Thursday, January 29, 2009

My rice tastes like the lake

The weather yesterday was ugly. I layered in heavy cotton clothing expecting a lazy snowfall, but instead found belligerent rain. This caused some delays in the L trainline so I was able to get lost in my book The Kindly Ones. In the book the German army has invaded Russia. The main character, a Nazi officer named Max Aud, needs a heavy jacket for the winter. He employs a Jewish tailor to make him a fur-lined coat, which he mentions is called a shuba. I recognized the name shuba and remembered that Tibetans call their fur-lined coats chubas. I made note of this in my small purple journal I keep in my bag for any such shuba-chuba discoveries. Nevermind that it would be the lightest discovery I've made thus far reading that book.

Jeffrey Yang, an editor at New Directions, and I planned on visiting Latse Library that day. Despite the rain we hopped over curve-lined puddles and soggy cobble stones towards Latse Library during our lunchtime.
We were let in by Christine, the head librarian whom I had called earlier to notify of our arrival. She gave us a thorough tour of the downstairs, and she even let Jeffrey look at a sutra wrapped in non-traditional psychadelic fabric. Afterwards we were led upstairs where many of the library's staff were seated at the long wooden dining table at the top of the stairs eating lunch. Pema Bhum, the Libray director whom I had met a few days before at a Tibetan literature forum gave me a nod of acknowledgement. At the forum he handed me a free copy of his own memoir that had been translated into English. I have yet to read it.
Many of the Tibetan lit books that were displayed for the forum were still out on one of the small tables in the library. Jeffrey recognized one of the poets whose books numbered more than any other Tibetan writer on that table, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa. He told me that she was Tibetan-American and was probably the most prolific Tibetan writer in America solely for this reason. Christine seemed to agree. Then he remarked how unnerving it was that all of the available Tibetan literature in English could fit on one small table. Christine and I told Jeffrey more about the forum. I showed him Tashi Dawa's book, A Soul in Bondage, which he flipped through as I mentioned that he was sort of an eminent contemporary writer. But I haven't read his work, so my enthusiam felt hollow. I picked up one of Tsering Dhompa's books and was not surprised to find poetry. "I have that book. It's fantastic," Jeffrey exclaimed. Evidently he has ben trying to convince Barbara, the editor-in-chief, to publish a new book Tsering's work from a manuscript she recently submitted to us.
We finished our tour and thanked Christine who was eager to take our information. "If more publishers would actually take an interest in Tibetan literature, it would be a great thing!" I think so too. When we got back Jeffrey emailed me a copy of Tsering Dhompa's new manuscript. It's synesthetically titled My rice tastes like the lake. It starts like this:

It is not everyone’s desire to swim as a fish.

I have a little dog who behaves like a cat, it is not

his fault he cannot pass the discipline test.

A fault line runs through the city center,

sullen as stretch marks under a dress,

we believe our undoing comes from one

source. An escape plan is our solace.

There are words, there are stories we never

tell. She said on the radio, my rice tastes

like the lake. It was a perfect sentence.

short intro.

Kristin and I are working with a Tibetan exile named Pala on his memoir. I met Pala while traveling through Dharamshala, India. Pala gave me his memoirs, which spanned spans three long rectangular notebooks and remain incomplete, to photocopy and transcribe to computer when I returned to the states. After allowing them to languish for three years, Kristin nudged me to allow her to work on them with me. We started transcriptions in March 2008 and finishing in July of 2008. Now we have been given his blessings to write in "the best English possible," and with a few visits to Latse Library and one grant application later, this is what we are trying to do. We decided to start a blog covering our development of the book, as well as our development as writers, as well as...well...having a shared place to write anything.