Stepping Aside

Such a nice phrasing
(Image by Will H. McMahan, via Unsplash)

I think that the universe has sent me many messages over the past few weeks, and perhaps I should attend to them.

First, we had a contentious and enormously important election two weeks ago, which meant that much of my August through October was spent helping to volunteer with one candidate’s campaign and work on behalf of a state constitutional amendment. (And I’m proud to say that the adoption of Article 22 of the Vermont Constitution, known as the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, passed by more than a three-to-one margin statewide, and was approved by a majority of voters in every one of the State’s 283 voting precincts.)

Second, I injured my knee while working with a friend to section up a huge fallen tree in the yard. He was chainsawing the trunk into 16″ lengths to prepare for splitting, and I was pulling away the three-foot diameter disks and rolling them out of the way so he had a clear workspace. And as I pulled one section away, I felt a POP that seemed as thought it must have been audible, a blinding pain, and I was unable to lift my right foot. Now, four weeks later (yay for rural medicine…) I know that it was a strained lateral collateral ligament, clearly not fully torn because it’s responded well to physical therapy. Today’s the first day that, if I didn’t know intellectually I’d been injured, I’d have no empirical evidence to support the statement. But it was a climb to get here.

Third, we’ve been social. It just feels like we have a lot of friends going through things right now, plus those friends have introduced us to new friends, and we end up either having folks over or spending an evening away three or four times a week.

And fourth, a number of other smaller projects have sprung up—writing and rehearsals and production of a play, a friend needing an external review for his students’ final project, the possibility of a grant proposal for substantial Town road work.

All of that means that I haven’t written much in the novel over the past month. And the quiet part is that I’m relieved.

This is the second novel in three years that I’ve set aside partway through. The first one, Story Box, remains a terrific idea that I may yet come back to. And this one, Shopkeeper, is also a terrific idea that I may yet come back to. But ideas aren’t stories.

A friend wrote me yesterday to let me know that one of her short stories had been nominated by its journal for the Pushcart Prize, America’s annual award for material published by small presses. She’d been part of the short-fiction group I lead last spring, and in her note, she wrote: “your class taught me so much about writing short stories. It slowed me down, way down, and my other stories are benefiting from that as well. If I don’t know what my character is carrying in her pocket, I haven’t done my job.”

And that’s where we are. In both Story Box and Shopkeeper, I don’t yet know what’s in their pockets.

I’d be worried, except for two things. One is that I’ve got plenty to do. But the more important encouragement is that setting aside Story Box in late 2020 paved the way for the arrival of & Sons in 2021. I just read that book again over the past couple of days, to convince me that I really did know how to do this stuff. And, all modesty aside, it’s a fantastic story. I know everything anyone could ever need to know about Cale and Sammi and Ray, and it’s just a blessing to have their stories in my life. The book is simultaneously lively and smart, whereas the two that have been shelved are merely smart. I once critiqued Modernism as being all head and no heart, the intentional setting-aside of emotion and culture for a supposedly pure rationality (which in fact was just as cultural and historically specific as the Baroque). I’m a neo-Romantic at heart, a maximalist, depressed but filled with hope. Click below for a story that feels right to me, which I wrote a couple of months ago. And shoot me a message if you want a copy of & Sons.