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Girl with Wild Word Hair, by Lesley Dill

Last weekend, we visited the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Set in the pleasant green hills of Lincoln, MA along Flints Pond, it’s just a short drive from home and a calm, lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon, even with two kids who tried to climb all of the sculptures in the Sculpture Park. Naturally, this is not allowed, despite the fact that many of them beg to be ascended. For instance, there was the tipped-over four-wheeler encircled by ruts carefully dug into the otherwise-perfect lawn – it was understandably hard for them to stay off that one.

We haven’t been to an art museum in quite a while, and now I remember why: my kids run through everything. They stayed well away from the art indoors, and we were able to steer them away from the art outside, but they went at such a pace that I didn’t really get to look closely at anything. The only sculpture I actually stopped and stared at for several seconds was the above, a part of the Lesley Dill exhibit that’s at the deCordova until October 13th. Everything about the woman with letters floating around her head really appealed to me. I love the idea of someone who works with language having the alphabet literally trapped, tangled, in her hair. It seems indicative of the creative process, the way you try to get your sentences and paragraphs right and, so often, fail many times to catch the right words until you’ve plugged away at it for hours, for days, for weeks. There you are, with everything ready to say and stacked up in your brain, and you can’t sort out how to say it. I’ve never seen that visualized so bluntly before.

Sometimes, I think my brain works this way on life as well as on writing: I have to catch up to the words bumping around in my head when I’m figuring out what I want, what to say, how to say it. Writing is a comforting act of organization because I can spit it all out on a page and then sort through it, shuffle it, and carve it into shape. I have some control over the content that I don’t necessarily have in day-to-day life, and certainly don’t have in my life as a working writer. In that way, “Girl with Wild Word Hair” reminded me of “We Submit, and We Submit,” an essay which I recently read on the always-awesome Brevity blog (thanks to my friend Carolyn, who pointed me to it). Whatever story or essay I’m working on, I create and then edit for what feels like forever before sending it off into the void, hoping for something but submitting to the more likely possibility of nothing in return but a No, thanks. And then I do it again and again and again, always thinking, “Maybe, maybe, maybe….” even though I often feel at heart like Homer Simpson repeatedly missing out on his potato chip (not a perfect analogy, clearly, since no chip is as delicious and gratifying as publication. Also, I assume there are no dogs leaping up to devour my work at the journals to which I submit).

But to make another connection and use a quote from the wonderful novel The Likeness by Tana French, which I just finished reading (and highly recommend if you’re looking for a psychological thriller), at some point in life you must make your choice and follow through with it: “Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism: it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”

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