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I forget what we were talking about. I forget why we were talking about it. I forget why we were standing by the side of a road.

It’s odd what you decide to forget.

I remember I was 18. I remember the boy and the girl both had long stringy hair parted in the middle. You could tell them apart because the boy had one of those ugly pubic hair beards.

It’s odd what you decide to remember.

“Does she know how to get there?” the boy asked. “Will she know she’s there when she’s there?”

“Does she even know that the name of this flower is chicory?” the girl asked.

And that’s how a common roadside flower became inextricably linked in my mind with that intense, restless, wordless longing the Portuguese term saudade.

There’s a lot of chicory by the side of the road in late August.

Growing up the way I did, it’s not surprising I have major abandonment issues.


So, the eclipse.

We only got to 70% totality here, but I was very curious to see what effect that might have on wildlife.

I couldn’t score eclipse glasses. Samir had given me some workarounds – they don’t have eclipse glasses in Algeria, but they do have eclipses: “If you have old computer diskettes – they have the film inside them, yes? The filter. It is the proper strength. Also film for cameras that you develop if you put it together back to back.”

Alas! The disadvantages of living in an economy based on built-in obsolescence: I had neither diskettes nor camera film. So, I made a pinhole projector out of an old cereal box.

The National Park Service was hosting some kind of big event on the grounds of the Vanderbilt mansion, so I took off to points north – the eerie (even without an eclipse) little town of Staatsburg, the vast greensward that swoops from the stately Beaux Arts Mills Mansion down to the glittery blue river. At the last minute, Linda and Ed decided they wanted to come, too.

What I noticed was that the temperature dropped. It was very hot, and then suddenly, it was comfortable.

And the shadows lengthened, but it seemed that my eyes were playing tricks on me because the day did not get noticeably darker. I think that’s one of those brain compensation thingies.

Crickets and cicadas started chirping.

I followed the progression of the eclipse in my pinhole viewer. I was thinking bunnies might start to pop out on the lawn since they’re crepuscular creatures. But they didn’t.

“I have glasses,” called a nice woman who, with her husband, had set up lawn chairs about 50 feet away from where I was sitting. She let me look through them. OhmyGAWD! Spectacular!

At the moment when the eclipse was as full as it was gonna get in Hyde Park, NY, the dozen or so few people who were scattered about on that vast lawn all rose and came together spontaneously to form a big circle. We held hands and then, one by one, we thanked the Universe for allowing us to witness this awesome event. Some of us called the Universe “God.” Many of us made wishes – for world peace; for harmony between all men, between all living creatures; for kindness and goodness to prevail.

It was a very sweet moment.

We didn’t sacrifice any virgins, though, so likely our wishes fell on deaf ears.
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Oddest experience yesterday. I was out and about buying plants when Neil Young’s wavery, eerie, slightly out-of-tune tenor and a familiar piano arpeggio suddenly spilled from the store’s sound system.

After the Goldrush:

Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s…

For a split moment, there was someone else in my brain.

And I knew instantly who this person was: It was me. Age 20 or so. I must have listened to this album 1,000 times or so when it first came out.

The odd thing, though, was that this me was an alien presence. Not the same me that now lives in this body at all. The coloration of consciousness was completely different.

Then wham! the alien presence was gone.

I have completely forgotten who that girl was.


This is actually a plot device I’m using in one of the perennially-being-written novels. In Where You Were When, there’s a group of people who are able to travel back in time because they’re able to seize moments like the one I've described above to go back into the brains of their younger selves. The kicker being that they can only travel one way – backwards – and that the pasts they find themselves in are always mutating though certain motifs appear to be inflexible. My heroine, Ybel, for instance always ends up working as a waitress in a place called The Buttercup Bakery and always witnesses a boy named Danny jumping from a window while stoned on acid. But the other details of her past are always changing.

Danny’s leap from the window has created a kind of temporal do-loop for Ybel, and the first novel – yes, yes, all unwritten novels must be trilogies or tetrologies! – is an account of how she is broken out of that do-loop so that she can be conscripted by the Forces of Good to fight unspeakable e-e-e-evil!

The catalyst for traveling backwards in time varies from time traveler to time traveler. Kind of like epilepsy triggers. For some, it’s a smell; for others, it’s a particular way that light flashes or glimmers. For Ybel, it’s sonic – that inverted 18th from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

By the time the novel opens, we’re given to understand that Danny has made his leap an uncountable number of times, and that Ybel has developed some measure of control over her backwards time traveling. She only has to imagine the inverted 18th in order to go backwards in time. In terms of the actual words on the page, this, too, is problematic since in Chapter One, Danny and Ybel are actually listening to The Doors’ Light My Fire – from which it’s really, really hard to segue into Rachmaninoff!

Anyway, the odd experience yesterday was very illuminating in terms of my little literary experiment.


In other news, it’s very cold here. Like 8 degrees. I’m afraid those daffodils by the post office are popsicles.
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Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite fiction writers. He's understated. In his latter novels, he often appears to be glib and officiously cozy in a peculiar Fannie Flagg-ish way, but it's a deliberate choice: McMurtry writes, for the most part, about people whose lives are absolute train wrecks, and the banal prose style serves to underscore just how disconnected from the true realities of their lives these characters are.

The Evening Star is McMurtry's sequel to Terms of Endearment, a tough novel that was adapted into one of the 1980s' biggest cinematic sentimental tearjerkers. Terms of Endearment itself is not exactly a sequel to Moving On -- a novel I absolutely adore -- so much as it is a kind of... expansion into the life of one of the novel's minor characters, fat, smart Emma Greenway who allows herself to be defined by that first adjective and tries as hard as possible to ignore the second.

At the end of the novel -- should I flash SPOILER-SPOILER-SPOILER here? Nah. Everyone knows Terms of Endearment -- Emma gets breast cancer and dies.

The Evening Star, a true sequel, picks up a decade or so after Emma's death and focuses on her mother Aurora, a monstrously self-involved River Oaks socialite, and her relationships with her three grandchildren, horribly damaged by their mother's early death.

The ending of this novel contains one of the most transcendent and emotionally moving passages I've ever read.

Aurora's youngest granddaughter has a baby; the baby gets dumped on Aurora. Aurora is very, very old by this point, and so close to death, she has finally evolved the capacity to love. And she loves this baby. The baby knows it too. They spend many hours together. She plays the Brahms Requiem over and over again.

Quick, confusing flash forward to a New York City street 25 years or so in the future. Aurora's great grandson -- now a Gen X-er with all the baggage that entails -- is walking down a cold autumn street, fretting about something or other. He has completely forgotten about Aurora. And somehow he wanders someplace where the Brahms Requiem is playing, and the music triggers a tidal wave of emotion so intense he can barely function. All he knows, listening to the music, is that someone loved him once and that he has lost that person forever. Standing on that busy Manhattan street corner, he begins to weep, and he can't stop.

And there the novel ends.

Past 12 hours have been something like that for me: Like something got triggered in me yesterday, and now I'm weeping. But I have no idea why. It's odd. I'm really good at connecting the dots to form emotional subtexts when I'm talking with friends about their feelings, but I've never been able to make the slightest sense out of the muddle that is my own emotions.

I better do something to calm myself down by tonight though. I'm meeting S2 for dinner and a movie, and comfort is not part of our social contract.


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Every Day Above Ground

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