October 11, 2004

In Deadly, Deadly Earnest

I have so much I COULD blog about. What with my continuing spiral into flaxseed meal based madness and all. I can now make salmon croquettes and meatballs and red velvet cake that is crammed FULL of the stuff---I am doing everything but hiding it in my kids’ toothpaste.

Or I could blog about the letter I got from a member of the literati who is tight with my agent. He read the galleys of gods in Alabama and REALLY LIKED IT. In fact he says I am not the illegitimate love child of Joyce Carol Oates and a hen as previously suspected. Says I am CLEARLY the illegitimate love child of Sappho and Ellen Gilchrist. Which, OKAY! SUITS ME! HI MOMS! But then he bemoans my heinous number of typos and crimes against grammar. Best sentence in his letter:
“At one point I was prompted to wonder how a mind so brilliant could be so consistently baffled by something as simple as the possessive plural.”

HA! And I’ll be creeping under the bed to DIE now because HE IS RIGHT. In WARNER’s defense, certainly not my own, let me add that my agent inflicted upon him a copy that had neither been line edited nor copy edited. The raw stuff. AND OH! You should have SEEN the copy editor’s notes. She was working in purple pencil and most of the pages looked like they been attacked by a manic version of Harold, hopped up on a big bowl of crack-loops cereal and out for blood. Humiliating.

But instead I am going to get deadly, deadly earnest and tell you I got a call from the owner of The Alabama Booksmith (a RIGHTEOUS indie bookstore in Birmingham….they have signed first editions of SO MANY Alabama/Southern authors and people like Pat Conroy and Cassandra King are always just, you know, DROPPING BY. It’s a FAB store. If you live anywhere around there, GO GO GO, and also get on their mailing list because they will tell you who is going to be there signing and chatting and hanging. And they do online sales just like Amazon except they have all probably read the book you are ordering... *cough*support-your-local-indie*cough*) Anyway the owner called because he had read the galleys too (Please GOD the copy-edited version…) and he REALLY LIKED IT (and here I pause to say HUZZAH!) but then he asked a question.

He asked which character I most strongly identify with, in my heart. The book is not at all autobiographical, but I wrote it, so I have to be hidden in there somewhere. And I answered without thinking about it, and the answer that popped out was, “I’m Florence.” Florence, you must know, is a 50-something, bitter, pedantic, dried stick of a woman, a virulent racist, tough, bloody-minded, a steel magnolia with ZERO magnolia. More like a steel lump of steel. She’s made entirely out of corners and brickle-burrs and bile.

And right after I said it I thought WHAT DID I JUST SAY??? HELL NO, I AM NOT FLORENCE. But when he asked me, that’s what popped out of my subconscious. So I had to examine it. And you know what? I am. I am, dernit. I am Florence. I’m younger, I’m not a racist, I’m not terminally bitter. But Florence is in me. She is the me I am most afraid of becoming.

See, Florence, long before the book began, lost her son, and that’s why she's Florence. Like her, I am held hostage to the world in the form of my children. Sam and Maisy are the sum total of my heart. And sum total of my heart is even now, EVEN AS WE SPEAK, out in the world wandering around, probably in traffic. It’s unendurable. It’s unendurable. How do we go through every day with them OUT THERE on their bikes, among snakes and lightening and predators and mean kids and rabid squirrels and Hanta virus and all manner of destructive chaos? IT IS NOT TO BE ENDURED.

I remember when I was pregnant with Maisy – I almost never wanted it to end. Even though I HATE pregnancy and would never, never do it if I didn’t get a BABY at the end. Even if I got, say, my own TROPICAL ISLAND at the end, I wouldn’t do it. Nothing but a baby would make me sit through that. Anyway.

With her, I almost never wanted the constant misery to end. Because Sam was already five and bounding around like a goat up mountains and running like a lemming into the sea…and I knew, I knew, even as she kicked viciously at my bladder, that this was the last time I would ever feel I could adequately protect her. It was the only time in her life, when, at every moment, something would literally have to get THROUGH ME to harm her. I didn’t understand that when I was pregnant with Sam. I didn’t understand how he would be so immediately separate from me, so immediately and perfectly himself, and so immediately vulnerable.

But now I can see that that Florence was conceived in me on the morning I first felt Sam quicken inside me, felt that almost imperceptible flutter, the suggestion of a shadow of movement, touching me inside where nothing had ever touched me before. And there is no way to birth her. She is in me. Long after my babies left my body and became these independent and busy creatures who think they are immortal, Florence stayed. And she’ll be with me as long as I am living.

Posted by joshilyn at October 11, 2004 8:31 AM

Exactly! The last half of your post describes why I am such a freak about my kids! It IS unendurable! I don't know that I have ever commented here before but I check every day - great writing! You have me pondering flaxseed like never before in my life! ;-)

Posted by: Em at October 11, 2004 9:38 AM

"The decision to have a child is to forever allow your heart to walk around outside your body." Don't know who said it first, but they were RIGHT! That being said, my beautiful, sweet, enjoyable, Not dried up, bitter or slightly scary friend - you are not Florence. You are you - and you are nine thousand kinds of great. And I don't care about your grammar, either. :)

Posted by: Amy at October 11, 2004 11:19 AM

God I cannot wait to read your book. If I send you a batch of Kira's cookies (granted, they are flaxseed-free, but yummy!) can I get an autograph in purple crayon, please??

Posted by: Mir at October 11, 2004 12:33 PM

Sigh... I used ot live near Birmingham. Pat Conroy is a veritable god of words. I need to lick his shoes to gain soem of his wonderfulness. I keep meaning to read Cassandra's book, The Sunday Wife. Must go see if my new library has it.

When will your book be out so I can buy it? Hmmm?

What you wrote about your kids... wow. Made me wanna go wake mine up for cuddles.

Posted by: Heather at October 11, 2004 7:19 PM

So beautifully said.

Posted by: Kira at October 12, 2004 12:10 PM

Mine are still young enough that I have an excuse for never letting them out of my sight, but I'm in trouble in another year or two.

Posted by: Jensgalore at October 12, 2004 3:31 PM

I hate to think what variation of Florence I would become if something ever happened to my precious Holden!

Hey -- you got called out for your bad grammar by the "member of the literati" but he says you have a brilliant mind. Yay! Can't wait to read your novel!

Posted by: KarenB at October 12, 2004 7:22 PM

Plurals can be possessive??? I guess when they're stuck behind your ears. No wait, that's laurels.....nevermind.

Posted by: Lee at October 12, 2004 7:23 PM