This week I’ve been reading a lot about illness. I read this stunning essay by Barry Silesky, poet and longtime editor of ACM, in the Missouri Review, in tandem with Bob Flanagan’s The Pain Journal. Neither piece is new, of course. Flanagan has been dead since the mid-90s. Silesky’s MS is considerably worse now than when the essay “One Step” was published. I’m reading Emily Rapp’s wrenchingly beautiful memoir, The Still Turning Point of the World, and I suppose it’s become impossible to predict whether her son Ronan will still be alive by the time the book debuts in March. It may be the truest difference between fiction and nonfiction that characters in fiction remain forever static in Time, whereas characters in nonfiction change and move and die. I think of myself by far as primarily a fiction writer, but the interplay between the character on the page and the person in life fascinates me. In fiction, you can encounter a character when you are young…say Tomas in Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being…you can encounter and perceive him when you are the age of his young wife in the novel, Tereza. Years later you can read about him when you are his mistress, Sabina’s, age. You keep changing. Your vantage point, your lens, keeps evolving, and one of the most beautiful aspects of reading a novel is the way a character seems to change because of changes in the reader. Now, I am just about Tomas’ age. Soon I will be older. Tomas never really changes. My father, on the other hand, does. About a year ago, I wrote this homage…I was going to say “to him,” but maybe what I mean is “to mortality.” But already the almost-90-year-old version of my father from that essay seems almost a young man. Things have gotten so much worse for him since then. My friend Kathy, who in that essay tells me that since she got ovarian cancer, she is grateful for and conscious of every time she laughs, has been dead now for more than 10 months. Unlike Tomas, she died off-the-page…off-screen. Her death is not part of the story. The people who populate nonfiction are the literal trees who make a sound when they fall, even if no reader is there to hear them. Fiction is always going to be my first love, but there is something to this that captivates me, and makes me look at memoir in a new way. Sometimes in nonfiction, if you introduce a gun in Act One, it keeps going off long after Act Three is over. The gun just keeps firing. Life is change.
The PEN/Robert W. Bingham Fellowships for writers.
The talented Kimberly Wetherell has been working towards making a short film, Lullaby, for almost as long as I’ve known her. The script made me cry. She has the backing of scads of other writers, but hasn’t been able to raise the necessary funding to shoot. For awhile she went down to Florida and followed some leads, but none of them panned out quite. This seems to be the life of an aspiring filmmaker. Novelists face crushing rejections of our own, but at least we don’t need upwards of 50K to write a book. Film is expensive. It can feel like an exclusive club. Kimberly has gone Kickstarter on this, and I’m rooting for her mightily to reach her goal. Check it out.
Stephen Colbert interviewed in Playboy. Yep, this time you’ll really be reading it for the articles…
At Litcrawl last week, Emily Rapp, Rob Roberge and I were heckled by three girls at a table in the front of the Make-Out Room, who were apparently on E, though they didn’t make it look as fun as I remember it being. One of the girls alternately laughed, cried, made snarky remarks, and quasi-passed-out on the shoulder of one of her girlfriends, peppered with sticking her tongue down the other girls’ throats. The bouncer eventually had to remove them, as Emily was reading. It may sound strange, but they kind of made my night. I was sorry I’d been oblivious to them while I was on the stage, but it was one of those things where you’re reading in a very crowded room and lose your ability to perceive individual things among the rushing swell of humanity and a hyperconsciousness of your own voice. Being heckled, though, might have made me feel like a comic or a slam poet. I was wearing a leather skirt because Stacy Bierlein wore a leather dress to her Rumpus/Make-Out Room reading a few months back, and I had decided that leather should be a Rumpus reading tradition. If you ever read for The Rumpus, I encourage you to wear leather too. Earlier, above the din of the crowd, Stephen told me he’d spent the morning playing board games with two dominatrixes–that seemed a hilariously incongruous way to while away time with two dominatrixes, which was, of course, his point. Later, at the after-party, some bartenders dragged out a gigantic fan and stationed it right next to the sofa Rob, Emily and I were sitting on, and it sounded like it had about 40 birds stuck in its propellers and smelled like it was blowing asbestos directly in our faces. Within moments my eyes had started to water, and we all pussied out and decided to call it a night. Out on the street, piling into a cab, we decided that we were old, but that Stephen and Isaac were probably going to close down the bar, and even then maybe still not go home. I have no idea if that’s what happened, but I really hope that it’s true.
Happy Baby is going to make a kick-ass film.