The fish we just brought home for the kids two days ago are a different story. I explained on the way home from the fish store (what a killjoy, right?) that fish often die sooner than you want them to. They knew Poppleton and Fillmore (thank you, Cynthia Rylant!) might not last too long. The first day was all joy. The fish were happy, if a little freaked out by the new environment. Success! They survived the first day. Yesterday, though, Poppleton started listing. It is not a hopeful thing for a fish to list. Today, he fought hard to stay alive but finally succumbed right after dinner. We flushed him, my girl cried just a bit, and then we resolved to let Fillmore enjoy the bowl by himself for a few days before getting a replacement Poppleton.
I have no idea why I felt the need to share that. Except, actually, maybe I do. See, with classes starting in a mere 10 days, I am in full-fledged planning mode: working on syllabi, reading old texts, trying new short stories, pondering first day ideas. I work from The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by Updike for one of my classes, but I started dipping into The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories edited by Tobias Wolff and thoroughly enjoyed his introduction. Among other underlinable bits, he writes:
Jack Yeats described writing as "the social act of a solitary man." The same is true of reading. It requires isolation as the price of the best society. Writers can never be sure, in the act of writing, if anyone will pay that price for the company of their words. We proceed on faith but in doubt, dreaming uncertainly of readers who will justify this lonely work by passion equal to our own. It's a gracious moment when you meet one.
And even though what we do here in our blogs is not the same as what Dorothy Allison or Raymond Carver or Andre Dubus (or Tobias Wolff!) does, this sentiment is true for us all the same. We write and are never sure if anyone will pay that price. And it is a lovely moment, full of grace, to hear from that reader who justifies this quiet work. The book blogging world is not a lonely one; if anything, it can feel a bit too bustling and crowded for my solitary taste. However, it is still a community of people performing a social act in isolation and dreaming of that ideal reader, "perfect stranger and perfect intimate" as Wolff goes on to describe it.
So, what does this have to do with my fish? (I mean, my kids' fish. It's not like I just sit and watch him bat his little nose against the glass like he is an addict and the bowl his meth. Or that I chose to stay in the living room while my husband and brave kids flushed Poppleton. Really. It's their fish.) Well, I'm less sure now. But there is the obvious fact: a fish in a bowl is a really interesting existence to observe. He knows you're there. He puts on quite a show at times, but he's just not sure if he likes you looking at him. It's not unlike writing. You put yourself out there all naked-like and hope no one is actually looking at you even though that might be exactly what you'd like them to do.
So, here is my call to you. If you are a reader, a follower, a lurker, or even if this is your first visit to the site, say hi. Leave a comment. Or choose to follow the blog publicly. In the past, I've followed blogs anonymously, but I realized that it is somehow ridiculously important to know people are out there, watching you put on this crazy show. So, I try to let people know I'm out there. And I'm wondering if there's anyone else out there. Wondering if anyone else is paying that price.