Friends, Writing, Summer: FAKE!

And also mail delivery

Hello friends--

There were sirens first thing this morning, and I tried to figure out if they meant tornado or if they meant very dangerous wind, which seems like a pointless distinction except they are not quite the same thing. I had checked the weather before I went to bed, and so I expected to wake up to severe thunderstorms. I hardly know what the weather will be outside these days. I run two fans, a dehumidifier, and an air conditioner, so my apartment is filled with a tremendous amount of white noise. This summer, I have stepped onto my porch in shorts and no jacket only to find torrential rains and the streets full of water; or lightning and thunder so intense that it rattles my teeth. But inside my apartment, I can’t hear anything. I’m insulated by the sound of all the machines, the air, and all of my windows are shut with the blinds drawn. 

It’s a little funny, like living in a cave, except every time I’m surprised by the weather, I feel a little pulse of guilt. But also, I refuse to be warm. Before I figured out this set up, I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d wake up three or four or five times drenched in sweat. I couldn’t breathe, the air was so thick and warm. Nothing seemed to help. I Googled. I did troubleshooting on the window unit--cleaning, adjusting the fans, changing the settings, everything I could manage, and it was like praying to futile and inert god. Beating on the grates, begging for cooler air. But then I  figured out a way to spread the cool air around using a system of fans, and after a trip to a friend’s house where he had a dehumidifier, I thought, Yep, that’s it, and I ordered one on my way home that evening. 

The result is that my apartment is habitable. Not glacial, which is what I would prefer, but it’s survivable. I don’t remember last year being so bad, but it must have been, especially in July and August. Or maybe my heat tolerance is worse. I don’t enjoy being hot. My friends make fun of me for it, but it really makes me miserable. I sweat through all of my clothes. I get itchy. I break out. I get these horrible, painful sores between my thighs. Everything is so much harder for me when I’m hot. And people think it’s like, a vanity thing, I guess. But it’s not. It’s material. It’s health. It ruins my life for three or four months out of the year. I physically hurt during the summer, and people laugh and send me memes, and I let them, because who are we if not the accumulation of jokes our friends make about the most embarrassing, painful parts of ourselves. Who are we if not a series of secondhand communiqués from the darkest, most ugly parts of one another. But whatever. Shrug it off. It’s friendship, right? We all make sacrifices to live in the social corpus. 

After I woke up, I determined that the sirens meant wind, and tried to go back to sleep, but I only managed another half hour or so. I am expecting a delivery today. The galleys for my novel are supposed to arrive--or maybe they won’t, if there’s flooding, if there’s weather. Mail delivery in Iowa City is so mercurial, subject to the whims of the individual carrier, as though delivering the mail were a hobby that they can pick up or put down at their leisure. It’s one of the most idiosyncratic and unpredictable systems I’ve ever witnessed, second only to the administration of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in its dark workings. Sometimes mail just fails to appear despite all indications to the contrary. It just doesn’t show up. I get a little email notification from UPS and USPS and FedEx that says, Your parcel or mail will be delivered today. In the case of USPS, they even scan it and provide a grainy black and white shot of the mail to be delivered. But several times, said mail has just not come. Sometimes for days. It’s kind of impressive in a way that’s also deeply troubling, which is the case of any failing, aging infrastructure that is somehow absolutely necessary for daily life. 

I’m excited about the galleys because it represents another tangible step down the very murky and mysterious route of debut authorhood. So much of this process lives in my own head that sometimes I forget that it’s going to be a real thing in the world, that people will read it and have feelings and opinions about it. Well, that’s the hope anyway. It’s entirely possible that this novel will, like the mail, fail to materialize. I keep trying to remind myself of its concreteness, its realness--I have two versions of the bound manuscript already, one with the cover and one without. I sometimes look at them and think, Wow, somebody wrote a book, what a terrible idea

I told a friend yesterday that a novel is a lot like a dying star: it eats the material from which it is made, expanding and contracting, heating and cooling, spewing ions everywhere. Which is to say that a novel deforms your life. Both the production of it. And then the publication of it. It alters the fabric of your thinking somehow. I know someone who only wrote 30-page stories before he wrote a novel, and now his stories are a taut 12-15 pages. I used to write taut 12-15 page stories, but then I wrote a novel, and now they’re all 30 pages. I’m working on a new project now. The most consistent advice I have been given over the years is that when you finish something, you should start something else so that you aren’t still bound up to the first thing when you need to do things to it. I have tried to follow that advice pretty consistently, and it’s worked more or less. Except now, I’m trying to do this new thing, and it’s resisting me, and I feel miserable. And I know part of it is that it’s hard to commit to a new project, to all the messiness that comes at the beginning, when you’ve just finished a thing that feels done or polished. It’s so hard to give yourself back over to the difficulty of starting new, starting fresh, to knowing you will fail and must fail again and again to get it right. It’s hard to do that when you feel like you’ve just done something really polished or cool. I spent the spring working on a cycle of stories, and I was really really happy with how they turned out, and then I shifted my attention to this new thing, and friends, I am so excited about it, but wow, my writing is so bad at the moment. 

It’s okay though--it’s part of the process. You have to suck before you can do anything. But even knowing that, it’s so hard to commit to sucking, but commit you must! Writing is such a scam sometimes. A total scam.

In other news, on Monday, I start teaching class. There are 13 students signed up at the moment. The class is called The Sentence, and in it, I guess I’m mostly focused on helping the students develop a robust vocabulary with which to describe their reactions to sentences and language. It’s not really a technical class, but we will talk about technique. It’s more a class to help them find out what they react to and why and how, and to try new things. It’s not the kind of class that I would have liked as an undergraduate or a grad student even--I am an annoyingly technical person, and nothing makes me happier than precise, mechanical instruction--but it is the kind of class that feels the least violent to me from a creative writing standpoint. I’m excited to be teaching again. The last time I taught was in Madison, where I taught biochemistry to non-majors, mostly pre-meds. That was a very different vibe, I’m thinking, than the one I’ll get here. 

That’s all for this week. I guess I’ll go make coffee and wait for the mail. I hope you’re well. I hope this week provides something like ease and comfort and clarity. I hope you get the things you need and deserve.