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.