Q and A with Floyd Skloot about REVERTIGO: AN OFF-KILTER MEMOIR
At the center of REVERTIGO: An Off-Kilter Memoir is a 138-day attack of unrelenting vertigo that began--out of nowhere--on the morning of March 27, 2009, and ended on the evening of August 12, 2009, as suddenly as it had begun. As I wrote about it,I realized it would make no sense--or rather that it would seem to make too much apparent sense--to tell the story in a traditionally-structured, conventional memoir. With body and world askew, everything familiar was transformed and nothing was ever still.
To capture what it felt like to be unceasingly vertiginous required a matching off-kilterness of form, a structure that was tenuous, shifting, unpredictable. I also realized that, for the previous three years, he'd already been writing this book, had been exploring aspects of the skewed and off-kilter life, exploring balance and its loss, how the forces of uncertainty and sudden change and displacement had shaped me since childhood, as it shapes many of us, by repeatedly knocking me awry, requiring me to react and adapt fast, realigning my hopes and plans, even my perceptions. It seemed as though his life, and his writing about my life, had been preparing me for just such a time of radical off-kilterness. The resulting memoir follows a loose chronological sequence from adolescence to the onset of senior citizenship. From the volatile forces within my mercurial, eruptive, shape-shifting early years to my obsession with reading and acting and writing, and from the attack of vertigo to a trio of tenuous, post-vertigo-but-dizzying journeys to real places, Spain and England, and to a place only known in my mother's unhinged fantasies, I was writing to make sense of a life's phantasmagoric unpredictability.
You've written in past memoirs, E.g. In the Shadow of Memory, World of Light, and The Wink of the Zenith about your recovery from a virus that attacked your brain in 1988. How does Revertigo fit in with these other three memoirs? How is it a departure?
If In the Shadow of Memory was about the attempt to put myself back together in the aftermath of the viral attack, and A World of Light was about the attempt to re-enter the world as a disabled man, and The Wink of the Zenith was about the forces that shaped me as a writer and the way that being a writer shaped me life, then Revertigo is about the way that nothing really prepares you for the sudden changes life presents--is about the ongoing effort to retain balance in a shifting world. I feel like Revertigo stands alone among my memoirs formally, it shares with its predecessors a sense of gathering from fragments, of writing as an act of discovery as the pieces are assembled.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Revertigo?
As with my other memoirs, I had no idea what I was writing about till very near the end. I was just writing essays about the things that kept emerging with insistence. At first, I saw no apparent link among the disparate parts, and that was a challenge, but it was also a liberation--instead of pursuing closure (on issues that by definition had no closure, would always be ongoing), I pursued the depth of feeling about each aspect of what was coming up, and I set aside concerns about "writing a book." It took six years to develop all the parts and see what they were.
What did you enjoy most about writing it?
As with my other memoirs, writing about what was happening to me--and about what had happened to me--required research to understand things I didn't know enough about to explain clearly to a reader. In the pursuit of clarity in the writing, I gained a bit of clarity in my own thoughts and feelings about experience of vertigo both as a physical condition and an emotional or existential phenomenon. And, as my wife Beverly will attest, a lot of the writing made me laugh out loud as I was doing it (also made me cry).
You write poetry, nonfiction and fiction all so beautifully - is there one genre closer to your heart than the others? And if so, why is it your favorite?
No favorite, but I would say was a poet first and remain a poet first. Everything emerges from the compression and imagery and music of that way of working.
You have new poetry collections coming out soon - please tell us their titles, when they will be published, and by whom?
Close Reading, my 7th collection of poems, has just been released by a UK publisher, Eyewear. My 8th collection, Approaching Winter, will be published by LSU Press in fall 2015--it's my third book of poems with LSU, and I feel so fortunate to be with them.
What are you working on now, if you don't mind telling us?
I've just completed a novel called Something I Missed, a fictional memoir about my encounter with the phantom of Thomas Hardy during a spring visit to Dorset, England, in 2012. Having finished that intense project, I'm recharging now--working on some new poems, mulling over some new essays--and doing a lot of reading. At nearly 67, and having been disabled for 25 of those years, I'm finding this recharging time to be essential and mysterious--unsure, as always, where I'm heading.