Whenever I think of leaving this place I feel uneasy. Not necessarily because I want to stay - my problem appears to be regret that I did not properly enjoy the experience of living here. I spend most of my time in the house. I like the place. But I didn't even finish unpacking until last week and I never truly expected to be here longer than five years.
Tomorrow we fly to Barcelona, where Byron will present a paper and we will spend time with our friends from his field. Lucian will be there, and perhaps Satnam, along with some other Seattle friends, but we will see other people we only meet during the conferences because they are scattered all over the world. In the past when I've talked to these friends I have experienced a peevish jealousy because I wanted to be the kind of person who lives elsewhere.
Now that my wish has come true - in such a startling, abrupt, and amazing way - I am confused by the fact that everything seems so correct and appropriate. I haven't had a moment of jumping up and down joy even though England was my childhood dream; if there had been a Make a Wish foundation during the cancer years I would have asked to go to the UK. Instead of pure exhilaration I feel vindicated and satisfied.
Maybe this is normal; I hope that it isn't a sign of encroaching arrogance. Recently I heard from the publisher of my new anthology that the press is absolutely besotted with the work. They suggested no changes whatsoever to our final version. I know from the other anthology I've published, and talking to writer friends, that it is unheard of to have such a good relationship with a publisher. But I do not experience deep pleasure over this knowledge. I just think of course - at last.
Right now I feel sad to leave this place but happy to go to Cambridge. Which seems like an awfullly tepid response. This could just be the inevitable maturity of age. Growing up can be so difficult.
The thing I will miss the most about this place is riding the ferry.
This morning I received email from Clint Catalyst announcing that Pills, Thrills, Chills and Heartache is on the LA Times Bestseller List. This is excellent for the book, the editors, and all of the writers. It is also quite encouraging that the book is doing well and getting positive reviews in major outlets, given that it is a small press anthology.
The next piece of email in my inbox was a discussion amongst professional writers on a listserve about an article detailing the tribulations of a midlist writer. I found the article interesting and funny, though I have never had any fantasies about my writing career. The whole thing is mostly toil with a few erratic flashes of good luck. Even the good things - the major interviews, nice reviews, being quoted in big mainstream magazines - are not what they would seem from the outside. I've always thought that publishing was a business much like the gas station my grandparents used to own. My experiences so far have supported this theory.
Most writers are never published at all. Those who establish a consistent visible career are lucky and hardworking. The few serious writers who break out and make money are the rare exceptions. This has always been true; the industry has changed in the last few decades but it was never as idyllic as people might wish to believe. Experimental and serious writing is hard to sell. The major publishing houses want to earn a profit on the work they promote. Smaller and independent firms publish more diverse work but do not have the promotional clout of the larger firms. This is just true - and it always will be.
Even those few writers who have achieved a level of notoriety are not generally earning a living wage. It is in fact possible to be famous and poor. I know many brilliant people who can sell out events based on their reputation, but still need to work boring day jobs. Those who work in fields related to their art are no more (or less) inclined to be satisfied or productive.
The latent expectation on the part of writers and the audience that making work leads inevitably to a reasonable fee for service is simply misguided. It would be easier to make a profit running a gas station (though that industry has in fact consolidated and changed in much the same way as the publishing industry). Writing does not lead to riches. There are other reasons to write; most of them soppy but still worthy.
My essay in the Pills anthology is part of a piece of work that has been called "brilliant" and "beautiful" and "frightening" and "haunting" and, most telling of all, "not commercial." Yet that same work has sold out a limited edition zine; more than 9,000 copies are in circulation and I am too busy to make more. How can this be quantified? I know that the zine has sold better than many books. I know that this happened with absolutely no promotion or support except the goodwill of distributors and friends. I am not trying to imply that I am above the sordid commercial aspects of publishing; I am not pure. I just know that money is not the only measure of success in a writing career.
I just booked our May visit to Cambridge. When I clicked on "title" the ordinary list of Mr, Mrs, Ms, and Dr was enhanced with Sir, Lord, Lady, Capt, Prof, Rev.
This weekend we were graced by a visit from Gordonzola -- much to the dismay of my daughter, who was visiting her grandmother. She protested mightily that she loves cheese and he should have waited to visit when she was home.
We had great fun with the cheese man; we ate at Afrikando and then attempted to visit various bars, all of which were too frightening to contemplate. We ended up back at the house chatting into the night. AEM came over and entertained us with her current plans and ideas.
Next weekend Jen K. will be in town from Berkely, and KTS will be here from New York. I always forget that they know each other; we all met at a youth leadership institute way back in 1988. Later we went to the same college but never traveled in the same social circles. It might be very amusing to have them over for dinner at the same time.
During my recent efforts to clean the basement I found the entire media archive of the institute and I would be pleased to hand it off to Jen; unfortunately we will be in Barcelona and thus miss seeing our old friends.
I'm pleased to announce that the Mamaphonic site has a brand new look! This is a preview of the book cover designed by the amazing Stella Marrs. Site design courtesy of Lefty Lucy Communications and technical development by Lynn Siprelle. Special thanks to Susan and all the fine friends who are interested in Mamaphonic!
According to the relocation fellow, if we don't find an apartment by the end of May our kids have zero chance of getting good school assignments.
We can't apply for visas or schools until we have an address. But we won't be able to find an apartment until June. Which is too late to apply for visas and schools.
Byron says rather unhelpful things like: Relax. People have been moving back and forth across the Atlantic for hundreds of years. It will work out. The Pilgrims did not work for Microsoft.
To which I reply: The Pilgrims didn't have to rent an apartment ahead of time.
Byron: That's true. So you're saying that the modern English housing market is worse than the Irish famine?
Bee: The Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution, not a famine.
And so on and so forth.
Looks like we might be visiting Cambridge the third week of May.
This decision has been hampered by the fact that the relocation fellow has a computer virus that is bouncing email, Byron is interviewing interns all day, phone calls are happening between the two of them during breaks and across the time difference, and I'm getting only whatever fragments of information falls between the cracks.
I guess this is kind of funny. Maybe a little.
Byron claims that his birthday is the day of irritating errands. Because it falls on a payday and we lived below the poverty line for many years there were always horrible tasks - taking the bus from Portland to Hillsboro to get a paycheck; moving money from one account to another; using birthday cash to pay for utilities. I thought that this year would be our first completely carefree attempt at a celebration but last night I realized that I wrote all of the checks for bills against the wrong account. Byron had to rush out to the suburbs to make a deposit. But at least that happened before midnight - I am hoping that this day, his birthday, is serene.
Happy birthday, Byron! Cheers & many happy tidings for a year that will surely be the best to date!
Recently I took the kids in for basic checkups. One needed blood tests and the other needed a tetanus shot. After the appointment we had the following conversation:
Boy: My arm hurts.
The narrator of the play is unreliable, not a bystander but actually complicit in the torment of another child who was once her friend. The character evokes the female culture of censure, the desperate danger of isolation, and the risks inherent in speaking out.
During the performance there were moments when I was literally doubled over with the horror of the piece - it was a visceral experience for me not only because of the rural NW setting but also because I was victimized by other children during the cancer years.
It would have been hard to watch the play just on that level, but it is also true that I was never simply a victim. I fought back - with words but also with my body. I learned to fight not just for myself but for others who were weak. I could never, would never, passively allow someone to be injured. I would rather not have a community if the tradeoff means looking the other way and ignoring abuse.
I've walked away from relationships, friends, and more than I care to contemplate because I refuse to compromise this belief.
As we left the theatre my daughter urged me to tell some of the stories from my reckless youth but I shook my head, too overwhelmed. I said that my tooth hurt and that she could tell the stories later.
If you have an opportunity to see the play - you should. It is really very good.
I decided to sell all of my extra books. There are at least three hundred that mainly serve to collect dust; no matter how much I enjoyed reading them they are not applicable to current projects. I have an appointment with a dealer tomorrow. Cross your fingers that he will want such illustrious titles as:
Reflections on Gender and Science
If you have an email account through one of the web sites I host you may receive a message claiming that your account has been suspended. The message is not legitimate. The message is not from me or from any of the tech volunteers. Please do not open the attached file as it is almost certainly a virus.
Dental technology has evidently advanced during the seven years I ignored a rotten tooth. My third root canal on this dratted molar went swimmingly; new tools were able to slip down all the way to the source of the infection. Now I feel ill, but not bad enough to require pain medication. Good news all around.
Last weekend Satnam and Susan moved to town; Jendle and family came to look at houses and schools; Eli and Ruby showed up with travel stories. I cleared out our storage area and gave away carloads of stuff. I was so busy I didn't even have time to go to a show I helped organize. Change is definitely in the air, the sun is shining, and this life is sometimes an excessively strange adventure.