Tuesday, July 21, 2009

From the Sublime to the Remorseful

I was going to write about the ineffable pleasure of vacuuming and cleaning our laundry room. I was going to extol the pleasures of reorganizing the sheets & consigning the ripped, torn and stained ones to the rag pile.
I was going to wax poetic about the satisfaction of gathering decades of discarded, lost & forgotten baseball caps (also dust covered) each one recalling some past event or place - a fish store in Duxbury where I bought scallops when I was married, but have not seen since; a Julie Taymor puppet production; a now bankrupt soybean seed production company in Nicaragua - and putting them all in one place, in one shopping bag from Bruxelles (courtesy of my mother, surely) and labeling it, Random Baseball Caps for Whoever Wants One.
If you ever need a random baseball cap, you can go directly to my laundry room and know that you will find one there.

I was going to spend some quality time examining why we (we, as in, all of us who inhabit older houses, anywhere) have plinths, moldings, edges, cornices and indented panels – all surfaces designed to collect dust, to accumulate dust, to hold dust close to themselves and hoard dust. I have just answered my question.
And then I come along with the crevice tool on my vacuum and drag it along the top of the floor molding, and circumnavigate the indented panels, sucking up dust as I go.
I was going to discuss all the variations on lint: every article of clothing, every sheet, towel and cushion in this house is represented in the lint build-up in this room. Years ago I noticed that in the course of cleaning out the lint tray on my dryer, that is, taking the tray out of its slot and removing the accumulated lint and putting it in the trash, motes and specks of lint flew away. And I knew perfectly well that the lint that flew away was going to settle on some molding or plinth, settle there and stay there until I came along with my vacuum or dustrag.
So I became methodical about removing the lint from the lint tray. No longer did I cavalierly pull it off in a sloppy sheet and carry it the 4 feet to the trash bin. No, I carefully transported the whole lint tray to the top of the trash bin and slowly peeled away the lint directly into the trash bin, hoping in that way to minimize the escaped lint particles.
I was going to express the inexpressible delight of gathering all the clothespins in one place, and then clipping them in a neat row to the retractable clothesline.
A retractable clothesline is such a wonderful thing that I wonder we don’t have one in every room.
But then I came upstairs and saw the carton the UPS man had just left on the front porch containing 25 copies of Absent a Miracle. I sank into terrible gloom and despond. There it is, chicken and all. It is too long & too fat. 482 pages is too much in this world. I cut the original manuscript by more than a third, until I thought I could not pare it down by one more word. I took out whole scenes involving Hubert van Toots and his demented mother, fond as I was of her. I excised crank callers to the Dream Radio Show. I killed off several of Waldo’s relatives.
It still looks too long. I suggested months ago that they make the print smaller, but they did not.
Then there is the use of the word ‘pooch’ on the front flap. The narrator, Alice Fairweather, never once refers to her dogs or any others dogs as pooches. She never would, and neither would I. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with the word ‘pooch’, it’s just that I don’t use it, but there it is on the front flap, taunting me.
As for the back flap, it says very plainly: This is her first novel. But on the page in the front listing previous works, Expecting, my (ahem) first novel, is at the top of the list. How did this happen? Will anybody besides me notice? Perhaps it was determined that Expecting is not a novel. I thought it was a novel at the time, even though it resembled in many ways my own pregnancy. But my grandmother’s name was not Esmerelda and she never ran off to a tropical island with a lover, so it has to be a novel.
I won’t even get into the author photograph and all the ways it disturbs me.
Why exactly this despair? Before the book became this physical reality I could pretend that many things could happen, specifically, that it would be reviewed in the Times and I would not have to crawl into the woodchuck hole. But now it is a physical reality taking up floor space in the front hall, and I have no idea if the Times or anyone else will review it or if anyone will finish it. Or like it.

And on top of everything, it seems just a little unfair that there is a chicken on the cover of the book but we still have no chickens. We can’t get chickens because we don’t have a chicken house and we can’t built a chicken house until we build a honey house, and the absence of a honey house is getting to be a desperate situation, because this house is full of apicultural stuff. The extractor is in the kitchen. The shelves downstairs are weighed down with 50 cases of hexagonal glass honey jars. On top of C through M of the Encyclopedia Britannica are sheets of wax foundation wrapped in newspaper. There are hive tools atop the bedroom dresser. Supers are stacked in the pantry and the dining room. Four years worth of Bee Culture are under our bed.

If you’ve read this far you really are a brave soul and deserve better than a self-piteous screed. A thought? Go out and buy a copy of Absent a Miracle. Tell your friends it’s not as long as it looks (large print).


Mickey and Flea said...

Well, we are waiting with baited breath until our human gets home so we can rush out and get your book! 400 and some odd pages are no problemo for us, as we have delightful leisure time in which to read. And, as you well know, anything with chickens on it will get our attention.
(Don't let those silly editors and pr people discourage you--you are mother of the earth and creativity in our humble opinions.)

Diggitt said...

I'm waiting for my human too! And she will take me to that place she stupidly calls Bookstore C and buy your book.

Rebecca Rice said...

I loved this post about all the humble, housewifely things you didn't do with dust, and I love Absent a Miracle and look forward to cuddling up with all 400 pages of it. For the record, I plan to buy at least 20 copies and give them to family and friends as gifts.

Didn't Truman Capote say something about answered prayers being harder to deal with than unanswered ones?

You've written a brilliant book, of which you should be very proud.
And, b/t/w, Broadside Books of Northampton, Ma. has put up a nice online ad promoting your reading on August 25th at 7 p.m.

Mira Costa said...

looking forward to a good read - the longer, the better. These short reads in your blog are a onstant pleasure. And it's okay that they're short,as they keep coming.

Mira Costa said...
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