Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shabbos, or Why Someone Should Publish Mike Stavlund's Book

So last night, halfway through reading the first of four of my poems at a public reading for the SPARK project, I started to cry, and could not stop. Not, at least, until I finished the poem by sobbing my way to the end --apologizing-- and everyone applauded and Patrick brought me some tissues and I made a dumb joke about how the poem wasn't about him and everyone laughed because they needed a tension breaker. I managed to compose myself then, and read the remaining three poems without further incident, but of course, with the bright red nose that hangs around for a good 45 minutes everytime I cry for even a few seconds.

The poem was about a relationship that ended badly, and about my bitter disappointment at being unable to overcome the strains and deep misunderstandings that come in many cross-cultural relationships. The crying... well I think that was about humiliation. The stuff I was writing/reading about happened four years ago. Standing there, reading it out loud in front of a group of strangers, I think it hit me that I was writing about a reality that is as present with me today as it was then. I am not really in a better position w/r/t romantic relationships four years later... except, I suppose, that I am single.

So I decided to take today for a proper Shabbos... the goy version, of course. I kind of stumbled into it, waking up to the sound of the phone as the one-and-only Vince Gamma --who had graciously volunteered to take me to church without my having to ask him-- called to tell me he was waiting outside. I didn't want him to be late to church and I really wanted to go back to sleep so I told him to go ahead... but it didn't take long for me to admit to myself that I didn't want to go anywhere today. I've done, I think, a pretty good job of distracting myself from certain things over the past couple of weeks, and this week provided plenty of other things to think about, some good, some not so much. So. Stay inside. Stay in your pjs. Rest.

Since I've done a fair bit of crying over the past month, I figured I could finally handle reading Mike Stavlund's yet-unpublished manuscript chronicling the birth and death of his son in 2006. It's been sitting in my apartment for months, like an anvil... heavy, solid. My guilt about it has also been heavy (I was, you know, a very good Catholic :^) ), so I was relieved to find that little door open inside myself. Yes, it's time. Pick it up and read it. This was due, also, to my extended meditation this week on the first parable of Pete Rollins' new book, The Orthodox Heretic. I don't pretend to be able to do a really good summary of it, but the bottom line for me was the juxtaposition of a life of saying you love God and your neighbor to a life of actually loving them. I'm quick with words, and I'd promised Mike I'd read this months ago... was flattered that he'd asked, even. Time to stop being a jerk and get to it.

So. This is not a review, because the book's not published and Mike didn't ask me to blab on the internet about it. I will say the following, though, for anyone who has not read the manuscript:

1) I read the 230 page manuscript in 3 hours the first time through. In other words, I couldn't put it down.

2) What I'd been afraid of all those months --finding myself in a puddle of tears the whole time I was reading it-- didn't really happen. I mean, I cried (I cry. It's kind of my thing.), and there are parts of the book that make you feel like someone's sitting on your chest (how could there NOT be). But overall, Mike does a fantastic job of juxtaposing the hard bits with bits that are more philosophical, or telling a connected but less heavy story, or just writing something funny that throws you off course. This is the mark of a truly gifted writer, and one with a sensitivity to his audience. He could totally wallow and no one would fault him for that, but he understands that the reader has limits, and he tries to respect those.

3) Mike Stavlund remains The Best Writer I Personally Know. I flew through the initial reading of the manuscript because he's just a damned good writer: intellectual without being pompous, emotional without being cheesy, poetic without being flowery. The only other writer I know that I can read with this kind of ease is Anne Lamott, and for basically the same reason: they are unapologetically real in the banged-up-awful-shittiness of what happened to them, but without losing sight of grace, and with a beauty and sensitivity to language that makes you whisper parts of their writing to yourself as you read. I can read these guys because they bring the True and the Beautiful together without jacking up or altering either one.

(SOMEONE SHOULD TOTALLY PUBLISH THIS MANUSCRIPT, ALREADY. Aargh. Frustrating to me that I'M reading it and not some big ol' powerful Publisher Person. (sigh) Anybody out there know some big ol' powerful Publisher Person??)

So... a cool and cloudy Sunday spent in my pjs, windows open, birds chatting to each other in the big ol' leafy trees just outside... reading and revelling in the giftedness and graceful brokenness of a friend I'm truly honored and grateful to have. I've finished my second cup of tea and my Chicken Tagine is finished cooking... so it's time to cook a little rice, saute some asparagus and have a meal, already.

A near-perfect Shabbos, methinks. :^)

No comments: