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Being Sick and Weighing in on The Norton American Lit Anthology

November 30, 2010

For the last five days I have been twiddling around with page 1 of my manuscript. This was not the plan. After Mary Shelley died last week, I thought I was through with the rough draft. I thought it was time to braid the different sections together. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. Two childhoods. Two careers. Two amazing stories. I was actually looking forward to this. The hard part was done. Now the fun begins. Ha!
Nothing has changed. Instead of whizzing along, telling the story with fluency, ease, briskness, certainty, I have been doing just what I thought I was done with. Tinkering and obsessing. Changing one word, putting it back. My only excuse for this is that I have been sick. I did not know I was sick. I thought I just had a cold. But on Saturday, I realized I had a fever and on Sunday I started antibiotics. Ostensibly, I am better. I can stand up. I can teach classes. I can show up at my son’s school events. But when I turn on my computer I fall into some kind of vortex. Today, for example, I had a long list of things to accomplish, school things, before I could even approach the book, but when I started looking for someone’s email address I found an email from Norton (as in the Norton Anthology), asking me to do one of their surveys. They said it would only take 35 minutes and that they would give me a gift card to Barnes and Noble. This seemed like a good deal. I was flattered they wanted to know what I think. Also, I am so smart and so fast that I was sure I could do their survey in 5 minutes. 10 at the most. After all, my opinions are already formed and, yes, I have many opinions about their American Lit anthology. They should include more Anne Bradstreet and kick out most of that Freneau. And why include Benito Cerino. Probably, I am the only one to say that about Melville. But the point is, that there I was doing the survey and not doing anything on my list. Time ticked away. I was heading into minute 20 and I was only midway through the 19th century. It turned out they wanted feedback on every selection. Every single one. The Dickinson poems. Each Winthrop journal entry, the Emerson essays, the Pima creation myths. Even the Mary Rowlandson Removes. I did like their response options: 1) I always use this selection 2) Nice to have but I don’t always use it 3) I get why you include this but I never use it and 4) Get rid of this selection. #2 in particular was useful. But I got so engrossed I forgot about everything else I had to do. Was I really being honest about Countee Cullen? When was the last time I really assigned E. A Robinson. And who are all those 19th century women I (yes) have never heard of? I need to read them before I weigh in. Maybe I should read them RIGHT NOW.
As a result of this Norton frenzy, I was late to my son’s ancestor presentation. Every 6th and 7th grader in his school gave a three minute talk on an immigrant in their family. Fortunately, they started late. But as I sat in my chair, I realized that part of being able to function in this world is the ability to shut things out, ward off e-temptations and advertisements. And when I am sick, I fall down every hole, just like Alice. Instead of writing, I am on astrology.com, or shopping for fruit to send family members for the holidays or trolling through year old emails to see what I have not responded to. I hope I get well soon. I can’t write, really write, unless I am strong enough to put up fire walls.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2010 11:24 pm

    Rest will work miracles. It is hard to be *strongest* when you feel bad and being *strongest* is what writers do…who else would fend off the world and sit before a screen, pouring over words. Get better soon…great post!

  2. December 1, 2010 12:26 am

    You said it, sister! The brief pleasure of not writing is why I get mammograms whenever possible, draft syllabi, respond to theses, submit thoughtful and timely recommendations, and do all manner of optional striving. It’s probably why I have children, a garden and a partner – avoidance! But I have to disagree about Edwin Arlington Robinson – he rocks. Eros Turannos and Richard Cory? They are New England for me. Depressing, I know, but true. I love that you write these things.

  3. Ruth permalink
    December 1, 2010 6:56 am

    My house is NEVER so clean as when I am “working on final grades and comments for 4 subjects for each child!! Once I even cleaned the Crisco can!!! and the lampshades had never been so pristine! Get well, rest and relax!

  4. Tamsen Endicott permalink
    December 1, 2010 8:52 am

    It is wonderful how much we can accomplish when we are well, fully rested and amped up on enough caffeine. Just wait, that day is coming soon my dear! Just project forward to the day that your book is published and we are all celebrating with you. Suddenly that day will be here and you will look back and be amazed at everything you have accomplished!

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