In addition to getting my little socks rocked off by the collection of stories while enduring plane delays on our way to a baby shower, I found Saunders had some pretty things to say about the work of writing itself, and I wanted to share a few with you.
"Part of the artistic contract is: no preaching. And knowing how a story is going to end before you start it, and why it has to end that way, and what it will "mean," is (at least when I do it) a form of preaching. It has an inherently condescending quality, and any sensible reader would be offended/bored."
David Sedaris: There are so many fantastic names in this book...Do you make these up or are they the names of friends?
George Saunders: ...I try to come up with those sorts of things at speed, feeling that if I do it that way, there may be an accidental organic authenticity to it that will go slightly beyond rationality. Making the selection in a full-bodied way, I might get lucky and get that extra x percent of implied meaning. Whereas if I was collecting them, I think my tendency would be to steer the story in a direction that would allow me to use some of the good stuff in my notebook, if you see what I mean. I guess my working theory is that if I fill up my mind with whatever I naturally come across, when the time comes to invent something, I'll be well-primed to just take the leap.
"When something is failing, I try to ask it (gently!): 'Okay, so why are you failing? What's the problem?' And also ask: 'Where are you failing, exactly?' This is done at the line level - just going over something again and again, sentence by sentence, trying to see where it departed from its natural energy...With this approach, almost everything is workable, if I can be patient enough."
Ah, patience, and gentleness, and talking to paper like a beloved child! These, I believe, are the things of which sanity is made.
Speaking of sanity, mine is hiding under my pillow lately. I recently heard that the last part of pregnancy is a lot like the first trimester, and I really get that. I feel slower and foggy and full of emotions for which I find no rational handle. Walking down a sunny street, I see a robin or a glossy red house-door, and my eyes sting with tears: one part appreciation, one part terror for the beauty of the world. I hope I can bring a child into all this with some kind of grace. Sometimes I wish my job were to simply keep wild animals from eating her, a la cave days. The idea that I have to hold things together while keeping her alive as I (maybe) impart some wisdom is more than daunting.
And while pregnancy has been, in some ways, a hibernation, it has also made me fully awake to the world, and especially my place in it. Along these lines, I resist the idea that "pregnancy brain" is a bad thing. I love how easily my mind lets go of anxieties and work details. Frankly, who gives a shit? There is a big ball of fire outside the window every day, at night the moon glows over the house, and in the middle of it my body grows ripe like a forest. I feel a little bit like a bear in a field - nose to the wind, belly growing down, paws planted on the dirt. This open physicality is a welcome respite.
If you want a peek into some things we might be skewed about it, check out the Ricki Lake-produced documentary about hospital births called The Business of Being Born (you can stream it on Netflix). I found it utterly fascinating. While I tend to feel really comfortable around doctors and hospitals, having been the beneficiary of modern medicine's abundance and healing at critical times in my life, I also found that the statistics presented in the film echoed my own feelings about the body's ability to do the work it needs to do - both in birth and in healing - without extensive intervention.
Speaking of angels, a woman approached me at the grocery store to give me a gift card yesterday. I was scared she was going to bless my belly or perform Reiki on it in the cereal aisle, but she just passed along a gift card to share what she called the blessings her family had experienced. It was sweet, awkward, and our groceries were $25 lighter on the pocket, something I will take any day. When I told Tim what had happened, he said we need to get me a new coat - mine must be looking a little ragged.
I find the well of grace to run a little deeper than surprise gifts but, at the same time, moments like that really make me pause. As much as I write about gentleness and trusting the process of life, I continuously work to embrace the world as a safe place. Moments like the one with the gift card or - more often - lunches with girlfriends and phone calls to my grandmother remind me of the treasures in my life, and how little I am holding up the sky.
P.S. The pictures in this post are, like most pictures on this site, courtesy of Tim's camera. Several are from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The hot tub pic (hellooooo eighties!) is from a motel we found after a 10-hour Interstate ordeal. The last was taken on a road trip through Utah, and while we are not reading some roadside sign about Billy the Kidd, there is a lot of opportunity to do that out West.