National Writing Project

Gabrielle Glancy: Why I Write

Date: March 10, 2016

Summary: A poetic take on coincidence, revelation, and writing as a thread that ties it all together from Writers Council member, Gabrielle Glancy.


Gabrielle Glancy

Vist Gabrielle's website...

I was living in London and had made the decision to take my love to Paris, as a Valentine's gift, for the weekend. I had bought tickets for the Eurostar; we went through the Chunnel. That my father, from whom I had been estranged for nearly thirty years, lived in Paris at the time (he moved there when he turned fifty) figured into the equation, but only somewhat obliquely. We would stay in Le Marais in a quaint hotel, eat good food, drink good wine, wander the quays. Upon arrival, Wendy suggested we call renseignements immediately to see if indeed my father was still alive and well and living in Paris.

"Let's call him now, so there is time to arrange to meet him," she said. She encouraged me the next day as well.

"Today's Valentine's Day," I said. "That would be too weird!"

Wendy bought me Moroccan perfume in a test tube ensconced in ornate pewter designs; I bought her a Parisian bra. We had onion soup on the Left Bank. Out of nowhere, right in front of Notre Dame, it began to snow.

The day after the next day, as we were preparing to leave, once again Wendy tried to persuade me to call the phantom-that-was-my-father. It seemed the wrong time. "Maybe another day," I said.

Years rolled by, dry leaves fell, wind swept them into the lonely corner between the schoolyard fence and the school where they rose into spirals of dust like little tornados, new leaves appeared on the trees, and soon Wendy would be gone, and with her Huck, my cavalier, my innocent soul on four legs.

Two years later, in a moment of longing and grief, looking for I didn't know what, I Googled my father. (Google was just a baby then. It was perhaps the first time of many to come that I Googled someone I had lost.) There it was, his obituary in Le Monde. Seymour Jacobs viens de mourir. . . Suddenly my French escaped me. I actually had to call my friend Laurent and read the article aloud to him to understand, that indeed, my father had died.

To find out, by way of the Internet, that your father has passed away is not the point of this story. These days, this kind of thing happens all the time.

The point of the story is that it turned out I was in Paris the day he died, Valentine's Day, 1999.

Perhaps he felt me—and was able to "let go," knowing I was there beside him?

Perhaps it was a random coincidence?

A few years later, I re-found my half sister, his second daughter, who gave me a folder with my name on it that he had kept all these years. In it were the divorce papers, a letter I had written him right after the last time I had seen him when I was a child—and two poems I had published in The Paris Review that he must have Xeroxed and put in the folder. I had no idea he had read my work, or even known that I was a writer. Maybe he came upon that issue of The Paris Review in the Pompidou Centre Library? Perhaps he picked it up at Shakespeare and Company? I will never know.

What did I see from this experience?

There is an invisible thread that keeps the moon from getting lost at its pinnacle (a line from a found poem I once wrote). . .

You get everything back—every card, every photo, every coveted ring—once they go. You get it all back.

And that I had been writing to my father, and for my father, all my life—that he was my imagined other, my one lost shadow, to whom I called across the fields of waving grasses, to be heard.

Last week, I saw a picture of my heart in action. There it was, throbbing away, in obscure, ultrasound shades of grey, the dragonfly ballerina that is my bicuspid valve throwing her arms out and taking a bow, throwing her arms out and taking a bow, over and over, for her entire life. If you are very quiet, you can hear a murmur. Apparently, a small amount of blood, so they tell me, seeks to return from whence it came . . .

. . . because in daylight, you cannot see the stars, though they are there . . . The earth revolves around an axis? Time bends light in the space-time continuum? The perpetual now, the air we breathe, never enough kisses to plumb the mystery of the lover. . . the terrible otherness of the other. . . and the beauty, the awful beauty of my mother, who was struck by lightning at the age of eighty-six, thrown across the room. "I'm lucid," she said, "but I've broken a hip. I'm lucid, but I've broken a hip." Still alive as I write this.

Struck by lightning?

You can't make this stuff up.

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