Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One month from today...

This is 59.
Photo: Rebecca Beatrice Miller, August 2013
One month from today, it will be the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I might not remember my tenth birthday were it not for that day when our teachers rolled in tall stands with big black and white televisions and let us watch the long parade of cars and Jackie Kennedy--who had three months earlier lost a newborn--not cowering in fear but crawling, reaching for pieces of her husband's head. No doubt there was an instant when her face was seen wearing the cross hairs of the sniper's rifle scope.

I grew and changed, remembering that president on every birthday, especially on the early ones when he was most remembered, and especially at 10-year increments when the day was noted more clearly. On November 22nd, it will be a half-century since that day in Dealey Plaza when a woman still grieving the loss of a child reached for scattered pieces of her husband's flesh and bone. Half a century. As everyone notices sooner or later, the mysterious substance of time goes by quickly.

And what of me? I will be sixty.

When I was the child who would have thought the me of today quite old, I was an obsessed reader. I read in the tub, on the toilet, in bed with hoarded flashlights, and under my desk at school, at least until I ran into Mr. Phil Brown in fifth grade, as he was determined to cure me of that practice! (He had a certain amount of luck, being both easy to look at and vigilant.) An early tragedy in my life helped make me passionate about falling into imagined worlds. Early on, people said that I would be a writer.

Although never very savvy about networking and marketing and such things--well, they weren't quite as possible as they are now in the net-lands--and often living in off-the-beaten-track places with few writers, I persisted on my winding path. And now here I am, almost sixty, with eleven books of poetry and fiction and more forthcoming. I'm still rather obscure (see the secret quotes in the left margin! I should have been collecting them), and perhaps that has been for the best; I don't know. For a while I taught but gave up my tenure because I felt that teaching took away from my writing, and that others could replace me as a teacher. I married and became the mother of two sons and a daughter, now ranging in age from 16 to 24. Over almost sixty years, good and bad has happened, some of each my own doing, some not. But I have been blessed and am thankful.

In the coming month I will be busy with running a household and with writing, my usual mode. I need to do some revisions on a couple of manuscripts. Then I'll be going to Wofford College, where Jeremy L. C. Jones is teaching A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage and Thaliad. I'll do a reading at Hub City Books. And I'll visit my mother before I go home. She is a kind of model for me of what getting older can mean. She volunteers for a day at the regional arboretum every week; she has always been a wonderful gardener. She also weaves on two looms, one a 4-harness and one an 8-harness, and makes beautiful shawls, scarves, and many other things. Not long ago I caught her saying something about delivering meals "to the old people." Clearly she was not one of them! She keeps up with friends from the university where she was head of serials in the library and is active in her church. I hope that I'll have the luck and grace to have coming years like hers, years without self-pity, years of giving and making, years to be thankful for.

But there's no doubt that sixty is a border crossing. Shall I do something special for my blog, I wonder? Certainly I'll do something to celebrate the day in the real world, although I haven't had time to think as yet! If you have a thought or a request for the blog, please leave a comment. And if you want to give me a present (some have threatened already), please just buy yourself or a friend a copy of one of my last four books, all still in print--The Throne of Psyche, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Thaliad, or The Foliate Head. The gift of a reader makes a writer glad.

Next year will bring Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.) The year after will see that pulpily-titled Texas story, Maze of Blood. Soon I will finish polishing The Book of the Red King and some fiction and a children's book. There's still a lot of work to do.

5 comments:

  1. Oh. This post seems to be eliciting longish missives from old friends... No worry, friends, I am cheerful! But I like getting letters.

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  2. Wonderful post, Marly, about quite a wonderful life and career. Bravo! You do need to do something special for your birthday for yourselves of course, and on your blog if you feel like it.

    I clearly remember that day so many decades ago. I even skipped school the day of the memorial to stay home and watch it on TV.

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  3. But what shall I do, bloggishly? Or shall I just be a lazy thing, over-the-hill lazy?

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  4. Soooo, a significan birthday approaches! Mmmmmm!

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  5. I promise you, it will not be celebrated as extravagantly as some people's 60th birthdays!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.