This week I went to a seminar in Chico about how to get published. In the back room of a local bookstore, twenty or so of us sat around a conference table while Dan, our teacher and facilitator, spoke to us about self-publishing. As if to confirm that those younger than 50 have already figured this out, Dan was by a couple of decades the youngest person in the room, somewhere in his 30s, with a large gym membership chest, t-shirt, and double sleeves of lurid tattoos the ferocity of which didn’t prevent him from being exceptionally nice to everyone as he affably dispensed what was clearly only the tiniest morsel of an encyclopedic knowledge of self-publishing in every form and mode. He waited patiently while we eagerly scribbled notes on what to him were the equivalent of basic vowel sounds and cardinal directions, including “up” and “down.” Some of us had books, some had starts, some had ideas, but we all wanted to be published, including the beaming little lady whose cherry red walker was parked behind her chair as she told of her dream to write a book about the fortunate intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ in the remission of her daughter-in-law’s cancer. During the answer to a complex question on the alchemy of turning Facebook “likes” into geld, my mind began to wander. How in fact had I gotten here? The week before I’d read Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales with my students, and I’d spoken about the word “bliss,” as in the “holy blisful martir for seke”; the etymology is obscure, I said, but seems to have something to do with “shining” or “shining browed,” a kind of showing or epiphany, a glimpse of Being to which one can not help but return, like the pilgrims to Canterbury. Such charisma, as Weber knew, was by its nature evanescent and elusive; the tendency was to trap the recall of its presence in rituals, rules and practice, more and more of them until it began to seem like there might not even be anything inside the dwelling anymore. Even in the supposedly numinous Neolithic, or so writers on the ancient temples of Malta and Gozo seem to suggest, there was the same tendency toward fakery, with a god’s voice booming out of a sound tube from a nearby chamber, and teetering, creaking idol heads turned from behind a screen to amaze the gullible. My own dwelling, I reflected, seemed to have started with a little house of clay and wattles made around a thunderstorm circa 1951 that passed over Giles County Virginia along the New River, because there was this difference I kept wanting to come back to, some riveting essential between the sound of rain in the front yard and back of my grandparents’ home. Finally in the book I was hoping to publish and in quest of which had come to the seminar, the moment came out like this:
I had been about three, standing on my grandfather’s front porch during a summer storm, awed at the sheer downpour, the gray volume of water pouring straight into the vast front yard, bouncing like sunlit nails off the road, a roaring of the storm in the cathedral bole of the upper reaches of the maple and sycamores. And then to run through the house to the back porch where now the same rain was instantly soft, silent, full, hazing the parked cars, the great chromed Buicks in their aura of lost time, and silently falling into the lilacs, forsythia, dogwood, box hedge and holly of the rear yard – and in between, the old house a honeycomb of rooms, dark wainscoting, closely figured wallpaper, an ecstasy of space and honeyed voices, all for me surrounded in rain.
You wove your little words, withys, pales and osiers, and did it and did it, hoping to catch something, which was in itself a recapture. Sometimes you felt you had lost it, sometimes it went fallow or absconded, sometimes you forgot it or sneered at it, sometimes you betrayed it, sometimes you drank it into silence. Sometimes, rarely, it even seemed possible to consider storm and child a mutual gazing, that Emerson might have been on to something when he felt of the rhodora in his path that “in my simple ignorance, suppose/The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.”
In the conference room, the Facebook question had run its course and there was a lull. I raised my hand. “Yes,” said Dan, ready for anything. “I have this disease,” I said.