When we are writing our hearts and minds out (Level One) we just think of the page and perhaps a fantasy or two about publishing (Level Two). Today’s post is abbreviated by all the work that needs to be done once that fantasy is realized. Getting it out there is a lot of work. Level Three is a full time job. OK, back to work.
The nine-hour drive back from the Iota Conference of Short Prose last night became more wearisome with each mile. Metaphors abounded – a mile is like a sentence, each small town a paragraph, each visual transition a small piece of prose. With each random thought becoming a brilliant brief essay in its own right. You probably know what I mean, trips home from excitement – the hospital after having a baby, driving home after a good job interview, dinner with friends, a gallery excursion, a hike, a shopping expedition – your brain fills with ideas and plans for the next big (or little) thing.
And then you are back, and slowly you fill with things of daily life, not so exciting. The things you forgot. The things you left undone. I always leave half my stuff in the car, looking like laziness on the surface, but actually another metaphor.
My manuscript for Dumped: Women Unfriending Women was left untouched and behind schedule. The days were filled with foggy views of the ubiquitous Atlantic Ocean, driving between New Brunswick’s Island of Campobello where the conference was being held, to Lubec, Maine, through the customs each time. Lubec, a movie set whose pastel and dilapidated buildings became paragraphs in themselves. And the conference where two of my anthology contributors – Penny Guisinger, organizer of the conference, and Judith Podell, became actual three-dimensional entities. Not just paper and screen anymore but flesh and voice.
Our faculty: Charles Coe whose poems about forgiving his parents escorted me back to childhood, Suzanne Strempek Shea whose tender enthusiasm made that child fantasize crawling into the backseat of her car and falling asleep, and then there was my faculty, Barbara Hurd, on whose mind I developed an unapologetic crush and threatened to make a photo of her into my screensaver. Like a stalker who wants to keep her with him always. It was funny in the moment. Now I wonder if I should delete that. Even the very private and elegant Hurd found it humorous after the first moment of terror…. but that’s what happens at these conferences. We are distilled into small working pods for that magical iota of time, wondering how we will go back home and write alone.
The days were filled with reading and workshopping our small pieces – after all, that is what “iota” means: a very small amount, bit, speck, mite, scrap, shred, ounce, scintilla, atom, jot, grain, whit, trace. It all became much bigger than that.
We wrote about the larger world in miniature, shifting the lens within a small frame from the personal and tiny meaning to the universal. Within the next breath. Paring word count. Stripping away excess. Might I be allowed to be corny and say that we lifted the fog on our words? Yes, it is my blog and I am still ever so slightly within the experience, and possibly well over word count.
I woke early this morning to review some drafts. Submissions for my collection DUMPED: WOMEN UNFRIENDING WOMEN. As I go deeper into the process of putting together a book that only has one of my pieces in it, (an essay I wrote almost a year ago at a self-imposed and glorious retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires, sitting, professionally edited, already six months,) I realize I have become an editor and business woman, maybe less a writer? Outside of reworking two lengthy essays and a blog piece for Brevity, what have I really done?
Yesterday, after a 38-hour-in-3-day stint of working my day job so I could justify a whole day off to write uninterrupted, I didn’t write. I did many other things instead. Things that involved typing but not writing. I had a volley of e-mails with my accountant about setting up an LLC before signing my publishing contract. (The LLC being somewhat like the malpractice insurance I keep for my day job.) That then required several attempts at downloading forms from the Secretary of State and then calling several times to ask questions about those forms. Then more e-mails with the accountant about those forms. And the frustration of trying to deal with a rural bank. They have set up two previous business accounts for me, but they have changed hands and I can’t remember what I had to do to set up accounts before and the only person who does it now works only a couple hours a day and the person at the customer care center in the next state over suggested I drive to an address that is actually only a drive-through window so I got huffy with her which prompted a whole Facebook rant. And then after several more phone calls I realized I was in the wrong (I need the state paperwork before I can get a new checking account which they might have told me last week when I actually went into the bank for advice) which then prompted a delete of the whole thread on Facebook and then I felt crazy and watched Judge Judy from the treadmill. After business hours I continued to dutifully read a memoir strung together by women’s’ friendships, wondering if Susanna Sonnenberg would write a blurb for me. Hell, maybe she’ll write a piece. But overall, even reading good stuff feels like homework.
Why am I bothering you with these increasingly run-on sentences? Because it wasn’t until this morning, so early that first light hadn’t even made up its mind, that I was able to quietly savor the actual pieces that writers are sending me. I laughed at Judith Podell’s essay notes. I marveled at Jessica Handler’s interplay of grief and attachment. I reviewed e-mails from famous and not so famous strangers and a promise from Carrie Kabak. Another from River Jordan. “Gems,” I thought to myself. “I’m stringing together gems.” Every downloaded form and unmet deadline, every psychiatric note and evaluation I do at my day job, they all serve as the jump rings which will glue together the final project. Like a charm bracelet. Like the amulets that my best friend in high school began stringing together for me, and now forty-five years later, a necklace I am still adding to. The magic imbued in each hamsah, scarab, evil eye, baby tooth. Making one for my daughter when she turned 16, one for a friend after her partner died. Graduation presents, tickets to safe places. Pieces of meaning and beauty and superstition. I do enjoy the metaphor for a moment before I pull the paperwork from my tote and start typing my documents for work, getting a start on the real day.