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Small, Good Bits

No dreams last night, none that I can recall anyway. Woke up several times due to the dog, heavy on my legs, which always leads to: what will I read, what if no one comes to readings, what if, with all these new flying regulations, I die of dehydration on the plane out west?

So I can describe how bizarre my life feels right now, let me start with a bit about last week. I have two essays coming out in anthologies (I know, there have been many many anthologies lately) in the next year, and edits on both were due last week. I found out that the Washington Post and the New York Times Book Review and USA Today and People Magazine are scheduled (this is key word, one never knows what can happen) to review my novel. I got a call about pitching a story to Vogue. What will I pitch? When will I get to these edits? My life feels like it's completely crowding in on me, I don't have time to do anything. But I forget to take a minute to think, This is exciting! Isn't this what I've always wanted? It is: to be part of the land of the living. I never knew it would be this difficult to manage.

I also realize in this whole process, how it is the unexpected surprises that are the best bits. What comes in unanticipated is really the rewarding part. Strangely, when I saw the reading group guide Scribner did, I got teary. I just had never imagined a discussion about my book taking place with me not in it to say: This is what I meant, this is where that comes from, this character reminds me of whosewutz. But the finished book? I'd already seen it so many times as an advanced reading copy (I can't say enough wonderful things about the cover or the Scribner art director who made it), and so it was lost on me a bit. Then I felt horrible. Holding The Book is supposed to be the Best Part. It's like a wedding — the good bits, or perhaps I should say the real bits, are never what they seem. The Best Part of the book for me, I realize now, was really a fairly writerly conceit: it was once I'd sold the book and was working with my editor to make it the best it could be. The first time I saw it bound up was wonderful, but seeing it in a bookstore? It just looked so small and lost!

Though all this book/writing stuff is consuming me, the world seems to be spinning along, same as always. Why stop for me? Life at work doesn't cease. There was much fallout when Gunter Grass decided to reveal in an interview with a German newspaper that he was a member of the Waffen-SS. Harcourt publishes Gunter Grass in the States, and, as publicity director, it's my job to deal with the media. Now: there is probably not much I want to discuss with the media less. This is not a dialogue I in any way want to engage in. But how does one discuss this without saying what he did was wrong or he only should have said something sooner or what he did was no different than a zillion other boys at that time? These were some of the many many reactions. Put aside my background growing up Jewish in this country, or that my book deals with, among other things, the Jewish immigrant experience, how does one stay neutral? The calls and e-mails are still coming in.

Life at home doesn't stop either. My husband, Pedro Barbeito, is a painter, and he is preparing for a solo show in Madrid in October. The timing could not be worse — we are both nearly flammable; one spark, the whole house could go down in flames. Aside from all the family dynamics, which I will not regale you with, it's interesting because he's had many solo shows here in New York, and watching him prepare for each one has really changed over the years. The way he makes the work and the way he steels himself when the paintings leave his studio. It also makes me realize that the art world is for such a small select group of people. One has to go to the gallery to see it; one has to be fairly rich to buy art. The publishing world is far more universal — I just got a call from a friend in California that she had seen my book in Palo Alto. I still haven't gotten used to that.

But making the work remains the same. You are alone with your art until you are no longer alone with it. Then it goes out into the world. This is what I am trying my best to do now: appreciate the small, good bits, and just let it go.

÷ ÷ ÷

Jennifer Gilmore's first novel, Golden Country, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2006, and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her work has appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies including Allure, BookForum, Los Angeles Times, Nerve, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Self, Seattle Weekly, and Salon. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Books mentioned in this post

Jennifer Gilmore is the author of Something Red

One Response to "Small, Good Bits"

    carole August 29th, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Wow, you are blogging the week before your book tour. That's brave. It's harder than it looks, isn't it?

    I was the guest blogger in January which was perfect since my book had come out in Sept. (also Scribner) so I was finished talking about it (thank god) and I was suppose to be starting my second book, a novel. I thought blogging would be a good way to procrastinate. And it was, until I realized it was much harder than actually writing a book. When I'm writing my book, weeks can go by and I will not have written one single word and no one knows!! But with blogging, Dave at Powells expected 500 words by 10am, every single day. And it had to be funny and relevant. And then all those hyper-links (mostly gratuitious plugs for my brother's book). Ugh. By Day Three I had completely run out of material and was considering quitting. Then out of the blue I was saved by Larry King. (I plugged Powells and Dave gave me a blue Powells ski cap, which was cool.) Ask him for a hat.

    Anyway, I saw your book in Portland and I noticed you were blogging. If you run out of ideas you can always just write down the wierd crap that happens everyday in the news, maybe a piece about how crazy grannies, and drunk passengers are getting flights diverted all over the country (except I thought Adam Gopnik's piece on the "Great Transit Strike of '05" was really boring).

    And I completely screwed up my first reading. It was way too long and then I skipped around in the book and lost my place and wasted a bunch of time flipping through pages. Meg Wolitzer told me I shouldn't read from the book. She types out her readings, edited from her book, and reads from those pages. One page equals about a minute. I did this the second time and it worked much better.

    Good Luck, and Good Luck.
    And tell Nan I said, Hello!
    Carole Radziwill.

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