Happy to have this post up on Brevity Blog.
Today I am 60 years old. I’m tucked away in a cabin amidst the redwoods halfway between Eureka and Arcata, California. I slept for 10 hours last night. Only waking when the flickers pecked at the side of the house. The sun emerges between the trees and warms the floor while I stretch my old body on the yoga mat. Then just as I imagine sitting on the floor to do my morning reading and writing, the sun disappears. The floor once more cold. I’ll take myself to the shore, find some sand to walk on, hope for a sunny spot to contemplate life.
My C-section scar starting itching in Reno. By the time I got here, it was raw and red. Why would it be hurting now? Have I gained so much weight that the skin stretches and strains the scar? Over 22 1/2 years since anyone emerged from the abdominal cut. Why pain now?
The sabbatical moves along, the writing not so much. I’m working through the 12-week course of The Artist’s Way, which makes me feel mildly productive. And I read lots of books. Perhaps the scar signals an upcoming spurt of creativity. A birth of some kind.
from sometime in July:
well at least up early-ish, compared to every other day in July thus far. it’s been a struggle to shift from work mode to sabbatical mode this time around, though honestly I cannot remember the last one–the last sabbatical, that is–because it was so long ago (8 years), and I was in such a different place: physically (living with my teenagers on Tyler Avenue and pre-menopausal), emotionally (still recently divorced), professionally (no longer assistant chair but not yet all the other administrative roles I took on since 2014), and spiritually (attending al-anon meetings and drinking very little).
it’s been a struggle–motivating to write. the reading is no problem. I’ve torn through several memoirs and books about writing and mysteries and articles and magazines. plus I’ve compiled lists of submission prospects (journals, deadlines, etc.), books I’m reading, and tasks + timeline for my sabbatical. today I’m sorting notes and drafts–copying, cutting, pasting, formatting–into potential essays. but then I happened upon a saved document from 2015…a series of texts exchanged with my ex about attending a wedding. so much anger and pain expressed there. I need to process it before any kind of creativity will blossom again. I need to own what I did during my previous publication spurt seven years ago.
“Unraveled; or the Unraveling accomplished”
My third sabbatical brings to fruition my creative non-fiction collection, Unraveling. A compilation of twelve previously-published essays and several unpublished ones, this book unravels the strands of a life spent “working it out”— climbing in, moving out, hosing off, carrying on, mopping up, and calming down.
Friday morning: I had blocked out 3 hours on my calendar to write, so drove downtown, found a rare parking spot in front of Grounds for Coffee, ordered a 16-ounce latte, perched at the bar upstairs, opened my laptop, logged into my Catapult account, read through the Introduction to the Generating New Ideas for the Personal Essay online independent study class with Lilly Dancyger, created a list of experiences & identities that define me, moved to Exercise #1: Your Unique Perspective, tried to generate interesting pairs from the previous list, and realized I had nothing unique to share. My life is boring. Then I realized I’d had too much coffee: 2 cups at home and 2 shots of espresso at the coffee shop. Now what? Jittery, agitated–why hadn’t I paced myself?–impatient for inspiration. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS ANYMORE! So I check email, download some files, organize folders, write on my blog. Sigh.
After eating my breakfast, I unroll the sleeves of my LL Bean flannel robe, tugging them to cover my arms, and notice a give in the fabric on the left side–a give in a place I haven’t noticed a give before. I suspect that I’ve simply had a moment of weirdness, a moment when I perceive reality differently than usual, an out-of-body sensation, but I glance at my elbow and discover a hole. The fabric has ripped. I hadn’t imagined it. There’s now a gap in the otherwise intact flannel. Is there a spring sale on winter robes? If I order now, I could have it delivered by Tuesday. Only $79 + shipping + tax. I pause before adding it to my cart. Do I need a new robe? Is this one repairable? Apart from one elbow, the robe is intact. Better than intact. Soft, warm, comfortable. Eunice likes to play with the tie belt–not to be confused with the modesty ties, attached inside. Of course I could keep the tie, toss the robe, and get a whole new Scotch plaid flannel robe by next Tuesday. But where would my old robe go? Could it be recycled? My mother would cut it into strips and make blankets or rugs. I could send it to Savers and hope that someone would buy it, patch it, and wear it for a few more years. I roll up my sleeves and decide to think about it tomorrow.
I’ve been rolling around this word, plucking it out and placing it at the center of conversations since the beginning of the new year.
So yeah, it’s my usual feeling in January. Post-holiday blues, inversion sick, state legislative session angst, all of that stuff. But piling on the pandemic–with omicron cases propelling Utah to #4 then #3 in the nation–coupled with the ban on mask mandates, combined with not enough tests available to enforce “test-to-stay” policies in schools, and the weight feels unbearable. Even when I repeatedly test negative on my rapid at-home kits, I question the results. What about all of those false negatives? Perhaps I caught the virus yesterday, and it hasn’t yet had time to manifest itself. Maybe I’ll catch it next week. I don’t care. But I do.
I just can’t. I just can’t make the effort to do anything better, different, more meaningful for my long-term health and well-being. I just can’t. 2022 enters with a sigh, which is better than no sound at all. I suppose. I had hoped (expectations) that I might have reason to care more about my neighbors, global warming, then pandemic. But I care less about everything: my health, my friends, my family. Resolutions? For the faithful, the worthy, the ones with energy for the future. I have none; I am not; I have none.
When I learned that I would be interviewing Alice Sebold in November of 2007, I picked up copies of her two books: The Lovely Bones and Lucky.
I couldn’t bear to read the first one–a fictional account of young girl raped and murdered who narrates her story from heaven (?). And when Peter Jackson made the movie version, starring Stanley Tucci as the rapist/murderer, I couldn’t bear to watch it. I did, however, read the second one–a memoir of Sebold’s rape at Syracuse University. She recounts, in excruciating detail, her brutal assault but also describes the unlikely apprehension of the rapist and his subsequent conviction.
Our interview at a downtown Ogden hotel lasted all of 30 minutes. I found Sebold difficult to draw out. I’d ask a question that invited further commentary–such as her mention of the rapist who described his victims as sponges–but received not much elaboration. She seemed eager to get through the Q&A. I eked out Beyond Death: A Conversation with Alice Sebold, though the introduction is probably longer than the actual interview.
Re-reading what I asked and what she answered, I’m struck by the fact that her fame–which brought her to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference and offered me the chance to meet her–came from the rape. The rape led to the memoir; the memoir led to the novel; the novel led to her fame. The rape sold her books.
I cannot possibly imagine the pain Sebold endured–and probably continues to endure. And I would never begrudge anyone the right to write about their personal experiences. But I’m struggling with this information, as well as the tortured syntax of the headline (come on NPR!): Alice Sebold apologizes to the man exonerated in the rape that her memoir focused on
Now the black man, who Sebold (a white woman) misidentified as her rapist, who served 16 years in prison, and who 40 years later has been exonerated of the crime, this man paid the ultimate price. Would we have learned about his false conviction if the proposed movie adaptation of Lucky hadn’t uncovered problems with the trial? And where is the actual rapist? Sebold has apologized. It feels too little, too late. For both of them.
now this is a word that sounds like what it means:
The word came to me as I contemplated my writing, the M-D piece in particular, and I thought perhaps I could revisit that story and my more recent experience re-reading M-D, and then I thought that old experience (reading M-D) for the first time and my discussion of M-D in general had grown hackneyed. but as I write this I’m wondering if it’s simply the phrase that’s hackneyed. or is the drawing of parallels between one’s life and a work of literature just overdone. and then as I ponder the use of a word with its definition, is this not hackneyed as well? I recently read a book that used that technique a lot. and while I liked the book, I kept focusing on–okay, obsessed–on the author’s use of the technique that I’ve become so fond of.
But it’s a good technique! When I define a word, I anchor my writing in reality; I establish a common ground for my reader and me; I create a shared spaced where we can explore the narrative together. Ugh. (need gagging or puking emoji here). I went too far…
But it’s a still a good technique, in spite of its hackneyed overuse (redundant phrase?).
And I wonder why I can’t write. Entangled by words. I entangle myself in words. My words tangle me. They are tangled words. Tangled are my words. Words entangle me. Words tangle.
I thought that by creating an account on Medium and posting something above my usual blather I could achieve some semblance of “writing.” Maybe by putting it “out there” I might elevate this process from more than an occasional morning spew of words to an actual interaction with readers not granted special permission to view my blog (another story there…). I think one person liked it. And I shared it on Twitter, which garnered a like from one of my friends. But why do I care? Why must I put “it” out there? Put. It. Out. There. PUT IT OUT THERE.
To “put it out there” on Medium, seems facile (resisting the urge to define here but see below). I don’t have a quick list of “how to know if your[sic] obsessive” or “why I color-code my life” or “what to do about your cluttered inbox.” I changed the title to Are you obsessed too? to bait the clicks. If I turn my crazy-ass habits into a handy list perhaps I can publish them.
Ah, the second definition is intriguing–save for later? Publish or save draft?
Recently, I copied then pasted my list of dreams written on an unpublished WordPress page to Notes. It felt surprisingly satisfying to delete that draft page. Tidying. (See obsessions).
’tis but a game…a hackneyed, tangled, facile game.