Because I like watching videos of myself:
Because I like watching videos of myself:
As Dubus put it in my interview with him, “I think most writers quit between the ages of twenty and thirty for various reasons. They are alone then unless they have exceptional parents; even if they have very loving and tolerant parents, they still know in their heart of hearts that their parents wonder about what in the fuck they are doing. Unless they live in a community of writers, like at a graduate school, they don’t have friends who really understand what they are doing. They don’t get published. They work and of course, don’t get money for it. There is no one to set the alarm clock for. There is no one who cares whether they get there to work, no one who can threaten them with firing or reward them with money, and you put all that on one poor young man or woman’s back, and it takes an awful lot of courage, because it comes down to that person believing in him or herself and saying, I will do it. While having a job that supports me. And you finally do publish in something as lovely as Tendril or Ploughshares, for example, and you call your mother or father and tell them, and they say, ‘What’s that?’ I think that is why young writers can be persuaded so easily to change things to be in The New Yorker. Not for the goddamn money. What’s three thousand dollars going to do? You can’t live in Mexico on it and write. Not for long anyway. Won’t change your life. I think they do it because it takes care of those blank faces when you say, ‘Yes, I’ve published,’ and they say, ‘Where?’ and you say, The New Yorker, and they say, ‘Ooh! You must be real!’ “
To pick up a book is, ideally, to enter a world of intimacy and continuity; the best volumes usher us into a larger universe, a more spacious state of mind akin to the one I feel when hearing Bach (or Sigur Rós) or watching a Terrence Malick film. I cherish Thomas Pynchon’s prose (in “Mason & Dixon,” say), not just because it’s beautiful, but because his long, impeccable sentences take me, with each clause, further from the normal and the predictable, and deeper into dimensions I hadn’t dared to contemplate. I can’t get enough of Philip Roth because the energy and the complication of his sentences, at his best, pull me into a furious debate in which I see a mind alive, self-questioning, wildly controlled in its engagement with the world. His is a prose that banishes all simplicities while never letting go of passion.
What I’m hinting at is a power and mystery beyond me. I have to write mindlessly and without getting in the way of the process. This means, that almost everything I do, my words, my thoughts, my feelings are all a product of something beyond myself. Who I am is only slightly visible to myself. I’m afraid this strange force will leave me, eventually. And I’m afraid of what I might find the deeper I go within. I move slow and with patience. So that each word I write is an act of re-creation, a renewing, and a redemption.
When I sit down to write and I see the white blank page, the first words that inevitably come to my mind are, “In the beginning…” I’ve never started a story in that fashion, but for some reason, my mind begins with Hebrew, “Bereshit bara…”
I’m fascinated by the eternal power within the beginning of darkness and silence and the creation that comes out of that void, or as the writer of Genesis says, “tohu vavohu.” I think this way because I feel compelled to create. And because I contain a vast amount of silence. Almost everyday someone tells me how quiet I am. Very many of my thoughts, opinions, and feelings are hidden within myself. I do not know why this is so. It is a mystery to me. I often feel things before I consciously think them. Somehow my subconscious is brooding and I only feel the result of that. Accessing the thoughts in order to vocalize them or to write them is close to impossible. Therefore, what does come to my voice and to my fingers is something pulled from the depths, still dripping with darkness and pulsing with mystery.
William Deresiewicz in a lecture titled “Solitude and Leadership”.
I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.
(via The American Scholar)
Tom Standage on the world’s greatest invention.
The amazing thing about writing, given how complicated its early systems were, is that anyone learned it at all. The reason they did is revealed in the ancient Egyptian scribal-training texts, which emphasise the superiority of being a scribe over all other career choices, with titles like “Do Not Be Soldier, Priest or Baker”, “Do Not Be a Husbandman” and “Do Not Be a Charioteer”. This last text begins: “Set thine heart on being a scribe, that thou mayest direct the whole earth.” The earliest scribes understood that literacy was power – a power that now extends to most of humanity, and has done more for human progress than any other invention.
I’ve started drinking coffee in the mornings because it’s something to do. I don’t really like the taste of coffee. I like coffee mixed with other things: chocolate, sugar, cream, wasp urine, etc.
It helps though, having that coffee in my hand, sitting down at a table and unzipping my briefcase, Cat Stevens strumming in the background. It’s a good little ritual to prepare me for: reading, planning practice, thinking about writing, thinking about how I think about writing too much, and observing my surroundings.
I can do that a little better when I’m comfortable, observe that is. I can see the two girl friends talking in the corner about someone’s mother, the business man trying to get out of the office, and the young dad taking his new girlfriend and son on a morning date.
We have to see those things I think. And not just see them, but engage with them. Not always, but at some point. Whether we have a coffee in our hands or not.
I don’t really like that engaging part. It’s uncomfortable to me. It’s scary.
It’s just so important though. At some point. When we do.
The Siblings, episode 2. Rocky is addicted to Nyquil, so the Siblings decide to do an intervention.
I decided to go for a run. I didn’t eat breakfast. I drank a glass of water and stepped outside. Cash stood in the street with his hands in his pockets. He smiled. We walked together wrapped in silence, the way the fog wrapped the air. Along the river’s path a violinist strung his heart in slow gasps, like the fleeting breathes of a dying man. We stopped under the branches to watch. Tears fell down his hairless face. His hands were pale, lips thin and grey, brows and lashes shadows of the fallen past.
Cash said, “I missed you.”
I wanted him to stop talking, stop moving, stop it all so I could listen, so I could see. He walked away and found a bench. I followed him and sat. He looked peaceful.
Cash pulled out a cigarette and said, “Do you have a lighter?”
I turned away. I turned back. I felt his breath against my cheek.
Then it was gone.
• • •
During the drive to Seattle a three car wreck slowed traffic down to a standstill. After two hours I passed the flashing lights and mangled metal. I watched it and drove on. Western Washington had received steady rain for the past two weeks. Some areas had possible flooding. I did not plan to go to the funeral. I wanted to see his mother. I wanted to tell her how much Cash loved her. That he did not die sad or in pain. When I imagined her loft I saw myself standing near a window viewing the water. The sun would shine and I would hear Cashmere laughing with her. He called her Mon Fleur. But the clouds blocked the sun and Cashmere was not here. He could not say her name.
At the street entrance stood a man who asked if I was here to see Fleurette. He led me to an elevator and once at the fifth floor down the hallway. He knocked twice and an elderly woman opened the door. The man left me and the woman took my hand and sat me down on a couch. A group of four women talked around the kitchen island. A box of tissue and an ashtray was in the middle. They drank coffee. The woman asked my named.
I said, “Madeleine.”
The women in the kitchen looked up. One of them asked, “The girlfriend?” I nodded.
The elderly woman said, “Let me get you some tea.”
• • •
They sat around me and told stories of Cashmere as a child. How he wouldn’t go to sleep at night, wouldn’t take a bath, wouldn’t eat applesauce. Stubborn as a mule. Two of the women were Fleurette’s younger sisters. The other two distant cousins. The woman who led me in was a friend from Spokane. Her hand shook as she handed me a cup of tea. She pointed to the coffee table with glass bowls of sugar and cream. She sat next to me and pushed the box of tissues closer. She said, Fleurette was resting. She would be out soon.
Someone arranged pictures of Cashmere on a table in the living room. In most of them he was playing baseball or posing in his uniform, holding a bat or a glove. Trophies and plaques were displayed, autographed baseball cards and a baseball with the words, “First MLB Homerun” written in black marker, a framed copy of a check for three-hundred thousand dollars, a hand-written poem titled, “Mon Fleurette,” written in French. The last line “Love, Cashmere.” I turned away from the table and out the window across the room dark clouds brooded over Elliot Bay. Rain fell like dirty shreds of cotton. The water churned an ugly gray. A woman started crying. A door opened.
Fleurette was a lithe woman with striking black hair. She moved fluently across the room and took me in her arms. The women around us started crying. Fleurette, however, did not. She pressed herself hard into my body and then stood back and held my shoulders. She smiled.
She said, “He talked about you often.”
I tried to smile.
She said, “I have something to give you.”
I followed her into a bedroom. On the dresser sat two shoeboxes side by side. Fleurette opened one and took out a letter.
She said, “Cashmere wrote me while he was on the road. He stopped writing the last month. But I wanted you to hear his last letter.”
She unfolded the letter and started to read.
I said, “No.”
She looked at me and I sat down on the bed.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“I’m sorry dear.”
She folded the letter back up and placed it in the shoebox. She placed the shoebox next to me on the bed.
“You don’t have to take them if you don’t want to. He mostly wrote about you. That is why I want you to have them. To remember.”
Fleurette went to the mirror and dabbed at the makeup under eyes. She applied lipstick then wiped it off.
She said, “What’s the use?” And sat down next to me. She held my hands in hers. “You are much prettier than I imagined. You made him very happy.”
I wanted her to stop talking. Stop remembering. I hoped to tell her what I didn’t tell Cash before he died. But I knew I couldn’t. She was not Cash. She would not understand the way he would. We sat on a bed in Seattle, not a park bench in Portland. It was not morning, not cold, a violin did not play, no dogs barked. When I turned he wasn’t there. He would not be any longer.
I said, “Can we look at the water? I want to look at the water with you.”
Fleurette held a hand to her face and took mine with the other. We stood by the window looking out at the clouds falling into the bay. The women made food in the kitchen. Someone opened a door to let the cigarette smoke out. A teakettle steamed. Someone dropped a box of tissues and apologized.
“As a child my father would take me north up to the Buffalo Pound Lake above Moose Jaw and Regina. We traveled in his truck and the exhaust would come into the cab so we drove with the windows rolled down. It was summer so we didn’t freeze. The roads were these long stretches of open fields and trees lining the creek beds. I felt like I was the only girl in the whole world. Inside the empty space.”
“What was your father’s name?”
“His name was Robert. He called me Fleurette because I was his only flower. Down one of those empty roads, in the middle of a bare field stood this wood shack, the windows bare, strips of wood missing, and it leaned. I would watch it for miles hoping it wouldn’t fall over. I’d hold my breath. During winter the snow covered it completely and all one could see was a big bump in a white field. And then my mother died and my father started drinking and I left as soon as I could.”
“Cash didn’t tell me much about your childhood.”
“I told him little. I never told him about the shack in the empty field.”
“I think he would have liked it.”
“It’s funny. Whenever I think about that shack now, I want it to fall over. I hope it’s fallen over. If feel like it’s all fallen over.”
The next day at work Fadi’s office was empty. His secretary told me he refused to give up his contact for the Cashmere story to Danny. The guy who bought his steroids. With the Senate report due out in a few days and Cashmere’s name rumored to be on the list of players named the story needed to be out before the report.
I went to the café and found Fadi. The ashtray on the table smoked from unfinished butts. He held a cup of coffee in both hands and sat with one leg crossed over the other. I sat down. It started to rain.
He said, “I changed my mind on who I’d give my money to.”
“The park ranger’s wife or the gorillas. I said I wouldn’t give my money to either, but I changed my mind. I donated it to the woman whose husband was shot. I did that this morning and now I regret my decision.”
“Why? She will take your hundred dollars and buy groceries with it. She will feed her children.”
“What good does that do?” He stood straight up in the chair and set his coffee on the table. He put a cigarette in his mouth. His pupils grew inside his glasses.
I said, “It’s a piece. When it all falls apart and shatters we don’t know how to put it all back together. When other people help with the pieces sometimes we find hope.”
Fadi sat back and inhaled a deep breath of smoke.
I said, “You can write your story. It doesn’t matter now.”
Fadi said, “It’s all that matters now.”
• • •
On my street the neighbor kids kicked a soccer ball. They used a garbage can for a goal. One boy wore an oversized Inter Milan jersey. The rain continued to fall. Drops of water slid down their faces. The ball landed in front of me in a puddle. The water splashed my ankles.
They said, “Por favor senora. Por favor.”
I reached down into the water. Reached like the Italian fishermen into the Mediterranean, reached like the violinist with his song, like the gorillas for their children, like the widow for her husband, like Fleurette toward the leaning shack. I reached the way Cashmere reached for me.
I drop kicked it over their heads. It sailed up, up, up.
And then it fell.