Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Post From the Lost Blog

There are times, many times, when I’m thankful I’m not in a reality TV show. Like while trying to empty the dishwasher while my two-year-old daughter smears yogurt on herself and my six-year-old daughter inquires as to whether she might ditch this scene for a ride around the block, for which, she knows, I’m not on board. Or like tonight, hauling 80 pounds of girl uphill in a wagon, heading back from the park since I nixed the solo bike ride around the block, and I’m sweating, head down, past two twenty-ish looking guys drinking beer on their front porch, who say hey—because this is the South—in a fairly neighborly way, I must give them credit, but I can barely breathe it back and my clothes are sticking to me and this is pretty much how I feel most of the time, hauling, sweating, sticky.

But the big problem tonight is that my husband is in a small plane with his brother, flying home from Greenville. When my brother-in-law announced his intentions to become a pilot (four months ago) I was like Great! Yay for you! I’d love to do that! And then yesterday my husband said he was going to fly to Greenville with him and my heart unhinged itself and dropped into my gut and I said, “It’s a three-hour drive, buy an audio book!”

And he looked at me, so disappointed, and how could I explain to him my fear? He knows I love him. He knows me. But how could I say no when we’d been on a plane just last weekend, flying commercial to a family wedding—how could I explain that I was OK with that because if the plane went down I would get to be with him and our children for my last moments?

I am sick, sick, sick.

So it’s 10:22 PM and he should be close to home. And what do I have to say about writing? Pretty much all of the above. Sweating, scared, all uphill. Embarrassing, how I jiggle past the relaxed, the reclined, the beer-sipping rest of the world.

And what the hell am I doing on a blog about southern writing? Last year a story from my forthcoming third book (Stories from the Afterlife, Press 53, November 1, if you must know) got into New Stories from the South, and then I found myself on WUNC radio chit-chatting with Allen Gurganus and Luke Whisnant about what it means to be a southern writer.

But I really couldn’t say jack about that. I’ve lived in South Carolina and North Carolina all my life except high school and college in Ohio, where my parents now live. But during that high school time, I worked hard for a Midwestern accent. I learned to say “pop” for soda. I came to believe toboggans were sleds. And so now, whenever I'm asked if I think of myself as a southern writer, I feel like I have a trap door under my ass. It's just nerve wracking. I mean, isn't it enough to just take the risk of thinking of oneself a writer? That took me years and years, and I still never admit to it in day-to-day company. I mean, why would you? People either get really uptight because they think you think you’re smarter than they are, or they become indulgently smug like you're some kind of freak or they're opportunists all of a sudden, ready with ten ideas to pitch.

If you think it’s such a goddamn great story why don’t you write it?

(That’s what I’d like to say but I’m trying to be polite living here in the South.)

Really, give me a break! I’m still over here trying to empty the frickin’ dishwasher!

(Frickin’ being a term I heard in Ohio but it feels geeky even now.)

I’ll just say this. I once pulled a short story from a literary magazine I'd submitted to blind and then, after seeing a sample issue, reconsidered. Why? Because it looked like someone had photocopied his ass for the cover and then scrawled on some pages and stapled the whole thing together, not even neatly. I'd been trying to place this particular story for like four years at that point, with no takers. In spite of that fact, I thought the story was good, and if I wasn't going to get paid I at least wanted to be proud of where it landed. It took me seven years to place that story, with a tiny university-based literary magazine (as if one needs the modifier “tiny” in association with literary magazines), but that turned out to be the story my agent noticed, so it was worth the wait. Because of this experience, I believe in trusting one's instincts.

I believe in sweating, head-down hope.

My husband just called. He’s on the ground.

I’m in the clouds.


Bio: Quinn Dalton is the author of a novel, High Strung, and two story collections, Bulletproof Girl and Stories from the Afterlife. She lives in Greensboro, NC with her husband and two daughters.

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