When the light is right

I am still slogging away at the MMP. Inspired by Jane B., I have for the moment put aside the effort to compose the perfect concluding paragraph, and am working on the bibliography, since it also has to be done, and it does keep me in touch with the project. The bibliography work mainly involves combing through my footnotes, with a side order of tracking down details online.

Here I have to note that at least since early October I have been in a state of combined despair and anxiety over this project, wondering why it is such a struggle to put to bed, when I thought I would polish it off in three weeks last summer. The editors have not been nagging me, but I’m doing a fantastic job of nagging myself.

Working on the notes/bibliography is doing wonders for my state of mind. Look at that list of manuscript and archival documents consulted in the making of this essay! The list of primary sources is wide-ranging. The list of secondary sources includes work in at least three separate scholarly fields. I think altogether I cite works in five different languages. I still wish I could work more quickly, but by all the gods, I am thorough.

Sometimes I actually impress myself.


A pleasant pastime: Pym exhibit

Pym Fan and other fans! As usual, I was minding my own business and hunting down something else entirely, something relevant to the MMP, when I stumbled across this: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/online/barbara-pym-and-the-bodleian#gallery-item=. The Bodleian has way too much cool stuff on their site (NB, this is not a serious complaint). The Pym exhibit is of modest size, so it didn’t even delay me too long. Indeed, I could wish there were more, except that I need to get back to the more distant past.

I guess I’ll think of it as an unscheduled stop in my time machine.

Fits and starts

One reason I haven’t been posting much lately (maybe even the main reason) is that I have been slogging through the Slough of Revisions, my vitals gnawed by Palpable Worms of Guilt and Anxiety, as I try to sharpen arguments, deepen context, and reduce verbiage. Despite my efforts at that last, the first two have resulted in considerable expansion to the MMP (whatever the number, it’s the last one), and I hope devoutly that the editors won’t decide I’ve added so much that it’s a new contribution and send it back out for yet another review.

Sometime soon, I’d like to do a reflective post on what I’ve learned from this long process. (Announcing it means I probably will never write it, sorry, don’t hold your breath.) I’m not done-done yet. Next up, I need to go through the notes and make sure all the first references are full and subsequent ones are brief, because some text has moved around, and check that I haven’t left out any key citations in the process of revising. My writing group will look at the new paragraphs that introduce each section, and check transitions, though the whole thing is way too long to expect them to read it in full (we usually submit 1-10 pages to the group).

It is almost done. I have had way too many days this fall when I haven’t managed to work on it. This sort of focus on argument and big-picture “flow” is very hard for me. Usually the time I have available for research is late in the day and I can’t tell if “See Jane Run” makes sense, let alone my own work to which I am way too close. Having written so many drafts of the MMP, I’ve lost track of what details are in which one, and it seems as if the current draft ought to be an accretion of all that went before. But it’s not. I have, for instance, resurrected a chunk of the conclusion from a previous incarnation’s conclusion, and was surprised that I’d lost it because there’s a quote I love. I’m sure it happened when I was hacking and slashing the second rejected version to meet a draconian word limit for a prestigious journal. (Reviewers thought it seemed disjointed. No shit, really?) But anyway! Last night I went to bed not too late, this morning Basement Cat woke me up at dawn, and there was my magic bullet: two hours this morning before I had to do anything else! And so now I’m down to working on notes and checking that the topic sentences really are there, and those are things I can do with only half a brain, so soon, soon, I will be sending it off again.

And then working on another set of revisions, which will, however, be easier. I think.

R. I. P. Neighbor Catboy

He was vastly more gregarious than the Scot, but the same sort of purely loving soul. If his person struggled to let him go, I can believe that he tried to stay with her as long as he possibly could, and can understand that it would be very hard to lose that sort of generous, uncomplicated affection. I love our current cats, but I still miss the Scot, who was my very special one. I’m not telling my poor bereaved former neighbor that she may always miss her Catboy, even if she loves another cat just as much.

Some animals just seem like the essence of love, and we’re lucky to share some time with them.

Merrily we roll along

What am I going to do for blog material when I finish the MMP? I can’t believe I’m still revising that article. I submitted its third version over a year ago, it was accepted nearly a year ago, I spent some happy hours this summer visiting related manuscripts in Famed British Library so as to develop one of its lines of thought a bit further, and now I’m still (still!) slogging through transition paragraphs and footnotes. Gah. To keep myself going, I have turned to Undine’s old posts, like this one about keeping track of one’s notes and this one about T. S. Eliot as editor. She also linked to Jon Jarrett (and is he ever going to post again, one wonders) on his writing process, with links to others.

I’m already living in the past, most of the time. Which century varies: sometimes the fourteenth, sometimes the sixteenth, fifteenth, or thirteenth. Now I’m trying to spend my writing life in the relatively recent past, when I felt like I knew what I was doing. Or at least, I read the blogs of people who seemed to know what they were doing, and applied their insights.

One day this will all be over, and then I’ll have to come up with some new project nicknames. Square One never becomes Square Two, just Square One squared and cubed.

Reta Winters

Reta Winters is a writer, in Carol Shields’s novel Unless (HarperCollins, 2002). She lists the items she has written, with commentary, beginning with

  1. A translation and introduction to Danielle Westerman’s book of poetry, Isolation, April 1981 . . . . I am a little uneasy about claiming Isolation as my own writing, but Dr. Westerman, doing one of her hurrying, over-the-head gestures, insisted that translation, especially of poetry, is a creative act. Writing and translating are convivial, she said, not oppositional, and not at all hierarchical. Of course, she would say that. My introduction to Isolation was certainly creative, though, since I had no idea what I was talking about. I hauled it out recently and, while I read it, experienced the Burrowing of the Palpable Worm of Shame, as my friend Lynn Kelly calls it. (pp. 3-4)

I’ve met that worm. What a good name for it.

She said, “I’m tired of this war”

“I want the kind of work I had before.”

Leonard Cohen, “Joan of Arc”

I was listening to the “Cohen Live” album on the way home last night, and now I have this line in my head on repeat. It’s not my favorite song (kind of icky, actually, but it’s still Leonard), but terribly apposite right now. Yesterday was the kind of busy, focused day on which I never got around to looking at the news, so today’s headlines about California wildfires came as a shock. Fire leaping 101 in Santa Rosa? That’s six lanes¬†of asphalt, plus the shoulders and center. I’ve been trying to stay centered and positive over here, but there are too many fronts right now. I may have to listen to “Sisters of Mercy” for an hour or two.

More local news: rainbow edition

One reason I spend a lot of time at the gym is that usually it is either Too Hot or Too Cold to exercise outside. Right now, we’re in that sweet season in which Outside is actually pleasant, so I often take a long walk instead of going to the gym.

Yesterday I put off exercise till I got some work done, and then it was raining hard and supposed to keep raining until after dark. I tried to talk myself into the gym, but couldn’t do it. Eventually I suited up for a walk in the rain, and set out.

I headed west, and noticed that it was starting to clear in that direction, though rain was still falling on me. It didn’t occur to me that that meant a rainbow until a woman who had stepped out onto her porch to take a picture pointed it out to me. It was a wonderful rainbow, a full arch, with a second, paler one besides. I admired, and kept walking. My phone buzzed: Sir John had spotted the rainbow when he took the recycling out, and wanted to make sure I got to see it. No sooner had I ended the call than three small boys, aged perhaps 4-7, very excitedly told me about the rainbow. They were so excited that they could hardly listen to me agreeing that it was a rainbow and beautiful. I met another photographer and a pair of 8(ish)-year-old dog walkers, less vocal, but all very pleased with the double rainbow.

It was beautiful. People are wonderful in their appreciation of natural beauty, and their eagerness to share it with each other. I’m glad that I went for a walk in the rain.

Can’t. Even.

I used to dislike the phrase “I just can’t even.” I’d snarl about needing a main verb. Over time, though, I’ve come to find the phrase very useful, expressive precisely in its lack of verb. W/r/t national news, I can’t even. WTF. OMG.

So today I bring you some very, very local news.

I saw the sunrise. It was pretty. Maybe not red, but very bright pink. Sure enough, within a couple of hours we had a brief rainsquall, thus proving the old adage: “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” (Substitute “shepherd” if you live inland.)

Glendower continues to prefer minced turkey to other types of cat food, and ate up his breakfast promptly.

Reina knocked down a spring-loaded curtain rod and freaked out, but once I re-hung it, she returned to looking out the window.

I have loaded my car with items to take to Goodwill later. The vet tech to whom I am going to give some items for her community theater group is off today, so I won’t drop those things off until Thursday.

I expect to go visit an old neighbor this afternoon, to help give Neighbor Catboy subcutaneous fluids. Poor Neighbor Catboy is not in good shape, and I am sad about this. I have to keep reminding myself that he is 12 or 13, has had a loving home since he was a kitten, that he got to spend his whole life with his littermate, and on the whole has had a good life. Has he had the standard of vet care we provide our cats? No, but by most people’s standards he has done just fine. For longtime readers, this is the cat that Basement Cat always hated. In “Breaking Cat News” terms, he’s Tommy to Basement Cat’s Elvis, although since our BC never got out, they never achieved the rapprochement that Elvis and Tommy managed. (“Breaking Cat News” is now at GoComics, so if you are unfamiliar with this delightful comic, you can read it there.) Anyway, I can at least provide both sympathy and practical help to Neighbor Catboy’s person, who is distraught about his failing health. That’s a small, local bit of bad news that I can actually do something about.

Yesterday was a good writing day: 500 new words and a lot of editing of about 1000 old ones, for a decent new introduction to an essay I’ve been revising. Now I have to insert all the new pieces into the old essay and massage the transitions and check the notes very carefully to make sure I’ve kept all the important references while jamming in a batch of new ones.

Last night on my way home I stopped at Trader Joe’s. I bought one item, a bottle of wine. The guy in front of me had one item, a pint of ice cream. The woman behind me had one large chocolate bar. It looked like we all needed a little something to get through the evening. I expect later today I’ll be the one stocking up on chocolate. It’s important to have on hand in case of exposure to Dementors. In fact, we should probably all be dosing ourselves regularly as a preventive measure.

Holding environment

From a New Yorker article about Martha Nussbaum:

“When Nussbaum is at her computer writing, she feels as if she had entered a ‘holding environment’—the phrase used by Donald Winnicott to describe conditions that allow a baby to feel secure and loved. Like the baby, she is ‘playing with an object,’ she said. ‘It’s my manuscript, but I feel that something of both my parents is with me. The sense of concern and being held is what I associate with my mother, and the sense of surging and delight is what I associate with my father.'”

Rachel Aviv, “Captain of Her Soul,” The New Yorker, July 25, 2016, 34-43, at 40-41.

Given some of the things the essay says about Nussbaum’s parents and her relationship to them, I’m a little surprised that writing is so comfortable for her if she feels they’re with her then, but never mind that. Maybe what’s with her is her sense of the ideal parents. The quotation did make me wonder how to create such a sense of delight and playfulness. I’ve had it at various times, but it comes and goes. It seems strongest when I write every day.

Sleep begets sleep. Writing begets writing.

I scrapped the 450 words I wrote yesterday, but they made today’s 494 better words possible, and now I’ve written two days in a row, and starting to feel some enjoyment in place of the dread that was building up.