One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations –
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
– Mary Oliver, The Journey
Archive for the ‘Reading & Writing’ Category
the new voice
February 14, 2013
September 1, 2012
I don’t usually like poems; that is, they often don’t speak to me as sharply and haltingly as so many short stories – and, more rarely, novels – do. But I heard the brilliant David Rakoff recite this Elizabeth Bishop piece to Terry Gross on my morning walk to work yesterday, and I haven’t been able to shake its lingering mood, lingering images from my head since. Maybe I’ll try to memorize it, too, so that I can keep it close by at important times, just like he once did.
I know he’s missed by many, but after hearing his voice buzz inside my ears for the better part of this month, I have no choice but to add my silly little name to the list.
Letter to N.Y.
For Louise Crane
By Elizabeth Bishop
In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:
taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,
and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,
and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,
and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.
—Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.
More David Rakoff: This American Life’s tribute (my favorites are his blistering Rent piece and his rhyming wedding toast); Fresh Air’s tribute (you, like me, might have to replay (and replay and replay and replay) that moment when Terry Gross asks him if he really feels like he’s “beloved by all but loved by none” — it took me four listenings to really understand what that “lasagna” of a sentence was saying, but I think I get it now, and I think I see myself in it too); this performance, which might make you cry.
you’re on a what?
August 2, 2012
It’s devoid of the foul language and inappropriate insights my Blabbermouth recaps are peppered with but has more pretty pictures and even some concrete advice, if you’re into that sort of thing. Head here to check it out and brace yourself for more of the real story behind all that baby’s breath and tulle tomorrow.
the quaint brain surgeon
August 2, 2012
This is so spot on:
“You’ve never seen her, but you’ve given her a style (quaint!), an occupation (brain surgeon!) an apartment layout, a knowledge of local breweries and a disdain for meat. She doesn’t want to be a writer but she happens to write more coherent prose than you. Whoops! And when she smiles she gets these fucking wrinkles at her temples that even you want to kiss. And god, those hours of charity she does. Those millions of hours with those children who hug her kneecaps when they see her. She knows how to tie all the sailing knots! She’s your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend!”
Are you not reading Emma Barrie? You should be.
wading through the copy
July 27, 2012
I’m taking Nora Ephron’s advice that everything is copy, you guys.
Thanks for sticking around here until it does.
(Coming next week, as promised: more crap you couldn’t care less about, but now, with tulle! Also known as: the wedding recap. Brace yourselves.)
Nora Ephron, three ways
July 25, 2012
The Friday after Nora Ephron died, I made a big dinner and we sat down to watch when Harry Met Sally. Megan was living with us at the time, so the “we” was a giddy Rach, a tired but always amenable Megan (at least pretending she didn’t mind that we were commandeering her bed for an evening showing on what was for her a school night) and a very begrudging Dave.
He always pretends like he’d rather not watch it, like he can’t be parted from his ESPN or medical journal articles (nerd) for a movie like that. But, like everyone, he is eventually charmed by that movie. I (finally breaking a girl stereotype for once in my life) don’t really like romantic comedies…but I have a deep love for that movie.
I love how real and neurotic the characters are. I love the scenes of the city dressed up for the four seasons. I love the old married couples married through it all. I love that, out of nowhere, “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” will pop into my head on a random morning and I’ll picture Sally at the karaoke machine saying “it’s my voice isn’t it?” and I’ll laugh out loud. If you think the fake orgasm is the best scene in that movie, you should watch it again. The littlest moments are the best.
When I was in Connecticut a few weeks ago, I scanned my parents’ bookshelves, lovingly alphabetized by my mother. I was looking for Heartburn but found an old copy of Crazy Salad instead, a hardcover version that had long since lost its formal cover. On the first page, there was a note scrawled in blue pen and dated 1975: “Merry Christmas and Love this day and thru the year – Karen.” “Who’s Karen? ” I asked my mother. “You don’t even celebrate Christmas?” “I think I got it at a used bookstore,” she said.
I turned the page and, like at least two women before me, and began to read.
Last night Megan and I went to see an outdoor screening of You’ve Got Mail, with a little tribute to Nora Ephron at the beginning. It seemed to me to be the exact opposite of all those nutty outdoor Summer in NYC movies, though honestly, I’ve never made it to one, despite many efforts and scrawled notes on my Filofax. There was plenty of seating and a banquet of fancy, free snacks I never would have splurged for on my own and it was super easy to find my coworker and her friends in the little crowd. We passed bags of pistachios and seasoned almonds back and forth among us and giggled and teared up at all the right parts. I’ve never been the biggest You’ve Got Mail fan, to be honest (again, breaking new ground with my general aversion to romantic comedies) but I found myself totally enthralled. It might have been the fact that we were watching all these Upper West Side scenes play out from a quaint little courtyard on the very same Upper West Side, it may have been that the night wasn’t too hot but contained a certain electricity, a certain threat of rain that kept things lively, it might have been the beer I’d downed at the happy hour I was at just before. Or it might have just been that I had never really sat down and listened to those lines, noticed how smart and funny and lyrical and real they are. It’s not really just a romantic comedy, after all. It’s a Nora Ephron.
why B. missed her subway stop
July 19, 2012
Alternate title: why Rachel will almost certainly be late for work this morning.
My coworker B. rushed into the office earlier this week in a huff, grasping a copy of the New Yorker like a life preserver.
“Have you read this?” she demanded. “So good!”
B. was so engrossed in this piece that she accidentally stayed planted on the subway well past our Rockefeller Center stop. Once in the office, she promptly printed off a copy for me – that culturally lacking, extremely prone to comparison girl who gave up her New Yorker subscription years ago – to read at once.
I was so engrossed I took a highlighter to it and went through that thing where at first you feel the power of the writer’s emotions, then you notice the beauty of the writer’s prose and then you want to kill them for being so fucking good and, coincidentally, not you.
Thus confirming the reason I ditched the New Yorker in the first place.
Here’s my favorite quote:
“Evidently this is the way it has to be. I am committed. It is a question of writing or not writing. There is no other way. If there is, I missed it.”
a (moderately failed) attempt to make up for all of those terrible instagrams in the last post
July 5, 2012
Dave and I went to Smorgasburg, the all-food outpost of the Brooklyn Flea market, last weekend.
It was a bit of a spontaneous Saturday for us – not just because we jumped on the ferry to Dumbo on the fly – but also because, for the first time in, oh, forever, I brought my camera around on one of our little NYC escapades.
I’ve been kind of avoiding my camera like the plague since we moved here, which is a shame considering I spent so much money, so much time, so much effort on learning to use that big hulking dslr. I can’t be totally certain now, but I think I remember being giddily excited about picking it out at B&H, lovingly and only half jokingly referring to it as Dave and my first child, and feeling genuinely positive about the prospect of photography as a theory and/or practice. I remember snapping that shutter all across India, Ecuador, Philadelphia, Connecticut. And then I just…stopped?
This might sound silly, but have you ever felt like you’re actually getting worse at something, the longer you stick at it, the harder you try? You look back on the stuff you did when you were first starting out – that first blog post about your boyfriend’s brother’s perfect girlfriend, that first shot you got of a child batting around a giant yellow balloon in a garden in Delhi – and you think, man, that was actually decent. What happened to me? You search for proof your skills haven’t totally degraded and come up empty-handed. True or not, you start to psych yourself out.
That’s how I started feeling about photography. I got frustrated. I kind of gave up.
Looking at these photos, my first thought is, um, maybe you feel this way for good reason, Rach. The pictures kind of suck. They don’t have the right composition, the right use of light, the right focus. They don’t pull me in, don’t make me recall how hot it actually was or how happy we were to be together in the city after so long or how good that pulled pork sandwich (and the DuMont slider and the bahn-mi style hot dog and the Blue Marble cones, not pictured because, um, we ate them too fast) actually tasted. They don’t capture how the long slats of the pier in North Williamsburg felt endless if you looked at them from a certain angle or the repetitive symmetry of the benches that line Brooklyn Bridge park or how cool the perspective shift of seeing the island of Manhattan for a ferry is.
My first thought is, this is not what photography is supposed to be. Give it up, girlfriend.
My second thought is, keep going. You always put yourself down for the count far too fast.