Category Archives: ohio

Feeling September-ish. Or, how Over the Rhine reinvigorated my life last weekend.

This post switched directions a number of times as I wrote it this morning.  There are just a lot of big ideas swirling in my brain this week about music and art and words.  The short version is that music and lyrics breathe life into us.  If you want to take the long way around, read on.

Perfection, to me, often involves traveling with the right kind of music.  In college, I drove on State Route 73 in southwest Ohio at least three times a week.  Most of the time it was early evening when the light softens or at night–and out there you can see so many stars because Oxford, Ohio is surrounded by farmland.  Since I was in Oxford from September-May, these drives often were accompanied by open windows and the heat on my feet.  And of course, the right kind of playlist.  My car became a sanctuary of sorts that allowed me to have time and space to think by myself and my music–the 5 inch binder of CD options–was what spoke to me.  I’m realizing looking back just how important those moments of listening to music and lyrics was to my mental and emotional health.  Those were the days when music like Over The Rhine and Ryan Adams and Patty Griffin were brand new to me.  I heard Bela Fleck’s Big Country for the first time.  The Dixie Chicks threw some attitude into my country music and Nickel Creek pulled me into bluegrass.

Since moving to New York ten years ago, my rhythms with music have changed considerably, mostly because one can’t take the subway and look out on farmland at the same time.  Ten falls ago I walked with my tea to the Hudson River at Riverside Park seeking healing from homesickness and took the music that felt like home, namely the OTR’s Ohio album.  When I moved downtown my river walks and runs changed me along with Iron and Wine and Sufjan Stevens and of course Drunkard’s Prayer.  When I moved to Brooklyn, I commuted by foot and rotated The Head and the Heart, Fleet Foxes, Alicia Keys, Miranda Lambert through the streets of my neighborhood, along with a heavy dose of The Long Surrender.

Last March I moved out of the apartment I lived in by myself into one a stone’s throw from work. It took me five months to realize that music wasn’t playing in the way it once was.  Luckily, this realization came right before a new school year started, and therefore is helping to set the tone for this new season of my life.  September is essentially my new years, after all.  I was lucky enough to escape to Cape Cod during the four days before school started and poetically, Over the Rhine just released their latest album. I knew that to appreciate it fully I needed to hear it not just while doing dishes in my apartment, but away from the city.  I had just read an article about their writing process and learned that my life-line song on their last album was inspired by one of my favorite poets, Adam Zagajewski.  I also read how one of the new songs was inspired by Anne Lamott.  It all seemed too perfect a way to start a new year of teaching reading and writing–and to be reflective and writerly along the way.

So, I was with kindred music listeners.   We put it on as soon as we got past anything that felt like city life, and my ability to breathe deeply coincided with Karin Berquist’s voice and Linford Detweiler’s piano and the rapid increase in trees outside my window.  That was when I was reminded of driving on 73 in my home state–where the music and the lyrics hit you right where they need to and your lungs can fill with air again.

So all weekend, on near empty beaches, with coffee and Bailey’s, and in a hooded sweatshirt I listened to Meet Me At the Edge of the World and felt whole and at home.

An Unlikely Pairing: The Lost Generation & The 4th of July

Lately I’ve been on a Lost Generation reading spree.  It started with The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with a student book club and giving them some introductory information about the era and then I happened to read The Paris Wife, which is a semi-fictional story narrated from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  Afterwards, I was fascinated by not only their relationship, but the ex-pat community in Paris, so I went on to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which was a memoir of his time in Paris which he wrote not long before he died and published posthumously.  I was so entrenched in the era that I decided I wanted to read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, which was on my summer reading list, right away.  Then of course I re-watched Midnight in Paris and noticed all the inconsistencies (though I still love it).

Just like Woody Allen’s Gil Pender, it is easy to get caught up in the romance of the ex-pat community in Paris–the incredible art, literature, salons.  Though it is impossible for me to not say that what this reading spree brought up in my thought life the most was how glad I am to be a woman today.  The culture of multiple mistresses and people openly accepting it, coupled with double standards for women and hypocritical expectations for wives in light of it all was truly grotesque.  Zelda Fitzgerald’s own artistic life was stunted by Scott having her publish under his name or forbidding her to pursue dance or publish her writing work at all, saying that he had claim to the ideas within it.

The concept that struck me the most while reading, though, was that of memory, which I’ve written about quite a bit over the years.  It’s the great invention of the mind in Rodman Philbrick’s Young Adult Freak the Mighty. In Evening, by Susan Minot, it colors the narrator’s entire existence.  In Man Walks into A Room, Nicole Krauss’s main character loses his memory of all things relational.  In The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai talks about some parts of our narrative are lost and some are purposely forgotten.

I am trying to decide where it fits for Hemingway.  Early in The Paris Wife, he takes Hadley on a trip to where he recovered from being injured in World War 1.  In his mind, the field was still desecrated with loss of life and the town where he was taken care of was pristine and quaint–but neither was the case when he arrived:

“When Ernest found the slope where he’d been wounded, it was green and unscarred and completely lovely.  Nothing felt honest.  Thousands of men had died here jut a few years earlier, Ernest himself had bled here, shot full of shrapnel, and yet everything was clean and shiny, as if the land itself had forgotten everything,” (103).
“For the whole visit, Ernest wrestled with memory.  Everything had changed and grown dingy in the four years since he’d been here,” (102).  
I suppose it is one of those mysteries of being human–how we can long so deeply for times that are past, even if those times were accompanied by struggle.  Perhaps in our minds, they remind us that we made it through, or perhaps the struggle has been slightly erased so that we don’t remember that part anymore.  Hemingway himself describes it in A Moveable Feast: “There are many sorts of hunger.  In the spring there are more. But that’s gone now. Memory is hunger,” (57).  
Elk Lake, 2011.  I only wish I had a
picture of the American flag boxers
my best friend and I *sewed ourselves*
for 4th of July 1996. 
Today, for me, memory is hunger.  On some levels the memories I’ve been escaping to this morning seem insignificant–but it happens every 4th of July that I am in New York City–a city I love with all my heart.  All I want right now is to be watching my hometown’s parade, wearing my running clothes from the annual 5K, thinking about swimming in somebody’s pool and going up to the high school for fireworks later.  Or, sitting at a simple lake house, eating off the grill, and watching a homemade fireworks display planned by friends I’ve known since the mid nineties.  I keep finding myself wanting to justify my nostalgic longing for these simple memories or the audacity I have for writing them in connection to Hemingway–but I’m not going to, because it’s what is true for me today (which is interesting, because the quotes I wanted to write about in this post have been sitting in my blog drafts for a month)

What I do think is worth considering, though, is when you begin to appreciate what is past.  Hemingway did not write of nostalgia until the end of his life.  A Moveable Feast, his memoir of his early years in Paris, was published after he took his own life and carries a tone much different from his earlier work.  In a painful-to-read confession he states that he wishes he had died before falling in love with anyone else.  I’m not sure that I believe him, completely.  Hadley asks him in The Paris Wife, not long after the visit to the town where he was shot and recovered: “When does it mean something? When everyone finally gets smashed to bits?” (145).  I think that is a fair read of Hemingway–and a terrifying way to live, but it pulls together my thoughts.  When he was with Hadley, he could only think of what might be next. The present didn’t take on any value until it was long gone.

This year I started talking with my students about the idea of being present where you are, whether it is in a class discussion, a book club, or with their friends.  I suppose that is what I wish the men of the Lost Generation understood (hoping that it wasn’t that restlessness that produced their drive and in turn art), and on a much smaller level, what I need to remember as I go over to the Brooklyn Bridge Park to celebrate Independence Day with dear friends later.  It is in view of the Statue of  Liberty, after all.

an aside, after my initial posting: I want to think later today about the implications of these American writers who chose to do so much of their writing elsewhere.  Looking at the title of this post, one might infer that my writing about it was a little more academic.  But alas.  It is a holiday, after all.

home.

{photo from Anthony Priestas}

There are days when I miss rhythms of home, even though I have lived in New York City for nine years and even though my parents moved out of the house I grew up in six years ago.  I miss when I used to jump in the car before dinner and find a cornfield to watch the sunset.  I miss the way the air smells when I lived in the updraft of the woods and a creek.  I miss drives through the country of southwest Ohio, especially the odd poetry of it being just south of industrial dinosaur bones.  There are some days that I want to cut down the wall leading onto my fire escape and make a porch.  Gah. It can hurt.

So, I thought I would make a round up of my favorite ways that Ohio has inspired song.  I love that even though not everyone who writes about my homestate loves it like I do (though, thank you, thank you Over the Rhine for understanding), but it inspires nonetheless. And, I don’t have plans to move back, but there is no where else I wish I was from.

Ohio/Over the Rhine
Bloodbuzz Ohio/The National
Ohio/Damien Jurado
Carry Me Ohio/Sun Kil Moon
Look at Miss Ohio/Gillian Welch
Ohio/The Black Keys
Ohio/honeyhoney
To Ohio/The Low Anthem

{oh, barns}

{the best friends from high school i could ask for}

{this mixes with Brooklyn, right?}

Slouching Toward Bethlehem.

“There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic,” (preface).

“I have as much trouble as the next person with illusion and reality,” (32).

I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion about a year and a half ago and ever since have wanted to read more of her work.  Didion is able to capture–I don’t want to say the heart, because though the heart is filled with mystery, such an overused term does not quite feel nuanced enough for her–the essence of a person or a place or an event in her nonfiction writing.  Her nonfiction essays in Slouching Toward Bethlehem are not merely a chronicle of something or someone that happened, but they cause the reader to enter into the exact temperature of mood and are given thorough understanding and feel of the time and place.  These essays were published individually in the sixties, then pulled together for this collection in the early seventies.

Didion’s writing style made me think about how a sense of place creates a sense of self…or, about how remembering the small details of a place that was once our own can remind us of who we were, and wonder if those tree rings of experience are still buried somewhere.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not,” (139).

My first studio apartment in New York City in an Upper West Side brownstone–the worn banister next to the slightly crooked steps leading up to the third floor, my ikea furniture and new towels that matched my shower curtain.  My ritual of walking to Riverside Park every night with a mug of tea, looking west, leaning on the black, pointy rail imagining Ohio beyond the horizon.  I knew in those homesick moments that I would look back on them and feel nostalgia for the very reason my heart was then breaking.  Those days when New York didn’t feel like home and my naive sense of self seem so endearing in a “bless her heart” kind of way that I wonder if the hardness of the city has gotten to me, after all.

I can think that way about any place, really.  My high school’s football stadium.  All the backyards of my old neighborhood that ran together.  My first year teaching when I didn’t have my own room and knew those 8th graders were playing me.  While I was visiting my parents in Louisville this summer, I really wanted to make a trip to Ohio–to see people, too, of course–but to run the 3 mile loop through the woods that I ran almost every day of every high school summer.  I romanticize that if I could just run at Sugarcreek every day, then continue my life in Brooklyn, that I’d have such a better sense of self.  Time and logistics didn’t allow me to get there, and I can’t decide if that were a good or bad thing.

Anyway.

I heart summer.

I am finding difficulty giving words to what I want to say, mostly, I think, because I am trying to name at once a specific moment right now that is overlapping with a succession of moments in my past.

I think it starts with summer evening air? Summer evening Midwestern air, perhaps, that is drenched with soil, blooming trees and creeks, made cool by the disappearing sun and held close by woods and fields.

Or perhaps it starts with summers growing up and this particular smell blanketing every experience I have running barefoot through the neighborhood yards, catching lighrning bugs, playing freeze tag, swinging until the sky turned dark and all the kids had to go home. Even then I would open my window and gulp in this perfect air and I, each night, would fall in love with summer evening…butterflies in the stomach and all.

And tonight I sit in Kentucky, hours away from my childhood home, but the air is the same and I still can’t get enough. I’ve moved my pillows to the foot of my bed so that I can be closer to the open window. I sat on the porch late into the evening so make the most of this air that exists only in tiny pockets in hidden corners of my city parks.

All this is to say that I reread The Summer Book by Tove Jannson today and it captures the essence of summer and the magic of childhood and the wisdom of grandparents. Her writing is straightforward and almost sparse, but so right on that no further description is necessary. I have decided that this will be a yearly reread. Last summer I loved it so much that barely had words and could only beg people to read it.

The interesting part is that it is different from other favorites like Anne of Green Gables and Tom Sawyer in that it’s not written for children…the audience is anyone whose heart aches for all that summer is meant to be and for those who remember the goodness of what it was when it was unmarred by work and schedules.

My heart just aches right now in the best of ways.