Back to Alice

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags on July 21, 2019 by chateaucone

I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this before, but I have a little problem with left and right. I think it’s some kind of learning disability, because if I’m being truthful (which would be nice, yes?) I’ve always had trouble learning things that come in pairs. By which I mean, I never learn things that come in pairs. For example:

  1. Left and right (see above)
  2. Those greater than/less than symbols
  3. Its/it’s

That’s all I can think of right now but there are more.

There/they’re/their. No problem. To/two/too. All good. Things that come in threes work.

I remember the left/right lesson very clearly in kindergarten. There was a ditto (remember that smell? If not, you are too young to be reading this. ;-)) with an outline of a human body (kind of like a chalk outline at a crime scene) and we had to mark the left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot. No gold star for me that day. But then, we had to go home and look in a mirror and see how our left hand was our right hand in the mirror, and the right one, the left one.

The mirror thing was beyond me. I can remember staring into the mirror for a long time and just not getting it. My left hand stayed my left hand, and my right hand stayed my right hand. Or vice versa, because I wasn’t quite sure which was which. Truthfully, again . . . I really only understood one day recently that when I raised my right hand, the PERSON IN THE MIRROR was raising her left hand. It was like Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan at the well.

(I feel like I should attach my transcript here to prove that I’m not an idiot. Not my undergrad transcript, though, which would prove that I am, in fact, an idiot.)

Since then, I’ve learned that if I hold my hands up, index finger pointing up, thumbs perpendicular, my left hand will make an L shape, for left.  This works, when I remember to do it. But in a pinch, I am nearly always wrong.

Over the past few years though . . . decades, I guess . . . I’ve come to associate the direction left as being the way you turn when you are crossing over a lane of traffic. Right is when you don’t have to cross over a lane. So when I’m driving, I’m actually pretty spot on when someone tells me to make a left or a right.

Except in England. And Scotland. And Ireland. Where I am a menace.

I’ll spare you the multiple stories about almost getting run over here in the land of driving on the left. Even the words painted on the edge of the sidewalk saying, “Look right” or “Look left” don’t help. Because unless I think very hard, I don’t know which is which. Add to that the cars that are making turns off one street and on to the street I’m crossing—they are always a surprise. I only look for them where I think they might be coming from, and that is never where they’re coming from.

Yesterday, though. Yesterday I drove up from Anam Cara to Cork. By which I mean my new friend Maeve drove, and I sat in the passenger seat, on the left side of the car, giving her bad directions. Because my whole system for knowing right and left went to hell. Even after six weeks of flinching and gasping whenever I see a car making what looks like a really wide right turn into the left lane of the road, I am still waiting for the head-on collision. Because here, in Ireland (and of course England and Scotland and Wales), you have to cross over that lane of traffic when you make a RIGHT turn. Not a left turn. Unless you’re in my head, where right magically becomes left because you are crossing over that damn lane of traffic. We were actually at an intersection and I changed my mind four times about which way we were supposed to go. I was sure the GPS lady voice, and the map on the phone, were saying two different things.

They were not.

But Maeve and I are still friends, which is nice, because we are twins separated at birth. The only thing we don’t have in common is that Maeve knows her right from her left.

Today is my last full day in Europe. I fly to London tonight and to JFK tomorrow morning. You can tell I’m tired, I imagine, because I just wrote an entire post about left and right.

And now I have to get back to my anxiety attack that my luggage will be too heavy for British Airways and I’ll have to leave something vital behind.  Or piss off everyone on line behind me as I move things from a too-heavy suitcase to a slightly less heavy one, until the luggage-taking person gets sick of me and just checks them. I know, privilege problems again.

 

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“Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll” by Vic Muniz, in the “Seen, Not Heard” exhibit at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. Although Alice was certainly heard. Nice to begin and end this trip with Alice.

 

 

 

Revision, and how it sucks. And dogs. Always dogs.

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , , on July 16, 2019 by chateaucone
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The view from Anam Cara

So, here I am at Anam Cara, on the Beara Peninsula, in southwest Ireland. Anam Cara is a writers and artists retreat. You can see it here. This is my last stop before coming home, which is good, because I am tired. Not so much physically as that museum-tired you get after you’ve looked at too much art in one day. Over-stimulated. You hit the wall. (Privileged much?)

The country around here is beautiful, with green, rocky hills, and around every turn of the very windy, very narrow roads there’s another beautiful view. (And I’ve photographed every. single. one. Seriously. Come over sometime.)

I am once again struggling with an essay, which I guess in writer-language is called, “revising.” This is the piece about Scotland I’ve written about here before. I got some feedback on it from an editor I’m working with . . . and now I’m doing all this freewriting trying to get at the answers to the couple of questions she asked. It’s like when your therapist asks you the hard questions, and then doesn’t let you get away with the easy answers.

But, as luck would have it (luck, and having a very talented friend who blogs about her own writing process (That’s you, SKG.), I read these paragraphs just today—an hour ago—in her blog and had a little epiphany:

So my idea was that my play . . . is actually, essentially, about the seductive nature of narrative: how we are pulled in by other people’s stories, aroused by them, changed by them. How we try to adopt narratives, live inside them; how narrative sometimes saves us, but often fails us.

Having this little idea helped with my characters’ dialogue today. What stories did they want, or need, to tell? And what would be the consequences of those stories — as lived, and having been told?

Especially the part in red. That’s what my Scotland essay is about. (And, incidentally, SKG’s paragraph above pretty much wraps up my dissertation in a more concise, articulate way than I have thus far been able to do.)

You can (and should) read SKG’s blog here. Seriously. Especially if you create in any way. She is my idol, my role model for how to be a teacher AND a writer, and a thoughtful human being. And I’m going to steal her Artist in Residency idea.

But back to Anam Cara. Or Ireland in general. Last night I went to hear Anne Carson read her work at the West Cork Literary Festival. One of my new friends here at Anam Cara very kindly drove us to Bantry, which is about an hour away, where the reading was. (In another post, I will write about my apparent inability to stop flinching and/or outright gasping while in the car with someone who is driving on the left side of the road.) I would publicly thank her, but she’s kind of here incognito. She’s an Irish poet, and often writes in haiku. Anyway, in one of those “small world” moments, Carson talked about the writer John Cage, and so did SKG today in her blog. So of course I’m ordering his books so they’ll be on my doorstep when I get home next week. Sometimes the universe speaks. Or the sky. Whatevs.

Carson was extraordinary. She read this piece that was written as an autobiography of the sky, using the structure of the book of Genesis. And it was filled (filled!) with literary and scientific and political references that make me think Carson is the kind of person who reads AND absorbs. And who has read EVERYTHING in the world. And it made me wonder where the hell my brain was while I was in high school (and part of college, if we’re being honest—Okay, all of college). But Carson’s references all worked and made sense and added layers, and the sky, as the narrator, had a rather dry sense of humor. Carson’s delivery was perfect. (There is something about her that reminds me of Young Sheldon.) There was even an interview with Godot, about, as you can imagine, the non-arriving. You can actually hear a version of Carson’s reading here.

What else? It is July 16 and how the fuck did that happen? My brain stalled somewhere in June.

And I miss my girlies. A lot. And you, dear readers, if you follow me on Insta or FB, probably miss them too. You know you miss the photos. Be honest. Scout and Dill enhance your life. Way more than this blog post does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Poem/Good Poem

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , , , on July 7, 2019 by chateaucone

I wrote a blog post last night—almost 1000 words—and then I figured out that most of it was the missing piece of an essay I’ve been working on—that I put aside because I couldn’t figure out what was missing—and now I have no blog post. But I do perhaps have a better essay. And you, dear reader, are going to have to wait to read it until some lit mag takes pity on me and publishes it.

(The original blog post had a lot of misery about leaving Scotland. Seriously. Like a teenage breakup. If I’d kept going I’d have burst into bad poetry. Consider yourselves spared.)

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The Forth Bridges, flying away from Edinburgh

I’m in Belfast now.

I have this thing where I hate any city I visit the first day I’m there. This is perhaps worse if I’ve just left a place I especially love, and didn’t want to leave.

My journal from my first day in Rome—July 2005—is full of, “OMG. This was a huge mistake. I hate Rome. It’s hot and crowded and confusing. Why did I think this trip was a good idea? Blah, blah, blah, self-pity, self-pity, self-pity, homesick, homesick, homesick.”

By the second day in Rome, I’d found the Porta San Pancrazio, looked out over Rome from the Janiculum Hill, and read one of my favorite poems about that very spot, on that very spot.  This was pre-iPhone-that-works-in-Europe, but I had the poem in my journal and my journal in my pocket.  “The sun high above a winter Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays.” Joseph Brodsky, “Porta San Pancrazio.” Of course I went back in December, on my way home—my last stop before leaving Europe that trip—and tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph the purple smoke above a winter Rome. But it didn’t matter. I’d fallen in love with Brodsky’s Rome.

And tomorrow, at the Giant’s Causeway, I will fall in love with Northern Ireland.

Here is the whole poem. I read it in The New Yorkerin college, back when I only sort of got most of the writing in The New Yorker, but thought I was really cool to have a subscription.

Porta San Pancrazio

The bees haven’t buzzed away, nor has a horseman galloped
off. In the bar Gianicolo, old-timers enjoy their salad
days, and the ice cube melts, cooling the ailing motor
grateful for sipping twice the proverbial water.

Eight years have scurried by. Wars have flared up and smoldered
families crumbled, scum bared its teeth grown older;
airplanes fell from the sky and radio mumbled “Jesus.”
the linen can still be washed, but the dermal creases

won’t yield to the gentlest palm. The sun high above a winter
Rome is jostling the purple smoke with bare rays. The cinder
reeks of burnt leaves, and the fountain is glittering like a wobbly
medal pinned to a cannon at noon for its aimless volley.

Stone is employed worldwide to keep memory captive.
Yet cropping up is much harder than vanishing in a perspective
running out of the city straight through the years and further
in its pursuit of pure time, devoid of love and future.

Life without us is, darling, thinkable. It exists as
honeybees, horsemen, bars, habitués, columns, vistas,
and clouds over this battlefield whose every standing statue
triumphs, with its physique, over a chance to touch you.

–Joseph Brodsky, 1989

 

Mired

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags on June 30, 2019 by chateaucone

I am so deeply in the muck right now with this essay I’m writing about Scotland that I may never get out.

I’ve somehow managed to cram all of these pieces into it so far:

Edmund Husserl
Joseph Beuys
John Locke
Ley lines
Ian Rankin and the John Rebus series (which, at least are set in Edinburgh)
The Phenomenology course I took in undergrad
Assorted Scottish legends and myths, probably slightly mis-told
Clava Cairns
Energy dowsing
Meikle Seggie (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this is)
Richard DeMarco and the The Road to Meikle Seggie(which may be both physical and spiritual?)
Madeleine L’Engle (natch)
Poststructural thinking on the self/subjectivity (Let the dissertation go already, Elizabeth!)
The construction of caskets
Narnia, specifically The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Roland Barthes
A timeline of the kilt
King George IV
Beuys’ first sculpture teacher in Dusseldorf
Oedipus (briefly)
American churches vs Scottish churches

(Aren’t you dying to read it now?)

I have fallen down the rabbit hole. (And yet not mentioned Alice anywhere in this piece. Which is weird. Alice is one of my go-to references.)

I no longer know what the piece is about. And I’m not sure I can identify the latest draft among the dozens I have saved.

There is just too much. And as if all of this is not enough, I am compelled—compelled!—to go the Scottish Storytelling Center today to see what they have (and not just because there’s a really cute teashop across the street). AND  I’ve requested four more books from the National Library. (Which is, incidentally, across the street from the Elephant House, where JK Rawling allegedly wrote some of Harry Potter—and while this has not been confirmed, it has certainly been capitalized upon. Ian McEwan is rumored to do some writing there as well, but he doesn’t have the same sort of fan base Rawling does.)

(The National Library of Scotland General Reading Room is cool because it’s full of very serious people reading very serious, very old books. You’re not allowed to bring anything in that’s larger than a laptop, you can only use pencil, no pens, and . . .a whole bunch of other rules I’m forgetting. (Sadly there are no sparkling clean white cotton gloves.) You learn all of this from the lecture you get from the guy who takes your picture and then makes your library card, while he keeps gesturing as though he’s about to hand you the card and you keep reaching for it, and then he keeps talking, and it’s all rather awkward. But hell, I’m practically in the Bodleian reading Ashmole 782! Which I’ve also mentioned in this essay.

I didn’t get to do this kind of research for my dissertation, because it was all about relatively new narrative research methods and theories. I did talk about the occasional really old text, like Augustine’s Confessions,but there was really no need for me to hunt down an original manuscript with, like, Augustine’s personal notes in it. (This is rather a long parenthetical thought.))

And then there’s Rosslyn Chapel, which I’ve been to three or four times, but I feel like I need to revisit. (See “ley lines” above. And “energy dowsing.” Oh, and cool legends about the Knights Templar being buried there. I wonder if I can work them in too.)

I heard Nan Talese, Pat Conroy’s editor at Knopf/Doubleday, speak years ago and she told a story about editing Conroy’s books. She said he wrote his novels in bits and pieces and essentially sent her a box of scraps which she then shaped into a novel. I wonder if she is available. (Incidentally, she edits Ian McEwan too. I wonder if she hangs out at the Elephant House.)

As fun and cool and even logical as it sounds to write an essay about Scotland in Scotland, it is way overwhelming.

And I have maybe fallen out the composing process and into the procrastination process. Such a thin line.

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Cutest street in North Berwick

 

 

Embarrassing Bodies, Monsters, Time Travel and Other Adventures in Scotland

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags , on June 23, 2019 by chateaucone

So, Embarrassing Bodies. From which I assume that the British version of the FCC does not frown upon nudity, no matter the gender, or the close-up.

I’m flipping through the channels the other night, here in Scotland, because I have no idea what is on where, or even what channels this tv has. Or even what time shows start, because in UK, one cannot assume that a show starts on the hour, or the half hour. Some shows start at, say, 6:55, or 8:20. Anyway. As I’m flipping, “Antiques Road Trip,” not to be confused with “Antiques Roadshow,” is ending and something called “Embarrassing Bodies” is beginning. Could you resist? No. You could not. Even if you’re being all high-minded right now and pretending you could.

“Embarrassing Bodies” has a great concept. These two doctors roam around Britian, and set up clinics where people can come if they have anything weird going on. And then most of them are assured whatever is going on is perfectly normal and not life-threatening, or, at the very least, treatable. The message is, “All of our bodies are pretty weird. It’s normal.” I get it, and I probably would have appreciated it when I was doing the whole puberty thing and everything about my body felt weird. Hell, I appreciate it now. (Weird things continue to happen in your 50s. But that’s another post.)

And it’s all filmed. Which really calls the whole “embarrassing” thing into question. I mean, if you’ve got something seriously peculiar going on, that embarrasses you, would you agree to have your whole appointment, and your embarrassing body part examined, on film? But whatever. When I say “it’s all filmed,” I mean, it’s all filmed. Not only all kinds of private parts, penises and va-jay-jays, and other…orifices…but privates that are experiencing something odd, like extra parts, or extra holes, or cysts or tumors, or stuff that is supposed to remain inside coming out. All right there on the giant television in my Airbnb. Close up. Zoomed in. We are not a pretty species close up.

Anyway, still in Scotland, but we braved the Highlands this weekend. And two things did not happen while we were there:

  1. We did not see Nessie.
  2. When I flung myself at the standing stone at Clava Cairns, I did not go back in time 200 years. (Obs. I mean, here I am writing a blog post. Which I could not do in, say, 1819. I mean, I could write it, but what would I do with it?)

So, Outlanderand the Loch Ness Monster be damned.

But! But but but. We took a tour with the most awesome guides, Dave and Susie from Inverness Tours. They took us all over the Highlands, to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle and a cool pub for lunch, and Dave told us all the good stories—history, myth and legend—about the Picts, the Druids, the Celts, the Scots and the Clans. There were MacDonalds and Frasers and Grants and cattle stealing and dirks and mysterious markings on stones and  St. Columba and those damn Redcoats and horrible slaughters in battle and pagans. Pagans are my favorite.

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Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness

Of course the stories were the best part. But the second best part was Clava Cairns.

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Dave with my cousin Rob

At Clava Cairns, we saw burial cairns and stone circles that are 1500 years older than Stonehenge, and that were created by the Druids. Dave and Susie taught us how to use dowsing rods to locate energy and ley lines in the stones and in the ground. It was magical—literally and figuratively, and when those dowsing rods moved in my hands, I totally got the shivers. Dave told us how one cairn was lined up precisely with the sun on the Winter Solstice, so that the sun created a path of light directly to the center of it. As the sun set, the path would be crossed over slowly by the shadow of the largest standing stone, opening and closing the connection between the physical and the spiritual worlds. (I’m sure I’ve got some details wrong here but you get the idea.)

Who wants to come back with me on December 21?

And now we return to the terrible and the mundane. Here’s Mitch McConnell at the Royal Highland Show. I know the traditional representation of McConnell is a turtle, but look at this sheep. McConnell as a sheep. So many layers.

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P.S. Lichens and moss. You can’t see enough lichens and moss.

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Hail, Caledonia!

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags on June 14, 2019 by chateaucone

Welcome to Sabbatical 3, c. 2019. More important, welcome to the revival of the blog. (Apparently, I only blog on sabbatical.)

Sabbatical 2, c. 2012, otherwise known as the Dissertation/Greenport Sabbatical, was pretty well documented right here, and so the blog became part of the “scholarly project” of the sabbatical. Clever, no?

Sabbatical 1, c. 2005-06, the glorious European sabbatical, spanned two semesters. (There is something to be said for owning only enough stuff that you can put it all in storage for a mere $100 a month, and then live on half your salary, for the next 12 months. And then live with your mother for another two months while you wait to close on your new co-op, purchased, wisely, at the end of a full year at half-pay, and seconds, mere seconds! before the bottom fell out of the market. Hey, what’s $70,000, give or take? Who needs equity? But this is not the blog for financial…well, for anything financial. In fact, sabbaticals, for me, always precede 7 years of famine, during which I pay for said sabbatical. Literally. Figuratively. Really just literally. Hopefully not figuratively. Geez. Where was I?)

Right. Sabbatical 3. I am considering all of the summer of 2019 as part of my sabbatical, mostly because the specter of Paying-Back-The-Money-If-I-Don’t-Do-The-Work makes me start the work technically early. (See Sabbatical 2, wherein I wrote 100 pages in August. August!)

(Note: At least a few of my colleagues, who submitted amazing sabbatical proposals, were denied last year, and that is seriously unfair. And short-sighted on the part of the SCCC administration. Was this one of those money-saving things where we’re not allowed to buy any more pens but you can hire yet another Vice President of Something-to-Do-With-Assessment? Hmmm. It costs $25,000 to send a faculty member on sabbatical, roughly. Four or five classes taught by adjuncts who make very little money and get no benefits. And the benefit to the college? Textbooks, novels, collections of poetry and essays and short stories written and published, articles placed in refereed journals, research conducted, breakthroughs made, dissertations completed and defended, doctorates earned. Epiphanies! Faculty building their credentials in their fields. Major bragging rights for the college. Informed, active faculty members sharing their knowledge and experience with our students. You get it.)

Back to Sabbatical 3. I’m going to call this the Scottish/Canadian sabbatical. One of my cousins was under the impression that you have to travel on sabbatical. My fault. It turns out, I’m not very good at writing at my own desk, in the midst of my own life. During regular semesters I try to hide out in coffee shops or the library—anything to get me out of the house and out of the office—and write. But when I can go away, I’m gone. There is just so much brain-filling (Is that a thing?) when you travel. Even if you’re blocked on whatever piece is on top of your too-hard pile, there’s new stuff to write about. Museums unblock me. Concerts too. I have an embarrassing collection of programs from the weekly Sunday evening concerts at St. Giles in Edinburgh in 2005 and 2006, covered in notes for pieces I was writing. Whatever I was stuck on came unstuck listening to music I know nothing about, and sometimes don’t even enjoy. (Mostly I enjoyed it.)

I’ve been in the UK for a week now. I spent a few days in London (well documented on Insta), a day in Oxford (two-hour walking tour in the pouring rain, but still cool—I mean, the Bodleian) and now I’m in Edinburgh. Well, North Berwick.

North Berwick is this beautiful little seaside town that is a quick train ride to Waverley Station in the middle of Edinburgh. Hoping on the train most mornings makes me feel like a commuter. Like a real-life Scottish person.

And on the walk home from the train station, I stop and look at all the real estate listings in the window of the real estate office.

At the end of my month in Scotland, I’m going to Ireland, partly for a writing retreat, but also to see the Giants Causeway, because I’ve been looking at a poster of Joseph Beuys at the Giants Causeway over my desk since sometime in college. More on Beuys later.

In fact, more on everything later. It’s late. The sun stays out here forever (seriously, it’s 9:45 pm, and still light out) and I therefore have no idea what time it is, ever. (Add to that this whole military time thing. I shouldn’t have to do math to know what time it is. And now, I’ve put my phone on military time, and time has lost all meaning.) All of a sudden it’s midnight, or, zero, as my phone says, and I think it’s only 8 pm. But the views…long sunsets over the Firth of Forth. Amazing. I am so retiring here. (The math will keep my mind sharp when I’m old.) And I am so running down to the beach right now to watch the rest of the sunset. At nearly 10 pm. Crazy. Photos to follow. (Did I mention the sun comes up at about 3:30 am? Blackout shades. Best thing ever.)

Oh, and I’m writing! A lot! Yay! (And that’s my personal allotment of exclamation points.)

Next time: The strange and bizarre British phenomenon that is Embarrassing Bodies. I’ll leave that to your imagination for a little bit.

 

 

 

 

Half-Orphan Girl

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by chateaucone

I am not that girl. I am not that half-orphan girl. I am not the girl who lost her father, who has only one parent. A dying father is not part of my narrative. I am not this somehow 48-year-old woman who remembers the passing of the last generation of great aunts and great uncles and grandmothers, wakes and funerals and cemeteries in Brooklyn, being five and six and seven, wearing dresses and tights and black patent leather shoes, sitting quietly while my parents kneeled in front of caskets, praying.

I am not experiencing for myself what my mother and father and aunts and uncles experienced then. I am not one of the grown ups being introduced to that five and six and seven-year-old girl, who wasn’t quite sure who they were, or what to say to them.

I am that five and six and seven-year-old girl, safe and sound in the backseat of her parents’ old Pontiac, father driving east on the Belt Parkway, mother telling her to close her eyes and go to sleep.