Note: Autumn Studies

A change in life however big or small really just comes down to a split second; saying the words, signing your name, hitting send. What-could-be becomes no-turning-back in an instant, and when such power is wielded, what results is a shocking reminder of how much say we actually have in our lives.

*

My address has changed, a seemingly annual occurrence, so now the city like a roommate or a mother is beginning to have an outsized presence in my life. I have a new route to work but the faces I see are familiar and interchangeable, like the tourists in Union Square and the smokers on Maiden Lane and the girls who balance cups of coffee in cardboard carriers like the personal couriers of their colleagues (it’s almost always a girl). In her very first essay published in 1961, Joan Didion writes, “We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait.” It’s almost always a girl.

*

Sometimes when you’re in a new place and you feel low the universe simply shrugs, and other times it has you turn down one street and then another until you enter an empty, dimly lit cafe that’s playing Nat King Cole, and faith in the universe is momentarily restored. A slight lady wearing a short winter scarf serves me coffee while adding, “We have a beautiful garden in the back, too.” Sometimes people know just the right thing to say, often they don’t. At work an old man with many friends recently passed away and I assigned myself the task of collecting remembrances. One woman responded that after mulling it over she had nothing to say: “He was such a pleasant person, and it seems, somehow, that the foibles of less-nice people are easier to recollect and recount.” Such is proof that preoccupation with a legacy is futile because legacies are dependent on the faulty memories of unreliable people.

*

With every person who enters this dim cafe, now playing Frank Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young,” I feel a quick flare of surprise because just for a little while this place was all mine, but nothing and no one is ever all ours. Far from being her only customer, the slight lady with the short winter scarf seems to know everyone on a first-name basis except me. They all know she is leaving for Japan next week. One of them delivers her a single pink rose, which quickly makes its way into a thin porcelain vase. Sometimes people know just the right thing to do, often they don’t. I once brought sunflowers to a dinner party and by the time I left, two of them were on the kitchen floor, petals plucked, discarded playthings of the hosts’s one-year-old.

*

Today is the first day of winter. Mornings are getting colder, so cold that after walking a couple miles and then stepping indoors, the heat that greets me inspires a smile that spreads across my face so widely I notice. Smiling is often intentional, perhaps more so for girls, something I do rather than something that happens to me. The natural tug feels nice.

*

This year offered enough surprises to harden even the best of us, so let’s make use of this new armor, of lessons learned, as we begin winter and soon a brand new year.

Best,
Yuri

Labels: Notes, Personal

Note: Lacuna

A lacuna is an unfilled space or interval; a gap or missing part; a hiatus; a missing portion in a book or manuscript.

*

The potential benefit of analyzing Bookswept’s lacuna would be to arrive at a conclusion that prevents it from happening again. Beyond that, such self-examination risks wasting even more time, when all there is simply left to do is do. I greet this space with just enough shame to inspire determination lest another four seasons pass with few words as evidence.

*

At the moment I work at a book club of sorts, its finest feature a library with over 10,000 books about books, books on California, and fine press books printed in California. They are cataloged and arranged in a way that evidently made sense to the only librarian the books have ever known, who died just six months before I began my employment. Two slim volumes have held my attention the longest: John Steinbeck’s How Edith McGillcuddy Met R.L.S (1943) and Joan Didion’s Telling Stories (1978). Describing the early years of her writing career when she wrote photo captions for Vogue (“the monthly grand illusion”), Didion writes, “I learned a kind of ease with words . . . a way of regarding words not as mirrors of my own inadequacy but as tools, toys, weapons to be deployed strategically on a page.”

*

I take the train into San Francisco and for the first time I experience the city as a purely practical destination, the streets as a means to get to an office. The city used to feel inaccessible, always suggesting that it was too busy to get to know me, but I think we’ve grown accustomed to each other.

The sidewalks are now full of familiar faces, like the valet in the top hat outside of the Marriott, the girl wearing a red bow tie who turns right on Harrison Street, and the impossibly friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses with tight grips on their pamphlets. I once caught a man on pamphlet duty lean over to whisper something into his comrade’s ear, who in response leaned his whole body back in laughter, louder than anyone should be laughing at 7 a.m. in the cold. I can only assume that those pamphlets indeed hold all that is good and holy, as promised.

Buildings replace trees and pieces of trash replace leaves, and on one morning the wind was so strong that trash swirled up into the air, and for half a second a few scraps circled right above my head like a crown.

*

I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, in which I’m reminded “nothing is ever what they say, and no one holy one hundred percent.”

Best,
Yuri

Labels: Notes, Personal

Note: Election Results

It has been one week since the United States made the irrevocable decision to bestow its most sacred title to the most profane and undeserving man. To envision the President-elect in the White House is nothing short of sacrilege, and I suspect that the betrayal will feel raw and fresh every day that he remains there.
 
If there is room for hope, I hope that democracy considers this an opportunity to prove its resilience; I hope that the country proves that it can bend and fold in unprecedented ways, only to straighten itself up, weathered but stronger and more refined; I hope that progress proves inevitable.
 
As events continue to painfully unfold, let us remain on the right side of history. Let us learn, collect and connect ideas, and act accordingly. With renewed enthusiasm, Bookswept will continue to share the wide range of perspectives that are born of literature. It may become harder than ever to extract truth from our leaders and institutions. The opposite can be said of our books. Let us put them to good use.
 

Labels: Notes, Personal,

Note: Summer

Summer leaps above the rest of the year, much like the holidays, a brief period of entirely unique rituals. Perhaps long summer days are to be appreciated, but I’ve never appreciated when things linger, be it days or guests or feelings.
 
I’ve traveled up and down California throughout the season, driving alongside sunflowers that bravely line the highways, the wild kind whose tiny heads branch out in all directions. In Lake Tahoe, tall pines swayed until they creaked, like a house near collapse, and in the southern Sierra Nevada, stars appeared and I counted four, nine, and then sixteen before they flooded the sky and the counting proved futile. The photo above was taken in Joshua Tree, where in that very same dress I ran at full speed among the giant boulders because at 6 a.m. there is not a soul in sight, and thus every reason to do just about anything that comes to mind.
 
Summer unveiled a few surprises so I’m in the midst of just as many changes, which I hope to (happily) reflect upon soon. I have a feeling that this fall will bear little resemblance to summer or spring or the previous fall, which is perfectly fine by me. When I was younger, adjusting to new situations proved difficult, but I now find change to be less daunting, more stimulating. I feel relieved that life refuses to be overly pleased with itself, that it is biased toward change.
 
I recently finished Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers (Random House, 2016), the dreamers being those who cling to the American Dream, the supposed direct and easy transaction between hard work and success. The author goes as far as to call America “a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers,” which seems to suggest that we don’t know when to stop. But these characters do, eventually. More on this Cameroonian writer’s million-dollar debut soon.
 
Best, Yuri

Labels: Notes, Personal,

Note: Farewell, April


Deep into spring and through with April, I look back to discover moments that quietly slipped by to be some of the easiest to make out. Like rainfall on the second to last night in Amsterdam en route to purchase tickets for the Rijksmuseum, or the bartender briskly correcting my pronunciation of “La Chouffe” at the historic Café Pieper. I see too many cups of pitch black coffee, far too many miles on my car, and picture frames on my bookshelf that now house Van Gogh’s Roses and Beetle and Cypresses and Two Women. I see an 8-year-old on a swing set who asks, “Have you ever made up an animal?” to which I answer, “Have you?” because the little experience I have with children informs me that it is easier to have them talk than listen. “Yeah! A lot! All the time!”
 
I see my last copy of the New York Times followed by my first issue of The New Yorker. For weeks, each day’s delivery of the Times remained in its plastic blue sleeve, arriving only to join its predecessors in a pile by the door. The pile grew, each delivery adding its own variation on dirt and rain, and I saw the gradual decay of what was important a day ago, a week ago, two weeks ago, and it was not only depressing but also confusing. What is important to know, remember or revisit? After canceling my subscription, I felt a pang of guilt when on my bank statement I noticed a $2.13 reimbursement for what remained of it, as print media may soon be gone and I think I will miss it. A subscription to The New Yorker is my way to make amends. Theatre openings, museum exhibits and restaurant reviews all reflect New York City, which is of little practical use yet rewarding to read, a reminder that on any given night there are countless variations on person and place, swirls of activity sending up dust clouds across the city, all cities, yours and mine. Then the flip side to consider, everything that takes place within the quiet and unseen. Taking it all in “makes you seem very small, and if you have difficult things in your life it is nice to think that they are what is called negligible, which means that they are so small you don’t have to take them into account when you are calculating something.” The character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is referring to the stars, though it rings true for the city as well.
 
I also see roses, roses of colors I’ve never seen growing all around. Amber Flush, Evelyn and Iceberg are some of the varieties I’ve seen if I did my homework right, though pinpointing the name of any given rose has never satisfied me nearly as simply admiring one. Despite their abundance, roses appear rare and precious, more on par with gold and platinum than their floral counterparts. I often encounter them in such rigid contexts, alongside baby’s breath and tied together with a bow, obliged to admire or sympathize or congratulate, depending on the occasion. But this spring, my first in Sonoma, I encounter them most often growing in the front yard. I can see roses through no less than four windows, often blurred by the breeze, buds alongside blooms and colors ranging from pastel to neon. Upon closer inspection, I see stems lined with thorns and spiders tucked deep beneath petals. Everything is alive and in spring it is felt. Let May pick up where April left off, roses abound.
 
Best, Yuri
 

Labels: Notes, Personal, ,