Sharon Kivland is an artist and writer. Her work considers what is put at stake by art, politics, and psychoanalysis. She is currently working on the natural form, fables after La Fontaine, and the furies. She is also an editor and publisher, the latter under the imprint MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE. Her novel Abécédaire was published by Moist Books in July 2022. She is completing a new book, entitled Almanach, from which this extract comes.
It is the last day of the month of nivôse in the French revolutionary calendar, day thirty, décadi. The year is CCXXXI, two hundred and thirty-one years after the revolution that is so dear to my heart, or at least, since the counting began. Nivôse is the month of snow, though it is not snowy now. Mist and frost have passed, while rain and wind have yet to come and then seed will be sown and after there will be blossom, meadows, harvest, heat and fruit and fine vintage. Today is a day of rest in this old new short-lived republican calendar formed of four sets of three, of months of three weeks of ten days, of days with ten hours, of hours with a hundred minutes, of minutes with a hundred seconds; a calendar of natural and attractive names: the calendar of Jacobin history. There is rain, yes of course, for this is Brittany, where in Rennes the revolution, my beloved history, started. This thirtieth day is the day of the crible, a sieve, from the Latin, criblum, a tool with calibrated openings that is used to separate solid fragments according to their size, the smaller from the large, the latter remaining while the former passes, to sift and riddle, a tool that this evening I will use to wash and steam the grains of couscous to accompany the modest stew of sweet potato in a sauce of tomato, onion, garlic, lime, cumin and cardamon. It is also a weighty metaphor, as I will separate solid fragments.
It is the day of Saint Germanicus in another calendar, the one delivered by the postman, who, after Alain, followed by Jean-Luc, is now a very pleasant young woman whose name I do not know; it was delivered before Christmas and I paid ten euros for mine, after carefully selecting from those she offered, this time, kittens in various appealing and playful poses. The calendar is particular to each department in France, printed in its modern form by the company of François-Charles Oberthur; in 1810 it was the Almanach des Postes, in 1880, the Almanach des Postes et des Télégraphes, in 1945 the Almanach des P.T.T. and in 1989 the Almanach du Facteur. Now I buy this almanach du facteur myself but my neighbour Marcelle, for whom I had both the pleasure and bore the burden of being her ‘second daughter’, used to give it to me as a Christmas present on Christmas Eve. She kept all her almanachs over many years, each marked with the weather, the sowing and planting or the gathering, the deaths of the dogs and cats all buried in our gardens: Belle, Nora, Fifi, Samy (and now, in mine, Jean-Balthasar, Zéphir, Limpet, among others), many surviving Marcelle and many whom I never knew, but could ask Monique, her daughter, her true daughter, her first daughter, and which included the partially mummified body of a cat in the barn, whom we thought may have been the vanished Mélanie. Saint Germanicus was a martyr, a disciple of Polycarpe of Smyrna, now Izmir, condemned by his faith and a Roman judge to end his life in the jaws of a beast, the ferocious wolf who devoured him.
What else is this day? Or rather, what is this day to me, writing as I look out of the window of my study onto the garden, where the geese and ducks and chickens have been released from their enclosure for the winter months, so they may have the pleasure and nourishment of scratching at compost heaps, of scattering leaves and straw and uneaten peelings over the gravel paths, while the geese try to break into the winter vegetable garden, nibbling at what remains of spinach and chicory and winter salads, avoiding the over-abundant kale entirely. Or rather, I stop writing to track their zig-zagging wanderings, to listen to the geese cry out, to observe the ducks, Indian runners, the drake fawn and white, foul-flanked, the female black and beetle-green sheeny, follow the geese, whether in admiration or with faint menace. They call out constantly to each other.
This is first day of writing. There is always a first day but there is never entirely a last day, as what is written continues to be rewritten, even when done and dusted, when its metaphorical ink (the ink of a letter) is blotted or sprinkled with pounce, the fine powder made from dried cuttlefish, or with sand, the paper vibrated gently so the excess powder or sand falls off, is shaken off to be scooped up, rebottled for re-use, the paper folded, the letter despatched. It is also the last day of the job I have held for over thirty years, which has not made me who I am (I think), but has brought in the little income that sustained my life and that of others around and with me, human and animal. It is the first day of the physiotherapy that I hope will restore the mobility I have lost since an accident in November that confined me to hospital and then to bed. It is to be my vita nova or my vita nuova, even if ‘on the one hand, I have no time left to try out several different lives’, this is my last life, this new life, and I will plant, when I can walk again, I will plant my feet once again firmly on the ground, and I will understand something about how I must live the life that is left to me, as it is measured out to me and by me.
What is this writing to be? I knew what it would be very clearly until I started it, when the form, which had been so clearly in my mind and rehearsed there as though I were reading it aloud for several months, became vague, as misty as the month of brumaire or as full of holes as a sieve. This much I know: it is an almanach, and I will recount my days, my own calendar, including the five days of the sans-culottides, the days of virtue, talent, labour, opinions (of which I hold many), reward, and revolution, though the last occurs only in a leap year, and this year is not one unless I were to use the Jewish calendar, in which case 2022 is a shanah meuberet, a pregnant year with an extra month, two months of Adar, the twelfth month of the religious year, when moon and sun are aligned. There will be, no, there are already, animals, saints and martyrs, radicals, gardens, plants of all nature, including seeds and leaves and flowers, household tips, meals, and there are useful objects, including, alongside tools, books and small items of furniture, or embroideries and woven cloths and some children’s shoes and jackets, a little coat of faded and scuffed black velvet with a cream and black striped lining, perhaps also a cap or hat or a pair of red gloves or even red patent shoes for dancing. I should have time, all the time in my world, seconds into minutes into hours into days into weeks into a year.
This is a book of little times.
It begins in Year I. It ends in Year II.