Monday, May 28, 2007

It's not all about the books: How to read the oceans of trees and lakes of mirrors.

So my weekend was more about reading the land, and less about reading a book (although I started rereading "Catcher in the Rye" and laughed out loud at Holden Caulfield). I went backpacking in the Adirondacks for the long weekend with the roommates, are here are a few of the favorite things that I read:

4 kids fully outfitted with mini packs, walking sticks and bandanas walking far enough ahead of their parents to feel completely independent and for their pretending to seem real. I turned around to watch them tackle a huge mound of unmelted snow and was reminded of my own adventuring of the sort...and daydreamed about that and "Swallows and Amazons" (the best kid adventure book other than maybe Narnia) all afternoon.

Keeping my eyes open for bear tracks and imagining stories about what would happen if we saw one (and feeling ready, I might add. if this were grizzly country it would be another story, though.)

The peeling sycamore bark that was scattered all over like paper shavings, as if they had a story they wanted to tell.

The scent of fresh pine. It hits the heart directly.

Watching the light change over a lake; both in the eveningtime and in between rainstorms.

Contemplating a graveyard, as Sarah aptly named it, of trees that lie at the base of a mountain after an avalanche brought them down. Thinking about not having the ability to get up after a fall. Thinking about how the way we view life (from the top of a mountain or the bottom) can impact our vision.

And of course laughing with these favorites:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"From Here You Can Almost See the Sea"

Seriously: (In the background) Firth of Forth (Scottish Gaelic: Linne Foirthe) is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea between Fife to the north, and West Lothian, the City of Edinburgh, and East Lothian to the south. And can I just say how happy it makes me that there are real places with names like "Lothian" and they don't just belong in books?

Literally: One can almost see the ocean from our terrace with the view of the New York Harbor.

But even more than the literal sea, let me say this:
(and by "this" I mean quoting my dear Clive Staples Lewis)
Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring and which beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for?

and maybe one more...
"For all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort: It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?"

That's all.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Maybe the best of things.

And yet. These two words might be my new favorites. They are often on the lips of my new favorite fictional grandpa, Leopold Gursky in Nicole Krauss' "The History of Love." We meet him in present day New York City without family, many friends or really much to look forward to. He is at once waiting for and painfully scared of death. During his youth in Poland he wished to be a writer--before the war pushed him to America, where he became a locksmith. He tells his story of lost love with poignant detail and unlocks the poetics of human longing. "And yet." is the most often repeated sentence...well, no grammarian could call it sentence. And yet. They are the Leopold's most profound words. A string of hope is woven through the lonely events of his life and I love him for that.

The word yet is kind of funny. One of those that if you repeat it over and over again it loses all meaning, which happened to me as I was thinking of what to type. The OED lists it as meaning "nevertheless; in spite of that." I love the idea that hope can still come, nevertheless: in the throes of loneliness and desperation, or quiet, or anger. It kind of makes me want to write my own poetry of "and yets."

the city is concrete
and yet
glazed by light

Those words change everything, and become strikingly poetic when the second half conveys a different kind of beauty or scent of humanity. and yet. It makes me think.

and yet

I found another place:

"dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." 2 Corinthians 6:9-10

let's be and yet kinds of people.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Waking Up.

Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen is a nonfiction account of the Chicago World’s Fair at the turn of the century. It’s title states the premise: it follows the amazing story of the vision of what Chicago wanted the fair to be—a miniature version of a perfect, beautiful city—and juxtaposes it with the crimes of H.H. Holmes, a serial killer in Chicago at the time.

The city’s and country’s best architects and landscape artists created what was called “a Dreamland.” They had created a place that defined grandeur, elegance and beauty upon the shore of Lake Michigan.

At the same time, H.H. Holmes was luring women into his life, making promises he would never fulfill and killing them in the most grotesque, twisted ways. He murdered children without giving it a second thought. These two things existing side by side, each one not paying attention to the other became quite symbolic for me as I read.

Absolute beauty and absolute darkness are living side by side everywhere. What struck me the most while reading this is how it is easy for me to get caught up in the beauty of things and forget about the reality of darkness. It is easy to walk through the streets of New York and be amazed at the architecture and the fashion and art. I can ride my bike beside the Hudson River and smile while the sun is setting and the lights in the buildings become slowly visible. I can sit in my favorite café and write on my laptop or read my book.

But if I open my eyes, I am faced with the darkness alongside of it: homelessness, injustice, hunger, poverty, crime, drugs, trash.

I feel like we are constantly trying to build our own “white cities,” mentally and physically. And part of me has to wonder who we are leaving out or behind in our quest to do that.

Wait a minute. I need to make this personal. I can’t make this something that an anonymous conglomerate is in charge of. Albeit, it is easier to think about this terms of “we” and “us.” But. I wonder what my definition of “white city” is. It is a place where I am working to live a life surrounded only by beauty for myself and others like me? Or is it a place where I’m working for everyone to experience it? A different kind of beauty, perhaps. A columnist wrote of the Chicago fair site once it was over: “It is desolation. You wish you had not come. If there were not so many around, you would reach out your arms, with the prayer on your lips for it all to come back to you. It seems cruel, cruel, to give us such a vision; to let us dream and drift through heaven for six months, and then to take it out of our lives.” Perhaps because it was the wrong kind of dream? A mis-picturing of heaven?

And obviously, if you’ve talked to me or read anything I’ve written, you have to know by now that I think beauty is one of the most engaging things that exists. It motivates and encourages in ways nothing else can. But I’m just saying that maybe beauty doesn’t equal luxury. Maybe it doesn’t equal stuff I can buy.

I don’t want to set up a life for myself where I’m ignoring the darkness. I want to set up a life for myself where I am a part of its restoration. I’m not sure if this is even coherent—mostly because I have no answers, just observations. Observations that I hope will turn proactive.

This post was supposed to be about the ache of beauty and it’s grandeur and my inability to know how to respond to it. But maybe it is fitting that this is the in between post. I think it will only be richer once I consider all of this.

(The other book I was/am reading beside this that has influenced my thinking is “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah. An account so mind-blowing of the reality of the darkness of the world, that any words I have would only sound trite. Read it.)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Just for the record. No reading involved.

I love this city:

I love these friends:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Prequel: What You Need to Know to Get What's Next (even though I feel like I've covered this before)

Now that my title sounds like it was modeled after Sufjan...I recently finished the best book I have read in a long long time. I realize that is a big statement, but seriously, “The God of Small Things” is fantastic, fantastic writing paired with a story that still resonates in me. Arundati Roy is able to capture some heart-breakingly beautiful moments. And you have to read it to get it. Explanation will cause it harm.

Besides just sweeping me away, though, the book reminded me of the small beautiful moments of life that are so easy to walk right past. I’m not sure how I forgot to look for them—but I blame the winter, namely. Before I go on a tangent about their significance, I want to define it as best I can—which, not surprisingly, is by quoting other people’s writing:

“Alone, in the huge apartment, with a glass of ambrosia in her hand, Camille listened to the voices of angels. Even the crystal pendants on the chandelier quivered with well-being…she must have listened to track number 5 at least 14 times. And still, even the fourteenth time she heard it, her rib cage shattered into a thousand pieces.” (Hunting and Gathering)

“I didn’t know what to think, but what I felt was magnetic and so big it ached like the moon had entered my chest and filled it up. The only thing I could compare it to was the feeling I got one time when I walked back from the peach stand and saw the sun spreading across the late afternoon, setting the top of the orchard on fire while darkness collected underneath. Silence had hovered over my head, beauty multiplying in the air, the trees so transparent I felt I could see through to something pure inside them. My chest ached then, too, in this very same way.” (The Secret Life of Bees)

In another top ten book, “A Severe Mercy,” Sheldon Vanauken says the following:

“Then—then she said something about how beauty hurts. ‘What! You, too?’ I exclaimed, in effect. ‘You know that? The pain of beauty? I thought I was the only one.’”

My hope in writing this is that there will be a handful of people who get what those passages are saying. That’s they aren’t just pretty paragraphs, but that you have your own moments that you have folded up in an envelope inside of you.

The only thing that I can attempt to do with this ache of beauty is capture it, and even that is elusive. It ultimately leaves me with my eyes facing eternity, when I have no doubt the longing to be a part of it will cease, namely because somehow we will an actual part of it. But until then, my struggle to capture and hold on to the beauty persists. Sigh. But I guess I’m doing my best to follow Sam’s example in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“Sam saw a white star, peeping among the cloud wrock dark high up in the mountains, twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cloudy Sky Spring.

Last night was the first true true thunderstorm of the season. I felt lucky to be outside right before it started. Even in this concrete city, the air still foreshadows what is to come, in this case, right off of the tall trees of Riverside. Then as I emerged from the subway, the scaffolding that surrounds nearly every building downtown these days wasn't its usual oppressive self. It offered me an amazing view without getting literally soaked (though perhaps I was metaphorically so). Amanda and I took up that offer and breathed in the spring rain.

Today has the same kind of feel, except without the rain, though its promise still lingers. The cherry tree outside my classroom window is bursting with pink blooms that seem more colorful against the cloudy sky. The wind is shaking the bradford pear blooms down--causing the white petals to dance in the air for a while. Sigh.

I love the days that make you look for the secret things.

And this poem just seems to be the great thing ever to me today. Maybe read it while listening to "Comptine D'Un Autre Ete" by Yann Tierson from the Amelie soundtrack.

Like You by Roque Dalton (translated from Spanish by Jack Hirschman)

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.

And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.

And that my veins don't end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.