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Showing posts from June, 2010

Bare walls, Quiet rooms

My piano is gone, the wall is bare, and the carpet under where it had been is oddly puckered and bleached and dirty. The living room which has been a collection of oddly (but dearly) matched objects scattered around in half-purpose half-despair is now all too aware of its imminent dismantling.

It had to happen. Days after I received my acceptance letter I knew. This means my library, I thought, and my piano. It has a good home now – it’s to be a birthday surprise for the husband of a coworker who has always wanted a piano and has had to make do with a keyboard for too long.

But I have betrayed my old friend, my own family. I feel like I’ve given up my grandmother; like she’s died all over again.

There it is my journal: September 24. 6pm. I bought a piano.

It was a miraculous Goodwill find: “light oak, almost perfectly in tune, pedals that work, and when you uncover the keys, the music stand pops forward…” I stood it at the store like a dog guarding its master’s suitcase. I gnashed my …

Ruthless Self-examination

So I’ve only ever been to Australia that once, those ten days in 2006. A close high school friend who had immigrated to the Perth area was getting married. After being apart for three years, I flew to Australia just before Christmas to be her maid of honor. Little did I know that very close by, Elizabeth Jolley, the famous Anglo-Australian writer, was about to die. She died in February 2007, but for ten days we overlapped geographically. We may have passed each other on the street. (Unlikely, as she had dementia. But I'd like to imagine.)

Ah, the pleasure of making my way through a whole book. It’s been a while. Elizabeth Jolley’s autobiographical trilogy was both beautiful written and quietly innovative. Where many writers journey through memory and explore the past, Jolley is one of the first I’ve read to actually recreate the way memories work. Though distinctive, she is not a true stream-of-conscious writer; nor is she especially avant-garde. “Dotty,” her obituary in the Guard…
From the last entry in The Notebook (English edition pub. 2010):

"The motto says that all things, good and bad, must pass, and that fits like a glove the work that is ending here and the person who did it...Farewells are always best when briefly bidden. This is no opera aria into which can now be inserted an interminable addio, addio." - Jose Saramago


Jose Saramago is dead. I wonder if Chris knows.

A Poem a Day

Today the new Oxford Professor of Poetry has been announced. Today on his 78th birthday, Geoffrey Hill won “by a landslide” the papers reported. The election had some bickering but none of the publicized underhandedness of last year. I hope, I hope, to hear him read in person.

I found this in the Guardian and liked it:
“Nobody reads a poem to find out what’s in the last line,” George Szirtes is quoted in Stephen Moss’ article about the future of poetry. “They read the poem for the experience of traveling through it.”

This week, urged by Clive James, I read Auden’s “The Fall of Rome.” (Auden was another Oxford Professor of Poetry.) I like it more as I re-read it. My favorite phrase is “Private rites of magic,” which sounds like a great title for a book, and also the lines “An unimportant clerk/writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK/ on a pink official form.” And most of all, the last stanza, which is one compact and beautiful dappled image in motion:

“Altogether elsewhere vast
Herds of reindeer mov…

"It is this hour of a day in mid June"

It’s Bloomsday again and it’s raining and dreary, like most of the rest of June. It seems we are granted no summer this year and it will rain from January through December.

I’ve been paging through Ulysses to find some gobbet to put up here, and instead of finding a sparkling paragraph, I’ve taken a dip. It’s been two years since I read it, but I don’t seem to remember anything but flashes: Leopold Bloom reading on his toilet, one of them (is it Dedalus?) at the beach gazing at the beautiful girl with the ruined leg, and the last few pages, the ecstasy of Molly Bloom. It was all a big wash of words for me, and instead of slowing down, as you should do when your brain is tired, I sped up. I saw the book as this wall, this gauntlet – a challenge and a test of will-power (much like how I see Infinite Jest.) But this does the book an injustice as a work of art. It may be challenging, but it can’t be seen as a measure of capability. It is first and foremost an experience.

Goodnight & Go

In the saturated movie-influenced experience of daily life, it is always the same soundtrack I return to. (You know you do it too: you’re walking and you can imagine yourself like a salmon, walking in a trench coat against a tide of people walking in the opposite direction, with some song that underlies – or imbues with irony – the whole scene.) For me, it is always Imogen Heap.

Heap played at the Paramount last night, an ornate movie palace from the twenties in downtown Seattle with beaded chandeliers and a Baroque ceiling covered in golden sunbursts, orbs, fleur-de-lis, curlicues and Celtic knots. The seats had been removed. The stage was set with one tree in the middle, white and cardboard like the White Tree in Lord of the Rings, and a glass piano, several electrical consoles, various percussive instruments, electric drum sets, and guitars.

She was preceded by three acts: a collection of local singers who were to join her later and who performed solo works and backed each other up…


Happening upon a good pairing of book and place is one of my favorite things, just like the right wine with dinner. A good synchronism enhances both the book and the place in which it’s read, but the desire for a good pairing can be creative – or paralyzing - challenge when planning a trip. In this case, it worked out well. I kind of wish I had brought the Origin of Species along with me, because I want to read it and I’m afraid I’m never going to unless in the right place at the right time. Instead, I brought Jim Lynch’s Highest Tide to Shi Shi and though it spent the first day in a tent and then on and around several piles of sand, it was brought out around the campfire Saturday night. I’m not sure we would have been so engaged by the sea, the tides and the story of Mike O’Malley and his tidal finds in the waters of the Puget Sound had I not had to speak up above the roar and slap of the waves, and we not remembered our own tidal pooling efforts that morning.


I am going to spend three days camping out on the Olympic Peninsula, on the northwestern tip at Shi Shi Beach. I will leave the following, mentally adding ocean to Thoreau’s lakes and rivers:

I should wither up and die if it were not for lakes and rivers. I am conscious that my body derives its genesis from their waters as much as the muskrat or the herbage on their brink. The thought of Walden in the woods yonder makes me supple jointed and limber for the duties of the day. Sometimes I thirst for it.
There it lies all the year reflecting the sky – and from its surface there seems to go up a pillar of ether, which bridges over the space between earth and heaven.
Water seems a middle element between earth and air. The most in which a man can float.
Across the surface of every lake there sweeps a hushed music.

– Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861

The Aussies are Coming

The best thing about being from Australia or New Zealand is that one can use the word antipodean.

We've started watching LOST. Mostly late at night, three to a couch, crouching over P's computer. It's a guilty, lush pleasure that is accompanied with the kind of ongoing verbal abuse and dialogue that accompanies most of our DVD experiences. I love Claire's flashbacks because she is surrounded by that unassuming but estranging accent, the one we made fun of in high school for being ugly. Ironic, now, as it seems so congenial.

Momentarily post-Frame, I realize that I am surrounded by Antipodeans, those with their feet opposite mine.

After Book-Expo America (BEA) in New York City two weeks ago, my managers returned to the store with a well-chosen select group of Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) that they had intended for certain staff members. (Apparently the number of ARCs offered by publishers was much reduced this year; usually there is a glut of ARCs sitting on a cart i…

Infinite Pages

Still reading Infinite Jest, laboriously. (Am reading small, portable UK edition.) I'm about a seventh way through. On the whole, I tend to be a speedy reader. This is not always something I'm proud of. But Long Books tend to give me the jitters. This one is giving me the jitters. I'm horrible at reading acronyms and hexa-syllabic chemical compounds and yet I can't put it down. This may be because I Will Not Admit Defeat or because I find David Foster Wallace fascinating or because it is so rare to be so close, so close, in the time-space-continuum to someone generally thought to be a genius or because it is - in all its heft and sickening fatness - engaging.

Because I do too many things that are easy; this is like trying to digest machinery and getting pieces of metal stuck in my teeth. There is resistance.

V for Viola, Victor and Valsing

I can’t remember how I found Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, the funny book that opened wide the delightful doors of middlebrow interwar fiction. Delightful. I was excited to hear that Penguin was republishing Nightingale Wood, a later work generally regarded as not as good at CCF (but Gibbons nonetheless).

At the dour Eagles, the Withers' recently widowed daughter-in-law comes to stay. Viola, an orphan and a once-shopgirl, hates the dull house and her Victorian parents-in-law. Her sisters-in-law are old and no fun. Madge is consumed with thoughts of dogs and other sporting pursuits, and tiny Tina is concerned with her appearance and her lack of love.

Across the way is the brash Spring mansion where Viola’s Prince Charming, Victor Spring, stays when not motoring off around London. Victor’s bookish cousin Hetty is dissatisfied with the frivolity of the Spring household and can’t wait to find her own flat in Bloomsbury and read poetry full-time.

What do you get when a cast of car…