The Art of Jim

 

Jim Harrison, photographed by Andy Anderson

Andy Anderson Photography

The great loss of Jim Harrison this past Saturday has had me rooting for words. I dug through his old interviews and pored over passages from The Raw and the Cooked and The Beast God Forgot to Invent, whetting my appetite to write often and write well.

But more than that, reading Jim aroused in me what lately feels like my most primal need — to find fulfillment in a good day’s labor. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a manager, producer, coordinator for the corporate machine, some days it seems impossible to find meaning.

Not for Jim. He wrote every word, performed every task with pure purpose. You can’t mistake the career goals of a fisherman, a well-digger or a slow-cooked goose cassoulet, is all I’m saying.

This interview from The Paris Review in 1986 had me transfixed. Captured over five intoxicating days at Jim’s lush farm in Leelanau County, Michigan, the lengthy exchange touches playfully yet purposefully on Jim’s technique, philosophy and history.

It’s a long but worthwhile read. If you can’t sit down to the whole thing, here are a few choice bits that spoke to me. Continue reading

Cat in the Rain

I adore Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway sitting at a table writing while at his campsite in Kenya.

Hemingway writing at his camp in Kenya, circa 1953. (NARA)

Nevermind that the man’s work helped define an entire sub-category of prose that still gets asininely ascribed to his gender, and nevermind the quality of his character in life and death.

Papa had style.

His writing is clean. It’s one true thing.

One of my favorite shorts by Hemingway is “Cat in the Rain” – a story about a young married couple’s emotional isolation both from the world around them and each other.

A piece I’m currently working on, “Dog in the Snow,” is partially in tribute to this story and the narcissism of youth.

And so, I give you “Cat in the Rain.”

Link to the full text above. Below, an excerpt. Below that, a cat.

“‘I want to pull my hair back tight and smooth and make a big knot at the back that I can feel,’ she said. ‘I want to have a kitty to sit on my lap and purr when I stroke her.’

‘Yeah?’ George said from the bed.

‘And I want to eat at a table with my own silver and I want candles. And I want it to be spring and I want to brush my hair out in front of a mirror and I want a kitty and I want some new clothes.’

‘Oh, shut up and get something to read,’ George said. He was reading again.

His wife was looking out of the window. It was quite dark now and still raining in the palm trees.

‘Anyway, I want a cat,’ she said, ‘I want a cat. I want a cat now. If I can’t have long hair or any fun, I can have a cat.’”

Coco, circa 2009

Coco, circa 2009

Every Damn Day

It’s 9pm* here in Brooklyn but there’s still time for me to celebrate women before I have my dinner (pizza, in case you were wondering). I’m not sure what exactly to do with International Women’s Day, seeing as I tend to think I celebrate women every day, but at least we ladies have six continents on National Cold Cuts Day (March 3) and National Mail Order Catalog Day (August 18). Set your calendars, proud Americans!

Still, in the spirit of womanhood, I scrolled through this list and thought about some of the books by women that have made an impact on me recently. Happily, I discovered that of the modest 17 books I’ve gotten through these last two years (how embarrassing!), 14 were actually written (or, in one case, edited) by female authors.

For now, because I am sleepy, the best I can do is name a few of my favorites and hope that eventually I will get into the groove of writing thoughtful reviews for you to peruse. Until then, I give you my very own, very short-list of life-changing books by women, as read by a woman in her early 30s:

International Women's Day

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong — A liberated woman self-discovers in the ’70s, searching to find meaning in her new-found freedom. Witty and absorbing and ground-breaking in its day.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath — I highly recommend re-reading as a grown woman, especially if, like me, you’re still paralyzed by all those figs. Each word is served with devastating precision, if you’re into that kind of thing. (Full disclosure: I am totally into that kind of thing.)

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion — Winner of most dog-eared passages. I was struck by how Didion’s brave and raw study of grief so deftly skirted sentimentality. I honestly am shocked it took me this long to get around to reading this book, and when I finally set it down I think I was more heartbroken than I have ever been before. Luckily I now have Slouching Towards Bethlehem waiting for me on the bookshelf.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — In our sterile dystopian future we easily slip back into those old bad habits of keeping women as property. This one’s particularly chilling because Atwood’s created a world that really doesn’t feel all that far-fetched.

So what’s next? Looking forward to finally picking up Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay this year, as well as Barbara the Slut by Lauren Holmes, Family Furnishings by Alice Munro, On Beauty by Zadie Smith and Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.

*When I started writing, before my fresh mozzarella pie arrived and I decided to celebrate National Pizza Day (February 9) instead.

You may also like: 33 Life-Changing Books in Honor of International Women’s Day via Lit Hub.

Art of the Sentence

Weekend goal: get my paws on a copy of “At the Bottom of the River” and read it.

"At the Bottom of the River" by Jamaica KincaidIt’s incredible the work that sentences can do beyond simply moving a story forward. With one comma they’ll turn on you. In a dash they can elevate or destroy you.

If you’re reading Kincaid, they’ll pull, pull, pull you ’til you’re taut and then they’ll slingshot you.

“I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea, I washed the clothes, I dressed the children; the cat meowed, the dog barked, the horse neighed, the mouse squeaked, the fly buzzed, the goldfish living in a bowl stretched its jaws; the door banged shut, the stairs creaked, the fridge hummed, the curtains billowed up, the pot boiled, the gas hissed through the stove, the tree branches heavy with snow crashed against the roof; my heart beat loudly thud! thud!, tiny beads of water grew folds, I shed my skin…

— “The Letter from Home,” Jamaica Kincaid

via: Jane Wong’s beautiful analysis Art of the Sentence: Jamaica Kincaid in Tin House

She Came to Slay

Grateful for voices like that of Dr. Zandria Robinson and for women who write, profess and educate. Grateful that her words reached me, and that she and Beyoncé and a whole formation of black, female voices will not stop challenging me to read more deeply, listen more closely and hear the experience of someone who is not just like me.

Beyonce - Formation - YouTube

Beyonce/YouTube

Be sure to read Dr. Robinson’s spirited and inspired piece on New Southern NegressWe Slay, Part I, or her Rolling Stone essay on “Formation” and how Beyoncé’s video is both a tribute to “southern blackness” and a rallying cry for the marginalized.

And just look at this electric sentence:

‘Formation’ is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the ‘punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens‘ in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines.

How To Be a (Person Who is Alive)

“if the opposite of a “pure” or “high-minded” man is one who is “alive,” then isn’t that what he is accusing her of being? A woman who is, simply, alive?”

Sharing one of a number of delightful femlit¹ pieces I’ve read recently challenging the word “slut” — a cheap word that, like its “good twin” the virgin, exists solely to put women in their place.

The author, Tara Ison, also skewers pop culture flicks for perpetuating this useless, dichotomous thinking when it comes to women and monogamy.

via How To Be A Slut: The Choices and Priorities of a Promiscuous Woman, and No, You Do Not Complete Me in Electric Literature.

¹Is this a term? I’m going to keep using it.