Thursday, September 3, 2015

écrire la vie

Dear Paul,

It’s clear this morning, and forty-nine degrees. About this time of day, I have to close the curtain in this northeast-facing room to keep the sun from blinding me, and from boiling and bleaching the books near the window — partial nineteenth-century sets of Bulwer-Lytton, Eugene Field, and George Meredith, a complete set of Browning, and miscellaneous other “delightfully obscure” volumes. These all rest on one of my mother’s antique tables. Around nine-thirty or so, I’ll be able to open the curtain again. I far prefer, of course, the dim light of cloudy days, and being able to leave the curtain open. And even though the big window faces the street, I leave the room exposed all night, the house being several feet higher than the street, and the small front yard rimmed by growth that gives the needed privacy — Mom’s old lilac; a volunteer cedar; a western juniper (often ghostly in the winter mist) started by seed old family friends brought my parents many years ago from the high Sierras; a volunteer lacy-green maple; a Japanese red maple wider than it is tall and a perfect haiku; and several arborvitaes I planted shortly after Mom died. Arbor (tree) vitae (of life). Perfect.

Well. You are sure you’ve mentioned Annie Ernaux, and I am sure you haven’t. But as always, when I say I am sure, it means “I am sure unless I’ve forgotten, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have.” You say she practices something called écrire la vie. Yet I wonder if either of us, or any of us, practice anything else — publicly, privately, consciously, unconsciously, and everywhere in between. In any case, I have not read her writing, but hereby make a note to do so, based on your description of it as “wonderfully poetic and spare.”

And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. The grand-kids were here all day yesterday and I need to pick up the pieces, literally and figuratively. And even if it weren’t necessary, I would still have to vacuum up my hair, which I find everywhere these days and is coming out in wads — hardly a surprise, considering my many bald uncles. And yet I started with so much that the process is taking years. At first I thought I was merely shedding, and that whatever fell out was being replaced. Indeed, for a long time, it seemed so. But the daily evidence in the shower drain speaks otherwise, as do the gray-brown drifts that pile up gently against the baseboards. Hence the silly little poem I wrote yesterday:

coiffé d’un béret

new shingles for a neighbor’s roof,
so I’m told by sound,

coiffé d’un béret,
while mine are falling out.

Until later,



Paul L. Martin said...

Your wise and thoughtful words and images are always appreciated. As for the lost hair, you are an Armenian, an ethnic group known for many impressive things, especially thick hair. Saying yours is disappearing is like saying "I am an Armenian and I hate dolma, or kufta, or kebab." Unacceptable. The ghost of cousin Willy will be making a late night trip to Salem to haunt you.

Trees like sentinels in the night. (Just thought I'd throw this in as a response to your description.)

As for Annie Ernaux, she is a treasure. I came across a quote from the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron: "...the reason that we're here in this world at all is to study ourselves." This is an apt mantra for any writer or artist, and nobody embodies it more than Ernaux.

Until later,

William Michaelian said...

An apt mantra, to be sure. And those words of Pema Chodron might well have been uttered, had he the eloquence, by Stephen Monroe. At any rate, I’ll look into Ernaux’s writing, or maybe you can suggest a good place to start. I still need to get a copy of Zibaldone, too. I’ve settled on getting the hardcover edition, and will, the next time I find forty-seven unclaimed dollars in my wallet.

Armenians and hair: about all I can say is, “No, not always.” The funny thing is, there is much more hair on my mother’s Swedish-Scotch-English side — at least her father died with a full head of it when he was seventy-six, and both of her grandfathers as well. As for Willie, he’s already here, and I’ve been haunted so long that he’ll have to step up his activity if he’s going to make any greater impression.

Jonathan Chant said...

A lovely, informative exchange between two friends. Thank you for allowing me to eavesdrop.

William Michaelian said...

Jonathan, I mentioned the other day that I am still comfortable with this blogging medium. The fact is, it still amazes me, and I think most of its limitations, if any, are those that we imagine. To realize its potential, we need to slow down and open up — take more of a nineteenth-century approach, as it were, and worry less, at the same time, whether or not anyone is listening beyond a limited circle of friends. And so, friend that you are, you can hardly be considered an eavesdropper. We are in this together, setting forth our messages, sending up our little creative flares, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to say — and I believe this with all of my heart — that, despite the physical distance between us, we are together.

Jonathan Chant said...

Very true. Deeply moved by your words - and not for the first time either. Thank you William.