Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Becoming a Reader of Future Authors

If I wanted to read what authors like Ray Bradbury and Charles Simic and Woody Allen and Herta Müller were writing for publication these days, I could scarcely have done better -- I tell myself -- than subscribe to three journals that have begun to arrive at my new address. I have ignored the voice of experience that reminds me of other subscriptions over the years that each promised a new lease on my reading life. Alas, month after month the issues had collected, barely perused and largely unread, on bedside tables and back porch chairs.

Well, so what?

I am furnishing my new rooms, and I have fallen victim once again to the lure of the printed page to help create a look that would engage me if I met it in someone else's home.

Zoetrope was the wild card in this trio of publications. Thanks to the "Frequently Bought Together" feature on Amazon, I discovered the fiction-and-film journal, first launched in 1997 and headquartered in San Francisco. If Francis Ford Coppola can market wine and The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola can market a literary magazine, and I decided to taste the vintage. Like some unknown author whose novels I will check out at random times from the local library, Zoetrope seemed worth a gamble. I take as a good omen the appearance of an entertaining piece by Woody Allen in the first issue in my subscription.

Subscribing to The Paris Review seemed a privilege. It was a seat unexpectedly pulled out for me in a sidewalk cafe, a place cleared for me at a table strewn with cream-colored Gallimard editions. It is a twentieth-century tradition of writing and reading which I had forgotten to join over the years, and I feel fortunate to have found in the past months that I might still join the conversation. I can discover that cultural link between New York City and Paris as something still capable of bringing alive the hunger for thought and supple expression that should never go away. Lives feel on hold for some of us until that hunger is acknowledged and honored and assuaged.

East Coast and West Coast, Left Bank and Washington Square -- I might not have thought to revisit those literary roots without a nod to the authority of Granta. It is a subscription to Granta that initially led me on online crawls to look for an affordable ticket to a publication that has become synonymous with new writing. Begun long ago by undergraduates at Cambridge University, it was reborn within the last four decades and became a place for the emerging talents in British fiction to reach a reading public.

Beyond fiction, beyond Britain, the magazine has served up a range of writing that deserves attention. I was fortunate by means of the first issue of my subscription to be introduced to British poet Michael Symmons Roberts. His record of an extended visit to a Scottish Benedictine monastery, a record included within a Granta issue focused on writings on Sex, is breathtaking. If you're wondering what he could possibly have said to earn a place within that context, buy the Spring issue.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Renovated Kitchens

It is not clear what had gone wrong with the garbage disposal, but my accountant-landlord knew that the simplest and most cost-efficient way to deal with the issue was to purchase a new disposal and install it himself. No plumbers needed, no team of electricians – one of my landlord’s grown sons came upstairs with him this afternoon and later called down from my unit to the basement so his father knew when the right current had been shut off for the installation.

The son looked around the kitchen at one moment and admitted to me, “You’ve made it look good.”

In the past two months I had worked with the white of the painted wooden cabinets and the gray-speckled Formica counters, had used Soft Scrub on the stainless steel sink and the white porcelain stove top, had created a comfortable eating space with a newly purchased pub table and stool. The chrome from my mother’s Lincoln BeautyWare canisters and breadbox reflected a new red lampshade on the little lamp that had lit dinners for me over twenty years ago. The black frame around a collection of vintage photographs of families at meals looked fine above the metal dish rack next to the sink.

However, I knew that this was a far cry from the renovated kitchens that sell houses and condominiums.

I remember the first renovated kitchen in which I sat thirty years ago with friends of my brother’s. These men’s professional decorating skills had directed the hanging of copper pots over an island and the dimming of lights over granite counters. One of my hosts stood authoritatively that night, martini in hand, as his guests, perched on stools, leaned under the copper pots to listen to his description of the long rebuilding.

All this for a kitchen, I had wondered quietly to myself.

In the years ahead I would have the chance to listen to various friends describe the months of negotiations with contractors and architects as the kitchens of their dreams took shape in spaces hollowed out of vintage floor plans. I came to recognize the renovated-kitchen look in open houses I attended in the search for new homes years later. In time even I got to sit at a table with a contractor and an architect and take part in discussions about undoing one kitchen and creating another.

I got to see the inside of walls in time. Months later I saw the right glass finally arrive for the cabinet doors. Professional photographers came in shortly afterwards to record the kitchen for the architect’s portfolio.

The truth I found, though, is that renovated kitchens change nothing about dreams.

One day, if you’re lucky, you find yourself back in a kitchen that is really yours. You find another kitchen that you can welcome as part of your history. You want the meals cooked on your white porcelain stove top, served in dishes stored in your white painted cabinets.

And you do indeed think yourself lucky.

And your new garbage disposal works just fine.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Readers of Yesteryear

I have a past.

I have a blogging past.

I have a file full of comments that go back to 2005 in the archives of an email account linked to my former blog.

I remember the first comment on any post I had written. From his home in Mexico City, a fellow blogger wrote about the intense admiration and love he felt for a priest. My long-ago past as a seminarian and what I wrote about my decision to abandon those early goals and to pursue a life alongside another man had snared this reader’s interest.

Google helped readers find me. I was not an overly cautious blogger when it came to naming organizations and parishes and schools that had figured in my life. I named internal conflicts that other people recognized. A number of bloggers wrote posts about my blog.

I wrote about a life that some people had not thought possible. I had a career that was not always a safe one to identify publicly if you were living with another man. I had a family who supported me and welcomed my partner. I had a spiritual life that provided the surest interpretive thread to connect a long-ago John with the person I had become.

I wrote about a life that readers occasionally admitted they envied and wanted. To be honest, I wanted people to envy it. I seemed to need the assurance that I had gotten a life that other people would want. I could weave musings about home life and fall in love with it all over again.

Writing Cabin goes back to the fall of 2007 when an anonymous reader of my former blog wrote a series of letters whose denunciatory message eventually reached a range of people, including my employer. I got cautious, I got careful. I have written here about that time. I contacted readers who had followed me for years and asked them to help me start afresh.

Since then my life has changed in significant ways. On the surface, mine is no longer an easy success story. Not everyone would want the kind of transition through which I have been moving.

I do, though.

I love where it is going while it is still hard to name where it is going.

It seems time to extend a hand to those who used to read what I wrote and whose writings had been part of my day. Maybe more than a few of us have learned lessons about courage that we never suspected we could handle.

Welcome back!