…Or Kalamazoo for short. Just got back yesterday evening after missing it for the past two years. So of course I had to hit the book exhibits, hard. And I found some treasures, new and used. I got Bill Klingshirn’s edition of Caesarius of Arles: Life, Testament and Letters — not a bit too soon because I am teaching that tomorrow. I also got a translation of Aldhelm’s Prose works, and the poetry is coming in the mail, as is Chris Wickham’s The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. I found two books from my doctoral advisor, Jocelyn Hillgarth; one of his oldest, The Conversion of Western Europe 350-750, and his latest, The Visigoths in History and Legend. Kate Cooper’s The Virgin and the Bride, Susanna Elm’s Virgins of God (yes, you are detecting a research theme), Leah Shopkow,’s History and Community, another former teacher, Edouard Jeauneau’s Rethinking the School of Chartres, Matthew Bailey’s translation of Las Mocedades de Rodrigo — the Youthful Deeds of the Cid (because I am tired of taking it out of the library), and Bonnie Mak’s How the Page Matters — which has perhaps the best “medium is the message” cover ever — round out the total. But I am perhaps fondest of all of the tote bag I bought fro the University of Toronto Press. Look Ma, no horns!:
U of Toronto Press
There’s a sameness to this season, always — the turn of the leaves, the chill of the air, the encroaching dark. Even the beginning of the university year feels like an ending. And this year, like last, I also marked the end of a relationship whose time had passed.
But there are compensatons, like the extra week of summer that appeared out of no where last week. And the annual used book sale. As always, I present a photo of my haul. I am most excited by the five Rowan magazines I got for 10 cents each, and Ekaterina Sedia’s Secret History of Moscow, which I have been seeking for a while. The books are all used and have been read before by people who came to their end and discarded them. But they offer a new beginning to me.
When Outward Bound tells you that their programs are supposed to teach maturity and independence, they forget to let you know that they mean by that also the maturity and independence of the parents who have to let their children go and trust that the universe will move them along on their journey and bring them back safe and sound when it is over.
Anyway, I was reminded of a passage from one of my favourite books, A Big Storm Knocked it Over, by one of my favourite authors, Laurie Colwin, taken from us much to soon. And taken from her own small daughter much too soon too, as I recall more often than one might expect. Jane Louise has just left her baby, Miranda, alone with her husband for the first time and is returning from spending time with a friend:
It was nearing the end of the academic year. Everywhere she looked students were lugging boxes of books, clothes, and standing lamps out of their dorms. She stood on the sidewalk and watched a serious young boy load two duffel bags into the trunk of his father’s car and dash into a building. His father, a gray-haired man with a wide chest and a linen sports jacket, was loading the trunk. Jane Louise stood perfectly still, blinded by the sunny glare. Hazy light poured down around her.
Some day Miranda would grow up and go to college. day would follow day: She would lose her baby teeth. Her adult teeth would come in. She would go to school, learn to read, go to high school, have boyfriends, leave home. To her amazement, jane Louise found herself in tears. Her throat got hot, and tears poured down her cheeks. She felt powerless to brush them away.
The gray-haired man walked past her, carrying a pair of suitcases. When he saw her, he stopped and set the cases down.
“Are you okay?” he said.
“I was just thinking about my child going to college,” Jane Louise said.
“How old is your child?” the man asked gently.
“Just five months old,” said Jane Louise, and she began to sob. “You must think I’m a nut.”
The man looked at her thoughtfully. “When my kid went to sleep-away camp for the first time, I wanted to lie down in the driveway and eat dirt,” he said.
Jane Louise looked up at him. He filled her vision entirely. The hazy sunshine swirled around them. She grabbed his wrist, and kissed his hand. He was wearing a beautiful gold watch.
“Thank you,” she said. “Oh thank you.”
Then she collected herself. The man picked up the suitcases.
“It’ll be all right,” he said. “You’ll grow into it.”
There’s another passage from The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing that always sticks in my mind and has been in my thoughts lately. It comes right at the end of the book, on the very last page.
He hands me my wine. And I tell him that his cartoons are beautiful and funny and true.
I ask him what else the review of his dreams says about him. He likes this question. He thinks. Then he says, “Robert Wexler is a goofball in search of truth.”
I think, I’m a truthball in search of goof, and I realize that I can say whatever I want now. And I do.
Why do these lines stick in my head so. A goofball in search of truth. A truthball in search of goof. I am still not sure which one of these I am, and it is a question I have pondered often.
Which are you?
Hearing of the death of Elizabeth Edwards yesterday reminded me of my favourite story from Melissa Banks’ first collection, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, about the continuing adventures of Jane Rosenal. Melissa Banks is a much underappreciated and underestimated writer by the way (and yes, I know she is very popular, but she deserves much more attention than she already receives), in that way women who write about love are never taken seriously as authors.
Anyway, my favourite story is the second last one in the book, “You Could be Anyone.” It marks a shift in tone from the rest of collection, both because it is written in the second person, and because it tells the story of how Jane discovers she has breast cancer while she is dating not the right man. The relationship ends, and radiation treatments begin. Jane sees a therapist.
It was easier when the menace came from the outside, you tell a therapist; she nods, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Thursday after Thursday, you tell her about your relationship with him. You talk and talk, waiting for the cure. After a while, though, it occurs to you that even a perfect understanding of failed love is the booby prize.
Well, I didn’t “win,” in the sense that I didn’t write 50,000 words. I was doing very well, getting about 2,000 words a day, and was ahead of schedule but then, as I knew I would be, I was derailed by a visit from my mother, Thanksgiving, and, above all, a deadline on an article that was due on November 30th. But I did get 35,677 words, and I am thrilled with that.
So what did I learn? I learned that I can write academic prose and fiction in the same month, though not at the same time. It doesn’t matter if I have “free time” to write the other in while I am writing the first. If my headspace is occupied with one project, it can’t divide itself in two for another.
I have a good seven chapters begun on the new novel, and I feel like it is solid stuff. Many of the things I learned were things relearned from previous NaNos. Writing 2 000 words per day does not mean you have to sacrifice quality. It does mean your story will live in your head 24-7 and will generate connections and developments seemingly without your involvement. That is always fun. Characters will grow before your eyes.
I think I do my best writing under this regime. I think 2,000/day is too much for me to sustain for longer than a month, every day with no break. But I know that when i get in a rhythm of writing, say 1,000 a day, the work stays fresh.
I already can’t wait for next year.
Or National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated. And yes, it should be International Novel Writing Month, but InaNoWriMo sounds a little — inane. Anyway, with November 1st upon us, it is that time of year again. Time to put aside knitting, novels, and house cleaning in favour of writing 50,000 words of a novel in one month. That’s 1667 words a day, for those who are counting. I’ve got 500 words so far, thanks to a meeting I didn’t realize was scheduled for next week, rather than for today, but I thought I’d take a brief break (blog word counts not included in total, alas) to share the madness with all of you.
I’ve been doing this since 2005, with more, or mostly less, success. The first year I cracked 50,000, and the second year I finished a novel. Since then, other deadlines have got in the way and though the discipline of the month got me moving, I wasn’t able to go full out. That’s not the case this month. I’m beginning a new project one I am really excited about — medieval historical fiction as usual, but with a great fantasy twist — and the discipline of daily writing will be perfect for starting me on my way.
Good luck to all fellow WriMos!
Another year, another Hyde Park Used Book Sale. This was my haul (click the photo to see titles). I’m pretty excited abut it. Two Mary Stewarts that I have never read before? Is that possible? A bunch of Alice Hoffmans. A few for my son. And many others that I have been curious about, and have wanted to check out for a while. All to benefit the local Neighbourhood* Club, which does so much good work. Combined with lovely out of town guests and a turkey for (Canadian) Thanksgiving, it made for a wonderful weekend.
*I guess they’d call it a Neighborhood Club here.
I am very excited today to be able to bring you an interview with my very own cousin, Alison Pick, about her most recent novel, Far to Go, published just recently by House of Anansi Press. It can be ordered from Canada, and will be released in the States by Harper Perennial in summer, 2011. Don’t sorry, I will be reminding you when it comes out in the States! Far to Go, inspired in part by the lives of my grandparents and my father, is the story of one Jewish family’s experiences during the lead-up to the Nazi occupation in 1939 in Czechoslovakia. Paul and Annaliese Bauer are affluent, secular Jews whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the German forces. Desperate to save themselves, they manage to secure a place for their six-year-old son, Pepik, on a Kindertransport to England. Far to Go is also the story of how what happened to the Bauers is remembered by those who survived, and the stories that are told about them.
The events of 1938 and 1939 unfold through the eyes of Marta, the governess, a woman uncertain of her own origins. Why did you decide to make her the viewpoint character?
Good question. Truthfully I can almost never remember why I did anything in a particular way, beyond the fact that it felt intuitively right. But the idea of an unreliable narrator was appealing. I often turn to Jack Hodgins’ ‘A Passion for Narrative,’ – my novelists’ bible – and I think it was his suggestion to view the main characters, in my case Pavel and Anneliese, through outside eyes. That said, through the process of writing Marta grew to become a main character herself. She is a liminal character, not Jewish but close with Jews (and, as you point out, unsure of her origins, so with the possibility of being one); not the mother of a child sent away but close enough to understand a mother’s perspective. She is both on the Bauers’ side and, if only accidentally, against them. I wanted this tension to work in concert with the plot so the reader wouldn’t be certain what they could trust. The desire to keep reading would be to discover how the story turns out but also how Marta—who is still young and naïve—resolves as a person.
Continue Reading »
Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic has an interesting and revealing list of the facts the judge found in making his decision. These are facts, not opinions — propositions for which the plaintiffs found evidence and the defendants could find no compelling counter evidence. Go over there and check them out. Don’t worry; I’ll wait. Now, how many of these statements could have been accepted as facts twenty years ago? Ten? Five?
There’s one that made me tear up a little:
5. Same-sex love and intimacy “are well-documented in human history.”
Thank you, John Boswell. Sometimes even a medievalist can have an impact that lasts beyond his death.