“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.”
–Samuel Beckett, as quoted in Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale, by Art Spiegelman
Dear Art Spiegelman,
I just woke up from a nightmare, which was really just a silly dream about a fight I’m having with a friend. It shouldn’t have been a nightmare at all. But I was so upset that I couldn’t go back to sleep. All of my problems are “luxury problems,” and I try to keep perspective on how good I have it, compared to most people on the globe. But I can’t deny the pounding in my chest. I mean, where is it coming from if I don’t have any reasonable problems? (And I don’t.)
It’s like a concertina playing subtle music under my sternum, in the blurry space beneath my breath. Let’s not confuse this anxious instrument with “Mama’s Squeeze Box.” No, my concertina just makes a huffing drone, the audio track for the stiff commotion in a crowded subway car. You’d think it would put me back to sleep. But it doesn’t, so I have to try to get into a better state of mind, which is an invitation for all my very worst fears to come dance. And here comes my terrible thought: that nothing would be more horrible than losing one of your children.
So that’s where you come in, Art. Of course, since this isn’t a real letter, you don’t actually have to come into it at all. But you do. I read your Maus books last week. And I feel sick and sorry about what happened to your family during the Holocaust. You wrote about the murder of your older brother, Richieu, as a tiny child, and your mother’s suicide, so many years later. Of course she had a broken heart.
I was talking to my housekeeper today, and she was saying that this year she is finally going to get a Christmas tree. She’s pretty strapped, she lives in a rundown rented house beneath the interstate (literally). Her landlord doesn’t take care of this house at all. She has never had a Christmas tree because the electric system in her rental house is so old and unsafe, she is afraid the tree lights will set the house on fire. She finally gave in this year and told the kids they could have a tree, but not lights. Absolutely no lights.
I asked her if they had considered getting an electrician to check it out and maybe fix it. She said an electrician did come to her house and he even spoke to the landlord about the dire need to upgrade the wiring. The landlord replied that he didn’t care. He said he had enough insurance to pay for the damage if the house should catch fire.
Art, I don’t like admitting that I have a housekeeper. But maybe you have one, too. I could just call her a person who cleans my house once a week. But that doesn’t really make much difference. She doesn’t have legal working papers in the U.S. because she was born in a country south of here. But she’s lived here for a long time. That’s her situation.
Graphic memoirs wind me in so tight with the story, I feel like the artist’s friend. Your work in Maus brought me especially close. But I know we are not friends. I am just a fan. And even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, I know that being a fan or a follower does not make me a friend. But I did want to get to know you better. So I settled for reading about you on Wikipedia, which pushed me far, far away. We’re safe now.