Not gonna lie, I’ve been feeling really bummed lately. People are like, “Is it the baby?” No, it’s not the baby. She’s fine. She’s totally cool.
It’s the coronavirus, mostly. I hate being cooped up. Our little family doesn’t have it at all bad. We’ve got a beautiful home, some entertaining pets (the cat has gotten REALLY clingy since the baby came), and each other, but I just need more excitement in my life.
For me, excitement is meeting and talking to new people. Over the course of the last ten years, my writing has become much more inflected by the things and people I encounter in ordinary life. I just enjoy hearing peoples’ stories, gossiping, listening to what’s bothering them. All that feels kind of gone these days. I mean there’s the telephone, it’s true, and that’s been good, but sometimes it feels hard to have anything to say to people when you’re all stuck at home.
But we’ll live. My writing has been going extremely well. I’m rewriting my book for adults, The Lonely Years, and I’m debating whether it’s a work of genius or just really good. No, just kidding, it’s not either of those things yet, but it’s getting better. With each draft, it’s getting better. Writing has turned into such a funny experience for me. There’s the drafting part, and then there’s the part where I look back and see what I have. That’s the part where I consciously choose which parts to emphasize and which parts to discard. What I love most is making these subtle tweaks in the starting conditions of the book, which then reverberate through the entire novel and make the whole thing so much tighter and more compelling. I’m just talking little stuff, very hard to describe, about what people think of each other and what their history was or has been.
Most days I’m in the slough of Despond, of course. Having a truly good writing day remains unusual. But they’ve been happening. It’s nice to have a book. Nice to work on a book. Even if the book doesn’t sell, you don’t get that many books in your life! When you’ve got ahold of one, it really feels like a gift.
In terms of my reading, I re-read Middlemarch for the first time since, I think 2011 or 2012. It’s so good that it makes you wonder why the rest of us even bother. George Eliot makes it all look easy. You just put together a mismatched assortment of characters and watch them make poor marriage decisions. I love everything of hers that I’ve finished (which is to say, I love MM, Mill on the Floss, and Scenes From A Clerical Life–I gave up on Daniel Deronda halfway through, because it was so utterly tedious). What impresses me most is her fine eye for extremely minute differences in social class. British literature (and culture) is famous for the great seriousness with which it treats the class system, but there’s no other author who can make quite so much hay out of the tiny difference in social station between Rose Vincy–the daughter of a well-off manufacturer–and Tertius Lydgate–the poor nephew of a provincial squire. Their entire plotline, essentially, is constructed from Rose’s desire to take one ever-so-small step up the social ladder.
As America becomes a more class-bound society, I think we’re going to see much more of this kind of thing in American literature, by the way. Our contemporary language and storytelling really struggle to capture all the class distinctions that we very clearly can perceive. For instance, people always try to make out young Bernie supporters as spoiled young kids or as college kids who want welfare, but what they really are is de-classed. They’re kids with middle-class social markers who have living situations traditionally associated with the working class. The entire American socialist movement lives and (mostly) dies over its attempt to build solidarity between the working and middle class. An attempt that’s failed largely because of a lack of class consciousness in our society. Something we can rectify with literature!
(No, I’m just kidding, literature has no social relevance, and we all know it. But that’s okay. It’s not like Middlemarch started any revolutions either.)