Christopher Barzak
Meditations in an Emergency

Real and Imagined
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I spent the day mostly in bed or propped up on my living room loveseat, giving my foot a rest. Yesterday I managed to somehow strain it while I was running. I'm not sure how. I was only on the treadmill, and was on mile 3 when suddenly the achilles tendon, or something around that area, began to hurt insufferably. I tried to walk it out, but no good. I thought staying off it all last night would do the trick, but it was just as sore this morning. Finally towards the end of the night it's now beginning to feel a little normal, though still tender. I think it may have happened because I upped my running again this week, and I usually run into trouble initially when I do that. I upped the speed, the milage, the length of time to run, etc. And for the whole week everything was fine until Friday. I suppose maybe I just overextended myself.

In any case, I spent the day reading and writing, since I couldn't manage to do much of anything else. I did some revisions to the latest story I finished, shortened it a bit by reducing an element in the story that had far too much stage time in the first draft. Rearranged some logistical matters, since by the end of the story what I thought was going to happen to one of the characters changed a bit. It still happened, just in a different way than I thought, so I had to go back through and erase and rewrite certain things about her from the beginning. I still have one scene to do this sort of thing with, but I'm too tired at this point to concentrate on fiction. Hence, this entry.

I find it amazing, actually, how much some writers get done. I was talking the other day through email with a friend who is also a mother, and it affects how much she gets done with her writing. It made me think of when I'd read Sylvia Plath's letters and journals, and how in one entry she'd written something to the effect of, "If I only could get a nanny for a few days a week, I could work," and it struck me as so sad, but true. It's so difficult to raise a family and write. The two seem at odds during certain periods, particularly in those early years, I think. I'm constantly feeling torn by various desires and neccessities myself, and often don't do as much writing as I would like, but how much more difficult it is when you have children and are the predominant caregiver.

I read some A.S. Byatt tonight. Or I should say, reread. There is a wonderful story in her newest collection, Little Black Book of Stories, called "Raw Material", about a creative writing group in a smallish town in England, with wonderfully eccentric characters. It deals predominantly with the leader of the group's emphasis for the group to write "what they know". None of them rarely do. Instead they go for melodrama, domestic violence, therapeutic narratives about their relationships with their families. One older woman, though, writes these amazing little essayistic poetic pieces about things she encountered while growing up like blacking the stove, or how they had to wash clothes. The rest of the class does nothing but ravage her pieces, saying they have no basis in reality, or are nostalgic, as if this is inherently a bad thing. Eventually the whole story turns out to be an argument on the nature of reality and fiction, and how the two are often not as compatible as what it seems it is, on the surface. I won't say anymore because I think everyone should go read this story, especially those who are writers. I'm personally drawn to it because I'm constantly interested in the fluidity between fiction and reality, and also where the two depart. Fiction is a threshold. Some things come through, others don't. It's interesting to examine which things come through, and which remain outside the scope of fiction, or are transmuted to the point that they no longer resemble the circumstances that occurred in the writer's life to inspire the creation of a fictional representation.

One more thing. Octavia Butler was interviewed a couple of days ago by Michael Silverblatt, who I think is one of the best interviewers of authors we have. Here is a link to the interview recording. There is a slight discussion on how if Butler hadn't been published by a small literary press at a certain point in her career, she might not have been given the McArthur Genius Grant because she had previously been labeled a Science Fiction writer, published by Warner Aspect. Enjoy

Now it's time to stop being contemplative and put myself back to bed. Hope everyone is having a good weekend.

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