Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Fall/Winter Reading List begins

Just in case anyone is sitting around thinking, "Gee, I wonder what Jen is going to be reading this winter?", here's the preliminary list. During the quiet hours at work this morning, I compiled a cohesive list from the pages of my favorite tiny marble notebook that is with me at all times for jotting down important things that would otherwise become lost in my brain stew. There's fiction and non-fiction both, and I also checked which of my two libraries has them and which ones I'm hoping to get through ILL. That's right...I'm ILLin' to read! Word.

Available at Brooks Mem. Library

Asterios Polyp, by David Mazzucchelli

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (also available in Spfld!)

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? Padgett Powell

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford (also available in Spfld!)

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
by Sam Harris (when available)

For ILL:


Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life
(1996) by Nick Lane
Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution (2009) Nick Lane
Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (2002) Nick Lane

Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations
by Mark Slouka

Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddles of Culture
by Marvin Harris
Cannibals and Kings by Marvin Harris

Linked by Albert Laszlo Barbasi

The Machinery of Life
by David S. Goodsell


I Am Not Sidney Poitier
by Percival Everett
Lowboy by John Wray

Anyone got any good recommendations or books you've got your eyes on for the Fall/Winter?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shared Content*

And so there I was out for an evening walk, music plugged into my ears—a sonic buffer between me and the world. Like a camera’s soft filter, the right music can smooth the lines, soften harsh angles, tell the kind of lie we want to believe. The late summer sun blew around and between the clouds on an almost-crisp breeze. Tall roadside grasses going to seed looked like clusters of furry, golden caterpillars bobbing on delicate spindles.

And so she was sitting there minding her own business a little too much. Her leg extended from her body at an angle, propped on a metal folding chair—the kind you’d bring out when company came over and you ran out of places for them to sit. A worn-out couch cushion supported the weight of her swollen leg and signs nailed to the house in the distance said “NO SMOKING! OXYGEN IN USE!” in the neon orange color that means business. I could see that her knee-length housecoat was thin and covered with couplets of cartoon cherries ghostly with age. I smelled the sweetness of the freshly lit tobacco before I saw the smoke rise up from her head. She watched me pass by, lifted her hand and gave a slight nod. She didn’t look interested but she didn’t really look bored either.

Just before I reached the place where the old lady sat, I watched a loosely-spaced group of ravens soaring across the sky’s blue. Only after I’d stumbled awkwardly several times while trying to walk and gawk did I stop to watch them drift silently, expertly away—higher, farther. The music in my ears was new to me, experimental—found sounds, spoken word mixed with looped guitars and odd bits of lyrics sometimes spoken, sometimes sung. I barely noticed the distance I covered; I could have walked for hours lost in my private soundscape.

And so I walked past the old lady with her propped-up leg and raised my hand in response to hers. I wondered if she felt lonely. Or maybe she just needed a smoke.

I never listened to music quite like this before. Secrets whispered into my ears, just for me, paradoxes revealed nonchalantly, matter-of-fact statements and strange non-sequiturs unfolding within a space roomy enough to absorb it all. It felt like solitary beach-combing, pocketing secret treasures to keep in a quiet place for all time. It felt like wondering past warmly lit houses on a fall evening, peering in the windows as you drive by too fast to know what’s really going on. Somehow it felt like longing.

I turned around at the end of our road. Up the hill and around the bend I returned. She sat in the same position, still smoking. I walked up the driveway toward her. She looked interested but not surprised. A man in a bathrobe, with an oxygen tank next to him stood at the door far in the distance. He looked gray and slack — draining down into the slippers I imagined on his cold feet. He turned away before I could catch his eye.

She stubbed out her roll-yer-own in a sandy five-gallon bucket next to her chair.

-Hello there.

I waved to her from down near my hip. I pressed pause in the right spot. I asked her.

-Will you listen?

A nod.

I put the buds into her ears, stepped back and tapped play. A young man’s voice speaking over a pulsing but gentle and low guitar loop shared his secrets into her ears. She looked up at me and smiled when the last line happened.

“Expectation leads to disappointment. If you don’t expect something big, huge & exciting usually, uh........I dunno.........I’m jus’ not a…yeah.“

And that was it.

The shadow-shape of me shaded her right eye. I shifted a little farther to the right and both her eyes lit up for a moment and glowed like whiskey. She shielded her eyes from the sun that hovered over my shoulder and asked me if I might stay for a bit.

*fiction. partly.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Someone has to let go first.

Should I put my left arm over or under?

What about my right arm, where should that go?

Oh crap, our arms are on the same trajectory, we're gonna have arm collisions. Should I switch my approach? Or is the other person going to switch?

This person is so much shorter. I think I just gouged her in the throat with my shoulder. She's probably trying not to choke, I better let go now. But will that seem rude? Like I don't really want to give her a hug?

People with some meat on them are good for hugging.

I've never hugged this person before, but I want to, but what if a hug isn't appropriate in this circumstance? What if they don't want a hug?

It's hot and humid and I've been in the car for hours. I hope they can't feel how sweaty my shirt is in the back. They probably can. Gross.

I barely know this person, but here they come, in for a hug. Do they know how forced this feels? How many authentic hugs do we ever really get/give? Maybe fewer than we think. Hmmm...I don't think I like that thought.

Why does my heart always beat too hard when I hug someone? It embarrasses me. I know people can feel it beating away in my chest. I've had people mention it before. I don't want them to think it has any real significance. But it must mean something, right? It's easier just to avoid it and not hug people very much or else try to keep my heart area away from theirs or just keep the hug short.

When I visit my family and I hug my mom or dad and if I hold on extra long it always threatens to make me cry. And that makes me feel silly and childish so I don't hold on as long as I really want to. I think they do the same thing.

Sometimes hugging someone surprises me with how perfect it feels, physically, I mean. Some body shapes just fit together better than others.

Hugging brings two people together and yet you are still separate no matter how long or how hard you hug. It's kind of a metaphor for existence - the desire to know others/be known and the ineluctable solitude of our individual consciousnesses.

We can never know exactly how our hug feels to the person on the other side.

The implications of a hug's end are subtle and complex. Someone always has to let go first.