Chapter Poetry Vol 1

Waveparade

 

I’m a shameless annotator; every book I read gets defaced. With Cold Mountain, though, I’m trying something new. Starting today, instead of closing my notes and markings between pages, I’ll revisit each chapter and collect every sentence I’ve underlined*, then shuffle them around to create something completely new. A story within a story. Or perhaps an accidental poem.

That is to say none of the sentences below were intended by Charles Frazier to be in this sequence.

*If a word or sentence strikes me, and I resort to reading it twice, it gets the line.

 


 

From the chapter titled “the ground beneath her hands”

Best paired with

Psylla — Glass Animals

 

All her life, her father had kept her back from the hardness of work.

They had spent entire rainy afternoons snug and dry as denned foxes, whispering secrets to each other.

She looked up with disappointment to the faint lacework of pale blue sky visible through the leaves.

Much of the past three damp months she spent sitting in the chair reading, a quilt wrapped around her to hold back the chill of the house even in July.

Her new life seemed only a foreview of herself as an old woman, awash in solitude and the feeling of diminishing capabilities.

What actual talents could she claim? All seemed to lead fuller lives than she did.

In comparison, the words this canted landscape spoke were less hushed, harsher.

The thick outer growth of leaves was just a husk enclosing a space like a tiny room.

The coves and ridges and peaks seemed closed and baffling, a good place to hide.

The night was dry and only a little cool.

The moon shed a fine blue light on the woods and fields.

As a tonic for her gloom,

She found herself bent backward over the mossy well lip, canted in a pose with little to recommend it in the way of dignity or comfort, back arched, hips forward, legs spraddled for balance.

She thought she might faint, but suddenly the spinning world caught and held still.

What she saw was a wheel of bright light, a fringe of foliage all around.

Climbing without pause, she found that the rhythm of her walking soon matched up with the tune of Wayfaring Stranger, still chanting itself faintly in her head.

Below her she could see the river and the road, and to her right—a fleck of white in the general green—the chapel.

Skin thin as parchment over the bones.

Abby and Wendy

I keep being so impressed with, and inspired by the things my friends are doing. I say “my friends” loosely to encompass the relationships I’ve known over time–in this case, one that started in preschool, flourished in elementary school, and sort of tapered off into a place of cordial hellos and mutual respect when we went to college. I’m talking about Abby VanMuijen, y’all. A fellow velvet overall and printed turtleneck wearer turned badass illustrator/activist/teacher at Cal Berkeley. You can find her Global POV work here. It’s powerful stuff.

Last night, she and I made our way into SF to catch up and ended up splitting a soft pretzel and beer flight while talking Art. Abby went from majoring in English to Urban Planning, and somewhere along the way, realized her brain was built to synthesize information with pictures. Symbols. Shades. Words. A connector, through and through, and a master of simple messaging, Abby has gone on to teach classes in visual note taking–originally offered to alleviate the frustrations students feel when they take notes during lectures, yet don’t retain knowledge.

Her rules for visual note taking:

1. paper can’t be lined

2. your hand can’t stop moving

 

I thought… well, hell… I’ll give it a go. Once we threw back the last of our hoppy nectars, we strolled down 5th to the San Francisco Chronicle, where author/artist idol Wendy MacNaughton gave a free talk (and copy of her new book, Meanwhile in San Francisco) to a very very very attentive audience. Leave it to the graphic journalist to present a most captivating story of her work.

 

image

image

An installation of Wendy’s pen + water color works dress the Chronicle building walls.

 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

 

 

And here starts the visual note taking. I owe it to Abby for showing me this rabbit hole of efficiency–you may not believe how much I remember:

 

Page 1:

Wendy started out as a Copywriter for an advertising agency called Goodby. She worked in the city, and described it as her dream job (getting paid to write, endless happy hours, perks and playtime and organized creativity!)

But she was not fulfilled, and wondered how she could get out.

Then she talked about how there was a mix up with her book shipment, and we’d all be receiving a free copy (!!)

Someone in the audience asked if she could speak louder, it was hard to hear in the back.

Wendy was recovering from a cold, and coughed intermittently

She described herself as 5th generation San Franciscan–the first of which who could illustrate.

image

 

Pages 2 and 3:

In an effort to find her way out of Goodby, she went to art school, and made some really conceptual art. For one piece, she had a staring contest with herself for upwards of two hours. For another, she portrayed herself hitting on herself.

It was all in hopes of finding a way to stop “selling ice cream and being funny about beer.” Stop advertising. So she went to Rwanda, where she was introduced as the “communications expert of America!” to work on a campaign that would help voter turnout. Half of the population wasn’t literate, so Wendy relied on visuals to portray her message. Her first take on a campaign wasn’t quite relevant to her audience. A tree? What does a tree have to do with people? And freedom?

She went on to solicit answers from the people around her. She asked questions on what to do, and what to make.

And came up with an idea that combined the thumb’s-up symbol, and a finger print (which is how people in Rwanda cast their vote)

Simple, relevant idea garnered 90% voter turn out.

 

image

 

Pages 4 and 5:

Wendy realized the importance of asking questions, and she wanted to learn how to ask them more effectively.

So she went to grad school and got her masters in social work. This is where she learned a code of ethics.

She moved out to the East Bay and barted into the city twice a day. She loved how zen Bart was. Calm. A place that wasn’t work, wasn’t home — a transitional space where people just… were.

She realized they were perfect models, and started drawing them. Sometimes, without even looking down at her paper. When she got home, she’d upload her drawings to her blog.

 

image

 

Pages 6 and 7:

Then, during her second stint in advertising, Wendy looked up at a map in the boardroom. While she was there, dealing with trivial shit and cheeky ideas, people all over the world were living.

She made a list of what she’d do if she wasn’t in advertising.

And then she went to the public library at the Civic Center to start a new project about a group of people she finds interesting, The Old.

 

image

Pages 8 and 9:

But when she went into the library, she came to find that there were more homeless people than old people. She noticed there was a full-time Social Worker–employed to assist and facilitate homeless outreach within the library.

Though she expected (and wanted a story on old people) Wendy was open to it unravelling this way.

And for 5 minutes, she watched who came in the Library doors, and wrote down every single person. Their looks; their approximate age.

Those 5 minutes turned into a revelation: many of these people walking in were homeless.

Project idea! Go down to 5th and 6th street and draw what and who she sees.

 

image

 

Pages 10 and 11:

Standing there, drawing her subjects, people were curious. They wanted to know what she was doing, why she was doing it — if she’d sketch them.

She wanted to draw 6th street from the comfort of 5th. Entirely different universes, though, she knew she had to make her way over to depict the people and spirit of that street accurately.

She’s a professional eves dropper and often writes down snippets of what she hears when people are walking by her.

 

image

 

Pages 12 and 13:

Invited to go play Ma Jong with the Chinese community in China town, Wendy spoke about the need to be a respectful visitor. She sketched groups playing, but never took it too far or inquired too much. Importance of sensitivity and respecting the gift she was given.

Be OPEN. stop. look. listen. Realize there are more communities than the ones you frequent, and take the spotlight that’s on you and put it on someone else. Learn about them.

She does all her work on 9 x 12″ paper, and writes notes on the spines.

image

 

Pages 14 and 15:

Meanwhile in San Francisco took her 3 years to complete.

She is so grateful to her editors–and in hindsight is happy the burrito diagram made it in!

Her street writing is much more akin to that of a doctor. What we see in her book is her “deliberate writing”

Next, she’ll draw out the recipes for a cook book

 

image

Pages 16 and 17:

Someone in the audience asked about her use of social media. Here’s a list and a ven diagram describing her answer.

Wendy reminds us that everyone wants to talk and has a story to tell. It’s a matter of listening. And asking the right questions:

Not “how are you?” but

“What’s going on?”

image

If it isn’t already clear, this form of note taking jogs the memory into a steady sprint. I am grateful to Abby for the introduction/ good juju, and Wendy for the lightning bolt of inspiration. Maybe this copywriter’s an artist after all… to be continued, I guess.

 

I feel

As if patterns tell me something.

As if dreams were clear swirls in an oyster sky.

As if I beat doubt with the flats of a saber.

As if my wild, tangled hair held truth.

As if fear fell as steady as rain dripping down from the eaves of a house.

As if joying in the freeing distance between peak and base.

As if the air lacked haze, and the view stretched on and on across rows of green and gold mountains, each paler than the last until the final ranks were indistinguishable from sky.

As if I could feel the whirl of wheels.

…the speed of my ascension,

…a vague disinterest in people who care nothing at all for this thrill and wonder.

fish

Stirred by fog

fog

In October, I stocked up on pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s and have since spooned it into thumbprint cookies, spread it over toast, or savored it with a nibble of goat cheese. This morning, I scraped the last of it, and stirred it into my oatmeal. As I ate, I stared at the fog, tranced. In need of waking. Passages from the book I’m reading, Cold Mountain wove through the space in my skull. Here they are, pair them with Waiting Game by Banks

 

“He flapped again at the flies and looked out the window at the first smear of foggy dawn and waited for the world to begin shaping up outside.”

“Ribbons of fog moved low on the ground though the sky was clear overhead.”

“At first, all she liked about the reading spot was the comfortable chair and the good light, but over the months she came to appreciate that the window’s view offered some relief against the strain of such bleak stories, for when she looked up from the page, her eyes swept across the fields and rose on waves of foggy ridges to the blue bulk of Cold Mountain.”

“Morning broke to fog, but its brightness announced that it would burn off quickly.”

 

I’ve only just begun the book. 60 pages in, and four descriptions of fog cry out to me. This is why I love to read; It makes me take more notice.

May something fall into your day that stirs you.

 

Open

Madonna Mountain Madonna Mountain

 

[Best paired with music by Vancouver Sleep Clinic]

 

I woke up early to color my lungs with fresh morning air. When I slid my stiff feet into hiking shoes, I planned to leave my house and head Right to loop through sleep-dusted neighborhoods and admire the hush of dawn. It wasn’t until I was partway up Madonna mountain, pausing in the trail to watch an invisible crane lift the sun over earthline, that I realized I went Left.

Gifted by the powers at play, I stood sandwiched between growing sun and shrinking moon–the rays and reflections catching on tiny silver tightropes, swaying with blades of patchy grass. My shadow leaned soft and brown on the hillside. From the air, nothing more than a tiny birthmark on a small knoll.

 

Joshua Tree

Last month, when I reread Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, I underlined at least one turn of phrase a page. His manner of churning description out of observation is one to be studied, and so I do. This weekend, I applied that knowledge.

Drew and I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Three days under an expansive sky where uninhibited light poured slantwise. Two nights, cold enough for the air to cut our nostrils with dry frost. They were far from being frightful; they were lovely beyond thought.

Entrance to the park was free this President’s Day weekend, and left us rich with memories, photographs and calloused toes and fingers from climbing 100 million year-old jumbo rocks. And nearly all the while, I read the desert like a page out of John’s book:

The Southwest is a great and mysterious wasteland, a sun-punished place.

At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers.

A vast and inventive organization of living matter survives by seeming to have lost.

One may look in vain for living creatures in the daytime, but when the sun goes and the night gives consent, a world of creatures awakens and takes up its intricate pattern.

The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself and in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour.

The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and coveted place might, with their brothers in arms–the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects–these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.

———–

Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

image

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Joshua Tree National Park  Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

a Lesson in odd pairings

Typically, the Baroque Period nauseates me. The harpsichord bouncing about in lively jubilation, the echoed runs leaping from left to right hand — it’s a dizzying party at which I’ve never belonged.

But something weird happened today as I drove down to Santa Barbara: I enjoyed Bach. Somewhere near Los Olivos, strands of mist highlighted shaded mountains, and like a Kauai landscape, the heavy grey sky invited me closer. The miles moved quickly; I tore at them steadily as the opus grew like a giant flower in my mind. What I saw was strangely misaligned with what I heard, and ordinarily, I’d never put the two together. But for those brief moments, they exposed an unusual, beautiful partnership.

When the piece was over I shut off the radio.

In silence and the slow lane, I preserved a feeling and wound through Los Padres National Forest until I hit Cold Spring Tavern. That’s where we agreed to meet, the friends I made in Argentina and I. It was a halfway point, excluding Caitlin’s trek from Michigan, and it held its distance from palm trees and oversized TVs.

It was the first time we’d all been in the same place in over two years and it was a biker bar.

By the fire we drank our beers and began to buy and sell stories for the price of laughter. There was so much to share but we effectively shrunk the years we spent apart. One by one, all at once, over the blues band that played in the corner, we talked. As men with tobacco stained mustaches ate their tri-tip sandwiches, we reminisced. As deer heads watched over us, and wooden planks supported us, we caught up.  There, our South American conversations were out of context. What we heard was so different than the sights that surrounded us, but they fit and all was cozy and right.
image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image