Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stumped

That's how I feel about this week's blog post: stumped. It's not that there are no topics available. There was that article in the NY Times a week or two ago, pointed out to me by a faithful blog reader, written by an African American man who takes the train to work into NYC everyday and who has observed that the seat beside him consistently is left empty by white passengers, even when all the other seats in his car are filled. And, he pointed out right off the bat, that he has excellent hygiene and wears very good business suits.
      And there's the novel I'm reading now, called Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) (the other Elizabeth Taylor, as she sometimes is called)--a British writer. The book opens when the widowed Mrs. Palfrey is moving to a rooming house for the elderly, all by herself and in a taxi, no one to help her, as she and her daughter don't care much for each other, and she and her grandson don't either. It's a fascinating book, about age and loneliness and odd bondings of people. One could say (and for the sake of unity in this blog post, I will) that the characters in this novel are in the same situation as that man on the train in the NY Times article. I could say a lot more about how it's got me stirred up and focused on age, but I won't.
     And then there are all the stories about people I've met and the stories they've told me at my various book events, some of which I have told in previous posts. But there are many more I could tell. Instead, I'll just tell one thing I learned at a book event last week: Even though the errors in my novel were corrected when the book went into paperback, they have not been corrected in the Kindle version. I'd like to do something about that, but really am not sure where to start. Ideas? Volunteers?
     So the word "stump" came into my mind as I was thinking about what to write this week, and I started looking at pictures of tree stumps, and I realized that some of them look like a kind of tunnel or entryway into the underground. The word omphalo comes to mind: umbilicus or navel. And the omphalos stone (meaning center of the universe) at the shrine of Delphi.
Sometimes at readings, I have told a story about a tree stump that inspired the ending of my novel. The story (in very abbreviated form) is that while I was researching my novel, I was a guest in the home of an old friend. She was out of town, so I was alone in her home for several days, researching, writing, pacing. It was summer and very hot, but her home was freezing because I could not figure out how to adjust the AC. So I would sit, wrapped in a blanket looking out her back window, which had a lovely view down a hill to a creek and a wooded area. One day I decided to go outside to warm up and walk down to the creek. I noticed a tree stump and headed for that, as a place to sit. When I got to the stump, however, I saw that although it looked solid from the front, like a place where one could sit, it was completely decayed and decomposed around the back when one got the full view of it.
     You know what decaying wood looks like--spongy and moist and layered and orangish, with all manner of beetles and other insect life scurrying around. And as I stood there, looking at the solid front and the decaying back, it struck me that everything depends on perspective. What one sees depends on the angle from which one looks and how closely one looks. And this struck me as so important a thought, and so relevant to my novel, that I scurried back up to the house, opened my laptop, and drafted the last scene of my book. If you look at the last page of the novel, you will see a reference to that tree stump.
     So there you have it. A stump can be an opening. It can even be a house.

6 comments:

rasirds@cox.net said...

Very enjoyable and thoughtful!

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, dear.

Jim Poznak said...

And during this election season, the politicians are on the stump for votes.

Susan Messer said...

good point.

Albrecht Endurer said...

All the things you said you would not talk about. Inappropriate for a blog such as this one? Blog not meant to be a diary of ones feelings or worries? The empty seat on the train. . .a stump---I agree are signs or at least places to start on The Discomforts or Diverse and unintegrated feelings/thoughts.

Susan Messer said...

Not inappropriate at all . . . just not in the mood to write about those topics. Another day perhaps. It was like a circling in, trying to find where my writing energy was . . .