Thursday, September 1, 2011
A Listening Thing
Some time ago, as winter slipped away into spring, William Michaelian asked if I would interview him for the tenth anniversary edition of his novel, A Listening Thing (Cosmopsis Books, 2011).
William is a force to be reckoned with, a great, eccentric ball of energy who publishes his writing and art in book form and on the internet. He blogs every day at Recently Banned Literature.
Our friendship goes back to the early days of The Teacher’s View when William contacted me about my review of Aram Saroyan’s poetry. He has become a source of wisdom in my life, and simply through our discussions, he has made me a better human being. Reluctantly, I must share him with a myriad of readers, writers, and artists around the globe who have discovered William’s incredible work as well as his deeply soulful insights into life and the human condition. I consider his friendship a blessing, pure and simple.
He sent me copies of his books and I found his writing riveting and beautiful. My favorite of his published works is The Painting of You (Author’s Press Series Volume I, 2009), a collection of poems, essays, and literary fragments detailing his mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s Disease. The book serves as William’s account of his round-the-clock care of her and his meditation on the fragile, often ephemeral joy and sadness of this life. In the tragic loss of a parent’s mental stability, one might not expect to find optimism and beauty, but it is there on every page, giving us as much a celebration of what was as an elegy for what is passing away.
It is difficult to pick favorites with William’s work. It is an embarrassment of riches. However, when he sent me one of his collector’s copies of the galley proof of A Listening Thing, I knew I’d found a classic. I was shocked to learn the history of his novel, the almost publication, the bankrupt publisher, acclaim so close yet so far. But what a book, indeed.
As I enter mid-life and realize there are fewer days ahead than there are behind, I find deep resonance with Stephen Monroe, the central character of A Listening Thing: regrets, mistakes, and like all of William’s work, a profound sense of the beauty of life and the hope intrinsic in each new year, each new day. The book is wise and sad and joyful like its creator.
I am also proud to have been offered the chance to co-author the interview William and Cosmopsis Books included in this new edition. My goal in taking on the assignment was to get out of William’s way and let him tell his story. I wanted to observe literary journalist Joan Didion’s rule to be the “least important person in the room.” I sent William a set of questions. He refined, sharpened, and then answered them. I followed up and offered a few additional topics. William shaped and integrated the material together. When I came to write the introduction to the finished interview, I nearly quit my writing career then and there. What could I say to match William’s words and his novel? I felt his hand on my shoulder. Just write, I heard him say. Words have never failed me, and they remained true on this project as well. The finished piece is included along with some new words from William. And of course, Stephen Monroe’s story is complete in this authorized print edition.
Fiction has the power to create a make believe world that resonates in our reality. William himself has often posed the question, what is real and what is dream life, and he has taken the opportunity in many of his works to explore the nature of reality, to push against the often blurry line between what is real and imagined. A Listening Thing will bring you into the fictional world of Stephen Monroe’s interior monologue, but it is ourselves we will find on the page. I invite you to embark on a journey, and like Odysseus returning, you will come to know yourself a little better upon reaching the end of Stephen’s story. In reading William’s work, that is the promise and the treasure.
For a complete list of William Michaelian's books in print, go to his website here.