"You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. “Floods” is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was."
—Toni Morrison, from “The Site of Memory,” What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction, ed. Carolyn C. Denard (University Press of Mississippi, 2008)
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.”
“In some ways, I think it’s the closest that we come to the truth — is in the form of fiction.”
Laila Lalami explains why she chose to write about Estebanico, a slave and explorer from the 16th century, in the form of fiction rather than nonfiction.
Estebanico was a Moroccan slave on the ill-fated Narvaez Expedition. He was one of only 4 men to survive out of a party of 600.
"I came across this mention of this expedition and of the fact that this Moroccan slave was said to be the first African explorer of America," Lalami tells NPR’s Arun Rath. "And I was Moroccan and I thought, ‘Well, how come I’ve never heard of him?’ "
Lalami’s new book, a fictional memoir from Estebanico’s point of view, is called The Moor’s Tale.
Six slow night miles - half trail, half pavement. All dark, barely a moon, just the headlamp and the red blink of my husband up ahead, half mile, then mile, then eventually gone. But there were bats and crickets and frogs and stars. Lots and lots of stars.
There’s a point in every story, usually about 1/3 - 1/2 of the way through, where, if it’s going to start going downhill in a way that’s tough to recover, that trajectory is going to start showing itself right around that marker. If it’s a story I’m attached to (and most of them are, or why bother with them?), that’s a devastating, almost debilitating feeling. Once in a while I can use brute force to push the story to around the 2/3 - 3/4 mark just to be sure, but often if it started to go bad earlier, it doesn’t get any better. And so I end up with a tall stack of stories all stalled in about the same place. I’ll make myself open those files, still, and try to work with them again, but I’ll get overwhelmed with a strong sleepiness almost immediately that makes it hard to think. Everything feels like I’m looking at it through Vaseline. If I close that file and work on something that hasn’t stalled yet, everything clears. At least until I hit the 1/3 - 1/2 mark on that one, and then we start that cycle again.
Burlesque, pawn shop slumming for new pocket knives and other trinkets, a night celebrating Dia de los Muertos, maybe even in costume? Running Mt Charleston trails, the Erotic Heritage Museum, the Bellagio conservatory, used book store browsing, casual strip grazing (in the foodie sense), roller coasters, indoor skydiving? Another small tattoo?
Must be a November weekend in Las Vegas with friends. Hurry up.
I’ve recommended Tony Hoagland before, but I’m doing it again tonight.
I never say “banged out pages” (though I always like the sound of it when writer-friends say it) because I rarely bang out anything, I’m as slow a writer as I am a runner. But today, I have to say, I banged the shit out of the opening pages to a short story. Three pages, about 1000 words, in less than 30 minutes. Rare for me.
Correlation? It’s a story I’ve thought about a lot but kept at arms length because of its utter peculiarity, a strange bawdiness, no clear, clean way through it, and I didn’t feel like it would ever be received well. Though it felt completely right and familiar to me, and I eventually dug in.
“It is not memory we want, but forgiveness. We rub our hands against the dusk. Out of which sunsets blossom. Out of which your footsteps weigh, but lightly, on my soul, you, from whom relation darts wildly about like a bat in the rafters, gathering the last scraps of daylight held in abandoned mirrors, you, hoisting the heaviness of each failed dream, for it is you I touch as we shift the burden of our desires from one shoulder to another, as we watch the swallow’s flight decipher the landscape, as the scarecrows of feeling are trying on our words, for who can say, now, how many stars are missing?”
— Richard Jackson, closing lines to “Possibility,” from Heartwall (University of Massachuetts Press, 2000)
"I can only speak for myself, but there’s something about writing at night that feels … sneaky. There’s an outlaw quality to it, combined, oddly enough, with a sense of being safe. It has an anaerobic, subterranean feel; it’s as if I’m working beneath the soil, toiling in secret, trying to cultivate something hidden and occult.”
“There are two types of waiting. There’s the the waiting you do for something you know is coming, sooner or later—like waiting for the 6:28 train, or the school bus, or a party where a certain handsome boy might be. And then there’s the waiting for something you don’t know is coming. You don’t even know what it is exactly, not exactly, but you’re hoping for it. You’re imagining it and living your life for it. That’s the kind of waiting that makes a fist in your heart.”
“Practically speaking, a life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking, brings us close to the actually-existing world and its wholeness.”