A New Meditation
March 2, 2021
I am astonished to see that my last newsletter before this one was almost a year ago. We have all stayed put, or almost put, since then, and yet so much has happened. To think that a year ago we had Donald Trump in the White House, George Floyd was still alive, and we were sewing masks at home for hospital workers, never dreaming that we would need them ourselves every day. A vaccine against Covid-19 was a dream. Georgia was a red state. And Joe Biden was just beginning to seem like a probable candidate for President.
I don't know about you, but I used a lot of the time I didn't spend traveling to catch up on reading. I finished three books by friends -- Amity Gaige's salty-aired Sea Wife, Adrienne Brodeur's memoir Wild Game, and Margot Livesey's bracing Mercury. I made my way through Douglas Stuart's Shuggie Bain, which won the Booker Prize; I thought another novel about Catholicism and abusive, alcoholic parents would never draw me in, but I was wrong. I worked my way up to Viet Than Nguyen's The Committed by reading its predecessor, The Sympathizer, which took me back to the time after Vietnam from a whole new perspective. I read Homeira Qaderi's Dancing in the Mosque, which covered ground I had touched on in A Sister to Honor but with so much real-life poignancy, pain, and power that I finished most of it in the wee hours. I did make my way through Elena Ferrante's La Vita Bugiarda degli Adulti, published in English as The Lying Life of Adults, and it was great for my Italian but a far cry from the emotional and lyric heights of her Neapolitan quartet of novels. And before I went down to Georgia to pound rural pavement for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, I read All Politics is Local, to remind me that the battles remain. And that's not counting the 15 books I read last summer as a judge for the Connecticut Book Award. We gave the prize to Ocean Vuong for his elegiac On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, but I discovered several other authors I'll be following.
And I wrote. The novel I meant to research last spring took shape anyway, with a lot of help from the library and Google images. It's making the rounds of publishers now, which means I'm not holding my breath. Instead I am doing a wholesale edit of an earlier narrative that I left unfinished, a novel about an older composer finding passion in Paris. I also continued writing meditations, these nonlinear essays that I may compile into a nonlinear volume at some point. The latest, "Meditation on Middle G," appears this month in New England Review. Middle G, in case you're wondering, is that place in the center that I, for one, can never seem to inhabit, either vocally or as a way of life. The editors at NER included some nifty illustrations, and I find myself in the distinguished company of writers like Blas Falconer and Askold Melnyczuk. If anyone is interested, I can get copies at a discount for $10 and would be happy to send. Just let me know.
Finally, I am spending these months of the Great Pause doing things I'll never be great at: learning Italian, trying to master Beethoven's Waldheim and Appassionata sonatas, and figure drawing. Pictured above is my latest attempt in the last category.
I hope everyone is getting vaccinated and looking forward to better times ahead. As always, I love hearing from you!