Experiencing various disasters as I experiment with vegan, sugar-free, gluten free, allergen-free scones (and thus finally learning the value of the metric system.) Blog post forthcoming on both aforementioned disasters, the importance of ratios in baking, and my improved quantitive reasoning skills (or several blog posts! I’m trying to learn to think small when it comes to writing, rather than big. But, being a writing teacher well versed in assessment at the institutional level, I definitely want to talk about quantitative reasoning and my recent forays into baking.)
But I’ve been noveling, noveling, noveling . . . in my journal. On my laptop using a combination of word documents and novel writing software (I use Scrivener.) And as things get, as they are wont to do, messier and messier and messier (I’ll think, I’m doing it! The novel is coming! It’s coming . . . It’s very similar to making love, actually– when you start to feel the orgasm coming on . . . sometimes it comes– sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is very, very big and lasts a long time. Sometimes it is short and over so quickly you wonder what happened. “It’s always over so fast for you,” a former lover said, not really even trying to hide the reproach in his voice. “It takes such a long time to get you there, and then . . . “ He didn’t need to finish his thought. His point was clear), I’ve been feeling, yet again, like I’m not going to do this thing.
Then one of my students e-mailed me to tell me he discovered, on Friday, that his wife has been cheating on him and did I have any wisdom for him?
Why people think a single woman in her 30′s currently in a relationship-that-is-not-a-relationship– an experiment in unconventional monogamy that can only be called unorthodox– might have any so-called wisdom about marriage is beyond me. A woman with a “failed” marriage (i.e. one that ended in divorce.) A woman with a string of former lovers so long she can’t remember all their names. A woman who has been called a slut, a whore, a cunt, a bitch . . . by both men (to her face) and women (behind her back.) A woman who has cheated in almost every relationship she has participated in (my last two are significant (yet probably not statistically so, being that they are outliers) exceptions.)
There are many things that are strange and weird about me (“This essay is important to me for lots of reasons . . . ” one of my students wrote in his final blog entry last night. “The other main reason is that I don’t want to let are fearless teacher down. She has been such a great woman, she has shown us her true self, and let us in to her crazy little world she calls home.” Indeed. ) but perhaps the strangest is that women have been asking me for advice about their marriages since my early adolescence.
Being the oldest of five children, I started babysitting early. I was good with kids– babies, in particular, love me. I can make a crying newborn stop wailing in about two minutes (something I am West Seattle famous for in more than one circle.)
And after I had sung, bounced, strolled, read, cajoled their children to sleep, my clients turned to me for another kind of solace: specifically, the mothers. Women always wanted to tell me about their marriages.
Whether they were driving me home or picking me up, regardless of sleeping children in car seats in the back seat or if we were alone, married women in their 30′s and 40′s told me, a 13 year old virgin who would not have her first awkward kiss for another three years, almost four years, the most intimate secrets of their marriages.
Now that I am solidly in my middle 30′s, much more experienced sexually (of course, the paradox of sex is that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know) women and men still turn to me. And the advice I have, the stories, the thousands of stories I have to illustrate, will literally fill a book.
So I wrote my student back, thinking, ah, yes, here is the stuff of the novel. Although I found his request overwhelming and professionally dangerous (I’m a novelist who writes about marriage and a composition teacher, after all, not a marriage counselor), I also found it to be a version of the question I have been asking myself for many, many years: What makes a happy marriage? I’ve known that was the unanswerable question my book is trying to answer for many years . . .but the actual task of trying to get down so much complexity (so many people’s stories, with all their tragic beauty) has proved to be even more difficult than my wildest imaginings.
But I wanted the student, this man who has been cheated on, to read Sugar on the Rumpus– specifically the letter titled “A Bit of Sully in Your Sweet.” In the fall, the second essay my 101 students wrote was a marriage analysis, and I showed them her letter as a brilliant and unorthodox sample of one possible interpretation of the assignment. It remains one of the most thoughtful (not to mention poetic) explorations of the ethics of marriage I have had the intense pleasure of reading.
It had been a while since I read Sugar on the Rumpus, and after I sent the link to the student, I read a few of her more recent letters. One comes up almost immediately when you type in “Sugar on the Rumpus” on Google: it says “Tiny Beautiful Things.”
“Tiny Beautiful Things” is a list of advice for young women (and men) in their twenties, written in the form of a letter (a love letter?) from an older Sugar to a younger version (draft?) of herself. There are many beautiful and poignant things she writes in that letter, but I am going to save those for prompts for the novel.
Here is the one I want to share with you, dear readers, if only to explain where I have been the last few weeks and how I have been feeling:
Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.
No, I do not have a career. I DO have a life– one I had to leave another life to have. I am a writer because I am indeed writing, even if much of it stays trapped in the many, many journals I have taking up space on every available chair in my tiny “Studio House.” Even if much of it remains unread bytes on my laptop.
My resolve– to not let my fear– my lack of faith– keep me from putting words on the page as they appear.
My book does indeed have a birthday, and I do not know what it is yet. How much comfort I take in that line! And in writing it, I will finally be able to offer that student my “wisdom,” for whatever it is worth.
Perhaps I have, by telling you about my writing, told you a bit about my vegan baking disasters? They are indeed connected.