How do you balance two works-in-progress? I have no clue. Lately I’ve been immersed in a long piece of writing about portraits, an early relationship with a painter, how over time his (male) gaze has been subverted, how I (who’ve felt invisible for, oh, the past ten years) have found another way of seeing myself. It’s the writing I’ve been doing in the night, in the morning, whenever I am drawn to my desk and the stack of archival material on one side. The other day, swimming, I was working out a particular wrinkle in the fabric of this work and when I came home afterwards, hair dripping, I went right to my desk and wrote my way through it.
But I have other work to do. A novel that draws me in, through dreams and other routes, and it’s been waiting patiently in its folder, knowing that its time will come.
It came last night. I got up and made my way down the dark stairs, feeling in front of me with my toes. I spent an hour looking at maps. I have to get my characters up Princess Louisa Inlet and back. I want them to see everything–Deserted Bay, the beach of slate, the fish farms and logging scars, the pictographs up Queens Reach. They need to pack the right food, bathing suits, a bottle of wine to cool in a bucket of seawater. They’ll need binoculars, coffee for the morning, a sketchbook (because one of them is an artist). And in every word I write, I am recording the details of the wondrous boat trip we took with our friend at the beginning of September. When we returned from our adventure, I thought I’d immediately return to my novel too and I did, but somehow I wasn’t able to write about what it felt like to sleep under an open skylight where this was the nightlight
and where I woke early and immediately slipped into the water for a swim (though I will leave out the part where I had to be hoisted like a great seal back onto the boat because there was no ladder…), mergansers on one side of the dock, seals on the other, and mountains all around.
I’ve just written that part and I am seeing everything again. Seeing the lions mane jellyfish under the falls, the seals curious a few yards off the bow, my characters waking, pulling on bathing suits, and how the water fell from their (my) bodies as they climbed back on the boat after a swim.
And now to save the file.
Under my feet the moon
Glides along the river.
Near midnight, a gusty lantern
Shines in the heart of night.
Along the sandbars flocks
Of white egrets roost,
Each one clenched like a fist.
In the wake of my barge
The fish leap, cut the water,
And dive and splash.
–Du Fu, translated by Kenneth Rexroth