Csilla Toldy, a poet from Hungary who has lived in Ireland, in a small village north of here, for the past 10 years, went home this morning. We exchanged books. Self hopes to visit Csilla at her home, after she’s done with her residency. (Csilla means star in Hungarian. Isn’t that a beautiful name?)
A bunch of new people came, and one moved into the cottage right next door to self’s.
Self is still on the Jhumpa Lahiri short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, which is the book she brought with her from California, three weeks ago. At this rate, she’ll still be reading it when she leaves the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.
She’s read four stories so far (They’re really, really long. About 50 pages each. More like novellas than short stories, really. They unfold — at a stately pace. By the time self gets to the end of a story, she’s forgotten what the main characters’ names are. Self never had this problem with any of Jhumpa’s books before).
But she’s reading so many other things besides. And writing at an absolutely crushing pace. And sleeping and eating well. Hallelujah!
Today she worked on The Forest, a story that she’s received encouraging rejections for. Editors say they liked the voice. She got an idea for a new ending, after reading Marcus Cumberlege’s poetry (from his book, Running Toward a New Life, which so far doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere — not, at any rate, in any Dublin bookstore. She’ll try London book shops next)
In the evening, she decided to do laundry — a somewhat redundant activity when no one cares who you are or what you look like. This is an artists’ retreat, after all! But she really felt she ought to start applying some standards, or she’d be spending all week in her pajamas.
So, off she went to the laundry room. To read while waiting for her clothes to dry, she brought along Roxane Gay’s novel, Ayiti.
Roxane is the editor of PANK magazine, which just published self’s story Seeing. Self met her for the first time at the AWP Book Fair in Seattle, a few months ago.
Her novel opens in very telegraphic scenes. Self read at a breezy pace until the section called “Things I Know About Fairy Tales.” And there, in the laundry room of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, she found herself so wrapped up, so absorbed, so — anguished, really. In a way she hasn’t been, for a long time.
A woman returns to her native Haiti with her husband and son, gets kidnapped and held for ransom for 13 days. Afterwards:
When my kidnappers were satisfied that I had been properly bought and paid for I was cleaned up, shoved into the back of the Land Cruiser, and dropped off in the center of an open market in Petionville. I stood there in what remained of my shirt and my filthy jeans, my feet bare, my hair a mess. My hands were in my pockets, my fingers clenched into tight fists. I stood there and waited. I tried to breathe. I was not broken. I remember these details more than any others. Around me, men and women haggled over chicken and vegetables and water and cornflakes and radios. I was invisible, until I wasn’t — until I heard my husband shout my name and run towards me with a group of men I didn’t recognize. As Michael moved to embrace me, I stepped back. His expression, in that moment, I also remember. “You’re safe now,” he told me as if he understood the meaning of the word.
Self’s heart shattered into little pieces after reading that, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.