Rain

Rain fell yesterday morning. I stood in my dusty garden, thinking, Bring it on.

Halfway through the morning, the light held the thin green translucence, like we moved in a piece of sea glass that was alive.

All afternoon in my library, people wandered by, singly and in pairs — nothing more. Most had tidied up, wearing sundresses and ironed shirts — all with masks — as if swinging by the library was an outing. Which, perhaps, it likely was. We spoke with the same underlying uncertainy and loneliness, and a tender care with each other.

At the very end, I loaded up two bags for a 10-year-old hungry for books — my good deed for the day.

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Reading

By lucky chance, I start reading Joshua Mohr’s Sirens — memoir of writing, drug use, broken spiritual and physical hearts — and I can’t stop. The slender book reminds me of when I was twenty, reading Death on the Installment Plan in bed in a second-floor Brattleboro apartment, savory from the downstairs Korean restaurant. Like Celine, Mohr’s writing is full of life as that Brattleboro Main Street, or as desolate as a snowy midnight.

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Our lives are always in flux, so many contradictions comprising our identities…. We are never one thing. I was never only the heart defect, only the author or junkie or husband or father or professor or drunk. I wear all these like layers of skin. Like stars creating a constellation.

— Joshua Mohr, Sirens

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The Ties That Clinch

A few years ago, when my sister’s kids and my kids started spending more time together every summer – beyond a few days’ visit – we hit a point one summer when all three of younger kids were either mad or crying. We split them up into different cars, and then went hiking. By the end of the day, they were laughing again. And while no one favors kids crying, it was clear the cousins had hit a new level in their relationship. They  had spent enough time together to honestly disagree; simultaneously, they had spent enough time together to cherish each others’ company, and wholeheartedly make-up.

Like all families, we share the same stories exclusive to us. Remember when Yasu dumped ketchup on his head and laughed hysterically? Remember the summer Gigi and Kaz spent hours sorting tic-tacs? Remember the Summer of Gum, when Trident was the New Cool Thing? Remember when Aunt Brett…. well, I won’t incriminate myself.

Stories are too often trivialized as lightness, mere anecdote or amusement. But aren’t the stories of ourselves and our beloveds an integral way of knowing ourselves and our place in the world? Not to mention…. often entirely fun.

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Number 10 Pond, Calais, Vermont

 

On the Quest

My teenage daughter hands me her high school summer reading book the other day and asks me to read a paragraph. She’s seventeen, wearing sunglasses and a new swimming suit, lying on the beach, and exasperated with this assignment. Her younger sister and friends swim in the lake, searching, faces down, for the giant rock named Big Yellow.

The real reason for a quest never involves the stated reason. In fact, more often than not, the quester fails at the stated task. So why do they go and why do we care? They go because of the stated task, mistakenly believing that it is their real mission. We know, however, that their quest is educational. They don’t know enough about the only subject that really matters: themselves. The real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge.

Thomas C. Foster, How To Read Literature Like a Professor

With enormous gusto, I keep reading, and then I begin laughing at the chapter’s end; the writing is that great. Then I point out to her, Look, this is about you: a young adult, beginning the quest of her life.

She takes her sunglasses off and holds them in her hand. I am? she asks. And then she repeats, I am.

I hand her back the school’s book and tell her gently, Literature is about you. 

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Greensboro, Vermont

 

 

Reading, Now and Then

Back when I was in high school, I copied Salinger’s Seymour Glass and wrote quotations on index cards and thumb-tacked the cards all around my desk. Some days, it feels like veritable centuries have passed since my high school days, and I’ve long since abandoned that practice. But every now and then, reading, I come across some of those lines I favored, and I’m often struck by how much I still admire whatever I was reading then.

What’s changed is me. What’s changed is that I no longer primarily understand with my head, but all the way down to the roots of my abscessed tooth, or twined around the scars of my caesarians, or in the pronounced veins on the backs of my hands.

Isn’t that one of the beauties of literature? Some places I’ve returned to from my childhood are far smaller and paler versions in my adult life than my memory held. But books? So many are infinitely better, this time around…..

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

– T.S. Eliot

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Lake Elmore, Vermont

 

This Small, Good Moment

When I was 17, I was infatuated with James Joyce. I remember watching a documentary with a woman who knew Joyce and described the undercurrent of his life as filled with tristesse. I was learning French at the time and found that notion so romantic. What would that mean, to have tristesse in one’s life? Oh, naiveté.

As a young mother, I endeavored (oh, how hard I tried) to never let unhappiness or want cross my daughter’s life. I failed, of course, miserably and utterly predictably. Now, I’m at that place in my life where I know human life is filled with tristesse and also fear, longing, happiness, and laughter: an ever-changing sky boundless with wind and cloud, studded with arcs of rainbows, their roots eternally concealed.

Over and over, I have wondered what I could give my daughters instead, what arms might they raise against the inevitable slings and arrows of their earthly lives? At the very least, this: my own pleasure in this tangible world, in a handful of strawberries, a kite cartwheeling across the spring sky, a daughter’s haircut. In this moment, in this time together.

 

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

– Annie Dillard

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