The earth keeps some vibration going
I haven’t written since October 2018. Throughout that year, in my beloved Biddy Tarot planner and on my corkboard, I returned daily to the two Big Goals I’d set for the year:
Right at the tail end of the year, the first one happened, and I was scared for all of the obvious reasons, but also because I realized if I wanted to sell my book before I became a mom, I suddenly had a very limited window in which to do so. And 2018 was a bad, bad year for me as a writer. I was too quick to privilege others’ advice over my own ideas, and so I wrote three very different proposals for the same book, each 80-100 pages, none very good. I split up with my agent. I started from scratch and put together a proposal I felt excited about, and was quickly (and kindly) rejected by a handful of other agents. I hated myself for talking so much and to so many people about a book that wasn’t *actually even a book yet* and, as I was now realizing, might never be one.
And then, even as I told myself otherwise, I had to face the reality that this belief I’d been quietly holding — that I could actually have a baby and write a book at the same time — was FOLLY, that in fact doing one meant, necessarily, putting the other on hold. I tried to convince myself this wasn’t true while I was pregnant, but then eight months of hyperemesis gravidarum made me so nauseous I could barely even read. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t true as I geared up for maternity leave (I told my psychiatrist that I was excited, because surely I’d be able to work on my book while the baby slept or just, I don’t know, chilled out; I’ll never forget her “oh, honey” face.) but then colic and depression and the emotional and physical recovery from an emergency c-section turned those first months into some of the worst I’ve ever lived through.
Now I’m mostly okay — as okay as one can be through a pandemic and a necessary political and cultural upheaval. Still I can’t write. And somehow, in the midst of all of it, while more certain than ever before that so many things are more deserving of my time and attention than, like, obsessing over if my career is going exactly as I’ve decided it must — somehow, I find myself absolutely, nauseatingly consumed with envy. I’m jealous of everyone and I don’t know how to stop it! Some of the things I have recently envied: a person’s book deal, a person’s book review, a person’s author profile, a person’s move to a different country, a person’s body, a person’s weight loss, a person’s podcast, a person’s Twitter following, a person’s shout-out in a work email, a person’s garden, a person’s tag in a post by a different person, a person’s virtual social life, a person’s childlessness, a person’s child, a person’s writing — always, a person’s writing.
Distilled: You suck, you suck, you suck, you suck.
I know I will find every possible reason to hate myself for as long as I’m not writing, and a generous interpretation of this is that my brain is tough-loving me back to work. (A less generous interpretation is that my self-worth is based entirely on my professional output and its critical approval……….. couldn’t be me.) The manuscript haunts me, but this is the next best thing. Here I am, blogging away. Ready to talk about some books. Baby steps. And, yes, these are affiliate links.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
My plan was to write a comparative essay of these two FANTASTIC books, but I didn’t want to, like, Write It, so here I am, blogging it instead. Both are truly chilling; Mexican Gothic, more straight-up horror than Catherine House, is often perverse and grotesque. Mexican Gothic is about a woman who visits her cousin at her new husband’s remote, foreboding estate in the Mexican countryside, and finds his family ghoulishly obsessed with their own history and British roots. Catherine House follows a young woman over her three-year tenure at a highly prestigious and isolated academy that’s hiding dark secrets. Both are, deservedly, billed as updates on gothic horror, and reading them at the same time often felt like one was in conversation with the other, especially in terms of whiteness and racism. Moreno-Garcia is more explicit in her exploration of eugenics, race, and “purity” — she is, after all, a scholar on the subject. Thomas writes around a related (but specifically white, academic) evil, the kind that preys on young, queer, Black and brown men and women for the sake of scientific “progress.” Both are so good, and so fun. I started both in audio but then literally got too scared and switched to print, which, I don’t know, was somehow more tolerable.
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
I return to this one so often, but especially lately. It’s a collection of poems, published in 1915, about the names on the gravestones in a rural Illinois cemetery. It exists in my mind on the same plane as Our Town — small town, dead people, existential insights. It contains one of my favorite opening lines, from “Fiddler Jones”:
The earth keeps some vibration going / There in your heart, and that is you.
Erasure by Percival Everett
I picked this one up after reading and loving Telephone, and then reading up on Percival Everett and discovering this 2018 Los Angeles Review of Books essay about him. The piece specifically praises Erasure, Everett's 2001 novel about a Black writer fed up with a publishing industry — and, as sales would suggest, a majority of readers — that's only interested in Black authors if they're writing about suffering. Case in point: We's Lives in Da Ghetto, a debut novel by an upper middle–class Black writer, based on a short trip to Harlem, is a national success, while his work is dismissed as “not Black enough.” So he writes a satirical novel meant to highlight the absurdity of readers’ expectations of Black writers, but of course the irony goes unnoticed, and of course the book-within-this-book is a huge success. Erasure is poignant, funny, experimental and, disappointingly, as relevant an indictment of the publishing industry today as it was nearly 20 years ago.
“Good Bones” by Maggie Smith
My beautiful genius of a best friend Melissa Lewis reminded me of this poem recently, and woof it just hits differently now that Theo’s around.
Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world.
I gave up on tarot somewhere in 2019, whenever it was that I gave up on hoping for anything good, or that I might return to a time when I could sit in a moment without chaos and meditate on literally anything. This month, I started again, but with a deck I had always been too intimidated to use. The Ancient Italian deck is based on the Tarot of Marseilles, meaning the minor arcana are pip cards — no scenery other than the counting symbols (in this case, Bastoni/Wands, Spade/Swords, Coppe/Cups, Danari/Pentacles) — so it’s a lot about numerology and intuition. The patterns are beautiful, and I like the simplicity of it, the way it pushes toward a better understanding of the suits themselves and the progression through them. And I like to believe there are Sicilian witches in my bloodline. 🔮
Some recent BuzzFeed Books posts I love:
"There Are People Who Find Black People Solving Crime Unbelievable": An interview with Alyssa Cole
“The Future Of True Crime Will Have To Be Different”: An essay by Sarah Weinman
“Mothers Are Blamed For Everything, And I Was Tired Of Being Blamed”: A short story by Karen Tei Yamashita
“She Dreams Of Having More Money, More Time, More Space”: A short story by Laura van den Berg
“What My Mother Didn’t Talk About”: An essay by Karolina Waclawiak