Monday, September 22, 2014
I don't know the facts. I just know the moment. He beguiled us with the possibility. He said he had a dream. We fed his open suitcase. We took his picture. We wished him well.
I was besotted with the romance of it all.
They feel their pain, relish their accomplishments, and look forward to them having young ones of their own. They are the first line of defense against bullies, recalcitrant teachers, colds and sore throats, and a myriad of real and perceived enemies during childhood. They share their lives with other moms on the soccer field, at PTA meetings, and during lunch breaks at work. But as they arrive at Walter Reed to support sons and daughters who have lost limbs, or suffered traumatic brain injuries, or burns and internal wounds, these moms join an exclusive club, a members-only organization that exists simply to assuage the horrors of war.The nurses, the physicians—they are doing what they can. But being there, seeing the recovery through, helping a reconfigured child love and feel loved again—that is mother's work, and like so much of what mothers do, it is uncompensated and invisible and wholly essential.
It embodies (and therefore lets us study) the contradictions inherent in us all. It shows we fight against those who can least fight back. And, above all, it runs to ground our age-old desire to raise ourselves up by putting other people down. Scientists have established that the drive is as old as time, but that doesn't mean they understand it yet. As Gandhi put it, "It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings."
On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time. They were only fifteen, sixteen, and they began to call themselves the name with tentative irony. Julie Jacobson, an outsider and possibly even a freak, had been invited in for obscure reasons, and now she sat in a corner on the unswept floor and attempted to position herself so she would appear unobtrusive yet not pathetic, which was a difficult balance. The teepee, designed ingeniously though built cheaply, was airless on nights like this one, when there was no wind to push in through the screens. Julie Jacobson longed to unfold a leg or do the side-to-side motion with her jaw that sometimes set off a gratifying series of tiny percussive sounds inside her skull. But if she called attention to herself in any way now, someone might start to wonder why she was here; and really, she knew, she had no reason to be here at all....In Belzhar, Woltizer's new book "for teens," it is not a camp teepee toward which the characters are drawn, but a school for emotionally fragile children called The Wooden Barn. Unknown to each other in the school's early days, the students have arrived bearing secrets. Soon enough the core protagonists will forge camp-like bonds in a miniature English class focused on Sylvia Plath and facilitated by journal writing. They will learn, unlearn, and learn themselves. They will enter a mystical world called Belzhar, a condition or place that Wolitzer explains like this:
Belzhar lets you be with the person you've lost, or in Casey's case, with the thing she's lost, but it keeps you where you were before the loss. So if you desperately want what you once had, you can write it in your red leather journal and go to Belzhar and find it. But apparently you won't find anything new there. Time stops in Belzhar; it hangs suspended.Wolitzer's theme, in Belzhar, is second chances, and in order to have a second chance, you have to be honest with yourself, you have to know what really happened. Through Belzhar, Wolitzer transports these student-friends to the past. She builds a reckoning mirror and holds it steady.
Time spent alone writing the novel provided a different kind of instruction. “I learned not to look away at the moment when I should be paying the most attention,” he said. “The closer I got to the heart of a scene, to the really difficult material to write, the emotionally challenging stuff or the exchange in which the conflict is made most explicit, the more I’d look for a way out of writing it. This was out of fear, obviously, because you don’t want to run up against your limitations in craft, intelligence or heart. It’s much easier to duck the really vital material, but it kills what you’re writing to do so, kills it instantly.”
It is the phrase that appears on the penultimate page of Diane Ackerman's new book, "The Human Age." The two words bracket all that has come before in this wide-ranging exploration of our world right now. This mini-history of our slurry epoch. This summary of human plunder and residual wonder. This panoramic investigation of vertical ocean gardening, geo-friendly architecture, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, the "bounty" that grows on planted urban walls, the coming age of regenerative medicine. This poetic treatise on microbes and the medicinal power of human touch.And continues here.
Young-adult fiction: what a peculiar product it is, sold and consumed as avidly as the misery memoir and the self-help book, and borrowing sneakily from both. One can see the gap in the market. What are literate kids meant to do with themselves, or with their itchy brains, as they wander the no man's land between Narnia and Philip Roth? The ideal protagonist of the genre is at once victimized and possessed of decisive power—someone like Mia, the heroine of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay," which has clung grimly to the Times best-seller list, on and off, for twenty weeks. And the ideal subject is death, or, as we should probably call it, the big sleepover.Oh, the blogs/articles/talks that will erupt from this. Oh. Or? Perhaps we who write young adult fiction that is not part misery memoir and not self-help book, not, indeed, any single one thing, grow weary of the castigating, the easy sarcasm, the sneak and overt attacks?
One of my incurable obsessions is imagining Then. The yesterday years. The years before those. The land before it was cultivated. The earth before the glaciers peeled off. The mountains before they were sprung loose from the seas. The birds when they were the size of dinosaurs.Give me an afternoon off, keep me on hold for a conference call, put me in the car alone for a long drive, and I’m thinking about Then. We live in a transitory and transitional time. We have entered, say some, the Epoch of the Anthropocene. We have reconstructed and redirected our planet to suit our own needs. Nothing that is here right now was here eons ago. And none of it will be here in the long future.
Two-handed, Mrs Quinty lifts the glasses free of the minor parsnip of her nose, holds them just in front of her and scrutinises the dust gathered there. Rain makes bars of light and dark down her face and mine, as if we're inside the jail of it.Look at what he does with landscape:
The fields are wrapped in soft grey tissues of weather.Look what he does with memory:
I know that field. Years ago I went there. It's rough and wildly sloping, hoof-pocked and rushy-bearded both. Running down it is bump and splash, is ankle-twist treachery. You get going and you can't stop. You're heading for the river. And you can't help but scream.And (knowingly, truthfully, achingly absolutely), look what he does with the truth:
Writing of course is a kind of sickness. Well people don't do it. Art is basically impossible. Edna O'Brien said she was surprised Van Gogh only cut off one ear. Robert Lowell said that he felt was a blazing out, flashes, nerve jabs in the moments when the poem was coming. I myself have had no blazing out, and don't suppose it's all that good for your constitution. To stop himself from taking off into the air Ted Hughes had to keep repeating over and over Beneath my feet is the earth, some part of the surface of the earth. The thing is, writing is a sickness only cured by writing. That's the impossible part.More than 350 pages, and every page this good.
From 30th Street Station I walk east on Market - cross one river in pursuit of another. I watch the world beneath me shift. Asphalt. Curb cut. Bridge. A ribbon of discontinuous sidewalks.
Way down deep, the planet's inner iron core radiates some 5,000 Celsius degrees. Here, on the Market Street sidewalks, solidity is an illusion. The concrete panes are cracking. The bricks are buckling. The rising angles of the slate and granite tiles suggest the ceaseless motions of the Earth's crust and the convective power of a restless mantle.
A planetary urging from below.
A streetscape pounding from above.
The sidewalk like geology, I think.
The Biblioracle offers his recommendations
1. "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt
2. "Love and Shame and Love" by Peter Orner
3. "Handling the Truth" by Beth Kephart
4. "J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist" by Thomas Beller
5. "Carsick" by John Waters
Leonard (pictured standing with my grandfather and great aunts (and Laura Mack)) was one of his six children born to Horace Kephart, the librarian-turned-outdoorsman who helped found the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I've written about Horace here. But just moments ago, I found this lovely biography on the Horace Kephart Alaska Center Weblog.Aug. 30, 1927 Leonard W. Kephart, Class of 1913, is the first American to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. He was in Africa on a search for new grasses for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kephart took four days to reach the peak, slogging through snow-covered gravel the last day. The climb was not entirely without scientific reward, reported the Cornell Alumni News (Nov. 10, 1927). Kephart discovered three new varieties of clover on the expedition.