Saturday, February 22, 2014

Everything Is Workable

I chewed through George Saunders' Tenth of December a few weeks ago and read the Bonus! Materials! interview between Saunders and David Sedaris at the back.  It was a little weird to watch two famous authors dance with one another, politeness and craft and modesty all circled like tigers in a cage.  What are you going to do, though?  Writers are a neurotic lot, perfectionists to the core.  It was comforting to see that even the most accomplished of us are not immune to this dance of self-consciousness. 

In addition to getting my little socks rocked off by the collection of stories while enduring plane delays on our way to a baby shower, I found Saunders had some pretty things to say about the work of writing itself, and I wanted to share a few with you. 

"Part of the artistic contract is: no preaching.  And knowing how a story is going to end before you start it, and why it has to end that way, and what it will "mean," is (at least when I do it) a form of preaching.  It has an inherently condescending quality, and any sensible reader would be offended/bored."


David Sedaris
: There are so many fantastic names in this book...Do you make these up or are they the names of friends?

George Saunders: ...I try to come up with those sorts of things at speed, feeling that if I do it that way, there may be an accidental organic authenticity to it that will go slightly beyond rationality.  Making the selection in a full-bodied way, I might get lucky and get that extra x percent of implied meaning.  Whereas if I was collecting them, I think my tendency would be to steer the story in a direction that would allow me to use some of the good stuff in my notebook, if you see what I mean.  I guess my working theory is that if I fill up my mind with whatever I naturally come across, when the time comes to invent something, I'll be well-primed to just take the leap.


"When something is failing, I try to ask it (gently!): 'Okay, so why are you failing?  What's the problem?' And also ask: 'Where are you failing, exactly?' This is done at the line level - just going over something again and again, sentence by sentence, trying to see where it departed from its natural energy...With this approach, almost everything is workable, if I can be patient enough."

Ah, patience, and gentleness, and talking to paper like a beloved child!  These, I believe, are the things of which sanity is made. 

Speaking of sanity, mine is hiding under my pillow lately.  I recently heard that the last part of pregnancy is a lot like the first trimester, and I really get that.  I feel slower and foggy and full of emotions for which I find no rational handle.  Walking down a sunny street, I see a robin or a glossy red house-door, and my eyes sting with tears: one part appreciation, one part terror for the beauty of the world.  I hope I can bring a child into all this with some kind of grace.  Sometimes I wish my job were to simply keep wild animals from eating her, a la cave days.  The idea that I have to hold things together while keeping her alive as I (maybe) impart some wisdom is more than daunting.

And while pregnancy has been, in some ways, a hibernation, it has also made me fully awake to the world, and especially my place in it.  Along these lines, I resist the idea that "pregnancy brain" is a bad thing.  I love how easily my mind lets go of anxieties and work details.  Frankly, who gives a shit?  There is a big ball of fire outside the window every day, at night the moon glows over the house, and in the middle of it my body grows ripe like a forest.  I feel a little bit like a bear in a field - nose to the wind, belly growing down, paws planted on the dirt.  This open physicality is a welcome respite. 

And, as Tim joked when I said how nice everyone is to me all the time, kindness towards a pregnant woman is at least one thing our country gets right. 

If you want a peek into some things we might be skewed about it, check out the Ricki Lake-produced documentary about hospital births called The Business of Being Born (you can stream it on Netflix).  I found it utterly fascinating.  While I tend to feel really comfortable around doctors and hospitals, having been the beneficiary of modern medicine's abundance and healing at critical times in my life, I also found that the statistics presented in the film echoed my own feelings about the body's ability to do the work it needs to do - both in birth and in healing - without extensive intervention.

The topic of birth choices is a hot one, and while I feel passionately about natural approaches to almost everything, at the same time, I honor every woman's choice and experience in birthing a child, and every family's passage through those experiences.  I'm grateful for doctors of all kinds - surgeons, shamans, and angels-in-scrubs alike.    

Speaking of angels, a woman approached me at the grocery store to give me a gift card yesterday.  I was scared she was going to bless my belly or perform Reiki on it in the cereal aisle, but she just passed along a gift card to share what she called the blessings her family had experienced.  It was sweet, awkward, and our groceries were $25 lighter on the pocket, something I will take any day.  When I told Tim what had happened, he said we need to get me a new coat - mine must be looking a little ragged. 

I find the well of grace to run a little deeper than surprise gifts but, at the same time, moments like that really make me pause.  As much as I write about gentleness and trusting the process of life, I continuously work to embrace the world as a safe place.  Moments like the one with the gift card or - more often - lunches with girlfriends and phone calls to my grandmother remind me of the treasures in my life, and how little I am holding up the sky. 

With that, I wish you a beautiful weekend.  I hope the above words of George Saunders, someone with his nose to his craft or art or passion, whatever you want to call it, remind us all of the wisdom that comes from deep listening. 

With love,

P.S. The pictures in this post are, like most pictures on this site, courtesy of Tim's camera.  Several are from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The hot tub pic (hellooooo eighties!) is from a motel we found after a 10-hour Interstate ordeal.  The last was taken on a road trip through Utah, and while we are not reading some roadside sign about Billy the Kidd, there is a lot of opportunity to do that out West. 


  1. What about the "Happiness is $70" photo? Very curious about that one. ALSO, I guess I experienced some kindness from strangers as a pregnant person but I also experienced a woman yelling at me from an open car window as she drove by, basically telling me to be more careful while crossing the street. "Don't you know you're pregnant?!" Uh, yeah. Yeah, I did.

  2. Oh NO!!! That is terrible - very sorry to hear that. Haha, Happiness is $70! It's from a "vintage" store in town, one of those boutiques that paints furniture to look like it just came out of a farm house and sells jewelry made from bottle caps. I think they had a whole corner called Happiness Is...or maybe that's the store name? If you need full details, I will get them for you. :)


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