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A Lesser Day

Scrima-COVER

Photo: Eliza Proctor

 

Kent Avenue. Der kahle Raum, der überwältigende Ausblick. Unter der Decke entlang laufende Rohrleitungen, Fenster über die gesamte Vorderfront; draußen die Betonfabrik und der Brooklyn Navy Yard und in der Ferne die stetige Prozession von Lichtern, die sich über die Manhattan Bridge und den Franklin D. Roosevelt-Drive hinaufbewegten. Wie ich alle Lampen im Atelier löschte und im Dunkeln saß, hinausblickte auf die Stadt, in der ich geboren war, in der meine Mutter geboren war, mein Vater geboren war – und eine Großmutter, ein Großvater, doch da endet die Spur, verliert sich in dem Moment, wo sie wieder die Küsten des alten Kontinents berührt. Wie ich Großmutters Sessel aus dem Keller schleppte, wo er seit zwanzig Jahren, fünfundzwanzig Jahren im Dunkeln gestanden hatte, ihn am Kofferraum des Autos meiner Mutter festschnürte und nach Brooklyn fuhr; doch das kam später. Ich schüttelte den Polsterbezug am Fenster aus, schüttelte die Krümel des Schaumstoffs aus, der nach all den Jahren spröde geworden und in Auflösung begriffen war; der kunstvoll eingenähte Reißverschluss, dieser komische Stoff mit dem Postkutschenmotiv, wieso hat niemand von uns je nähen gelernt, irgendwann gab es für diesen Sessel mal einen kompletten, perfekt passenden Schonbezug mit einem kleinen steifen Volant am unteren Rand und Paspeln an sämtlichen Nähten. Ich schüttelte den Polsterbezug am Fenster aus und schaute zu, wie die orangefarbenen Krümel des maroden Schaumstoffs von einem Luftstrom erfasst wurden, der vom Fluss heraufblies, wie sie schwebten und im Schrägflug bis ganz nach unten auf den Boden segelten; und dann entglitt mir der Bezug und fiel die acht Stockwerke hinunter auf die Straße. Und da lag er, dieser Bezug mit dem Postkutschenstoff, mitten auf der Kent Avenue, und ein Lastwagen fuhr über ihn hinweg, und dann noch einer; doch das kam später. Und daran zu denken: wie Großmutter all die Jahre in ihrem Sessel saß und häkelte, im oberen Stockwerk, im Haus auf der anderen Seite des Hafens, bevor der Stoff verschlissen war, bevor ihre Möbel hinunter in den Keller getragen wurden und oben die ersten Mieter einzogen, dort wo einst Sumpfland gewesen war, vor Jahrhunderten trockengelegt von holländischen Siedlern. Und daran zu denken: dass dieses Gebäude existiert hat, dieses Fenster die ganze Zeit existiert hat, gewartet hat, dass der Metallgriff am gusseisernen Fensterrahmen, hier, jetzt, direkt vor mir, geöffnet und geschlossen von so vielen Händen, so viele Jahre lang, auf mich gewartet hat, auf diesen Moment gewartet hat, auf Großmutters Sessel und die orangefarbenen Krümel von altem Schaumstoff, zu sehen vom Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway in der Nähe der Ausfahrt Flushing Avenue, inmitten einer Landschaft aus Lagerhäusern und Wassertürmen und Gerüsten mit riesigen Neonschildern. Und nun saß ich an diesem Fenster mit einer unbestimmten Zeitspanne vor mir, sechs Monate, ein Jahr, und dann sah ich es zum ersten Mal, das Elektrizitätswerk, in dem du gearbeitet hast, als wir klein waren, bevor du nach Kips Bay versetzt worden bist. Du, und du. Wie kommt es, dass ich es nicht vorher gesehen habe, wie kommt es, dass es beim Namen der Straße nicht geklingelt hat, Kent Avenue: der weit entfernte Ort, wo du jeden Tag hinfuhrst, von dem du jeden Tag heimkamst, der mythische Klang, den er einmal besaß, und bloß ein Wort, die Art, wie du es aussprachst; vergangene Zeiten.

 

Übersetzung: Barbara Jung

Wie viele Tage will be published by Literaturverlag Droschl, Graz, in February 2018.

Listen to the clip on youtube:

 

Quicktime photo

 

Ein paar Nachbarn trafen ein; einer der Männer aus dem Haus nebenan, wo zwei Stanleys und zwei Wandas wohnten und ein Polizist namens Jim, der an jedem 4. Juli zu Sonnenuntergang das opulenteste Geheimlager an Feuerwerkskörpern zum Vorschein brachte, das wir je gesehen hatten, wie ein zu groß geratenes Kind, das einen versteckten Vorrat Spielsachen hortet, und sie in die frühen Morgenstunden abschießt. Scheißkorrupt, sagtest du. Sie sind gesetzlich verpflichtet, das Zeug abzugeben, und was macht er? Typisch irischer Bulle – hat sie irgendwelchen Kids abgeknöpft. Einer der Stanleys kam auf mich zu, um mir sein Beileid auszusprechen, und ich spürte, wie mich eine Welle von Schwindel erfasste; er streckte die Hand aus, und obwohl ich zutiefst bewegt war, kam mir der Gedanke, dass ihn vielleicht bloß eine morbide Neugier motivierte. Ich zielte auf seine Wange und drückte stattdessen einen feuchten Kuss auf seinen Hals, ein Spasmus der motorischen Steuerung, die kurzfristig daneben gegangen ist; ich wich zurück und musterte diesen Mann, dessen langes strähniges Haar über den Schädel gekämmt war, um die kahle Stelle zu verdecken, der jeden Abend eingeschlafen und jeden Morgen erwacht war mit seinem unrasierten Kinn auf einem nur wenige Meter von meinem entfernten Kissen, der die gleiche Straße zur gleichen Bushaltestelle hinuntergegangen war wie ich, ohne mit einem von uns auch nur ein einziges Wort zu wechseln, einen einzigen Blick, Tag für Tag über Jahre hinweg.

 

Übersetzung: Barbara Jung

I’ll be reading from A LESSER DAY this evening at a place called ausland.

How much of our lives is contained in the places we’ve lived in? And does memory have a spatial dimension? As the narrator attempts to locate meaning in the passage of time as it inscribes itself into the myriad things around her, she discovers instances of illusion and self-deception—the flaws in human perception that reveal themselves when we examine the mechanisms of our own thinking: “The amnesia that follows, when the mind carefully buries its new discovery, only digging it up some time later when it’s certain of being alone, unobserved, turning it over and over, sniffing at it as though it were a dried-out bone.”

Together with Ben Miller and Charlotte Wührer.

Doors open at 7 p.m.

Lychenerstraße 60, 10437 Berlin

Bildschirmfoto 2017-06-25 um 15.14.49

 

9781933132778

Check out Droschl’s catalogue of German-language authors and works in translation, which range from Gerschon Schoffmann and Julien Gracq to Gwenaelle Aubry and our own beloved Lydia Davis, translated in crystalline prose by Klaus Hoffer:

http://www.droschl.com/en/

I’m happy to announce that I’ve joined Gudrun Hebel’s literary agency Agentur Literatur in Berlin.

A German edition of A Lesser Day is scheduled for the spring of 2018.

Publisher to be announced soon.

Scrima 2 crop

 

Here’s a little taste:

Dieser eine Moment, dies eine Detail, das mir im Gedächtnis haften geblieben ist, doch warum, es war nichts von Bedeutung, nichts ist passiert, ein schräg auf den Bürgersteig fallender Lichtstrahl, ein Rascheln von Laub. Und all das brannte sich mir mit großer Schärfe und Klarheit ins Bewusstsein, jedes Detail prägte sich meinem inneren Auge ein wie die gestochen scharfen Buchstaben eines gedruckten Wortes, das ich nicht verstehe. Ich sage Licht, Laub, doch nichts davon kann die mythische Bedeutung vermitteln, die es für mich besitzt. Und liegt irgend etwas Größeres darin verborgen, und warum habe ich es vergessen – vergessen zum Beispiel die plötzliche Erkenntnis des Selbstbetrugs, dort, damals, bei diesem Bürgersteig, diesem Laub –, oder ist es ein Zufallsprodukt, Strandgut, das in den zerklüfteten Winkeln meiner Erinnerung hängen geblieben ist. 

 

German translation: Barbara Jung

A Lesser Day by Andrea Scrima, published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2010, available for Kindle since 2014

 

me, goodies

Photo: Uli Sauerland. Schlachtensee, Berlin, May 2016

 

Hi Andrea, congratulations—the English print version of “A Lesser Day” currently seems sold out. What are your plans with the book?

I’ve just sold the German-language rights to a fine literary publisher in Austria; the translation will be coming out in the spring of 2018, and so it seems like a good time to plan a second edition of the book in English. It was a small print run with an independent press, and while it’s not entirely sold out, it’s getting close: there’s a small number left in stock at Small Press Distribution and in independent bookstores around the US, but I think Amazon still has used copies available. I was very glad that Spuyten Duyvil released a Kindle version two years ago, because it keeps the book available to readers—although the actual physical book is a nice thing to have. This might sound a bit strange, but I did the typography, layout, photography, and design myself: a luxury and freedom I never would have enjoyed with a mainstream publisher. The cover image, a dribble of paint on a sidewalk whose paving stones were at some point dissembled and put back together again, but in a different order, with the dribble no longer a continuous flow, but a fragmented line going this way and that, is a metaphor for the reconstruction of time and experience in memory—the way in which we perceive our lives in retrospect. It’s a metaphor that occurs in the same paragraph as the book’s title, the two are thematically intertwined, and so the physical book is like a small work of art.

I saw on your website that you transitioned from visual art to writing. Can you talk about how your art developed in this way?

I studied fine arts in New York and began my studio work as a painter. Gradually, I moved on to installations that incorporated, in various different constellations, small objects, writing, painting, and photography. At some point I began doing mostly text installations, that is, I wrote short pieces, essentially very short stories, and then painted the letters of these texts in Times italic onto the walls of various spaces. Most of these installations were site-specific: they were written in response to a particular location and engaged directly with its architecture. It was an exacting process in which doors and windows and, indeed, every last electrical socket and light switch fit precisely into the flow of the text on the wall. I did these works because I was interested in what happens to a story when it’s read in a very different way than, say, on the printed page. There was a choreographic element to it that fascinated me. It always sounds a little complicated when you talk about how something functions in an art context, and so I should probably say that the stories were psychological studies on particular states of mind, written in a language that sounded confessional, like a journal entry. I was interested in drawing in the reader/viewer, in catching him or her off-guard, in creating a kind of intimacy in a public space.

Gradually, however, after completing around a dozen of these large-scale works, I came to realize that my artistic process—the thing you do that keeps you “in the flow,” the way in which you do your creative thinking—had shifted from painting to writing. And so the logical question became: what would happen if I cut everything else out? Was it time to try to write a book? It was tempting, but it was also a scary prospect for me, because it meant that I’d be leaving one profession mid-career and trying to gain a foothold in another—as a total beginner. It didn’t matter that this transition had come about as an organic development in my work. In professional terms, art and publishing are two separate worlds, and there’s nearly no overlap. I had no idea if my writing would hold up in a literary context.

“A Lesser Day” feels very neatly organized, like a mosaic of small pieces fitted together. What was the writing process behind it: did you have the pieces or the whole picture first?

I wrote “A Lesser Day” in the first year and a half of my son’s life. In other words, during a period when I had very little time to myself. I kept a notebook with me, and I used every available moment in between nursing and naps to write. It was usually just enough time to home in on a particular memory and explore it fully before I had to close the book and attend to my son again. I began with short descriptions of whatever recollections I had of certain places I’d lived in over the years, and eventually pieced them together until I saw a kind of pattern emerge. It was a stroke of luck that I’d happened upon a form that fit perfectly with my life at the time—I mean, it’s very hard to think through even a single thought when you’re taking care of an infant, but for some reason the fragmentary form made it possible to concentrate in short, intense spurts. And then, one day, I realized that the page I’d just written was how the book would end. It startled me. There it was, the entire shape and structure: the narrative arc, all the themes and leitmotifs, the formal rhythm. And so I began to identify the gaps, and sew together the various narrative threads, and eventually I was able to make a cohesive book out of it, which I dedicated to my son.

The idea had been to explore memory as a thing that’s interwoven with the places we’ve inhabited, places that encapsulate a certain period of our lives in a particularly vivid way. But I think the experience of becoming a mother—of being the door through which another person enters the world—of no longer being merely a person, but also, quite suddenly, a “place” for someone else—is the fundamental metaphysical inspiration behind the book.

Do you ever go back to the settings where the book takes place? Areas like the Wrangelkiez are hotspots of gentrification in Berlin these days, and it must have changed a lot since you lived there.

Oh, yes, all of these places have changed enormously. Of the five locations in the book, one was an apartment in the East Village of the early eighties that cost two hundred dollars a month in rent, another a summer sublet in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, and another a beautiful waterfront loft I lived in the year before I became pregnant with my son, in a building that I can happily return to now and again, because friends of mine instrumental in getting the NYC Loft Law passed still live there. The two locations in Berlin are in Kreuzberg, but I have to admit, I don’t always feel comfortable returning to places I once lived in. There’s something beautiful about the way a place can be conserved in the mind, when it doesn’t have to compete with its own ghost.

I’m sure you have some new projects under way.  Can you tell us something about your upcoming book?

I’m currently finishing a novel, and the writing process has been very different this time. It’s a book in two parts, and it takes place over a twenty-year period in a woman’s life. Each of the characters in the book is traumatized in some way: a mother whose foiled attempts at achieving independence lead to an eating disorder that eventually devours the entire family; a daughter whose emotional outbursts lie beyond her understanding and control; a boy who sets out to find the father that abandoned him when he was three; a young man from the former GDR who was expatriated to the West after being released from juvenile prison. The book explores what all of these various different types of traumatic imprinting have in common: the ways in which pain is stored in the mind and body, and the detours taken to swerve around that pain in whatever way possible. The book isn’t quite as dark as it sounds, however—and in the end, art emerges as a powerful tool for self-discovery.

 

A Lesser Day

 

Excerpt from A LESSER DAY:

Kent Avenue, and the trees that had grown along the fences in the neighborhood, chain-link fences closing off empty lots filled with used refrigerators and rusty car parts. Weeds no one had bothered to cut back, supple shoots winding in and out between the diamond-shaped grids, weaving through like sewn threads and growing from year to year until their stalks began to stiffen into branches and there could no longer be a question of unraveling them; they were inextricable now. And then the spring came, and there was an explosion of green everywhere, the first fresh leaves sprouting from the bound trunks. And here and there a tree had been cut down, and a segment of chopped wood would remain caught in a fence, because the trunk had grown and swelled, incorporating the wire into its wounded flesh and covering it with layers of scarred bark.