Sunday, October 11, 2015

On (mini) sabbatical

Have you ever seen termites in action? I hadn't, until I encountered them this morning, devouring a piece of driftwood well above the high-water line of a Port Townsend beach. Though they were a dull color, blending with the wood, their constant, violent movement caught my eye-- only in time before I stepped on them.

I've been noticing lately that small animals like termites-- that sounds odd, doesn't it, since we usually don't call insects animals, though obviously they are-- can do tremendous damage to objects much larger themselves, and at amazing speed. A few months back I noticed that a beaver (and I think it was a single beaver) had been taking down first saplings and then grown trees (in an area of wetlands reclamation). But of course anyone who has had squirrels aiming to move into their house will know what I'm talking about. The termites, beaver, and squirrels have no notion of doing damage inconvenient to, say, humans. And of course, conversely, all the necessary, beneficial things animals do for us-- think of bees-- is incidental to their purposes as well. It's a different way to think about "nature" (a construct that gets pretty shaky whenever I start to ask myself whether such a concept is in any way meaningful)-- maybe a much more meaningful focus than that of the long-time romantic focus characterized by the phrase "bloody in tooth and claw." Kind of like the difference between historians who see human history as an abstract construction trying to represent an extremely complex set of extremely complex relations on the one hand, and history as a record of the acts and speech of Great Men, who supposedly determine what kind of lives (and for how long) the rest of us live. Well I'll back the termites over Donald Trump, for instance, any day.

But I didn't start this post with the idea of nattering on about termites. Rather, I wanted to say that I'm on sabbatical, for two months, from Aqueduct Press, which Kath, Tom, and Arrate are generously making possible. One side-effect of having become a publisher is that I haven't had the mental space to work on my own novels. I've had one novel nearly finished since around the time I started Aqueduct, which I just have not been able to finish in the two- or three-week artist residencies I've had over the last few years. And I have a few other novel manuscripts dating from the late 80s and early 90s that Kath and others have been urging me to publish, but that need a bit of work--in one case, a major restructuring--before they're ready for publication. One thing about working on a manuscript I haven't picked up in years is that I can look at it now as though it had been written by someone else. And since I've had a lot of practice reading other people's novel mss since starting Aqueduct, my attitude toward revising my own work has become, how shall I say, authoritative. And because it's my own work, I can be positively lavish in employing my red pen and demanding enormous deletions and substantial rewriting. Need I say that I'm enjoying myself immensely?

Of course I still love Aqueduct and its mission. But it's good sometimes to take a break, especially when doing one thing has been preventing you from doing something else that's also important to you.      

No comments: