from Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit


How beautiful a street is in winter! P 97 (quote from Virginia Woolf’s Street Haunting: A London Adventure)

Something has shifted in my reading, and I can’t quite pinpoint the change; perhaps because it’s been a gradual turning, instead of an intense all-at-once happening.

It could have started when I picked up the first book in the Karl Ove Knausgaard sequence.

Perhaps it was when I first tuned in to a Serial podcast.

Or maybe it was picking up the Folded Clock that lead me to look at Men Explain Things To Me, which lead to this enchanting quote above.

I found it in an essay Solnit wrote about Woolf. And that lead to an online search, which lead me to read an article about writers keeping diaries which, in turn,  lead to this quote:

‘I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing, since I have just re-read my year’s diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along, sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest type-writing, if I stopped and took thought, it would never be written at all; and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated, but which are the diamonds of the dustheap.’

That is exactly how I feel. If I stopped to analyze any of this, if I let my inner-critic pick it apart, I might never write anything.

This instance of one thing leading to another is indicative of my mood, the state of things round here. Maybe it’s all of the snow, and the plowing and the shoveling and the work that goes into getting from one point to the other. Clear paths have become a beautiful necessity. When I pick my head up and actually take notice, I find myself following a trajectory. This is my word of the week and anyone who has come into the Library looking for suggestions has most likely heard me slip it into a conversation. I seem to use it when asking abut the books kids are choosing to read and demonstrating how one book choice leads to another. But me, I am an arrow whizzing through the air, not quite sure where I will land. Yet my way seems clear and sharp and true.

My reading choices have been somewhat limited, as I have been consumed with podcasts. What I loved about Serial was the way Sarah laid her process bare. For me it was never about Adnan or Jay but it was Sarah’s story and her search for what happened on January 13, 1999. Reading Julavits’s diary felt similar. Here was a woman who started each entry with ‘Today I’, the simplicity of the form conveying a kind of attainable exquisiteness. The repetitive pattern of the words a meditation.

Knausgaard shares much with Serial, both setting records and breaking new ground. The immediacy of the form allows us, the listeners and the readers, to be active participants as if such a thing were possible.

In my mind Woolf, Julavits, Koenig and Knausgaard have become my mentors. Reading how they process the world around them and how they translate instances in their lives to the page has helped to cut a path for me to follow. Not that I think for a moment that anyone would want to read my ramblings in my journal, yet each week I write here. And the brilliance of this form means that what’s happening in my life changes what gets posted. It reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure books that I loved as a child. I only hope that I won’t do something silly and end up a the bottom of the river in the middle of the jungle.

When those bad things would happen to me when I was absorbed in one of those books, I would pretend I hadn’t actually made that choice and grant myself a do-over. That what I  really, really meant to do was whatever the other choice was. Often it was a better ending or, if I wasn’t happy, at least I wasn’t dead.

I feel that way about winter. For all it’s dreariness, the fog that permeates and the neverending sweatshirt colored sky I’m happy that I’m here. Happy that the college application process is almost over and that the waiting game is about to begin. But to quote the Simpsons, I’m tired of that, let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippo.

Who knows what games we’ll play on Christmas, but I hope its a good one. I’m looking forward to our meal; sitting around knitting, eating cookies, drinking cider and deciding which games to play. These are the moments that stay with me. They pass us by as any other minute would, masquerading in their ordinary guise, but really they are the keepsakes. Some make it into our journals. Once there we hope to preserve it, establishing it in our memories–branding it firmly. Wearing out a groove so deep it doesn’t get buried or accidentally fall out. That’s why I love writing here. This diary of sorts helps to preserve a life in these amber colored pages.

December is a time for keepsakes and memories. Still, for all the busyness of this season, life slows in winter. The ice captures and confines. But I have noticed that amid the fierce cold and pain, the crystals often sparkle and shimmer with the sun. Right now, these are the wonders of my world– the ‘diamonds in the dustheap.’



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