Several readers have asked if I had any other photos of Ragdale, especially of my room or of the prairie. So on the last day of the month in which I spent two amazing weeks in residency at Ragdale, I … Continue reading
Why do you refuse to admit that in poetry, as if in a mirror, I attempt to collect and to see myself, to pass through and beyond myself.
Last week, for a few days, it was doing nothing–long walks on the beach, listening to the ocean, watching the sea foam extract itself from the waves that produced it and scatter down the beach. Staring at the flower of a jellyfish, remembering being stung as a kid.
Oh, this innate bad habit of always existing in places where I do not live, or in a time which is past or is yet to come.
One week until I send in my last packet. In seven weeks I’ll be in Vermont. In a little over eight weeks, I’ll have graduated.
The memory of it would have vanished utterly had he not enclosed it in a fortress of words…
No Place on Earth by Christa Wolf (born in 1929) is a different kind of book than what I usually read. Wolf is a German author, who in this slim volume writes about the imagined meeting in June of 1804 of an unknown female poet and a famous male writer at a social gathering “for tea and conversation.” One hundred nineteen pages of almost no action and some dialogue. Mostly, it’s the back and forth of the relentless minds of these two characters, as if their minds were communing, on the subjects of life and death, the freedoms of men and women, the necessity of art:
That time should bring forth our desire, but not that which we desire most.
The repressed passions.
We are not worthy of that which we long for.
We must understand that longing needs no justification.
Matisse wrote, “To paint an autumn landscape I will not try to remember what colors suit this season, I will be inspired only by the sensation that the season arouses in me: the icy purity of the sour blue sky will express the season just as well as the nuances of foliage.” I’m not sure I agree, Henri. At least not today, standing at my desk with the bold scarlets to my right.
When I was cleaning out my study, I rediscovered this journal written in 1906 by the English naturalist, Edith Holden, who drowned in the Thames in 1920, at the age of 49. I have the French version, and I wish I’d written in the book when and where I found it.
Inside there’s a new feeling–no more books on the floor, no more clutter, lots of space. And there’s movement.
Things are changing. Now I stand to write and walk when I feel like it. I can also sit, which I find I sometimes need to do if I’m having to work really hard to turn an inside thought out.
Inside I’ve cleaned out drawers, moved things that haven’t been moved in years, given away books. Created white space.
Poems and novels, histories and memories, dictionaries and blue-books; books written in all languages by men and women of all tempers, races, and ages jostle each other on the shelf. And outside the donkey brays, the women gossip at the pump, the colts gallop across the fields. Where are we to begin?
~Virginia Woolf, The Second Common Reader
Today it’s very coppery and auburn outside. No rain but no blue anywhere either. Maybe that’s still to come. And today I’m taking it easy: a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
October’s almost gone–each day zooming by like a page I’ve turned in a book. Underline this. Try to remember.
Yesterday I finished my essay. I printed the next section of the novel. I wrote the letter. I accomplished.
Today I’m listening to Mumford & Sons and The Mountain Goats. Over and over again. I’m putting discarded drafts in the shredder. I’m collecting my sticky notes and making a list. I’m responding to comments (sorry to be so late), checking in on Twitter and Facebook. I’m re-shelving the stack of books I used for my essay on narrative distance in beginnings.
Jim Harrison’s “The Woman Lit by Fireflies” slides off my stack and opens to these words:
A half-dozen fireflies had gathered in the darkness around her green cave, and the tiny beams seemed to trace the convolutions of her thought.
Yesterday was filled with purpose. Today I’m letting one thing lead to another…
In Ron Carlson‘s new novel, The Signal, a book that includes both clotheslines and abandoned places, each word counts, as each word should but often doesn’t in novels. The Signal packs a lot into its 184 pages: six days in the life of its main character Mack.
Its cover looks, as one of my children said, “like a book I wouldn’t read.” I’m not sure whether he meant it looks “sensational” or “like a guy’s book,” but I agree on both counts about the cover, not about what’s between it. In The Signal, it’s a toss-up whether the language or the story is the most alluring part of the novel.
“This was his life, riding out two hours from a ranch that itself was an hour from town and still knowing there were unknown hours ahead.”
“The tinted window went down and there was her face.”
The descriptions will give you goose bumps, and the dialogue is tight. Listen to this conversation between Mack and his father, whom he describes as “…his presence in the world was like order itself.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“No, sir, I don’t.”
“Are you going by your gut?”
“Do you think you can get a girl by showing her a bear?”
“No idea,” Mack said.
His father folded his arms and leaned on the doorframe. “Me neither. How many were there?”
Mack is also the narrator, and we’re right there in his point of view, a close third, yet without even a space break, Carlson zooms out seamlessly, giving us a little distance: “The two hikers stepped out into the high-atmosphere sunshine…”
Some will argue that there’s too much plot, but in my opinion The Signal offers a brilliant example of plot arising out of character: Mack’s choices drive the plot forward.
I’ll leave you with my favorite passage:
“The sun was weak light, and the chill was general headed for a real freeze. The watery yellow day wanted to break his heart. The season had foundered and each day was now a brave imitation of the day before. In September the year fell away and in the car you’d get a late baseball game on the radio as you drove to town sounding like it was coming from another planet, the static and the crowd noise and the announcers trying to fend off the fall shadows.”
This leaf, propped up like it is here on its stem and all by itself, was waiting for me when I opened the front door yesterday morning. Do you think it thought I wasn’t noticing?
I moved it for a moment over by the pumpkin…
Then I brought it inside where I showed it to everyone.
Today, Sunday, October 26th, I’m walking. It’s a day in the woods. An autumn ritual (because of spring snakes). A 23-mile hike, which last year took 11 hours. We choose the date by trying to maximize the chance of cool weather with enough daylight hours. This is tricky. Already we’re down to less than 12 hours. Sunrise in Georgia these days is around 7:45 and sunset, 7:00. And we’re a year older. We’re taking flashlights.
We do it to prove we can. We do it to get away from it all. We do it to work on staying in the moment–to try to make it about the journey and not about being finished. As you might imagine, around mile 18, this becomes very difficult.
So think of us as you go about your day…
I was walking again
in the woods,
a yellow light
was sifting all I saw.
from Changing Everything by Jane Hirshfield
And it felt like fall this morning. Canada geese flying over. The first leaves changing color.
It’s no surprise that in two of my all-time favorite books, the authors write of fall.
In Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton wrote of a September day, “The sun is out. I woke to lovely mists, dew on spider webs everywhere, although the asters look beaten down after the rain and the cosmos pretty well battered. But these days one begins to look up at the flowering of color in the leaves, so it is easier to bear that the garden flowers are going one by one.”
In Light Years, James Salter wrote, “In the morning the light came in silence. The house slept. The air overhead, glittering, infinite, the moist earth beneath–one could taste this earth, its richness, its density, bathe in the air like a stream. Not a sound….Autumn morning. The horses in nearby fields are standing motionless. The pony already has a heavier coat; it seems too soon.”
And then there’s Edith Wharton in The House of Mirth: “The afternoon was perfect. A deeper stillness possessed the air, and the glitter of the American autumn was tempered by a haze which diffused the brightness without dulling it. In the woody hollows of the park there was already a faint chill…”
That’s what we had in Columbus this morning, a faint chill, presaging the lovely fall days ahead. Only one hundred days left in the year. Here they come and there they go. Catch as many as you can.