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In the evening, I had the pleasure of going to a $3 outdoor concert at Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my friends Sarah Van Arsdale (that's a great picture of her at the link, with info about her most recent book, Blue. She also wrote the wonderful Toward Amnesia) and Alison Smith (the link has info about her beautiful memoir, Name All the Animals, plus a picture of Alison, too). I wore my cherry sundress, and we had a picnic on a blanket on the grassy hill (Alison pointed out that the trembling of the ground was the subway passing underneath!) and ate chicken and salads and heard great, invigorating, moving music from Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely with Bernice Johnson Reagon and the band Juca, too. I was kind of swooning from contentment, except when rocking out. I ran into [livejournal.com profile] stillwell and her partner on the sidewalk afterwards! And Sarah and I had lovely talks on the subway, and at her apartment with her partner over breakfast.

Before I had to catch the train home on Sunday morning, I went to the New York Historical Society and saw a great show, Legacies, in which contemporary artists reflect on slavery. This helps me in thinking about slavery in the novel I'm working on now. It was all powerful work, but the most intense, for me, was Ellen Driscoll's complex piece. It was a camera obscura inspired by the story of Harriet Jacobs, who, in escaping from her slave owner, lived for seven years in the eaves of her grandmother's shed, with only a small peephole through which to look out at the world. When the guard told me that I could open the door to the small space and go into the camera, I was disoriented by the total darkness, and then rivetted by the floating images from the peephole camera of the objects circling outside. I stayed so long that it was hard to find the door when I was ready to leave.

I also went upstairs to see paintings from the Hudson River School, including the series "Course of Empire" by Thomas Cole -- seeing those paintings help me thinking about my brother's work and the possibility of collaboration with him.

Blue

Oct. 19th, 2003 11:30 am
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I went to a beautiful reading in New York this weekend. It was my dear friend, Sarah Van Arsdale, reading from her second novel Blue, which was just released by the University of Tennessee Press, where it won the Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel.

I was in the Valley Lesbian Writers Group with Sarah for a whole bunch of years in the late eighties and early nineties, and it's so great to see her getting compared to Faulkner (!) and to witness her persistent love of language getting her back into print, surrounded by people who love and/or admire her and her work, happy in her happiness.

The book itself I could fall in love with simply for all of the music in the ways she describes the sounds of cars passing, so that the sounds of their tires on the road come shushing past, and the traffic sounds like water in a river. I think that, too -- that the sound of traffic is like great waves of modern life and motion, people going places in rhythmic, incessant spurts and ebbs, washing past people walking or sitting or sleeping like a river rolling on. Blue uses suspense and mystery very effectively, but its strongest pull on me was as a meditation on the repetitive qualities of grief and loss, how much these human experiences overlap and are the same from one person to another, as if we were all dangling our feet into the same slow river, and how dizzy we get with memory, or with lack of memory, of all that we've suffered, all that we've loved. And, still, there are the specifics of each person's story: a cleft lip, a culture, one particular Halloween. People don't become one another, even if we have common experiences, and are inextricably joined. In Blue, which uses repetition in a beautiful way that is both revelatory and disorienting, the novel begins one woman witnessing another being dumped from a moving car. Both are without coherent memories of who they are, and where they're from.

I also got to talk with my friend Alison about her memoir, about moving to Brooklyn. I'm getting less and less intimidated by the city, for all that I still have trouble getting through the subway turnstyles without wasting a fare or two, more and more present when I'm there with the hardworking, ordinary affections that do the heavy-lifting in my life. I stayed with the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] beccawrites who told me stories of her trip to the civil rights museum in Memphis and gave me such a sweet, ringing, "Happy Birthday" as the first thing I heard the next day.

It was a good trip. And turning 43 left me drenched with the kindness of the people I love. Lucky.
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My old friend Sarah Van Arsdale is giving a book-launching reading for her second novel, BLUE on Thursday, October 16 at 7 at the
Housing Works, Bookstore and Cafe at 126 Crosby Street in New York City.

This is really exciting. I was in a writers group with Sarah for years and years in Northampton, and now she's won this thing called the Peter Taylor Prize, and the book's going to be published by the University of Tennessee Press. Her first novel, Toward Amnesia, is really fabulous, too. Sarah once wrote a poem (and not a short one) looked at it in the mirror, and found that it was interesting whether you read it backwards or forewards, so the poem became both versions together. The thing I love about this is that she bothered to look at it in the mirror, and to recognize what she saw. There's nothing like a radical shift of perspective to free things up.

This post represents the first time I've entered a link to something, like the Housing Works Bookstore/Cafe -- which, by the way, evidently donates its profits towards housing for homeless people living with HIV and AIDS -- hidden under its name, and it seems to be working. Yayy, new skills. I'm going to New York City for Sarah's reading, which is also the day before my birthday, and one of my tasks today is to come up with a relatively inexpensive place to stay in the city...

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May 2009

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