A GIFT

Posted on 25 May 2007

Shirley gave me “Divisadero” Michael Ondaatje’s new novel for my birthday late because I was not here for my birthday.

I read the first six sentences and am excited.

“When I come to lie in your arms, you sometimes ask me in which historical moment do I wish to exist. And I will say Paris, the week Colette died… Paris, August 3rd, 1954. In a few days, at her state funeral, a thousand lilies will be placed by her grave, and I want to be there, walking that avenue of lime trees until I stand beneath the second-floor apartment that belonged to her in the Palais-Royal. The history of people like her fills my heart. She was a writer who remarked that her only virtue was self-doubt.”

I know, without doubt, that this is the way I want to write.

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” So says Colette.

I have had a busy day – making breakfast for my sister, driving old paint tins to a environmental disposal depot, showing a piano that I would like to sell, surfing for cheap flights to Europe, shopping for wine and groceries. On impulse – before I leave the grocery store, before I pour myself a glass of wine and open Ondaatje’s book – I buy a bouquet of lilies.

At a 50th birthday party I gave for my friend Leslie, I asked guests to come as someone famous. Henri de Toulouse Lautrec came. So did J.K. Rowling. And Minnie Mouse and Walt Disney. Jane Austen was present. I can’t remember all the celebrities. I was Colette.

Once on a train to Paris, I sat reading Colette. I wish I could remember which book. I was scared. I was excited. I imagined myself as a character in her novel. “You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”

I worry too much about sounding foolish. It kills my writing.

Earlier in the day, I received a poem from Marlene. A deliciously wonderful poem by Oliver. It ends:

I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

I have read a lot of shit lately, looking for a way into writing a page-turner. And then a day like yesterday happens when friends hand me a poem and some prose and I find myself lustful – I pause here, search through my drawers for my Mont Blanc pen, the one that Rob gave for my 50th birthday, the one I hide every time I go to Europe, the only object that I own that is the best in the world – and know that I am now in a good place, space, to work.

Does that last sentence sound unnatural, too manipulated, like I’m trying too hard? I don’t know. I will publish on whim, something I haven’t done for a while.


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