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:

No one tells you this

I’d never been outside of Canada. When I complained about this growing up in our suburban house outside of Toronto, my father would helpfully point out that he’d once driven us across the border at Niagara Falls and then done a U-turn and driven us right back, so technically speaking I had, in fact, left the country. I was unmoved. Literally as well as figuratively. Unlike every other person I knew in Ontario, my family had not gone to Florida for winter vacation. We had not done the drive down I-95 to visit grandparents or go to Disney World. We didn’t even make the trip to Buffalo to take advantage of the cheaper American prices at the mall outlets. The MacNicols stayed put. Travel was for other people…

Growing up, nearly everything existed for me only in books, which had the effect of making all travel seem automatically rife with adventure and exoticism, no matter the reality. When friends complained about the terrible monotony of being trapped during spring break in the back of their parents’ car en route to Myrtle Beach, it fell on uncomprehending ears. To me, the concrete American Interstate held the same unknowable mystique as Paris. Perhaps it was less than surprising then that I cleaved on to the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder the way I did: not only was she also an adventurous young girl, she was a real person; I could find the places she’d gone to on a map and know she’d actually been there, and that because she’d done it, perhaps I could do it, too. Eventually I found my way to those dots in real life along with many others, always slightly astounded that I had managed to manifest my own childhood imagination.

~ Glynnis MacNicolNo One Tells You This: A Memoir (July 10, 2018)


Book Review: HuffPost – ‘No One Tells You This’: The Triumph Of Choosing A Single, Childfree Life At 40

Dzing!


Notes: Review by Luca Turin, “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide” (via see more). Image Source: Pinterest

Running. With Potpourri.

I’m off. Running. 6:05 am and it’s 76° F, already. Humidity is thick, legs are heavy, body is huge, mind is resisting, all of it groaning under the pressure of NO.

Scenes of the last 3 days flicker by.

pot·pour·ri (n) a mixture of things

In a small patch of grass, with Holly Pond on its right, a guard rail on the left, and Post Road to the North, is a flock. Not of a like-kind. But 2 adult geese, 3 toddlers, a mallard and a sparrow. All quietly feeding as I approach. Mother Goose, protecting her young-uns, approaches, neck fully extended…tall and fierce with her wings spread wide…hissing. This luncheon is human-free, and I was not welcome. All these creatures, peacefully feeding, and yet we, a higher level of intelligence can’t seem to sit in a room and have a civil conversation.

I’m in the dentist chair. Not flat, but with feet higher than head. Hygienist is wearing a face mask and magnified eye goggles. Poking, scraping, suction, flossing. I’m lolling in and out of nausea and claustrophobia. Overhead lamp beams down. I’m Dustin Hoffman in the scene from Marathon Man. Blood rushes to my head. I swallow, shift my legs and grip the arms of the chair. Hygienist notices the discomfort and withdraws. Breathe DK, breathe. I regain my composure.

Feet and legs have been hurting after my runs. Time for new shoes. I’m third in line, waiting to check out at Dick’s Sporting Goods. It’s late afternoon on July 4th. I’m watching one of three check out clerks. She’s large boned, broad shouldered, and tired. I walk up and hand her the shoes – with an intense desire to see what shoes she is wearing. She’s been standing since 10 am on a statutory holiday. She places the shoe box into a plastic bag, drops in the receipt and offers an obligatory “Thank you.” I’m walking out the door. Should have tipped her. Should have. Should have. Should have. [Read more…]

5 days. Solo in Paris.

Months before I arrived at the little hotel with its red geraniums, I was in Paris on an assignment for the Travel section of the New York Times. I had five days and a headline: “Solo in Paris.” The story was up to me.

To find it, I went walking. Each morning I left my hotel in the 9th arrondissement, just east of the apartment where Proust wrote much of Remembrance of Things Past, and didn’t return until I had gone some twenty miles in whichever direction whim and croissants (and olive fougasse and pistachio financiers) took me. It was April, and like any tourist I saw monuments and statues, naked nymphs, and gods among the roses. But alone, with no one at my side, I was also able to see le merveilleux quotidien, “the marvelous in everyday life”: a golden retriever gazing at a café chalkboard in Montmartre, as if reading the daily specials; boxes of pâtes de fruits arranged in grids like Gerhard Richter’s color charts. The city had my full attention; I was attuned to the faint whir of bicycle wheels and the scent of peaches at the street market.

Although I was traveling without friends or family, each day brought passing companions: bakers, maître d’s, museum greeters, shopkeepers, fellow travelers. The hours were unhurried and entirely mine, like the “limitless solitude” the poet Rilke described in a letter to a friend; “this taking each day like a life-time, this being-with-everything.”

Only, it wasn’t a lifetime—it was five days. On the last morning, I slipped through a gate on rue de Rivoli into the Tuileries. Sprinklers flung water into the air. A man with a wheelbarrow bent over a bed of long-stemmed tulips. John Russell, the British art critic, once wrote that the rue de Rivoli seemed to say to mankind, “This is what life can be . . . and now it’s up to you to live it.” That’s what those days in Paris said to me. I wondered when, or if, I’d see the tulips again.

On assignment, I would play detective; partake of everything, get up early, record the details, do the things that felt strange and uncomfortable. But the assignment was over. Months passed and back in New York, the days grew shorter. Yet my head was still in Paris. It wasn’t a matter of missing cream confections flirting in the windows of boulangeries. I missed who I was in Paris—the other me, Stéphanie with the accent on the “e”: curious, improvisational, open to serendipity.

Finally, I took a long weekend to think about why I couldn’t let go of that particular assignment, why alone in Paris time seemed to be on my side; why my senses pricked up; why I was able to delight in the smallest of things and yet failed to see and feel with such intensity at home. Friends loaned me their empty house near a bay on Long Island where on an autumn afternoon I stepped off a bus with a week’s worth of reading and Chinese takeout. Without car or television, I spent days orbiting between a bench on the front porch and an oversize pink wing chair at the head of the dining room table, like the one at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in the 1951 Disney film, eating vegetable lo mein and reading about different experiences of solitude. I plumbed newspaper archives and Gutenberg.org. I ordered used and out-of-print books. I wanted to know what scientists, writers, artists, musicians, and scholars thought about alone time, how they used it, why it mattered. Sometimes I walked a dead-end street to the bay. Other times I would lie on the wood floor in a patch of sun, staring at the ceiling, trying to deconstruct those solitary hours in Paris. There was something there; some way of living that I’d failed to fully grasp, let alone carry with me to my own city.

~ Stephanie Rosenbloom, from her “Introduction” to Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude (Penguin Publishing Group. June 5, 2018)

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She would be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
“For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned.” And she will.

~ Ted Kooser, “Selecting a Reader”, the opening poem in his new book: Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, May 8, 2018)


Notes:

  • Ted Kooser’s new collection went on sale at Amazon (only in Hardcover) this month for $28.69
  • Portrait of Ted Kooser via KUOW

A Wasted Day. Not.

kindle

I downloaded a sample from Amazon during my week off. Patricia Hampl’s The Art of a Wasted Day.

I skimmed a chapter and then another.

I couldn’t build a head of steam. And with one finger poke, it was gone…leaving a blank space on my Kindle app.

Not a chance I’ll be guilted into turning pages that don’t have wind at their backs. Midlife isn’t the Muscle Car. It’s Ruth Baumann’s Diagnosis: “Days like clocks tick. As do I. Quietly.”

And, yet, there She was. A slow, low murmuring. Her voice calling me back.

I’m back to Amazon, one-click, $12.99 in the till, and it’s done. Back to the Kindle.

It’s more like a basket of shards, her word, not mine.

Verbose (for one who likes to get there as the crow flies). Wandering. Catenated religious references. Historical events. Biblical passages. Notable geographical sites. BahWho cares?

Eyes glazing over, skipping words, jumping sentences, leaping paragraphs.

And then a few words catch the eye. And then a flock. Of Finches. Of Barn Swallows. Of Juncos. All landing softly. They too murmuring…slow down Friend. Be still. There’s something for you here.

And there is. And there was. And she wouldn’t let me go.

Would you recommend it?

No.

Did you love it?

Absolutely.


Notes:

  • Inspired by: “Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.” — Markus ZusakThe Book Thief 
  • Photo: Getty

Who put out the fire?

I’m 1/3 of the way through Tara Westover’s book “Educated: A Memoir” and it’s a Wow.

For book reviews, check out:

“For eighteen years I never thought of that day, not in any probing way. The few times my reminiscing carried me back to that torrid afternoon, what I remembered first…Now, at age twenty-nine, I sit down to write, to reconstruct the incident from the echoes and shouts of a tired memory. I scratch it out. When I get to the end, I pause. There’s an inconsistency, a ghost in this story. I read it. I read it again. And there it is. Who put out the fire?”

~ Tara Westover, “Educated: A Memoir”

Highly recommended.


 

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