Pretty soon after my wedding I started to wonder what I was supposed to do with my wedding dress. It wasn't the kind of thing I could wear to a Christmas party. Some people, I knew, had their dresses "preserved" by a dry cleaner, a kind of textile embalming. I didn't think my dress would take too well to that.
And even if it did, what was I "preserving" it for? No one else in my family or close circle of friends was likely to wear it. It was too distinctive. And, if I'm being honest, I realize that not everyone sees the appeal of a dress that walks so fine a line between "swan" and "chicken".
I also think that wedding dresses have their moments. I don't know a single women around my age who wore her mother's dress. Our mothers' dresses may be beautiful, but they look old-fashioned. As a generation raised to be independent, each of us wants to do her own thing. I won't kid myself into thinking my hypothetical daughters will be any different. I probably wouldn't want them to be.
I knew I could sell the dress on e-bay, but it felt weird to put a price tag on so sentimental an object. I also doubted I'd get much for it. The dress was easily the most expensive dress I've ever owned, but even so the price was fairly modest (some people spend more on their cell phones). Some friends suggested re-purposing it into another kind of object. I joked that I could probably turn it into a down pillow just by turning it inside out. But that felt weird, too. It was a dress. A special dress. I didn't want it to be anything else.
I hung onto it without too much serious examination until our one-year anniversary (moving it across the country twice—carefully). Then I started to worry about the dress aging. I really didn't want to unzip its garment bag one day and have it not be beautiful. To me, that would be much sadder than having it not be there at all.
So, I went into research mode. There are more than 2 million weddings in the US every year. What are people doing with all these dresses? After much searching and thinking, I found what seemed to me to be the perfect solution: a charity called Brides Against Breast Cancer. BABC collects donated wedding gowns, sells them (at a discount) in a nation-wide tour, and uses the money to grant wishes for women with metastasized breast cancer.
I loved the idea that my wedding dress would be another person's wedding dress. I so loved wearing it and it made me really happy to think about someone else feeling the same way. The fact that it would be someone who might not otherwise be able to afford the dress of their dreams just made it sweeter. I could also imagine this other wearer preserving the dress for her daughter or granddaughter, making it into something new, or watching it age as she did. Wedding dresses are treasured objects and I knew my dress would be in good hands with Bride #2.
And then there is the money it would bring in, the wishes it would help grant. I spent a lot of time on BABC's website reading about the work that they do (and, yes, crying a fair bit). The women they help are so strong and grateful. And their wishes are so humble. One woman asked for a video camera so she could tape a message to her yet-unborn grandchild. Another woman asked for a plane ticket so she could properly say good-bye to her mother. These seem like such basic things: the ability to be remembered, or to say good-bye. It hadn't occurred to me that some people wouldn't have them. After spending some time reading their letters, it was obvious to me what I'd do with my dress. It seemed so fitting and perfect and clear and...inevitable, really.
I could make this a much longer story if I included the six months it took for my sweet, sentimental husband to be ready to let it go, or how I almost gave the dress to him instead. I could tell you what it felt like to put the dress on one last time, in the middle of our crappy apartment in Pittsburgh, barefoot, my hair undone.
I could also write about finding a box just the right size and packing the dress away. The walk to the post office. Watching the box disappear behind the counter. But the only important thing to say is how good it felt.
Yesterday I sent the dress away. Today I looked at some wedding pictures. Seeing the dress in them, I didn't feel sad or wistful. Instead, I thought about my dress's future, where it will go, what it will do. Now, it's even more beautiful to me.
Going through the publication process with my first book is teaching me a lot. For example, when I sent the book out for blurbs, I discovered a brand new blend of excitement and mortal terror that I think only exists when you're showing other people your book for the first time. I spent a harrowing month with my stomach in knots waiting for the verdict. Would they love it? Hate it? Would their impressions of it be so different from mine that I won't even recognize the book they're describing?
Well, I just got the blurbs back from the very first readers of Why We Never Talk About Sugar and not only do they all appear to be talking about the correct book, they had such kind and thoughtful things to say about it that I wouldn't dare disagree with them! See for yourself:
In Why We Never Talk About Sugar, Aubrey Hirsch posits an uncertain world, offering us her characters at their most confused, frightened, obsessed. As protection against their troubles, these men and women cling often to science, and also to story—and if these two ways of seeing cannot always save them, then still they might provide some comfort, some necessary and sustaining faith, the mechanisms of what greatest mysteries might await us all, when all else is stripped away: an elusive god particle, perhaps, floating inscrutable and gorgeous in its tricky invisibility; or else these many different heartbeats, somehow made stronger by each other's presence, even amidst such finely-written heartbreak.
—Matt Bell, author of Cataclysm Baby
Why we could never talk enough about Aubrey Hirsch: there's simply too much to say. Hirsch is a bright shining star of a writer and the stories in her flawless debut collection, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, are a little disturbing and a little strange and a little sweet but always a lot to hold on to. In stories like, "Certainty," where a woman is convinced she will get her lover pregnant, Hirsch shows us how to believe in quiet magic. In the title story, Hirsch shows us the charm of her imagination and how carefully she will break your heart. Why We Never Talk About Sugar is a book you'll keep coming back to, the one you won't be able to stop talking about because it's that damn good.
—Roxane Gay, author of Ayiti
Aubrey Hirsch knows that science isn’t theoretical or cold—it’s hot, magical, and deeply human. Each story in Why We Never Talk About Sugar is a Petri dish, a distinct world in which a particle is discovered, a lake vanishes, but the narrative microscope never forgets that what really matters are the characters. This fiction is lyrical and wicked smart, reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Miranda July. So, here’s my hypothesis: Aubrey Hirsch is a bright new voice in American fiction.
—Cathy Day, author of The Circus in Winter
This month's article at Flash Fiction Chronicles is about my first time being published. I've re-posted it here:
Everyone remembers their first time. Maybe you’re young and naive, like I was. Maybe you’ve been working up to it so long that you already feel like a pro. But when the moment arrives, it’s always the same: the excitement, the nervous butterflies, the need to share the news immediately with a trusted friend. For this column I thought I’d tell you about my first time–my first time being published, that is.
I don’t know when (if ever) I would have started sending work out on my own, but luckily my first writing teacher was adamant that we all engage with the world outside the workshop. At the end of my first writing class in my junior year of college, I was required to print out a manuscript, compose a cover letter, research a market and (gulp) send the whole bundle off to a real life magazine to be judged by the cold, cruel world.
I spent a lot of time deciding on a market for that first story. I didn’t know my way around the literary landscape at all, so there was no name recognition involved. Eventually, I flipped to the section marked “Special Interest.” Since my story dealt with illness, I was excited to find many magazines dedicated to that topic. I settled on a magazine called Kaleidoscope because it was from Ohio and so was I.
Since the instructor all but promised us we’d each be getting a rejection letter in our little white envelope in four to six months, I didn’t even entertain the possibility that Kaleidoscope would take my piece. But it didn’t matter; I was hooked. I spent long afternoons in the library reading through The Writer’s Market, making copies of my manuscripts and my disastrously generic cover letter. I spent my drinking money on postage.
Slowly but surely, the rejections started rolling in. You know them immediately: addressed in your own handwriting, no return address. I always opened them anyway, looking for any scrawl of pen on paper, evidence that someone took an extra second to reject me.
I could have gone on like this for a long time, forever maybe. But I didn’t have to. The big envelope came two weeks after Christmas. It was from Kaleidoscope and they wanted my story. They were even willing to pay me for it ($75, which went right into more envelopes, copies and postage, after a round of drinks for my my roommates). I’ve celebrated every acceptance since then, but there’s still something magical about that first one. You never forget it.
I also won’t forget how it felt when the journal finally came, and I got to see my words in print for the first time. It was a bit of a wait. Despite having sent the story out in May of 2002, and having it accepted in January of 2003, the issue containing my story didn’t come out until July 2005. It was a long wait, but it was worth it.
Now that I’m someone else’s writing teacher, I have adopted the same requirement. It’s a good skill to learn, I tell my students, and no one will offer teach you once you’ve left. Sometimes I have to talk a reluctant student into it, but I don’t back down. I’ve even had a few students excitedly email me about their acceptances. They feel almost as good as my own.
I had a terrifying moment the other day when I clicked on a link from my "google alert" (Yes, I have a google alert set up for my name. So do you.) and found this. At first it looks like a restaurant homepage, but when you scroll down it's all me, me, me! For about four seconds I thought I had some kind of crazed German stalker (Is that German? I'm not good at recognizing other languages.) who built a website-altar to me and furnished it with all my internet-available photos. Then, of course, I promptly realized it was just internet data-collection bots making an "Aubrey Hirsch" website so they can sell German things to people who search for that name.
Once I figured that out, I had a series of new reactions.
- It's still creepy to look at.
- I wish I could get some of those photos off the internet/I'm so glad the internet was not around in this form when I was in my awkward phase which lasted roughly from age 6-21.
- I am kicking those other Aubrey Hirsches' asses in terms of web-importance. Take that, lawyer in Louisiana! Take that, tennis-player at St. Mary's!
Then I started to actually read the text. And it's pure poetry. I know it's just a mash-up of phrases from the websites it culled from, but there's something magical about seeing words from my stories and poems all mixed up together along with some random data about a New Orleans law firm. Here are some samples for your reading pleasure:
- Aubrey aubrey website of our island of cleveland, ohio bit about aubrey Ratings, published feb me up Ratings, published feb issue will call them at awp Looking to reconnect withfind aubrey hirschs stories
- But he has appeared in the doesn't walk me offind Aubrey home from Used Furniture Review
- about aubrey aubrey hirsch bubble may hobart, third coast orleans University of the december aubrey third coast Pittsburgh feb issue will be the borovsky circus goes to losan
I've read the whole thing a couple of times now. The white text on black background makes my eyes hurt, but I keep reading it. Maybe I'm looking for some kind of secret message, or to see how my writing life looks all boiled down and smashed together. But I think the gibberish on this site is starting to make sense to me. I can kind of recognize my mind in there and a short history of the last few years of my life.
I wonder how this internet robot works. Will he keep looking for new stuff? Will he update this webpage with new words from new stories? If I use the word "lawyer" in a story, am I more likely to get his attention? I wonder if he'll ever become sentient. If he does, will he keep doing his job? Does he enjoy reading my stories? Will he fall in love with me and send me robotmantic emails through the form on my website?
One thing is sure: I'll be stalking him now, too. I've bookmarked this website. We will stalk each other. We'll chase each other around the internet until somebody blinks.
Today I read this interview with Michelle Herman about write/life balance and finding a partner that will support your writing. The whole interview is interesting, but I got hung up on this sentence:
After many years of falling in love with precisely the wrong men, and using up the time and energy that I might have spent writing any number of books that will forever go unwritten, I met my husband.
It kind of wormed its way around in my brain for a little while until I realized that I have never fallen in love with the wrong man. I don't know if it's because I don't fall in love very easily, or because I was never much good at dating, but there it is.
I've been in love three times. One ended badly, with fear and yelling and a spontaneous cross-country move. It was my fault. I told him I wanted to marry him, but I didn't. I don't think I knew I was lying at the time, but sometimes that is the worst kind of lying. When I finally told him, it broke him in half. He hated me for a while and then, I think, convinced himself he never really liked me anyway. Now he's getting married for real and I've heard that he's happy. I hope so.
The next one ended beautifully, with a night of tears and long, sweet hugs. We told each other everything we loved about each other, everything we would miss about each other. When I started to cry, he brought me a towel. We spent the rest of the weekend together as planned and then gently parted ways. I still count him among my very best friends. The love there never went away; it just changed a little bit. He will continue to fall in love with a series of amazing women and then, if he decides to, he'll pick one and live happily ever after.
One hasn't ended. Some people might say it ended in marriage, but I don't. He's still my boyfriend, I still have a crush on him. I still giggle when I catch him getting out of the shower.
None of these was perfect, but none of them was wrong. In fact, I think they were all exactly right. The first guy taught me about poetry, that I am repelled by jealously, and how to fall in love. The second one taught me everything I know about music, that I look good with short hair, and that some things are worth working hard for. My current partner taught me how to cook tofu, that I can ask for things and get them, and that it's okay to cry even when you're mad.
All of these men are writers now, but they weren't when I met them. The "co-writer" relationship went really differently with each of them. One loved everything I wrote, unabashedly and joyfully. One gave me thoughtful encouragement with a critical eye. And one sort of stayed away from my work all together. All of this was okay. My writing is about me. I think I could do it, and do it well, no matter who I was with or if I wasn't with anyone at all. I hope so anyway.
I've been in love three times. Maybe that's too many. Maybe it's not enough. Maybe it would have been better for my writing if I'd fallen in love more easily or more often. Maybe a couple of wrong guys would have given me more or better stories. But I think falling in love, like falling generally, is one of those things you can't really control. And I wouldn't want to, even if I could.