“The Decedent Is Initially Viewed Unclothed”

Self’s story, “The Decedent Is Initially Viewed Unclothed,” is included in Calyx Press’s 40th anniversary collection of prose and poetry, to be published 2016 in partnership with Ooligan Press.

She was particularly happy to learn that “the book will feature an excerpt from the memoir of Margarita Donnelly, who was a founding editor of Calyx.” Margarita passed away December 2014.

And that is all self has to say right now, sorry for this extremely short post.

Stay tuned.

The Emigrant Woman’s Tale, Performed at the Fiddlers Green Festival, Rostrevor, Northern Ireland

Self met poet Csilla Toldy at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, last year.

Csilla has a fascinating backstory: born and raised in Hungary, she managed to make it through the Iron Curtain when she was just 18 years old.

Sunday, July 19, self got the opportunity to hear Csilla and singer/songwriter Fil Campell interweave their stories of crossing borders (Fil was born and raised in County Donegal) in the Fiddlers Green Festival in Rostrevor, and it was a very moving experience.

The performance grew out of a book, The Emigrant Woman’s Tale, which was published this year by Lapwing Publications in Belfast.

The book is fascinating, but if you have the chance to catch the performances live, self would urge you to do it. Csilla and Fil are performing in Newcastle in Northern Ireland on Aug. 14, 7:30 p.m., at Annesley Hall. And on Oct. 22 they are performing at 6 p.m. in Linenhall Library in Belfast.

Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, July 2015

Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, July 2015

An Excerpt from Csilla Toldy’s piece “Growing Up Under the Red Star”:

At age three I graduated into the kindergarten in Gorky Avenue. It was a cold place with high ceilings that got lost in grey mist, teeming with hostile children and hostile wardens. I was wild, and often violent with the children, and resentful towards the adults. I used to bite children, and quite understandably, they did not like me. Nowadays, any child behaving like this could be labelled with some fancy syndrome, but in the Hungary of the 1960s, they had a different practice. Children had to be installed into society, no matter what. It was only a question of time and patience.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Journey of Emigrant Women/ Csilla Tolday and Fil Campbell

Self visited Rostrevor because Csilla Toldy was performing in the Fiddlers Green Festival.

Csilla, a poet from Hungary, and Fil Campbell, a songwriter who grew up in Belleck, on the Donegal border, were telling stories.

Csilla came through the “green border” at 18.

Fil grew up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The two women came together, decided to tell their stories as layered narrative: Csilla’s poetry and short prose, Fil’s memoir and her folk songs. The result was a book, The Emigrant Women’s Tale (Lapwing Publications, Belfast, 2015) that comes with a CD.

Yesterday’s performance: What. An. Event. Self can’t even.

And it happened in Rostrevor.

The two women are amazing.

Rostrevor is amazing.

Also, and self didn’t know this before: C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast; Northern Ireland was his spiritual home.

In Rostrevor there is a trail called The Narnia Trail.

STEP INTO THE WARDROBE!

Start of The Narnia Trail, Rostrevor, Northern Ireland

Start of The Narnia Trail, Rostrevor, Northern Ireland

How can one resist?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Victor Klemperer, Dresden, 1942

On 14 February 1942, Klemperer, aged 60 and in less than perfect health, was ordered to report for work clearing snow off the streets. He was married to a non-Jew; his wife was called a “Jew’s whore.”

They ransacked his house, taking away everything of value. Except for — the diaries.

“Desperately worried that the Gestapo would find his diaries (one is murdered for lessser misdemeanors), Klemperer started to get his wife to take them” to a “non-Jewish friend” for safekeeping.

“But,” he wrote, “I shall go on writing . . . This is my heroism. I intend to bear witness, precise witness!”

— from The Third Reich at War, Part 3 (“The Final Solution”), p. 252

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Judith Barrington

from Judith Barrington’s classic Writing the Memoir

  • What we really need . . . are new images of of what it means to be a writer: images that include healthy food, exercise, a sane attitude, and a tranquil soul — all of which are surely more compatible with great writing than is being a physical and mental wreck. We need to encourage one another in these directions and reject the old stereotypes; we must remind one another that fighting with our families or suffering through a love affair that denigrates us are not essential pastimes for a writer. After all, writing is hard enough without adding alcoholism, drug addiction and angst to the qualifications. There is no evidence that good writing requires any of them. What writing does is require that we nurture the stamina it takes to work hard and that we stay fully conscious — and alive.

— Chapter 11 of Writing the Memoir (“Watch Out for the Myths”)

Misery and Terror: Also Reading The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans

Thank God for The Infernal Devices, that is all self can say.

If not for those books, she’d be stuck reading her way through The Third Reich at War, by Richard J. Evans.

Imagine going through London with those miserable pictures in her head: the German soldiers, at least some of them, kept diaries. And Evans is nothing if not painstaking as he sifts through each individual soldier’s journals, picking out passages that highlight the emotion.

Most of the time, what the German soldiers/diarists felt when they looked at the slowly starving, slowly dying Jewish population in the Occupied Territories was terror.

It is 1939. For months, the Jews have been confined to the ghettos, isolated and starved. The German soldiers look at the lines, hundreds of people long, full of resigned, awful, starving faces.

When they see a man fall over — which happens quite often — well, it’s all right, because these people are animals. Just look at them! Dressed in sacks and rags! And look at the children, wailing non-stop! The dehumanization is the only thing that can stave off the soldiers’ terror.

Terror is in itself dehumanizing. So the soldiers are as dehumanized as the objects of their contemplation.

Naturally, they hate being put in that position. Hate, hate, hate it.

Now and then, an occasional soldier will write something like: “The wretchedness of the children brought a lump to my throat.”

But, in the next breath: “I clenched my teeth.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

From Robert Falcon Scott’s Diary of His Journey to the South Pole, 1912

Self loves nonfiction.

She loves memoir, and of all the different types of memoir she loves reading, travel books are her favorite.

A short list of travel writers self has read and admired (by no means definitive):

Sybille Bedford (A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveler’s Tale From Mexico); Mary Morris (Nothing to Declare); Wilfred Thesiger (Arabian Sands); Redmond O’Hanlon (Into the Heart of Borneo); Eric Newby (A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush); Piers Paul Read (Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors); Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness); Rebecca West (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon)

The diary of Robert Falcon Scott is extremely excruciating because it is simply a mundane list of daily chores (including, of course, a record of the freezing temperatures) but one has to remember that the man and everyone mentioned in his diary dies, in a matter of weeks.

So here we are, reading things like:

“Bowers photographing and Wilson sketching.”

“Evans looked a little better after a good sleep . . . ”

“. . . with plenty of horsemeat we have had a fine supper . . . ” (at a place with the dreadful name Shambles Camp)

“. . . lucky to have a fine day for this and our camp work . . . ”

But one can’t help reading the diary for possible clues as to how this expedition could have been saved: if they had not wasted valuable time going back for a teammate who was clearly on the point of death. If they had not been in general so slow. But they were all exhausted and so of course they were slow.

On February 4, they had food for 10 more days and 70 miles to go. It had taken all that they had to go 8 1/2 miles one day, so 70 more miles seems just on the border of possibility.

Ugh.

Closing out this post with another picture of Lake Louise from last Saturday.

May 16, 2015

May 16, 2015

Stay tuned.

“Place, Memoir, Journey” Workshop, This Saturday & Sunday

Self’s primary purpose in coming here to Mendocino is to teach a workshop. A travel writing workshop. A workshop on writing about place. About a physical location. Something that exists. And damn self is going to make the students write as hard as they can. Write write write write write write, dear students. The funny thing about travel writing is: you’re writing about place, but you’re also writing about memory. And damn we will mine those memories to the max, dear students! Especially those of you who arrive in Mendocino from far away. From, say, Louisville! So, in order to prepare the students for this wonderful two-day hard writing weekend, self has been immersing herself in manuscripts. She’s looked at Zack Linmark’s Leche, which is tremendously inspiring for voice work. And she’s reading Tony Robles’s about-to-be-published manuscript Cool Don’t Live Here No More, which is amazing for being about a specific place that he loves so much: San Francisco, South of Market (which may be disappearing under the onslaught of construction and high-tech companies moving in)

She’s also reading the absolutely heartbreaking memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave. Deraniyagala lost her entire family in the tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004. She lost her parents, her husband, and her two sons. And everyone told her: You’re so lucky you survived! Which just goes to show, people are stupid when it comes to pain. They either don’t feel it, or they feel it but they don’t want to feel it so they fight it and end up doing things like telling a woman whose entire life has been wiped out in one day: Thank the Lord you survived!

She’s also reading Thomas Lynch, who’s a poet but also an undertaker and also a memoir writer. She’s reading Nandini Dhar’s Lullabies are Barbed Nations. She wishes she had something by Atul Gawande and Abraham Verghese but after all, she could not bring her whole personal book collection to Mendocino. She’s still reading Roberto Bolaño and on the basis of the individual sentence, he is amazing. She thinks he has one sentence that goes on for two pages (Translator Natasha Wimmer, self salutes you) She will include the first page of her story “Rufino,” because it’s so far the only one of her short stories that mentions Neil Young. And Luisa Igloria’s poem “Oir” from her collection The Saints of Streets. And that’s as far as she’s taken her reading list at the moment. Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Masters of Style: A List

Self is teaching a two-day class on travel writing this weekend.

The great thing about teaching is, it makes you ponder your own predilections.

Because unless you yourself are very clear about the kind of writing you favor, you will never, in self’s humble opinion, be able to communicate anything worthwhile to your students.

These are the writers whose books have stayed longest in self’s head and heart. Some have only written one book. Doesn’t matter. The point is, their names have become part of self’s font of inspiration.

Debra Ginsberg * Kyoko Mori * Chang-rae Lee * Annie Ernaux * Tim Parks * Ron Carlson * Alison Moore * Mo Yan * Thomas Lynch * V. S. Naipaul * Gish Jen * Deborah Digges * Paul Theroux * Kathryn Harrison * Jason Elliott * W. G. Sebald * Nina Berberova * Peter Hessler * Michael Herr * Ruth Reichl * Tony Horwitz * Elmore Leonard * Brian Hall * Nicholson Baker

(Aaargh, list is getting long! Perhaps she’ll do a Part 2 later)

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

The Story “Rufino” (from MAYOR OF THE ROSES, Self’s 2nd Collection)

Towards the end, he couldn’t wear any clothes. They had to cover him in banana leaves.

It was in July he died — I couldn’t believe it. A voice on the phone told me.

“Rufino died na.” It was my mother speaking. Naturally, she had to be the one to break the news.

I was staying in a friend’s house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the mornings, fog blanketed the hills. We heard the mournful mooing of invisible cows. One or another of us would look east, toward where we heard Neil Young had his ranch, wondering whether we’d catch a glimpse of his pink Cadillac that day.

*     *     *     *     *

Mayor of the Roses was published by Miami University Press in 2005. The press was known as publishers of the American Poetry Series. Self’s collection was the first book of fiction that Miami University Press ever published.

Heartfelt thanks to Brian Ascalon Roley for bringing the manuscript to the attention of the press and Keith Tuma.

The collection’s been taught at Bates College (Maine), Pampanga Agricultural College (Magalang, Philippines), Skyline College, and Stanford University.

One story, “Lenox Hill, December 1991,” was in the syllabus of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, in a course on Ethics and Medicine.

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