How well do I know Sunshine, my daughter, my little ray of warmth and hope? Do I know her well enough to write a novel she would read?
She doesn’t have time or inclination to read novels I would read. She doesn’t care about postmodern manipulations of time, or the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes ripples of time in his novels. She cares about feminine autonomy, but doesn’t have the forbearance to look for subversive elements of it in Edna Pontellier’s suicide. She isn’t a Scary Books fan. She doesn’t really care about how fiction writers use fiction to situate their metaphysical belief systems in a framework others can appreciate.
She wants to be transported. She wants to be entertained, but she also wants believability. She read the sparkly vampire books. She read those in a way I hadn’t ever seen her read books before. Being the daughter of a voracious reader must have its inherent frustrations…much like being the daughter of an alcoholic carries its own special burdens. I never pushed her. I read to her all the time, beginning in utero. It isn’t like I have ever said no to a book purchase, and it’s not like the books couldn’t push us out of our own living space. She’s just more particular than I am about how she spends her time reading.
I think a lot about writing a novel. I always say I’m not the creative writer in the family. I’m the scholar, the critic, the theorizer. Those that can’t do, critique. Right? She’s reading a book now about a girl whose mother writes her secrets into a novel, changes the names, but everyone knows who the novel is about, and teenage angst ensues. I’ve read reviews on goodreads, and it seems like another lame tale of teenage girl woe, but Sunshine is exhibiting signs of voracious readership again. Other young female reviewers expressed intense feelings about it too. When I ask “What do you like about it?”, she says it’s interesting, or she likes the characters, or she likes the story. I write 20 pages every ten weeks in answer to that question. I could hardly ever be satisfied with just a good set of characters. I’m so hi-brow.
BUT maybe that’s why I’m not the creative writer here. Big Daddy hates to read, unless it’s Saul Bellow, and you can’t hardly offer him enough to like reading. He is the creative writer though, cranking out two or more short stories a week. Good ones, too. Ones he should submit for publishing but doesn’t. I always have stories and characters floating around in my head, that aren’t of the mental health variety, but I get so caught up in the deployment of theory that I never get very far. Too many details; not enough big picture. I’m going to start thinking about these ideas in terms of What Would Sunshine Read? My own little WWSR.
The thing is that I want to share with her my love of language, of signification, of uncoupling binaries and the implications of social context in literature, and the ways in which women have been using words to fight for autonomy since they first approached the phallic symbol of writing (the pen), but she just doesn’t think or feel about it the same way I do. She’s only 19, and I didn’t think about it like that then either. Maybe instead of trying to influence her with my ideology, or feeling frustrated because I can’t, I should let her influence me. Isn’t that what “being inspired” is really all about anyway? Maybe so.
I want to leave her a legacy of thought, of independent thought. I want her to feel like she belongs to something larger than just this small association of genes and marriage certificates that is the Rosenbaum-Finley family. I want her to know that she is more than just my daughter, but that she’s all mothers’ daughter in a long line of daughters, stretching back to the first daughter and reaching all the way out to the last daughter. And most importantly, I want her to know that her inclusion in that female family is significant, pivotal. I want her to know that being a daughter is just as important as being a mother. Motherhood gets all the glory when at least half of what makes motherhood so glorious is daughters. I say a lot that this journey toward a PhD is for me, is my dream, but more than half of it is about her, for her. I write criticisms that almost always run against the mainstream simply because I can and because I am good at it. That Thomas Mann paper is some of the most beautiful strings of words I’ve ever put together. Hopefully the Oxford Press will look past my deconstructive antagonism and see that.
Truly, Sunshine’s opinion is really the only one I care about. She is the last of her name, protector of the realm, liberator of slaves, soother of savage beasties, and the mother of dragons, so it’s her I want to impress. She is a discerning reader, only expending the effort and time on what really interests her, and I want to write something that makes it through her filters. That would be me, being a successful writer.
I’ll keep you posted!!