Wink of the Zenith

When Floyd Skloot, novelist, poet, and three-time Pushcart Prize winner, was struck by a crippling virus more than 20 years ago, he was all but silenced by neurological deficits. And then he found he could write memoir.

The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life is the fourth memoir Skloot has written. When he realized it was impossible for him to write fiction anymore, impossible to plan out a cohesive narrative, he found he was able to write out bits and pieces of memory and see where they led him, what kind of puzzle he could put together. Thus, he explains, he shaped his post-attack essays and books the way he was reshaping his writing life. He writes:

When I first began to write again, the words, images, lines, and disconnected notes that emerged were filed in various folders: Brooklyn, Long Beach, Baseball, Summer Camps, Mother, Father...It was as though, from the very start, I was organizing the fragments of memory into a shape that would eventually become this book, finished twenty years later.

Those shards coalesced into moving essays, many of which have been published in literary journals. Skloot writes with understated emotion about how he managed to survive his cold and conflict-filled family of origin, as well as about the inception and giving up of various of his youthful dreams, such as to play professional baseball.

He describes several visits to his aged mother in a Memory Impairment Unit, where she doesn't recognize him and communicates by singing snatches of songs from 1931. There is black humor in the nonsense conversations he and his wife try to have with the old woman.

I often find references to "time" when I read writers' accounts of their creative process. In one of his essays, Skloot notes that

at peak moments, I was in the place Jason Compson described to Quentin in The Sound and the Fury: He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. Great writing, I saw, could do this. It could stop time and thereby make time come to life, transporting the reader, as it must have transported the writer, into another dimension. It could break down the barriers between the writer, the reader, and the characters, as Faulkner's had done.

In another essay, Skloot offers an epiphany:

I had to learn that Time was not Money. That my greatest weakness as a writer was the rush to completion. I had to learn to love doing the work, not finishing the work.

(By the way, some of the essays mention his daughter Rebecca Skloot, whose own nonfiction has been so popularly and critically received.)

Copyright (2012) by Susan K. Perry

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