He said to honor ourselves

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Somewhere near Lake of the Coheeries, a place that can have cruel winters but is nevertheless enchanting. (Photo by A. Hallinan)

New Year’s weekend I retrieved from the closet the boxes of letters I’d saved from my younger days, back when people took up pen and paper to communicate. I thought it was about time to sort, organize, and purge.

I’m not sure why I saved these missives, but I’m glad I did, especially now that I write memoir. Picking up an old letter and hearing the voice of a friend from long ago can take me back in an instant and call up a stream of long-lost memories. After decades, I still recognize a friend’s distinctive handwriting.

You may be familiar with the mega bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, which advises readers to keep only those items that “spark joy.”

Well, that’s great advice when it comes to saving or not saving old letters. I found many letters that sparked joy, so I ended up saving more than I discarded, but that’s OK.

I’d like to share excerpts from one of those letters with you. I’m quite sure the author wouldn’t mind.

The letter is from my first manager at Eastman Kodak. Ronn hired me into his department of instructional designers and media producers when I moved upstate, after 7 years in New York City and then grad school.

I was having a tough time getting acclimated to Rochester after the big city. It’s a family town, and I was single and lonely. I’ll give it a year, I thought.

I was lucky, though, to meet Ronn, a brilliant and eccentric outlier, and to get the interesting Kodak job that I did. To me, instructional design was ho-hum, but as one of the department’s media producers, I worked with photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and other creative people. It was stressful, sometimes consuming, but fun, too. I remember visiting the photo lab one day at Kodak’s State Street headquarters, where one of the gigantic Colorama photos that always graced a wall of Grand Central Terminal was being assembled.

At the time, Kodak was the home of world class photographers and innovators who brought the science and art of imaging to the world. Rochester had reaped the benefits of the altruistic genius, George Eastman, and as I began to discover the riches here, I felt more at home. Rochester had art films, dance, world renowned schools of music and photography, and medical research. This was before cities marketed themselves, and Rochester had always been quiet about its cultural and technical riches and quality of life. If it tended to be overlooked, that was just fine with the people who lived here.

My old copy of Ronn’s letter was a photocopied good-bye and thank you to our department. After I’d been at Kodak about a year, Ronn took early retirement. I believe he was in his late forties or early fifties at the time. He was one of the thousands upon thousands of employees who would take early retirement or be laid off over the next decades as Kodak had to dismantle itself.

I would go on to have two other managers at Kodak, both male. All three of them made a point of paying me well. Kodak definitely had its flaws, but in the 1980s it was a progressive leader in employee development and training and equitable treatment of women. In my view, my years at Kodak would turn out to be the only time I was fairly compensated, except for when I was a consultant and could set my own rates. Although I’ve had other satisfying jobs, they did not pay well for a variety of reasons: they were more creative than technical; some were traditionally women’s occupations; I got further behind when I became a mother;  and we’ve had decades of stagnant or declining wages. I mention this in light of what Ronn had to say to us in his letter.

Ronn had never been a corporate type. He could get away with wearing jeans among the suits because everyone loved him. He’d been restless, and was eager to make a change so he could have more time to write, paddle his canoe, read, and go fly fishing, among other things.

When I hear Steve Jobs’ famous words, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish,” I think of Ronn. He wasn’t hungry in the ambitious, Silicon Valley sense of the word. He was hungry for life, and he was never afraid to open himself up to others, even if some might see him as sentimental or naive.

winterstale2Before he left, Ronn made a point of spending some time with each of us. He wanted to introduce me to the founder of one of Rochester’s ad agencies, so we drove there one afternoon. On the way, we talked about Mark Helprin’s remarkable novel “Winter’s Tale,” and how it had affected our lives. I told him I’d been astonished to encounter one of my very own dreams among the pages of that novel, and we speculated on the meaning of dreams in our lives.

I remember Ronn speaking to us at his going away party, holding next to him the tall, graceful canoe paddle carved from hardwood that we’d gotten him as a farewell gift.

Later he sent us the letter which I ended up saving. He’d gone off to Vermont and had been consulting, reading fiction and poetry “like a bandit,” and paddling among the waterfalls, ponds, lakes, rivers and granite cliffs of Western Quebec and the Adirondacks.

He wrote:

markhelprin_winterstale“Please take care of yourselves (and I don’t mean that as a pseudo-parent statement.) Remember to honor yourselves. I know what it’s like to be a developer or producer. The crap can be overwhelming. And not all clients can recognize your talents.

Know that I think of all of you. (I truly mean that.) In fact, in a strange way I think that I see each of you more clearly than when I saw you every day. To be very old fashioned, I think that I see each of you as individual souls – which is very nice.”

If it sounds like I was a little bit in love with Ronn, I was, though I don’t think I realized it at the time.

There are some wonderful people in the world, aren’t there?

Do you save old letters?  Which remarkable people have you crossed paths with in your life?

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Another view, by M. Hallinan

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I met my husband here, and so I stayed. (He is a paddler, too, by the way.)

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A village near Lake of the Coheeries

My Favorite Things

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Asja and Sebree. If you’d like to hear a story about them, click on this link.

I’m all over the map with this My Favorite Things post – literally. Here are a few of my favorite things you might enjoy reading, watching, or listening to:

Orcas and making audio essays: This one is my own creation, I confess. “The Ancient Ones” is a new audio essay  in my From Where I Stand series on Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments. Have a listen – I’d love to share six and a half minutes of my fabulous Olympic Peninsula vacation with you, where I fell in love with Asja and Sebree. I’d appreciate comments and feedback here or on the Terrain.org site.

Books about famous bookstores: I’ve only been to Paris once, and I regret that I didn’t stop by the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore. I don’t know what I was thinking! Someday, I’ll have to remedy that. Now, there is a book about this famous shop, where some of the greatest writers of the 20th century spent their days, and even slept. See Shakespeare and Company: A History of the Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart, by Jeanette Winterson.

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Chunksters, or Giant Translated Novels: I love this LitHub article, “Ten Giant Translated Novels that Make a Mockery of Subway Reading.”   Many thanks to my blogging friend Vishy for letting us know about this.

It’s a great little list if you want to take on some ambitious reading, which I like to do from time to time. Do any of these over-the-top books appeal to you? Which one(s)?

I want to begin Knausgaard’s My Struggle series one of these days (my son loves it), that’s what I keep saying, but I’m dismayed to find his last volume in the series is 900 pages!

a-true-novelI’m fascinated by the sound of A True Novel by Minae Mizumura set in postwar Japan because it has been compared to Wuthering Heights.

Giacomo Leopardi’s 2500-page Zibaldone may be worth dipping into, though not reading straight through, because of my Italian heritage. “Zibaldone” is what this great poet and thinker called his gigantic notebook, and these are his collected writings. I’m curious about it – there are SEVEN translators, including Ann Goldstein, who translated Elena Ferrante’s novels.

Several of the others appeal to me, too. Do any appeal to you enough to take one on?

Geeky things like an old video about the first Kodak Colorama made from a photo taken under water: For years and years, a giant Kodak photograph, known as a Colorama, hung over the crowds passing through Grand Central Station in New York. I was in those crowds; little did I know that in a few years I’d be living upstate in Rochester and working for Kodak.

Rochester is still steeped in the mythology, lore, and beauty of photography, despite Kodak’s decline. The Rochester Institute of Technology, where my son studied photography, is one of the top photo schools in the country. Fabulous photographers and photography teachers are plentiful here, as are photo galleries, photo equipment retailers, and photography experts. The George Eastman House is one of the world’s largest repositories of photos and films.

Neil Montanus was one of the elite Kodak photographers who documented America and baby boomers coming of age for Kodak advertising. I found this vintage video on the site of Jim Montanus, his son. If you’re fascinated by how things are invented and how they work, you might enjoy this.

 

People who make things: I think the trend of calling people “makers” is a little weird and pretentious, but I do love the movement back to “old soul crafts and lost arts,” in the words of one of the artisans in this delightful little video. I guarantee it will lift your spirits, especially your creative spirit. The With Love Project will soon be made into a book – I would buy it. After you watch this, tell us in the comments who your favorite maker is in the video. I’m partial to the shoe maker/designer, myself.

 

 

What do you think about anything on this list? Might you read any of the chunksters on the LitHub list? Are you especially enchanted by any of the makers in the With Love Project? 

To the Bright Edge of the World

To the Bright Edge

Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester, June 25, 1885:

“Pruitt keeps shouting above the storm–Do you feel that? Can’t you feel that?

What he says makes no sense. He says there are hands on him. Something pulls at him. He says he has to run. I have warned him to stay put.

(undated entry)

My dearest Sophie. I pray you will read this. You are first and last to me.

I do not know if we will survive the night. They are all around us. They scream and cry so that it is hard to think to put these words on the page.

You must know that I love you.

I am not afraid of death but instead of the passage from here to oblivion, of being aware of its coming. I would rather have been run through with a spear than face this long dread.”

Eowyn Ivey’s novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, is truly a standout for me, a cut above the rest.

Many of you know that I’m partial to nature and wilderness stories, especially historical ones. To the Bright Edge of the World reminds me of one of my all-time favorite novels, Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. The novel and short stories of Anthony Doerr come to mind as well when I read Eowyn Ivey’s writing, which is lyrical and replete with exquisite detail. A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter is another fine book, a memoir, in the same vein.

“I fell in love with this book; it captured both my head and my heart, completely and utterly.” – Jane, Beyond Eden Rock.  — I was browsing on Goodreads and found Jane’s endorsement of To the Bright Edge of the World. Her words spoke to me because they are my sentiments about the novel, too, and I couldn’t have said it better.

I loved Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, which was selected for If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book in 2014. Like The Snow Child, To the Bright Edge of the World takes place in Ivey’s native Alaska. It’s a great love story, a  wilderness tale of a hero and heroine’s quests infused with magical realism, and a flawlessly researched portrayal of 19th century Alaska.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester must lead a dangerous, seemingly impossible expedition through the fictitious Wolverine River Valley deep in the Alaskan wilds of 1885, a journey no one has ever survived. His pregnant wife, Sophie Forrester, stays behind in Vancouver Barracks, destined to have adventures and heartbreaks of her own.

Ivey has cleverly constructed the narrative entirely from letters, journals, diaries, newspaper articles, military reports, photographs, and other documents.

We, the readers, are privy to the contemporary correspondence between Walter Forrester, Allen Forrester’s great nephew, and Joshua Sloan, who is part Native American and curator of the Alpine Historical Museum in Alaska. Walter sends his great uncle’s papers to Joshua in the hopes that he’ll display and archive them for safekeeping. As Joshua makes his way through the journals, diaries, and letters, he and Walter piece together Allen and Sophie’s stories, fill in the gaps, and reflect on their own lives.

As always, Ivey’s descriptions of geography and landscape take us vividly to long-ago Alaska:

“The canyon bound the Wolverine so that when, over the course of the winter, the ice moved, it crumpled violently. Great blocks three feet thick & as much as twenty feet high had been torn asunder & turned sideways. It seemed an impassable range of buckles & ridges & upended slabs of ice pressed up against the canyon walls, which are vertical rock the color of lead.”

Here are Sophie’s words as she undergoes her own dark night of the soul:

Sophie Forrester, Vancouver Barracks, April 26, 1885:

“…it continued its steady and hard rapping, and the sound became more and more horrible…The raven stopped its knocking and cocked an eye toward me.

I then noticed something most peculiar….A bird’s eye ought to be flattened in shape, with a dark iris surrounded by a dark-gray sclera, and entirely unmoving in its socket. Yet this eye was round, with white sclera, and it rotated about in the socket. It looked nothing like a bird’s eye, but rather that of a mammal. More to the point, a human.” 

 

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A raven shape shifts into a trickster who brings Allen and Sophie good fortune and sorrow.

The New York Public Library. (1849). Raven.

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Sophie Forrester teaches herself the art of photographing birds. Her descriptions of the technical and creative challenges are beautifully rendered, and inspiring.

The New York Public Library. (1901 – 1914).Horned And Tufted Puffins.

 

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Allen Forrester’s darker mission is to assess tribal threats to US expansion in Alaska, even as native tribes give life-saving aid to Forrester and his men. The author weaves Native American myths into the plot. These fierce stories blur the line between humans, animals and nature. In the end, the hard wisdom of the stories so valued by indigenous people seems far truer than the scientific knowledge possessed by “civilized” people.

The New York Public Library. (1869-04). Indian summer encampment.

 

Have you read To the Bright Edge of the World or The Snow Child? What did you think? Can you recommend similar historical books about nature, travel, and adventure, fiction or nonfiction? Click on the comments link in the left sidebar and let us know.

What does Tribe (the book and the noun) have to do with family reunions? I’ll be writing about that in my next post…

My Favorite Things

 

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Books, writing, creativity, cool media and other delights….

  • Walking book clubs. Did you know these existed? Here are a couple in the UK hosted by two book bloggers who write fabulous reviews: Emily’s Walking Book Club with Daunt Books – turns out the one and only time I’ve been in London we went to Daunt Books, where we browsed for over an hour. Wish I’d known about Emily then, I’d have tried to connect with her; and  The Northern Reader – see also her Flower Power if you love gardening, flowers and nature lit.
  • Book spine poetry. A few weeks back in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I wrote some book spine poetry and asked readers to share theirs. Here is what Naomi at Consumed by Ink came up with. I love her little poems. Try it yourself, and if you’ve created book spine poetry you like, please share in the comments.
  • A good book. My favorite book bloggers always give me titles to add to my to-read list. I love this review of Hill by the French writer Jean Giono that Melissa wrote at The Bookbinder’s Daughter.
  • Instagram flat lays. I’ve been messing around with photography lately, teaching myself to do still lifes of books, flowers, and whatnot, and posting some of it on Instagram. I adore Cristina Coli’s floral work on IG, and enjoyed her “A Day of Creative Connection” blog post recently.

Have a great week!

litricity: a potent form of energy generated by great literature – – from Powell’s Compendium of Readerly Terms

April Lit

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden. First entry, January 1, 1906.

 

 

 

Books from Around the World, Under Our Tree

The Narrow Road to the Deep North Book CoverThe Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. This World War II novel about an Australian surgeon in a Japanese POW camp won the 2014 Man Booker Prize.  (The purpose of this UK prize is to bring quality fiction to intelligent general readers who might otherwise not hear about the work.) The prisoners helped build what became known as the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. The Narrow Road to the Deep North book cover The books is named after one of the most famous books in Japanese literature, written by the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. I plan to read the books together. I’ll let you know how that works out.

 

 

 

 

A Platter of Figs cookbook coverA Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, by David Tanis I like this cookbook because it’s about eating with the seasons, and it features uncomplicated family meals you can easily make at home. Sections include “How to Cook a Rabbit,” “Feeling Italian,” “Nuevo Mexico,” “Peasant from a Parisian Kitchen,” and “Hot Day, Cold Chicken.” David Tanis is the head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley six months of the year; the other six months he lives in Paris, where he prepares meals in a tiny galley kitchen for his private dining club. I will read any cookbook affiliated with Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. My son bought this book at Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers in Williamsburg.

 

                                                                                                                                                        

Cereal magazine coverCereal: Travel & Lifestyle Magazine, Vol. 8 Click on this link right now and visit Cereal, a stunningly photographed and designed magazine and online journal. This volume features, among other things, a section on Yukon, Canada with spreads on Kluane National Park & Reserve and the Demptster Highway which leads to the Arctic Circle. (Someone in the family has been to the Arctic Circle via the Dalton Highway.) This mag’s style and visual aesthetic reminded me of a cookbook and lifestyle book I received last Christmas, The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings. (Kinfolk is a magazine, too.) So I got out the book and saw there are a couple of recipes and a profile of food writer Rosa Park, who happens to be the editor of Cereal. Both Cereal and Kinfolk are beautifully designed and photographed, wonderful for browsing.

 

 

Southern Light: Images of Antarctica book coverSouthern Light: Images from Antarctica, by David Neilson. Someone in our family dreams of visiting Antarctica.  This is a luscious collection of black and white and color photos, including several gatefolds that open up to three panels of photos on each side. At least seven kinds of penguins, all the major mountain ranges, Deception and Elephant Islands, historic exploration sites, and essays on climate change, too. Our son bought this book at Strand Books in New York. (“Come for the books and stay for the synth musik.”)

 

 

RHS Vegetables for the Gourmet Gardener book cover

RHS Vegetables for the Gourmet Gardener, by Simon Akeroyd. To feed my gardening habit and enrich my gardening and nature writing. RHS stands for Royal Horticultural Society, the UK’s leading gardening charity. This beautiful book was designed and produced by Quid Publishing in England, the same publisher that produced another volume I own, RHS Latin for Gardeners.

Our son purchased this at Daunt Books for Travellers in London. On the bookmark tucked inside:  “The heart of Daunt Books is an original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights. Its soul is the unique arrangement of books by country – where guides, novels, and nonfiction of all kinds will interest traveller and browser alike.” If I ever get to London this shop will be on my bookstore list.

 

 

Four Seasons in Rome book coverFour Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World, by Anthony Doerr. If you read my blog, you know I’ve been wild about Anthony Doerr lately. His novel, All the Light We Cannot See, was a National Book Award finalist and has become a bestseller. He happened to visit Rome when Pope John Paul II was dying and attended the vigil. I can’t wait to see Doerr’s take on this fabulous city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gorgeous Nothings book coverEmily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, by Marta Werner, a scholar of poetry, and Jen Bervin, a visual artist. No other book is quite like this one – a work of art, a facsimile publication of Emily Dickinson’s poems as she wrote them on fifty-two envelopes. These artifacts let the reader see Emily’s original line breaks and words spread across the entire space of a page, together with variant word lists that are meant to be part of the texts themselves. Reading these poems in their original medium, as opposed to in a traditional typeset book, is an entirely different experience.

 

 

 

My Struggle book coverMy Struggle, Book Three, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. My son has read the first two autobiographical novels in the hugely popular series (there are to be six!) by the Norwegian author, published in 22 languages. I hope to tackle the first two volumes myself this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin Wonderland book coverBerlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited 1990 – 1996 Amazing photos by seven photographers documenting the wild, artistic subculture that bloomed after the Berlin Wall came down. One of our sons is studying in Germany and bought this at Hundt Hammerstein in Berlin, a gift for the photographer in our family. The text is in English and German.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manage Your Day to Day book coverManage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei. This is a great little book about how to meet creative goals and fulfill your calling rather than spend your days reacting to the demands of social media and new technology – a huge issue creative souls in the past did not have to deal with. Creative work, in the context of this book, can be anything from painting to starting a business to launching a volunteer effort or charity drive.

These very short articles by creatives and thought leaders like Seth Godin and Gretchen Rubin are practical and full of wisdom. I love this tiny red and black book and decided to pass it on to my photographer son (the industrial designer has browsed through it, too.) The most important take-away for me: disconnect from the Internet and get creative work done first thing, NO MATTER WHAT. Produced by Behance, which “is on a mission to empower the creative world.”   (See: http://www.99u.com; http://www.behance.com)

 

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas: James Fielden

lake, close-up of water

I discovered James Fielden’s site more than a year ago. Ever since, I’ve been enjoying his writing, photography and, more recently, his music and audio meditations – all paths in which James explores aspects of spirituality and the inner life. James lives in Los Angeles, where he mixes sound for film and television.

His 23-minute guided meditation, Journey Across a Lake, is a wonderful way to begin the new year.

Photo by James Fielden.

On the eleventh day of Christmas: Michael Cherney

Children skiing

Today’s selection is not a blog, but an artist’s website, quite simply, one of the most unusual and stunning I’ve ever seen. Viewing Michael Cherney’s photographic Asian scrolls is like taking a journey to a secret, faraway place. See, for example, Five Peaks. Enjoy.

Young skiers photo by Putneypics under CC By-NC 2.0

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