“Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?”

Image

That’s the question aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni asks Jiro Horikoshi in one of many dream sequences in Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises.” The question is in response to Jiro’s questioning of his dream of designing airplanes himself, after he gets a taste of the possible consequences while in pre-WWII Germany. Caproni is his idol, but he is also the internal voice that shapes Jiro’s worldview. What Caproni is truly asking him is whether a singular dream is worth all potential consequences. If the ends justify the means. Rarely do we think of the slave labor that created the pyramids – we only marvel at their grandeur. Jiro just wants to design airplanes – even if they’re bombers. 

The movie has made me think about the lucky (or unlucky) few who do have that singular drive towards a life’s goal. There are so many kids who want to become doctors or firemen when they grow up. No one at six years old proclaims they want to be an accountant, or a publicist, or an administrative assistant. But they become these things, and most are content with the choice, so long as there is comfort and love in their lives. Then there is the handful of others who were born with the drive and are not complete until they have become what their dreams have shaped. They become heart surgeons because if not, their hearts would stop beating. They become a fireman because if not, the fire in their breast would be extinguished. 

The film made me remember a test I took when I was in high school that was supposed to determine my career path. After answering countless questions, I received my future in a dot matrix printout – CREATIVE WRITER. Looking back, what a broad and confusing response! Other students received DOCTOR or POLICE OFFICER – at least there was a clear path for becoming these things. But CREATIVE WRITER?  Of what? Does this mean a journalist? An essayist? Someone who writes little blurbs online? A *gulp* novelist? I’ve often wondered what the benefit was to taking those tests – most students were left confused about their future or the test only reinforced existing beliefs. I took the results and held them to my heart for many years, finally deciding that becoming a publicist for the arts would fulfill my desire to be surrounded by art and my desire to write, even if it was just a press release and the occasional blog post. 

I realize now that there is so much more I want to say, and that I’m only beginning this journey towards…well…I haven’t defined it yet. I am purposefully treating this next stage in my life as one with many blind curves. I’m not putting pressure on myself to write a novel, or publish an essay in the next year…but I know these desires will come to me naturally, slowly. Maybe that’s what CREATIVE WRITER is meant to be – just ambiguous enough to light many fires instead of one. I know that at some point I’ll no longer wish to write in a vacuum and push my words towards greater heights. I may not have Jiro’s singular drive, but I am driving somewhere…and I’m enjoying the journey.

Advertisements

Story Crumbs

Four stories floating in my head, and wrote fragments of all. This is the longest so far. 

“Wine.”

Nina had a way of saying a single word that conveyed her utmost confidence in it.

“Uh, right now?”

“Yep. Open the bottle and have a glass with me on the patio.”

Kate pulled a bottle of Chardonnay from the refrigerator and pondered the wine key. Neal had always opened their wine  due to her reputation for breaking off half the cork. This was a goofy lesson in self-sufficiency.

“Shit. Fuck shit fuck this fucking cork.”

“Pull hard on it…don’t be afraid of breaking the bottle.”

Kate poured two healthy glasses and brought them outside.

Tonight would be Kate’s final night in Nina’s home. Always uncomfortable imposing, Kate pretended that she had worn out her welcome, though Nina insisted she stay longer. It had been almost two weeks of vagabond living since she’d left Neal, and it was time for Little Sheba to come back.

As committed as she had been to order and wholesome living her entire life, Kate slept soundly on Nina’s  narrow vinyl sofa. She reveled in the wrinkled clothes hanging out of her suitcase. She found delight in the folding and unfolding of her travel toothbrush every morning. She had grown accustomed to a steady diet of toast and tea, with the occasional fast food foray.  

She’d always believed that a truly depressed person was one who refused to leave bed in the morning, and chose instead to sip tepid coffee and stare at a laptop screen, leaving them both anxious and rooted to the sheets. 

…and shortest:

Jennifer awoke to soft music and two bright, fuzzy red eyes. She blinked twice and the eyes came into sharp focus. They narrowed as they moved across her body. A female voice came from a speaker under the eyes, where the nose should be. It was deep, sultry and menacing.

“Good morning, Jennifer. It’s 9:35a.m., and you normally wake up at 8:04a.m. I am providing a courtesy wake-up call for your convenience.”

Quantum Mechanic

Image

On June 11th,  17-year-old Kelly McArthur was killed after his ’67 Camaro was t-boned by an ’81 Acura. There was a tricky light on Greebrier and 67th that was regularly ignored by teens and the elderly. The police report would later reveal that he had blown through the intersection on a solid red light, where the Acura kissed the driver’s side at 55 mph.

The accident was the lead story on Fremont’s local news. Tales were spread about parts of Kelly being picked up for nearly three hours after the incident. Gregg Rosen had a sensitive stomach, and vomited upon hearing these high school hallway tidbits.

Today was June 14th, and a candlelight vigil was scheduled at 8p.m. Gregg had seen the spectacle broadcast many times before – the tiny white taper candles, the crude collaged posters, the fresh flowers that became weak and wilted as they sagged against fences and light posts. Tears freely mingling with sweat and spittle, as visitors to the accident site fumbled recollection of a victim whose life had been spent under the hood of a car.

Gregg had grown up with Kelly, but never truly known him. It wasn’t that Kelly was unknowable – he was just so pure in his simplicity, so true to his upbringing, so genuine in every action, that he took knowing him for granted.

***

Mr. Crane had been out sick, and 4th hour Physics had a substitute who insisted everyone call him Garth instead of Mr. Templeton. He looked like every weird uncle – scraggly gray ponytail, thin mustache, Hawaiian shirt, blue eyes in a perpetual state of Santa jolliness, an earring that hadn’t aged well. Instead of assigning busywork, he asked if anyone in the class had heard of Schrödinger’s Cat. A few stray hands were raised, but not enough to bottle up the tale. 

He explained that it was a thought experiment developed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 to argue that subatomic events could not be easily replicated on a large scale. According to Einstein and a few others who dipped their toes into quantum theory, there existed a scenario in which atoms are simultaneously in two or more states, which compress into one state only when measured by physicists. Schrödinger argued that if this were true, then a cat in a box could be both alive and dead, but that when the box was opened, it would have to be one or the other.

“So, if quantum theory is the real fucking deal, then we’d have to accept that something can be simultaneously alive and dead. Like zombies.”

At this point, twenty-five glazed eyes were attached to bodies in various states of rest – hands on chins, shoulders slumped, arms curled around sleepy heads. Even resurrected cats and expletives couldn’t wake the dead. The only alert mind belonged to Gregg, who had listened with such rapt intensity that Garth asked if he wanted to chat about quantum physics after school.

“So, is it cool to ask where you’ve applied?”

“MIT, Stanford, Cal Poly, buncha others ones.”

“Well shit, you don’t need to worry. I’d recommend a book to you, but it’s probably easier if I just e-mail you something.”

It was called “Quantum Physics: A Beginners Guide,” by Alastair Reynolds. Gregg used the name to construct the author’s face: square jaw, thick rimmed glasses, a serious, downturned mouth, a tweed coat paired with a turtleneck. Maybe a pipe. He decided that physicists must have private shoppers who keep them stocked in a wardrobe ripe for ass-kicking. Chapter One was cleverly titled “Quantum Physics is not Rocket Science.”

Four hours later, Gregg stared at his bedroom wall with wide, watery eyes, exhaled, and closed his laptop. Whenever he finished a particularly satisfying book, he would reread the final paragraph at least five times, then slam the pages shut for good. However, this valuable hardware was a 16th birthday present, so he settled for a rewarding click as the screen went to black.

It all made sense. He wasn’t exactly sure what he’d read, only that it explained why his dreams were of Kelly speaking to him about his own death – narrating it as it happened. Did it also explain why the scene was in a cold, black desert, where the Camaro was a wild coyote and the stoplight a 30-foot saguaro holding in its long arm a single white blossom? Had he ever even been to a desert?

***

They had met in daycare at age four, dropped off at the same time every morning when Gregg’s mom left to teach high school and Kelly’s mom handled the finer points of human resource management. Kelly had introduced himself wordlessly – by smacking goldfish crackers out of Gregg’s hand, then hugging him in apology.

The mothers were at a loss with what to do with the odd couple – the Jew and the Stoic whose only mutual interest was each other’s company. Miming a phrase from a Saturday morning cartoon, Gregg insisted they were “true blue friends to the end.”  In conversation with her husband, Gregg’s mom would jokingly compare Kelly to Lennie in Of Mice and Men, and wondered when he might inquire about the rabbits. Kelly’s mom would ponder Hanukkah presents – what to give, when? Were chocolate coins garish?

There was Cub Scouts, Little League, after-school programs, summer trips to the lake and winter sharing of holidays. There were photographs of 12-year-olds in swim trunks with skinny arms around each other, mouths open with laughter. Conversations between the boys were one-sided, but not painfully so – Kelly always the willing recipient of Gregg’s countless ponderings. Gregg’s girlish curls and penchant for game show trivia made him a target for bullies, and that is where Kelly silently, lyrically gave back – throwing punches and socking stomachs until he built a  transparent shield that would secure his friend from future intrusions.

Freshman year split the atom. While Gregg excelled in abstract numbers and could be depended upon to always “solve for x,” Kelly explored cars like a man explores his new lover’s body – tugging gently at belts, massaging distributor caps, pressing his ear to the fender to hear its heartbeat. Kelly’s dad owned the largest car repair in Fremont, and Gregg’s mom always said that Kelly had been baptized with motor oil. He began assisting his dad on easy diagnoses, then moved on to advanced repair. He lived and breathed American-made muscle cars, and the Camaro was a gift he gave himself after three years of rebuilding the engine, reupholstering the seats, and giving it a custom kelly green paint job.

Gregg remembered shadowing Kelly once and watching him snort, nose flared like a crazed bull when he had trouble removing the thermostat. He was born for another time, when these pursuits garnered more respect, and meant a future that was  moderately lucrative and considered noble.

He could never quite put his finger on a moment, on a day, on an incident. There were enough hormones coursing through his body at 13 that they blocked all sense, delayed realization, and made him care less about strengthening a bond and care more about Jennifer Lloyd’s D-cups. Plus, there were the advanced classes, the pressure he placed on himself to excel. There were excuses, and long silences that didn’t just belong to Kelly.

Gregg’s Bar Mitzvah was almost exclusively a Christian affair apart from Gregg’s immediate family and a few teenage cousins flown in from New Jersey. Sandy-haired boys from school with pale, heart-shaped faces and nervous grins fidgeted while Gregg recited from the Torah, and stifled laughs when he tripped over a word that sounded like sticky oatmeal in the mouth. In what now seemed like a final act of devotion, Kelly silenced the group with a single, piercing gaze.

Relationships begin and end in the high school cafeteria, and the first day of school after summer break treats each student like a newly shuffled playing card. Kelly shifted position to his fellow auto repair classmates. Gregg joined friends from Academic Decathlon. Without words, only glances of false disinterest, they began spinning in different orbits.

***

Gregg’s mom was pulling two loaves of challah from the oven when he came downstairs. They were one of a handful of Jewish families in town, and she felt that times of mourning were best marked by the sharing of tradition. Also, the act of baking calmed her nerves, and she hoped the smell in the kitchen would make Gregg nostalgic for something other than a lost friend.

He sat silently at the kitchen table, his left foot crossed over his right and twitching like a rabbit’s kick. Always anxious.

“Do you know about the Double-Slit Experiment?”

There was something vaguely unnerving about the phrase that gave her pause.

“Not sure…but tell me what it means, baby.”

As he tried his best to explain how light can be both waves and particles, her head became a swarm of the tiniest matter, movement upon movement, swirling into what physicists describe as an “electron cloud.” His brain was swimming against the tide, but it was because he saw something valuable on a faraway island.

“That’s some pretty out-there stuff, hon. But it’s good that you’re interested, since you’ll be majoring in something like that in college. Ok, why don’t you be ready in 15 minutes and we’ll walk to the park. Kelly’s parents are going to meet us at a quarter to eight.”

College. The word rang in his ears, but no longer filled him with dread. Before all this, the THIS was college. Now it seemed like whatever choice he’d have to make was infinitely easier than burying his friend. Tomorrow he’d be the youngest pallbearer, and his father feared his weak arms would give under the weight. He did not fear this.

***

Kelly’s vigil was in Logan Park, a placed soaked in memories of birthday picnics and scraped knees. Gregg’s mom began to cry as soon as they rounded the corner and they saw Kelly’s parents. They were gaunt and gray, and had escaped the paradox of time travel by aging 20 years in a matter of days. Good Midwestern stock was hardy until a deep freeze. She hugged them and handed them the loaves wrapped in parchment and tied with simple twine. These were only two of nearly a dozen dishes she’d already brought to their home. Kelly’s dad shook Gregg’s hand – always a formal handshake with grit-filled fingernails. Kelly’s mom looked at him with unfocused eyes – the latest rumor was that she was being medicated regularly. His consolation was that they didn’t see any lost, future promise when they saw Gregg – they had seen Kelly’s future as clear as glass, and it wasn’t college, or even a move to a different town. He had always been an open book with the words missing.

Gregg never thought of endings, only beginnings. This was natural for someone so young. He had spent the last three days grasping for an explanation. Quantum physics told him that the matter of life could never be pinned down. Was it solace? He wasn’t sure.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah.”

His mom gently squeezed his shoulder and handed him a candle. A breeze pulled and pushed shadows across his olive skin as hundreds were lit.

He thought first of Kelly’s cold, shredded body in a closed casket, bloated with chemicals that only prolonged his date with dirt. Then he thought of Kelly as stardust, countless and strewn across vast spaces in the universe, his essence the confetti of colors that form the Northern Lights. Finally, he thought of many Kelly’s, all existing simultaneously, ready at a moment’s notice to compress into one, true reality – the boy who was always under the hood, who defended Gregg to any and all critics, who was a true blue friend until the end. Gregg liked that reality best.

He cupped the candle flame, and blew it out.

Horse Taming 101 from Cormac McCarthy

Rawlins thought the horse would shy or try to rear but it didnt. He got the sack and hobbleropes and came up and while John Grady talked to the horse he hobbled the front legs together and then took the mecate rope and handed John Grady the sack and he held the horse while for the next quarter hour John Grady floated the sack over the animal and under it and rubbed its head with the sack and passed it across the horse’s face and ran it up and down and between the animal’s legs talking to the horse the while and rubbing against it and leaning against it. Then he got the saddle.

What good do you think it does to waller all over a horse thataway? said Rawlins.

I dont know, said John Grady. I aint a horse.

He lifted the blanket and placed it on the animal’s back and smoothed it and stood stroking the animal and talking to it and then he bent and picked up the saddle and lifted it with the cinches strapped up and the off stirrup hung over the horn and sat it on the horse’s back and rocked it into place. The horse never moved. He bent and reached under and pulled up the strap and cinched it. The horse’s ears went back and he talked to it and then pulled up the cinch again and he leaned against the horse and talked to it just as if it were neither crazy nor lethal. Rawlins looked toward the corral gate. There were fifty or more people watching. Folk were picnicking on the ground. Fathers held up babies. John Grady lifted off the stirrup from the saddlehorn and let it drop. Then he hauled up the cinchstrap again and buckled it. All right, he said.

Hold him, said Rawlins.

He held the mecate while Rawlins undid the sideropes from the hackamore and knelt and tied them to the front hobbles. Then they slipped the hackamore off the horse’s head and John Grady raised the bosalea and gently fitted it over the horse’s nose and fitted the mouthrope and headstall. He gathered the reins and looped them over the horse’s head and nodded and Rawlins knelt and undid the hobbles and pulled the slipnooses until the siderope loops fell to the ground at the horse’s rear hooves. Then he stepped away.

John Grady put one foot in the stirrup and pressed himself flat against the horse’s shoulder talking to it and then swung up into the saddle.

The horse stood stock still. It shot out one hindfoot to test the air and stood again and then it threw itself sideways and twisted and kicked and stood snorting. John Grady touched it up in the ribs with his bootheels and it stepped forward. He reined it and it turned. Rawlins spat in disgust. John Grady turned the horse again and came back by.

What the hell kind of a bronc is that? said Rawlins. You think that’s what these people paid good money to see?

By dark he’d ridden eleven of the sixteen horses. 

And more!

“They” say to first write what you know. So, I’ve spent my time in Ojai writing this little ditty. So…enjoy, criticize, all of it! I will probably give it more words…final verson TBD.

“Remember we’re on the orange floor.”

“Got it, Dad. Orange is easy to remember.”

Carl knew that unless he announced their parking location, Brian would forget it. Had been that way since he was a kid – always too eager for the next thing, always forgetting.

He counted the colored squares that indicated each floor – eight levels of primary and secondary, plus white. It seemed like the world made things too easy. He remembered the trip to Disneyland, and committing to memory section 400 Goofy.

His son’s family unloaded their overstuffed SUV. Brian’s wife Jackie could never take it easy. But she’d remembered his sweater and glucosamine beverage and peanut butter cheese crackers, so he smiled and pat her back while she unfolded a travel stroller.

“Pop, guess what? We get to ride a train up a mountain!”

Eve held out her chubby hand, and he pointed his index finger so she could grasp it. A curly-haired sprite whose joy came easy. So unlike her brother Jonah, whose long glossy hair obscured a face wracked with pimples. The kid hadn’t looked up once during the hour drive to the museum – head stuck in his phone. Why take a 14-year-old pissant to see art?

The museum was more a hassle than anything else. From the freeway it looked equal parts castle and prison. Brian had naturally memorized the history of the institution, from its humble beginnings as an in-home gallery for an oil-rich billionaire, to a sparkling monolith and international destination. Seemed silly that in a city full of freeways, you had to take a slow ride up a hill to see a couple Rembrandts.

Carl and Beth used to go to the Nelson-Atkins museum every time they visited her sister in Kansas City. While she oohed and ahhed at even the most baffling paintings, he dutifully walked a few steps behind, adjusting his belt and checking his watch while security guards told her to move her nose away from the canvas and glass. When she could no longer walk through museums, he’d learned how to search for pictures of art online, and showed her objects she’d seen and had always wanted to see. She’d always been soft on Monet. The way Carl had been raised made him ambivalent toward gentle pastels and “impressions” of nature. He wondered if Monet had seen the final, fading moments of a deer’s life.

Walking through the visitor turnstile, he recalled a conversation.

“Dad, you’ve never even seen California – Jackie and the kids are tired of Iowa. They hate the snow. And they can only handle so much of the situation.”

“What situation?”

“Eve freaked out last time, when Mom peed herself when she was on her lap. Plus she never remembers.”

“I help her remember, godammit.”

“We can go to Disneyland, and the Getty Museum, and Pink’s Hot Dogs, and the beach. It’ll be so good for you to get out. Mom has people to take care of her…Louanna’s an amazing caretaker.”

Carl sat straight and confident as the tram lurched into motion. Despite his misgivings about the trip, he was proud of his family. He still dressed crisply – pressed blue checkered shirt, khaki slacks, brown loafers, and navy blue suspenders. For the first time in many years, he was the one to steam his own shirts, fold them neatly, and pack them in his 20-year-old, indestructible Samsonite. He’d naturally forgotten the toiletry bag in his upstairs bathroom, but Brian and Jackie’s home had two of everything.

He knew he looked like what city folk might call a “yokel,” but that was who he was. He lacked the insecurity that some tourists clutch as they move wide-eyed through the big city. Though freeways continued to make him nervous.

As they moved up the hill through non-native trees and brush, he placed a hand on each knee and smiled while Eve peeked out a window, making various exclamations. Brian and Jackie took pictures of themselves. Jonah continued to focus on the electronic device. The view from the top was appropriately bleak  and beautiful – streets snaking through mountains, disrupting the natural order. Above, a hidden vineyard that could only be viewed from the museum.

“Dad look, you can see Downtown from here, even though it’s pretty smoggy. Put on your glasses – you’ll be able to see the Observatory.”

“Pop, can you buy me a popsicle?”

When they reached the top and exited, Brian picked up a map of the museum. Through his contagious excitement and genuine interest, he willed the family to see it all – starting in the flat religious icons of medieval art, and moving all the way to contemporary photography. Carl sighed.

“Dad, do you want an audio guide? We bought you that i-Pod – this is pretty much the same thing.”

If there was one thing he appreciated about museums, it was the demonstration of skill. He especially enjoyed the illuminated manuscripts, with their attention to detail. Tiny figures, given touches of gold leaf, rendered neatly by sequestered monks and lay people who were lucky enough not to die by the plough or plague. The pictures were kept in low light to preserve them, and the space felt like a cool, dry cave. A pleasant female voice in his headphones told him about the rare pigments used to paint saints and sinners.

It was only when two boys started grab-assing in the gallery that his mood soured considerably.

The floors of the museum were freshly waxed, and his loafers squeaked loudly as they walked through the centuries. He nodded  at the anatomically accurate equine paintings, and squinted while viewing a self-portrait by Rembrandt as big as a deck of cards. Sculptures of snarling beasts, dainty glassware in glass cases, ornate tapestries, an 18th century bed that looked impossible for sleep. The whole day was an exercise in patience and strained appreciation.

By mid-afternoon his knee was aching and caused a limp, Eve was covered head to toe in a fudge bar, and Jonah had lost interest in his phone and was now staring blankly at his shoelaces. Oblivious to the ragamuffins who accompanied them, Brian and Jackie strolled like honeymooners while reading the labels on every piece of art. He thought again of Beth – always a few steps ahead. Always more eager.

The second-to-last stop was the Impressionist gallery. Carl dreaded this moment – he knew they would spend the better part of an hour studying Renoir, Manet, Gauguin. How did he recall these names so easily? He shrugged to himself.

An elderly docent was walking a small tour  group through the gallery, slowly dissecting each flower and figure in the Impressionist oeuvre. He followed her a few minutes, then took a sharp left towards who knew where. He looked up at the nearest painting, and pressed 347 into his audio guide. The pleasant voice continued, undaunted by visitor mood.

“In the fall of 1890, Claude Monet arranged to have the wheatstacks near his home left out over the winter. By the following summer he had painted them at least thirty times, at different times throughout the seasons.”

He stared at the wheatstacks, frozen but rosy from the dawn’s light.

It is a rare moment when forty years of memories coalesce. Carl thought of Iowa, of farms, of paint and canvas, of Beth and adult diapers, of first births and last deaths. He also recalled words, sounds and images as fragments with no memories attached  – a dovetail, 50% CLOSEOUT SALE, spilled orange juice, a broken nail, the nose of a pretty girl, a box of watercolors, wrinkled eyes full of tears, a television program about the mating rituals of exotic birds, an orgasm.

He clutched the audio guide and pulled the headphones from his ears. He used a linen handkerchief to blow his nose.

“I have to use the commode.”

“Have Jonah go with you.”

“No, I’m fine. Fine. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Trembling, he pushed open the double doors of the gallery, straightened himself,  took a deep breath. He had to call her. She needed to hear his voice. The doctor told him that regular interaction was the best thing for her. That she’d be with him longer, that she’d retrieve memories with greater ease.

He spotted a museum volunteer with a kerry green vest and a big white button that said “ASK ME.”

“Excuse me, I need a telephone.”

Louanna answered brusquely.

“Gibbons residence, how can I help you?”

He paused  a moment.

He thought of Eve, who Beth had only known for her first months of life, but who still made her face light up whenever she visited. To his wife, Eve was the pure, vivid palette of childhood. The eyes couldn’t help but re-focus themselves, the lips were helpless to a smile.

“Hi Lou. Is Beth awake?”

“Hey there! Yeah, she’s right here, just watchin’ the hummingbirds. How’s California? I told the kids about the trip and they were so excited for you! Maybe you can pick somethin’ up for them, like a Mickey hat or magnet. I’ll pay you back.”

“Sure thing. Can you put Beth on the phone?”

“Just a sec.”

He heard rustling as Louanna handed over the phone. He heard her whisper his name in Beth’s ear.

“Who?”

“Carl, your husband sweetie.”

Pause.

“He has lots to tell you about California! Remember, he’s there with Brian and the kids.”

Pause.

“I don’t wanna talk. I don’t like those people. Motherfuckers.”

Carl calmly, politely hung up the phone, and thanked the woman at the information desk. Beth had always cursed – she was no saint. But when she did, it was always in defense of friends and family. Or, as he loved to remember,  she would yell curses at television pundits, calling politicians in big suits “little shitheads” while hand-drying glass tumblers.

He knew then that memory was the cruelest joke played on the human race.

He cried covertly in a men’s room stall for fifteen minutes before running wet fingers through his last wisps of hair. He passed an outdoor café and ordered a coffee and fudge bar. As he walked back towards contemporary photography, Eve ran to him with sticky fingers and a wind chime laugh.

“Pop, we’re all done! Mom and Daddy wanna get dinner and guess what? I got a book from the store that has paintings of kitties!”

Carl held out his index finger.

“It all sounds good, sweetie.”

 

Thoughts on the thin lady

Image

I recently read Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and just turned the final page of Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion. I feel that like Plath, every woman goes through a Didion phase, where a well-organized life is scattered by the wind in favor of madness, promiscuity, adventure, all of the above. It seems like Didion is the right author for me to be reading at the right time. Her descriptions of Los Angeles freeways, and Maria Wyeth’s endless drives on them, remind me of when I wrote a speech and presentation about freeways in college, for a public speaking course. What a strange topic, in retrospect, but there continues to be a captivation with controlled roads that lead everywhere and nowhere. Didion’s work remains fresh for this reason, and for many more.

What also surprises me, frankly, is that Didion lives today. Widowed, burdened by the loss of her daughter as well, her body so small and frail, but her mind still so strong. Reading her work and not knowing her life, you might assume that she had killed herself many years ago. But she has the ability to process the world as it is, and not despair. She perseveres. Like the final chapters of Maria Wyeth’s tale, she chooses life. It gives us hope.

As I continue my journey into writing, I also want to share highlights from books I’ve read. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Play It as It Lays:

For the rest of the time Maria was in Las Vegas she wore dark glasses. She did not decide to stay in Vegas: she only failed to leave. She spoke to no one. She did not gamble. She neither swam nor lay in the sun.

What makes Iago evil? Some people ask. I never ask.

By the end of the week she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air began about the exact point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.

And the best:

One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and I keep on playing.
Why, BZ would say.
Why not, I say.