(This is my dad, also from the England trip when I was six, also from Coventry. He looks adorable. He would have been thirty-one.)
Thank you, my dear new Patreons! I am so grateful. I’ll start posting locked posts with writing again, pretty soon here.
While I am used to and generally like living alone, I am used to countering that with a lot of Out time and seeing people I like but don’t know well: baristas and booksellers, students and servers and folks at the gym and– well everyone, the fact that the world is full of people in cars and walking along sidewalks and buying kale. One of my ways to spend good time alone is gone: I can’t go for five-mile walks around town or on the levee or anywhere, for a while at least, because of this knee.
We have been learning that the internet and social media can be very unhealthy ways to connect — and now is just when we have to rely on it, in some cases for our only community. <hugs> are a quick shorthand, but I really want the felt and engaged communication of longer posts and emails, and the back and forth of conversational chats.
But there’s plenty going on, and many small victories to be proud of: I finally, after six months in this house, figured out how to turn the oven on. I also, finally, after setting out to do it eighteen months ago, got my will finished and witnessed. And by the end of the week I will have the Internet in my house, a thing I avoided like mad until now.
There’s a lot of work that needs to get done, as well — setting up these two classes for online, plus a bunch of departmental service that feels pretty vain and stupid right now, but which nevertheless has to happen, I guess? Also I have a grad student finishing his thesis this semester, and an undergrad finishing an honors project, hmm.
But of course what I want to do is read and write. I’ve been researching more for the sphinx story, but no idea what has to happen, still, yet — but I did sit down and concentrate on it, first thing today — and that was wise. I suspect I need to get everything constructive done in the mornings before I read the news or anything.
I have been reading Thomas Love Peacock, who was writing the most bitterly, wittily ironic literature I have ever read. This is from Nightmare Abbey, a truly snarky sendup of the Gothic:
The only son and heir Mr Glowry had christened Scythrop, from the name of a maternal ancestor, who had hanged himself one rainy day in a fit of tœdium vitæ, and had been eulogised by a coroner’s jury in the comprehensive phrase felo de se; on which account, Mr Glowry held his memory in high honor, and made a punchbowl of his skull.
When Scythrop grew up, he was sent, as usual, to a public school, where a little learning was painfully beaten into him, and from thence to the university, where it was taken out of him; and he was sent home like a well-threshed ear of corn, with nothing in he head: having finished his education to the high satisfaction of the master and fellows of his college, who had, in testimony of their approbation, presented him with a silver fish-slice, on which his name figured at the head of a laudatory inscription in some semi-barbarous dialect of Anglo-Saxonised Latin.
It just goes on like this for pages and pages and pages. Is there a ghost? Well, there’s a transcendentalist, and a thinly-disguised Byron, and a shadowy form in the halls, and some towers, and women with improbably names and much too much (hilarious) dialogue — and I figure he locked up the Gothic genre and could have thrown away the key in 1818, when the book was published.
Plans, yes, plans. I am making them, but at the moment, mostly thinking about how I will fill all these hours, even with work and writing, if I am not running errands and getting coffee all the time. It’s been very eye-opening, thinking about this. How much time do I waste in an average week? I think I will be finding out.
All right, everyone, stay well. And, yes, hugs.
Happy birthday to me!
In October, the fantastic artist Holly Elander and I collaborated on “Roll the Dice,” a words-and-pictures story for the literary magazine 7×7. This was exhilarating and hard in all the most interesting ways. Holly and I alternated work, and we each only had 24 hours to do each leg. I loved being pushed outside my comfort zone, and responding to Holly’s work, which kept going in deeply interesting ways. You can see the final project here.
I can’t speak for what the experience was like for Holly, but even fast as it was, her work was all fascinating and beautiful. I especially fell in love with two pieces and after the fact, I asked her whether I could purchase them. And she was amazing: she gave them to me! This act of generosity still just blows me away.
Anyway, they came today, and I love them even more in person. The painting is small and elegant; but I have to admit that the watercolor more or less captured, not just a great moment for the story, but my very soul. A wolf lounging on a stack of magazines giving the stink-eye to a rapidly leaving jay? That’s my entire interiority.
It’s been a year, and for me a good one in some ways. I published four new things I am especially proud of:
- “Roll the Dice,” with Holly Elander: a words-and-pictures game for the lit mag 7×7.
- “The Apartment Dweller’s Alphabetical Dream Book,” part of a series of experimental stories, for Conjunctions Online.
- “What It’s Like,” some creative nonfiction for the North American Review.
- …and a guest blog, My Favorite Things, for speculativechic.com. I just reread this, and I still love it.
Two more stories were written and will come out this spring: “The Apartment Dweller’s Stavebook” at DIAGRAM, and “Noah’s Raven” at Lightspeed. And there was yet another, “An Attempt at Exhausting An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec,” though I have no idea if that will ever find a home.
There were (and are) also a bunch of reprints. I am especially excited that Lightspeed is reprinting what is in some ways the most ambitious story I have ever written, “Story Kit,” in February.
Yeah, there was an award, too, the World Fantasy Award, for “The Privilege of the Happy Ending.”
I did a lot of thinking about and prep for several longer works, but neither of them have gelled yet, so here we are.
Teaching got easier this year, though my spring was so full of dissertations and theses that I wasn’t sure I could compete it all. I went to Iceland. I moved to a lovely house in the woods. I got another cat. I joined a gym and started getting strong again. I finally realized there is a difference between people who are good company and people who are reliable. I got involved with a nonprofit. I joined a club. I tried to be a better person. Sometimes I was stressed, sometimes I grieved, sometimes I despaired — but more of the time I worked and thought and was happy in various ways.
There are a limited number of roads available on the Snaefellsnes peninsula, especially in winter: the 54, the 56, the 58; the 574 through Snaefellsnes National Park; a few stubs that lead to small towns or churches by the water. The roads that cross between the north and south shores are mostly gravel, and according www.road.is, one is closed and one is just a little hazardous. So, we have been driving the roads we do have for three days now. We know where the towns are; we know where the old fishing boat strung with lights is, and the lime-green Camino-style conversion with the six wheels. Again and again, we have looked at Kirkufell and frozen waterfalls and black slopes heathered with snow and causeways. (There have been pictures each day, as well.) We have driven back to certain places because we can’t resist them: an abandoned black-stone barn in an empty field.
And each time it’s different. The sky has been different colors, different heights. Today there was no wind at all, and the little inlets and fjords were perfectly still, so that you could see the mountains reflected, the tiny waves merely another layer of complexity added to the textures of grass and snow and shadow and moss. The sky was a low, mostly even field of clouds, but the air beneath it was clear. We could see the Northfjords, faint blue to the north; to the west, we could see the smooth shining white of Snaefellsjökull where it had been hidden before this in snow-fog.
We have now been between Stykkishólmur and Ólafsvík five or six times, and this time, the last on this trip, I suddenly realized: I could drive this road every day of my life and never grow tired of it. More, I have done this: not here, not now; but it reminded me of the back roads I grew up driving or driven on, the quiet little winter roads I still sometimes drive in Iowa and Minnesota and Wisconsin. They are less beautiful than this, but there is still that lovely, perfect moment, as you come over the slope and there, precious and distant and welcoming, are the tiny lights of your destination.
This is my fourth visit to Reykjavik, which changes things. Gone is the astonishment of so beautiful and new a place: what are these mountains? What is this air? You can only visit a place for the first time once. But what I have now is lovely and different. I know the streets and the mountains and the air, and each recognition is a thrill, like seeing Rainier for the first time on a visit to Seattle: That is what I remembered, but so much more than I remembered. And beyond this, there are still (and always) surprises, the smaller joys of interstitial discoveries. I have walked by the harbor before, and admired the fishing vessels pulled out of the water for repair. I see All The Usual Things, and the others, as well. The man is on a cherry-picker, pulling free from the boat’s side a fat, long curl of tape he used to mask a white stripe. Here is a strange centipede spray-painted on a metal box. Someone calls from the deck of a coast-guard vessel; his voice is the singing of wooden birds that Icelandic always seems to me, but ringing in the cold air against concrete and sea water. (Okay, not even that cold, but so very, very bright.)
We walked, we talked, I bought a sweater. E tweaked her leg a little and we soothed it with hot baths and take-out fish and lamb soups from a tiny restaurant a block from this place. I had so much beer in a failiar bar (how do I have familiar bars here?) with a friend from Lawrence, strangely and delightfully enough.
Today, we move on to Stykkisholmur for a few days. Wish us well!
Slept sixteen hours — the longest I have slept in my life that I was neighter sick nor a child. Since then we have ambled about, shopping in a desultory way (books, a blanket, a map, and postcards) and talking, a lot. I haven’t see Elizabeth since spring, at least, and there is so much to catch up on.
Reykjavik is my favorite city in the world — not the most beautiful (that would be Stockholm), but the one that makes me happiest. And with the tourists mostly gone and snow on the ground, it is even better. There is a giant cat covered in lights, the Jólakötturinn; the sun sets at 3:30 and they put candles on your bar table by four; the bookstores are crammed to the rafters with new books. Even out of the cute downtown, I love it.