Yesterday, a large cardboard box weighing somewhere around eight tons dropped on my porch. It was addressed to me, and so, after hiring a crane to move it into my living room, I opened it. And there they were: Dozens of books with the word “shit” in the title (OH NO, THE COLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION IS AT HAND) and my name under it. This was a surprise. I was like, I wrote a book? And then I was like, I must have written a book, because I know of no one else named Amy Biancolli in this house. And finally I was like, HOLY BANANAS FLAMBE, which, by the way, I have never eaten, I GUESS I WROTE A BOOK.
This happens to me on a regular basis. Not the book-writing; that’s only occurred three times in my life, unless you count that awful roman-a-dreck that I wrote in my mid-twenties and started to use as scrap paper until I confessed this to William Kennedy, whose response was a shocked and horrified OH NO NO NO AMY, DON’T DO THAT, at which point I stopped. I don’t mean I stopped talking to William Kennedy, who is a very nice man in addition to being a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. I mean I stopped using my misbegotten fiction manuscript as scrap and crammed what’s left of it into a drawer somewhere.
No, this is what happens to me on a regular basis: I disconnect from things that I’ve “done” and “accomplished,” perhaps because the whole concept of “doing” and “accomplishing” things is still so foreign to me, even at the age of 51. Especially at the age of 51, at which point any sense of authoring my own life has flown out the proverbial patio doors. You know that epic Talking Heads song, right? “Once in a Lifetime”? The one where David Byrne wobbles his voice ominously: And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile! . . . And you may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?
That’s me. Minus the large automobile. (Instead, You may find yourself behind the wheel of a Japanese compact with a janky, taped-on fender!) I often regard the events and blessings of my life as Things That Just Sort of Happened to Me, forgetting, for a moment, that maybe I might have had something to do with making them happen. (Examples 1-3: my children.) Sometimes, looking around my home, I think, HOLY CRAP! I OWN A HOUSE!, and this remains true almost 21 years after living in it. I see my byline in the Times Union and think, HOLY CRAP! I WRITE FOR A NEWSPAPER!, which, given the nature of the industry, is even more surprising now than it was 32 years ago.
This sense of disconnect — this suspicion that I’m not quite the author of my own life, just an actor who responds to outside agents and forces, ducking stinky tomatoes, juggling large feral cats– is even stronger and stranger in the face of tragedy, bringing out the darkly nutcase surrealism of extreme loss. As in: HOLY CRAP! I’M WEARING BLACK AT MY HUSBAND’S FUNERAL! THIS MAKES ME A WIDOW! (There is no more freakishly disembodying revelation, take it from me.)
So the eight tons of booky-wookys that touched down at my house seem to have been written by me, and they seem poised for publication in a few short weeks. The memoir wasn’t my idea, not really. I only wrote it because my friend Bob wouldn’t leave me alone until I did; it’s HIS fault, NOT mine, understand? In a way he’s as much the author as I am. So maybe when he sees it, he’ll howl, in a Byrne-like fit of existential New Wave noodling: Am I right? Am I wrong? …. My God! What have I done!