Jan 30, 2010

Wish I Could Say More about Stay More

In every book, magazine, newspaper, or product package, in fact every printed word, are numerous references to people, places, or events that lead to other people, places, and events that lead to even more people, places, . . .well, you get the idea. But it is impossible to pursue them all because, like an old tree, the branches bifurcate time and time again until the original trunk that spawned the thread is only a dim memory. Eventually one has to say, “enough, I’ve traveled so far along this twig it’s lost any semblance to its parent, I think I’ll back up and try another branch, one with more girth.” But, these peregrinations do make for an interesting, exciting journey, and often lead into areas one would not otherwise have entered.

That’s how I became aware of Donald Harington. I forget what it was I was looking for when I read he had died (November 7, 2009), and that many considered him America’s greatest unrecognized novelist. I had never heard of him, so of course my interest was aroused. I had to get my hands on one of his books and quickly succeeded with “Farther Along”.

“Farther Along” was definitely different from the hundreds of other novels I had read, but like T. C. Boyle, and a few other contemporary authors, an entertaining read. I am now in the enjoyable process of reading his other twelve (I think) novels that feature, in one way or another, the mythic Ozark mountain town of Stay More. His novels are, if not unique, definitely a departure from the dry fodder we are usually offered and deserve far more attention.

Jan 15, 2010

Frida by Frida - Some Thoughts

I’ve only read about 1/3 of the book so my comments and reflections may change, though that seems unlikely. For anyone interested in Frida Kaho, her life and work, this is a book that should be read. I can think of no better way to attempt to understand a person than through their uncensored, unabridged letters, journals, notes, etc. I was immediately devastated by the loneliness and aloneness permeating her letters. The earliest note is dated November 30, 1922 and the last is written on March 13, 1954. Almost from the beginning her letters seem to be a cry for recognition, a yearning, a terrible need to be acknowledged, accepted, touched in some way. Her letters invariably end with heartfelt expressions of love, and pleas for response. Here, as a teenager, the deep, unrequited love she felt for Alejandro Arias that led to so much disappointment and despair sends shudders down my spine. If only I had had a girlfriend as passionately devoted to me at seventeen!

And as if polio wasn’t enough the accident, at eighteen, changed her life dramatically. I don’t think she ever recovered physically or, more importantly, emotionally.

This is a tragic yet poignant story: yet one overflowing with inspiration for the flagging spirit. How she persevered through such travails is beyond the comprehension of those of us who have lead relatively uneventful lives, lives without major trauma, physical or otherwise. Many among us do suffer, perhaps more than Frida, yet somehow manage to build useful, meaningful and productive lives. The human spirit is more resilient than we are willing to give it credit for. That Frida never (rarely) lashed out at God, the tram driver, practicing doctors, unfaithful friends, life itself, or anyone or anything else during her troubling life impresses me. Most of us are quick to blame something or someone else for our troubles; it’s easier that way.

It’s hard for me to imagine spending week after week on my back encased in plaster, unable to move much more than a finger or an eyelash while friends danced and traveled and sipped coffee at a neighborhood cafe. And then with what I can only refer to as a sort of stoic resolve enduring the numerous operations, hoping each time for improvement, only to find the procedures had had little success. And there is the emotional harm inflicted by her philandering husband Diego Rivera - more than many of us could or would accept.

That she endured her life until the age of 47 is in itself worth honoring, and then to have produced so many remarkable paintings. . .

Frida wrote in her diary, a few days before her death, which may have been a suicide:

"Espero alegre la salida – y espero no volver jam├ís."

“I wait for a happy exit – and I hope never to return.”

Frida Kahlo

Jan 14, 2010

Perchance to Read

I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges

Like most people I read for a variety of reasons. I read for information because I am curious about everything, from astronomy to zoology, though I admit I often don’t fully understand everything I read, especially in the sciences. I do not read political, economic, or so called ‘self-help’ books. At times I get mired down in books on religion and philosophy but eventually manage to move on for a time to other subjects.

I read for pleasure, though much of what I place in that category may not resonate with others. I enjoy books by or about writers and artists, even scholarly tomes filled with details and the minutiae of their lives and work. I just received 32 back issues of Paeiduma, a journal devoted to the study of Ezra Pound and his circle and I have been happily reading my way through them whenever I have a free moment.

My bedside table is stacked with books I am in the process of reading, and I skip back and forth as my mood dictates. Here’s what I’m enjoying now:

Zen in English Literature – R. H. Blyth (I first read this around 1975 as a 33 year old drop-out, and I can say I find it as interesting now as it was then.)

Notes From an Italian Garden – Joan Marble (after reading ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle, and all of Frances Mayes’ books I have been loosing myself in the countryside of various Mediterranean countries whenever I can.)

Mogollon Diary No. 2 – Bill Rakocy

Paideuma Volume 11, #1

Frida by Frida - Raquel Tibol (more on this later)

The Cockroaches of Stay More, and Butterfly Weed – Donald Harington (I didn’t become aware of this author until a few days after his death on November 7th of last year. Now I fear the day when I close his last book.)

Tooth and Claw – T. C. Boyle (Almost always a pleasure to read.)

Apache – Will Comfort

Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail – Lewis Garrard

The Legend of Semimaru - Blind Musician of Japan - Susan Matisoff

Numerous magazines including: Wine Spectator, Audubon, Garden Design, Architectural Digest, The English Garden, Smithsonian, Nature Conservancy, Art In America, and Artnews.

Upstairs I keep a shelf for new arrivals - books I keep at arms length for the present, averting my gaze whenever I pass by. It looks like I need to add another shelf.

Jan 13, 2010

Bathtub Baudelaire

When you have a library of several thousand volumes scattered throughout seven rooms and an outbuilding sometimes a book ‘goes missing’. Over the years many of my books have disappeared, often following visits from friends and family. I suppose the feeling was: "with so many books how can he notice?" Well, I did and do notice, and while I once felt rather violated (especially since in most instances I would have gladly given the book away if asked) I’ve reached a point, an age, where the loss of books is less traumatic. Of course there were instances (usually after a reorganization) when I thought a volume had been ‘borrowed’, only to later discover it tucked in an unexpected place. A case in point occurred today, and it was a pleasant surprise. Today I decided I no longer needed several feet of watercolour instructional books, and that the space could be put to better use housing T. C. Boyle, Robertson Davies, Donald Harington, Pound, Lewis, and Camus. Imagine my surprise, as I packed books into boxes to be taken to the library for their annual sale, when I discovered my tattered, rubber-banded paperback copy of Baudelaire’s ‘The Mirror of Art’! I had looked for this book several times during the past twenty years, always without success, and although I never considered it a book someone had ‘borrowed’ I was at a loss to explain its whereabouts. All those years it was waiting, shelved between books on human anatomy and Etruscan tomb paintings.

I remember the last time I was reading it, and the joy it brought me. I was lying in the bathtub after a miserable day spent planting trees in driving rain at near freezing temperatures, in actuality I was probably hypothermic. With the water nearly as hot as my water heater could manage I submerged myself, waiting for my body temperature to return to normal, and, being one of those persons who cannot spend more than a few moments without something to read at hand, I was reading ‘the Mirror of Art’. I was transported to a time and place a long way from the fiberglass tub. I look forward to bedtime, and the opportunity to continue the book from where I left off. Whether Baudelaire will bring the same joy I recall from so many years ago is something I can only hope for. If not, I have Beckett and Joyce, and several biographies to frolic with.

Now, if I could only rid myself of this persistent cold and sinus infection.