Okay, this is about jealousy.
My author, L, has been spending so much time on that other book — the one about Mavis — she hardly even takes a moment to acknowledge me with a “good morning” these days.
She’s at work on half a dozen projects at once. I trained as an artist, and so I understand the value of working on several pieces at the same time. I do. During the first year of my BFA, I took a studio class in sculpture with the wise Professor Weise. He counseled his students to work in series. It will prevent you, he said, from weighing down the piece in front of you. Say there’s an artist, and her current subject, the idea that preoccupies her, is the idea of Guitar; she’ll want to explore that idea in a number of different ways with a number of different media, producing, say, ten or a dozen related pieces. One of the beauties of this, said Professor Weise, is that she won’t go trying to put everything she’s ever felt or thought about Guitar into just one piece. She won’t overload the piece in front of her, because she’s allowed herself, say, nine or eleven other places she can put some of those ideas and emotions. And so her thoughts and feelings will sit more lightly in each of the pieces in the series, and, paradoxically, carry more weight.
Now, say you’re a writer, and your current subject, your preoccupation is Human Beings. You’d be wise to be working on a number of different writing projects, each of which might express a new take on Human Beings. That way you don’t try to put the whole world into one book, one story, one person.
Well, theory’s fine, but this is my life. How’s a character supposed to feel special under these conditions? How’s a character supposed to remember what she’s really about and feel confident to keep doing what she’s meant to do when her author’s preoccupied with so many other projects? There’s Mavis, like I said, and now in the past couple of weeks there’s someone called Mandy, the new little darling who seems to have sprung from nowhere, only fourteen years old, and what could she possibly have to tell us about the world at such a tender age? Then there’s the nonfiction. Don’t get me started. L’s so infatuated with her nonfiction, she’s even lifted a bit of it and set it down in my story, where she expects me to welcome it with open arms. She calls this intertextuality. Writers can dream up a word to excuse just about anything
The state of affairs bothered me so much I gathered my envy and my misgivings and my nerve into one gooey mass and lobbed it at her. What the hell, Kate? she said, wiping a splatter off her cheek, dabbing at her shirt-front with a damp cloth. Sit down, she said. We’re due for a talk. She wasn’t unsympathetic, but at the same time, well, Welcome to the club. You’re not alone. What writer, she said, hasn’t envied a young upstart who seems to have become a darling overnight, someone who couldn’t possibly have enough life experience to be qualified to say anything worthwhile? There might even be writers, L speculated, who, in their worst moments, will consider adopting some flavour-of-the-month style that’s worlds away from how they themselves work. I could do that, they might think. Why don’t I do that, maybe that’s the way to find readers nowadays. Forget about those others, Kate, L told me. The secret is to do what you are meant to do, and keep on doing that. I know you wish you were Mavis, but the only reason you wish that is because just now she’s getting so much of my attention. Believe me, you don’t want to be Mavis. You want to go on being Kate. Mavis has nothing to do with you, she’s here to have an entirely different set of escapades. You’d best let her go ahead, because that leaves you free to do what you do.
The work of art I’m looking at above is one of a series by Saskatoon artist and art educator Ann Donald (used with permission).