On Doris Lessing, who like heat lightening illuminates a sky much further than you thought

there are quiet moments that like heat lightening ignite a sky we did not know could be illuminated. you know the other illuminations: storm, thunder cracking, black sky, sightless. you know in a storm that that is where you are, water and wind in your face, on your back. and lightening, in a storm, may for that moment guide you or show a world hidden by the downpour and dark.

but heat lightening you never know is coming. And stumbling upon Doris Lessing has been that illumination, a streak across my mind, into a sky I thought I saw clearly. “Changes everything” has become a tired phrase, and, actually, this sudden awe and understanding changes nothing in the concrete elements of my life: I will still write on the same subjects using approximately the same tools and routine I did before. What changes is my internal mapping.

My goal has been finishing stories, getting them polished, published, and eventually collected into a book. The biggest decisions on my horizon were whether to submit to non-SFWA approved markets once stories were rejected by the SFWA market. I contemplated what it would mean to self publish (and then self market) a collection of stories, knowing that that is not the route I wanted, but that it might be the only path available to me.

With Lessing what I see is the weight of fiction. What I see is a mind that gives the world back itself so that it, the world, can learn from its mistakes. What I see, suddenly, is all my stories like so many feathers discarded from a preening bird irate with its low performance, mad about its dingy brown-gray, mad about its small scale.  I am such a bird, preoccupied with projects to build my vanity, while out there, out beyond me, are stories so heavy they sink like stone, but they carry us into the sky.



following my mother into dingbat land

my mom is following her sister’s footsteps into what they imagine is a charming kookiness where they are oblivious to the pain and frustrations they cause. After all, they are having fun, why isn’t everyone else? They meant well, so why is everyone so angry?

they feel sanctified in their abstracted state as if they have found the door to the magic room where they are impervious not just to criticism but to error. They couldn’t possibly have caused a problem because they are so well intentioned.

I want to understand and be understanding, but like watching the village idiot shed their clothing and dance naked while shredding the petals from flowers you had so carefully cultivated, I feel only quiet horror and loss. It’s hard to encounter fieldtrippers on excursion from their institutionalized life, wandering in a group around Walmart or a museum. The slow speech and incurious eyes speak to a life lived elsewhere, and whether this is true of the intellectually disabled or not, the feeling is of observing minds shunted into a dimly lit room. All the senses, books, joys of the world might be in the room, but the feeling is that they will never know because the light’s too hard to see by.

How much harder, than, to see a once capable woman abandon herself to that dark hallway.

I’d like to blame Lyme disease, alcoholism, the aging brain, but I suspect the wall she is building is the only one left to keep the rest of us at bay. A wall, because whatever i have to offer as her daughter is still too fraught with the past, a world in which she is powerless before my dad and all men, a world in which kids take and never give, a world in which people ask things you can no longer provide, like being sober, or keeping your promises.


I turned 37 yesterday.

My husband remembered before I did; I was still clawing blindly through the kitchen for coffee when he wished me a happy birthday. He went out to get milk and brought back a red rose. Mom said she and that Bantas would like to call; when there was no call and I asked why, she said she thought I didn’t want them to. There wasn’t any basis for her to think that, I had emailed back saying I would love call. But somehow her forgetting, or getting carried away, or (most likely) being drunk, and not calling is still my fault. I pointed this out in an email, because (sadly) I still want to get through to her, but I iknow it won’t. My frustration and annoyance will only rally ruffle her innocence like a bird does its feathers, to keep enemies at bay. Or maybe I just want to pick a fight, want someone to know how miserable and alone I feel.

Then there was the stream of facebook messages, a few personal emails, and two texts.

Tim pressed upon me how much I need to go back to work, and in fact, only when I did go back to full time work, would he entertain having a second child. In the morning I agreed to this: the logic is sound. But by evening, hitting the tired wall (M had been up from 2am to 3am the night before), and rushing about trying to get food for a coworker he admires that just had a baby, and getting N ready for summer camp, I lost it. I’m tired of having children as my little project, as if it was a hobby that got the way of other things.

M was up again from 2am to 4am last night and today I feel thoroughly depressed. No calls for my birthday, not even from my parents, who have very important other things to do. It’s foolish of me, of course, to start dreaming of the world in which they would be devoted, excited grandparents. Their parents were not particularly interested in us, so why would my parents being interested in my children? No. My dad has his longevity project, and talks about the same three books over and over again [I can only imagine the library in his head as endless rows of these same three books, and he wanders through the shelves, reaches over, and great! just what he was looking for]. My mom has her dogs, her house, her writing, and as the luscious backdrop obliterating all else, her drinking. Still there’s an idea in my head of grandparents doting on grandchildren, of holidays together, eating, drinking, having fun. And its not that we can’t, or won’t do this. But it is clear we have reached the stage that my cousins have reached with their own aging parents: the family get together as elaborate performance, of presenting the grandchildren for a brief period, of talking in slow, gentle sentences to elderly people and knowing they won’t recall the conversation later. They are not that old yet; my dad and mom both still work, have social lives, dreams. Yet incongruently, they are. Their brains simply do not write new data, so you are left with a program that seems increasingly bizarre because as the world changes, their program keeps running the same script.

And the horror is, you know you are next. You–well, no, not you, me–I will be old before my children stop needing me.

transgression, slow growth

Despite the conclusion in my previous post on the white artist and her Emmett Till painting, I found myself being drawn into writing a story that involved racial discrimination. My plan was to send it to my sister-in-law for approval because she’s not white, well-versed in race issues on both an academic and an activist level, and since I strongly suspect she dislikes me already, I don’t risk losing her friendship if I offend her.

Luckily, my husband read the story first, and his response stopped me. Stopped me not just from sending the story to her, but from the story in it’s current state. He didn’t say much, that it was a weird (he doesn’t read sci-fi, so he thinks everything I write is “weird”) and that he didn’t know why as a white woman I would feel entitled to write such things, but that was I had chosen to do.

Shame can be productive, and in this case, I realized I should just re-write the story as I had originally intended it, with the emphasis on class, rather than racial, disparity.

In making this decision, I have to hear the voice of my mother in my head in her exhaustingly aggressive tone saying that I am backing away from a subject because I’m afraid. The implication, which she’d likely spell out if given the time, is that we “artists” should not be afraid of taking on any subject. The further implication, or the subtext of her comment, would be that I am afraid, that I am PC, that I have become a small, shriveled, fearful person that is not doing the ball-bashing of the world she had expected me to be doing.

It’s to the voice of my mother that I frame my response: I have much to say without sticking a point in someone’s eye. Which is how reference to racial discrimination in a story feels to me. It seems as though I am making a point at some one else’s expense, as if to defend them I need to open a wound. There’s a place for that, and there are certainly issues I think warrant pushing past my own and other’s comfort zones. But not race. In large part because I have nothing new to add to the discussion: my invocation of race would be as other put rape or pederasty in a story, as if to say, “Look! Look at this bad thing! We all agree it’s bad bad bad!” But there’s nothing novel in this. Rather the inclusion has everything to do with justifying a revenge story, or giving a terrible back story to a character that is behaving badly. And sometimes to show just how bad the world is. All of these reasons, though, piss me off: just fucking write a story without a [usually female] victim. Rare is the story that has something to add to discussions on sexual violence. Peter Watts is one of the few that I have seen, and only one story in particular, in which the rape is never described but the after effects are addressed, really has something to say.

so that’s my transgression. but luckily one I backed away from.

On slow growth, it’s occurred to me that this new plateau I find myself with my stories is where I was with my poems when I was a teenager. That’s 20 years ago. When I was a teenager I like my poetry, I put my best mind to it. I knew each poem had its own symmetry and resonance. It was a matter of realizing what needed to be a poem and them reaching for the right words, sculpting the path the words took. But I had no illusions as their value either to themselves or to me. The poems simply were. This is not to say I didn’t, embarrassingly, try to share them. I did. No one cares. And trying to share your poems in high school is a good lesson in keeping things to yourself.

Some how after high school I lost my mind and began to believe that writing would take me to some new territory. The glamorous place where I, a rare specimen, would be among my peers. Because I was young, dumb, and had nothing, I fantasized about much more: wild success, popularity. Attention. Of course, I also like to imagine that one day my body would be shaped differently than it is. With my body, I could only come to accept it as it was, and stop pushing for it to be otherwise, when I understood that anatomy held its own mysteries quite apart from whether I was desirable or not. In defense of my sad, pathetic younger self and dreamers everywhere, my husband has pointed out that in America we work so hard for so little that of course we fantasize about over the top success.

One story I have now, which I believe is quite decent, is just about to have exhausted all the sfwa recognized markets. Is it worth then submitting to all the other magazines out there? I’m not sure it is. But the process is making normal what used to be tragic: rejection letters.

crossing the line

I’ve crossed the line, finally, from wanting my stories to receive acknowledgement to loving them for their own sake. This is not to say that I did not love my stories before, I did, and gnashed my teeth at every rejection in part because I felt the editors had missed the essential beauty of my child. But in writing now, I can feel myself reaching for a musicality and perfection appropriate to the piece, can feel the tug, the necessity of getting the words right not because anyone will read it [ever] but because the story itself requires that precision.

Falling Down the Hole

I assume this is the windup to ovulation as I feel I am falling down a hole. I was up with N last night, whose cough has returned with a vengeance. I just ate four cookies in the hope that my mood my shift, but instead, my belly feels sick.

I think my husband uses anger the way I do alcohol or my brother does insecurity and doubt. Which is to say: there’s a comfort in returning to that familiar mental space. We make a habit of certain mental circuits; if we try and run our normal course and skip the drinking/depression/rage, then we return to the beginning of our thoughts unsettled, having missed an essential beat.

Yesterday he decided again that we should not have another child. But he periodically changes his mind and tells me with certainty that we should have a third. We are quite literally playing with someone’s life.

If i could assure him that we would have a girl, I’ve no doubt that would sway him. I do not blame him for dreading three boys; it wasn’t until I saw M’s emerging blood splattered head that I knew, knew with that certainty that people use for God or love, I wanted more. One, two. Boys. Let it be four boys. While I was pregnant with M I was bitterly disappointed by not having a daughter, but when I saw when something clicked within my head. Want, as in I want, is not even the right word. It was more a sacred certainty, not in having more children, but that those more would be good.

I cannot reassure my husband that there is no greater purpose than the one handed us by evolution. It may be true that this is it, this is what we were born to do, pass on genetic material, and everything else is goals and games. But it is also entirely exhausting and awful, and like watching snails with my son after the rain, you cannot tell someone to find something extraordinary. They will, or they will not.


becoming who you are is as steady and slow a process as snails racing on concrete after rain.

with all the talk of authenticity and songs by rock stars on about being yourself and movies that promote being true to oneself, you’d think finding the self is a bastion of meaning in a cruel cold capitalist world and that’s true but its also true that anything safe from commercialism is patently dull, dull, drab, and likely ugly.

I’ll be sad for the day when my son now three no longer wants to watch the snails after the rain. The day he will casually crush their shells on the way to something else. Now, though, we study them, see a multiplicity of colors in the soft white, gentle gray, quiet brown of their shells. They are hard to see because their size and colors is just like the stones in the driveway so we are patient training our eyes to see the slick skin, the shiny trail behind them, pin point eyes stretched up toward the light, little feelers packing down the way ahead.

“Another one and another! So many! Look, the tiniest one!” How can he be so thrilled by their tiny movements?

Why is there such peace in my hour for writing? Why is it only then that I can move ahead and say, today, I’ve done my work? Here is the world I wanted collapsing: I imagined glamour, some level of success, accolades give me accolades–but, actually, this is it. To bring the mind back again and then again and yet again to the page, progress so slow that it seems hardly measurable. I know now that I cannot rush the story. And I know I cannot change it: these are the stories I will write, that I am writing. That no one will read them, that they trudge across a dozen editors desks before returning to my files means nothing to the story. Disappoints me like hell, but it also just doesn’t matter.