tales of a girl in the city

juin 08, 2005


At the conference, the Authors sat behind a long table, wearing neutral colors. They had nondescript haircuts and ordinary shoes. Five men and one woman. The man farthest left stared off into the air while he listened to his fellow panelists, as if reading a written version of their comments off of some invisible computer screen. He squinted a lot while he did this, and it made him seem smart and thoughtful.

The one in all black was more immediate; when he said "fucking" later, I realized I'd been waiting for him to swear. He was my favorite. He was all accident and fear. No degree. No teaching position. No certainty. No purpose, other than to write down the things that needed to be written. Take a walk when you want to be outside. Eat when you're hungry. Write when that's what you need to do.

Mostly, though, they were just grocery-store ordinary. Not angry or colorful or pompous or sad. Carver fans, certainly. In awe of good structure. But, on the outside at least, five men and one woman. One who squinted. One who said "fuck."

I'm not sure what I expected. Why was I suprised? Maybe coming from the theater world I was looking for a show. Some outward indication--larger than foul language--that would decorate their inner madness. And, having not yet met many authors, I'm sure there are those who choose large hats and eccentric dress suits, magnets in a pool of lead shavings, bringing Experience to them wherever they go.

But these were not that sort.

How odd, then, to hear these writers, all eyeglasses and ordinary, describe such violent urgency. Picking at their tan shirt cuffs, they recalled the sweat of it. They became veterans, suddenly, leaning forward from their deep leather chairs to speak about heaving out words before the battleship sank. They described the last bloody surge that won them the victory. Then back to their coffee, shaking their heads.

And odder still that we knew.

That we sat there, in our own glasses and blue jeans, holding onto our water bottles, "yes-ing" along. That we recognized inside our normal selves was the same slamming, paradoxical need. To slaughter life so that we might save it. The desire to immolate our every day. Offer it up. Exhume it.

Write it down.

I see God in these moments--as present as books and paper, as physical as sweat. I see that he has secreted away in each person a fragment of divinity. The something which commands us. So that, faced with nothing more than coffee or a squint, we find some reason to battle. To sit down and begin:

This is how it happened.