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Perry Miller(1948), from Jonathan Edwards on the Sense of the Heart:

Edwards's problem then became to make words capable not of evoking the idea itself, but of inciting a full awareness of the idea previously given through experience. Without awareness there could be no regeneration. The regenerate state thus becomes one with that living, pulsating state in which a word is vividly, fully identified with its sensation. As life is lived from day to day, the name imperceptibly takes the place of the sensation, and ultimately becomes the only object for the idea. By then the idea becomes a decaying phantasm and only verbal knowledge remains. To our horror we realize that we are lost among signs, none of which any longer have reality.
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I just joined Facebook, so if you're there and want to friend me, that'd be swell.

Paul Lisicky is reading the manuscript of my novel, and posted this beautiful thing about it last night.
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I've been revising on paper, lugging copies of the manuscript up to the library in the basket of my trike. I've been working from a manuscript from April that's all marked up, a clean copy of an interim manuscript in which I've made some big cuts and restructuring moves, a chapter outline with dates, summaries and ideas for revision, and a yellow legal pad. Plus, timelines, notes on spiders and insects, and such.

I've been carrying everything in a sturdy black canvas shopping bag with a broken zipper that Sally brought me from this year's AWP. Sometimes I've had to put that into a plastic garbage bag to get my papers home dry in the rain. All of my papers and folders barely fit in the bag (hence, the broken zipper). There's a brown accordion folder that I've been using for the April manuscript and a legal sized expanding marbled brown paper portfolio with a fold-over flap that has both a snap and a built-in rubber band to keep it shut for the interim manuscript. These two old fashioned folders have become beautiful with wear. I already loved the accordion folds and now some of them have gone feathery. I've had to reinforce the edges with silver duct tape, which shines. I love the work they've done for me in containing my unruly book, and I love how they are changing texture from the friction of this revision.
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I've been working a lot at Forbes Library, the Northampton public library. They have these great study nooks with tall windows, green blinds, curves of dark wood to help you nestle into your work. Fifteen minutes before they close for the day, someone walks through the building ringing a hand bell. It's a good sound. I work for forty-five minutes, then take fifteen minute breaks, and lately, on breaks, I've been going outside, walking around the corner of the building, and sitting on a obscure bench to eat an apple with my feet on a piece of granite that was once a doorstep to Jonathan Edwards's house. There's a little plaque about it, too, which credits him with helping to spark the wave of Christian revivals they called the Great Awakening. The last time I used the bench, I had to wait until a guy was done drawing patterns with the ash of his smashed out cigarette on the Jonathan Edwards doorstep.

Yesterday, though, I ended up across Rt. 66 at the Neilson library at Smith College, because, distracted, I forgot that Forbes is only open 1-5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was hours early. The study carrel I was poaching in had bad light, but when I was working on getting more of what Jonathan and Sarah were feeling while he preached a sermon on the death of one of his daughters, I was looking at the text from the bible he used:

Job 14:2. Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.

He actually based the sermon, including the scripture, on another funeral sermon he had given seven years before, because, I figure, he must have been just too emotionally devastated to try and start fresh. As I was thinking about this, and what he actually said in the sermon (and because of the great resources at The Jonathan Edwards Center, I know which part of what he said was the old sermon and what he added), I went to find Smith's copy of Jonathan Edwards' blank bible, and looked up the notes he had taken in the margins about that chapter: Job 14. One thing he referred himself to was Dr. Sherlock's book, Use and Intent of Prophecy. (That's not a book I know.)

And that, how to say this?, was a beautiful, tiny epiphany. It is profoundly pleasurable to me to be able to know a little about thoughts Jonathan Edwards had about the chapter of the bible that he used when he preached his daughter's funeral. It is part of the reason, I think, that, despite everything, I love him so much. He was generous with the records of his thought, generous with himself about it, at least, and rigorously honest, so that he left a trail that makes it possible for him and the people around him to become plausibly visible to a worldview like mine, so different from his. (And I contend that my worldview is part of his legacy, whether he would like it or not. I am part of what he made with his writing about those surprising works of God.)

Maybe that sounds complicated, but I'm trying to talk, right now, about something very simple. It is such a -- whoosh -- strange, thrilling and emotional journey through time to investigate these feelings, and to have a note from Jonathan Edwards on the very chapter I need.
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So, yeah, I grew up in Colorado, with summer trips to Texas every year to see my parents' families. My parents moved back to Texas in the eighties, into my grandparents' house. Jonathan Edwards captured language for "an angry, unpredictable God," and, right now, I'm thinking, one of the things that is a legacy of the Calvinists and Puritans, more a function of their time than of their religion, although JB Jackson has written about about the specific Puritan landscape that they brought from Europe and reinacted in New England (each family allocated a homelot, grazing land and wood lands, along with the shared common and the gathering place of the meeting house; sometimes, by law, everyone had to live within sound of the church bell, which called people together, not just to worship, but any time they needed to be summoned as a group) -- that one thing Northampton, for instance, has as a legacy of the Calvinists is that it clusters on a human scale, with many needed things available on foot or by bike, as they needed to be when everyone walked or rode.

Another thing about Jonathan Edwards is that he was unusual for his time, European background and cultural position in reading the landscape as a language, the physical world as part of God's efforts to communicate with his people. Most stuck to Scripture, but he read the crops, animals, bugs, water, storms, clouds, too. (Hmm, although there definitely was a Puritan tradition of taking omens, portents and acts of nature seriously as messages from God, sometimes admissable as evidence in court and things like that.)

Here's Rebecca Solnit from Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics again, looking at The Great Basin. Western, desert lands:

Because wild creatures too are spread far apart and often operate at night, because the colors and changes of the plant life can be subtle, it often seems as though the real drama is in the sky -- not exactly life, but life-giving, the light and the rain. Summer thunderstorms in the arid lands are an operatic drama, particularly in New Mexico, where the plot normally unfolds pretty much the same way every day during the summer monsoon season: clear morning skies are gradually overtaken by cumulus clouds as scattered and innocuous as a flock of grazing sheep, until they gather and turn dark; then the afternoon storm breaks, with lightning, with thunder, with crashing rain that can turn a dusty road into a necklace of puddles reflecting the turbulent sky. New Mexico is besieged now by a horrendous multiyear drought, and, watching the clouds gather every afternoon as if for this dionysian release that never came, I felt for the first time something of that beseeching powerlessness of those who prayed to an angry, unpredictable God and felt how easy it would be to identify that God with the glorious, fickle, implacable desert sky.

The whole essay quoted,"The Red Lands," is available as a pdf at the link above.
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Northampton, the small city I live in, has a long history with both problematic and transformative ideas of itself as paradise. Jonathan Edwards had a role in that and suffered consequences from it, too. In 1992, we went through a media frenzy sparked by a National Enquirer story about Northampton as "Lesbianville, USA: 10,000 cuddling, kissing lesbians," which framed it as another kind of paradise and/or freak show, depending on your perspective. But, yeah, it's not alone in that. My brother, the landscape painter, gave me this book. The tension between idealism and the mess of human reality continues to fascinate me. I keep struggling to be able to make a whole out of experiences of both.

From Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscape for politics:

The fundamental desire could be described as the desire for paradise, or perhaps the demand for it -- for the city on a hill; for a more perfect union; for getting to the mountaintop, in Martin Luther King Jr.'s sense as well as Thoreau's and Muir's; for the peaceable kingdom that devolves into the gated noncommunity but is also this country's rich history of utopian communities and social experiments. )
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  • So, it was up to twenty mph winds today, and got down to 18 degrees. I finally got some winter triking clothes figured out so that I could go to the grocery store. Long socks, leggings, jeans. T-shirt, sweater, sweat shirt, jacket. The ever important good gloves, and a hat that fits under my helmet. My cheeks and nose were still cold, and it was slow going against that wind (which blew my trike in a semi circle when I was off it to fill in a deposit slip at the drive-through machine at the bank, and blew the parsley out of my shopping bag when I left it on my steps to go lock up the trike), but it was exhilerating, too. Okay, here comes winter. I can do it.


  • I see the folks from Pedal People a lot. Often, we're some of the few winter bikers out, only they're pulling trailers full of trash cans as part of their hauling and delivery service. (I just saw on their website that they're starting a pre-order food coop, too.) On a cold day recently, someone who I recognize from the website as Ruthy pedalled up beside me on the bike path and started chatting about the advantages of trikes versus bikes with trailers. She said that it always makes her happy to see me out on my trike, and I feel the same about them. Plus, they put up a pay phone and a bench and a tire pump people can use outside their yard, and they have a lending library. It's all pretty sweet.

    If you scroll down their photo page, they've got a good shot of the bike path in winter.


  • I found out from [livejournal.com profile] nunofthat, who just put up a great (locked) post about winter biking, that Chicago has a bike station, where people can bike to work, park their bikes securely, take showers, leave their stuff in lockers and go about their days. Love that.


  • A friend was visiting last week. This was gorgeous. We ate sweet squash in oatmeal most mornings, and did many wonderful things, including a tour of Jonathan Edwards sites I'd never been to before: an eighteenth century church; his birthplace and the graves of his parents in an excellent cemetery with many terrific carvings of angels, plus one of the country's oldest post offices, which was a store in his time; and the town where he preached his most famous sermon. We took the old highway along the river.
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  • I'll be reading from the novel this Saturday, 3:20 - 4:10 pm, at First Churches in Northampton as part of a conference on Jonathan Edwards and the Environment. Come if you'd like!

  • I finished another draft of the novel. People are reading. Some have been praising. Who knows what will happen next, or how, or when? I'm summoning my patience and resilience. Deep breaths.



I'm still dreaming of The Oxbow by Thomas Cole for the cover. I hear that the word shaddai, the Almighty, appears to be written upside down in Hebrew letters on the distant hill.

Here is the painting.  )
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I'm going to be one of the speakers at a conference in October on Jonathan Edwards and the environment. In thinking about my proposal for that event -- I'll mostly be reading work from the new novel -- I've been looking again at landscape historian JB Jackson.

Jonathan Edwards wrote: I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words...

In the final essay of Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, JB Jackson wrote:

Like a language, a landscape will have obscure and undecipherable origins, like a language it is the slow creation of all elements in society. Read more... )
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It's cooled down this morning, but it's been hot in my apartment, and men have been putting siding on a very near house, making it hard to work here. I've been working well other places, though. Yesterday, I went in the morning to the beautiful graveyard, and did some delicious, sentence by sentence revision (that's my favorite, the fine polishing stuff, when deep glints suddenly come up) under the shade of my favorite tree, everything I needed in the basket of my trike. Then, I looped by the store for some chicken, two apples and a pear, then went to the library. When I first asked at the reference desk about court records from January 1736 (I wanted to try to double check details about a flogging), the librarian said they didn't have the records, but I went upstairs to the local history room, where the amazing Mrs. Feeley, retired head reference librarian and very well-informed and ardent admirer of Jonathan Edwards, still works on Fridays and Saturday afternoons. She was waiting for someone from Seattle who had an appointment to do geneology research, but she left me to be her "temporary docent" outside the door of the archive, and went to look in the basement. She wasn't sure that she could find the microfilm, since there have been two head reference librarians and a renovation since she retired and they move things around without telling her, but she came back waving the little cardboard box of microfilm over her head in triumph: microfilm of the records of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace and the Inferiour Court of Common Pleas holden at Northampton, 1735 - 1741.

The flogging wasn't there on the third Tuesday of January, being the 20th day, 1735/6 (there was a confusing date shift in these years) -- they must have tried it, I think, in criminal court -- but tons of interesting things were, including the license granted as an innholder, taverner and common victualler granted the guy in whose tavern I'd just revised a key scene, with the law directing him to keep "good rule and order," and a lot of debt, land deals (including one really intriguing one) and fornication cases (usually settled by paying 50 shillings).

So much fun.
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When we Go About to form an idea of Perfect nothing we must shut Out all these things we must shut out of our minds both space that has something in it and space that has nothing in it we must not allow our selves to think of the least part of space never so small, nor must we suffer our thoughts to take sanctuary in a mathematical point, when we Go to Expell emptiness from Our thoughts we must not think to squeese it out by any thing Close hard and solid but we must think of the same that the sleeping Rocks Dream of and not till then shall we Get a Compleat idea of nothing

Jonathan Edwards, from Of Being

Unless inspired or impulsive, I won't be posting in July.
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My very good friend, writer Sally Bellerose, just posted a little bit about what she thinks of my novel (and also what she thinks about God), which thrills me no end (at the same time that I'm not happy to hear that she's gotten emails giving her trouble for being queer and writing about Christianity).

It's true what she says: Sally was dismayed and alarmed when I told her that I was starting to write about a Calvinist minister. It pretty much freaked her out. (As it did almost everybody else I love, who know by now that when I start a novel, like it or not, they're going to be living with the subject matter for a long time to come. Not that Sally didn't have things to say about how Carline -- the fat, middle-aged lesbian in my last novel, Venus of Chalk -- behaved, too...)

What she gives me is so important, profound, dogged and invaluable. Sally's been my first reader for every single word of the book. I give it to her in sections as I write it, and, no matter what else is going on in her life -- which is usually a lot -- she reads it and gives it back with critical response (including the very important element: convincing, well-backed up praise). I do the same for her work. It's also true, as she says, that I really do love Jonathan Edwards, with his brilliance and his great, burning clouds of language; his family and friends who clearly honored and loved him so much; and his huge, terrific flaws, most notably, pride. Such pride.

Sally's writing has been winning contests right and left lately (and actually, pretty much all of the twenty years that I've known her, including an NEA grant), and her poem about her grandmother, Memere Does Time in the Shirtwaist Factory, was just featured the newsletter of Winning Writers, which has a circulation of 16,000.

I'm going!

Jan. 31st, 2007 08:56 am
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I found a $600 ticket from JFK -- thanks especially to [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso and [livejournal.com profile] hhholiday for their great leads about where to look for good prices -- airfarewatchdog.com and www.fareline.com

And to [livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper, my favorite travel writer, for sure, for her delicious articles about Budapest -- I'm dreaming of those baths. And about learning more about Jonathan Edwards from an international perspective.

A donor pledged a gift of $100 towards the trip in support of my work. And yesterday I got asked to do a paid speaking gig on fat liberation for a class at Mt. Holyoke in February. That's a start at covering the costs (between about $1,300 and $1,500 altogether, I think). The expense scares me a little, but I'm going.

The presenters are all men and academics (lots of specialists in church history), but I offered to send a one page sample of the novel (the one that's up on my website), if they're interested. One of the organizers on the Hungarian side replied that he'd forwarded my query about that to the central organizer in the US, who is at the University of Roanoke. I'd love to give a reading from the work while I'm there. But, really, I'm just delighted to be going. Whew.

PS When it gets closer to May, I'll be asking for advice to be sure that I understand how to take the train from Penn Station to JFK -- I've never flown out of New York City before.
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I was coming home from the grocery story (It's cold out there these days. I'm still not ready. I can only find one glove. Also, the pedalling seems to be getting stiffer, a little harder to do. I don't know why.), and just as I got to the sidewalk in front of the school across from my house, there was E. from Food For Thought, striding with such specific elegance down the sidewalk, calling my name, bringing me a book I had ordered, on her way to other lovely places. It was really great to be handed a book I'd been needing out there in the air.

Admiring my trike, E. told me that a friend of hers had rigged up a blender powered by a bike to make smoothies, and another was helping to design bicycle ambulances. (I don't know any more about it, but that's was she said.)

The book is Malian's Song by Marge Bruchac, which is a wonderful children's book based on an eyewitness Abenaki account of Robert Rogers’ 1759 raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis. It's outside of the time of the novel I'm writing, but it's helpful to get more context for Abenaki domestic life of the period and to pay attention to the differences between the British military accounts of that attack (which I'd just read), and this Abenaki account.

On the way to the store, I had been taking the route I always take, past the graveyard, which I think is one that the Edwards household used to use to walk back and forth to where they kept their livestock on the minister's sequestered land, once they got use of it in 1741, and just as I was riding on the uneven, bush-narrowed sidewalk before the turn to go under the railroad bridge, just below Edwards square where their family house used to be, I saw a man with a big gray beard riding in the street, coming from the other direction, look at me a little funny, then I turned the corner, and there, under the bridge, the dark, sheltered part where I'm always trying to manuever past broken glass, where the street feels much too narrow to join the cars, there, right in my path, was a couple, kissing and held close together in a way that made it possible to see the feeling between them, to be reminded of feeling something like that myself. I slowed down almost to a stop, wondering if I'd have to speak, but the woman saw me, and gently guided the man to one side, it didn't seem like an interuption, but a brief drawing apart, and he had a big laughing kind of smile on his face, without actually laughing. They were still holding hands, and stepped together again in their long dark coats as I passed.
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Here is one thing that happened at Saturday's event:

I went on a Edwards walking tour of Northampton during which the one other person walking (three more took a car) was a woman who started out talking about the weather and ended up spending our walks between Edwards sites giving me an unsolicited lecture about exercise and diabetes. Then she went on to eating disorders.

Which raises the question for me: how many people I meet are completely distracted from the rest of our interactions by the lectures that they're giving me in their heads?
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Here's a link to a brief excerpt from the novel that I read yesterday. It's about Jonathan Edwards' love of writing letters.

One good thing that came out of letting people know about the reading is that Ken Minkema from the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale has offered to post the excerpt on their website. I'll post a link when it's up.

And I was invited to come back and read in the gorgeous First Churches sanctuary, complete with the chair made from wood from the elm tree that used to grow in front of the Edwards' house, when the book is published.

Another good thing is that I got to read this for [livejournal.com profile] amarama when I was in San Francisco. She taped it and responded to it, and having had that experience with her is such a great thing to carry with me in these other settings.
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Under the cut below is the schedule for the Jonathan Edwards event this Saturday. It's free, at First Churches in downtown Northampton. I'm reading at 2 pm.

Both "soon to be published" and the description below of what the book is about are not exactly the story, but, anyway, it's the first time I'm reading any of the work in the context of an event centered on Jonathan Edwards, and, as I said before, this is at the congregation where he preached for more than twenty years in the 1720s through 1750, so it's moving to me. I hadn't been completely believing that it was really going to happen. But, it is. And I feel honored to be a part of it.

Last week, I read that in 1741, Jonathan Edwards was given use of half of the minister's sequestered land, in addition to his salary and a yearly supply of firewood. (The family used 92 sled loads one year, and access to wood on public lands was a hotly contested issue as the town moved from the "commons" model of its first 100 years or so to more exclusive private ownership.) I read that in the cemetery, where I love to work and read and walk, and realized that the sequestered land was part of this land abutting the old burying ground. You know, the land where I was at that very minute. Not only are family members buried here, but the family must have regularly walked where I ride my trike almost every day, from their house on King Street to the land. Reading that with light coming through the leaves of my favorite maple and gnats darting like specks of light -- specks of annoying, amazing, ungovernable, creaturely life -- it moved me.

Here's the schedule for the day. I'd love for folks to come, if you're interested. )

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