Writing, like prayer, must be a daily practice. For almost thirty years I’ve kept what I once called a “Book of Wonders” and now, in my age of awe, refer to as “The Gospel of Grief & Grace & Gratitude.” I have no rules or purpose: my apocryphal gospel includes songs of loons and visions of owls, flowering saguaros, hungry grizzlies — the last words of my father’s last days — my sister Wendy playing Beethoven on our grandmother’s piano.
Finding horrific and complicated humanity inside of a simple stare down between a rat and an exterminator, philosophical treatises, even cracking open the words themselves and experimenting with the implications of their order.
On the third day of October, 2002, my father entered Swedish Hospital in Seattle and began his final journey, heart and liver and kidneys failing. He loved life, and loved his family. Even in the last days, filled with toxins and heavily sedated, our father was teaching us to rejoice in every living moment.
The 7th Man is a prison guard’s fevered confession to his role in 131 executions. As a member of the strap down team, he is compelled to rehearse, to perfect his timing and skills, to synchronize his movements with the precise choreography of the team. Each member takes his turn playing the role of the condemned, the 7th man, “because no body is the same, and every man responds differently.”
The biblical story of Job’s suffering is a darkly comical puppet show that swiftly opens into a transcendent poem of anguish, awe, and surrender. When God boasts of Job’s goodness, the Accusing Angel replies his piety is a performance of faith born of wealth and comfort.
Seventeen weeks in the womb, and now your ears are open, ready to receive, exquisitely developed. You live in a waterworld, immersed in vibration and sound: the unceasing whoosh of blood through the uterine artery, your mother’s heart and breath, the surprising syncopation of your own glorious heartbeat.
I wanted to write a story about migration and where we come from. When I look at my own family who came over on the Mayflower from England, I see how they got entangled in the Salem Witch Trials. And I come from a place of complication that resulted from those trials. I was trying to find a way to write about three modes of time at once and I came across some music by the Chinese composer Tan Dun.
FC2 was the kind of press I’d save my cash for at writers’ conference book sales. Or if I didn’t have any cash, I’d spend hours browsing the catalog online. Between FC2 and Dalkey Archive, I have spent all my imaginary dollars.
I’d read about FC2 for a long time, which meant that when I joined the board of National Book Critics Circle in the ’90s I was excited to meet Ron Sukenick who, I decided, looked a bit like John Updike, the big difference being that Ron was a warm, immediate, generous and — do I dare say lovable? — person.
Although FC2 feels like something I’ve always known about at a sort of cellular level, the truth (and I use the term loosely) is that I was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, thumbing through new arrivals at the library late one Friday night, when I stumbled across a copy of 98.6.