Stephen Page interviews Esther Cross (part 1): Creation

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Stephen Page   Contributor

Interview with Argentinian author Esther Cross

 

esther_cross._luciole_pressEsther Cross was born in Buenos Aires in 1961. She is the author of four novels, The Chronic Winged Apprentices (Emecé, 1992), The Flood (Emecé 1993), Banquet of the Spider (Tusquets, 1999), and Radiana (Emecé 2007); and the author of two collections of short stories, Divine Proportion (Emecé, 1994) and Kavanagh (Tusquets, 2005). She co-authored along with Felix della Paolera two books of interviews, Bioy Casares at the time of Writing (Tusquets, 1987) and Conversations with Borges (Editorial Fuentetaja, 2007).  In 2002 she released The Insulted and the Injured, a documentary film that she co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced with Alicia Martínez Pardíes. She has translated Richard Yates’s Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Emecé, 2001) and William Goyen’s The Faces of Blood Kindred and Other Stories (Editorial La Compañía, 2008). She has been awarded a Fulbright and a Civitella. She teaches writing in Casa de Letras, Buenos Aires, and for Fuentetaja, of Spain. She is published regularly in several culture magazines and supplements.

 

Creation:

An Interview with

Esther Cross

by Stephen Page

SP: What was it like growing up in Buenos Aires?

EC: It was quiet, then. Peaceful. Full of parks. I knew everyone in the neighborhood, maybe not personally, but at least by face—and they knew me. Everyone knew everyone. You could go for a walk and see someone on the street and say hello or nod your head and they would recognize you. The feeling everywhere was genial. Many of the people I know now are the same people I knew when I was a child.

SP: And your family?

EC: I remember playing with my two brothers—going to the cinema, playing in the park, sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car while driving out to the family ranch, near La Pampa (a province in the Pampas, the plains belt of Argentina). We vacationed on the ranch, spent part of our summers there. We rode horses together, we played in the woods, we followed the gauchos around. The ranch was a whole world for us, a world very different than Buenos Aires. We were independent on the ranch. We were let loose to do whatever we wanted. Our parents did one thing and we did the other. Our ranch house was huge—or so it seemed when I was a child—lots of rooms, so we could explore and play inside for hours and never see our parents. We only saw our parents at meal times.

SP: When did you first conceive you would be a writer?

EC: As soon as I read my first book. I remember reading Perrault´s stories and thinking of a different ending or a new character. I also loved other stories I read by Anderson and the Grimm brothers—and I felt that I wanted to be able to do the same thing those writers did. Immediately after I started reading those stories, around age six, I started writing my own stories, in child penmanship, of course.  I folded the stories into little booklets and tried to sell them to my neighbors.

SP: Was there anyone in your family that affected you to read and write?

EC: My father. He was a literature teacher. I lived in a house with a huge library. My father was always talking about books, and his friends were always talking about books. He encouraged me to read all the time. Although I had been writing as a child and as a teen, it wasn’t until I was 17 that I chose writing as a profession. When I decided that, I told my father. He immediately stepped outside the house, “to go for a walk,” he said, and came back a little while later with a present for me—Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.


SP: Have you written fiction all of your life?

EC: No.  When I was a teenager, I released my adolescent angst through poetry. As soon as I was a young adult, I started writing short stories again.

SP: A lot of fiction writers wrote poetry in their early career, Paul Auster, for example, and William Goyen. Do you think there is a reason for that?

EC: Yes, I think when you are young or when you first start to write, you imitate what you have read. I read a lot of short stories, but I read a lot of verse too. Poetry is a precursor to almost all literature, culturally speaking. It is definitely literature in the oldest sense. I choose to write prose because that is most innate for me. I would love to write good poetry but I can’t. Poetry is very special. You either have the talent for it or you don’t. I don’t have it.

SP: Which other writers influenced you when you were young?

EC: Jonathan Swift. Lewis Carroll. Charlotte Brönte. Mary Shelley. Oscar Wilde. Stevenson. Kipling. As I got older, Argentine writers. Bioy Casares, Silvina Ocampo—who was Casares’s wife . . . they lived just two blocks away from where I was born and raised. I used to see them shopping for groceries and vegetables—and I knew them, in the neighborhood way. Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig, Sarmiento, Alejandra Pizarnik, and many, many other Argentine writers. Let’s see, after that, Virginia Woolf. I like her novels, but I prefer her essays. I like the way her mind works. How she thought literature should work—that reading and writing are connected. Then, Proust, Poe, Maupassant, Balzac, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky.

SP: You have a daughter. Tell us about her.

EC: She’s fourteen now. Very dynamic. Strong willed. She knows who she is and what she likes. She loves animals. She likes riding horses. She is an equestrian. She competes a lot. Sometimes every weekend. I like that she likes riding, but it makes me nervous sometimes—her on that big horse. She spends the whole weekend with her friends and the horses, and when they are not riding they are taking care of the horses, feeding them, brushing them, washing them. She just loves to be with animals. All her life. Since she was a little girl. Dogs. Cats. If it were up to her, our house would be a zoo. At school she does very well in literature, but she doesn’t love it, or have a passion for it. She likes history a lot. And she hates math.

SP: Does she support your writing time?

EC: Well, when she was very little, she knew that I was doing something at my desk, but it took her some time to understand that I was working, that writing was working, even though I was at home. She was a bit noisy, demanding attention, but I understood that is normal for a child. Now she is used to the fact that I am a writer. She accepts and permits my writing time.

SP: Does she inspire you to write?

EC: Yes. It’s amazing. I never plan it. It just happens.  Talking with her sometimes sparks ideas. The things she says, the way she says them. Motherhood changes your life, radically—as do all the important things in life—it turns you into something else. It makes you realize there is more than the self.  I want to write about motherhood sometimes, the relationship between a mother and her daughter, but I need a little time for that. Right now I am still inside the motherhood situation. I write better about something when I have a little distance from it. Perhaps when she is older. When I am older, which is not too far from now, ha?

SP: You recently wrote a novel in three months. How did that go? Where you happy with the results?

EC: I was very happy. It came after almost a year of block. I had been writing, but only commissioned work—short pieces for magazines and such. I was relieved when it came out so quickly and so well. I think it had been burgeoning inside of me for a while, growing; it just had to find a time to come out. That one-year block was the first time in my writing career that I had not been writing what I wanted to write. When I finally started the book, it was three months of writing non-stop.

SP: Do you have a theory on why you had the block?

EC: Not exactly, but I think it might have been because the novel I had written before, Radiana, I had written obsessively. I don’t usually write obsessively. Radiana is a short novel, with lots of small parts and characters intertwined, and I started out with the idea that I wanted all the parts to connect, so when you read it and get to the end, you will understand the beginning and find meaning in the whole. I was obsessive in that I was making too many changes as I was writing. I usually don’t write that way.  I do make a lot of corrections, but usually only after I complete a first draft, when I revise. This obsessive behavior was intense. It left me exhausted.

SP: In general, besides that particular book, do you write quickly, or do you labor over words as you write?

EC: It’s ironic, because my novels usually come out quickly, and then I go back and spend a lot of time making corrections, but my short stories come out slowly. In a short story, every sentence has an important job, and each sentence has to follow the previous one, so if you write a weak sentence, it is hard to follow it with a strong sentence. The story just does not progress as it should.

SP: Where do your ideas for your books and stories come from?

 

EC: Life, in general. Things that happen to me. Things I see. Conversations I hear. Things people say to me. Lately, it has been in dreams. The last four or five short stories I wrote came to me in dreams.

SP: The stories complete from beginning to end?

EC: Not complete, but in bits and parts, and in instructions. For example, for some days I had wanted to write a story about the countryside, about when I was young and vacationed on the ranch. I wrote a couple of stories, and started another, but I didn’t like what I was writing. The stories were not coming out well. Then, one night, I dreamed I was answering the telephone, and when I picked up the receiver I heard my father’s voice, and he said, “Cross!” he called me by my surname, “Cross,” he said, “you have to go out and take the dog for a walk.” So I woke up and I told my husband about the dream. And my husband said, “Well, you have to take the dog for a walk then.”

SP:  So you did.

EC:  And I did. But nothing happened.  I almost forgot about the dream, and late that same afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, and I remembered an event with my father and his dog. I wrote a story about the event.

SP: Do you feel you have a muse?

EC: No. I would love to, but I don’t.

SP: Do you have a favorite place to write?

EC: Yes. My study, and in cafés. I go to a café with my computer, I find a table near a wall, and I sit with my back to a wall, and I start to write. If the bar is not to noisy I can get a lot of writing done. Sometimes I can write in a noisy bar, if the energy is right.

SP: Are there are a lot of bars with creative energies here in Buenos Aires?

EC: Yes. There is a whole culture of café writing here. It goes back over a century. There is also a history of café readers. In any café you go to, you will see people reading books as well as people writing. That might not sound unique to some people, but, the beautiful thing about it, the helping factor for readers and writers, the cultural difference, I think, is that here in Buenos Aires you can sit down and order a cup of coffee and you can remain in your seat for an hour or two, or even longer, and the waiter or waitress does not bother you or rush you. You are free to write or read until you are tired.

SP: How many hours do you usually write every day?

EC: I sit down at my computer for at least four hours. During that time I either write, or do writing-related work—such as note-taking, revising, editing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I just sit there, and it doesn’t work. Most of the time, though, if I am tenacious, something happens.


SP: Do you write best in the mornings, afternoons, evenings, or nights?

EC: Mornings, mostly. Sometimes a bit after lunch, if I have time. And I like writing at night. After I have helped my daughter with her homework, if I can, I write a little at night. Writing at night has its advantages. It’s quiet. There are fewer interruptions. Only problem is, I like waking up early, so I have to balance that.

SP: Do you find yourself conceiving stories at odd times, perhaps while driving, or talking to somebody, or while you are teaching? What do you do, if an idea comes to you at an inconvenient time?

EC: I have a good memory.

SP: How do you write a first draft—do you write it in long hand, on a typewriter, or on a computer?

EC: On a computer. I have terrible handwriting.

SP: Do you proofread your own final drafts?

EC: I have some friends, who are all great readers, take a look at my final drafts. I give them the novel or book, and they read it and write comments for me. I love them because they are honest. They tell me if a scene is boring, or if a character is unbelievable, or if a section is paced too slowly. I read all of their comments, listen to what they tell me, then I reread my manuscript, and if what they said makes sense, I make the changes.

SP: Talk a little about your book Kavanagh. What does the building Kavanagh symbolize?

EC: The Kavanagh building is the first and only Art Deco skyscraper built in Buenos Aires, a brilliant piece of architecture. The characters in Kavanagh are rich people who find themselves no-longer rich, and they are resistant to that change. They don’t want to lower their standards of living. They are living in denial, and they are decaying. They try to keep their standards of living up, because to them that symbolizes their dignity. Their resistance to change creates conflict, and this conflict inevitably leads to the climax of each story.  The characters in the stories represent different types of people in Buenos Aires.  The Kavanagh building houses these people, thus, the Kavanagh building becomes emblematic of the city Buenos Aires.

I think these types of situations, though tragic, make interesting fiction—people going through disaster, sorrow, and change—and the resulting actions that they take. Sympathy must be given when writing about these people, and dignity must be given, even if a few characters are not perfect or even good hearted.

SP: Kavanagh is a collection of short stories, but it works like a novel. The narrator’s voice is quite evident throughout the collection. Was that arbitrary, or your plan?

EC: When I first started writing those stories, I did not know they would be so connected, but after I finished the third story, I realized I had a connecting narrator voice.

SP: Going back to your book Radiana, who or what does the woman/robot protagonist represent?

EC: Well, I think she is what the inventor, a man, would like a woman to be.

SP: Is there a sexist statement in that?

EC: Of course. Because he makes an artificial woman. But, the story is much more than that. The inventor ends up getting what he sought.

SP: And Banquet of the Spider? What is the plot of the story?

EC: Well, without giving away too much, it is the story of a girl, Celina, whose socialization is very unique. In her family, in order to be respected, one must rob or deface a famous art masterpiece. Her ancestors are culprits of infamous crimes: the beheading of the statue The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen; the stealing of La Giaconda from the Louvre; striking Le Genie du Repos Eternelle and Michelangelo’s La Pietá with hammers. She thinks that if she wants her family to respect her and take pride in her, she must do something similar.

SP: Have you found any of your characters from earlier books reappearing in later books?

EC: No, in my books, I am always moving to another place, meeting new characters—especially after I have written something and had it accepted for publication. I have left those characters behind and gone from that place, on my way somewhere else.

 

SP: What kind of a statement were you making in your movie, The Insulted and the Injured?

EC: It is a social statement on the homeless. After one of our recent president’s government, there were a lot of homeless people wandering about. What was so unusual was that many of these people were former functioning, middle-class citizens who all of a sudden found themselves homeless because of a perverse governing institution. So, along with structural poverty, there was this new group of homeless. The government required that you have an address in order to have an identity card, so if you didn’t have an address, who were you? A new kind of desaparecido (a term for the people who “disappeared” during the military juntas)? Basically, these homeless did not exist—on least on paper. In reality, they existed, and you could see them everywhere. We realized while we were shooting that we were capturing the first symptoms of a societal disease. The infirmity of a system.

SP: As a final word, what would you advise to other writers?

EC:  Always give your final drafts to a few people whose opinions you respect—and then take their feedback into consideration.

 

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Stephen Page Interviewed by Fox Chase Review

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Read an Stephen Page interview conducted by g emil reutter and  Diane Sahms-Guarnieri at FCR: https://foxchasereview.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/10-questions-for-stephen-page/ Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

10 Questions for Stephen Page

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Stephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan. He is the author ofThe Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. . You can find him at:http://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/.  His poetry appears in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.foxchasereview.org/12SU/StephenPage.html  and http://www.foxchasereview.org/11WS/StephenPage.html

Interview with g emil reutter

The Interview 

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GER: So how does a guy from Detroit end up becoming a cattle rancher in Argentina?

SP: Well, I’m not ranching anymore. I was. Loved it. That part of my life is temporarily over.  I will tell you, however, how I came to Argentina.  The story started when I was a child. Some of my earliest happy memories are of my family vacations. Several times, all summer long, my family would pile in the station wagon and head out on the road.  We would take about twenty short vacations a year.  Sometimes just for the weekend.  We would head up north in Michigan, or down to Florida, or Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina.  Mostly visiting family.  I loved the feeling of being on the road.  Nothing behind you, only that which is ahead of you—Kerouac said something like that.  I loved looking at the scenery as it passed by.  Most of my extended family lived in rural or sparsely populated nature-filled areas. I remember farmland, lakes, rivers, large patches of woodlands. I loved walking for miles on dirt roads, along animal trails, trudging through swamps, crossing rivers, swimming across lakes. My parents were good caretakers, and I feel lucky that they gave me such an adventurous childhood. I also had two good-natured sisters who were easy-going travelling companions.

            When I was fifteen or so, I ran away from home (not to escape anything in particular, at least nothing I could conceive at that age).  I was walking home after visiting a friend’s house and I got this idea in my head to go somewhere, anywhere . . . no definite destination in mind, just go.  As the sun was setting I was standing on the side of I-75, watching the smokestacks of factories turn yellow then orange then red, and I stuck out my thumb.  I didn’t get very far, only down to Cincinnati, when I realized I was hungry.  I crossed the highway divider and hitchhiked back home.  I slipped the key into the lock on the front door of my home as the sun was rising.

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As a young man, with my driver’s license, every Friday when I had my weekly cash pay stuffed in my pocket, I would jump in my car and drive, sometimes to visit family, sometime just to be “out there.” Away.  Gone.  Free.  Traveling is like having wings, even in a car. I really found my wings when I bought my Harley. Riding a Harley has no other feeling like it in this world. It has a distinct vibration and rumble. On an open road, with no traffic, there is just you, the bike, the wind, and the scenery around you. You have a panoramic view of your surroundings—especially if you ride without a helmet (kids, please don’t do that!). 

Once, I had a union job, cutting steel, and after I worked there for one year, the foreman came up to me on a Friday afternoon, and said, “You,” he paused, looking me in the eye, then pointing at me with a greasy finger, “are on vacation.” “What?” I asked, thinking I was fired. “You get a week’s paid vacation for your first year on this job. We need you to take the time now while the work is slow.”  “Thanks,” I muttered, thinking ‘where will I go, what will I do?’  That night I fell asleep watching a movie called Easy Rider. I woke up early the next morning and packed a sleeping bag and some clothes in a sea bag my cousin J had given me, threw the bag over my shoulder, and headed out the door. As I was stepping off the front porch, my cousin T (who was sharing rent with me in an old farm house on the edges of Detroit) asked, “where are you going?”  “To New Orleans.” “How will you get there?” “I don’t know, I guess I’ll hitchhike (I was in-between owning vehicles at the time) . . . Or maybe I’ll go downtown to the bus terminal and take a bus.” She looked at me and smiled, then said, “At least let me drive you to the station.”  So, I ended up hanging out on Bourbon Street for a couple of nights, seeing the Rolling Stones play live, taking a train up to Jackson, Mississippi, then hitchhiking though Arkansas, Texas, north to Colorado, onto North Dakota, then turning east to back towards Detroit.  I arrived home Sunday evening, eight and a half days later, just in time to eat dinner, sleep a bit, wake up early the next morning and go back to work.  I took a lot of trips like that, either hitchhiking, in my car, or on my bike—I was always travelling, going somewhere, anywhere, just away, on my way to “There. There. Somewhere. Anywhere but here.”

After a few years of factory jobs, 7-11 midnight shifts, gas-station jobs, bowling-alley jobs, landscaping jobs, restaurant jobs—I decided I had to leave the Detroit scene.  Get away. Far, far away.  I landed a job that allowed me globe-circling travel. Out of seven years in this occupation, I spent fifty-two months overseas. Man, I saw a lot of the world. I ended up one day in Kenya, on a photo safari, and inside the same tour bus I was in was this exotic green-eyed goddess of a women. I noticed that every time I looked at her, she was looking at me, and every time she looked at me, I was looking at her.  We fell in love. She was, and is, Argentine.  Here I am.

GER: You have said that teaching is a passion of yours. Tell us why and how the interaction with students contributes to your own development as a writer?

SP:  I love teaching because it is a way of sharing, sharing knowledge, a way of helping others.  The best way teaching literature helped my development as a writer was that I was able to restudy the masters, analyze good writing and show others how to read well. To read carefully. To “read,” not just read. To understand the techniques of literature the masters use and/or used well—i.e. foreshadowing, metaphor, symbolism . . . saying something without saying something. 

stephen-out-reading-on-ranchGER: Many have said writing is a lonely art. You have said you have experienced bouts of isolation.  How do you break out from these bouts?

SP:  Most writers write in a room with the door closed, the phone turned off. I do. If a writer has to write in a room with family around, the writer usually has a spouse, family member, friend, or an employee take care of the family while he or she writes. Some writers write in a café. I also do that often. I know a few cafés that have vibrant creative energy and when I sit down at a table and lean over my journal or computer to write, the conversations of the other patrons just become white noise. In a sense, all writing is done in isolation. A writer has to know this, be ready for it, and, in some cases, have a disposition that does not mind being alone with itself for a while. I break out of my bouts of isolation by having an understanding wife, a circle of friends, and an extended family who understand my need to be alone a while and are always there for me when I open my (metaphorical and literal) door to socialize.  

stilldandelionsbookcoverphotosmall-copytimbreGER: You have published two collections,Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. Share with us the development of the collections?

SP:  My first collection of poems, The Timbre of Sand, was inspired by the exotic green-eyed woman, and started with my first love letters to her, after the safari was over.  I wrote those letters while I was still traveling around for my employers and she was living in Argentina.  About a year after the safari, I resigned from my travel-required occupation, moved to Argentina, and started to attend college. At university, I realized I loved literature and writing so much I made that my major, and I started to write short stories and poems.  Then, one day, I was skimming over some of the early letters I wrote my wife (by then we were living together and shared rings) and I realized the epistolaries had poetic potential. I started a collection of poems dedicated to her, and as I began it I thought, ‘what better love poem is there than a sonnet.’  So I started a collection of sonnets. But being a bit of an originally minded rebellious person, I decided to contemporize the sonnet. I kept the line relations, the stanzas, the meter, the assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme that Shakespearian and Petrarchan sonnets have, but I eliminated the end rhyme (or at least freed my self of having to end rhyme).  I had a few of them published separately in small presses, and then a small publisher in NY picked them up and printed them as a book.

My second collection of poems, Still Dandelions, was inspired by my love for nature. Even as a child, on my vacations and short trips with my family, I felt a oneness with nature, a connection to it all, a passageway through nature to the beyond, the Universe, the Everything, the One.  I lived in New York for a while and was lucky enough to live near a park that was spread out over hundreds of square acres. It had trails leading through the trees, up and down hills, down to the Hudson.  There was a garden in the center of the park that was tended year-round by city employees, so if there was a mild winter, some plant or another was in bloom all year round. If there was a harsh winter, something was in bloom at least ten months of the year. The garden attracted bees, other insects, birds.  And the woodland always had some miracle of life happening, even in winter—lichen growing, moss, early tree buds, cardinals and sparrows gathering in groups on the snow, a squirrel leaping about to dig where it hid a nut last autumn, a hawk or eagle gliding around then swooping low, looking for a meal.  There was the bite of the cold, the rush of a snow flurry, the pelting of hail on my face. There was also the singing of birds in spring, the green-skied vortex of an approaching storm, the stinging rain, the wilting heat of summer, the sawing of the cicada, the myriad-color leaves of autumn. I started a collection of poems about nature, the oneness I felt with it, and I thought, ‘what better way to share this oneness I feel than to honor Bash­o and write a collection of haiku.’ I took some liberties with the form to make it my own, but in doing so, as I did with the sonnets, I realized that writing in form is an act of discipline that all writers should learn in order to become original later. A good haiku is not an easy thing to master and takes a bit of practice.  A great haiku is even harder to master.  “A haiku is, or a haiku isn’t,” I think Kerouac or Snyder said.  A haiku is not just a 5-7-5 syllabic poem (the English version of a haiku).  If anyone would like to acquire a better understanding of haiku, I recommend reading Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross.  A haiku captures the Oneness, the feeling of connection to the natural world . . . it could happen while hearing a flap of a birdwing, a bee buzzing by.  A haiku captures this moment of oneness with the world, the loss of the self—and this usually happens in a second, or even less.  The epiphany comes immediately afterwards—and if the experiencer of the Oneness is a writer, he or she writes the experience down in a concise form (to coincide with the briefness of the “moment”) in order to remember it and share it with readers. There again, like my first book, I had many of the poems published separately in lit mags, then another small publisher in NY printed the collection as a book.

GER: Your literary criticisms have appeared in many publications, including here at FCR. What inspired you on this course and what are the benefits to you as a writer?

SP:  That goes back to when I was child again. Another one of my earliest memories is that of reading. I read a lot while I was growing up. I would often share books, Dr. Seuss and such, with friends and family. We would discuss the passages and rhymes and meaning (I didn’t realize this was analysis at the time).  As a teenager I was always deciphering Rock-and-Roll lyrics with friends—what does that object in that song signify, what is the double meaning in this word, how does the title coincide with the content, how many symbols are in that that stanza and why are they there? Then as a literature/writing student at Palomar College, Columbia University, and Bennington College, I was able to employ my love of analysis and set my thoughts on paper. This love of analysis benefited me as a writer because I was again, like in teaching later, able to understand how the great writers used, and use, techniques of literature. 

GER: You have read your poetry at various venues in Argentina. How important is it for you to read your work in public and what affect does it have on your writing?

SP:  I stared a writing group almost as soon as I arrived in Argentina. I thought it would be a good way to help writers help each other. We read our stuff aloud to each other.  Later I started a poetry reading group, as a means of sharing literature with others.  Once I was invited to read my poems aloud at an annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair.  Reading a book alone is a solitary pleasure, a gift from the writer to the reader one book at a time.  Reading aloud to an audience is a public event, a gift shared with more than one person in linear time.  I discovered by reading my own stuff aloud, especially while I practiced reading aloud to myself, I caught the glitches in the lines, the skips in the meter, the loss of the music I thought was there.  Thus, by reading aloud, or preparing to read aloud, I was better able to edit my work.

Stephen Page reading at the Ernesto Sabato Foundation  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b-5YrHXe-U

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GER: Your fiction and poetry have appeared widely in the small and electronic press. How do you deal with the submission process and how important is to you as a writer to be published?

SP:  Writing and submitting are two completely different processes. They use different halves of the brain, different sections of the cortex. Synapses fire differently.  In one process you are a creator—in the other you are a publicist, a promoter, a hand shaker, a delver, a researcher. Every writer should be able to have a secretary edit, another to submit, a publisher, and a promoter to get the work known.  That way the writer could spend all of his or her time on his or her writing.  Use the cerebrum only for creating.  Anyone in any one of the arts may draw parallels with this. Currently, with the revolution of eBooks, many writers need not only to be a creator, they need to be their own editor, their own publicist, and in many cases, their own publisher.  In any event, I handle the submission process by dividing part of my “writing” time each day into parts—part for creating, part for editing, and part for submitting.

Writing is immensely more important to me than publishing. Writing is the part I love, the fun part, the part I want to do—the part I need to do.  Publishing, however, is a pat on my back, and it is one way I can share with others.  I do love sharing.

StephenPage (1)GER: You have said you turn to Gary Snyder for inspiration. Tell us why and what other writers inspire your work?

SP:  Yes, I turn to Gary Snyder because of his love of travel and his love of nature, (which I can relate to). I also admire his ability to write well. Snyder spent years meditating in Asia and studying Oriental forms of poetry. Judging by his writing, I think he felt the Oneness, the losing of the self that I feel. I often turn to Mary Oliver and Louise Glück for that same reason—for their apparent awareness of the Oneness (and for their quality of writing). I also turn to other writers and reread their books once in a while because they write well and capture the drama of human interaction, the strife of life, the struggles of relations and love—like Neruda, Cross, Hemingway, Machado, Vallejo, Borges, Plath.

GER: You have quoted Matthew Arnold, “Life is not having or getting, but of being and becoming”. Why this quote and can you expand upon it?

SP:  It is easy to become a materialist.  Materialism is something innate in all of us and is developed one way or the other depending on our socialization. Historically, we humans—modern Homo sapiens and early humanoids—especially in societies or groups, have almost always measured success by what we own, be it property, possessions, exchange (or even worse, other human beings). What we have or what we are getting—even when we were hunter-gatherers and vying over territory (not just for survival but to feel that a section of land is ours).

Today, we are brought up in a consumeristic world. We are driven, from the time we are children, to want to have things, to get more, to buy a new football, a new jump rope, a new car every year, a superfluous piece of jewelry . . . to be rich, to live in a big house, to own land, to wear new clothes styled in the latest fashion. More often than not we are striving to own more than what we need to survive healthily.  I think Sixto Rodriguez said it best when he sang, “You measure your wealth by the things that you hold . . .”

Very few people are taught to seek spirituality, and not just religion, which is societally subjectivized (and there is nothing wrong with religion)—I mean pureness of the soul (if that is what you want to call it, a “soul”—this experience we all have of existence). Not the egotistical sense of existence—the I—but the Oneness. Not many people are taught too meditate, to walk alone in the woods—or participate in any other method that allows zoning into the Oneness.  We, as adults, should work harder at teaching children how to be One with the Universe (the universe as we currently imagine it).  We need to teach our children respect for land and nature, not only for their spiritual health, but also for their physical health.  We also need to teach the kids how to be better people, how to share, how to be good to others, how to be calm in stressful situations.  We need teach them to be rich in spirit, generosity, and kindness.

As for each of ourselves, we need to make conscious efforts every day to become a better person than we were the day before, a better human being, a more humane entity that functions well in society and becomes one with the One.

StephenPage

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

SP: Oh, I have at least 10 projects I am working on.  Some are stories and some are poems I am compiling or fitting together into meaningful, coherent collections. Some are separate pieces of writing I am editing. Also, I am writing a new book

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April 12, 2014 007-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA)

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

 

 

fox chase review Coffee cup

 

 

 

 

 

Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by Stephen Page

Jake Sclavus 

by Stephen Page

Security Guard Badge and Flashlight Stephen PageMy beeper is going off, so I look down to see the number on the display screen. It’s the grocery store. I run toward the store, hoping it isn’t anything serious.   This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid. Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow-moving people. I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store. My three-cell, heavy-duty flashlight is in my right hand. The manager of the store tells me there is an “undesirable” walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges. The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around. He hasn’t yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand. When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk. There is half-eaten lunch meat and cheese in his hand. He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an Army trench coat, old jeans, T-shirt, and worn-out tennis shoes–all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing.   He gapes at me. A few of his front teeth are missing. I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says, “Yes.” I say, “Let’s go then,” and he says, “Fuck you.” He begins to walk out the door. I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him. He says, “You wouldn’t dare.” I tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store. When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry, his muscles hard as steel. A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner. I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied. There is a slight chill in the air. The manger comes outside and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least half-an-hour. Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store. I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air. Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot. I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot. I yell, “Hey!” They turn their car around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand. They end up arresting him.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. I am bored. My mind is numb from lack of use. It feels like someone has had it freeze-dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply. The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor-function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.” It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work. I am trying to figure how a person like me ends up with a job like this.

*

It is near closing time. Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home. I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot. Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass, his eyes are bloodshot and glassy. I have to let him in because it isn’t yet closing time. I open the doors and he just stands there. It isn’t very cold out, but he is shivering. “I just seen my friend get killed,” he says. “Over drugs.” I feel terrible. Then I remember I’m on duty. “Was it here, in this parking lot?” “No,” he says. “A few blocks away.” His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder. His pupils are dilated. “He was shot, man. Three times. In the gut. He just lay there and bled all over the ground.” I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket. There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me. “Sorry,” I say. “But it’s near closing time. I have to lock up.” I quickly begin to close the doors. He doesn’t move. He’s still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me. He looks like he is ready to cry. I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. My legs are tired and my feet are killing me. My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels. When the eight-hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home. When I arrive, I take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet. I soak my feet in Epsom salts and wince at the pain. The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the Sergeant of the Guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.

*

A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot. Because of all the cars, I can’t see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting. I follow the noise until I arrive at the scene. I find a man and a woman arguing. A few people have gathered to watch. Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward. The man is about six-foot-four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds; maybe that is why nobody is doing anything. I check to make sure my battery-powered zapper is on my belt. My ever-present flashlight is swinging in my right hand. “Please take your argument elsewhere,” I tell them. They ignore me. I say it louder. They still ignore me. “I want my baby,” the man says. “If you’re going to leave me, I want my baby.” “No,” she says. “I’m taking her to my mother’s.” By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car. She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car. She is not afraid to argue back though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands. I walk up next to them and yell, “Take your problems off this parking lot!” “Stay out of this,” the man says as he turns his face toward me. That is all the time the woman needs. In the split-second it takes the man to turn his attention, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car. Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby. The man turns and takes a step in their direction. I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him. He looks intent on tearing me limb-from-limb. His eyes are flashing fire. He steps up to me and towers over me. I stand my ground. He looks surprised. “You’re only doing this because I’m black,” he says. “No,” I say. “It’s my job. I have to do this.” The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby. The man looks over my head and begins to relax. “She’s a terrible mother,” he says. He turns and saunters off toward a large four-by-four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off. I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight.

*

Tonight I am working at the local hospital. It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn’t arrived yet. I wait, fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, an hour-and-a-half. It is near midnight. I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened. He asks me to work a double shift. They never pay overtime, but I agree. I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want-ads.

*

I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift. I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study. I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked. It is cold here at night. Whoever said it doesn’t get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter. I have a Volkswagen, so the heater doesn’t work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour. Since it’s hard to drive around the parking lot at night at 40 miles and hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight. The bad light bothers my eyes. Even when I wear long johns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.

*

I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings. It is the officer of the day, asking me to come into work. I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since I left my last post. A headache creeps into my frontal lobes. My neck tenses up. I tell him, “Yes,” hang up, and stumble toward the shower. As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history: at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, business owners exploited their workers to every extent possible. As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970’s. As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle. It hovers near the empty mark. I think about the one hundred-fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week’s pay.

*

Sometime around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink-smeared photocopy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground. He is wrapped up in a dirty Army-surplus sleeping bag. He is snoring. With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are. It takes me three or four nudges to wake him. “You’re going to have to leave,” I say. “No one is allowed on these premises at night.” “Man, do you know who God is?” he asks. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.” “Do you go to church, man?” “Look, you have to leave the area.” “I didn’t think you went to church. Otherwise you wouldn’t be kicking me out of here.” I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church. I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket. I follow him until he walks off the parking lot. “Go to church, man,” he says as he walks away.

*

I got this job, finally. After six months of checking the want-ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.

 

Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by S.M. Page as published in @columbiaquarto. Flip to page 71. http://issuu.com/quarto/docs/1995

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3 poems by Stphen Page on madswirl

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Three poems titled: The Head, The Cattle Rustler, and Guías published on  madswirl: http://madswirl.com/author/spage/

mad swirl Poetry_Forum_2012_155

Topics and characters in poems include cattle rustlers, gauchos, cowboys, bad guys, saboteurs, hustlers, intented murderers, free-range ranching, two frustrated ranch administrators, grass-fed cattle, beef on hooves, wild horses, arbitrary death, wandering spirits, muses, and reverence of nature–how nature is important to the existence of earth and its populace.

http://madswirl.com/author/spage/