The Grays at Pollak
Pollak Vineyards, this past weekend

(I never have any good ideas for blog post titles, which is why they are always so inscrutable and senseless.)

I am looking forward to being with the family this week, but I also feel a lot of anxiety and sadness about the pending visit. I keep crying in public when people ask me about my grandparents (so, fair warning if you see me). I cried yesterday at work, in our department meeting, when our boss asked us to go around and say what we were thankful for. “My family,” I said. “And how dependable… and loving… they are…” And then I dissolved into ugly tears over free bagels.

The US political field is so ugly right now, and I am so ashamed of the surge of hatred, fear, and bigotry that the GOP candidates have inspired among the public. Whenever a candidate says anything, I visit FactCheck.org, which has become one of my sole barometers on the validity of political pronouncements. I have been astonished at how many blatant lies are circulating.

I am thankful for

  • the opportunity to be with Mom, Dad, Kelsey, Alex, Sam, Ma-Maw, and Da-Dan this week;
  • starting a Five-Year Diary;
  • sweet friends;
  • cataloging photo archives;
  • Guion, always;
  • my calligraphy studio;
  • kind colleagues and perceptive managers;
  • This American Life keeping us awake and inspired on road trips;
  • dogs who patiently wait outside the door while I nap off a migraine;
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus; and
  • a clean house.

Hope those of you in the US have a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.

Wedding outtakes

Reading Sally Mann’s excellent memoir, Hold Still, has made me feel particularly compelled to keep better photographic archives. In that vein, I finally uploaded and successfully archived our wedding photographs, which were shot by the incomparable Meredith Perdue.

It was such a delight to look back through these photos, especially the less glamorous or amusing ones that I had forgotten about. Without further ado, here are some wedding outtakes. Just because. It’s a cold, blustery November day, and looking at these pictures fills me with a sunny, Chapel Hill brand of romantic nostalgia.

Abby_and_Guion021Abby_and_Guion087Abby_and_Guion184Abby_and_Guion216Abby_and_Guion316Abby_and_Guion319Abby_and_Guion375Abby_and_Guion535Abby_and_Guion568Happy Friday!

Mysterious existences

Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, letter from Paris, 17 February 1903

Intellectual sloth

MontanaSam turns 30We went up in the mountains this weekend to celebrate non-brother-Sam’s birthday. A really lovely, much-needed time away with dear friends.

We also sit around and talk about Paris and Beirut and ISIS and the elections and fear and realize: We have no theoretical solutions. We are at a loss. (To solve the human condition?)

In light of this, Paul gave a helluva sermon yesterday, All Is Forgiven, which I recommend heartily. He speaks about the deeply, undeniably offensive nature of Christianity.

“Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.” — William F. Buckley

Waiting for @jacktarpey's visit... #pyrrhagramPyrrha doesn’t care about any of this. She just wants to know who put her on a diet.


Heading to their first home in Spartanburg, SC; Sept. 1953
My grandparents, heading to their first home together (in Spartanburg, SC), September 1953.

I’m working on a project about my maternal grandparents’ love story right now, which basically means I’ve been spending a lot of time hunched over a scanner, weeping. This photo, in particular, just wrecks me. I can’t look at it for too long or I will summarily lose it. He is so handsome and casual, and she is so adorably plucky, perched there on the hitch between that proto-U-Haul and their car.

Why does old age have to be so cruel? I am absolutely crushed by the unfairness of it all.

I think about them, and my parents, night and day, without relief.

(Somewhat related: I’ve decided that I would like to die instantaneously, in a fiery car crash, when I am 75.)

In lighter news, we are constantly grateful for what marvelous friends we have and how much they love and support us and make us laugh and inspire us. This is the main reason we have no plans for leaving Charlottesville.


We are all falling

Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park, Iceland, this June. Just because.

We are all falling. This hand’s falling too—
all have this falling sickness none withstands.
And yet there’s always One whose gentle hands
this universal falling can’t fall through.

— Rilke

Unexpectedly, owing to my grandmother’s rapidly deteriorating state and a general lack of a contingency plan, my grandparents have moved in with my parents.

Mom called me yesterday to fill me in on everything. I feel weighed down and lost and helpless about it. Mom and Dad are so boundlessly generous and took them in with no hesitation or questions asked. Mom and Dad sleep upstairs in the guest room on the double bed now. We talked and teared up for a while, and I put down the phone and felt hollow and useless.

Predictably and gratefully, Kelsey called me some minutes later (presumably after Mom had filled her in), and then we talked about our joint feeling of uselessness and schemed about how we could be helpful at Thanksgiving. Kelsey is a source of compassionate comfort and strength in hard times. I am the eldest child, but even when I was young, I relied on Kelsey perhaps more than she ever relied on me. I still feel this way and look up to her in this essential, dependent manner. I am so thankful that she and Alex are so close by (it is worth noting what a marvel it is that she married someone as compassionate and kind as herself). When I think of them, I am filled with the conviction that I could turn to them in any form of need.

Inspired by an interview I read with an author, I am keeping a five-year diary (designed by Tamara Shopshin). It is very interesting to me to note the limited phrases and sentences that come to mind, at the end of the day, that I consider necessary to record.

The lights are on

I feel totally wrecked, having just finished Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, which Wei left us (along with many other gifts) last weekend. We talked a lot about race that weekend, even though three-fourths of us were out of our depth. I feel the same way I did that night as I do now, having finished these poems: weak and weepy with frustration—frustration at myself, at cyclical injustice, at my own culpability and ignorance. What is to be done? How can we make up for all of the evil that has gone on and continued to go on in our nation’s desperate bid to maintain white supremacy?

Favorite books from October

The best things I read in October, in no particular order.

The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever. What is wrong with me that I waited so long in my life to read John Cheever? Good grief. These stories wrecked me. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more thrilling and perfect collection of short stories. They stuck with me; I think about them still all the time.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander. This came out a few years ago, but I’d still consider it vital reading for all Americans. It is shocking and grim.

Moon Tiger

Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively. Despite the title and cover, I was thoroughly enchanted by this novel, a multifaceted portrait of a British historian’s life and loves.


2666, Roberto Bolaño. I felt breathless and tired, having finished this emotionally and (literally) physically heavy novel. But also proud. And grateful.

What did you read and enjoy in October?

Short flight, free descent

Little Calf Mountain
Mussed hair, dogs, ripped jeans on Little Calf Mountain.

Upon reading the lyrics of Joanna Newsom’s new album, Divers, one is filled with an acute sense of despair and wonder. How is it fair that one woman should possess all of these gifts?

I want so badly to write this thing, this thing I have been mulling over for about a year, but I realized that I cannot write a good narrative. I don’t know how to write dialogue; I can only tell. I am afraid of mimicking the way people speak. In the same moment, I realize I am also afraid of cats, in a fundamental way. I am afraid of cats, like I am afraid of writing dialogue, because I do not understand how they work.

(I should not be blogging. I have had wine.)

I love how much my husband loves women artists. It is a rare thing in a man, I think.

I don’t think I could ever have a cat, even though I admire them from afar. For one, I abhor keeping any pet that shits in your house. For another, I mistrust an animal that has no sense of mercy.

At a recent dinner, in front of a table full of super-intelligent, beautiful, agnostic women, I admitted that I went to church on a regular basis. I felt shy and exposed, and felt like I should have stopped myself, but I was received kindly and graciously, without apparent judgment. Some of them seemed curious about this admission. We talked freely about religion and what we liked about it, what we felt it could add to our lives.

“Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we despise death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of a night and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience…”

— “The Death of Justina,” John Cheever

The world being what it is

An October morning
The backyard on an October morning.

We expect Armageddon; the Bible has trained us well. We assume either annihilation or salvation, perhaps both. Millennarian beliefs are as old as time; the apocalypse has always been at hand. People have lain quaking in their beds waiting for the year one thousand, have cowered at the passage of comets, have prayed their way through eclipses. Our particular anxieties would seem on the face of things more rational, but they have an inescapable ancestry. The notion that things go on forever is recent, and evidently too recent to attract much of a following. The world being what it is, it has always been tempting to assume that something would be done about it, sooner or later.

— Moon Tiger, Penelope Fitzgerald

Things to be happy about:

  • I am reading again, which makes me feel like myself. I am also reading with the drive to read everything that I own but haven’t read yet. This means I have a lot of formidable, giant tomes to get through (Edith Grossman’s translation of Don QuixoteBleak HouseTristram ShandyThe Charterhouse of ParmaTom JonesThe AmbassadorsThe Gulag Archipelago). Sheesh. None of those sound even remotely fun.
  • Celebrating Lulu, the bride-to-be, this weekend!
  • The weather.
  • Fumiko found a good home! Our dear friends Ethan and Hannah have adopted her into their flock. Here is a photo of her new siblings checking her out (Fumiko is the tiny one in the cage):

Introducing Fumiko to her new flockWe are hopeful that she will survive, but regardless, we are grateful for kind, generous friends, taking in our lone hen. We are going to try again with the backyard chicken gambit next year.