Tag Archives: books

And Again

3 Jan

againThe train tracks of the Northeastern corridor know me by now. I’ve been traversing them since 1998, rolling on quaking metal between New York City and Providence to go to a place where I can be still with the people I love. I make my temporary home in the attic room of my friend’s gigantic Victorian house, and day by day, after wandering the woods and beaches of mostly coastal Rhode Island, we come home and have tea by the fire and retire early to read books. Unless we’re going out to have cocktails.

I am the most fortunate of humans, because I have long embraced my nomadic instincts. But now, as the wetlands roll by and I suddenly see a cluster of at least ten wild turkeys (what?!? did anyone else see that?) on a golf course, I gotta be honest with myself. Do I keep moving so I never finish anything? Never keep anything except the new, new conversations, people, sights, sensations, passions brought to you by wanderlust.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks piled high on my desk at home is a quote that I wrote down while visiting the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. An early 20th-century painter said that artists must recalibrate periodically by visiting the mountains and the sea. I can’t remember if he said anything abut the plains or stuff in between. But I agree with him completely, and I feel ridiculously fortunate that I can indulge my starving senses on a nearly weekly basis.

Why stay still? Because then I would be done with getting ready for a trip or catching up after a trip, and I’d be in that functional limbo where I could actually be at peace and write pages and pages of the novel. Don’t you love how I call it “limbo”? Yeah, because being home is a kind of purgatory, apparently, no matter where I live. I guess it’s my Viking genetic code, seeking to plunder and possess more, more, more.

It makes me feel lost. But apparently I never want to be found.

Morning Glory

6 Sep

photoI don’t have an air conditioner. On purpose. Leaving the windows open, strategically placed fans circulating air front to back across my long, floor-through brownstone apartment, keeps me connected to the real temperature of my surroundings. I know the weather as well as I know my neighbors’ business, and they know when it will rain and what time I picked up my paper off the stoop this morning. When I step outside, we wave to each other, caught up on everyone’s everything, and the heat and humidity are not a shock to my system.

I am among that most privileged class of New Yorker. I know my neighbors and I have access to outdoor space with a garden. I write to you, dear reader,  while perched on my wooden deck. Below, in my neighbors’ beautiful green expanse of flowers and trees, three cats twitch their ears and flick their tails at every passing insect and shimmer of sunlight. Next door, my neighbors are starting early with preparations for today’s barbecue. The fence between us and the rails of my deck are lined with winding morning glory vines that tangle and weave our spaces together.

The benefits of my connection to the outside world don’t only arise from this bucolic setting. On the other end of my apartment is a large picture window with a view of the bustling street and populated stoops of Crown Heights. It’s actually never quiet out there, and this is something I much appreciate. When very late one recent night there seemed to be a strange tension in the crowd of teenagers that makes the sidewalk their living room, I felt safe because my neighbors across the street were on the stoop, watching over the block. And all day long, I see each passing person, across demographics young and old, raise a hand in greeting to Charlie. “Chan, Charlie Chan is what they’ve  called me my whole life,” he says from his stoop. His chair is seldom empty.

My building is connected by ownership to three others, one adjoining and two across the street. No, the properties are not owned by some faceless condo developer. They’re owned by three brothers, natives of Brooklyn who make their own wine and live on the same block as their mother in Sunset Park. They bought these properties thirty years ago, when they were just finishing high school. They owned them through riots and now into the new wave of gentrification. We’re all hoping that this is the first neighborhood where communities merge rather than displace one another, and I have to say, so far it appears to be working.

The hipsterization of every part of life has brought good food to new restaurants that are populated by people from each sector of the neighborhood. The cool, new Berg’n beer joint and food emporium down the street from me is not full of apathetic indie rockers, but rather an array of construction workers and the people who have lived through each chapter of this neighborhood.

This fabric sustains us all. Even on a day when I choose to stay close to home, alone, and read my books, I speak with many whenever I run out to do an errand or weed my herb garden. I am never alone, and every breath I take is a privilege. One I am very well aware that my mother no longer enjoys. And so I collect each sensation and connect with every conversation in dedication to this loving and gentle woman, who was confined to the indoors most of her life, and loved me endlessly even while she seemed to abhor her place in the world. Her neighbors were her imagined enemies, and the television was sometimes her only window. But even she, when she had the opportunity, loved to sit on her deck or grill up some dinner with my brother.

I know full well that I am living an extension of the life she built for herself and for me. I am taking each happy element and adding to it a carefully tended sense of wellbeing that I share with every wave, smile, and wink with the people I meet each day. In meditation, it’s called compassion. In life, it might be called purpose.

Something in You Glitters Like a Moth

11 Dec

20131211-232003.jpgLast night I stood in a very long line for a very long time with some very clever people who were enduring the cold with the hope we’d enter a bookstore and see a live rendition of The Moth story telling event. Ah, how many kindred spirits shivered together there.

I went alone, knowing I wouldn’t be alone for long. Standing in line behind two adorable girls, I examined each passerby for the potential to be my line friend. Pause, person, pause, pause, would no one join the queue behind me for some odd number of minutes? Was I the last person in NYC who felt she must arrive one and a half hours before an event to expect admission to same? Impossible… Oh! Hello. A gruff looking very Brooklyn (original, not bearded) dude just got in line behind me and cursed up an adorable cloud of dialogue into his phone. Yes!! My line friend.

We bonded nearly instantly, and he planned to tell a story that night even though he was a Moth first-timer like me. His friend joined us later, with the line lengthening far behind us. We all shared brown-bag whiskey and I bragged to myself that I’d just done something so real New York. So adventurous.

“It really warms you up!” I chirped. Line friends loved it. I heard my first line friend say to his other friend when he thought I was absorbed in my phone, “There are so many pretty girls here tonight!” They speculated as to the reasons why a largely literary event could attract pretty girls. The “improv” element, they decided, attracted actress types.

No, I’d speculate that self awareness breeds self-consciousness and therefore produces good-looking storytellers. But I only smirked into my phone and felt sure they weren’t talking about me.

More whiskey and idle chatter later, I pointed to line friend two and said, “You’re from California.” He looked only slightly like he was surprised, just a tilt of the chin. “Central California,” I prodded. “Bakersfield. No, further north. Salinas!!”

Friend Two pointed to Friend One and said as though I actually couldn’t hear him, “She’s really good.”

Friends for life, we entered the bookstore two by two and I asked “So can I cling to you guys now?”

“Clyyng, clyynnggue” said Brooklyn Friend One.

I’d told him that he had presence and he’d obviously do quite well on stage, should he get picked. We wove magic, we three, leaning against the back center wall and gazing at the empty stage.

A shuffling of storyteller names in a hat, and, unfold, Friend One is the FIRST pick!! First. We beamed at each other in a triangle of elation.

His story was stunning, as we’re the tales of all the speakers. But I did note one thing. Younger storytellers broke the terrible news of break-ups to us like they were the most shattering events in life. So cute these were the most significant blinks in their sunny existence. How preoccupied they were with finding and keeping love, how it must inhibit them from achieving their real goals… Why does that sound familiar?

I leaned back into books and felt the bindings with fingers wound together at my back. We’d talked all night about our writing aspirations and I believed myself. I really am, are, is, writing. Now.

I am writing now because clearly there is no relationship for me now, I said again to my therapist immediately before departing for The Moth.

“You need to flip the switch and believe that the relationship you want is out there,” he said.

I laughed bitterly. Chalkily. Psfffp pfffp hah. Hah. No, not for me.

And then I wound my way downtown and knew for certain that I had new friends waiting for me in line. That much was easily proven true, leading one to wonder what else I should start believing.

Turn-Down Service

9 Dec

Books have always shared my bed. Since I was just half the height I am now, I’ve tucked in with pages and bindings surrounding me, adrift in the places they’ll carry me before I sleep.

You’re never alone with a book, I’ve written here somewhere before. And written here too are some lines about how when you’re single you can sleep with your books. I used to be giddy during the short phases between boyfriends when I could sleep morosely with hardcovers beneath soft covers. But now it’s just the norm. Three years of bookfriends in my bed.

That would be fine except now I am adding a newspaper section and moleskine calendar floating on top of the comforter too. Do I really never expect to share this bed again? I guess so.

At least I’m surrounded by love. And my life pursuit keeps me warm at night. I intend to become an author by osmosis.

Bookmarks and Placeholders

29 Jun
The bookshelves at Brewed in Fort Worth offer a Katherine Hepburn biography.

The bookshelves at Brewed in Fort Worth offer a Katherine Hepburn biography.

At this very moment, bathed in the fading dusk light tumbling from a sky portal in a vaulted Salt Lake City ceiling, there sits a a thick hardback edition of an Isabella Stewart Gardner biography. It possesses the dusty green paper jacket and simple lettering prevalent in the mid twentieth century. It is my book. And yet it sits approximately 1400 miles away from my present position on a sofa facing another coffee table in Fort Worth.

Despite the fact that I was only in Salt Lake for a short while last month, I absolutely had to procure this massive, unwieldy tome from a used bookstore, because the coveted object’s pages contained so many beautiful 1960s artifacts from Boston. The Aloof Percussionist said that these artifacts were probably plants, fake random tidbits shoved into pages by bookstore staff to boost the charms of happenstance, but I countered this cynicism with facts. The book was on the “new arrivals” pile and these envelopes, mailed magazine book review clippings, and event flyers formerly were clearly cherished by a single, singular person. There was obvious congruity in their origin. And whoever owned the book was clearly a kindred spirit of mine. Their correspondents sent book reviews in the mail, with handwritten dates on the clippings, and they lived between New York and Boston. Oh, and they tucked things into books.

This is my habit and my problem. I put important pieces of paper, fragments, words written for me, poems selected and sent, into books, and then I lose them in the stacks of my library home. Woven throughout the forest of pages are all the good thoughts and intentions anyone has ever shared with me. Some lucky shelf-hunting second-hand book buyer will discover them someday, if such a vocation still exists when I pass, and they will know that I was loved, and interesting, and traveled the world, but never did settle down long enough in any one place to finish every book and keep every single piece of paper in one safe receptacle.

For the past few days I’ve been haunted very specifically by one such lost fragment—a small, folded piece of paper carrying the words of a William Stafford poem. This scrap once resided in the hand-made wallet of my dearest Heart Friend in Salt Lake City. He handed it to me quietly during a cafe visit last August, paused, and then requested that I tuck the poem into my purse and keep it with me. He’d already sent me the same poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” on a postcard one month beforehand, but now in this new portable form, he wanted me to have it again. Clearly it was important to him, and so I guarded it carefully, retrieving it often and retracing each syllable silently and aloud, so the meaning changed with settings and circumstances.

But a few days ago, while I was preparing to dine with The Gentleman from Carrollton, I became preoccupied with the location of that very small, soft from refolding, piece of paper. I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Such a long time. I had so diligently carried it with me for so long. But then there was an awful lot of receipt farming and shredding… in a flash, I feared the worst. While The Gentleman stood near my front door, I briefly considered rummaging in a drawer or two, pretending I was searching for something I needed that evening, but really seeking this shred of past thought that I suddenly needed to have immediately to hand.

I resisted the urge. But did become frantic in my search again this evening, cursing myself aloud for being so careless, until I found the original postcard-affixed facsimile of the poem in a book shoved inside a cabinet in my bedroom. That is the storage place for books that would embarrass me if a guest should happen upon them. The books that are telling me what is wrong with me and how to fix it.

Ohhhhh books, try to tell me why I cannot cherish what is given to me, and flail instead through piles and shelves of lost gestures and absence.

Three weeks ago in Salt Lake City, again and always packing to leave, I carelessly decided not to cram the giant Isabella Stewart Gardner book into my carry-on. My enormous suitcase was full, and I didn’t want to add the extra ballast to the other two bags I’d be heaving through the terminal. I was sure I’d come back for the book. I was so in love with The Aloof Percussionist, after all. He offered to send it to me after I left, but I refused, insisting I’d return for it. Now book and artifacts are as lost to me as anything stored in such a way. Important, tucked between pages, and then placed on a shelf and forgotten.

One Note Samba

29 Dec

rossiI cracked open a fortune cookie years ago and looked over my shoulder, sure that the author was perched a few tables behind me, typing the most pertinent truth for each noodle-slurping customer in the shiny, redone Vietnamese restaurant. I was clearly the girl with glasses and carefully, carelessly knotted scarf, seated with the bespectacled ice sculpture of a man who was smiling faintly at my commentary. There was only one fortune for me:

“Joys are often the shadows cast by sorrows.”

Damn straight. I posted the rectangle of paper on my bedroom mirror and patched its meaning into my permanent understanding of the world.

Even though some guy in a factory in Pennsylvania probably penned this observation, I really commend him on his ability to harness the subtlety of eastern philosophy. Joy would definitely never be equated with a grim shadow in western optimism’s seven habits of successful smilers. But the truth of the analogy is entirely accurate. Sometimes only in light of sadness can we see a glimmer of a grin.

Earlier this evening, in the manner of my habit since childhood, I finished reading one book and immediately picked up a new one. The first of these was a memoir about tremendous loss, and the second is a hammily translated autobiography of Italian Moto GP racing legend Valentino Rossi. I confess that as I wiped away tears still glistening in reflection of the pursuit of hope in the aftermath of death, I was barely suppressing a grin as my gaze slid over the visage of Rossi on the dust jacket of the barely-touched used copy of his book. Who can frown when Rossi’s around?

That fortune cookie writer had me pegged. He had me “pinned and wriggling on the wall,” as Prufrock seethes in my risky mantra. For me, the greatest joys in life have arrived as a curtain call to sorrow. I used to specialize in sadness, and now I am the girl who laughs way too damn hard at episodes of Frasier. I grew up in a family that bonded via lamentation and now I am the girl who suggests we go see This is 40 after I have a pseudo anxiety attack during a post-holiday retail excursion. These days, in the shadows cast by sorrows, I would rather laugh than cry. I would rather laugh because I’m about ready to cry.

Prufrock is My Mantra

26 Dec

merfAnd indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
—T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I have bookmarks wedged between the pages of nine books stacked in a wavering edifice on the wide expanse of teak wood that smoothly defines my headboard. Actually, the way this bed was built, it’s kind of a bookshelf with a mattress wedged into it.

When I lived in Salt Lake City, I used to have maybe only one book on the headboard at any one time. It was a transient space, where only my most current obsession would dwell while I slept. But then when I showed up in Texas, two factors played into the assembly of a tower of titles. First, I couldn’t seem to keep turning the pages of any one, single book, and yet I wanted to keep each attempt near me, just in case it piqued my interest again. Second, I started giving in to more and more recommendations for reading, all at the same time. So this pile actually represents eight different contributors to my literary landscape. The ninth tome is there courtesy of my intent to memorize and recite the entirety of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. (I’m more than half-way there!)

At the bottom of the pile is a book that was recommended to me ages ago by an ex-boyfriend who didn’t really know me ever at all. But I carried this one, single book with me in the car from Salt Lake City to Fort Worth. Because it’s a book all about me.

Next in the stack is a book sent to me by a friend in Rome, who insists its contents will impart a greater understanding of the generosity associated with sharing one’s creative talents. It’s non-fiction, so I am not in love.

Then there’s a book that Unrequited read at my behest. We were on one of our marathon phone calls and I was pacing back and forth in front of my bookshelves, telling him why I can’t read Russian literature, and how I was surprised he was so infatuated with it. So I said, read this book, because I’ve never read it and always wanted to, and maybe I will finally read it now because I know you’re reading it. Wrong.

On top of that is a book I thought about re-reading because a friend texted me to say he had to leave a cafe because he began weeping at the end of the fifth chapter. I’d told him to read that book fourteen years ago, and he finally saw my point this summer.

Then there’s the books recommended to me by the beautiful, quiet soul who reads in bars in Chicago. Two of those books are in the stack. Oh, and not in the stack is the one book he insisted I purchase immediately a few weeks ago, because he’d reached a point in the plot that made him irretrievably curious about my thoughts. “I just wanna get your take on it.” It turns out it was a love story about two great minds who grew up in very different circumstances, but fell hopelessly in love when they realized they connected in every way. I devoured this book, just demolished it and loved it so completely and thoroughly that I was still in a trance when I finished it, put it down and heard my phone ringing because Chicago chose that exact moment to call and discuss my reaction. After this torrid affair, the book left the stack and I tucked it away on a shelf in my living room because just the sight of it makes me sad not to be in Chicago.

Next up is a book on commitmentphobia with which I will absolutely never get engaged.

Then there’s a classic book on writing and grammar that I am rereading for my edification and as impetus for the writing of a new work of fiction.

Shifting on and off the stack in active reading mode is a memoir given to me by a friend two weeks ago. It’s telling me a lot about myself and my friend, and the places where we intertwine in the universe. Tonight the text confirmed for me a fact which has been rolling around as a nebulous cluster of dust and whimsy for the last couple of months. Maybe I chose to be single? Maybe I chose to not be married? Or be with anyone at all? Right now?

This correlates with a lyric from a song played by one of my yoga teachers the other day in class. “I decided that this is all I ever wanted,” the throaty, independent-minded man-woman sang, her lack of need for any male companionship apparent in her tone. Oh damn, I thought, that’s me. I actually wanted to be this girl who can fly anywhere and visit anyone and be in love with nine books at once and not limit myself to any one love story. Because always, always in my life I’ve had a background obsession hovering around a relationship. One man was never enough.

Now, the way I’ve worked things out for myself, there are as many shifting romantic plots in my life as there are books on my headboard. Let’s do a sweep across the map. One in Portland, one in San Francisco, three in Salt Lake City, one in Chicago, and two in Fort Worth. And the constant, my Prufrock, is my own attempt to get over the awkwardness of having just a fraction of respect and love for myself.

Poor Prufrock, he is so convinced of his deficiencies, he’ll never let anyone love him. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be memorizing a poem about romantic despair… they say whatever you say aloud becomes your reality…

Anyway. Years ago, like, good gawd, more than a decade ago, I used to say I loved it when I broke up with somebody or another, because I could return to sleeping with my books. I would pile them up on the mattress next to me, their contents providing a more reliable and lower-maintenance sense of companionship than an actual human. But eventually I would replace them with a new man.

These days, though, I’m setting new records in the height of the barrier I’m putting between myself and a new love. Nine books! Nine books in the stack. I would definitely have to clean that up if I had man here. Sigh.

In that yoga class the other day, the teacher chose that particular song to play during savasana to seal her intention for the session. We were to start thinking in terms of what we “want”, not what we “need”. Which is the exact opposite of what every therapist or wise person has ever said before her, but hell, I’ll go with it. She was talking about the language of empowerment. If we want something, if we desire it, we can use our magical, mystical strength to pull it toward us (hmm… a certain Oprah book club debacle comes to mind). But if we need something, we’re desperate, and oh, we all know that the scent of desperation is about as appealing as aerosol air freshener.

What if I want to have a love that is as interesting and multifaceted as nine stories? I want to replace this stack of books with just one. But first I need to get some more bookmarks.

My Kinda Town

19 Nov

There’s a bar in Old Town where a book and a man provoke inquiry. Together they sit, and night after night, the mildly inebriated inquire with some edge of derision around their friendliness, “How do you read in a bar?” Emphasis on the final word tumbling a bit in the cadence of drunks.

He is that man. And when he is not accepting free drinks from firefighters and fellow football fans, he is texting me literary commentary.

This is the least ironic man I have ever met, and yet his sarcasm is spot on. That much is inherent because he is midwestern, from Indiana. He is taller than the Willis Tower, but his spoken voice is padded with the hesitance of a natural introvert.

I met him over a notebook, but I’m going to keep him in my phone book (app). Especially because now on a still-too-hot evening in autumn Texas, I can burrow my chin down into a cashmere scarf (pretend it’s winter!) and talk to my Chicago boy about books. You’re never alone when you have a book, and you’re even less alone with you have someone reading over your shoulder from one thousand miles away.

“I want to hear your take on it,” comes the calm and metered prompting. That is the hottest thing anyone could ever say. And if you’re also a sports fan who on a whim travels to Belgium to sample your favorite beers on their home turf, then I’ll be happy to give you my take.

Love Me, Love My MotoGP

30 Sep

It was all asphalt and tiny specks of color looping through turns the first time. I sat uncomfortably close to relative strangers on a tiny vintage sofa in an apartment too intimately shared by a fighting couple and their scrappy microscopic dog. We stared together, six of us (well, five, after sullen girlfriend opted for a nap), for more than an hour, counting twenty-some-odd laps around a circuit I don’t remember. I was the new girlfriend then, and I had no idea that after a series of sharp turns and high-speed crashes, the best thing I’d take from that relationship was a profound love for MotoGP. We’re talking so profound that I’d actually consider getting a tattoo of a neon yellow “46” in honor of champion rider Valentino Rossi—and I do NOT do tattoos. (As Unrequited says, “I don’t need tattoos. I have a personality.”)

Six years later, watching the race in Aragon this morning, I realized how much my view of the races has changed since that first encounter. Now I don’t see asphalt, I see corkscrews and chicanes. I don’t see specks of color, I see personalities, teams, and bikes representing varying degrees of technical achievement. What was only a field of confusion to a newbie years ago is now a comforting day spent in the paddock with friends.

The fact is, it’s been a long time since that relatively uncomfortable first date, and I am more in love than ever. My behavior shows all the signs of utter devotion. I mention MotoGP’s name in just about every conversation. I daydream about MotoGP during work, and find it hard to get back to editing articles about technology after a lunchtime dalliance with MotoGP. I cook dinner for MotoGP’s commentators while they regale me with stories of races past (from my laptop screen). I even sleep next to a framed portrait of the late Marco Simoncelli, who broke our hearts in a race catastrophe last year in Malaysia.

Maybe most significantly, though, I’ve realized that MotoGP is a permanent part of my life. Every year, I procure the somewhat pricey online video pass so I can stream the test runs, interviews, and races (girl doesn’t own a TV, and would never pay for gallons of cable when all I want is the Speed channel… oh and the Tennis channel… and maybe the YES Network). This is the foundation of a very important relationship in my life. I’m willing to commit the time and energy required to truly understand my MotoGP.

Lately, various conversations in my life have looped back to the home straight of whether and why and when I will fall in love again. My constant refrain is that my focus this year is on everything but that question. But this avoidance of the topic has led many to speculate that I suffer from a fear of commitment. In fact, these many have additionally posited that the reason I’ve chosen such terrible partners and found fault with marvelous ones is due to my own fear of commitment.

So, I’m willing to admit this is a possibility. And I’m trying to read a book on the topic, but I can’t seem to… commit. Because frankly, in the first chapter, where they describe the horrors of those who cannot commit, the authors stipulate that often a lack of tenacity spreads to every aspect of life. Commitmentphobes, they say, can’t even choose a place to live or settle into one job. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to say that I have had the same editor job for 15 years (hey, running a magazine is a pretty nice occupation), I only lived in one apartment for the duration of my time in Brooklyn, and I still own my apartment in Salt Lake City (would you like to rent it?).

 

I’ve only been in Fort Worth for four months now, but I already know that my apartment and I are in a long-term relationship. I hung up my crazy vintage Danish modern cantilevered bookshelves, friends, and that action is best equated with a diamond in terms of “forever.”

If commitment is a willingness to devote large portions of your life to the pursuit of understanding another, then I point to MotoGP. Where some see only spiraling asphalt, I see beauty and depth. And what the races give back to me is excitement and passion. We are in this for the long-term. Every time MotoGP cuddles up next to me on the sofa, I think fondly about our past, and look giddily forward to our future. After all, Rossi’s back on Yamaha next year!!

 

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