Wednesday, September 15, 2021

the joy of praise, and arguing about letters

What a welcome surprise! I was reading Theresa Kishkan's blog to the left of mine, as I always do with the greatest pleasure - she's an exquisite writer whose evocative language and thoughtful attention to detail are astounding - and found this:

Right now it seems to me that the conversation about nonfiction usually means memoir ... I loved Beth Kaplan’s Loose Woman: My Odyssey From Lost to Found, an account of how an aspiring actress finds herself, literally and metaphorically, living with and caring for a community of damaged men in France. It has a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, a through-line, and it is both heart-felt and well-crafted. 

What can I say except how kind of you to write this, Theresa. I love your work too. May we meet one day. 

On Tuesday I rode down to Ben McNally's bookstore, which is where I'll buy Theresa's new book Blue Portugal next year. The poor man was renovicted from his stunning cathedral-like shop downtown, which turned out to be a blessing when Covid hit as he didn't have to pay a huge rent on a closed shop. He and his staff continued their mail order business and have moved twice, further east each time to my great pleasure; at the moment, they have a small shop on King St. East, due south of my house. They have such taste and such love of writers and their books, it's a balm to enter the space and meander, breathing in the smell of paper and print.

From there I went to another glorious shop - Staples. I needed post-its and bought a lifetime's supply. I use them every day. Happiness is a multi-coloured stack of post-its. 

Skyped for an hour and a half with Lynn in France. We had an interesting discussion about letters. I'd given her back her letters to me through the years, and she said she was going to burn them; she didn't want her children to see the negative things she'd said about them. I disagreed; her five children know she could be crabby and critical, as can we all — shouldn't they also have a chance to know who she was when young, including that she was a vivid, funny writer? But no. Her husband Denis found letters between his parents after their deaths and destroyed them all; he didn't even consider reading them and thinks I should do the same with the stacks of mail I inherited.

But I'm the opposite, I want to read everything. I'm a detective hunting for clues about the mysteries of the past and finding them in those old sheets of paper. To me, those letters are a banquet. Yes, reading the one where my dad called me a bitch when I was seven made me cry. But that series of letters illuminated a family dynamic I couldn't understand or articulate at the time. I am all for delving into whatever documents you unearth from your past. 

My daughter is like Lynn, utterly unsentimental and uninterested in delving. When I'm dead she'll throw it all away. Except if Sam stops her; he's the one who values stuff from the past. So maybe all that paper will live on. Or maybe it won't. I'm going to try, though, to get some of it published before I vanish. 

Here's the memoir writer, spying on the world, taking it in, checking it out.

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