Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

The heft of words.

In writing on January 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I unearthed my mother’s refurbished 1940s Remington Rand portable typewriter from a pile of nostalgia in a dark corner of her guest room on my last visit to Virginia. She seemed pleased that I was interested in this prized possession dating back to her college days, and she was happy to let me bring it home. I made a spot for it in my sunroom on a small wooden table I rescued from a Prague flea market years ago. It sits next to my front door, so I can see it every time I leave home and return.

It is sleek and beautiful, heavy and old-fashioned. When I contrast it to my comparably featherweight MacBook, I thank the Apple gods for saving my posture, but also believe that the Remington Rand has a certain substantive feel – a sense of permanence – that slender Macs never will. I wish I could say that I brought it home intending to put it to use, but I am too poor a typist and too spoiled by technology.

But I did roll a sheet of paper onto the platen (though the thin copy paper felt all wrong) and type one line, thinking how my fingers would ache if I tried to write a chapter, much less a book, on the Remington.

And this made me stop and wonder how much the minutiae of the creative process is driven by the tools we use. As I worked to hit the smooth black and gold keys hard enough to stamp letters onto the page, I wondered if writers in the heyday of the manual typewriter wrote and revised in their heads more than we do in our plugged-in, easy-edit existence.

I can imagine a time-traveled version of myself in the 1940s, sitting still in front of the Remington for long stretches between typing bouts, coming up with a sentence, then revising it a dozen times in my mind’s eye before striking keys to record it. I believe going about writing this way might make me stop and consider the weight of each word more carefully than I do now, given the knowledge that now I can – in theory, anyway – so easily go back later and insert the perfect word.

But how often do I get lazy, forgetting to revisit my sentences and find just the right words? The thought makes me want to ditch the MacBook for the Remington Rand and see what happens.


‘Home’ coming in May from Toni Morrison

In reading on January 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm


An angry and self-loathing veteran of the Korean War, Frank Money finds himself back in racist America after enduring trauma on the front lines that left him with more than just physical scars. His home—and himself in it—may no longer be as he remembers it, but Frank is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from, which he’s hated all his life. As Frank revisits the memories from childhood and the war that leave him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he thought he could never possess again. A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood—and his home.

The latest novel from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

Came across this link/description today and was drawn in; I’ve added Home to my reading list for the spring. Back in my English major days, I read so many books for classes that I now feel the need to go back and read everything from back then all over again, along with the must-read books I somehow missed reading along the way; Toni Morrison’s books are on that list.

One of these days, I’m going to schedule a solo reading vacation – hole up in a beautiful place somewhere far from  home for two weeks and read and re-read books from that long list.

Book lines: Susan Minot

In book group, lines worth underlining, reading on January 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

Lines from Evening, by Susan Minot 

I encountered this novel via my book club, and it has stayed with me more than most novels I’ve read in the past decade.  I was drawn in by the way that the book interspersed Ann Lord’s hazy deathbed reflections and hallucinations with scenes from one life-changing weekend (during which she fell deeply in love with an unavailable man) and the marriages and heartaches that followed.

After my best friend died at only 43 after a miserable disease made life not worth living, the passages in which Ann is looking back on her life took on new layers of meaning for me.

“She looked across the room to all the things which had come to her over the years and by now ought to give her some satisfaction. The inkwell nestled in a bronze bird’s nest, the primitive oil of a church she’d found in that junk shop, the French enamel saucers with the fly pattern … they would last and not she. Is this what she would leave behind? The things in the house were not herself. The children would be left and they had come from her but they were not herself either. Nothing was herself but what had happened to her and the only place that was registered was inside. And even that was kind of a vapor.”


“All her life she’d listened to talk, life was full of talk. People said things, true and interesting things and ridiculous things. Her father used to say they talked too much. There was much to say, she had said her share. How else was one to know a thing except by naming it? But words now fell so far from where life was. Words fell on a distant shore. It turned out there were other tracks on which life registered where things weren’t acknowledged with words or given attention to or commented on.”


“She was pulling a rope out of the water and knew it was coming to the end when the barnacles started to appear and they became more think and clustered. Then it was strangely peaceful and the sound was turned off. She stood at the bow of a ship. If only she could have stood this way above the water and really breathed and let the waves go by like pages being turned and watched everything more closely and chosen things more carefully then she might have been able to read the spirit within herself and would not have spent her life as if she were only halfway in it.

“For a moment she felt an astonishing brilliance and heat and light and all of herself flared up and the vibration after sixty-five years was not weakened by time but more dense then suddenly it was as if the flame had caught the flimsiest piece of paper for it flickered up and flew into the air then quickly sank down withered into a thin cinder of ash which blew off, inconsequential. Her life had not been long enough for her to know the whole of herself, it had not been long enough or wide.”

‘back in the saddle.’ ‘on the road again.’ and all those other classics about getting off one’s @$$.

In running on January 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm

After two months of what I’d call cerebral or stress-draining runs – i.e., I went out without any hard and fast distance or plan in mind and stopped to walk whenever I felt like it – I craved having a goal again.

I found out this fall that monster goals (i.e., half-marathons or above) are probably beyond what the creaking cartilage in my knees can withstand, but I want to push myself a little more than a 5K.  So tomorrow, with the help of my patient triathlete friend and volunteer ‘coach,’ I start a very easy-going training plan to run a 10K (6.2-mile) race that many of my friends love: the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston at the end of March.

I know the truly competitive running converts would see this 6.2 as low-hanging fruit, but it fits with my running goal, which is to go with whatever combination of pace, distance and frequency allows me to run consistently for the rest of my life. If that means running short distances at a slow pace forever (versus pushing myself and end up hobbling to the point that I can’t run even a mile), I think I can live with that lack of achievement.

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