MWD 64 - um, hi?
Or where I've been and what I've (not) been doing
Bless me, readers, and my wayward thoughts. It has been ever-so-many days since my last (confession: I don’t know what to call this newsletter-thing) missive, and even that was just an apology for the long silence that preceded it. Maybe this unnamed thing is dying. I can admit that.
These last few days have been like a train pulling into the station, its engines still hot, its doors vomiting out a rush of revelations and opinions so swift and complicated as to make you wish for a trapdoor just beneath your feet. Absent that miraculous escape route, you stand there, still, letting humanity’s hot breath blast your face, its jostling elbows intrude, its fears mingle with your own. You make yourself small and quiet, knowing your voice would never be heard in this din.
But this morning, something changed. My thoughts have rattled and banged against their own cage walls for long enough, and my fingers have itched to do something just for me. Fridays are my day off, and now that the new house has stopped feeling like an emergency leak that must be plugged, I can enjoy a morning like those I used to have all the time: a quiet house, a pen, and lots of things to read and ponder.
So, some things for you.
Yesterday, I read this conversation between Heather Havrilesky (author of Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, a book I raved about even as my own marriage was coming to a close) and Leslie Jamison (author of The Empathy Exams, which I haven’t read, and this remarkable essay on Daydreaming, which I have):
Havrilesky’s “Ask Polly” column has been a frequent flyer here, so it’s no surprise that in their exchange, I often found myself leaning toward the explanations or stories embedded in her questions for Jamison. As a fairly intense person myself (I, too, am an all-caps kinda gal), I loved her exploration of the ways we can help the people we love see themselves through our delight in them, acknowledging how much “you want to give them the gift of your curiosity, and say TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS. TELL ME WHAT YOU FEEL. TELL ME EVERYTHING.”
Friends, this is me. It can be a bit much, I’m afraid.
A few questions later,
As the world swerves into darkness — and Jesus Christ, why is it so unrelenting? — I find myself more committed to making good things happen, bringing friends together, but also just directly saying to the people who interest me: WE HAVE THINGS TO DISCUSS.
Perhaps that’s all this thing is, or could be: just me, over here, yelling in all caps: WE HAVE THINGS TO DISCUSS.
Whoa. I discovered Lawrence Weschler’s series “All That is Solid: Toward a Taxonomy of Convergences & a Unified Field Theory of Cultural Transmission” via Austin Kleon, and though I’ve only just gotten started on the 5-part piece, I’m loving his quiet assurance in what feels to me like discovery. I read stuff like this on the evolution of Rothko’s paintings from color to mostly blackness just before his suicide, and I want to shout Eureka!, and Weschler just says, I don’t know, could be nothing? while also being remarkably confident in the something that is there. He’s content to stay in wonder rather than making any attempt to prove, and I second that instinct.
the important thing with all of these convergences is not to become reductionistic—the history of imagery is always marvelously overdetermined, that’s one of the things that makes it so endlessly fascinating to explore—I just do find myself wondering what it must have been like for Rothko, gazing at the TV that for him terrible last summer, to witness what was after all this tremendous human achievement, a human footprint on the moon!, and yet, after all of that effort, what had we found there? Nothing. A yawning void. A desperate emptiness. Or so might those final paintings lead us to believe.
You can get started with the full post here, if that excerpt strikes your fancy:
Also in that post (before he gets started on the convergences stuff) is a video of an angry Ukrainian woman confronting a Russian soldier, giving him a handful of sunflower seeds. Though there is a translation on the screen, Weschler offers his own expanded version of her words:
Here, son, take this offering, put these sunflower seeds into your pocket. That way, after you fall in battle one of these days, as you surely may well, the great flower stalk will burst from the grave and help your shattered mother find you.
We have a display at our library, covered with paper sunflowers, offering sunflower seed packets to our patrons. When young people ask about it, we explain that the sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine, and that by planting those flowers, we can honor the Ukrainian people during this difficult time. Now, though, I have these other images, of fallen bodies and the flowers that mark their deaths, and well, I’m just not sure what to do with that.
A few more recommendations:
The bad news: I almost never read anything for myself these days as I’m covered up with review work. The good news: what I’m reviewing is often really good, such as Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow and Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
I adored this interview with filmmaker and writer Werner Herzog, (also linked by Kleon), copying down countless quotes from it, but when he says, “so I got myself a mouth guard and went”? Priceless.
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s My Monticello. Despite being under 4 deadlines in the next week (I’m not kidding!), I read this … collection, novella, bright and burning star of fiction excellence … in one sitting on Sunday. No review, no assignment, just straight desire, like her words were water and me made of thirst.
It hasn’t yet made it onto one of our famed Sibling Scrabble mixes, but the latest edition is quite good.
Have I told you about our Sibling Scrabble? We gather for cocktails, set up the Scrabble board, and then, when it’s your turn to play a word, you also have to add a song to an on-the-fly playlist. It is the perfect way to embrace small moments with my favorite people, and I love it, even though they beat me. Every. Single. Time.