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. Recently at work an old man with many friends 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.

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.”

Labels: Notes, Personal

Grasshopper Kings

"Inside every group, he decides, there are more groups. Circles within circles, and inside of those, more circles still, all of them infinitely divisible. You could spend your whole life wondering which ones you’re in and which ones you’re not and which ones really want you and which ones are holes that have no bottom."

“Grasshopper Kings” from Hall of Small Mammals, p. 79
By Thomas Pierce
Published 2014 by Riverhead Books
Labels: Quotes, Short Story, ,