Courting the unknown

I’m in New York right now, in a small hotel room with a view of the Hudson. I’m here for work, mostly pretty busy, and missing Dave and Paul back home. At night, Dave sends me pictures of Paul in his most frantic mode—not frantic for lack of me, but simply consumed by his regular period of Night Madness. His (the dog’s) eyes look wild, and joyful; I know he experiences abandon in those moments. He shakes his head, again and again, to snap the neck of his favorite toys, to kill them completely, as instinct dictates.

Here we are, already in December. Are we in our wild moments? Are we snapping the neck of this year, or not yet? There are cut trees in the street; they smell like winter. I had dinner last night in a small and excellent restaurant that smelled entirely of mulled wine.

Another thing Paul does with his toys is carry them around in his mouth for comfort when he feels lonesome or uneasy. It’s also that time of year, I think.

People are making lists: of books, of movies, of moments, of articles. If you made any of those books, movies, shows, etc., you will be feeling the pinch of it, like I am. I’m extremely proud of Invitation to a Bonfire; I love my book fiercely, and I’m glad that it’s in the world, that I made it with my hands. I try not to look at all of the lists. It can be hard though.

I was recently featured at an event celebrating the Tucson Festival of Books, and one of the questions I got asked, in front of the audience, was what my most and least favorite parts of being a novelist are. The “most” part is easy: living inside the books, sharing the books with other people. That’s all a gift: it’s a treasure. But it’s harder to explain my least favorite part is: I guess I can just say the vulnerability of putting your work out for the world’s judgment, but it’s more that the vulnerability is always, somehow, a surprise.

It’s not one good or bad review: it’s the quality of always waiting, of knowing that an opinion can reach you at any time. You become permeable.

But anyway. I want to celebrate a few good things that have happened recently, because it can be so much easier for nervy artists to focus on what didn’t happen and brush off the joy of what did. So!

It’s also time for the annual Year in Reading series at The Millions, which is in some ways part of the “lists” phenomenon, but always feels a bit like its antidote. The series looks less at what was new or “best” and more at what just was. What went into your brain? What did it do there? How did you choose to read, and how did it change you? Two or three new pieces in the series are published every day, so keep your eye out. I love it very much.