NaNoWriMo. Google it. Read about it. I can’t date the beginning of my relationship first with zines, then blogs to the day, exactly, but I know roughly when I started finding each one and hungry for more, looking for the next. It began about five or maybe six years ago. For me, the entrance of zines and then blogs into my world, zines and blogs mostly by women, mostly by mothers who were interested in writing and other art, was the re-entry of the possibility, followed by the more regular practice, of my writing. Not legal briefs, not grant reports, but writing. This kind of writing, and a few poems.
The zines and blogs I found when I first started finding them were almost all by women. Mothers. They created a kind of hopeful excitement and enthusiasm for me that I had felt at other times at feminist cultural events, concerts, poetry readings, and very often at gatherings and events at my partner’s old feminist bookstore. Her wonderful little shop, now gone to give way for things that cannot even begin to replace what her bookstore was and did and offered.
I have said it before; I am a loyal girl– the first blogs I read were these; Ariel Gore, Susan Ito, Vicki Forman. Now, two women, MamaCandtheBoys and Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser are part of my weekly nutrition.
Susan Ito, I think, took the NaNoWriMo challenge at least once a number of years ago and wrote on her blog about it. I read with interest about her adventures with this challenge. Other blogging women whose names I do not remember, but who read or were linked to or commented on Susan’s blog, did too. So through her, and other women working on the same project with her, I learned of NaNoWriMo.
I have never given even one thought to writing a novel. My very literary friends, my less literary but book-group going friends–many are puzzled by my overall lack of deep interest in the great form– the novel. I don’t actually read that many of them. I don’t have a philosophy about this, I don’t defend it. I write poetry, short stories, this blog, other prose and for now at least, that is it. I read the same; poems, essays, short stories, journalism, things now called creative non-fiction.
Novel writers have enormous, inventive imaginations and I wouldn’t say longer, but very different attention spans than mine. They must have both longer attention spans and a lesser need to hold a whole piece in mind and understand every part of it intimately. Or an ability to hold larger pieces of work in mind all at once, than what I can hang on to. I like something I can practically memorize. I can read (and have read) the same poems, the same short stories or essays literally dozens and dozens of times and still return to them, over and over and over, wanting what each has to offer and learning something new with each read. I don’t have that relationship at this time, with novels.
As I began moving around through the blogosphere, I learned about many outlets for writers, many things about what is currently going on in the writing world, with great interest. But as I came across other writers in subsequent years who were working on NaNoWri Mo I never gave it the slightest thought for myself, for all the aforementioned reasons. For a writer and a poet and lover of poetry, and a very avid reader of poetry, I am rigidly, strangely literal about some things. I couldn’t do it because I am not a novelist nor am I would-be novelist.
Recently, I have been reading Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser quite regularly. In the past several days Sarah has been writing a lot about how overwhelmingly busy, exhausted-to-the-bone she is. For me as a reader, I met this with sympathy and concern.
Last night, later at night, I finally had some time. Not a lot, but a little. And I sat quietly and read carefully Sarah’s blog post about doing NaNoWriMo with her son, the same blog posts I have been skimming at breakneck speed before I shut down the computer. She described some things about working day and night or whenever she does work, on 50,000 words of memoir for NaNoWriMo about her family’s open adoption of her daughter, her youngest child. She describes some of what she is learning and thinking as she writes– about adoption, open adoption.
I called my partner into the room. For starters, I wanted her company. I also thought she-who-reads-no-blogs would get a kick out of learning about NaNoWriMo. Because Sarah’s piece was not only about NaNoWriMo but also about adoption, a subject dear to us, I read it aloud to my partner– who is both a reader and a truly outgoing person, and likes to know who my blogger women friends are and what is up with them and what I am reading.
My partner, as I have written before, ran an important feminist bookstore in the 1970’s and 1980’s and early 1990’s. She ran it with a love of women’s voices, the work of women, the ideas of women, a love of and commitment to communal spaces for women to share these ideas. Many now well-known women writers found an important venue and welcoming home for their very important work, in hers and other bookshops like hers. May Sarton, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Dorothy Allison, Adrienne Rich, Cheryl Clarke, June Jordan, Evi Beck, Sara Paretsky, and many, many others read, drew women together around them to hear their words, and found engaged and welcoming audiences in that bookshop. I fell in love with my partner there, but also away from there, when she wasn’t working at making the place run, but could tell me and I could listen to what she thought and what doing what she did meant to her. Her store was a very special place.
Social media and the internet are amazing ways to build connections that couldn’t happen otherwise. This post is all about what I have found in this relatively new way. There are new cultural spots for young women inventing themselves and their own cultures now. But while the presence of the internet and social media have brought us connections we could never have made without them, they have also replaced to some extent, what they cannot possibly replace; people coming together to think and create together in the same physical space, in real contact with one another. My partner’s store was never a profitable place; she wanted and insisted on too many things with too much integrity and she served too many women with too little money, for it to succeed in that way. It was more like a community center, and ultimately her need to make a living made it impossible to continue.
For years I have tried different tactics to cajole, coerce, pressure, help, support, entice or otherwise convince my partner to write the stories of her shop and its amazing history and life. I want her and many others for that matter, to write and to preserve what happened there, which is important. I also know, which she does not, that her particular voice is critical to preserve. Sometimes she has even agreed, but she has never done it. But last night I read her the description of NaNoWriMo and then most of Sarah’s blog post. I looked up at her and said, we are too deep in November to start now. What do you say, next year I will work on something for NaNoWriMo if you take the month of November and write 50,000 words about your bookstore? To my surprise she nodded, walked over to me, gave me a high-five, a fist bump, a big smile and her enthusiastic agreement. And a kiss.
Stay tuned. And thank you Sarah, for the hours of lost sleep and aching neck and back or whatever happens when you work too hard for weeks on end. One good work begets others. I cannot wait to read more of yours and my partner’s new work, coming next fall.