A Little Break...
...for the benefit of the teacher.
Here’s hoping you won’t hold a slightly light post against me. I ran up against a couple of deadlines this week – had to get my taxes done for one thing, and also sent a screenplay off for a TV pilot.
I’m also aware that I’m throwing a lot at you pretty quickly, so maybe this will give some members of the Club a chance to get caught up too. But I also want to underscore, from the heart, that there’s no expectation that “keeping up” is even a thing. I really want you to be able to drop in (and out) of Story Club as your life lets you. No pressure from this end, I promise.
It’s all just for fun anyway.
Having said that - on Sunday, I’ll have something substantial for you re: Pulse 4 of the Babel. :)
For today, I thought I’d share the U.K. cover for “Liberation Day”:
This cover was designed by Greg Heinimann, who also did this one, for the U.K. version of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain:
…as well as covers for Tenth of December and the re-designs for the rest of my backlist.
Thank you so much, Greg. I really love it.
Meanwhile, back in real life, this is what Liberation Day looks like at the moment:
I just got a clean version back after the copy-editing stage and I’m about to read it one last time (or, you know, nine last times).
This is always a rich and complicated moment for me, when I have to, on one hand, trust that all of the reading and revising I’ve done over the many years on these stories is, you know, in there – while also staying open to any last-minute changes that might make them incrementally better. So, it’s a question of trusting one’s earlier relation to the stories – that strange state a writer goes into in the final stages of completion, when the subconscious is fully engaged, almost beyond rationality – but not trusting that absolutely. Some of the stories have appeared in The New Yorker, so have been through that intense editing process, but even so, I need to read them in the context of the larger book.
At this point, I’ve worked through all the stories with my editor, Andy Ward, and my copy editor, Bonnie Thompson, and so everything is pretty much in place … and yet, there’s still (always) time to bring things a little more into focus.
But what a nice feeling, to think that all of those years of work are somehow contained in the pages.
It’s interesting, as I enact this (lovely) cycle again, of going from “No ongoing book + no idea” to “I have a (mostly) final product” - it strikes me that I will likely be somewhere in this cycle for the rest of my life. That is, there will never come a time when I’m totally satisfied, which means that I will always be feeling some sort of slight artistic anxiety or dissatisfaction. (“When will I get an idea? Will the book be good? Will people like it? Ah, crap, now I need a new idea.” And so on.)
So, whatever pleasure there is in writing has to be in that process itself somewhere - in there with the anxiety and worry, maybe even somehow manifesting as an enjoyment of that anxiety and worry. Learning to, you know, smile over at them, like, “Ah, hello old friends. Feeling you is how I know I’m still alive and working, I guess.”
The one thing I know for sure is that anytime I start to feel that I’ve got it all figured out, that means … I don’t. I’m just taking a break from the necessary cycle of anxiety and worry. Both of which, as we’ve discussed here, are indications of care.
I remember when I had the near-disastrous plane incident described in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (pages 236-241, if you want to re-live it, which I very much don’t) — the one thing that did not cross my mind was the books I’d written or the ones I had meant to write and now wouldn’t.
Not a bit.
Not for an instant.
So, on the relative scale, having a book done is a good thing - a solid accomplishment, that gives me the feeling that I’ve at least done something productive with my time. And I wouldn’t want to discount that — it feels very rich and very good. It’s a good thing to try and a good thing if one is lucky enough to succeed.
On the other hand, the more I go through the cycle, the more clearly I see it as a sort of frenetic, empty activity. I don’t mean empty as in “worthless,” but maybe as “meaningful only within a certain fleeting context.” As Leonard Cohen once wrote in his journal: "Back in Montreal. As for the past, children, Roshi, songs, Greece, Los Angeles. What was that all about?"
Still - I can’t wait for you all to read it.
I'm starting to repeat myself, but Story Club is precious gift from one of the most kind and generous writers I've ever had the good fortune to encounter. Thank you, thank you, thank you, George!
And I'm thinking about that notion of accomplishment being "only meaningful within a certain fleeting context." For me, after any hard-sought accomplishment—there's the let down, that moment of anti-climax, the feeling of "what next?" and then...back to the anxiety, back to the worry, etc.—was it just a fluke? Is that all there is? Have I shot my wad?? But I think it's the willingness to push into that unknown that matters, not the end result. Whether or not I get lucky enough to "make it" (whatever that might look like) or not, isn't the point—the point is to stay in the process, keep learning, keep reading, keep writing.
For some reason, I'm thinking of a passage from the Tao Te Ching:
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
This club has made me feel awake again; everyone's posts have enriched my thoughts; and George, amidst so many gifts, thank you for being a model of kindness. I am grateful for getting to hitch alongside to this wonderful gang of mensches.