A friend wrote in her blog about several events involving the dramas of parenting and working and surviving, and (as per usual) got lots of feedback from those living out there on the internet. Most of the feedback that she gets, though, pertains to how to raise toddlers. Having seen toddlers before, I simply nodded in empathy about the stories of irrationality and trying to be rational in such a landscape. The piece of her entry that caught me more was about the coffee.
We’ve all done this: set something on top of the car while trying to balance child/book/keys/door/bag/coat/etc. operations in the process of trying to get somewhere fast. Leave object on top of the car. Drive away. I did this once with a hamburger. A really good hamburger and I was really hungry and to this day I still remember my sadness. That was over 20 years ago.
In S.’s case, the cartopped object was a mug of coffee. And on this day it was particularly important. So, as the story goes, she drives off, takes the kids to daycare, realizes (I suppose it was at this moment that realization took place, though perhaps it was upon hearing the ‘thump’ of the mug rolling off the car) where the precious mug has gone, and — my favorite part — returns to the 6 way intersection to get the coffee cup. “Unscathed,” she describes both herself and the mug. “Just needs a good washing,” she says, I assume referring to the coffee cup.
For me, there was one missing piece: Did she take a sip of the coffee right there in the middle of the intersection? I picture a circular interchange, S. standing in the middle of it, New England drivers honking as they scream around the bends of the interchange; but there, in the midst of it all, someone is salvaging not only the mug by the last few drops that were surely there in the container. Surely. That is the picture I’m holding onto — not just going back to the interchange (which has by now grown to a monstrous exchange of commuters, buses, and semi trucks all rocketing around in circles at highway speeds), but standing there in the middle of it all, picking up the mug, shaking it ever so slightly to confirm that something is still in it, and taking that needed drink.
Giving the finger to some guy as he races by makes the image that much better.
The problem I often have with my writing, I’m coming to realize more and more all the time, is that I get too involved with the imagery and not involved enough with the substance. In this case, the image alone is fun to play with and maybe even important in its own right. But the other stuff that I’m supposed to be working on often gets started with an image to hang ideas onto, and then I end up working not as hard as I need to on the argument. A first draft of a paper I was working on yesterday started with the imagery of a picture frame, how it improved the look of a picture within, how it replaced the need for sticky tape to adhere images to an office wall, etc. But then I had to actually make a point that was more than a paragraph long and actually detailed the “theoretical framework” I was trying to give an analogue for. Well, that was harder.
Sometimes I think I’m just getting lazy, trying on a few gimmicks just to get me going. Maybe this blog is one of those.
I’ve also mused to myself, sitting in the comfort of my home with the comfort of my own scheduling, that maybe this sitting around and musing is exactly what writers do. Except that I have to write about something, I have to respond to other ideas, I have to be accountable to a greater body of work than the insights I get when staring at my navel. So, I should make some more progress on the stacks of books that I’ve checked out of the library, the folders of printed articles, and the notes of papers to read or email people about.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t been busy, though. I cleaned up the backyard yesterday, in between our days of snow and sleet and hail. I’ve sent out a call for papers. I’ve been officially turned down by Billy Collins to be our speaker. I’ve inquired about other poets. I wrote out an outline of the talk I’m giving next month. I’ve responded to more emails than I care to think about, and probably created more email traffic for other people than they deserve to deal with. I’ve dealt with funding issues for my summer program, and now am starting to wonder how the hell we’re going to pull it off. It’s not “if”, just “how”. But I’ll worry about that task tomorrow.