In preparing to keep a journal he was giving himself a task, and his temperament and training meant he was going to take the task seriously . . . even if he had no idea what he might achieve, he appears to have seen himself as a man who might do something in the world. Without his enthusiasm for himself, the Diary would hardly have begun to take shape as it did.
He was a passionate reader and cared for good writing. He had already tried his hand as a novelist and discovered a flair for reporting history in the making. Like many others, Pepys started off wanting to write something without quite knowing what it was, and the Diary could be a way of finding out. He may have seen it as a source book for something grander to be undertaken later. The high drama of the world in which he had grown up, the still continuing conflict between republic and monarchy, the heroic figures set against one another, paralleled the conflicts of the ancient world he had studied in classical texts. And principally, there was his curiosity about himself, which made him see his own mental and physical nature as not merely a legitimate but a valuable and glorious subject for exploration.— Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, by Claire Tomalin, p. 79
Claire Tomalin, wow. Just wow.
This is a re-read. The first time she read it, she was on her way to Berlin to give a reading. She had it on her lap the whole flight, but it turned out her seatmate was a young Finnish architect who was going home after making a bid on behalf of his architectural firm for a building in Beijing. He ended up explaining Berlin to her, making little drawings on her notebook: here’s the Brandenburg gate, here’s Oranienstrasse, this street has the best Turkish food, etc.
She remembered being amazed, not just by Berlin, but by the book. Who knows why she decided to re-read it now (motives will be examined, later, in her journal, lol). She didn’t expect her re-read to evoke the same spark of excitement that it did on first read, 15 years (!) ago, but for some reason the above passage read really fresh.
(To be continued)
Self is so happy she is able to participate in the PPAC Challenge this week! The theme is Honoring Fallen Heroes & Sheroes.
She is currently in Oxford, UK. The last trip she took before the pandemic was also to Oxford, to listen to a reading by Oxford’s first ever female professor of poetry, Alice Oswald, Nov. 2019. She was in the company of friends Jenny Lewis and Joan McGavin. It so happened she was here on Armistice Day, Nov. 11.
She attended a service at Christchurch. No tourists, but she told the guard she was NOT a tourist, she was here to attend the service. So he let her through.
The service was very moving. The names of all the men of Christchurch who died in World War I were read aloud. Later, she saw a wall on the side of the chapel, with all the names inscribed in stone, a single wreath leaning against the memorial.
How very, very restrained.
This is self’s entry for the Macro Monday challenge. Jez Braithwaite’s Funghi and Moss post is wonderful.
She just finished attending the AWP 2022 Conference and Book Fair, the first in-person AWP conference since 2019. This year’s was held in Philadelphia. It was a bit overwhelming, but she loves the city. The Reading Terminal Market and Tattooed Mom, where Drue Heinz Prize winner Caroline Kim read, were fabulous. She even got to pay a quick visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, her first visit in decades.
At the Book Fair, in addition to discovering some wonderful new presses, she was able to add to her button collection! Feelings, indeed!
Angela Narciso Torres is the author of Blood Orange (Willow Books) and What Happens Is Neither (Four Way Books); and winner of the 2019 Yeats Poetry Prize. Her recent work appears in Poetry, Missouri Review, and PANK.
Angela and two other Four Way Books poets, Andrea Cohen and Rodney Terich, are reading tonight online at an event hosted by Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, NY. Reading starts at 7 p.m. EST (that’s 4 p.m. PST) You can find out more from the Canio’s Books Calendar of Events.
SUNDOWNING (An excerpt)
for my mother, Carmen
The sweetest meat clings to the bone,
my mother says, knifing her steak.
Carmen. Silver spade on my tongue.
Mahjong nights, her father and mother gone,
she cried herself to sleep. Blamed in the morning
for her mother’s losing hand. Unlucky tears!
The sweetest meat — she begins
at dinner, tearing off a chicken leg.
What will she recall by morning?
Named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel,— from To The Bone, by Angela Narciso Torres (Sundress Publications, 2019)
she pinned brown scapulars under our shirts,
wet stamps that cleaved to our skin.
Nine more days till the Redwood City Library online reading for ms. aligned volume 3! (Thursday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. PST) Much thanks to the library outreach staff, who gave us the slot and prepared beautiful flyers. And much thanks to series editor Pat Matsueda for coming up with the idea of a series focused on women writing about men.
Super-excited. Register here.
One of the readers on Feb. 25 is Donna Lee Miele. Self has just finished re-reading her fantastic story, “Crocodile Teeth.” From her Contributor Bio in ms. aligned 3:
- Donna Lee Miele plays with characters, settings, and conflicts that evoke her mixed heritage and her parents’ experiences of war. While she also writes historical fiction, she finds greater freedom to explore (and greater fun) in stories with less concise settings, which was her intention with “Crocodile Teeth.”
I was scared of Edward’s sister. After Edward’s parents got lost looking for work upriver, she took over their grandma’s house like she’d just been waiting for the chance. She bullied Edward, she bullied their grandma, and she even bullied the guys that started hanging around, who offered everything from repairs to the wornout old house to actual money for the chance to date her. They thought she’d be easy because she and Edward were orphans. She didn’t even pretend to be nice to them. She had a look so cold she could make the bag shrivel between your legs.
If you were one of those guys, and you tried to come up on her grandma’s veranda, she would stand on its edge, look down on you, and say something like, “Take yourself to the beach and remember me to your family,” meaning Last Beach, though even she wouldn’t say that right out. Last Beach is full of whores of every kind; and every one of them, of course, is someone’s family.
There’s still almost an hour before the game begins, so self can squeeze in a few more things. Self’s quote of the day is from Rebecca Thomas, Editor of ms. aligned 3: women writing about men. (Published by El Leon Literary Arts of Berkeley and Manoa Books)
For the past nine years, I have been teaching composition at West Virginia University. I primarily teach freshmen, and one of their first papers is a narrative. In so many of the narratives, students — of all genders — explore issues connected to masculinity, in particular the effects of toxic masculinity. I receive papers about abusive relationships in high school, peer pressure to act a certain way, loneliness in emotionally connecting with peers, and the very real risk and fallout from coming out. My students are young, so it’s natural that they write about their childhood, the childhood moments where they begin to construct their identity. In our class discussions and in their reflections, I see so many grappling with the concept of masculinity. How did it shape their life? How will it shape their life as they journey into adulthood?
In this Me Too era, it’s hard not to think about masculinity and how it can be toxic. Working on a college campus, I know that many of my students have been assaulted. I know that many of them are trying to find the space to talk about it, and I know that many of them are starting to test the waters of self-acceptance, to see if it’s safe to be who they are. Since I am the mother of two young boys, toxic masculinity is something that I have to consider constantly: how do we raise our children in this environment? What conversations do I need to have with my kids?
Contributors to ms. aligned 3, and series editor Pat Matsueda, will be on-hand at an online event hosted by Redwood City Library. Register here.
Angela Nishimoto’s “Sex Education: A Tragicomedy, Part II” in ms aligned 3, edited by Rebecca Thomas
ms aligned 3 is a collaboration between El Léon Literary Arts (Berkeley, CA) and Manoa Books, Hawai’i. More information can be found here.
Upcoming Online Event: Redwood City Library Reading, Thursday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. Register here.
“Daniel attempted to lead me; I tried to lead him. We struggled. I pushed him on the shoulder; he pushed me back. I kicked him in the shin. Hunching, he grabbed my right hand in both of his and bit me hard.”— Excerpt from Angela Nishimoto’s “Sex Education: A Tragicomedy, Part II” in ms aligned 3
Self loves this book! From the opening scene — the hero’s having a meltdown in a Bentley because he had to kill, it enraged him, can’t people just behave so he doesn’t have to kill them? — she’s been having a fine time!
There are four corpses (already) in that Bentley, and that’s just in the first paragraph!
Plus self loved learning about the excellence of the double-barreled Purdey & Sons rifle (100,000 GBP each, thank you very much!)
Anyhoo, the first four would-be assassins attempted a break-in at the hero’s re-modeled 1650s Yorkshire mansion (technically, the property of his wife, she’s a member of the English nobility). Our hero drives the Bentley to the Manchester airport, where he leaves it (and the four bodies) in the parking lot and waits for a shuttle to the terminal. Unfortunately, a new set of goons try to kill him before he can get on the shuttle. Since it is only p. 29, we can assume the hero survives, which means these assassins must be off-ed, as well.
A few pages later, our hero faces an existential crisis: how can he get rid of the blood spatter on his clothes before entering the plane (to Sydney)?
Digressing a bit: Self has a book to pick up from the library this afternoon. Then, FaceTime with Dearest Mum in Manila. Tomorrow morning, bright and early (4 p.m. London time), she’s registered for a talk by the woman who writes obituaries for The Economist (such elegant examples of the form, she’s even taught them in creative nonfiction classes). There’s another zoom event tomorrow afternoon, fortunately it’s Central time, not such a big time difference as Manila or London: poets Denise Duhamel and Nin Andrews, hosted by Rain Taxi, and free!
Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.
My whole life I’ve been a model of responsibility and good sense, and you know what? It’s not a recipe for joy. I follow the rules. I never eat more than half a bowl of rice because I’m diabetic, although lately I allow myself a small bowl of red bean soup, or a tiny piece of cheesecake, no bigger than two fingers. I deserve to live a little, don’t I?— “Teddy” by Grace Loh Prasad, Ms Aligned 3, edited by Rebecca Thomas
Grace Loh Prasad was born in Taiwan and raised in New Jersey and Hong Kong before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College and is an alumna of the VONA Workshop for writers of color along with residencies at Hedgebrook and the Ragdale Foundation. Her piece, “Unfinished Translation,” is in the new issue of Khora.
Grace will be reading with contributors to Ms Aligned in an on-line event hosted by the Redwood City Library on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 5:30 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.