“But,” I kept saying, and later was still moved, still seeing, later, the building of white and red where we had paused, where the word story took on a new shape, weight, texture, even a folding-back on itself like in the pattern of a row of chairs or of a seamed wall made up of slender, insistent roots. “But,” I kept saying, and kept saying later still, “but that’s . . . just . . .”
Archive for May, 2009
An hour on the subway from one borough to another, with a carful of strangers.
I finish reading Disgrace.
Behind me a loud, clear voice says, “You don’t own me. You think you do, but you don’t. Listen to me, sir, I ask you to listen to me. I have a voice. I am here. You can’t come here and try to fuck with me and not expect a response. This is my response. Listen to me, sir, because I have a voice.”
Some people move away. Others turn in their seats to stare. I turn around as well, expecting a conclusion to the performance, movement up and down the train car for change, but the young man standing by the door has closed his mouth and is now glaring at the seats across from him. The object of his glare: deer-in-headlights tourists. I don’t know what they’d done to offend him, but I do wish he’d finished his poem.
My sister texts me that she will be late to the restaurant for lunch, but I barely take notice, too distracted by the fact that I can’t concentrate on The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. I’d also brought along this novel for the ride to Flushing, as I was nearly done with Disgrace—finish one book, I’d happily thought, and then start another. What folly! Reading for pleasure cannot begin and end so distinctly, not when the pleasure is distilled into pain and astonishment, when the book ends, quietly, on a changing world and on the narrator discovering a foreign thing called love. Close one book, and then open another? How arrogant.
I call my mother to tell her that my sister will be late. She says it’s all right, to come to the apartment first. There, I will give flowers to my mother and father for their wedding anniversary, and I will give my father, for his birthday, a plant with a fisherman sculpted at its base, and then later I will give my mother my Little Camera That Could because she asks for it, and after that she will chastise me for my plans to send gifts to the Chinese cousins, insisting that she understands Chinese customs and that I do not, and then later still, at the restaurant finally, I will eat my rice and think about the book I couldn’t bring myself to start reading and the one I’d finally finished, whose last line I’d peeked at weeks ago and had not understood, until I was within ten pages of the end, exactly how it would devastate me and how it had devastated many before me.
Four writers at PEN discuss fiction—and one of them clearly does not belong. Her back is ramrod straight, as is her uniform gaze. She defends herself without the slightest expression on her face or inflection in her thin voice, and yet this is somebody who claims to believe in the truth of her art. When she talks about fiction, she refers to herself. When she talks about the world, she is talking about herself. And then she brings it home: “I write with no Audience in mind, only for Myself.” Is there any need, then, to actually read her writing?
So! That’s a person born with a silver spoon up their ass—the entitled snot! Me, I’ve had to learn to whittle a puny little stick all by myself, using my own bootstraps to ram it in. But who am I kidding? With somebody like R.R. around, I’ve got no chance in this world. I’m pulling the stick out.
Dear R.R.: If you truly believe that it is solely to and for yourself that you write, I beg you to please reconsider this stance, which seems to have been made entirely from the shit pooling so complacently around your ankles, likely blanched of any color or odor so that your poor readers won’t know what they’ve stepped into until the slimy trail of footprints from kitchen to bedroom, from home to office, is slipped on, and only after a puzzling minute of retracing the steps would the readers remember in whose vicinity they’d been standing. Or else reconsider your role as published author.
Of course I am not referring to the very public machinations involved in publishing, including query letters, acceptances, rejections, publicity, marketing, sales, PEN panels, lunch parties, launch parties, pity parties, penvy parties, but to the writer’s personal relationship with and responsibility to his or her readers. As a reader I want to be claimed. I don’t care if I never meet the writer who’s laid claim to me—meeting the writer is a bonus, an epilogue, a coda, a sunset, a shuddering trickle or tickle after the piss has been let loose—but as long as the words create a pact with me, I’m happily showered agolden.