may 2/WALK

45 minutes
with Scott and Delia
60 degrees

Since I ran yesterday, I decided to walk today. Windy. Fire warning. Everything so dry. The grass in the boulevard sounded like we were walking over plastic. Spent most of the walk frustrated, discussing how to parent — not frustrated with each other, but the situation. As a result, didn’t notice much on the walk. Can I think of 10 things?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the call of at least one black capped chickadee
  2. all the snow has finally melted at cooper field
  3. our neighbor’s tree has big white blossoms exploding on every limb
  4. the sun was warm, the air dry
  5. a sidewalk marked with the dreaded white dots that mean they need to be replaced — and that the homeowner will have to pay for it. We paid $3200 last year for the squares we needed replaced
  6. same house: beautiful purple flowers all over the grass
  7. the next house: no white dots, even with several chipped squares — have they not come through to mark this section yet?
  8. the trail down to the bottom of the sink hole at 7 oaks was green and inviting
  9. at the very end of our walk, the teenage son of our neighbor pulled up fast in front of their house — okay, I assume it was the teenager because of his reckless way of driving
  10. the worn down tracks from car tires in the grass below edmund and just above the river road — when did a car drive through here?

Mary Ruefle

A brief return to “On Theme”: I found a helpful essay by Ron Slate on Madness, Rack, and Honey yesterday after I posted my entry. His name sounded familiar and his writing so helpful that I imagined I’d encountered him before. Not sure, but I discovered he’s Jenny Slate’s dad. Very cool. Anyway, back to his helpful commentary from his blog On the Seawall. Here is one idea to archive:

In her lectures, Ruefle behaves like a poem:

As a poet, Ruefle has often found the strange sublime wherever her glance settles, and as a teacher she leaps from topic to topic, critiquing American culture here, then quoting Clarice Lispector or Charles Lamb over there on a different subject. Everything coheres through the stickiness of her solitary mind.

Commentary on MRH

To behave like a poem! I love this idea, both as a description of what MR is doing and also as an aspirational goal.

Earlier in his commentary, Slate mentions another one of Ruefle’s lectures, “Someone Reading a Book is a Sign of Order in the World,” so I’ll read that one next.

Someone Reading a Book

At the start of reading this lecture, I’d like to note my current relationship to reading and my deep belief in books: Reading with my diseased eyes is still possible, but difficult. And difficult to explain. It’s not that the words are so fuzzy or faint to be illegible. Mostly I can make them out, but the page and the words seem to be in constant motion, vibrating. Not quickly, but constantly. Or, is it my brain that’s vibrating? I can’t tell. What I can say with some certainty is that my experience of struggling to read with faltering eyes does not involve a harsh voice in my head sternly saying, I can’t read!, or a panicked voice muttering, i can’t read?, which is what I thought would happen if I were to lose my sight when I imagined such a horror as a kid playing a game of would you rather lose your vision or your hearing? Or maybe I thought I’d cry out, Pa! I can’t see!

No, struggling to read involves a lot of distractions and falling asleep mid-sentence and struggling to finish 400 page books within the 3 week check-out period from the local library. Unintentionally skipping entire lines, wanting to get lost in a good book but somehow managing to do anything and everything else instead — dishes, laundry, scrolling through instagram. Even as I wish I could read as much and as fast as I used to, I am grateful to have the small comfort of gradually easing into the loss, not having one single terrifying moment of recognition. Thank you, brain.

I am in year 4 of the 5 that my eye doctor predicted I had before losing all of my central vision. A few cone cells right in the center of my central vision are holding on, diligently delivering data so that I can read Ruefle’s lecture or this entry. But, how well can I actually read this entry? Even as I try to proofread, I often leave out words or spell them wrong. When those cone cells die — is it certain that they will die? — will I finally have that moment of terrible recognition? Will it be like Ruefle describes when she woke up one morning and couldn’t read:

When I was forty-five years old, I woke up on an ordinary day, neither sunny or overcast, in the middle of the year, and I could no longer read….the words that existed so I might read them sailed away, and I was stranded on a quay while everything I loved was leaving. And then it was I who was leaving: a terror seized me and took me so high up in its talons that I was looking helplessly down on a tiny, unrecognizable city, a city I and loved and lived in but would never see again.

(She concludes: “I needed reading glasses, but before I knew that, I was far far away.” In the margins of the book I wrote: drama bomb, which we — me, Scott, RJP, and FWA have been saying a lot lately.) I can’t know for sure, but I doubt that even if I do wake up tomorrow without being able to read the words on a page that this type of terror will seize me. Maybe one reason is that when I can’t read with my eyes, I can still read with my ears. I’ve spent the last 4 years building up my reading-as-listening skills. And there are so many amazing audio books available!

This is not to say that losing my ability to stare endlessly at words and understand them is not painful. It’s strange to walk by the bookshelves crammed full of all my wonderful books from grad school, filled with notes in the margins, and know they’re useless to me. Or to go to a bookstore, which used to be one of my favorite things to do, and hate — or maybe just strongly dislike — being there, unable to read the title of books unless I pick them up and slowly study them. It’s painful, but not tragic or a tragedy.

But, back to Ruefle. Here are a few things from it I’d like to remember:

1 — ridiculousness

I heard someone say, at a party, that D. H. Lawrence should be read when one is in their late teens and early twenties. As I was nearing thirty at the time, I made up my mind never to read him. And I never have. Connoisseurs of reading are very silly people. But like Thomas Merton said, one day you wake up and realize religion is ridiculous and that you will stick with it anyway.

2 — a journal entry

I find nothing in my life that I can’t find more of in books. With the exception of walking on the beach, in the snowy woods, and swimming underwater. That is one of the saddest journal I ever made when I was young.

When I read her journal entry, my first reaction was, yes! Then as I kept reading, it was, why is that so sad? I agree that there is more than books and walking and woods and swimming, but a life filled with these things isn’t sad. But then I remembered that she has her own issues with the body — being outdoors and athletic — which she brought up in “On Theme,” believing “stupidly they will disenhance whatever intellectual qualities I may possess” (59). Being a body, especially an active body moving through outdoor space, does not diminish your ability to think critically or creatively or intellectually. Instead, it can strengthen these abilities.

3 — connection

We are all one question, and the best answer seems to be love — a connection between things. This arcane bit of of knowledge is respoken every day into the ears of readers of great books, and also appears to perpetually slip under a carpte, utterly forgotten. In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense, it is a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a a single life span….

4 — a list of book titles

In the last section, on page 199, Ruefle offers a list of book titles mixed in seamlessly with types of/ways of reading. The Sun Also Rises with luminous debris and the biography of someone you’ve never heard of.

from Madness, Rack, and Honey/ Mary Ruefle

Against the Grain. Nightwood. The Dead. Notes for the Underground. Fathers and Sons. Eureka. The Living. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Sun Also Rises. Luminous Debris. Childish Things. The Wings of the Dove. The Journal of an Understanding Heart. Wuthering Heights. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Tristes Tropiques. The Tale of Genji. Black Sun. Deep Ocean Organisms Which Live Without Light. The Speeches of a Dictator. The Fundamentals of Farming. The Physics of Lift. A History of Alchemy. Opera for Idiots. Letters from Elba. For Esmé–with Love and Squalor. The Walk. The Physiology of Drowning. Physicians’ Desk Reference. Bleak House. The Gospel according to Thomas. A Biography of Someone You’ve Never heard Of. Forest Management. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. TGravels in Arabia Deserta. The Collected Works of Paul Valéry. A Book Written in a Language You Do Not Understand. The Worst Journey in the World. The Greatest Story Ever Told. A Guide to Simple First Aid. The Art of Happiness.


I really like this lecture and her various accounts of reading books. It makes me want to offer up my own account, especially in the shadow of my vision loss. I appreciate the format of fragments that are their own things but also loosely connect with each other.