Category: Favorite things

Favorite thing : A.S. King

I’ve been moving. Again. This is my fourth house in as many years, and hopefully the last for a good long while since I bought it. Touching all my things is gross. That whole Marie Conde thing about needing all your belongings to bring you joy?

If I followed that rule I would own nothing.

Things. Ugh.

Moving means no time. Boxes to unpack and phone calls to make and things to organize, but hours for lounging with a book? No. My inner voice gets loud and cranky when I don’t read. It complains. In two weeks I managed to read a single book: Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King.

I first discovered A.S. King while in grad school. I posted on FB that I wanted to make out with the book. I have continued to feel that way about every single book of hers I’ve read, and I’ve read all but her very first. As a writer, the thing I appreciate most about her is what I’ll call her not give a fuckness. In Vera Dietz I fell in love with her character Charlie who appears mostly as a ghost. Not just one ghost. A million ghosts. I remember being breathless because if you’ve lost someone with whom you had unfinished business, it does feel like there are a million ghosts following you around. You are that haunted.

For me, her ability to bend and extend reality while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground is a skill that is both inspiring and hard to conceptualize. What I mean is as a writer she does what she wants. I picture her with a deadpan expression on her face while people try to explain to her why her books might not be accessible or marketable or whatever. I imagine her beaming calm expletives in their direction. I imagine my daughter and the look she had as she tore through Glory O’Brien and I am so glad Amy has persisted because now the information she imparts in her books is available to my child. It’s available to me. 

I am not particularly a fan of going off in someone’s trippy version of reality. I don’t like being dragged into masturbatory weirdness. Yet she manages to insist on things that are impossible, that are there for a reason, and make you consider all sorts of difficult questions and never feel like you’re in anything but the surest of hands. You can call what she does surreal. But I think of it more as simply doing what she wants when she wants to with the story. I think her books are more than surreal. They’re hyper-real. They are the physical manifestations of emotion. They are what’s actually going on.

In Still Life With Tornado, when her MC Sarah starts appearing to herself at various stages of life, as a writer I actually experience fear, like I’m dangling off a bridge. That kind of boldness? As a writer you know the insane amount of guts it takes to dare a leap like that. Then the stomach twist as I acknowledge each stage of life and the things I know about myself and about processing trauma. My throat goes dry. My eyes fill. And then she simply continues on in her blunt, matter-of-fact way in the rest of her story, her short, repetitive, staccato sentences cut and rip at any bullshit you’ve ever told yourself. She slices at it. It’s as intense as the beach burn Sarah gets on her Mexican vacation. No balm though. Not until the end.

I could open any book of hers to any page and know it’s her. I can open any book of hers and know I will come away from it a little more hurt, perhaps, but also with a little less bullshit on me, maybe one more toxic layer peeled off. I might need a bunch of aloe to recover, but I’ll take that heavy dose of sun any day.


Favorite Thing: Little Rock Central High School

I geeked out when I found out I would be going to Little Rock Central High School, which spans four city blocks, and when it was built in 1927 for 1.5 million dollars was considered the most architecturally beautiful school in the country. I knew about the Little Rock Nine and had seen the pictures of them walking into the school, surrounded by police and of course, awful, racist people. There is something about the Civil Rights Movement that gets me right in the gut.

I thought I would be walking in to a school immune to its own history, hardened by time, oblivious. I had to remind myself, these are just kids going to school. They don’t walk in thinking OMG I am going to school here, at the site of such monumental shifts in social consciousness and law.

And there is some truth to that, though my presence seemed to bring that pride and awareness to the fore (all my gawking probably helped with that). I don’t want to romanticize my experience, but I found the students to be intelligent, engaged, beautiful, and I even heard poems from students named Jamese and Theo (what’s up, best moderator ever) that made me clutch at my heart and I’m not even just being nice.

And they did seem to know they were somewhere special, even though they groaned when I asked them what they thought of Little Rock.

Isn’t everyone dying to escape their home town?

At my visit, I didn’t say much of anything important, nothing worthy of the space, just tried to share a little about writing and reading. It’s true, those students go to school there probably without giving much thought to the pictures of the Little Rock Nine in the entryway, or the original windows and cabinetry, or the fact that they have a few incredible librarians dedicated to archiving and discovering even more about the school’s history.

After my visit with the students, one of the librarians, Claudia, took me around the school, having warned me to bring my walking shoes. I didn’t stop taking pictures. Then the head librarian, Stella, took me to the Central High School museum (Taos High does NOT have a museum), and to see Carlotta’s (one of the nine) house where the side was blown open by a Molotov Cocktail just before she graduated. Think about that. They had to go to school knowing their lives were in danger just by walking through the door.

I was extra-awake that whole day, knowing I might not stand there again, in a place at the center of so much evil and so much bravery. It is important to stand in those places and pay tribute to the people who risked everything, whether they would have chosen to or not. It makes you feel as good about humanity as bad, sits you right into reality, uncomfortable and beautiful as it is. The human spirit is no joke.

It happens there was a This American Life on the subject that same week. Check out the middle story here, if you’re interested.

Meantime, Central High is definitely my favorite for the week: for its rich history, its curious and open librarians and kids, and its spectacular now.