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Change of Direction

Change of Direction

As you might have noticed, blogging has slowed to a trickle here at LivingSmall. For the next few months, I’m going to be prioritizing some other projects, including the new novel I’m working on. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like I had a viable writing project, and now that I seem to have the employment/paying the bills thing sorted out, I need to put my writing energies into that project.

Blogging won’t stop altogether, but it’ll be sporadic. Thanks for being patient everyone …

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day

In honor of Memorial Day, and because the lilacs just bloomed, a little Walt Whitman.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards; 30
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black, 35
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

(Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes;
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)

O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk’d,
As we walk’d up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on;)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain’d me;
The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me.

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear……yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.

Now while I sat in the day, and look’d forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv’d us comrades three;
And he sang what seem’d the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc’d with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.

Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands…and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.

Still on a Break

Still on a Break

Hi everyone — I’m on a bit of a blogging break still. There are changes afoot here at LivingSmall, and I’ll be back, but for now, I need a little time to rethink the blog, my schedule, etc …
You can keep up with me on Facebook (just sent me a Friend invite) or on Twitter at #cmf406.

Craig Arnold, 1967-2009

Craig Arnold, 1967-2009

Craig and I survived the PhD program at the University of Utah together — it was a terrible time for me, a program that wasn’t a good fit, and in general, an experience that taught me that academia wasn’t a good habitat for me. But Craig, Craig was maddening, a provacateur by nature, but he was also one of the truly kind people I met at Utah. His loss, which is chronicled here at the Salt Lake Tribune, is immense. He was an enormous talent, a poet just hitting his stride. There’s a lovely rememberence here by his friend Michael Hanson.

The best tribute you can give though, is, as our mutual friend Joel Long suggested, to go outside and “read a poem by Craig Arnold out loud with bravado, like a rock star.”

So today Craig, in my backyard, I’m sending up my words to you — although no one will ever read “Hot” with the same insinuating tone that you always did. It’s the best we can do, to keep the poems alive — for those of you who don’t know Craig’s work, we have two books —Shells (Yale Series of Younger Poets) and Made Flesh. There’s also the blog he was keeping of his volcano adventures: Volcano Pilgrim.

It’s a huge loss, for his family, his son Robin, his partner Rebecca, and for all of us who knew and worked with him. It’s also a huge loss for American poetry. Our only small small consolation is that they think he went quickly, and that he hadn’t been out there suffering, as many of us had feared.

Surgery for Everyone this Week

Surgery for Everyone this Week

Sorry for the spotty posting this week — Owen-the-dog had ACL surgery on Wednesday. He’s fine. Home on the couch next to me, but in considerable pain and will have to be on-leash or in a crate for the next few weeks.

And my Dad had surgery in the Czech Republic, where he lives. He’s had an odd cyst behind his ear for decades, and the doctors decided that it was time to take it out. It was in a dodgy spot with a lot of nerves, and he was nervous he’d wind up drooling for the rest of his life — but apparently he came through it okay. My stepmother and I heard from his current wife this morning, so that was a relief.

And work has been a little crazy — so, blogging has fallen by the wayside. And it’s winter — no garden news, not much food news. I think it’s a meatloaf weekend … meatloaf, ice packs for the dog’s hurt leg, and a pile of Oscar movie screeners I got from a screenwriter friend.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • No Country for Old Men: I thought this was going to be too gory, but it was beautiful in that strange, bleak, gorgeous Cormac McCarthy way. Great performances.
  • Away From Her: Julie Christie is luminous and Gordon Pinset is marvelous as the husband who loves her enough to let her go.
  • Juno: Once you get past the unbearably twee first 20 minutes, it’s a movie that actually surprised me a little. I liked it.
  • Diving Bell and the Butterfly: This was the surprise of the bunch. I didn’t think I’d like this one. I mean, a paralyzed man dictating a book by blinking? I have a pet theory about translation of books to film — great books often make crappy movies because great books rely on beautiful sentences and that doesn’t translate to film. Julian Schnabel, perhaps because he’s a visual artist to begin with, uses the visual language of film to build metaphors in an way that’s analogous to the way a writer uses gorgeous sentences. It is a surprising and deeply moving film.
  • Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: This one fails for all the reasons that Diving Bell succeeds. It’s too long, the voice-over tries to carry Ron Hansen’s astonishing sentences (this is a book that I copied pages of sentences from when I read it years ago, it’s a book I adore), and while there is some lovely visual imagery, it does not serve the narrative, but causes it to drag. Casey Affleck, however, does turn in a marvelous performance.
  • The Savages: This is a terrific small movie with lovely performances by Laura Linney and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It made me miss my brother so deeply, made me sad for what is to come. The performances are so true, and sweet — it’s a wonderful movie.
  • La Vie en Rose: I’m a big fan of the bio-pic, and I thought Marion Cotillard did a terrific job channelling Edith Piaf. It was French, moved quickly, had great songs, and just enough Gallic histrionics for an entertaining evening.

And with all this movie-watching, I’m nearly done with the sweater I started three years ago. I might even get to start another one! I’ve been wanting to knit something from Becky Weed’s gorgeous wool she’s milling over at 13 Mile Ranch — I’m thinking I might need a sweet little sweater out of that natural ivory-colored wool. Sigh.

Perfect Vacation — at Home

Perfect Vacation — at Home

Inspired by this article in the Times of London, I holed up and took a lovely, restorative vacation at home after Christmas. Christmas was lovely — we all had a great time. There was lots of food and wine and by ten that night we had six kids under five doing the Toddler Disco in the middle of the living room floor. Perfect.

I woke up on the 26th a tiny bit hung over, and decided the tree was coming down. It was a pretty tree and we had fun decorating it — the big girls came over to help me. But I was done with Christmas. I’d done so much cooking and wrapping and festivity in the run up to the big day that by the 26th, I was over it. Plus, I kind of like taking down the tree — it’s quiet, and sort of meditative. Packing everything up again for another year.

And then I started my lovely lovely vacation at home. A dog walk in the mornings. Chores — a little cleaning, some food shopping, a quick stop at Nina’s to see what the kids are doing. Then home by noon or one, and a whole quiet afternoon stretches ahead of me and it’s down into my basement office to work in peace on my new book. It’s been a great vacation — nearly 4000 words and I’ve still got today and tomorrow before I have to go back to work. Then a few quiet evenings in a row to read or watch Netflix movies that have been piling up — after the string of parties before Christmas, parties that were fun but left me feeling all talked out and with that jittery energy that too much socializing instills in me — four whole days to settle back into my book was the best holiday I could have imagined.

Tonights festivities are going to be very low key — dinner with Nina and the kids who are leaving to go back to LA on Friday. We’ll cook some food and then watch the ball drop in New York at 10, and then home. I’m superstitious about the New Year — I hate welcoming a new year hung over. I like to greet New Year’s day bright eyed and well rested — I’ll do a little housecleaning — take the recycling out — and we’re off into 2008. Happy Happy everyone ….

Lessing’s Nobel Speech

Lessing’s Nobel Speech

The least interesting part of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize speech has been getting a lot of attention this week — the part where she claims that the speed by which the internet has been developed has led to a sort of mesmerism by screen, and has subsequently caused a serious devaluation of the book and of reading and of education and expertise. I don’t think she’s entirely wrong, nor do I think the online reaction, that this is the part of her speech where she sounds most like a cranky old woman, is invalid either.

But that was not the part of the speech that spoke to me — the paragraph that gave me heart was this:

Writers are often asked: “How do you write? With a word processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand?” But the essential question is: “Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas – inspiration.” If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn. When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. “Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?”

These past few months, I’ve been making steady progress on my new book. The way I’ve done this is by becoming very fierce about my weekends. I might go out on a Friday evening, because the day has already been ruined by my real job — but Saturday and Sunday I make no plans, and see nobody. I take the dogs for a walk in the morning — if the weather isn’t terrible we go up to Pine Creek or Suce Creek where we can walk outdoors, in nature (see my piece at Culinate for my feelings on the importance of walking outside.) Then home to do a little cleaning, maybe put in some laundry, and then I have the whole afternoon and evening ahead of me to read, and write, and live inside my own head. I’ve been managing between 750 and 1500 words a weekend — which isn’t bad. I wish it was more, but it is what it is.

Now, I’ve written before about how important Lessing has been to me — how she’s always been a writer I’ve turned to for courage, and here she is again, at 88 years old, giving me faith and courage to continue. Because let’s face it, spending your weekends in your basement office is an odd and anti-social thing to be doing with your time. Turning down dates, or dinner invitations and refusing to join in social activities because you only have two days a week to yourself and you’ve discovered that they must be guarded is weird. And here’s Lessing, as always, telling me that yup, kind of weird, but if that’s what it takes to access “that empty space” then, well, that’s what it takes. So maybe in honor of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize we should all turn off the screens for a bit, and immerse ourselves in an evening with a good book — spend a couple of hours not looking at a screen, but looking at pages …

Creature of Habit …

Creature of Habit …

The last few months I’ve gotten into a writing rhythm that has really been working for me. I’ve been doing a blog post every day during the week, and weekends have been devoted to my new book. When I decided to get serious about the blog and to write on a regular basis, it was really to bring this little blog back to life. It never occurred to me that the discipline of taking care of the blog would bleed over into my creative work and prove a boon to that, but it has. Because I’ve written something of my own every day during the week, I find on weekends when it’s time to get back to the book, it’s much easier to pick up the thread. So, steady progress has been made, and although I have no social life, I’ve really been terrifically happy about it all.

And so it was something of a surprise how off-kilter I was all last week. LA was great, and I was thrilled to see my pretend children — I didn’t get a chance to blog about it, but the twins third birthday was an all-day affair involving much chirping of “It’s my BIRTH-day!” out of both of them. Three is such a fun age — and although infant twins are something of a logistical nightmare — they’re so funny now that they can talk to and play with one another. Their conversations alone are worth the price of admission — very very funny.

But it got me off my schedule. And then my internet connection was screwy all last week — I had no connectivity at all at home from Tuesday until late Thursday and it really threw me. I had to go out there in the mornings — out to the coffee shop where there are other people, where I had to get dressed in real clothes and where I ran into people I knew. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it did throw me off my game.

And so this weekend was lovely. My internet was back. I had my precious two days of silence, and puttering around the house, and descending into my basement office to pull up the book I’m working on. I did laundry and shopped for groceries and lo! my book had not actually turned into a pile of drek while I was away from it — nor had it gone entirely feral, snarling in the corner of my office where I’d neglected it. I finished a chapter. I started a new one. I read On Chesil Beach. I did laundry (the washer/dryer is in the basement, and I’m afraid I’ve become a little pavlovian in my love for the white noise of the laundry while I’m writing.) I even managed to outline a few topics for blogging this week.

My routine has been restored and it feels like my world is back on kilter. (Michael Ruhlman writes about the importance of a writer’s routine in his memoir House — it’s a terrific story about the importance of a home to a family and to creative work.) I know writers, like my friend Nina in LA, who can get work done among the chaos of family life — but I have never been able to do that. It takes me a lot of silence to be able to hear what’s going on inside my own head again — walking with the dogs helps, as does knowing that on the weekend I have two whole days stretched out before me where I’m not beholden to anyone else’s needs — like I said, I have no social life at the moment. But it’s winter in Livingston, a time when the wind howls, when darkness falls early, and when all the writers in town retreat to their offices and try to make up for the time we wasted playing outside during our short summer.

Read the Book …

Read the Book …

They’ve made a movie of Ron Hansen’s brilliant novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — and it’s reviewed in today’s New York Times. It’s a brilliant novel, and so, I have mixed feelings about the movie version. On the one hand, it’s great that Ron Hansen, a novelist I deeply admire (and one on whom I had a serious crush for any number of years — but alas, he went and got married again), gets a pile of money, and with any luck will sell a bunch of copies of the book.

But since the glory of Hansens’ novels, especially the early ones where he was learning his craft, lies in their sentences, I have a hunch that the movie cannot help but fall short in some odd ways. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is full of sentences like these:

Jesse came to the boardinghouse with divinity fudge and a red paper heart on which he’d doggereled about ardor, and as Jesse nudged a lizard’s fringe of flame from some embering logs…

Jesse shot John Sheets in the head and heart and the banker drained off the chair.

But then Lull’s right hand glided down to a derringer and he shot it at John Younger, cutting into the jugular vein so that it surged red sleeves of blood out even as the dying boy got off a shot and killed Lull.

Bob Younger was a debonair man with a blond mustache and short brown hair and expressive eyebrows that seemed to crave a monocle. Charlie Pitts was an alias for Samuel Wells, a sometime cowhand with a handsome sunburned head that was square as a chimney, whose skin was so unclean dirt laced it like rainwater stains on tan wallpaper.

And to convince the acting cashier of that, Pitts snuck behind him with a pocket knife and slit the skin of his throat. Joseph L. Heywood was stunned. he was a slender man in his thirties with a dark beard and a scholar’s look—he could have been an algebra teacher, someone conservative and cultures, and he was, in fact, a trustee at Carleton College. Cut, he looked at Jesse with rebuke in his face as his neck unsealed and blood rolled down his collar like a red shade being drawn.

They weren’t penitent over what they’d attempted; their sorrow reached to the limits of their bodies and no further, all their anguish was in their skin.

The problem inherent in making movies from books like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (as well as with every movie made from Jim Harrison’s books) is that when you have these writers who take as their central concern essentially romantic material like the settling of the west, outlaws, and Indians, there’s always a danger of falling into sentimentality. The really good ones, like Hansen and Harrison and Rick Bass, avoid this trap by virtue of their skill with language. It’s their sentences that save the work. Their sentences that make it art.

Film, however, is a visual medium, not a linguistic medium, and hence the problem with books like Hansen’s or like Legends of the Fall is that when stripped of their language they wind up as mawkish or sentimental movies (I mean really, can anyone forgive Anthony Hopkins for portraying the aging and broken-hearted Ludlow as some kind of demented Quasimodo?).

It’s not that I don’t want to see the movie version of Jesse James — from the NY Times review it sounds like they tried to convey the poetry of Hansen’s prose as visually as possible (and I like Brad Pitt when he plays westerns — he is from Missouri originally, so at least he’ll get the accent right). Film and fiction are both about stories, but it just bugs me that because the mediums share a central task, there’s too often an assumption that they’re interchangeable. What makes a great novel does not always make a great movie and vice versa (can you imagine anything more awful than a novelization of say, the Seventh Seal?).

Harvest craziness …

Harvest craziness …

I’ve been in a frenzy of food preservation here at LivingSmall. Saturday I pulled and washed and cut and blanched and drained two six-gallon trash cans full of endive. I then wrapped the blanched endive in towels to squeeze out the water and sealed it in bags using my vaccuum sealer and froze them for later this winter.

I also shredded the outer leaves that looked okay but not really nice enough to put up for winter and I’m experimenting with making sauerkraut from them — we’ll see how it works out. Right now, it looks like wet salty leaves in the bottom of a pot. But it seemed a waste to compost them when there’s a chance they might be good  — and somehow, along with my frenzy of food preservation I’ve become Enamored of Fermentation.

Maybe it was Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, which I bought with the proceeds of a huge box of books I sold to Powells using their fabulous online book-buying service.  I gave this to the Mighty Hunter last year for Christmas, and while I’m sure I could have borrowed it, I wanted a copy for my own. I’m currently overcome with the desire to make a pancetta — I need to call my local butcher tomorrow and order a pork belly.

Order a pork belly? What has come over me? Sauerkraut? Home-cured meats? I may also call my local source of raw milk and order some — she only sells it by the gallon but I figure I could make some yogurt that would be delicious, and Barbara Kingsolver has a whole section in Animal Vegetable Miracle about how easy it is to make one’s own mozzarella.

Make my own cheese? Again, something has come over me — one of my periodic Little House on the Prairie phases  — but I love the idea of knowing how to make basic food stuffs. I love the idea of knowing how to put things by, and I’m always convinced that home made is better than what you can buy in the store.

Of course it could also be plain old writerly procrastination. I’m up against some difficult material in the book I’m writing — so what better solution than to cure my own pancetta! make my own cheese!