There are people who take the comparison between pets and children very badly; I am one of those curmudgeons. I am quite certain that, similarly, there are many who would consider the launch of a book a sad and inappropriate approximation to childbirth. And yet, as I have discovered, there is something oddly familiar about the sensation of putting a book out into the world, the first of which is amnesia.
Over the last six months, I have managed to forget several things. I have forgotten who I was before The Book began to be read by people over whom I have no control. I have forgotten that no matter how hospitable a world I try to create for The Book, eventually it has to leave my forgiving embrace and grow its own legs and heart and ambivalence. I have forgotten that whatever I put into The Book through hours of writing and revision and fact-checking and editing before it got typeset and bound and dressed up in its finery and posed for its glamor shots, is its essence; the rest belongs to the friends it picks up along the way and the various juries of its peers who remain undefined by age or gender or national origin. I have forgotten that I can only speak of The Book in the language in which I wrote it, and that it has acquired languages I will never speak and, therefore, will move and grow and, perhaps, be crucified by words I will not understand. I have forgotten that before there was The Book, there was me, the writer, and that though the bond we share cannot be severed, we are two separate beings. I have forgotten that after today, July 21st, 2009, The Book and I will look at each other from a safe distance, loving and blaming each other and that we will both be right.
Publish, v.tr, means both to prepare for public distribution and also to bring public attention to (the document issued forth). Publishing therefore, is a strange bedfellow. To see publication as being reflective of success should come naturally to a writer and, objectively, I see that it is. I hand out my post cards, I speak about my book, I answer “I am a writer” when people ask me what I do. But in order to feel that publication is a singular achievement, to seek the attention of the world only to The Book, I would have to commit to defining myself as a writer and become comfortable in giving this aspect of myself primacy in my life. I would have to slough off my many skins and be this one thing: the writer of The Book.
Which makes me think of mothers who are not simply people who create children. They are human beings with interesting or even mundane passions, weird predilections, unspent talents, and reservoirs of energy for things that have nothing to do with the birthing, raising and nurturing of their children. Likewise, I am a woman who is involved in politics, who loves public life and making connections between people who do interesting things for the world, and freelances as a political journalist. I am a woman who is devoted to teaching and performing Latin/ballroom and Middle-Eastern dance, and also to public education. I am a woman who is upset by the fact that the best library of my suburban library system – which is ranked as one of the top twenty in the country – is slated for a $11.1 million renovation while the Philadelphia public libraries are being closed down. I am a woman who wants to make the donation of new books to those city libraries part of the fund-raising efforts of our national blue-ribbon ranked suburban public school system. I am a woman who, upon learning from my fellow patient at Lankenau Cancer Center, that there has never been a welcome-home parade for veterans of the Vietnam War, is wondering how to organize one. I am a woman who is deeply involved in raising three daughters. And I am a woman who writes fiction.
In thinking through and writing this blog post, I have remembered all that I had forgotten, the most important of which is that in writing as in motherhood, life, to paraphrase Audre Lorde, is not lived as a single issue but rather among multiple and often knotty, entangled threads. Today, therefore, I have decided to take a page from mothering. I will assume that blessed mantle and say a few words to The Book: You are not perfect, and I could have done better by you, but I gave all that was possible for me to give. You are not lesser or greater than your future siblings, or any of your friends. You are a part of me, but more than that, you are yourself. Go forth and prosper.