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What Not To Read April 2, 2013

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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Dear Maud:

I anxiously opened the latest package from Quarterly with your most recent book selection because it was unexpected, my debit card gone lost on Carnival day and the number the company had no longer valid. I will read the enclosures later today. I know Roxanne Gay’s work through The Rumpus, but first I had to pick up the book. I hefted The Colossus of New York, weighing the “A tour de force” from the Times Book Review between the title and the author’s name. I wasn’t far into the opening, “City Limits” when I laid it down again, worried this book could be The One, except she’s already married. It could be the book of New Orleans I’ve been writing by fits-and-starts, in private and on my blogs, for the last seven years. It is the book I have to write or I’ve run my life all to hell for nothing. And it will have been done already, by another writer for another city.

The jacket copy alone should have been enough to warn me but I had to go ahead and open it, read through the blurbs (Danger, Will Robinson) and into the first chapter and I know New York isn’t the only place one where the initiated live in the memory of what’s gone. I just read Elena Passarello’s Let Me Clear My Throat, the excellent essay on the sportscaster Myron Cope and that piece basically could just as well have been about New Orleans’ own Hap Glaudi and the essay says exactly the same damn thing as “City Limits”. Whether its New York or Pittsburgh or New Orleans the old souls carry that geography of used to be in their heads. It’s not unique to Colson Whitehead or New York. Still, I’m afraid this is the book that would ruin me to write the book I should, afraid it might swallow my own voice like a haunted box or I will find my own plans laid out before me, my ship taken and me left to rot on a waterless rock, that it might leave me feeling incapable of the task, might rob me of the right idea of how to organize my own love letter cum ode and all of the other fine words of the reviewers on the back Whitehead’s.

But I’m going to keep it. I guess I’ll have to pay Quarterly who just dinged me again after trying to bill my old debit card, just when I was about to drop the subscription along with the Rumpus Poetry Book Club because when you are down to rolling your own cigarettes even some necessities have to go. I’m going to wrap this book up in Christmas paper and put it in the box where I keep my measly Christmas things, a drug-store Charlie Brown tree and the Marilyn Monroe skirt-girl ornament that hangs from it, that wicker basket cone with the red berries I wore as a hat to the Brew du Vieux holiday party with a bicycle flasher on top and the doorman wrote “Blinky” on my taster cup and “Sparklie” on my date’s and we took one look at our cups and could have danced all night, and still have begged for more—there I go, off on a tangent again but that is not just me, or a conscious, writerly voice: it is this city. If you are not ADHD when you arrive in New Orleans you will be when you leave because Look a tuba! Our squirrels carry parasols and saxophones and dance at funerals and peek out from the carpet as bits of glitter you still find 40 days after Mardi Gras and you can’t help but stop and look.

So, I’ll put this book in away in that box wrapped in dollar store Santa paper and leave it until then, until I have a manuscript. No, I haven’t been writing much of that sort on the blog lately, those odd bits of New Orleans. I walk down the street and instead of finding those perfect bits of New Orleans—Leopold Bloom crossing Bourbon Street—instead I find myself looking for a good place to put out my cigarette. And I need to snap out of it. I know it’s a curse to say My Book aloud and in public when you don’t have one but I think of it as a geis, a particular sort of Celtic curse the universe lays on you that will either lead to tragedy or triumph and it is all on you to live within its bounds. And when I unwrap this book at the end of the year, I’ll write you again—perhaps privately, this time—and say, ah, Maud, you shouldn’t have. I didn’t even send a card.


Mark Folse

Memory & Imagination October 22, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, Memory, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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One of my favorite topics. This is entirely cribbed from the blog of Maud Newton [sigh] of Oct 8.

“For the young — and especially the young writer — memory and imagination are quite distinct, and of different categories. In a typical first novel, there will be moments of unmediated memory (typically, that unforgettable sexual embarrassment), moments where the imagination has worked to transfigure a memory (perhaps that chapter in which the protagonist learns some lesson about life, whereas in the original the novelist-to-be failed to learn anything), and moments when, to the writer’s astonishment, the imagination catches a sudden upcurrent and the weightless, wonderful soaring that is the basis for the fiction delightingly happens.

These different kinds of truthfulness will be fully apparent to the young writer, and their joining together a matter of anxiety. For the older writer, memory and the imagination begin to seem less and less distinguishable. This is not because the imagined world is really much closer to the writer’s world than he or she cares to admit (a common error among those who anatomize fiction) but for exactly the opposite reason: that memory itself comes to seem much closer to an act of imagination than ever before. My brother distrusts most memories. I do not mistrust them, rather I trust them as workings of the imagination, as containing imaginative as opposed to naturalistic truth.”

– Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened Of

The Sad, Sad Sargasso Sea February 6, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I should probably save this to lede this week’s Odd Words, but it’s too good not to want to share it now. Maud Newton [sigh] collects quotes on fact and fiction and the autobiographical impulse. Today’s favorite from the list:

“When I think about it, if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy than write. You see, there’s very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down. I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes. I think it was Somerset Maugham who said that if you ‘write out’ a thing… it doesn’t trouble you so much. You may be left with a vague melancholy, but at least it’s not misery — I suppose it’s like a Catholic going to confession, or like psychoanalysis.” — Jean Rhys

This led me to Google The Wide Sargasso Sea, read long ago in college, and I think the tale of the dislocation of a colonial to an unfamiliar and unhappy England will have to go on the read (or re-read) stack, if only for its sense of connection with my own twenty year displacement from this northernmost outpost of the Caribbean to the vaguely alien country farther north.