Friday, December 30, 2016

Year's End

I feel the downslope now, the acceleration of sorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


I mess around with really old art for my living (or at least the majority of it). 

It's not something I think about very much.  There just isn't much immediate utility to pondering the fact that somebody, some 400-500 years ago, crafted whatever it is I'm trying to give shape to, analyze, appreciate, or teach.

But occasionally I see it.  Every so often I glimpse, across that gulf of steam and sweat and electricity and plague and other things- bobbleheads, fins on cars, crumpets,- the human on the other side.

And so today, Christmas Eve, as the dark rolls in, I'm reading through some Quantz.  Johann Joachim was a grinch.  A crabby man who enjoyed not only finding fault, but trumpeting it.  But he wrote some pretty music and now, centuries and centuries later, I stand in front of my music stand and play it. 

I don't wonder what he would think.  I've read his diatribes.  I'm a woman.  I'm wearing pants.  I'm musically flighty with a taste for the overwrought. He would disapprove.

And yet-  there is probably no one else in this whole hill-bound, landlocked state -no one else in this wide, wild country- puzzling out this particular Quantz this particular hour.  Just me and him and the dark and whatever light we can bring.

That's something.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I've lost the knack of lolling.

It's something to do with whatever mid-life crisis I've been trudging through -midlife crisis turning out to comprise, in my case, not a corvette but a slog.  I have a sense that I can't possibly waste time, because I have only much time left, and if you fritter it away that's sacrilege or profanity or some other horror.

So I have trouble doing what I used to do, which was to spend time, profligately, on not much of anything, tossing my minutes into the air like confetti.

I miss that voluptuous waste.

I've given myself most of the day off today.  Not the whole day off, because the self-employed never really get vacation, and I need to make money, and so I'm teaching two lessons in the late afternoon.  But before that I've got at least four hours in which I have no fixed engagements.

I'm struggling, mightily, not to refer to my to-do list.  So far I've cleaned the kitchen and sent some work emails and restrained myself from purchasing airline tickets for work.  I need a leisure director.  Someone to tell me what to do when I don't want to tell myself.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


There are books I will never read.

That's the seven-word drumbeat of mortality, but also a rebel yawp, because there are, it turns out, books I do not want to read, like the Pray and Love portions of Eat, Pray, Love, and the remainder of the Twilight series and, apparently, the seventh volume of Harry Potter- though perhaps in some extremity of the future I'll be able to face the haunting possibility of Snape's death (don't tell me). 

But there are also books I will and do and have read.  37 this year, or at least 37 that are admissible, and I'll probably jam in one or two more before the year shuts down.  Many were alright.  Three I regret a little and two I regret a lot. But it was also a banner year for really good books, books that stick to your ribs or in your throat, and I want to share them with you.

My five best reads of 2016, in no particular order.

1. Most Tears on a Plane:  Being Mortal, Atul Gawande.  There should be a special warning sticker for books that make you cry on airplanes.   You are tens of thousands of feet in the air in a metal death trap, surrounded by strangers with colds, momentarily untethered from your early connections, and terrified of turbulence.  You are reading about death.  And life before death.  And oh, god, here comes your bloody mary mix.  Honorable Mention, Most Tears on a Plane: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi.

2. Read Out of Pique:  Swann's Way, Marcel Proust.  You know how sometimes several centuries of literary tradition shriek at you that something is really good and you ignore that shrieking because what could several centuries of literary tradition possibly bring to the table that you don't already embody with your deep knowledge of the Regency Romance back bench?  And then that thing they were shrieking about turns out to be really good?  Yeah.  Honorable Mention, Read Out of Pique:Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff.

3.  Proust Detox: The Trespasser, Tana French. Say you've just read something with syntax so long, so draggled and twisty, it's like what comes out of your drain once you manage to pry the P-trap off.  And untangling that syntax was deeply rewarding, and now your sink drains, but boy, you could really mainline some plot?  But good plot, with layering and nuance and, heck, a soupcon of nice prose?  This is the one.  Honorable Mention, Proust Detox: Wilde Lake, Laura Lippmann; Last Ragged Breath, Julia Keller.

4. You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson.   Our justice system is broken.  We need to fix it.  More tears on more planes.  Honorable Mention, You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Missoula, Jon Krakauer.

5. I Left My Heart in Bloomington: Staying Put, Scott Russell Sanders.  Essays about roots, place, and home.  I wish I could. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I'll be walking or typing or driving or talking and it will rise up in me, expand around me til it bursts -Bloomington: some odd slice of it, some span of seconds, indistinguishable from the seconds before it and after it except that it has lodged in me, worked loose.  I am crouched to the lowest shelf in the bookstore that shuttered; craning my neck for deer in the secret woods; lying in the grass, hiding or waiting, while the teachers call me in; stalling my car out and out and out under grey-white sky. Year after year, once or twice a day, sometimes more frequently, never less This is how wasted love comes: in fits. I wait for it to pass.

Friday, December 9, 2016


I've lost the knack of quiet.  Instead I rumble through my house, clanging pots, clinking dishes, shuffling bills, groaning under the weight of one burden or another.  Adulthood is many things, but it is not quiet.  When I stumble into a pocket of quiet it's like hitting a bump on the airplane- I'm suddenly suspended, unmoored, unhinged.

It's one of life's pettier cruelties that one prepares and prepares, in one's early years, but never for the right things.  Solving for x instead of scrubbing poop out of bathmats.  History instead of taxes.  How to sing instead of how to shut up.