Sunday, February 10, 2013

Like Asking a Mountain to Sit in a Fish Tank

One of the ultimate high-stakes tasks: naming a book manuscript. It becomes a name rather than a title because you feel like you are naming an actual being, flattening his hair, turning her about-face, presenting him to the world.

It's fragmentary (a phrase or even one word or in the case of academic writing a shadow of a sub-title after a colon) but at the same time highly symbolic. 

The title is a metonym. It is representative of the content listed immediately behind in a fish skeleton of individual titles. It is also representative of yourself. It stands for you when you are not near your own words (bound to happen after publication).

It's a small portion of writingno room for error.

Titles don't feel like they can occupy a Present moment. It would be like asking a mountain to sit in a fish tank.

I am trying to pin something down. Make it permanent. Make it resonate longer than a single moment.

You turn the strongest contender over in your mind and also let it rest on your tongue. You catch yourself off-guard, hoping for fresh perspective. You tape it onto walls and surfaces in your home hoping the household context will provide a new angle. You try to ambush the different title possibilities, say, the top two or three, during the days leading up to sending out the manuscript.

There's a great deal more superstition around making a title than writing the poems or chapters.You don't share working titles with the wrong people, and with the right people (author-friends you admire) you weigh each response. 

* When we named our second child, a family member stayed silent over the phone for several seconds. *

* Then said that the first child's name, now that one was lovely. *

It's more feeling than logic. It's like getting a Tarot card reading because you are trying to anticipate the future.

* Hospital staff push parents to name a child as fast as possible or at least before leaving the hospital grounds. Then the name is permanent. It has to be legally changed. *

Like a child, the book has siblings, one's previous publications. You imagine them lining up for a family portrait, you hear them summoned in italics on your CV or before a reading.

* We had to go to court and spend $60 to legally change the second child's name. Despite the unpleasant experience of having our initial choice critiqued, we feel we "got it right" with the new name. *

The amount of ego involved in drafting a book title is amusing.

No matter how fluid I've left the writing processthe year or two of generating new piecesfinding a title remains a high-stakes task: one in which imaginary future audiences are highly present.

At this point in my exploration of mindful writing, it is nearly impossible for me to treat titling as private writing.

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