Sappho, Charles-August Mengin
As I reread my previous posts about liminality, I see a mind at work -- the mind of someone I hardly recognize. I mean, I was really puzzling it out, trying to get to that final draft of my "Problematic" for Lance. What is liminality? What does it have to do with narrativity? Indeed! I just wish I could go back in time and soothe my poor, fraught, overwhelmed self. I'd say, "Hey, it's going to be OK. You're going to be OK. Take your time, and take heart: you're going to be utterly transformed. You're going to fall in love with writing and literature all over again, you're going to remember why you fell in love with it in the first place, and every doubt you've ever had, every fear of failure, every moment of madness, every single second of it will turn out to have been so, so worth it. Trust. Remember: it's called your 'Problematic' because it's the single most problematic thing in your own writing, which you now have an entire year to explore and awe at and interrogate as you make your way through the 120 books on your reading list, beginning with Homer and ending with Rankine. And Jesus, enjoy it, right? Because you've been doing this writing thing -- trying to be a writer -- for almost twenty years now. And here you are. And there you were. Now go. Read. Be madly and passionately in love again."
Up until a few weeks ago, I could not have said these things. But something happened this summer. Only two weeks ago, I was flying home from teaching at the Yale Writers' Conference (and upon landing, I had to start packing up my apartment so I could move into my new place on July 1st, and yesterday, thank god, just in time for today, I finished unpacking). Today, I am packing again (just a suitcase) and heading back out to New Haven to teach another workshop. (I just got back!) Seriously, though, I love it. I can't wait to be out there again. This was my fourth year with the YWC, and the best year yet by far. For the first time, something incredible clicked into place and suddenly I wasn’t just teaching but singing a heartsong about the timeline of the entire history of literature and our own place on it. I fell in love. I fell head over heels, all over again, with teaching. (At Utah, I’ve been on a no-teaching fellowship for the past two years, and at my MFA I had a three-year work-from-home deal. So it's been a while.) This year at Yale, the most beautiful and inspiring campus I’ve ever set foot on, I fell in love with my students and they fell in love with each other and when we talked about their current work, the necessity of their future work, there was only love in the room. I taught an elective, twice, on the lyric essay, tracking the lyric back to Sappho and the Romantics and the essay back to Montaigne, analyzing these two forms as they endured and worked their way up the timeline, asking my students why, why, are they merging now, in our contemporary moment. The first time I taught it, a woman interrupted to ask if she could record the lecture; the second time, another woman asked if it was normal for people to cry in my classes. And in Session II, I taught the class I have taught for YWC for the past three years, but this year I taught it as a gender studies course, a culture studies course, an inquiry into the moral imperative of writing the contemporary, of the necessity to tell all the versions of all the stories, of rewriting history, of the courageous and daring experiment of breaking from the shapes and forms of the “bodies” of texts we’ve inherited; I proposed it as an act of defiance, a form of literary feminism; I taught, essentially, a history course about what the success story of flash fiction in the industry can teach us about a rapidly changing world and our anxieties about identity in 2015. Of course I fell in love with it. Of course I did. Yes, by all means, record. Yes, I am crying too.
There's more: On the first day of Session I, I introduced myself to Nicholson Baker – one of my literary heroes – after his keynote address. I said, “Hi, I’m Molly,” and he finished, “Gaudry?” You could have knocked me over with an exhale from across the lecture hall. That evening, I sat next to Colm Toibin at dinner. Without hesitation, he indulged my request for a selfie. I sent the pic to a friend from my MFA, a huge fan of Colm’s, and how great was it when Colm took my phone and personally texted my friend thanks for reading. Amy Bloom’s craft talk blew my mind, validated and confirmed – articulately, clearly, more commandingly – everything I had been repeating, over and over again, in my own classroom: that everyone’s process is different, so find what works for you; the imperative of not just knowing but loving your characters; the pressing need for more diversity, more voices, more perspectives, and better representation in the stories we are writing today, now, in 2015. I was shaking when I approached her. I whispered, “Can you just give me a hug?” She pulled me close and I felt her arms close around me and all I could say was, “Thank you.” Thank you. Thank you. For the first time in my life I realized that if I believe, if I allow myself to believe that I can really do this the way I want to, then I need to wake up a few hours earlier every morning and stay up a few hours later every night. Read harder, faster. Research more. Write like every day is already a lost day, because they all are or soon will be. And it hurts, this realization, because it led to another: I can't have the career I'm dreaming of and at the same time be a mother. Because if I'm going to mother -- if I, having been abandoned and given up for adoption, having been haunted by the absence of Mother my entire life -- am going to enter into that contract with children, with children for godsake, then I'm going to be there. I'm going to be there and not on the page every moment of my life. Because now, even when I'm nowhere near the page, I'm still always thinking about it. I thought I could and I thought I wanted to have it all, career and family. I've realized, though, that I can't. Not yet, anyway. So for now, I'm going to embrace the hurt and ache and sorrow and despair and loss, this traumatic loss of reliving all over again the gaping absence of Mother and choosing now, madly, to end a good relationship with a good man, and to let go all hope of being Mother, filling that space, resurrecting her from the grave, and providing her, with my own body, a second chance to get it right, to make it right. Because I believe that what we do, what writers do, alone in our heads as we take in and rewrite the world, it matters. We matter. Human experience matters. Our record of human experience throughout time – literature – matters.
And so, with a vengeance, I came home and between packing and moving boxes and getting Marguerite Duras's "Writing comes like the wind. It's naked, it's made of ink," tattooed on my stomach, I finished Desire: A Haunting once and for all. Previous posts here have declared it "done" (more than once), but it wasn't. It is now. The form is right. I finally got it right. Like, two days ago. Minor, minor changes to the lineation, but they are the right changes. Dog's lines are broken like her voice is broken. Open and down, she breaks and breaks. And breaks. Her fragments surge and swell, then disappear. Her silences are as loud as, even louder than, her words. I am so in love with this book again. I am so proud of it. And I am ready to finally let dog go, even though I am terrified to release her into the world, to you.
What this really means, though, is it's time for me to return now to Fit Into Me. In its current state (serialized here, April 2014), it is a stranger to me. It's had a good long resting period, so I feel ready to go back in and spend time with the tea house woman again (my bride-to-be in We Take Me Apart, widow in Desire). Now she gets to tell her version, her story. It's her turn. So her manuscript is coming with me (along with If Not, Winter and The Metamorphoses), and as I wait at my gate tonight in anticipation of flying back to New Haven, where some part of my heart still is and will always be, I'm going to go deep, deep into the darkest corners of the tea house, this hundreds-of-years-old business that saved the narrators of my first two books, and I'm going to get down on my knees and crawl, with a flashlight in my mouth, into the heart and mind of the woman who was waiting for them, who brought them inside, fed them, provided them with rest, shelter, care. The question, of course, is: Why do I need to finish her story now?