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.”

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)

unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them

I’ve learned to write on trains and in hotels and waiting rooms. On the tray tables on planes. I take notes at lunch, under the table, or in the bathroom. I write in museum stairwells, in cafés, in the car on the shoulder of the motorway. I jot things down on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on postcards, on my other hand, on napkins, in the margins of books. Usually they’re short sentences, little images, but sometimes I copy out quotes from the papers. Sometimes a figure carves itself out of the crowd, and then I deviate from my itinerary to follow it for a moment, start on its story. It’s a good method; I excel at it. With the years, time has become my ally, as it does for every woman—I’ve become invisible, see-through. I am able to move around like a ghost, look over people’s shoulders, listen in on their arguments and watch them sleep with their heads on their backpacks or talking to themselves, unaware of my presence, moving just their lips, forming words that I will soon pronounce for them.

~ Olga Tokarczuk, Flights (August 13, 2018)


Olga Tokarczuk, 56, is one of Poland’s best and most beloved authors. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, becoming the first Polish writer to do so.  Tobias Grey wrote a profile of Tokarczuk in the NY Times on August 8, 2018 titled: Olga Tokarczuk’s Book ‘Flights’ Is Taking Off.” Here’s an excerpt from the profile:

“Ms. Tokarczuk likened herself to a tailor making a dress. ‘The dress is beautiful and comfortable to wear,’ she said. ‘But like the reader, the person who wears it is not expected to know precisely how all the materials that make it are connected.’ When Ms. Tokarczuk finished writing ‘Flights’ she gathered all her pages and spent a week studying them spread out on the floor of her living room. ‘It was funny because I had to climb onto a table to see how they looked from a high vantage point,’ she said. ‘I trusted my intuition to find the book’s order, and I wouldn’t change anything now.'”


Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk from Los Angeles Review of Books

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books

I’m always in quest of the holy grail of books, the perfect book that explains it all, the book whose beauty is as fierce as lightning and whose meaning points to true north, so I dip into thousands of books for a moment and note that this, too, is not it.

~ Rebecca Solnit, in “Rebecca Solnit: By the Book” (NY Times, August 16, 2018)

 


Portrait: sfweekly

Sunday Morning

Refresh yourself, sister
With the water from the copper bowl with bits of ice in it –
Open your eyes under water, wash them –
Dry yourself with a rough towel and cast
A glance at a book you love.
In this way begin
A lovely and useful day.

Bertolt Brecht, “Sister” from Do-it-Yourself Brecht Poem Toolkit

 


Notes: Photo: heather milazzo with Face Washing .  Poem: Thank you Whiskey River.

Miracle. All of it.

A life: thousands and millions of pages to be filled; all the insects that one has encountered or crushed, every blade of grass one’s foot has brushed against, every tile and slate on the houses one has looked at, the tons of food that one has eaten, that one first had to buy, pound after pound, quart after quart. And the faces, and the smells, and the smiles, and the cries, and the gusts of wind, and the rains and the seasons perpetually returning … Imagine telling the story of one’s life simply by remembering the colors one has seen, just the colors, the colors one has loved, or studied, or neglected.

Violette LeDuc, La Bâtarde in Dalkey


Notes:

  • Violette LeDuc (1907-1972) was born in France. She was the illegitimate daughter of a servant girl, Berthe Leduc and André Debaralle, the son of a rich protestant family who subsequently refused to legitimize her. Violette spent most of her childhood suffering from poor self-esteem, exacerbated by her mother’s hostility and excessive protectiveness.
  • Image Source:  themetapicture.com. Quote: via nemophilies.
  • 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.”
  • Related Posts: Miracle. All of it.

We all eat in pursuit of memories.

Amy-thielen

We all eat in pursuit of memories. The finely diced chives on my tongue are also the moments I snipped them from the grass in late spring as a child and put them in morning omelettes with my dad. A dry unsweet cookie is the sound of my great-aunt’s gravelly voice cautioning against the perilous use of sugar. Eating a bowl of ice cream is the slow methodical churn of my grandmother’s ice-cream maker that set the tempo for a Sunday afternoon.

Such sensory evocations, and the emotional tug they exert in one’s everyday life, are never far from the mind of Amy Thielen in “Give a Girl a Knife.” The memoir charts the beautiful winding path that led the author from rural Minnesota to high-stakes Michelin-starred restaurants in New York—in search of what she thought was culinary sophistication—and then back to Minnesota, and a cabin in the woods built by her artist husband. Along the way the author learned to cook Austrian, Chinese, French and even her native Minnesotan dishes.

~ Georgia Pellegrini, from Her Place at the Heartland Table in a book review of Amy Thielen‘s new book: “Give a Girl a Knife: A Memoir


Photo: Amy Thielen.com

It could not even see or hear. It simply smelled and tasted and touched its world

snail-elizabeth-tova-bailey

I finished this book a month ago and it hasn’t left my consciousness. Who would have thought a book about a snail would have so captured my attention, and held it for so long.  Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

“While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater under standing of her own confined place in the world. Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal…told with wit and grace, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.”

And here’s a few memorable passages:

“…I observed without thinking, looking into the terrarium simply to feel connected to another creature; another life was being lived just a few inches away.”

“By day, the strangeness of my situation was sharpest: I was bed-bound at a time when my friends and peers were moving forward in their careers and raising families. Yet the snail’s daytime sleeping habits gave me a fresh perspective; I was not the only one resting away the days. The snail naturally slept by day, even on the sunniest of afternoons. Its companionship was a comfort to me and buffered my feelings of uselessness.”

“…my snail could not see the moss over which it glided or even the plants it climbed. It could not see the trees, nor the stars overhead. It could not hear birdsong at daybreak, nor the midnight howls of coyotes. It could not even see or hear its own kin, let alone a predator. It simply smelled and tasted and touched its world.” [Read more…]

He is running, running, running

spill-simmer-falter-wither-book-jacket

He is running, running, running. And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoof-rucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down dead. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock. This time, there’s no chance for sniff and scavenge and scoff. There are no steel bars to end his lap, no chain to jerk at the limit of its extension, no bellowing to trick and bully him back. This time, he’s further than he’s ever seen before, past every marker along the horizon line, every hump and spork he learned by heart. […]

He is running, running, running. And there’s no course or current to deter him. There’s no impulse from the root of his brain to the roof of his skull which says other than RUN.

~ Sara Baume, from the Prologue of Spill Simmer Falter Wither (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)


Ray, a 57-year-old loner on Britain’s southern coast, adopts a one-eyed terrier. You can guess what happens next: Ray falls head over heels in love and is soon organizing his life around One Eye’s walks and feedings…Ray falls deeper under the spell of the damaged but joy-filled dog who has transformed his “squat, vacant life” and renewed his interest in his surroundings…This lovely book seems destined to become a small classic of animal communion literature, fervently handed along among friends and family…Early on, Ray asks himself a question that anyone whose life has been changed by a pet will recognize: “What did I use to do all day without you? Already I can’t remember.”

~ Sam Sacks, from his book review of Spill Simmer Falter Wither


One of NPR’s Best Books of 2016.  See NPR book review: For A Young Irish Artist And Author, Words Are Anchored In Images

It’s been a long day

spaghetti-pasta-cheese-dinner

If one day you become sick of words, as happens to us all, and you grow tired of hearing them, of saying them; if whichever you choose seems worn out, dull, disabled; if you feel nauseated when you hear ‘horrible’ or ‘divine’ for some everyday occurrence – you’ll not be cured, obviously, by alphabet soup.

You must do the following: cook a plate of al dente spaghetti dressed with the simplest seasoning – garlic, oil and chili. Over the pasta toss in this mixture, grate a layer of Parmesan cheese. To the right of the deep plate full of the spaghetti thus prepared, place an open book. To the left, place an open book. In front of it a full glass of red wine. Any other company is not recommended. Turn the pages of each book at random, but they must both be poetry. Only good poets cure us of an overindulgence in words. Only simple essential food cures us of gluttony.”

Héctor Abad Faciolince, from Recipes for Sad Women


Notes:

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