Whenever I think of leaving this place I feel uneasy. Not necessarily because I want to stay – my problem appears to be regret that I did not properly enjoy the experience of living here. I spend most of my time in the house. I like the place. But I didn’t even finish unpacking until last week – and I never truly expected to be here longer than five years.
Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona, where Byron will present a paper and we will spend time with our friends from his field. Lucian will be there, and perhaps Satnam, along with some other Seattle friends, but we will see other people we only meet during the conferences because they are scattered all over the world. In the past when I’ve talked to these friends I have experienced a peevish jealousy because I wanted to be the kind of person who lives elsewhere.
Now that my wish has come true – in such a startling, abrupt, and amazing way – I am confused by the fact that everything seems so correct and appropriate. I haven’t had a moment of jumping up and down joy even though England was my childhood dream; if there had been a Make a Wish foundation during the cancer years I would have asked to go to the UK.
Instead of pure exhilaration I feel… vindicated and satisfied.
Maybe this is normal; I hope that it isn’t a sign of encroaching complacency.
Recently I heard from the publisher of my new anthology that the press is absolutely besotted with the work. They suggested no changes whatsoever to our final version. I know from the other anthology I’ve published, and talking to writer friends, that it is unheard of to have such a good relationship with a publisher. But I do not experience deep pleasure over this knowledge. I just think of course – at last.
Right now I feel sad to leave this place but happy to go to Cambridge. Which seems like an awfullly tepid response. This could just be the inevitable maturity of age.
Growing up can be so difficult.
The thing I will miss the most?
Riding the ferry.
This morning I received email from Clint Catalyst announcing that Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache is on the LA Times Bestseller List. This is excellent for the book, the editors, and all of the writers. It is also quite encouraging that the book is doing well and getting positive reviews in major outlets, given that it is a small press anthology.
The next piece of email in my inbox was a discussion amongst professional writers on a listserve about an article detailing the tribulations of a midlist writer. I found the article interesting and funny, though I have never had any fantasies about my writing career.
The whole endeavor is mostly toil with a few erratic flashes of luck. Even the good things – the major interviews, nice reviews, being quoted in big mainstream magazines – are not what they would seem from the outside. I’ve always thought that publishing was a business much like the gas station my grandparents used to own. My experiences so far have supported this theory.
Most writers are never published at all. Those who establish a consistent visible career work hard. The few serious writers who break out and make money are the rare exceptions. This has always been true; the industry has changed in the last few decades but it was never as idyllic as people might wish to believe.
Experimental and serious writing is hard to sell. The major publishing houses want to earn a profit on the work they promote. Smaller and independent firms publish more diverse work but do not have the promotional clout of the larger firms. These facts are just true – and always will be.
Even those few writers who have achieved a level of notoriety are not generally earning a living wage. It is in fact possible to be famous and poor.
I know many brilliant people who can sell out events based on their reputation, but still need to work boring day jobs. Those who work in fields related to their art are no more (or less) inclined to be satisfied or productive.
The latent expectation on the part of writers and the audience that making work leads inevitably to a reasonable fee for service is simply misguided. It would in fact be easier to make a profit running a gas station (though that industry has consolidated and changed in much the same way as the publishing industry). Writing does not lead to riches. There are other reasons to write; most of them soppy but still worthy.
My essay in the Pills anthology is part of a piece of work that has been called “brilliant” and “beautiful” and “frightening” and “haunting” and, most telling of all, “not commercial.”
One version sold out a limited edition chapbook; more than 9,000 copies are in circulation and I can’t fulfill the additional orders. How can this be quantified? I know that the zine has sold better than many books, with absolutely no promotion or support except the goodwill of distributors and friends.
In book form, would it sell that well? No idea, because no publisher wants it. Too risky.
I am not trying to imply that I am above the sordid commercial aspects of publishing; I am not pure. I just know that money is not the only measure of success in a writing career.
I just booked our May visit to Cambridge. When I clicked on “title” the ordinary list of Mr, Mrs, Ms, and Dr was enhanced with Sir, Lord, Lady, Capt, Prof, Rev.
According to the relocation fellow, if we don’t find an apartment by the end of May our kids have zero chance of getting good school assignments.
We can’t apply for visas or schools until we have an address. But we won’t be able to find an apartment until June. Which is too late to apply for visas and schools.
Byron says rather unhelpful things like: Relax. People have been moving back and forth across the Atlantic for hundreds of years. It will work out. The Pilgrims did not work for Microsoft.
To which I reply: The Pilgrims didn’t have to rent an apartment ahead of time.
Byron: That’s true. So you’re saying that the modern English housing market is worse than the Irish famine?
Me: The Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution, not a famine.
And so on and so forth.
Planning brain, engaged! It looks like we need to visit Cambridge the third week of May.
This decision has been hampered by the fact that the relocation fellow has a computer virus that is bouncing email, Byron is interviewing interns all day, phone calls are happening between the two of them during breaks and across the time difference, and I’m getting only whatever fragments of information falls between the cracks.
I guess this is kind of funny. Maybe a little.
Recently I took the kids in for basic checkups. One needed blood tests and the other needed a tetanus shot. After the appointment we had the following conversation:
Boy: My arm hurts.
Girl: My arm hurts worse! A blood draw is worse than a shot!
Me: No. There is no hierarchy of oppression. What you need to say is – this sucks for me! That sucks for you too? Then look at each other with sympathy…
Girl interrupts to finish: And say, Brother, let’s start a union!
Last weekend I took a crew of teenagers to see The Shape of a Girl at SCT. I didn’t know what to expect; the tickets were in my pocket all week and I never looked up information about the show.
The narrator of the play is unreliable, not a bystander but actually complicit in the torment of another child who was once her friend. The character evokes the female culture of censure, the desperate danger of isolation, and the risks inherent in speaking out.
During the performance there were moments when I was literally doubled over with the horror of the piece – it was a visceral experience for me not only because of the rural NW setting but also because I was victimized by other children during the cancer years.
It would have been hard to watch the play just on that level, but it is also true that I was never simply a victim. I fought back – with words but also with my body. I learned to fight not just for myself but for others who were weak. I could never, would never, passively allow someone to be injured. I would rather not have a community if the tradeoff means looking the other way and ignoring abuse.
I’ve walked away from relationships, friends, more than I care to contemplate because I refuse to compromise this belief.
As we left the theatre my daughter urged me to tell some of the stories from my reckless youth but I shook my head, too overwhelmed. I said that my tooth hurt and that she could tell the stories later.
If you have an opportunity to see the play – you should. It is really very good.
I decided to sell all of my extra books. There are at least three hundred that mainly serve to collect dust; no matter how much I enjoyed reading them they are not applicable to current projects. I have an appointment with a dealer tomorrow. Cross your fingers that he will want such illustrious titles as:
Reflections on Gender and Science
The Fiscal Crisis of the State
Images of Organization
The Data Game: Controversies in Social Science Statistics
Statistics for Social Change
The Sociological Imagination
Experience, Research, Social Change
Crisis, Health, and Medicine
Human Inquiry in Action
Dental technology has evidently advanced during the seven years I ignored a rotten tooth. My third root canal on this dratted molar went swimmingly; new tools were able to slip down all the way to the source of the infection.
Now I feel ill, but not bad enough to require pain medication. Good news all around.
Last weekend Satnam and Susan moved to town; Jenni and Paul came to look at houses and schools; Eli and Ruby showed up with travel stories.
I cleared out our storage area and gave away carloads of stuff. I was so busy I didn’t even have time to go to a show I helped organize.
Change is definitely in the air, the sun is shining, and this life is sometimes an excessively strange adventure.