(My dream was that I was a sardine in a bait ball and you were a hammerhead, a great one.)
(My dream was that I was the last hermit crab and you were an old marmalade jar.)
(My dream was I was wandering in a narrow gorge with so very high cliff walls. Other people were also wandering in the gorge, but we did not speak to one another. I stood on the edge of a thin and silvery stream as a large iceberg sailed quietly by then stopped, stuck. Unable to pass, the once shallow water rose and rose and rose around the iceberg, still quiet, all was quiet. We, all of us, stood there and watched (the rising water, the so very high cliff walls). I don’t know what the other people were thinking or, if like me, they were both frightened and composed, patient, accepting. We did not speak to one another.)
(I woke up to pee and couldn’t get back into this one great dream.)
(My dream was just me roaring and shouting at her. At him. At them.)
(My dream is often a vast, silent wave. Nothing can prevent it.)
(My dream was my cat had a British accent.)
(My dream was I was a girl, dancing on my daddy’s shoes, holding on to the loops where his belt should go but when I looked up it was our old friend, Dave Franklin. He looked down surprised but happy to see me, said “Hi!”)
(or: the most interesting, weird and worthwhile ways I procrastinated on the www of late).
This Conversation between Dan Gunn and Lydia Davis at the wonderful Music & Literature.
This 1929 Soviet-era silent movie by Dziga Vertov, who once said: “I am eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see.”
Published a couple of years ago, but still – and maybe more so – relevant, Rebecca Solnit’s Diary in the London Review of Books meditates on the influence of technology and the quality of the time we spend in today’s day and age.
“A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing…. It’s hard, now, to be with someone else wholly, uninterruptedly, and it’s hard to be truly alone.”
Solnit’s sentiments echo my own of late (though more beautifully and with considerably more clarity and conviction – I tend to vacillate between her perspective and one of the commenters who persuasively argues that Solnit is not the first in history to romanticize and misremember the reality of the past). Still, food for thought, and it nudged me into action concerning the way I do, and want to, spend my time. Day 2 of being Facebook-free and it feels okay!
Based on a couple of short stories I’ve read, I’m very excited about Irish writer Sara Baume’s forthcoming debut novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither, from Tramp Press. Will certainly gush more about her another time. For now, though, I lately loved her little blog post documenting some artwork she made, and an installation of post-its titled All The Days I Did and Didn’t, while writing the novel.
I’ve also been seriously dreamy over the work of Mister Finch, a self-taught artist who sews delightful flora and fauna from vintage textiles. I want to fall down this lacy, threadbare rabbit hole and live in a world that looks like this:
There were other things, too, but these are the things I thought to share with you, whatever share means, whoever you are.
Forgive me, I am someone who seeks out synchronicity—that is, confirmation that I am where I am meant to be, in this exact moment in life and time.
It’s silly (is it?), but I need it (why?).
Last night, driving away from Portland, Ian turned the radio to a local station playing jazz. “Do you like jazz?” he asked. Almost ten years we have known each other, yet still some things to know and remain unknown. He told me about a college class he signed up for with this very radio station, a sort of internship where he’d learn the radio ropes and how to present a show, how he didn’t know anything about jazz and stayed up late at Powell’s reading and researching. But (alas, alack) it was one of those harsh winters and (oh, poor student) he didn’t have a car and wound up missing some classes and thus ended his career in local jazz radio before it had even begun. “Oh baby,” I laughed, “you could have been somebody.”
I was teasing, but it’s true—I think about it all the time: all the roads not taken or only half taken, all the somebodies we could have been and might still be. I can (and have) spend hours tracing back all the things that had to happen in order to find myself, here, now, in this place. And, though I am happy in this place, I am one of those people who can’t help seeking confirmation that all is as it should be, that there isn’t another place I’m supposed to be. Even the smallest of ‘signs’ can set me at ease for, oh, whole hours.
Last night, when we arrived back at the house we are watching for friends this month, the sky away from the city was clear and crisp. It has been so foggy lately and, so, we took a stroll up the back fields, in search of shooting stars. He saw three and I saw one and a bit. He deserved it. He gets up earlier than I do, works harder and longer, lights the fire before he leaves, leaves a teabag in a mug for me…
These things are important and real and good. And yet, I wake this morning thinking, Are we doing enough with our lives, should we be traveling or building or making, we should see more live music, we should write more, I should really learn an instrument—or to drive—I thought we’d have our Christmas shopping done by now, why do we procrastinate, are we wasting it, missing it, why did we just sit by the fire half the day?
And then, as it seems to go, I stumble across some words that still me, that seem to have been written in the stars for me, today, this morning, when thoughts and anxieties shoot and fire and fizzle across the fearful, doubtful spaces of my mind. A small synchronicity, a poem by Galway Kinnell, makes me forget the creeping daytime thoughts and focus on last night, and all those times in which we are great, and happy, as long as we are arm in arm and looking up.
On the Frozen Field
We walk across the snow,
The stars can be faint,
The moon can be eating itself out,
There can be meteors flaring to death on earth,
The Northern Lights can bloom and seethe
And be tearing themselves apart all night,
We walk arm in arm, and we are happy.
You in whose ultimate madness we live,
You flinging yourself out into the emptiness,
You—like us—great for an instant,
His was among the first American poetry I read as a teenage girl (apart from the obligatory Robert Frost of my childhood schooling). I was looking for Answers and Alternatives and poetry often pointed the way into and out of myself.
In true teenage fashion, I especially sought those words I could appropriate for my own emotionally exaggerated ends. My seventeen year old self got some good melancholy mileage out of poems like Keeping Things Whole:
KEEPING THINGS WHOLE
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
I remember Strand’s Elegy For My Father was particularly impactful too, especially this second section of the long poem. It rendered the complexities and contradictions of truth—the truth of truth—which my sixteen year old self intuited but could not yet articulate (still often can’t).
Why did you travel? Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel? Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear? I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear? I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with? I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with? I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me? I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me? Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going? Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going? I don’t know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you? Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down? Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down. Wherever I am I am what is missing.
Who was that teenage girl? I can barely remember. But I know those words were my truth, that I found a mirror and comfort in them. I needed them then in a way that I can barely feel or fathom anymore. And perhaps they are the reason I no longer need them with such intensity, if that makes sense. They got me to a different place, a place where they wouldn’t be needed so much, or needed for other reasons. Those lines mean something different to me now and their meaning will change again and again, though they remain the same.
Thanks be to poetry. Thanks be to words and the writers who write them, knowing we might yet still need them long after they are gone. Thank you Mr. Strand.
LINES FOR WINTER
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
Last night I dreamed I was skating on glass. Nobody wants for mold to appear unbidden, and flourish, in the airspace between their double-paned windows; but, if it must, they can only hope for the crystal kind whose fine filaments creep into your nighttime with whisperings of snow.
From the Old Norse vindr auga came the word window: ‘wind eye’. Longboats and trade winds carried the word, along with other cargo sounds (fog, freckles, moss, gasp, sky), and it took the place of the Old English eag thyrel—eye-thirl, eye-hole. Words, like men, live and die. The Old Irish heard vindr auga as fuin deóc and their word for window is now fuinneoig. Sounds twist on the wind, morph, reshape themselves and, so, survive.
The mold on my window appeared slowly, at first, as a fog, but soon snow-like crystals surfaced like islands in a frozen sea: archipelagos of spores, remote colonies advancing slowly on the hazy center. A single stray hypha, trapped in the warm air between two panes of glass, has blossomed and burrowed its way into my dreams, a soft and silent invasion.
A dream is an invasion and it is also an evasion—from reality, the quotidian. The view from my window has become mundane; I hardly noticed it until the mold came, obscuring afternoon’s glow on red brick and the wooded slopes of Portland’s west hills. Nothing ever happens here is not the truth of the view, but only my perspective on it, which, too, may reshape itself.
By day, I think: I should call somebody, do something about this. But when night falls, I am skating. I am spinning fast on thin glass. Snow falls down around me and strange words float my way on the wind, replacing one world with another.
I was prompted to write this little essay when I saw a contest on The Paris Review website in celebration of Matteo Pericoli’s new book Windows on the World.
I like these kind of contests – with a limited word count on a specified theme (this contest was 300 words). Like all writing prompts, it alleviates the pressure to think of something (God, forbid!). I often procrastinate writing because I’m waiting for a worthy idea to strike.
Though, I must admit that I needed the incentive of potentially being published on The Paris Review blog to sit down and write about the view from my window. If I saw this prompt in a workbook, I would probably press the snooze button, but I was surprised at the imaginative places my mind wandered to when I thought it might be read by other people.
Writing these micro-pieces requires focus, restraint, and thoughtfulness as every word and sentence counts. I love when an unexpected sentence or idea emerges but, too, I found that I was frequently questioning what, precisely, it was that I wished to communicate, or what feeling I wanted to create in a very short space, and tried to adhere to that and cull the excess and extraneous.
Of course, these things are required of everything I write but it’s easy with a longer essay or story to hold onto a sentence because it’s pretty, or so innocuous as to go unnoticed, a good sign that it’s not indeed needed.
Anyhoo. These ideas are not novel but I thought I’d share them anyway. Needless to say, my strange little mold essay did not win the contest but it’s been a while since I posted a window into my world, so here you go!
(The replacement windows arrived last week, by the by. In case you were wondering if I ever did pick up the phone, call somebody, do something about it.)