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Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

As all the people who have been part of my life know, I get migraines. I have chosen not to write much about them on the blog, because it’s just boring as hell to talk about, but I’ve decided to do this one post now and then shut up about it unless there is a big change. If the subject disgusts or bores you, skip this post. [read on]

The power of old books

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Part of my exit from Houston involved getting rid of most of my books. The post office lost the large part of the ones I meant to keep. So I’m just home from the Friends of the Library used book sale, where for a total of $37 I got such wonders as a complete hardcover Shakespeare, an edition of Sophocles, a selection of Chekhov’s plays (in a cherry-colored hard binding published in 1935 with beautiful woodcuts by Howard Simon), Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead, a wonderfully-designed old Max Beerbohm, Marguerite Yourcenar’s memoir, some essays, some letters, some biographies, some writers I’ve never even heard of before, and some old friends (how did I ever part with them? in which of my upheavals did I lose them?). Instantly I’m where I was when I first read them–in junior high in Hawai’i, certain I was the reincarnation of Emily Bronte; in high school with a pimpled face and immortal longings in me; as an actress in New York searching for audition monologs; as a single young mother in a rocking chair by a Louisiana bayou, my baby boy in one arm and a book in the other; as a graduate student in Texas, dreaming of a regular teaching job with health insurance and tenure. Old books are like old lovers: dear to the eyes and heart, reminders of such good times.   [read on]

Activity to the south

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Something remarkable is going on in South America. This began as a travel blog, and while it has turned into Kendall’s Random Thoughts on Just About Everything, international politics is a field I generally avoid, because there are other people more fit to talk about that than I am. But the whole “Dirty War” happened in Argentina in the 70s, and I didn’t know a thing about it till a few years ago. I feel ashamed of the privilege and ignorance that allowed me to be a happy hippie girl in those years, to think of myself as a “leftist” because I participated in a few marches and a “revolutionary” because I licked some envelopes and sent out some fliers advocating peace and love–while I remained clueless about the systematic torture and elimination of thousands of people of my own generation that was going on in Argentina. My political activity in those years was wearing a T-shirt with a peace symbol on it. Now, perhaps because of blogs and the internet, I think many of us are aware of atrocities going on in Guantanamo, Iraq, Darfur, and Tibet (and in isolated towns in Texas), and I think each of us wonders rather lamely what we can do, which is a tiny bit better than having no awareness at all. But something very different, much more hopeful, is going on in South America. [read on]

Portland Reads

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Here’s a shocker, taken directly from Your Library, a publication of the Portland (Multnomah County) Library: “The only library in the U.S. with higher annual circulation than your library, Queens Library in New York, serves a population more than three times the size of Multnomah County….” But I shouldn’t be surprised. One of the joys of living here is that everywhere I go, I see people reading (and not just on their laptops). In coffee shops. On the trolley or bus. Standing in line at the grocery store or the bank. Sitting in the park. And of course at the library and at Powell’s. I finished Julia Cameron’s memoir, a disappointment. Too much name-dropping. Too many cliches. The best thing she does is describe her manic episodes leading to psychotic breaks (which she calls breakthroughs). Apart from that, the general flabbiness of the language suggests to me that she relies too heavily on her Morning Pages (stream of consciousness writing) and too little on careful and caring word-craft. I feel mean (or as Bob says, cranky) saying this, but it appears to me that she suffers from a compulsion to be productive, something from which I hope I’m in recovery right now. She frightens me. I don’t want to write like she does, not for any amount of money. Reading her memoir is a good reminder to me to slow down, write less, and take more care with what I write. Jose Saramago and Proust are the antidote to her flaccid prose, and Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar just arrived today (thanks for the recommendation, Nacho).

More reasons to sing

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

This has been a day of reading (Julia Cameron’s memoir, a new Saramago novel, some Naomi Nye poems, and of course, Proust). As I cook my simple meals, I’ve been listening to Mavis Staples. And late this afternoon I went for a stroll in Forest Park, up to the stone house (the graffiti has been scrubbed off and the stones stand gray and clean, glistening, wet). The whole park is wet, fecund, succulent with the frenetic self-replicating rhythms of spring: the walls of the forest drip, little waterfalls run down rivulets in the moss, drops trickle off unfurling fiddlehead ferns, and the creek beside the trail splashes over rocks, whirls in deep eddies, and hurls itself over cliff-edges. Trillium is abloom everywhere: hundreds of thousands of blossoms flutter among the mosses and the ferns, white blossoms trembling in the afternoon chill. There are runners puffing up hill, lovers nuzzling under bright green new-leaf canopies; a young man is training his Rottweiler pup (“Ouch! No, Max, don’t bite my ankles, Max! Good Max!”); and a thirty-something man walks patiently beside (I suppose) his father who’s recovering from a stroke. The elder man holds a cane in his right hand, his left hand loose at his side and his left leg dragging just slightly, half of his face smiling wildly: walking again, that miracle.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The Stars Have Not Dealt

by A.E. Housman

The stars have not dealt me the worst they could do:

My pleasures are plenty, my troubles are two.

But oh, my two troubles they reave me of rest,

The brains in my head and the heart in my breast.

O grant me the ease that is granted so free,

The birthright of multitudes, give it to me,

That relish their victuals and rest on their bed

With flint in the bosom and guts in the head. 

That comes from W.H. Auden’s Oxford Book of Light Verse, about which more in a moment. Since my last post I have taken more time alone, more time to be silent, time to walk, time to play fetch with my doggish little Abyssinian cat, and best of all, time to read. The result is a definite lightness of being, an easing up, a falling-away of tension and striving. Is that all it takes?  [read on]

Anyone for less stimulation?

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

I live in a culture of more.  More music, more cars (or in Portland, bicycles), more food of more kinds, more exercise, more sex, more multi-tasking, more electronics, more travels, more therapy, more personal growth, more “friends” (oh, those social networking sites!), more recycling, more news, more movies, more social action, more websites, more art, more appointments (crowded palm-pilot or Blackberry), more service to more people, more photographs, more phone calls…. But just this morning, as I was exchanging emails with Susan (more emails), it occurred to me that I may be hard-wired for less. Or to put it another way, maybe I need more solitude, more silence, more daydreaming, more walking alone in the forest, more reflecting, more gazing into the clouds. Reading. Writing. Maybe my attraction to Buddhism is really an attraction to sitting still, doing nothing, and not being perceived as lazy or inadequate for it. (Not that I am much bothered by other people’s perceptions. The problem is that I absorb those perceptions and judge–and limit–myself.) In fact, my need for more quiet may actually have something to do with these damn migraines I have been suffering from increasingly since I was in my twenties. Is it permissible to seek less stimulation in life? What a concept. [read on]

Resistance, Motherhood, and Social Networking Profiles

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Recently I’ve been going through another wave of wondering who my father was. My mother claimed his name was Jake Linn and that he was of Russian Jewish ancestry and came from Virginia. She said she met him when she was at Duke University in 1944. Nobody in her family ever saw him and she had no photograph, so he’s always been a phantom in my life. In fact I don’t much resemble the rest of mother’s family physically, so I’ve always wondered where my tall, angular build and my large-faced blondish looks–which I passed on to my sons–came from. When a man named Jake Linn who came from Florida was contacted by a lawyer representing my mother in the 1950s, he denied ever knowing my mother. He could have been lying. It could have been a different man by the same name. But then my mother had, shall we say, idiosyncratic ways of experiencing reality. Her story about my father changed from time to time. I would passionately love to know who he was, to see a picture of him, and to know a little about his medical history. As part of my recent quest for answers, I googled the name Linn and came up with a Jewish scholar named Ruth Linn whose main body of research is “mature unwed mothers” and their choice to bear children, which she sees as a form of “resistance.” Naturally this interested me, as I flatter myself that I have always been about “resistance,” and I chose three times to have children as a mature single woman–once by birth and twice by adoption. So I got Ruth Linn’s book via Interlibrary Loan, and it is absorbing both in the abstract and in my own particular. Eventually I’ll connect the dots to the profile I just created on Myspace. Read on only if you’re interested in this. Otherwise wait till another day and I’m sure I’ll have another topic. [read on]

Yuppie-land Farmer’s Market, Reflections on Living Single

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

It’s a halcyon day in Portland: sunny, blue-skied, a patter of flower petals falling off the trees with each breeze. Portland people with their dogs and kids are out in force. One weather report promises it will go up to 80 degrees F today, and I’m just back from my first trip to the Portland Farmer’s Market (a farmer’s market with its own website–that should have given me a clue). A few photos are here. At this market, one can purchase goat cheese for $15 a pound, a bouquet of flowers for $20, a mound of fresh multi-grain bread for $10, a pound of locally-grown nuts for $16, a dollop of vegan pesto for $9, and mixed lettuces for $8 a pound. [read on]

Coriolanus and moving on

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

I have considerable personal history with Coriolanus. I first read the play as an undergrad English major, while I was in love with the man who later supplied half of Seth’s DNA; some years later I studied it in grad school and came to love its complexity; still later, I taught it to students who found it boring till I persuaded them it was about war vs. peace, democracy vs. oligarchy, and pride vs. compassion. So watching the play in Ashland, I was actually watching three plays: the one I read in 1969 when I was a long-haired romantic college girl in love with an arrogant professor twice my age; the play Shakespeare wrote, based on Roman sources, soon after he finished writing Antony and Cleopatra, around 1609; and the play a specific director created for an audience in Ashland, Oregon in 2008–the title role so brilliantly acted that I have to count it among the top five live performances I have ever seen in my life. [read on]