Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Love only what you do, and make.

When I applied to Yaddo a few months ago, I wasn't thinking too much about my chances. It was something proactive at a time when I needed to be thinking about the future, so I felt good just dropping the application in the mail. As the day of judgment approached, though, I half-convinced myself I couldn't get in, despite the warm encouragement of Jonathan Santlofer (former Yaddo board member, artist, author, and all-around awesome guy).

But I did get in! I got the letter on Friday. This is a tremendous honor and opportunity, and I intend to suck the marrow out of the whole experience. So many 20th-century American heavyweights have stayed at Yaddo—Truman Capote, Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and on and on—it's very humbling, to think of them.

Of that list of luminaries, Sylvia Plath's is the name that resonates most with me, though I feel a little guilty admitting it. Not that she wasn't a brilliant poet, but her work is the stuff you live on when you're nineteen and hopelessly misunderstood (or such is your belief at the time). I picked up a copy of The Unabridged Journals when I was in college, and naturally I had to go back and read the entries she wrote at Yaddo in the fall of 1959. She sketches ornate old furniture and wall sconces, describing photographs and engravings in minute detail, and frequently doubts the quality and importance of her work:
I feel a helplessness when I think of my writing being nothing, coming to nothing: for I have no other job - - - not teaching, not publishing. And a guilt grows in me to have all my time my own. I want to store money like a squirrel stores nuts. Yet what would money do. We have elegant dinners here: sweetbreads, sausages, bacon and mushrooms; ham and mealy orange sweet potatoes; chicken and garden beans. I walked in the vegetable garden, beans hanging on the bushes, squash, yellow and orange, fattening in the dapple of leaves, corn, grapes purpling on the vine, parsley, rhubarb. And wondered where the solid, confident purposeful days of my youth vanished. How shall I come into the right, rich full-fruited world of middle-age. Unless I work. And get rid of the accusing, never-satisfied gods who surround me like a crown of thorns. Forget myself, myself. Become a vehicle of the world, a tongue, a voice. Abandon my ego.

Try a first-person story and forget John Updike and Nadine Gordimer. Forget the results, the markets. Love only what you do, and make. Learn German. Don't let indolence, the forerunner of death, take over. Enough has happened, enough people entered your life, to make stories, many stories, even a book. So let them onto the page and let them work out their destinies.
A 27-year-old acclaimed poet, bemoaning her wasted youth! (Also, of course, ridiculously ironic given the manner in which she died.) But I love what she's getting at in the second paragraph: it isn't about you, it's about the story. You have nothing to prove, and everything to tell.

4 comments:

Susan said...

And I am so looking forward to hearing all your stories!

Kate said...

Congrats Mealey!

Pare said...

Um, HOLY CRAP? In my defense I was out of the country and thus missed this post, but still.

CONGRATULATIONS, one hundred times over. And then again.

nova said...

Major, major CONGRATS on Yaddo! We figured out on Twitter that we'll be there around the same time, right, maybe, I hope so? Can't wait to meet you!