Want To Be

If there is one person I would like to be writing like, it's Donald Hall. I suppose I am writing like him, but I want to be doing it as well, with as much vigor, and such that it was more than enough to keep my family and I afloat. I just finished A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety and it was good, good, good. (Though I revere Ann Patchett, I disagree with her assessment on the back cover that it is one of a very few perfect books. The book is good, Ann, but it is not perfect and is equaled by your own This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.) I should say that I want to be able to write prose the way Hall did, the way E. B. White did, the way David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and Mary Karr all do. I've never been big for Hall's poetry, mostly I think because I don't understand.

For poetry, I'll take David Shumate who wrote this most beautiful of things called "The Long Road":

It’s one of those highways you come across late at night. No signs. No arrows. Just a road running north and south. You pause. You look one way. Then the other. Nothing. Only the hum of the engine, the chirping of crickets confirm you are here. You can’t remember where you’ve been. Where you are going. If it weren’t for the lines drawn through the middle, you’d think you were drifting down a river. Or stumbling upon a path through the sky. Remember, it is a moonless night. You are tired. Hungry. No one to talk to. Afraid that what you were thinking might have come true. You look to your left again. Perhaps you see a mountain. An ocean. A lover you wish you hadn’t lost. Spirits that seem so familiar, drifting in from the dark. You wait in that silence. It may be years before it is safe to proceed.

Perhaps it helps that Shumate writes prose poetry, which ought to be a bastard child but comes out instead as a an otherworldly thing, perhaps angelic.

If I were to want to be a different poet it would be Mark Strand in "Man And Camel":

On the eve of my fortieth birthday I sat on the porch having a smoke when out of the blue a man and a camel happened by. Neither uttered a sound at first, but as they drifted up the street and out of town the two of them began to sing. Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me— the words were indistinct and the tune too ornamental to recall. Into the desert they went and as they went their voices rose as one above the sifting sound of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing, its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for so long? I wanted to believe it was, but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped back to town. They stood before my porch, staring up at me with beady eyes, and said: “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Then again, two of those guys are dead and one is alive in the Midwest. I've no inclination to die anywhere right away or to live in the Midwest, so I might as well go on being me, leaving odd things on the page (screen) and wondering how they connect.

Book, Book, Book, Book, Says The Chicken

Donald Hall's A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety sits on the kitchen table here while I type. I was reading it while eggs hard-boil on the stove but put it down when I thought to write my own words instead of reading those of someone else. The eggs are from Wegmans as I am not at all ready to create my own eggs, either by raising chickens or laying them myself. Words though, I can squeeze them out with alarming regularity.

I've read Hall's prose since a friend recommended Life Work in the only way guaranteed to get me to read: I thought about you while reading this. My ego brought me right in. I've read that book three times and will likely read it again soon. Notes Nearing Ninety (I prefer the subtitle to the title) is a hodge-podge but, as I wrote earlier to Jerry, I like a good hodge-podge almost as much as I enjoy saying hodge-podge.

On the coffee table is Anne Lamott's Almost Everything: Notes On Hope. Like most everyone, I first read Lamott's Bird By Bird which is lovely in every way and have enjoyed the other books but also been disappointed that they aren't Bird by Bird. Still I can use some hope or even just notes on the subject and the book is good. Lamott's style is quirky and she makes me laugh at just the right times. Occasionally she leaves me so stuck on an idea that I read two pages and have to go back both to linger with the idea and figure out what I've missed while ruminating.

On the passenger seat of my car at the repair shop is Meet The Frugalwoods by Elizabeth Willard Thames which is better written than I expected. The subtitle is Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living and that sort of thing appeals to me. In a chapter of Lamott's book she says we can't fill the hole within from without. I've got one of those gaping holes. I suppose we all do. Mine is a sinkhole that has recently opened to new depth. I like the idea of simple living instead of refinancing the house to afford all the things I want to buy and throw down that hole hoping to fill it up.

The eggs are hardboiled now. I've taken the pan from the stove, drained the hot water, filled it with cold water, drained that and refilled several times, and now transferred the pan, water, and eggs to the fridge with high hopes the shells have been shocked off and will be delightful to peel. Otherwise I'm going to go kill some chickens.

The fourth book, on the table with Donald Hall, is Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything open to a recipe for black bean soup calling for hard boiled eggs. I like Bittman's stuff and especially liked, even if I don't follow it, his Vegan Before Six idea through which he reclaimed his health. Instead of prescriptions he healed through good decisions. What an idea.

The books, especially the first three but maybe Bittman's too, feel connected and I'm enjoying reading them all at once. I go through several of Hall's notes, a chapter of Lamott's spirituality, and then a chapter of frugal living. There's a cycle through which I'm moving or hope to move. It gets me through boiling eggs, leads me to write a note of my own, and ends in enough black bean soup that you should come over and have some. Then we can read and maybe write books.