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Monday, April 25, 2011

Time and demand

Deep into a required continuing education portfolio, what it has robbed me most of is time -- time with others, time with books, time to even post here on the blog. The rewards have been considerable -- the people in my cohort and I have formed a strong bond, and the reflecting demanded by the portfolio's questions will add strength to my teaching in the library.
But the less time I have to read right now, the more I ache to be able to fall into the kind of well-formed writing that creates its own world. That is the kind of writing found in the books I've been able to dip into these days.

First is What There is to Say We Have Said, a homey collection of letters among Eudora Welty, William Maxwell, The New Yorker editor and writer, and his wife, Emily. Their caring about each other, their families and, oh, their roses, is sweet and uplifting. They show their considerable qualities at being decent, thoughtful human beings.

Those same qualities are evident in a short piece by Maxwell published in The New Yorker's winter fiction issue of December 28, 1998-January 4, 1999 (see, it pays to keep old magazines around until they've been read). "The Room Outside" describes that magical spot on the window where many a child has seen both through the glass to the outside world and a reflection of the room behind, now presenting itself as being part of that outside world. The completeness, the wholeness of his home is conveyed by Maxwell. Although his family moved from his childhood home, and he and his bride set up housekeeping in more than one place before settling, that dual picture stayed with him.

Visiting his childhood home again after many years, he grumbles about how it isn't the same at all and how nothing is right any more. Except, except for that remembrance of life seen through the window. He concludes:

That room outside, super-imposed on the snow; the reflection of the lamp, the table and the chair where my mother likes to sit when she sews, the white bookcase, the Oriental rugs, the man standing at the fireplace and the little boy peering out at the night -- that image that was nothing more than a trick of the window glass -- is indestructible.

And so are friendships like the ones I'm able to be making stronger now, the other friendships that endure despite our not being closely tied together right now, and that bond with the worlds created with love and read with great appreciation. Those bonds are indestructible as well, no matter what other demands are placed on the hours of the day right now. They will last through time and be there for the appreciating whenever time's demands ease.

The contrast between knowing that reward awaits when time allows, and knowing that time will never be the same, is an important thread in Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story, another book I'm reading right now. Her guilt at not being there the moment her beloved husband of nearly 50 years died, the time it is taking to try to keep up with the demands of new widowhood, let alone the trash accumulation, the time that she craves with friends and to be alone, the time to get out of the house and teaching and the time to return to that nest, are both a record of what she endured and a meditation on what ways to occupy one's time matter in the long run. The duality of her writing of her experiences and taking a step back to reflect on them is fascinating.

And something I would reflect on more tonight, except that there is writing of my own that should be addressed. The deadline is fast approaching to get more turned in and I cannot ignore that demand.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: 'Daughters-in-Law'

DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW
By Joanna Trollope
Fiction
April 2011
Touchstone
ISBN- 978-1-4516-1838-9

Joanna Trollope's books have been derided for years by those who dismiss the homely tales as "Aga sagas", as if tales of heart, hearth and home were beneath readers and writers.

But the crazier the world gets, the more there are times when quiet compassion for the vagaries of the human condition is balm for the reader. This time, like every other, that is exactly what Trollope delivers.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In Progress: 'What There is to Say We Have Said'

This spring break I'm spending time with Eudora Welty, whose writing I've loved for years, and William Maxwell, whose work I now plan to glom. The Southern chronicler of human foible and The New Yorker editor/novelist were friends for decades. Many of their letters, as well as some from Maxwell's wife Emily, are gathered in What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

The introduction by Welty friend and biographer Suzanne Marrs, who edited this collection, sets the loveliest tone about friendship and discoveries that friends want to share with each other over the years about their own writing, each other's writing, books, roses, the places they travel. Marrs also begins by quoting Welty's own introduction to the famed Norton Book of Friendship. It brings to mind long-lasting friendships formed online, where we put ideas, hopes, dreams and disappointments into words to each other every day:

All letters, old and now, are the still-existing parts of a life. To read them now is to be present when some discovery of truth -- or perhaps untruth, some flash of light -- is just occurring. ... To come upon a personal truth of a human being, however little known, and now gone forever, is in some way to admit him to our friendship.