Friday, June 22, 2018

The Summer of Chabon

Every summer, I seem to find more reading time, which means I finish a disproportionate amount of books over these balmy, relaxed months. Also, I like to have some sort of summer reading project. Maybe I choose a large tome that seemed overwhelming the rest of the year; perhaps I embark on a series. I spent one summer with Hilary Mantel, another with David McCullough (and, indirectly, John Adams et al.). Last summer, I went with classics: a collection of Chekhov stories and The Golden Bowl by Henry James (Ugh. An endlessly tough and torturous read. Wish I could remember which online friend named it as a favorite, thanks so much!).
This year, I’m woefully behind my usual rate of reading. It’s been a tough start to 2018 and for a couple of months, I didn’t read much at all. But now I’m raring to go, ready to dive in and although I love me some short stories, I’m feeling especially ready to dive into novels. Preferably long, immersive novels. So I took a look at my shelves and decided to christen the summer of 2018 as The Summer of Chabon.
My reasons? They’re not particularly complicated or particularly contemplated. First, I already had two of these books on my shelf. Second, I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, one of the novels I've probably recommended most frequently over the years. I don't recommend books very often but when I do, this one seems to crop up for various reasons, for various people. I also liked The Mysteries of Pittsburgh very much. Third, a very astute friend loves Michael Chabon (looking at you, Genelle) and, in fact, gave me one of these books.
So I’m embarking on reading these 1672 pages of Chabon fiction, although we are already almost at the end of June. Which leaves me two months, basically, so one novel every two weeks. Yes, I know there are other Chabon books (novels, stories, essays, etc.); these are the ones I picked. I’ll probably proceed in chronological order, beginning with Wonder Boys. And I may even delight you with my assessments and progress as I go along. Without further ado, thus begins The Summer of Chabon!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Opening Channels

Have you ever purchased a new car and suddenly, out on the road, you see many others of the same make and model? They were always there; you didn't notice before. What about when you look up the definition of a word you’ve never been quite sure of (or a completely new word); soon, you’re seeing that word everywhere, wondering how many times you lazily passed it by, missing out on a nuance, a broader understanding.
The universe is like that. What I mean is, the universe is full of infinite information, endless frequencies. And being open to the channels the universe offers can be a matter of free will, of choice. It’s what spiritual leaders talk about when they talk about presence (“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” --Eckhart Tolle); it’s what Christians might mean when they say "Let go, let God." You may have heard someone talk about “putting a problem out into the universe,” or about positive and negative energy. So which is it: energy? God? Space? The power of our own minds? Why can’t it be all of those, or something else altogether, if it means something to you?
It’s been a surreal time for me, for a variety of reasons. A matter of getting through day by day, week by week. The main event: I lost my mother, the rock of our family. My rock. I woke up the other morning with a problem, having slept too little, and my desire to talk to her was so strong, it took my breath away. I have felt grief in the weeks since she’s been gone, but this was primal, adrenaline-filled, intense. It was like wanting water, food, safety.
To me, the universe is atoms and molecules, carbon and nitrogen, the air we breathe, everything that goes in and out of our bodies, humanity and every other living and non-living thing. No new matter is being created; we’re all in the same stew and have been from the very beginning. To me, the universe is God and His essence, love: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)” To me, the universe (and particularly, our individual, immediate orbit) is the energy we give and receive, and there’s choice in that too. And now, to me, the universe is also my mother, her physical form distilled around me in the air I breathe, the thoughts I choose to think. She is present now, everywhere. Her strength. Her advice, which is still there if I become still and listen.
We can open our channels by choosing to absorb what’s around us with our senses, with our minds. Watch, listen, smell, taste. Notice and make associations. I believe the universe operates on some basic principles of balance, so if you make the effort, the universe will show up for you. Every time. And so I put my problem out there, let go, opened up. I heard my mom telling me to breathe, to give myself time, to consider calmly, as she did. I had my tea. I calmed down. The day continued. A passage in a book struck chords. Something arrived in the mail, like a signal. A friend called. I remembered something I had forgotten, useful information. I went out for a run and noticed everything: the jacaranda leaving purple pathways, the strong muscles in my legs, holding me up and propelling me forward. My iPod knew exactly which songs I needed to hear. When I reached my street, I noticed a man sitting in his car, praying with his hands folded against his chest, like a child.
Your universe is your own business. Call it what you will. But never doubt the power of a calm, focused mind, the resonance of a wise loved one, the charge you can get from positivity, from love. My universe is telling me all sorts of things these days, when I choose to notice, if I’m smart enough to tune in.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka