by Julia Martin on
Nov 12, 2014 (3:26 pm)
The book arrived today, a collection of interviews and letters between Gary Snyder and myself. Last week Steffanie at TU Press emailed me a FedEx number, and at once Google popped up a link for tracking the book’s journey across the planet. Over the next while I could occasionally check its progress. It traveled from San Antonio to Memphis to Paris to Cape Town, all the way to our house at the foot of the mountain in Muizenberg, where there was in fact nobody home when the FedEx man rang the doorbell.
Today he came back, and I was here. I signed the form, received the parcel, found a knife to rip through the tape, and held the small book in my hands. Nobody Home.
A small book. That was my first impression. Many pages, a generous font, good paper, and small. I had seen the cover with its spacious picture of Gary sitting in the Black Rock Desert, I knew the letters and interviews pretty well, and I’d worked back and forth on the proofs. But I hadn’t expected the size to be so . . . holdable. Intimate, almost. It was surprising, delightful. It felt appropriate.
Appropriate to what? My friendship with Gary Snyder, I guess. That’s what the publisher asked me to write about here, and what I’ve been putting off doing because I didn’t know where to start. But now that I have the book on the desk beside me, I can open to any page and find a dialogue that evokes it.
So that’s at the heart of the friendship: dialogue. It began thirty years ago and has continued through all the changes of our lives. Serious and a little formal in the beginning. Increasingly playful and probably more serious as we grew older. In 1983 when I wrote the first letter, I was an earnest graduate student and Gary was an eminent writer, kind enough and curious enough (to be receiving a letter from Cape Town, South Africa) to respond.
Part of what energized the dialogue, I think, is that it had nothing to do with the popular idea of Snyder as cultural icon. I wrote that first letter because I liked his writing and trusted that someone who could write that way would be open to my questions. From the beginning we talked about poems and prose and then picked up on whatever else that writing evoked—the practice of writing, writing as practice, and the priorities in (spiritual, ecological, political) practice that writing can bring to the fore.
In coming up with the book’s subtitle, we signaled those priorities with the words “Writing, Buddhism, and Living in Places.” A pretty large canvas, you might say. But I think that’s just it. Gary’s openness of mind and heart has meant that no topic, really, is off-limits. As he explained when we were deciding which letters to include, “I’m not a very private person.” That said, we have found ourselves returning over and over to questions about ecology and places and spiritual practice and home. The interviews discuss these questions in a slightly more public voice, more abstract. The letters (often packed with poems and articles) tend to explore the same urgencies in the particulars of lived experience, telling stories about our personal lives, and about suffering and impermanence.
To say that I’m grateful doesn’t come close. And as Gary puts it in his foreword, it’s not over yet.
But yes, about the book, I am grateful and happy. It feels good to hold this small well-made book in my hands, and to wonder at how these conversations of ours have made their way across the world. Nobody Home. It brings together so much.
by Eliza Perez on
Nov 10, 2014 (2:55 pm)
When I was a child, my father made me aware that the world was not always a good place, that there were people who wouldn’t like me solely because of the color of my skin and the country my parents were from. These whispered warnings made me appreciate honesty that could help me navigate the world.
Though it wasn’t always explicitly stated, my parents taught me to be proud of my roots, to remember where—and who—I came from.
Leaving for Trinity University made it clear why it was important not only to remember my family but to look for anything that might help me survive in a new environment. For me this came in the form of writing and books. From my first writing workshop with Dr. Coleen Grissom years ago to my current independent poetry study with Professor Jenny Browne, writing and reading have always been dear to me.
When I started working as an intern at Trinity University Press, I had no idea who Rebecca Solnit was. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t heard of this internationally acclaimed author and activist. But I got a chance to read the final manuscript for her new book, “The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness,” and I’m so happy I did. Solnit’s writing is a great example of how honesty can help people find their way.
For the full article, head over to the Rivard Report.
Rebecca Solnit will speak about her new book, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, on Wednesday, November 12, at the Holt Center at Trinity University. Reception at 5:30 p.m., lecture at 6:30 p.m., followed by Q&A and continued reception and book signing. Free and open to the public.
by Peter Turchi on
Nov 4, 2014 (12:54 pm)
Beware of a writer with a neat narrative about how he wrote his book. We tidy things up, we prepare concise answers to expected questions, we don’t mind distorting facts for the sake of a good story. Sometimes we even lie to ourselves.
When I started writing what is now A Muse and a Maze, I thought my essays about writing were linked by the fact that they all discussed visual art. They weren’t. As I pondered that problem, I wasted time in many ways. One of them was doing puzzles. Over the course of my life I have, at various times, devoted attention to a variety of puzzles: first word searches, then jumbled words, logic problems, chess problems, double acrostics, crosswords, Sudoku, and cryptoquotes. I might go weeks or months without doing a puzzle, then for another stretch of weeks or months I’ll do one every day.
I’m not sure how much time passed—too long—before I thought: “Why puzzles?” And: “Is the pleasure I get from solving puzzles in any way related to the pleasure I get from writing?” I decided to write an essay to answer that question. Then I read a few books about puzzles—jigsaws and crosswords, and puzzles in general in Marcel Danesi’s wonderful book The Puzzle Instinct. I started to see more connections.
I’ve played table tennis most of my life, though I only started playing halfway seriously when I was in my thirties—too late to be much good. But I played in a club in Asheville, North Carolina, for years (and still do, when I’m in town) and occasionally in a club in Phoenix when I moved to Arizona. I knew that Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and frequent puzzle commentator on NPR, plays table tennis.
One night I was at the club in Phoenix and felt pretty sure I knew who I was looking at, on the far side of the gym. When he finished his game, I introduced myself. I told Shortz I was writing a book about puzzles and writing. He looked perplexed. I told him I was looking for someone who would create a custom crossword for the book, and he said, “Why do that, when you might not get a good one? I’ve got just the thing.” He gave me permission to reprint the crossword that appears in the book, one in which the clues comprise a story—a goofy one, but a story nonetheless. He said I should get in touch if I needed anything else.
Over the next year Shortz put me in touch with Thomas “Dr. Sudoku” Snyder and Michael Ashley, an acrostics composer, both of whom provided work for the book. On my own I tracked down Dave Phillips, a designer of mazes. As I did all of that, the metaphor of writer as puzzle composer became increasingly clear. I talked to people about it, and as they asked questions I shored up weaknesses in the argument.
Finding a title for the book was, for some reason, terribly difficult. I worked on it for years. For most of that time, I thought the title needed to sound like “Maps of the Imagination” or “The Writer as Cartographer.” “The Writer as Puzzle Composer” was an awful title, and “Puzzles of the Imagination” was worse. I decided to go in a different direction, to try to find a turn on a familiar phrase that would seem playful, surprising.
One night, so anxious about the need for a title that I couldn’t sleep, I thought of “Dazed and Confused”—not as a title, but as a description of my mental state. Then I thought “Amazed and Amused,” which led to “A Maze and a Muse.” I remember waking my wife—or trying to. She barely stirred.
“I’ve got it,” I told her. “ ‘A Maze and a Muse.’ The title. Or ‘A Muse and a Maze.’ For the book.”
She smiled, then went back to sleep. I knew the puzzle was nearly solved.
Once you've read A Muse and a Maze and fallen in love with Turchi's associative narrative, try your hand at puzzle solving with the acrostic on pages 28 and 29. Who knows. You just might win something!
by Eliza Perez on
Oct 30, 2014 (1:34 pm)
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is fast approaching, beginning November 1 for children through November 2 for adults who have passed away. It is a celebration to honor the dead and is observed by those in Latin America, particularly Mexico and Central America, as well as Latinos in the U.S. It is a blending of both Indigenous and European Catholic traditions. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be mistaken for Halloween.
Rather than a somber occasion, these days are filled with lovely festivities to commemorate our loved ones who have passed away. From museums in the Rio Grande Valley that are hosting poetry readings and altar viewings to the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio hosting an entire celebration with music, face painting, altar viewings, and cemetery tours, Dia de los Muertos is always full of life.
Traditionally people visit their loved ones graves and create homemade altars for them. In the U.S. this tradition has transformed and now altars can be found in museum or festival exhibits too. In fact, the acclaimed Latina author Sandra Cisneros has created an altar installation at the Smithsonian this year to honor her mother.
Alters are all unique and personal, usually including the deceased person’s favorite foods, water, candles, pan de muerto (bread of the dead), calaveritas de azucar (sugar skulls), flowers, and even literary offerings. My mother usually creates a small altar for her father, setting it up with his photograph, candles, water, and some food.
Dia de los Muertos festivities also have a literary tradition in the form of calaveras literarias, short poems written as epitaphs for the living. These are often politically motivated, but can be about any living person you want to criticize or write about in a humorous, yet morbid, manner. Here are a few I’ve translated:
Ahí viene la calaca vestida de morado para todos los enamorados.
Here comes the skeleton Death, dressed in purple for all the lovers.
Como con la boca,
camino con los pies
pasa la huesuda y
me caigo sin querer.
I eat with my mouth,
I walk with my feet
the Bony Lady passes me
and I fall unintentionally.
This November 1, I’ll be volunteering with the Esperanza Center for their Dia de los Muertos event. So if you’re in San Antonio, you should stop by to get a better understanding of what Dia de los Muertos means to Latinos in the United States. It’s definitely something many of us want to share with our communities and dispel any confusion about it being a Latin American version of Halloween, as well as continue passing down our traditions for further generations.
by Burgin Streetman on
Oct 29, 2014 (11:00 am)
When I started out as a bookstore clerk, all I had to do was put on my name tag and step onto the sales floor to know not only that people were, in fact, reading, but also what they were reading, and who, and how much and how often.
Hand-selling was an art, and as a bookseller you were so attuned to writers and titles that just by seeing a customer flip through this book, you knew instinctively that he or she would love that book. If you loved books yourself, this form of human interaction was huge fun and left you feeling that anything was possible if you printed it on 200-something pieces of paper, bound it, and stuck it in someone’s hand. Bookselling on the ground can leave you feeling exalted and optimistic.
I often look back on my time as a bookseller and mistake that earnestness for youth. So many books, so little time . . . yeah yeah. Now, as a forty-something career woman seeing bookselling from a publisher’s standpoint, I sit with my coworkers in our silo making books and marketing authors while crunching numbers too hard and getting distracted by trends. It’s hard not to get discouraged by the publishing business from afar, even when you’re in the middle of it. Do people read books anymore? Do they even care? Oh, to be twenty-something again, unjaded and enlivened by the idea of tomorrow and the next best seller.
Then I spent a weekend selling books at the Texas Book Festival. And guess what? PEOPLE STILL READ BOOKS! And not only that; they still want to talk about them and hold them and buy them. They want to surround their children with books. They want to give them to their friends. They want to look you in the eye and tell you how much they love them.
And they want to crowd together in tents on a hot Texas day to be near them, to hear their authors speak and take home a signed copy. They want to buy one book on impulse just because it is sitting there looking well designed and tantalizing. Or a stack of books because one is never enough.
As for the Texas Book Festival, it’s easy to chalk that enthusiasm up to Austin. Austin is intellectual. It’s a reading town. But the more I listened, the more I heard places like California and Georgia and Illinois mentioned. These people were from everywhere, from all walks of life, with one thing in common: they all love books.
Just like me.