Summer goals.

Heres_to_best_friendsHere are my goals for this summer:

Spend more time with my best friend. Spend an afternoon lying in the sun and eating pizza and talking until we have nothing left to say, like we used to do as teenagers. (I’ll allow myself one cigarette, but only one, since smoking is much less pleasurable after watching Garrett march through cancer.)

Swim as often as possible. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because I am worried about how much I ate and how my stomach looks in a bikini. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because it’s raining or because I’m lazy or because I don’t have a swim suit. Just swim anyway.

Finish my book. Be happy with it. Remember that this book has been years in the making. Be proud of what I’ve done.

Sleep late.

Eat pie. Particularly pies made of berries and cherries.

Go camping. See more of Maine. Climb mountains. Ride a bike through the woods and be afraid, but do it anyway. Nap in a canoe. Pee behind trees because there are no bathrooms way out here. Eat s’mores. Make dandelion wine. Read magazines on the beach. Smell tree bark. Get drunk and swim in the ocean. Be too cold. Be too hot. Build a fort. Watch the stars.

Image: Illustration by Adams Carvalho, who makes being young look so fucking fun. 

 

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Why I read, why I write: Erica Jong edition.

Aleksandra Waliszewska

Beware of books. They are more than innocent assemblages of paper and ink and string and glue. If they are any good, they have the spirit of the author within. Authors are rogues and ruffians and easy lays. They are gluttons for sweets and savories. They devour life and always want more. They have sap, spirit, sex. Books are panderers. The Jews are not wrong to worship books. A real book has pheromones and sprouts grass through its cover.  – Erica Jong

A very close friend recently told me that she finds my writing to be extremely tactile and sensory. That made my day. I have been told that my writing can be very physical before, that it oozes a little. Once, a copyeditor pointed out that my description of white water rafting sounded a bit too much like a description of rough sex. While I was mildly embarrassed (and pretty amused), I have to admit I was also a little proud. It wasn’t the effect I was going for (I was aiming for adrenaline and I guess I overshot!) but I think the slightly-sexual-ness comes from an interesting place. When I read for pleasure, I am drawn to writers who make everything feel sexy and alive and real. I admire prose that makes my stomach churn and my spine tingle.

Here’s something I’ve come to realize about myself: I want to viscerally connect with everything. People, places, animals, buildings. You name it, and I probably want to touch/taste/feel/smell it. I want this impulse to translate into something more than just a desire for experience, and sometimes I think it does (other times I think I’m just a glutton for novelty). I think, with a little more rigor, I can shape that into something worth reading. I want to pull out my guts and assemble them on paper, blood staining white to red, hands messy with the effort. And to be totally honest, I’m just practicing right now, on this blog. This is where I play around with words. It’s where I hone my skills and sharpen my knives. (So thank you for reading, because every page view makes my effort feel WORTH IT in a very real way.)

Today, I feel inspired by the work of Erica Jong, who makes me want to be a better writer and person. I’m inspired by my friend, Sophie, who gave me that lovely compliment mentioned above. (If I write from the gut, Sophie writes from the heart, and her heart is a compassionate, fierce, and beautiful place.) Finally, I’m inspired by Aleksandra Waliszewska. She makes art that is outlandish, pagan, brutal, and just a little bit pretty. For me, she strikes all the right notes in perfect order. Check out her stuff, and see if you agree.

Your wild is tame compared to these reindeer-riders.

05-mongolian-reindeerOne of my many 2016 goals is to get in touch with my wild side. I don’t mean my party-girl-stay-up-all-night self (no, I know that bitch well enough already, thanks) but my moss-sniffing, leaf-eating, earth-worshipping wild side. The side of me that revels in storms and licks the rainwater off my face. The side that dreams of bears and sleeps under the stars.

This part of myself is also loud and a little unruly. She feels everything and she reacts quickly. She knows her place in the world and loves it (she’s joyful, that wild girl). She’s dirty and willful and perhaps even sometimes a little obnoxious. But she doesn’t give a fuck. Because that’s what being wild is… to me, right now.

But as I write this, I am reminded of the actual wild folk on this planet, the people who live off the land for twelve months of the year. Compared to many people in this big world, I’m the tamest little shrew that ever lived, typing away on my laptop, safe in my bed, miles from any the real wilderness. In many ways, I have an easy life, a cushy one that allows me to grow fat on my butt and fingernails too long for manual labor.reindeerriders1

I know “easy” is relative. I know one way of living is not superior to another. I know I am romanticizing the nomadic, of-the-land lifestyle that many people lead by necessity. But I do think there’s something I can learn from listening to my wilder side. I think there’s a lot the earth can teach me; so many things the world has yet to reveal.

Today, I am gazing at pictures by Hamid Sardar-Afkhami, a Harvard-educated photojournalist and scholar with a Phd in Mongolian and Tibetan languages. He spent over a decade living in Tibet and the Himalayas, documenting the lives of nomadic tribes and herders. He captured women riding reindeer and men communing with bears. He documented a girl and her fawn and a boy gazing proudly at his trained eagle. He lived amongst these people, learned their habits, and depicts their wild lives with compassion, honesty, and just a little romance.

Mongolia_Reindeer_PhotographyThere’s nothing wild about looking at pictures on your computer screen, but it is very inspiring. Check out more of his work at MessyNessy or on his official website. 

Lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, and under-appreciated words: Part 1, M.

Greenland Drawing by Zaria FormanI don’t often start at the beginning, primarily because I rarely know where to find the beginning. As a writer, this is probably a bad habit, but I don’t care too much. Usually, it works out for the best—I find that starting at the beginning is the swiftest route to reader-boredom. I admit sometimes have trouble finding the end or figuring out how to wrap up an article, though I never have much trouble finding the punchline. I should probably just not write serious things and focus on telling jokes, but I am getting ahead of (behind? I’m not sure?) myself.

Anyway, the point is this: I am starting a new series of my blog of words that are lost, dead, underused, untranslatable, or under-appreciated. Basically, it’s going to be a bunch of cool words that I like and think others might enjoy.

I’m starting near the middle, because that’s what feels right (and because alphabetical order is great for glossaries, but not all that crucial for rambling bloggers). So today, I found three words that begin with M. Here ya go:

Montivagant (Noun, English)
This English word was used most often during the 17th Century and although it is considered a “dead” word, it’s not entirely forgotten. It describes a person who wanders over mountains and hills, a particularly ambitious vagabond. It’s someone who gains and loses altitude as they put one foot in front of the other, up and down, up and down. It’s a rambling man, a roadie without a band. In short, it’s how I want to live my life.

Mångata (Noun, Swedish)
This is a Swedish word that has no exact equivalent in English. It describes the “road-like reflection of the moon on water.” It’s that stairway to heaven that happens when you’re lakeside on a summer night and the moon rises big and slow and lazy.

Merrythought (Noun, English)
This word for the wishbone of a bird is extremely dated and sounds it (“Would you like to pull my merrythought?” asked no one ever). The first known appearance of “Merrythought” was in 1607. I’m squirreling this information away for use at Thanksgiving. When the dinner table talk inevitably and uncomfortably turns to politics, I plan to bust this one out to distract the quibblers.

Image: “Greenland” by Brooklyn-based artist Zaria Forman from her series “Chasing the Light,” which focuses on the interplay between light and water. I’ve blogged about her before, and I’m a huge fan of her work. See more here. 

Jenny Slate is a wise little chicken.

jenny slate is my hero
I
 fell in love with Jenny Slate in the brilliant indie movie Obvious Child. After the credits rolled and I finished drying my leaky eyes, I went back and rewatched all the Marcel the Shell videos before falling down the YouTube rabbit hole of Slate appearances. Obsessed is far too strong a term, but I do really admire this lady. Especially since all her interviews make her sound warm, funny, kind, thoughtful, and fascinating. Check out this little nugget of wisdom from a recent article in Rookie mag:

The goal should be that when you’re on your death bed, lying next to your body [there] is another beautiful body that isn’t physical, only you see it, and that body is your body of work. That to me is very comforting and exciting to imagine sometimes–who’s lying next to me when I’m dying? There’s me, my husband, and who’s on the other side of me as my body of work? What does she look like? Is it even me, is it even a woman, or is it an animal? A lot of times it’s an animal. [Laughs]

Your body of work doesn’t need to be seen by others, necessarily. It just needs to be yours, and to be beautiful to you, and to be something you love. I can’t help but imagine my body of work as a large, skinny-legged dog with gray hair and a wild streak. But who knows? Maybe my body of work will change, and someday I’ll find myself in bed with a kind old Garrett and an invisible giraffe with black hooves and brown eyes.

But Jenny knows she’s not there yet (and obviously, neither am I). When asked, “What stage of your career are you currently at?” she replies:

Hmm…building? I would say that if I was a chicken, I would have hatched out of the egg, but still have a little bit of egg goop on me. I don’t look like a [grown] chicken yet, but I’m almost to a fluffy, yellow chick [and] a little bit dirty, still. In a few years I’ll be a fluffy chick, then a slightly larger fluffy chick hanging out with a lamb, but I don’t think I’ll be the chicken until I’m 60 years old. Then I’ll be, like, the chicken. Right now, I’m still hurting my little foot by stepping on a bit of shell.

I look at Jenny Slate and I think: What a successful, put-together person. She sees herself as a chicken stepping on shells (side note: girl has a way with similes). It’s all so relative. I have time to shape my skinny dog still.

How to be alive, according to Willa Cather’s grave.

georgia_okeeffe_paintingI’ve never understood why people visit the graves of famous people. I’m a very morbid person, yet this never struck me as something I wanted to do. However, I’d like to see Willa Cather’s grave, for as I recently learned, it holds a rather incredible message about happiness, life, and death. The line—”that is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great”—comes from her novel My Antonia. Here’s the full passage (found via Brain Pickings):

The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

Although I love the entire passage, I think my favorite part might just be: “Nothing happened.” I’m such a speedy person—impatient to my core. I frequently describe my motions in fiery terms. I burn through my work and blaze through books. I light up and burn out. I consume the world with big steps and fast motions. You know what doesn’t come naturally to me? Slowing down. Letting nothing happen. Being quiet and calm. Sleep.

I often wish I were different, that I could dissolve more easily into a moment. But perhaps that will come with time. If not, I’ll just try to keep Cather’s words in mind. At the very least, it’s a lovely way to think about death—a self disbanded, a body dispersed, a part of something entire.

Image by Georgia O’Keeffe, since the theme of the day is badass ladies of the American west, apparently. 

Pencils are trendy.

pencil shop cw pencilToday in hot trends: the humble pencil! Here’s my evidence:

1. The hilarious/absurdist Artisan Pencil Sharpening skills of David Rees, who offers his service by-mail from his home in the Hudson Vally. Because… why? Who cares. It’s funny. (Here’s David Rees chatting with The New Yorker.)

2. An exhibit called “The Secret Life of the Pencil” opens in London this week featuring photographs of the writing implements of famous artists, writers, and designers. Dying to know how Dave Eggers sharpens his pencil? I wasn’t either, but I clicked on this link and read the story anyway.

3. A pretty young hipster lady in New York City has opened a store called C.W. Pencil Enterprise which sells (you guessed it!) pencils. She has a tattoo of a pencil on her forearm. Her store has been described as intoxicating and charming. Then there’s this: “Her store is the size of a juice box, with a checkered floor and jars of yellow button chrysanthemums sprinkled around. With its spanking newness and luminous blocks of color, the place looks like an Edward Hopper canvas.” It sounds terribly twee and yet despite my cynical whining I still really, really want to visit!

Pencil, I’m so glad you’re finally getting your moment in the limelight (after being No. 2 so long to the pen). (Ugh sorry, I seriously couldn’t help myself.)