Monday, August 5, 2013

Letters of Katie Crenshaw 08/05/13

Darling, 08/05/13
I finished Sophie’s Choice today. Quel livre! I want to know how much of it was true, how much imagined. It is autobiographical to some extent--the narrator is definitely a Styron character--though the story revolves around Sophie. I looked at a book of Styron’s letters today, and according to a timeline in the front of the book, Styron did meet a Sophie who survived Auschwitz. I really want to know if his Prospect Park apartment was actually pink. It seems too good to be true, such a wonderful detail.
       In early letters, Styron did things that all beginning writers probably do, such as send things to The New Yorker and ask professors for advice about where to submit to avoid making the decision oneself. This sticks out to me because I just read an article counseling would-be writers about how to submit their work. Submitters are advised to find journals that publish work either that they admire or that is similar to theirs; preferably both. Of course, you hope that your essay is great and original; unlike what the journal has already published but exactly like what it will publish in the next issue. 
     Alas, the literary journals are rather fiction heavy, which is hard for the memoirist/essay writer, especially since the personal essay gets the most flack of all. Fiction makes the personal public, they say, and the world loves fiction. Can I do it? Well, that’s another story. My personal essays have interesting forms, which is a plus.
       For the record, my childhood (teenhood, anyway) bedroom is sunflower/saffron/jaundice/mustard/tumeric/pollen in color. By the way, I’ll be sleeping in that room tomorrow night—vacation! I also lived in a chartreuse room for a year. Both color choices were mine; the latter was my paint job, too. My current enclosure is white with smoke stains.
       What could be the relation between pen as writing implement and pen as enclosure? Aside from the obvious. The Online Etymological Dictionary points out that pen and penitentiary have similar roots. OED says that Latin paenitere means “to cause or feel regret,” which has to do with Latin "paene," almost. So… the pen is regretful of its shortcomings? But there’s also a Latin root that means punishment. The pen inflicts painful punishment on writers and, sometimes, on subjects. If you think about this too long, another SEEMingly-related word may occur to you, particularly relevant to the Styron book. It has a different root, apparently. 
       Well, about the Styron letters: he kept up correspondence with an old prof. I imagine that, particularly before he was published, that magisterial encouragement was nice to have. Also, Styron abbreviates the literary Virginia W. as Va., which I find charming. He was a loyal Virginian.
       Oh darling, having you to write to is wonderful. I’ve been rather gloomy today, and I felt better as soon as I started taking notes.
       In Washington Square, a woman reading a comic book is interrupted by a men selling stickers and another selling sorrow. The two visitors don’t stop to talk to me, seated on a bench nearby. I think of commenting to the woman at how often people stopped to talk to her but realized that it would put me next in the line of accosters.
       A bagpiper is playing out of tune near the port-a-potties. Two reasons, both aural and nasal, that her audience is small.
       I finally went in Citarella, that fancy food store whose name always reminds me of citronella candles, particularly because the logo is orange. There's also some vague Cendrillon/citrouille/pumpkin wire crossing going on that makes orange seem appropriate. So at that store, I found an unusual food item to bring home to the folks. Waiting in line, I was in close quarters with a crowd of older women, which was unusual to me. I’m used to the public solitude of the subway and of the street, but because my local grocery, C-Town, has very short lines, I rarely experience that feeling in a supermarket. Plus, my hands are usually full, which prevents note-taking. Today, as I stood in line with my rare grain, a tiny little girl was pushing around a hand basket containing a package of meat, the sole item of her mother’s shopping trip, and getting in the way. She is at an age when you need a stroller not because the child can’t get around but because she can. Her mother picked her up, in the end. There was an old lady in a sundress. Not really much to report, but it interested me. Unlike at grocery stores from which people drive away, I got to watch the characters from the line issuing from the store with their white-and-orange bags and taking their next steps: turning right, waiting for buses and, like me, heading straight for subway solitude. 

Time to pack!