Last week’s total: 8121
This week’s count: 798
I am ignoring that it’s Tuesday and not Monday and that it’s been a month and not a week since I last posted this paltry number.
I’m chugging along on something I’m not enjoying working on. Do I abandon it? Can I?
Charles D’Ambrosio is one of my favorite short story writers but there are two things I didn’t know about him. One, that The Point is his first story collection. And, two, that he’s from Seattle. Usually this is tangential information - secondary to the reading experience. But I couldn’t get past it. *
For some reason but I find it very easy to spot a ‘debut’ collection of short stories. Maybe it’s the editor in me or maybe the writer in me but there’s something in the writing that hasn’t quite found it’s way. Often there are young male narrators, 13-15 years old that have a similar vocabulary and perspective as, say, someone who is at the Iowa’s Writers Workshop. I know it seems picky but it happened enough that I began waiting for it in each story. And yet. And yet, there is everything else in the writing that is right.
This is something I struggle with: I read something. It is ordinary. Simple. Real. I I know these are big fat words that can often be quite hollow. I don’t know how to describe what makes it so good. How do I describe something that I love?** D’Ambrosio captures this reality. Carver does too. It’s not showy. The writing is right there for the reader to empathize. Maybe that’s it - it’s just empathetic to the ordinary, so much so it’s a celebration of it.
I started reading this book knowing I was going to love it. The surprise came when I realized the stories were set in and around Seattle. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Seattle. I’ve been here about two and a half years and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. But to read about it makes me feel differently. Granted, these stories were written before what I’ll call ‘modern’ Seattle - pre-Microsoft and Amazon hugeness when Boeing was Seattle. All three are huge businesses but Boeing means manufacturing. Microsoft and Amazon (and now just about about any other software company that’s here) means hi-tech, higher educated, people from just about everywhere in the world. Manufacturing and fishing means people from Seattle born and raised here, working and living here. (I have only met a handful of people that are actually from Seattle.) My point is that The Point was written during and about a time before the Seattle that I know it. There were places and references that I know and understood, which always brings a visceral connection to a book***; but, it was a glimpse into a Seattle that doesn’t quite exist anymore - a bit of its history, something I am becoming more interested in understanding. I’m not sure I’m ready to say that I like it here. I am willing to give it a chance.
*This is one of the reasons I keep a blog and gave up on my poor attempts at reviewing. I’m terrible at looking at works completely objectively. (Well, I was probably pretty good at it once or twice in grad school.) It is so personal for me. I like it better that way. Then, selfishly, the experience is all about me.
**My inability to describe what makes the voice real is probably what is preventing me from becoming a better writer. Sometimes you just don’t have it. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to prevent me from doing it.
***The greatest example of this, for me, is Rabbit, Run by John Updike. That was just a surreal read for me being from Reading, PA.
Last week’s total: 7095
This week’s count: 1026
I am trying not to imagine what the word count would be if I wrote every day.
Last week’s total: 6178
This week’s count: 917
I am starting to wonder why I make these posts at all. They are becoming embarrassing. Apparently, I can only write about 1000 words a week, which usually means I am writing once a week. That’s better than the last few years but not really worth noting. Except, I will admit, it does keep me motivated to do something since my project isn’t really motivating me.
I should probably start a new project.
She rose to her feet, gripping my pant leg, my shirt, my sleeve, then my neck. We started walking again. The sand was deep and loose, and with every step we sank down through the soft layers until a solid purchase was gained in the hard-packed sand below, and we could push off in baby steps. The night was sharp and alive with shadows - everything, even the tiny tufted weeds that sprouted through the sand, had a shadow - and this deepened the world, made it seem thicker, with layers, and more layers, and then a darkness into which I couldn’t see.
“The Point” by Charles D’Ambrosio.
For the love of the paragraph.
Last week’s total: 5221
This week’s count: 957
I took a week off. But I had a houseguest. I am happy that I broke 6000 words. For some reason that seems like so much more than 5000. I don’t have a word count goal. It isn’t really about how many words I write although keeping a weekly count makes it seem that way. I just need to see progress.
Speaking of, I’m seeing little of it. I’ve hit a rut and realized I am writing around my writing.
I was cleaning out some old files. Of course I have old files. But what was in those old files and why I have them are probably not for this blog, or at least, not now. I went through the old files to get rid of them. My plan was to go through them and make sure I didn’t throw away my social security card or passport or anything else detailing my existence and then throw everything else away. For what was it but old paper?
At one point I started keeping my short stories in manila folders. Each folder had draft upon draft upon draft upon draft. Some had different fonts. (I went through phases.) Some were handwritten (always on graph paper). Some were fortunate enough to have notes from classes that I took. Most just had my notes and ramblings. But there was one file: Writing. In it I found notes I kept when I worked at Borders.* Some of those notes became stories. Most of them didn’t. I couldn’t read through them all. My kids were playing in the room and something felt too private.
Among those notes was a little red piece of paper. It was one of the best little red pieces of paper I’ve ever received. It was a rejection note from the Mid-American Review. I don’t remember the date. It wasn’t important. But it was signed. Oh, that signature! You read it, Mr. Editor. You maybe liked it a little bit. And, and, you suggested I try submitting again. Who me? Really? You mean I can come back and try again?
How amazing that a rejection can be so empowering, so motivating, so uplifting, almost as good as getting published (okay, not really, but I can pretend since I’ve never gotten published anywhere but my graduate school literary journal and, no offense,*** I didn’t think that counted for much.)
So, then, why didn’t I ever submit again. What happened? Years later I am still trying to figure that out, why I lost sight of my goal of being a writer. Was it ever really a goal? Were all of those other rejections, mostly form letters (Dear Author, No.), too heavy for me to keep trying? Maybe other parts of my life got in the way: work, kids, marriage, hobbies. Not really. That would be making excuses. And so I am making excuses.
And here’s the real one: I got rejected enough times to realize that I wasn’t going to make a living as a writer. I’ve also realized that making a living as a writer is not mutually exclusive. I can be a writer and not make a living of it. I love to write. I will always love to write. I am writing now, goddammit, isn’t that enough? For me? For now? Yes.
*I worked full time at Borders in center city Philadelphia while I was going to graduate school. I worked in the day and went to school at night. The mornings weren’t busy. I spent a lot of time writing notes on receipt and scrap paper**. I was trying to be a writer, right? Oh, did my heart ache when I found those notes. I am no longer that person. I am still trying to be a writer but I am not that person. Who am I fooling?
**I was also fortunate enough to be assigned to the fiction section. I spent a lot of time writing lists of books to read while I was straightening the books. (What was that called again, facing? face-out? there were lots of ‘terms’ I’ve chosen to forget.) My little badge was filled with pieces of paper and a pen at all times. I discovered a lot of books in that little corner of the store. I still haven’t read a lot of them. Who am I fooling?
***To myself, really, because I eventually became an editor at said literary journal.
I fell in love with Stoner a little bit while reading - not the character, really, but just the idea of the book: a book about a man, a somewhat weak one at that, and his life as a literature professor. While it’s not exactly sexy material, despite the appearance of a sex scene (yes, literaries do have sex) - unless you’re into the life of a literature professor (ahem) - it got my heart racing.
Reading Stoner was a week (or two) of intimacy and movement, writing that was able to slow down and see and feel. Yes, all writing should do that and most do. And then there are those that do it better:
Once, late, after his evening class, he returned to his office and sat at his desk, trying to read. It was winter, and a snow had fallen during the day, so that the out-of-doors was covered with a white softness. The office was overheated; he opened a window beside the desk so that the cool air might come into the close room. He breathed deeply, and let his eyes wander over the white floor of the campus. On an impulse he switched out of the light on his desk and sat in the hot darkness of his office; the cold air filled his lungs, and he leaned toward the open window. he heard the silence of the winter night, and it seemed to him that he somehow felt the sounds that were absorbed by the delicate and intricately cellular being of the snow. Nothing moved upon the whiteness; it was a dead scene, which seemed to pull at him, to suck at his consciousness just as it pulled the sound from the air and buried it within a cold white softness. He felt himself pulled outward toward the whiteness, which spread as far as he could see, and which was a part of the darkness from which it glowed, of the claire and cloudless sky without height or depth. For an instant he felt himself go out of the body that sat motionless before the window; and as he felt himself slip away, everything - the flat whiteness, the trees, the tall columns, the night, the far stars - seemed incredibly tiny and far away, as if they were dwindling to a nothingness. Then, behind him, a radiator clanked. He moved, and the scene became itself. With a curiously reluctant relief he again snapped on his desk lamp. He gathered a book and a few papers, went out of the office, walked through the darkened corridors, and let himself out of the wide double doors at the back of Jesse Hall. We walked slowly home, aware of each footstep crunching with muffled loudness in the dry snow.
When I think about Stoner, I think of Katherine Driscoll:
“Then I’ll say it,” Katherine said. “We will have had this week.”
Last week’s total: 4569
This week’s count: 652
I know some people write 652 words in an hour. It takes me a week just to find that extra time. Once I find that time it takes energy, energy I often don’t have. I am working on something that is the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I forgot how physical writing can be.
Lists are fun to make even when they are list of your inadequacies. Here’s a few that I haven’t read yet:
- In Search of Lost Time
- Gravity’s Rainbow
- Don Quixote
- Of Human Bondage
- A Dance to the Music of Time
- Oh so much of William T. Vollmann
- War and Peace
I’m sure I’m missing some that I should read at some point in my life. I tried reading the Bible when I was in grade school and never went back to it (and probably never will). I can say that I have read Ulysses and Infinite Jest and Anna Karenina so I do have a few under my belt. Although I’m sure I’ll have to reread both Ulysses and Infinite Jest again. Do I avoid big books? Can I not make a commitment?
I think I don’t read big books because I don’t think I could ever write a big book. I have spent a lot of time reading in order to study writing but, oh, how that limits me! I like to write short stories but they can be so short sometimes. I’m not saying I’ve written my immediate TBR list, especially since I’ve got Charles D’Ambrosio on deck, but it’s time to reconnect with literature for pleasure instead of study. I will probably learn so much more.