New Work

This summer our cherry tree was the goose that laid the golden egg, unceasing in its red fruitfulness at the foot of the garden. And Mark, unceasing in his eagerness to pick.

In July, whenever I opened the freezer door, blood-red bags leapt out at me like frozen seals: clubbed, skinned, frozen, distended. I thawed them and made pies, experimenting with the amount of cornstarch to have a filling that was neither soupy nor restaurant-solid.

It was a summer when our son in England drove himself wild trying to write his thesis. The waves of his anxiety crossed the Atlantic and beat against our shores.

A summer when Mark read a new manuscript of mine, spreading it open on the table on the porch. His initially encouraging remarks soon petered out. Days later he went over it with me and I climbed back into the saddle, where I remained. That was in early July.

He continued to pick cherries, even in the rain. We made a large pie using five tablespoons of cornstarch this time and the pie could have used more.

I digested his response to my manuscript, sickened as always by the failings in my work. I suppose it is fear and self-exposure that account for that feeling. Fear that the book will never be any good, and everyone will know it. I dreamt about getting scathing reviews.

Mark said it was a sad enough book as it was without the ending being so bleak. Let the son get the affirmation he needs from his mother. Let them be together at the end.

It was a summer when the huge bottle of gin we bought in New Hampshire steadily got emptied. When a big basket of strawberries glorified the scruffy table in the dark family cabin on the lake. When one Friday afternoon, walking up to Bank Street, I felt a surge of glorious confidence. It filled me for a moment, the belief that I was powerful, my book was powerful, or could be made to be.

It was such a change from the weight dragging me down for the last two or more years, the feeling of being over the hill, of having peaked, of fading out.

Something came clear to me as I rewrote the book. There is a vast difference between what I allow myself as a writer and what I need and long for as a reader. As a writer I am a stingy mother: eat all your porridge and no, you can’t have hot chocolate instead; are you kidding me? As a reader I long for a mother who carries a cup of hot chocolate to her daughter in bed. I need the generous, the unexpectedly kind and playful.

What sort of book will result from the interplay between me as a writer and me as the revising reader of my own work? That is the ongoing question.

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