This is my last letter to you before you leave for Paris. I am really going to miss receiving your letters and writing to you. And of course I would do it again! Whenever you want.
It means a lot to me for you to compliment my writing because I value and respect your opinion so much. It is especially motivating because I have been writing seriously again since my term ended and it has been really wonderful. I have a babysitter on the days that I work at my old job at the community-based organization, and am often done quite early so that I can write for the rest of the time while I still have the sitter. And on the days I’m with Polly I write while she’s napping. I feel good about it. I feel like I’m settled in to it and believe in it in a way that I never did before and that things are finally congealing. Sometimes I read the draft of my manuscript and there is writing that I really like, I almost can’t believe it came from me. I’m sure you know the feeling. But then there are parts of it that I read that are just frankly bloody awful. I even thought, what if I died in an accident before I finish rewriting the draft and people read these pages?!
I often think about how you said you hang on to your own writing even when you’re teaching a lot like “a dog with a bone.” That really stayed with me.
It’s funny that you mention housework in your letter because of course since I’m writing while my daughter is sleeping that means I really don’t do any. In fact the other day Teo’s best friend came over spontaneously after school with his mother and I was a little embarrassed because the house was a disaster because I’d been writing instead of…cleaning up. They’d never been over before. I really kind of hate housework. I honestly never thought I’d spend so much time in my life just picking up. I’m constantly tripping over toys. These are the bits of adult life that I never pictured when I was a child. In some ways I’m glad that, as a girl, my parents didn’t place a lot of emphasis on teaching me about housework. We had chores, but it was approached more as a responsibility and a way of us all pitching in rather than as an education. But it’s a huge part of adult life, these monotonous tasks. It never ends. I try to find a kind of Zen like calm in it all but honestly that’s hard for me. I remember my friend telling me about a young person who had just graduated from college who came to her office for her first job, and how after a while she said how she couldn’t believe how it just goes on and on.
I have the same ambivalence that you describe about all the technology, or maybe it’s not even ambivalence but more of an outright distaste, and yet it’s unavoidable. It’s so seductive but so empty in many ways. And the ads are so invasive and even creepy. I tend to be pretty disciplined about it but I also know that longing that you describe and catch myself checking my email unnecessarily when I should be being more present with my kids. I think it’s that very natural longing to connect that attracts us. I’ve noticed for example that when I travel I just love receiving an email from a friend at home telling me about the dream she had last night. Even as I’m far away, somewhere amazing and new, I want to feel that closeness. I want to hear about that dream. One of the biggest anxieties I have as a parent is this whole new world. It’s so important to me that my kids develop not just good habits about it but also an understanding of the weight of it, how to use it in a productive, meaningful way that is respectful to themselves and others. I’m often just frankly shocked by the cruelty that’s out there on the internet. I suppose that cruelty has always been in the air but now it seems like it’s so much more in your face, and there is a flippancy to it now that I find very troubling.
I love this time of year in Brooklyn. I love Coney Island, love Prospect Park. Love my neighborhood, and walking around it as kids from Teo’s school peak their heads out of Laundromats and call his name. Marilynne Robinson writes about how she believes community is essentially imaginative love for people we have never met. That felt very beautiful and true to me. She says that she believes that fiction may be an exercise in this kind of imagined love. I also was reading a Mary Gaitskill essay called “The Wolf in the Tall Grass” about why she writes and she lists one of the reasons as love. To write fiction and to hold so many fluid components of humanity in a story, so much joy, so much sadness, so much pride and hurt, one must have a deep understanding and respect for life that she thinks is a kind of love. She also says she writes to reveal things that she thinks would otherwise be ignored or dismissed and misunderstood as ugly or unimportant, and how these things that are small and unrecognized are very tender to her. I think of that, as I walk around Coney Island. So many small and unrecognized things. And you feel a kind of love in recognizing them. That is one of the most wonderful things about writing every day again. It makes me feel more alive and alert to the world around me.
Have a wonderful time in Paris. Will Abbie be able to visit you? I’ve only been there once, when I was 20. I flew in on Bastille Day, which was also the day after France won the World Cup and things were wild. I remember that the friends I was visiting were staying in this amazing apartment and the host family was away all summer so they had it themselves. But my friend didn’t tell me until I arrived that they weren’t really supposed to have guests, so I would have to hide sometimes when they came around. That made for a couple of really absurd situations.
I will miss you! Let’s get together when you get back when you have time. Have a wonderful trip.