’ll link to literary essays on abuse. Please feel free to add the ones that have been important to you in the comments.
It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg, Guernica, Best American Essays
Apology Not Accepted, a blog by Kelly Sundberg with guest essayists on the topic of IPV
(Stay tuned for a book on the topic by Kelly Sundberg in 2018.)
Using CNF to Teach the Realities of Intimate Partner Violence to First Responders: An Annotated Bibliography, by Christian Exoo, Assay Journal
The Story of My Fear Over Time, by Kelly Thompson, The Rumpus
Underwater, by Kelly Thompson, Manifest Station
I Understand Why Some Women Stay, by Virginia Mátir, xojane
The Mule Deer, by Debbie Weingarten, Vela
On Car Accidents and Second Wives, by Mandy Rose, Apology Not Accepted
Never Say I Didn’t Bring You Flowers, by Jane Eaton Hamilton, Apology Not Accepted, Full Grown People, notable in Best American Essays
I’m delighted to be reading with Lenore, Jim and Joan at the Whistler Writer’s Fest! I wrote about the risk in writing my novel ‘Weekend’ for the festival, here.
Writers of Fiction
October 14, 2017 | 10 – 11:30 a.m.| Fairmont Chateau Whistler | $15
Lenore Rowntree, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Jim Nason, Joan B. Flood and the fiction winner of the Whistler Independent Book Prize. Author Claudia Casper explores the essential elements of fiction through our guest authors’ stories. They involve an only child struggling to emerge from his mother’s bipolar disorder; the complexities of contemporary queer love; how a veterinarian’s life choices, at times, contradict her alleged love of children and animals; and a family drama set in Ireland in which decisions and mistakes echo through generations.
Moderator: Claudia Casper
Will You Ossuary Me?
Jane Eaton Hamilton
She wanted to kiss me in bones. Death, much? Spiraling down 19 meters. She pulled the ends of my scarf and I moved closer because hers were Parisian lips, the top lip thin, the bottom lip full, and I felt her deeply inside where my nerves snapped and I was decomposible. There were tibias all around us in the damp light, and scapulas from the plague, phalanges and fibulas and metatarsals. Infant bones. People dead of polio. People collapsed of childbirth and famine. Of war. Cries and tears and screams. The bones of six million Parisians dug up from cemeteries to make room, shovels of bones, wagon-loads of bones pulled by sway-backed nags for a full two years—carted down into these old mine tunnels, then arranged. We stood in puddles. The air was heavy with the motes of people’s lives—more broken dreams, I guessed, than dreams come true. It was quiet, but the past echoed. Ghost-din. Someone had written, Pour moi, mort est un gain. Pour moi, pour moi, pour moi, she whispered, rumbling her voice. Exhumations and exhalations all around us, the breath of death, bone-stacks, bone-crosses, bone-chips in heaps, my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, maybe, resting in pieces. My lips were swollen and sore, cut and scabbed over from all that had already happened. Skulls placed in the shape of a heart, eye sockets staring, and behind those eye sockets more eye sockets. Shadows moved across us; her nipples hardened. She pressed me up against a white cross against a black tombstone. I will leave you, she said as she bit my throat, but not yet.
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton
I always look at publishing a book as throwing it down a well. Maybe you will hear echoes, and maybe they will be strong enough to hurt your eardrums, or perhaps as faint as whispers. Maybe, eventually, you will hear a splash when that book hits hard (bellyflops?). But mostly you will just peer down a very dark hole and watch your book careening through the air before drowning. You will see this even with reasonably successful books; even those have their season, and attention moves on. The pages become waterlogged, and sink, and tear. The glue loosens. Things sinking can be very beautiful. Things disintegrating can be magical. Think of fabric waving in water, of seaweed, of things barely glimpsed under surfaces. Of underwater dance. Of the grace and flow that you’ve been given back now the project is done. All that beauty of the finished book–sinking out of sight. This is exactly what leaves you alive and full and tarnished and battered and happy and excited for what’s coming next: the pause, the making.
Here is a piece I once wrote about failing to write a novel and giving it another try:
the new book
Over at Vulture,
The world opened for Matthew Klam, and his list of early awards and honours was daunting. He had it all except for a second book. As the years passed, he still didn’t have a second book. He wrote continually, he tossed continually, he taught instead for its anonymity.
I didn’t have an MFA program to weed out weaknesses. I learned slowly. Sometimes folks went mad for one story or essay, but when they wanted more, the more was always so different they didn’t like it. This is a problem with range and writing across genres (and letting my heart have its way).
I needed an imprimatur I didn’t have. A Menaker imprimatur, maybe. Once Ellen Seligman at M+S spent six months telling me yes, telling me no, telling me I don’t know, I go one way, I flop the other way, and I wonder what would have happened if she had said yes eventually, whether that profound novel about child rape in the world of wild mustangs I was then working on would have come to fruition. All these years later, I’m still curious about what would have broken out of me if by chance I had just been valued and nurtured, and really had to work to an editor’s expectations. I would have risen, I know, because I am like that, but in what way, to what end?
What literature did I not produce because I:
a) wasn’t quite good enough?
b) wasn’t repetitive enough?
c) there was discrimination (even inborne and unacknowledged) against certain categories of writers (disabled/queer/feminist)?
d) wasn’t from the US?
What would those stories and books have been?
I was low-income and a sole-support parent a lot of those years. And of course I asked the same questions Matthew Klam asked himself: What does this matter? Who needs another story? Another novel? To what purpose? To win a prize and still be unable to pay the bills? I certainly never cared about a postmortem reputation–that and $5 I’d get a plastic glass of latte at Starbucks to set on my gravestone.
I won the CBC contest a couple times. I published in the NY Times, the Sun and other strong periodicals (back then and again this year). But no successes ever built, no one ever tucked me under her mentor wing. I still write in my self-propelled bubble without much response. I certainly write now without any hopes at all for the marketplace–really, only to please myself.
I had my perfect form and lost it. I quit writing stories and nobody noticed. I quit writing stories and only a friable piece of my heart noticed. I struggle to write novels, but I am no novelist. I am no novelist.
Maybe Matthew Klam is. I look forward to reading Who Is Rich?