Thursday, March 4, 2010

Work in Progress: Two Stunning Essays

I haven’t been writing lately, which is making me miserable. Too busy—the worst excuse of all. But here are a couple of essays I’ve read recently that I found particularly inspiring:

First, Lynne Sharon Schwartz had a great article in the recent issue of AWP’s The Writer’s Chronicle about the use of the double, or doppelganger, in fiction. It struck me that virtually every example she cited involved a male writer and a male doppelganger. Do women not get doubles? I could use one right now—let her do the grocery shopping and go to Staples for more paper. Just kidding—as she points out, most of these situations end up badly for all involved.

Here’s her conclusion:

“Our solitary state in the universe is the source of our deepest dread. Saramago’s hero [from The Double], especially, is beset by profound and existential loneliness. And yet the dread caused by the double is even more potent. We don’t want to be alone in our fragile existence, but even more we don’t there to be anyone quite like us, who shares our nature and our fate. Our uniqueness may be a small thing, delicately sustained, but it is all we have. Once we lose it, we are engulfed by the void, never far off in the best of circumstances.”

Pretty heady stuff to read at four in the morning during a bout of insomnia!

You can find out more about Writer’s Chronicle here, and AWP members can read the piece online here.

Second, inspiring in that “I wish I could write like this but I know I never could” way, was the essay “Scented” in the Spring 2010 issue of The Gettysburg Review. Written by Laura-Rose Russell, this is a beautiful piece about a woman living on a swath of farmland used to raise commercial lilacs and her experience with a female deer. She learns to track animals and then sees signs that deer have infiltrated the fenced barricades designed to keep them out, lest they destroy the plants. Nevertheless, she spends some time watching the doe until hunters arrive to take care of the problem. After shooting the deer, the narrator asks for the hide, which she learns to tan. The process is amazing, and the devotion to the deer—and to this life—is beautifully evoked and thoughtfully presented.

An excerpt fails to capture what’s remarkable about this essay, which relies on the accumulation of detail, but here goes:

“On one of my walks, I found the sharp edges of hoofprints cutting across the driveway. The line of tracks revealed a detail I had read about, but not yet seen—the hind prints overlapped the front prints, falling slightly to the outside, hips wider than the shoulders; my visitor was a female. I lost the trail at the edge of the driveway and dropped to hands and knees, pawing though the grass in search of the next print. I stepped forward with my right hand, and my three middle fingers landed precisely in a heart-shaped depression. I couldn’t see the hoofprint unless I pushed aside the grass, but I could easily feel the shape pressed into the soft dirt below. Crawling forward, I found more hidden tracks. The deer’s stride was the same as my own on all fours. I studied the marks, noting the subtle creases that remain in blades of grass sprung back to standing after the deer’s hoof has lifted.”

You can find out more about The Gettysburg Review here. Yes, too bad the essay isn’t available on line, but on the other hand, I know it’s worth the $ to get a copy of the journal.

Disclosure per the FTC overlords: I subscribe to both of these magazines, meaning I pay my own cold, hard cash for them.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.