Now and then in my life I have been aware of a shift in my writing. Right now I am finishing the final draft of my latest novel, The Whole Show, and I need to finish it before classes start in the fall, and I think I can. In the meantime I procrastinate a little by reading, and by revising poems and stories to send them out. During the semester I rarely have the time for the sustained period of attention the novel requires, so I write stories.
I can't always locate the shift in my writing, and sometimes it seems false years later, but the latest two stories I've been able to publish seem like the beginning of a new phase. One, called "Another New Story," will come out in The Fiddlehead sometime in the next year, and this one, called "Multiplicanda Ah Um," is in the latest issue of South Dakota Review.
There is always a struggle between two poles, and this summer I have been caught between wanting to read essays and wanting to read graphic novels and memoirs, a genre that is completely new to me. So since I have a messy office and any picture I take of this beautiful new journal (cover photo by Lee Ann Roripaugh and design by duncan b. barlow) will take in some of that, I have two -- on one my stack of graphic novels and one beside another stack.
The shift in my own work might be located quite simply in the birth of my first daughter, but that was four years ago this December, and this story, "Multiplicanda Ah Um" is the first story in this new phase maybe, but I wrote it during the past year. Just before she was born I was listening to lots of instrumental jazz, because I knew nothing about it and it seemed perfect for writing my novel. No words to get in the way. Since then, I have fallen in love with many jazz albums, but of course Mingus Ah Um is where this title came from.
The two poles I have been trying to work between are simplicity and experimentation. My experimentation is in elision maybe at the plot level, maybe at the background level, and never at the level of syntax, yet I am always surprised by my work's inaccessibility. Both poles seem important--simplicity as in clarity that seems absolutely aligned with realism somehow & experimentation that acknowledges the lie in realism because it someone accepts the world right here right now as natural and unchangeable.
I saw Geddy Lee interviewed once and he described making Rush's breakthrough album 2112 -- they had decided the public and the record company didn't buy it anyway when they tried to anticipate the public's taste, so who cares, they would just make the album most like them that they could.
The desire to become what one should be is simple and strong, but its expression is complex. This story in SDR is about that.