Reading into my resemblance to Rachel Cusk

I want to be read so I read into everything

I am stretching myself out this year into creative writing. I've harbored the desire to write stories for years. Now, I have released that desire. It no longer has safe harbor. This makes me feel unhinged, which is a necessary danger.

Book cover on dried grass, Outline by Rachel Cusk, with shadow of dinosaur tail over book.
Caption: Lately, I want to be read and I've been reading into everything. The appearance of things is powerful.

I've looked for fellow travelers. “We need you,” wrote Sabrina Orah Mark in an email for a workshop I took with her. To be needed moves me to action. Since, I have been writing avalanches of words — raw and strange. And I have been listening with gratitude — to hear and be heard — to the poets, authors, critics, psychoanalysts, artists, and scholars of divinity who have been my classmates.

We read books together. Drifts by Kate Zambreno. Bring Down the Little Birds by Carmen Giménez Smith. Calls to action. I write to organize our strange and complex times, our collective grief and my own imperfections, with words and words: stories.

The effort is in reading into the words, to find the through-line. The stories I tell, the stories I live.

"I have this theory that we are actually telling our secrets all day long," Sabrina said. "In the way we move, in the stories we tell, in the way we tell stories."

I imagine I am dropping my secrets accidentally, unintentionally. Flowers petals that flutter and fall as I walk down the aisle. Drop, drop, drop. I am the bride, a vision in white pages, anticipating my bridegroom in black. And I'm writing them in, making them up, holding them up to the light to see them glow.

I want to be read so I read into everything.

A classmate, poet Anna Morrison, promises not to read her students' journals.

"I would have devoured their diaries, their worst secrets. It would have been their best work."

Desiring to be desired, I wonder, is she devouring my writing? Do I want to be devoured? I do, I decide.

One time, I missed a class. The power went out. There had been a storm. Emails with feedback from my classmates swelled my inbox. Gifts.

"Your writing on intimacy, separation, separate tracks in life, rekindling, the self-doubt — is so honest and relatable."

"You write so poignantly that the specific feels universal."

"You write of the history of [a] relationship and the smaller, unfilled-out-self, the way we share information and re-create it—it all connects and swells. It sings. I want to read the finished product."

I read into the reviews like they are prophesies. But how am I going to do this?

By chance, Anna offers a model:

"I love how you go deeper and darker in these entries. Your writing is starting to remind me of Rachel Cusk, whose books (these entries remind me of the types of scenes she renders in Transit) I am obsessed with."

Obviously, I look up this writer immediately. Rachel Cusk. I discover she's prolific and accomplished. Long-listed for the Booker prize. I find an essay she wrote where she reads into one thing so that she can understand another.

The technique reminds me of a line by writer Karl Bradley, a classmate.

"I prefer ideas be like two people sharing a bed, but it’s unclear how they are related, though they each carry a picture of the other in their jacket pocket."

How can I resemble someone I've never read? Never studied? Then I realize I did once check out her memoir on motherhood from the library. A Life's Work. After my second baby was born, I was struggling to understand my motherhood. I went looking elsewhere for answers: Polly Rosenwaike led me to Rachel Cusk.

Of course, given the circumstances of early motherhood, I was only able to read a few pages before I set it down. Then the book was lost in the shuffle for weeks. And, suddenly, it was overdue. There were many holds, I was informed when I tried to renew. I turned it in, hardly skimmed. I'm afraid the narrative arc of my motherhood remains unanchored.

After reading Anna's email, I take the children on a walk to the Little Free Library in our neighborhood. There sits Outline, by Rachel Cusk. I tell the children that the universe might just be on my side.

Caption: The children are not listening, they are playing astroid and dinosaurs, the extinction story again.

But they are not listening. They are playing astroid and dinosaurs, the extinction story again.

The next morning I go to an appointment. It's very early and the office is closed when I arrive. I have to wait in a line outside. There are many of us waiting. No one makes small talk through masks. It's too early, too cold. I stomp my feet to keep warm and, alone, I read. I read Outline.

A man approaches me. A tall, white man, probably in his 60s. It is not clear to me if he is associated with the place I am going or just feels entitled to interrupt (people, women) me silently reading. I can't see him very well. The sun is barely risen in a pale sky.

"What are you reading, it must be good," he says in a booming voice. Other people, bored in line, watch us.

"It is," I reply, aware suddenly that I'm on display.

"What is the book?"

"Outline, by Rachel Cusk." I hold it out, like a librarian showing the pictures at story time.

"I've never heard of it, must be one of those romance novels," he says.

The wind is blowing now. Though I hadn't found any obvious resemblances, the appearance of things is enough.

He turns away, having delivered his opinion.

"It's about the erasure and recovery of the subject through her interactions with others," I call out, interrupting him. "It's a romance to me."

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