It’s going to take more posts than I anticipated to do justice to Orwell’s “four great motives for writing prose.” I spent all day thinking about his first motive: “sheer egotism,” and breaking it into its component parts: To seem clever
To be talked about
To be remembered after death
To get your own back on grownups who snubbed you in childhood.
“It is humbug to pretend that this is not a motive and a string one,” he concludes.
The nun is reading a little notebook full of my stories. Her name is Mother Anne Corbett and she is my fourth grade teacher. We are on the school bus, where children must sit in silence until they get off the bus. Mother Corbett sits in a side seat at the front. I am in a front-facing seat in the middle of the bus. Oh please let her admire my stories and think I am special. (She does, she did.)
The “ladies” in the upper left hand corner are legion in my child life. Their hats, their pigeon-chested figures. They are on the inside of the churchyard fence, discussing me and my “strange little family.” “The grandmother puts on airs,” one says, “but there is something about that little trio that is not quite-quite.” “They want you to think they once had money,” sats the other, “but they sure don’t now. The three of them sleep in the same bedroom of that awful apartment house.” “True, the child goes to St. Genevieve’s, but the mother teaches in the junior college there, so the child’s undoubtedly on scholarship.” “Oh, Gail’s clever, all right, but there’s something off-putting…she sidles up to adults to eavesdrop on their conversations…theres something too eager about her, she ‘s always exceeding her non-member swimming pass to the Country Club…”
The dancing couple represents the exalted enclosure of the country club. (I finally did a number on country clubs in the Maud section of Unfinished Desires.)
The cross-legged girl dreaming of The Big Apple is me, age 29, in Iowa City. Oh, God, will I make it? Soon I’ll be thirty and I’ve published nothing. What if I get to be, say, forty, and am still not a published writer? Will I kill myself? I’d better get a Ph.D, just in case.”
The woman in the white nightgown looking longingly toward the Woodstock Artists Cemetery is the old writer who has published twenty books of prose, but is afraid that, once under that slab to the right of Robert’s slab, nobody will remember her. In the Woodstock Artists Cemetery, many of the stones have the artist’s occupation: Painter…Sculptor…Violinist. Robert’s stone identifies him as “Composer.” I will have “Writer” on my stone.
So some people are strolling up and down the little hillocks at the Artists Cemetery. A mother and daughter? “Mommy, what did that dead person write?” A couple in love, wondering if they’ll ever die and lie next to each other. “Oh, look, Composer and Writer lie side by side. What did he compose, I wonder, what did she write?”
“Beats me, honey, but at least they’re still together.”