Monday, September 07, 2020
ars longa, vita brevis
A short post today, to say hello, and that yes, I finally finished reading The Diary of Virginia Woolf. The ending was just about as devastating as I thought it would be. I can't say I want to talk it over in any detail right now, so I'll share a few new acquistions instead. First:
What a gorgeous art book this is - John Nash: Artist & Countryman by Andrew Lambirth (Unicorn 2020). It's a reward for selling a lot of paintings over the summer, pandemic notwithstanding. I love Nash's work and it's a treat to have a real monograph about it. My only critcism is that I wish the copious and illuminating text had been a bit smaller (font-wise) and the color plates a bit larger (there are some great full-page plates but most are not). John and Christine Nash left their house to writer Ronald Blythe when they died, and he's lived there ever since. Another recent purchase, speaking of Ronald Blythe:
That's a John Nash painting from 1918 on the cover, The Cornfield, one of my favorites of his, made when he returned home after serving in combat and as a war artist during World War I. The book is a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a rural year in gardens, fields, orchards, and farmyards, just before World War II. It reminds me very much of some of Virginia Woolf's diary entries, and not just because they were both written in the late 1930s. This lovely reprint of the 1939 original Men and the Fields by Adrian Bell has an introduction by Ronald Blythe and illustrations by John Nash (Little Toller Books 2009). Bell and the Nashes were neighbors and friends. Bell's memoir isn't about him, it's about a way of life he lived and witnessed. As a reader, you know next to nothing about Bell himself, except what he values, because he notices and describes so well, with such quiet words. The wind the the trees is of great interest to him, and hence, to us. As Blythe writes in the introduction (p.8): "Adrian Bell is the least sensational and the least dramatic of twentieth century country writers..."
Yes, please. More of this. The dramatic and sensational are overrated. This beautiful edition makes me want to buy more from the publisher. As they say on their website, "Little Toller was started with a singular purpose: to revive forgotten and classic books about nature and rural life in the British Isles." I started looking at their list of reprints and found myself wanting most of them. And if Men and the Fields is a good example, each of the others in the reprint series will also have a thick matte cardstock cover, great cover art, wonderful paper within, and all-around good quality, for a reasonable price. I'll have to order a few, when I get back.
Get back, you ask? Yes, because after being home for months and months, except for day trips here and there, I'm taking off for a while. A local arts residency has asked me to fill in, because someone just cancelled, and they want a replacement at short notice. I applied long ago, pre-pandemic, and was wait-listed. But the good folks there remembered me. At first I thought, I can't possibly go. But I realized I'd have my own house and studio, and take-out food prepared, and weeks of painting alone in the mountains of northwestern Maine, and I knew I had to say yes. So I did. I'm leaving soon and will be back in October, after the leaves turn. Ryan and Hodge are coping, but it's a dire situation. I've promised to stay in touch, and will even be back for a quick visit, halfway through. Wish me luck, and be well, friends. Ars longa!
Sunday, July 26, 2020
A midsummer update. July has nearly passed, Virginia Woolf's Diary remains unfinished, and around here we've been getting up in the night to comet-watch. Our rural Maine county has zero active known cases of the virus, and yet we continue to move carefully through our days, and try not to to feel overly judgy about the out-of-state licence plates we see daily, from people vacationing in our "safe" state. Someone in the town where Ryan works has seen cars from 38 other states so far this summer. I can't dwell on it, since there's nothing to be done, except do what we can do ourselves, and continue to take precautions.
Book sales are at a near stand-still, however paintings are selling like proverbial hotcakes, perhaps to some of these very visitors. Each time I receive a paycheck from one of the galleries I turn around and buy a book or three to celebrate. Ordering a few books here and there is a lovely way to have something definite to look forward to. Even if the book is something I can't read, like this recent arrival:
It's a catalogue, in French, of an exhibit at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland: Peinture. Alex Katz & Félix Vallotton, with essays by Bernard Fibicher et al (5 Continents 2013). I just wanted to see the color plates, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover that some of the quotes and side notes in the text are in English. So I can sort of read the book. But the pictures are more than enough. I don't love everything by either of these two painters, but what work of theirs I do happen to love, I really love. The Katz painting on the front cover is one of my all-time favorites of his, Lake Light from 1992. And the Vallotton painting on the back cover was new to me, but what a wow, Coucher de soleil, brume jaune et gris from 1913:
Katz is in his early 90s and has spent summers in Maine since the 1950s, in an old house about half an hour from here. Some of his Maine paintings are sublime. And some of his work is nails-on-chalkboard to me, which is irritating yet fascinating. I've had a love-hate relationship with his work since I was an undergraduate art student, and his paintings continue to draw my attention, for one reason or another. So this nearly-unreadable book is a real treat. I have many other books about him, but none quite like this.
As far as books in English go, a few massive (500-600+ page) softcovers are in mid-read:
Tell Me Something Good: Artist Interviews from The Brooklyn Rail edited by Phong Bui et al (David Zwirner Books 2017) is just what it says, and also a lush look at some working artists of today, across disciplines and styles. I bought this copy last fall, along with another Zwirner anthology, What It Means to Write About Art: Interviews with art critics, by Jarrett Earnest (2018). I read the latter right away, albeit slowly, and have finally gotten around to Tell Me Something Good. Each interview is several pages long and I've been reading one or two each night, for days. A few I'd read in The Brooklyn Rail online already, but most are new to me. They reinforce the notion that art is an occupation, I won't say one worthy of being pursued, but it is pursued, by many, in many forms. This alone is heartening news. I love to read about how other people get their work done, and why they make it in the first place.
The second book, Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England, edited by Siobhan Senier (University of Nebraska Press 2014) is more evening reading. This region called Maine is the homeland and territory of four groups: Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq (or Micmac). Together they comprise the Wabanaki, which translates as People of the Dawn. Maine is Dawnland, and has been since the glaciers receded over ten thousand years ago. I wish I had learned this in school, but in recent years I've been making up for not doing so, and after many years of searching and buying, Ryan and I have a decent book collection about the known history of pre-European-contact times in the region. This recent anthology gathers historical statements, literature, and poetry from each of the groups, and those from other areas of New England, and it's been illuminating to read across the centuries and up to now. So much is truly haunting. A section about Sopiel Soctomah, Passamaquoddy, seems like a harbinger (p.163), even though that's wishful thinking on my part, I know. The brief introduction tells us he lived from 1755 to 1820, and he was a scout for the Maine Militia during the American Revolution, as well as a wampum reader. His son Sopiel Selmore carried on the tradition, and read this in 1805:
"The first string of wampum beads were read, 'We sent you this to open your eyes.' The second string is read, 'That you may see a great way.' Then the third string is read, 'That your ears may be opened to hear and fix your hearts that you may have a right understanding to what I am going to tell you.'"
Seems like a good way to move forward, with eyes and ears and hearts open, as we investigate how to repair ancient wrongs, and proceed as a world, together. I say we even though all I seem to be able to do is investigate what's in my own heart. Whenever I do, I believe that justice and truth and goodness will prevail. The hopeful optimist in me lives still, even as I plan on wearing a mask to pick up my next order outside the local bookshop, instead of going in. Better days are ahead, surely.
August may be quiet around here, as I get back to work on my book. But I'll share something, even if it's just a picture of my new to-be-read stack, for the dog days ahead. Best wishes and be well, friends.
Monday, July 06, 2020
Summer is here, and just think, only about four months until we can VOTE again in this country (we've already mailed in our primary ballots). Counting down the days, hoping for the best, keeping our heads down, trying to be as safe as possible. Meanwhile, July in Maine is upon us. After a hot 4th on a day trip inland, we needed the woodstove back at home yesterday, because of the persistent fog, which has been mostly in, not offshore. I do love it, and how it softens everything, and frankly I can do without the heat we usually have this time of year, a spell of days into the upper 80s and low 90s. This cooler weather has been ideal. I've been out painting a little, and in working on my book a lot. I've reached the stage with it when I'm nearly finished, but I still have just south of 100,000 words and I'd like to cut about 20% of them out, and I can't see clearly how to proceed. A local editor is going to help me do just that, in August, but this month I'm taking a break to get some perspective on the manuscript as a whole, and also to paint while the painting is good. None of my usual summer island painting trips are happening this year (thanks, no thanks, pandemic), but I still live right here on the coast of Maine, with a wealth of beauty at the doorstep and beyond. Everything seems extra-gorgeous this year. We left a huge swath of the lawn unmowed, and up came a meadow of wildflowers - hawkweed, daisies, clover, sheep sorrel, feathery grass - during the day the bees love it and every evening the fireflies light up the entire yard. My crop of summer books is also flourishing, in today's sideways stack:
As the bookmark indicates, like a tiny flag of surrender, I stalled out on finishing Virginia Woolf's Diary. Halfway through Volume Five, the final volume, I set it aside and instead worked on my book for several weeks in early and mid June. And I never picked Woolf back up. I will sometime soon, I can't leave her unfinished for much longer. Honestly, with the stress of Everything, I haven't had the focus to read much at all lately. I tend to glance at a few poems in an anthology before bed, and watch a video or two with Ryan, then fall asleep, and dream of virus-free restaurant visits (I'm so, so tired of my own cooking). However, when I do finally complete the set, I'll write about her descriptions of people, which, besides her descriptions of her writing process, could be the highlights of the entire Diary, for me. She's got a gimlet eye, and says just what she thinks, yet is also generous and loving, especially as her friends age and pass away.
The other books are in various stages of readitude. As I mentioned last time, I did go a little mad ordering books from a local shop recently, and as usual I have zero regrets about doing so. I've wanted to read the Tim Robinson two-volume set for years, Stones of Aran (NYRB reprints), and have only had one volume of it, picked up at a library sale long ago, so I finally bought the second volume. He was already ill and 85 years old this spring when he contracted Covid-19 and died. Honestly, this world. How I wish things were different. Moving on, since they are not in fact different, I'm looking forward to pure escapism in the form of the Dorothy L. Sayers books. They will be a re-read, except I cannot believe this but I've never read Have His Carcase, so that will be a spooky, chilly pleasure, I hope. I want to read the entire Wimsey/Vane romance again so I ordered these HarperCollins reprints of all of them, even though I already own Gaudy Night. I gave away the others I owned, as gifts to someone who'd never read them before. I've never read poet Elizabeth Bishop's nonfiction, and picked up The Collected Prose (Farrar Straus Giroux 1984) the last time I actually entered a bookshop in person (late February or early March, I can't remember). Dear lord I miss bookshops. But I'm just not there yet, about entering buildings if I don't absolutely have to, which right now, I don't. Like our groceries, curbside pick-up for books worked well, and it will again soon.
The only book I've finished recently is The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham (Milkweed 2017). I'd seen several references to it online, and read an essay of his that is now included in this book. Which has it all: the love of knowing a home place deep in your bones, the foundation it gives to everything else, the description of parents, siblings, and elders which is sometimes painfully truthful yet still honors them, and the gorgeously-written extended meditation on race, family and local history, religion, and nature. Lanham's a birder, a poet, a professor of wildlife ecology, and says in his introduction (p.4): "Each of us is so much more than the pigment that orders us into convenient compartments of occupation, avocation, or behavior. It's easy to default to expectation. But nature shows me a better, wilder way. I resist the easy path and claim the implausible, indecipherable, and unconventional."
His book is about making a life for himself, from the places and people he started with. Metaphorically and literally, he builds an intellectual and spiritual home in the world. One reason I love his book so much is that I agree with his pantheistic leanings. Lanham writes (pp.95-96): "Depending on the day I claim different labels spiritually. They run the gamut from atheist to Zen. I'm not sure any of them really matter. What does matter: I've expanded the walls of my spiritual existence beyond the pews and pulpit to include longleaf savannas, salt marshes, cove forests, and tall-grass prairie. The miracles for me are in migratory journeys and moonlit nights. Swan song is sacred. Nature seems worthy of worship." And (p.175): "I've settled into a comfortable place with the idea of nature and god being the same thing." Nature is sacred, I see the clear fact of it in the fireflies and tall grass every evening. And I'm trying to describe it and come to terms with it in my own memoir.
The only sections of his book I had to quickly skim involved learning to hunt, and hunting. They remind me of certain parts in H is for Hawk (Grove 2016), and Helen Macdonald did indeed write a blurb for the cover of Lanham's book. Nature and human nature are not tidy, not especially peaceful, and they are often bloody, if you are a creature who eats meat. Even so, this too is life, and he sees it clearly. A beautiful memoir, highly recommended.
Lastly, in my summer reading stack, is The Lives of Artists by Calvin Tomkins (Phaidon 2019). The boxed set is such a pleasure to look at, I'll share a close-up:
Most of the essays within are from Tomkins's writing for The New Yorker, collected from over six decades. The books are softcover but very sturdy, sewn and glued, printed on wonderful paper, an all-around delight to hold and read. About the contents, I wish more women and artists of color were included, as usual, but as the decades pass, authors and editors are slowly righting - or at least addressing - this initial wrong. I'm not reading the volumes sequentially, rather dipping a toe in and out, depending on the subject of each essay. Speaking of dipping toes in, it's summer! Get to it, I certainly am:
Let's savor the beauty around us, whenever possible. And get those feet in the water, if you're lucky enough to have an ocean nearby! I haven't gone all the way in yet, this year, but will take the plunge soon. Be well, friends - we'll make it through these difficult times together, if we possibly can.
Thursday, June 04, 2020
home and away
What a week. I've gotten a clean bill of health from my doctor and am feeling relieved about that, but am deeply disheartened at the same time, about the state this country is in. When I think it can't get worse, it gets much much worse, immediately. There's no escape, no getting away. The only thing I seem to be able to do is watch what's happening, recognize it for what it is, and then keep working on making room for good things in the future. I try to keep faith, in small ways each day, and add to the good, somehow.
So I'm here today, with that in mind. I'm clearing off my work table. Among other things, I want to reshelve some books, to make room for the new ones that are currently on approach. I sold some paintings and received a big paycheck, and just went a little nuts ordering books from one of the nearest independent booksellers' shops, a local favorite of mine and many others, Left Bank Books. I'm going to want to have some good new reading material close to hand when I finish up Virginia Woolf's Diary. I have two hundred pages or so left to read in Volume Five, the final volume, so it will be neck in neck to see if the new books arrive before I turn that last page. This seems like a frivolous topic at this terrible time, but here we are anyway.
First on my stack are these Vita Sackville-West items:
Thursday, May 28, 2020
May 8, 1979. Lea Andrew Reiber writes to Mrs. Hills, who lives in a nearby town, to thank her for writing a letter to the editor to point out a mistake in a recent newspaper interview with himself. The error is that Vita is misspelled Veda. Also present is the newspaper clipping of Mrs. Hills's correction, and a comical letter of apology to her from Reiber's interviewer. My bookplate now resides under the front flap of the dust jacket. It's a wonderful copy for its association items, and I particularly treasure Andrew's letterhead from Addison, Maine.
I grew up in Addison. Soon after my parents divorced, circa 1972, my mother and my new stepfather and my two sisters and I moved from Bar Harbor to a little farmhouse in Addison. Our house was a few miles from Cape Split, on the way to the small fishing village of South Addison. Our favorite beach to go, and the closest, was (and still is) there. It's by a causeway of sorts between the sandy beach itself and a tidal mudflat overlooking South Addison. The sandy beach faces a number of islands, and open ocean. Past the beach, a neck of land with a loop road around it is Cape Split itself. But right before you come to the causeway, beach, and neck, is a wide field. In that field there is a tiny cemetery, with only a few headstones and markers. Some spruce trees grow nearby, and an old apple tree. But mostly the field is grass. If you stand on the path by the cemetery and look one way, the view out to the islands and ocean is before you. If you turn and look the other way, up the field, there is Windslip. And in the cemetery, if you look closely at a small plaque on a piece of granite fieldstone, the one with an American flag by it, you may be able to read the name Reiber. It's weathered over the years, but here he is.
Our family lived in Addison for about twelve years, all told. My older sister's first boyfriend lived near Windslip and when he was a teenager he used to caretake for "Old Andrew" or "Lea" as he was sometimes called, too. I don't remember ever meeting Andrew himself. Maybe my mother and stepfather did. I'll have to ask them one of these days. Even though it's not a town, it's just some houses on a road, Cape Split had a reputation as a happening kind of place back then, because the painter John Marin had lived there, and the Marin family carried on the art tradition with their Cape Split Place Gallery for several years. Artists and other creative types were around, as were back-to-the-landers like my parents, in the 1970s and 80s. I do remember attending openings at the Gallery, when I must have been about nine and ten years old. It was quite a place, out there on the leading edge of nowhere.
When we moved away from Addison in 1985, I had to finish up high school in a new place. A boy who befriended me had a mother who was a writer. He told me that she would make the trek to Cape Split to see "Old Andrew" many times over the years, with their whole family in tow. He remembered it well. I told him that he drove right by our house on the way there. Addison and Cape Split are in my memory and heart forever.
Fast forward two decades. I'm a used book fanatic, living in Bangor, Maine. I've worked in bookstores for years, and I may have even just opened my own shop. Ryan and I seek out used books whenever and wherever we can. One trip takes us way downeast, past Addison, to Machias. A man named Jim runs a little secondhand book barn there. He bought it with the adjacent house - lock, stock, and book - either from the previous bookseller or from his heirs, I don't think I ever knew which. Suffice it to say that the previous bookseller was named Charles Hilt, and he was also a professor at the nearby University of Maine at Machias. In one alcove of the book barn, which is really a garage of sorts, is a nook of shelves filled with books about England. Mostly nondescript stuff from the 1950s, about kings and queens. Nothing special, nothing I want, common fare. However, after looking more closely, I do see a few items that are just the kind of things I most like. Oddments. Here are two of them:
Those spines. So dear, so shabby! Such well-loved books! I've had them for twenty years now myself. But obviously they were loved long before that. Something interesting is inside the front cover of John Fothergill's memoir An Inkeeper's Diary (Chatto & Windus 1931):
What's that? Written in fading ink, on the front pastedown?? "Windslip" / Cape Split / Addison, Maine / 1944, in what looks to be Lea Andrew Reiber's handwriting. The front free endpaper also carries some writing:
What a mish-mash! And barely visible with the copious, glorious foxing! From the top down, I think the "Fothergill / Bio-F / 1st Ed" notation must be that of a bookseller, perhaps Charles Hilt. The black ink name is anyone's guess. However, the blue ink name, we do know. W. Sinclair. Who is he? Dearest Andrew, the book, tells us that Walter Sinclair was (pp.21-22) one of the "theatre people (who) found their way to Cape Split.... Walter Sinclair, a producer and director, and his companion Andrew Reiber, an actor.... took houses in Addison or one of the surrounding villages. Then in 1939, they discovered Windslip, a cottage dating back to Revolutionary times. It was nearly past repair, but with careful planning and attention to historical accuracy, the two men had it restored to its original beauty. Overlooking the sea, the cottage stands on a rise, amid ancient apple trees.... When Walter Sinclair retired from the theatre, the two friends took up permanent residence in this beautiful spot. There they could read and write..." They also created a fine garden, and kept poodles. Please, someone, tell me more, about these men and their lives.
I don't think anyone will. So, back to Sinclair's inscription. Under his name is written "Compliments not of the / author" which I have to assume is an in-joke of some kind between Sinclair and Reiber, as if the book was a gift to Reiber or something. I wish I knew. I do love the little pinned advertisement, too, for Fothergill's inn, the Three Swans.
As if that isn't enough, there's even more going on in this busy book - I've written in pencil on the front pastedown, that Windslip was the home of Andrew Reiber, and inside the back cover I've tipped my bookplate in, next to a small bookshop ticket from Telecote Bookshop in Santa Barbara. All I have left to do is READ THE BOOK. Which I plan to do! Honestly, it looks great. And the foxing is only on the endpapers.
How about the other book spine, the one showing a book by James Agate - a theatre person's memoir, Ego 7: Even More of the Autobiography of James Agate (Harrap 1945). The book isn't marked up at all, but does contain these loose items inside the front cover:
Here's a closer look at the postcard, from 1975 (I wonder if the Nancy who wrote it is Nancy MacKnight, but that's one more thing I don't know):
And the lists of notes, which I find endearing to no end, partly because I do the same thing as I read - make a list with page numbers and quotes of interest. The notes here look like Reiber's writing, and correspond to the pages in Ego 7. Such as this, on p. 27: "A voice like damson-coloured velvet". I wonder if I could find all the other Egos. There are NINE VOLUMES in all, in this series. And, as with Fothergill, I've read none. So much to look forward to!
The lists of notes, by the way, are written on the backs of some scrap paper, these:
Old blank checks, from a bank in Machias. Machias, about half an hour up the coast from Addison. Back to the book barn again, Jim's book barn, in Machias. After our first visit, Ryan and I returned to make sure we'd seen what there was to see. If there were any other association copies to do with Windslip, Reiber, and Sinclair, we wanted to find them. There wasn't much. Trust me, we really looked. And I couldn't bring myself to buy the English kings and queens stuff without some kind of definite association or provenance. Even though I seem to remember Jim telling me that Charles Hilt got a lot of the books from Windslip, at least the ones the heirs wanted to sell, when Reiber died. HOWEVER...! All was not lost! We did find something great. Just so, so great. At least to me. It's been a long time now, but I'm pretty sure I bought this book there, on our second visit:
I could probably go back into my own diaries and find out, but I can't face the shelf of them just now. Look at this book instead: James Lees-Milne's anthology The Country House (Oxford 1982). Bought for four dollars in 2003, according to my code in pencil inside the back cover. In pen, written inside the front cover, is this:
Jim, otherwise known as James Lees-Milne. Dearest Andrew, and Vita. On the page together. I cannot even TELL you how pleased I was to find this book. Although, honestly, Ryan might have been the one. I can almost see him walking toward me in the book barn, with the book in his hands. It might be my favorite association copy, of all my books. Its story is so tenuous and intricate! How this book about British country house life through the ages came to tiny, remote Addison, Maine, sent from one Vita-admirer to another, and then was rereleased out into the moving, living world of used books, for me to find years later, well, I find it more than slightly amazing. Not to mention, me living a few miles up the road in Addison, age fifteen when the book was inscribed in the first place, interested in boys, mostly, although records and books a close second and third.
But wait, there's more. Stay with me, please. I do have one final book to mention today. One I think we found on the first trip to Jim's book barn, but it also could've been the second. I'm not sure because I didn't pencil my price/date code inside the back cover, Curses!! Moving on... in my last post I showed the stack of Virginia Woolf books I have on hand, and in that stack is her novel based on the life of Vita Sackville-West, and the ancestors in her lineage, Orlando. My copy came from Jim's, and looks like a hardcover first U.S. edition (Harcourt, Brace 1928), but I'm not sure from the copyright page information if it really is or not. There's no dust jacket present, so it's kind of a moot point, value-wise. It's still of great value to me, however, because of this inscription inside the front cover, and the accompanying slip of paper, that was used as a bookmark:
1979, Windslip. I was twelve years old. Not that this is all about me me me, but! It kind of is. Would anyone else care about this book, and its tender inscription "With love / to Charley / my closest friend", and how about the old bank deposit ticket with the name Charles E. Hilt on it, faded with age on its lower end, where it stuck out of the book for years? I don't know, but I sure care, and that's why I'm writing this down today.
Back to Virginia Woolf for a second - inside the front cover of Dearest Andrew is one more paper item, a bookmark with a picture and quote on it:
Betty! I have your book! Were you also known as Mrs. Hills? Nice little picture of the Woolfs' country home, Monk's House, Rodmell, Sussex. (Which I've never seen, since each volume of her published Diary has exactly zero photographs in it! I mean. Come on. Whose editorial decision was that? I had to return to Frances Partridge's books to find photographs of the denizens of Bloomsbury instead.) And a pertinent quote about the threads of life and fiction that hold us together. This will help me circle back to Virginia Woolf, next time. I do want to note some of what she writes about Vita Sackville-West, and others in their purview, before the experience of reading her Diary fades from mind. Not that I'm planning on finishing Volume Five any time soon, because I'm not. I know the ending and don't want to hurry to get there.
How I wish that Dearest Andrew also contained Reiber's side of the correspondence! Alas, it does not. I wonder where it is now. Did Vita Sackville-West keep his letters? I have no idea. But OH how I would love to read the entire back-and-forth, between the two households. I find it poignant that Andrew wanted the book to be dedicated to Vita's memory:
I haven't mentioned yet that several of the photographs in the book, including the one of Andrew at the very end, were taken by a documentary filmmaker who lived with his wife and son in South Addison. They were friends of my parents, and when I was a teenager I used to babysit the son. What a small world it is, truly.
Would you like to see the old orchard at Windslip? Here it is. I took some pictures last summer when it was very green. In the fall we see deer under the trees, searching for newly fallen apples:
The house itself is there behind the trees and no longer fully visible from the main road. I miss the old mailbox, that for years still said Windslip. It's long gone now. Although it's probably just in the barn! Things tend to stay in place, downeast. Even though the view to the house itself is obscured, the field between the house and the ocean is still wide open. And the path by the cemetery still leads to the beach. What a place to rest, forever. I hope he's happy there, where he loved to be. I took this photograph on a March day at Cape Split, two years ago, after a very long winter. The grass is the ochre color I particularly love, scrubby and sere. Andrew's stone, with the nearly-illegible plaque on it, is in the lower right corner:
I think the flag is there because among so many other things, Reiber was also a Marine, or was in the Army or Navy. During World War II? The plaque said, I'm almost sure of it, but it's weathered so much that I haven't even read it during my many visits in recent years. When I go back, I'll check and see if I can make it out.
I know I've mentioned my interest in Vita Sackville-West before (here, for one), and I'm glad I've finally explained how far back that interest goes. She's not just the author, the poet, the fascinating personage, the mother too, of other authors, and the character of Orlando. She's also wrapped up by association in a place, for me, Cape Split - a place in books, and a real place I know well. I've painted that field, the cemetery, and beach, many times. In fact when I began to paint from the landscape, over fifteen years ago now, Cape Split was one of the first places I made a beeline for. I painted the apple tree, the spruces, the cemetery, the view up the field toward Windslip, the ledges, and the sand beach. I still head there to paint, when I can. And, two and three years ago I sold so many paintings - I mean we actually had cash on hand - that we bought some land there, Ryan and I. We may build a tiny off-the-grid painting camp at some point, if I ever have that kind of cash again - but if I never do, the land will remain as it is, a spruce forest, a home for hermit thrushes and song sparrows, and chickadees, and that's fine with me.
The land is about a mile from Windslip and the beach, on a little dirt road off the Cape Split Road. If I build anything at all, I might make a memorial bench, as a quiet place to sit and listen to the birds. I'll dedicate it to my older sister's first boyfriend. John, who has since died, the one who once worked for Andrew Reiber. Our family knew his family well. They were our neighbors and best friends, when my sisters and I were little. Their family had been on Cape Split for generations. Whenever I think of the land we bought, which years ago belonged to them, it brings me such satisfaction I can hardly put it into words. It's a full-circle kind of feeling. One of my favorite places on earth, Cape Split, because of childhood days, and because of Marin, and Reiber, and books, and art, and because of my own delight in spending time there now. I love to walk the beach. I love to paint the islands offshore. I loved Cape Split when I was young, and I love it still. It's nowhere special, really, just another place at the end of a road, with a few houses here and there, by the ocean, like so many other places in Maine. But it means the world to me. Thanks for listening to why.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
settling in for the long haul
Update from here, before April is gone. We are about six weeks in to the stay-safe-at-home order in Maine, and state leadership just extended the order through the upcoming month of May. Then...? We don't know. Certain kinds of businesses might be able to reopen in June, others won't. Summer festivals and public events are being cancelled left and right. The antiques mall in which I sell my books is closed indefinitely, but the owner, bless him, is charging us dealers zero booth rent. So my inventory sits in darkness for now. And my upcoming painting shows are going to be mostly if not only online, it seems. All of which is fine with me. We've bought groceries by the email-your-list/curbside-pickup method twice, otherwise have only driven anywhere one other time, to park at a local trailhead a few miles away. My hand has healed up. All in all, we're doing fine. And fear is more or less at bay, though still present. A low point was an unexpected mini-blizzard a few weeks ago, with a foot of heavy wet snow and an accompanying power outage which lasted a few days. A high point was walking eight miles around the hill we live on, when the snow was gone and it was much warmer. I painted watercolors along the way. Crocus time has given way to daffodil time. The first dandelions are opening. Lilacs will be along soon enough. So it goes. My mind has settled somewhat and I am working away at my usual slow and steady pace, on all kinds of projects. I made a good painting yesterday, one I have been thinking about for months. Happiness floods in whenever I am able to set worry aside and work. And Ryan is a joy to quarantine with. He keeps busy with his own projects and work. His usual good humor abounds and lifts me up. The days are full, and then they pass by.
I've also started reading again. Like, really reading. I began with a little hardcover reprint of Virginia Woolf's stand-alone essay On Being Ill (Paris Press 2002). Perfect, and perfectly strange, written in its own way, in flowing comprehensible prose. Her sentences run on, sometimes to entire pages, but she never loses her threads. The essay was originally published in 1930 by the Woolfs (although Viriginia Woolf often called herself and her husband Leonard the Woolves) at their Hogarth Press. A brief and perhaps pertinent sample (p.11)
"There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional), a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals."
I don't think I have anything to confess, here or elsewhere. I'm usually an open book. But then, I remain healthy (knock on wood). Although I suppose we could play a game, hopefully brief, called Virus or Menopause? I am 52 and in the throes of the latter. Too much information? Not for an honest diary-writer. Virginia Woolf speaks of nearly everything, in hers. I know that now, because I did start reading The Diary of Virginia Woolf, edited by Anne Olivier Bell (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1977-1984). I have the complete set, in five volumes. These were the last books I ordered online, in pre-pandemic days. I've ordered two others since then, from Canada, but they haven't arrived yet, and are on another subject, so will be a story for different day. My progress in Woolf's Diary is like everything else right now: slow, but full of the essential stuff of life. The savor is present and complete. It's wonderful to be able to visit her world with her as a tour guide, on the page, as life happens. This will sound so obvious, but she is an astonishingly good writer. Her descriptions of friends and acquaintances, her surroundings, and most of all her interior life, including her writing process, are extraordinary. The Diary begins in 1915, when she is in her 30s, married, and the war is well underway. She stops writing after a mental breakdown, then resumes. The war ends. Hogarth Press begins. She writes and publishes. She carries on. The facts and timeline of her life are so well known that I will not recount them here. I will say that her nephew Quentin Bell, who wrote a fine introduction to Volume One and was married to the editor of the Diary, says (p.xiii):
"In calling it a major work I wish to imply not merely that it is a large work of major historical and biographical importance (which it certainly and obviously is) but also that, considered as a whole, it is a masterpiece."
He elaborates (ibid) by saying that, like her best novels, the Diary has:
"...the same accurate beauty of writing but also an immediacy such as one finds only in diaries; it is in fact one of the great diaries of the world."
Here is my set, and On Being Ill, on the footstool in the book room:
I'm half way through Volume Three, as you see from my bookmark. The Diary is full of home truths. Like this one, from Volume One (p.22):
"The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think."
For good measure, here is the rest of my Virginia Woolf collection, if I can even call it that. I've had a lot more books of hers, and sold them or at least offered them for sale, after not reading them for decades. That has changed, however, and I'm certainly glad now to still have these on hand:
She lives on the shelf between P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy Wordsworth, isn't that a good place to be? Let's take a closer look at the book on the top of the pile: Vanessa Bell designed the dust jacket for her brother-in-law's edited version of her sister's diary:
More on the Diary as I continue with it. Finishing it will take weeks at my current snail's pace, then perhaps I will forge ahead with her early novels. The only novel I've ever finished of hers is Orlando. Which I loved, although I don't usually take to fiction which employs surrealist techniques or otherwise suspends the laws of time and space. However, since these laws seem to be suspended anyway at the moment, why not. I am planning on re-reading Orlando, because it's been years, and one of the highlights of the Diary so far is Woolf's unfolding description of Vita Sackville-West, as a personage-turned-lover, who is of course Orlando in the novel. And I do have a long story to tell about this particular copy, and its history and travels, along with some other Sackville-West books in my possession. Perhaps next time. I think it's a good story. It has many branches, will meander, and take a while to tell.
I want to wrap this up with a few more thoughts about the pandemic. Not from me, though. Virginia Woolf endured difficult times, to put it mildly. The war, the influenza epidemic, scarcity, her own ill health, you name it. A few brief passages stay with me from her Diary, about some of those times. In Volume One (p.56), during the war, Leonard is called up but is found unfit to serve, but:
"...still, if one could wake to find it untrue, it would be a mercy."
And after the war, life returns to something approaching normal, but then a railway strike occurs (ibid p.301):
"We are on war rations, & told to be brave and good.... Yet a state of siege has a certain snugness & self sufficiency about it. No one can interrupt."
And finally, from Volume Two, this devastating statment (p.72):
"Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end."
As we know, she manages to stay on the road for a long time. Until she no longer can, in fact. Don't look down unless you have to! And even then, keep your balance: be safe and walk on, friends. I hope you are well, and remain so. Let's meet back here in May.
Friday, March 27, 2020
Week one of isolation is coming to a close in our household. Ryan has been on administrative leave from his job but also remains on call as needed. Same for the week ahead. And the week after that. Maybe longer but who knows, right now. I am trying to work as usual but can't focus on much for very long, so the days feel choppy and lengthy both, in a weird way. I keep forgetting about the pandemic for brief periods of time, then remembering with a jolt akin to seasickness. Turning to books still isn't working for me, but I keep trying. A list of what I've picked up and put back down, in the last two weeks:
Spirit of Place - Laurence Durrell
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Autobiography - Morrissey
Songs of Unreason - Jim Harrison
The Diary of Virginia Woolf (found all five volumes)
The Early Diary of Frances Burney
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad - Austin Kleon
I got 49 pages in with Durrell, 14 pages in with Marcus Aurelius, 47 pages with Morrissey, skipped around in Harrison before deciding not to continue, made headway in zero pages with Woolf, and started where I left off some months ago on page lxxxvii in the interminable preface of the Fanny Burney set. Austin Kleon's book is the only thing I might actually finish this week (Workman 2019). I'm on page 135 and am finding it most helpful. It is exactly what he says it is, a guide to working on your art, in any form it takes, no matter what. It's not too heavy but at the same time has a terrific big-picture vibe that is appropriately doomy.
Up next I have a copy of art critic Jerry Saltz's brand new book How to Be an Artist (Riverhead 2020), and I'm looking forward to being able to attempt to concentrate on it sometime soon. I could say the same about my own art practice. Oil painting is not happening for me right now. I keep picking things up in my studio and putting them right back down again. The one project I do seem to be able to make headway with is the little gouache illustrated book I started making last winter. I set it aside after a few months and it's been dormant since then. I decided to look at it again and see what I could do. This week so far I've made a number of gouache paintings, written a few pages of possible text - each page only has a few words on it, but hey, I'll take them - and interleaved most of them into my existing manuscript. Here are a few of the paintings, on bristol board. They are quite small:
Making one at a time, in short stints, is working for me, and I feel so grateful! Animals, birds, natural things like leaves and feathers, landscapes real and imagined - these are what show up and they help reaffirm my love of the natural world. Everything goes into mylar page protecters in a big three-ring binder, and the whole thing is starting to feel really good and book-like, when I flip through it. Some places need more illustrations and others need more words, but it's 90% done, I think. About a hundred pages, a gentle manifesto about the seasons and my beliefs. Yay me.
My other book, the long wordy one, sits the way my empty canvases do, waiting for me to settle enough to focus on them for long stretches of time. Time I have, focus I do not. So I will keep on with the small work and let the rest be, for a while. Normal life feels like a wonderful dream. Meanwhile we take it day-to-day and count our blessings, here at home. The routine I have is a good one. Early morning yoga, a shower (still with my hand in a plastic bag because of my finger, which is healing up), breakfast. Morning work inside, and when the sun is warm, morning work outside in the yard and garden. Lunch, then a long walk with Ryan. We are going three to five miles a day. Then afternoon work, and some quiet time outside again before sunset. An evening meal of sorts, keeping it light, then books I pick up and put back down, and videos we watch together. All this is interspersed with news, email, phone calls, and conversations with our neighbors out in the street, from safe distances. Only a few cases of the virus have been documented in our community, but state authorities assure us there are more that haven't been. And many more in nearby cities and towns. We stay apart to protect ourselves and others. Please do the same, whenever possible. Let the storm pass by, while we shelter from it. And protect the helpers, those living and working in the epicenters, who cannot shelter. Good prayers, for every day.