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.
The four winds, humors, blood types, corners, directions, seasons, the four chambers of the heart, the four chambers of a cow’s stomach, the four-in-hand knot, the four railroads of Monopoly, four eyes, four dead in Ohio, the four speeds of the record player playing quartets, Motown and Moptops.
I first heard about FC2 when I was an editor at Quarterly West, the literary magazine at the University of Utah. We published several of their authors and FC2 would send us books when they were published. Sometime in there I bought Brian Evenson’s The Wavering Knife.
The text is the residue of a nine-month-long performance piece during which I carried out a specially designed three-pronged system for culling and mixing material from more than a decade of my own journaling with tiny bits of other texts, according to a schedule designed to challenge my short-term memory in various ways.
Last Sunday, the beautiful woman on TV, the soldier home from Iraq with shrapnel still deep in her brain, said doctors gave her one chance in a hundred to wake, one in a thousand to do more than bob and babble. And here she was, radiantly amazed, smiling sweetly.