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Leftovers

I am reminded, by the FB business department, that my many FB friends have not heard from me in a while. Maybe that is because they have migrated to Instagram. All those news feeds on FB!!! FB has not heard from me for a while and I have not heard from me in a while, more than two weeks since my last blog post to be exact. Days of resting, reading, taking inventory of abandoned projects, and spending time on the phone with my insurance company explaining the iconic phrase “Catch 22” and its origins.

There are friends overseas who care about such a hiatus in communication. They wonder if I am okay and what is happening here at the moment. Here meaning New York. Here meaning the United States. I will answer their concerns soon with personal letters sent on email. I will include some photos. I will send links of the most dangerous malaprops uttered by our Commandant in Chief and a recent diagnostic conference by noted forensic psychiatrists at Yale.

Oh, it is difficult to concentrate these days, dear reader. And so I am meandering today, picking up scraps and leftovers coursing through my writer’s brain.

I have a friend in London I still miss very much. Her name is Norma. (Norma, I hope you will read this.) She’s a gifted performer and writer, a devoted single parent, a clear political thinker, an activist. For many years after I returned to New York we exchanged snail mail packages filled with clippings, theater programs, gallery brochures, drafts of stories, and taped messages, a potpourri of seemingly unconnected fragments, but only seemingly so. The taped messages, at least an hour long, pulled the fragments in the packages together into stories.

These days Norma and I send emails, “see” each other on FB, and talk on the phone. Our daughters are grown, and we are aging well—working on books, writing articles, and teaching. Our connection is so deep, continuous and lifelong that it sometimes feels as though we have digested the paragraphs of day to day existence into a book of friendship. We’ve only had one quarrel I can remember and it was, as the British say so endearingly, “sorted,” over a period of painful months. And then it was over.

Norma remembers the Thanksgiving meals we had in London. Our British friends found them both amusing and oddly historic. After all, they were a celebration of a breakaway colony of which we were the living representatives, returned to the Mother Country, for a while anyway. Very little was leftover from these frugal meals. We were young, struggling, and food in London was expensive. We kept our turkeys small and our conversation focused on contemporary transnational concerns. The focus was as much on the gathering as the food. Christmas was near, a very important holiday in England, and we always looked forward to that, too, and were always invited somewhere.

Back in America, the bounty in the supermarkets was overwhelming. Huge stores, many choices on the shelves, enormous turkeys. And there were leftovers wrapped in foil for days and days. We lay them out, we warm them, we eat them in a more desultory way. Every morsel must be reconstituted before a post-Thanksgiving meal feels pleasurable. The foil is crushed into the recycle bin, bones are tossed, dishes washed and stored yet again. We are tired. We require rest.

The fragments of projects in my storage bins and filing cabinets are similar. Once I truly believed they were cooked to perfection, a sequence of events and ideas that made sense, that were coming to fruition. Now I study some of them and wonder how and why I wrote those sentences, or why I let an idea that felt sensational drift away. Something wasn’t working, but what? Did one draft lead to another that worked? Is that possible? Or did someone else write those sentences, a less experienced writer, namely me? Were some of these stored fragments merely writing practice? Probably.

I know that it’s essential to keep going to achieve mastery, to write every day, to sharpen observation. And not to feel discouraged by stale, incoherent leftovers, all of which are the unfinished business of the writing life. It’s not that we have to go back to everything, not at all. But to pull out some of the old work that still resonates and to try to make a pleasurable meal of it, that’s a joy and a discipline.
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