The Cost of Living

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children have been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman. It requires skill, time, dedication and empathy to create a home that everyone enjoys and that functions well. Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

~ Deborah Levy, The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography (July 2018)


Book Review of Deborah Levy’s “The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography by Lauren Oyler can be found at The New Republic (July 26, 2018) titled: How to Live and Write Alone. An excerpt from the book review: “Aphorisms that would usually be heavy-handed (“If we cannot at least imagine we are free, we are living a life that is wrong for us”) also breeze past; only later do you realize you’ve been self-helped.”

Here’s another from Levy’s book: “It begins with knowing and not knowing, a glass of milk, rain, a reproach, a door slammed shut, a mother’s sharp tongue, a snail, a wish, bitten fingernails, an open window. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is unbearable. What was ‘it’? I don’t know.

Highly Recommended.

Waiting for Eden

She’d heard the stories about when they’d brought him in. The rush to the roof, his helicopter landing, and how close to death he’d always been. Between shifts, the older docs and nurses spoke quietly about the guy up on the fourth floor burned so bad it was a miracle he’d survived. They always talked about him quickly, in murmurs over their coffee or standing close to each other in an elevator. What they’d say was always the same: worst wounded guy in both wars, don’t know if I’d want to live like that, and just a matter of time. They all said that one: a matter of time…

His skin, already see-through with burns, didn’t sweat, it couldn’t. Instead it shone, the fever trapped inside…His body seized and then did a sort of whip-crack, struggling for breath even as he gasped…She climbed up on his bed and leaned in, not touching his burns but so close that her smell would linger around him. Before, when they would be in bed together, she’d often wake when he’d bury his face deep into the nape of her neck, covering himself in her dark hair to what she worried was the point of suffocation. One of the first things he ever told her was that he liked her perfume, but she never wore any. Her smell was of soap and water.

~ Elliot Ackerman, excerpts from Waiting for Eden: A Novel (September, 2018)


Notes: A mere 192 pages, but a story that will be seared into memory.  A National Book Award Finalist. An Amazon Book of the Month in October, 2018.  A book that reminded me of The Sea Inside and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  A NY Book Review by Anthony Swofford captures it beautifully: “To identify this book as a novel seems inadequate: ‘Waiting for Eden’ is a sculpture chiseled from the rarest slab of life experience. The sculptor’s tools are extreme psychological interrogation and clear artistic vision.”

The Library Book

I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way…Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, I went there several times a week with my mother. On those visits, my mother and I walked in together but as soon as we passed through the door, we split up and each headed to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place I was ever given autonomy. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to head off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together we waited as the librarian at the counter pulled out the date card and stamped it with the checkout machine—that giant fist thumping the card with a loud chunk-chunk, printing a crooked due date underneath a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times. Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived. It wasn’t like going to a store with my mom, which guaranteed a tug-of-war between what I wanted and what my mother was willing to buy me; in the library I could have anything I wanted. After we checked out, I loved being in the car and having all the books we’d gotten stacked on my lap, pressing me under their solid, warm weight, their Mylar covers sticking a bit to my thighs. It was such a thrill leaving a place with things you hadn’t paid for; such a thrill anticipating the new books we would read. On the ride home, my mom and I talked about the order in which we were going to read our books and how long until they had to be returned, a solemn conversation in which we decided how to pace ourselves through this charmed, evanescent period of grace until the books were due…My mother then always mentioned that if she could have chosen any profession at all, she would have chosen to be a librarian, and the car would grow silent for a moment as we both considered what an amazing thing that would have been…

Decades had passed and I was three thousand miles away. When we stepped in, the thunderbolt of recognition struck me so hard that it made me gasp…I felt like I had been lifted up and whisked back to that time and place, back to the scenario of walking into the library with my mother. Nothing had changed—there was the same soft tsk-tsk-tsk of pencil on paper, and the muffled murmuring from patrons at the tables in the center of the room, and the creak and groan of book carts, and the occasional papery clunk of a book dropped on a desk. The scarred wooden checkout counters, and the librarians’ desks, as big as boats, and the bulletin board with its fluttering, raggedy notices were all the same. The sense of gentle, steady busyness, like water on a rolling boil, was just the same.

~ Susan Orlean, edited from The Library Book (October 15, 2018)


Photo of Susan Orlean by Gaspar Triangle via Orlando Weekly

we bought den lille shoes

“Why didn’t you adopt a child?”

“We pursued it, certainly. And twice came close—people gave us baby clothes, the bed with sides, we bought den lille shoes. But both times fell to pieces. A mother can change her mind, you see? But to come so near—and then not. The disappointment is extravagant.” This he stated in a flattened voice like a wall built hastily to conceal ruins.

~ Leif Enger, Virgil Wander (Atlantic Monthly Press, October 2, 2018)

 


Notes:

Miracle. All of it.

“You’re doing great, Nicole,” Jenny said suddenly, and these seemed like the first clear words I had heard in hours. “One, maybe two more pushes and she’ll be born!” It was the most powerful moment of my life, that moment shortly after one in the morning when I heard her cry and knew she was finally with us. Our daughter decided to come into the world with one fist raised. Seconds later she was placed on my chest, beautiful and flushed and still screaming at the shock of birth, and I touched her hair, her warm little cheek. Her skin felt impossibly soft, softer than I knew anything could be. At seven pounds, fifteen ounces, twenty inches long, she was not a small baby—her wails were also lusty, much louder than I’d expected—but she felt new and fragile in my arms. She stopped crying and gazed up at me, and my world shrank to the arresting dark blue pools of her eyes…

I had never been so tired, and I was sore to the very roots of my hair, but I couldn’t seem to close my eyes—how could anyone expect me to sleep when I had this fascinating little face to watch? It was almost impossible to believe this was the same unseen being who’d done jumping jacks on my bladder, greeting me with kicks and pokes and slow stretches for weeks on end. She was so small and so new, barely and yet wholly herself, already…

Suddenly I remembered the words of a friend…I love telling my kids their birth stories. It’s such a privilege to be able to do that. Yes, I thought, and also a miracle. The clichéd word didn’t embarrass me; this day and night was a wonder I’d never get over. As many times as this had happened before, to billions of parents since time immemorial, it was the only time it had ever happened to me. I had a child now, and she was mine. We were together. We would stay together. When Abby was old enough to ask me—to wonder, and to listen, and to care—I would tell her about her birth, her first days with us. You were born with one arm raised…I would say. When it was over, you and Daddy slept, but I couldn’t. All I wanted to do was look at you.

~ Nicole Chung, “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” (October 2, 2018)


Notes:

  • Photograph Credit
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.
  • Inspiration: Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

It’s been a long day

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

~ Mary Oliver, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches” in West Wind: Poems & Prose


Notes: Poem via The Hammock Papers. Photo: Laurence Demaison. Related Posts: It’s been a long day

They thought it was the best thing for you

The story my mother told me about them was always the same. Your birth parents had just moved here from Korea. They thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved. It’s the first story I can recall, one that would shape a hundred others once I was old enough and brave enough to go looking. When I was still young—three or four, I’ve been told—I would crawl into my mother’s lap before asking to hear it. Her arms would have encircled me, solid and strong where I was slight, pale and freckled against my light brown skin. Sometimes, in these half-imagined memories, I picture her in the dress she wore in our only family portrait from this era, lilac with flutter sleeves—an oddly delicate choice for my solid and sensible mother. At that age, a shiny black bowl cut and bangs would have framed my face, a stark contrast to the reddish-brown perm my mother had when I was young; I was no doubt growing out of toddler cuteness by then. But my mom thought I was beautiful. When you think of someone as your gift from God, maybe you can never see them as anything else. How could they give me up?…

Your birth parents were very sad they couldn’t keep you, but they thought adoption was the best thing for you. Even as a child, I knew my line, too. They were right, Mom. 

By the time I was five or six years old, I had heard the tale of my loving, selfless birth parents so many times I could recite it myself. I collected every fact I could, hoarding the sparse and faded glimpses into my past like bright, favorite toys. This may be all you can ever know…

Family lore given to us as children has such hold over us, such staying power. It can form the bedrock of another kind of faith, one to rival any religion, informing our beliefs about ourselves, and our families, and our place in the world. When tiny, traitorous doubts arose, when I felt lost or alone or confused about all the things I couldn’t know, I told myself that something as noble as my birth parents’ sacrifice demanded my trust. My loyalty.

They thought adoption was the best thing for you...

~ Nicole Chung, opening lines to “All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir” (October 2, 2018)

It’s been a long day

Everyone wants you to be Atlas,
to shoulder it all. Even the voice in your
head insists you are behind. But I’ve seen
the light in you, the one the gods finger
while we sleep. I’ve seen the blossom open
in your heart, no matter what remains to
be done. There are never enough hours
to satisfy the minions of want. So close
your eyes and lean into the Oneness that
asks nothing of you. When the calls stack,
answer to no one, though you receive them
all. Just open your beautiful hands, born with
nothing in them. You have never been more
complete than in this incomplete moment.

~ Mark Nepo, The Myth of Urgency in The Way Under the Way: The Place of True Meeting


Notes: Quote via mindfulbalance.org. Photo: Laurence Demaison (via see more). Related Posts: It’s been a long day

It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark

I felt at home, strangely, because it is a miniature world.… One manor house, one farmhouse. A vineyard, a field of potatoes, a field of wheat, a cherry tree, an orchard. It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark. It is like when you draw a place when you are a child. I don’t like large-scale things, not in architecture or evolutionary leaps. I think it’s an aberration. This notion of something that is small and self-contained is for me a moral and aesthetic ideal.

~ W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country 


Image: Cristiana Coucerio for The New Yorker,

It’s been a long day

Daily life, work you chose and profess to love, domestic detail, the call and reply of other people’s lives, the beloveds mixed in there with everybody else who has a claim on you, the sheer wants and requests, always heard as demands, the gnats of need buzzing. Deadlines. Delivering. Always. Not to mention the weights of the past, hanging like bells gonging from your wrists.

Patricia HamplThe Art of the Wasted Day

 


Notes. Photo: Thainá Reinert (via Your Eyes Blaze Out). Related Posts: It’s been a long day

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