The arc of the ARCs – Hollis Giammatteo

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By Hollis Giammatteo

My manuscript, after many months of working with the publisher, the editor, the team, now almost fledged, has arrived in the form of bound copies, called in the business, ARCs – advanced readers’ copies. I was certain that seeing my book in genuine, legitimate print would be a high point among my various satisfactions, but when the box arrived, slightly before or after Christmas, and slightly smaller than expected, I slid into an odd indifference that bordered on disgust.♥

Placing the box on the dining room table, I muttered to my wife, “The ARCs have come” – not my ARCs, but the. For weeks, the box remained unopened. It could have been that my mood was bad, I don’t recall; the holidays from Thanksgiving through the New Year are a vicissitude – the worry that follows routines, suspended; the bitter grief, again, of too little money; memories of my father’s stunning demise several years ago, keeping dreadful company with every major holiday from Thanksgiving to MLK Day, and the parts we, my wife and I, played in it; the gathering and drinking and feasting and basking in the gratitude for family; the suffocating phases of the familial press. Maybe the timing was off for the happy receipt of the ARCs, because there the box remained, unopened, uncelebrated, uncertain.

From time to time, I’d glance at the box with a tremor of anticipation as if it were a great hen about to hatch her egg. I might even have patted it as I made my way from the couch to the kitchen. It did not occur to me to fetch the box cutter and slice through the tape. Finally, tuning into the oddness of this indifference, I willed myself to slice. Under layers of merry bubble wrap they lay, stacked crisply, the ARCs.

“Look,” I whispered to my wife. She produced a gratifyingly sincere enthusiasm, and I resumed my mood.

Weeks later, the box remains on the dining room table.

My life has not changed.

I thought it would.

What do you think I meant by that? What do I think I wanted? Was it my expectation, upon receiving this glad bundle, to feel a joy associated with motherhood?

Birth metaphors attach to the fruits of creativity – the long gestation, the prolonged disciplinary phases and parental ministrations as the work matures; finally giving birth. One had presumed this satisfying and neat trajectory, and with the birth, a turning toward the balm of welcome and celebration. But what of the mother who turns, instead, away from her newborn, unable to attach or celebrate?

That is what my relationship to the box of the/my ARCs suggested. Their arrival did not change my life, only revealed what I had hoped they would accomplish for it – my legitimacy, my welcome in and to the world, my place at the table. The indifference that borders on disgust defends against rejection; I discovered myself drawn to the preemptive: I will get there first with my disgust; I will be the first to reject this, my thing, my work, nearly fledged. I will reconfirm its/my place outside the circle, before the world can sink its talons.

Oh, dear god.

I tell myself, this is, my table. I have to set my place. There is work still to be done.

A practicing Buddhist for over thirty years, Hollis Giammatteo has sought experiences that would challenge her practice, from teaching a method of writing to working with the elderly. She co-founded, managed, and wrote plays for The Wilma Theater in Philadelphia and for Rhode Island Feminist Theater. Hollis has published in a variety of magazines, been awarded a residency at the Cottages at Hedgebrook, and received a PEN/Jerard Award, honouring “a distinguished non fiction work-in-progress for an emerging woman writer,” for her work On the Line: Memoir of a Peace Walk.

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