(c) Hiromi Chikai
今ではほとんど人と話すことがなくなってしまいました！ 前回手紙を書いてから、また活動範囲が狭くなりました。オミクロンの影響でもあるのですが、12月中旬に夫のギャヴィンが何らかのウイルスに感染してしまったのです。自宅で検査をするとコロナウイルスは陰性でしたが、それが本当だなんて誰にもわからないですよね？ 幸い症状は軽く、数日で回復したように思えたのですが、この２ヶ月間、ウイルス感染後の疲労感に苛まれていて、ソファやベッドでずっと横になっています。部屋を歩くだけで疲れてしまうんですよ。Zoomで友人と話すこともありますが、そうするとその後の一日は、疲れを癒やすだけで何もできません。夫は少し良くなってきていますが、他の人と接触するリスクを考えて、家族で隔離生活を送っています。彼が一番辛そうだった期間、私は犬のブラッシングを怠っていました。どっちにしろ、この子はブラシをすごく嫌がるんですけれどね。そこで数週間前、トリマーに地肌が見えるくらいまで毛を刈ってもらいました。すごくエレガントな見た目になった彼女は、そんな自分にとても驚いているようです。外に行くときには赤いコートを着ていくようになりました。
数ヶ月前、ついにその土地は競売で勝ち取った開発業者の手に渡りました。低所得者向けの住宅に改造する予定だそうです。私たちが住む町は、恐ろしいほど土地の値段が上がってしまい、家を買ったり借りたりできなくなってしまった人が大勢いるので、これは素晴らしいニュース。この辺りの廃墟は、たいてい商業施設になります。たとえば、古い製材所はビール醸造所に、古いガソリンスタンドや牛乳屋さんは合法でマリファナを売る店にというように。だから、住宅になるのはいいことなんです！ 少なくとも、私たちの書店＜Book Moon＞のスタッフのうち２人は、家賃が高いという理由で仕事を辞めて町を出て行きました。でもギャヴィンも私も、施設の割れた窓から忍び込んで、中がどうなっているのか見たことがないので残念です。あらゆる種類のカビや植物が生えているはずですし、ベッドやナースステーションや医療器具がそのまま残っていると思います。というのも、中に入り込んだ人たちが、ときどきそうしたものを窓から投げ捨てているからです。それに、雨風をしのぐ場所を求める人間だけでなく、動物も住みついているはず。南部の大学のキャンパスを訪れたことがあるのですが、そこには、古くて美しい切妻造りの家がありました。案内してくれた人によると、もともとは大学の学長が住んでいた家だったのが、屋根裏にコウモリの一群が住み着いてしまったために一時的に空き家にすることになったのだそうです。コウモリ駆除隊がやってきて群れを追い払うと、学長と家族は戻ってきて再び住みはじめましたが、またコウモリが戻ってきて、再度退去を強いられました。今では、コウモリだけがそこに住んでいるのだそうですよ。
１月のはじめ、私たちは再び＜Book Moon＞を一時閉店とし、事前に注文を受けた書籍を店の前で手渡しするという販売方法に切り替えました。アメリカではコロナウイルスがかなり蔓延していたからです。感染者数が少し減ってからは、スタッフ全員がまたお店で人に会いたい、知らない人と交流したいと切望していたので、お店をまた開くことにしました。毎年見ていた、日本の「地味ハロウィン」──普段着や周りにあるものを身に着けながらも仮装する──の写真の美しさを思い出します。それまでは日常だったものが、仮装という奇妙さをまとうようになる……なんて懐かしいんでしょう！ 安全さえ確保できていれば、当たり前のものでも、お祭りのようなにぎやかな雰囲気をまとえるんですから。でもアメリカでは、１月に６万人以上がコロナウイルスに感染して亡くなりました。
Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Link Originally written for The Japan Foundation by arrangement with Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents through Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo
I’m so very glad to hear that your mother’s cancer was discovered early, and that her surgery went well. I hope her recovery has been easy. This is a bad time here for any kind of elective surgery or non-Covid related care—our hospitals are so overwhelmed, and healthcare workers are so very exhausted by the burden they have been asked to bear. We’ve been told by doctor friends to do everything we can to try to stay out of hospital, though things are now easing up just slightly.
I talk to so few people at the moment! My life has narrowed again, since the last time I wrote you—the effect of Omicron, but also in mid-December my husband came down with some kind of virus. His home tests were negative for Covid, but who knows? Though the virus was mild and he seemed to be over it in a few days, for two months now he’s been couch or bed bound with post-viral fatigue: walking across one room leaves him exhausted. A Zoom call with our friends takes the rest of the day to recover from. He’s beginning to improve slightly, but the risk of exposing him to anything else means we’ve been isolating. During the period when he was most fatigued, I neglected our dog’s fur, which she hates having brushed anyway, and so a few weeks ago the groomers shaved her nearly naked. She looks very elegant and very surprised at the moment, but has to wear a red coat when she goes outside.
It’s been a reminder to me of how fortunate I am—how much of the bookstore work, household work, and other family work Gavin usually shoulders. Our dog, Koko, has been happy to have someone to curl up with on the couch, and our daughter, Ursula, is extremely solicitous. My mom brings over soups or pasta dishes but everywhere I look is disorder and mess and piles of books, because I’m not capable of keeping up with the work of writing, and housekeeping, and dinners all by myself. Winter is a messy time here anyway, snow and ice and then thaw, and then more snow and ice. I would enjoy it more if all the mess were outside and inside we were snug and tidy.
A few signs of spring—my chickens are starting to lay again, and this morning my mother chased a sparrow out of the house she’s set up for bluebirds. I went out with her when she opened up the side, and scraped out the nest (straw, chicken feathers, pine needles) while the sparrow watched from a nearby tree. Poor bird. There’s a rehabilitation and care home next door to our property that has been abandoned for about a decade now. All sorts of interesting things go on in the parking lot; people walk their dogs on the grounds; people break the windows (and then the boards that are put up across them) so they can get into the facility and sleep there, out of bad weather. In November this year a large flock of wild turkeys strolled down our street (on Thanksgiving, no less, when many people were home eating turkey!) and then onto the grounds of old facility. We followed to see what they would do, and they flew up onto the flat roof of the two-story building and stayed there long past when we went home.
Trees kept sprouting up through the parking lot (some grew almost as tall as me) until last year a grounds crew came to cut them down again. Beautiful, variegated carpets of moss have grown over the old sidewalks, so pretty and green I feel guilty when I walk over them. Where the snow has melted you can see the moss peeping through again. There is deer scat everywhere, of great interest to my dog, and thick layers of pine needles that feel to me like the floor of a church. Last summer there were enormous rings of mushrooms among the pine needles, which my daughter would look up online and then declare with great satisfaction, “Poisonous!” Though there is one mushroom that grew everywhere last summer, hen of the woods, which is apparently delicious. We would go for walks and see people passing by with a clump of it bigger than a baby, though we never found any growing ourselves.
A few months ago developers finally bought the property at auction. They plan to convert it to low-income housing, which is wonderful news—our town has become horribly expensive and many people can’t afford to either buy or rent. Mostly the derelict buildings in our area become commercial spaces. The old mill buildings are converted to breweries, and the old gas stations and dairy shops become pot dispensaries. So it’s good to have something becoming housing! At least two of the staff at our bookstore eventually quit and left the area because of high rents. But I’m sorry that Gavin and I have never crept through one of the broken windows of the care facility to see what has become of the interior. I imagine all sorts of mold and plant life will have begun to take over, and we know there are still abandoned beds and nurses’ stations and medical equipment, because sometimes the people who break in throw these out of the windows. Animals will have made homes there, as well as the people needing a place to stay out of the weather. Once I visited a college campus in the South where there was a beautiful old gabled house on the campus. My guide said that it had been the house of the president of the college, but his family had had to temporarily abandon it after a bat colony took up residence in the attic. A team of bat specialists had come in and removed the colony, the president and his family had moved back in, but then they had to leave once more when the bats returned. Now only the bats live there.
We have friends who live in one of the hilltowns near us, who neighbor a house that has been abandoned and unlived in for almost two decades. The previous owner died, and their heir neither cleared out the house nor sold it. My friend and her husband took flashlights one night and went to see what had become of the inside—everything had been left behind, dishes and cutlery in cabinets, linens on beds, clothing in bureaus, pictures on walls. But mice had made nests in all of the drawers in the kitchen, and there were skeletons at the foot of the stairs, maybe opossums or skunks. They said the house felt very peaceful.
I think I miss the evidence of other people in their daily lives, as much as I am tired of my own daily life. I miss meeting with my friends to work. Even the thought of a house long abandoned makes me feel wistful.
We closed the bookstore to browsers at the start of January again and went to curbside pickup because Covid was so widespread here. Cases are a little lower, but as everyone on staff was longing to see other people in the store again, to have human interaction with strangers, we reopened. It makes me think of the beauty of the photos I used to see each year of “Mundane Halloween” from Japan, where people put on everyday clothing and paraphernalia but as a costume. Now everything that was previously everyday has the strangeness of a costume, one that I miss so much! The ordinary would be so festive, if there were only a way to safely get there. But in the US, over 60,000 people died of Covid in January.
While the bookstore was closed in January, I gave the staff free reign to change sections and make displays as they pleased. I went in on Monday, and everything was so colorful and cheerful. There were so many new books. I can’t go in as much right now as I normally would, but even the idea that Book Moon is open again, and that it’s been made so inviting, makes spring seem nearer. I bought several books for myself, my mother, Gavin, and for our daughter.
I was thinking of you learning Korean, and I don’t know that I’ve done anything quite so interesting. A new language is something to celebrate, but so, too, is a forehead! Thank you for describing the experience to me. The few times I’ve visited a workshop or a class this year on Zoom, I was so happy even to see the names of strangers. All the faces felt like gifts. But all I’ve learned this last year are a few new vegan recipes. Everything feels like a challenge right now, as if I’m caught in some kind of flavorless, jellied matrix where all of my energy and creativity are used up by the act of getting through the day.
The Translators sounds wonderful! One of the happiest experiences of my life was being invited to spend a week in Banff at a translators’ conference. I was there to talk to my Israeli translator, but I attended all of the sessions and parties where translators from different countries talked about their work, and how they handled various aspects of their jobs. It was joyful and fascinating and it made me think so much about how, when we write, we think of certain decisions about language or word choice as fixed and perfected, but how these choices must all be dislodged and adjusted and remade when narrative moves from one language to another. In the evenings the translators drank wine and played guitar and gossiped and in general they seemed happier than writers often do. Banff is beautiful, too. The conference center fed us delicious food and gave us bells to ring when we walked anywhere on the campus so that grizzly bears wouldn’t attack us. If we went farther, we were told to go in large groups because there were no documented cases of bears attacking when there were seven or more people. When I told my husband this, he said, “When bears attack a group of seven people, they’ll change it to ‘groups of eight or more,’ right?” And another friend said, “Bears can count?” We did see a grizzly bear once, walking along a railroad track. One of the people who ran the conference said that bears did this because trains often carried corn or grain, some of which would spill along the route, and the bears would follow to eat all the spillage and sometimes be hit by other trains. While I was at the conference, I was also working on a revision of a short story for a magazine where the editor had so thoroughly marked up the manuscript that I could barely see the words. I’ve had many good editors, but in this instance the editor had suggested so many arbitrary changes (to the names of characters, to the order of sentences) that it was like navigating a maze of barbed filaments. My wonderful agent ended up helping me and in the end I made perhaps seven changes to that story, out of over six hundred queries. But it also helped to be in the company of people who were passionate about language, and the possibility of change, and narrative, while I negotiated that edit. It helped, too, to have the bell that I carried everywhere! I often think of the sense of what can be revised and what should be left alone as a bell ringing. Did I already say this to you? There’s something dreamlike about writing letters.
Like you, I cry very easily. It makes me angry, sometimes, how television can make me cry. Scenes between mothers and daughters affect me most. I rarely cry when I read books, though, no matter how moved I am by the writing or characters. A few weeks ago I read Jim Shepard’s Phase 6, a novel about a terrifying pandemic—I fell in love with the characters, and I was horribly sad for them, but I didn’t cry once. It’s seeing, I think, that moves me to tears, the visual component and sound: the musical cue which tells me I should cry, whether I want to or not. When I was a child I had horrible seasonal allergies and my eyes would water so badly that in school other children would say to me, sympathetically, “Why are you crying?” I would be embarrassed, exasperated, and say, “I’m not crying! It’s allergies!” If they didn’t believe me, I would get mad. Maybe that’s why I feel angry, as an adult, when I cry in front of other people. It’s funny that you mention Christine and the Queens. One of the songs I listened to over and over last year was “People, I’ve Been Sad.” It felt like the song of the year for me. Right now a lot of my new music comes either from Twitter recommendations, or from the Apple Music playlist that the radio host Bob Boilen curates.
Long before I was pregnant, a writer friend told me I shouldn’t expect to get much writing done when I had a baby. She said that for the first year or longer her brain wasn’t capable of the kind of sustained creative thinking that writing took. I think that perhaps I managed to get one story written before Ursula turned two, but that was because I absolutely had to, because I was under contract. It’s a story, too, about being magically obligated to take care of inhuman creatures, so perhaps there’s a bit of my life showing there. My feet went up one size, too, which I had also been told might happen, and now my husband and I can wear the same size shoe. A few years ago I was visiting a university workshop at the same time the writer Lauren Groff was, and one of the students there talked about being pregnant, and how she was afraid that she wouldn’t get her thesis done. Groff told the women writers that before they ever had children, they should make up a contract with their partner which delineated childcare responsibilities, that this was something she’d done in her own life. It was such wonderful advice! But my other friend’s advice is true, too. You need space and time to figure out your new life, even if the disruption is necessary and wanted and often wonderful. Ursula turns thirteen in a few weeks. Every morning she asks, “What did you dream about last night?” And in the afternoon she asks, “What have you written today?” Recently I have to say, every day, “Today I wasn’t writing. Maybe next week I’ll get some writing done.” She has been reading Lord of the Rings, and she writes almost every day. She does this joyfully, and I’d like to be able to learn from her example, though she also feels some of the lows that all writers feel. Once, a few years ago, one writer friend said to another, “Do you ever feel that your best writing is behind you now? That you’ll never write as well as you did in your last book?” And before the friend could respond, Ursula said, “Yes! I feel that way all the time!” I do sometimes think about one aspect of writing short stories that I had never considered until I’d written more than a handful—that you figure out a structure or a piece of architecture that makes a story work, and then have to discard that technique sooner rather than later, or else you are just making the same story shape over and over again. I hadn’t thought about how I would have to discard the things that I became good at in order to attempt approaches that initially I hated, or found arduous. (Now, sometimes, there’s something exciting about it, having to improvise new paths.) Today when Ursula asked if I was doing any writing, I was able to tell her that I was writing a letter to a friend, and that felt very satisfying.
It’s wonderful to hear you’ve been reading Tanith Lee! My friends and I talk about her all the time, about how she wrote the kinds of stories that feel as if only she could have written them, as if she were writing them for herself, out of her own deepest interests and curiosity and necessity. Her work is lush, perverse, baroque—she feels to me like Angela Carter’s weirdo, goth sister. I love Ursula K. Le Guin, her clarity and her trickiness and ability to reenvision worlds, and it’s wonderful how much weight her work and her voice carry in the writing community here. But Tanith Lee is largely out of print, and she never achieved the kind of larger readership Le Guin had. I think Lee knew, though, the depth of impact she had on other writers. I wish I’d met her even once, to tell her how much her fever-dream short stories and novels meant to me.
Gavin and I have just bought memberships to the World Fantasy Convention, which will be in New Orleans this November. It feels like a kind of promise to have done so, to retain some optimism for the future. It also gives me a kind of box or shape to imagine the work that I need to do before then: revision of the adult novel, and finishing a draft of the children’s novel. I’ve also arranged for two new chickens to arrive in March—six months old, this time, so that I don’t need to raise them from chicks. My daughter was furious at first because I didn’t consult with her before I did this, but now she is thrilled and thinking of various names that might suit. If I think of the good and new things that are coming, it makes it easier to settle down to work, and once I’m working, I can recognize that work, too, is good.
And when I can’t settle in my work right now, I’m watching the Korean drama All of Us Are Dead, because zombies always cheer me up.
Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Link Originally written for The Japan Foundation by arrangement with Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents through Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc., Tokyo