Reading with Friends

My friend Lizz asked me to look in on her two cats and spend some time with them while she was away at a family reunion and I quickly agreed to do it.  The cats, Oliver and Mackenzie, are really quite charming, and I though it might cheer me up a little after losing Nadja.  Also, Lizz has this great little reading nook in her apartment and I was looking forward to getting caught up on some important reading.  Allen is finalizing the draft for his second manuscript to be sent to his editor next week and I was anxious to read it over once in it’s entirety before then.  Nadja’s death hit Allen pretty hard too, so much so that he wrote her into the new book.  At one point during my time at Lizz’ place, I skipped ahead in the manuscript to the page where this passage begins.  I read over it several times as the cats stirred in another room.

The passage is below.  It starts off mentioning Ruah, a malamute Allen and his ex-wife had who died years ago.

– There was no ceremony.  Debbie had gone into the house. She couldn’t bear to see.  I fit Ruah into the grave looking north and placed my straw hat over his eyes.  It was hot.  The dirt was clotted.  I broke the clots into a finer ground with a hoe.  I carefully shoveled dirt around his face.  The effect was as if Ruah were diving headfirst into another world as his head and then his body was submerged.  I stacked rocks from the creek on top.  Unexpectedly, I was constructing a habitat for black widow spiders that hid in the dark creases between the large rocks. This was different than when I buried my grandmother.  I was in the room when she died, standing in the back behind my mother’s brother.  I saw the heart monitor go flat.  I remember no sounds, no emotions.  I drove home.  That night I decided I would dig the grave.  I persuaded my mother.  I dug the grave.  I buried her. My dog Ruah’s death was more painful than my grandmother’s departure.

The pain around Ruah’s death seemed proportional. He was the same size as a man.  On his hind legs, he stood over six feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds.  But now years later in Buffalo, a seven pound cat named Nadja has died. She was sixteen. We lived together for a brief time. She was so delicate and lovely. In my lap she was hardly there, a heavier part of the blanket spread across my thighs. But her death was large enough to swallow me whole. It didn’t feel like my thigh bone was cut out when she died. It felt like my lungs were beating against my rib cage trying to fly away after her. This is a familiar feeling for me. I want to reach across that space that divides us and hold her one more time not unlike the dead wanting to reach across that same space and touch me. I’m not disturbed by this. It isn’t even about clinging to memories. What Marc Auge so gently described as oblivion, the other side of remembering, with his lovely metaphor of the seashore, must’ve grown into a storm at some point in my life. I remember very little. Instead I feel like I’m easing myself into those waters. Borges tells a story about a man who remembers everything. Each detail pricks him. Memory is torture for him. There’s no room for anything else. I remember a world more like the floral wallpaper in my grandmother’s house. It’s fading and I can see another layer behind it. I remember the swirl in the wood grain of my ax handle and Nadja fetching her blue ball. These memories don’t feel like briars in my hand. In the summer, I would dive through the warm surface water to the muddy bottom of the Big Lake and lay in the cold until I had to come up for air. This is what remembering feels like.

Grant Street Adventure: Chuchifrito Hut

We live on Grant and Lafayette above Sweet_ness 7 Cafe on Buffalo’s West side.  We moved here from the Elmwood Village almost two years ago and even though it’s only a 15 minute walk between the two vastly different Neighborhoods, we still feel like we’re braving a new frontier.  Unlike the Elmwood Village, Sweetness 7 Cafewhich is for the most part thriving as we speak, the West Side is just getting its legs back after years of spiraling decline.  One surprising source for the slow but undeniable revitalization is a burgeoning immigrant population which has contributed to new business growth in countless ways.  Once known as a thriving Italian neighborhood, the West Side has become enriched by the arrival of newcomers from Puerto Rico, Somalia, Sudan, Burma, and many other places in the world.

Recently we enjoyed a very different kind of lunch for us from the Cuchifrito Hut, a Puerto Rican food stand right across from our apartment.  Smoked pork with fried plantains and rice with pigeon peas.  We had enough meat left over to fashion pulled pork sandwiches for dinner later on.  We sautéed some onions, added the pork all chopped up,  BBQ sauce, served it on buns dressed with coleslaw from Wegmans deli and pickles.  We served Island Beans on the side, also from Wegmans deli.  A perfect solution for two meals on a day that was too hot to cook – inside that is.  Take a look at that pig!!

Omaha Sprouts

I sent my niece, Aydan in Omaha this not so typical postcard from Uncommon Goods.  It’s a postgarden. – “You just pop open your card, water the base, and sprinkle its packet over the diorama. In just a few days, you’ll have unruly sprouts of “Lepidium sativum” (that’s watercress) furling through the paper arches of your mini botanical garden.”

Below are some pictures of the postgarden from and some that Aydan sent me to show me how her postgarden is is coming along.  Her mother sent the last image when Aydan was away.  It’s growing very fast.

DC Bomb Scare

We were asked to evacuate a DC Starbucks this morning because a suspicious box was left on the sidewalk across the street. The sleepy morning streets suddenly filled with evacuees from businesses all around. Police roped off one city block and the bomb squad showed up. When the excitement died down I was able to grab this shot of an officer removing the tape. I can’t help thinking this might be my first glimpse at a new urban tourist experience.

You can’t catch a boat to boat Bolivia

Sometimes in life, when you think you finally have your White Whale well within reach, you find that it has sent along a bloated Guppy in its stead. This happened to me about 6 years ago when Gladsome, Humor and Blue arrived at my door step via e-bay. It did not contain the long lost tracks from a mix tape of some 12 years past. Indeed, I held said mix tape in my clutches 12 years ago but somehow it became lost and has been missing for over 10 years. Finally, however, my childish heart beats true once more, for the White Whale has been captured and sweetly placed into my hands. It comes in the shape of a 5 inch square, plastic Boat to Bolivia. Smile, smile, smile. But if you know the title track, you know you can’t catch a boat to Bolivia.

And you can never truly capture your White Whale, unless you’re willing to be eaten alive. Something to keep in mind most times.

Dying is pointless. You have to know how to disappear.

“Dying is pointless. You have to know how to disappear.” – Jean Baudrillard

Above in order of disappearance:
Jean Baudrillard 1929 – 2007, died March 6.
R. Hugh Dickinson 1918 – 2007, died March 17.
Kurt Vonnegut 1922 – 2007, died April 11.

The first man is Jean Baudrillard, the third, Kurt Vonnegut. If you know me, there is a good chance you know, or can guess who the man in the middle is. There is often much sorrow around death, and in this case, for me, there is some regret. I’d planned a trip that I didn’t take in time. But R. Hugh Dickinson lead a wonderful, full life. I am glad I was able to celebrate it with family in Seattle recently. I am proud to be his granddaughter.

Me with some of my Family in Seattle for Grandpa’s funeral.

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan

There’s been a lot in the news about Baudrillard and Vonnegut, whose deaths occurred around the same time as my grandfather’s. The writing of the two more famous men has influenced me in some ways in my life, so news of their passing touched my awareness more than news of this kind normally does. The grim topic of death and dying has been on my mind a lot lately.

Forever a skeptic, I will of course refuse to acknowledge synchronicity in the timing of these events. I will insist that it is all random yet I will search for meaning in random things – like a friend lending me the DVD, A Good Year. I found myself relating to the main character who’s life is changed when his beloved but estranged uncle passes away and he revisits the chateau and vineyard in Provence where he spent much of his childhood. My friend suggested the flick for several reasons, including my grandfather. So much for random. 🙂

From A Good Year

My mind is filled with things my grandfather used to say. My eyes are a little wider and my heart more open. Every little thing makes me think of him. Grandpa Hugh may be gone, but he will never truly disappear.

The Lost Month

In my life June has always been the month I identify with the most because it is my birth month. I was born on the 22nd, the second day of Summer, my favorite season. Throughout June, I often feel as though in some ways I am existing a little closer to myself than during other months. When I hear the word June spoken, I get a feeling of familiarity almost like hearing my own name. Now June is almost over, but summer is here, and I am about to begin a new chapter in my life. It is like a metamorphosis. I will move from the care free life of a “starving artist” to the stable 9-5 world of having a “real job”. If I were Gregor Samsa, I might be a bug at the start of the story and human by the end. But which is worse?

(Full version of this text can be viewed by family on my x blog.)

In other June news…

Nardin Academy across the street from my apartment just chopped down 3 towering pine trees in their yard making the back of the small private high school visible from the street for the first time in who knows how many years. The trees were inserted into a tree chopper and converted to saw dust right there in the parking lot. The smell of fresh pine filled the neighborhood for several days.

I learned the name of the Auburn Street walking guy (May 4 post). It’s Hubert, the same as my dad. He has incorporated the job of mowing lawns for money in the summer into his walking routine. He now smiles or says hello as I pass him on the side walk.

NYC is a pedestrian city to say the least. That is one of the things I love most about it. But when it rains every day during your short visit there, it can be a drag. There is something to be said, however for sitting in a Brooklyn cafe with a good friend, sipping coffee and reading The Great Gatsby as the rain falls down all around outside the window.

The only difference between the gay pride parade in NYC and the one in Buffalo is that in NYC it is bigger and people yell at the cops more.

June is the month of missing the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island because of rain.

June is the month of chocolate cake.

June is the month of looking into my heart and head.

June is the month of missing someone very special to me.

June is the month of new beginnings.

“Gregor Samsa – A young traveling salesman who hates his job. Gregor goes into the business because his father, after the collapse of his business, …”

“Finally, Gregor Samsa, having survived 30 years as an insect, becomes physically ill as the old apple-infection turns to septicemia; and he becomes …”

Read The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.

Just Call Me Sartre

Just Call Me Sartre

I finally decided to open the old trunk that I’ve left sealed up as tight as a drum for what seems like ages now. It has bits and pieces of my history packed in so tightly that two strong men were hard pressed to move it to my new place on Auburn Ave. last Summer without hurting themselves. They begged me to unpack it first, but I was reluctant to unleash the memories.

Other than wanting to move the trunk again to a place in the basement more out of the way, I’m not sure why I decided to allow the heavy ghosts to stir. I found a lot of little treasures I’d forgotten about. One of the best finds was an old contact sheet from when Andrea, my best friend from childhood and I took her dad’s camera for the day. We wandered all around snapping birds and bicyclists, treetops and houses. That was a significant event in my past because it marks the moment I knew I wanted to “become” a photographer.

Among the old photographs, home videos, darkroom supplies and memorabilia, I uncovered a calendar I’d purchased when I first moved to Buffalo to begin grad school. On the last page I had written the following…

“For a hundred dead stories there still remain one or two living ones. I evoke these with caution, occasionally not too often, for fear of wearing them out, I fish one out again and see the scenery, the characters, the attitudes. I stop suddenly: there is a flaw, I have seen a word pierce through the web of sensations. I suppose that this word will soon take the place of several images I love.”

I couldn’t help laughing at myself. What must have been going through my head to make me write such dramatic lines in the back of my calendar?

Upon looking a little closer, however, I discovered that, although the passage had been written in the calendar by me, the words were not my own. Apparently I had been reading Nausea at the time, and I was so moved by that passage that I wrote it down. I went straight to my book shelf to search for Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. I flipped through the pages and skimmed for the passage. Sure enough, on page 33 my pen marks directed me to the words. For some reason I did not include the entire passage in my calendar. It continues as follows…

“I must stop quickly and think of something else; I don’t want to tire my memories. In vain; the next time I evoke them a good part will be congealed.”