Exploring the art of prose


The Writer by Matthew Raymond

alt text: image is a color photograph of several dilapidated doors open in a hallway; title card for the new creative nonfiction piece, "The Writer," by Matthew Raymond

“I never met Paul Bowles,” Matthew Raymond says in his essay “The Writer,” “but he was still alive when I passed through Morocco in the summer of 1998. He died the following year, and it is one of my great regrets, these twenty years later, that I didn’t try to find him when I was there…” “The Writer” focuses on the potential encounter of two writers, one young, one old, and the act of writing—“a probing, a questioning, a wondering, a wandering.” Recalling his visit to Tangiers, Raymond “feel[s] [his] way through a fictional world, through an abstract form, a complicated syntax” in order to arrive at the truth of a visit to Paul Bowles that could have happened but didn’t. (See his author’s note on his “literary obsession” with Bowles.)

When three editors on a recent panel sponsored by Creative Nonfiction were asked how they felt about “speculative nonfiction,” there was a long moment of dead silence, and then general agreement that they liked speculative nonfiction, followed by Dinty W. Moore’s observation that he wasn’t sure they were all talking about the same thing. He understood “perhapsing,” he said, but as for “speculative nonfiction,” “I personally haven’t wrapped my head around it.” For those trying to wrap their heads around the form, Raymond’s essay is a brilliant tour de force of speculative memoir, artfully deploying an entire arsenal of tools for what Lisa Knopp calls “perhapsing” (“maybe,” “or maybe,” “I can imagine,” “in my imagination,” “Bowles would say,” “I imagine he might,” “perhaps,”), not just to fill in gaps in memory, but for a much larger enterprise: an entire narrative premised on “perhaps.” In long winding sentences like the labyrinthine streets of Tangiers, clauses pile up as the narrator tries out different possibilities (“maybe,” “or maybe”) and rejects others (“or, more likely”). He follows false leads as he tries to find his writer-mentor and when he finally does, the apartment reconfigures itself: “And so I must correct this daydream: he wouldn’t be greeting me at the door, he wouldn’t be offering to cook me dinner or be graciously or even grudgingly welcoming me into his home. As I imagine it now, he must be bedridden.” The aging writer briefly becomes “my own aging father, back in California, waiting for me to come home.” Bowles’s advice both frustrates and inspires. When the young writer departs at nightfall, the city itself appears “at once familiar and foreign, like the memory of dream.”  —CRAFT


I never met Paul Bowles, but he was still alive when I passed through Morocco in the summer of 1998. He died the following year, and it is one of my great regrets, these twenty years later, that I didn’t try to find him when I was there, that I didn’t seek out his apartment and knock on his door and pay my respects. It would’ve made the trip much more of a pilgrimage if I had, with a clear focal point, a destination. It would’ve been a decisive act, a stab at destiny, a grappling with my own fate. But I didn’t. I don’t know why, other than to say that there have been several moments in my life when I’ve found myself pressed up against the glass of my own dreams or desires, like a child before a store window, and rather than reaching my hand through or entering, I’ve simply turned away, unable, somehow, to let or to make whatever it was I wanted happen, unable to let what had grown so deeply rich with detail in my mind be thrown up against a hard uncaring reality that might shatter it into a million irrecoverable pieces. So I merely wandered around Tangier for a week until eventually I took the ferry and crossed north back to Spain.

But I’ve often imagined a visit to Bowles, invented a series of scenes in my head about how it would’ve played out, what he would’ve said to me—wallowed in a fantasy that he would’ve become some sort of mentor to me, would have read my stories and given them his blessing, set me on some path. The daydream begins with me wandering around the narrow streets of the medina, tanned and ragged in my loose Mexican shirt and worn sandals, having tea or coffee in one of the cafés near the Petit Socco. Maybe I strike up a conversation with some burnoosed guy who wants to act as my guide, who pesters me a bit about where I’m from and what language I speak. Once he realizes I’m not just a naïve tourist he becomes more relaxed and simply wants to talk. He’s got a crooked tooth or a faint scar on his forehead. He wants to know if I want hashish or whiskey or girls. I tell him, in a casual sort of way, that the only thing I’d be interested in finding is a famous American writer, a man named Bowles. I’m hoping to pay him a visit, I might say. At first the man doesn’t seem to know, suggests I go to the American consulate up on the hill, near the post office. He probably says there are many American writers in Tangier, they’ve always come here, to write, to drink, to squander their money and their time on kif or on girls or young boys. But maybe I don’t have this conversation, don’t meet this man. Maybe I’m more concerted in my efforts. Maybe I go to the Grand Socco, just outside the medina, and begin asking various cab drivers if they know this man Bowles and where he might live. One of them finally says he knows but only drives me out to the edge of town and points to a walled estate on some quiet side street which I know is not a place Bowles would live. There is a lavish garden inside the wall and an expensive car behind the gate. At that point I’d read a lot about Bowles and had seen several documentary films and I know this is not it, not a place he would live. Nonetheless the man insists a great American lives here and pushes the button outside the gate and we wait. No one comes. The house is still and empty under the brilliant clean Moroccan sun. The man presses me for money for the cab ride and, frustrated, I pay him, then merely wander disappointedly back toward the center of town.

Or maybe I find myself at the Café Hafa, up on the bluffs west of town, looking out over the strait, blue and luminous, at the dusty coast of Iberia rising up out of the sea on the other side. It’s a place I can imagine Bowles having been, maybe I saw it in one of those movies, and in fact I myself did spend some time there on both of my visits to Tangier. In my imagination I sit at a table on one of the terraces staggered down the hillside and drink tea and scribble in my notebook, or look through my camera, framing shots, imagining the world in black and white, the high contrast of the hard sunlight on the walls, the dark shadows under the trees, the steely surface of the water below. The man who runs the place comes to ask if I’d like another tea and I say yes, then hold him back a moment with a gentle hand on his arm. Do you know Paul Bowles, I say, the American writer? I speak in a collapsed and broken French and it takes me a while to make myself understood. This man, the proprietor of the café, is an older man, I imagine, who’s lived in and around Tangier his whole life. He wears a light kufi on his head or maybe just a harbor beanie like a sailor and he has an apron tied around his waist. Paul Bowles, he says, Paul Bowles…. After a moment he brightens: Oui, oui, I know this man, a great man, a hero, a true artist, he used to come here quite frequently…. Do you know where I can find him, I ask, how I can get to his house? The man shrugs, doesn’t know, thinks Bowles used to live in a building up here on the Marshan somewhere, not too far, but he isn’t sure, he suggests that maybe he has died…. It is at that moment that another man, younger, maybe this one with the scar on his forehead or the crooked tooth, comes and pulls up a chair next to me. He has been overhearing our conversation, he says. You are look for Mr. Bowles? Yes, I say, I’m a great fan of his work and would like to pay him a visit. The man says, I know this man, I know his house, I will take you. I might be skeptical of this guy, suspicious that he is just interested in taking me for a ride and then asking me for money. I don’t know. But somehow, whether it is through him or through some other means, I imagine I find myself at a very unassuming apartment building somewhere away from the center of town, up on a hill maybe, not far from the Café Hafa.

The building, in my imagination, is rather grim-seeming on the outside. It stands apart from other buildings, an empty lot extending beside it filled with weeds and bits of trash. It is maybe five or six stories high and the door I find myself standing before is on the third or fourth floor. The hallway has an old worn carpet and the walls need paint. I am nervous, even in my imagination, unsure what to say, how to present myself, feeling not like a pilgrim but rather like a mere fan, sycophantic and shallow. Nonetheless, I knock. And when the door opens, there he is before me, Paul Bowles, exactly as I’d imagined him: thin and white-haired, neatly dressed in slacks and a collared shirt, maybe he’s wearing slippers because he’s at home, because he’s old and can’t bother with shoes anymore. Maybe he’s smoking a cigarette. He reminds me of my own father, I realize, who was also still alive that year and was only a few years younger than Bowles. Both were skinny serious curious men, bookish of course, in their own ways. My father was a compulsive reader, though he was no writer; in fact a certain inarticulateness seemed his defining feature, a trait he passed on to me and which animates this very effort. But the shapes of their bodies and their age make it easy for me to conflate them in my mind. My father was fifty years old when I was born, and though lithe and active he was already gray-haired and wrinkle-eyed in my earliest memories of him, and I’m quite aware that in dreaming of a visit with Bowles I am in some way seeking out my own father, or some surrogate, one who had more to say and to whom I could speak freely, who would see me clearly for who I was and who I wanted to be and not for the failure that I’m sure he worried I was becoming and for which he probably claimed some responsibility.

Hello, Bowles would say, standing there in the doorway, a hint of a question in his greeting, since I’d arrived unannounced, a stranger. I don’t know how I would introduce myself. Again, even in my imagination I am awkward and somewhat inarticulate. To begin by professing my admiration for his work feels wrong, like I’m fawning, which has never been my style. Maybe I simply say: I’m a writer and I wanted to ask you some questions about your books. Or: I hope you don’t mind but I was passing through Tangier and hoped we could talk. I don’t know. There is, as I said before, a horrible fear in actually stepping forward into one’s dream, in asserting oneself. But somehow I imagine I am admitted into his apartment. He is surprisingly gracious, despite the grimness and exoticism of his writing. Or maybe he is somewhat cranky, in the manner of old people, a bit dyspeptic, but nonetheless unable to bring himself to turn away from the world, from whatever stranger suddenly appears at his door, and so grudgingly acquiesces to my presence. In any event he invites me in. His apartment is several rooms, I assume, and he leads me down a short hallway to a sitting room of sorts, full of books and some chairs and a sofa, a table or desk strewn with papers where he works. Some African artifacts hang on the walls, masks, textiles, maybe a small statue or two in a corner, elephants or giraffes, or maybe a large vase of intricately designed tilework. The smell of the place is close and a bit musty with a faint tang of incense or spice, and though a kind of disorder reigns, it is nonetheless clean and comfortable. Perhaps another person is there, an old woman who cleans the place, shuffling about in the back rooms. Or, more likely, another man, younger than Bowles but still much older than I, who lounges on the sofa or putters around the kitchen preparing food or tea or coffee or something. Perhaps there are two men. I can see them lying back on the sofa, passing a hash pipe back and forth or smoking cigarettes. They don’t speak English, or at least not very well, and Bowles converses with them absently in Maghrebi, continuing a mundane or stalled conversation that I’d interrupted or that they’d been having on a daily or weekly basis for many years. They don’t take up much space, seem almost to be like pieces of furniture, fixtures of the ambience of the place, maybe conjured up themselves out of the smoke and the talk that Bowles and I would share. Bowles would offer me a cigarette. He would serve tea. I imagine he might take a bit of pride in his limited culinary skills, suggesting he make us some food. I don’t know. I’m not sure how this visit would progress, only that I wish to find myself in dialogue with this master, who, though I’ve put him on a pedestal, is, after all, just a man. Whatever greatness has accrued to him is simply an attribute of his writing, an ethos that rises up out of his narrative voice, his strange tales, his cool attraction to violence.

And so we sit in his living room, me lounging nervously on the couch, he at the paper-strewn table, sort of leaning against it as he smokes and studies me. And we talk. But what do we talk about? What could I, a naïve and diffident young man of twenty-six, have to say that would be of interest to this near-ninety-year-old writer, this hero, this…daemon? I don’t know. Again everything I imagine coming out of my mouth sounds superficial and sycophantic: how I’d come to Morocco because of him and his writing, how there were no other writers I could think of who had captured my imagination the way he had, how I looked at literature and my consuming of it as some sort of divination process—the things which captured me were meant for me, had some wisdom to impart to me there and then, at that very moment that I encountered them, there was prophecy in the connection one felt as a reader to the vague and shifting yet bold and certain image of the writer that lurked behind his words. But no, I can’t say any of these things to him. It all feels too weak and naïve. What would be better is if I brought him a gift. I must present him with something. A book, of course. But which would it be? Something mysterious and mystical and weighty, like the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bhagavad Gita? No. The Arabian Nights? Too on the nose, too obvious. Maybe something by Camus. Exile and the Kingdom, which I’d bought just because of the title. But surely he’s read all of Camus. And all of Borges. And all of Kafka. No, there is no book I could bring him. He’s read everything and more, and besides the old don’t like gifts, they feel like burdens to them, things that must, inevitably, be given away or left behind. And at this point Bowles, I must remember, is quite old. I keep forgetting that. The year I was passing through Tangier was only a year before he died.

And so I must correct this daydream: he wouldn’t be greeting me at the door, he wouldn’t be offering to cook me dinner or be graciously or even grudgingly welcoming me into his home. As I imagine it now, he must be bedridden. When I knock at the door a young Moroccan answers and receives the explanation of my presence—my status as a fan, my request to have an audience, however brief, with the great Paul Bowles—with inscrutable composure. Does he speak English, this porter? If so, it is with some difficulty, such that I don’t know if I’m being properly understood. I’ve brought a copy of Midnight Mass, a late collection of Bowles’s stories (not one of my favorites but the only one I could find in the local English language bookstore up near the Place de France) and I was hoping he would sign it for me. The man at the door takes this all in, suggests that Bowles isn’t well, isn’t up for visitors. But then there is a voice that calls from inside: Who is it, Ahmed? Ahmed calls back to him in Maghrebi. There is a brief incomprehensible exchange, and then, very politely, the young man steps aside and asks me to enter.

The hallway is dark and I wait until Ahmed closes the door and steps past me, beckoning me to follow. He directs me to the living room, yes, cluttered but comfortable, and asks me to have a seat and wait. He disappears back down the hallway. I sit and take in my surroundings, my pulse slightly elevated with a shifting apprehension, something seemingly impossible in my presence here. Books line the wall above the couch behind me. An intricately tiled vase stands in a corner. The table across the room is littered with papers and pens, an ashtray, a hash pipe. Some African masks hang on the walls. I think of my own aging father, back in California, waiting for me to come home, wondering where I am. Out the window I see the medina spreading itself across the far hill, a ramshackle maze, a cubist sketch, a medieval dream. Beyond is the bay, the port, a few ships at rest, and beyond that a distant hill where some other neighborhood or suburb sprawls in the late afternoon sun. I sit breathing in the foreign air, faintly tinged with incense or spice or flowers or ashes, telling myself this is a moment I must remember, this is a decisive moment, a turning point. I hear voices from the back of the apartment, Ahmed speaking, then the older weaker voice of Bowles. I can’t understand what they are saying. Soon Ahmed comes padding down the hall, steps into the living room and says, Bowles will see you now. I rise and follow him, down the hallway, past the front door, into the dimness beyond, a faint light from a doorway at the end. Ahmed stands aside and I step into Bowles’s room.

The blind is drawn and the room is dim. A desk scattered with books. A rumpled carpet on the floor, a few chairs in quiet gestures of conversation. In the bed lies the thin figure of Bowles, several cushions propping up his head and shoulders. A small reading lamp is hanging from the bed frame and casts a glow too bright to be beatific and yet suggesting some sort of brilliance beyond mere light. I feel I have entered some sanctuary or tomb. Some place of worship. It is quiet. He looks up at me with the watery eyes of the aged. I step to his bedside and extend my hand, which he weakly takes. Thank you, I say, thank you so much for seeing me. Yes, that is all I need to say. No fawning or choking on my own words. He is old, rarely gets out of bed. A deep sympathy rises in me and it is only my sincere gratitude that is needed. Quite all right, he says, quite all right. It’s nice to see new faces now and again, and I haven’t had visitors for some time now. Please, have a seat. He makes a feeble gesture toward one of the chairs, which I pull up to the bedside. Make us some tea, Ahmed, he says. Ahmed wordlessly steps out the door and down the hall. We are alone. I must speak. I say something like, I was just passing through Tangier and I thought it would be a waste if I didn’t make an effort to pay my respects. I’ve read all of your books, some of them many times over. Well, he replies, thank you. It’s nice to know they find an audience, even after all these years. I can’t continue to merely compliment him, and I have questions about some of his writings and things he’s said in interviews. He once said something like, Everything that is intolerable must produce violence. I want him to explain that. He once told an interviewer that he couldn’t be sure if he even existed. What could he have possibly meant by that? But I don’t ask. Seeing him there on the bed, weak and old, it seems callous to bring up existence, which would, I’m sure, lead the mind to think of his own impending death. But, in fact, he himself brings it up. It won’t be long before visitors will come to pay their respects to a tombstone, he says, with a little laugh. I smile. Is that not a comforting idea? I say. That you will be remembered, even honored? He would of course say something like, There is no such thing as comfort. Or, Comfort is a lie. Actually he would say, rather antiseptically, Comfort is an idea that has no real value beyond shielding one from reality, and I’ve never seen any use in shielding oneself from reality. I want to ask him about the Muslim belief in fate, but again I feel this question is both too direct and too abstract. I’m not even sure what I want to know about it. It is probably a roundabout way of asking about my own fate, my own future, about what kind of attitude I should have toward it, a way of asking if my visit to him would somehow ensure that I would become like him, become a writer, one who is read and shared and discussed. Because what I really want from him, what this imagined encounter is all about, is securing for myself a story in which my early exploits deliver me to a later success that feels true and right and inevitable. I want to be a writer, I tell him. Do you write? he asks. I do, I say, poems, a few stories. Well, if you write, he says, then you are a writer. If only it were that simple, I say. A writer is merely one who writes, he insists in a casual sort of way. It is easy to say that if you are successful, if you are published, I counter. It feels much different when it is a dream, an aspiration. Did you ever doubt that you would be successful as a writer? I never thought in terms of success, he says, the compulsion to write simply takes over. For me the success was in the writing, not in the publishing. I’m sitting back at this point. Ahmed has brought us tea, pulling up a small table beside the bed and setting the tray down on it. There are some small cakes perfumed with candied fruit. I am more relaxed now, and so I say, But would you feel that way if you’d written several novels, if you’d written The Sheltering Sky, for example, and it never got published, if nothing ever got published. He smiles. But it did, he says. What is the use of wondering if things had been different? They weren’t. It doesn’t matter. There is only one series of events, incontrovertible. Here’s my chance: Is that a kind of fate, then? I say. You can call it that, he replies, but you only recognize it after the fact, and so it isn’t much use other than to provoke a sense of pride in what you’ve accomplished or a sense of regret in what you haven’t. Neither of those are useful sentiments. We take a moment and sip our tea. Then after a moment he asks, What sorts of things do you write about? I am flattered by his polite interest, but this question surprises me, coming from him. I mean, what would he say in response to that question? It seems unfair to ask that of any serious writer.  I don’t really know, I say, unconvincingly, I just want to capture certain things, certain moments in life. I want to show how it is. He nods, and then, rather archly, says, And how is it? Again, an impossible question. Why am I imagining one of my heroes anguishing me with these ridiculous queries? He knows as well as I that if I could say what I wanted to write about there would be no point in writing. If I could simply explain to a man over tea how it is then I wouldn’t need to feel my way through a fictional world, through an abstract form, a complicated syntax, in order to find out. He knows as well as I that it is a probing, a questioning, a wondering, a wandering. That is what writing is. That is what I want to be free to do. —But wait. Have I misread his tone? Isn’t this exactly what he means with his question, so wryly put: And how is it? Ah. I simply nod. It’s difficult, is all I manage to say. He gives a dry knowing smile, sips his tea.

There is a pause in our conversation. The room is growing dimmer as the sky outside begins to fade. In the other room Ahmed is talking on the phone, but Bowles seems unaware of the fact. Finally he says, Imagining the difficulties is a way of dissolving them, I suppose. At least temporarily. I’ve always found it very easy to slip my mind into someone else’s life, to let my mind wander through other people’s lives, other people’s difficulties. Or at least through imagined people’s difficulties. He pauses, sips his tea. Of course, he continues, that suggests the difficulties themselves are merely imagined. And so where does that leave you? Well, I say, isn’t it really your own life you’re imagining, since those characters are just emanations of your own subconscious, your own imagination? That’s reasonable, he says, if rather simplistically Freudian. But there is something much easier about imagining through others rather than simply thinking through yourself. I set down my teacup on the table. I am frustrated by Bowles’s insistence on the ease of writing. I lean forward, elbows on knees and say something like, I have trouble imagining other people’s lives, I’m too preoccupied trying to imagine my own. He looks up at me, curious for a moment. I go on: I feel paralyzed when I write, when I try to imagine the actions of others, of fictional beings, fake people, made-up people, because deep down I know that they are really me, and it paralyzes me. I’m a horrible actor, I can’t feel my own way through anything, I can’t escape myself or free myself or…whatever is supposed to happen when one is writing well…. Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, I am in tears. I imagine Bowles would not appreciate this, a stranger showing up at his door and unloading some psychic stress, expecting some sort of wisdom or healing or direction. He stiffens, ever so slightly, adjusts the blanket pulled up around his chest. But maybe I don’t say this. Maybe it is much less dramatic. Maybe it simply goes like this: I confess to him that I have trouble writing fiction, that in order to make it feel authentic and real it must, at some level, be real. And that’s when I say, I have trouble imagining other people’s lives, I’m too preoccupied trying to imagine my own. And he responds, thoughtfully, almost consolingly, with, The pleasure of the imagined world is not the pleasure of that world realized. It’s the pleasure of a world lived just below the surface of consciousness, just emerging. Like a dream. If it actually comes true, it is destroyed.

It is quite dark in the room. I ask if he minds if I let some light in. He says, Of course, and I rise and go and open the blinds. Light washes in. It is a late afternoon outside. I am facing east and the sky is a rich darkening blue where night is approaching, although it is still too bright for stars to be seen. I return to the bedside and dig into my backpack for a copy of the book I’ve brought. Midnight Mass. I take the book out of my bag and offer it to Bowles, saying, I was hoping you would sign this. He eyes it. It is one of those Black Sparrow editions—paper cover, simple design—which for many years were the only editions available of his work. He might say, Not one of my best. Or maybe in his old age he is more attached to this one, which in some ways is more mature than his older works, less violent, less shocking, more concerned with domestic themes, points of misunderstanding between Moroccans and Nazarenes, and so maybe he says, I’m pleased you enjoyed it. And then he asks for a pen, which despite being a writer he doesn’t seem to have at hand, and so I pull one from my backpack and hand it to him and watch him write on the title page the date, let’s say it is June 16, and then my name. As for the note, the message he would leave me, I don’t know, I can’t imagine what he would say. Perhaps something simple, such as, All the best, or, Thanks for your visit.  Of course, I would like something more meaningful, more personal, more filled with the sense of prophecy and fortune that this whole memory—or fantasy, rather—is concerned with. Maybe, Time is imaginary, Pay it no mind. Best, Paul Bowles. Something like that. I don’t know. I have the book before me now, pulled from the shelf where I have all his other books, his biography, his collected letters. When I open it to the title page, all I see is the title and his name in clear print, separated by a simple Arabic-looking design, with the publisher’s colophon at the bottom. There is no inscription, no spidery scrawl from the pen of the aging writer, no dedication to me and my future self.

And so how does this invented memory end? A handshake, a promise to send him some of my work? What does it matter, since it is merely an invention? I don’t know. I stand beside the bed, thank him for his time. He gives a brief noncommittal smile, looks up from his watery eyes, and I sense the preoccupation that lingers always behind the gaze of the aged, constantly turning away toward something they’ve forgotten, the memory of their impending death. Maybe I promise to write, or maybe I recognize the futility of it all, or maybe Bowles is exhausted from the visit and has dozed off. Ahmed leads me to the door, bows politely, awkwardly. I thank him for the tea, and he shakes my hand, his smile suggesting, in some way that I don’t fully understand, that my visit has been a success. And then I see myself wandering down the hill in the early evening as the North-African night descends over the city, the rich blue of the horizon like the blue of a candle flame where it attaches to the wick, stars beginning to punctuate the darkness.  Twilight, dusk. The hour when shadows mingle, when nothing is what it seems. The witching hour, hour of werewolves and lost children, the blind man’s holiday. For a moment, walking through the outlands of Tangier, trying to find my way back to the medina and my hotel, I have the strange sensation—a kind of déjà vu, or some such shift in consciousness, brought on by exhaustion or anxiety or the careworn rhythm of travel, who knows—that I am merely wandering on the outskirts of a barren and degraded San Francisco, a warped version of a place with which I am familiar. There is a similar quality to the air, and to the hills on which the city spreads itself, beside a sea whose clean breath is ever present on the breezes that blow through the streets, among the buildings and the minarets, the satellite dishes ensconced like totems on the rooftops. And maybe, suddenly, it seems that in fact I’ve not come so far, that I’m the same wanderer I’ve always been. The earth, its smells and sensations, wind, water, dust, shrub, tree, a voice calling out in the distance, the hush of a car engine turning down the road before me and then passing by and fading into the street behind, the streetlight glowing against the perfect darkening sky—all are sensations of the same vintage, though the scenery may vary, the people wearing different clothes and speaking a stranger tongue, the buildings and streets of a city at once familiar and foreign, like the memory of dream, a place I’ve been before, a place I never was.


MATTHEW RAYMOND has a BA in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of the chapbook The Muddy Season (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in the Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Free State Review, Pidgeonholes, December, Beloit Poetry Journal, Permafrost, and other places.


Featured image by Nathan Wright courtesy of Unsplash


Author’s Note

In the mid- to late-1990s, when I was just out of college, I nursed a literary obsession with Paul Bowles. He was still alive then and books both by him and about him—and about the Tangier of his time—often appeared on the remainder tables of the various book stores I routinely ambled through. His work and the example of his life fueled my own early attempts at writing and, in some ways, my own decisions about what I thought it meant to be a writer.

My fascination turned into several years of travel, along with flirtations with—or fantasies of, rather—a certain kind of expatriatism. It didn’t take long for me figure out, however, that I wasn’t like Bowles in many ways, that the world I was living in was not the one he so confidently inhabited, and that my writing—like my life—thrived on different energies than his. But a lengthy trip through Morocco was part of the learning process, and it was one of the highlights of those years.

After spending a long time attempting to turn my experiences of that trip into fiction—and having, according to the publishing gods, limited success—I began writing a more direct recollection of my time in North Africa, trying to remember the honest details of that younger and more heady time in my life. However, it wasn’t long before the memoir refused to stay in the nonfiction lane, veering off into a somewhat fictive realm, becoming what I learned later to call a speculative memoir. Thus, “The Writer”: an exercise in wish-fulfillment that at the same time holds up a mirror of sorts to my own inadequacies and disappointments.

I never met Bowles. I wish I had. I wish I had been the kind of person who would have sought him out and asked his advice and made some sort of connection. But perhaps if I had I would have been disappointed: reality rarely matches up with our imaginings. Maybe authors should remain those faint figures who occupy only an oblique, shifting place in our minds: real, unreal; present, absent; friend, stranger. Maybe it’s like what Italo Calvino said in If on a winter’s night a traveler: “…the true authors remain those who for him were only a name on a jacket, a word that was part of the title, authors who had the same reality as their characters, as the places mentioned in the books, who existed and didn’t exist at the same time.…”


MATTHEW RAYMOND has a BA in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of the chapbook The Muddy Season (Black Lawrence Press, 2016). His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in the Gettysburg Review, Massachusetts Review, New Letters, Free State Review, Pidgeonholes, December, Beloit Poetry Journal, Permafrost, and other places.