Shark’s Teeth

1.

The 2010 ‘Best of’ lists appear, like little angels of death. Little cuts on my will to get to the end of the year.

Not now, I say, each time one appears. Not yet. I need to make use of every minute of this year.

2.

In Florida, at the Hermitage for a residency with Dustin, we find we have the first of two weeks to ourselves. Our cabin sits on the Gulf. The other artists coming had to cancel for various reasons.  Dustin thanks the director and she says, “This is your reward for a life dedicated to art.” We laugh about it until the office empties and having the equivalent of a seaside estate to ourselves sinks in.

Go team, we say later. And then go to the store for provisions.

3.

In this part of Florida, every house around us is for sale or for auction, which would appear to be worse. At the supermarket, as we ask questions about the are stores, the people working there speak to us, telling us how they were laid off from better jobs or work at least three. The food is all corporate food, heavily processed and packaged, very little of it organic, though sometimes labeled “natural”. Increasingly, though, I think of nonorganic food as “poisoned”. I find it difficult to eat, as if we have gone from being merely surrounded by euphemism to eating it also, with everything in these grocery stores just a euphemism for food.

4.

I love waking up, sliding out of bed, making coffee and heading to my side of our house, divided by a door. Knocking before entering his side, the two of us working all day. I work on my novel’s edits, and Dustin on a screenplay we’re collaborating on, an adaptation of a biography (more on that soon). We have an entire cottage. We take meal breaks together where we talk about the screenplay and the novel. I’ve been plagued for a while with a sense that something was wrong in the structure of my novel, but I couldn’t quite figure it out.

I was thinking of how I’d just written to a student of mine at Iowa about how you basically hit your target, so you have to be careful of where you direct your attention. He’d written me about his own anxieties about being a gay writer–he didn’t want to be this one kind of writer, but another, and so on, and did I ever feel like this? I had felt exactly like that. History, for that matter, is full of stories of people who became what they feared. I decided I had a great deal of control over what I became, and that’s what I told him–not to be a writer who’d deny what or who he is, but to just write things that were interesting to you and to others, and to let that work shape your career—and not to have a career that shaped your work.

Afterward,  I was thinking about it because it was sticking in my brain—it is often the case that whatever I end up telling students is also what I myself needed to relearn. Without seeming too mystical, in all of those cases, it seems to be a karmic thing.

Later, Dustin and I go for a walk. We haven’t found any shark’s teeth in ten days of being there. Dustin starts chanting “Shark’s teeth, shark’s teeth, shark’s teeth.” I’d been told the way to find them was to rearrange your vision, to set your eyes to finding them. This had only angered me previously—of course I was looking for them! But then Dustin jumps down and brings one up triumphantly.

Soon he has a dozen. As I stand there, somewhat sad about still not finding one, I look down and my rearranged vision sees one.

On the walk back, I rearrange my vision of my novel, and that night find at last what had been plaguing me about my novel all this time. I’d been trying to change the beginning to change the ending, but the real problem was the novel’s climax. The climactic chapters of a novel rearrange the story not just for the reader but also for the writer, as you write it. That’s when it becomes what it is supposed to be, and afterward, the way to edit it becomes very clear. I didn’t didn’t quite believe the climax, though, and yet somehow also didn’t quite know this consciously. The sign that I didn’t like it was in my search for a “right” beginning.  But as the climax reinvents the entire novel draft, including the beginning, this problem with the beginning was my way of telling myself the climax hadn’t done it’s job.

5.

I reinvent the climax.

6.

At home in New York now, over a week later, the teeth sit on Dustin’s desk, waiting to become presents for our nieces and nephews–we’ve discovered the teeth are black because they’re ancient, the fossilized teeth of mackerel sharks, each about 5 million to 35 million years old and dating to the Pliocene or Oligocene. We feel pretty sure handing these out will make us two of America’s best gay uncles. But before I give them away, one will become a tattoo, for after I turn the edits in. So that I never, ever, ever forget this.

Have a happy holiday, whatever you believe in.

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14 thoughts on “Shark’s Teeth

  1. KDJames says:

    Holidays over, I’m finally wading through my RSS feed. Glad I waited for a quiet time to absorb this one.

    I read somewhere (wish I could remember the source and credit it) that race car drivers never ever look at the wall. Because the car follows your eyes. You look at the wall, you’re going to hit it. I think the reminder to focus on your goal — I like the phrase “rearrange your vision” — is good advice for many things in life. So happy it worked for your writing.

    How very cool that you found ancient shark teeth. And plan to share them.

  2. a. says:

    I don’t know you, but I’ve read your book and it’s one of my favorites. I peek around your blog because I find it interesting…

    I just wanted to tell you that this entry gave me some hope this evening, and that I really needed that.

    Please don’t ever stop writing.

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