On the Passing of Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was the first person who told me I did not have to be good.

Using one-syllable words, she devastated and reconstructed me.

She told me and so many other young women that goodness was not a prerequisite for having a place in the world. Guilt and shame were not passports to personal worth.

She set many of us free when she slipped that smooth stone into our pockets: You do not have to be good.

The Book Buffet

For micro-post Wednesday enjoy the reading buffet I set up in my living room. Magazines, library books, an assortment of bookmarks, and an apple cider candle for ambience.

The vacuum cleaner in the background serves as memento mori: someday you must clean.

The Bookstore That Got Me Out of Accounting

Writers can’t stop talking about bookstores, and I am no exception. Today I am writing this in the downtown Denver location of The Tattered Cover Bookstore. The very same bookstore that I passed every weekday morning on my walk from Union Station to a corporate job. Stopping in at the bookstore before work was my nod to arts and creativity, a chance to breathe before the day rushed in. On paydays, I bought a stack of two or three books as my reward for keeping myself emotionally together in a work environment that caused me great stress and anxiety.

If I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare, I went through the heavy wooden doors on the east side. A quarter of an hour to put off the crushing responsibility I felt at my desk for babysitting the money of rich people. Reading gave me escape routes from work and family stress, but it also kept me in mind of those first thoughts of writing for a living. It took bravery to put that dream to rest while I gathered confidence and experience. Then it took another turn of bravery to quit the corporate world and get to work writing.

One Friday, I bought a beautiful copy of Emma (Austen) and the 50th-anniversary edition of The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov) with the art nouveau cover. I lugged them to the cubicle quad that I shared with Sales. They stayed on my desk for the day. Reminders that I was made of more than balance sheets, payroll deadlines, and catching the train.

I remember other just-bought books on my desk serving as talismans to keep my soul from being eaten up by finance. A few lines from Cat’s Eye (Atwood) sustained me through the headache of payroll. An essay from the Best American Science Writing collection kept me sane while deciphering an account that had not been maintained for two months when the accounting manager left. Caitlin Doughty’s essays about searching for the Good Death gave me perspective and watered the seeds of doubt that I had about continuing another decade of the work I was doing.

The bookstore on the corner of 16th Street and Wynkoop provided a testament to the life available to an artist. A testament that I needed desperately at the time. I still visit the Tattered Cover, still browse the shelves. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. And in those visits, I appreciate all over again what a bookstore can mean to someone who is looking for a sign.

Notable Reads of 2018: Micro Book Reviews

This list does not include every book that I enjoyed this year, but it includes the ones that I found unique, challenging, and full of good questions.

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty – When searching for the Good Death, anything beats traditional American death rituals.

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt – Short stories where everyone has a secret, and that secret is usually that they can turn into an animal.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – If women had the ability to run the world through force, would they run it any better than men?

Vacationland by John Hodgman – It’s E. B. White. He’s talking about E. B. White.

Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht – The police won’t let anyone in the town leave (no phone or electricity) until a fugitive is found.

Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax – A future Japan that mixes questions about immigration, war crimes, fertility, and artificial intelligence exquisitely.

Who Is Vera Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht – Is Vera Kelly a spy? Is she in 1950s Argentina? Is she a lesbian? Is she a smart cookie? Yes.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – It’s a lot harder and also a lot easier than you would expect to sleep through an entire year.

Nothing Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter – Drinking keeps women from realizing their full potential, and alcohol is everywhere. Sobriety opens up new avenues.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee – Pain becomes story becomes myth becomes novel.

Severance by Ling Ma – If the fever takes hold of you, you lose yourself, becoming stuck in mindless routines. Hell in an office building.

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling – Daphne disappears off the grid with her toddler, trying to decide whether or not to join her husband in Turkey.

What were your notable reads for the year? Please share in the comments!

Moratorium

IMG_20181215_150709450I’ve decided to refrain from buying books during Q1 of 2019. And what do you do before the moratorium sets in for January through March? Buy as many books as possible, of course!

Seen here: The Best American Travel Writing 2018 edited by Cheryl Strayed, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, and The Best American Food Writing 2018 edited by Ruth Reichl.

Books purchased at The Tattered Cover on Colfax.

Picture location at Hooked on Colfax.

Idea Soup 10/19/18

Idea Soup is my weekly cultural round-up of my food for thought. These posts will highlight the books, articles, songs, essays, poems, films, and TV that I am consuming. Not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a best-of compilation for the week. Click on the embedded links for more information or to purchase any of the media listed.

 

This week’s ingredients in my Idea Soup:

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women by Siri Hustvedt“Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind.” The collection takes on such varied topics as entrenched sexism, neuroscience, psychiatry, writing, teaching writing, teaching writing to psychiatric patients, pornography, the economy/price structure of art, Robert Mapplethorpe, and gender roles in domesticity. Siri Hustvedt is one of my favorite writers and thinkers, and I enjoy the challenge of following her mind. Her structured arguments feel like elegant fractal somersaults.

 

ForeverAn Amazon original series starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. They play a married couple who seem to have a loving, stable relationship. When everything seems perfect, what could go wrong? The show plays with the ideas of perfection, security, the afterlife, existential angst, and how individuals who sacrifice themselves for a relationship don’t do the relationship any good. The opening sequence of the first episode rivals and pays homage to the opening love story in Up. This show kept me guessing, and I recommend it to people who like Maya Rudolph, existential questions, and The Good Place. 1 series, 8 episodes.

 

“Now or Never Now”The fourth track on Metric’s newest album Art of Doubt. After a minute-plus instrumental introduction, the lyrics start with ideas of failure, weakness, and regret but progress to strength, self-confidence, and owning the self that you’ve become from experiencing defeat and artistic frostbite. I appreciate the duality of “now” or “never now”, which I interpret as playing with the idea of present time and the decision to unfreeze, move on, and own your experiences.