This erasure poem by Mary Ruefle pierces the present moment for me. I feel a bit like I'm in a post-apocalypse sci-fi movie, in danger every time I venture outside. I hear of people who have caught breakthrough covid cases just from standing next to someone outdoors for less than five minutes. And my son, who is spending the day with me, just told me about the family member of a friend, a man in his fifties who had been fully vaccinated, yet got a breakthrough infection and died. He had underlying conditions, my son said, but still. How do we protect ourselves? We wear masks, but how can we stop living our lives? We can't. And so we go about our business and pray the odds are on our side.
Last night I had dinner with a friend of almost three decades, a woman with whom I can share my crazy mother worries without fear of judgment, because she shares many of the same fears. She's a therapist by profession, and will sometimes break down the theoretical source of our worries, allowing us to laugh at ourselves. Our concerns these days are mostly born of the awareness that we must let our girls go, we have no control anymore over anything related to our children.
Her daughter has just become engaged. Both our girls have been friends since starting out in Pre-K, and we tenderly recalled sitting in the living room of that school located in a brownstone on East 96th Street, reflecting that our shy little ones were much the same.
My friend wasn't feeling so well at dinner, and had no appetite. "I promise it's not covid," she assured me. But of course, I came home and immediately imagined symptoms. Was that scratchy throat the start of something more? What about the fatigue and sleepiness? Did it only signal my bedtime? This is exactly how I've been all year, whenever I watch the news about covid. Suddenly, I have all the symptoms.
I might have another book in the wings, this one very different from any I have done recently. It's an art book rather than a memoir, but they don't want a boring history recitation. They want the art brought to life through the makers, so the writer will have to find the human stories that give birth to the work. I hope the project happens. I'm a little burned out on crafting memoirs right now, and have spent the summer doing very pleasant editing jobs for truly gifted writers instead. But book editing, though time-consuming, doesn't really pay enough to live on. Book collaboration is better for paying the bills, but it can be dispiriting to immerse yourself in writing someone's story for a year or more, helping to excavate and frame their emotional and psychological truths, and get no cover credit in the end. I've decided I don't like the feeling much, even if I did agree to terms at the outset.
I do currently have a book on contract, and will return to crafting that narrative come the end of summer. Cover credit is guaranteed, and this feels important. The agent on the art book said her clients know I have other projects going and are willing to work around my schedule. I am to attend an art opening tomorrow night to meet one of the artists, who is based in the South but is having a solo show in the city.
Previously, I had joked to my friend, who does this same book collaboration work, that I seemed to be suffering from the twisties, leading me to pass on being considered for a couple of memoir projects that came my way this summer. It was a reference to gymnast Simone Biles suddenly losing air awareness at the Olympics and feeling unable to do the high-flying twists she has executed for years. In my case, I lost heart awareness, and felt exhausted at merely contemplating memoir work. Yesterday I called my friend and told her I finally found a new project that excites me.
"The high-stakes twists might be on pause," I said, "but I can still do the flips."
"Oh," she said, "changed your dismount, have you?"
So now, I'm busy practicing the new dismount and getting back into the writing groove, daring to hope the nascent possibility becomes concrete, and that I can work out the timing and perform the exact right dismount for both the memoir and the art book, impeccably.