Monday, May 23, 2016

how we find our way back
































A few months ago, my sister Andi texted me an old photo of us together, along with the text-length story that she remembered of it. I wanted a photo of us and you wanted nothing to do with me. I didn't remember that at all, but I do remember years earlier when our parents wanted to send us together to the summer fair and I whined to my mother about how I always had to be with Andi. I suppose it was that I wanted the chance to try new things on my own instead of always walking the path my two older sisters had already made ahead of me. Only 18 months apart in age, Andi and I were often mistaken for twins from the time we were in preschool. Maybe it was because of that that, for a long time, I resisted belonging to anyone fully.

Jump ahead twenty years from that photo she texted me and we are spending a weekend together in L.A. - no kids or husband (hers). We spend four days, just the two of us. We shop for clothes, eat ice cream, run along the beach, listen to jazz, look at art, drink coffee, hike to see the city skyline, watch episodes of Fixer Upper, take selfies and post them to Instagram. We talk about marriage and dating and the cities we live in and how we miss the places from our pasts, about our parents and our other sister and our friends. Every once in a while I think about how rare this is, how we haven't done this since before her son was born more than seven years ago, and who knows when we will spend this much uninterrupted time together again. I want to take it all in and ask her every question and remember every word. I want everything to do with her.

And then there are those moments, the inevitable ones when the distance in our lives creeps up between us and reminds us how far apart we are sometimes. We sit in a church pew, only inches between us. But while these benches have held me as I've cried and prayed and laughed and had my heart broken and changed and re-made over nearly a decade of my life, to her the bench is not much more than a stiff piece of wood that she has trouble sitting on. I feel the distance so tangibly that, taking communion, I start to cry. Later that afternoon, while we walk around downtown Los Angeles, she walks slightly ahead of me to call her children and husband, as she has done every afternoon of her trip. I hear her try to explain to her children what this city is like, the kind of sidewalks she is walking on, and we both know she wouldn't walk with them here. How do you feel living in such a big place? She asked me something like as we drove across the city and I realized it's not something I think about all that much anymore. With her stories, she tries to explain what 15 years of marriage feels like, picks cards from shops we visit that might make her husband laugh when they celebrate their anniversary in a few weeks. I tell her I'll miss having someone else in my apartment when she leaves.

These are the paths we navigate now: not how we find a way apart from one another, but how we find our way back.

***

(photo: sister + me at favorite coffee shop)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

i read this book of poems






"Coda" by Danielle Chapman
     from Delinquent Palaces

Beyond the speeches we're given to when young--
the crystal moon, the harlot moon, the moon
big as the sun elongating scrolls
of banisters on the skin of someone
else so young--beyond the still moon cut
from a royal purple sky we stare into
as into the pupil of a beautiful
machine--beyond our grand stupidities--
the urgency won't perish: to be known
in one's own person as crocuses are known
by sun, conceiving green to breathe it,
for ravishment by light, to grow
into the moment in our cells when we open
ourselves as a plant uncoils pistils
and become refulgent whether looked at or not.



When I was in high school, my best friend started dating a guy who wrote poetry. So she started writing poetry, too, and sent some of her poems to me. Then, she bought me a small journal with blank pages and encouraged me to write poems, too. I wrote some really bad ones and stored the journal away for a very long time.

Since then, I've read books of poetry and books about poetry and even took a class on poetry. I found the journal and read my own early poetry. My conclusion: I'm no poet. And though I still read poetry, I'm sure that half the time I'm missing what's meant to be noticed. But poetry is forgiving. Just keep reading it over and over, and soon things emerge that you didn't see at first. I think that's why I love it so much. Surprise and discovery will keep you going after something.

So, I read a book of poems and here is my favorite one. I keep reading it over and over, each time finding something new.

***

(photo: blue sky over Michigan, at writing conference where I bought and read this book)

Friday, May 6, 2016

some thoughts on friendship

Friendship is something I’ve been wanting to write more about. I feel like I have a lot to say, and I’m trying to find the right stories to say those things. From a very young age, I have recognized that friendships with girls have been an important part of my life, maybe the most important part. I haven’t had many long-term dating relationships, which means that, as a woman in her thirties, most of my years and memories have been spent with friends. In that sense it’s been my collection of girlfriends that have shown me how to love, care, listen, open up, forgive, laugh.

This collection of friendships has grown and shifted over the years. Women move within my circle with their jobs and marriages and places of residence. One or two whom I thought I had lost forever slip back in and it’s like they were never not there. A few I’ve chosen to move ever so slightly away from, and as I get older and wiser, I am able to do this with more generosity of heart — recognizing that neither of us is at fault for the way our friendship took an unexpected turn. It’s that relationships are breathing things unto themselves, and much like with a child, you will always be finding new rhythms for them, and sometimes you must let them go. It is a miracle when they come back to you, whole.

Some of the experiences I want to write about are those painful ones. Parting ways with girlfriends can be as painful as romantic breakups, in part because they are often less talked about. The rhythm of a romance gone sour is a familiar one, and we know the language of comfort or villainizing the new love in the other person’s life or however it is we learn to cope. But how do you explain the strange shifts in needs and desire and love that happens between friends? Because it is there. I still mourn the loss of a particularly meaningful friendship in which I knew I needed to create some space in order to grow in the direction I felt led. I wasn’t convinced this would be a permanent separation, and yet as we pulled away from each other, I realized it was mutual, not one sided, and that there were very deep and real ways in which she was feeling hurt and not seen, too.

I experienced a tremendous amount of loss in our break. The thing about friends is that there is always something about them that surprises you, and in that is such a gift of delight that nobody else can give you. This friend surprised me in the beauty she saw in unlikely places, in me even. To me, our friendship itself, her choice of me, was unlikely (and yet I think she felt exactly the same way about me). I remember sitting in therapy a year or two after we had parted ways, still mourning something about that experience because there was no friend in my life who filled the same place — who understood my desire to write, who was a companion to me in what she laughed at and they things she loved to eat and how she explored the city.

Last weekend, I hosted a brunch for my birthday and invited all of my women friends and their daughters. There was something about life this year that had me feeling like I needed to celebrate with my girls. Leading up to the day, one friend asked if she could lead a time of listening prayer. When the time came, I sat on the floor, around me a circle of some of my closest and dearest friends, at this place and moment in time. After listening - to their own hearts, but even more, to God - each spoke words of affirmation and hope and love. I continue to hold the memory of that time as so precious, recognizing that my friendships with each of these women is a gift that may not always be mine, but knowing they will all remain with me in some form for years to come.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

literary, lately: may version





Irony (or sign?): I am at a coffee shop trying to write a cute little essay about my ambivalence regarding writing friendships. In walk friends from church, who encourage me to reach out to writer-poet acquaintance. Maybe I will share the essay someday soon. Maybe I will email said poet. Who knows.

In the meantime, some links:

Reading this article on men in book clubs. At first I took offense to the idea that these clubs choose only books by men and with male protagonists. Isn't part of the joy of literature, and responsibility of literary citizenship, the act of entering into another's experience through books? But it started to make sense to me when the author of the piece explained that "the monthly meetings provide a space to explore literary depictions of what it means to be a man" and give them a unique space to explore empathy. Ok, maybe I can get behind that.

New Girl Crush: film director and screenwriter Ava Duvernay after listening to this interview on the power of voice and the making of Selma. I loved their conversation, especially the part about how her own "gaze" (a term she uses a lot) led her to shape scenes in Selma in a particular way. If I'd been interviewing her, I'd follow up with questions about what it's like to follow her instinct when making a film, how she developed her own voice, and what her favorite books are (of course).

Procrastinating on some blog posts about books I've finished. I'm falling behind. It was inevitable. At the same time, feeling inspired/validated in my approach by this short piece on the new Bookmarked series, in which authors write about books that inspired them. (Personal narrative, not criticism or cliff notes.)

This song on repeat.

Last week, I gave my goddaughter some books for her birthday, including Frog and Toad - my favorite. At first she got distracted from the books by a small Hello Kitty bracelet, but then she picked up Frog and Toad, scooched onto my lap and asked me to read to her. Heart melted.

***

(photo: blurry palm trees and car lights somewhere along the 110, being sped home after writing conference)



Saturday, April 23, 2016

reminder to self: these things count as writing


Last weekend, I sat in circle of students' desks in a college classroom. The other desks were filled with fellow writing conference attendees with whom I share at least one commonality: our paying work is not our writing. We met twice, once over dinner and then two days later over lunch. Our time was limited but we didn't waste any of it because the challenges are obvious. We had a lot to talk about.

In my head, I list off the hardships of this kind of life - often - where they end up cluttering my emotions as excuses or whines or justifications. (so little time, so little energy, writing at night is hard, offices don't cultivate creativity, I need a social life, just one more episode of Gilmore Girls...)

So! Instead of challenges and whining, I present for you a list of all of the many things that feed writing. For me, words on paper are most satisfying, but they are not always the point. The point, I'm beginning to realize (I can be slow, I know) is to build a writing life.

reading
revising
zoning out
reading old journals
googling
making a spreadsheet of publications to submit to
catching up with friends at writing group
listening to podcast interviews with authors and other artists
blogging
writing for my friend's nonprofit
asking questions
going to readings
hanging out at bookstores
praying
journaling
listening to music
making plans for writing
transcribing passages I like
movies (sometimes)

***

(photo: book stack from sometime last year)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

give this book the attention it deserves

Sometimes, it's hard for me to separate my experience of a book from the circumstances of my life while reading it. If you've read any of my read2016 posts this year, you might have gathered that much already.

So here's the thing with Tinkers: I was prepared to really like it, but I got distracted. I read it when I was tired, I read it on the train, I read it at a coffee shop when I got interrupted by a good looking stranger who asked if he could sit with me and talk (and I said yes), I read it on a Sunday afternoon when I was determined to finish it so I could start another book before travel a few days later. The conditions were not ideal, especially considering the kind of book Tinkers is -- not much plot, sprawling poetic sentences attempting to describe ineffable feelings, strange switches in point of view and time and generation that can disorient the reader if she's not paying enough attention.

Still, I liked it. I dog-eared pages that I am now transcribing into a document of bright passages from books I read. Even as I do this, I find myself drawn in again by the beautiful language -- poetic, and also terribly precise and physical and surprising. I keep reading past the sentence I meant to transcribe, forgetting what's happening in that part of the story but just wanting to follow his trail of words.

One of my favorite passages comes early on:
There was also the ring in Howard Crosby’s ears, a ring that began at a distance and came closer, until it sat in his ears, then burrowed into them. His head thrummed as if it were a clapper in a bell. Cold hopped onto the tips of his toes and rode in the ripples of the ringing throughout his body until his teeth clattered and his knees faltered and he had to hug himself to keep from unraveling. This was his aura, a cold halo of chemical electricity that encircled him immediately before he was struck by a full seizure. Howard had epilepsy. 
The sign of a good book (and perhaps the nerdiness of the person reading it) is that she will bring it up in a conversation with friends over drinks, which is what I did with this passage, with a doctor friend, because it was the most wonderful and felt description of disease in fiction that I think I've ever read. No technical jargon until the very end, when Harding names it: epilepsy. But before he gets there, he wants the reader to feel it as the character does.

I was tempted to make this post a long list of the passages I love, but I leave you with that one, and with the recommendation that if you read this book, give it the attention it deserves. Drink some coffee, take your time, and resist good looking strangers (but only for this book).

you can just feel God shining through



I think poetry is the mind of God. All the great poems that I love seem to me to all have that little ingredient. You feel like you’re in the presence of the mind of God... Take Rilke, I mean, you can’t just live and come to the conclusions he came to. I think his mission was to learn to get out of the way so that something bigger could speak through him. Emily Dickinson, my God, she’s full of the mind of God. You can just feel God shining through those poems, darkly. So it was her, but it wasn’t. ... There’s something unaccountable that happened to her. And it’s that unaccountable thing that I love.

-poet Li-Young Lee via here.

(more of my own words, soon...)