746. On tending: thoughts on a used book

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One of the books that I bought when a friend gave me a gift card to Half-Price Books several months ago was French Dirt: The Story of A Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman. (I wrote about it in my newsletter last week and am writing of it here as well, adding some new thoughts.) Since I'm not a gardener, I'm not exactly sure why I put this book in my stack, but I know its cover art along with the suggestion of a creative endeavor in France held substantial appeal. A first-time gardener, plus being from New York City, Goodman had many questions about how to begin. One of the things he quickly learned was that he must "tend" his garden every day. Tend: isn't that a great word? It means "to have the care of; watch over; look after." Reading French Dirt made me think not only about how much I'd love to travel to the South of France but also about my writing and how long I sometimes go without tending it. Perhaps you have something to tend as well, something that's not your paid work but work of another variety, even work of the leisurely variety. (As his book affirms, there's sometimes a thin line between work and leisure). What a gift it is when someone shares the way in which they tend what is theirs to tend.

And speaking of someone sharing their way, another thing that interested me in reading this book is that although it looked brand new, there were three papers stuck in the pages, which I hadn't noticed until I started reading. First, there was a receipt for the book, dated New Year's Eve of 2010, from Haslam's book store in St. Petersburg, Florida, my old home town! An independently owned bookstore, Haslam's is now more than 80 years old. Next, there was a short page of four notations from the book. Among them the reader had noted a gorgeous piece of writing on page 26, in which Goodman wrote about watering the garden by moonlight, a section I had just read and delighted in before discovering this paper, and a word on page 82 that I also had paused over, estival, a new word to me but one that is most appropriate right now because it means " pertaining or appropriate to summer." Finally, there was an article from The New York Times, dated August 28, 2011, about Richard Goodman riding his bicycle nearly daily from his home on the Upper West Side down to ground zero, or as close as he could get, for three months after 9/11 ("Coping With 9/11, Riding on Two Wheels") and then writing about it in a limited-press book called The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker's Journey Through 9/11, which he did in partnership with the book's illustrator, Gaylord Schanilec.

I like to think the book's previous reader intentionally left these papers stuck in the pages for the benefit of its next reader. A camaraderie of sorts. A mystical tending of the community of readers.

~~~

[Photo: taken of the cover of French Dirt.]

745. Patricia Hampl's new book on leisure

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Two friends recently gave me a copy of Patricia Hampl's new book, The Art of the Wasted Day. It's a memoir about Hampl's lifetime desire for leisure, meaning not passive entertainment but rather "the life of the mind." (Hampl's book A Romantic Education, first published in 1981, is considered the start of the modern memoir.) A couple weeks ago the three of us had intended to go together to hear her read and speak at Macalester College in St. Paul, the city where she's from and about which she has often lovingly written, but I had to back out because of an evening work conference call. It seemed ironic to pull out of a reading about leisure due to work, particularly because the last book I wrote had explored the conflict between leisure and work. My friends went, however, and gifted me with the book. 

Hampl posits an interesting question: Does leisure suggest a life in which you stay put, "lie low," or one in which you "journey"? It's an interesting question and she structures her book along these lines in three sections: Timelessness, To Go, and To Stay. I am still reading it but wanted to already share a section:

But if leisure (the leisure that promotes the life of the mind) is what’s missing from our overamped world, if the rich multi-tasked life is the problem, shouldn’t a person stay put, lie low? .... This is the dilemma, my dilemma, maybe an essential contemporary middle-class dilemma: To stay? Or to go? Be Pascal? Or be Chaucer? ....

If you’re a “seeker” (and who, opening a book, is not?), isn’t the open road the only way, paradoxically, to find the lost life of daydream where all the rest–wisdom, decency, generosity, compassion, joy, and plain honesty–are sequestered?

If life is a journey, has it just become a getaway to somewhere warm on JetBlue?

I'm sure I'll post more about this book when I've finished.

~~~

ps. I've written a couple other posts about Patricia Hampl: click here to find.

[Photo: taken of emerging fiddlehead ferns.]

731. Thoughts on The Florida Project

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A couple weeks ago my husband and I went to see the new film, The Florida Project. When I first saw the film’s poster in our local theater months ago, I had made a quick mental note to see it. Being as I grew up in coastal Florida, I imagined that because it was a story of Florida, it would no doubt feature the white sand and beauty of the ocean, which I miss. By the time we went to see the film, though, I knew that it was about something else entirely.

The story follows the lives of small children and their mothers or, in one case, a grandmother, who live in motels along Route 192 near Disney World, all caught in poverty, bad decisions, some form of abandonment, and hopelessness. There's not a single beach scene. But the story line also follows that of Bobby, played by Willem DaFoe, the manager of The Magic Castle, the budget motel where the film’s primary child and mother live on a weekly basis. For all the reasons to see the film based on the story line and the outstanding performance of the 7-year-old Floridian, Brooklynn Prince, whom we will no doubt be seeing more of in years to come, it’s the story of Bobby that most captured my attention.

The film’s director, Sean Baker, had been on Charlie Rose in mid-October talking about his film. He described how he had researched for the film by talking with people in the area where it was shot. In particular, he spoke of a motel manager he met:

"We would go and see who was interested in telling their stories or giving us information about the Route 192, which is where this was shot. And this was—this involved us speaking to residents at the motels, the small business owners, some the motel managers, and some the agencies that actually provided social services to people in need in the area. And there was one—there was actually one man in particular, a motel manager, who really opened up his world to us. In a way, he was our passport in. He wanted—he felt that this was a story that should be told, … and he was actually managing one of these budget motels directly across the street from the Magic Castle Motel where we shot. And he was in a very tough position when he was actually working there. It has since closed. But he had compassion for the families and the kids who were there. He understood the struggles they were going through. And, yet, he, you know, had a job. He had to hold onto. And he knew that perhaps any night he might have to evict one of these families and put them out on the street if they couldn't come up with the nightly rate. So, it was a tough position for him. I could see this obvious—this compassion, but I also saw a distance that he would keep from them. And it was like a reluctant parental figure in many ways. I saw it not only with him but a few of the other motel managers we met. And I think it very much inspired our Bobby character."

DaFoe’s character captures an aspect of work that I tried to describe in Finding Livelihood: that of doing one thing, for which you’re paid, but that may be far from what you most want to do or feel “called” to do, while at the same time also doing something far bigger on another plane, maybe all the time and all along or maybe only for a moment, participating in a for-such-a-time-as-this sort of thing. Parallel realities. Bobby kept the books, he kept the rules, he kept the place clean. Job description met! But he also kept his people safe, he guided and cared, he gave hope, he loved. If you missed the movie trailer, hyperlinked in the first sentence, take a look now and you'll get a hint of what I'm talking about.