Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hit the Floor and Crawl to Daddy!

My friend Sean does something absolutely magical every day at www.FilledWithChocolatePudding. Yesterday it was Sammy Davis Jr. and the Church of the Month Club. Brilliance, dear Sean. Thank you.


Unforgettable Rhythm.

I used to run a lot, anywhere from 40 to 60 miles a week. It was something I was good at and eventually my university paid me, the track team named me captain, the athletic sorority voted me president, and I won third place in the state of Pennsylvania in the 10k. But that was a long time ago, a time when I watched my diet, did sit ups and push ups before and got in two monitored and planned runs a day. Then I moved to California and fell in with the wrong crowd. I gave up running and surfing and climbing. I took drugs and smoked weed and listened to subversive music and started to smoke cigarettes. For a long time I smoked a lot of cigarettes a day. It was inexplicable to me; I hated the smell, the taste, the habit of it, the sluggishness and lethargy. I was addicted and didn't know how to quit.

Now I'm clean again. After more than a dozen years. I ran two miles today with my "pink and fluffy" lungs and while it wasn't award winningly fast or all that smooth (my legs feel like wooden poles, my neck was stiff, my 40 year old body just isn't the same as my 21 year old body) it was a rejoining with a rhythm I once knew very well, once rode like an animal over miles of road.

Runners are strange people. It's easy to laugh at their efforts of discipline, their good luck charms, their great exertion and dedication. But after all these years, I know that, while we may forget so many other sensations, like the taste of licorice or the smell of a flooded creek or what it's like to have hands so cold they ache, we never forget a rhythm. Few things comfort me like the pounding of my shoe soles to an 8 minute mile pace. (I'll have to save the 7 minute and the 6 minute for other days.)



I've spent a number of the past 48 hours, including some that ended at 3 am, with Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, a book recommended to me by Elizabeth Castelli some time ago that finally rose to the top of my reading pile. (EC's also responsible for some other wonderful consumptions of mine lately, including The Edge of Heaven, a movie about Turkish Germans and Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye which I've shamefully never read.)

3 am is not a common hour for me. I failed to properly monitor my coffee consumption yesterday and after too many cups too late in the day from the new cafe, Fort Defiance, around the corner, I was propelled by Robinson's beautiful, mesmerizing sentences into sleeplessness.

Housekeeping is a book about water. And the poignancy of disappearances. And cold fingers and women, from little girls to old grandmothers to rifting sisters. It's about the curl of a feather and the sound of shifting wood, about the pull to and away from societal expectations, about seeping cold, morphing histories and quiet loyalties. It is a book that I finished and immediately began again.

To convince you of the value of Robinson's sentences, I include in some of the sentences for which I dog-eared pages:

"That is to say that she conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting." p. 10

"Time and air and sunlight bore wave and wave of shock, until all the shock was spent, and time and space and light grew still again and nothing seemed to tremble, and nothing seemed to lean. The disaster had fallen out of sight, like the train itself, and if the calm that followed it was not greater than the calm that came before it, it had seemed so." p. 15

"I saw the three of us posed in all he open doors of an endless train of freight cars - innumerable, rapid, identical images that produced a flickering illusion of both movement and stasis, as the pictures in a kinetoscope do. The hot and dangerous winds of our passing tattered the Queen Anne's lace, and yet, for all the noise and clatter and headlong speed, we flickered there at the foot of the garden while the train roared on and on." p. 50

"I do not think Sylvie was merely reticent. It is , as she said, difficult to describe someone, since memories are by their nature fragmented, isolated, and arbitrary as glimpses one has at night through lighted windows." p. 53

"She seemed to dislike the disequilibrium of couunterpoising a roomful of light against a worldful of darkness. Sylvie in a house was more or less like a mermaid in a ship's cabin. She preferred it sunk in the very element it was meant to exclude." p. 99

"But the lake at our feet was plain, clear water, bottomed with smooth stones or simple mud. It was quick with small life, like any pond, as modest in its transformations of the ordinary as any puddle. Only the calm persisitence with which the water touched, and touched, and touched, sifting all the little stones, jet, and white, and hazel, forced us to remember that the lake was vast, and in league with the moon (for no sublunar account could be made of its shimmering, cold life.)" p. 112

And a last:

"I knew why Sylvie felt there were children in the woods. I felt so, too, though I did not think so. I sat on the log pelting my shoe, because I knew that if I turned however quickly to look behind me the consciousness behind me would not still be there, and would only come closer when I turned away again. Even if it spoke just at my ear, as it seemed often at the point of doing, when I turned there would be nothing there. In that was it was persistent and teasing and ungentle, the way half-wild, lonely children are. This was something Lucille and I together would ignore, and I had been avoiding the shore all that fall, because when I was by myself and obviously lonely, too, the teasing would be much more difficult to disregard. Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, 'Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around unde rthe windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it.' Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire."

You can find more on Robinson here and here.