Monday, November 13, 2017

Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Dutton, 2016

Not exactly a memoir, told in the form of a textbook. A cute gimmick. But it works. Really, really works.

We get patches, glimpses where we nod our head in recognition, then slowly, think: I could be writing about that except—

I never once—and here it is strange because all I do at this blog is tell people to record the ordinary—except I didn’t think it was important. The very meaning of ordinary. We don’t recognize it until it is gone.

Just like, you always thought there would be, would never go away, could never imagine the world without, until a sighting becomes a cause for celebration. Things that used to be always:

Monarch butterflies
Worms on the sidewalk after a rain

So next time you get that niggling thought—jot it down. You might not end up with a New York bestselling Textbook, but you will have a record of having lived a life.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Examples of Synchronicity

They could just be meaningless coincidences, but if so then why do I remember them over and over and shake my head. Flashes of recognition where my path crossed someone else’s. What re the chances!

Girl at Sherwyn’s Health Food Shop

It’s now closed. They sold vitamins and health food before gluten-free and other foods were more readily available. Before the Whole Foods swallowed up the block. Anyway I went there with some friends. It was an excuse to hang out. I was standing in line with Terry and I heard, almost a murmur, “Jane Feeback.” I looked around. Was it the Muzak? I thought I heard someone saying my maiden name.

It was the cashier. She said I wasn’t sure it was you. She then proceeded to tell me her name. I tried to fake it, but I didn’t remember her. She said, I came to your house collecting for --- cause and you went upstairs and brought down a pickle jarful of coins and cash. I seriously did not remember. The idea I was so extravagant—it was embarrassing. Apparently I just handed over like a week’s worth of tips to her. I’ve never forgotten it, she said.

It was a moment and then we left the store. Since then I’ve not forgotten this encounter.

Meeting Rick and Karen on the Bike Path

I was cycling back from Milwaukee. In early spring. Brilliant sunshine but chilly. Somewhere outside of Zion in the middle of nowhere. I know random. In the distance I spied 2 other cyclists. I caught up with them only to discover it was Rick and Karen. Hi guys! They were on an anniversary outing, coming back from a B & B in Zion. I rode with them for maybe a mile but thinking they might be wanting some alone time I sped up and left them.

Another Bike Encounter

This one is much more recent. It was nighttime and I was riding to the train. Friday, and the station in Wilmette was deserted. I wheeled my bike on to the train. I was the only customer. Then, before pulling out another cyclist hurried on. He pulled back his hood and I was surprised. Teel! We looked at each other and laughed. Neither of us expected to see another rider at that hour, at this time of year. We chatted the whole way back into the city.

Out of the Mist

This last instance doesn’t necessarily involve me personally, but tangentially. My friend Johanna was just here from Germany visiting. We’ve known each other for 20 years. In fact we had a reunion camping trip up in Door County. When she was here the first time she and I and Monica went to Newport State Beach and camped by the shore of Lake Michigan.

Back home in Germany sometime in the late 1990s she met a guy walking in the forest. It was foggy and not very crowded. In this nature park were giant relics left behind by the Romans, supposedly marauding barbarians scared them off and they abandoned big stone things. She noticed his T-shirt, a band she recognized. He said he was from Chicago and she asked him if he knew Jane Hertenstein. Well, in fact Terry did. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Flash Back, Meta Me, Our Souls at Night

Monday, April 18, 2016
Meta Me
OUR SOULS at Night=now a movie

Meta is an odd word; it is all about me. Self-referential. And, we do it in the subtlest of ways. Right when I’m enjoying a work of fiction I get a glimmer, a suggestion, that this book is all about the author. It is likely their story.

At this blog I’ve reviewed Aleksandar Hemon’s short stories, Love and Obstacles and Lily Tuck’s Liliane—all supposedly fiction, but both hovering on the edge of autobiography.

With Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and The History of Great Things by Elizabeth (Betsy!) Crane we are easily clued in. The author actually references themselves. In Our Souls at Night the main characters talk over the morning newspaper while at breakfast and mention that that one writer, his latest novel is being made into a play. She’d enjoyed the last production the playhouse did of his work and now it looks like they are launching another.

“He could write a book about us. How would you like that?”—she asks.
Louis replies to her,  “I don’t want to be in any book.”

The joke is on them—and a bit on us. It is all imaginary, it is all so real. Holt the imaginary county and imaginary county town were all spun over 25 years ago from Haruf’s head. He was blessed before he passed away last November to see several of his novels transformed for the stage. It must have pleased him immensely because he brings it up in the course of conversation between his characters. Louis says:

“But it’s his imagination. He took the physical details from Holt, the place name of the streets and what the country looks like and the location of things, but it’s not this town. .. It’s all made up.”

I like to imagine Kent Haruf writing those lines with the flicker of a smirk on his lips. I loved Plainsong and his follow up novel Eventide and also Benediction. Our Souls at Night is his last. Unless one of his characters cares to recreate a novel about Haruf; that would be interesting.

Monday, November 6, 2017

This Past Year

November 5th is my birthday and just thinking about life a year ago is a bit depressing. It seems the world has cracked and broken into two. November 5 seems so naïve, so innocent.

Democracy before reality TV invaded politics.

Anyway thinking about this I have compiled a list of how I’ve managed to get through this past year:

*Cds: Josh Garrels The Light Came Down, Carrie Newcomer The Beautiful Not Yet
*“fake” news: BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, NPR
*Podcasts: Radiolab, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Snap Judgment
(this is my new favorite, I spend a lot of time listening to these)
*counseling (lots)
*writing/not writing
*bike rides: just this year alone=Nova Scotia, coast of Maine, carriage trails in Acadia National Park, Old Plank Trail, I & M, Centennial Trail, North Shore Channel Trail, Green Bay trail, Des Plaines River Trail, Kal-Haven Trail, Prairie Duneland Trail, Oak Savannah Trail, Lakefront, etc
*walks along the lake (see also running)
*Anina Fuller: her letter to me last December accepting my application to Art Week was a major boost!
*Great Spruce Head Island: my week there was a lifesaver, in my dreams I go back
*Food: specifically carbs, anything bread
For example muffins, bagels, scones, Baker Miller Doughboys, doughnuts, pizza crust, pie, pita
--honorable mention: ice cream
*prayer: a big thank you to Crystal Chan’s Evening of Calm and Grounding, votive candles, yoga poses, group therapy, meditation, and, yes, prayer
*tea, candles, pretty cups
*strangers smiling at me, holding the door, scooting over on the bus

All of this has helped me hold it together this past year. What about you? Do you have a list?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Three Rivers Press

Reading this book posthumously—hers not mine—means every word, every thought experiment takes on a life of its own, an importance not originally intended. Even the subtext on the cover:
I have not survived against all odds.
I have not lived to tell.
I have not witnessed the extraordinary.
This is my story.

Rosenthal is contagious. Her joy, her exuberance. She is not annoying. What she’s been able to do is make me think, just possibly, we might someday to walk this road together, the ones of us still here.

Things Amy and I have in common:
Kenneth Koch
A few mutual acquaintances
An appreciation for the ordinary

That’s why her book has resonated with me. Even the prescient entries that when I read them I cringe:

Thanks for your 51 years and insights into life. You crammed a lot of observation into a short span. How many times can I write the word bittersweet? 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal Posthumously

First—just like Amy—I used to think the word was a typo; it should be post-humorously, meaning death is beyond humor. There is no more laughter.

You see Amy died earlier this year. March to be exact. A crappy month is the crappiest of years. Years we will come to think of as post-humorously.

Which makes reading her wit and zest for life and love all the more bittersweet. Every word, every reflection is now colored with this knowledge: she writes no more.

I dwell in this tension—I wish I’d known her when alive. Glad I hadn’t known her, as the idea of losing her would be overwhelming, especially in last days of winter in a hard, hard year.

Then came the viral of viralist: her piece in The New Yorker announcing 1) she was dying, 2) she hadn’t passed yet, 3) why I might like to date her husband.

If you haven’t read this essay then what rock have you been hiding under. You must be the last person on earth not to have read it. The world cried reading it and cried again days later when it was announced that the viral of viralist authors:
Amy Krouse Rosenthal Dead at 51 of Ovarian Cancer

Which makes reading Encyclopediaof an Ordinary Life a surreal experience. If I had read it in 2004 when it first released or even during the Obama years I would have said, Yes this is how the world works. I’m inspired! We’re all on the road together.

But reading it now, ¾ of the way through 2017, on this side of a shit tipping point I feel 1) terrible I never personally met her, 2) wish her family peace, 3) wish us all peace, 4) wish—if ever there was a chance for this world that Amy would see it and come back and whisper it into my ear.

Because she would be able I’m sure to see the upside. I know I can’t.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Riding Bikes on a Warm October Night

Next to last weekend in October
we leave the campfire mid-way through
with the idea we will go for a ride

We see the city lights from Montrose Point
we ride the lakefront path in semi-darkness past
the golf course
the tennis courts
the batting cages
the dog park
the quiet zoo
streets deserted, riding into
the heart of the city as if it were
a full moon

At a certain point the wind picks up leaves
scatters them before us
a swirling yellow tide
and I try to say it makes me feel
sad, a sense of transience
and you say in English your second language
how the blowing leaves always makes you feel

We are both right
a moment pregnant with happiness and sadness
is bittersweet

We rode home content.