Kate Abbott: Pleasures in giving perspective


She remembered him washing his car. Late summer, not long after she had moved in, and the air heavy over gravel the hose spray polished, and Joel was standing in the driveway in cutoffs, sluicing the bodywork. Soap creamed over the windows and along the wipers, and he played the hose over every crevice and every inch of the the roof. He had splashed mud up his calves and suds over his chest and, as she watched, he ducked his head under the stream of water.

When have I felt most like a woman writer?

The day I showed people the scene above comes to mind. At a coffee shop, in a writing workshop, we were talking about this moment in my first novel, from a chapter that I had handed in. One of the main characters is thinking about one of her housemates. And one of my readers said she couldn't remember when she last read desire from a woman's point of view.

I thought, what? In this day and age, the idea that women feel desire is news? But then again -- when had I last read it?

Of course it exists. But if a well-read woman has to think hard before she can remember it, then we need more of it -- more women squaring their shoulders, laughing, facing the world. More women asking questions, like Irshad Manji, founder and director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University, who will speak at MCLA on Thursday, March 7 -- a woman who stands up for the tradition of questioning within Islam, "ijtihad, Islam's own tradition of dissenting, reasoning and reinterpreting," as she writes in "Allah, Liberty and Love."

If it is news that women can stride the world, then I will do my part to spread it, and I'm thankful for the courage and house-rocking soul of the Berkshire Fetival of Women Writers, and Marie-Elizabeth Mali and Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz reading their poetry at yBar, and Billie Best starting seeds on the window sills at Project Native, getting ready for spring.

Qian, my novel character, is also learning confidence an the feel of well-tended earth. In another scene, she spends a fall afternoon getting to know a garden.

In five minutes, her hands were full of golden cherry tomatoes. She pulled the end of her shirt into a pocket to hold them, and felt the curves of them against her stomach, smooth and dusted with earth, sliding and trying to spill over.

She had nothing to carry them in. She grinned. When Joel came looking for her to give her a ride home, he found her in the middle of the row, with earth on her trousers and tomato seeds on her dark red sports bra. Her tank top sat on the ground beside her, knotted at the bottom and bulged out of shape with tomatoes, and she knelt, bracing her camera on a fence post, focusing on ripening fruit.


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