My History

I grew up, mostly, on a dead-end street. About halfway up, on the north side. In a house of four bedrooms and four siblings. I shared my bedroom with my twin. He turned out to be an extraordinarily talented painter. And he remained one, despite living in a country and a culture that doesn’t much care for any art that doesn’t bring in cash. Every day after school we had to hang up our school uniforms: black pants, a white shirt, and a snap tie of purple scarlet plaid. It was a catholic grade school just across a soccer field from where we lived. It did me little harm, forced me to learn my geography, and left me permanently cured of Catholicism. I went to college eventually and studied English literature as an undergraduate. I then attended graduate school and took an MFA in creative writing (fiction).

Two trees feature prominently in my memory of growing up. The one in the backyard was a weeping willow that seemed to grow amazingly tall in only a few short years, only then to have been stricken with some disease. It barely survived the disease, only to be struck by lightning one stormy April. I seem to remember my mother used it as one end of a clothesline, what was left, those times the dryer went out. The other tree was in the front, a magnolia that bloomed gorgeously every spring and, surprisingly, again in the early fall. Its blossoms I seem to recall were white and it had thick smooth leaves. It grew slowly, but steadily, and had enjoyed a long life until the people who bought the house after my mother’s death cut it down, presumably because it blocked the view from the front living room window.

One hobby I have is photography. I work with film, mostly black and white. Like vinyl in the high-end audiophile world, I hope film remains an option for us who still want to work with it. I travel quite often as well. I possess both US and Irish nationalities (e.g., passports) and use whichever is most expedient for crossing borders. I’ve spent a huge part of my life betting on the dark horse: literature. No doubt, many believe–to my detriment. I prefer Cervantes as the starting point. Choose yours. Modern literature began with the Don. Without Cervantes, we wouldn’t have the literature we have today. I might even be so bold as to say the modern world wouldn’t have been the same, either. Yes, I know, perhaps I too am simply a dreamer.

Cervantes had many accomplices over the centuries. So, more favorites. Chekhov. Kafka. And Beckett, whom I studied in grad school. Recently I came across something Beckett wrote in a letter from 1957. It expresses something of my sensibility or torment–to borrow the Beckettian nomenclature. He had this to say about our existence and our relationship with literature: . . . holes in the paper open and take me fathoms from anywhere. Such holes everywhere, I suspect. Look for these in De Kooning. Radiohead. Vivian Maier’s photography. Alice in the Looking Glass knows of these too.

Roberto Bolańo is a writer I am forever reading these days. He wrote once that “books are the only homeland of the writer.” I agree. In the Latin American literary tradition, there was El Bloom. But there always comes a new generation, and, for a while, in the late 1990s, there was McOndo, or El Crack, a return to the Latin American urban experience, heavily drugged by the popular culture of the United States. Such movements are always the providence of the young, and always doomed–for good reason–to end in spectacular failure. As does every movement, eventually. But these brilliant failures are what count. I’m lucky, I suppose, in that literature is my inexhaustible interest. More movements will come. More movements will fail. And always the next generation to surprise us. And, of course, infinite rabbit holes to fall into, forever ending up in places you’d never thought possible.