Nov 1, 2005

From Out of Nowhere

this post comes with theme music - click and download if you like.

Lena Horne, Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra - Out of Nowhere

It is a rainy fucking miserable day. I feel like a lizard in dire need of a warm rock - like my blood is too sluggish to move.

Having said that, I'm going to try going for a run now. I've been hugging the radiator for the past half hour, willing the hot water to brave it up to my forth floor flat from the lazy comfort of the basement. I don't blame it for staying on the lower floors, I have days when four flights of stairs is too far to drag my laundry, and I *used* to have to go to a laundromat.

Weather like this is good for something though. It's really good for putting on Lena Horne, making a mammoth cup of coffee, and reading a book. I mean after the run.

Today I'm reading The Crystal Cabinet: My Childhood at Salterns by Mary Butts, which begins with the most delicious description of yellow mud. There is a lot of that outside today.

The mud in the shallow puddle was lovely, like something you could eat. It happened when the ivy on the porch and on the walls was smooth and glossy and shiny and dripped. You ought to be able to eat it - like cream or the yellow out of the paint-box; you ought to spoon it up. Perhaps something that isn't food and looks as if it ought to be food will taste all right this time.... I splashed full length, and for the quick second, close to the ground where I should not be allowed to stay, my nose in the smooth wet, I put out my tongue. No good, and not so soft. Gritty. So that was mud-taste, the lovely yellow mud that gravel makes. The king - I developed early a child's sense of categories - the king of muds.

I watched Batman Begins last night. I enjoyed it. My expectations of these kind of things are never very high despite the fact that I'm a big action movie fan. Don't get me wrong here, it isn't that I think action movies are good cinema, but they are generally a bit better quality than your average episode of CSI-whatever.

I also rented The Piano but didn't watch it last night. I know some people hated that movie, others loved it. I can't remember what I thought of it, because when I saw it, it was with this guy I was dating who was missing the fingers and thumb on one hand. I never asked him what happened to his fingers, but when whatsisname cut off whatsernames finger, I was so appalled and embarrassed by my own inability to ask the simple question, "dude, what happened to your hand?" that I blocked the film from my memory.

And because I'm a lazy-ass beotch, here is a re-post of that story. The Poet was no Icabod Crane, but 'tis the season for severed limbs and social retardation.


You have to have a certain single mindedness to write a chronological account of your life. You also have to have an interesting life. Notice that popular autobiographies rarely begin with the first conscious thought and progress to the moment the manuscript is sent to the publisher.

I learned two things in my creative non-fiction writing class.

1) Just because it is true doesn't make it interesting.

and this really odd one:

2) The reader needs to know at the end of the story, that the author is okay. That means, if you write something challenging and raw, you should add a ... happy ending? Well no, that's dumb. I've always grappled with this concept. What makes the author "okay"? Why does the reader need to know the author is okay? Somehow I translated that in my own mind, as this:

In order for something to be creative non-fiction (i.e. not simply an exercise in navel gazing) it needs:

A) a thesis
B) a resolution.

Both of these are difficult to have in your life, and I think this is one of the reasons that creative non-fiction is called just that: creative. Because sometimes to tell a true story, you need to embellish. Sometime the thesis and the resolution are literary pretensions that have nothing to do with what actually happened.

With that said, I should add that I have not tried to add a "thesis" or "resolution" to these stories. Do you live by a theme? Do you have to weave the untidy strands of your life into an orderly tapestry before you can write about it?

Once I dated a man who was missing the fingers and thumb on his left hand.

Dan was a poet and quite an accomplished one. I still have a couple of his published volumes. I met him one day when I stopped into a bookstore to buy a birthday gift for my sister. The poet was sitting behind a desk reading a book when I walked in. He was spare, thin and pale with light blonde floppy hair, high cheekbones and watery blue eyes, a high forehead and a long straight nose. He looked like he hadn't seen sunlight in months. He looked hungry. I was just wishing I had a snack to offer him when he put down his book and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. I said no, but I was kind of looking for some Hanuman books. Hanuman Books was founded by Italian contemporary artist Francesco Clemente and Raymond Foy. They are out of print now. Anyway, the poet at the bookstore didn't have any in stock. We chatted briefly and he gave me a handbill for a poetry reading happening that night. Not bothering to play the coquette I asked outright, "are you going to be there?"

He was.

After the poetry reading we walked over to the Lotus, a lesbian bar a block away from the Chinese Cultural Center where the reading had been held. We sat in a corner and drank beer. That was when I noticed the fingers. Or rather the lack-there-of.

We had just met, I didn't think it was any of my business where his fingers were, so I didn't ask.

After our beer at the Lotus he drove me home, I invited him in and we had a cup of milky jasmin tea at my kitchen table. He left around two in the morning.

I don't remember what year this was. I also don't know what number I should give him in my list of loves. I do know it was the year The Nightmare Before Christmas came out, because that was what we went to see for our second date.

For our third date he took me to Bruno Marti's La Belle Auberge for a spectacular dinner of pate de fois gras on warmed toast corners, fresh berry sorbet, crackling seared duck confit and some kind of cassoulet. We took our dinner in the Library which we had all to ourselves. It was a quiet evening. Bruno Marti, our chef, served us himself.

We kissed for the first time on the way back to the car after dinner. His nose was cold, there was a chilling fog in the valley and I wanted to draw him into me to somehow shield him from the cold, not just of the weather, but of the world. I wanted to warm and soften all his hard edges.

We drove back into the city and sat in my living room drinking a rustic berry-rich French wine. It was the perfect evening for a couple of young sophisticates. That is, until we bungled the suave tone of the evening by falling upon each other, mouths open, groping, clothes falling away leaving a trail to the bedroom.

Warmed and smoothed, his breathing again soft and regular, we fell asleep in a tangle of bed-sheets.

Several months later I introduced him to my mother when she was in the city. Later she asked me, "what happened to his hand?"

I said, "I don't know. I've never asked."

By then it seemed, I don't know, somehow irrelevant. Like asking a one night stand the morning after, "by the way, what's your name?" knowing you're never going to see them again anyway. Besides, by then I thought I should just know. You know? I should have asked sooner. At first it seemed as though it was none of my business. Later there was so much more we had to talk about. And eventually, it was too late to ask.

I made up some scenarios though. Like, childhood wood-chopping accident. Chef-School accident. Jealous Mafia husband accident, grizzly hangnail accident and Poison Pen accident, and so on.

But I never did ask him, "hey Dan, what happened to your fingers?"

Eventually we drifted apart. Maybe it happened sooner than it had to. Maybe he was thinking, "if she doesn't ask me about my hand by noon on the twelfth of next month, it's over for sure." I flew to Toronto on a business trip and by the time I got back somehow there wasn't much to say to each other. We met one last time and talked in my living room. There was so little to say the words were as out of place as random punctuation on a blank page.

I never saw Dan again and I have no idea where he is now. I'm not sure if this story speaks to a larger theme in my life, no doubt it does. It is probably archetypical in fact. But, the fois gras was delicious, the poetry was great. We laughed without pretension. You might have thought from my failure to enquire as to the whereabouts of Dan's digits, that I somehow managed to feign selective blindness below his left wrist, but I held his fingerless hand inside my mitten when we went for a walk in the snow and really, I didn't think about it much beyond having to occasionally answer the enquiry of a friend, "what happened to Dan's fingers?"

"I don't know. I never asked."

Maybe later this afternoon I'll write about another love of mine - A certain boy with an Egyptian blue mohawk who serended me with punk rock ballads and was awarded my virginity for the small sum of Elvis Greatest Hits Vol. One and Two.

No comments: