Well, the school year is about to start, and I now have two unfinished writing projects instead of the usual one. Three, if you count my ambition to arrange my poetry into a collection. Now, as I turn my attention to preparing classes, and as I, like the rest of Charlottesville, reel from the recent invasion of the alt-right, I am more grateful than ever for the support and patience of my fellow BACCA members. I hope to publish, and to reach a wider audience, but meanwhile, as always, it is writing and friendship that keep me sane. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that BACCA is a place where we support each other in the struggle for meaning. I spoke with a friend today who teaches at Piedmont Community College, and, when asked to address one of the many meetings held to prepare for teaching in these troubled times, she surprised herself by bursting out crying. We talked about the scariness of this allegedly “post-truth” era. I think that each writer is like a miner, digging for the truth of his or her own experience. I told her that, in crying, she probably did her colleagues good, because she was expressing what many of them longed to but couldn’t. I hope that in BACCA we can continue to devote ourselves to such expression, whether in joy, sadness, or the more common in-between territory, and to support each other in this devotion. Thanks to you all. Onward.
The recent election changed me. Like thousands of others, I had always felt I was doing my duty by speaking my mind (mostly on facebook and with friends) and by voting. Now I think of myself as a “baby activist.” I am full of admiration for those who have been calling, writing, and showing up all along to communicate with their representatives and hold them accountable, and now I am trying to do the same.
But fundamentally, I am a writer, and it is my response as a writer that (I hope) could be most valuable. I am just finishing up a novel on which I have worked for a very long time, and I find that the widening inequalities in our country have put a new idea into my head. I want to celebrate our “non-celebrities.” These are the people who will not appear on T.V. shows except perhaps for a few seconds, whose pay barely keeps them alive, and who do good in numberless ways. The people who first come to mind are the CNAs–Certified Nursing Assistants– who take care of our elderly in assisted living and nursing homes. Their jobs are very difficult and grossly underpaid, yet so many of them are remarkably patient, compassionate and effective. They do a lot of good, and yet, they are undervalued and, to many, they are invisible.
I don’t know yet in what form I would like to write about these people–fiction, non-fiction, or a combination of the two. And maybe this is one of those ideas that arise only to disappear. But it has that exciting, half-submerged feeling of an idea that won’t go away. A perspective in which so many people are so underestimated is an unbalanced perspective. I would like to add a little weight to the other side of the scale.
I have been asked for a one-line description of my novel, which, as you may know, doesn’t seem much easier than writing the novel. Below is what I’ve come up with. Do you think that if you were an agent this would encourage you to read more?
A flock of swans, a polluted pig wallow, and a versatile microbe bring a new virus to the town of Buxton on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; the virus does its work of taking over bodies, while Buxton residents such as a disillusioned environmentalist, a young single mother, and a shy priest come face to face with their fear of death and their need for each other.