In old age, Poppa is losing his words. He searches for familiar sayings and will often settles on one that is close, but not quite what he means. “Mobile home” becomes “truck.” The “dryer” becomes the “machine.” But I know it is not his language that matters most. Nan was the talker, the one who spent hours each day bent over the New York Times, circling typos and filling out the crossword. For Pop, what matters are the things that can be held in the hand.
If his stories can be trusted, I don’t think Pop graduated from middle school. His vocabulary wasn’t stellar to begin with, studded as it is with slang and slanted by a heavy New York accent. Even before dropping out, he skipped school more often than he went and followed his uncles to their jobs on construction sites and the boat docks, studying instead small gears and arching wood beams that he could puzzle apart in a tangible way.
For every birthday and anniversary, Nan composed long poems on her typewriter. She would read them proudly in front of whomever was in earshot while Pop sat by, blushing and shaking his head. Pop searched the aisles for a storebought card that he thought expressed what was on his mind and simply sign, “Love, Artie” at the bottom.
Nana’s hands were small birds. Continue reading
There are places where the menu is written in chalk on the front door. Where we drank coffee in the morning while the garbage collector came to empty the barrels in the piazza, and seagulls dove over the clay rooftops and still-shuttered windows. Continue reading
There’s something about making physical things—following inspiration and idea through to concrete completion—that trains me bit by bit to shape and mold my life into what I most enjoy. Continue reading
About two years ago, during a late summer afternoon in the San Francisco Public Library, I went looking for the Collected Works of Amy Hempel.
I found it and sat down in a cubicle between two homeless men to read. But then, wedged in the binding between pages 102 and 103, I found a small envelope: Continue reading
I’ve been thinking, reading, writing about houses lately (due to another, soon-to-be-blogged project.) Thinking about the way that the space around us shapes our sense of possibility and the ideas inside of the mind.
Then stepping outside this afternoon, post-rain, the strip of land alongside the creek very green, and bright in the sun that slanted at just the right angle between the clouds and the top of Mt. Sanitas, the soil dark and puddles swirling copper when I walked through them in my boots.
Most of our houses, our apartments, our offices and buildings—they are too box-y, too much involved with themselves and the people who made and live in them. The outside world is unpredictable and influences us, if we let it, will pull us quite naturally out of the minds that we occupy so much of the time.
Perhaps then, the best space would be one that invites in as much of the outside as possible. That does not shelter the live-r, but allows the elements (or at least the experience of the elements), into interior spaces.
What would it feel like to live this way?
“I should like my house to be similar to that of the ocean wind, all quivering with gulls.” ~ Georges Spyridaki
* That last photo, of the tent on the beach in Morocco, comes via Peggy Markel
Did you know that there is a branch of behavioral psychology, of philosophy, and of sociology, devoted to the study of “Being in Place”?
They ask questions about community, about landscape and belonging. What is it about a physical location that makes us say, “home”? That makes us feel, “here”?
These are the questions I’m asking these days. I don’t have the words to answer them yet. For now I have a handful of images, which make me feel something close to what it is I eventually want to say.
As I write the story of my grandmother, imagining and then retelling in my own words the stories that I have heard her repeat so many times, what I’m noticing are the gaps.
It’s obvious of course, but somehow I didn’t realize before: when someone retells the same stories over and over, there are other stories that are never told at all. Continue reading