Jul 262016
 

As I travelled these past few weeks and now again as I’m back home and am getting some work done on the house, the fact that I’m from the States has come up a few times with strangers, and each and every time, the conversation has turned quickly to the US elections. Each time I’ve been asked the same questions, each time by someone trying to cover worried eyes with a wavering smile.

People looking on from the outside want to know:

  1. Who’s going to win in November?
  2. How is it that all of this is happening?

On the one hand, these people were asking me this in order to make conversation: the current spectacle is an easy topic. But on the other hand, they were also at some level asking in the hope that I will tell them that even though things look scary ridiculous, there’s nothing to worry about.

I think my answer to the first question sounds reassuring—Hillary Clinton will win—but I don’t actually know if this is the case. And in fact, listening to myself talk, I’ve even begun to suspect that, as I tell these people that everything is going to be fine, I have the same smile and the same eyes that they have when they ask me what’s going on.

I’m at a loss over how to respond to the second question. So I claim ignorance, shake my head, maybe shrug.

I mean what’s to say? One of the two governing parties has spent decades marching toward the abyss and has finally inched close enough to jump in. The abyss has been a project, and those cheering it on seem driven by an urge to break things. The dailies and the nightly news don’t seem to know what to say or how to respond and aren’t much help. Those writing long-form journalism in major magazines have done better at offering explanations, but I still feel as if in the States the unspeakable is happening live and that the rest of us are forced to sit on our hands bewildered as we watch it from next door or from across an ocean.

Ultimately, these questions have reminded me that the US casts a long shadow and the stakes for its elections extend beyond its borders. I hope that people realize that, vote, and vote for something other than running riot.

 July 26, 2016  Reflections Tagged with:
Jul 232016
 

H Is for HawkIt’s been a long time since I’ve read a book as unsettling as this one.

Things start off in familiar territory: a death pushes the author to pull back into themselves and into nature. The descriptions of landscape are run through with tree names and cloud names and bird names that I don’t know and that provoke the kind of envy that the best nature writing often does. I want to know these names and to see these distinctions within “tree” and “cloud” and “bird” that I’m currently blind to. Falconry is romantic and fascinating and the fact that the author has spent her life learning and practicing it is exciting. The only distractions here are the detours into T. H. White’s efforts to train his own hawk. They feel awkward and I petulantly wish they’d stop: he is not a pleasant figure and his misery and his miserable efforts are so less interesting than MacDonald’s work training her own hawk, Mabel. I want more descriptions of hedgerows and underbrush.

But then slowly things go off the rails and I realize I am not in the book I thought I was. MacDonald is not a literary monk from the wild world of deep feelings sending the rest of us reports laden with small nuggets of wisdom to be underlined and quoted. Neither is Mabel a symbol or guide. She’s a bird, and she can’t do anything to keep MacDonald from tumbling out of control.

And MacDonald does tumble out of control, losing her job, her home. She stops talking to friends and family. Day after day after day, she runs through fields and woods with Mabel hunting and killing rabbits, killing pheasant. The text holds things together for a long time, but by the mid-point it’s clear that our guide in this story, the woman with the names of trees and birds at her fingertips, is losing herself to darkness, and she’s bringing us with her.

Miraculously, the book ends in a better place with feet unsteadily but certainly on the ground. Beauty and light are seeping back into the sky, but things aren’t the same. We’ve read an account of deep wounds closing into aching scars. There’s beauty in the history they hold, but it is an earthy, difficult beauty that smells faintly of the grave. And it’s caught under my nails.

 July 23, 2016  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jul 172016
 

I’m back from Spain as of last night and have stuff I want to write about in the coming days and weeks. To start things off though, I’m going to introduce a change to how things are done here.

When I started this blog, I used it mainly to write brief responses to the books I was reading and to the movies I was watching. These served as lists of what I’d read and seen and provided a reason to pay attention and reflect. They also gave me a steady stream of subjects for posts and got me blogging.

The logs were a success. I enjoyed writing them and over time kept adding to the list of things I logged: first TV shows, then theatre, then exhibitions. But as a result, and perhaps inevitably, the logs have become a chore. I have lists and lists of logs I’m supposed to write, often on things about which I have nothing really to say. So taking a cue from my catch-up posts of the past few years, I’m going to stop trying to log everything. Because, sanity.

Instead, I’m going to keep a few simple lists of what I read and watch. (You’ll find them in the right-hand column.) When I have something more to say about a book or a movie, I’ll post a log and link to it from the list.

This change should keep me from living under a perpetual (and demoralizing) backlog of “posts that must be written!” and will hopefully create some space for me to write about other things.

 July 17, 2016  Reflections Tagged with:
Jul 052016
 

I’m away on vacation for a few more weeks. More posts when I’m back.

Until then, here’s a portion of a mural in a monastery in Santiponce, Spain.

Monastery Fresco

 July 5, 2016  Moments Tagged with: