Monday, October 17, 2011

Dearest Branwell, my love, your page hits speak volumes to me, the images you beam that come spinning back to me with reverberations different sometimes from what I'd been thinking about when I originally posted them. I form a narrative in my mind of what I imagine you're trying to communicate to me. I have no way of knowing, not really, except that I feel that I do know, or understand, intuitively. A few of the images, when you telegraph them, are so acute and eloquent that when I see them I murmur oh my dear, from empathy as to what I perceive, or again intuit, to be your situation. And that's all. I'm glad I'm a comfort to you, I won't be coy, I'm certain that I must be, as you certainly are an abiding if forever out of reach comfort to me. You and I are Dmitri and Anna, without benefit even of the occasional sojourn at the Slaviansky Bazaar Hotel - unless you count our nightly interior meetings here. Which I suppose I do.

I'm thinking anew of Dmitri and Anna too, because I've started to read a slim and compelling hybrid work of non-fiction, called Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey, by Janet Malcolm. I just started it today and am already a third of my way through - refreshingly swift progress considering that I am still in the final pages of Sewall's biography of E.D, which I just can't seem to get to the end of, brilliant as it is. I've been feeling restless, a bit, to consider something else, another writer, so when I came across this interview that mentioned the Malcolm, I instantly reserved the library book online.

Reading Chekhov truly is a hybrid, a word which is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, as I find within its relaxed interstices, niches in which I myself can fit. Janet Malcolm is a wonderful writer, ostensibly a journalist, I've read a number of her considerations on a myriad of topics over the years in The New Yorker, including, memorably, a year or two ago, her account of sitting in on a murder trial in Queens - a harrowing, riveting masterpiece. (I was going to link to the article, but see that it has since been published as a book.)

As much as I've greatly enjoyed Malcolm's writing over the years, I never until now had the thought of wishing to plumb her entire oeuvre, but feel inspired to do so now and am gratified to see, in the 'Also by Janet Malcolm' at the frontispiece of Reading Chekhov, that I have a number of expositions to look forward to, including one on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

I love miraculous wormholes such as this - when suddenly I have an entrance into a writer's body of work - not just that, but the body of work being very reflective of how the writer's - in this case Malcolm's - mind works, casting her torchlight at dark cave walls, at once illuminating images that come startlingly alive as she sees and describes them.

And so in Reading Chekhov, Malcolm tours various sites in Russia associated with either Chekhov's works or his biography, such as the country homestead he created, which Malcolm now visits. She observes that the original dwelling had been leveled by Stalin, but has since been recreated, in some fashion, and whether or not accurately hardly matters - it remains, despite all heartfelt intentions and even carefully preserved original artifacts - a replica - an irony that Malcolm imagines would not have been lost on Chekhov himself.

In her travels, observations, and contemplations, such as to the waterfront in Yalta, featured in Chekhov's famous short story, The Lady with the Dog, Malcolm offers up very astute, thoughtful, considered insight and interpretation into Chekhov's fictional characters and their existential dilemmas, illuminating them as near-allegorical figures, purposely imprecise...

Janet Malcolm is brilliant, and when I turned to the inside back cover in hope of an author photograph, I was gratified to find one

[memo to 1.0 - what is up with that? your lack of author photos? my God, what image is the American Heritage Dictionary to use when as an illustrative example they credit you with a quote about the Superbrain? well okay, maybe the italicized quote will suffice - but I still wish to see a recent headshot that does you justice! Calling not Vladimir, but Dominique - portrait photographer extraordinaire...]

and also to learn that she was born in Prague, which may or may not make her Eastern European in origin, her roots, genetic predisposition, culturally crosscutting disposition -

I remember in high school writing for the school newspaper, an extremely dry affair, closely controlled & managed by a teacher, a guy whose face I barely recall, and name not at all. I was also involved with a bunch of other writing outlets at the school - the yearbook (write something funny!!! - a command that set me back for years); the literary magazine Vertigo, easy enough to simply submit a piece I'd written for creative writing class; the book review journal that a friend of mine & I, with the guardian-angel aide of a school librarian, founded, wrote & solicited pieces for, and had published. And of course I was forever writing essays (happily if tortuously) for various classes...

My parents would get the Times, and in thinking of what form my own wish to write might take, I always loved the first-person journalistic accounts of -- whatever the subject was -- often to be found in the Sunday Times Magazine, at the time especially (which I mean as a comment on my youth & excited sense of discovery), a weekly surprise treasure chest of the heretofore entirely unconsidered, unheard of, and suddenly compellingly fascinating...

Feeling as always not quite in the groove, yet wishing to be, in some way that worked for me, in which I'd feel comfortable - I asked the school-paper adviser if I might be allowed to write a piece from my own perspective. At first he didn't know what I was talking about. "Like in the Times, those journalistic first-person accounts... couldn't I do something like that, on whatever topic, for The Roundtable?"

Absolutely not!! He barked back formidably from behind his steel desk on the linoleum tiled floor.

But it's a legitimate form of journalism, I tried to counter.

Yeah, maybe - but not here, not this school paper.

Lou Grant he wasn't, and neither was I a Mary Richards.

It was just - at the time, in this student's coming up - a rigid imposition of narrow categories.

If I could wish the most minor of do-overs
I would wave a magic wand and imagine, as I posited my query
his face lighting up -
yeah, go for it!
what a great idea
but since I'm still the adviser let's work on what you have in mind
At just this time of year, when the Black Knights take up their positions in the SHS football field, ever-green even as I wear my favorite wraparound ivory sweater and this brand new perfume I've discovered called Miss Dior and I did well on the PSAT's but OMG then there's the SAT's oh whatever, I have to work at the library after school today for a few hours...
Well, no darling, that's not the sort of copy I would have turned in to the bored, angry, school newspaper adviser (and who could blame him, for his perpetual bad humor?)

Anyway, dearest love, bidding you adieu, flying south, metaphorically - like these geese - literally

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