Friday, May 18, 2012

On the trail of dark & light to New York City

I'd meant to post from New York where I attended the PEN World Voices Festiveal of Internal Literature  earlier this month, but, well, I didn't. It was a wonderful gathering of writers. I was slated for something called a Literary Safari, advertised as an event where one could see writers in their "natural habitat.  I had joked with friends prior that I was either supposed to arrive with a spear in hand or I would be ensconced in a bed with a laptop, my "natural habitat." Happily, I did neither but was, instead, a guest at the home of artist Stephen Hall and his wife Samantha who live in the Westbeth artist's community. It was a wonderful evening of reading and discussion, which Lyn Miller-Lachmann blogged about. Actually she posted on Tumblr so maybe I am supposed to say she Tumblred about it. Okay, maybe not.

I was hosted by writer Susanna Reich whose book, Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, was released on May 1. I stayed in the East Village which just sounds incredibly cool to someone referred to by her capitalist eldest son as an old hippie. In fact Susanna and her husband Gary Golio were driving me back to my hotel when Gary said: look, there's Bob Dylan! My head turned so fast I nearly got whiplash. It wasn't Bob Dylan, of course. Gary was just pointing out that we were in the middle of Dylan's old digs. He had no way of knowing that I was once a Dylan groupie (well, figuratively speaking) and I did not yet realize that he was the guy who wrote When Bob Met Woody.  Small world.

Dylan was from Hibbing, Minnesota. My mother was raised in Buhl, Minnesota, right next door, and my dad was from Virginia, Minnesota, right down the street, all three towns in the heart of the Iron Ore Range, the source of Dylan's early ballads. What's not to love? When my dad complained about "that godawful noise," my brother and I sat him down and made him listen to the lyrics of Mr Tambourine Man. Dad was a writer. He loved words. He never complained about Dylan again. In college I Shall Be Released was pretty much my theme song. Still is.

Which all leads to the next NYC experience. I finally met my agent, Faye Bender, (stay with me) who is absolutely just as lovely in person as she is on email and I told her about how the hotel I was staying at had bikes and how I was biking around New York. How cool is that? But Faye scolded me about the fact that I wasn't wearing a helmet and I thought about my kids--who would be horrified to see me biking NYC without a helmet--so I started wearing a helmet.  In fact, I took a ride that very afternoon wearing a wool jacket and a helmet. But then it got really hot for this Alaskan, so I took off the jacket. And there I was, biking around New York in black jeans, a black t-shirt and a helmet. Tough, huh? Then I stopped at a light and some old guy, rather worse for wear, asked me if I was Janis Joplin.

Of course I immediately thought of Amos, an Inupiaq from Point Lay, Alaska who is said to have dated Janis. We call him Famous Amos. Ever hear the song Quinn the Eskimo?

Just to set the record though: when I was younger, nobody ever mistook me for Janis Joplin.

Oh, and this is for my oldest son, who loves New York: I now know what it's like to be at a penthouse party in NYC. How amazing to stand in the night sky with the lights of the city and all its iconic buildings, spread around one like jewels on black velvet.

Hmm, maybe I do look like Janis.

Backtracking---Before New York, I visited my daughters at Dartmouth which was wonderful but I went through a total sense of culture shock when I arrived there. I had, after all, left the near 24 hour brilliance of sun on snow--springtime in the arctic, in other words--and I arrived into the darkness of  a New Hampshire night, where I was in the middle of a woods. It was not just dark at night; it was black dark, inky dark, soul-sucking dark. No streetlights no visable stars and apparently no other guests that first night at the little motel where I stayed--the one with the wooden Indian in the lobby. This was beyond culture shock for old Janis here.

I was glad to get these pictures of my granddaughter Josie, fishing in the intense Arctic light.

There's a wonderful Greenlandic movie called Heart of Light. Exactly so. My home is in the Heart of Light.

 
They were camping near Anaktuvuk Pass, my son in law's home.

I really wanted to be there.

At PEN I participated in  the panel on children's rights  with Wojciech Jagielski, Arn Chorn-Pond and Patricia McCormick. Patty's new book Never Fall Down was released earlier this month. It's Arn's story of how, as an 11-year-old boy in Cambodia, he survived the Khmer Rouge by playing music in the Killing Fields. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it, “One of the most inspiring and powerful books I’ve ever read." I read it on the plane home and it was. Sorry to sound like an old hippie, but it blew my mind. It was that good. It will win many awards. Read it.

I also read my friend Jane Buchanan's wonderful Gratefully Yours on the plane trip home and I cried. A wonderful story about grief and healing set in the orphan train era. How can a book like this go out of print? Someone is asleep at the wheel. We--VCFA classmates David, Hatsy and I drove up to Greenfield, MA from Hanover NH to surprise Jane at her book launch for newest book, Seed Magic.



Another wonderful book.

Thank God for wonderful light filled books, for people who pour their souls into story, for story standing witness, painful and transcendent; for story illuminating trails through the abyss.

I dedicate this thought to my dear mentor Ellen Levine, whose books have always done exactly that. Ellen lives in New York City, but she's battling cancer and was too sick for visitors when I was there.

Always, I hear Ellen's indomitable voice with it's Yiddish wisdom:  so what's against it? Be well Ellen, and follow the light.

What's against it?

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