In my favorite picture of myself, you cannot see my face.
The first time I heard Bob Dylan’s song “Hurricane,” about the controversial murder conviction of black boxer Ruben Carter, I pulled my 1972 Chrysler New Yorker into a rest stop off the highway so that I could allow myself to be riveted. In my memory it is summer and I fumble for a pen not yet gummy and ruined by too many hot days in the car, and for a napkin in the hope I would be able to record the name and search for it at a record store.
Times were different then. Google did not facilitate such searches.
The story surfaces because it so closely tracks Emily Dickinson’s much-echoed remark to a friend named Higginson : “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” And because this weekend, Bob Dylan was to be in Sweden, months after the Nobel Prize banquet, where members of the academy were to meet up with him before a previously arranged stop on his current concert tour.
After the announcement that Dylan was being given the prize for 2016 that Faulkner got in 1949 and Camus was given in 1957, the boo birds came out in full voice. Writers from every part of the talent spectrum started responding in green ink, tweeting and posting on-line their disdain for the selection. Several took the easy cheap shot, asking haughtily if they could submit their fiction works for Emmy awards, or nonsense along those lines.
As so often happens in the world where social media values immediacy over all else, the boo birds – while seductively snarky – are mistaking ignorance for wisdom.
The first literature was sung.
There was no singing today.
There should have been. One of the traditions that Carrie brought with her into our marriage is calling family members on their birthdays to sing the happy birthday song, sometimes in tune, sometimes in time, sometimes both.
Such a thing never would have occurred in the Traub house growing up. That is less a good thing or a bad thing than it is just a thing. But the Carters never missed the chance to call and sing, and that practice is now as deeply rooted in our house as brushing our teeth before bed.
Carol Wagner Traub 1942-2016
Slow Train Coming
I have, in a sense, been waiting for this since I was a 4-year-old little boy who didn’t really understand why mommy was going to the hospital and I was sleeping at Uncle Ronnie’s. After the mastectomy that granted her another 42 years, her sons and infant daughter were brought to see her at the hospital. Among my earliest memories is hugging her in her wheelchair there and crying as I said: “Mommy, don’t ever run away again.”
She never did.
Twenty years ago today I woke up with no idea my life was about to change. I showered and took the train to Boston with my dad, put in day’s work in the Senate and went home. On a whim I went out for a cup of coffee with friends.
My coffee was still warm when the-one-who-got-away walked in and sat with her friends at the other side of the room. At 26, I was old enough to know that life hurts sometimes and young enough to believe in fairy tales.
When I had calmed down enough to stand, I broke a three year silence with a simple “Hi Carrie.” We talked until just after 2 a.m. When I tried to drive away, I made it less than a block before I pulled into a business and started to cry. Not like a baby, but like a man. When I could breathe again, I looked up at the night sky and said “God, I don’t know what you are doing. But whatever it is: I’m in.”
So much has changed since that day. But I still believe in our fairy tale. And whatever the future holds, Carrie: I’m in. Happy anniversary love. And thank you for our date. The best part of all this is that we are just getting started.
(Crosspost delayed a few days by adulthood and life.)
It was posed as an innocent question, entirely without baggage: “Daddy, do you ever write in that journal?”
We were making the 15 minute drive to her summer camp, where she fills her days in singing, acting, film and music classes led by passionate, talented teachers. This camp session, one of her six classes is a writer’s workshop. I’ve not yet been let into the circle of knowing what they talk about there.
Innocent or not, the question gave me a little jolt. “Sometimes,” was the best answer I could muster. The journal was on the front seat, sidling up against the book I’m reading a very few pages at a time. In truth, it had been weeks since I’d written a line in the journal, and likely weeks before that. It has been years since journaling has been part of my writing or spiritual discipline. It may be ten years or more since I wrote three days in a row. But I carry it most every day.
Got to live another cliché on Sunday.
My dad had the boatyard near the causeway to West Island bottom paint his little sailboat and put it in the water for him again this year. After several successive years of trying to step the mast ourselves while the boat was on the beach, this is a decision I applaud with great verve.
A metal mast for a 16 foot boat is not terribly heavy, until you try and slowly raise it from parallel to the ground to perpendicular to the ground and thread it through a hole juuuuuuust big enough for it to fit. With exactly no margin for error.
The house is quiet.
And I’ve finished The Splendid Children.
I finished the initial draft and put the manuscript to rest on June 3, 2015. Between the rest periods and the flurries of active editing, it took almost exactly a year to have it ready to ship to an editor or agent. I reached that point just about midnight as June 1 became June 2, 2016.
When I started running again in my mid -20s, I did not go far and I did not go fast. But every time I finished a run, I put my arms in the air as if I was breaking the tape at the Pru on President’s Day. Even if a two mile run is a joke to someone in actual shape, it was a big deal to me.
In my head, I would cue the Rocky Theme, and sometimes whistle, hum or dah-dah-dah, dah-dah, dah-dah-dah-dah a few bars. Did it again last night.
So El Gato Guapo is the first one to hear any of my book.
We have a system. He hears me when I put my foot on the floor anytime after 4:30 a.m. and sprints from whatever corner of the house he is in. He manages to be between me and the bathroom before I can open the door of the bedroom.
I then have two options:
Option A: Go downstairs and feed him a can of mush, which someone in a marketing department rebranded “pate’,” then sit somewhere so he can come to rest on me and stay there.
Option B: Listen while he wakes my daughter, then my wife, and then execute Option A within 10 minutes anyway.
This is working out for both of us right now, since my editing procedure on this third pass is to read the book aloud. And I am finding myself unable to concentrate on what I’m reading aloud if there is another soul within earshot.
I don’t know why this is. It is not, I don’t think, an extension of author Amy MacKinnon’s caution not to talk your story away. The story is written. It is not because I am embarrassed of the story. I am unclear if it is a jealousy, that I want it to still be mine for a little while longer. Or a fear that hearing disjointed bits and starts will spoil the whole.
I have met and read people who claim to love editing their fiction. I do not hate them, but consider them strange and exquisite mistakes of nature. Like the guy who last year took home what looks like a bowling trophy for eating 62 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs at the annual (yes, really) competition held at Coney Island every Independence Day.
Writing The Splendid Children was very much like skiing down hill for me. It was still work. I fell from time to time and was plenty sore more than once. I even skied off the trail and into the woods in Chapter 4, necessitating a retreat and retry. But there was also a lot of feeling myself pulled forward to an inevitable goal, with every anticipation that I would know when I was done.
Editing offers essentially none of that.