Susan Carol Hauser

Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Foreword to New Manuscript

In The Marriage Bed: New Manuscript on April 22, 2010 at 12:16 am

In the spring of 2010 I completed a nonfiction manuscript I’d been working on for several years. My book proposal says this about the collection: In these intertwined contemplations, SCH investigates the facts, emotions and consequences of living with eyes wide open. She stares down grief and a life of choices. She interrogates the mysteries of writing, of teaching, of spirituality and of living a personal philosophy. Readers of this collection will feel stronger and more courageous as they face life’s inevitable losses and the fragility of their own hopes.

Here is the foreword to the collection:

I promised this book to myself several decades ago, long before most of the events described took place. I was writing commentaries for public radio. They were short, around three hundred words. The air-time window was three minutes. In that slight opening I had to engage listeners, take them somewhere, and bring them back. I enjoyed the challenge of it and the shimmering, poetic feel of the intensified writing that relied on sound and image as much as on idea.

Sometimes, though, I wanted to say more than the commentary form allowed, wanted to follow a notion beyond its immediate boundaries. I loved reading the sustained work of other writers where image led to thought, thought to image, the conversation continuing like a long walk on a country road, ending only when it felt right to turn around, to go back home. How do they do that, I wondered? How do they keep the discussion going? I wanted to do it myself, to see if I had something more to say than could be said in a few minutes. I also wanted to explore writing that stepped beyond the particular decorum of the airwaves. What did I have to say that I was not saying? How closely, I wondered, was I heeding a childhood dictum: if you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all. It was not that I wanted to be rude or gossipy, but I knew that my commentaries implied that I was always pleasant, even-tempered, and that I preternaturally accommodated all griefs. I felt like I was writing only half of who I was.

I started writing longer essays, five-hundred to a thousand words. It was difficult for me to sustain them but I liked the way the effort stretched my abilities. Some of them were published in magazines, some in a collection, Girl to Woman: A Gathering of Images (Astarte Shell Press). But the real leap forward for me came from a tangential writing project: biographical profiles for Scribner’s American Writers, reference books that are carried in most libraries in the United States. The requirement was for ten-thousand words per subject. At the suggestion of the series editor, Jay Parini, I broke each article into eight or nine sections, making the total manageable. It was strange and wonderful to write expansively. By the time I finished three profiles (John James Audubon, Witter Bynner, Carol Bly) I had the hang of it.

My first long essay after that, “The Marriage Bed,” the title piece for this collection, spun out to eighteen-hundred words. The second one, “Celestial Event,” made it to two-thousand. “Writing Teaching Writing” propelled itself to an astounding five-thousand words. I did not know I had it in me. I had found my stride.

Most of the essays were written over a three-year period, half of them during a sabbatical leave from my position in the English Department at Bemidji State University. A few, the very short ones, were written some years ago but seem to fit here, stepping stones between the longer iterations. There are four essays that I am most proud of: “The Marriage Bed” for its honesty, “Celestial Event” for its science (which I could not have articulated without the help of two physicists, Larry Pinsonneault and Paul Weber), “The Value of x” for its bravery, and “What I Know” for its crankiness. I like that the first sentence and the last sentence of the book are the same, an idea I had when I wrote the first one. I like that “Ammy’s Doe” falls perfectly into two sections, each with almost exactly the same number of words, and I especially like that this happened spontaneously: I did not realize it until long after the writing was complete.

My writing origins are in poetry. I was driven to prose by the desire for an income, a way to make a living in northern Minnesota, and by the desire to become more fluent with words. The analogy I gave myself was the artist who understands the chemistry of both watercolors and oils. I sweetened the deal by making another writing promise to myself: some day I would return to poetry as my only genre, retrieving it from years of occasional indulgence and long periods of neglect. With the completion of this collection of essays, I look forward to fulfilling the promise for a while, but I know I will amend it: I am not likely to give up the pleasure of the long reach, the hard pull of writing an essay.