Month: September 2014

These luminous days

September. It seems these luminous days will never end. A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter Such beautiful opening lines. The September light, the slanting light of these days that I love so much, is wonderful this year. And always pregnant with the knowledge that we are on borrowed time, that the darkness of winter is approaching. Opening aside, after 67 pages, I’m not sure about A Sport and a Pastime. How to react to casual racism in a book first published in 1967 and set in the 1950s? By remembering that it is the first person narrator’s voice I’m reading? By remembering the mores of the day? By setting the book aside? I guess some combination of the first two, at least until the book is finished and I can form an opinion on whether the racism serves any purpose in the story. My hunch at this point would be that it doesn’t — but 50 years ago is a different age, so maybe I shouldn’t be expecting it to. Maybe, I should just …

The Lowland

She’d begun to write her name, to spread the butter on her toast. Her legs were growing long, though her belly was still rounded. Her back was soft with hair, an elegant line of it running along the length of her spine. There was a perfect loop of it at the center, like the whorls of her fingertips, or in the bark of a tree. Whenever he traced it, as he washed Bela in the soapy tub before bed, the hairs rearranged themselves, and the pattern dissolved. from ‘The Lowland’ by Jhumpa Lahiri Why do we sometimes abandon authors whose work we’ve loved? Looking through my reading notebook, I see that I read The Interpreter of Maladies in 2005, but since then nothing by Jhumpa Lahiri. Her short essay on James Salter’s Light Years was what led me back to her, though actually The Lowland was already in a dusty stack of unread library books beside my bed. On Salter, she writes: Reading Salter taught me to boil down my writing to its essence. To …

Postcard from now

The Pip-Pop is sleeping. The Moose is trying a full day at school. B has cleaned the loft windows and the sky is dazzling in its clarity. The cloudscape is crisp and beautiful — thin trails of cirrus against perfect pale blue. This morning was cold and misty. Always the change surprises me when it comes. All those months of walking to school with bare arms, wearing sandals. Today I slipped on shoes, knotted a scarf at my neck, showed the Pip-Pop how to put on a cardigan. We walked past glitter-dusted cobwebs, no spiders in sight. The children marvelled at seeing their breath in the air, then disappeared into their lines clutching their book bags. Back home, with ten minutes before we needed to go to the doctor’s surgery, I went into the garden to capture the webs there. Orb webs, mesmerising in their geometry. Beautifully intricate tangle webs. The first leaves of the magnolia turning papery brown. Thick seed pods blushing red. After school, there is swimming. Now there is ironing to do …

The Woman Upstairs

Nobody would know me from my own description of myself; which is why, when called upon (rarely, I grant) to provide an account, I tailor it, I adapt, I try to provide an outline that can, in some way, correlate to the outline that people understand me to have — that, I suppose, I actually have, at this point. But who I am in my head, very few people really get to see that. Almost none. It’s the most precious gift I can give, to bring her out of hiding. Maybe I’ve learned it’s a mistake to reveal her at all. from ‘The Woman Upstairs’ by Claire Messud It was an unusual luxury to read books so quickly when we were on holiday. To remember what it’s like to be truly gripped by a book & consume it in the way T does, turning page after page until there are none left to turn. I read in the car outside the boulangerie, on the windswept beach, by torch light in the chill darkness of evening. …

How writing gathers everything into itself

I was a writer and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t writing. The answer was, I think, that I hadn’t understood how writing gathers everything into itself to make a satisfactory piece. My story, someone else’s story, a place, an idea, a dream, human anatomy, the mind acting on the world, vice versa, some or all and more yet unthought of, had to be combined in the right amounts in order to make a book, an essay, fiction, non-fiction, history, comedy, whatever, work. from ‘A Diagnosis’, Jenny Diski I quote scientific studies and an eighteenth century moral philosopher; I don’t offer them as intellectual accessories so much as I deploy them as tools: how can these other sources of light illuminate my own story better? This is one of the central imperatives of combining personal material with history or criticism or reportage: each thread must do some work that isn’t being done by another; that can’t be done by another…Sometimes I imagine history and science and memory are puppets, and I’m pushing them onto the …

Presents to myself

Like the Queen, I now seem to have two birthdays. The real, a day just like any other, and the official, on which I open cards and presents and we celebrate. For the last couple of years, the real — full of kids and routine, with B at work from very early to very late — has been a slightly sorry affair. But this year it was lovely. A sweet birthday note from T outside my bedroom door when I got up. Friends for coffee & cookies, all unaware of my birthday. Lunch with the Pip Pop. School pick-up, twice. A couple of chapters of ‘The Borrowers Afloat’. Then the usual rush of ballet class & tea. Pizza and the first episode of ‘The Killing 3‘ with B. Simple but lovely. It’s always reassuring when you actually enjoy your own real life. It helped that I’d taken the precaution of buying plenty of presents to myself. Then on Saturday, my official birthday, I felt very guilty when it turned out that B had also bought …

We receive & we lose

We receive and we lose, and we must try to achieve gratitude; and with that gratitude to embrace with whole hearts whatever of life that remains after the losses. Andre Dubus II, Broken Vessels We arrive by accumulation. Time twists us by the shoulders until we’re positioned to die, looking backwards. Twisted into the ground. from ‘The Day of Jack Chambers’ by Anne Michaels September is my favourite month.  Days like today: sky high & blue; air like a long, cool drink. On Tuesday, the Moose started school. He was such a sweet boy in his red and grey uniform — so eager and handsome. He pulled up his long grey socks to meet his shorts. The dimple in his cheek showed as he posed for photographs with his sister, with his book bag, ready to go outside the front door. He’s started part-time, so I pick him up at 1 o’clock, after his lunch, and just before the Pip Pop’s nap. This means that I am still never alone. But, even so, I sat …

Light Years

Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers. And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see. I‘ve been seduced again. It started with William Maxwell a couple of years ago; then I fell headlong for Wallace Stegner; and now, now it’s James Salter. American men of almost the same generation. Maxwell and Stegner born within a year of each other in 1908 and 1909 respectively; Salter, the youngest of the three, born …