08 August 2006

“The Writer on Holiday”: A Lament in August

What proves the wonderful singularity of the writer, is that during the holiday in question, which he takes alongside factory workers and shop assistants, he unlike them does not stop, if not actually working, at least producing. So that he is a false worker, and a false holiday-maker as well.

--Roland Barthes

I always look at August as the international month of
 vacation, should one want it and have that as a
 possibility.

--Ted Pelton



Vacaciones. This is the term that we agree upon, that is I and the two cousins, F and M. The Spanish term we agree upon in a kind of Spanish as I sit in the enclosure that is their kitchen, in Tequila, Jalisco, Mexico, is vacaciones. That is their term, our term, for my current state as I sit in the kitchen. In opposition, that is, to my wife, who is trabajaring in Georgia, as I explain in the infinitive. I do not speak Spanish and the cousins do not speak English. We are unlanguaged together. Prelanguaged? Relanguaging? I am searching for another word, a word for a sort of work, a sort of writing. The search is accompanied by gestures. This is good and archaic. Vacaciones, F suggests. Vacaciones is modern and nude. Vacaciones, M insists. It is a disguise, sleek as a 737, and I vanish. Si. Vacaciones. Sure, yes, porque no? And as far as they are concerned, and for simplicity’s sake, I am spending my vacaciones in their kitchen. I am spending counterfeit American vacaciones.

It is true, what Barthes said, that I, as a writer, am a false worker (rolled sleeves and dungarees) and a false holiday-maker (sunscreen and aloe). I have no word for me in their kitchen and I no longer have vacaciones. I am wondering if I am not also a false relative. False not in the sense of an impostor (though, for me, this remains in doubt until the cousins produce a 30-year-old photograph of my parents, F and M, lodged in a spiral bound notebook, producing also a not unpleasant vertigo), but in the sense of another order of deception: that I cannot, or have not tried hard enough to make it understood why exactly I am in this kitchen, what I will do to it and to these cousins. Cómo se dice “my institution has paid for me to come here?” I confess that they will be written, transcribed; confess, but not in those terms, nor in their Spanish approximations.

It is very hot, F says.

Immanent transcription is a peccadillo that understandably carries little weight in Tequila. Apparently this is not really a confession. Apparently they believe I could do much worse, and they aren’t wrong. Even if they understood what that transcription might be, they have no notion of what that transcription might be. In any case, that I will write them isn’t really true either, isn’t really even the half of it. The entire encounter is a series of misunderstandings, exactly as I’d planned.

And even this lament is false because it is not about vacaciones at all. There were never intended to be any vacaciones and so there were none whose end or loss can be lamented. That is true. There have been no vacaciones all summer long and no one planned it otherwise. The summer has not been planned at all. The summer has not been a summer. The summer has not been vacaciones. I am thieving and mutilating, fulfilling my role as an American. I am shopping stolen goods and you are my fence.

F and M curse me with their vacaciones. Vacaciones is a lesson. Here is a word to take with you on the bus back to GDL, on the 737 back to ATL. Repeat it: vacaciones. Now andale, cabron. Vaya bien. Vacaciones is the mobile state of the extranjero. Who in Tequila, where there is no trabaje, who in this enclosure has time for vacaciones? Only me, sitting around with his click in his hand, QWERTY under fingertips, eye to the keyhole, exactly as I’d planned. But there is time for my vacaciones (whatever that means) because there is no work and we are cousins. And there is sun and it is Monday. And there is tequila.

5 comments:

JCR said...

I lived in Spain and it is true... everything closes in August... nevertheless, my sorry ass begins work August 21. :-)

Dimitri Anastasopoulos said...

Beckett said he loved France because August was "No Reading" month.

Do we have a "Reading" month any more in the US, or are you supposed to be doing that in any given month?

jdeshell said...

Michael,
I think I've been there. To tequila that is. With your cousins. At least they said they were your cousins (primos de Michael). Jeffrey

Michael Mejia said...

Did you sup together? Come to think of it, they did mention camarones con cáscara. I didn't think of it at the time, but perhaps this was their way of saying they'd eaten shrimps with DeShell.

Carceraglio said...

There's an involution, or something, of Barthes's writer as false vacationer. So many writing grants are tied to showing up at a particular place --a cabin, a tower, a lakeshore, why is it never an apartment in a city with a good library? The funders conceive of writing as a vacation. It must occur in a place without distractions, where there is nothing to do. How glorious! the funders think, a month in the country, no telephone, no fax, no friends or spouse or kids or pets... but that's the arts administrator's dream vacation, not necessarily a writer's dream working conditions.

Let's all start applying to writers' colonies and then refusing to go. "Here's my bank account number. Route the money. The money can travel. I'll be here, or somewhere, writing."

(since I seldom win those, maybe I'll skip the application phase & just start refusing. Dear Yaddo, I am sorry to inform you...)