The problem, I decided, as I was swimming the last of my 1000 meters, in my favourite lane, the windows looking out to alders and maples, a grey sky, the problem is that I don’t know if I should expand this draft I’m currently editing to make it a full-length memoir, or if I should stay with my original thinking about it as an essay. I wrote it in sections. Some of them are philosophical, about the nature of the artistic (which in this instance is male) gaze, what it assumes, what it takes, and what it gives. Because if you were once an artist’s model, however uncomfortable you were, and are, with that experience, if you wait long enough, you are given something valuable. When I look at the paintings of myself that we have in our house, when I look through a folio of drawings that may or may not be me, when I look at the images sent to me by a collector who has several paintings of me, I see myself as a young woman, caught in a moment that caused her anxiety, even pain, but who stepped away with a kind of strength I am grateful for.
So some sections are philosophical, some are hinged with theory, moving back and forth between conjectures of shame, guilt, and agency, and some are purely narrative. What happened next. Where I went, and why. What I’d done earlier that made me recall the Karyatids holding up the Erectheion, the ancient temple of Athena on the Acropolis in Athens, and what I did later that brought them to mind again. Not a straight-forward memoir, then. But an essay in the way I’ve approached the material, the known and unknown, and followed one thing after another after another. Would a memoir have more luck finding a publisher, an audience? That’s never been my concern so maybe I won’t even think about the possibilities.
By the time I was finishing my swim, I had more or less decided to do what I need to do. To expand, to adjust, and to condense in areas that feel a bit long-winded. And to let the piece be what it becomes. I came home to see it spread out on the dining table like a puzzle, the pieces a little confusing but the final pattern inevitable. In a few minutes I’ll have one last look and then gather up the pages to allow the table to be used over the next ten days when some of my family will be here. When I was awake in the night, I thought of how I will organize the images in this essay, I thought of the pages spread out on the table, I thought about the difficulty of names and feelings and how much is my story, how much shares a boundary with another’s story, and whether that matters. Does it matter? To imply, to suggest, to actually name? I nod to Wallace Stevens.
I do not know which to prefer,The beauty of inflectionsOr the beauty of innuendoes,The blackbird whistlingOr just after.
2 thoughts on ““the beauty of innuedoes” (Wallace Stevens)”
Theresa, you could do several versions. Though obviously this is more work. I have sometimes written up research as an academic paper, as a report for a government agency, and as a popular article. Then wondered which was best.
John, that’s very good advice. I’ve written “versions” of other things in the past and am just doing final edits of an essay for a forthcoming anthology in which I extracted a version from something larger. This current work in progress will have various purposes I think and maybe thinking of it being in slightly forms will help me to proceed.