wet earth

A Long Embrace

The car, a beige SUV, was pulled off the road, no real shoulder to speak of, pressing against the edge of the highway, traffic whizzing past.  Hazard lights running.  The couple simultaneously emerged, stumbling out of opposite sides of the car.  The driver was a man about sixty, a trimmed, mostly-white beard, a large, doughy body.  Khaki shorts and a light brown polo shirt.

The woman, who was hurrying to the back of the car, had medium-length brown hair, large, round, owlish glasses.  She looked like a librarian.

They fell into each others' arms behind the car, the yellow-orange hazard lights on either side of them continuing their rhythmic blinking, an announcement of some possible danger, some unspeakable loss, as the man and woman held each other, clutched at each other.  It was a long embrace.  Who could say why they were there?  Sometimes love can feel like an emergency.


Arts Alive will be on a short hiatus for a few weeks, as I attend the Tin House writing workshop in Portland, Oregon and then the Lambda Literary Retreat, in Los Angeles.  If I had more time at my leisure, I would be writing about the interesting-sounding exhibit involving salt at the Monterey Museum of Art, or one of the many compelling shows or programs at the Carl Cherry Center, or a local theatre production.  The Carmel Bach Festival is also soon upon us.  I will miss all or nearly all of it, but will be back later this summer with various and sundry artistic tales to share.

A Wild Radiance

Bone-thin woman.  Walking along the side of the highway, walking quickly, against the traffic.  Her face set, her mouth set: Let nothing in.  Close everything up so no one can see.  Carrying something balled-up, a blanket, a bag of belongings, the remains of a life, clenched in a thin-arm embrace.  Hold tight.  Frizzy auburn hair that catches the morning sun, electric, a wild radiance.  Blue down vest, soft armor.  Walk fast and they won't catch up.  Don't stop moving, don't let go.  Don't let go.

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Recently I began keeping a notebook for writing about people and situations I observe throughout my day.  I've been thinking that Arts Alive could be a good place for me to share some of these observations.  Earlier today I saw the woman described above as I was driving back from a tai chi class.  Every life has art in it, we just need to pause enough to see, open our hearts enough to imagine.

Alice LaPlante at Pacific Grove Library

What makes a story true?  What does it mean to tell a story “based on real life”?  Is it possible to separate the part that is “true” or “real” from the part that was born in the author’s imagination?

Next Thursday, June 13, the Pacific Grove Public Library presents author Alice LaPlante, whose highly-acclaimed first novel Turn of Mind is told from the perspective of a Chicago woman sinking by rapid degrees into the fog and confusion of Alzeimer’s disease.  Narrative clarity is an important goal for any writer.  How can one convey the fraying, fragmented nature of a point of view in a way that gives the reader access to a mind that is falling apart?

To complicate matters, the woman, a retired surgeon named Jennifer White, is the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend, a fact she often forgets.  She also regularly forgets that her husband is dead.

I’ve just started reading Turn of Mind and am looking forward to hearing LaPlante discuss how she drew upon real life experience and transformed it into fiction.  In the passage below, Jennifer is with her daughter, Fiona, who is bringing her back to the house she has just wandered out of.  (Fiona’s voice is in italics.)

How I love this house, she says. I’ll be so sad to see it go.

Why should it go? I ask. Your father and I don’t intend to move. The wind whistles past and both of us are white with cold, but we stand there on the sidewalk in front of the house, not moving. The frigid temperature suits me. It suits the conversation, which strikes me as important.

Fiona’s face is pinched and there are large goosebumps on her arms, but she still doesn’t move. The house before us is solid, it is a fact. The warm red stones, the large protruding rectangular windows, the three stories capped with a flat roof emblematic of other Chicago houses of the era.  I find myself yearning for it as desperately as when James and I first saw it, as if it were out of our reach. Yet it is truly ours. Mine. I bullied James into  buying it, even though it was beyond our means at the time. It is my home.

Home, she says as if she could read my mind, then shakes her head as if to clear it. She takes me by the elbow, propels me up the steps, into the house, helps me off with my coat, my shoes.

Alice LaPlante at the Pacific Grove Public Library, Thursday, June 13, 7:30 p.m.  Suggested donation to benefit the Library is $10; refreshments are included.  Books are available at the event.