Posts tagged Rebecca Solnit
If, after a night spent running for your life, you woke in the forest and saw this key, would you reach up and take it?

Title of the first draft of my problematics: Coming of Age, the Liminality of Desire, and "What the Novel Might Be."


Title of the second draft: Narrativity, Liminality, and Desire. 

Maybe, but not exactly. 

Title of the third draft: ? 


Lance needs the next working draft of my problematics, like, yesterday. But I'm stuck. Or stalling? I don't know. I feel the weight of the pressure of wanting to get it right. Wanting to know myself and my work well enough to get right at the heart of it. Because what I propose in this document, now, in my 2nd year, could either spark the interest of future committee members who will sign on to help me further figure it out over the course of my 3rd year — or, conversely, lead me into one of those conversations that ends with said potential committee members saying, "Ah, no. Not for me. Sorry. Good luck." I just want to know that whatever it is I want to explore, and how I want to explore it — what I lay out now, in preparation for my reading year and beyond — gets at my core concerns, those most central to who I am as a reader, writer, scholar, critic, human being.

I keep coming back to fairy tales. Which, at the moment, is not very helpful (to paraphrase a certain professor: This isn't the MFA anymore. Think history. Think theory. Think nuance. Think problems worth investigating). 

Here's a problem: Instead of investigating theories of non-genre or sites of generic and other forms of liminality, I've spent the past few days losing myself in Rebecca Solnit's The Faraway Nearby

I love this passage: "Fairy tales are almost always the stories of the powerless, of youngest sons, abandoned children, orphans, of humans transformed into birds and beasts or otherwise enchanted away from their own selves and lives. . . . Fairy tales are children's stories not in who they were made for but in their focus on the early stages of life, when others have power over you and you have power over no one."


Stories. Childhood. Transformation. Nature. Enchantment. Power. Life.

Enough is here. But how to theorize it? What framework is most useful, most resonant?

I'm thinking. 


Magical realism, at least as a place to start? 

Zamora and Faris: Magical realism's most basic concern [is] — the nature and limits of the knowable. . . . Magical realist fiction is about transgressing boundaries, multiple worlds; destabilizes normative oppositions; is subversive. 

Carter: First it is the combination of reality and fantasy and second, it is the transformation of the real into the awesome and unreal, thirdly an art of surprises, one which creates a distorted concept of time and space, fourth a literature directed to an intellectual minority. . . .

Oxford Companion to English Literature: Magic realist novels and stories have, typically, a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic merges with the unexpected and the inexplicable and in which elements of dreams, fairy story, or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence.

I don't know what to do with these definitions. But they seem relevant. Todorov, too. The uncanny and the marvelous. The fantastic in between. Yes? No? I don't know. 


I would take the key. No doubt about it. Without a moment's hesitation, I would take the key.

The only thing I can think of is heartbreak.

A few days ago, I decided to start blogging again. I confessed: "I've missed it. Because it was always there for me. A place to go and be read, heard, by people who cared. A place to pour it all out in the middle of the night when there was nowhere else to put it."

Yes, it was always there for me. I needed it. But what I'm struggling with today is: Why do I need it again, now? 

The only thing I can think of is heartbreak. 


I think it must be my general state of being.

Default mode. Comfort zone. Code for: sadness.  

It has been steady and present throughout most of my life. In childhood and adolescence, into my young adulthood, and now it's here, again — that old familiar feeling.

I can't describe it.

But Rebecca Solnit touches upon it in The Faraway Nearby: "A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another."

Can we just linger on that line for a while? 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. 

She goes on: "The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give others." 


I've carried it with me so long, I don't resist it anymore.


Over at Poor Claudia, Danielle Vogel writes: "For all creatures, the most primal form of shelter is a hollow: a simple cavity dug into earth, a depression in the sand, the carved out alcove of a tree. For a writer, the most primal form of shelter is a word."

Think of the curve of a spoon, what shapeless form it's meant to delicately cradle, carry, hold, lift, raise. Now think of an egg, its perfect fit.

Think of your back pressed fast to your lover's chest. Think of your lover's arm around your body, how it shields. 

Think shelter. 

Think love.

Think. How fragile the shell. 


Kelly Flanagan: "It's a lifetime that forms us into people who are becoming ever more loving versions of ourselves, who can bear the weight of loneliness, who have released the weight of shame, who have traded in walls for bridges, who have embraced the mess of being alive, who risk empathy and forgive disappointments, who love everyone with equal fervor, who give and take and compromise, and who have dedicated themselves to a lifetime of presence and awareness and attentiveness."

A more loving version of myself, then.

To bear this loneliness.

To release so much shame, like a red balloon let go into the sky.

To build bridges instead of walls. And how lovely is that image. 

Risking empathy. Forgiving disappointment.


This mess of being alive.


Rebecca Solnit: "Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone." 

When I read Duras's later work, her "autobiographical cycle," I feel this even more — intimacy and loneliness — and I feel it deeply.

Her books throb in my chest.

Hear them pulsing when you place your ear against the cavity of my ribs, rest your head in the hollow of my lap. 


Marilyn R. Schuster tells us in Marguerite Duras Revisited that some of the frameworks used to read Duras include: "absence and alienation, the body, nothingness, silence, love, desire, sorrow, forgetting, and destruction (among other recurring obsessions)."

Of course.

These are my themes, too.

And my recurring obsessions are magic, dresses, and flowers. Because I need to believe they have the power to heal those old wounds.

Although, with regard to magic, what I really mean is the miraculous. Performed with fanfare, at that. 

And when I say dresses, I am speaking of a symbolic object that not only beautifies the wearer, but transforms her into a whole new person, so that she can shed the rags of the past and leave them there, walk away, move on, into a future she never even dreamed was possible, a future in which she can be happy, ever after.

And flowers.

Because they are so beautiful and fragile while they are here, and at the same time strong, unsheltered, able to withstand the elements.

Rooted by nature, they can also, if picked, persist, in this moment of their dying, reminding us that our lives, too, are short. And that, like them, we are brief, bright offerings that bloom once, and then are gone forever.