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Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Elliptical Orbit: On Mircea Cartarescu

February 26, 2014 | by

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In the summer of 2011, I spent every afternoon Google-mapping the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. I pulled the shades down, turned the air conditioner up, and typed the intersections that define Back of the Yards—named for its proximity to the Union Stockyards—into the search box. I was in the early stage of a nervous breakdown, obsessively attempting to revivify the past, the only place where, I believed, continuity existed. Fifty-First and Loomis was my embarkation point: the intersection where our family doctor’s office was located. An unfilled prescription, from 1965, that I’d found in my deceased mother’s jewelry box provided the office’s address. My mother and I had had a contentious relationship, but that summer I fantasized about opening her grave and throwing her skeletal arms around me—“I thought even the bones would do,” to quote Plath. I used the objects from the jewelry box (grocery lists, a Revlon “Moondrops” powder compact, old Sears charge cards, blue crystal rosaries, a Coty lipstick) to reconstruct her existence, and finding that prescription was like finding the key to a long-locked door.

Going to the doctor had been a kind of family outing—every three months, to get my grandmother’s diabetes checked—and I wasn’t sure if I had dreamed those odd excursions to that tiny office. My mother would go downstairs to get my grandmother dressed: clean hairnet; heavy girdle and thick support pantyhose; rhinestone brooch; nice dress instead of a stained shift; black orthopedic shoes instead of house slippers; and dentures, from the glass on the bathroom sink. Then she’d run upstairs to get my sister and me ready, dabbing Chantilly perfume on our wrists. Read More »

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Reading Through the Leaves

November 5, 2013 | by

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I was recently asked by a Canadian online magazine to visit with the books on my shelves, to find what I’ve hidden in them over the years—old boarding passes, postcards, grocery lists, a love letter never sent. Yes, I found all these things, but mostly I found tree leaves in my books. The editor wanted a picture, fifty or so words, but I kept writing because it bears explaining why I do this—how I take leaves back to my apartment to identify them, compare them to pictures in other books; and once I’ve named them, or sometimes because I’ve failed to, how I feel compelled to keep the specimens—from ash trees, lindens, London planes, honey locusts, and as-yet unknown (to me) trees all over Brooklyn. They are slipped between pages of novels, story and essay collections, a biography, books I have read and often reread, and when I open them later, forgetting myself and the last day I read that book and where, and under what tree, the leaves reenact the fall, not just one leaf but several, all different sorts, falling, or it’s the fragile end of a branch of a pinnate leaves that’s waiting for me, as here in this photo.

I do this in part because Brooklyn, and Brooklyn Heights in particular, where I’ve lived for over twenty years now, has always felt a refuge from a New York City urbanity that is unabashed and demanding, denuded of softness. The streets in Brooklyn Heights in spring, summer, and every year longer into fall are canopied by the copses of trees, reaching for and finally catching each other. These streets feel like invitations to secrets—the right to secrets—to full breaths and quiet even in this city. The other reason I do this, will always do this, owes to my grandfather, who was an arborist, or tree surgeon, in Vermont. Truth be told, he taught me nothing about trees. I was too young to ask, and in my teens, approaching my twenties, when I did think to inquire, he didn’t seem to care to talk about all the trees he’d pruned, saved, and declared beyond saving, especially during the height of the Dutch elm disease in Vermont, when he and his crew carved up hundreds of elms and carted them away for burning.

He wanted to talk about his life before he was married and settled with children and responsibility in Bennington. He’d been a salesman, an itinerant in the 1920s, and lived in rooming houses up and down the East Coast, from New York to Florida, with other young men similarly and mostly happily unmoored. He saw in my youth his own and described men he’d protected from bigger men, men he’d hit, drank with, women who’d been kind, whose faces now were simply the faces of angels, that out of reach. He died when I was nineteen before my sisters and I had all the right questions to ask, so now I can’t stop asking when I look up from my reading on a city bench or stoop: Is that a Chinese scholar tree? Is that one a Norway maple? I asked recently while reading Grace Paley’s collected stories, reading I first did in the nineties and still do fairly often now, for the immediacy and singularity of Paley’s voice, her frankness and energy (partly a gift of city living and loving), and her humor even when confronting human sorrows and disappointments. The book is full of dust from leaves, like the ones pictured here, that want to disintegrate. I won’t let them. I close the book and reseal them—keep the conversation going.

Amy Grace Loyd’s debut novel, The Affairs of Others, was published by Picador on August 27. Loyd is an executive editor at Byliner Inc. and was the fiction and literary editor at Playboy magazine. She worked in The New Yorker’s fiction department and was associate editor for the New York Review Books Classics series. She has been a MacDowell and Yaddo fellow and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

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Second Chances

February 13, 2013 | by

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My husband hung up the wind chimes today. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, as my husband is a competent man and gravity is working as it should. It is a big deal, though, because these are big wind chimes, eight feet tall, made of steel tubes that gong when the wind catcher catches. They aren’t beautiful to look at, nor beautiful to hear, unless you really dig church, but they are beautiful to me, and now that they’re up, after two weeks at our new house, I know we are home. Again. This is our third move in five years.

I inherited the wind chimes from my folks. My parents had the sort of love affair that required them to marry each other twice. This would be more romantic if there wasn’t a divorce in the middle of that, say, or if they weren’t in the process of a second divorce when my mother died. Where some couples have trial separations, my parents had trial marriages. The family agrees that if these two were still alive today, they would be going for yet another round.

On the second try, they moved to Washington state, to a house overlooking the Hood Canal, a tiny, perfect part of the Puget Sound. For the nine months they managed to keep their romance together this time, the house was alive with the magic of second chances. Where the first album I ever remember hearing is Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits loud on Pops’s eight-track, the Washington trial marriage, fifteen years later, was perfectly timed with the release of Simon’s Graceland. The house rang with Pops’s voice singing along to you “You Can Call Me Al,” a pointed reference to a past love of Mom’s. This Al had died years before, but death brings no end to competition in marriages such as this, and Pops took more pleasure from it than he should have. Mom loved Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and would insist the song was about me, one of the prettier riddles I inherited. Read More »

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In Search of Lost Time

October 15, 2012 | by

It is, all told, a strange summer. Down the street from my apartment, children play inside of plastic bags. Glaciers shed ice the size of Manhattan. Scientists find that sharks smell in stereo. Horoscopes are cited as primary sources at social gatherings. Restlessness flows. For three consecutive nights I dream exclusively of vacuuming a garden snake.

On a Sunday afternoon I detour from fondling impractical kitchenware at Pearl River Mart and go where I go when I need to stop time: to visit my grandfather at his loft on West Broadway. He is eighty-four, a sculptor, a Southerner, tall and round bellied, deaf in one ear from an adult case of mumps. His face bears an impressive mustache and bifocals as large and wide as safety goggles. Alzheimer’s is smoothing the lines of his memory, a stone turning in water.

He has lived in this apartment since 1970, and from what I can tell it has hardly changed; it could easily be a soundstage from an early Woody Allen film, with its leather seats shaped into dripstones by decades of party guests, its ceramics and abstract art, the copy of Joe Brainard’s I Remember that had taken up permanent residence in the bathroom long before it carried any personal symbolism. The front half of the loft is still a studio, with a meticulously labeled array of tools and materials, despite the fact that these days my grandfather is physically, psychically unable to work. For the last few years I’ve kept keys under a conditionality: just in case. In this case it only means that I let myself in.

“What are you up to today?” I ask my grandfather, to which he replies, “Just trying to have a brilliant idea.”

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A Father, A Daughter, A Novel

September 26, 2011 | by

Photograph by Christa Lohman.

A basic but serviceable simile for memory is the mirror: you look into it and it shows you as you once were. Most of us recognize that the analogy is simplistic at best, and the novelist reaching into his past for material knows it better than most.

I was a fifty-year-old writer trying to breathe life into the character of a seventeen-year-old boy. It was a daunting prospect, perhaps, but I was not to be put off by the presumptuousness or difficulty of the task; after all, inventing people is what I’m (occasionally) paid to do. I naturally intended to draw on my every memory of myself as a seventeen-year-old. Like me, my protagonist would be somewhat bookish but in no way a nerd; deeply introspective but not withdrawn; a peripheral figure on the margins of the in-crowd, longing to be admitted yet vaguely contemptuous of the object of his desire; chaotically libidinous but physically uncertain of himself; and above all a strenuously ethical being, ever seeking and ever falling short of the moral high ground. He would make a rather handsome character, I thought. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Bookplate Porn; Peanut Butter and Scotch

August 19, 2011 | by

I spent probably an hour paging through Martin Hopkinson’s Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates at the Strand last week, then went back and bought it. If there’s such a thing as bookplate porn, this gorgeous book is the ultimate. —Sadie Stein

I’ve been reading Robert Gottlieb’s Lives and Letters, a wonderful collection of essays on some of the century’s most illustrious figures. The portraits of the women, like Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, and Margot Fonteyn, particularly sparkle. But my favorite is the short piece on Diana Vreeland, who once said, “Peanut butter is the greatest invention since Christianity,” about her daily lunch: a whole-wheat PB-and-marmalade sandwich, with a glass of scotch. —Ali Pechman

Adam Zagajewski’s Unseen Hand came out in June, and I wish I hadn’t waited until now to read it. —Clare Fentress

Between the Acts, Virginia Woolf’s final novel, was edited by Leonard and published posthumously with his revisions. Cambridge’s new annotated edition not only restores the original draft, but also provides a rich halo of context. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

While a staff pick praising the work of the Review’s Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan feels a lot like Lemmy wearing a Motorhead shirt, Sullivan’s forthcoming collection of essays, Pulphead, is hands down the best thing I’ve read all year. Sullivan’s voice is straight out of bar stories, and his subjects—from Christian rockers at Creationfest to the Indiana origins of Axl Rose to proto–Tea Party protesters—line up for comic exploitation like so many fish in a barrel. But at the moment when lesser writers would pull the trigger and snigger, Sullivan steps back and asks you to understand the people he encounters on their own terms. Which is not to say the essays won’t have you laughing louder than public decency allows—because they will. But it’s their rare combination of bracing intelligence and empathy that stays with you. —Peter Conroy

My most anticipated summer film: Don’t Fear the Internet. Next step is getting cast in the sequel to the Facebook movie (a girl can dream). —Mackenzie Beer

After discovering that Netflix is streaming a handful of films by Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To, I went straight for The Heroic Trio, a kinetic superheroine flick starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung. Yes, it is that good. —Nicole Rudick

If you have a moment, try Mavis Gallant’s Granta essay on “Memory and Invention.” –S.S.

Passive-aggressive little notepad, you remind me of my fifth-grade teacher. Other than that, I have no theories as to what’s going on here. Disturbing and fun! —A.P.

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