Had my meeting with Julie Barer of Barer Literary Agency this morning and she was terrific. Lively, funny, interested in the books (I pitched Goodbye, Good Girl and the current novel, Inventory). Like telling a girlfriend a story. She had great advice - publish Inventory first, then GGG once I had a readership, as GGG sounded more complicated. I admitted that Leigh, the main character, is a little difficult, and she said she loves characters like that (they're more satisfying), but that they are usually better for a second book, not the first. I really thought that was stellar advice. And she asked me to send Inventory when it was ready, so that is a great end result.
Now on to the river portion of this post -
One comes to conferences like these and hears what other people are doing in their real lives, what they're writing about (I'm thinking of the nonfiction writers here), and you feel like you haven't suffered enough. Haven't been uncomfortable enough. Haven't written gritty enough. You start to feel a little competitive, even as you encourage one another. When that happens, in my experience, find some water - a pond, a lake, a stream, and spend some time with it until you're back to normal.
I took the Middlebury River Walk through a field and woods to the river itself, followed some of the rocks out into the water and found one wide enough to sit on, in the center of the stream. It was very shallow there - with little rushes of water and heaps of small stones nestled up against the bigger rocks and spread out across the bed. Took off my shoes and walked about a bit - very cold - the stones digging into the soles of my feet. I was far enough around the bend to ensure I didn't see anyone on the path, and with the sun falling through the trees, it was perfect. I chose some rocks to take back with me (I do this everywhere - have some from a writers conference in Abiquiu and from Walden Pond).
What I thought about as I sat there, and what I want to say to you, is that it's not about suffering. Suffering is a construct, a story we create about events, a perception that enters us and stays longer than it should. It's as if we believe that suffering makes an experience real; it makes us human. If you stripped yourself of the idea of suffering, stripped yourself of romanticism, nostalgia, fear, longing, and more, what would be left to write from? It's an interesting question. Something will always come in to analyze and organize the information into a message, into meaning. What would that something be? Who would you be?
In the middle of that river, I kept thinking of Theodore Roethke's poetic sequence, The Far Field, where he manages to separate enough from being human to be absorbed into the environment around him. He splits open and escapes the shell of intellect, emotion, and language.
"-- Or to lie naked in sand,
In the silted shallows of a slow river,
Fingering a shell,
Once I was something like this, mindless,
Or perhaps with another mind, less peculiar;
Or to sink down to the hips in a mossy quagmire;
Or, with skinny knees, to sit astride a wet log,
I'll return again,
As a snake or a raucous bird,
Or, with luck, as a lion.
I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming water."
Maybe if I sit there every day, this will happen to me. Maybe if we each find a place like this for ourselves, it will happen to us.