I’m trying to figure out this thought I’ve got. This isn’t completely it and the writing kind of sucks, but this is an initial go at it:
While taking David G. Goodman’s Literature of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during my undergraduate years in Champaign-Urbana, I saw The Woman in the Dunes (directed by Hiroshi Teshigarhara, 1964), and the image of digging in the sand to keep from being swallowed by it has stuck with me. Much like the stoker and the castle and The Father lingered for Kafka.
When my students are daunted by the demands of rewriting, I have often asked, “If you were not working on this, what would you be doing? You’d be writing something else. And if it has real energy, that’s fine—but it would probably eventually need rewriting. Why not work on what is in front of you instead of starting something new only because you dread what it takes to finish something? A life as a writer is like digging a hole in the sand—the sand falls in, always, but sometimes, if you dig hard enough, you hit damp sand and it buys the digger time before it falls in. Rewriting is where you’ve hit the damp sand. It feels heavier because it has enough moisture to hold its shape.” I often forget to tell them that you have to love the sand, love your shovel, or you might as well move to a less shifty landscape. And then there’s the sand of those before you–the sand you eat.
Right now I am eating The Homewood Books by John Edgar Wideman and wishing I had read these books decades ago.
And there’s when you’re busy making art or devouring art in order to make art, and life intrudes–a wave slams flat the hole you’ve dug, filling it with water. So much for damp sand.
There’s a litany of possibilities for the intrusive wave. Off the top of my head—thyroid cancer, hysterectomy with complications, bilateral knee replacement, a hinky mammogram*; a long-time favorite aunt and her whole branch of the family insulting us when my wife and I chose to marry (in a handfasting, no less)—even now as this aunt is dying from long-ignored breast cancer I will have nothing to do with her; my father’s decline and death from bladder cancer—which left me feeling strangely unanchored (echoes of which are called up by a friend’s father also dying from cancer), long-distance worries about my brother, rescuing a seven-month old from her meth-addicted mother and raising her (she’s now twelve), a thirty-something female junkie and her son moving into our basement when her relationship with the boy’s father became abusive, the endless mystery of how a junkie who doesn’t eat can shit and puke so much while detoxing, the father of my grandson dying two heroin deaths (the first in Summer 2011, the second grisly and permanent), dealing with first responders and after, the mother’s series of homicidal/suicidal psychotic breaks, taking in a not-potty-trained four-year-old boy who likes to say “OK” when you tell him something and once your turn your head it’s as if you never made utterance (he’s still four), the bills are sliding because you’re outside a semester and your wife has used any cushion cash you have to put out a series of family fires, the union asking for your help (but really, really fuck-all if you’ve time or health or energy to offer), a twelve-year-old girl six weeks behind in school and seemingly unconcerned, who stores months of clothes on the floor of her room and expects it all laundered upon demand (I laugh. What else is there to do?), a wife whose back (due to a failed back surgery) doesn’t allow her to do laundry, load the dishwasher, or vacuum, etc., a wife who often takes the kids’ side against this angry grandpa-with-boobs that I am, a daughter who leaves the dishes in the sink (the dishes and feeding the cats are her only chores beyond “clean up after yourself”) for weeks at a time and doesn’t get why you’re pissed about gnat clouds in the kitchen, and finally, palpitations, rages (some brought on by perimenopause and some not), the disarray of our home keeps me from inviting anyone over, and finally, the guilt of not being able to help my mother as much as I would like. I may have forgotten a couple dozen things. Forgetting can be expected, I’m told.
In our house life seems to intrude more than average, though I know trouble visits everyone, given time..
I have friends who have offered help. I don’t know what to do with their offers. It’s something I get from my mother and my mother’s mother. Do not underestimate the power of the matrilineal legacy.
And what happens when I use all the help available? Does it ever replenish? Does it put me in a debt I can never repay? And what if someone who has helped me needs help and I am unable to give aid? I have never wanted to use people and have dealt with the supreme un-neatness of it all by trying to stand on my own two feet–or my wife’s and mine four feet. I begin to suspect this is a fool’s position; one I am ill-equipped to change. So I keep writing (I was completely derailed for a couple weeks but am warming back up again). I’ll write badly for a while and fuck up the chronology of my thoughts, but let the dust and cat hair and bills pile up around me, I have sand to shovel, sand to eat.
*all bold is shit that’s hit our household since mid-November 2014