This is the second in a series of letters, sent through the mail, between the writers Claudia Dey and Stacey Levine, who are in the process of reading each others’ work. Both are the authors of novels and plays. Claudia lives in Toronto; Stacey lives in Seattle. Click here to read the first letter, from Claudia to Stacey. Below is Stacey’s reply. 

May 10, 2012

Hi Claudia,

It was a lovely letter you sent. Our blind date-on-paper went well, despite its full-on public-ness.  We covered some bases. We have questions for one another. 

I looked up Rasputin’s death. It seems probable he was not poisoned at all. The photos of him, and the appearance of his hands, too, are a mite frightening. I’ll have you know I gave my students a writing assignment to be sort of addressed to current residents of St. Helena, the island where Napoleon finished.

Your friend must’ve loved yr lyric mashup. Can you write poetry easily? I rarely think of it, though I teach it some.

(I keep hearing a strange, soft, honking from outside my door at pretty short intervals, maybe coming from the neighborhood in general. It’s like a voice, not a car horn. Maybe this honking will dictate the paragraphing of this letter.)

I am really taken by your play Trout Stanley, and esp. love that Sugar hasn’t been out of the house in years. Which sounds quasi-ideal as a life style…she is remarkably alive.  There’s a nice balancing / contrast between the characters’ still, thoughtful moments and all their furious activity. As the play was being produced, your actors must’ve been very happy people.

In addition, the numbers and dates work out so musically in the play. Do you plot such things beforehand with charts or schema?  What about for fiction—do you use an outline?

Are Canadian writers happier than their American counterparts?

With your description of your experience on the film set, I felt I was there. I hope I can see this film sometime. Speaking of film, I am excited that at the library a copy of a film by Terrence Davies is waiting for me: Distant Voices, Still Lives.  It’s old. It’s set in Liverpool and has almost no dialogue. But lots of scenes of people singing in pubs.

You’re asking about my Seattle apartment: well, I do not run a tight ship.  So, yes, many impractical collections, for example, a rubber chicken and a hard yellow plastic bee with a wingspan of about 12 inches. Both atop the DVD player. 

(The honking sounds a bit between a soft-voiced dog and a duck. I’m a little concerned that what- or whoever is making this noise is not ambulatory.)

I liked your tympanic rupture story, and its dramatic, crisp end.  I can’t think of a better way for pain to come to a close: on film.  

I also had an ear issue recently, which ended pretty soon after a friendly doctor told me to do so-called Eustachian tube exercises, the goal of this being, I suppose, to air out this little ear-throat passageway. 

I told the doctor I had never heard of this kind of exercise before, and he made a note in my medical record that I said this.  !  The exercise is: Every hour, you swallow 10 times in a row (which is unbelievably difficult to do, as the doctor actively acknowledged).  This process helps the Eustachian tube, because, as the doctor explained, “every time you swallow, you milk that thing.” 

How perfect is this? And you, Claudia, were thinking that I write fiction? I just write about my life.

By the way, this doctor gets very happy sometimes about very small things.  I heard him tell a nurse that he was “delighted” that some patient had taken a Tylenol.  

(The honking comes about every three minutes. But I’m wondering now if it doesn’t sound less like a creature and more like soft bricks abrading each other kind of high up somewhere. But who would be outside late at night scraping bricks together once in a while on a rooftop?)

My answers to your questions:  Ida by Stein is one of my favorites. I love Rhys, but not sure that she’s inspired my own writing. And Davis, also, not so much. About my bicycle helmet stage—frankly, sometimes it’s much easier to wear it than to carry it—that’s what I think…but I guess that’s not the whole story. I basically have no explanation for it.

(There’s nothing wrong with going outside late at night to seek the source of a gaseous honking noise. Which is probably what I’ll be doing in a few minutes. Now it once again sounds like something sentient. It better not be a kitten.)

What did you drink after your eardrum burst? I would have had whiskey with something sweet.

What are you up to this week?

Stacey