It was an extreme pleasure to read from The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival alongside poets Maureen Alsop and Marty Williams at the What Books Press launch last week! You can watch the replay here. (Marty begins around minute 10:58; Maureen at 33:00; and me at 48:30.) Grateful to What Books Press for making fabulous books, to Skylight Books for hosting, and to all the sentient being, humanity, and machinery that helped hoist this carnival into being. Onward!
“You can’t process these things overnight.” —Alexander Landau
I just heard a Storycorp piece on the radio, about two people who connected over different (but also similar) trauma experiences which happened in Denver, years apart: Police beat and broke the bones of both Alexander Landau and Nina Askew. Both of these citizens endured and survived the violence enacted on their bodies and spirits.
Please listen—in about three minutes, the conversation between Alexander Landau and Nina Askew beautifully illuminates how trauma can begin to be healed: in community, with necessary slowness, with open hearts, and healing forward to the next generation.
“I don’t break.” —Nina Askew
Disclaimer: Being neither Danish nor Norwegian, I am no expert on the history & meaning of hygge. Last winter, I read this book about hygge and found the pages comforting, soothing, fascinating. We joke in my house about how to pronounce hygge, and even our amusing stumble (“higgie?”) has become part of the hygge in my life.
Actually, to call this post a hygge-list is misleading, because—hygge slows things down, allows us to toss aside any requirements for the linear. Hygge has no truck with the word “should.” …so, let’s say we are sitting somewhere comfortable, with warming beverages in hand, and scattered before us on the table or rug are some ideas that I think might bring hygge to your life (as they have to mine). In no particular order, except whatever hygge-order they come to my mind…
Listen to Poor Will’s Almanack. This episode, in particular, but any of his brief radio/print essays about the natural world bring me to a place of hygge (with love & gratitude to Bill Felker)…
Walk in nature. Yes, maybe it’s cold outside. Maybe it’s raining or snowing or the wind buffets the trees and structures. Bundling up and returning to warmth can be hygge. If you are near Yellow Springs, go to the Glen or the Gorge. If you live elsewhere, find a park or a bit of nature wherever you can. Even a walk around the block, de-phoned…look at the buildings, the people, what do you observe? Breathe outdoor air. (Maybe bring a scrap of paper, maybe write a few things down while you are out, or when you get back. Or just observe, and let the images go.)
Practice radical self-love. One way I do this supports my skin and spirit, via this consciously-sourced artisan Radical Self Love body butter from magician-musician Anne Harris. (This body butter is so delicious-smelling that I have to restrain myself from spreading it on toast. And check out & support Anne’s gorgeous music, too!)
Add more light. A few years ago (before pandemic, with no idea how much I was going to need the mood boost) I put up a string of lights like this one around the living room window. This same string of lights has been almost constantly lit/plugged in ever since (& I am talking years!). I got another strand last year, and another for the porch. Candles are great, too. In the dark season, I even light a candle at the breakfast table. Extreme and simple hygge.
Shop close to home. Find & support small, independently-owned local beautiful businesses whenever you can. In my town I’m talking about Emporium, Tom’s Market, and Current Cuisine. Support independent bookstores like Epic and Dark Star and online at Sam & Eddie’s. These types of businesses epitomize hygge. Where do you find that sort of hygge by you?
(As other things occur to me, I’ll post more. Meanwhile I’d love to know what brings you hygge.)
Mark Andresen at the Pan Review (“a bi-monthly look at the arts and literary scene”) graciously invited me to answer some wonderful questions for the Pan Review Of The Arts No. XIII. I’m very grateful to Mark for this opportunity, and grateful there are such fascinating corners of the internet, where we can ponder the inner workings and explore inspiring esoterica.
Here’s where you can read the Q&A. And please support these creative people, including Daniel Mills, whose story collection Among The Lillies can be found at the most fabulous Undertow Publications.
Nous sommes embarques! To all who helped put THE EIGHT MILE SUSPENDED CARNIVAL between portable covers, THANK YOU. Check it out:
And if you like the book, feel free to review it wherever (Goodreads, etc). And ask your local librarian to buy a copy, because libraries are where it’s at.
Join us at the What Books Press launch party, online, November 12, 7pm Pacific.
Love & gratitude, Rebecca
Please join me for the online What Books Press Launch party, hosted by Skylight Books! I will read from my debut novel, The Eight Mile Suspended Carnival, alongside poets Maureen Alsop and M. L. Williams. For more information, or to register, please visit the event page. (Please note the event will be held at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern.)
I’m So Fine: A List Of Famous Men and What I Wore by Khadijah Queen
This book is hypnotic and gorgeous and it is so good to be alive right now and be living at a time when this book exists. My friend Melissa loaned it to me, and I am ordering a copy for my shelf, because, well, if you’ve read it, you know why, and if you are yet to read it, you will soon discover why.
Queen builds a rock-solid feminist narrative—a memoir formed by tight, crystalline, lyrical fragments, whose accumulation seems as effortless as how iridescent shells appear and gather on the beach, carried by waves of awareness and poetry, to shine in the sun…
Here are some of my favorite fragments.
On page 27:
“I never met Bill Cosby but I met Beverly Johnson at Magic Mountain with my dad & my sister one summer in the mid-1980s & she had on an oversized cardigan & jeans casual but lovely my dad chatted her up while we rode the Colossus with her daughter he said he asked for her number & she politely declined I remember her grace & regality & lace-up boots she sat on the beat bench with her feet crossed at the ankle so when she went public about Cosby drugging & trying to assault her I immediately believed her & not him I have seen enough of powerful men by now to know she had nothing to gain by going public & the truth of beauty means both spotlights & shadows find you & it takes more than instinct to know where to stand on the stage & I don’t mean looks all the time I mean all women are all beautiful and I wish we knew it in ways that make us realize the relative insignificance of the arrangement of external features so we might as well not get so caught up & my dad had a lot of nerve right I mean some men have a lot of fucking nerve in general & I think my sister & I had on matching Hawaiian shirts that day & wore them tucked in I didn’t wear that shirt again & not long after that I fell in love with fashion & asked my dad to start buying me issues of Vogue”
On p. 53
“At the end of summer I met a guy who looked like a six-foot-two Lenny Kravitz but he turned out to be another narcissistic sociopath & where is the law against men that fine & that messy but at least I could tell within the first 30 minutes of conversation which included tales of his multiple cars & failed pro football career & travels to China where he had adventures with sex traffickers & drug dealers & later (because I had to finish my raspberry cheesecake & glass of rose) the break up with his Chinese baby’s mother who he called his former weed bitch & his switch from Christianity to Judaism because he said he wanted to be rich & what in the world happened to this man to make him think it’s okay to reveal all of that to a stranger what kind of man does that I thought but it’s the kind who makes sure you arrive at the restaurant in time to see him speed into the parking lot in a black on black Porsche & the kind that wears not one but three diamond rings not one but three gold chains & after he hugs you hello reaches back into the car to grab his Louis Vuitton man purse & the zing of attraction crackles to ash because when I met him at the bookstore he claimed to be a small-time restaurateur he had on jeans & Frye boots & a worn Jimi Hendrix T-shirt no gold no chains just a leather cuff & a zillion tattoos & his arms were CUT so when he asked to buy me a drink later I gave him my number I had on zero makeup my 20 post-surgical pounds & an orange & white maxi tank & raffia wedges & I should have known better because he was 10 years younger & chose one of those self-published looking wealth management books & wandered to the money-oriented magazine aisle but his attention made me feel lovely at a time when I needed to feel lovely but I’ll be damned if I get dumb so I blocked him & changed his name to Red Flags & avoid making eye contact with men at the Barnes & Noble”
On p. 68:
“When I saw John Singleton buying a bean pie at Simply Wholesome I knew I had done the right thing cutting off all lover & ex-lovers all man candy & even decent prospects & coming to L.A. for my 40th birthday to hang out with my best friends & also who doesn’t love bean pie if they’ve had some bean pie & my son came with me his face all smiles because spicy Jamaican patty & cream soda heaven & even the live music at Simply is perfect & even though I’d had two surgeries & my newly cut up gut prone to protest I was alive in my hometown & seeing celebs just like old times & when I was young I could in equal measure celebrate & take everything about living for granted but 40 is so cool 40 is seeing & knowing not seeing & wanting 40 holds beauty as the accumulation of bliss & survival 40 widens its arms 40 seeks all the June sun instead of shade & flies with more than usual mechanical luster & says yes to all the right things because 40 knows what it wants & mostly gets its every fineness”
Please read this book!
(Written years and years ago, these manifestos used to reside on a static page on this website, but they don’t need to be centered in the same way as before. Rather than omitting them fully, I decided to file them below in case they are needed in the future.)
—but the version of me who wrote the words appearing below was more concerned with being an artist (whatever that means) than I am now. Now I would revise, expand…change artist to human, so: “this watching and naming of raindrops as they flow down the car window is one way of being a human.” In the past, I would shrink or hide parts of myself, even old fragments like what follows. Now I see with more clarity that like everyone, I am made of many parts, and all the parts are okay and relevant. No part is unimportant; no part merits ignoring. The parts are what makes me (or a character, or any of us) complex and full. Human.
I am interested in shining light into the shadows.
Sometimes in shadows you find something you thought lost forever, something smaller than a half a dime…like when I lost my horse charm in a corner in the kitchen, between the cabinet and the plywood under the vinyl tiles. I thought the charm was gone, fallen through the floor, into the invisible tunnel that must exist under my house and continued, where else, to the center of the earth. But my husband Robert put on his caving helmet, turned on the headlight, and found the tiny horse, in a space I didn’t know existed.
That horse was from a junk store. I was nineteen. It cost fifty cents. I was born in the year of the horse. Fourteen years later, patina of years on myself and on the horse, this half-dime-sized charm bore the weight of poetry. The horse was lost. Then there was the light. Then the horse was found. It was romantic; Robert was my hero.
Those vinyl tiles covered a floor I’d had installed after my last Christmas with my ex-husband, after he had moved three thousand miles away…I was able to choose my own floor, black and white tiles, very hard to keep clean, a friend warned me. (She was right.) The previous floor was squishy under the cat food bowl; I was so absorbed in the break-up, it was awhile before I noticed, but a small leak under the sink had pooled until it saturated the sub floor. The floor’s structure and the vinyl sheeting needed to be replaced. Like the marriage, but infinitely less heartbreaking.
(I didn’t know, couldn’t, that thereafter, I would be haunted by flood dreams.)
Robert shined a light and found the horse, in a place I didn’t know existed.
I think in metaphors, and stories. I think about things like:
raindrops and how they collect on the car window; sitting in the back seat as a child, I would watch raindrops cling to the window, and I’d name each drop, as it ran down to meet the others and became bigger and bigger and they all merged into a blob, a community of raindrops, joining, then diving together, collaboratively, into the well at the bottom, where the window goes when you roll it down, back in the days when you had to turn a handle to roll down a car window… and when one of the raindrops would begin its descent, it seemed the raindrop had become brave, and started the eventual adventure to the place it ultimately had to go, gravity being non-negotiable, but still, each drop seemed to choose when it would go, pick a path to follow. Some ambled, some sped ahead, fearless. I’m sure it was simple science, the water in the drop would reach a certain mass and the wind outside the car plus gravity would act upon the drop, and it would run down the only path it could, based on its specific calculations.
Okay: one, two, three, go!
As a child, I would spend time, in a sense, with each drop, by naming them. It seemed important. Watching, witnessing their courage.
It occurs to me that this watching and naming of raindrops as they flow down the car window is one way of being an artist.
So observe the tiny poetry of nature, of physics, and mark time as it passes.
The hands of a storyteller
“The first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.’ Meander if you want to get to town.” –-Michael Ondaatje
This is from Michael Ondaatje’s book, In The Skin Of A Lion, which I blogged about here. When I first read this passage, years ago, I realized this is the kind of fiction I want to write, and this proclamation provides comfort.
There’s a beautiful feeling I sometimes get when I’m reading. It’s the moment I realize I’m in the hands of a good storyteller. I’ve had that feeling sometimes reading “great” books, and sometimes reading unpublished student work. The feeling helps me relax and be along for the journey, and I crave that feeling in everything I read. This is not to say that I want what I read to soothe me–on the contrary. (As the fabulous Joy Williams wrote in her essay “Uncanny the Singing That Comes From Certain Husks,” “Good writing never soothes or comforts. It is no prescription, neither is it diversionary, although it can and should enchant while it explodes in the reader’s face.”) But that somewhat unnamable awareness that I’m in good hands as I read is always welcome. It has to do, maybe, with an amount of confidence (and sincerity) in the writer, because I don’t get that feeling, usually, when I read an overly clever or cynical voice–a narrative stance that, to me, usually feels insincere. I think the feeling I’m pondering might be called “trust.” As I notice it, something changes in my body; I relax a little (even if the story is unsettling, exploding in my face) because I understand an agreement the writer is making with me, and I am making with the writer: I trust that the writer will uphold whatever rules and aesthetics the story (or poem) requires, and I trust that the writer’s choices were made in earnest, and with honor behind them.
I want to give that same feeling to my readers. With my words, I want to craft a net, a web, or a hammock, to catch, or lull them into a place, a moment, a thought. Myself I want to quiet down to what’s essential, and I want the reader to witness (with me) that silver drop of water on a leaf, or that strange knocking sound that’s just too far off to identify but too close to ignore.
After recently re-reading The Rope Swing by Candace Kearns Read, in my Facebook memories from 5 years ago, I noticed photos of friends around the country posing with copies of the book to celebrate its 2016 launch. Perfect timing to post
Happy 5th birthday to The Rope Swing!
Candace Kearns Read is my friend. We met in 1999 at the MFA program at Antioch Los Angeles. My focus was fiction. Back then, I was mystified by those who wrote creative nonfiction and especially memoir. How could a person handle the vulnerability of writing personal stuff without the protective veil of fiction? I was intimidated, and in awe of these humans. Although I have kept a journal most of my life, but this writing of personal stories for others to read was another continent.
As The Rope Swing evolved toward publication, I had the pleasure of reading various iterations, and was so happy to cheer this book on. It was deeply gratifying to revisit it again recently, with a fuller understanding of what memoir is and can do, and what it takes (for the writer/human) to survive the doing. Brava to Candace for making this beautiful book!
In pondering the memoir this time, a notion took root…in the form of subtitle, or how I might articulate some of the generous humanity contained in the narrative:
—How To Survive Loving Someone Who Is Broken and Complicated*—
(*Here I need to say that I consider many humans, myself included, broken and complicated. Some are more broken and complicated than others, but/and/so I am not judging anyone! May we all do our best as we navigate the messy endeavor of loving each other.)
This memoir makes me feel my own humanity, and it gives me some hope that despite how messy things can be, we humans tend toward mutual survival…and I find this a comfort.
Some thoughts on craft:
The book is skillfully woven of child and adult narration. The impact of the story accumulates via these dual voices. (That inner sense of still feeling like a kid, despite the mileage of adulthood…so rich and poignant.)
In particular, Candace has an uncanny ability to write in the voice of childhood. Experiencing that thread of the narrative—that close lens and naïve curiosity—reading the child’s experience is both grounding and unsettling. We have each been children in the past, and a reader accessing this strata of memory is reminded of what it was like…that vulnerability, the lack of full understanding of adult ways…this layer loops me back again, somehow, toward how children survive the challenge of childhood.
For instance, on p. 25 (when the narrator is age five, attending an adult party):
“I stay close to Irene all night. She sparkles, wearing her pink and orange party dress that shows off the tops of her boobs. She has freckled brown skin and thick brown hair and wears lots of Mexican jewelry. She is always so happy that it makes you happy just to be around her.
She is very friendly with all the men at the party, but doesn’t seem as friendly with their wives. When Sammy goes into a corner to tell a joke to a bunch of men, she goes with him. When I try to follow her, Sammy waves his hand for me to stop. ‘It’s not for little girls to hear,’ He says. I go a little ways away so I can’t hear a thing, but I watch them all the see what they do. After Sammy tells his story, everybody laughs real hard, especially Irene, who laughed so hard she has to wipe tears off her cheeks.”
While later, on p. 106, we see another shade of vulnerability from the adult narrator (helping her mother, whose cognition is wobbly) in this sweet/bitter moment:
“She squints down at her feet, then looks up and smiles kindly at me.
‘Where are you from?’ she asks, like she’s making polite conversation with a stranger. She is mistaking me for a nurse. I know how she loves to engage strangers in conversation, find out where they’re from, what’s their politics are, and if they don’t have any, to make suggestions. This is what is happening now— my mother thinks she is meeting someone new.
Where am I from?
‘I’m from your womb.’
She chuckles, and then I can see a wave of remembering cross her face. She knows, not exactly who I am, but that whoever I am, I might just be from her womb. In all my life, this is the first time my own mother hasn’t recognized me. It’s like the core of me has just been carved out, and I’m left hollow.”
And please revel in the emergence of a young witch in these pages! The child narrator holds powerful magic, and thusly strives to order often her chaotic corner of the world:
On p. 183:
“One morning I am in my room with the door closed and I see Tiger outside my sliding glass door, moving back and forth and meowing like she wants to get in. Before I can go over and let her in, she has somehow magically come inside. I look for a hole in the wall, a vent or something, but I can’t figure out how she got in. She looks at me with those big green eyes and I can hear her saying, ‘I have magical powers.’” (And later, the child’s friend says, “She must be your familiar….all witches have one.”)
Not only the cat has magical powers:
On p. 97 (when the narrator is six, and she and her mother are staying in a motel—having fled home to escape the mother’s abusive boyfriend):
“I dream that our house is burning down, in a bad fire. All my toys and clothes are being swallowed up in the flames. The fire gets bigger and bigger until it burns up our whole house.
I wake up to the sound of a phone ringing. It’s early in the morning, not really dark but not really light out either. I can tell it’s before the time when people are supposed to wake up. The phone is on the floor between our two beds and my mother picks it up finally. She says hello in a sleepy voice, and then she doesn’t say anything for a long time. Then she asks, in a scared voice, ‘Down to the ground?’ And that’s when I know our house burnt down, just like in my dream.”
I’m so grateful that Candace has crafted this book, used her alchemy, produced this “truth, artfully arranged” (as Dinty W. Moore has defined creative nonfiction).
Please read this book. You can learn more about her writing and coaching here: https://candacekearnsread.com/