Lots of thought about Kathrine's ideas about what we read and how we absorb it or what it says about how much we change and how much we stay the same. Houston is a wonderful read, smart because she's fun and fun because she's smart. Plus, like K and like me, Pam's a girl of the west. Not born in Utah but self-baptized into a kind of nativeness that even I can't claim, Houston's women are creatures of the heart: a kind of Lucinda Williams of the page plus kayaks, sub-zero sleeping bags and dogs. There's a bit of the voyeur in my love of her adventures as I am about as camping-savvy, as well, me. Which is to say: not, in serious doses, not. And yet, moving away from my more funky addresses into a home--a real home--out of the city and sidled up to a reservoir with land, trees, critters and all, I have found that myself or my selves are all ashift and my reading is sometimes that island I go to to remember how good-lonely and restless I once was and how bad-lonely and single that could sometimes feel. Nothing, Kathrine Wright's old poem about lions and the marriage-love, reminds us, is truly tame in our domestic life. We all dream and dream sometimes of "the strange" or at least the other-life, the one that Pam Houston's literal travels down whitewater were matched figuratively over all those years when I sent my own heart down various stupid, waterfalls. Now I feel safer, more secure and sometimes, hungry for that Houston-girl inside me. That's what her books give me.
My own recent author revisit was Joan Didion's Blue Nights: a book that takes off from the grief of the sudden-loss of Didion's spouse, John Gregory Dunn to the loss of their one daughter: Quintana. Didion is a wizard of craft. Her sentences, so clear, can be nearly architectural and reading her goes so quickly for me that she is like having a dessert in the house. I mean to savor, I do...
A year or so ago, I read The Year of Magical Thinking in one go, fast and with a kind of attention that came from bit of my own autobiographical loss. My big love for many years had also been a writer (still is) and the years we spent living and writing together made for a hard goodbye. A loss, unfair to compare to Didion's many years and marriage, but one to which, as my students say in highest compliment: I could relate. But as Didion's own perserverance and prolific output testifies: we go on, half-heartedly, perhaps, but on.
I am not half-hearted. I did not lose a daughter and I met another someone who, by the time Blue Nights appeared was watching for Didion's new books for me. He doesn't identify as a writer but he is what every writer dreams of in a reader. (It turns out he is what one writer dreamed of before she knew what to order up in a dream.)
That woman who read The Year of Magical Thinking was both revisiting and recalling what it means to lose and hope and was too, revised by the time she became the reader for Blue Nights and was ready to begin to understand what getting older might mean, might cost and how best, like Didion, to try to do it with dignity and a direct gaze. I don't know if I am the same young girl who first read Didion in essay form in a beginning creative writing class or if the admiration I feel in revisiting her and Houston is an echo off the same gong or a new instrument being struck. I think though, that I might be "twice-hearted" if there is such a thing: the love,loss,love,loss certainty of what's been and what's up ahead reminding me to savor when I can, for whatever, however it's all worth.