Monday, June 29, 2009

e AM on our last night in our apartment in Cambridge. Tomorrow night and the next, we'll stay with friends nearby; Tuesday night, we're at a hotel at the airport. I always thought airport hotels were for the tired and the pathetic, the bad travelers, and now I still do: it's just that I have become all those things.

Packing up makes me ask myself questions. Like, why did you buy three bottles of hairspray, when you sprayed your hair less than three times over the past ten months? Why so many dull flannel baby blankets? And brown rice!


I'm picking up this post 24 hours later. Now we're staying with our friends Jonathan and Lib, around the corner. It's almost odd to be in such a peaceful lovely place, when our apartment feels stark and chaotic, mostly packed up with the inevitable baby socks swept up into corners, and all of the weird hardware of domestic life that stymies me when I move: picture hangers, clothes hangers, pushpins.

The movers come tomorrow to put our stuff into storage, where it will stay till January when we move it to Texas. A moving crate for Iowa comes Tuesday. Then the important luggage--that is, us--gets on a plane for England for the summer early Wednesday morning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On a day like today, I like to think of myself as Invisibly Prolific, even though I haven’t published a novel in 8 years. This is a kind way of saying horrifically inefficient. For everything I finish, I write pages and scenes and chapters I don’t use; I throw in extra characters, I take wrong turns. Sometimes I start novels and never go back to them. Some years ago I wrote an entire novel in five weeks, just to see if I could. (Answer: only kinda. It’s shaped like a novel, but the characters are fatally stunted. At this moment, I remember my favorite image—a mouse brown felt hat with a mouse gray band—but not whether I ever used it somewhere else.) Four years ago, I had a novel collapse on me, and though I have managed to extract a few chapters based on the minor characters, the heart of it is gone forever, I think. Pompeii, Atlantis: buried like that.

Mostly, I have embraced this in myself. Throwing out pages is much less painful if you don’t struggle, if you even decide to be a bit butch about it. You play with alligators, you’re gonna get bit. God help me, I still like alligators. My other major coping mechanism, in this part of my life as well as in many others, is amnesia. I forget what I’ve written. I’m always finding files on my computer that I have no memory of.

So I’m heading towards the end of a novel (I hope). All along I’ve had in my head a scene inspired by a scene I wrote four years ago—not from the collapsed novel, but from the project I picked up afterwards. I’d been talking to an editor who asked me if I’d ever thought about writing a young adult novel, and I thought, well, I’m at loose ends writing-wise, why not try. So I did, for a while. It was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. (I’m always working on versions of The Snow Queen.) Then a lot of things happened in my life, and I mostly forgot about it. Tiny bits morphed into the novel I’m working on now, including plans for a scene at the end of the book. So a couple of days ago I found the old project, just to look at that scene.

Well. I’d forgotten I’d written 91 pages of the thing. & I read it. & God help me, I thought it was sort of all right. Could I go back to it?

The lesson, actually, is that I shouldn’t have read it. There are the aforementioned pieces of the book that have worked their way into my new novel, which make the two projects conjoined twins with three legs between them. They could probably both live but not without serious problems, should they be separated.

The scene, by the way, features one character in bed, talking to another character out of bed. Oh my heavens I write a lot of scenes with one character in bed, one character out. It’s a goddamn motif. A psychologist might suggest I have problems with intimacy, making my characters continually perpendicular instead of parallel, but really I think I’m just sleepy. I wander around the rooms of my fiction, and I think, You know what would be nice in this corner? A bed.

(As an aside: I walked down Longwood Avenue in Boston to a dental appointment, and realized I was passing Brigham and Women’s, formerly the Boston Lying-in Hospital, where I was born. As a kid I loved that phrase: Lying-In. Born lying down, hope to die lying down, of course my characters spend a lot of time supine!)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Three thoughts about hair.

1. Gus, age two, had his first haircut a few weeks ago. He had wild rock and roll hair, which looked great, but in the summer heat the combination of grub and uncut hair made him look like a little boy nobody was looking out for. I'd thought about taking him to some Kids' Kutz place, but instead we brought him to the gorgeous old barber shop in Harvard Square, where (so I've heard) presidents JFK and OHB got their hair cut, too. The guy put a padded board across the arms of the chair, and though Gus was scared for ten seconds he then decided to be very brave. And so he was. We asked to keep it long, and the result is an early 60s British invasion kind of 'do. My friend Lib says he looks like the young Mick Jagger.

We didn't save any of it. Good idea? Bad?

2. Matilda, age .5, has what is variously been called a Mohawk, Fauxhawk, and Beckham. Sometimes she looks like Tin Tin and sometimes a kewpie doll. I realized with a start the other day that she looked a lot like the most beloved doll of my childhood, Amy Elizabeth. (Yes, I seemed to have named a doll at least partly for myself.) Amy Elizabeth was a Madame Alexander babydoll, given to me by my grandmother. I carried her (the doll, not my my grandmother) around by her hair for so long that eventually all she had left was a grubby tuft sticking up in the center of her head. Everything else was gone. My grandmother was so put off by this that she actually bought Amy Elizabeth a tiny wig, which (though dark brown) was (as I remember) styled very much like my grandmother's.

3. My first child's hair was dark, like mine. I remember being--puzzled? disturbed?--by the fact that I would never know what color his eyes would have been, though surely they would have been blue at first. But he had dark hair, I knew that. Matilda's hair was also dark when she was born, but then it all fell out and now, like Gus, she's on the brunette side of blonde. I think she was three months old before I realized that one of the only things I thought I knew about that first child was something that might not have continued to be true, had he lived.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Lately I've been suffering from what I think of as Geographic Seizures. They've been going on for a few years now. All of a sudden, in my head, I have a flash of moving around a corner in Paris, or Bergerac, or London, or (more rarely) Saratoga Springs or Odense: I have the sensation of being elsewhere, someplace I have not been for some time. I'm alone alongside a building or a field. Then it's over. It feels neurological, not nostalgic. The parts of Paris that flash into my head (for instance) are never my favorite, not my usual routes through the city, but streets I walked down once or twice or maybe five times, with no particular associations. & I have no sentiment for Bergerac (or Bordeaux) at all. Quite the opposite. & they are never parts of my childhood. I am not suddenly aware of walking past George the Chili King's in Des Moines or Mac's Smoke Shop in Newton Corner. Perhaps they're mostly in foreign countries because of the shallowness of my Parisian experience: a brief cerebral and solitary transposition to a back street of Paris is enough to convey nearly everything I felt about that wonderful city, but the Des Moines of my childhood is more populated and complicated.

I'm adding a few more of the odd places I find myself: on all sorts of streets in Leipzig, a place where I have spent exactly one weekend. One particular stretch of road in Scotland, near Helensburgh, that I took several times a week last summer. No place in Norfolk, though, where I've spent two summers in the past three years. No place in Iowa. I wish I could figure out a pattern to these bits of time travel.

Am I the only one?

Monday, June 01, 2009

In the seven years since the Diminutive Englishman and I have used the same toothbrush (not really; it's a euphemism I picked up from Pogo, and my memory is that someone says it of John Smith and Pocahontas--"And the next thing you know, they were using the same toothbrush!") we have moved 16 times. Now, for many of those moves, a lot of our belongings were in storage, but I have counted every move where we have left one address, never to return, for another. We are moving again at the end of the month--we'll be England for the summer, and then Iowa for the fall, and then we are headed for Austin, where we intend to stay.

I can't even wrap my brain around Austin, though I am looking forward to it tremendously. First, we have our first move that involves shifting two children around.

Pray for me. And give advice, please, if you have it. We fly to England on July 1.