Revisions

“This morning I took out a comma, and this afternoon I put it back again.”

- Oscar Wilde

An email has arrived. M, who lives far away, has sent much-needed feedback on a new short story. I’d trust M with my life, which is why I’ve asked her to look at my story. She is an elegant writer who is making her way professionally; once upon a time when we lived in the same city, we read each others’ work. I was always impressed with her thoughtful and thought-provoking responses.

M‘s email doesn’t disappoint. She has offered me intelligent and sensitive questions from which I hope to derive some clarity that’s lacking in certain areas of the story. I can’t wait to get started! Today is my first day off in over a week. The morning is mine.

I root around in the recycling box for some usable paper on which to print the latest draft of the story. There’s not much to choose from; most of it I’ve already printed on both sides, earlier drafts of other things. Absently I reach for the shredder and start feeding it unusable paper. Soon I’m hypnotized by the task, keeping up with the rhythm of chewn pages, thinking about the drafts of successes and failures I’m destroying. I empty the shredder into a blue bag and keep going. There’s much to be recycled.

Before long I’ve overheated the shredder. It smells hot and industrial, like burnt metal. I switch it off and take the full blue bag out to the kerb. Pick up some flotsam off the lawn and notice a few of the neighbour’s oak leaves resting on the grass, which could use a final mowing before the rest of the neighbour’s oak tree shakes everything it owns onto my postage-stamp yard. I take the flotsam inside and open the kitchen bin; am assailed by the stink of rotted sludge at the bottom of it.

For some reason it’s far more important to clean out the bin, inside and out, than to print the story and get on with revising. I roll up my sleeves, pull on the rubber gloves, and get cleaning. The bin liner could do with an air-dry, so I take it out to the deck and find the outdoor cat sprawled on the salt box, all come-hither, sunshine bouncing off her calico coat. We have a scritch, then she follows me, chirping, to the door. More scritches, then a treat.

I make my way back to the computer, print the story, carry it downstairs. There is dog hair on the sofa, a blond distraction against the forest-green. I grab the brush and clean off the sofa, then decide to sit on a chair instead. First I reread M‘s email, then the story, placing the read pages on the small table by the chair. Soon the indoor cat slinks into the room and lies down on top of the read pages. No matter, I’ll pile the others on my lap. I finish reading the story and make a few edits, nothing major. I’ll need to think further about M‘s questions.

I retrieve the now-dry kitchen bin liner from the deck. Can’t bear the thought of an unmown lawn, so I grab the push-mower from its perch by the front door and cut the grass, grinding up oak leaves as I go. Once finished, I move on to the lawn next door, and the one next to it.

By the time I sit down to the story again, I still haven’t an answer to M‘s questions. But the shredder has cooled off, I have a sweet-smelling kitchen bin, and three lawns on my street are looking tidy and ready for winter.

A few more leaves drift down from the oak tree.

It’s a start. Revisions need time.

Categories: General.