From “What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison” by Camille T. Dungy:
But now, in spring, the budsflock our trees. Ten million exquisite buds,tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,bellowing from ashen branches vibrantkeys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.The song is drink, is color. Come. Now. Taste.
Read the whole beautiful, messy thing here.
Today’s inspiration comes to us from the inimitable Susan Sontag:
I’m often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: “Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”
Needless to say, no sooner had these perky phrases fallen out of my mouth than I thought of some more recipes for writer’s virtue.
For instance: “Be serious.” By which I meant: Never be cynical. And which doesn’t preclude being funny.
Found via Brain Pickings, a website that’s basically one big hors d’oeuvres platter of brilliant thoughts and words.
I recently wrote a piece for To Market magazine about seaweed farming in New England. It was a real pleasure to research and write this feature—even though it did involve going out on the water off the coast of midcoast Maine in the middle of December on a day so cold that my phone turned itself off and my hands stopped working—mainly because it focused on a topic I think it incredibly important: food sustainability.
I’m reading a book right now called Radical Homemakers and I can’t stop thinking about it. The author, a PhD who lives on a farm in rural New York, makes the argument that the best way we can save our planet is through turning our households from consumer spaces to production spaces. When we grow our own food, mend our own clothes, build our own barns, we free ourselves from needing as much money (and from buying as much junk that’s designed to fail). It’s an obvious argument, yet I am still so caught up in the make-money-buy-things cycle that I occasionally feel defensive when I’m reading it. Which is probably a good thing—it’s shaking me up. That’s good.
Anyway, this does relate to seaweed, and to my book, Handcrafted Maine (due out this summer!) because these are all ways of approaching sustainability through creative means. Homemaking is a creative act. Seaweed farming is creative, innovative, and totally fascinating. And every person profiled in Handcrafted Maine is contributing to our state economy in intentional, beautiful, small-scale ways.
I really believe that intentional, small living is the way forward for our planet. I believe small farms are the future, homemakers are onto something, and the things we do with our hands are just as important as the things we do with our heads.
Pre-order Handcrafted Maine here.
See more images by photographer Greta Rybus (who shot both the book and the To Market seaweed feature) here.
I found it online. It was just captioned “puppet.” I love it. That is all.
A few years ago, I had a period of exhausting confusion, a kind of general malaise that was dreary and slow but punctuated by these terrible migraines and even more terrible panic attacks. Everything felt overwhelming. The future seemed like this murky, gloomy thing. A fear monster. A poisoned well. A shadow place. In short, it sucked.
I’m not, like, over it by any means. I’m still an angsty person. I’m still prone to freak outs and night sweats. But slowly I’m coming together.
Anyway, during this shitty time, I went on a “how should a person be?” tour of my friends and colleagues. I asked basically everyone intrusive questions like, how should I exist in the world? how do you live in this universe without going crazy? how do you keep bad thoughts from taking over your life? who should I be and why and how? I got a variety of answers. Some of the best answers came from my friend Sophie. Other good thoughts came from a former professor, who had clearly been in that weird disorienting mental space before. He told me to ride it out, expect bad times, keep the faith that nothing ever stays for long.
But if I could send an email back in time to reach previous-Katy, I would send her two quotes. They’re both pretty much the same idea, just articulated differently.
First, via Brain Pickings, here is Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s advice on how to be grateful:
When I am feeling dreary, annoyed, and generally unimpressed by life, I imagine what it would be like to come back to this world for just a day after having been dead. I imagine how sentimental I would feel about the very things I once found stupid, hateful, or mundane. Oh, there’s a light switch! I haven’t seen a light switch in so long! I didn’t realize how much I missed light switches! Oh! Oh! And look — the stairs up to our front porch are still completely cracked! Hello cracks! Let me get a good look at you. And there’s my neighbor, standing there, fantastically alive, just the same, still punctuating her sentences with you know what I’m saying? Why did that bother me? It’s so… endearing.
Similar, but not quite, is this bit from Department of Speculation author Jenny Offil:
A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.
I’m going to hold onto these techniques for the next time I find myself feeling generally unimpressed by my life. I struggle to just “be grateful” for what I have. But I have no problem imagining the worst case scenario, the loss of everything, the complete and utter demolition of my own life. I’m great at that! This is positive thinking via negative imagining, and I can lean into it.
I do get a deep pleasure from looking. I mean, I can look at a little puddle on a road in Yorkshire and just have the rain falling on it and think it’s marvelous. … I see the world as very beautiful.
David Hockney on looking, from an NPR piece: Artist David Hockney Says the Drive to Create Pictures is ‘Deep Within Us.’
Image via Art News.
Tomorrow I arrive in Hammerfest to begin my residency in the Arctic. I will be studying Norwegian myths and stories, including legends from the Sami people. Traditionally a nomadic culture with an economy that centers around reindeer herding and harvesting, the Sami are the only indigenous people recognized and protected in Scandinavia. I’ll be staying in Lapland, where many Sami still make their living off the land.
However, like Native Americans living in America, the Sami aren’t some ancient tribe that exists in a time capsule. Many Sami lead thoroughly modern lives, while others combine elements of twenty-first century technology with ancient customs, beliefs, and practices. Admittedly, I’m still learning about their culture (and I hope to learn a lot more) but from everything I’ve read, Sami society, literature, and art seems utterly fascinating.
Today, I spent a few hours in Tromsø at the Center for Contemporary Art. There was an arresting exhibit of video art on view by Uzbek filmmaker Saodat Ismailova about the extermination of the Turkistan Tiger. While I was there, I also picked up a book on contemporary Sami art. This book featured works by Britta Marakatt-Laba, a Swedish artist who makes abstract yet precise images of her northern landscape. I love embroidery art (I love any “feminine” coded genre that transcends the purely decorative) and Britta’s pieces are so cool. Gestural. Tonal. She says a lot with thread and cloth.
Over the next month, I hope to feature more Scandinavian and Sami artists on my blog. It’s one of my many goals for this writer’s residency. Since I won’t be sharing my fiction (yet), I’m going to use my site as a place to highlight works by artists that are entirely new to me, like Britta.
Today I am revisiting a book I haven’t read since college (though in college we called it a “text”), Edmund Burke’s On The Sublime and Beautiful. Despite it’s rather strange specificity (he devotes paragraphs to explaining why some colors evoke feelings of the sublime, while others do not, or why looking down from a great height feels more moving than gazing up at something equally tall) it feels appropriate for my current geographical situation.
A few hours ago, I crossed over the imaginary, human-delineated line into the arctic circle. I flew into Bodø and boarded an old 60’s cruise ship, which goes port-to-port all the way to Hammerfest. The weather is poor—rain, sleet, and some muculent snowflakes—and the waves are rough (I have fed myself enough dramamine to dizzy a whale) and the company is blue-haired and heavily accented, but I’m enjoying myself immensely despite all that. I’m reading a lot and staring at the ocean for extended stretches of time. I’ve thought about a lot of very stupid things but I’m trying my best to keep focused on more useful ideas or (gah, excuse the cliche) living in the moment. Sometimes, that second thing comes naturally, even for me, because certain emotions occupy the brain like hostile soldiers, leaving no room for dissent (or intrusive thoughts or niggling worries). Fear, even fear of vomiting from motion sickness, will do that. But so does astonishment, and I’ve felt a good deal of that in the past four hours. Burke explains the effects of astonishment like this:
The Passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.
Mountains, whether I’m looking up at them or down from them, never fail to astonish me. Animals, too, can be astonishing. Later in his very thorough book, Burke grapples with four-legged things and the sounds they make:
Such sounds as imitate the natural inarticulate voices of men, or any animals in pain or danger, are capable of conveying great ideas; unless it be the well-known voice of some creature, on which we are used to look with contempt. The angry tones of wild beasts are equally capable of causing a great and awful sensation… It might seem that these modulations of sound carry some connexion with the nature of the things they represent, and are not merely arbitrary; because the natural cries of all animals, even of those animals with whom we have not been acquainted, never fail to make themselves sufficiently understood; this cannot be said of language. The modifications of sound, which may be productive of the sublime, are almost infinite. Those I have mentioned are only a few instances to show on what principles they are all built.
There haven’t been any polar bears in this part of Norway for a long time, but I still dream of seeing one. From a far distance, while I’m wearing an armored suit and holding a flare gun, just in case. Just look at these sexy beasts:
Anyway, I have to go now. They’re serving warm fish soup (“varm fiske suppe”) on the outdoor deck and I’m going to try to sneak a second portion.
Images by Jill Greenberg, an amazing photographer who somehow makes every piece look like a silky, rich painting. See more of her series “Ursine” here. Read the full text of A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful for free on Bartleby.com.
On the plane ride from Boston to Zurich I met a girl named Desiree who was flying home to Bern. She had been visiting her boyfriend (a Mexican-American serving in the US Air Force). She missed him already, and I told her I missed my guy, too, even though we had only been apart for a few hours.
When we got off the plane, she helped me find the shuttle train, those quiet and sleek trains that seem to have been installed in every major airport. I was asking her about Switzerland—do you like living in Bern? what is the best thing to eat while I’m here? what’s cool about Zurich?—and when we got on the train, she pointed up with one finger. Her eyes were the kind of pristine china blue that inspires men to write longwinded rock ballads. “Listen,” she told me. “They play cows and the sound of birds and that big instrument that you blow? That big one that is shaped like a…” here she used her hands to draw a large swoop in the air. “That’s Switzerland,” she said as the sound of mooing started playing over the intercom. She laughed.
Earlier in our conversation, I asked her what she liked about America. She said a lot of things, but my favorite was this: She said it was just like the movies. She wanted to go to a house party, having seen so many on screen. “Those red plastic cups!” she exclaimed. “Solo cups,” I provided. “I love them, too.” I asked if she got to play beer pong, and she said yes, and even though this sounds silly—your country has cows, mine has house parties and drunk college students—it made me feel infinitely better about America. We’re the country of flip cup and Hollywood and boyfriends in the Air Force and lots and lots of land.
I’m in a Holiday Inn in Zurich now. It’s a 24-hour layover before I fly to Oslo. I can’t sleep, because my body hasn’t figured out which knob to pull to reset and rewind its inner watch. I spend the day wandering around the city. I spent hours in an art museum (more on that another time) before walking aimlessly around the streets until my feet hurt from the cobblestones and my mind felt foggy. It’s a Sunday, so all the shops are closed, but it was 50-something degrees out and it seemed like the entire population had come out to celebrate. I walked across bridges, back and forth crossing one side to the next, like I was lacing up a shoe. On each bridge, I stopped to look south, out to Lake Zurich, out to the Alps. I’m always looking toward mountains.
Tomorrow I fly to Oslo. From there, I go further north. It’s as though I harbor a compass inside my ribcage, an iron needle that hums and worries when it’s being ignored. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always fantasized about the far north, the arctic, the cold, the clear truth of ice.
I’ll be there soon. Zurich was lovely, and I miss America already, but I’m excited for Finnmark. I hope to write more on this blog while I’m there, so whoever is reading this… I’ll see you again soon.
Images by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, who may just be my new favorite artist. He believed in something called “parallelism,” a system of symmetry and rhythm that connected people to the landscape and created world harmony. (I think? I’m not sure I fully understand.) His work reminds me of the Viennese Secessionists (my fave) and I spent a very long time in a room with his paintings today, just staring. Today was a good day.