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Monday, January 8, 2018

Richard O. Moore

Learned so much this summer at Home School writing retreat/workshop/reading/wondershow.  Slowly processing.  Think this might be a nice place to share some things.

About the time I was born, Richard O. Moore was inventing public radio and television out in California.  He studied with Kenneth Koch, was in class with Jack Spicer, and was friends with Brenda Hillman.  He didn't publish much of his own work, but when he did it won awards.  Something he did do though was shoot some cinema verité style documentaries of poets (among others).

Here's an excerpt from the Frank O'Hara piece he did.  Warning: it may make you want to smoke, walk for hours down NYC streets with a friend, take your shirt off and discuss paintings, talk on the phone while typing and holding a friend's hand, write a play, take a new lover, write a poem, smoke another cigarette.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Bring Me a Little Water

Today is apparently a day for avoiding the fact that I am dry, that I cannot find the well, that I may have lost the well, that maybe I never had any well.  Even attempting the tricky, illogic of finding a path to the well is full of sidetracking, pitfalling, distracting (When did I care about the ideal non-ticking travel clock to put in my bathroom?  Why am I labeling the freshly ground peanut butter with its carb count for my daughter's type 1 diabetes?).  I have no faith that the thing I set out to do this morning will help.  Like the dream that fades before you roll out of bed, I had an idea that watching the Basquiat documentary might, might, I don't know what.  So instead of that I am here. Writing this.  When I need to drag my unbeliever to the woods.

Bring Me a Little Water, Sylvie

Monday, August 22, 2016

Butterflies, Parkinson's, & the AT

My husband, Greg and I were hiking along a creek this weekend when we came across a kaleidoscope of butterflies lifting into flight from a small puddle formed by the previous evening's rain.  The trail was narrow, so when I pulled up abruptly mid Tiger Swallowtail swarm, my husband crashed into me.
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

This happens fairly often—the crashing/bumping/stepping on the back of a shoe, not the butterfly event—and has been the cause of more than one episode of me sending Greg off ahead, far ahead, on the trail without me.

Hiking on the AT in PA
I never really thought about it until recently.  An avid hiker, Greg has dreamt of hiking the Appalachian Trail since he was 13 years old and walked a small section with his dad.  After a full year of preparing, we began to hike the AT this summer.  The plan was I would walk the first month with him and then hop off to take care of my daughters while he continued on towards Maine.  It was a terrible start out of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia.  It rained every day for two weeks.

We spent those two weeks plus one more walking over the rocks—no dirt, just rocks—of Pennsylvania.  That pain that made me think I had knives in my feet that started in week two?  A nasty case of plantar fasciitis.   Still, I loved the long days of walking with Greg, sleeping outdoors, waking up to plan how far to go, see where the next spring on the trail was located so we could refill our water supply, and talking over the elevation gains and rest stops.

It was on the trail though that we began to notice just how often Greg stumbled when he stood up, slipped or even fell on rocks, or bumped into me.  He began to be increasingly frustrated with what he called his clumsiness, but I put it down to pushing too hard to get in 15 and more miles a day.  I began pushing back for more rest stops, insisting that we both add electrolytes to our water to try to stay hydrated and keep our energy up, but when I left the trail in New York to go see my daughters, Greg was exhausted.  It turns out that he'd picked up the h pylori bacteria and was hemorrhaging internally.  A lot.  2 weeks, 4 trips to the ER, 1 stay in the ICU, and 8 bags of blood later, he was still a bit anemic but was going to be okay.  Except.

Except, while we were in the hospital the last time, the doctors noticed the tremor in Greg's left hand.  The tremor that a couple of months ago our doctor had reassured us was simply an Essential Tremor, a normal development for some people as they age.  Just to be safe though, Greg made an appointment to see a neurologist expecting confirmation that the tremor was nothing serious.  Instead, the doctor diagnosed the tremor as Parkinson's Disease.

The Mt. Blanc trail
We haven't wrapped our heads around what this means for Greg, for us.  Tomorrow we go in together to see the neurologist to learn how we can care for this and what to expect.  In the mean time though, we are already planning our next big hike.  This one's shorter.
Where the AT takes 5-6 months, this one will only take about 10 days, but it's a walk around Mont Blanc.

We're already back in training, which is how we saw the butterflies this weekend.  Our trail that day took us out to a bridge with a waterfall for lunch and then back the same way to the car.  Somehow Greg remembered key markers to the butterfly puddle—a sawn log, a sharp curve in the trail after a hill that I'd not paid any attention to as I'd been staring at the upward swooping of yellow wings—so we were able to slow down and approach the place ready to watch.  Would they be there?  They were!  Maybe more this time, and maybe because of the warmer afternoon air, instead of just flying away, they flew slow, vortex circles around us and up.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sir Thomas Browne Fan Flare

Monro 1 (first pirated edition of
1642): frontispiece 

If I were 12, I would write Sir Thomas Browne Sir Thomas Browne Sir Thomas Browne all over my notebook, carve it into a park bench, and write it in Sharpie on my bluejeans.   There are so many reasons why, but here are two from this morning's reading.

Alchemy Table
For the uninitiated, Browne was a physician and considered himself a man of science.  For a 17th century intellectual that meant he combined the science, philosophy, and religion of the day with a healthy dose of alchemy without necessarily seeing distinctions between them.  As a result, you find incandescent passages such as the following.

In the first, Browne considers the end of the world.  The problem for Browne in the final scenario as its usually presented is fire. It just does not add up to the total annihilation promised by religious officials.  In Browne's hands, religion plus chemistry equals an apocalypse ending, not in ashes, but in a world covered in beautiful fused glass.
Moldavite formed by meteor collsion.  Credit: Earth Loves Glass

Religio Medici, from Section 50:
I cannot tell how to say that fire is the essence of hell; I know not what to make of Purgatory, or conceive a flame that can either prey upon, or purifie the substance of a soule....Philosophers that opinioned the worlds destruction by fire, did never dreame of annihilation, which is beyond the power of sublunary causes; for the last and powerfullest action of that element is but vitrification or a reduction of a body into Glasse; & therefore some of our Chymicks facetiously affirm... that at the last fire all shall be crystallized & reverberated into glasse, which is the utmost action of that element.
Pieter Bruegel, "The Triumph of Death." Museo del Prado.

As if that were not enough, he follows this with an empathetic rendering of suffering via a proto-Byronic Satan:

from Section 51:
Men commonly set forth the tortures of Hell by fire....[however] The heart of man is the place the devill dwels in; I feele sometimes a hell within my selfe, Lucifer keeps his court in my brest,  Legion is revived in me....Who can but pity the mercifull intention of those hands that doe destroy themselves?  the devill, were it in his power, would doe the like; which being impossible, his miseries are endlesse...

For me, this writing is so remarkable that I find myself thinking this prose is better than any poetry I've ever read.  In fact, I keep thinking that it is poetry.  George Orwell credits Browne with introducing the essay to those of us reading in English.  It's a new kind of writing for 1630, and one that begins with information and ends somewhere uncharted deep within the self.

In an introduction to an essay in his most recent anthology, John D'Agata works toward articulating the elusive domain of that genre: "that which we think about but cannot grasp, 'to vividly wander,' 'to be anxious,' 'to exhaustingly ponder' ... [T]he term suggests a literary form...[of] instinctual essaying of ideas, images, and feelings.  It is, in its best sense, an impulsive exploration.  It is not storytelling.  It is not moralizing.  It is not theorizing, learning, or knowing."  Rather it is the kind of writing, D'Agata argues that can explore the world of "emotional doubt."

So I will leave off here, with having just opened the question of genre because 1) Can you say rabbit hole?  and 2) I recognize that by calling it "poetry," I am simply saying that I love this writing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Birthday

I'm getting older.  In ten days, I'll head out with a few close friends to celebrate turning 50.  Here's the thing, since I was an angst-ridden teenager I've looked forward to turning 50, convinced that by then I'd have a clear vision of myself and the world, and therefore, have found peace with both.  As laudatory as it was for a 13 year old to believe that life goes on after 30, I find it hasn't worked out the way I'd hoped.

Instead, as I type this, my body is ridiculously covered with small, red, itchy pustules.  I have the chickenpox, generally considered a childhood disease; this in spite of the fact that recently x-rays and MRI revealed degenerative arthritis in my hips and spine, some of it severe; my eyesight has gotten to the point where I am now one of those older people in the aisle of the grocery story with a box in my hand moving it closer and farther, while moving my head up and down to line up my progressive lenses with the impossibly small type. ( As a side note, I did once see a snowy haired woman with an enormous magnifying glass in her hand roaming the same aisles.  This may be my future.);  and I seem to have misplaced my short-term memory (Actually, I know exactly where it is.  I parked it where many women do: no sleep-and-working-mother-land.  At I time when I didn't even realized I was bargaining, I made the barter, and it was done.)

Which brings me to my point.  In a month, my husband and I head out to hike the Appalachian Trail.

 He plans to do the whole thing; while I will walk the first month with him and then hop off to take care of my daughters.  I have decided to trust my physical therapist and not worry about whether my body can handle such an effort.  What I have decided to worry about instead is what to read while out there.  As I thought about it, this shifted into maybe I could memorize poems and passages that I love.  A woman who was well into the libation stage of a dinner party once amazed us all by reciting the opening pages of A Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish. The beauty of it is something I hope to never forget.  

Memorization is a patient person's game.  I am not patient.  I forget my address and phone number as soon as I move.  To be honest, at this point, I sometimes double check my current address before sending out an envelope to be sure I remembered it correctly.  But I think it's time.  There is, after all, still a way I hope to walk in the world as I turn 50.  I think maybe this long walk is the time to take a few of the things I love in the world and hold them more patiently.  This would be a good place to start.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015: A (Very Short) Reading List

I was thinking it would be nice to put together a year-end list of the books I'd read and loved in 2015, but that list got too long and complicated by various factors that I had trouble editing out (for instance, I wanted to find a way to include the Twitter account* that gave me the most delight this year), and so I decided rigor was required if I were to do this at all.  What follows is the result of an internal dialogue that you do not need to hear.  This then, is the Very Short List.  These are the books that made my brain and heart bigger than they were in 2014; they are the books that I hope that if you've already read them, you shout, "Yes!" when you see them here; they are the books that if you haven't already read them, you either write them down in the notebook you keep for when you go to your favorite local bookstore, or you skip that and just immediately download it/them onto your e-reader.

For the this-may-blow-your-mind category:
The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth.  In an interview with the New York Times, Kingsnorth says, "We are living...through the “age of ecocide,” and like a long-dazed widower, we are finally becoming sensible to the magnitude of our loss, which it is our duty to face."  So there's that cheery note.  It's an apocalyptic novel set in 11th century (pre) England in the aftermath of the Danes and William the Conquerer.  It's awful, and it's told in the voice of an awful man who seems to believe he can channel the old gods to save his land.  It's also remarkably difficult to read since Kingsnorth took the trouble to invent what he calls a "shadow language," a mash up of old, middle, and modern english to write the novel.  In one of the most enviable, and potentially biggest labor intensive time-waste risks in recent memory, the whole book is written in a made-up, but linguistically viable, language.  But here's the thing: it's utterly compelling.  The language, and the gore, and that voice combine to create a force of nature.  It is this Nature that emerges as the largest voice with the most to loose.  Word of warning: I bought the e-version of this book, which was a mistake as I could not for the life of me flip back and forth to the dictionary/index at the back of the book, which you need to be able to do--not too often, but often enough that I wished I had it in book form. 

For more apocryphal-nature-stories, but this time sci-fi:
Image from Jeff Vandemeer's Southern Reach website.

I think I've read the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandemeer all the way through three times this year. They were the kind of books that after downloading them on my Kindle, I would buy them in hard copy.  I waited in the difficulty of real waiting for each installment after part one, Annihilation, came out.  I got the date wrong for the third book's release and suffered disappointment for days, checking back repeatedly to make sure I hadn't missed it.  These book are so weird (Joshua Rothman called him "The Weird Thoreau" in his New Yorker article with heavy emphasis on weird.) and so affecting, and by now you are probably thinking I may have gotten a little too obsessive, but it's not me.  It's the books.  Reading them, I had the sensation that, like the characters, I could grasp the difference between the world I knew and the one that was unfolding in front of me, but I could not comprehend what was unfolding in front of me. And it never got normal.  I have since gone back and read most of Vandemeer's work, much of which is not nearly as interesting to me as this series.  It's as if his work took a giant leap in focus and capability, and it's remarkable to see. I keep wanting to cheer for him.  I keep wanting him to write more of this.

Dorothy and Sir Thomas Browne, circa 1645.
CreditNational Portrait Gallery, London
For the how-in-the-world-did-I-not-know-of-this-guy?!?! category
Thomas Browne.  As in the 17th century Sir Thomas Browne, who may be the best writer in the English language, and yet I'd never read him before.  There is a new, but not very enthusiastically reviewed biography out on him this year.  It was through the wonderful John D'Agata anthology The Lost Origins of the Essay, howeverthat I just (as of last week) found Browne.  W.G. Sebald loved him, as did Virginia Woolf, and Borges.  He is consistently rated as the author most unread and most passionately adored by other writers.  Like Kingsnorth above, the writing takes a few minutes for your reading mind to calibrate to it, but once it does...brace yourself for the most wide-ranging, beautifully written ride.  Amazon's author page groups the writing--all essays for you.  As for those who point to that nasty business of a witch trial for a reason to not read Browne, I need to read more on this, but given his writing's remarkable broad mindedness in religious matters, I find it difficult to see his hands shoving those poor women into the water to drown.

For the Optimism-and -Romantic-Era-are-not-dead-Long-live-the-humanities category
"Newton" by William Blake.  Source: William Blake Archive. 

This was fueled by reading Curtis White's rampage in The Science Delusion, which connects to other reading this year in Richard Rorty (specifically, "19th Century Idealism and 20th century Textualism"  The Monist Vol 64, No. 2, April 1981) and Donald Davidson, who I love to try to read regularly.  (As a result of reading these last two, I've added Mary Hesse to my need-to-read list).  White's triumphant chewing of the scenery in his book is meant to be a accessible; he clearly wants everyone to think about the way we've thrown culture (especially the arts) under the bus in order to embrace science.  His argument that we are still in the Romantic age of rebellion and love of the individual's relationship to freedom is not new, but it's great to see someone not just championing it so fiercely, but taking it to the people.

For another-rage-against-the-machine book:

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.  If you haven't already read it, and if  you are reading this list to add to your own list of books to read in 2015 and only pick one, pick this one. A National Book Award finalist in 2014,  it's in that genre bending non-category (much like the next writer Maggie Nelson) that I like to call the poetic essay.  It takes up the subject of race as its primary topic, particularly as experienced by middle class black women in the U.S..  Given the project and the times we are in, it's been reviewed by all the heavy hitters, The New Yorker, The Guardian, etc., but Rankine's reading from the work is lovelier. It's a beautiful and sobering book, and yes, so full of anger and heart-break that you will have to put it down at points.  You must, however, pick it up again.  You must.  
Maggie Nelson

For the So-you-want-to-feel-the-force-of-the-Romantic-fight-against-conformity? category:
Maggie Nelson.  I read Bluets earlier this year (twice and then kept dipping into it) and then Argonauts as soon as it came out.  The descriptions in reviews of either book don't do the force of the all out, never hold back beauty of a writing that manages to forge erotics, emotional rigor,  and intelligence with shocking vulnerability, but here's a pretty great interview with Nelson and Chloe Caldwell in Salon.

And-now-for-something-completely-different category:

Drawing from nature … The Dangerous Journey by Tove Jansson PR
Moomin!  If you haven't already discovered them, you are in for the best grown-up childhood mashup of surreal joy ever.  The whole series is fantastic.  If you read them in order, you'll see a development in the depth of characterization, but there's no need to read them in order.  I keep them in heavy rotation on my bedside table.  Author Tove Jannson (1914-2001) , a Swedish speaking Finn,  led a fascinating life— raised in an artist colony in Helsinki, she survived the Russian bombing of Finland, and drew satirical cartoons for an anti-fascist magazine before dreaming up the Finn Family Moomin.

In the Books-that-don't-act-like-books category:
This has been one of my top reasons to keep buying material books this year, as opposed to just loading up the Kindle.  From the glow-in-the-dark flip chart, to a

fold out map of world history, to the book-within-a-book of S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, to The Familiar series, which author Mark Z. Danielewski says will reach 27 volumes (Volume 1 was, meh, more experiment than success, but according to a review on NPR, volume 2 gets much better).  My favorite though was a book for which I'm uncertain of either the intended audience or genre.  I'm not sure if it's for young adults or grown ups, if its science or art, or even how somebody convinced someone to spend the money on the really great 3D cover.  If it's a graphic novel (one of the categories Penguin Random House gives it), it's unlike any I've ever seen.  The book is called, Thunder & Lighting: Weather Past, Present, Future by previous National Book Award finalist Lauren Redniss.  Redniss travelled the world to research the book, often sketching on location.  It's beautifully made using two different etching methods, then hand-colored with some pages with little or no text and some that are almost text only (Redness created the font specifically for this book).  Some of the content is biographic (I especially enjoyed the section on Diana Nyad), some science of weather,  some ecology, even politics come into their own section.  This book roams through them all with a curiosity and intelligence that I felt recharged my own.

*That Twitter account is "Evghenia--First person on Mars."  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lisbon Sunrise

The so-called  "25th of April Bridge"
Photo credit: Vitor Oliveira
We are staying at the same hotel as we did the last time we visited  Lisbon.  This has its own subtle pleasures.  First there is the "Do you remember" game in which you not only try to provide the most detailed recollection from the back seat of the cab on the way there, but attempt to spur your partner on to remember things which you cannot.  If they can remember the right detail, it will pull the memory out and sometimes begin a little cascade of things in you that you thought you had forgotten.  For some reason, this feels very good—the mental equivalent of a particularly satisfying stretch, the kind where you make sounds.

Christ the King statue.  Photo credit:
 As part of this game, we sit to eat breakfast in the dark looking out over a view that right now only  lives in memory before it becomes slowly available to our eyes.  From here, we know we will be able to see the waterfront and architectural doubles of Rio de Janeiro and the San Fransisco Oakland Bay Bridge as soon as the sun comes up.  The game intensifies as the light begins to come up, and we race to see who can remember more before reality trumps memory.  What was the name of the firm that built both bridges? (The American Bridge Company)  Where, exactly, is the large statue situated? (Both of us point out into the dark)  What did the young Portuguese woman look like who told us all about these things last time?  And so on.  It's a good way to start a day.