Memenisse, Sperare

April 30, 2010

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

                — Marge Piercy, b. 1936
                    American novelist, poet, and social activist

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. Back on the first day, I wrote, confidently, “In keeping with National Poetry Month, I’m going to post a few lines of poetry every day as my Facebook status. I hope to post the same lines here as well, with commentary, . . . .” Knowing myself as I do, I added, “but you know how that goes.”

And so it went. I did post some snippet of poetry every day to my Facebook status. I even set up pages here for each day, but never set aside the concentration and the commitment necessary to write content worth a reader’s time. I was not, however, idle.

I wrote every day in my paper journal. Under the tedious delusion that I have some possibility of completing the first draft of my novel by October, I wrote about 10,000 of the 25,000 words I planned to complete by May 25. (And there’s a month to go!) I attended two funerals, both of the mothers of friends, had something of a religious epiphany at one and devoted some time to compiling a list of scenes to be included in my spiritual autobiography. I attended two readings by authors whose work is on my Fiction Fifty, Dan Chaon and Richard Russo.

The Dan Chaon reading was especially delightful. Last year I read a story of his that helped me a lot with the structure of one of my own and impuslively wrote him a fan letter after seeing some connection to him on Facebook. He friended me, and thanked me for my interest, a huge delight for a wannabe writer. I saw him at Franklin and Marshall College in nearby Lancaster, where he was introduced by faculty member Nicholas Montemarano. Nick was the fellow in my Bread Loaf workshop in 2006, a relationship that spans an aggregate of about ten hours over five days. To my utter amazement, Nick remembered me, greeted me by name, and asked after my novel, which he actually remembered some details of. More delight and ego boosting for someone who is afraid of being labeled, in the words of a former mentor, “a goddamned hobbyist.” (He didn’t apply those words to me, then. But it’s been almost fifteen years since we worked together, and I’ve yet to publish anything.)

I took a head-clearing art gallery trip to New York, visited the Guggenheim, which gave me a headache, and the Metropolitan Musem of Art, which restored my soul. I read in fiction and in poetry every single day. I kept in touch with friends (but not enough of that), and gave into a craving for Diet Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda (way too much of that, since it put back into my system the aspartame I had worked since the first of the year to clear).

And now here we are, headed into Summer Workshop Notification Season. I have been waitlisted for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. I’ve applied for two scholarships, one to a conference I have never attended and one for a general grant to defray expenses for any conference, notification of which should come in the next two weeks. And, of course, somewhere around May 20, there will come the up or down notice to me from my Holy Grail of summer conferences, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Readers of this space might remember my weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth last year when I was initially rejected, and my giddy joy at my sudden and unexplained reversal of fortune a month later.

I will never again be even a little bit sanguine about my chances of being offered official participation at Bread Loaf. But even though I know it won’t help, I’ve taken to wearing one of my Bread Loaf t-shirts to bed each night. Like Fleur Forsyte telling her beads, I figure it can’t hurt and it might help.

The poetry I chose for my Facebook update today came from Virgil, a Roman poet who lived from 70 to 19 BCE : Haec et olim meminisse juvabit . . . (and in the future it will be pleasant to remember these things). That’s something of a loose translation. In the context of the Aeneid, the speaker is telling his listeners that in the future they will be happy to remember even these things, the troubles and the trials they came through to arrive at this moment.

I’ve had a month of reading poetry, a month of moodling with my fiction.  Dum spiro, spero, said Cicero, that other friend of my days as a high school Latin scholar. While I breathe, I hope. I move forward, remembering, hoping.


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