September 1, 2010
And in dreams I dare to see you
delivered into an open field, a vast space
on the map where a creek flows
and nothing can stop it, the feeling,
the love you have for your life,
for your very own animal body
which has delivered you there
in time, just in time.
— Bridget Lowe, b. circa 1981, American poet
“The Pilgrim Looks at the World From Above”
I’ve been back from Vermont a week. The Double Shot Summer ended with the snap of a tree trunk late on the night of August 22, a Sunday. The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference had ended on Friday night, the Best Bread Loaf Ever EVER, as I had predicted, as I had hoped. My lease on the house I rent at the edge of the campus ran through Tuesday morning. My plan was to spend three days looking at the leaves and the light and charting my course through the next year, which I named The Year When I’m Sixty-four. I’ve named my Gallivanting Summers for a long time. Why not my periods of regular work as well?
I still live by the academic calendar, dividing the weeks between late August and late May into semester-like “epochs,” a term lifted from an early twentieth century social studies exam that is often held out as an example of the kind of information youngsters used to have to know. “Name and describe the epochs of Berks County history,” the directions said, as if being able to do that was useful beyond its ability to demonstrate that you could memorize somebody else’s idea of the epochs that Berks County history was would be divided into. My epochs for 2010-2011 worked out to:
August 29 – October 23 — Fall Term A (8 weeks)
October 24 – November 20 — Fall Term B (4 weeks)
November 21 – December 25 — Holiday Break (5 weeks)
December 26 – March 5 — Winter Term (10 weeks)
March 6 – March 12 — When I’m Sixty-four Birthday Break (1 week)
March 13 – May 21 — Spring Term (10 weeks)
May 22 – May 28 — Bite Your Nails Bread Loaf Notification Break (1 week)
May 29 — Regroup
I divided the Fall Term in two because on October 24 I’ll be settling in at the Vermont Studio Center for a four-week residency. My plan: work steadily on The Novel (it gets Decorative Caps now) for eight solid weeks, taking the draft to 50,000 words, and then, with everything I’ve learned this year, take four short stories that are in various stages of completion and revise the hell out of them, one each week, and start sending them out. Because do you know why I don’t have wry or entertaining stories about my collection of rejection slips? Because I never send anything out! If nothing else, I’ll have something to contribute to the Rejection Letters discussions among my Speakeasy friends.
So that was the plan, and it worked for Saturday and Sunday. Monday was windy and overcast and drizzly at times, and overshadowed by the need to find out what to do about the snapped power line and the now-fragile tree where what was left of the dead and hollow trunk balanced precariously in the fork about six feet from the ground.
I left Vermont on the morning of Tuesday, August 24, intending to swing by Worcester, Massachusetts to visit a place I’d first read about in 2004 — a public skating rink built on the site of a historic cemetery. The controversy over it — business leaders vs. preservationists — became a subplot in my novel. But through a Facebook friend newly settled as a writer-in-residence there and another in Boston, I heard it was quite likely that the animals would soon be parading by two by two. Not a good couple of days for outdoor explorations. When my GPS said I could be in Worcester at 4:30, but Harrisburg at 7:30, I left the easterly route the road not taken, and headed south toward home.
On August 26 I started a new notebook, the third this year, J31. “This is the first day of The Year When I’m Sixty-four,” I wrote on the first page. I spent part of the time since reviewing all the work I’ve done in the year between Bread Loaf 2009 and Bread Loaf 2010. I read more and wrote more than in previous years, but I’m still not as productive, as forward moving, as I would like to be, as I know I can be.
I have it in me, the second beating heart that is my book, that is my work, that can be a creek flowing through me that nothing can stop. Sugar, the nom de plume of the writer of an advice column that is part of The Rumpus, a lively site for writers and readers, recently held forth on the sighing and self-pity that any writer, especially a woman writer, can fall into when she doubts her talent, doubts the worth of what she does, doubts her very self.
“Writing is hard for every last one of us . . . says Sugar in Advice Column #48. “Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. . . . You need to do the same . . . . I want to know what you have inside you. I want to see the contours of your second beating heart. So write . . . .Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Like a motherfucker.”
And so I shall.
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