for all you are worth.

Posted July 6th, 2016 No Comments »

We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.

EM Forster, A Room With A View

Posted in Uncategorized

…the road has always led West.

Posted May 30th, 2016 No Comments »

Yesterday Linus and I went down the winding Skyline, dodging cyclists every hundred yards, testing my manual driving prowess, zipping between dim forest canopy and brilliant ridgetop. The road itself didn’t feel much different than the last time I drove it in the fall, which is one of the strangest things about this place: a total lack of the markers, namely weather patterns, I used to associate with the passing of time. I am assured they exist, but have not quite registered the subtlety of whether or not the orange poppies are blooming hidden among tall grasses.

Midway on yesterday’s loop was the Wallace Stegner memorial bench, made of stones set into the hillside, looking out over the Santa Cruz mountains in their hazy shades of green and blue, at a point in the hike that was almost too bright, too sunny too …much. And in the 24 hours since I’ve found myself thinking more and more about the man, remembering especially Angle of Repose and the strange relief of recognizing a place I’ve never been as my brain linked remembered scenes to the new sights scanned by my eyeballs.

I should say more about Stegner, should flesh out some of that relief and wonder, but for now it is enough to revisit some of the things he wrote and believed about the West–where I am now, again–and about the concept of home, which is of course my long-standing personal preoccupation.

I keep circling back to two passages in particular, from my beloved Angle and from Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West: 

I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.

American individualism, much celebrated and cherished, has developed without its essential corrective, which is belonging.  

So here is my placeholder post, reminding me to think about what it is to live shallowly, what it is to belong. How best to be someplace new, again.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

I ate the day / Deliberately

Posted October 25th, 2015 No Comments »

“I don’t know if it’s a function of age or temperament, but I’m no longer seeking those major exclamatory notes of pleasure. I want a life that has pleasure contained within it.”                                                                                            .terry gross.

I’ve got an actual studio space coming together, with room for my machines to stay out, the vintage bolts of fabric, and in-progress projects spread out so I can actually work toward completing some things. I’m finally completely box-less, with neat stacks of books waiting until I find shelving I like. I spent some time swatching orange wool today, full of faith that I’ll need to be wearing wool soon. I found the limits of an unfamiliar Korean green tea this morning. I have some interesting experimental dishes planned for the week. Clean laundry. This single malt is sipping really nicely from the mustard stoneware I don’t have occasion to use often.

In other words, I didn’t do a bang-up job of MAXIMUM FUN this weekend, didn’t throw myself into EXPLORATION DO IT ALL but …I’m okay with that. I got out, I filed away some notes and places to explore further, and continue to locate myself on this different coast/planet. But I mostly made time and space for my daily rituals to come to life, to acknowledge the things that make me me.

I realized last week that this week marks the first time in two-ish years that I will have been in one place for more than two weeks at a time. Which means that the rhythm of my days is totally foreign right now. Which means life and work are endless possibilities instead of finite chunks of time/projects with distinct best-by dates.

And so much possibility of containing pleasure within and amid that time.

Posted in Digested, Made, Read

uniquely portable magic*

Posted August 25th, 2015 No Comments »
IMG_4219

(not actually MKE. but just as good.)

The Milwaukee airport is home to one of the best used book stores I’ve ever been in–all the more endearing for being smack in the middle of the terminal where you’d least expect to find fine collections of 1940s pulp, political theory, and full sets of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. It was one of the first things I noticed on my interview trip, and I have since allocated an extra half hour for browsing nearly every time I’ve flown into or out of MKE. I’ve actually driven to the airport a few times just for the bookstore. But this makes perfect sense to the five of you who read here, as will the old-ish rumination below on packing up and leaving Boston in 2013 (!), a process looming again in my future. 

Last week I was eight boxes down in packing up my library, not sure how many boxes were still to go. I had the brieftest of thoughts, getting ready to move again, that the whole process would be so much easier if I would just get rid of my damn books.

I’m not against technology and the digital age and all that (mostly). I recognize that the publishing industry and technology generally are rapidly redefining the ways in which we write and consume literature and I’m okay with that; I’m even paying attention to and am interested in these developments and changes. I read ebooks, I really do (at least romance/thriller/pulpy bubblegum crap, and uh, I consume a lot of this). If I were ever to travel for extended periods of time, or knew that I wouldn’t have access to the books I have now, I wouldn’t hesitate to up my e-reading game with some sort of three-thousand-books-in-one-small-device. I don’t think that good literature necessarily needs to be printed with ink on paper.

OH WAIT IT DOES. For me, at least, thornier questions of content transcending medium aside. I need you, feel of paper and smell of ink. If we still had to cut the pages of books before we read them, I would be all over that shit with my vast collection of papercutting tools. I like the indentations in a letterpressed frontispiece (even the word “frontispiece” can’t apply to a screen, can it?). I like the weight of pages as they fall open, and how that weight redistributes itself as I progress through the book. I like the conversations that start up in public places when book covers are shared. I like seeing a row of neat, colorful spines of a shelf, and the recollections of time and place and emotion each of those spines evokes.

See, my books have always been the most distinct markers of time and place in my adult life. Yesterday I started flipping through the pages of each book before I added it to its box (fruitlessly hoping to find $50 or a free movie ticket), and as I flipped this vague link between book and physical place began to take on a more tangible form.

I have actually read very nearly every book I own, and I have managed to leave something behind in every one. Not remarkable things in and of themselves: lots of boarding ticket stubs, bus tickets, bookstore receipts. A tree’s worth of Booksmith bookmarks. Teabag wrappers. Funny doodles from various friends. Grocery lists. The occasional foreign bill.

These bits and pieces clearly mark where I was when I first read each book, and my annoyingly elephantine memory for details fills in the rest. I am on the plane home from Guernsey reading Out Stealing Horses. On the beach in New Hampshire with Skippy Dies. On a couch in Wash Perk with Edmund deWaal and his netsuke. In Three Friends meeting Rene for the first of many times.

It’s not just about where I was for the actual reading of each book either, but where said books found their way into my hands. I’m proud to say that the lion’s share of my books came from independent bookstores. In a very, very few instances I have bought something out of print or needed quickly for class from (an independent bookseller on) Amazon, but I’ve been so, so privileged to have access to excellent bookstores and they have had my not-insignificant business. I miss Powell’s more than just about anything in Portland. Tattered Cover titles remind me of home. When I think about living in Boston, The Brookline Booksmith, the Raven, the Harvard Bookstore, and Porter Square Books have marked my time here most clearly.

If you know me at all, you know that I have strong feelings about Amazon and how it impacts reading habits. I have strong feelings about supporting and participating in the literary cultures and communities that have been lifelines for me. I want my dollars to go back into the stores that bring my favorite authors to read, I want my dollars to support the stores paying taxes to the community in which I live, I want my dollars to help create jobs for the booksellers who are so essential to a reading life. I want to be able to ask these booksellers for books that will change me, change the way I think. I want to know that they’ll suggest things that Goodreads and Amazon and insert-any-bookreview-site-here would not because, while the Internet hosts powerful algorithms, excellent writing and vibrant thought and has expanded literary consumption in many positive ways, the Internet can’t look me in the eye and know me personally (though I’m sure MIT is working on a robot for this). I want to browse slowly through shelves, to breathe in ink, to be reminded, yet again, of all the things I do not know or have not read.

So, goodbye Boston/Cambridge bookstores I have loved. Hello, new places I will love, wherever you may be.

 

*Stephen King in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

tigerish waters

Posted April 16th, 2015 No Comments »

If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
And falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

And if the world were black and white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.

                                          louis macneice

Posted in Read

pennies for pinecones

Posted March 29th, 2015 1 Comment »

IMG_4038I’ve lived in ten different places in the eleven years since I graduated from college. Ten different places I’ve called ‘home’ for varying lengths of time, ten different neighborhoods, ten different homes that have all looked like variations on a theme because I am a champion nester, ten different zip codes to remember and addresses to learn. And each time I move, I get a little less attached, become less anchored to …anything, I guess. And sure, there’s an element of excitement there, an adventure, a freedom. I could go anywhere, do anything.

I didn’t ever want that adventure, necessarily, though. At least not without some equal and opposite stability. Anywhere and anything gets lonely.

I wrote here last year about the few recent months I lived in my grandfather’s house as an adult and tonight I’m sitting in that house for the last time, writing my way through a big shift again. My family has lived on South Gilpin for more than 70 years, which is about 70 times as long as my average. I’ve spent more nights under this roof than anywhere else except 1137 down the block.

As we sat on the porch yesterday, listened to Dad talk about building the house, took pictures, and sorted through stuff, the weirdly specific memories my siblings and I each have about growing up here came out. For me it’s eating Safeway-brand fudgesicles and the endless stacks of Reader’s Digests in which I read only one feature ever: the Drama In Real Life. For my brother, it’s Poppa paying him a penny for each pinecone he collected from the grass under the trees. My sister was all about SpaghettiOs, which I’ve definitely blocked out. We all remember cutting the thickest slices of Velveeta we could get away with on the cheese guillotine, TicTacs in Poppa’s shirt pockets, and cinnamon gum in Grandma’s dresser drawer.

Other elements are hazy, and I can’t recall some specific details as easily as I’d like. Flashes of images skirt around the corners of my memory and resist my grasp and the house that lives in my mind is a weird mashup of how it looks now (elegant! timeless!) and how it looked when my grandparents were alive (1968 in all its glory).

Then there are the vivid, complicated, undimmed moments. Right this minute, I’m sitting in approximately the same spot I was sitting in the last time Poppa was here. He was sick, we knew, and he called one afternoon when I was the only one home. So I came down to sit with him and Grandma and we watched Jeopardy until he said he thought it was time to go to the hospital.

He was wearing my favorite orange plaid flannel shirt that day. I felt helpless sitting there next to him. I felt good knowing I could be there, that all he wanted was me, sitting next to him. So I did, held his hand, and kept holding it until the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance and took him away.

Just a few feet over is where Grandma always sat, usually with red lipstick on, sometime without her teeth in and a wreath of toilet paper protecting her hair, always smiling. She called each of us “my,” always. My Marissa. My Matt. My Molls. And god how she smiled just for me every time she saw me. I’m so lucky I got to be her my.

I miss my grandparents. I wish they were here. And as I think about them in their home, I know this place has seen so much more than I have been around for. So many other people and events and lives have been lived here. And there will be so many more and yadda yadda we’re all just specks in the universe, I know. There will always be more pinecones.

I figured I’d be able to bring this neatly around somehow to a thematic point or grand thought as I type, but it’s not working out that way and my nose is doing that running-while-crying thing. I think the point I’m trying to get to is that while I’ve moved through the world as an adult in a way I wasn’t quite anticipating, it’s been comforting to have solid, physical things as touchstones. This is the house, block, street, neighborhood I am from and they are familiar to me as home in ways my other stops have not been. I’m struggling to remember that so much of these touchstones aren’t just specific places, but memories and people. And that the memories are mine forever.

Tomorrow I go back to my tenth apartment, to another world, to a different home.

Tomorrow I leave this house for the last time with a heart that’s breaking just a little, and immense gratitude that it’s been such a part of my life.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Posted March 22nd, 2015 No Comments »

I was referred to as one of the “ladies” during a meeting at work last week. Better than “gals,” better than “girls,” I guess, but still obnoxious. And the more I sit here thinking about it, the more sentences I type and delete while I dig into why this word choice irritated me so much, the more I’m aware that women deal with much, much worse all over the world (understatement). So I’m channeling this irritation into more productive channels, examining my own habits, effecting change on what personal levels I can.

I find myself thinking about VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an organization I discovered while in a graduate literature program wondering how I’d put my (very expensive, questionably useful) new degree to work. VIDA examines gender equality in various mediums that make up “literary arts,” and one of the organization’s most sobering outputs is an annual reckoning of female representation in literature: the books written by women, reviewed by women, anthologies and journals representing women, etc. (check ‘em out: http://www.vidaweb.org/about-vida/). I’ll sum up findings of the last few years by saying that for making up half the population, women are severely underrepresented in literature.

So what? This isn’t a phenomenon unique to literature. And it’s a particularly binary reading of gender. But if I want to start somewhere, VIDA is bringing my own reading habits into focus.  I’m a lifelong reader, familiar and comfortable with the Western, white literary and popular cannons. More importantly, I buy books. I buy a lot of books. I read newspapers and book reviews and journals and literary magazines. VIDA has prodded me to look more closely at the publications my dollars are supporting, and I’m trying make a conscious shift toward seeking out writers and publications who aren’t marginalizing but encouraging women writers.

So, here: my favorite reads and re-reads of last year written by women doing creative, intelligent, vibrant work.

On Immunity, Eula Biss. Notes from No Man’s Land put Biss on my radar. Scattered magazine articles kept her there. One of those articles, “Sentimental Medicine” in the January 2013 Harper’s, was an exploration on vaccination as a kind of metaphor for class and power structures. It stayed with me, I recommended it to friends, I reread and reread. Biss spent another year developing that essay into a book, and in doing so, illuminated for me, again, how vital literature is. That it can be a tool to grapple with questions of how we live and interact with those around us, how we absorb and learn from history, how we sift through our current media cycle and streams of information. That science and research and philosophy can and should coexist and be accessible to everyone. That answers to Big Questions can come about when we’re willing to do the hard, slow work of walking through these layers and considering them all. And, jeebus, if you’ve been paying ANY attention to the vaccination wars right now, please read this book.

The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan and The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. Both lauded, both featuring adolescent protagonists with little in the way of adult guidance. The Goldfinch is sprawling and long—one reviewer called Tartt a writer for readers who want a meaty reading experience but not necessarily an intellectual struggle. The Panopticon is the opposite—short, taut, crystalline-prosed. Both wildly different books in most ways, but both a refreshing kind of counterpoint to the glut of YA dominating so much of the recent literary landscape.

 The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison. This collection of essays is easily the book I’ve returned to again and again over the last few months. With the central theme of empathy—how, why and to what degree do and should we understand the people around us—each essay explores a potentially alienating condition—illness, death, poverty, violence, prison—and how these conditions might instead be universal. The essay I’ve reread the most is the final “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” for the way it incisively cuts to the heart of how the angst and woundedness of being female can be legitimate pain and not just comfortable trope. Most of all though, the writing…so reflexive, anticipating all my arguments and countering them slyly, intelligently, deftly… I feel like JK Rowling writing the first three Harry Potter books, but I actually can’t think of anything but adverbs when I try to describe this book.

So, reading the ladies. Taking suggestions for other voices.

Posted in Read

long enough.

Posted November 15th, 2014 No Comments »

…‘Your obligation
Is not discharged by any common rite.
What you must do must be done on your own

So get back in harness. The main thing is to write
For the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
That imagines its haven like your hands at night

Dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,

Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You’ve listened long enough. Now strike your note.’

–from Seamus Heaney’s Station Island

 

 

Posted in Read

we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.

Posted June 4th, 2014 1 Comment »

There’s a snoozy, snoring puppy curled up like a donut next to me on the couch. It’s too warm for a fire, otherwise I’d have one in the fireplace that anchors this beautiful, open space. Moths are beating their wings at the windows, and in the morning their bodies will litter the floor and doorways. Tonight these sounds and quiet stillness are especially echoey in my mind.

I’ve been living in the house my grandfather built for the last few months. It’s not the house it was when I grew up—my father lightened and lifted it with more windows, better lighting, an open kitchen, and less shag carpeting—but the bones of giant wooden beams, exposed brick and that central fireplace are the same. It’s different enough that it felt strange when I first arrived, and the same enough that some deeply unconscious part of me takes over sometimes when I shut the garage door and the creak that has creaked the same way for my 32 years pulls me back until I am six and bounding into the house.

I’d walk in unannounced all the time, and it’s only been recently that I’ve wondered if my grandparents were ever annoyed by the fact that their grandkids were forever popping up, running in through the garage to snag Velveeta slices and cinnamon gum and a few backyard hula hoops twirls or a random book off the shelf or maybe we were just rollerblading in the driveway and wanted to say hi! I don’t remember any particular distinction between our house and theirs, really, except the aforementioned processed cheese. It was Grandma and Poppa’s, yes, but it felt like home.

It was, in a way. Or perhaps that was just a particular gift my grandparents had: that we never questioned our welcome. I can’t remember a single time I wasn’t met with a smile, a booming “hoHO it’s Marissa!” from Poppa, and Grandma reaching out her hands to hold my face while she kissed my cheek.

One morning, after I’d been here a few weeks, wondering if I’d made the right choice in coming back to Denver and feeling a little strange in a house that felt so different from the one I grew up with, the madeleine de proust was the sound of the garage door closing with some distinct clang that echoed unconsciously somewhere in my gut. I was convinced, for an eighth of a second, that as I rounded the corner into the kitchen I’d see yellow linoleum and white patent leather chairs and the powdery and sweet smell of Grandma’s perfume blazed through my nose and I missed them with the sharpest of aches.

It hasn’t happened that way again, or at least not so strongly. But at least once a day, over these last few months, a sound or a smell or a hint of memory has met up with a kind of memory twin in my mind. And it could be so horribly haunting, if the circumstances were different, if my memories were different. Instead it is a gift that my grandparents smiled every single time I bounded in, that this is perhaps one place on earth I have always been sure of a welcome.

So thank you, Poppa, and thank you, Dad, for the ways this beautiful place has shaped me. I hope I’ve lived here well.

Posted in Uncategorized

canaanland is just in sight.

Posted August 29th, 2013 No Comments »

The fact that my time in Boston is finite is beginning to sink in. I’m wondering if this is the last time I see A, drive down B, roll my eyes at C. I’m beginning to say my goodbyes.

And one of these happened this weekend, when I took a last trip north to a spot that’s been a rare constant in my adult life.

I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in rural New Hampshire. I don’t know what it’s like to live there day in and day out, I don’t know what it is to have ‘live free or die’ actually coursing through your veins.

I do know, though, the point where asphalt gives way to dirt on Codfish Hill. I have worried, hoping against hope that my little Despereaux would find the horsepower to make it up the hill in the winter. Despereaux and I have jostled our way through the mudholes of the spring. We’ve driven slowly, marveling at autumn colors. And so many times, like this last weekend, we’ve driven up under the shockingly green cathedral arch of tree branches against a clear blue sky.

Though I’ve composed lines in my head for the last 48 hours, I’m having trouble. How, exactly, do I write about a place that isn’t mine, really, that I have no actual claim to?

I am thinking of the community I got to experience, in whatever small way for however short a time. How much it meant to have the Hill know who I was, to see familiar faces, hold actual conversations, to feel like a part of something bigger. At the moment, the loss of this is the most heartbreaking thing.

I was foolish enough to believe that this place might always be there for me, a surrogate home, a surrogate family.

How much of the reason I’m still in Boston is because it is easier to get to Canaan from here than anywhere else? That, when so unmoored from any other kind of stability, from here, at least, I know how to get somewhere familiar? And there’s the double-edged sword of leaving: I may be able to breathe easier, to not constantly be reminded of what I had and lost, but I’ll be further away from a place where I was always, always happy and loved and welcomed. I can say that about nowhere else in the world. It’s my most irreconcilable grief right now: that that place is not available to me, but I can’t bear the thought of leaving it behind.

 

Posted in Uncategorized