October 30th, 2010 - Lesley Dormen
Let me back up.
Was I using a computer calendar ten years ago? Or was I still on Filofax? What a bizarre word, Filofax. A word that might as well belong to another century. Wait. I think it is from another century. I loved buying the new Filofax calendar and all the add-ons at the start of every year. The yellow or pink lined note paper. Wasn’t there a map? Of course I was using a computer in 2010. How ridiculous to think 2010 is farther from 2020 than yesterday is from today. Past sixty, as everyone past sixty will tell you, time shrinks. October 2010 was ten minutes ago. Or is that the warp speed at which we all experience time’s relentless surge now? How many computers have I owned since 2010? Useless. I destroy those computer drives each time I upgrade. In short, 2010 is a year for which I have no calendar at all.
One thing time doesn’t hocus pocus with is October. October is the birthday season on every calendar of mine. My birthday was two weeks ago. My friend A’s was yesterday. Two weeks apart. She and I met just out of college, at our first jobs in New York City. We both worked at a magazine for teenage girls, published by the Girl Scouts. Pat Nixon came to our offices once, looking pale.
A. and I are 74 now. Utterly ridiculous. The Pandemic Present reminds of our age daily. We’re “at risk seniors”. Us. Me. With my cute clogs and clever hat.
One thing I didn’t know in 2010 was that breast cancer was waiting for me, a health crisis not pandemic-related at all. I’m beyond it now. Closer to death, of course. If Covid or some ugly relative of that cancer isn’t ahead, something else surely is. In 2010, my mother had been dead for twelve years. She died at 73. When a parent dies, you know that anything can happen.
A. was the friend who, in my early thirties, saw my serious depression and treated me as if I were still me. She knew about my desire to write fiction even as I kept turning out articles for the women’s magazines through my thirties and some of my forties. A. sent me a magnum of champagne for uncorking when my first short story was published. That magnum had to wait a long time. As the aughts began, though, so did the stories. Each one was published in a literary journal or mainstream magazine or online. Then the stories were collected and published as a book, a “novel in stories,” in 2007.
In 2010 my confidence was still riding the tail end of that first book high. Except now it seemed I was expected, overdue even, to produce a novel. I had some ideas. None of them thrived. I was teaching fiction writing at The Writers Studio by then. I felt part of a literary community the girl who’d grown up in Ohio never knew existed. Of course I’d write a novel, eventually. Once I figured out how.
As they say, years passed. The drafts piled up, never quite coming together, weighing on me. I still loved teaching, loved knowing I was good at it. But the novel, the (fucking) novel. So many drafts. I had thrown out a promising version in 2016, my political rage driving a need to go deeper. When the pandemic lock-down began in New York City, my husband and I were typical of other couples in our Greenwich Village zip code with more or less the same kitchen equipment and Netflix queue as ours. We stayed put and followed the rules. As our fear gradually lessened and paper towels became available, we exhaled. I became aware of a tiny locked-door corner of my mind where I’d stashed my unwritten novel. Now I was holding it hostage. I slept late, luxuriated in the no obligations, fewer choices present.
I bought a ukulele. And watercolors. I worked out over Zoom. Something inside me was shifting. I was no longer the me who had written the well-reviewed story collection. I was still a terrific teacher. I was still a woman “at risk”. I was still a writer even if all I wrote was postcards to unregistered voters. Maybe I’ll write a novel in my next decade. Maybe we’ll get another dog. I think I’ll take a nap and catch up on that podcast.
Lesley Dormen, Associate Director of the Writers Studio, is the author of The Best Place to Be: A novel in stories (Simon & Schuster). Her short fiction, articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, Epiphany, Five Points, Open City, Glimmer Train, Elle, The New York Times, Vanityfair.com, O The Oprah Magazine and Unholdy Ghost: Writers on Depression, among other publications and anthologies. Several of her short stories have been Notables in Best American Short Stories. Lesley has received a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and is a Fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.