February 13, 2003
It’s anniversary time again. This journal is four years old. My mother would be ninety-two.
In 1999, when I first went online, I quoted Sylvia Plath: “I am a genius of a writer; I have it in me. I am writing the best poems of my life; they will make my name . . .” And I noted that we all know what happened to Sylvia, gone now forty years.
In 2000, one year after merrily jumping into putting myself online, I said, “…I am satisfied with what having this site has done for my writing. I write more and I write better than I did a year ago….” In 2001 I announced that I continue to clarify my needs as a developing writer . . . with the emphasis on fiction.” And last year I grumbled that “more than once in the last two weeks or so I’ve decided that I would abandon the project altogether.”
I am able to read Sylvia Plath’s brave and sunny words while knowing the terrible grief and despair they covered. Given that, it’s more than a little disconcerting to read my own proclamations and see how I have been unable (or perhaps just unwilling) to deliver on my own promises.
Last week I printed out all my tables of contents for all four years of this journal and took a look at them as a business owner might. In 1999 (which covered only ten months) I wrote 64 pieces. In 2000, when I had a full twelve months, I added only a dozen more. Production fell by nearly 40% in 2001, and declined even more in 2002, which saw only 27 essays, not even three a month.
But already in 2003 I’ve almost exceeded in quantity the whole of what I did last year. And I’m producing off-line as well. I must be in a little renaissance, and I have so much confidence that I registered my domain name for a full five years instead of just one. Like Sylvia, I know I have it in me, and I know I am doing the best work of my life. Unlike Sylvia, I have a self-concept and a support system that will help me keep my failures and my faults in perspective.
And sometimes I wonder what my mother would say about all this writing. In one of the first pieces posted here I recalled my beginning efforts as a writer:
My earliest memory of trying to establish myself as an author comes from about fourth grade. I’d read Little Women and identified with Jo. I even set up a kind of study in our attic, an unheated, partially finished low-ceilinged space that had a dormer window. I retreated there after my mother, who’d found me hunched over paper and pencil in a corner of the dining room, said to my father in a voice dripping with derision, “She’s writing a story.”
In 1989 I showed her the short story I completed at the first fiction writing workshop I ever attended. It was about a woman who at the age of forty decides to take up again the piano lessons that she’d been forced to abandon (in favor of the violin) at ten. Like most beginners’ fiction, it was almost transparent autobiography, and you can certainly guess at the identity of the person who robbed the protagonist of those lessons, and how she is portrayed. “You have a typing error on page five,” was the only comment my mother made.
My mother had no truck with frivolous pursuits that took you away from school work and violin practice. If she could read the snippet quoted above she would likely remind me that I have a selective memory, and a choice about the context I place the selected memories in. I can’t argue with that. Which of us does not?
At one point in my second or third year of college I needed to look in my mother’s bedside cabinet for something. In the bottom drawer I found a notebook I’d kept in ninth grade. I had labeled it “The Short Stories of Margaret Yakimoff.” I’d used gold-flecked adhesive shelf paper to dress up the traditional marble cover. I remember some of the work — a derivative piece that used many themes to be found in Louisa May Alcott, a story about a girl who is excluded from a secret sorority, and one about a girl who must turn down a prom date because she doesn’t have money for a dress. (The boy asks another girl and they both die in a car accident.)
That notebook is nowhere to be found now. In all likelihood I destroyed it myself, since its contents can only have been an embarrassment. But something in it was valuable enough to my mother that she’d moved it from our old house to our new one and kept it close at hand. It’s entirely possible that she did not mean to discourage me, and I think she would not do so now.