So we can see that this will be a scattershot effort (“effort” is probably not the right word). And I can see that I will do this sort of writing (I am tempted to call it “blighting,” mostly because “blogging” is such a terrible gerund–I can’t bring myself to use it ever again–but also because I like crashed-together words) only under one sort of duress or another. Last time the “duress” (oh, my, I am going to be using an awful lot of scare quotes in this blog-writing undertaking) was a very large glass of wine at the end of a very looooong day; this time it’s the attenuated start of a day after a busy week during which I had no time for writing, just before I turn my attention back (with what feels like a large, slow-moving hand-crank) to the novel I’d hardly gotten back into when the busy week intervened.
It was a good busy week, I hasten to say. The choir I sing with, the Harmony Project, had its big spring concerts last Wednesday and Thursday. So what with dress rehearsal and performance anxiety (I had TWO NOTES to sing practically all by myself this time–which may not seem like much to you, but they were a cappella, and they were harmony notes, and there was one other person singing them with me but she was far, far, far away [there are 200 of us in the choir, and Latina Duffy, the alto with whom I was singing those notes, is much taller than I am: she was several rows back and way stage-right of me]–and then a bunch more notes to sing with just a handful of people) and then performances, and then celebrating post-performances, I pretty much left the rest of the world behind for half a week. (I did a little reading, though. I read two new memoirs: Jenny Boylan’s Stuck in the Middle With You and Marc Maron’s Attempting Normal, both of which I liked a lot.)
I had a day to recover, which I spent reading some more (Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter) and then cooking with my six-year-old friend Lola and my two four-year-old friends, Royal and Mose. Then I packed up for the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference up in Ashland (i.e., Middle of Nowhere), Ohio. (Another thing you might not think is a big deal: a drive of 90 miles. To this New Yorker who didn’t learn to drive till she was 30, while living in Iowa, this is a VERY BIG DEAL, OK? But I did it, and I am quietly proud. [Maybe not so “quietly.”])
At the River Teeth Conference, I talked about what I’ve been calling “memoir-plus” or “the stealth memoir” (both of which are completely bogus terms, since any piece of nonfiction that isn’t strictly reportage, reported research, or biography [etc.] is probably “memoir-plus”–but the idea I’m emphasizing, when I talk about this, is that memoir by itself is not what I’m interested in writing. I don’t mind reading it–sometimes, as noted above, I like it a lot [Maron’s book really is straight-out memoir–a collection of essay-size memoirs, actually–with tiny forays into more general reflections and rants about what it means to be a stand-up comic, all of which were totally interesting to me]–but when it comes to writing nonfiction, I like to stumble on a subject [anything not-me] and then kind of revolve around it, or wander from it and back it in increasingly wider circles. So I’ve made this a thing, and now occasionally people will pay me to talk about it). I attended a couple of other people’s panels/talks/readings, and I ate terrible food (sorry, Sarah Wells, if you’re listening, but really–fried and breaded and creamy everything? People kept saying, “What do you expect? You’re in Ohio!” But I live in Ohio. I’ve never seen anything like this except on visits to my in-laws down south in the early 90s, before they discovered raw vegetables, olive oil, and whole grains) with interesting people, and I met–or got to know better–several women I am now dying to spend some more time with. On Saturday night we had a pajama party, in which a bunch of writers, all women, almost all of us mothers, sat around till way too late drinking wine, eating buckeyes (not the poisonous nuts, but the peanut-butter-and-chocolate imitations of the poison nuts) and corn chips and good cheese (really, just what I needed after that dinner) and told stories. Last night when I spoke to my daughter for the first time in weeks (she’s at college, OK? She has no time to talk), I told her about sitting in the kitchen of the apartment we were staying in at Ashland U, about my doing a dramatic reading of the world’s most obnoxious email (which I’d received last week–but I won’t tell you about it because my new friends made me swear I’d write an essay about it) while Hope Edelman videotaped, and everyone hooted and hollered and screamed, and then Valerie Due telling us the amazing story of the Modern Love essay she appears in as a minor unnamed character, which was bad enough, but now that essay is going to be adapted for a sitcom (wacky premise, why not?), and exchanging bad boyfriend stories with Jill Christman. And Grace (that would be my daughter) said, “Oh! It sounds exactly like my life!” Well, so I got a glimpse of Grace’s life for one night. I want more.
But now I am back in Columbus, and I have notes for a brand-new chapter I haven’t written a single word of yet, and that’s exciting/delightful and terrifying/fills me with dread. Just like singing my semi-solo with the Harmony Project.
Actually, just like everything, my whole life, that has meant the most to me. I never want to be just excited or happy about undertaking something; I want to be scared of it too. It’s the ideal combination for me. Without a little fear and dread, how does anyone accomplish anything meaningful? (That’s not a rhetorical question. Seriously, I want to know.)
I’m off, then–in dread. And joy.
P.S. I’m posting a picture to go with this blog post. Because the wonderful Josh McCall (who designed this website for me when I regretfully but wisely took down my old completely homemade one, which looked like a tiny ramshackle old house painted hot pink and magenta that had been added on to and added on to, with bump-outs and extra storeys and various side porches) told me I should. I took this picture this morning, while I was out walking the dog. She decided to sit down in the front yard and just look around for a while. This is Molly; these are some of my peonies.