Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bright desk lunch: And raspberries were all she ate

Taste: avocado, blueberry, cocoa
Sight: neon pink, green, purple, orange and black butterfly pajamas; bumblebees on stalks of pale green flowers with purple centers; father's face folded into tears
Sound: "Keep hopeful. It’s a chore." — Margaret Atwood; mother's anguish
Touch: yoga in the park
Smell: Vampire Blood incense; a waft of patchouli in a parking lot
Extra: seeing something for the first time and discovering the unknown; discovery;
"I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes, / with fury, with forgetfulness." — Pablo Neruda
Grateful for: the globe; walking
"Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies." — Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Passion flowering in an eve under the supermoon

Taste: fennel, avocado; sweet Russian Trumpeter Imperial Stout, Skagit River Brewery
Sight: a thin white woman in a long flowing white dress skipping beneath a supermoon; a big black man carrying a glistening boa constrictor around his neck on an 86 degree day fingering the tail in one hand; Passion flower-passiflora
Sound: skateboard wheels on the sidewalk
Touch: heat-salt encrusted sweat; 88 degrees
Smell: on a hot day: licorice, sugar cone and incense
Extra: dread; uselessness of anger; an unreliable narrator; Hemmingway-esque six words: Dad walked naked into a pond.; red-haired muscular pale-skinned 20-something year old virgin; long-maned creme and beige spotted horses lying in a field of pink and white wildflowers
Grateful for: dreams

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Two awed octogenarians drinking gin and caramel

Taste: lemon cayenne; raspberry caramel
Sight: two awesome 80 year olds
Sound: cacophony; "Fuck you!"
Touch: runny nose, itching eyes; walking-peripatetic
Smell: smoke
Extra: her otherworldly, compassionate, soulful gaze
 “A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wild-flower discovered on the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East. Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself--and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walking
Grateful for: a quiet demeanor;  "Dreamer of World Peace," statue of Peace Leader Sri Chinmoy at Lake Union, installed November 7, 2010 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Psych ward 75 - Through hardships to the stars

Taste: espresso cupcake, black forest cake
Sight:
blue hydrangeas, pink roses; sweetpeas; the summer evening light falls through the leaves  
Sound: theremin; squealing dryer
Touch:
peripatetic
Smell:
unscented flowers, light rose  
Extra: Lady Astronaut of Mars; ad astra per apera; the psychological horror of holidays; dread
Grateful for:
walking; ideas

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A violent de-story of porn and pulled pork

Taste: Campfire Stout, High Water Brewing, marshmallow and chocolate, "S'mores"
Sight:
green strawberry, daisy, a rat, a bumblebee; blue hydrangeas pink peonies
Sound:
'This chair belongs to me."; feet walking - step, step, step; sad, jazz singer Lana Del Rey Ultraviolence
Touch:
feet on pavement, feet on grass; posture upright, open
Smell:
toast
Extra:
suicidal family; porn, cigarettes and pulled pork;
"I wish that I could put up yesterday's evening sky for all posterity, could preserve a night of love, the sound of a mountain stream, a realization as it sets my mind afire, a dance, a day of harmony, ten thousand glorious days of clouds that will instead vanish and never be seen again, line them up in jars where they might be admired in the interim and tasted again as needed." — The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit  
Grateful for: books

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review: Rebecca Solnit at Seattle Arts & Lectures

I have a lot of reading to do. I may need to take a book-cation (go somewhere beautiful to read) just to catch up. At the beginning of Rebecca Solnit's talk, "Other Ways of Telling: Stories that Make and Break Our Lives," this month at Seattle Arts & Lectures, I purchased: The Faraway Nearby, Men Explain Things to Me, and Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Hat tip to The Elliott Bay Book Company.

Wanderlust had been on my to-read list for a long time (walking and reading being two of my favorite things), and then I just had to pick up the other two. Before the lecture I had only read, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. I felt a great affinity for that book, but I hadn't thought I needed to read so many of Rebecca Solnit's books. Her ouevre covers a wide range of topics. Either you are interested in one or the other or not, so I had thought.

Before she began speaking, I even mused that I might regret my purchases. What if the event were disappointing and the books lingered unread on the shelves? Horrors!

Now, I am halfway into The Faraway Nearby, reading the book with a pink highlighter in hand and rapidly turning the pages pink, making the striking passages visibly striking. I could have bought A Field Guide to Getting Lost, too. Well, in time.

Solnit read quite a bit from The Faraway Nearby during her lecture in a beautiful lyrical voice. She read quite a bit from the end of it. So, I know, as I am enjoying the beginning and middle, that the end is especially good. And quotable.

Solnit's genre might be described as optimistic exploration or, as she suggested, Inspector of Broad Slow Social Change. Slow is the best kind of utopian (as not everyone's ideas of utopia are the same, particularly at first, and the fast utopians often end up as extremists and dictators).

I have been thoroughly enjoying readings this year and I am sure some of these will make my best of list for 2014. I was able to see Margaret Atwood (for $5!) at Town Hall Seattle. She was delightful and even sang a little. And, now, there's the news that her MaddAddam trilogy may be made into TV series (On HBO! Whatever will they do with the naked Crakers and their big blue penises?).

George Saunders' lecture was also wonderful. He talked about the transformative power of short stories — how they soften the borders between ourselves and “the others” and make us "believe less in our own separateness". Have you read his story "Fox 8"? Please do! (If you are looking for a connection with Rebecca Solnit, it's this line from The Faraway Nearby — "he was rescued by his empathy with an even more fragile creature" — which I think applies to us all.)

I have been dragging my husband, Sam, along to these readings, but he has not felt drug. He has appreciated them, too, even when he has not read the books. He hadn't even read A Paradise Built in Hell, before he saw Rebecca Solnit, but it was as if he had, because I had talked about the book so much.

A Paradise Built in Hell spoke to my interest in utopias and also debunked a popular idea that has personally affronted me (so much so, I'm going to talk about it again) — the idea that people would become mean savages in a disaster. While I appreciate a good apocalypse story or a zombie film, I often rebel against the behavior depicted (in Cormack McCarthy's The Road, for instance). I think, wouldn't we be kinder? Certainly, the people I know are smarter, more resourceful, and more inclined to help each other than these post-apocalyptic degenerates. Would we really be reduced to roasting babies on spits?

Solnit says no, "We want: community, participation, meaningful work. We love: civil society." and "human beings are at their best when much is demanded of them." These points are important to remember. This is a story we need to tell more often. (#amwriting)

Solnit's real life historical and modern research for A Paradise Built in Hell supported my theory and uncovered the phenomenon of disaster utopias (a phrase I love) in which people help each other and find joy in doing so. Solnit makes the case that this, not depravity, is our natural inclination and state. Ah, humanity!

Now I am in love with Solnit's The Faraway Nearby. It's about storytelling, and memory, parents, surgery, The Motorcycle Diaries, apricots, vanitas paintings, Iceland, and mortality. All of the topics are brilliantly and beautifully woven together. I love the way Solnit thinks and explores her world and makes connections and expands mine.

"A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another," writes Solnit. This book is beating in mine.

This book swooning state is not entirely unusual for me. I could make a list now of books and authors who have made me swoon: Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Elizabeth Hand (Mortal Love swoon), Carol Emshwiller (Carmen Dog swoon), Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves swoon), Marta Randall (Islands swoon), Cat Rambo, Kij Johnson...

I could make a list of fascinating thinkers: Karen Armstrong, Carol J Adams, Esther Duflo, Victoria Nelson, Rachel Naomi Remen...

Rebecca Solnit could go on both lists. I am swooning over her lecture and The Faraway Nearby.

I occasionally apologize for my past behavior of reading books like bon-bons i.e. devouring them like candy and not always considering them fully (You know how much work goes into these things?!). Now, post MFA, I tend to err on the other side. Have I really read a book, if I haven't written about it and read it a second time? I've even embarked on a couple of slow reading projects (pacing myself to savor). Fifty pages into the beautiful liquid language of J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World I began thinking, "I'm going to have to read this again." And soon.

I agree with Solnit that, "Books do change the world from time to time." and, in fact, I am fervent about it (and I am not alone). Still, who doesn't want a bon-bon now and again and I love the sweetness of flying through books. I have a long list of candy books piling up on my to-read list that I just want to enjoy. For fun.

Jim Butcher's new novel Skin Game is on that list. His books are fun to read and they remind me that writing books can be fun. Sure, he puts a hell of a lot of work into all this fun seeming, but I appreciate the illusion. Thank you, sir.

His University Book Store appearance was fun too. I was disappointed at the start of his reading, because he didn't. No reading or talk, he skipped straight to the Q&A. "I'm no good at speaking, but I can have a conversation," he said. Usually, this is my least favorite part of an author event, but kudos to Butcher for knowing his strengths. Once he got into the rhythm, the event was a hoot and it suited his style exactly. Butcher writes for his audience. He wants them to enjoy it. He took two hours of questions and answered every single one until people stopped queing.

The reading took place in a church, but Butcher stepped down from the pulpit and was part of the crowd. Very egalitarian.

Solnit's lecture was more traditional, but still felt down to Earth. "Damn, I got political on you," she joked at one point interrupting her own narrative flow and sparking chuckles as she settled back in. "Can I be lyrical and not be laughed at? Or is it too late?," she asked.

It is never too late — but, how lovely, lyricism and laughter together. Town Hall Seattle makes for a fine venue too, striking the right tone of attention and participation. I loved Seattle Arts & Lectures with Tracy Kidder and Joyce Carol Oates at Benaroya Hall. But they also felt formal and distant.

At best, readings are great reminders: our favorite authors are not faraway. They need not be placed on pedestals. They are nearby asking and answering questions with us.

Next, I am looking forward to seeing:


Saturday, June 14, 2014

It's meaningless: vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas

Taste: bitter hops; bitter coffee
Sight:
still life skulls and flowers - vanitas paintings
Sound:
the silence of an empty office; sighing
Touch: drooping eyelids, heavy chest, slowness of movement - exhaustion
Smell:
Vampire Blood
Extra:
rage, exhaustion, stress, prolonged suffering; When will these stories ever get written?
Grateful for:
solar sails for space - the Sunjammer Project

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