"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Lydia Davis

to do list . . .

ball mumsSome might consider this hiatus of waiting for surgery and then recuperating from surgery to be a time of waiting. Not so, I say to myself after returning from my pre-surgery exam yesterday.

Last night, for some reason, I found it hard to fall asleep and so my mind wandered around and about to take stock and to reflect about what I want or need to do with my time. First of all, I’ve gone through the exercise of putting my affairs in (better) order, talking with my daughters and husband about how they may help each other after I’m gone and going through what I would like each of them to have and also feel free to swap at will. Who knows, I might last a long time after this, but that very intimate task is done, at least a template is in place and can be tweaked every so often. That’s a big load off my mind.

So last night and today, I’m thinking about what I would like to take note of during this chunk of the year while I’m getting back on my feet. Here’s a to-do list that I’m thinking about right now:

1. Be sure to hydrate (drink lots of water) and cut down on bread, butter, potatoes and sweets so that I maintain the weight I’ve lost so far and don’t hapzardly gain a few pounds. Eat more fresh salads with the yummy dressing that I make up ahead of time (garlic slices, olive oil, Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a little sugar). Handful of mesclun and baby arugula, sliced large fresh mushrooms, ripe pears, marcona almonds, goat cheese. . . like that. It’s so easy to fall back into eating heartier (and higher calorie food) just because it’s tempting to do during this fallow period.

2. Read about recipes and preparations for ramen noodle broth; fixings and condiments; same for soba noodles. Read my Japanese Farmhouse Cookbook, Momofuku and Ivan Ramen Noodles to introduce new dishes into my cookery menus; cold salads and condiments on the side. I love to cook and while I’m slightly limited now, I can still reframe and renew the ideas I’m used to cooking and slowly introduce them into the mix of what we eat.

3. Read lots of books that I enjoy, not what I think I should read. I still have “War and Peace,” “The Tale of Genji” and “Remembrance of Things Past” in the bookshelves, the bindings still tight. I mean, I know I should read “Anna Karenina” but her plight is somewhat dated and I’m not interested in swimming in such deep literary waters. I’d rather dip my reading toes into more enjoyable fare: perhaps Mona Simpson’s new novel that is due out in mid-April. I am still catching up with Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America” anthology of short stories before I venture towards her new book, “Bark,” which, in the NY Times Book Review sounded like an extraordinary effort towards using puns around the word “bark”–which, if you must know, don’t interest me that much. Lydia Davis, who won the Booker prize for her short stories last year is a writer from Northampton nearby and fun to read every once in awhile.

I used to love to read mysteries and may embark upon re-reading some of the Georges Simenon mysteries which I heard were being re-printed; fun to read about Inspector Maigret and his wife while he solves crime all over Belgium and France. I also enjoyed the Dorothy Sayers series of Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels. Maybe when I try them out again, they will seem dated, but we’ll see.

4. High on my list is to play the piano with my wheelchair drawn up to my Steinway piano named “Victor.” There’s tons of Bach that can be read without the use of pedal ( my right ankle is gonzo right now.) One of the oscar-winning documentaries was a half-hour film called “The Lady in Room 6” which is about the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz Sommer, who died at the age of 110 two weeks ago. In it, she can be seen joyfully playing Bach Inventions on her Steinway upright piano. She has enormous hands and plays with a calm and sprightly musical aspect. While she was incarcerated in the camps, she took it upon herself to learn the complete Chopin Etudes, very difficult pieces for a pianist. I figured if she could do that, the least I can do now is to learn some new repertoire myself while I’m recuperating. So that’s an inspiration. Take a look at the film if you want some perspective on how nothing matters except love and music.

My own piano to-do list includes sightreading pieces and excerpts from Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, Inventions, Italian Concerto, Fantasie,  French Suites, English Suites, Partitas; Chopin concerti; Brahms concerti; Beethoven sonatas, Rachmaninoff Preludes; Scriabin Prelude, Op. 11, number 11. It might be good exercise for me to play everyday at intervals and use my back, arms and hands.

5. I have four big balls of Noro yarn left over from three vests that I made for a family up in Minneapolis. I think I’ll use a new criss cross pattern to make a piece of some sort for myself to commemorate this happening in my life–something nice to look at and also to keep warm in while reminding myself how lucky I will be to survive this Spring of 2014. It will be fun to figure out how to do it out of the remaining yarn that I have to work with. I gave the spectacular multi-colored vest with patchwork pockets to one of my daughters last weekend. She looks terrific in it and although in my mind’s eye, I thought I would make it for myself, it’s too colorful for my little brown wren personality so it will be perfect for her to wear when she’s teaching her French classes. When she returns next week for a visit, we’ll take a photo and post it.

That’s as far as I have gotten today. Little by little enjoyable things to do. That’s one of the lessons I am learning too: to be more patient, to take care of myself as only I can, and to enjoy something each day.


“happiest moment” . . .

sliced Peking Duck . . .

sliced Peking Duck . . .

I’ve gone back to reading today, paging through Julian Barnes‘s “The Sense of an Ending,” which was, in my opinion, endlessly frustrating to read, no one character worthy of trusting what he/she said. This hardback volume was one that I had on the shelf, brought home when it first won the Man Booker Prize two years ago. It didn’t really send me then, nor in today’s briefing although I wanted to like it.

But another book called “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis” did interest me in its smaller handbook size with deckled edges. The stories made me laugh and relieved the frustration I felt trying to decipher Barnes’s so-called “literary novella.” Lydia’s stories made me feel like I could call her by her first name. They were intimate, thank-godfully brief, and above all, humanly funny while being poignant, a hard combo to pull off. I also enjoyed reading about her as well as reading what she had written.

She was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, where I went to school. That seemed like an odd coincidence to me. Her first husband was Paul Auster, a writer who is also a close personal friend of someone I know by association (a friend’s brother) that seemed like a second, odd coincidence. They divorced and she remarried later on. Apparently, she’s been writing her kind of short stories, which feel to me like the word, poesy, for some reason. They are short, poetic and also whimsical. So, poesy seemed like a good description about her writing. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2003 which is comforting to know. AND, her collected stories won the Man Booker Prize this year to lots of people’s amazement! At my Truro writing workshop last summer, her name was mentioned and people were so surprised that I was the only one in the class who recognized her name, much less being familiar with her way of writing. My nature leans towards being original in one’s search for creativity. And for sure, her approach and writing are original.

I’ve been feeling hemmed in about writing these days, and this morning, took on writing hundred-word haiku like biographies of people that I know well. I enjoyed it for awhile but was sensitive to the fact that these little biting pieces were probably unmentionable to others, particularly the people I was writing about, including myself. It even felt a little misanthropic, which I felt guilty about for a few minutes, but was relieved to read that people sometimes react in misanthropic ways because they have a sense of naive innocence or high expectations and then are deeply disappointed in how things work out. Boy, is that the story of my life! Naive innocence, high expectations and then, boom!, my feelings or thoughts falling down with a thud. There must be a way to survive these occurrences without becoming cynical or jaded. I guess if one’s naivete or innocence is still operational (at least mine sometimes still is!) you can’t really be a true misanthrope, can you?

The reason I’m writing this post, though, is to share with you one of Lydia Davis’s stories. It’s called “Happiest Moment” and I thought it was so charmingly Davis that I wanted to share it in a post:

 Happiest Moment

If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment of his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck. 

I think this story is priceless, don’t you?