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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, August 21, 2006

On the Road

It is a quintessentially American experience, isn’t it, the many-days-long road trip, and I’m sitting here in the back seat of my parents-in-law’s minivan, watching the immense Michigan sky above my head, the soft layers of purple and pale blue and flaky white of the clouds -- sitting here and thinking that whether I like it or not I’m becoming a little more of an American than I was. This tiredness from getting up at four in the morning for several days in a row in order to make good time on the road, and this stiffness in the joints, this waiting and sense of distance that grows as much as it diminishes with every mile covered – all this sticks to me like bits of varnish and make me feel and look (to myself only, I suppose) somewhat different.

What I see as we go north along the eastern shore of lake Michigan is sky and trees and more sky, houses whose porches are draped with Old Glory, an ice creamery called Cap’n Frosty, small town barbershops and bakeries, Skinny Bridge Road and Cross Street Street, brick houses with maroon awnings tucked away behind silver pines. I look up from my tattered yellowing copy of Middlemarch, which I’m reading now for the second time and which seems, nine years after my first reading, like a completely different book – have I at last stumbled upon the true definition of a great book: the one that changes with you, that speaks to you as you are at the moment of reading it, spills its treasures to the parts of your self that can appreciate them and withholds them from the parts of you that aren’t mature enough to understand them yet? What surprises me the most, rereading Middlemarch, is Eliot’s sense of humor; there were many reasons why I loved Middlemarch when I was nineteen, but none of them was its humor and sense of the ridiculous and exceptional wit. I had the same experience with Jane Austen’s novels – perhaps this is a sign that I’m learning, as I grow older, to laugh at myself, to be a little amused at the human condition rather than simply be mortified by its absurdities and difficulties.

I held my little nephew for the first time yesterday. It was an anti-climactic experience; I was awkward, fearful, and spent most of my energy trying not to think of the many ways I could hurt him. He is two months old and has learned to smile this crooked toothless smile that is sweet and also kind of puzzling and that saddens me a bit. I held him in the football grip, as my brother-in-law likes to call it, with my arm across my nephew’s chest and my hand cradling his hip joint, his little warm bald head pressed against my forearm. He wriggles and kicks with his legs and reaches out his perfect little fists, and then out of the blue falls asleep. It is so peaceful to feel this little animal breathing very gently against your own body and watch the curve of his puffy cheek or the fuzz on his head or his tiny fingernails and wonder how it’s possible for something like this to exist, though it is not much more extraordinary than for all the other baby creatures, from bugs to pigs, to exist.

The sky has clouded over, and I feel like I want to reach up and lick it; it looks smeared with whipped cream. Instead I’m going to eat my vegan sandwich and gaze out the window and think about how far away I am from home – we just passed a sign that said that we are halfway between the Equator and the North Pole – and also remind myself when feeling like a stranger gets too much to bear, that home can be wherever I am at the moment, in this body, in this mind, among these words.


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