Other People's Family Stories
It’s been so long since I sent one of these that you may have forgotten signing up. The book and my other job have taken up so much of my linguistic brainpower that assembling other words has been impossible, even in speech. I find myself calling the cats dogs and the dogs cats, reaching in vain for words like stove or mug or pencil. I often start a sentence and run out of steam midway through, leaving Max to wonder what I was trying to say. But the book is truly nearly done and will be out sometime early next year, and creative life outside it is starting to become possible again.
I’m a magpie. Instead of shiny things I collect other people’s stories about families and ancestors and echoes. Here are a few I’ve particularly treasured from friends while holed up in my nest over the past couple years.
“I wrote this book, did my research and searched for women who were fighting in this war — without any sense of my own great-grandmother's story.”—Maaza Mengiste, on the writing of her tremendous Booker-shortlisted novel, The Shadow King, and its unexpected resonances with her own family
“My grandmother admired my grandfather for standing up to his teacher at school, insisting on the importance of ancestor worship for Koreans — something I had heard before, but now know could have sent him to jail or cost him his life.”—Alexander Chee on his grandfather and the Japanese occupation; especially poignant paired with this essay; Alex and I first met after contributing micro-essays about our fathers to a special online issue of Granta
“Like the other women on that side of my family, she waited on her husband, cooking him breakfasts and dinners from The Joy of Cooking and cleaning the house, the architect of her own little prison really, always pretending that he was less of a dick than he was. All of us arrogant and hamstrung, our work never leaving its basements or storage units or dirty studies, our brilliance disappearing or twisting into a kind of tic, into impotent rage.”—Elizabeth Bachner on her grandmother’s hypergraphia, and her own; she recently recommended Alicia Elliott’s A Mind Spread Out Along the Ground to me, and I in turn recommend it to you
I’m still finishing up endnotes and final touches to my manuscript, but I’m told there will be a pub date soon, so I should have more time to be in touch here before long.
All good wishes to you as we enter year two of the pandemic.