Friday, November 21, 2008

Now and Then

In our old public library, a patron died reading in her chair. I was there. As gently as she could, the librarian removed the book from the widow’s hand, closed it, and set it on the table. Then she wrote a number on her cooling palm, nodded for my help, and together we shelved her in the reference section. She’s been there ever since. And when I hunger for the knowledge she possessed, I carefully take her down — a volume mute, but never dumb, her faded skirt and blouse, her rigid spine, her yellowed teeth and bones.

(first publication)

Note: Around ten years ago, I wrote a story about an old woman who died in a library. Had I taken this approach, maybe it wouldn’t have been rejected so many times — not that this piece is necessarily any better, but one never knows. Of course, ten years ago this approach would never have occurred to me, as back then I was still struggling with occasional bouts of sanity.

Here is the “tiny bit of pertinent information” that accompanies the story’s link on the title page of my Early Short Stories:

One thing I take pride in is being able to write any kind of story, according to the demands of the story itself. I don’t tell a story what to do. It tells me. If a story wants to be simple, I don’t try to make it complicated. If it decides to be crazy, I am crazy right along with it. To impose myself on a story, or to decide ahead of time how it should sound or what it should accomplish would be like denying the individuality of my own children. The approach leads to frustration, resentment, and uniformity. This brings to mind an interesting question: Is it possible for a story to resent its author? Judging by some of the stories out there, I’d say it would be impossible for them not to. Do any of my stories resent me? Undoubtedly — but for reasons they have thus far been unwilling to explain. “Miss Martin” has been rejected by editors all over the country. Finally, we had tea together one day, and she convinced me she wasn’t really the traveling type.

“Now and Then” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: unforeseen positive consequences.


Paul L. Martin said...

William, you always find a way to tell us about life from a different angle. In turn, we see the world afresh and in colors unknown before. That is the hallmark of good writing and a great writer. Thank you. I went to the library, inspired by your story/verse. The old woman, and indeed the shelf she rested upon--all gone. Replaced by computers. Done in by budget cuts, take your pick. Still, she lives in your writing, and as Shakespeare told us in so many sonnets, those described in verse are immortal. The volumn of the old widow lives.

Paul L. Martin

William Michaelian said...

Paul, thanks very much. It seems that one by one, those of us who hang around long enough end up becoming relics in one sense or another — I certainly see it happening to me. And I don’t mind a bit — am rather amused by it, in fact, and through the veil of encroaching senility see it as some sort of advantage. Imagined, of course. How pathetic; how poignant; how grand.