This past November, I was fortunate to attend a fantastic conference (clmp’s Literary Writers’ Conference) hosted at The New School, where I heard the poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi speak (and others too; more on that another time). I had been thinking about starting a blog for going on a year, but the details from the panel pushed me forward to the next step, fuelled by something Calvocoressi said: “The internet is where you can create a space where people can watch you think.”
Funny what passing remark can give you one of those ah-ha moments. I have little idea who out there will want to watch me think, time will tell—but god I miss it! Thinking, watching myself think, creating a space that brings together the interests that sometimes seem disparate but are in fact interlinked, intertangled, constantly erupting.
Calvocoressi had hit upon one of the things I was trying to figure out how to build: a space, a metaphoric room, so to speak, where my brain could roam and expand. But not only that, a place where that thinking could enter the world (that weird amorphous cyber-world) and perhaps connect with someone else. Without ever knowing each other, without ever speaking ourselves, at least not in that moment where words are being read on a page (imbibed even), we are creating one kind of community. Words, language, make the connections (intellectual, emotional) for us.
I was not an earnest networker at the LWC conference—as for many people, networking doesn’t come automatically to me; it takes work—and during those two days in November I observed and listened more than I spoke, and yet the combined dialogues, some silent, some not, expanded my community—my sense of community—tremendously. As a writer, as a parent who is home quite a lot with young children, even as a suicide survivor (a term that deserves explanation: i.e. a relative, or close friend, of someone who has killed her/himself) much of my life is somewhat solo. I hesitate to use the word isolated or lonely; after all, I often see quite a few people in a day, share tidbits, greetings, commiserations, with them, and with my husband at day’s end. But much of my intellectual life goes on in my head. There is too little time to sit, share, discourse about much beyond the events of the day, big or small.
Our time is fractured, in the workplace, at home, most of it accounted for. Increasingly the screen, surfing this or that, is a space of private oasis. I have ambivalent feelings about this. And yet, as a writer and reader, also someone contemplating different kinds of community, I have been, in part, won over.
A review in the January 23rd NYTBR hits precisely this point. While the book itself (Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle) looks interesting, it is the review I want to engage with here. The reviewer, Jonah Lehrer sums up,
“We are so eager to take sides on technology, to describe the Web in utopian or dystopian terms, but maybe that’s the problem. In the end, it’s just another tool, an accessory that allows us to do what we’ve always done: interact with one other. The form of these interactions is always changing. But the conversation remains.”
Here we have a new form of doing something old, and yet so important: the foundation of who we are and how we bond. Interact with one other, the review says; and this is exactly right, and, too, we want to interact with one another.
Bounce again (note the use of the word coincidence at the beginning of this post). This past weekend, about the time I was reading that already week old book review, I came across a compendium of short pieces in the literary journal Pen America (Issue #13: Lovers,© 2010)—writers riffing on their favorite authors, a wonderful selection. In one of them (“Are You My Mother?”), Elissa Schappell writes,
“I confess that I am often frustrated by the notion that it’s impossible for a woman to be a wife and mother and first-rate writer. That any female artist who hopes to ever be as highly regarded as her male counterparts should start packing for Bellevue. That any woman who chooses her children’s company—nay, relishes it—is a sap who has consigned her Nobel dreams to the scrap heap. It is in these moments I need Dawn Powell the most.
“The depression that sent [Virginia] Woolf into the river and sent [Dorothy] Parker to an overdose seemed to send Dawn Powell to the typewriter.”
More community, squared and then some, found in the written word: book, journal, web…. (Check out Elissa Schappell’s first novel, the linked stories, Use Me—it looks great. Perhaps a to-read list is called for here soon….)
Re-bounce. Adjoining Pen America on my short stack at the NYC Union Square Barnes & Noble café was TLR: The Literary Review (Fall 2010)—focused on mothers! The “Conversation,” which I quickly turned to (quickly as in sparked-by-interest and quickly as in not-much-more-time-until-kids-need-me): Ceridwen Morris and Jenny Offill, “Is There Anything Literary About Motherhood?” (Yes, yes, yes! Though sometimes buried….) The conversation is interesting and nuanced; so many expectations and preconceptions attach to motherhood, and it is so easy to get buried in minutia (home with kids, or working and then home-to-kids): so many details! new worries, abrupt shifts in plan. The dross that pulls one away from thought…from even finishing a thought! And now here I am off on the mama-riff, which I hadn’t intended to do, when what I really wanted to land on was communities and coincidence.
Coincidence: we find things in pairs, in threes, in droves. Once our eye catches on something, it finds the same glint there and there, and elsewhere. And so, here was Jenny Offill talking about her daughter getting a bit older and…
“[M]y ideal of what life should be has changed. It’s no longer that I’m off working alone in some perfect space. My ideal now is that I’m sitting around the table with six fascinating people, and we’re talking while our kids are running around behind us, old enough to play together.”
Some conversations we do indeed have better, they grow deeper, when other things might demand more of our attention (those playing kids). And some can only be had, can only be deepened, when the adult mind can play (uninterrupted by a call for a snack, a skinned knee)…whether with others, or by one’s self. The company of one’s self is a wonderful thing to cherish too. (I wonder if Francesca—COUNTRIES OF LOST THINGS—could have used more of this, or perhaps she sought it too much, in the wrong places.)
Final bounce! Yes, I’ve gone on too long today. But I need to circle back to where this post began. With Gabrielle Calvocoressi. With poetry (wonderful sanctuary!). With coincidence. So, after I met Gabrielle at that conference, I bought her most recent collection¸ Apocalyptic Swing—wonderful, captivating and intriguing, accessible and yet mysterious, the way the best poetry can be—and, of course, I looked for her on the web. (Check out http://therumpus.net/author/gabrielle-calvocoressi/.) Boom, first real hit was a short piece she wrote for The Washington Post at the beginning of the year, and a poem. First line of the essay:
“In the spring of my 13th year, my mother took her life.”
More sadness in the world; and another compatriot. Once you see something, a new word, an idea, a new book, suddenly it pops up everywhere. It is a magnet. We are magnetic. Making connections through communities (virtual, real), and seeing the connections around us—illumination, a flash bulb—life grows deeper. This sounds like a sad note to end on, but it’s not. Check out Gabrielle’s essay and poem: Poet’s Choice: ‘Temple Beth Israel’.