Friday, May 25, 2012

Occasionally, I Write

Robert Frost wrote to his editor about their summer rental house, in an area of New Hampshire where they rented for many years: "Our summer was one of the pleasantest we have had in years. . . . There is a pang there that makes poetry."

I know that pang--it can trigger poetry or fiction or even a good blog post.  It's a subtle thing and has to be encouraged and given time to spread out into a life.  A life I don't think I have anymore. 

 All this is triggered by the pang when I read the most recent cover on my Poet's and Writer's Magazine: This Is Your Last Issue it proclaims, in bold black letters on red background, as if the gravity of that pronouncement needed any more heft.  The envelopes started arriving a few weeks ago, little reminders that it was time to write the check that would keep it coming for another year, or if you act now, a special deal for two or more years.  I have a stack of these magazines on the shelf above where I'm writing this now.  I can glance up there and see them--the two I saved from ages and ages ago (with the story of Stones for Ibarra and its author, my heroine Harriet Doerr) when it was more of broadsheet-type publication with a soft fold and staples holding it together.  Now the magazine is smaller, has more color photographs, more contest announcements all with a tidy little spine that looks very nice. 

And that's the problem--it looks nice, but I don't read them.  Haven't read them for about the last 18 months.  Opening them reminds me of another time in my life when I thought I would write, when I thought I had the power to push through the ennui of life and Produce the Novel.  Write that fiction that would be talked about in literary circles.  I would be the one of my graduating class to be on NPR one day, reading an essay into a microphone, spreading the gospel of my writing throughout the broadcast world.  I really believed I would do it.  Then I really wanted to believe I would do it.  Then I sort of believed I could do it.  And then I stopped opening up the magazines.  I hated going to gatherings of my grad school colleaguesor UCR's Writers Week, or anything where they talked up what they were writing, and what magazines were accepting their stories.  It didn't really matter to me what mags were, because I wasn't writing.  I wasn't getting those 9 x 12 envelopes all lined up, sending my little pieces of fiction or poetry out into the world, like little flat children.

I was teaching.  I was getting a child (or two)  married.  I was dealing with the illness of a daughter.  I was traveling.  I was meeting new grandchildren. I was building memories with my husband.  I was sewing, quilting.  I was carefully not writing about the things that caused that sharp turn in my heart, for they were too overwhelming.  I was reading.  I was listening to music.  I was loyal, holding back, preserving privacy.  I was reconciling what I thought I was going to do with what I was doing.  I shuffled through doctors.  I graded papers.  I wasted time.  All the while, the binders with various drafts of my novel were like those eerie-but-wise stone carvings in Lord of the Rings flanking the calm river where Frodo paddles past, on his way to his uncertain future.  Today I am moving those binders to the garage.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't sad. 

We used to say in Creative Writing that you can't go back to your earlier writing because you change, and that pang that triggered what you wrote then, is not longer there.  This I know is true.  And I am sad that I will never figure out how to move that character in my novel from her ways of avoiding the emotional center, keeping a careful balance, to the place where she deals head on with the awful calm and crazy that is her life.

Until I can figure this writing thing out (and I may never do that), this blogging forum will be my place to write, to craft something wordwise.  For even though I may have left Margaret stranded in Wisconsin, I can keep the writing muscle limber enough to find her--or some other creature--again.


grandma said...

Love, Mom.

sterling said...

I hesitate to comment given the razor sharp (a colloquialism) skills of analysis you've developed to critique the writing of others but (underlined) this Piece is a door stopper (a colloquialism, as if the door needed stopping) of mega-worth (a colloquialism) to remain long (how do I know?) in my mind (are you sure of the location?) where serotonin (just say satisfaction or happiness) dwells. (Whew, another peacock sentence - all tail and no body.) s/The olde archaist.

Artax said...

Thank you for *this* writing, and for sharing it.

Unknown said...

Elizabeth, this piece touched a spark and moved me. You truly have the heart of an artist and hear the music in language, and perhaps that is what is most important in the end. Maybe writing the Great American Novel isn't what it is all about for those who follow the quest to write, but rather the journey that makes the difference. Thank you. xoxo, Ramona