I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.
August 1, 2017: Donald Quist
You can’t stop beaming. It only took thirteen years but you are finally popular with middle school kids. You think back to when you were their age. In the seventh grade you were a black, sexually ambiguous Francophile communist vampire, stalking the halls in a heavy winter trench coat, dark colored everything, and a black beret. Eccentric isn’t the word for it. It is a moment in your life of which you are eternally grateful there are no pictures…
How can you not love Donald Quist? The above excerpt is from “Tanglewood,” one of thirteen essays in his most recent book, Harbors, written while he was living in Thailand.
The book itself is a five by seven beauty designed by LK James with cover art by Maggie Chiang. It’s a pleasure both to see on a table and to hold in your hands. And it’s not just beautiful on the outside; inside, Harbors is brilliant in its organization around the epigraph by Lucille Clifton, from her poem “blessing the boats,”
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
Part One Through This is comprised of seven essays that immerse us in Donald’s past–being bullied at school, working at Spencer Gifts, being both black and working for the city in the middle of a racial crisis, taking care of his mother. Part Two To That was his present–navigating Thailand, being bitten by a dog, teaching, traveling, being able to breathe without the weights that attach to black skin here in the US.
“In Other Words,” in the first half of the book, is fascinating for its shifting “I,” floating between Donald and his Thai wife as they examine their reasons for selling their restaurant and moving to Thailand. In his wife’s words, “I recognize the longing to discover a newer world and find the truest version of oneself.”
In “I’ll Fly Away: Notes on Economy Class Citizenship,” an essay first published at The Rumpus and placed in the second half of the book, Donald is more explicit. Like Baldwin before him, he wants “to drop into silence.”
I am moving to Thailand because I want to focus on my writing, yes, and I want to escape from the everyday oppression I feel as a person of color in America.
My favorite essay is “Junk,” from the first part, in which Donald and his wife are helping his mother clean out her house prior to their move to Thailand. His mother is a hoarder and going blind. She doesn’t want to get rid of anything; she wants to hold everything. The essay slips into Donald’s past.
Growing up, I kept my most cherished belongings in a travel trunk that had once belonged to my father. Every week, I would pull my favorite novels, comics, toys, and cassettes from the trunk and examine them carefully. I’d rank the contents and compare them with objects around my room. I’d choose what to include or exclude. In the trunk I cultivated a space for only the best of my things, and it became a way for me to escape the clutter around me.
The essay later slides over to Donald packing for Thailand and not wanting to ship his favorite books in the same box with his other books. Around him are piles of boxes, but knowing that you can’t keep everything and actually giving things away are two very different things. The things need to leave, and so does Donald.
Throughout his work you can find this and that–isolation and connectedness, black and American, public servant and black skin, America and Thailand, others and favorites, things and Donald.
And in a lovely bit of serendipitous connectedness… Awst, as in Awst Press, publisher of Harbors, means august in Welsh, and stands, as we know, for respected and impressive. It is also the month in which the press was founded and is now also the month in which Donald Quist will be the next writer in this series.
Harbors is a 2016 Foreword INDIES Bronze winner. And Donald is a 2017 International Book Awards Finalist. He’s the author of Let Me Make You a Sandwich, a collection of stories, a creator of the web project PAST TEN, a co-host of the Poet in Bangkok podcast, and he serves as Fiction Editor for Atlas and Alice. He received a fellowship from Kimbilio Fiction and earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I had the pleasure of knowing him. To see him in action, click here.
Come back on AUGUST 1st to read how DONALD QUIST spends his days.