Yesterday, a fabulous play The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler by an Oregon playwright, Jeff Whitty. Hedda and her servant, Mammy from Gone With the Wind, become deeply discontent with their literary roles. Hedda wants to stop killing herself, and Mammy doesn't want to be a slave. They encounter other characters: the two stars from La Cage au Folles, Medea, etc. Hedda and Mammy learn of the "Furnace" where all characters are created, in the minds of their authors. They set out on a quest to re-enter the Furnace and to be "changed." At one point, a character says, "We do not live on in the minds of our authors, we live on in the minds of our audience."
And that's what I was thinking about the past two days, here in Ashland, the audience for my book -- readers, friends I sent the book to, wondering if the characters would live on even for a few minutes, or, if lucky, for a day, a week...
But much of the time in Ashland, and up in Seattle and Vancouver and Victoria (other pilgrimage stops), in fact, ever since I finished marking essays and exams two weeks ago, I've mostly been thinking and fretting about "What I Will Write Next," like, this summer, when I have the luxury to write for hours every day. This mulling was compounded by visits with dear friends who are writers, who ask in the most unintrusive, gentle way: "So, what are you working on now? What'll you be working on this summer?"
For sure, I have all kinds of possibilities in my notebooks, and in my head. But at the moment, none of them are what William Stafford, the late poet laureate of Oregon, called "emergencies." Yes, I did write first (crummy) drafts of three (icky) poems these past two weeks. And there‚s a
constellation of characters and situations for a novel in my head, like a snow globe somebody keeps shaking -- and which freaks me out because I'd rather write lots of new poems and
stories, and not submerge myself in a novel for the next umpteen months (or I would love to if I magically had only five students per class next year). My agent has a novel out on the circuit, and tactfully inquires about my "next novel" ("Publishers just aren't buying short stories, they
just don't sell.").
The first sport I played was baseball, back in the days when baseball was still "America's pastime." I'm sure I could catch and throw before I could read. I was very good on the sandlot. Then I tried out for Seattle's best Little League team, and that Saturday morning there were crowds of kids at every position waiting for ground balls and fly balls and lined up by the plate for a swing or two. This moment, I see my "ideas" for poems and stories, scrawled in my notebook, as all those eager, nervous, diffident or cocky, awkward, hopeless, or promising kids waiting for a try-out, for a chance to play. I'm the coach, waiting for one to stand out, then another, to catch my eye, to catch fire, to compel me to devote the coming days and weeks and months to its development.
Writing that last paragraph, the excitement started to feel stronger than the dull dismay that maybe, this time, this summer, I won't feel again the electricity I've felt with all those now-published stories, all those poems in my new poetry ms. And it will come. It always does. Often when I feel most empty, unwilling, lackadaisical, evasive. Suddenly, zap! and I'm hauling my laptop and water bottle and thermos of coffee out to the patio table and writing away through the sound of lawn mowers and basketballs.
That's where I'll be next week.