Monday, September 9, 2013

Speedboat




Speedboat, by Renata Adler. A slim ransom note of a book. Suspend your expectations of what a novel should be: there is no avenue of plot down which to venture, no clear procedure towards a climax, just neat, perfect prose. New York in the 70s, a journalist, vague dispatches to the Middle East, professors, a poet, fifth-floor walk-ups, cigarettes, a long distance lover, the politics of good dinner party conversation. It is fragmentary and terse, but psychologically complete.

It's been a month since I read it and I can't stop thinking about it. Adler wrote it in 1976 but it reads like a pulse-taking of at-the-moment New York. (And god, that Avedon portrait.)




We went to Maine and I was supremely lazy and unhelpful but I read a lot. I looked up all the birds and plants and trees, which is my favorite way to pass the time, to learn the names.




To learn the names. Last night we went grocery shopping and I lingered over the exotics bin in the produce department, remembering how a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City split open a reddish, wild-spiny something (a fruit? a mollusk?) and motioned for me to eat the white fleshiness inside. I didn't know what it was but she caught me in a moment of sure-why-not and I ate it, and it was unlike anything I've ever tasted.

Rambutan. Sometimes we are lucky and we learn the name of the thing after we learn the thing itself.




P. and I packed up the Brooklyn apartment and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We only brought what fit in our pickup. Everything else is in storage in Gowanus, or making its way through the circulatory system of the New York Salvation Army. I gave away all my prized rare ferns. I kept my beefsteak begonia from Sarah, and my behemoth staghorn fern I bought from the little crystal and succulent shop on Avenue A where the Peruvian shopkeeper is always high and gives you a discount if you pay in cash.



September Fact Inventory:

1. Rosehips are redder on the south side of Little Cranberry Island, oranger on the north side.

2. You can't pick mushrooms if it doesn't rain.

3. Dogs have free will: Dolly, almost six, has never much cottoned to the water. Or fetching with any regularity or commitment to the craft. (She excels as a desert dog: flushing quail, climbing enormous boulders, protecting me from cholla/ rattlesnakes/ meth-heads, snuggling on cold desert nights.) While we were in Maine P. threw a hunk of driftwood into the ocean and Dolly just out of the blue went into the frigid water and brought it back to us. Now she is a Swimming & Fetching kind of dog. Just like that.

4. P. and I have been married five years. Marriage is a distinct thing that one cannot see but it occupies space in the universe like an Idea or a Soul.

5. I moved to Cambridge for nine months (three blocks away from my kid sis!). I have a teaching fellowship gig and P. has one last year of grad school. No one gives a shit where your clog boots are from and everyone wears backpacks and is in the middle of inventing or writing or translating something. I miss New York, but it's good to be back in New England and surrounded by sugar maples, transcendentalists.

5a. We have a date to swim Walden Pond later this week.

38 comments:

  1. Ah, universities outside of NYC, where your external body is merely a vessel to carry your brain around ;)

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  2. love this post so much, lily. i read speedboat a few weeks ago, and like you, i find myself still thinking about it. so much goodness

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    1. Thanks Shari. Love knowing Speedboat is still inside your head, too.

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  3. Love your words on marriage -- I celebrated five years this weekend.

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  4. Welcome to Cambridge, and congratulations on the fellowship. I'm just over the river in Jamaica Plain, so it will be lovely to see familiar spots appear in your blog posts.

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  5. so glad to see you posting again! i LOVE your work and have missed your posts! how strange that i'm a gypsy who just moved to nearby suburb of cambridge for a 9 month stint at grad school myself. my husband is mostly living in DC and i have drawn strength from reading about your experiences apart from P. and your romantic meet-ups together. congrats on your fellowship, anniversary, and reunification!!! welcome to the area!

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  6. oh, I have missed your posts and am glad to see, you're rocking a different place right now.

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  8. such a minimally sweet update yet of course you got all the important bits in. wonderful to catch up with you. a date at walden pond sounds to good to be true. enjoy!

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  9. In Honduras, the fruit/mollask mystery is just coming into season. Here, they are called lychee or marmones seems to be the more popular term with the locals. It made my day to see you talk about a curiosity that hits so close to my life right (currently working in Honduras for a year). They're pretty great, right?

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  10. I am glad dogs have free will. I am hoping Etta will become friends with the ocean some day, she is terrified of it as it stands.

    "No one gives a shit where your clog boots are from"
    this is everything I felt and loved when I moved from LA/Toronto to Maine.

    Welcome back to the land of maples. I am sure it has missed you!

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  11. I love your posts so much! I have not tried the rambutan, but a very nice person bought me a bag of its very similar cousin, the Mamoncillo, while I was in Costa Rica. Holy hell. It was like eating the very best candy. I have been on a hunt for some in the states ever since.

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  12. Please tell me the Scamp is not at the Salvation Army... Unless I missed a post (entirely possible but not proud in admitting) you still have her/him yes?

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  13. How did so many of these sentences squeeze my heart? Thank you. Good luck in Cambridge. Just moved away from there and to the desert, and it is a shock to the system. Cambridge is a very good land.

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  14. This is just such a gorgeous piece of writing. The photos almost pale in comparison. Except that they too are so so good.

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  15. Oh my god I had kids too soon! I am thrilled with the way you are paying attention. And I am happy for whomever got the ferns.

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  16. One day you'll write a book and I'll pack up my car and be in every audience, at every signing.

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  18. i love you! new york misses you and dolly and p and your ferns WILL make it. i promise. xoxo

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  20. i love your prose. really. i see a book in your future, full of lists and reflections and accompanied by snippets of your art and pictures.

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  21. I wish two things -

    I had been able to care for your prized ferns (truth be told, they might have died in my care, but i would have loved them all the same).

    I was swimming Walden Pond this week. I'm considering a little snorkeling adventure in the cove, but Walden sounds like heaven.

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  22. love, love, love your blog. so glad i found it. it sings to my heart. all of this prose, art and the like. xo

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  23. I'm with the other Rebecca, love love love your stories and the way you capture life. Plus, I just love Dolly. Wore my scarf today, transported me overseas. Enjoy your new nest. XO

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  24. Dogs, and sisters, husbands and zinc topped tables. All part of the fairy tale of life worth living.

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  25. Been lurking and enjoying the words and images on your blog for a while now. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one who finds joy in identifying plants and animals. I have an embarrassing amount of field guides. Love your comments on Cambridge as well. I'm a former Allston/Brighton denizen.

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  26. Happy five years, you two, my favourite virtual vicarious adventurers.

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  27. sweet. You always have the best book recommendations as well, thanks! I just watched the movie, The Big Year, starring Steve Martin and Jack Black- its very sweet, about incredibly passionate bird watchers and the incredible patience and sacrifice they make to capture a glimpse of birds of North America.

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  28. Hi Lily-
    I am a young painter fresh out of undergrad and I have been reading your blog for about 6 months. I am inspired by your travels and projects. I am completely envious of the way you move about life, seemingly without effort. Of course the internet/facebook/instagram allows us to see the best of the best sometimes (which I know you have addressed before)! But I am just trying to gather advice and realistic solutions for my future. How do you and your husband afford grad school (which can cost $100k each) without either of you working jobs? How do you afford your apartment and studio space and still travel? I hope you don't take offense to any of these questions. I just really love to understand how other people just make it work. Of course its not that simple...but sometimes it feels that way! Any response you can give would be enlightening.
    Thank you, Carmen

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    1. Hi Carmen, all such good, fair questions. The short answer is we both work multiple jobs.

      I worked as a producer for ABC News HQ in NY after undergrad and saved everything. Then, JOSHUA TREE: My husband served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps for four years, with two tours in Iraq, and we saved every penny. I was working as a freelance producer for ABC at that point and quit when I started selling enough paintings to make a decent income.

      INDIA: P. had a Fulbright scholarship, and I had a small grant from an artist's residency- that's what paid for our entire year there, and we lived off around $15, $20 a day.

      NY/ GRAD SCHOOL: Since then, P. and I have worked as adjunct profs teaching multiple classes all through grad school, applied for every grant and scholarship possible, and worked multiple part-time academic research jobs, etc. That covers health care, rent, and the basics. This summer P. had a job that helped us save up for this year. Of course there are student loans, too; it is rare for someone to pay full tuition for grad school (and most grad programs, like NYU, have considerable scholarships available.) Block Shop and painting sales have allowed me to continue doing what I love to do, and for that I'm incredibly grateful.

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  29. I knew you were up to something. Another move, uh? I personally feel more attracted to New England or Massachusetts even if I can hardly point them out on a map, than to New York. Walden pond? The Toureau pond? Please Lilly, pictures soon. Oh, Henry.

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  30. oh. Giving away prized plants for moving always breaks my heart. I have a small collection now, I vow they will make the move with us next year. Especially the staghorn! I'm so jealous you have a plant from Saipua. Her work is like magic.

    I admire you for explaining your financial/work history in your response to Carmen. This is the double edge sword of the internet, all the hope and glory and inspiration of other artists and their live, but the simultaneously feeling of hopelessness, that our own lives don't look like we want them to. I try to keep the big picture in perspective, but it can be hard. Money is such a bane.

    Congratulations on your move, and on your marriage, and on keeping your begonia. xxx

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  31. I was in Thailand for a week last week and had a Rambutan everyday. It was delicious.

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  32. Haven't read your blog in a while and oh boy did I forget how good it is. Lovely to see you're keeping well Lily. Ps. Rambutan are delicious!

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  33. Thank you for your blog. It is currently my favorite "space" on the internet. May I ask, is there a particular book or set of books you use for plant identification? I am woefully undereducated in the names and ways of plants, and would like to fix that for my sake and the sake of my plant-loving, curious 5 year old daughter. Thanks again for your beautiful blog and Instagram.

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    1. Thank you for such generous words. You made my day.

      I find the Peterson guides the best in general, but Sibley is a close second (especially with birds). I also keep an eye out for random out of print ID books in used book stores. But I'd recommend searching "peterson field guide series" in Amazon and starting there.

      Hope that helps!

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  34. Love that the pup is a water baby now. As is should be :)

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