"There are so many things to know! So much to research--if only one had the time. Alas, earning one's bread takes it all up." These words are spoken by the two main characters of Flaubert's novel Bouvard and Pecuchet. The plight of these two copyclerks is the plight of almost every writer these days: working to pay rent takes time that could be spent writing. Hélas, le gagne-pain, sigh Bouvard and Pecuchet.
I plan to use my NEA fellowship to take a long leave of absence from my job; I look forward to having the better part of a year in which to write and read and write some more. My project is a collection of short stories, my first book; the fellowship makes it possible to imagine completing it. It's an astonishing, long wished-for, scarcely hoped-for chance.
From the short story "Filzbad"
They find Fritzsche in the chapel.
"How beautifully you play and sing, Fritzsche," says Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren when he has finished. Fritzsche rises from the piano bench; Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren says, "Miss Ezgysy, this is Farai Bulawayo, called Fritzsche. "
"I am attached to the school, in a capacity," says Fritzsche, giving a slight bow.
" 'The earth is beautiful…' " Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren quotes.
" '-- enormously beautiful…'"
" '...but safe it is not.' My favorite of Brahms's songs."
"I will not argue with you. It never ceases to surprise us, Fritzsche, that a talented creature such as yourself does not belong to an opera company."
"Someone is always lying in wait, behind and before, all about." Fritzsche smiles at Merek. "You carry a notebook. You are a writer."
"A teacher. And you, Mr. Bulawayo?"
"I was born in Naukluft, in Southwest Africa. Whatever else I am will scarcely be heeded here. Did you know, Miss Ezgysy, many writers got their start after a head injury? In Reveries of a Solitary Walker, Rousseau writes that while walking in the woods one day he was knocked senseless by a great big shepherd-dog; it was only in convalescence that he came to write the Reveries at all. Or Stifter, who clumsily struck his head on a window frame, suffered a concussion, and began his first novel the following day. And Vico: at age three, he fell down and suffered such a severe blow to his head it was feared he would not survive, but survive he did, to write The New Science forty-three years after."
Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren titters, then frowns. Merek has opened her notebook. Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren retreats to a pew to examine the hymnals for graffiti.
"Consider the decreasing span of time between occurrence of cranial insult and onset of literary career, evidenced in a comparison among the injuries/careers of Vico and Rousseau and Stifter, namely, forty-three years, a few weeks, and overnight. Does this represent the progress of humankind, or just a general hastening of the tempo of modern life?
"If a man like myself is to be read in Europe, then perhaps only through a contingency such as these: a dog, a knocking-down, a blow to the skull. Can such a thing be willed? I do not mind telling you how often I have sat alone on the edge of my bed, cosh in hand, calculating how best to match the strength of the blow with the ambit of my career, while weighing both of these against the likelihood of a fatality."
"How frightfully articulate you are, Fritzsche," says Mrs. Dr. Verhaeren. She bids Fritzsche good morning, and takes Merek away.
It is a long day for Merek. Assemblies, recitations, a peahen found accidentally smothered in the youngest girls' classroom, tears, an exemplary punishment involving lampblack, tears; introductions to the other teachers; crumbly seedcakes and tannic tea; hallways, cloakrooms; a girl pressed close, whimpering. Explanations of the grading system, of the fees, of the several stages of girlhood. Songs about hares and hounds. Dinner at long tables, a wordless clatter of spoons on tin, the teachers' table up on the dais with white china and blood sausage and a wasp on the fruit and no meat for drudges.
Later, Merek lies awake, afraid of the long night in her new room under the eaves.
Diana George was born in Washington, DC. She grew up in Florida. She attended colleges and universities in Seattle; Buffalo; Berlin; and Providence, Rhode Island. She studied comparative literature in a PhD program at SUNY Buffalo, and took up writing fiction only long after her dissertation (on hypnosis in Kleist and Hegel) proved un-writeable. She has been working as a technical editor for the last six years; she also recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Brown University.