Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Stopping, starting


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.


21 comments:

  1. I have always believed that failure to credit the person behind the writing (you) was stealing/cheating/wrong. The subjects who did not put your name on the cover stole your talent and work. It's an interesting feature of the publishing industry I never knew until you mentioned it.
    Here's hoping the art book comes through, a change might be good.

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    1. Thanks for the good wish, Allison. Re the cover credit, to be fair, I agreed to take none, so it's really on me. And yes, it is a feature of publishing. Most of the books by big name people used a collaborator. I try to remember there is so much else that I gained, personal growth that occurred, inspiring people I came to know, the writing muscle vigorously exercised, that I can only accept and appreciate the learning experience. And part of that learning is the understanding that I might need a small break from working that way. I might need to walk away sometimes if cover credit isn't part of the deal. And I might need to do something a little different for the next thing. We'll see.

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  2. As soon as I saw the word "twisties" I knew what you were feeling. That describes it perfectly. Yes, you can still do the flips. I'm glad you're taking on projects that you feel ready for. You have such a full and rich life there, please take care and stay safe. These are such trying times. I think we may all be working on our dismounts.

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    1. robin, i love your observation that we're all in one way or another working on our dismounts! So true.

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  3. An interesting poem! I wonder what Robert Frost would think? I'm with you on the exhausting craziness of these times we're in. I honestly don't feel very personally threatened, which may be foolhardy on my part, but overall there IS such a strange vibe of lurking disaster. I'm glad you've got a book on the horizon that interests you! I have faith in your gymnastic skills!

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    1. Steve, I am sure Robert Frost would not be pleased, unless he allowed grace for the fact that his words (with the exception of 'weep') made for a very good derived poem. And thanks for the faith in my gymnastics skills, though the image that provoked in my mind made me guffaw.

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  4. Thank you so much for the balance and grace of this post and for reminding me of the wisdom that Simone Biles passed on to us all about taking care of ourselves when we have the twisties. Wonderful to learn about the new project! Sending love always.

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    1. am, Simone Biles really gave us a template for unapologetic self-care, and for tuning in and listening to what our bodies and souls are whispering to us. The new project isn't a done deal yet, but here's hoping.

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  5. I've heard stories about covid infecting people who have been vaccinated and making them very sick. And yes, even dying. Of course, speaking of odds, getting the vaccination cuts down the odds of that happening are tremendous and masking improves the odds even more.
    How I hope you get that book! Sounds like exactly what you need!

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    1. Darling Mary, may the odds be ever in our favor! For covid and for books. I hope your grands are managing ok in school, what a road we are walking together as a nation, divided though we seem.

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  6. I was at a wedding on Saturday with 100 people. I've been fully vaccinated, wore a mask in the church, but no one did at the reception, so I'm just praying none of us get covid. As you say we can't stop living our lives, but by doing so is like playing Russian Roulette.

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    1. LL Cool Joe, that's it exactly! It feels like life has become one big round of Russian roulette! I wonder if this feeling of constant jeopardy will ever become normalized, or whether we are all absorbing a kind of creeping trauma. Always nice to see you here.

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  7. I get the post-apocalypse feeling - it's exactly what this has felt like since the news first came out about China at the beginning of the pandemic. I don't know if it will ever get better, either. The only vaguely positive thing about it is that I was always pretty careful (and paranoid?) about catching other viruses, so I feel like that's paying off now. Hah. Dark humour :)

    It doesn't seem right for writers not to get a cover mention. No matter that you agreed to it - it shouldn't be a condition of the job in the first place. It has the ring of dishonesty on the part of the subject, to my way of thinking. It's misleading.

    So I'm glad you are looking at a new path to fulfillment and hope it works out well for you.

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    1. jenny_o, many subjects don't understand someone else wanting credit for helping to tell THEIR story. I think because they have never conducted endless interviews and wrestled with transcripts and channeled another person day in day out for months at a time, trying to capture a subject's voice and be faithful to their truth, while trying to layer in the emotion and color that will sustain a well-paced and well-crafted book, they don't truly understand what it takes. That's why collaborative writers tend to be undervalued by some people, seen as merely a hired hand, even within the industry. Whew, I really vented there! I actually haven't stepped off the path, though. I do hope to keep writing memoirs collaboratively. I've just taken a pause this summer to assess and recharge, which I suppose we should all do from time to time. Glad you're staying safe.

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  8. Hope you get the project!
    I am cautious with Covid but in some ways it reminds me that when it is "my time" then I will die. I think a person can do everything they can to prevent illness but sometimes it is just their time to go. So we live our best lives and cherish happy moments while we can! Stay safe!

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    1. Thank you, Ellen! I do think you are right, that your approach is a healthy one. It's all we can do, really.

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  9. I am keeping my fingers crossed for you to get that contract.

    My reading of the science findings is that the majority of those who do get infected after being fully vaccinated has a very mild disease or no symptoms at all, while only a small number (almost all with previously known and possibly some up to now unknown concomitant disease or on immune compromising medication) does get full blown covid.
    The thing about reinfection can also be seen as a positive aspect, as explained here: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/07/anatomy-of-a-vaccine-breakthrough/619562/
    because any reinfection does help the immune system to strengthen its immune response, almost like a booster vaccine.

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    1. Sabine, I had wondered if reinfection could be seen as a natural boost to immunity, good to know. Symptoms tend to be mild post vaccination, but does this continue to be true as the vaccine efficacy wanes over time? That's the part I'm still trying to figure out. Will third-shot boosters be offered in Germany?

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  10. I would read that kind of an art book. I always want to know about the artist's life and how that influenced their art. Pixie/Lily

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    1. Lily, it's the human stories that capture us most, I find.

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  11. Oh splendid! I hope it works out for you.
    I am a person who, if I read about a symptom or marker for a disease, immediately exhibit that symptom or marker. I understand entirely what you describe. I can only say that the one serious disease that has hit me came with no common symptoms or warning markers.
    So, maybe we should worry on the days we feel great, hmmm?
    You laugh or you might as well cry.

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