Thursday, June 2, 2016

Into the Brambles with Jane Austen

I have just finished a breakfast of leftover shortcakes heated and spread with ginger preserves.  Ginger preserves always remind me of the first time we bought a jar, back in 1997, at the Fresh Market in Columbia, South Carolina.  We bought a jar of ginger preserves and a jar of brambleberry preserves, both imported from England.

Brambleberry sounds so much better than blackberry.  And my shortcakes were really a form of scone, which sounds so much better than shortcake or biscuit.

My Brit Lit English major roots are showing, aren't they?

I am reading Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility--it feels so familiar because of the movie, but I haven't read the whole thing before.  My friend in this reading project and I talked yesterday; I was surprised by how I viewed Marianne's behavior, going off unchaperoned with a man she barely knew, as scandalous, even here in our more modern age.  My friend agreed.

I have always thought that modern women have an easier life than women of the 19th century, and in many ways I'm right.  I can earn my own money and use it to buy brambleberry jam or whatever else I like.  But in many ways, our need for a career has become very similar to the need for a husband in Jane Austen's day--we're all in need of financial support, and just because we have more options, it doesn't mean we've found paradise.

I've been struck lately by how many people I know are dreaming of a different way to make a living, and these are people from a wide range of careers.  I hear similar themes:  we could live above a small store, we could bake bread in the morning, we could host musical jam sessions in the store, we could offer these kinds of creative opportunities, we could make a life this way.

In reading Sense and Sensibility, I'm struck by how much of the novel revolves around economics, which was every bit the straightjacket then that it is now--but then, it was a different straightjacket, bound up with family in ways that few of our personal economics are now.  Would I have seen this when I was younger?  Probably not.

Austen found her way into my writing this morning, as I am still figuring out the best way to end my story that begins with the college administrator watching Prince videos the day after his death.  I wrote this bit:  "As we spent the next half hour discussing recipes and the value of butter and how to make dishes have a higher nutrition content, I thought back to the nineteenth century writers I so loved. I thought of their domestic scenes and the role that those scenes played in their writing. I wondered how a Jane Austen of our day would interpret this scene in my kitchen. My daughter didn’t have the same pressing need to marry, but what did she need in this modern age?"

Now I wait for the next bit--will it get me to the close of this story or just another twist?

As I write, I am listening to this interview with Paul Simon, one of my first artistic loves.  He analyzes a song from the album that will be released tomorrow and talks about his creative process--fascinating.  He talks about the importance of first lines. 

He also talks about the possibility that this album may be his last:  ""I really wonder what would happen to my creative impulses, which seem to come on a regular basis; every three, four years they manifest themselves. And by habit, they manifest themselves as songs. But this is really the decision of a 13-year old. Me, who said, at 13, 'No, I want to write songs.' So I'm doing it 60 years later. This 13-year old is still telling me what to do. But I wonder what happens if I simply prohibit myself from expressing whatever the creative urge is, if I do not allow that to happen in song or music form. I'm sort of willing to give it a year or so. I think maybe in the beginning it'll be frustrating and annoying and I'll want to go back to the other way. But if I stay with the rules maybe I'll discover some other outlet."

I think of Jane Austen and Sense and Sensibility, her first novel, written first as an epistolary novel, and then revised.  She wrote it when she was 17--amazing!  This morning, I did a bit of Wikipedia reading on this work and her life.  I never knew that she was working on several novels at the same time, and I had forgotten that her family took substantial financial risk to see her published--and it paid off, although she's become much more popular after her death than she was during her life.

Here I am, not at the early stage of Jane Austen and not at the closer to the end stage of Paul Simon--I hope that I am smack in the middle of my creative life.  But let me not get bogged down in the despair of what I have not done, at the terror that I might not live long enough to fulfill my potential.  I have several more weeks of reduced teaching duties and the idea for a story that will fit with my Activists at Age 50 collection--I've had the idea for a long time, and this morning I figured out how it fits with the new collection.

Stay tuned!

No comments: