week #2 at Millay: writing ’70s nyc from a sugar maple forest…?

My dear friends,

I have made much progress with the novel this week but the content has been very dark. I spent many hours researching and writing about NYC’s 1977 blackout and its aftermath; white collar arson-for-profit rings; the crack epidemic, and the national sex offender registry. This was all going toward a lot of heavily revised and original content for the 1970s-1980s portion of my book; I hope it doesn’t read like a list of national traumas. 

I also have been experimenting more with variation of point of view. Most of the book is in 3rd person (“he walked, she talked”), but there are a few scenes in 1st person (characters speaking: “I walked, I talked”) . these grew out of an experiment and I kept them for a particular character with a strong voice that I felt the reader would enjoy hearing. This week, while I was writing some very heavy scenes in which characters experience intense emotions, I found myself trying them out in 2nd person (characters being addressed: “you walked, you talked”). I have seen this done in other books to powerful effect; I really appreciate the immersive experience it gives the reader. But perhaps I will discover that it comes off poorly here and feels like an effort on my part to cheat the reader into feeling something! We shall see.  A lot of my process is throwing stuff up, leaving it alone, and coming back to it much later to see how it sounds from a more objective perspective. 

The joy of this week was definitely having the opportunity to get to know my fellow residents better. Including myself we have two novelists, one poet/memoirist/game narrative designer, one composer and one filmmaker. Three of us are millennials in our late 20s, and we also have a self-identified Gen Xer & late Baby Boomer. We’ve had many lively conversations over dinner, nothing planned or formally organized, naturally exploring topics like:

•in what ways we have encountered or resisted the forces of capitalism in our chosen field?

•how as artists do we honor, acknowledge and compensate all the people “behind the scenes” who make the work possible—and ensure we are not simply allowing ourselves to be glorified as some kind of independent prophet/genius?

•What has each “generation” in America contributed to the discourse on social justice…and what problems has it introduced?

Though we live in beauty and peace, allowing ample time for focus and reflection, the unsettling news from the outer world still reaches us eventually. One evening we admiringly observed that the sun has turned completely red, and then realized this was because of pollution in California. Friday, several of us were eating salmon and having a spirited discussion on the taxonomy of labels for races and ethnicities, and then the filmmaker entered the room with the news that RBG has passed. I also have endless nightmares about going to school during the pandemic—but that’s actually a reality for some of you (my family and friends), not just a dream! Wishing love, safety and care to everyone who is reading this and grappling with the times.

Some other moment of joy for me this week….

•Celebrating Rosh Hashanah by lighting a candle in the dark of my studio, burning some sage and listening to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Yiddish (thanks for the video Mom)! 

•Receiving the loveliest snail mail from an artist and pinning it all over my walls.

•Speaking to my higher power in the woods —and just listening to the birds and the wind in the trees, the owls at night.

•the influx of dessert this weekend! Our program bought us chocolate bread! One resident went off campus and bought a pie, and another one made flan! (I had been developing a bad craving for sugar, so this is all very welcome.)

Shana Tova, peace and healing to everyone.

(Atoning for the year in my journal, with Leonard Cohen playing.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s