A Ruin

Thursday morning I wake to the sound of rain falling on the yet to bloom hydrangea bushes outside my bedroom window. Birds are singing songs I wish I knew. I lie here for a long time. Every once in a while a car swooshes down the wet street and even though I’m not looking, I can see the water spray out from turning wheels and settle back into the ruts and potholes that keep our sleepy street sleepy.

Finally, because I have been writing in my head for three days, I get up and pour a cup of the still-hot coffee my husband made early before he went to work, grab my computer off the desk in the kitchen, and return to my rumpled sheets-only bed. Two fans are churning the air–one hanging from the ceiling and one to my left so that every once in a while air catches the edge of my sheet and billows it over my legs. I set the computer in a strategic position on my lap where its open screen beckons me to write this damned blog.

I write for over two hours. I write about laziness and artistic intention and summer’s long, loose days. I write about my lack of ambition and how I don’t have a job other than being a writer and a mother and a keeper of the house we all live in. But I’m not happy with it. Maybe this is a blog post for the future when I figure out how Keats’ idea of negative capability figures into my dueling theories that work is both bedrock and overblown.

My stomach’s in knots. I have words flying through my head, skittering across the screen as I try again and again to write my way willy nilly into this blog. When I’ve written for two hours and still have nothing, it’s time to chuck it. I push the computer from my lap as if it’s a misbehaving pug and go to the kitchen to smash an avocado and spread it on some toast.

***

An hour later, I’m dressed and on the front porch. The rain’s gone, and the birds continue to mock me with songs I don’t know while diving down to the wet grass for worms. A few years ago, I read somewhere that worms come to the surface to avoid drowning in the drenched soil, but that isn’t the truth. Worms surface because it’s a better way to travel. When the ground is wet, they slide along its surface instead of trudging through the thick clay.

Right now I count two robins doing their strange run a few steps and stop dance and three blackbirds walking like chickens in the front yard. So far, not one has  yanked a worm from its migration. It’s a good time to get back to the blog, before one of those birds commits worm murder.

What should I write?

I go back through my blog posts, thinking I might do an update of sorts:

√ No tassel yet. I haven’t done a thorough cleaning of the room, but I still suspect that our big pug had something to do with its disappearance.  He tilts his head in that cute and quizzical pug way when I stare him down.

√ No letter of apology from the oft-quoted and brilliant Annie Dillard who doesn’t read women authors although the legendary Gay Talese did get a thumping for his public admission that he couldn’t name a single woman author who inspired him.

√ My dad saw Peanut’s new tattoo, and he grimaced a little bit and shook his head in that sad and confused way I probably do when Peanut tells me she thinks she’d like a tragus piercing–WTF is a tragus?

My new bras are working overtime in this hot sultry weather and are standing up to the increasingly difficult challenge of keeping my breasts where they belong.

√ I continue, behind closed doors, to engage in humor that might be considered offensive. Case in point. Last night, Eric and I were joking around when he reached down beside the bed, grabbed his iPad and pulled up a picture of an old-timey baseball manager whose balls were clearly defined in his khaki pants. According to Eric this is called a moose knuckle. Who knew? I was both appalled and unable to look away. We laughed so hard I couldn’t fall asleep for another hour–or maybe I was just haunted–how could pants do that?

√ I went to hear Lee Martin (who is definitely a man, darnit) read from his new book last week in Lawrenceville, IL. He killed it, and still I can’t read Late One Night until January 1 because of the damned New Year’s Resolution I am going to keep because I haven’t kept the one about copying a poem every day although I’m trying which may or may not be the truth but is more hopeful than saying the effort is kaput.

Type 1 Diabetes still sucks. Last week, I took Peanut to the doctor in St. Louis for her three-month check-up. Her last appointment, three months ago, was one of bells and whistles and lots of cheering. Her A1C (this is a number that gives us a pretty good idea of what her blood sugar has averaged the past three months) was spectacularly good. Peanut (and I) received congratulations and huge smiles from the doctor, the dietician, the nurses, and the receptionists. The whole place was balloons and smiles and stellar numbers.

In Type 1 Diabetes, the numbers tell the story of blood sugar control; however, they do not tell the story of day to day life with the perverse permutations of this ill-willed opponent.  Blood sugar is a mighty hard thing to control, especially for teenagers whose activity, sleep patterns, and eating habits fluctuate on an hourly basis. I knew this three months ago when that A1C was good, and still I felt ridiculously proud. Proud of Peanut, and damned proud of myself too. If she was doing something right, then by God, I was doing something right too.

It’s a long way down when the numbers tell the story of blood sugar run amok.

We sat in the office, and Peanut’s doctor pored over the new numbers, trying to figure out what had happened to make a 7.1 go up to an 8.6, and the blood drained from my beautiful girl’s face. She sat beside me still and pale, her hands crossed in her lap while she watched her doctor puzzle through her records.

We expected the underwhelming report, we did. In the past three months, Peanut had changed insulin therapies three times with the requisite blood sugar highs that come along with insulin adjustment. This A1C hike wasn’t a surprise, but it feels like failure to Peanut who strives for control over numbers that are elusive and plain mean. And I can’t do shit. I am both embarrassed by my own failure and aggravated by my embarrassment. It’s a disease, for God’s sake.

√ Falling, failing, falling, failing–I fall every day. The sun has taken a liking to the faint scars from my overdone facial resurfacing. I don’t mind it too much.

And then there’s this–ruined might be a pretty good place to beginfrom that very first blog post on February 4th.

Did you know that the archaic definition of “ruin” is “a falling down?”

I have been writing about “ruin” this entire time, and I didn’t even know it.

 

Yep, I’m pissed at Annie Dillard and Poets & Writers

“I don’t read as many women as I’m told I should be reading. I don’t like doing what I am expected to do.” (Annie Dillard from the March/April 2016 issue of Poets and Writers)

I tried to let it go. I tried to let it go because I couldn’t quite put words around the bitter irritation I felt when I read the above quote in Poets & Writers. And then this morning, birdsong through the open window, a cup of hot coffee on the bedside table, my computer in my lap, Amazon.com on the screen as I peruse books suggested for me, it pops up, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard, and I am tossed like a soured dishcloth right back into the seamy, acidity of pissedoffedness.

Yes, I’m pissed off.  I want that damned book. I want it so badly. If I hadn’t read that article in Poets and Writers a couple of weeks ago, the book would be sandwiched between two sheets of bubble wrap ensconced in a cardboard box and traveling in a squared off brown truck to my house right now. Much to my husband’s dismay, I have one-click ordering enabled. Truth be told, that fucking tome would already be in my bookhungry little hands because it came out on the 16th

How could one of the greatest writers of all time (in my opinion the essays of How to Teach a Stone to Talk and the dizzying array of questions asked in For the Time Being comprise some of the most compelling writing I have ever read) not know how to answer this simple question–What about women, are there any women writers you like?  I am angry because I am not stupid. I know what it means when Dillard says, “I don’t do what I’m supposed to do,” as if reading women writers is a chore.

It’s not a fucking chore.

Annie Dillard couldn’t answer the question Garnette Cadogan posed–“Are there any women writers you like?”–with a name or two. She was coy and dismissive. We are to suppose that she’s a freer spirit, unbound by dictates that the rest of us women and men have imposed upon ourselves concerning women writers.

Why am I so pissed about this? It’s the opinion of one writer in a world with many opinionated writers. Why do I want to take Annie Dillard to task for her outdated and outmoded beliefs; after all, I’m sure she doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist, and she certainly doesn’t give a shit what a curvy menopausal feminist writer from the midwest thinks about her interview.

Do I believe the Annie Dillard owes me something–me as a woman writer? I don’t think I do, and I could silence myself pretty darn quick if that was all there was at stake, but there is something else in her statement–I don’t read many women writers. I suppose I don’t like to do what I’m supposed to do–a disdain and discomfort with women writers. John Freeman doesn’t call Dillard out in the interview, no he goes on to tell the reader that “you can almost hear the pops and fizzes of combustion as the flue clears and Dillard’s mind gulps down the oxygen it has been feeding on for years–books. It’s something to behold.” What am I  to take away from this but that the brilliant and awe-inspiring Dillard must be right when she can’t come up with a name or two–you know, women’s names–because there are no women worth reading.

Dillard’s dismissal stings. But really, Poets and Writers, your dismissal stings too.

I’m not pissed because my hero has fallen.  No, that’s not it. Listen, I think it’s total bullshit that she created the fucking cat in Pilgrim which won a Pulitzer prize. I think it’s bullshit that she was living at home in suburbia with a husband and the narrative reads as if she is living alone–you know, the pilgrim schtick–out in the wilderness. She wasn’t. I knew all of that before I read the book, so there was no falling involved. I took her as she was–brilliant and flawed.  I could let that go because the other writing, Holy the Firm, Teaching a Stone to Talk, For the Time Being  was so damned good.

But now it’s not good enough. That might seem like a short answer, one that doesn’t take into account the above-mentioned brilliance, but as a woman who writes, a woman who has chosen to read only women writers in this 50th year of life, a writer who needs, wants, loves the voices of other women, voices that have been shut down, shut out, discounted, pissed on, and choked at the tiny tendril where voice occurs; for this woman there is no longer room for women (or men) who find the voices I find so essential to be a chore.

Dillard writes into a tradition of great male writers and thinkers. And apparently, there is no room for women (other than Dillard herself) among them. Listen, I am not discounting those voices, those great male voices. But like all other great things, those voices came to life on the backs of the voiceless. I find Dillard’s comments grossly ignorant and mean. Yes, mean.

So I’m not buying her new book even though I love new books, collections of great writing between hard covers. I love nothing more than flipping through the unread pages, deciding where and when I will begin to read, catching glimpses of awe and wonder. But Annie Dillard is not the tradition I want to write into. I want to write into a tradition that has within it the silenced, the brushed-off, the disregarded.

I don’t like doing what I’m expected to do either.