Monday, July 21, 2008

Chris Abani Touches Crowd, and Joan Larkin Reads and is Honored at Centrum

Monday July 14, 2008

5:30 a.m.
Barked at a seal in the Strait of Juan de Fuca along the Fort Worden shore
In reply the slick head ducks, a glistening smooth fat blob flips up and over
Gone is all evidence of the sea dog's presence, right left and ahead nothing but ripples in the outgoing tide.

Half asleep my horizon askew, I imagine a dolphin frozen in mid-air or mid wave, a buoy perhaps.

Thinking all the time about my manuscript: Do I really want to start with Jake and Nita's first meeting, or with the first chapter I wrote as such, starting off in Prague? Do I opt for chronology or association, should I stick to the memoir and make the first chapter a fictional account? I hope to find clarity during my stay at Centrum.

Breakfast at the Commons much better than dinner the previous night. Someone says breakfast will be our best meal. I hope for more, for good meals three times a day. For nourishment of the soul and the body.
I start by connecting with Kathleen Alcala by telling her I've read her books (but left them at home, so no chance to get her to sign them here). We talk about Crypto Jews and the fate of Patrilineal Jews in the United States and the Netherlands. She suggests I read The Cross and the Pear Tree by Victor Perera

In the afternoon I attend the lecture by Chris Abani. He says talking about craft makes him nervous, so he reads something about the philosophy of writing. He mentions story templates: "Once upon a time - suddenly - luckily - they lived happily ever after", and "The Invention of the Kaleidoscope", Alpha Zulu (by Gary Lilley), what it means to be human, thoughts about ethics and narrative, "reaching for the human moment". A colleague ("a real f…r") asked Abani: "What does it mean to be human?" Ethics, the narrative, the human, the other.

Talking about The Goat's Song (I wrote down "the goat diaries", where did that come from, the reference had to be about Dermot Healy's novel) Abani notes that in Jewish folklore goats lead to heaven (or paradise?) and he relates a story about killing a goat: If you cry about this (the killing) you'll die of a broken heart.

"Face the most terrifying things in narrative," he says. I scribbled: "scapegoats = narrative thread" and "draw out all courage and kindness plus goodness and combine it with death."
When talking about his mother, his writing about death, he pauses, swallowing hard. The fate of the poet in exile personified.
Abani wishes for us that we may cry but not die of heart ache. And I know that is possible, for I've survived the worst heart ache, I've recovered the spark in my eye, my sense of humor and lust for life.

At dinner the night before, Ellie, who prior to her move to Port Townsend had been a member of the same critique group in Seattle as I, made a remark about the wonderful health care system in the Netherlands, and without missing a beat I say: But my baby died there! And while she bends over in shock, remembering, for it was she who proof read my book on infant loss and grief and recovery nine years ago, I think her "faux pas" is funny, a joke, and smiling, with a spark in my eye I fill in the person who sits to my left, who's wondering what's going on.
"My baby daughter died during the last five minutes of her breech delivery, and Ellie just remarked how good health care is in the Netherlands.
The look on her face shows disbelieve, she reads the discrepancy between message and countenance as denial perhaps. In her eyes I'm the bad actress unable to convey a message in a believable manner.
In my mind my response, however dark, the humor shows I've recovered. I'm not hiding from grief, I'm not in denial. And it's not that I'm beyond grief. Around Ariane's birthday, seeing Miley, the young singer at fifteen, the same age our daughter could have been this year, made me weep for a week. I cringe when I hear a friend say he's been waiting all his life for the moment that he would become a grandfather, because that chance was taken from my husband when the doctor decided she'd rather finish her dinner than allow the co-assistant to get the O.R. ready for my C-section. But that's a whole other story. The story today is that I cried ten years and didn't die of heart ache, and fifteen years after our loss I can even laugh when someone makes a boo-boo that involves our fate.

Joan Larkin is honored by Goddard College and Centrum with a reception to which MFA students and conference attendees are invited. Good nosh and drinks, schmoozing. After dinner Ms. Larkin reads from her work at the Wheeler Theatre.

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