Silence, Solnit

Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Modern Art

My camera phone catches all the details but flattens them.

I’m reading and reading but when I sit down inside to write this I can think of nothing to type. I’m in the middle of Rebecca Solnit’s essay “A Short History of Silence” from the book The Mother of All Questions. Her tight paragraphs, devastating observations, and judicious quotes build a foundation of feminist rage at all the different ways silence is maintained.

Solnit writes about the reception of Suki Kim’s book of investigative journalism, which her publishers insisted on marketing as a memoir, as a silencing of her through relegating her to a women’s realm where she could be an expert not on North Korea, but only on herself. Kim’s own essay is even more poignant, ending with the lament that “As a woman of color entrenched in a profession still dominated by white men, I have been forced to use my writing not to explore topics of my own choosing, or to investigate the world’s complexities, but as a means to legitimize myself.”

Perhaps there are many forms of art that serve their creators as a way to say things that couldn’t otherwise be heard – poetry, painting, novels, film. All provide a way for humans who may be limited by their culture’s sad and rigid form to transcend their proscribed gender, sexuality, religion, race or consciousness.

Last night I watched an episode from Tony Bourdain’s recent series where he goes to London in the days after the Brexit vote. He dines at St John, where my brilliant mother took me for her last wonderful meal in 1998, right before I went to my JYA and she went to the hospital for the last time.

Bourdain was born in New Jersey just a year after my mother and I thought about how much she would have loved watching him and reading him and arguing about him, if his star had risen before she died. Then I had the treacherous thought that she could’ve been Tony Bourdain if it wasn’t for the limitations of her gender in America, and marrying at 19, having kids at 22, and being a mother instead of going to the CIA and being a chef and writer. Of course many women have taken the opportunity for a second act writing and new career, after the kids have fledged. My mother only lived long enough for one and a half acts. No one who knew her would think she wasted a moment of her time.

As I enter my forties, I can see more clearly how training, chance and culture have shaped my individual choices and opportunities. Solnit’s conclusion is that we must use “any privilege we may have been handed to undo privilege or expand its scope”

My privilege this morning is writing here, and I endeavor to tell more and be less silent.


Book review: Mountain Lines by Jonathan Arlin

What Arlin does well is describe the scenery and the slightly of daily walking. I didn’t get to know him, but I do now know the GR5 trail through the Alps from Geneva to Nice and have another trail to dream about.
It’s a better read than the book from last year about the guy trying to live as a goat. But the goat man seems more practical and honest, somehow, in his ridiculous quest. All travel books start with the fiction that the trip somehow exists outside of the story of the trip. Arlin’s is a traditional travel book that pays homage to Fermor and other artful obfuscators that base their work on their walks, revealing only the barest details of their finances and motivations.

Loose Focus for Monday Morning

view from our Cinnamon Bay campsite

I read four books on my unplugged vacation and have kept up the reading habit since our return. We are still in the process of moving but it feels like the home stretch is upon us. The daffodils and spring bulbs that came up in December are resuming their growth. I anticipate a spring spent in the park taking pictures of plants for this blog.

Goals for this week: sign a lease on a new apartment.

Books Read:

  • The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks  Devoted to his traditional farming community in Yorkshire, Rebanks sneaked away to go to Oxford during the recession and runs a very popular sheep heavy twitter feed.
  • New Girl Law: Drafting a future for Cambodia by Anne Elizabeth Moore A feminist punk who went to Cambodia to teach young women how to make zines after her publishing collective imploded.
  • Inside the Grass Hut by Ben Connelly A zen monk in Minnesota who loves an ancient poem and leads poetry and hiking meditation workshops in Montana.
  • Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin An obsessive writer and mom on the Upper West Side who wants to do everything perfectly and is gradually figuring out that that looks different for every person on the surface but underneath we have pretty simple needs and drivers.

All nonfiction with strong settings and unique narrators with unusual approaches to improving/living their lives.

Have a great week!

NYP to NHT- GFD to NYP Amtrak!

The new train route is magical, especially in the snow. In the past I would take the train to Springfield and I loved that too, but this is way better. It is a great feeling to step onto the platform at Northampton and be able to do a bit of shopping and stretch my legs as I head up to visit my brother.

I didn’t get to see everyone I would’ve liked to in Massachusetts- but I caught up with the family, tasted Scott and Kate’s homemade cider varieties, and visited Davenport’s Sugar House on its opening day.  No sap running yet, but the light and newborn calves were very cheering.

Train rides are great for reflection, reading and writing- did you know Amtrak offered fellowships last year? I took full advantage and read both Phenomenal by Leigh Ann Henion and The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both are good, in the genre of stunt non-fiction, where the author does something for a year in hopes of  improving themselves. Rubin’s section on her marriage reads quite a bit like Gone Girl- I enjoyed reading a few passages out loud to my husband. But, her aphorisms, quotes and suggestions have been popping up in my mind and she convinced me that being happy (and blogging more) are worthwhile goals.

Creating Time by Marney K. Makridakis- book review

This book jumped off the shelf and into my hands as I paced the floor at work. I have been reading a lot of management books that have good ideas about taming time, organizing, prioritizing, leaning in, etc. But none have promised to help me create or reinvent time. As a scifi fan and somewhat blocked artist, this is what I need. I know I am spending my time each day on quite a number of things I don’t care about.

Heard this lately? “I’m so busy! I’m so stressed out! I don’t have time to think! How can I get everything done that is expected of me? WAAAAAAH!”

What would happen if someone asked me how I was and I responded “Well, I’m doing pretty great. Nick and I are cooking and making dinner together four or five nights a week, we see our families and close friends at least once a month, I had time to go camping this summer, I ride my bike several hours every week, work is going pretty great.” I don’t tell people that. It seems like bragging. Tempting god. If I go around complaining all the time and encouraging others’ complaints maybe the vengeful great being won’t notice that I am one of the luckiest people on the planet and will let me go on living well and complaining loudly.

The problem with this strategy is that I am the one listening to my complaints and they have a way of solidifying into fact. Instead of saying, holy crap I got to walk along Hadrian’s wall this spring and eat the best meat pie in the history of time, I say, oh boo hoo I am not going on a fantasmagorical honeymoon odyssey this September (because I am out of vacation time). This is a dim way to think and results in lower cumulative happiness levels. If we want to be all American and faux-quantificatory about it.

Instead, let’s create time. Starting today.



20130115-103351.jpgFor over a year I have been reading pilgrimage tales. Actually it started twenty years ago with a book about an intrepid medieval pilgrim, Margery Kempe,whose tales of her pilgrimagesare thought to be the first autobiography in English. Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed tread a very well worn path from the 1300s. And presumably people have done it much longer without writing about it.
It seems to me that pilgrimages today occupy the same spot in our culture they did then, offering people an alternative to the all consuming vocations of family (mothering) and work. Something you do for yourself in the guise of serving your higher power.
Pilgrimages are soaring in popularity today- The Camino de Santiago and the Appalachian Trail receive more supplicants every year. I have read more colorful descriptions of filth and blisters than anyone would need to. Many of these pilgrims are overtly anti-God. But they are desperately seeking something. Most poignant to me are the trail journals about the difficulty of returning to everyday life. Clearly some folks become addicted to the seeking, like Gideon Kraus Lewis and must keep running. Nothing wrong with that, ahem. I am addicted to pilgrim narrative and I have all the weather at the start of the many routes programmed into my phone so I can fully fantasize- it’s snowing today in Roncesvalles, probably not a good day to start.


Books for Elliot’s First Month

My new nephew already has a significant library for his first month. His mother is a writer and his father is a voracious autodidact. Although there are still many people who look confused when I tell them about baby story time, Elliot is on track to get all the benefits of early literacy and book loving parents.
I will be welcoming a large number of new people into the world this year and I thought I should share my professional skills at selecting infant books.
The only rule- buy what you like.

If you haven’t picked up a children’s picture book in a few decades, prepare to be impressed. Improved technology and Printing techniques and sophistication have led to vibrant and impressive multicolored works of a length and variety impossible to imagine in the past. However, the glitter and flash unfortunately did not lead to there being a sum increase in genius in the world, so though books look a lot better, and there are a lot more of them, it is still difficult to find a great book.
The best thing about babies – they haven’t read anything so they are incredibly easy to shop for. And unlike a duplicate crib or bouncing swing, the average baby will destroy at least three copies of pat the bunny in his or her early years. So feel free to buy your favorites and stack them deep on low shelves.
I went with blueberries for sal for Elliot’s first book from me because his parents make delicious blueberry jam. Elliot’s paternal grandmother would take me and my brother up to the low bush blueberry farm in our hometown to pick twenty pounds of berries that we would freeze for the winter. I remember sitting in the bushes and eating as many as I could reach while my mother picked.
My hope is that my nephew will be connected to his father’s childhood through that book. And that he will have days as sweet in beautiful New England.
I think you can’t go wrong selecting books for young people as gifts if you go with what you like. And, often the givers also make a gift of their memories of the book and the adults who first shared it with them, passing stories and good feelings as family heirlooms.