Reading and writing my way through uncertain times

These are anxious times. It is easy, if you think too much, to wonder about the value of putting pen to paper with an atmosphere of doubt lingering so heavily in the air. But then, if you think a little further, wavering gives way to urgency. Reading and writing become acts of resistance, distraction, and revitalization. Or, that is what I remind myself.

I don’t want to venture too far into politics, but it would be naïve to pretend that we are not facing an unpredictable future. This uneasiness has been heightened for me over the past few weeks by an unproductive job search and increasing concern about my financial security as I’ve watched my cash buffer dwindle. The truth is though, with a will awaiting grant of probate, I stand to eventually find myself in a much better financial position than I had ever could have imagined. It doesn’t mean I won’t have to secure some outside income, hopefully some of that ultimately coming from writing related services, but I do dare to dream of finally having more freedom after years of struggling with identity, mental illness, and the challenges of a state of single parenthood that has extended far beyond my expectations.

2015-08-09 17.37.38So, world affairs aside, what right do I have to be anxious and insecure about writing? I suppose it’s enough that I am human, but I am also plagued by the unshakable feeling that I’m an impostor. All my life, the only thing I ever really wanted to be was a writer. And no matter how difficult writing is (and always has been), I still feel deliriously guilty to have been afforded, over the past two years of stress leave, the time and space to connect with writers, readers, translators, and publishers. It is a gift I am not ready to give up, rather I want to mould a life that will allow me to continue to read, write, edit, and grow.

And yet, every time I sit down with a pen and paper, or open a blank Word document the same fear that I will never write another solid review or creative essay sets in. Impostor.

I have two longer term projects—an extended personal essay/memoir and a constraint-driven experimental piece—in the early formative stages. Consequently, much of my present reading is directed towards exploring the ways ideas can be developed and stories can be told.  But every now and again I come up against a work that triggers my insecurity.

loiteringCase in point: I am slowly making my way through Loitering by American essayist and short story writer, Charles D’Ambrosio, and after each essay I feel temporarily overwhelmed. I can easily see why the friend who kindly sent me this book speaks of it so highly. Rather than attempting to review the entire collection at once, I want to pull out and look at some of the individual pieces along the way. They are that good.

First of all, D’Ambrosio notes in his Preface that, for him, the right to doubt is essential to the successful personal essay. “Loitering,” the title piece, is a perfect illustration of how and why this works. The setting: The middle of the night, outside a residential complex in the Belltown district of Seattle. Yellow police tape cordons off several blocks, while a large contingent of policemen and a cluster of journalists and TV news reporters wait in the rain. D’Ambrosio arrives at the scene around 2:00 AM, drawn by the reports of domestic violence and a possible hostage taking. With a Hollywood-tinged sarcastic romanticism, he imagines the scenario:

This guy—the Bad Guy—apparently thought he was just going to drink a few beers and bounce his girlfriend against the walls and go to sleep, but instead of a little quiet and intimate abuse before bed he’s now got major civic apparatus marshaling for a siege outside his window. No sleep for him tonight, and no more secrets, either, not at this unholy intersection of anomie and big-time news.

The clichés he arrived with quickly fall away as he joins the vigil. Quite frankly he is in rough shape himself. One of the key drawing cards for D’Ambrosio on this night is simple lack of human contact. A recent fishing trip has left him with severe atopic dermatitis due to contact with neoprene and he’s just spent a week isolated at home—his fingers, neck, feet, and legs swollen and covered with weeping sores.  Medication and the constant tingling sensation prevents him from sleeping, crackheads have stolen his duffle bag from his truck leaving him without a belt or a raincoat and now, armed with file cards and a pen lest he find a story, he is standing in the dark, soaking wet with his pants falling down. Nothing like setting a memorable scene.

As the night wears on he spots a man, angry, looking a reporter, someone to listen to his story. He makes his way through the crowd of journalists but no one wants to hear him out—a wretched resident displaced by the hostilities unfolding in his building, he is not on their agenda:

He’s now caught in between, trapped in some place I recognize as life itself. It’s obvious he hasn’t been sober in hours and maybe years. If it could be said that these big-deal journalists have control of the story… then this guy is the anti-journalist, because in his case the story is steering him, shoving him around and blowing him willy-nilly down the street. The truth is just fucking with him and he’s suffering narrative problems. He began the night with no intention of standing in this rain, and his exposure to it is pitiful. As he moves unheeded like the Ancient Mariner through the journalists I feel a certain brotherly sympathy for him, and I’m enamoured of his utter lack of dignity.

Our hapless would-be reporter knows the man will be back and knows that he alone will listen to him. And so he meets Dennis, a vet, and his friend Tom, a Native American man. Through them he will learn more, in so much as anyone knows anything about the armed man holed up inside in one of the sparse low-income units, and the story, through the eyes and words of this most astute and sensitive observer becomes one of the tragedy of the poor and dispossessed rather than a dramatic shootout and fodder for the six o’clock news. After years of working in human services, the tableau D’Ambrosio paints of the evacuated residents relocated to a city bus to wait out the proceedings rings true—a scene that could easily be played out in my city, or any other North American centre for that matter:

Inside this bus what you see is pretty much a jackpot of social and psychic collapse, a demographic of bad news. Everybody in there’s fucked up in some heavy way, dragged out of history by alcohol, drugs, mental illness, physical decrepitude, crime, old age, poverty, whatever. Riding this bus in your dreams would give you the heebie-jeebies big-time. There are maybe ten or fifteen people on the bus but between them if you counted you’d probably come up with only sixty teeth. In addition to dental trouble, there are people leaning on canes, people twitching and barefoot with yellow toenails curled like talons, gray-skinned people shivering in gauzy nightgowns, others who just tremble and stare. They’ve been ripped out of their bedrooms and are dressed mostly in nightwear, which is something to see—not because I have any fashion ideas or big thesis about nighties and pj’s, but rather because, this surreal dawn, the harsh, isolated privacy of these people is literally being paraded in public. The falling rain, the bus going nowhere, the wrecked up passengers dressed for sleep, the man with the gun—these are the wild and disparate components of a dream, and I haven’t slept, and it’s just weird.

This passage, in fact the entire essay, left me breathless. This is not beautiful. It is raw, honest and real. In telling the story D’Ambrosio allows himself to be vulnerable and despite flashes of humour, one senses he is defeated by the sheer sadness of the whole affair. The reporters will head off to other stories, but he will be left on hold, filled with doubt, open to questions. Upon first reading I felt a sense of writerly inadequacy descend on me; returning to write about it and copy out significant passages I feel re-invigorated, inspired even.

I don’t know when this essay was originally published but it doesn’t matter. It contains a certain urban timelessness that stretches back through the twentieth century, yet is especially relevant today, with the pending threats to affordable healthcare and Medicaid in the US under the new administration. And so, I’m back where I’m started… uncertain times…

Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio is published by Tin House Books.

Looking ahead to 2017: Finding light in the darkness

It may be a reflection of the year we have just endured as a global community, or the uncertain variables that cause 2017 to look like such a grey zone, but many people I know seem to be afraid to make any resolutions or commitments moving forward. A month or so ago, when I was still buried under a black cloud of grief and depression, I could not even imagine the utility of existing into the new year. I was in a peculiar space. I was receiving enthusiastic feedback for my work as a writer and critic—even selling a few pieces—but I felt empty and hollow inside. I could stand back and observe my malaise, but I could not bring myself to find an essential light to believe in.

Then, as suddenly as it had settled in, the darkness lifted. My parents are still dead, my friend is still gone, and I have not yet found a job. However, the stubborn, stupid optimism I always cherished as part of my character has returned. Wiser and soberer perhaps, and not at all naïve about the very real threats that the coming year holds. But with good books and the comradery of the many people I have come to know and respect, at home and afar, over the past couple of years, I resolve to try to read and write and photograph my way through 2017, come what may.

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I have been making piles around the house lately and considered photographing them but have decided against being that committed in a public way. Suffice to say there is a healthy stack of fiction including a fair number of recent releases or purchases to which I am adding other titles I feel most guilty about ignoring to date. I have also been reading a good deal of poetry lately, new and classic, so I keep those handy. And then there is a growing collection of essays and memoirs which reflects my own interest, as a writer, in the variety of ways that personal experience or observation can be addressed. As much as I flirt with ideas of writing fiction, I seem to fall back into essay, at least as a starting point. If I end up taking a piece in the direction of storytelling or prose poetry, all the better, but the process has to be dynamic. I am learning to let my writing follow its own course as much as my reading does.

And this leads me to what might be thought of as my resolutions:

Reading: Some surprises surfaced when I added up my completed reads from 2016. I discovered that I read more German literature, than I had expected—11 titles, not including some Sebald that I am presently dissecting or the Kafka that I am always reading. I read 12 English language works (more actually, I have several essay collections and other books in process) and 8 translated from French. As for the balance of the translated literature I read, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese accounted for a total of 10 books with many more waiting, while I read three Slovene, two Czech, and one each from Dutch, Korean, Arabic, Bosnian, Italian, Icelandic, Hebrew, and Polish.

Contrary to my previous pattern, I only read one South African, title though I added more and still have an embarrassing number of books crammed on to my bookcase. I had also intended to read more Arabic and North African lit and, again, failed. There are also a few key independent publishers I did not read from this year. So, all of these considerations will, if nothing else, be reflected in the piles I build. As to what I read—well, I’ll see…

Writing: I want to continue writing critical reviews but I am being very selective. Looking ahead I am especially excited about writing about new releases from Can Xue and Fleur Jaeggy for Numéro Cinq, while I also have a couple of other interesting reviews booked or underway. I continually debate the value of critical writing (this month the “Top of the Page “at Numéro Cinq features seven reviews—including one of my own—that I selected to highlight some books and reviews that impressed and inspired me). So often critics seem to be held in disdain and yet to write about a book sensitively and intelligently is challenging and creative—but it can be draining. Nonetheless, I have learned so much from the writing and from being edited, all of which has helped make me a better writer. Now that I am also involved with The Scofield as an editor I have further opportunities to continue to grow and contribute to the vital community of online literary magazines.

On the other hand, I am hoping to shift the focus of my blog a little, away from attempting to “review” books that I read (unless it seems appropriate). Rather I would like adopt a more personal reflection on the reading experience—try to pinpoint why the writing works, what ideas are generated, or simply celebrate reading for reading’s sake. I don’t ever want to feel obligated to write about everything I read, but at the same time I am increasingly reading books written by writers who are becoming friends and mentors. I want to be able to write about this work, in an informal, yet valuable way.

Finally, with what I call my “creative work,” I have several projects in mind or in process. One is an experimental, constraint-based project in honour of my father which may or may not lead to anything of interest to others. Otherwise, as much as I thought I was done with writing about the body, it seems that there is still a lot of unfinished business or baggage. It is inextricable from either my interest in being and authenticity, or my now expanded and complicated grief work. I am fortunate to have been approached by several online journals/sites that have invited my contributions and I am very excited about being able explore some ideas in smaller creative spaces to see where they take me. At the same time, I have a few other topics that I want, or even need to examine within, shall we say, a more conventional personal essay format.

Photography: After a long hiatus, I am inspired and eager to return to photography. A dear friend has kindly suggested —insisted— that I should incorporate more images into my writing. This possibility excites me and offers not only a direction for myself as a photographer, but also provides an opportunity to repurpose older shots, cropping and radically reprocessing images that were average and turning them into an integral part of a larger project.

So, even though it is impossible to know what the new year holds, I want to aim to face 2017 ready to build on what I have learned over the last two years which have held, for me, some of the most difficult and most rewarding moments of my life. It is really the only way I can think of to navigate what is bound to be a most interesting and surreal time.

On reading and writing and slowly going nowhere

I track the books I read, I have since I was in my early twenties—first in small hardcover journals, now on a spreadsheet. I’m not a spectacularly fast reader but in recent months my completion rate has fallen to a crawl. I have submitted a couple of reviews for publication elsewhere but my blog has seen few fresh posts. I’m probably reading half a dozen books, including several poetry and essay collections, but focus is hard to find and sustain. However, I am not a loss for the company of words. I have a couple of longer essays to edit for the upcoming Scofield, as well as final assignments for a copy editing course I’ve been taking; and I have to say that losing myself in the words of others from a perspective that draws from, and yet differs from, that of a reader or a writer, is proving to be exactly the distraction I needed.

These past few weeks have been difficult.

Thanksgiving was a trigger point; the first day where the magnitude of the recent losses—of my parents and one of my closest friends—hit home and hit hard. That aloneness that goes to the core. Rather than dissipating, the darkness grew, and despite some very positive events and occurrences in my life, it threatened to overwhelm. Within a week I was feeling seriously suicidal for the first time in more than twenty years. The only thing holding me back was the thought of all the work I would put my children and brothers through, something I know especially well as co-executor of my father’s will.

I have sought help. I have reached out.

It does not seem to be depression as much as grief; and it’s a multi-layered, complex grief. So although I still struggle, at times, against the feeling that I don’t want to keep on living; I am not feeling inclined to take matter into my own hands. Of course, none of this is aided by the fact that I have been fighting a vicious cold, hacking cough and all. Makes it very hard to find that spark, but I hope it’s rekindled soon. This is a hell of a way to live, but I’ll keep reading, sketching out ideas, and writing while I wait.

6412706291_3376c44b28_zThroughout all of this there has been goodness: A forthcoming review of a book that has, more than anything I have read for a long while, made me think about a way to approach some writing I have in mind (I will write about it when the review goes live); a long conversation with a Twitter friend who is still far away, but now close enough to call (a real treat because Twitter has been a little uncomfortable for me of late, but that’s another story); and the publication of an essay I wrote for Literary Hub. The essay is called A Reader’s Journey Through Transition, and I don’t know what was more exciting, publication day itself or seeing my name in the week-end review with other authors like Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, Rabih Alameddine, and Marilynne Robinson!

 

What we read: A reflection on gender, language and necessity

My astonishment – and what is really my anxiety (my indisposition) come from what, in fact, is not a lack (I can’t describe this as a lack, my life is not disarrayed), but a *wound*, something that has harmed love’s very source.
– Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

A comment made this morning on a post I wrote just over a year and half ago, has made me stop to consider what I am reading at this moment and why. The original post is called Gendering my bookshelves, a look at the gender of the authors I tend to read which were, at the time, and continue to be, predominately male. In the meantime I have read more female writers than I might have anticipated, but I have read more in general. So the ratio is perhaps closer to 80/20 than the 90/10 I figured last year.

This is Women in Translation Month, a project I respect and support, but I am unlikely to contribute with the same intensity as before. Truth is, despite a nice selection of titles that I had collected with this month in mind, I am not certain I will manage to read many. In fact I am close to putting my first effort Now and At the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques aside. Don’t get me wrong, this piece of experimental nonfiction about a traveling palliative care team in rural Portugal is quite wonderful. But not right now. These are portraits of death and dying. And to read it so soon after watching both of my parents die hurts like hell.

I am relatively new to the business of maintaining a book blog and, of late, much of my review focus has actually moved off of my blog to online magazines. But what is a literary blog if not an opportunity to write about what one is reading? Sometimes that includes review copies and new releases, but that type of reading comes with pressures and can cut into other reading that one is drawn to. Themes like Women In Translation, German Lit, Spanish Lit all offer opportunities to open up and encourage conversation about literatures that one may or may not otherwise consider.

But sometimes our reading is directed by the forces and idiosyncrasies and, of course, the tragedies of our own lives.

At the moment, I want to read two different types of books–those that offer total distraction, and those that say something about grief and loss. That is where I am at, pure and simple. July was absorbed by hospital vigils and then, once my father finally passed, the immediate business of beginning to organize paperwork, notify institutions and prepare to apply for Probate. We have not even managed to plan a memorial of any kind. Over and over others have commented about how well I seem to be holding up…

2016-08-07 19.03.15But I’m not. The other night, reading Barthes’ Mourning Diary I found myself thinking, but this is different, he is so focused on his mother, my mourning is different. Is it? My father was injured and his death was slow. In the midst of it, my mother took sick and was gone within three days. My mother’s death, is a loss of an entirely different order than that of my father. She was my best friend. I could talk to her about anything. Without her I have no one else, no partner, and no friend as close. Although I have two children, I cannot burden them as they are each bearing their own grief. I woke up yesterday to the harsh recognition that I was trying to roll these two events, these two losses, these two individuals, these two unique relationships into one experience to be grieved as whole. But I cannot. They are separate events and they are one. Suddenly the magnitude of the task ahead is overwhelming.

So I will read and I will write. I want to write and publish something before time has a chance to edit it… a task inspired by Barthes and by Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. Women in Translation may or may not figure in the equation. In fact translation may not fit into much of my reading at all this month. So be it. Aside from Barthes, I have a memoir called When It Rains by Maggie MacKellar, a memoir that deals with two intersecting deaths, and I have ordered Love’s Work by Gillian Rose and Simon Critchley’s Very Little… Almost Nothing. Each one of these titles was suggested by Twitter/blogging contacts. I am open to more.

Finally I must say that I have been deeply moved by those who have reached out by email or on Twitter, publicly or through Direct Message, to offer condolences, good wishes, suggested reading and writerly support.

I am in mourning.

There will be words.

Reading into writing: Two years of roughghosts

Beyond the ear there is a sound, at the far end of sight there is a view, at the tips of the fingers an object—that’s where I’m going.

At the tip of the pencil the line.

Where a thought expires is an idea, at the final breath of joy another joy, at the point of the sword magic—that’s where I’m going.

– Clarice Lispector, “That’s Where I’m Going”

Today is the second anniversary of the rather haphazard and ill-defined birth of roughghosts. The evolution of this space that I tend has far exceeded my expectations. When I look back at my very first post, a quick note to self, I talk about having long put aside the desire to write so as to live a little first, acknowledging that life had given me more material than I was comfortable addressing–a theme I’ve revisited since. My first year of blogging saw a collection of random observations and occasional book related posts develop into increasingly structured book reviews interspersed with the occasional reflective essay. Looking ahead to my second year I had hoped to broaden my reading while privately I was more actively playing with ideas that I hoped would eventually lead to a serious creative effort of some measure. But as much as I had been filling notebooks, I was writing more about wanting to write as if wishing could make it so, rather than believing that I would ever offer something beyond the confines of this blog.

For me, my blog, no matter how seriously I consider every word I offer here, no matter how many hours I spend constructing essays or reviews, has always been a twilight place. It belongs to neither the day nor the night but sits at the intersection of the two: a place where I can imagine that I am not quite exposed to the full light of day, a place where the darkest truths remain unspoken. For that is the realm of real writing and what am I, editing my efforts and posting them myself, but pretending to the art?

I know, of course, that this is not true.

The past twelve months have changed everything, and in more ways than I might ever have imagined.

Writing is the conscious attempt by the human to participate in his fate, that ‘story’ written from birth to death. Casting spells, exorcising, whistling in the dark, inventing the textures and structures of consciousness, keeping a backdoor open to memory, getting to know who or what we are, both reflecting what is and shaping the new. Memory is nothing but dead time, but death seeds the soil: from forgetting new shapes sprout. . .

For writing is a means to transformation: using words and their interacting combinations—the meanings, the feel, the sounds and the shadows—to broaden our scope of apprehending and understanding ourselves and others, and in the process creating new spaces and references. Sometimes looking down into hell.

– Breyten Breytenbach, Intimate Stranger

Last year, on July 7 to be exact, with the majestic Table Mountain rising in the background, I started to write the essay I had been toying with for over a year. It was my last full day in South Africa and looking back over the preceding year I envisioned this grand narrative that would guide my writing, shape the story I wanted to tell. On July 27 a pulmonary embolism caused me to go into cardiac arrest. I stared into the abyss, metaphorically speaking, that is, because I have no memory of the event or of the days immediately before or after, but I do know that if my son had not been home that night I would not be here.

And I know that every idle word to page before that moment was precious more than wishful scribbling. To write, honestly and openly, was now critical.

My path from the confines of my blog to the publication of my first piece of essay/memoir writing earlier this month has been quite remarkable. Doors have opened, starting with Douglas Glover at Numéro Cinq where I am proud to be on the masthead. I have since published reviews for several other sites or publications and have more forthcoming, and I have another piece of creative writing that will be in the Seagull Books Catalogue this fall. It does mean that my attention is necessarily diverted from my blog at times but I will link to new pieces as they appear and have created a page of links to outside writing. I never would have dared to dream that I would need such a page at this time last year. Nor did I imagine that I would now call myself a writer.

I derive a great deal of satisfaction from the challenge of writing longer critical reviews. To read and engage with a text at a deeper level opens an entirely new appreciation of language and literature. It fuels and, I hope, enhances my own ability to write. And over the past year I have been fortunate to become acquainted with some truly gifted thinkers and writers who inspire and encourage me, as well as building stronger intellectual and readerly camaraderie with fellow bloggers.

Copyright JM Schreiber
Copyright JM Schreiber

I don’t know where fiction is born, but I am certain that the best essay/memoir writing does not have its roots on our brightest days. Rather, it emerges from the shadows, when we are wounded, grieving, shaken to the core. We write to make sense of pain, of confusion, of loss. We write out of the darkness toward the light. We write in the in-between spaces—daybreak, twilight—find the patterns, themes, edit, shape, refine and edit again, careful to leave room for tension, friction, the beating heart.

And, of course, we write because we have to.

Here’s to a new year, so to speak.

January 2016: A slow start to my reading year (and why does that bother me?)

The first month of 2016 has almost slipped away and I am feeling overloaded. Too many stressors have collided to take a curious toll on my ability to read and blog. My reading continues to be fractured. Books are not the same refuge they were a few months ago. Not that they don’t keep arriving (or rather following me home) and haunting me as the stacks pile up, staring at me, daring me to read faster. But my reading is slow, and the books I had expected to venture into by month’s end have not yet been cracked.

And then there is life, the one that doesn’t exist in books, the one that can’t be shelved or put aside for a later date or, as much as I would love it sometimes, be tossed into a pile to go out to the next charity sale. It is hardly a surprise. Over the past month I have had to face some extraordinary challenges on the home front – some new, some long standing, and others simply arising from the financial reality of owning a car and a house, both of which are well past their prime. Some matters have been resolved – one mechanic and two plumbers later – I just have to figure out how to pay for them; others are less concrete, more emotionally corrosive and resolution is not in sight. If another well meaning person says, “This too shall pass,” my reaction may be less than generous.

Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013 The last time I had a month with two separate plumbing calls I took this shot to celebrate the joy of a clear drain that had been blocked for more than four weeks.
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013
The last time I had a month with two separate plumbing calls I took this shot to celebrate the joy of a clear drain that had been blocked for more than four weeks.

Through it all I have been reading but by some weird twist of logic my attention has been drawn toward much more intensive review projects. Blogging is fine but for each review I write I spend 4-6 hours, so when I encounter an ambitious, complex, postmodern novel like Klaus Hoffer’s Among the Bieresch, forthcoming from Seagull Books; I can’t resist the desire to read into the varied subtextual materials, especially the works that I don’t know well and – with luck – explore the novel in a space with greater critical elbow room and a much wider audience than my blog commands. There’s a voice in my head that says “Are you out of your mind?” and, maybe I am but, at this moment, I seem to be most comfortable burying myself in demanding critical projects, losing myself I suppose. At the same time, I am also spending more time on my own writing: a personal essay I hope to enter in a contest and a piece of experimental prose.

Tell me then, what is with this book blogging pressure I feel? It’s not a numbers game. No one is going to disown me if I don’t read and review two books a week. Reading and writing about books is supposed to be fun. And, heaven knows, the spaces I that want to write for, on or off my blog, are literary acts of love and, as such, there’s typically no money involved.

So blog posts may be slower for a while. I am reading. I am writing. And I am dealing with all the messy business of living.

In the dark days of winter, searching for words

Normally January and February are my favourite months. The days are growing longer, minute by minute; the days cold and crisp, the ground a snow-covered white, the sky a bright clear blue. A perfect time for reading.

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Copyright JM Schreiber, 2014

More than one week into the new year, I have a strange sensation akin to trying to make my way on one of those moving sidewalks that traverse the passageways of major airports. However, because the direction of the sidewalk and I are at odds, I’m making little progress. Lately my weeks have been punctuated by trips to visit my father, 1 1/2 to 3 hours each way, depending on whether or not we pick up my mother. Weather dictates travel, scrambling the best laid plans, and now that my father has moved on to the rehabilitation unit his stubborn determination has returned – for better and, sadly, for worse. Through it all, my mother, now so tiny in her old winter coat, is entertaining the thought that he might someday return home – home to a setting that neither one of them is really well enough to live in anymore. The potential challenges that lie ahead are fraying the less than stellar relationships between myself and my brothers, and these are still the early days. Meanwhile I have dealt with car repairs and a burst hot water pipe. And I don’t even want to venture into the messy, potentially violent eruptions that have threatened peace in my own house as my son struggles with an addiction to alcohol.

To say that my reading has been scattered would be an understatement.

I am afraid that, anxiety and exhaustion aside, I seem to be responding to an internalized sense of guilt that reading, and writing about reading, has no value if it does not generate an income. If your life does not presently include income generating activity – a circumstance that was not by my design but has afforded me the time and energy to read and write – then my literary pastime is even more self-indulgent. Or at least that is what my family members (and their voices that echo in my head) are telling me.

Of course I have been reading, but my focus is off.

I have just emerged from Rafael Chirbes’ forthcoming On the Edge, a testament to internalized guilt, regret and resentment if ever there was one; fuel for my abiding mid-life angst. I’m preparing a review for Numéro Cinq. Otherwise most of what I have read lately is not quite carrying me through. I find myself distracted and picking at pieces, reading on line journals and stabbing aimlessly at collections. As I said, my focus is off.

§ Finish Your Thought!

As in death, we are equalized in thought when we think that every mind in its effort to comprehend the world must come upon the unthinkable.

§ Think for Yourself…

…not others. There is no such thing as thought to spare, only to share.

Matches_Cover_Front_Mockup_07182015-216x346That said, I find that I do have an appetite for aphorisms and fragments. Perhaps that is the ideal antidote for a scattered new year. I am dipping in and out of S.D. Chrostowska’s MATCHES: A Light Book, over 500 pages of illuminating meditative thoughts about the contemporary quality of thinking, reading, and writing. This is not a work intended to be read from cover to cover over a few sittings, rather it is ideal for slow, thoughtful engagement. Light the match, let it burn for a moment, reflect for a while – return again and again, over time. The perfect companion I hope, to lead me back into reading when I feel I am straying and, more critically direct me to writing when fear I am losing my way.

§ New Line of Thought

Every new line of thought is a departure.
Or a new way of arriving where one already is.

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Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013

MATCHES: A Light Book is available from Punctum Books.