06 November 2013

Travel Light: A book recommendation & a November impossibility

Several years ago, the inimitable Linda Koons sent me a book: Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison. It's a short, sharp tale, a Norse fairy tale, rubbing up against allegory in a way that reminds me of The Little Prince, but the unrelenting, marvelous Norseness of Travel Light also means it is nothing at all like The Little Prince. It's been years since I read Travel Light, and it's on my campus bookshelf, so I can't really turn to it now and dig you up a quote or anything like a proper review, and that's not what I'm doing here this morning, anyway. It's simply that I'm on my way to the airport quite soon and I was thinking of it and I wanted to say so. It's a beautiful little book, hard around the edges, the way stories of its kind are, and it's also a wind-bitten, incredibly sunny November morning. How can I avoid thinking of it?

And I am thinking of practical details. I'll be in Corpus Christi from Wednesday until Sunday, and I'll be attending the National Learning Communities Conference. As a new Learning Communities program director, this conference is an excellent opportunity to learn a great deal, and, having looked at the schedule, I fully anticipate shuttling from session to session for three days straight. This is a very good thing. But I'll also be in four different airports, twice, on six flights all together, and there are mornings and evenings and stray bits of time between events, and it's hard to know what to bring.

Writing wise, it seems I've never been better equipped: I have a few dozen small projects to work on. But because this wouldn't be a post on my blog without me whinging about my novel, there's that, too. There's always that, looming (and companionable) in the back of my mind, and it's ridiculous to even think about traveling light. (That Corpus Christi also requires me to add a rain jacket to my suitcase, too, adds a material dimension.)

...Middlemarch is also going with me. The edition I'm reading is a Norton Critical, which means it weighs more than it should because there are so many of those onionskin pages jammed between its covers.

I want, very badly, to take knitting along. The best project for it, though, is getting too large, and it's something that requires multiple colors of yarn, which means multiple balls, taking up more space, and I am dedicated to a) not checking luggage on a trip like this b) actually respecting the dimensions allowed for carry-on items. I also am not-taking the knitting because it's an excuse. It is always an excellent excuse: I can neither read nor write while knitting, and I know myself. During my five-hour layover in Houston, when I could probably finish a draft of a short story or finally get to the back cover of Middlemarch, I would knit (and listen to hockey). And it isn't that I don't love knitting; it's that it's always too easy to love.

And that weighs on me. (Every breathing moment I am not writing or reading weighs on me. I intended to write this morning. Instead, I cleaned some things because I'm going to be gone for four days and I went to buy toothpaste because I didn't have a TSA-approved size in the cupboard and I had a bunch of angst about how I did those things instead of writing.)

And that's ridiculous.

It's a constant struggle to balance good discipline (which leads to good craft) and masochism for the sake of it. Ten minutes ago, I decided that I'd rather be the person in a suit carrying a be-patched and be-buttoned backpack because it's just a lot more useful to hold my stuff than the laptop bag I have for work. And that's going to be fine. There's more room, for one. There's a pocket expressly for my indispensable, unspillable travel mug.

And because there are a few minutes until I have to leave, I reserve the right to change my mind about the knitting.

Travel light.

It's an excellent book. I still take everything too literally.

02 November 2013

now what?: on writing I don't know how to share

On Wednesday, October 30, at 10:15 a.m., I received the new issue of The Classical Magazine (issue six) in my inbox (as a PDF because the only iDevice I own is an iPod so old that it can sing along with most of the music on it). The premise of this issue is econo, short pieces of prose and poetry and the things between, and it is full of work by writers I enjoy and admire. But I haven't read any of it yet.

I have work in this issue, too, a short nonfiction piece called "First Star," my first published hockey-writing, a piece woven around Sidney Crosby's broken jaw, a Predators-Avalanche game I went to last season, and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. A piece hinging, in many ways, on Semyon Varlamov and his play with both Colorado and Yaroslavl. I wrote the piece in the first third of October, about events from last season.

On Wednesday night, I was having a Twitter conversation about Varlamov, his kickass season so far, his apparently affable nature. Half an hour after that, the news broke that Varlamov had turned himself in to Denver police and was arrested on domestic violence and kidnapping charges. I turned my attention to the Penguins' game in-progress, I circled social media warily, I tried to focus on new writing tasks. Mostly, I felt sick to my stomach. Mostly, I didn't want to read anything, anywhere, at all.


It's been a few days since then. I don't want to think he's guilty, but I also refuse to assume he's not because already the crows are calling the alleged victim a liar. (Women are just like that, lying about terrifying and humiliating things for money and attention.) Already the heads are shaking and saying that it's just not possible that Varlamov could do such a thing. (Everyone knows nice guys don't do bad things.) Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy gave Varlamov the start last night in Dallas because he didn't see any reason not to. Varlamov has yet to be officially charged with any crime; he posted his bail; he is, legally, quite free to play. The slow unfurling of legal procedures proceeds apace, and it's unfair of me to assume guilt or innocence in any direction until that process is completed if I believe in this legal system.

I do. And I don't.

As someone who wants everyone, under all circumstances, to have the right to real due process, not just torches and pitchforks, I must believe in this legal system. As a general optimist and person who attaches affection easily to people, places, and things, I cling to that benefit of the doubt. I want this goalie whose play I appreciate and whose career took a path I found conveniently symbolic to be innocent. And I mean squeaky-clean, photographic-and-eye-witness-evidence-plus-retinal-scan-that-the-accused-was-instead-volunteering-at-a-trick-or-treating-event-for-at-risk-youth-at-the-time-of-the-events, evil-impostor-committing-crimes-in-my-stead innocent. Except not exactly that either because I also do not want, at any time, for anyone to be guilty of domestic violence. Of violent crime of any kind. Because I don't want people to commit acts of violence. Ever.

I want desperately for the system to work, too. If he's guilty, I want every possible book thrown at him, preferably by Aroldis Chapman (metaphorically, of course: the weight of guilt should feel like that fastball in the unprotected ribs).

As a human being who's walking around this world with eyes open, too, I know that the system often doesn't work. I know that many cases like this (domestic violence cases, cases involving high-profile, wealthy persons) don't reach trial stage. They can be settled out of court, charges can be dropped (and not because they were invented but because of a host of larger, frightening reasons), and the very idea of the system can be collapsed before one even gets to the part I think of as that proper due process. I know that due process doesn't necessarily lead to justice, either, and that more people want to believe that the victim is lying than to deal with the wages of a culture that excuses and masks violence.

I want an impossibility: I want Semyon Varlamov to be innocent and I want Evgenia Vavinyuk to be telling the truth.


This post was never anything I ever wanted to write, but I also couldn't say nothing, even if no one even noticed the connection: "Hey, you wrote that thing praising that guy who might have assaulted his girlfriend." It's most of what I've been thinking about since Wednesday, and even as it strikes me as egotistical that I am in fact thinking what about my writing? in this context, we are inextricably tied to our work. Better to acknowledge that than not.

I loved writing "First Star." I loved that Predators/Avalanche game I went to. How I feel about that piece of writing now--I don't know. Rereading it doesn't make it more clear. What is clear is this: I don't know how the rest of this story plays out, and I know that it will absolutely matter to me when it does. I also don't know how to compartmentalize--hockey here, humanity there. There are enough talented and skillful people in this world that I don't think it's too much to ask that we be good at what we do and also simply good. Decent.

And if I'm feeling uncomfortable about my own work in the new issue, there's no reason that I should feel that way about the rest of Issue Six. So I'm going to go read that, and enjoy it, and wait.

01 November 2013

another not-NaNoWriMo post

It's the six a.m. hour, and I've decided that the short piece I drafted at the beginning of the week is finished. So before I had a second cup of tea, I submitted it to two places, and it doesn't feel as unwise as maybe it should. (Of course, I trust my decision-making at this time of the morning far better than I trust it at two in the afternoon.)

At the same time, all over the world, NaNo'ers are leaping into beginnings, including my friend and colleague Jill. She came to dinner last night with notebook in hand, and it made me so happy to see that. Last night, at midnight (when I'd been soundly asleep for two hours), a local writing group had a NaNoWriMo kickoff write-in. I envy them. I envy their fresh starts sorely. I have never done NaNo, not in any way that is "correct," though I have made attempts of varying kinds to keep in the spirit. There is a buzz in the air about it, and anything that spurs one forward in any writerly way is a marvelous thing.

This, I suppose, is another of those keeping-in-the-spirit posts, though the last thing I can/should do this month is start anything new. My goal is more now in line with my 2010 November: do something that I need to do as a writer every day. Sure, that means sending out work, but more importantly, it means finishing.

I have folders of unfinished things, fully drafted short stories that don't quite work; half-written things that I'd forgotten I'd even thought of, let alone written; two-and-three word ideas that still blister and crackle no matter that I tossed them into a file years ago. I have kernels of pieces that can only become poems. I have a novel to be written, all furled potential; I have a full, old, old draft of another whose re-vision I'm starting to be able to see. More importantly, I have the novel I'm still working on, the manuscript I keep thinking is finished and keep understanding is not and the only right thing to do by that book that I love, the book that made me completely forget that there was a November last year, is keep working until it's right. Until it's as good as it deserves to be. And that is terrifying. It takes a kind of patience I don't have, that I have to make, and maybe I'm doing that kind of stepping back that Michael P. Nye wrote about earlier this week. I know good work takes time. I spent big chunks of my summer taking that time, considering things, and the revision I did in August did leave me with a better book than I had in July. I'm now understanding that "better" is no substitute for "right."

It's not right yet. I'm not sure what "right" is for it yet, but I know it deserves to be right.

So I will try to be patient and listen and if I can't do either of those things gracefully and contentedly (and I can't), I'll finish smaller works. They've been waiting longer still, and they deserve to at least get where they were going. I won't set another artificial deadline to finish another revision by a date or a time: I understand that my problem is not getting myself to work. It's not about spurring forward this time.

I do want it to be, though. I want to be part of the dash. I'm good at the dash--even elementary school gym class showed me that.

I loved gym class. The period was never more than forty minutes long, and in forty minutes, there was never enough time to get into the things I couldn't do. The longest we ever ran was a mile and a quarter. More often we sprinted. More often we dove after a ball, the goals quite clear, the scores clearer.

Novel writing is not gym class. Even my own process is not the one-size-fits-all yellow mesh pinnie, appropriate for all activities, no matter how much I want it to be. But there's something to learn from thinking about gym class--about exertion, in particular, because what is writing except exertion of one kind or another--no matter what shape I'm in, no matter what shape this novel or those drafted stories or those little poem seeds are in, I can do something. And so I must.

29 October 2013

How many times?

At this time of the year, every year, at least twice a week, I have the same conversation with myself. After the litany of cold cold cold miserable cold death despair hibernation cold I wish I was dragon runs its course, I wonder how many times I have to fall off the wagon before I learn to hold on tight. It makes me quote Pirates of the Caribbean at myself because this year has proven again that the answer is this:
"How many times must I tell you to call me Elizabeth get your ish together?
"At least once more, Miss Swann."
(Nevermind that I'm far less Elizabeth Swann or Will Turner and far more Ragetti, trying to make myself an eyeball out of wood and then wondering why I can't see.)

(And also, I'm quoting Pirates of the Caribbean at myself, so maybe I deserve what I get.)

The wagon remains as the wagon always was: wake up early, write every day, eat real food, go to the gym. None of those things are particularly difficult in their own right, particularly not if I switch to an actual alarm clock that I have to get out of bed to turn off. I did that five days ago.

The real kick in the pajamas was a piece from Pacific Standard about the folly of the snooze button. I'd been setting my alarm on my phone, conveniently on my bedside table, for 5 a.m.-ish every day and then manipulating it in various ways until I was waking up around 6:45, which is pretty much the weekday threshold for mornings around here. I'd been doing that all summer, too, in various countries and timezones. And that was also not awesome. (All the places I was were awesome. My habits, less so.) Waking up at that time doesn't leave me time to write before school, and it doesn't leave me feeling motivated to make anything particularly interesting for lunch, which inevitably leads to afternoon horror show of despair and low blood sugar and no desire to go work out. (It all sounds very dramatic. It all feels very dramatic. It's really not. Just very...sad and dull and unfulfilling.)

I have been writing, working on a variety of things, but the timing is wrong. I've been doing a lot because I have to--the semester is busy--but nothing feels quite right. 

So I changed my alarm set-up. I've had to give up my clever custom wake-up tunes that my phone allows and that my 1999 clock-radio does not, and I've moved it well past the foot of the bed. In the pre-dawn blackness, I confess that I will actually mouth the words, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, to keep me walking out of the bedroom, up the stairs. I have to make it past the most comfortable sofa in the world (salvaged from Bill's grandparents' basement) then, too, but by then, it's become okay. My eyes open and adjust to the dark. I turn on the electric kettle. In the shower, I plan the morning's writing, and therefore every morning starts well.

I've been up appropriately early since Friday. I've done a lot of work in those morning hours, only about 90 minutes a morning (except Saturday and Sunday when I undertook a pretty gigantic academic revision task), including drafting a complete piece of flash fiction that's under 700 words between Monday morning and today. The last time I wrote a complete piece of short fiction--brand new, start to finish--was in March, when I wrote "Jonah, The Whale." I have a stack of short stories that I've been working on much longer than it took to draft my novel. Some of the reason for that, of course, is that I spent last year almost exclusively working on the novel. And I wrote that novel in those morning hours, some of the happiest I've ever spent, writing. 

The story shorter still: the process works for me. Why do I insist on stopping working for the process?

Time to start again. In this case, too, with writing, doing the same old thing continues to create new things. It requires little from me. So I can do that much. 

18 October 2013

dispatches from the shadow of the Tetons

I spent last weekend in Jackson, Wyoming, for the annual Wyoming Arts Conference. There's something terribly intimidating about attending a conference in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, which are visible from most parts of town. Right now, with the aspens all bright gold and the foothills and fields still their muddy Wyoming green-brown, the mountains don't look real. They are, of course, quite real--perhaps more real still because they were forbidden while I was there, the National Parks closed because of the government shut-down.

I wasn't sure what I expected in terms of what that would look like; I didn't expect white-and-orange striped sawhorses with stapled-on laminated signs barring entrance to half a dozen small side roads. I wonder what percentage of people I passed were stymied vacationers, how many of them were supposed to be hiking in Yellowstone right then, but if that was the case, it's not very apparent. Everything seemed to be business as usual, which includes a lot of people drifting here and there in search of a fresh coffee, which I did, too, between sessions. Downtown Jackson has a lot of good options for good coffee, and good food, and I took shameless advantage of that.

I didn't take advantage of the chance to take pictures while I was driving in, though, and I'm kicking myself because the drive home was done under a shroud of squalling snow, all the way from Jackson to Casper, and the trees were a sad, smeary mustard color, and the Tetons had simply disappeared from view.

Missed opportunities.

But having a hotel room to myself and a dislike for television and not much access to my usual evening inundation of sports meant the opportunity to actually do some more reading, which means, right now, Middlemarch.

It's on the list of Books I Am Ashamed At Having Not Read Before As An English Major, and it's so much a winter book, the kind for reading inside a blanket, and not simply because of the weather: if I'm wrapped in a blanket, or actually bundled up in bed, I'm not doing anything else. I don't have my laptop or my phone near. I'm reading. A book like Middlemarch requires full attention, and not simply because there are a fair lot of characters with not-so-dissimilar-names whose relationships hinge on a word or gesture in that incredibly nineteenth century way. Rather, Middlemarch demands and commands that attention because I want to pay attention at the smallest point of the sentence.

George Eliot is funny. I mean, honestly:
She pinched Celia's chin, being in the mood now to think her very winning and lovely--fit hereafter to be an eternal cherub, and if it were not doctrinally wrong to say so, hardly more in need of salvation than a squirrel.
I do, of course, have to reserve judgement on the whole--I'm not that deep into the book, and the fact that it requires all of my attention means that I don't pick it up as often as I would like. But it's good to have that reminder: I can't skip on to the page's end. I find myself doing that too often when I read, impatient and diving ahead for full paragraphs, only to remember--obviously--that I needed the middle of the page, and going back.

This book reminds me of some of the best parts of my graduate school experience, the dense and self-aware arc of the evolution of the novel. I loved those books. (I also hated them a little, but that's part of graduate school.) And this one, because I'm reading it for fun, I can simply enjoy.

(Which is good because there's still a lot of book left.)

25 September 2013

read and recommended: Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

I've been trying to read more, which is to say making time to read more, because finding time to read more will never, in fact, happen. But also, if I've read something and loved it, it feels wrong not to share it. I often do that on Twitter, but that's not like really digging into a work and pointing out why it's loved. Here's one. I intend more to follow.

Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

First, a note on the press: I love BOA Editions. They make beautiful, interesting books that are written by artists I like a lot. They also run a few contests, so if you write, check them out.

So, this poetry collection. I discovered Girmay's work through the Tuesday Poem blog because friend and BOA poet Sean Thomas Dougherty shared it on Facebook near the end of August.

The Tuesday Poem & work Sean posted was "For Patrick Rosal Who Wore a Green Dress & Said."

And before I even looked at the poem I wanted to look at it because Patrick Rosal was mentioned. Rosal read at an AWP off-site reading I was at with Drunken Boat one year, and I teach his essay "Improvisations: Everything I Know About Pianos" every chance I get. (He also wrote an essay about kettlebells that I absolutely need to re-read, especially as we're approaching a new Olympic year.)

And then I read Aracelis Girmay's poem and I bought the book before the sun set on the thought because the poem is so vibrant, so much of everything I want to see everywhere: color and joy and snap.

That poem did not prepare me one whit for this collection. "For Patrick Rosal..." is, even, in my memory of the book (completed five days ago), an outlier. What remains with me from the collection as a whole is mortality. I don't mean to suggest that the book is depressing, but there's a feeling of the grave about it, exploratorily so, investigatively so. I've never read a poetry collection like it.

Girmay opens with earth, closing the first poem, the title poem, with this:
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt's the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.
The feeling lingers, soft and tender but curiously (appropriately) cool; so many of the poems work as memento mori of one kind or another, but seldom do anything so expected as outright mourning (and where maybe the poems do mourn, like in "Abuelo, Mi Muerto," they're also celebratory; they're finely detailed; they're so sharp I can't think of feeling sad). Instead, the focus is on "[t]he kingdom of touching; / the touches of the disappearing, things."

That's what Girmay does, over and over: she shows us the rich points of overlap, overlap of life and death, the skin of lovers, the place one is and the place one is going and the place one has been. History and representation. The image of the swan and its fading away.

There are a number of portrait poems in the collection, too, some proclaimed self-portraits, some identified as portraits of others, but they all approach their subject obliquely, or as though done from one fragment of a fractured mirror--they don't seek the whole, but instead capture the particular with startling precision. "Portrait of the Woman as a Skein" does this by lines, each a new revelation of possibility. The poem's address to the second person, always seemingly a new conception (not a new person, a new idea of the same person), is a constant re-engagement:
Sometimes, it is true, you are like Lake Sovetskaya.
Buried underneath an arctic ice sheet:
                                   (                    ).
Sometimes it is true. Sometimes it is not.

There are poems in this collection about large tragedies and small, and again, that constant feeling of grave dust on the pages (dry, honest dirt, dirt we have to admire and respect), but nothing in this collection hit me like "Praise Song for the Donkey."

At first, I thought of Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno" and his treatise on his cat, Jeoffry. And that's a little odd--Smart's poem is so mannered in its eighteenth century way--but it's a list of things that charm me about an animal, written by someone who notices because he cherishes. But that's what Girmay poem does: it notices because the poet cherishes:
Praise the Mohawk roof
of the donkey's good and gray head, praise
its dangerous mane hollering out.
There is no way not to love this donkey with that mane. There is no way not to grieve this donkey because this donkey, like nearly everything else in Girmay's collection, knows death. That the poem is written after a real event--a bombing in Gaza in 2009--gives it context, yes, but it's the donkey that becomes real here at line one, all fresh, bristled words, and it's because of the donkey my heart breaks because Aracelis Girmay makes the reader know the donkey. And how can I keep from grieving the donkey once I know her? 

How can I keep from celebrating these poems, now that I know them?

12 September 2013

Geno best.


08 September 2013

long walks

I've taken some longish walks lately, and the photos turned out all right. Because it's officially September, that also means I've entered official mourning for summer, but the scenery's lovely and I'm trying to focus on that instead of how spine-crushingly depressing I find fall to be. 
Aspens on Casper Mountain, showing the frightful start of autumnal leaf-gilding

The view from Casper Mountain's Bridle Trail
 I've written about the Bridle Trail before. My general not-in-Casper-ness this summer has made it so that I didn't get into the near-daily traversing of it, but I made a point to go on the second day of classes, after I was done for the day. It's so very different in the afternoon--and it's functionally different, too: while I was away, the trail was re-done so the ascent/descent are actually in different places, and the surface of the trail has changed. (The sandy/rock-peppered parts have expanded and deepened, which makes it a bad choice for me to run on it, as I tend to trip on the relatively flat parts.) But the view, the sunlight, the Wyoming blue--that's always perfect.

On Labor Day weekend, we went to Denver to collect my parents and brother, who visited for the week, and we made a very brief stop at Rocky Mountain National Park, taking a six-mile round-trip hike to Jewel Lake. That's the source of the rest of these.

This chipmunk--just scritching away, a foot from my shoe.
Another tree, turning its colors.

Just before Mill Lake, Longs Peak in the distance.
(I want there to be an apostrophe in there, but it seems there isn't one.)
It was in the mid-nineties here in Wyoming for the entire week my family visited, and today, it's only been about eighty. The rest of the week, the temperature is predicted to hover in the seventies. Fall is falling, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

What I can do is keep busy. My intention has been, with the start of the semester, to start the next novel, and I worked on it the first two mornings. But the old book is still in readers' hands, still waiting a bit, and I'm still tweaking it in my head. Those characters are still absolutely omnipresent. So I'm going to try, instead, to finish up some old business. I have essay bits hanging around, a few short stories that need a good hatchet-job. I spent a big chunk of today cleaning out my office so I have a place to work again. (While my family visited, it became the room where I threw everything I didn't have a place for, everything I usually put on the edge of the upstairs sofa or piled in my papasan chair.)

Every end-of-summer, I end up writing a post a lot like this--this is the academic's New Year. But the last year wasn't like all of my other old years, so this one feels a bit different because of all of my time away. I wouldn't trade my travel this summer for anything (and to be perfectly honest, I wish it were still going because obviously), but it changed the rhythm of the summer on me.

I bought more new music this year than I've done since the middle-school days of the Columbia Record Club, and a lot of it is, even by my own standards, a little ridiculous. (For perspective, my favorite band that isn't The Clash has an album called Polka's Not Dead, and I admit to curating a love of peculiar music.) But this year, I bought things I heard on the radio (Canadian radio, out of Vancouver & Ottawa, but still). I bought things I should have heard twenty years ago but didn't because the nineties didn't actually get to my hometown until I graduated and went to college. (I also bought t.A.T.u.'s greatest hits album. I bet you didn't even know they had a greatest hits album. But they do, twenty songs, and I can sing all of it now, so, so badly.) It turns out I will forgive music almost anything if it takes me to a narrative place, and that's a chicken and egg: does everything I listen to now become narrative--important to my characters or illustrative of something in my writing or amusing to my characters who have opinions about every.damn.thing.--because that's what I'm thinking about ninety-seven percent of the time? I'm guessing that's the truth, and I absolutely don't mind. I will listen to all of that Imagine Dragons album with ears that I'm apparently sharing.

And that's been fun.

So this is me, trying again with autumn, to do what I did with some of that music: shut up. Sink in. See where it takes me.

...and hockey starts soon. So there's that.

27 August 2013

confessional mode: fear

Today was the first day of the new semester, the first day of my new year. (I have no truck with January. Mid-winter isn't a good time for me to start anything.)

Maybe it's because of that newness, the ripple of uncertainty over and under everything--and today was so very much that--but today feels like a good--not good, but fitting--day to face front. So I'm turning this, which was, until five minutes ago, an e-mail to a very close friend, into a post, for better or worse.

What am I afraid of, right now? 

In ways that have nothing to do with my usual pile of writerly insecurities, I am afraid of when the media finally gets to Evgeni Malkin and asks him about what he thinks about the Russian anti-gay propaganda law that's turned the run-up to the Olympics into even more of a gut-twisting spectacle than before (before the inevitable human rights violations had a name and number and legal code). After Ilya Kovalchuk's response today, I tread the internet carefully, but today's news about Evgeni Malkin is this marvelously affable spectacle. Still, so far, 2/3 of the Russian stars asked what they thought have said they're in favor of the statute, to one degree or another. The third, Alexander Ovechkin, chose the only other option, which is to say "I'd rather talk about hockey" and evade the matter altogether. (Several good reads on the general subject are here, here, here, and here, and many, many more, of course, are out there.)

I understand that there's no particularly good option for the players on the Russian national team who might actually stand with GLBTQ rights or at least with the stance of the NHL/NHLPA/You Can Play partnership. Under the dictates of the law, actually saying anything other than the above two options could be found in violation of said law. I also know that Russian culture is what it is, and we're all products of our culture to some degree. The law is popular in Russia. I should have no expectations that my favorite hockey player should be any different than the significant majority of his country. 

But I do. Maybe I blame American exceptionalism--even my chosen-favorite-beloved-wearer-of-a-coordinated-shirt-and-shorts ensemble should be different, superlative, heroic against overwhelming odds. Maybe I blame escapism: if I dealt better with the actual world, sports and the people who play them wouldn't mean so much to me. Maybe I blame my own selfish worry: what if my favorite player says, "No, I don't think you are deserving of the same freedoms and rights of expression everyone else has"? It's personal. The personal is political is personal. I don't have to have met someone for that to be true because ideology and philosophy have very real, very tangible effects. (This is news to no one.)

Other fans have already had to deal with this--not just in this particular historical moment, but every time a public figure falls from grace and we have to make the decision: stay or go? That's not a choice I want to make, but I know what I'd choose, and there's that selfishness again: I'm broken up over what it would cost me. My fandom, my laundry, my favorite too-expensive, named-and-numbered sweater. But I'd always rather give up pleasure than self-respect, which includes voting with my esteem, my attention, and ultimately my money. Even if no one else notices or cares, I do. 

I'm a wreck over hypotheticals. That's not fair to some professional athlete whose real job is to be good at hockey. And I'm an optimistic person--I want to believe the best about people, particularly about those I admire, no matter the reason. I want to think, however Pollyannaish it may be, that human beings will default to being generous with each other. I think, also, though, of Sherlock Holmes: if I've painted over things with too rosy a brush, I've set up my own disappointment, and I have no right to expect otherwise. 

A ray of hope I have is a tweet from the You Can Play Project which says they've had support from some Russian NHLers who have not been able to support the initiative publicly for a variety of reasons (their own legal protection and consideration for their families likely included, which are good reasons). It saddens me to think that what I'm hoping for most (in an attempt to actually be realistic) is silence, no comment, let's talk about hockey, from a whole slew of Russian players and athletes. It troubles me to think what kind of meaning I'd imbue that with, too, but this is hope against hope. This is back to wishing, always, for what is kindest, and expecting that, even to the point of seeing it where it isn't. It's a disservice to everyone.

I'm not entirely sure what I hoped to achieve with this post. Usually I have some idea. Tonight, all I can think is that if I name the fear and whatever reasons I have for it, it will go away. I know, however, that's never actually true for me. Saying it out loud doesn't help. There aren't many cases where I feel better for having shared. But maybe someone else is having the same worry, and at least we can feel fearful and ridiculous together.

I don't know.

14 August 2013


My Jentel residency has come to an end, and the upcoming days are my re-entry into the usual world. Given the presence of the Perseid meteor shower and that we spent our final two nights at Jentel sitting on folding chairs in the driveway, heads tipped back as we watched these clusters of dust and ice immolate in atmosphere, the idea of re-entry feels appropriate. It's been a summer of overwhelming good fortune, but there's no getting away from the overwhelming part; it's hard to really understand the imminence of the semester and so on.

Before the meteor shower, too, the summer sky shed its usual measure of stars. It’s not that I’ve been particularly attentive to that—I tend to be asleep well before the interesting astronomical features take place—but there’s so much sky, so much night that even I can’t miss it all. 
That’s been the feeling over the whole month: there’s so much good here that some of it must stick, well past the end of our tenure at Jentel. The work was good, the scenery was good, my lovely, lovely fellow residents were more than good, and this is all following in the Jentel tradition of understatement.

Have some pictures:
Like it says on the sign. 
Just a few days into our time together, we thought it was a good idea to take a 4-mile round trip hike to a fire tower none of us had been to on a trail that is not marked at all. (No one will be surprised that it was my idea. I wanted to research something. How hard could it be?) The hike had its challenges (including a need to be a little inclined toward mountain goatishness to get to the actual lookout), but it was worth that much and more. And we stopped to get ice cream together on the way home. That's how you know you've bonded: passing around your order to let five people you just met taste the chocolate malt or rootbeer float or butter pecan milkshake. 

Shadow portrait of the residents, Big Horn Mountains in the distance.

And in Big Horn, Wyoming, Holly discovered she loves watching polo. Because everyone expects polo in northern Wyoming, right?
I had four weekends in the greater Sheridan area. I went to four polo matches, and that was an experience that will get its own writing project of some sort. In the meantime, visit Flying H Polo and Big Horn Polo Club. Also, read Alyson Hagy's spare, beautiful novel, Boleto. I read Boleto last summer, actually, in Montreal, and I will read it again, now, knowing a little more about the backdrop to Hagy's fiction. 

This sky, you know?
Wyoming sunsets. They're all right.
A thousand thanks to the Jentel Foundation. A word I kept using while I wrote postcards to folks was transformative, and it's true. This residency changed the way I think about my work (in some very practical, tangible ways and some not-so-tangible ways) and about myself. At Jentel, where art and the artists that make it are so clearly valued and honored, there was so much burning brightly, sky and self. I'm taking that with me.

18 July 2013

it's dangerous to go alone--

I'm not Link, but if I were (and I kind of wish I were, because honestly), this is the point at which the old man offers me a wooden sword.

Instead, because I'm not a small, green-clad adventurer in an 8-bit RPG but rather a small, Crosby shirsey-clad writer in the fourth day of a writing residency at the utterly gorgeous Jentel Foundation, I've taken these:

They're as good as swords--or better, really, since I'm doing a lot more reading than slaying bats in caves--and they are excellent company (and my fellow residents are good company, as well). These are books and chapbooks and zines by people I know or that have been gifts from folks I know. In order, from left to right: Deborah Poe's the last will be stone, too, Vanessa Stauffer's Cosmology, Kim Barnes's Finding Caruso, Chris Collision's Queen City Fall, Sean Thomas Dougherty's Sunset by the Chain Link Fence & The Blue City, and shortandqueer #10, The reawakening of my baseball fandom. 

I've also brought a ton of reading for research purposes, some directly related to projects, some indirectly. If you want to carve yourself open while an author carves herself open on the page, pick up A. L. Kennedy's On Bullfighting. A. L. Kennedy is always brilliant in the fiction I've read & her regular column for The Guardian, but this book is hard and beautiful and bleak, and also contains one of the most powerful meditations on Lorca I've ever read. Melissa Montgomery, wherever you are, this was the conversation on duende that your Lycoming College honors project wanted.

Here at Jentel, I have a room of my own and a studio in which to work, as well as gorgeous common spaces for absolutely everything else.

My studio, before I decorated it with piles of books, three separate & full travel mugs, and a plush stegosaurus.
There's much to say about Virginia Woolf and rooms of one's own and that's something that I believe in desperately. Space is such a necessity and a privilege, and the Jentel Foundation has provided truly superlative space in the way everything has been planned. But to have this space as well--even with a first-night rainbow over these prairie swells, the not-quite-foothills of the Bighorns--is something particularly moving.

On Tuesday, in those hills, I also got to see my first rattlesnake in the wild. It was lying beneath a clump of sage I was intending to step past, and my preceding rustle gave us both twenty-four inches of warning. I didn't have a sword, but I didn't feel much of a need to have one, either. The snake moved slowly and silently in its direction (without shaking its tail--I'm a little disappointed not to have heard it, but glad too I didn't vex it to that point), and maybe I decided to change mine, but that's all right. I had friends waiting at my desk.

14 July 2013

making peace with joy

I'm starting this post while my stomach churns over the Zimmerman verdict, and I don't want to write it. I don't want to write it because it feels so frankly useless and irrelevant in the wake of so much horrifying injustice. My impulse says write about that, but frankly I'm not qualified and I don't even know what to say except no. 

Last night I had a few friends over, so I could see them before I left for the rest of the summer, and we ended up talking about Sharknado. I didn't watch it, but I did observe my Twitter feed and the ubiquity of the hashtag. Everyone was watching it, it seemed. Even the Communications Director for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins was in on it. And our conversation went on a bit about the gleeful ridiculousness of it all. I personally don't like the "deliberately awful" school of entertainment (and I was that person who was legitimately scared during Army of Darkness). The Office is too awkward for me to watch (even though I know it's on purpose.) But I was really interested in the communal groundswell over this SyFy movie. I'm always surprised when something brings people together (and I'm always grateful when it doesn't have to be tragedy).

One of my friends, one who, like me, can't deal with the intentionally ludicrous entertainment business, posed the quite-serious point of "But there are actually important things happening in the world." And so why are so many people pouring all of this energy into bad CGI and shark puns? They could be mobilizing that attention on something more worthwhile. I've said the exact same thing myself, many times. The internal guilt--how can I be happy when there is so much sadness?--is paralyzing and omnipresent. I wish I had a way to tally how much I've written and deleted for that reason. I'm watching baseball and something nifty happens, some small pure thing, so I start typing. Then something ticks by that hurts my heart. I delete whatever I was planning to share. I do this at least half a dozen times a day, about everything: music I am listening to, things I have read, my obsession with the weather. How dare I how dare I how dare. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't dare. Maybe it's some attempt at courtesy. Maybe it's cowardice.

What I think about Sharknado is wholly irrelevant. I have to recognize, though, that it brought a lot of people a lot of laughter and connection. And today--and other days--I've tried to make peace with the fact that, while there is much, much evil in the world and this trial is every evidence of it, there is also good. And it's important to treat what is good as relevant, too. Ignoring what is good only gives the bad more power and devalues what we so desperately need. We know silence is the tool of the oppressor. So say things. Especially now. I have to remind myself of that. If I do not speak, if I do not write, I am complicit. So: I am angry and I am disappointed and I am saying that now. Dear God, what is this world and how can we suffer to go on like this?

I've got nothing more interesting to add to it, so I won't. All I can do is keep saying it and doing what I can to fight the ways we fail each other, individually and systemically.

But I am also trying to recognize this: silencing joy will not defeat injustice, either. Finding something about which to be happy--truly, upliftingly happy--is not something to hide. There is always something about which to grieve or rage, and we can honor that without denying joy.

01 July 2013

space and time

The second and third legs of my travels, which took me to the Maritimes & Quebec and San Diego, respectively, have come to a close. Have a few photos of some of the highlights from the first few days of the east coast excursion:
Waves at Acadia National Park, Maine
Bowsprit of the Tall Ship Mar, Halifax, NS
The lighthouse on Cap Gaspe, Forillon National Park, QC
Another view of Cap Gaspe, from the Mont Saint-Alban lookout tower
There are quite literally hundreds more photos from everywhere that I've been in the past six weeks and thousands of miles (also literal: my friend Heather & I put more than three thousand miles on her car in our New England/Canadian adventure). I'm looking forward to sifting through them more carefully in the future. Just now, I'd like to pause a moment on how strangely productive all of this travel has been. 

I certainly don't mean in terms of production, any finished project. I've been a shameless and capricious dilettante, starting a dozen different pieces in three genres and finishing none of them since I set out on May 16. I blame some of this on the fact that I was working almost exclusively in my notebook, with a pen, and it's much easier to do the big organizing/re-writing/overhauling that I need with a keyboard than without, so instead of crashing things out, I took notes and then moved on to whatever was next, returning to make more notes as necessary. (I will say that Evernote may be revolutionizing that annotation process in a really easy and useful way, and it was incredibly helpful even when I didn't have actual network or wireless access with my phone, which was incredibly often through the Maritimes and the Gaspe Peninsula.) But while I still have my many, many pages of notes and scraps and snippets to actually type up and organize, the overarching sense of it all is that much of what I started deserves finishing. I don't often feel that way, and my folders are a hive of the unfinished. But all of these things feel quietly, calmly alive in a way that says Take your time. We will be here when you're ready. This is good. This is important. Because there's no way, of course, to finish all of these things at once, and it's madness to try. It's madness enough to be still at work on a novel's revisions (more on that in a moment), preparing to start drafting the next, and having some non-fiction planned that really does need to be finished. But this is good madness (I think). At least the back of my writing brain thinks so. It must think so because it's finally let me think some useful things about the novel I "finished" over spring break. 

That was the first substantial revision. It was a revision that needed to happen, but when I put the files away for the end of the semester, I knew there were some things that weren't quite right, and, in early May, trying to think about those things made me feel frantic, panicked, and riddled with failure, even though I know that excellent novels do not come about on one-and-a-half drafts. A novel is work, but, in May, it didn't feel like work, which is familiar, which is what one does, which is strangely comforting in its way. In May, it felt like just one more thing I couldn't get right. 

So, an ocean, then most of a continent, then the spine of the Rockies and wide deserts between me and it. Up to nine timezones. More than a dozen new students and a host of wonderful new people and a wealth of new landscapes and climates and a lot of delicious food and miles passed beneath my sneaker-soles. A jumble of new ideas. The constant smell of sugar in the air in Sibiu, the pine freshness of Gaspe, everywhere marine salt from Maine to Montreal and then in San Diego. All this distance, all this stimulus. And in small, quiet moments--under the rain-wet tent in Maine, on a silent, red beach on Prince Edward Island, on yet another lookout over Gaspe Bay, with coffee in hand in the Quarter of Spectacles in Montreal--things became clearer. Some small changes, adjustments to scenes and moods, and some cuts, of course, and then, last night, as the last flight started its descent into Casper, the thing I probably needed to know most about the book crept in. I had to write my notes on my actual boarding pass, given the timing, and there are scrawls in all of the white spaces, in the bigger block of white following my name, in the smaller white rectangle beneath the large DEN-CPR, on the back around the advertisement for United's Mileage Plus credit card. The ideas filled themselves in, wherever there was space. All I had to do was find that space. 

In fourteen days, I leave for my residency at the Jentel Foundation. I'll have four weeks of space, too, to listen and to work, thanks to the fantastic people at Jentel. In the meantime, there are smaller things to manage, a semester to prepare for, and some finishing to do. But I know where I stand, and the footing is good, and for now, the listening is easy.

24 May 2013

The View From Here

It's been a busy few days in Sibiu. ...well, I say "busy"...that mostly means me walking in ever-larger circles. The experience of being in a place where I have the language skills of a half-trained Labrador retriever, comparatively speaking, is both hilarious and intimidating. Universally, people have been awesome and patient and kind, and I am having small victories like remembering how to say good day and good evening (I keep jumping the gun and skipping good morning; Romania has some very specific criteria about when one says which greeting). I have mostly managed to decode menus and grocery store items, too, so there haven't been any unpleasant surprises, food-wise. Actually, all of the food has been marvelous, and the bad news is that all of the work I did to curb my sugar cravings over the last six months or so is probably shot because there are so many pastries. (I am using the excuse of trying to have a real Romanian experience, and one thing no one does is worry about the sugar/salt/fat content every obsessive waking second. I miss that, actually, pretty intensely. Eating healthy foods is one thing. That's probably a post for another time.)

I continue to be thankful for the people I have met; I've several remarkable outings with one of the MA students here and her friends. I also got a crash course in Turkish culture and art, thanks to two other visiting professors. The intersections of culture are unlike anything I've ever experienced, and the immediate hospitality and welcome I have received (even so far as to be invited to dinner with the Turkish instructors and their students, which turned out to be home-cooked Turkish food by the students) startles and awes me.

In today's picture pile, two views from the clock tower at the edge of Piata Mica (literally the small square), one looking onto Piata Mare (the big square), and one looking over the city toward the Carpathian Mountains. And then two images from my personal souvenir take: yarn! The large wall of yarn is the shop (I am responsible for the gap), and the six skeins are my haul. Each is 400-500 meters of fingering weight loveliness, from a variety of wool/mohair/angora blends. For about $35. I just. Enough yarn for four lace projects.

I found the yarn in the Dumbrava shopping center, which has almost everything ever. I should have arrived with an empty suitcase and just bought clothes here; they have things I actually like. Ah well.

I also went well to two games in a college-affiliated soccer tournament. Yay, sprots! It continues to be strange waking up as the west coast games are ending and getting only highlights/postgames for east coast evening starts.

Still. Let's go, Pens!

20 May 2013

Between rainshowers

This morning, I got to scope out the university a bit more, and the administrative assistant helped me get the technology in the classroom to cooperate with me, which was awesome. Yesterday and Saturday evening I spent with one of the graduate students, Renata, and her friends, and that was fantastic. They took me to the massive folklore/traditional civilization museum, and they were kindly very patient with me touristing about. We had a long discussion about an English equivalent for "dumbrava" (a small forest with water, but that isn't a swamp), and everything that we ended up with in English was either fairly archaic (coppice, spinney) or very precisely affiliated with a different climate. And that was rad. Then, I was invited to a backyard barbeque, where I got to meet more excellent people and also Renata's cat, Charlie. I have to say that there is something infinitely reassuring about the globally consistent behavior of cats.

Today, in addition to the trip to campus, I also went for groceries again and bought a gogosi, which is that golden pastry of awesomeness in the photo below. (Sorry for the wonky photo pile at the bottom of the post: the Blogger app I am using doesn't appear to allow one to move the photos around.) It was easily as big as my spread hand, and it was still warm when the clerk dipped one side in powdered sugar. I regretted that I was (as usual) wearing black, but that's all I regretted. They apparently come with fillings, too, though I got a plain one this time (gogosi simple). What I was most proud of was that I managed the whole transaction in Romanian (badly pronounced Romanian, to be sure), and I almost got it in the grocery store, but the clerk had to switch to English to ask if I had a 10-bani piece to avoid handfuls of change. I am starting to get the hang of making buna ziua a little more automatic and understanding when passersby shorthand it.

After groceries, I went on a walk, where I found a very large rose garden in Parcel sub Arini. A few plants are coming into bloom there, and it looks like it will be amazing in a week, so I'll try to keep an eye on that. Also in the park, I saw one of Sibiu's ambient dogs having a nap in a gully. The dogs have ear tags to show that they've been inoculated, and they seem both chill and in good condition. I saw another one on my walk home, just a beautiful shepherd-ish looking fellow (like if you mixed an Australian shepherd with a Husky). If one ends up in my suitcase, it is not my fault.

Finally, there is the photo of what I've been eating here in my room for dinner: bread and cheese and a tomato and cherries. While it continues to dump buckets outside, too (intermittent violent thunderstorms), I have covrigi (Romanian pretzels) and a chocolate hazelnut spread that I think I like more than Nutella.

...Also, there is day baseball, which will be my soundtrack for sleep. (I have to say that waking up to score of games just-ended is a little bit of a let-down. If I wake up early, I can probably listen to the end of the west-coast games while I write, but hockey will be just ending around 5 a.m.)

Buna seara from Sibiu!

17 May 2013

Getting there

I arrived in Sibiu at five last night and was given a quick tour of the area near the university and where I'm staying.

The short version is that one cannot swing an umbrella without hitting a place to get ice cream. Also: lots of umbrellas. This is because it seems to be somewhere that it could rain at any moment, and while I walked to the grocery last night, that green soft smell was what I noticed most. And it is marvelous. On the short walk down Victoriei, I passed a few empty lots full of tall grass and trees with white-painted trunks. The spaces were gated off, and I am going to assume the white paint was to protect said trunks from insect damage or some such thing, but the effect was both eerie and lovely in the fading light (and I'd been awake for more than 24 hours at that point, so).

Across from the grocery (where I bought a box of perfect, ripe cherries, among other things) is Parcul Sub Arini, a long, wooded park. I'm looking forward to exploring that soon. There is also a jazz festival taking place; I am here in time to catch the last few days. Soon, I will get to meet one of the graduate students here, and she'll show me around a bit more.


15 May 2013

setting out

On Thursday morning, I leave for the longest trip I've ever taken, one that will land me in Sibiu, Romania (with a 5-hour layover in Munich) for seventeen days, in Pennsylvania for three days, and in various parts of New England, Nova Scotia, and the far reaches of Quebec for thirteen days. With the two full days that it will take me to get to and from my starting points, I will be away for thirty-five days.

While I'm gone, my goal is to blog a little bit about it, as I can, though I have no idea what my internet access options will be like for most of the trip (particularly the Romanian & Canadian legs). And we all know how blogging promises go.

Still, there are concerns on this end of the journey: what to take, how to pack, how much is not enough, how much is too much, how I feel my lack of French will be much more a problem than my lack of Romanian and German, and so on.

One of the concerns of international travel is this: what do I want to wear for twenty-six straight hours? What do I want to wear to encounter seat-mates, customs agents, and my international hosts? The answer is the same as it is every time I fly: a Penguins shirt.

It's not a jersey (though one of those will come with me)--it's just a black, long-sleeved, hooded t-shirt, one that layers well and is very comfortable. The first time I wore it as the "what I'm wearing when I fly" item, it was shortly after I caused pile of consternation by wearing a sweater that apparently had metallic fibers in it, which precipitated another layer of shedding at security. The Penguins shirt has no such bling to inconvenience everyone. It was made to look half worn-out from the start, a calculated insouciance, and, if nothing else, the shirt will match my worn-out face around hour eighteen.

The Penguins shirt has also made me some unexpected friends: in January, in the drowsy Charlottesville, VA airport, the young woman operating the TSA bag-scanning belt was also a Penguins fan. She saw my shirt and asked about it. This was two days before the lockout ended. It was a small, marvelous moment, at the end of a trip full of a lot of great time with family and friends, but also after a stressful semester's end that crushed up against the winter holidays (a lot of flights, a lot of changing locations, a lot of bad weather) and ran right into the start of spring semester.

This little moment was in isolation from all of the me--it was simply about something external, something, of course, that I'd been looking forward to for months, hoping and then having hope fail. On January 4, standing in front of the machine that was ensuring the safety of my toothpaste and the non-weapon-nature of my fountain pens, we hoped we were close to something finally come through. On the 4th, we were only a week shy of that apparent January 11 drop-dead date, and this perfect stranger and I were hoping for the exact same thing: for there to be some hockey.

It likely seems silly to some to spend this much energy thinking about (writing about, really--the thinking takes a split-second, the writing...slightly longer) a piece of clothing, which is not often a thing I do. But travel is so often about split-second first impressions, and once I'm past practical considerations (I just refuse to spend that much time in a suit and no one expects me to do so, anyway), there are a lot of things I don't want my clothes to say to people. There are also a lot of things I like my clothes to say to people, and ties to sports fandom is one of those. One reason is that I will be traveling during the Stanley Cup Playoffs--it feels wrong not to put on a little black and gold. But the more significant one is that this shirt is both barrier and invitation.

Sports conversations are easy and, for the most part, universally a safe topic of conversation (and I mean conversation of the kind one has in airports and airplanes, not wearing a Crosby jersey in a Philadelphia bar and shouting). It can fill the space for empty, obligatory small-talk with something that has meaning and interest--if one cares enough to use a logo as a springboard into conversation, there's already content, and it's content that doesn't have to be personally revealing to be significant. It can be revealing--people often ask if I'm from Pittsburgh (because many people love their home team), and any chance I have to talk about the middle of Pennsylvania, the just-off-center location of where I'm from, I take. In the event, too, though, that the seatmate is creepy and revelation seems like a bad choice, there's always the excellent answer of, "No, but Mario Lemieux," because #66 is an excellent reason to have fallen in love with the Penguins in the nineties.

In early April, I was flying to Savannah for a conference--and there was some bonus baseball--and I spent the whole D.C. to Savannah flight (my third of the day and the point at which I am always thoroughly over the experience) talking about the NHL trade deadline with my seatmate and his companions, who were on their way to golf. One of them caught the Filip Forsberg/Martin Erat trade just before the cabin door was closed, and finally knowing the outcome of that strange bated period preceding the "Capitals' Announcement" was just so satisfying--in no small part because I was in company that also understood that. The time passed quickly and happily, and there was no trace of the desperate competition that happened in the last seat-bank I was in, in which there was a strange oneupmanship going on between the two guys beside me that started with watches and progressed to vacation homes and their children's college majors and I don't know where it ended because I had headphones and a book and I hid in both.

Before leaving, I did get to see game one of the Penguins vs. Senators series, and it was a satisfying way to leave my hockey team: gathering steam. The first period was a little shaky, but everything got stronger as the game went on. I'm hoping for more of that for the Penguins, and I'm hoping for some of the same for myself, for the just-before-leaving jitters to level out into excitement and appreciation and the bravery I know I can talk myself into.

The hockey community, particularly in certain parts of the country (like mine) and the world, is a little rare. I know it gives me some comfort and lift when I can see those people (my people) in places that are new to me, and I like to think that someone else is similarly buoyed by an exchange even so small as "Did you see ___?" or "Oh, that was heartbreaking" or "Good luck in the next round" or a little thumbs-up. It's worth those moments to risk the potential heckling that might come, too (I say, as I will spend three hours in the Newark airport).

Not everyone goes around with their hearts on their sleeves (and chests and heads and socks and boxer shorts and even on their very skin) in so immediately recognizable a way as sports folk, and for many, that's certainly not the only thing for which they bleed (metaphorically or otherwise), but it's probably unique in that it's so immediately and visibly shared. There's a pride (and a bravery and a safety) in displaying one's chosen team's colors. So tomorrow morning, I will start this trip, and even before I get to the TSA stations, I will do a little of my own x-ray magic as I set out: I will put on a shirt that makes visible on the outside so much of what is gathered in my heart and my brain so much of the time.

19 April 2013

a thought on a poem by Deborah Poe

When things* are broken, I turn to poetry. Suffice it to say, this is a broken week in the world. But it is a week in which I am still trying to impose order on at least my world, and part of that ordering is preparation for teaching some literature and writing in Romania in less than a month.

This morning, as part of the class preparation, I was considering Deborah Poe's extraordinary collection Elements, which is a book inspired by and arranged according to the Periodic Table of the Elements. The poems are scientifically acute and lyrically imagistic by turns, and this morning, "Manganese (Mn)" caught me.

The poem opens with the lines,
this is not the chemistry of hibiscus blossoms
or the color of lithium steam coming off spring
and continues, a few lines later, saying,
these shivery nodules, like ancestors,
are immortalized--i mean in ways
loneliness is related to time
Loneliness, indeed, must be related to time. There are equations in my head: velocity & time & distance, and so many people think of loneliness as it pertains to distance—to be so far from x—and that distance is only time that’s been thrown, fast and away. And by this math of words, then, where there is no time, where time is suspended and held, there can be no loneliness because time and distance never meet and nothing speeds past.

I read this poem, and the morning—how much waiting we are doing and have done and how we are watching seconds tick while someone bleeds out in a street or a building collapses or the ashes won’t stop their hot glowing and we wait longer and watch the hours and tragedy spin us further and further from that which weaves together home and here—the morning stopped. Time paused in washes of color and mist and everything was whole and connected, just for a moment.

In less than a month, I will be in Romania, which is the farthest from home, as Samwise Gamgee says, I’ve ever been. I will spend twenty-two hours flinging myself fast and away in the bodies of airplanes, walking fast through doors and gates that permit no reverse, but I will be taking this poem with me, and I will never be lonely.

*productivity, sentences, peace, silence, noise