It’s been an odd week. Of course, the last couple years have been odd, with spikes of weirdness piercing individual months. Endurance is the name of the game, and mine is faltering more than a little lately.
I hit somewhat of a nadir, so I pulled out the big guns. I actually–gasp!–asked for help, and while I was waiting for the request to wend its way through the labyrinth of electrons every email must traverse, I pulled out the big guns.
That’s right, I returned to Nabokov.
Dear ol’ Vlad’s gotten me through a lot. This time I blazed through Lolita and my personal favorite, Invitation to a Beheading, and now I’m deep in the garden of my second favorite, Ada, and the words have worked their magic. I have been nourished, and I think I’m recovering. But I want to talk about something smaller today.
In 1956 Nabokov wrote an afterword to Lolita.1
And when I thus think of Lolita, I seem to always pick out for special delectation such images as Mr. Taxovich, or that class list of Ramsdale school, or Charlotte saying “waterproof,” or Lolita in slow motion advancing toward Humbert’s gifts, or the pictures decorating the stylized garret of Gaston Godin, or the Kasbeam barber (who cost me a month of work)…These are the nerves of the novel. These are the secret points, the subliminal co-ordinates by means of which the book is plotted…Vladimir Nabokov, “On a Book Entitled Lolita“
I often talk about the “hidden hooks”, the secret places where a book’s tapestry is fastened to something solid in order to make it hang right. I hadn’t realized, though I’d read that afterword at least ten times, that Nabokov was talking about the same thing, though in his own inimitable style. Of course, a Perfessor of Reel True Litrachur will no doubt sniff that my work bears as much relation to Mr Sirin’s as a spavined nag to a gleaming unicorn, but that doesn’t concern me.
I gave what might be termed a violent start of recognition. (As ol’ Vlad might have said, a reader “leapt up, ruffling their hair.”)
One of the things giving me much trouble lately is a certain revision. I had to throw out some2 demands masked as suggestions, and once I did the work stopped resisting, dropping into high gear. My writing partner and agent deserve most of the credit, but a significant part must go to long-dead Vladimir Vladimirovich, who for all his genius struggled much as the rest of us do with writing a goddamn book.
There’s been a certain amount of Twitter Discourse lately on the perception that writing is just typing.3 The invisible parts of the process are difficult, time-consuming, and brutal in several different ways–and that doesn’t even cover the various pitfalls of actual publication, mind you.
Yet there are rewards, not least of which is reading someone else’s book for the fiftieth (or fifty-first, or thousandth) time and finding not only the solace and sustenance one needs but also hidden encouragement from one word-drunk wright to another. Of course he didn’t mean it thus, of course dear Sirin is long gone and probably wouldn’t have been interested in anything I penned.4
The connection remains. The recognition, the spark, the joy of finding a few words in a tongue one can decipher amid a mass of hieroglyphs, still endures. I desperately needed that reminder this week.
I can see finishing these particular revisions now, which is a distinct relief. More than that, a bit of hope has been infused into my bones again, though I have tried to avoid it–2020 kicked me in the teeth every time I gained a little bit of Pandora’s last gift, and 2021 shouted “hold my beer” in that regard.
The cockroach of hope, like my silly stubborn grasp on life itself, just won’t go away. After all, there’s work to be done, and I can’t give up as long as I have deadlines and obligations. The net above the abyss, slipping a bit lately, has caught on a nail.
So here I hang, listening to the whistling of the wind, weaving my own stories. The most I can hope for is that one day, someone else will catch upon a hook I drove into the fabric of my own work, and their slide for the edge is likewise arrested.
It’s a grimly beautiful thought, and I will hold it close for as long as I need to, today and tomorrow and afterward, until the end.
- Yes, I am the sort to read afterwords, and forewords, and appendices, and Author’s Notes. I have even foisted a few of said indiscretions upon my own readers.
- Well-meaning, I’m sure…
- I won’t link to it, you know who you are. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, thank goodness, it’s unpleasant, don’t bother.
- Quite rightly, too, we are creatures of different biomes indeed.