Note: Spring Studies

On the first day of spring I’m in New Orleans among the live oaks, some of them over a thousand years old. Research warns us that loneliness kills, which may explain the oaks’ secret to survival: they are never alone, the Spanish Moss and Resurrection Fern clinging to trunks and branches with the fierce loyalty of first love. I’ve read that two trees can supply the oxygen needs of one person for one year, a gift so disproportionately generous that I’m sure the trees have noticed, and have long ago closed their eyes and imagined us gone.

*

The white azaleas of Louisiana are soon replaced with the familiar wildflowers of California. I rehearse their names as they rise from the ground – Indian paintbrush, fiddleneck, buttercups, goldfields – and by the time they blossom their names roll off my tongue.

*

I drive away from the city before 5 a.m. and study the high rises alongside the highway, a scatter of lit windows that double as signs of life. The inhabitants beam out their lives absent of details, so I imagine the familiar shapes of routine and ritual. The everyday is an edifice so strong until "you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends," writes Joan Didion, whose husband died at the dinner table. I remember the increased anxiety surrounding air travel after September 11, and the common retort that there was no reason to worry as we were far more likely to die in a car accident anyway, as if consolation can be found in disasters of "the ordinary instant." (Didion first writes, "life changes in the instant," then adds, "the ordinary instant," then determines there is no need because there is no forgetting.)

*

I walk up Taylor Street and first notice the immaculate red brick, then the bronze owls, and finally the inscribed motto. "Weaving spiders come not here," a fairy sings in Midsummer Night’s Dream. The line was adopted as motto — and the owl as symbol — of the Bohemian Club, a private boy’s club that confirms what we already know about wealth, power, and privilege: it pools into a pinprick. Rumors of elite members and bizarre activities swirl, lending the club an allure largely indebted to mystery. But then in April the club’s dishwashers, cooks, servers, and front desk attendants went on strike because working for the rich paid less than minimum wage, and despite decades of employment, raises were measured in single cents. Suddenly the club looked terribly familiar and behold the mystery vanished.

*

Within steps of the club I pass an alley, look up, and the street sign reads Hobart. I whirl around to share my disbelief but of course no one is there. I arrive at the small bar where I’m meeting a friend and because I’m the first and only customer, a bartender bounds over to take my order, a miracle on most nights. I dutifully smile and rattle off an order and then I see the owl, a wooden brooch that sits atop the bartender’s necktie. I turn around as if I’m being watched but of course no one is there. Soon my drink arrives and then my friend, so I tuck away these signs I’ve collected — the owl, weaving spiders, Hobart Alley, the other owl — because the magic of serendipity fades under the withering gaze of others, and I plan to conjure up meaning for a bit longer.

Labels: Notes, Personal, ,

Florida

"It is terribly true, even if the truth does not comfort, that if you look at the moon for long enough night after night, as I have, you will see that the old cartoons are correct, that the moon is, in fact, laughing. But it is not laughing at us, we lonely humans, who are far too small and our lives far too fleeting for it to give us any notice at all."

*

"Ghosts and Empties" from Florida
By Lauren Groff
Published 2018 by Riverhead Books
Labels: Contemporary, Fiction, Quotes, Short Story, ,

Everything I Never Told You

"Above them, the sky rolled out a deep black, like a pool of ink, littered with stars. They were nothing like the stars in her science books, blurred and globby as drops of spit. They were razor sharp, each one precise as a period, punctuating the sky with light. Tipping her head back, she could not see the houses or the lake or the lamps on the street. All she could see was the sky, so huge and dark it could crush her. It was like being on another planet. No — like floating in space, alone. She searched for the constellations she had seen on Nath’s posters: Orion, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper. The diagrams seemed childish now, with their straight lines and primary colors and stick figure shapes. Here the stars dazzled her eyes like sequins. This is what infinity looks like, she thought."

*

Everything I Never Told You, p. 357
By Celeste Ng
Published 2014 by Penguin Press
Labels: Contemporary, Fiction, Quotes, ,

Note: Serendipity

One night during junior year of high school, my classmates Sam, Jessica, and I drive to Coronado, where we eat dinner, share ice cream, and walk the beach at night like the best of them. We weren’t particularly close, in fact we hung out only a few more times that year and never again. But memory tends to surprise us with its cherry-picked moments, of car rides and insults and faces and smells that stay fresh, that outlive the rest.

*

We walk through the Hotel del Coronado toward the beach, tracing the walls with our fingertips as if to mark a trail. We slow our steps to study the framed photos of Marilyn Monroe posing in front of the very same hotel; Some Like It Hot was filmed here, which I saw shortly after with the very same Jessica. Jessica was the first person I met who went out of her way to say ‘films’ rather than ‘movies,’ a self-conscious habit that had its intended impact as I was easily impressed.

*

We push open the exit doors and light from the hallway rushes ahead then retreats. By the time the doors click shut our shoes are off and we’re running through dark toward water. I remember shouting to be heard, so there must have been wind. Jessica was a senior, so hardly older though at the time I considered it to be much older, so when she suggests that each of us share our favorite word, Sam and I go along as if obeying an older sibling. At the water’s edge we come up with yes, summer, and serendipity.

*

"Serendipity" and "there must be a God" and "it’s a sign" slip out of my mouth interchangeably, a way to acknowledge those moments that feel perfectly planned and executed, like someone had me in mind. Even the most trivial instance of serendipity inspires a thrill because it suggests the possibility that things might not be so hopelessly random after all.

*

I’m away from the city for weeks and within a few hours of my return, I’m on a walk through Golden Gate Park. I pass de Young and see the doors propped open, so I slip in and discover it’s the one free day of the month, 15 minutes before closing. Only a few of us remain and we wander noiselessly, hushed by the grandeur of art with no spectators. For the first time — how did I miss it before? — I spend time with Pierre-Edouard Baranowski by Amedeo Modigliani, a portrait of a boy with blue-green eyes. It was painted in 1918, just like his Portrait of a Young Woman, which I had recently seen at the New Orleans Museum of Art. A century later and here I am meeting them for the first time. I think, it’s a sign. Then I remember yes, summer, and serendipity.

Labels: Notes, Personal