Thursday, June 28, 2012

These early summer days write white, passing slowly and softly and sweetly, like my favorite lines in "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle": The bites are fewer now./Each one is savored lingeringly,/Swallowed reluctantly. Some days it worries me, how well things seem to be going, how happily I seem to be spending most of my days, as though the universe might notice and take it all away again. Some days I think that being superstitious is really just common sense.

In college someone gave my a copy of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, which I read dutifully even though I have only ever been a girl who wanted to read books instead of writing them. In it, she advises the reader not to save ideas for later stories. She says, "The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

I find this to be equally true about happiness.

Maybe this is just how summer goes, all new each time, but I have so many adventures planned, weekend trips and parties, dinners to cook and ice cream to make, dance parties to have. My instinct is to keep this all cupped safe in my palms, to store it up like a squirrel in the fall, but that would be a waste of all of this. I'm not sure yet how best to find the words for all of these sunbursts, but then I guess that's just one more thing to look forward to.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In Roman banquet halls they would paint roses on the ceiling, a sign to anyone who looked up that whatever was said under the influence of wine would remain a secret. The story of sub rosa is a complicated one dates back to a misunderstanding of a picture. The Greeks and then the Romans saw Egypt's Horus, the child-god whose symbol was a rose, making a finger to mouth gesture, in Egyptian the hieroglyph for child, and mistook it as a gesture of silence. So they called him Harpocrates and gave him the job of taking the rose that Aphrodite gave to Eros in exchange for keeping everyone's secrets. This seems like a poor exchange and an awfully murky path, but the end result is the possibility of lining our skies with roses and keeping everything under them safe.

I woke up today thinking about this, along a rather circuitous route. Today I'm going to meet a tiny baby nicknamed Ozzy. Thinking about this baby always makes me think of Shelley's poem "Ozymandius", which reminds me through a tattered old copy of "Prometheus Unbound" in Rome of Keats' last view. I was reading about sub rosa recently, and thinking about Keats made me comb through my memories for Rome for any rooms under the flowers.

We are planning for Paris, and so the only places I can think of are other places. Other places, and all the secrets they have to tell me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's almost impossible to articulate the ways that life has changed in recent months, how I looked up one day to find that the world had spun to someplace unexpected. How I came home one evening, the air all charged around me, knowing that there would be something waiting, and found instead of what I had been anticipating something I never would have imagined.

In truth I'm a little afraid to try to explain, as though outlining these shapes may remind them that they have better places to be. Still, the weather is changing and the air is warming, and in my head most days is the low hum of Carver's Hummingbird, like powerlines all along the road.

A few months ago in Germany they discovered 500 new fairy tales that had been locked away in an archive for 150 years, which is something of the making of a fairy tale itself. The tales were collected around the same time as the brothers Grim were doing their work. The tales were written down faithfully just as they were told, without any attempt to put any storytelling gloss across anything, a fact that makes these stories rough and unpolished and different from all the others.

I have a feeling that only good things can come from any of this.

Monday, June 18, 2012


A major theme during our time in Iceland was the running list people kept giving us of possible ways to die, given the apparently vindictive nature of the landscape around us. Partly it seems that the options for our demise were so endless because Iceland doesn't really believe in fencing off its nature, figuring I suppose that if one is dumb enough to try and cross the ropes--ropes in some places outlining areas that are smoking furiously and smelling foul--one almost definitely deserves whatever happens. But also I think Iceland is very sure of the fact that their land is full of forces beyond their control, laced with trolls and elves and tunnels open to the very center of the earth. I think it's possible in Iceland to think you're staying on the right side of the ropes only to blink and find that the ropes have moved around you.

Because of this all of our warnings came along with grim stories. Do not get too close to this waterfall because search and rescue will not be able to find you. Search and rescue was looking for some missing Germans on this glacier only to find the bodies of some Swiss hikers that had been lost 50 years earlier. The last woman to get too close to this water was swept out by the current, just far away that no one could save her. We're always taking our life in our hands when we move through the world in any way, but the hazards are much closer to the surface in Iceland. The only thing you will be murdered by in the safest country on the planet is the Earth itself.

My next big adventure will be to turn 30 in Paris in September. This trip has gone from being in jeopardy to booked in just a matter of days, and I am almost incoherently excited.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I was reading not too long ago about a plant researcher at the beginning of the 1900's who speculated on whether or not it was possible to breed carnivorous plants with poisonous ones. The idea is especially alarming given that he also believed that plants had memories and feelings and could hold grudges. The last plants you want holding a grudge against you are the ones who might kill you and then have you as a snack once you'd stopped struggling. These are the things that make me thankful for roots.

He believed that the deadly nightshade was full of hatred, which is what made it so poisonous. It doesn't seem that far of a stretch. (I am allergic to the fruits of the genus Capsicum, which are also in the nightshade family, so I tend to have a lot of opinions about the feelings and grudges these plants are all holding against me.) I've been thinking about the whole Solanaceae family lately, how some of the plants make delicious tomatoes and some of them make poisons on top of poisons. How we never seem to clarify if the feelings make the plants poisonous or if the plants make the feelings poisonous.

I wonder this about the old stories, too, if they are all populated by queens and neighbors and robbers that would hurt to touch, if the poison shows through their skin. If the stories were written first by the plants and only later translated by us, the people with the ears to hear leaning low and writing down the whispers of the leaves.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I've been in North Carolina for the last few days, watching my baby brother graduate from high school. (Let's just pause for a second and consider how he was in about the 4th grade when I started writing here.)

I fell asleep on the plane from Raleigh to Atlanta--I'm becoming adept at sleeping on essentially any form of transportation even as I become less likely to be able to sleep in my own bed, just like an infant--and I woke disoriented as we were landing. Looking out the window I wondered for a moment why we were flying so low over a graveyard only to realize that what I thought were tombstones were actually houses much farther below than I thought. I made a mental note to read something more cheerful soon than the books I brought with me.

My flight home was delayed by an hour because of weather, but we finally made it up over the clouds and headed towards the westward rainbow of sunset that filled the horizon just ahead of us. We flew just a bit slower than the sun, and each time I looked out the window the light was lower and the rainbow dimmer. By the time we made it to the mountains the only light came from the towns far below and spread out to the sides, nestled in a dark anonymous landscape.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Perhaps unsuprisingly it is too cloudy here to make watching today's Venus transit in person likely, so I'll be watching it on the internet through whatever collection of telescopes makes that possible. We've talked before about that set of transits in the 1700's, when science got together and decided to scatter across the globe in the name of adventure and in the face of an indifferent planet and unstable geopolitics. It's possible to say that more things went wrong on those expeditions than went right, but then I guess it's usually possible to say that and be mostly correct and yet still miss the point entirely. Everyone was different after the Venus transit, just by the fact of having been there. All changed in their eyes and brains, all of their paths shifted just slightly sideways.

What I wonder about are the travelers that went too far for the first transit to leave and come back for the second, who settled into new places for the eight years in between, everyone who was thought lost in the pursuit of knowledge. If it's possible to come back after that at all, having committed to speaking the language of the skies come whatever they could throw.

I wonder how our eyes will alter today looking only at the sky through our computers, what different people we may be by sundown.