no simmering life but a boiling one

I woke up this morning sick as shit. I don’t know where it came from, but it felt a little like several essential parts of my body got together and decided to put me in time out. You’ve been doing too much, they said, and it’s time to stop. I ignored the message for a while, but when I looked in the mirror at work and didn’t really recognize myself, it was time to go home. I took photos with my phone to prove the point; when I checked just now, they’re not there.

Last night Erin and I saw David Byrne and St Vincent at the Chicago Theater. We both had to temper our slight disappointment with the knowledge that this was David Byrne AND St Vincent, not Talking Heads. But the sound was fantastic and Chicago got on its feet and danced, and when they closed with Road to Nowhere, it was like something out of an old revival, hands in the air, voices united.

I’ve fallen into that city-dwelling habit of eating out too often while observing evolution in action in my crisper. Every couple of weeks, I buy a bag of produce from Edible Alchemy and dream big dreams about what I’m going to make – and then I devour the fruit while letting the zucchinis go soft, the potatoes grow eyes, the onions shed their dusty skins.

A week submerged in The Diaries of Anais Nin. I’m not sure that I can neatly summarize it. It’s been a complicated, emotional year, and so many of the things she described resonated with my experience while also being completely foreign to me. Perhaps this, from November 1933:

Allendy took pains to delineate my character, my true nature, my human attitudes, but it was by a process of oversimplification. The mold into which he tried to fit me came to a climax the day he suggested I should take love more lightly, give it less importance, to evade tragedy. That I should take a playful attitude towards it. It should be sweet and casual, easygoing and interchangeable…This was the natural conclusion to the formation of my human self, to normalcy; and if he was right about overcoming tragedy, par contre, he overlooked the deeper cravings of an artist, for whom deep full love is the only possible form, no simmering life but a boiling one, no small compromise with reality.

Fall has arrived right on schedule. Last night the thermostat dipped low. It is 6:45pm in my living room, and my space is illuminated more by my laptop than by the waning sunlight. Laurie said that we’re losing 2 minutes of daylight each day. But still the ice cream truck sits on the corner, and I dream of swimming in the lake and of all of the summer things that didn’t happen amidst all that did.

Six months in Chicago, and Jeremy said that it sounds like I’m home. Two and a half years in Ann Arbor. Two years in DC. A year each at MPub and Kresge, two years at Gelman. Five years in this goddamned profession. Six years in a relationship, seven months out. I love Chicago. Chicago exhausts me. I’m envious of friends who have recently moved to quieter places. I worry that my life here will burn me out. I don’t know.


2/3 Book Challenge: Evidence of Things Unseen

Wherever love comes from, whatever is its genesis, it isn’t like a quantity of gold or diamonds, even water, in the earth – a fixed quantity, Fos thought. You can’t use up love, deplete it at its source. Love exists beyond fixed limits, beyond what you can see or count. It isn’t something measurable, something you can say okay, this is love from here to here. But if you take that river down there, Fos was thinking, you know darn well despite the tricks it plays to make you think it’s something that can last forever.

My book club read Evidence of Things Unseen on the recommendation of my friend Angie, who wrote in her Goodreads review that the book “had [her] crying on public transit a bit more than I’d like — as often for the glory of the language as for the heart-wrenching aspects of the story.”

For the last month I’ve been carrying the book back and forth between work and home, intending to chip away at this review, intending to copy down the many excerpts from dog-eared pages that made me gasp, gave me painful goosebumps, pricked my eyes with the beginnings of hot tears. Back and forth in my bag and on my bike, pulled out and set on the desk, then dropped on the coffeetable, waiting for my attention.

He believed there was an order and a method in the ultimate design of things but he believed that that design was the end result of a lot of trial and error. Trial and error as a fact of life was the first thing Fos expected every time he put on his shoes, turned the tap on, lit a match. Statistically he knew the odds were in his favor that his shoes would fit, water would come out of the tap, and combustion would occur – but he also knew that for no reason there existed chances that the opposite might happen. No use asking why or how: why and how were part of the design. As soon as you construct a thing you give its opposite a license to exist – you build a tower then you also build the chance it will fall. You fall in love with safety then you also fall prey to its failure to prevent the necessary trial and error. To think of life as foolproof is a fallacy of fools, he thought. Things happen, he believed, and there’s nothing you can do to keep them from occurring without taking out the magic spark plug, the genius of invention that ignited the adventure in the first place.

Evidence of Things Unseen is a love story. It is small and domestic, but it is also about science and technology and the ways those things disrupt and transform. It is about two very ordinary people who meet at the cusp of an era. The jacket description alludes to lawlessness and heartbreak, and while these things are present, they are in many ways incidental to the rest of the novel, to the interior monologues of Fos, Opal, and their child.

You come to know a person, you live together every day, you’re not really conscious of the changes taking place. Parenthood had come to them like a sudden shower or a gust that, unexpectedly, overstayed like climate, and in a blinking of an eye, without their ever knowing it, Lightfoot had become the context of their day, of every word they spoke, of every look they shared. But now Fos saw a way where they could be together again, and what she saw in his expression when he realized this was the sparkle of relief. He’d missed her…In the sunshine, once, beside a stream that gave into the Little Tennessee where they had stopped to stretch their legs and have some lunch on their way to Fos’s next assignment, Opal hitched her skirt around her waist to wade into the stream to wash the plates and Fos’s heart had skipped a beat. He’d never thought of her as someone who could turn heads, but as he stood there on the bank looking at her body, at her legs, he realized what a fragile thing possession is, how no one person ever owns another, how tenuous our hold is on another…

I found myself thinking about The Wild Palms as I read this book – not because I think Marianne Wiggins is an heir to Faulkner, or because I can make any comparative value judgement on the two novels. Rather, the similarities in time period and geography and selected events made me reflect on the differences in the way intimacy is written – whether they were artifacts of the author’s style or gender or time period or life experience. I tried to quantify this for my book club but couldn’t, not quite, perhaps because both rang true for me in subtly different ways.

This is the tenth of at least 15 books that I plan to read in the next year for my friend Mark’s 2/3 Challenge.

Keep Saying Yes

St. Patrick’s Day was epic this year, but not in the ways that it tends to be epic, at least in a college town. My housemates had invited people over for brunch, but many of them didn’t come, and so we found ourselves with a number of bottles of champagne, a gallon of orange juice, and a whole lot of leftover bacon and waffles on a 75 degree day in the middle of March. I sat on the porch and wrote letters. Chris took a conference call. Rachel played video games. The two of them spun poi while I sat on the sidewalk and took photos. We drank all of the champagne, texted Kat to come home, ended up in a cuddle pile on the couch with the dog and the cat. The next day, Chris emailed me to say:

Seriously, you’re amazing. I’m glad you’re in our lives, regardless of how short the waltz. Keep saying yes, yes, yes to drunken nights and beautiful people.

I’ve taken that to heart in the months since, and have been saying an emphatic yes as often as possible. This has included:

  • Yes to a movie on an impossibly hot day. And so I saw The Cabin in the Woods, which I would’ve never seen otherwise but really enjoyed – and had the occasion to go to the gorgeous Logan Theater for the first time in very good company. The same thing would happen later in the summer with Your Sister’s Sister (at the State with Shana and Javan) and The Hunger Games (at the Logan with Carrie).
  • Yes to seeing the jellyfish at the Shedd with Karina and her adorable cousin, who later listed ‘meeting Elizabeth’ among her favorite parts of her weekend in Chicago.
  • Yes to fancy lady sleepovers where we lounge around in vintage slips with martinis and ridiculous movies. These weekends at the Uptown Beach House were some of the highlights of the summer.
  • Yes to biking around the city to meet friends for cocktails – and hopefully much more of this to come now that Orange and I are back together.
  • Yes to going to shows. I don’t care who it is. And so I saw Café Tacvba with Karina and had a great time even though I speak basically no Spanish and even though someone dropped a beer on my head. And I saw Cameron McGill with Carl for the first time in ages, and experienced an intense – and intensely wonderful – flashback to 2005. And I went to Lollapalooza as Karen’s +1 and we wandered the grounds and saw some music but mostly just enjoyed the free drinks and the beautiful day.
  • Yes to borrowing books and long bike rides and neighborhood walks and free ice cream from sympathetic vendors.
  • Yes to nights out when my bad mood made me inclined to stay in (thanks, Annette).
  • Yes to being Carl’s +1 for Leah’s wedding, which gave me the excuse to buy an exceptionally incredible dress.
  • Yes to last minute dinners in, to bánh mì sandwiches, to drinking my dinner around a table with random and exceptional people.
  • Yes to future travel: potentially Hawaii and Italy in the next year, as well as solo trip(s) to be determined. And to day trips on lazy rivers, and to visits with good friends.

So many amazing experiences in the last six months thanks to taking that advice. Chris Tom, I hope I’m making you proud.