Reading and writing...no 'rithmetic.
Updated: Oct 5
I devoured my book club’s recent selection, So Long, See You Tomorrow, an artistic novella which was described several years ago as “one of the 75 best books of the previous 75 years.”
I am in awe of William Maxwell; he had me at “That opening pistol shot—just one—“could have been a car backfiring...”
New to his remarkable writing, I couldn’t put the book down. The 1980 semi-biographical novella was runner-up for the Pulitzer Price and won a National Book Award. I came upon it at the recommendation of writer, Ann Patchett, when she spoke in Book Passage's "Conversations with Authors" recently.
I loved the book, completely swept away by So Long, See You Tomorrow. I read and read and read some more about William Maxwell.
It’s been three months since a book I labored over for three and a half years took flight into a strange and unsettling universe. I have watched as it made inroads into various lives and I have reveled in both the comments and connections made. Like a toddler taking first steps, my offering wobbles as it goes. But it goes. Virtually, for the most part.
In these past ninety days since publication several reactions occur with fascinating regularity.
The first, of course, is about the cover which by all accounts is stunning. Superlatives abound like “most beautiful book cover ever,” and “instantly drew me into the book.” Other than envisioning it as the front piece of my book, I had nothing to do with the bold expressive beautiful oranges that invite into my story of oranges.
A gentle artist with a flair for drama, Linda Pickering, painted a very large, drippy collection of oranges and orange blossoms and when I saw it in an exhibit, I bought it instantly. At home, I hung it in my living room. A short while later, I took a picture of the painting with my iPhone and printed a place-holder book cover for inspiration. Two years later the placeholder became a reality. The book cover’s reviews are quite juicy!
“How come there are no pictures?” I am asked a lot. My first reaction is that I tried very hard to paint pictures with my writing but understand words don’t exactly convey the realism of photography. I do have some pictures, but for the first decade of the time I wrote about, there were no cell phones or social media and no instantaneous capturing of events like harvests and crushes and plantings and parties or the antics of our big black dog, Steamer. Only memories in my mind.
Over and over I attempted capturing full moons or the layer of fog over the vineyard or the mist on the Matilja Poppies.
No way to do justice to nature’s miraculous presentations.
Especially the sunsets which we witnessed together from our terrace thousands of times, reliable Southern California sunsets disappearing over the western horizon. A wise writer friend told me early on, “Two things you can’t describe with words—an orgasm and a sunset.” Yep, Judy was right.
Even Claude Monet struggled in his artistic portrayals of Mother Nature. “I would love to do orange and lemon trees silhouetted again the blue sea, but I cannot find them the way I want them, ” he said.
Often I'm asked “What’s the address? I want to drive by. I want to see The Orange Woods.”
Politely, I answer that the location is private and belongs to another now. Thank goodness. So, I wouldn’t give that information. But more importantly, my book about The Orange Woods is about a place, a place of our dreams. We created that dream. And when he was gone, and I eventually was gone, The Orange Woods was gone. It exists only in the minds of those who experienced the magic.
People seem to love the thread of my love of art that runs through the book. Quite a few have reported googling paintings I featured. My love of art was and is a great source of healing, learning and inspiration for me. But more than the art, many fancy the music, the soundtrack of our lives at The Orange Woods. Mostly Vince.
There is a lot of comment about Vince Gill, the beloved singer, songwriter, musician, and legend of country music.
“I bought every song of his you mentioned...”
“Best album for sure, The Days...”
“ No song like ‘I Still Believe in You”...
I cannot begin to count the number of times Vince Gill songs played at The Orange Woods."If You Ever Have Forever in Mind..." always. In desperation those last four weeks in the hospital, I played our favorite Vince songs relentlessly hoping for a sign of recognition.
Almost two-thousand days since I lost Jack and I still cannot listen to Vince.
What surprises me most with the book in publication finally is that I thought the aftermath would be markedly different. I thought somehow my grief would disappear. How foolish.
The grief does lessen and sometimes in its place I find myself talking with friends oro readers about their losses and my losses; my husband and my life in the country. Just this week Margaret Larlham, a San Diego artist who painted one my most prized artworks, found my website and sent an endearing email adding, “I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband.”
Almost five years and it felt like it happened just then. It lasted a brief moment and then I realized I had a new friend. A very nice part of Covid.
The memories do lessen; in my book I prayed that I would not forget the details—how he looked, spoke and felt. They fade. Some don’t. Over and over I ask myself, “Why didn’t he wake me as he struggled throughout that night?” or “What could I have done differently? Faster? Longer? Or Slower?”
Somehow, I thought this milestone, this weird Pandemic book launch in my ordinary existence, would be some sort of marker of my life going forward, a life unlike before. I thought I had drawn a line in the sand and stepped over into a new world.
But no. With the book completed, life is not terribly different than life before. Instead the end result of a project I abandoned so many times before completion serves as a constant reminder of a cherished time in my life..
Every time I pass the bookshelf with a small number of my books is stacked, a jab of pain hits first, but soon it's replaced by a calm awareness and then a bushel full of love and heartwarming memories floods my heart and my head. I know I can open my book and inside, page by page, find that life again.
Reread. Rediscover. Re-live. This is a good thing.
The Orange Woods dream is preserved for me forever.
A good reason to write.
And William Maxwell's extraordinary genius is a powerful reason to read. My next choice...
Nice to hear your thoughts & your right about thinking closure might happen! The END is kinda like a book or really good movie, lingers on. MP