In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
May 1, 2014: Sue William Silverman
Sue William Silverman is a real live character, herself through and through, pink her signature color. Which makes it all the more interesting to read about her search for identity in her recently published memoir, The Pat Boone Fan Club, with the subtitle, My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew, published by the University of Nebraska Press as part of their American Lives series.
Sue and I know each other from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is a much-sought-after adviser–for her teaching skills, her knowledge of the craft, her ability to be honest on the page, her warmth, and her quirky self. Before I graduated, I heard her read more than once from The Pat Boone Fan Club. And before I arrived at VCFA, I knew Sue’s writing from her craft book, Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir.
In the title essay, we read how as a young girl, Sue discovered a photo of Pat Boone (with his family on a tandem bike) in Life Magazine. She would study the photo with a magnifying glass. I fantasized living inside this black-and-white print, unreachable. Pat Boone became Sue’s obsession. She took the magnifying glass and Pat’s wristwatch stopped at 3:40 and all his swirling whiteness, and she created hope. She wanted Pat Boone to save her from her Jewishness, from her Jewish family, and most particularly from a father who abused her. I conjured him into the man I needed him to be: a safe father.
In The Pat Boone Fan Club, we do not stand still. We squirm. We search. We swim upstream. Through Holland, Michigan; St. Thomas; Washington, D.C.; Glen Rock, New Jersey; Israel; Galveston, Texas; Rome, Georgia; Columbus, Georgia; Grand Rapids, Michigan…
“The Wandering Jew,” one of my favorites, highlights the sound a tramp makes with a “metal triangle the exact moment his right heel strikes the ground.”
Even as he disappears, I gaze at the corner as if he might reappear, like an apparition. Faintly, I still hear the silver pitch of the triangle. I imagine sun-sparked Caribbean water–as if a sound can be seen.
Even above shouts of women in hearties selling guava ices, I hear the strokes of his triangle.
Now, the ring of his triangle is the chirp of bananaquits and scarlet tanagers… I clink my movie coins together, to mimic his sound.
The essays in the memoir are beautifully crafted, drift back and forth in time, and sparkle with things and sounds, allowing Sue Silverman to come alive as a multi-dimensional character. In these passages, each from a different essay, notice how there’s at least one image that sticks with you, that makes you want to read the words again:
This is a secret: Lynn’s father is Humbert Humbert. So is mine. Intersecting triangles of daughters, fathers, mothers. But these secrets are nighttime shadows slinking like black cats through suburban yards. Hope flattens, thin as bedsheets. Streetlamps blacken with gnats. The moon pauses behind a cloud. (from “The Endless Possibilities of Youth”).
As morning rises, apricots become thousands of miniature suns lighting the air–me–my skin flush as fever. My fingertips sense shades of peach, yellow, orange, cantaloupe. The fuzz glows more golden than ancient coins–pale filaments incandescent by dawn. (from “That Summer of War and Apricots”).
I slouch at my summer school desk one dull day after another. With all my mistakes, all my incorrect definitions and unsatisfactory essays, the eraser on my pencil shrinks. It dwindles toward a nub. I mourn the loss of each pink particle, almost as tiny as dust. So rather than pay attention to the teacher, I focus on saving them… Pink, I say to myself, the long vowel sound lingering, inviting me into the word–the world of pink–before the quick consonant at the end snaps shut, holding me forever. (from “Concerning Cardboard Ghosts, Rosaries, and the Thingness of Things”).
I loved all elements of books indiscriminately: the covers, the paper, paragraphs, sentences, punctuation marks, ink. I equally loved the way the words lined themselves up in sentences. I could not have said that I understood the concept of “ideas” back then, but it was, nevertheless, the first time I sensed a relationship between an idea and a concrete word… It was magic. Black, inky magic. (from “The Fireproof Librarian”).
Come back on MAY 1st to read how SUE WILLIAM SILVERMAN spends her days.