Reading & Writing

This was previously posted on another (one of my own) blog, but I think it will serve as a nice introduction to this new blog. 

Last week at Creating Iris, I wrote about the challenge I'd set for myself: read a physical book every day for a month. I've been good about the challenge, but not so good about blogging about it! I'll try to do better, not least because my reading itself really has been better! The biggest change I've noticed is that I'm less distracted when I read. In turn, this means that I'm reading much more thoughtfully, and remembering my reading much more clearly. Even though I spent the bulk of this week reading technical papers for work, I've found myself enjoying my bedtime book - at present, Mark C. Taylor's Speed Limits, a poetic yet academic study of the gradual (and not-so-gradual) hastening of the pace of human life - and, better yet, not having to read back a few paragraphs to remember where I'd left off the night before.

But I've also noticed that I've started writing again, too. The best writers are usually the most voracious readers, after all. And at least for myself, in practice, I've found it to be true. One of my ongoing projects began its life in the margins of Helene Cixous's Les reveries de la femme sauvage. My copy - which cost me an entire day's take-home pay when I bought it in 2008, when I was still in college - is filled with marginalia. Sometimes in pencil, sometimes in ink, my handwriting winds its way around Cixous's prose: I can see exactly what prompted me to jot down an idea for a scene or a particular turn of phrase because it's right next to the words that inspired it. Sometimes, I dated the entries - for example, I know that I read (and wrote) along with this book because there are 'entries' for 2010 and 2012. In its own way, her novel became a kind of journal.

When you read something, of course, you're not just reading the text in front of you. You're reading those words in concert with all the other words you've read, and your brain, whether you're aware of it or not, is making connections between your current book and something you might have read (or heard, or seen) earlier that day or years before. When I'm reading from my phone, I find that the connections I make are primarily social: a turn of phrase will remind me of an article someone posted, or of something I meant to share, and the spell is broken by the intrusion of the real world. I open Facebook, find the link, and give it to my friend; in so doing, I lose the thread of the story. In print, it's just me, the text, a pencil, and the lines of poetry running through my head. In my case, in this book, my reading of Cixous's novel danced with lines by Pablo Neruda. I recognize them in bits and pieces, sometimes attributed, sometimes not. Here is a record, then, that five years ago, I was reading Cixous and thinking of Neruda and writing my own stories into being, too.

On December 9, 2010, I wrote almost a full page of text, a little snapshot into the lives of my two protagonists, a middle-aged, moderately well-to-do, entirely adorable lesbian couple. They belong, I should say, to a book which will in all likelihood never find a publisher because I love the characters too much to make anything bad happen to them. (That said, if you've read the first issue of Iris: New Writing for LGBTQ+ Young Adults, then you've actually met the two characters who are closest to my heart; a vignette from this unpublished manuscript appears as a standalone story, 'Call Things As They Are.') But apparently I was thinking about the need to have truth in fiction - and so, this vignette captures one of my favorite memories from my study abroad: that of flying over London at sunrise. It's a memory that I gave to these two characters whom I love so much, and yet, reading their little story, my own comes back.

Tuterappelles, the facing page says, this time Cixous's words, not mine. Tuterappelles is an ongoing theme in the book, a kind of sibling-secret phrase that belongs to the languages we create with family, our first friends. But tu te rappelles, the phrase itself, means do you remember and tonight, looking through this book, feeling its pages, whispering the words of a language I speak but rarely, seeing my own writing, half in English, half in French, twisting its way round the corners, all I can think is yesI remember.