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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Edgar_sawtelle-cvr

I can’t remember when exactly I sat down with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and first began to read. I know it was bitterly cold outside, and very snowy, so it could have been anywhere between Christmas and April. I do know that, when I finally put the book down, months later, I felt a little melancholy, and a little lonely, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to pick up another book for several days. I missed Edgar, and I missed his dogs, and I missed the contemplative and unhurried way in which the moments of his story moved forward with each moment I found to take another look at it.

Sure, this novel has flaws. Seen as a whole in retrospect, I can understand why many people seem to hate the plot contrivances and the frustrations of not having key elements of the story resolved. There’s a lack of closure that seems inconsiderate to the reader, and I suspect that those who are most disappointed in Edgar’s story are the ones who held the highest expectations from the beginning paragraphs. I myself couldn’t quite resolve my conflicted emotions, and I wavered between giving the novel first four stars, then three, then again bumping it back up to four, and subsequently leaving it there even though I have misgivings about my generosity in the matter.

I will say this: parts of this book deserve four stars, no doubt about it. And parts of this book are so meditatively wonderful that I wish they would go on forever. But like all things, good or bad, those parts come to an end. Perhaps that is part of the appeal: to be torn between loving the book and wishing it were just a little bit…better. Ambivalence is a big part of life, after all.

Of course Edgar is the protagonist of the novel, and we grow to trust him and love him even in his darkest moments. But the real star of this novel, in my opinion, is undoubtedly the old soul of Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong canine companion. Almondine has a few brief chapters in which she tells her side of the story, and these stand out to me as the life blood of the entire 562 pages. I’ve never read anthropomorphic literature that was so stirring and, at the same time, so convincing of a creature’s very nature. Almondine’s voice is undoubtedly canine, and touching in a way that perhaps only a dog-lover can appreciate. All I can say is that I was charmed from the moment when Almondine meets Edgar for the first time as a newborn infant fresh from the hospital.

In honor of Almondine’s words (and David Wroblewski’s genius if belated decision to include her unique point of view), I will leave you with some of my very favorite quotes from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you ever have an endlessly snowy winter to get lost in a quiet and meandering tale, I would recommend you give it a look.

p.194, “Places, time, weather–all these drew him up inside of her. Rain, especially, falling past the double doors of the kennel, where he’d waited through so many storms, each drop throwing a dozen replicas into the air as it struck the waterlogged earth. And where the rising and falling water met, something like an expectation formed, a place where he might appear and pass in long strides, silent and gestureless. For she was not without her own selfish desires: to hold things motionless, to measure herself against them and find herself present, to know that she was alive precisely because he needn’t acknowledge her in casual passing; that utter constancy might prevail if she attended the world so carefully. And if not constancy, then only those changes she desired, not those that sapped her, undefined her.”

and Edgar’s thoughts:

p. 457, “Life was a swarm of accidents waiting in the treetops, descending upon any living thing that passed, ready to eat them alive. You swam in the river of chance and coincidence. You clung to the happiest accidents–the rest you let float by.”

And finally, again, the ever-delightful Almondine:

p. 461, “She slowed. The farm danced about her. The apples trees bickered with the wind, clasped limbs in union against it, blackbirds and sparrows and chickadees and owls rimming their crowns. The garden cried out its green infant odor, it’s melange the invention of deer or, now it seemed to her, the other way around. The barn swung her fat shadow across the yard, holding it gently by dark wrists and letting it turn, turn, stretch out in the evening upon the ground but never slip. Faster it all revolved around her when she closed her eyes. Clouds rumbled across heaven and she lay beneath, and in the passage of shadow and yellow sunlight, the house murmured secrets to the truck, the traveler, who listened for only so long before its devout empiricism forced it away in wide-eyed panic to test such ideas among its fellows. The maple tree held the wash up to the light in supplication and received (bright flames) yellow jackets each day, its only reply. The mailbox stood soldierly by the road, capturing a man and releasing him, again and again.”

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Project 3652

Every once in a while I get a manic desire to start an ambitious new project. Most of these ambitions never see the light of day, but I’m excited to announce yesterday’s commencement of my latest undertaking: Project 3652.

Project 3652 began as a need to find a daily creative motivation in my life. I love photography, but I’m often too lazy to pick up all two pounds of my SLR and look around for some image to capture. I was inspired by a popular trend in digital photography called Project 365, which involves taking and posting one photo each day for a year.

I think you can see where this is going.

Because I can never settle for what everyone else is doing, I decided to push myself just a little farther, and came up with Project 3652: one photo a day, every day, for 3,652 days. Starting on my 30th birthday, which was yesterday. This project will provide a visual snapshot of my entire 30s. It will force me, every day, to pick up a camera, whatever (digital) camera I have on hand, and summon at least enough creative strength to press the shutter in the general direction of something worth capturing. There is no predetermined subject matter, and no telling where this project will take me or how it might develop over the years.

I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I plan to.

Project 3652.

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Quite possibly my earliest music memory involves the song “Hurting Each Other” by The Carpenters. I distinctly remember hearing the song, probably played from an album in my mother’s vinyl collection, while my sisters jumped on my parents’ bed, and I sulked quietly by, studying the wooden bedknob at the footboard. At least, that’s how I remember it. I don’t know why I was sulking, or maybe I was just indulging my overly serious and melancholic side even at the ripe young age of three years old. Who knows. But when Karen Carpenter belted out the lines:

“Can’t we stop hurting each other?
Gotta stop hurting each other
Making each other cry, breaking each other’s heart
Tearing each other apart.”

I knew that this song had a very distinct relevance to my life as the youngest of eight. Being a toddler, I could only think of it in the most literal aspect of course. But it did make me wonder for the first time if we might stop our sororal pestering and pinching and biting (guilty), and just be at peace and get along for once.

Nearly three decades later, we still haven’t quite gotten the message, but I suppose that is pretty standard for most families. 🙂

Now that I am grown and have a turntable and Carpenters albums of my own, I still can’t listen to one without getting that funny little lump in the back of my throat. Be it nostalgia, the persistently relevant lyrics even decades from my first listen, or the simple fact that it is darn good music, I can’t fight my emotional attachment to these songs. I’m sure they will be something that I return to time and time again for all of my decades to come.

And in case you haven’t had the pleasure, or simply need a refresher, please enjoy this performance and feel free to make your own music memories:

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flower sky

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Baby Summer Squash

One of my favorite things about gardening is that you get to watch your food as it grows. First the unrecognizable cotyledons emerge from the soil, giving way to tiny but perfectly formed first leaves. The leaves grow and from the stem emerges more and more leaves, as if by magic. Out of nowhere, flowers appear. With many vegetables and fruit plants, this is where the real enchantment begins. We all know how babies are made, and even with food the process it is essentially the same. The only difference is, you actually get to see the new life form from the very beginning. The most observant will marvel at the miniature version of their anticipated food swelling almost imperceptibly behind the spent flower after fertilization. It’s difficult not to get excited at this point, even though you know that any number of factors may cause the demise of your infantile veggies.

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Baby Bean

At this point there is not much you can do except water your plants and keep close watch, to make sure they are not getting any unwanted attention from the more unsavory garden inhabitants. If you are lucky, your tender young fruits and veggies will continue the soak up the sun and rain and divide their cells in just the right way to become the final, grown-up version of themselves. And that’s when you think back and can hardly believe that they use to be just an inch long and so darned cute.

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Baby Zucchini

But even as they grow, it’s impossible to tell just how they will turn out in the end, which is another wonderful thing about gardening. Instead of the picture perfect produce stacked in pyramids at your local grocery store, the food that emerges from your garden is uniquely shaped by the land and the air and the sun from which it was made. They have a wholesomeness and, almost, a personality gained from the way they were raised and the conditions which were provided to them. (Which makes you wonder how the grocery stores manage to get all their vegetables to look exactly the same.) Real food isn’t perfect; real food is crooked, and knobby, and sometimes not quite the color you were expecting. Real food can’t be stacked perfectly, and isn’t bred for the purpose of surviving cross-country shipments. Real food comes out of the earth, covered in dirt and munched on by bugs. And it tastes damn good.

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Weird Tasty Carrot Mutants

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