My personal essay “The Writer and Her Time” was published on Fiction Southeast yesterday. It’s about why and how I began writing in English: a light-hearted summary of my writer’s life.
Preview of “The Writer and Her Time”
The Writer begins when she is young. She doesn’t want to waste time. Reading is wonderful but writing feels better. After she finishes her first book, she shows it to her mother. Very nice, the mother says while underlining all the misspellings. The Writer is disappointed with herself. Even her main rabbit’s name, Hopper, misses one of its Ps.
Issue Fifty-One of SmokeLongQuarterly is out today and my story “Copycat” is featured within this great collection.
Preview of “Copycat”
That summer after Jan-Willem left me, I was after Jasper, a twenty-one-year-old surf instructor in Scheveningen who was always in the company of a tittering girl who claimed to be his girlfriend but wasn’t. Not spiritually at least, or so I told myself. She was just somebody with tight skin who happened to be dulling his solitude until a yet unnamed future would claim him.
Proud to have a story out in Matchbook this week. It happens to be one of my favorites.
“On Monday, under the weight of routine, she’s nothing but sloppy and dull-eyed, like the unhappy housewives you see pushing shopping carts in gray suburbs, even though she’s a postal clerk and unmarried and lives downtown.”
The other day, I ran into my tea seller on the street. I recognized his face immediately yet it took me a moment to place the man. How exactly did I know him? I had never before encountered the tea seller outside his teashop.
The man recognized me as well and greeted me in a shy, offhanded manner. A nod, a mumbled “Bonjour.” He was accompanied by, what I assumed, were his wife and their two children, a girl and a boy. The boy’s left arm was tucked in a caste on which his friends or classmates had written names and messages.
Seeing the tea seller with his family was slightly disturbing to me. Clearly, a tea seller has a life outside his teashop, but so far I had failed to imagine it. Do people simplify their lives, I wondered, by denying others the depth and duality they perceive in themselves? On my way home, I made a mental note to look at others from now on in a less self-centered way and see them as full-fletched people rather than flat characters who play a facilitating role in my life.
The next time I went into the teashop to buy an assortment of Japanese greens, I asked the tea seller about his son and his broken arm. The tea seller did not smile. In fact, he answered my question curtly and did not offer me a free tea sample as was his custom. His non-verbal message to me was clear: my life outside the teashop is none of your business. For his customers, the tea seller preferred to be nothing more than the tea seller.
Sixteen years ago, my father died. Today, Tin House published my flash memoir in defense of euthanasia as a tribute in The Open Bar.
Preview of “The Last Gift”
January 20th, 2000, The Netherlands
Believe it or not, nobody objected. Not one of us stood up in the bedroom and said, “Don’t kill him.” Neither did anybody else in the house for that matter, the cleaning lady, the unobtrusive nurse. We all accepted my father’s fate with eyes wide open and mouths shut. Imagine us grateful, if you can.
A good friend of mine called today and I was moody.
I told her it had nothing to do with her. And it hadn’t. I just hate phones. They supposedly establish connections, tighten ties, relate to people via direct lines, but this closeness is a maddening illusion. If the phone is useful for anything, it’s to demonstrate that the person you’re talking to is conspicuously absent, nothing more than a disembodied voice that may or may not have been emitted from someone real.
And there is this: I am a writer. I bear what I say much better when I’ve been given time to express myself clearly, in solitude. I care about nuance and precision. Each time I hear myself utter a platitude on the phone, I cringe. TALK LESS & LISTEN MORE is my phone motto. But the people I talk to are often kind and not very self-obsessed so they usually turn the conversation around. Tell me what’s going on in your life, they say.
When I speak to others in person, I have my entire face to work with. I use my eyes to complement my words. And I read my interlocutor’s face, which will tell me whether I’m causing confusion or have made myself understood. The same goes when I address an audience. I use body postures and hand gestures to express myself, and the audience’s feedback (in laughter, chattering, or applause) is immediate.
After an awkward voice-alone phone call, I always hope that the person I talked to understands that I care about them and want to know how they are and would love to see them again—soon—but that I’m just not very good on the phone.
The years pass without hard edges. Only our dates draw them apart. Our life doesn’t really consist of years but of periods defined by a before and after.
So why celebrate New Year’s Eve? It seems unnecessary, totally artificial, unless the new year truly coincides with a dislocation, a death, a birth, or a life-defining decision whose effects last beyond a mere few days.
Then again, one should never pass up an excuse to drink champagne.
—It’s fake. Self-promotion. Making others witness your struggles, your success. Liking what they say. Typing pseudo-funny comments. Striking up conversations with complete strangers. At random. Getting them to like you. Need I go on?
—No, I see your point. But how’s that different from life?
—Well, in life, we’re trying to be liked as well. We talk to strangers on the bus. We feel good when someone compliments us. Bad when someone yells. We listen to others, put our best foot forward, try to make our mark in the world. Occasionally, we talk about our weaknesses, our failures, our insecurities, to show that we’re human and perhaps gain some advice or consolation. We connect through our stories.
—You think life in general is fake.
—It is. We pose, constantly. So I suggest a redefinition of the word “fake.” If life is fake and yet life is the only reality we know, then fakeness must be real. Fakeness may define us as human beings.
—You’re not making any sense.
—What about: despite all the fakeness, true friendships exist. Even though we self-promote ourselves relentlessly, every day, trying to be loved and accepted, true love and acceptance may still come our way, despite our flaws, despite the fact that most people can see straight through our strategies of fakeness.
—All I’m saying is: I’m not quitting the Social Media Crap.