take this waltz, change my mind

August 21, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s that time of the summer: the air is cooler, the light is softer, the days are less structured. The season is waning, and there is a leisurely feeling that comes with, an impulse to savor the end of August and linger for just a little while longer in the to-do list-less hours of blissfull relaxation.

For me, this means cracking open a book, reflecting on things I’ve read and seen and done this summer, and making note of things I’d like to read and see and do this fall.

I walked into a bookstore yesterday afternoon in the mood for essays, and I remembered a recommendation that a trusted friend made to me long ago: Zadie Smith’s collection of “occasional essays” called Changing My Mind. I had read and loved Smith’s first and third novels, White Teeth and On Beauty, and said friend assured me that she is an even more talented nonfiction writer and critic. So, I purchased Changing My Mind, went home, and proceeded to devour the first fifth of the book.

Here is the thing about good literary criticism: you will enjoy it even if you aren’t familiar with its subject, but it will certainly make you want to read what is being discussed. When I got to the third essay in Smith’s book, Middlemarch and Everybody,” I remembered, somewhat abashedly, that I’ve never read George Eliot’s masterpiece. Really, Kelsey? I love nineteenth-century novels. I can call to mind the exact location of Middlemarch on my mother’s bookshelf, and remember a half dozen instances when I picked it up and contemplated borrowing it before deciding on something else. Add that to the list of things to read this fall, and bump it to the top.

Anyways, the essay is brilliant, whether you’ve read the book or not (I am assuming that knowledge of the novel could only add to its appeal). Smith’s main argument centers around Middlemarch’s identity as what she calls “a riot of subjectivity.” She explains that if asked, every character in the novel would have a different idea about who the central character in Middlemarch is. She calls this effect the “narrative equivalent of surround sound,” and goes on to associate it with Eliot’s basic belief that all characters – and all people, for that matter – deserve an equal amount of pages, no matter how silly they might seem in comparison to others.

This made me think of one of the few movies I went to see this summer, the Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. When I got up to the leave the theater, I knew that I had enjoyed the acting and the music and the frankness of many of the scenes, but was unsure of how I felt about what the characters had to offer me, or with whom I was supposed to identify. I went home, read some reviews, and watched this interview on YouTube, which convinced me that Take This Waltz was one of the better films I’ve seen in a while.

In the interview, Polley talks about how she knew the film was a success when she talked to viewers after they watched the movie and each person seemed to have identified with, hated, or rooted for a different central character. She was satisfied when she discovered that there were enough reflections, complements, or foils of certain personalities and human behaviors in her characters to resonate with a wide-ranging audience.

This, to me, is the sign of a generous artist: one who priveleges the unspecified emotional responses of many to the qualified devotion of a few. These are the kinds of artists who make the things I want to read, see, and experience. Drop a line my way if you think of others like them, and tell me who’s at the top of your list.

Marginalia

July 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own

and reached for a pen if only to show

we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;

we pressed a thought into the wayside,

planted an impression along the verge.

-Billy Collins (can caption all my photographs)

Morning

June 1, 2012 § 4 Comments

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Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

-Billy Collins

museums, thesis, biscuits and pie

April 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

These are the days of my life. Or the themes of my days.

Rediscovering my roots at the Swedish-American Museum:

Revisiting an old friend at the Art Institute:

Gazing east to the city from the rooftop deck of the Hellenic Museum:

Spending all the words not in this post on my thesis, at a tiny, happy desk:

Escaping said desk for homemade biscuits, butter and jam at a new shop in the neighborhood:

And, when the full draft of my thesis was finally ready to be turned in, rewarding myself with this:

What does your spring look like this year?

a rose is a rose is a rose

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

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half moon rising

February 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

When asked once if she is conscious of the reader when she writes, Joan Didion replied: “Obviously I listen to a reader, but the only reader I hear is me. I am always writing to myself.”

When I blog, I am almost always writing to myself. Today, I am writing to a friend to beat all friends, someone I can’t have a face-to-face conversation with anymore, but who I hope I’ll never stop having imaginary ones with. In my mind, it takes place at Taylor Books, over cups of hot coffee or maybe even chai, and is frequently interrupted by bouts of laughter and long moments of comfortable silence.

I haven’t had the urge, or made the time, to write for a while, but today I have something I want to tell you. It’s something I never thought I would say. Are you ready? Don’t laugh.

I started practicing yoga.

Yes, yoga, that thing where you twist yourself into a pretzel and try to find inner peace on a sweaty rubber mat. I know it doesn’t seem that crazy to you, but can you imagine me? Doing yoga? Not just doing it, but claiming to practice it?

It’s tempting for me to rationalize it by telling you how it all began, how my friend Lauren hooked me up with a three-hour cleaning shift once a week, in exchange for which I get free unlimited classes. How I wanted to take a break from running after the marathon, and how I needed to find an indoor setting to exercise in during the winter months. How what makes me keep going back is how it loosens up my muscles, or makes me sweat a lot, or straightens out my spine. But I wouldn’t be telling the truth.

The truth is that I’m starting to buy into it. I’m still not any good at meditating, and I only remember a handful of the Sanskrit names for the poses, but it’s the first time that any kind of sport or exercise has really made me feel connected to my mind and my body, at the same time.

I’ve always been pretty fit, and I mostly allow my body to just do its thing, putting my energy into the mental task of believing I can push myself further. When I run or head to the gym, I jam my headphones in my ears to drown out the sounds of my heart racing, my breath quickening, my feet slapping the pavement again and again. When I play a sport like soccer or tennis, I’m always thinking about what’s coming next, how I can anticipate the near future.

I think, for true athletes, sport is life. In the swing of a club, in the arc of a pass, in the strike of a ball on the ground with the inner laces of a cleat, is a total expression of the desire to survive. Every motion is a declaration of love, for the game but also for life.

I took a class with one of my favorite teachers today, and she asked us to set an intention to find a moment of concentration during the class so deep that it became an act of love. To do it, she told us, we would have to bring ourselves to our edge. By pushing ourselves just past what we think of as our limit, we discover strength, concentration, and love deeper than we know we possess.

I found it in sleeping pigeon, a pose I used to hate. It was awkward, it hurt my hips; nothing about it felt right. Today, I slid into it almost effortlessly, brought my chest into a deep fold I didn’t know I could manage, and in that moment, I loved it all: the pose, my mind, my body.

I’m telling you this because it dawns on me that it’s what you had, and it’s what you wanted to share with everybody. The concentration that takes you so deep into living it’s impossible to separate what you experience from what you love: this was your gift, this is my pursuit.

I don’t know if yoga will take me all the way there, but I’m going to ride it out and see. The next pose I’m going to work on is half moon. The key to this one isn’t in the folding, but in the opening. So I’m going to try to open myself up, to possibility and to failure. I’ll let you know how it goes. And in the meantime, I’ll be humming this song that it makes me think of, and that reminds me of you:

dedication

October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a dedication to dedication, the only thing you really need to run 26.2 consecutive miles.

It’s a dedication to the 1.5 million fans holding witty posters, wielding garden hoses and offering up cheers to the crowd on an unseasonably hot Sunday morning.

It’s a dedication to my friends who were content to see me, even if I didn’t see them, amidst the throngs of spectators near the Chinatown gate.

It’s a dedication to my biggest fan, who trekked downtown with me at 6 in the morning, took that picture, and followed my progress on his bike.

It’s a dedication to the congratulatory emails from friends and family afterward, the kind words of strangers who saw me trudging home with a medal around my neck, the warmth and vibrancy of this city, with its breathtaking skyline and flavorful neighborhoods.

And it’s a dedication to Matthew. The thought of your unparalleled strength and courage kept me going from start to finish, and the radiance of your smile felt a little more pointed in my way that day.