LITERATURE

Body of Words

There is so much beauty in the way we are built and the ways we build meaning. Exploring the roots of language, the histories that inform the words we use, in naming the bones, the muscles, the capacities of the nervous system, the fluid soup of chemicals bathing our spine, I am filled with gratitude. Studying the energy and structure of the body, the energy and structure of movement, the energy and structure of language, inspires a more subtle awareness, increases connection and intention. There is purpose, intelligence, and beauty to everyday movement and everyday talk.

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A Luncheon After the Great War

In her well-known essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf asks why novelists fail to record what was eaten on a memorable occasion. She describes the menu in a university dining room, then imagines the conversation at a luncheon party before the first World War,when thoughts turn readily to love and romance:

It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine.

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Savoring the Essay

The test of a great essayist from Montaigne to Mark Twain, from Emerson to Virginia Woolf, is the ability to entertain a steady procession of ideas, some of them inflammatory, some entertaining, some downright contradictory, before deciding which will play a central role.

As Emerson notes, “The best part…of every mind is not that which (the writer) knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him. His firm recorded knowledge soon loses all interest for him, but this dancing chorus of thoughts and hopes is the quarry of his future, is his possibility.”

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On Loneliness and Solitude

For weeks, a bright-green advertisement for Meals on Wheels in The New Yorker delivered the bad news: Social Isolation is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness. It is toxic, pernicious, erosive. Popular and academic publications are exploding with articles about the current epidemic. Experts all over the world are trying to figure out its root causes and possible antidotes. In The New York Times Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge note that “smartphone access and internet use increased in lock-step with teenage loneliness.”

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Reading Raymond Carver

Reading your lean stories makes me want to drop everything and charge outside to change the air filter on my ‘82 Mustang. Listening to your lank verse inspires me to repaint the patio furniture, go fishing with a down-and-out friend, write seven poems about something I stopped seeing a long time ago, and describe a waterfall to a blind man.

Reenter the real world, you say. Do some truth-telling.

That’s what I heard you talking about when you talked about love in Odile Helier’s Paris bookstore the summer of 1987. I saw that home-from-hell look on your face when you followed your friends Richard Ford and Jonathan Raban to the front of the room and shyly read your poems.

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M.F.K. Fisher’s Avocado

Mary Frances’s room at 17, Rue Cardinale, was at the top of a beautiful 18th century building, just steps away from a Gothic church, St. Jean de Malte, the first cathedral in Aix. The bells of St. Jean would ring in the morning—Matins—and sound to her like the word avocado:

…I still transfer common sounds into real or imaginary languages, even subconsciously. Once, in a repaired attic room in Aix-en-Provence, I awoke to the Matins from St. Jean-de-Malte, which rang a few dozen feet from me, and I was saying aloud, “Avocado…ah-vo-caa-doh.” It was beautiful. I was making progress. It lasts, so that now deep bells sound very softly when I see the fruit or taste it.

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Carol Edgarian’s Story of Home

No one captures our need for sanctuary and grace better than the award-winning novelist Carol Edgarian. Her books center around our need for a fixed foot of the compass—a safe and nurturing place that shields us from the pressures of the outside world.

Vera, Edgarian’s most recent offering, shows how San Francisco residents rebuilt their homes after the 1906 earthquake. Strangely prescient, this book gives us a spiritual roadmap for reinventing ourselves in the wake of a pandemic.

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The Night I Drove Kerouac Home

By Phil Cousineau Photo by Matthew Ronder on Unsplash The amber lights flicker past as we slip across the long stretch of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The twin towers loom above us like colossal sentinels.  Foghorns moan across the Bay. Jan stares mournfully at the neon redley twinkle of the

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Coming to America

I think that I have a sort of foreigner trauma. I have never felt really comfortable in a place except for a very few years when I was a newlywed mother in Chile. We had a little prefab house where for a few years, I felt that that was really home. But as a child, and as a young adolescent, we were moving all the time, we were leaving behind countries, friends, sometimes a language.

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