solnit, stories, & autumn.

what’s your story?  it’s all in the telling.  stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice.  to love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.  (the faraway nearby, 3)

the heat wave has broken and given way to significantly cooler, dryer temperatures in new york city, and it’s got me thinking autumn.

autumn’s a great season; it means cool weather, jackets (which mean pockets), beanies, the world done up in oranges and reds, comfort food.  it means the brooklyn book festival (september 18!) and the new yorker festival (october 7-9!), and it means big fall releases (a post on that coming soon).  it also means new starts, new endeavors, new attempts to find courage — which has me turning to rebecca solnit again.

the bigness of the world is redemption.  despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground.  to dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest.  being able to travel both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond.  this is the expansiveness that sometimes comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.  (30-1)

there’s an empathy and grace to solnit’s writing that i love.  she clearly thinks deeply and seriously about the world, and she conveys this thoughtfulness and consideration in writing that i find absolutely lovely.  solnit doesn’t write like one who wastes words or uses them carelessly; she is, rather, careful about how she presents her ideas, observations, and thoughts, not in the control-freak, obsessive sort of way but in the way of someone who understands and respects the value of the printed word, of expression.

like plath’s unabridged journals, solnit’s the faraway nearby is a book i like to keep in arm’s reach at all times.  solnit makes me want to see the world in different ways, to be more expansive in my thinking, to seek connections and stories in places i might not have otherwise sought, and she feeds my desire to see the world, to get out of my bubble and comfort zone and explore different perspectives.  she makes me think about story and story-telling, why story is so essential, and that, in turn, makes me reexamine why i tell stories and why i tell the stories i do.

it’s not everyday that you find an author who challenges you to be better, to do better, to write and think and tell stories better.  if and when you do, it makes sense to keep him/her close.

to hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear; to listen is to travel the other way to meet it.  it’s not passive but active, this listening.  it’s as though you retell each story, translate it into the language particular to you, fit it into your cosmology so you can understand and respond, and thereby it becomes part of you.  to empathize is to reach out to meet the data that comes through the labyrinths of the senses, to embrace it and incorporate it.  to enter into, we say, as though another person’s life was also a place you could travel to.  (193)
like many others who turned into writers, i disappeared into books when i was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods.  what surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that i came out that other side and met people there.  writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity.  i sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working.  before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.  (60-1)


writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone.  or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them.  matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that i ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom i’m closest.  every once in a while i try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers.  said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading.  (64)


sometime in the late nineteenth century, a poor rural english girl who would grow up to become a writer was told by a gypsy, “you will be loved by people you’ve never met.”  this is the odd compact with strangers who will lose themselves in your words and the partial recompense for the solitude that makes writers and writing.  you have an intimacy with the faraway and distance from the near at hand.  like digging a hole to china and actually coming out the other side, the depth of that solitude of reading and then writing took me all the way through to connect with people again in an unexpected way.  it was astonishing wealth for one who had once been so poor.  (65)

nell, my favorite band in the world, released their 7th album, c, last week, and i think it’s a perfect segue from summer into autumn.  it’s an album i absolutely needed at this moment in my life, and it’s brighter in tone than nell’s sound usually is, but it’s just as comforting and reassuring as their music always is.

more on nell next time, though.  i can’t not write about nell and their new album.

after years in new york city, georgia o’keeffe moved to rural new mexico, from which she would sign her letters to the people she loved, “from the faraway nearby.”  it was a way to measure physical and psychic geography together.  emotion has its geography, affection is what is nearby, within the boundaries of the self.  you can be a thousand miles from the person next to you in bed or deeply invested in the survival of a stranger on the other side of the world.  (108)

hello monday! (150413)

in his interview with the asian american writers' workshop's ken chen, kazuo ishiguro says:

i became interested in how people told the story of their own lives to themselves and how they deceive themselves.  how sometimes they wanted to look at shameful episodes from the past that they had participated in and other times they absolutely did not want to look at those things.


the parent-child or any relationship tends to become dependent on some unspoken agreement not to go to certain memories, certain dark passages.  after a while, you start to ask, is our bond, is our love, based on something phony if it depends on things being kept hidden?

when i think about memory, i think of nell, my favorite band.  a few years ago, when they finally made a comeback after four years away, during a TV appearance, jong-wan (vocalist + songwriter) said:

예전에는 뭔가 잃는게 굉장히 두려웠던 것 같에요.  그리고 그게 되게 힘들고 … 근데 시간이 점점 지나면서는 내가 잃는 것 보다는 뭔가 잊어가고 있는 것들이 굉장히 슬프게 느껴지들아구요.  제가 예를 들어서 그 어떤 소중한 사람이 됐든 아니면 꿈이 됐든 그걸 잃어가는 것 보다는 내가 그런 것 자체가 있었다는 것 조차 잊어가는게 슾퍼서 아마 전반적인 앨범에 가사 내용이 좀 그런 내용이 아닌가 …

before, i think i was afraid of losing things.  and that was incredibly difficult … but, as time passed, instead of losing things, i started to feel more sadness about forgetting things.  for example, whether it’s an important person or a dream, instead of losing that, because i felt sad about forgetting that i even had such a person/thing, i think that’s why the lyrics on this album generally have that quality …*

for some reason, i've always thought of this in terms of memory, in losing memories versus forgetting memories.  there's a degree of willfulness attached to losing something, that there is some contributing action that leads to the loss, whereas forgetting happens when we don't mean for it to happen, when we want to hold onto something and keep it close, only to realize one day that what we so cherished has slipped away -- and, yet, at the same time, could we not see forgetting as a type of loss, too?  but, yet again, i wonder if this also is a way that english fails me because there is something so distinctive about these words in korean, to lose (잃는다) versus to forget (잊는다) that makes the comparison so poignant, so melancholy, so regretful.

the exploration of memory, though, is one reason i love ishiguro's books, especially when paired with his exquisite first-person and the nostalgic tones with which he imbues his books, and i'm interested in the new places his explorations of memory have taken him.  in the buried giant (knopf, 2015), there's a mist caused by a dragon that causes people to forget, but these memories aren't lost because they will be awakened again once the dragon has been slain.  when these memories are regained, tensions and conflicts will return to the land, which begs the question, is it better to forget then, to accept the loss instead of questioning it?  and, on a more intimate scale, is it better in a marriage, in a relationship, in a friendship to claim forgetfulness?  like ishiguro said to chen, where are the foundations then, and are they real and valid or fake?

how long can something be sustained when essential memories have been forgotten?

who are we when we've lost or forgotten our memories?  who are we to each other when we've lost or forgotten our memories?

nicole krauss explores this in her debut novel, man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002), in which the main character, samson, wakes up one day in las vegas, having somehow made his way out west from new york city, though he has no recollection of this.  as it turns out, he has a brain tumor, which has erased his memories since childhood, and, though his wife, anna, brings him back home post-operation healthy and physically well, nothing is familiar to him -- everything's been erased, lost, forgotten.  he is no longer the man she married and built a life with, and she is nobody to him, and their marriage cannot be sustained.

the truth, though, is that it doesn't necessarily take a brain tumor to lose or forget because, as humans, we're subject to change, and, sometimes, to maintain our relationships, we willfully lose or forget things.  or we simply lose or forget memories as we get older, become different people, and how regretful a prospect is that, sometimes, that this is something we can't help, and is it natural, then, that we've become a culture so obsessed with remembering, with curating our lives and preserving them on facebook, twitter, instagram, blogs, like, if we don't leave some record of ourselves behind, it'll be like we were never here, like we've never lived these lives?

"slip away" (from nell's album, slip away) ends:

혼자 남겨진 외로움보다, 
눈물로 얼룩진 마음보다,
뒤엉켜버린 그 시간보다, 
단 하나뿐인 그 진실보다,
잊혀져갈 이 모든 게 애처롭다
추억조차 지워갈 내 그 모습이 눈물겹다
익숙해질 그 모습이 눈물겹다

more than the loneliness of being left alone,
more than the heart spotted with tears,
more than that entangled time,
more than that singular truth,
all these things i'll forget are more painful,
the self that will erase every memory is more pitiful,
the self that will become accustomed to that is more pitiful.*

* all translations are mine; even if they are crappily done, i still claim ownership of them.

april is national poetry month, so here's a poem (or part of a poem) every monday for the rest of the month, which is really my way of saying, here's a poem by ted hughes.  today's is the end of one of my favorite poems, and i will leave you with this -- have a good week, all!

even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
but suddenly -- the third time -- you were there.
younger than i had ever known you.  you
as if new made, half a wild roe, half
a flawless thing, priceless, facetted
like a cobalt jewel.  you came behind me
(at my helpless moment, as i lowered
a testing foot into the running bath)
and spoke -- peremptory, as a familiar voice
will startle out of a river's uproar, urgent,
close:  'this is the last.  this one.  this time
don't fail me.'

howls & whispers, "the offers"

hello monday! (150216)

was laid up with (what i assume was) the flu last week/over the weekend, which means i was bedridden for four days, which means i read a whole lot because there wasn't much else to do when i wasn't sleeping or thinking i was dying ... which is maybe a tad melodramatic, but i'm alone here in new york, and being sick alone is really just pure misery.

(my mum called to check in on me every day and took advantage of the situation to get in her, see, this is why you should move back to california bit to which i replied, no, this is why i need a husband.)

(this is why i'm flying out to california for a week next month.  there's nothing like getting the flu alone to make any grown person want family.)  (and tacos.)

it kinda goes without saying that it was a great reading week:  plowed (and i mean plowed) my way through kim thúy's mãn (random house canada, 2014), jenny offill's dept. of speculation (knopf, 2014), patricia park's re jane (viking, forthcoming 2015), and megan whalen turner's the queen of attolia (harpercollins, 2001), made significant headway into caitlin doughty's smoke gets in your eyes (norton, 2014), and listened to jonathan franzen's the discomfort zone (FSG, 2006).  i loved the characters of the queen of attolia so much that i had to pop in at mcnally jackson yesterday (the first time i left my flat in four days, and what a glorious, freezing day it was) and buy its follow-up, the king of attolia (greenwillow books, 2006).

that was a lot of titles in one paragraph.

sometimes, these posts are easier to write, and, other times, i sit here staring at the blinking cursor on my screen and think, now what?  what is there i want to say?  today is one of those latter days, maybe because it's so fucking cold outside  or because i've still got the remnant lingering congestion and cough from the flu or because i'm back to editing my manuscript which inevitably consumes much of my life.

so links!  let's do links!  i've wanted to do a post of links for a while!

thanks for hanging around, and have a great week!