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On Raymond Carver, Tess Gallagher, love and tomatoes

September 20th, 2009

E: “You notice how every conversation we have starts sounding like ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’?”
me: “Yeah. Kinda funny. I love Carver.”
E: “We’re okay writers, but we’ll never be as good as Carver.”
me: “We could still try.”
(we both laugh, knowing there’s no hope.)

— conversation between E, my college lover, and me, circa 1989

“If this sounds like the story of a life, okay.” — Raymond Carver

“It’s a dangerous mission. You/could die out there. You /could go on forever.” — Tess Gallagher from “Instructions to the Double”

“You don’t know how strong you are until strong is your only choice.” — quote of the day, from my cousin’s friend

There is a good interview with Tess Gallagher (Raymond Carver’s widow) in today’s Oregonian. Jeff Baker wrote it — he always does a nice job with his stories. (His profile last month of author Katherine Dunn was great, too.)

Kinda funny, how much Carver has impacted my life. How? I cannot tell you, it’s private. I think of him when I write, when I cry, when I eat a good piece of bread. I think of him when I think of certain birthday cakes and certain bakers. I think of him when I see bad teeth, when I get scared out of my head, when I rage. I think of him when I read bad writing and I wish they were hitting it and quitting it instead of wasting my time. I read him for the first time, I loved his writing, I re-read him, my admiration for him got stronger, I edited the literary magazine at my college, I sent Tess Gallagher a note. Would she consider sending me a poem for my little magazine? She would. She did. It was a great poem. (“Why We Don’t Remember the Future,” Portland Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, July, 1990.) I thought to myself, Self, that is one classy dame. (Do you know her work? Do you know his? Go read them, they’re great.) (If their writing upsets you, please don’t blame me. They don’t write mushy-mushy, so get ready.)

Now I read that she is doing okay, has found new love, has her dogs, her writing, her work to keep Ray’s work in print, and up to their standards. She would like to see more of his original stuff in print. Original the way it was written, not the way it was slashed and edited. I admire her for doing this, for still being his partner, even 21 years after his death. (How can he have been gone for more than two decades already?)

It’s good that I didn’t marry E. I think of him sometimes, with good thoughts in my heart, not evil. He was so skittish; I was so worried, even then. For good reason.

On E’s desire to have a large family with me: “We could have 10 babies, and they’d wear shoes sizes 2 to 12.”

Yeah. I would have never married Steve, and had these two particular children. I like all three of ’em. What if I’d married E? I might have had double that, and possibly more losses than the two I’ve already had. Would I be able to write at all, if I’d had more children? Maybe. Would I have gone into library work? I love library work. Impossible to believe, even for me, but I love it more than writing. I’m so competitive with other writers in some areas, but as far as library work goes, I want to share all the love, all the time.

I will still write. Will I ever get a book published? Maybe.

For this afternoon, I’ll finish vacuuming the office. I just picked a huge bowl of ripe, juicy tomatoes. I bought bell peppers, garlic and onions at the store. I’ll take all that, plus salt, pepper, oregano, sugar and hot sauce, and make a big pot of marinara and add fresh basil when it’s done. I may run my son’s friend home; maybe his mom will get tired of waiting for us and come get him. I’ll think about pulling an old manuscript out of the box where it lives upstairs. Maybe I’ll redline it and do another re-write. I’ve sent it out so many times I don’t care anymore, but I’d like to leave something for my kids, anyway. Something more impressive than what I’ve got.

Me, just now, to my rowdy son and his rowdy friend: “Get out of here please, I’m trying to write.”

Yeah, I’m fine with Hockey God, the two kids, plus their assorted friends. My library work, my students, my writing, my garden. My tears. I am so lucky to have so much. For the first time in a long time, they’re tears of joy, not grief. That’s something. That’s plenty. The inscription on Carver’s grave reads:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.


  1. The Other Laura says

    Beautiful, Nancy! Just beautiful. While Raymond Carver is not one of my favorites, he’s one of Frank’s and I have a deep appreciation and respect for his work, and Tess’s.

    I had such a similar feeling at a kid’s birthday party this evening. Standing there beside Frank and just knowing deep in my bones that I was married to the right guy with this one precious child. It was like the universe harmonized with us for just one minute and I could hear it, and feel it. Then Frank dropped chocolate cake down the front of his shirt – the world keeps turning.

    Thank you for sharing everything you share here. You inspire me.

    September 20th, 2009 | #

  2. Wacky Mommy says

    TOL, you inspire me, too. I love hearing what’s going on in your world. The first time Steve and I went out I dropped a hunk of bread in my water I was so nervous. Was it your first date, too, all over again?

    September 20th, 2009 | #

  3. WLS-MPC says

    Dear Wacky,

    We’re longtime fans of Ray and Tess and have written quite a bit about their work. The latest fruits of our labors are Ray’s COLLECTED STORIES (Library of America, 2009) and the forthcoming BEGINNERS: The Original Version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Jonathan Cape, October 2009).

    We absolutely love your soulful and incisive post prompted by the recent profile of Tess in THE OREGONIAN. There was also a terrific review of new book THE MAN FROM KINVARA recently in THE SEATTLE TIMES.

    We took the liberty of sending a link to your blog to Tess. As you can imagine, she is very busy these days. She loved what you wrote, as did we. Thanks for your care and creativity.

    September 21st, 2009 | #

  4. Wacky Mommy says

    Aw, thank you!

    September 22nd, 2009 | #

  5. edj says

    N, This is one of your best posts in a long time! (That sounds odd. It’s meant to be a compliment but at the same time letting me off for possibly forgetting some of your other great posts.)
    And you and Steve are MUCH better than you and E. Not that E wasn’t a great guy, but you are Steve are great together. I think. Not to mention the kids.
    Miss you all! Wish I could have some of that marinara.

    September 23rd, 2009 | #

  6. WackyMommy says

    edj, what?

    September 27th, 2009 | #

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