how do i love thee

Personally, I want the sea always... and with it sunshine, and wine, and a little music. -- Max Beerbohm

I am writing this in a park, not far from our home. A blissful, perfect, clear summer evening. Quintessential, the kind you remember as a kid, along with ice cream cones and sparklers... But instead of absorbing the glories of the midwest, I am thinking of Bermuda, and trying to catch that island in words.

(snapping pictures from the back of my dad's moped)

Though it's home for my dad, it's still a strange place for me, even on this, my fourth visit.

There are times when I love it, and yet many things I don't love--the relentless suffocating humidity, the way everything rusts, and the narrow stacked-on-top-ness of the inner parts. I'm used to the sprawl of fields and fields... pinched lanes make me gasp after a while.

But there is much, very much, to love about Bermuda, and that's what I went searching for on this trip, and this is what I found:

* It is away. Sometimes, there are no prices to put on the value of shedding the daily clutter and chaos, the traps in my mind, the patterns I fall into...

* The houses. I fall in love with the Bermudan palette on every visit. What color would I paint my house, if I lived here? I try to choose, as Dad and I buzz around the island on his moped. Would I pick the rich brightness of pineapple-yellow? Or some mellower pumpkin? Would I be mysterious and stormy, and go for grey + white? Perhaps the oddly safe Bermudan pink? Or would I try to echo the turquoise in the waves?

* The names of these bright houses, and the names of the streets. I'm reading everything, everywhere we go, trying to choose favorites. What's most evocative, most funny... Who lives in houses like Casabella, Loquat, Farleigh, Tamarisk Hall, Woodsea, High Five, or Brightside? And what would you find on streets like The Pampas, Black Watch Pass, Point Finger Road, Fractious Lane, and:

(my younger sister thinks we should drop banana peels up and down this hill, and then retake the picture... i think she's right.)

* In some ways, I love the first drive on the island the best: the taxi ride from airport to apartment. It always reminds me of my first disorienting minutes on the island nine years ago--my first trip. I stared out at this new world, from the wrong side of the road, with taxi drivers far less timid than I about taking the corners...

* Or do I love nights the best? Driving home on quiet, winding streets, breathing in the perfume of unknown flowers, stretching my bare toes in the warm velvety air. Or watching the beam of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse as it fingers Dad's windows after dark...

(Johnny Barnes, perhaps the island's friendliest man, greeting every car and bike on their way into Hamilton)

* Or do I love the accents best? The accents that defy my definitions, but are something like sunwarmed, saltsplashed British? Perhaps I do, perhaps I love the accents best, as every spoken syllable reminds me that I'm far away, far away...


(step over this way for a moment)

There is more, much more, to be said about Bermuda, and I will say it... but for now, skip over to my other blog, to hear about Larry the taxicab philosopher, and what my parents should have named me...


writers in black & white

When I get up in the morning, I always have the desire to sit down to write. And most of the days I do write something. But then I get telephone calls. -- Isaac Bashevis Singer

I am home now, and well, and I have a thousand things to blog about Bermuda... well, maybe three.
But this post isn't about Bermuda--it's just to say that I am transitioning from post-travel fogginess, and trying to put things together again. Teasing my brain out of hiding, trying to turn my attention back to bookishness, to my story again...

As part of that, I'm rereading The Writer's Desk, a glorious book of black and white photos, by Jill Krementz. (If you are a writer, do not rest until you get your hands on this book.) I love it so much, seeing all these tricky, difficult, brilliant people at work, in chaos, in stark surroundings, in whatever habitat they choose.

So they are keeping me company today, in this half-full, noisy coffeeshop where I'm reading. They encourage me to write wherever I am, to get the paragraphs flowing again. There's Ann Petry, on page 101, so calm and comforting that I want to have tea with her. And Isaac Bashevis Singer, on page 90, who looks so dear I want to reach into the picture and pat his hand.

It is so reassuring to read what they say in these interviews, to know that they are cranky and snarky in the same ways that I am. And hopeful, sometimes, just as I have hope for my book again.

I'm looking at their pictures and their words as if they can be crumbs in the forest for me, as if they will tell me how to dig myself out of this slump, how to believe that my story will stretch and stand up. That times of crisis and chaos pass, and that these words will come back, the thread of my tale return. If I stare at these writers' faces long enough, they will become a map for me, a map to find my way home.



Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how. -- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

This late spring mix of May and June has me completely undone. I have been so tired that I'm tired of hearing myself say I'm tired. (You see? It makes you fidget, too, doesn't it?)

Enough. We're going on a trip, then, writing and me. For a week. In Bermuda.

I'll pack the shreds of dreams and scraps of scenes into a big handkerchief. Tie it to the end of a stick and go far away... Then shake them all out onto pink Bermuda sand, and see what they sound like there. Different latitude, different longitude, a little punctuation mark in the sea of blue...

They'll be competing with the squeaky-swingset call of a million tree frogs, the percussion of Atlantic surf, the lure of pub food, the sunshine that spills out of Bermudan accents.

But I know that after a week of island, this honeymoon-with-book, we will come back stronger and refreshed. And then, look out, Part Three. Look out, draft. We will spin the wiliest storyweb you ever saw...


finish lines

Remember this? The afghan that I was going to crank out in, oh, say, a week? Mmm, I took a little longer than that. Somehow, impossible deadlines have been a theme of mine lately, and knitting was no exception.

I did finish, though. Yesterday. And even though it took a little longer than I wanted, I still finished it wonderfully fast. Four weeks isn't bad for something this size...

What I'd like to know is: why do I sing crazy songs to myself in the first place? These strange lullabies of invincibility and limitless energy, when it turns out that energy is quite limited after all.

Why knit an enormous afghan in a week when you could take four? Why tell yourself you can write 300 pages in two weeks when you might have six?

I've made some kind of virtue out of speed... I think I'd rather embrace a slower pace for a while. The grace of more time, time enough to soak into every good project. It's summer, after all. Time to slow down.


get out the jam jars

The first firefly. I just saw it, just, scooting low over a patch of clover, winking in chartreuse.

So. It's official: summer is here.


bookstore wanderlust

Wear the old coat and buy the new book. -- Austin Phelps

I am at the very edges of my brain, and so this might not come out coherently, if it comes out at all. ... I have just spent two and a half hours wandering bookstores. I went there looking for nothing at all, and yet something very specific. I didn't know which books I needed to find, but what I wanted was this: to lose the self that I walked in with, and to come out being someone else.

I left home worn to a crisp and exhausted from impossible deadlines of my own making. My joy in my book and in book-writing and in all communication was slim. Withering, even.

Sometimes I need my faith in narratives restored. I need to see other tales being told, and being told well.

And sometimes, I need to buy a whopping stack of books.

So I went to shed this skin of cranky disillusioned alphabet-hating Me, and to walk out loving stories again. To remember how breathtaking a perfect sentence can be. To touch covers and tattered edges and crisp typefaces.

I talked to booksellers, I watched readers, I listened to their passionate opinions. Then came home with beautiful books and unusual books and perfect books. (And a lighter wallet.)

And now I just want to read. Let's close the blinds, take the phones off the hook, pull the Internet connections, and just read and read and read. Perhaps for a month. Maybe two.

... I'll need a year, actually. Because I fell for Julie Rose's translation of Les Miserables. (With a cover that exquisite, can you blame me?) It's over 1300 pages, but I want to be pulled into something enormous like that, something epic and broad, something that actually takes time, a lot of time.

I'm out of patience with everything that's quick and easily forgotten. (Don't get me started on text messaging.) I want dynasties and the sweep of history. Slow-rising bread and long-lasting afternoons. Conversations with pauses. And very, very long books.

And I want the time to hover over every sentence, to swallow every word, every comma, to savor one long book-symphony being played, this time, just for me.