Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Woman of Samaria

While preparing No Time to Cut My Hair for publication, I was reminded of another writing project I almost but didn’t quite assign myself back in 2005. At the time, I was reading around in a 1947 anthology called A World of Great Stories, a hefty collection of short fiction from around the world. My idea was to read each story in the book, and before moving on to the next, write a new one of my own. The book contains 115 stories in all, so this would have been an even more ridiculous task than my Hair collection. I was especially interested in the kinds of stories I might write while engaged in reading such a variety. I’d be a fool to say common sense prevailed, but something certainly did, because soon thereafter, caught up in my mother’s growing health crisis, I began writing more poetry and much shorter work in general. I was, of course, just as interested in the kind of work I’d write under that new circumstance. And with the ordeal now mostly behind me — I say “mostly” because it seems I’ve yet to come fully to grips with that difficult period — I still feel the same way. Here’s a journal entry from that time in 2005:

It would also be a shame not to mention Gabriel Miro of Alicante, Spain, whose short story, “The Woman of Samaria,” I have not read. Years ago, we raised Alicante grapes on our farm. The Alicante is a seeded grape prized for its red juice and the color it imparts to wine. For a time in Fresno, I worked at a nursery with a young man from Japan. He knew something about making wine, and was quite interested when I told him about our Alicantes. When the grapes were ripe, I arranged for him to have some. My father picked them himself and brought them to Fresno. Unfortunately, not long after that, I left the nursery in search of thornier roses, and the young man and I fell out of touch. I don’t know how the wine turned out. Gabriel Miro studied law at the universities of Valencia and Granada. William Saroyan begins his novel, The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, thus: “My name is Wesley Jackson, I’m nineteen years old, and my favorite song is Valencia.” And then Wesley says he likes the way the fellow hollers at the top of his voice: Valencia! In my dreams it always seems I hear you softly calling me! Valencia! Dat tarrata Dat tarrata Dat tarrata, dat ta ta! Gabriel Miro worked on a “sacred encyclopedia” in Barcelona and wrote many novels. Two of the best known are Our Father San Daniel and El Obispo Leproso. I myself have been to San Luis Obispo, in California. Miro was born in 1879. He died in 1930. Did he finish his sacred encyclopedia? Or did it finish him? It is easy to imagine him surrounded with books and papers and notes and candles and bottles of fine Spanish wine stopped with fine Spanish cork, working away on his encyclopedia, wondering what was really sacred and what wasn’t, and becoming angry when he realized he’d mixed up the two. Had he lived a long time, say another eternity or two, he might finally have figured it out. Was he married, I wonder? Did he have children and grandchildren? If so, they were probably the only encyclopedia he really needed. But it is easy for a man to become distracted by seemingly sacred things, and to miss perfectly good home-cooked meals trying to put them into some kind of meaningful order. Next to Christ, for instance, you would have chrysalis and chrysanthemum. On the same page as Aquinas, you would have alto saxophone and apple. Under God, you would have I’m hungry — for everything.

Recently Linked: I’m pleased to welcome Pedro Nunes as a follower of Recently Banned Literature. Mr. Nunes is an art collector at the Pereira da Silva Art Gallery in Porto, Portugal. He also contributes to a blog that focuses on the life and artwork of the Portuguese sculptor.


Elisabeth said...

Gosh, this journal entry is fascinating, but I'm glad you found you had no time to cut your hair. The shorter pieces, the poetry work better for me.

I can talk. I'm ponderous in my blog entries but I cannot boast the talent of a poet and you can.

William Michaelian said...

Well, we are who we are, and whatever our talent or talents might be, I think we owe it to ourselves to pursue them and bring them into the light. In the meantime, the writing in any piece, be it short or long, poetic, straightforward, or somewhere in between, must suit its purpose. As writers in it for the long haul, we succeed at varying degrees, as our attention and observation allow, and according to our willingness to surrender to the needs of the work at hand. It’s an ongoing exploration. And I would hardly call your blog entries “ponderous.” Part of your process is to understand and clarify matters as you go. I too learn best when I write. Maybe we’re on different roads that lead to the same place. That said, it’s also natural, or at least it seems so to me, that one’s work would change over the years, like any living thing.