Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ten Sentences Newly Embedded in My Head This Month, September '16


“They take a time-honored event and repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, until something new enters the world.” (4)  This sentence was transcribed onto a tiny purple piece of paper by me, a long time ago and I found it on the floor of the moving van when we moved.  I don’t know the source, page 4 of something.

“I thought that watching the amputation could be the final step in accepting the totality of the danger I posed to myself: my willingness to be completely absorbed by the natural world.”—Kyle Dempster, about a year and half prior to disappearing with Scott Adamson on the Ogre II in the Karakoram, as reported to Alpinist.

“Rabbit Hendricks––a compact man with an ill-fitting set of dentures—was finishing a sketch on the back of a postcard of Damascus that was to serve as a replacement for a disintegrating photograph of Lizard Brancusi’s wife, Maisie.”—from Richard Flanagan’s, Booker-winning, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

“Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.”—Werner Herzog in A Guide to for the Perplexed, which I returned to this week after seeing his new film, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.

“I had a great day climbing today, and I was excited to post on social media about it, and then I remembered, oh yeah, fucking cops just shot an unarmed black man with his hands up—after he was already tazed.”—the writer/climber Chris Kalman on Facebook  September 21, 2016.

“A woman from the State Medical Examiner’s Office first removed the dog from the incinerated plane, wrapping it in a white cloth she carried in both hands.”  --Devin Kelly in the Alaska Dispatch News, September 11, 2016.  This plane went down about a mile from our house and we saw the scene, all yellow-taped and charred trees on our way up the mountain the next morning.

This isn’t the ending we want and the new statistics [on date rape] won’t serve up an Everything’s Gonna be Alright resolution either, but I have been as precisely afraid as the world still requires a woman to be” –the brilliant Debra Monroe, from “Trouble in Mind,” The Rumpus, September 11, 2016

“There comes a time when you realize that everything is dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.” –the epigraph of James Salter’s last novel, All That Is.

“Continue up the airy wall, moving slightly right to gain a shallow groove leading to the top.”-- sentence from Murray Toft’s description of Le Solier, a climb I did with John McInerney on Tunnel Mountain in Banff earlier this month.  (Alert: this is an older guidebook and the ratings are not to be taken literally!)

“I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that Fourth of July three years ago when you met me at the boat, and we went out on the café on the river and had a drink and later went ton top of a tall building, and all the strangeness and glory and the power of life and of the city was below.”—Thomas Wolfe in a letter to Max Perkins, written just before he died at the age of 37.  This sentence came up twice in one week: first, in the movie Genius about Wolfe and Perkins (see this movie!) and second, cited by James Salter in The Art of Fiction.

*  Sentences listed alphabetically by author, first one is "anonymous," for now.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sweet City Woman, Summer 1971

The summer after graduating high school.  We might get drafted, but we probably wouldn’t.  I had a lousy job in downtown Detroit.  I took the bus to get there, straight down Michigan Avenue past Tiger Stadium.

I remember this one particular Sunday night driving back to Detroit across the Ambassador Bridge.  We had been at the Murphy’s cottage on Lake St Clair, probably having drunk too much, as the drinking age was lower in Canada.  The bridge itself, for those of you who don’t know it, is an enormous suspension bridge.  As I child I was deeply frightened by its sheer height.  Now, cool air off the water cut the humidity a bit and we were on our way home.

I remember cresting the bridge around sunset and you could see all of Detroit lit up in that last brilliant flash of light before the sun was gone. 

We were in one of the McClowry’s convertibles—a newish red Ford LTD. There were the four of us: the McClowry twins and Tommy Murphy.  It’s funny, back then we never called him Tommy, but that’s how I think of him now.

Anyway we were laughing the whole time and I remember Terry singing in this hilariously high voice, along with the radio,”Swee ee ee ee ee, sweet city woman, sweet sweet sweet sweet city woman.”  We couldn’t stop laughing and Terry would stop and give us this hard look and then laugh and continue singing. Terry was a big guy, a world class athlete and both he and his brother Pat would go on to storied college football careers at Michigan State.  Everything was funny, that night and all summer long.  If someone had asked we would have agreed that most likely we would all live forever.

That’s it: no drama.  Just four guys on the verge of changes, the future, whatever it would hold, unknown.

Terry’s been gone a couple years now and I think all of us who knew him remain in shock to this day.  Tommy called me the day we heard and it was just unimaginable.  I hadn’t seen any of them in a quarter of a century, and that’s something I couldn’t have imagined back then.  I miss those days, those guys.

Audio (!):

Monday, January 4, 2016

"What's on your night stand?"

When asked what books were on his nightstand, Simon Winchester replied, “It’s rather like a dog’s breakfast.”  I first understood this to mean “a complete mess,” but later wondered if it meant “a little bit of everything.”  Turns out my first impression was more accurate.  In my case, though, it is both: a complete mess and a little bit of everything.

The actual surface of my nightstand is small and usually too cluttered to hold a single book.  Instead, at its feet are three stacks of books.   The stacks are governed by no organizing principle and are in a constant state of reshuffling.  They consist mostly of books I have not yet read, but which I intend to read.  An exception to this are a group of signed books I brought back from the Banff Book Festival: Bernadette MacDonald’s Freedom Climbers and Barry Blanchard’s The Calling among them.  These await my finding a more hallowed permanent location for them.  Also among these is a Paul Zizka photo book of the Canadian Rockies, Summits and Starlight.  It’s a guilty pleasure like a hidden box of chocolates.

A second category is really just three books: Thomas Mann’s Lotte in Weimar, and Goethe’s Elective Infinities, a nice hardcover edition published in the 1960s and recently found at Powells.  I also found a nice hardcover edition of the Goncourts Journals—Paris in the 1700s—my curiosity having been piqued by Heidi Julavits repeated mentions of failure to make progress with them (the Goncourt brothers) in her memoir, The Folded  Clock.

A third category is “newly acquired,” which in addition to the Goethe includes other titles from the Powells junket: Denis Johnson’s nonfiction, Leap, and two of Julavits fictions: The Effect of Living Backwards and The Vanishers.  Also: Michel Farber’s’ The Book of Strange New Things.

Almost forgot this category: books sent to me unbidden in my capacity as book review editor of The American Alpine Journal.  These break my heart because most of them will not be reviewed, nor will I read them.

This accounting mentions fewer than half, I’m sure.  And some of the rest are unclassifiable.  There is the Selected Poems of Pat O’Neill, a massive book (for poetry) of 379 pages.  These were culled from various flashdrives and garbage bags of notebooks by the composer and great autodidact, Jerry Brennan.  Never heard of O’Neill?  No, you wouldn’t have; he’s an old high school friend turned northern Michigan curmudgeon (according to his wife) poet.  The work is extraordinary.

Since all these categories (such as they are) are shuffled together my copy of the Dalai Lama’s daily meditations is usually out of sight, and therefore, also out of mind; but when it manages to percolate to the top of one of the a stacks I try to read from it daily.

If “What’s on your nightstand?” is really just another way of asking “What are you reading now?” the answer is Julavits’ The Effect of Living Backwards, which I came to from reading her nonfiction first, a reversal of my usual practice. Thus I am reading “backwards.”  In that book she wrote this sentence: “I am a wallet head of exuberance.”  I would be happy to read a whole book just to find such a sentence, but I liked the rest of them too.

This gives me an opportunity to foresee another obvious question and just come out and tell you that the book I read last year that I loved most was the aforementioned The Folded Clock.  Like much of what I love most it’s hard to articulate why this is so.  When I finished reading it, I immediately started reading it again from the beginning like a chain smoker lighting his next cigarette off the butt of his last, saving a match and keeping the chain linked.

A couple days before Christmas I was in John King Books in Detroit, one of my favorite places in the world.  Oddly, I left without making a purchase, though I had picked up a copy of Chris Bonington’s The Everest Years at an antique store a day before; it too now rests in one of the stacks by my bed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every breath I took inside of John King Books.  In addition to the breaths, I took photographs, somehow invoking the environmentalist credo: leave only footprints, take only photographs.

All things considered, this dog eats a pretty damned fine breakfast.