A WRITER’S WIT
I would never require anyone to read any book. That seems antithetical to why we read—which is to choose a book for our personal reasons. I always shudder when I'm told my books are on required reading lists.
Amy Tan, Author of The Joy Luck Club
Born February 19, 1952
An Ageless Pursuit
Behind the Book is a weekly series in which I discuss the creative process it takes to write each of the fifteen narratives included in my latest collection, My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories. Scroll to the bottom of the post to locate links to previous Behind the Book posts.
The first glimmer involved a trip I made in 2004 to Majorca, Spain, for one of Pam’s workshops (nice, eh?). When it was over, I flew to the Netherlands to visit my relatives in s’Hertogenbosch in the southern part of the country (only an hour’s train ride, by the way, from Amsterdam). During that first week in November, all the Dutch media could talk about was the Bush/Kerry fight for president. But when Theo Van Gogh, great-grandson of Theo van Gogh, brother to the famous artist, Vincent, was assassinated, the country was in a huge uproar; it was all you saw on TV. My aunt, normally quiet and well-spoken, cried out in Dutch, “Jesus Christ,” upon hearing the news over the phone. I did not witness the event, as did my character, and perhaps the event doesn’t register as much shock with him as it does with the natives. But I believe both of us felt relieved that there was no delay at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, that we were able to get out of the country as planned.
Another glimmer occurred after I arrived home in Texas. I was at the gym one day and finished up my swim with a trip to the dry sauna. Indeed, two Asian women (I transform them into Koreans for the purpose of connecting with my narrator who is a Dutch/English/Korean translator) saunter into the sauna and commandeer the space by laying six towels each to make pallets. The rest, of course, I imagined. I was so upset that Bush had won again (not like the previous election, which my character refers to as the “the supreme court junta of 2000”), and I’m afraid my character becomes a mouthpiece for my rants from the period.
The third “glimmer” was handed to me by my partner, Ken, who had observed something quite odd one morning in Lubbock traffic. He said that he looked out his window while stopped at a light and observed a woman who opened her car door and lay a Styrofoam bowl of cereal in the street, where obviously cars would run over it. The nonbiodegradable substance would scatter somewhere across the West Texas landscape and get trapped, mostly likely, at the base of someone’s chain-link fence. If it made it into the landfill, it would molder for at least a million years. The narrative was so bizarre that, even though I didn’t observe it first hand, I claimed it as my own, embellishing it in every way possible. It is one more indignity my delicate character must suffer.
So . . . worldly Texas translator travels to Holland to work short term for Dutch government. Witnesses assassination of famous and controversial film director, Theo van Gogh. Meets and engages with beautiful Dutch woman. Back home in Texas, he observes Korean women taking up more space than he believes is necessary in the genteel arena of a dry sauna. And finally, he has an altercation in traffic when he sees a funny-looking woman lay a bowl of unfinished cereal on the pavement. He ends his story rather philosophically, trying to fit himself into the larger picture of life, something we all do from time to time.
A PASSAGE FROM THE STORY:
“I was born in 1950, my grandparents in the 1890s, their kinfolk having related to them passed-on tales of the Civil War. That world is now as yellow as the Stone-cutters’ world, and it occurs to me that some day the time in which I live will be much the same for those who will have reached the age I am now. In an instant I jump up and flip on the floods outside my bedroom patio. Without a robe on, I slide the door open, and, in the stark, stabbing cold, I grab my hand shovel and dig six holes in the crusty soil. I quickly bury Lotte’s bulbs five inches beneath the surface. I mark the holes with flat vertical sticks that, in the light, shine like tiny grave markers. I mumble a little something over them and jump into bed, where, under the thick covers, I can barely breathe” (269).
Click here to buy a copy of My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories, where it is available at Amazon.
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2015
CATCH UP WITH EARLIER POSTS OF BEHIND THE BOOK
11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records
11/20/14 — "My Long-Playing Records" — The Story
11/27/14 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
12/04/14 — "Ghost Riders"
12/11/14 — "The Best Mud"
12/18/14 — "Handy to Some"
12/25/14 — "Blight"
01/01/15 — "A Gambler's Debt"
01/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
01/15/15 — "Men at Sea"
01/22/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"
01/29/15 — "Engineer"
02/05/15 — "Snarked"
02/12/15 — "Killing Lorenzo"