Monday, June 25, 2012

I Am Here

Cullowhee, NC.  Working my tail off, I should note.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Salome! Salumi! Sartre!

Among the crueler facts of life (childbirth, unrequited love, snot) is the fact that, slowly and surely, your universe will disappear.

Oh, sure, you'll still be ambulatory.   You'll walk (for a while, at least), talk (for a while at least), wine, and dine (when eating goes, you're in trouble).  But the world you labored so mightily, in childhood, in young adulthood, to apprehend, begins, piecemeal, to slip away.

NPR runs an occasional segment on endangered sounds.  Recently, they featured that ubiquitous squawk/buzz of my youth, the sound of a modem connecting.  To me, the sound -twangy with an underlay of steel- conjures afternoons hunched at the computer  typing mad and terrible poetry, evenings yelling at my parents to get off the phone so I could check to see if my crush had written me back in the last three minutes (no).

It wasn't a particularly enjoyable world, but it was mine, and it's gone.

Encyclopedias: kaput.  I found a set by my bed a few weeks ago during my travels and was startled to be reminded of their browsable heft. We've gained Wikipedia, but we've lost serendipity: no longer do you flip to leprechauns and come out with leprosy.

The trick is, you don't notice it happening.  One minute you're staring at skeletons in volume S and the next moment you're an adult.   Car phones, phone trees, pagers, walkmen, card catalogs, summer jobs: poof! 

But what else is new?

It's worth taking the question literally; what's new is all you'll have, in the end.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rose Hill

This is my favorite graveyard.  There are no roses, but there is a hill.  The graveyard, perched at the top but spilling over the sides, boasts a view that is sweeping without sweeping you under -gentler than the too-sharp, too-fierce vistas of the American West.  The graveyard is sizable but not overwhelming, well-kept without being fussy, pretty without being precious.  It embodies, in short, everything I love about the Midwest, with the added plus of hilarious signage.

Life is a dead end, and all that.

I try to make it out to the graveyard at least once each trip home.  It's a fair walk, almost two miles each way, and the route wends through the university I intermittently attended, the downtown in which I was married, and, finally a neighborhood of weary, gentrifying bungalows on the western edge of town, in which I wore through, pace by pace, the soles of a heartbreak or two.

I enjoy walking by myself, and the graveyard is always empty.  So there's that.

There's excellent coffee available on the way back.  So there's that.

But the real reason I come is to be reminded.  Slow.  Down.  No way out.

Last night, as I was battling sleep to read just one more page, someone died.  Someone dies with every inhalation, every release of breath.  This particular death came late but still too early, after head injuries sustained during a bike ride with friends. The deceased was a colleague with whom I was to teach in 10 days' time.  I knew him only a little.  He had a lovely smile; in any case, he's gone.

I'll keep wandering through the graveyard, but you should know I've opted for cremation.  At my end, let there be, at most, at least, a reception and some decent joe.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Home & Away

Home and Away is the name of a long-running Australian soap opera upon which a roommate from a long-ago summer internship shot to B-list glory.

(I have to add that walking around NYC with this woman, who is unequivocally, no-holds-barred beautiful in the manner of the Televised, was like entering a parallel dimension.  The gorgeous do not inhabit the same world as the rest of us.  And their world has way more free stuff.)

I've never seen the soap, but the name splintered and lodged.  I like the rhythm of it, a hop and a gallop. I like, too, the way it conjures, with a troubling yet pleasant vagueness, one of the central tensions of our lives.

Were home; we're away.   What's home shifts- our mother's arms, our bedroom, our hometown, our comfort zone.  Away changes, too.  It's the coffee table we toddle toward; the wilderness of the backyard; our first love; Alaska.   What's constant is the transit.  We're on the move, wandering somewhere between hearth and horizon.

At this point in my life, a lot of this is literal.  I've been home for about a week; in another few weeks, I'm leaving again.  Then home, then away, then home, then away, then home....later, rinse, repeat.   I've gotten used to it, which is to say I hate it and I crave it, both.  There's something essential in going away; there's something equally vital in coming home.

How will I find unearth these necessities when I'm homebound?  I say "when," not "if;" there will come a time in my life when I won't, or can't, travel anymore.  What's your home? What's your away?

And how come the rest of us don't get free drinks?

Saturday, June 2, 2012


 I'm rereading The Bell Jar.

This was a book club pick, not something I would have come back to on my own.  Plath's book is possessed of both brevity and wit, but there's very little soul here, and a great deal of the slough of despond.

[Sidebar: What better phrase is there, really, than "the slough of despond?" I will attempt to inflict this on all of my conversational partners in the next week or so. You've been warned, preschoolers!]

Not that it's not a graceful slough: Plath has a poet's eye, and the dark, hurtling force that propels her poems straight into your gut is present, too, in her prose.  But the despond is so erotically and exactly depicted, so lovingly rubbed up against, you tend to get sucked in.

Not a book, in other words, that leaves you better than it found you.

The first time I read The Bell Jar, I was 17 and suggestible.  Plath's oeuvre propelled me almost single-handedly into the only bona fide period of depression I've ever experienced.  (In retrospect, I can't pin the whole thing on Sylvia: I'd just quit ballet to concentrate on music, and thus for the first -and hopefully last- time in my life, I was getting no exercise.  That stuff about exercise acting as an antidepressant?  Totally true.)

In rereading, I can still feel the downward slurp of the thing.   Plath's insight, what makes her so dangerous, is that depression isn't abut sadness.  It's about revulsion.  The ordinary, intensely examined, is revealed to be sickening.  Fountains, mothers, boyfriends, pipes: the disgusting excrescences of the everyday.

She's right, of course.  Look at anything too long, too closely, and it reveals itself as foul.  But then you learn -as I had to, as Plath never could- to keep walking.