May 29, 2014

I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
By Neil Gaiman

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't.”

"I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger. I saw the world from above and below. I saw that there were patterns and gates and paths beyond the real. I saw all these things and understood them and they filled me, just as the waters of the ocean filled me." (p. 143)

"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock." (p. 149)

"Old Mrs. Hempstock shrugged. "What you remembered? Probably. More or less. Different people remember things differently, and you'll not get any two people to remember anything the same, whether they were there or not. You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything."" (p. 171)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is magic. Rich in remembering. And what is memory? It seems like my life recently -- its events,  the books I've read -- have unintentionally forced me to evaluate what memory means to me.

As I've transitioned into a new part of my life (to quote Kerouac, it does feel like I'm at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.) I've, in a way, had to evaluate what is worth remembering in very physical and non-physical ways. What I realized with having to move is that I really do have so much stuff. So many things I've insisted on holding onto. So I started there, with throwing things away. The act of looking through the hundreds of photographs we had, and choosing which of them to keep and which were unnecessary--which memories I should keep and which were unnecessary--was very therapeutic. Each photograph tossed to the garbage was like a piece of my past lifted off my shoulders and it felt good. I am hugely sentimental but there was empowerment in realizing that I didn't need to keep everything. The same goes with hundreds of letters I've saved over the years from friends who are no longer in my life now. Did I need to keep them all? No. (I kept a few, some were quite charming.) But I had one whole envelope filled with letters from a former best friend who is now just an acquaintance, if that. And there was no reason to hold on to them, I don't necessarily miss her. And old school assignments and projects -- I let some of those go too. So with photos, letters, projects: I just kept the ones that represented my best self and the parts of me I liked and released everything else.

So that's the great, funny thing about memory too. Over time, it changes -- often by our own doing. We humans have the ability to make our memories these mammoth monsters that weigh us down and maybe, in time, our memories resemble something much different than what they were in real time. My first memory and my saddest memory is one I'm ready to forget and that is something I really thought I'd never be able to do. But I think now, given all of the circumstances, it's OK to let it go. And it's OK to let a lot of other things go, too.

I wonder how my memory will represent my life today when I look back 25 years from now. Will it be accurate? Most of what drives Asterios Polyp, a recent read, is a man's memory. At one point it reads: "To remember is to vacate the very notion of time. Every memory, no matter how remote its subject, takes place "now" the moment it's called up in the mind. The more something is recalled, the more the brain has a chance to refine the original experience, because every memory is a re-creation, not a playback." I just want to live in the now, in this time, and live in as little memory as possible. I want to be present.

May 21, 2014

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President
By Eli Saslow

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President is an important, thorough, & honorable work, and I enjoyed it very much. Of the thousands he receives, President Obama reads ten letters each day, handpicked by his staff. If he decides to send a response, he always handwrites it. Eli Saslow ('Cuse alum!) follows up with ten Americans who wrote to President Obama and received a response. Each of the ten letters Saslow features is written by an "average" American expressing concerns about any of the biggest issues of our time: health care, war, unemployment, the economy, debt, education, immigration, [gay] marriage equality. The letter-writers range in gender, age, race and their stories are impactful. Though I've lived during this presidency & have been aware of the issues, this book still enlightened me to so much of what has happened. And while reading, I could see myself, my family, and people I know in these stories. If I couldn't, it greatly increased my empathy of them. The past three years were hard. My mom was laid off a few months after I graduated, and for a time it was a blessing -- she had deserved better for a long time, she sought something new, and losing a job could force you to pursue something better. (Until it forces you to pursue anything.) But after months of applying, taking a new class, and losing her unemployment benefits and food stamps, she still had no prospects --- and it got really scary. I was still unemployed, only having worked internships and freelance gigs. Then, slowly things started to turn. She found two part-time jobs, and I accepted my first full-time position, but still, it was hard for her to make ends meet. And my mom is a warrior, because I don't think, even to this day, I completely understand just how close we were to going under. And it's always been that way, because we've always struggled financially. But she made sure we still lived well. (Father too.) Anyway, she missed the deadline to apply for medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act, & a few days later she was offered a job (finally!) that offered her full benefits, full salary, and a move to Houston -- a completely new life. No one deserves it more than her. And not everyone is so lucky, I know, though it feels like it took an eternity & tons of hard work to get here. Still with hard work, not everyone is so lucky.

I know the life I am creating for myself is one of success Is that the appropriate word? "American dream," right? To echo the theme of one of the chapters: it gets better. My parents created opportunities for me to have a much better life than they've had, and in many ways I will. This may sound dramatic, but right now really feels like one of the great turning points of my life. Everything is changing for myself and for my family so, so quickly. My mom moved away. My brother went to live with my dad. I moved out to my first apartment. But I never want to forget what it was like for us to get to this point.

Good read.

May 10, 2014

He taught me how to read.

One week until my mom relocates to Houston and so I'm experiencing some serious nostalgia traveling down Memory Lane while I clean & unearth some gems we've kept for the past many years. Thought these were appropriate for this blog. (I've been achieving reading goals since 96!)

May 07, 2014

“I can still tend the rabbits, George? I didn't mean no harm, George.”

Of Mice and Men
By John Steinbeck

“I can still tend the rabbits, George? I didn't mean no harm, George.” 

I read this about a month ago for the first time and really liked it. In a way, the classic had always been on my to-read list, but when I saw it had a limited engagement on Broadway starring James Franco and Chris O'Dowd, it encouraged me to read it sooner. I saw it last night with friends and thought it was fantastic. Chris O'Dowd's performance as Lennie blew me away. 

May 03, 2014

To live is to exist within a conception of time. But to remember is to vacate the very notion of time.

Asterios Polyp
By David Mazzuchelli

I can't wait to read this again and again. The first time was splendid, but I knew as soon as I completed it that it's the kind of read that begs rereading.

Really great imagery all around in this graphic novel: