Out on the coastline, a few years back, my fiancée (then girlfriend) and I watched the sunset. An astounding thing when the sun hits the Pacific Ocean. The water upends, melts sideways, and furrows of red-black sky work their way up and into blackness. One of the many beautiful moments from that trip. We’re not huge vacationers, her and I. We mostly just enjoy each other’s company, but sometimes prefer that company to be in front of an ocean.
We discovered Pen15 on that vacation and watched the whole first season from our bed in the small rental. Season 2 has been the perfect respite from the stuckness of 2020. Maya and Anna’s exploits this go-around are an artistic triumph, as far as I’m concerned. Hilarious at its core, but in its risks examines the awkwardness and too often unkindness of adolescence. From the disgusting, unfortunately, ever-topical racism and homophobia, to the universal heartbreaks of growing up. By the final episode I had cried and laughed, pondered and reminisced. The two vehicles of the narrative, women my age, embodying the lives of middle schoolers is such an inspired move — it stretches empathy to its limits and shows the sincere and difficult work required to understand someone else’s experiences.
Great art helps us inhabit other spaces and the space of others. Pen15 did just that. As the world folds over with each new chaos, find time to enjoy art. Right now we’re all feeling a bit cooped up. Luckily, there’s millions of good books out there and some damn good television.
Books are powerful objects. Magical, even. In the right moments, with the right book, time and space upends. This doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you must read as thief — scour your Joyces and Woolfs for inspiration.
As I read “Don Quixote” time folded in. It’s not that I found myself in the land of Sancho and Rocinante, rather, I was in the company of my grandfather. Clifford — I called him Pa, others called him Angel — has been skiing on the other side for some time, yet, as clear as day, he roamed the pages of Cervantes’ great two-parter. Sometimes as Sancho, sometimes as Quixote. Occasionally, he just sat with me and delighted in the courage and missteps of our hero, Alonso.
Two scenes come to mind, the most romantic in that most romantic book. When Sancho buried his face in the curls of his trusted Dapple after facing the harsh realities of mankind’s brutal unkindness, I felt Pa’s guidance. A tender directive. Why govern a city if you have cheap whiskey (or ginger ale) and the kinship of friends and lovers?
And of course, Quixote’s insistence on fighting a lion. The beauty in stubbornness, something my bloodline is full of. In these moments Pa made sure I looked closer and remembered that everyone’s lions are different. I suppose mine is writing. Everyday I look at this thing and beg it to devour me.
Reading can confront us with our own mortality, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, confuse that finality.
Read books and remember loved ones are there even when they’re not.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. And it seems worthwhile, if not important. I’ve often found new authors by seeing who my favorite authors are reading and enjoying. For example, both Yoko Ogawa and Samanta Schweblin mentioned Paul Auster as being influential to them. That led me to the Auster’s New York Trilogy, which — how did I live without it?
I’ve picked up so many books that I’d have been intimated by if not for the direction of others. It’s a bit like when you find out all of your favorite Westerns were inspired by Samurai movies. Good Lord, the well is so deep. Never ending and wonderfully accessible if you dare look.
Over the next few months, and years and decades (if i’m lucky), I’ll be considering the question, “Where do I fit in?” I’ve written so many short stories, and chunks of novels, that are nothing more than poor imitations of the greats. But, slowly, my own brand of prose is emerging. The beauty, and utter terror, is that this will take a lifetime of practice. I’ll discover new works that completely change and dismantle my own processes. I’ll fall in love with new novels and revisit my own work with fresh eyes and tools.
So, be on the lookout for maps and diagrams and thoughts about my own Narrative Genealogy.
An ever-changing, often frustrating, always enriching ride — trying to be a writer.
For some, it’s about the violence. Jiu Jitsu is, after all, two bodies negotiating a single space. If played to its logical conclusion, one body is dead or, at the very least, unusable. It’s a slow, unfolding art.
To me, when I roll with my betters — which, if I’m honest, is most everyone — it feels like reverse-engineering a sculpture. Who creates and who uncreates often changes and more often overlaps. There are the strong-willed blue belts where the engineering is more a dismantling. You’re the Confederate statue and they’re the righteous chains pulling you down. There are the systematic upper-belts who soften your marble and iron to reveal your loosely constructed framework. One minute you’re a stone monument and next you’re a toothpick. And then, there are the folks like my Professor — kindhearted, patient kinetic-scholars. No matter how fluid you think you are they seem to perceive you as static. And in that static-state can form and unform you to their liking.
On my best days, Jiu Jitsu is a molecular, art therapy. As good for the soul as anything I’ve ever tried. Worst days, which there are many, I leave class egoscraped and injured, but feeling very much reset. An occasional and always-necessary return to zero.
Sadly, I’m taking some time off — end of days and all — but I’ll be back.
If you’re ever in Salt Lake and wanna wrassle, swing by.