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Books I’ve Read In 2016.

In January, I began writing down the title of every book I finished reading.

Memed, My Hawk; Yashar Kemal Inheriting the Holy Land, Jennifer Miller The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Daoud A Community Called Taize, Jason Brian Santos Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk Dancing Arabs, Sayed Kashua Khirbet Khizeh, S. Yizar Seasons of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih Fatelessness, Imre Kertesz Delancey, Molly Wizenberg By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano The Periodic Table, Primo Levi The Door, Magda Szabo Infiltration, Yehoshua Kenaz All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister A Border Passage, Leila Ahmed Egypt on the Brink, Tarek Osman The File, Timothy Garton Ash It's Easier to Reach Heaven Than the End of the Street, Emma Williams The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa Women of Sand and Myrrh, Hanan al-Shaykh Almost There, Laurel Garver Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill Spiritual Friendship, Wesley Hill Wounded Prophet, Michael Ford Killing a King, Dan Ephron In the Cafe of Lost Youth, Patrick Modiano The Japanese Lover, Isabelle Allende Chronicle of a Last Summer, Yasmine El Rashidi Parting Ways, Judith Butler

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Blogger.

When I was seventeen, I flew to Seattle to stay with my aunt in lieu of attending a program at Oxford that had accepted me but was too expensive for us. I took long walks around the block on the phone with my parents, starting to cry when my mom said she missed me. I felt keenly the strange difference of an atheist’s home. My aunt had just lost her job, and I barely knew her, and so for three weeks, I lay on the floor of my room reading first Moby-Dick and then Vanity Fair and we searched for things in common and she began to teach me to cook. At the end of a dinner party, a friend who hadn’t really spoken to me suggested we read a particular Seattleite’s food blog. I clicked over and read about the restaurant that would open the week after I left, and began to read the archives, and began to go farther back, and began to dream of being like Molly. When I returned after my freshman year of college, I begged my aunt to take me to Delancey. She was skeptical; I, besotted.

Four years later, I sat on the floor of my year-old apartment in Vancouver, eating Thai takeout and drinking an unmeasured but wonderful cocktail out of a mug: orange juice, Aperol, and two-day-old prosecco. Had I planned to mimic Luisa Weiss or Molly Wizenberg or even Julia Child, I reflected, I would have moved to Paris. I felt kinship with those heroines, but I had picked Vancouver.

I moved to Vancouver to do something bold and new. I was tired of Philadelphia, or rather, of nineteen-year-olds telling me “You must leave to grow up.” I knew leaving college was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was going to make me feel so immature. I got to Canada and curled up in a ball and wept for eleven months. I told people that I’d love the year in hindsight: all the reading I got to do; the beautiful, beautiful streets I walked up and down and the strange, new views; the freedom of anonymity and lack of responsibility; the flexible job with regular, reasonable paychecks; etc. etc.

I didn’t love it in the present, though. I was so, so sad. Six months in, I knew Vancouver wouldn’t, couldn’t work. At the end of a year, I dissembled my entire apartment, stacking books tightly in cardboard boxes and swathing every wine glass and framed print in yards of tape and bubble wrap. I flew home. And then, three weeks later, I flew to North Africa, to disorient myself more.

Every week, I feel a bit more like a character in a novel, or the author of a blog. I feel like I’m gypping the world: today, my story sounds cool, but I’m not at all cool. I’m terrified of strangers, and insecure with friends. I’ve never been on — or been invited to — a fun spring break vacation, and I can rarely force myself to sit still to read novels for fun.

Somehow, though, my life has begun to sound like a book, or a blog. I’m becoming a real person, a brave person, an adult, a person with a story. Going places and doing things. A real person. A real person.

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BRB.

Sorta off the grid for the summer. Be back in August. xoxo.

photo gillian stevens.

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Wanna be like Kanye.

The human person, like Israel, is invited, expected, and insistently urged to engage in a genuine interaction that is variously self-asserting and self-abandoning, yielding and initiative-taking.
Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament

Let’s be real: it’s been a tough summer. It’s been a really good one, I wrote a week or two ago, “oddly and unexpectedly.” Barefoot sidewalk, brambley, pebbly, climbing, sitting, solitary summer (blackberries really do have thorns: they are brambles, Sleeping Beauty-style!); a photogenic one, but a difficult one, but a good one.

Nolan and I were in the car on Sunday waiting for the bridge to go down, playing KANYE (the song, not the artist) very, very loudly with the windows down, and it was so so so good. Maybe a few days here and there have been enough to make it a social summer, quiet as it’s been. This morning became much better with the song coming on again, loud loud loud in my ears.

O Friends, I’ll love you ’til the record stops. Which, really, is never.

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Next up.


A few weeks ago, I had my last shifts at JOE and the Kelly Writers House; last week, I graduated from Penn; and in three weeks, I move to the Pacific Northwest.

Insane.

Last night, Ben and Nolan and I drank champagne in the backyard out of mason jars; then Ben and I walked down all of campus, pointing out all the important places and ending at the Button, sitting there for a long time, thinking.

This afternoon, I’ll drive Ben to the airport and put boxes in my parents’ car. I’m selling books and coffee equipment; giving away old clothes and unused makeup; stacking books to bring with me. As Ana told Jessica, I’m kind of going just to go, to go. I do have a job, a safety-net and an assurance; for that, I’m so grateful and I’m excited. It’s true, though, that I’ve picked Vancouver as somewhere new, from-scratch, and also kind and safe. I’m excited.

This week, I reread Gilead. I couldn’t believe how much of it mattered so much to me. This book nearly created me in some ways, and so it reflects the way I think and what I believe.

All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Lamb Roast, April 2014 (taken by Janelle); Pedernales Falls State Park, Texas, March 2014.

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