November 28, 2021

Everybody wants somebody to hold up the right mirror.

Daisy Jones & The Six
By Taylor Jenkins Reid

There are now two books I'd recommend listening to on audio over reading—Their Eyes Were Watching God (narrated by Ruby Dee) and Daisy Jones & The Six narrated by a full cast of talented, perfectly-voiced actors.

Perfect for the long weekend, I loved the experience of blindly getting immersed in this one, written like an oral history (my favorite)—of being hit with nostalgia, and sentimentality and coming-of-age Almost Famous-y music storytelling goodness. I only wished real tunes accompanied the great lyrics she wrote for the tale. Reid's writing has heart and I look forward to reading more.

"Billy: Teddy told me once, "What your sound is, is a feeling. That's it. And that's a world above everything else." 
I remember saying "What's the feeling?"
I was writing about love. I was singing with a little bit of a growl. We were rockin' hard on the guitars with some real blue bass lines. So I was thinking Teddy might say, you know, "taking a girl home from a bar" or "speeding with the top down," or something like that. Something fun, maybe, and a little dangerous.
But he just said, "It's ineffable. If I could define it, I wouldn't have any use for it."
That really stuck with me."
("Debut" - p. 55)

"Daisy: ... I was sitting in the living room of my cottage, looking out the window, my songbook in my lap, realizing that if I didn't start trying—I mean being willing to squeeze out my own blood, sweat, and tears for what I wanted—I'd never be anything, never matter much to anybody. 
I called Teddy a few days later, I said, "I'll record your album. I'll do it."
And he said, "It's your album." And I realized he was right. The album didn't have to be exactly my way for it to still be mine."
("First"" - pp. 80-1)

"Billy: She was great at wordplay. She was great at flipping the meaning of things, of undercutting sentiment. I loved that about what she was doing and I told her that.
Daisy: The harder I worked as a songwriter, the longer I worked at it, the better I got. Not in any linear way, really. More like zigzags. But I was getting better, getting really good. And I knew that. I knew that when I showed the song to him. But knowing you're good can only take you so far. At some point, you need someone else to see it, too. Appreciation from people you admire changes how you see yourself. And Billy saw me the way I wanted to be seen. There is nothing more powerful than that. I really believe that. Everybody wants somebody to hold up the right mirror."
("Aurora" - p. 201)

November 25, 2021

This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.



Good Bones
By Maggie Smith

This poem struck me at first read and has entered my conscience often since. 

I had a weekend that reminded me of the good; I was so glad to laugh, cry, and woo for my friends over three days of nuptial celebrations. To dance freely. To be near the ocean, day and night. To meet lovely, open, good-hearted people who inspired tons of my curiosity (though I was too shy to intensely grill them all about their lives). We could make this place beautiful.

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

August 29, 2021

To learn to swim in the ocean of not knowing—this is my constant work.


Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
By Suleika Jaouad

As I read and (mostly) listened to Between Two Kingdoms, I remained most astounded by Suleika's generosity. It feels inappropriate to share that her pain provided perspective, but that she is so open with her story is a gift. I was grateful many times—for the window into her experiences, the affecting language she used to describe them, and her overall grace. She shares the same desire to deep-know people so though our experiences are miles apart, I felt connected and invested in her journey.

At its end, three messages were reinforced—1) as I continue on my mission to learn to love better, I'd been given examples in abundance of how to do so; 2) I am fortunate; 3) I had better make the most of my life.

"I decided to reimagine my survival as a creative act. If chemo sores in my mouth made it too painful to talk, I would find new ways to communicate. As long as I was stuck in bed, my imagination would become the vessel that allowed me to travel beyond the confines of my room. If my body had grown so depleted that I now had only three functional hours each day, I would clarify my priorities and make the most of how I spent the time I had.
With this in mind, I reorganized my bedroom so that everything I needed was within arm's reach: a small night table littered with pens, notebooks, and paper; a bookshelf filled with my favorite novels and volumes of poetry; a wooden board that I placed atop my knees as a desk. I wrote when I was home, and I wrote each day that I found myself back in the hospital. I wrote until the anger and envy and pain bled dry—until I could no longer hear the persistent beeping of monitors, the hiss of respirators, the alarms that constantly went off. I had no way of predicting all the places the Hundred-Day Project would take me, but what I knew, for now, was that I was starting to find my power."
(p. 109)
Earlier in this chapter, she shares how her family and boyfriend also participated in the Hundred-Day Project. Her ex Will shared a daily video from the outside, her mother painted ceramic tiles, and her father wrote 101 childhood memories and gave them to her in a book on Christmas—a great idea I'm considering.

""Write," instructs Annie Dillard, "as if you were dying." We are all terminal patients on this earth—the mystery is not "if" but "when" death appears in the plotline. With my transplant date looming, her words rang loudly. My mortality shadowed each breath, each step that I took, more present now than it had ever been. A manic energy hummed through me. I worked around the clock for a month to draft thirteen columns before I entered the transplant unit, fueled by knowledge that it was going to be a long time before I was well enough to write or walk or do much of anything else again. What would you write about if you knew you might die soon? Bent over my laptop in bed, I traveled to where the silence was in my life. I wrote about my infertility and how no one had warned me of it. About learning to navigate our absurd healthcare system. About what it meant to fall in love while falling sick, and how we talk—or don't talk—about dying. I wrote about guilt. I also wrote a will in case I fell on the wrong side of the transplant odds. To this day, I've never been more prolific. Death can be a great motivator.
On March 29, 2012, my column and an accompanying video series—called "Life, Interrupted"—was scheduled to make its debut. Just a few days after that I would receive the bone marrow transplant. The confluence of these impending milestones was dizzying: a dream and a nightmare dancing the tango."
(p. 119)

"When I arrive at the hotel, Jon is waiting in the lobby. The two of us go way back to band camp, where we met as teenagers. Jon was gangly and awkward then, with a mouth full of braces and baggy, ill-fitting clothes, so shy he bordered on mute. He's since undergone a transformation. Now, with his thick New Orleanian drawl, virtuosic piano chops, and dapper style, he has the kind of magnetic presence that turns heads and draws everyone in a room. Tall and slim, dressed impeccably in a tailored suit and leather boots, he's handsome enough to startle me. His skin, a dark honey brown, looks luminous, and his features—those lips, aquiline nose, and broad shoulders—give him the majestic air of a prince. Jon catches my eye from across the lobby, and as I walk across the room to greet him, I wobble a little under his gaze."
(p. 201)

"To learn to swim in the ocean of not knowing—this is my constant work." 
(p. 265)

August 15, 2021

I'd just gained awareness, and now I noticed even more how acutely imperfect I was.

 

The Year Of Yes
By Maria Dahvana Headley

"Like all the other citizens who'd come from nowhere to this, the great somewhere, I felt like I'd finally found home. I could relax into the hum of the trains under the asphalt, the steam rising from manholes, the goth clubs downtown and the clip-clop of the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. Every day, I wadded up and lay aside more of what I'd really come from: a crazy father who raised sled dogs in the desert, a lot of sorrow I wanted to forget.
In my experience, the mentally ill were like black holes, into which you could pour everything you had, only to find that they'd been off apprehending aliens in the desert of their dreams and hadn't been listening to a word you'd said. I was paralyzed with guilt over my dad, and helpless to help him. I had a nightmare that someday he'd hop a train (he'd been known to do things like that, though now he hardly left his house) and appear on my doorstep, demanding care, demanding housing and feeding and attention. In my brain, he was like a character out of Beckett, popping his head occasionally from under a garbage can lid, calling for something muddled and humiliating. I loved him, but I couldn't save him. I knew that much. I tried not to think about it. Every time I saw a homeless person, I thought of my dad, then cast the thought out from my mind, ground it into the sidewalk like a cigarette, and walked quickly away, resisting the temptation to look back. Whatever was following me would just have to stay in Hades. I drank from Lethe every other day, and it never had the desired effect."
(p. 145)

"I thought sadly about the predicament of the modern man, wrapped in a silky shroud of guilt, comfortably wallowing across guilty sheets. Were there any good ones left? If so, where the hell were they?
I tried to focus on school, on living, and not on the fact that the Year of Yes was almost over. Though I'd changed from the inside out, I hadn't found someone willing to take me for what I now was. Unfortunately, there  was no going back. 
On paper, it was so easy to search through your old drafts and find that darling you'd killed. You could reinstate the passage, as though you'd never even thought about murder. In life, not so. You'd change a part of yourself—a flawed part, maybe, but a flawed part you might have, secretly, been a little bit in love with. You'd know it was for the best, that you'd only manage to proceed if you revised whatever thing was messing up the overall structure of your existence. But inevitably, at some point, you'd want to go back on the changes. It would be easier to stay the same old rumpled version, the same typos and blotches, the same old severe climactic flaws. 
I found myself trying to think my old judgmental things as I walked down the street. Instead I'd end up talking to everyone I saw, spending half my day sitting down next to strangers. Letting them tell me everything. Giving them love.
It wasn't like I'd made myself perfect. Far from it. I'd just gained awareness, and now I noticed even more how acutely imperfect I was. I was willing to do all kinds of things that I knew better than to do. Like, for example, fall madly in love again. With someone I knew very well was a very bad idea."
(p. 259)

August 01, 2021

I'm not depressed but I worry I'll get to the end of my life feeling I haven't done all I wanted to do.

I posted this on Instagram & received awed replies commenting on my signed copy of the 'Before Sunset' script; alas, I'd just found it online (gratefully).

By Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater

Earlier this year, I re-watched two-thirds of the "Before" trilogy. I held out on re-watching the third because I didn't want to be sad!, instead seeking the optimism of the first two. 

As expected, 'Before Sunset' again induced sweeping heart feels. I think it is a near perfect film, with the most perfect ending. (Nina Simone's 'Just In Time' may very well be in my top 10 songs of all time—because of this film.)

Now that I'm of the same age of Jesse and Celine, with more experience, the film is more resonant and relatable. I reveled in their romance and dialogue!

Jesse
Definitely. Are you depressed now?

Celine
No. I'm not depressed but I worry I'll get to the end of my life feeling I haven't done all I wanted to do.

Jesse
What do you want to do?

Celine
I mean I want to paint, write more songs, learn Chinese, play my guitar each day. There are so many things that I want to do, and I end up doing not much.

He laughs.

Jesse
Well let me ask you this: do you believe in ghosts, or spirits?

Celine
No. 

Jesse
Do you believe in reincarnation?

Celine
Not at all.

Jesse
What about God?

Celine
No, no.

Jesse laughs. 

Celine (cont'd) 
But at the same time, I don't want to be one of those people that don't believe in any kind of magic.

Jesse
So you believe in Astrology.

Celine
Of course! I mean, you're a Scorpio, I'm a Sag, we get along. No. There's that Einstein quote that if you don't believe in any kind of magic or mystery, you're as good as dead.

Jesse
Yeah, I've always felt there was some kind of mystical core to the universe. But I don't believe that me, my personality, has any permanent place here. And the more I believe that, the more I can't go through life and think "This is no big deal." This is it. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you think is funny? Every day is the last.

July 11, 2021

may you kiss the wind then turn from it / certain that it will / love your back



blessing the boats
By Lucille Clifton

Some favorite classical music played in the background the other day and at some point turned to "The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns. Did I always know that Bill Murray recited Lucille Clifton's "blessing the boats" over this rendition? I don't know that I did...and yet I'm sure I added it for a reason. Perhaps solely for the melody? Either way, it hit as if I were listening to it for the first time and now I can't stop.

may the tide 
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out 
beyond the face of fear 
may you kiss the wind then turn from it
certain that it will 
love your back     may you 
open your eyes to water 
water waving forever 
and may you in your innocence 
sail through this to that