You—like us—great for an instant

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 time 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,

O only universe we know, forgive us.

 

Frozen Field

Advertisements

Love

Say the word Love beneath your breath.

Say it at those people you think need it the most. Vagrants and hustlers and young men sleeping under bridges and old men blowing on their hands and women in bus shelters at 6am. Love.

Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

The man on a bench by the river talking to — himself?

Love.

The woman pushing a cart full of crap (her best things) down the center of the avenue.

Love.

The people in their cars, warm and impatient, honking at her, then taking the opportunity to text and sip some coffee, check their makeup in the mirror.

Love. Love. Love. (They have their own crap, are broke in their own ways, could be lonely, struggle, you don’t know).

Love. Love.

Believe that it makes a difference, knowing that it doesn’t.

Love. Love.

That they might feel it when you say it, somehow. Love.

That it might be the beginning of a change for them. Love.

Cycle past them. Walk behind them. Whispering.

Love. Love.

They might look up from their newspaper or their hands, dismiss it as the wind but wonder all day long. Love.

Begin with the obvious ones. The shabby. The cold. The red-eyed. Love.

Then, notice how the more you say it. Love.

The more you see how everyone needs it. Love.

The lady in the heavy coat, fumbling with her coins as she feeds the parking meter. Love.

The long-haul truck driver. Love.

The man sweeping the stoop. Love.

The couple holding hands in the park; he glances at my legs and she follows his eye and hates me. Love.

The children on the swings and seesaw. Love. Love. Love.

The pigeons, the gulls, the geese. Love.

Everyone. Love.

Say it. Love.

Everyone.

Love.

Love.

Start with one person and soon you won’t be able to stop.

Love.

Soon this short, single syllable will become a chorus, a throb. a sustained humming.

Love love love love love love love love love love love love love.

Looooooooooooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvvvvve.

 

“Careful, baby.”

Crossing the street this morning, I accidently bumped into a lady in one of those dark, tailored, masculine, power suits and soiled her power sleeve with the ketchup-soaked sausage sandwich I was carrying.

“Why don’t you look where you’re going?” she screeched at me. Passers-by stopped and stared, but I wasn’t intimidated and I wasn’t scared.

Instead, I imagined she was a loving god or one of those mothers who are so overwhelmed with care for their scattered child, their desperation escapes from their fearful bellies in a cry, in a scream, in a howl at the moon.

She hurried, hissing, on her way. I kept walking in the direction I was going but, every so often, I stopped to look left and right for fast cars, pickpockets and men with brown eyes. I wouldn’t want her to be worrying about me all day.

Hemingway, in love and hatred.

I read The Old Man and the Sea and thought I hated Hemingway but maybe I just hated the man whose shelf I found it on. No. I think I did hate Hemingway. I know I did because when people would say “Ernest Hemingway something or other…” I’d say “pfff, Hemingway” and walk away.

I never read anything else of his but I carried on in my contempt. It’s easy to do that when all you know of a man is that he liked hunting and bullfighting and valor and war and other things I don’t care for. I knew nothing, not really, but for a time it was a political act for me to know nothing about revered men. Let him be a Great Man to others, I thought. Pfff. I busied myself with bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua.

Later, when I realised that hate generalises but love is particular, I cautiously opened my bookshelf to great men but I changed their title and simply called them Writers. And that is how I came to read For Whom the Bell Tolls and that is how I finally learned how to love Ernest Miller Hemingway. I love him for this one book, this beautiful novel about the Spanish Civil War. The Sun Also Rises may be misogynistic and bigoted, and I’ll decide on the others in time, but For Whom the Bell Tolls is magnificent, compelling, truthful and brutally rendered.

I love him for this passage on dying and living:

If one must die, he thought, and clearly one must, I can die. But I hate it. Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind. But living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond.

I love him for writing about the depraved and terrible things that were done on all sides. It’s easy to tell what the enemy did to you. It is another thing to say: and this is the cruelty that I am capable of, this is what I have done. I love him for saying that your beliefs and politics don’t exempt you from life and its miseries and inevitabilities: “there are no people that things must not happen to.” This is the truth, no?

I love him for capturing the tenor and tone of the Spanish language.

I love him for this reminder (that I may otherwise think trite but cannot while reading this novel and thinking, constantly, about the brevity of life):

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today.

I love him for making me see it: death and pain and doubt and trust and bargaining and begging and passion and deception and lies and ideals and sorrow and fear and how it profits no-one (though he would say that the world is a fine place and worth the fighting for). But I say, it is a fine place but hatred profits no-one and love is the thing. Three days or three thousand days, love is the thing, love is the thing, love is the thing.

The Last Book I Loved

My first non-blog book-review was published in The Rumpus today. It’s one of my favourite online magazines, I’m really pleased.

The Rumpus

The last book I loved is about a woman named Bluma who was, arguably, killed by a poem, and a man called Carlos Brauer who loved books so much he mistook them for his mind, and cemented himself inside them on a desolate beach in Uruguay…

The last book I loved is The House of Paper or La Casa de Papel by Carlos María Domínguez, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor…”

You can read the rest over at The Rumpus if you so desire.

You can even leave a comment if it tickles your fancy.

The Virgin Suicides.

I so very much wanted to love The Virgin Suicides but all I could muster was profound admiration and regard for Jeffrey Eugenides’ undeniable brilliance as a writer.

That’s good right? Admiration, brilliance, high regard – they’re what you’re looking for in and from a book, aren’t they?

Well, yes – but I’m greedy. I want more. I am a reader who is looking for love and, like my own virginity experience, this novel left me cold and wanting.

Okay, that was a clear case of overshare and I hope my dad doesn’t read this particular post but I believe that this is what creates empathy: these moments of sharing, these secret admissions and tongue-slips of humanity.  I want to know about you. I want to tell you something about me. I want to understand and care.

In a way, I was in exactly the same position as the young boys in a dull suburb in Detroit where the story of five sisters suicides takes place. I too was trying to make meaning out of a paucity of sense or reason. I too was stumbling through the inadequacy of explanation, trying to get a true glimpse of the Lisbon sisters behind their adolescent bars. I tried so hard to reach them, to know them, to understand – something, anything – about them. But they eluded and baffled me, left me cold and wanting.

How has Eugenides written a book so exacting and so detailed yet so bare and insufficient? How has he written a tragedy that left me so numb and unaffected?

It’s his choice of narrative technique.

One of the first decisions a writer makes is “Who is going to tell the reader what happened? Whose story is this?” The decision depends, in part, on the effect you are trying to achieve and what you ultimately want to say.

Though the ostensible objects of the novel are the five Lisbon sisters, The Virgin Suicides is, in fact, the story of a group of teenage boys who lived on the same street and went to the same school as a family of girls who killed themselves. Their story is composed of fragmented, partial memories, speculation and conjecture. Apart from one ill-fated party and an anticlimactic prom, they barely even spoke to them. They never actually knew them. And, so, neither can we.

The effect is frustrating, disconcerting, and produces that feeling of dissatisfaction and inadequacy I spoke of.

It was a brilliant choice by Eugenides – the only choice to create the feeling of searching, grasping numbness that follows the unnatural, inexplicable death by suicide. It cannot be explained. That’s what Eugenides was trying to say and so he silenced the girls and hid them away inside his novel as they were hidden away inside their home.

Technically, it’s flawless. Reading the novel as a neophyte writer, I learned so much and marveled at the craft that is Writing at its best. It’s a great lesson in mirroring meaning with style and content.

Reading it as Deborah, though, as a person who wants to know and understand the people she’s reading about… well, this book was hard for me to love.  The boys were in love and they explained it as best they could but not enough for their reasons to become reason for me. And while the boys grew up forever haunted by their memories, I’m afraid to say I forgot about this book faster than decaying Detroit forgot those lovely girls. Their names were Cecilia, Bonnie, Mary, something, and Lux.

And that’s not what I want from a book. Like love, I like it when it lingers a while.