the next writer in the series: january 1, 2018

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
shares
how he or she spends the day.

January 1, 2018: Samantha Dunn

This is a long game, folks. Be the storytellers.*

As we approach the new year, life circles round. In 2001, even though I’d finished a novel manuscript, almost the only thing I knew about writing was reading it. But I signed up for the New York State Summer Writers Institute because it was the rare summer workshop offering a full manuscript review. The writers-in-residence available for these tutorials were Tony Eprile, Honor Moore, Lloyd Schwartz, and Sam Dunn. Now Sam teaches at Manuscript Boot Camp, a workshop exclusively for writers with completed manuscripts and part of the Writing by Writers nonprofit organization of which I’m a board member.

Although back in 2001, my manuscript was assigned to Tony Eprile, Sam had recently published her first novel, Failing Paris, and I bought a hard copy that I’m looking at right now–the only thing I’ve ever been as passionate about as writing is all things French. But even if that had not been the case, I still would not have forgotten Sam’s book.

Failing Paris, a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award, is divided not into parts but into days of the week–Monday to Monday. From the first paragraph, we discover that a nineteen-year-old American is in Paris and that she needs an abortion.

In the next five minutes or fifteen or even two hours from now (how does time parcel itself, one moment becoming separate from another?), there will come the most difficult French test of your life. There’s a chance you will have to argue why you must have this procedure. They will say, How many weeks has it been? and you’ll say, I don’t know. I never keep track of these things.

It’s been fifteen years since I read this novel, and although I don’t remember the story, I do remember the writing and the use of the second person, which was the perfect choice to convey the distance the narrator feels from herself and from her body.

You have been walking this goat path of a sidewalk every night from the boulevard Saint-Germain up to the Pantheon on insomniac rambles through the city, trying to extinguish the neon colour that is sleeplessness, phosphorescent and annoying. Those hours when you catalogue the times you haven’t measured up, when you feel the tension between your ribs and the weight of it in the moments before dawn.

But the second person is not used across the entire novel as I had thought.

The night air clings, wraps me in a faint sweetness. Spice cupboard, cinnamon, the pinch of ginger. In honour of the break in the clouds I am wearing my one good dress, black with fake pearl buttons lined ant-like up the front. Humidity wraps around me as a kind of shawl…

When Sam was 32, she had a serious horseback riding accident in which she almost lost her leg.

Dirt is in my mouth as I’m pushed to the ground. The odd beauty of the angle formed by my arm as it pops out of my shoulder. I feel no pain right now, aware only of how mammoth my horse appears as he stands over me, blocking all sun. He snorts, not able to see me under him but knowing by scent I’m there. His muscles quiver. His sweat drips onto my face; perhaps it is my own.

‘Harley, easy boy, easy.’

But his body pulls away and I see the flash of the steel-shod hoof as it strikes downward. I hear the crack of something, loud as gunfire, and look to see my left leg snapped apart like dry kindling.

Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life tells the story of the accident and her recovery. From Nicole Gregory’s blurb:

Dunn chronicles her five-year recovery as it became a revelation. With the help of a therapist and a well-known yoga instructor, she realizes that her tendency to be accident-prone is self-inflicted punishment for her ‘failure’ to solve her family’s problems.

Yes, it seems we are always telling the same story.

Sam Dunn is a journalist and the executive editor of Coast Magazine. Her most recent memoir is Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex, and Salvation. She teaches at Chapman University in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and at the Idyllwild Arts Center in California. She lives in Orange, California, with her husband and son and is at work on a new memoir about trailer parks, pink gravel carports, and metal skirts.

Come back on JANUARY 1st to read how SAMANTHA DUNN spends her days.

*We Are the Story by Samantha Dunn

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