Waiting for editorial notes to enter into the true and final sequence of hotel revisions. Able today to turn to the task not of really embarking on the next book/s but to organize material. The idea is not to put pressure on myself to try to write something new. I don’t feel okay about that until the novel is done but for copy edit. But I think, now, I can do the pleasurable shuffling of collected material, the assessments of what exists in my writing life that is not the novel. I’ve been rereading Samuel Johnson Is Indignant and seeing how core to my person the effort to organize scraps and map patterns is or has become because of the life I’ve made. Anyhow. Here is a scrap from my thinking for a panel I was on a while back about coming out stories– and by my thinking, I mean stuff I cut and pasted from other writers’ thinking that I used to help myself think:
something someone said about a joy williams’ craft talk– probably the one at tin house.
The essay begins as a lament for contemporary language’s inability to cope with the grandeur and tragedy of the natural world. But soon its scope expands to sound the alarm for literature itself, doggedly focused, as Saul Bellow wrote, on ‘‘the human family as it is.’’ ‘‘Could this obsessional looking at the human bring about the death of literature?’’ Williams asks.
Sara Jaffe interview:
PR: It’s a book about sexuality, and awareness, and characters figuring out their identities and attractions, and yet so little is ever fully resolved—for the most part, the narrative denies most of its characters a kind of epiphany of sexual identity. Does that seem like a fair assessment, and why/not?
SJ: That does seem like a fair assessment. In fact, very close to the time we were going to press my editor pointed out that Julie never actually wonders whether she’s gay, and suggested that that might be a problem for some readers. But I really wanted to avoid that moment of epiphany. I was thinking a lot about the relationship between identity and experience, how one might conceive of oneself as “gay” or “a lesbian” or whatever before having had sexual experience with someone of the same sex, or, conversely, a person might have those experiences but not have them automatically mean something about identity. Julie falls into the latter category. This isn’t because she “refuses labels” or some other more contemporary figuration of sexuality, but because, even after having had these experiences, she still can’t conceive of herself as a sexual person. And she doesn’t have the political consciousness to claim that identity independent of experience.
My decision to avoid a decisive “coming out” moment (to herself, or others) also has to do with narrative, and narrative conventions around coming-out stories. “Coming out,” for most LGBT people, is not a singular moment but a series of moments, reveals, lies, near-misses, postures, openings. It’s often discontinuous and illegible, and the actual moment of saying “I’m gay” doesn’t really mean quite as much as a narrative might want to make it mean.
PR: Excellent. That makes sense. This is actually the kind of sincerity I meant; to force the almost-expected epiphany would seem to falsify and simplify a lot, here. This is where the storytelling really impresses me in retaining its complexity by respecting its characters.
I’m listening to LeGuin’s The Dispossessed on audiobook and I don’t have a hard copy to look closer at this one moment right but I believe that this thing happens in chapter 9 where the theoretical physicist protagonist has just gone through the intense culmination of his work on his theory of time, and is able to record for himself his understanding in the form of a mathematical equation/theorum/formula thingy– and he puts it in his pocket. Pockets are important things in this book b/c there are so many on the capitalist planet — for your money and your things– and not on the anarchist planet where he’s from–
anyhow he puts the sentence that expresses his life’s work in his pocket. He has been able in some ways to get to it because of (I’m not sure if it’s caused by, or if he just feels a certain pressure of impending transformation or what exactly that relationship is in the story btwn the making of the art/science and the knowledge of what he means or is in the cultural system– another thing I’d have to look back for) his recent understanding of the way that his work both /is/ himself and has been commodified, making him a prisoner– other things too– but anyhow he puts it in his pocket and joins the revolution. His part in the revolution means writing political statements that get published, and allowing himself to become a figure in the struggle. So like there he is a body a political symbol etc. And then right when he is about to become part of the literal crowd of revolutionary protesters, he takes the note to himself from his pocket, looks at his equation and can’t read what it says– the language is obscure to him. This seems to me very important is all I’m saying, and very frightening to me, personally.
from publisher’s weekly. For real.
Author of ONE HUNDRED APOCALYPSES AND OTHER APOCALYPSES Lucy Corin’s THE SWANK HOTEL, an at times surreal novel that begins at the outset of the financial crisis and ends with the impending 2016 election, exploring the personal, societal, and even aesthetic manifestations of madness as it shapes the daily life of a woman contending with the intergenerational effects of trauma, to Ethan Nosowsky at Graywolf, by PJ Mark at Janklow & Nesbit (world English).
Finished this draft. Sending tomorrow morning maybe, then organizing the scraps. Or maybe the reverse. Do I want to do something momentous tonight or do I want to watch tv. I do have a beer.
I actually think I’m about to figure out something about the form of the book, too bad it takes so long to log into this stupid thing it really bothers me though I guess that’s the price of virtually simultaneous production and dissemination,
so the process of writing the book via collage produces a potential flatness– b/c if ideas are produced associatively and arranged along lines that are not based in cause/effect for the building of an argument (I’m not saying this quite right I’m just plunking it down to see what I’ve got– I really am in a phase where I loathe argument as a paradigm– I used to argue for argument via accumulation but now I am just against it but I don’t want to think through or try to articulate why or how right this second)– anyhow what’s happening at this level of revision is that I’ll come to a high emotional place, a place of synthesis– b/c emotional highs are still created in this book by a confluence of images, ideas, and actions that have accumulated meaning along the way– that is how a high point or breath of feeling/meaning happens in fiction, I don’t know another way for it to happen– I don’t think it really does for me as a reader, honestly– so I’ll come to a place like that and my impulse in revision is to think that I need to close off that line of thinking– that it is resolved, and so if your story isn’t also done, it means you move onto the concerns that remain (and in practice, cut the lines that refer, in a way that is unresolved, to that thing you ‘resolved’). What I am coming to find in the shape of this book, is that there are these moments of synthesis, but they do not mean that the issues within them subside entirely or cease to be issues or questions– they are still in there, but at a lower register, in the service or tangled up in /other/ issues that become prominent. That’s a truly wave-like structure– b/c waves aren’t uniform or distinct from one another and they don’t end– but they still have meaning and they change in tone and they crash, and you interact with them in ways that do things to you– anyhow it’s been so long since I read The Waves– and it was so important to me but not in a way that I ever codified for myself– I wonder if this is part of the way she was thinking about that book–
My point here is that as I am revising, my first impulse was to find the high point, articulate what had been resolved, and then try to make sure I wasn’t then re-complicating those matters after those moments– but when I tried to do that it seemed impossible– so now I’m thinking no– of course– just b/c there’s a feeling of resolution doesn’t mean anything goes away– it just occupies a different role in the text b/c of that experience– it feeds other things– it doesn’t go away — and doesn’t lose its mystery– not really– just for the moment when it shows its face or something– it shows its face, you feel a sense of recognition, it dives away and continues to have a life that does and does not include you–
Making stories for so long for me has been about embracing for its own sake the artifice of completion– in the sense of taking a limited set of components and working them through in relation to each other with thoroughness, dignity, and complexity, in order to get the feeling of something like one fantastic bite of an endless meal– actually more like or one fantastic meal in a life of eating stuff. The fantasy of completion– the momentary existence of it– is the delight of form. That is still at play for me– I will not be able to finish this book until I am convinced I have accomplished this– but I think this sense of how this relationship between synthesis — thinking through narrative elements with integrity– and an overall sensibility that is truly about not solving things– not curing, not understanding, not even finding new questions to replace old ones that felt put to rest— they only rest for a minute– and the goal really is to draw the texture of life when this is the truth of it. It doesn’t say “there are no answers!” it says things are more and less true and this is how the truth is in motion– (?)
ok cut 1k words that have bothered me about letting a certain character get more space than she should. but it’s a hard day. so I read some gladman, listened to part of a lecture on the science of inner voices (whatever it was not helpful), read some dumb articles on ears, wrote an email to a buddy/colleague who is an ear expert seeing if he’d be up for an interview. yesterday was similar.
28th: two days off for family. Read a Joy Wms story that I pictured as part of this cluster of stories that make their “cycle” across writers: the farm + so much water so close to home + a father’s story + o youth and beauty (or another one, not sure which would be best) + … it’s like that whole era of formative stories I loved were all part of the same story, I just had never read this one until now.
today really hard to get back into it, though. and I’m really doubting the aspect of the news, how I write those moments is annoying me. and I am frustrated by trying to answer the motivations questions, which I want to be revealed /after/ the simple experiencing of what it is like– is that unfair? Like in order of how a person experiences motivation which in this book is not I want something so I’m doing something— but I’m doing something, wait, why would I do that?
also I am so uncomfortable from lack of exercise, and my period, and the supreme court= not super concentrate-y. I feel I can put together the fellowship application, though. Though when I finish this one it means I should move onto prepping the fall one and I just hate asking and re-asking for letters I just find it so upsetting.
29th and 30th. Slow but almost thru “voyeur.” It is a hard time with my family. Makes me very sluggish. You know, sad. Not to mention going to protests. I never feel anything good after protests, just dutiful, almost the worst feeling I know. I know you don’t do it to feel good, but maybe to feel or think something you are glad or grateful to feel or think. Hilariously was asked to do a tenure review for a writer who a) I’ve actually read and actually think is great b) is like a superstar why the hell would I evaluate them? c) I declined. I’m booked. But also, I was scared!
June 22– few hrs in morning, friends came thru town, it was going to be lunch but baby not feeling well, brought them food at urgent care, baby will be okay, they’re staying over so he can rest etc, couple more hrs in afternoon. Very choppy work just chopped the hell out of the newspaper stuff in 4 and so hard piecing parts back in but again kinda nice to just boot some things I wasn’t so sure of, to look at them like ‘maybe you’re for something besides this book’ I’m pretty sure that when I am done with this book I will be glad to just ditch for good but if not there really is so much I could do something with and I can start in the morning doing the redrafting and working thru. I haven’t figured out how to get any exercise yet but we’re not eating any carbohydrates for a few weeks. Does anyone /not/write like they eat and furnish their houses and so on when it comes to using things up, collecting, discarding, trying new things versus routine and so on? It always comes back to Bread and Jam for Francis for me. In the end I want it to come out even.
June 23– here’s a joke: Amazon baby.
Also: yesterday around 10am a bear was flopped out in my next door neighbor’s yard nursing her two cubs. !
Morning session made good progress with first half of “Invasion” and I see what I have to do through the rest of the chapter in kind–and that is blocked in pretty solid. I should read that new Gladman.
June 25. tomorrow I can finish 4. I really did organize it and the shape seems good finally, something, and wrote through some of the pieces I blocked yesterday. But I’m tired early! maybe I can take a rest and come back this evening. A and I are trying to mix up our days in a range of ways. Then there is a couple of family days and I think I can do other organiz-y stuff while with them.
OK. came back for afternoon. made it through chapter. I like what I’m doing but I’m worried that wc is not going downnnnnnnn.
June 20. Memory of Lu. was it yesterday or the day before I carried her upstairs to the studio so she could sleep on my chair while I worked like we used to do before stairs etc.
Today onto 3. reorient the myth. reimagined the book in 3 named parts with chapters you encounter inside them. that allows “pulse” to be the primary form of all of part 1 and part 3. What I hope is to change the way narrative moves within the constant form of breath– Em’s breath is really what it is. Which is why in the middle, which maybe has no Em in it at all (maybe I can be the invisible interlocutor for the section about the mother via the aunt? then I am the “implied Em”!). I think this can solve a whole lot of problems.
Then I went about working through the first several pages of 3 with this in mind and I have a direction to pick up on tomorrow. Though I want to continue, my body feels cramped and interrupts me always by noon. Why can’t I make myself do mini yogas? What the hell was all that yoga for if not this?
June 21 Solid adjustments through ch 3. some clicking together feelings. Maybe the plan should be keep going thru this draft, read that Powers book that looks so helpful as you rest, and then read through again as if it’s a book which god willing–
Orwell/1984 says history, made of documents and human memory– is the only thing that creates truth. so how does that inform what I’m trying to think about re origin stories. Is the only problem just that they’re essentialist? Or what else?
I set up for tomorrow by pulling out all of the sections that told the newspaper story in ch 4, leaving marks where those sections were. The plan is work with the document without those pieces, pull parts or summaries of them into the text as needed and then save the rest. Either they will belong in “voices” or they are for the scrap heap which I tell myself I can do something with.
I liked this version of Experts so much that I wish I could use it for the round two fellowship application– but it is still too long for that so what will I do? Maybe somehow set it up for the 2nd half of the chapter?