What do you call an essay that’s 48 pages long? And no, that’s not the opening line of a really great (literary) joke. I’m serious. Because I woke this morning with such good ideas for wrangling a recently-completed first draft of “Euclid’s Orchard” into shape. Maybe it was the cool breeze. Or the strong coffee. I sat with the pages on my lap — I can’t edit on my computer, or at least not at this stage, when I need to know how things are balanced (or not). I like to have the whole thing on paper so I can make notes in the margins, cross out words, use arrows to indicate that I want sentences, or even whole paragraphs, to move down a bit, or else to simply disappear.
And it was such a pleasure to work my way through and to understand where the gaps where but also that I believe the essay has some strengths, some originality. (Last week I felt I was simply writing the same old story over and over again.)
So I’m finished a second draft, which is so much better than the first (which went through a number of stages before it even became an entire first draft). My writing practice has always been to work on something for myself alone, to follow a thread into the maze (or knotted tangle, depending…), and try to understand its pattern, its relevance. I don’t show others my early drafts and mostly not even my later ones. I’m the one who has to figure out the way I need to do something and I don’t think it would be useful for me to try to work by consensus, even if it’s in a generous context. I do live with a writer, though, and sometimes we give each other our writing when we think it’s finished. John taught composition for years and he’s a wonderful grammarian. My own understanding of language is intuitive. Don’t ask me what a gerund is, or a prepositional phrase. (I don’t know what a gasket is either or a universal joint but I’ve been driving for almost 45 years without an accident and I’ve only run out of gas once.)
I know there are lots of writers who write only for themselves. I write by myself but not necessarily for myself. I can’t explain why but I’ve always thought of my work as truly complete when it’s been accepted by a publisher. For individual essays, this is generally a journal or magazine. For novel, well, I don’t try to publish chapters of those but I do always intend the whole thing to be published eventually. It’s not in my mind while I’m writing but when I’ve finished a work, then I begin to wonder about where, how, when. This is me, wondering.
In the meantime, the weather has changed again. The cloud cover at dawn and the cool breeze of the morning have both disappeared and the sky is clear blue. It’s not as hot as it was yesterday but there’s no sign of rain. I think of the beautiful Fraser Canyon south of Lytton on fire and I wish I knew a charm for rain. A tiny frog has huddled under the eaves on the upper deck and I’m going to put out a bowl of water for it. And then label the jam I made this morning (between editing and another cup of coffee). Gooseberry (we have the green variety) with ginger. A batch of jam, though it’s not even summer yet…