The writer Caity Weaver has given us many wonderful experiences about the years. The first two that come to mind are “My 14-Hour Search for the End of TGI Friday’s Endless Appetizers” and “What Is Glitter?” A new experience arrives today in the New York Times Magazine Voyages issue. The Times sends Weaver on Amtrak across the country.
I’ve always thought I’d like to take trains across the country. Every time Amtrak emails about a sale on the Auto Train, I briefly consider travel to the one spot in Florida where the Auto Train goes. Car-less, of course. The car part is expensive. The seat, cheap. Which explains why I haven’t taken that train. One seat for so long? I’d need to spend every moment of a 12-hour or 72-hour ride in an observation car, I think. And no matter how good the view is, who wants to be the man hoarding the seat?
Anyway, Weaver. My favorite moment is when the Plains meet the West.
Kansas shares a border with Colorado. I never could have imagined that I would one day say this, and I know many people will be disconcerted by the statement. They will wonder if, this whole time, they have been reading an avant-garde work of science fiction, or perhaps a Mad Lib. “Is magical realism always this scary?” they will ask themselves. Some will claim I am lying. Many will assume I am wrong, demented or a clumsy typist.
To all of whom I respond: The truth of our nation’s internal demarcations is stranger than fiction — stranger than even the kind of brilliant avant-garde science fiction I am most likely capable of producing yet choose not to. But the unvarnished fact is Colorado has to start somewhere, and for whatever reason, that’s inside Kansas.
Her line is exquisite in its loose and nervous rhythm; she can create movement with what, out of context, would be a meaningless squiggle; she can suggest by a few doodles a storm-clouded sky or the hidden recesses of a candlelit room.
The Times Literary Supplement some years ago, as quoted in the paper’s recent obituary of the original illustrator of Paddington Bear, Peggy Fortnum.
There’s more wonderful — and wonderfully human — obit writing in those pages today, in “Charles S. Hirsch, New York’s Chief Medical Examiner on 9/11, Dies at 79.”
A Times email recently reminds me 1) the paper’s TimesMachine archive of text-searchable scans exists and is free for subscribers and 2) you can plug in any day you want, like your birthday. And find this amazing above-the-fold-ness:
I’ve thought for years I should read Anne Carson’s Nox. Now, after reading the NYT Magazine profile of her, I find her absolutely fascinating. Go read it! Everyone loves a good profile even when they don’t know the person.
As an e-mail correspondent, Carson was prompt and friendly but slightly unorthodox. She wrote almost entirely in lowercase letters. Her punctuation was irregular. Some questions she answered with several hundred words, others with only one or two (“no pets”). Others she ignored altogether. Her subject lines contained only punctuation marks: an angle bracket, a comma, parentheses. She always referred to me as “SA” and signed herself “ac.” As with her published writing, some of her e-mails were so strange and interesting that reading them made me shake my head in excitement and confusion and wonder.
Here, just to give the flavor, are some excerpts from the e-mails of Anne Carson.
On writing: “we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense; every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy. i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every accuracy has to be invented. . . . i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me.”
An op-ed today: “The tortoise and the hare, the lion saved by the mouse, the monkey who would be king, the dog in the manger, the dog and his shadow, the country mouse and the city mouse, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the raven and the crow, the heron and the fish, the peacock and the crane. From where will we draw replacement similes and language?”
One of my favorite narrative alleyways… byways… whatever of the month, as New York Times Magazine writes about the Oklahoma City Thunder and talks to the team’s most famous fan, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.
As OKC’s reigning celebrity, Coyne sometimes attends Thunder games, where he sits courtside. Although he seems genuinely fond of the team, he’s not what you would call a sports aficionado. When I asked him if he followed basketball before the Thunder came to town, he had to think for a few seconds. “No,” he said. “I mean, I liked, like, the Harlem Globetrotters. Or some mythical figure like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” — and he pronounced “Jabbar” in the most amazing way, with an exotically soft “j” and several extra vowels, as if it were the name of a genie that had come drifting one morning out of his bong.
Coyne admits that at Thunder games, he doesn’t always understand what’s going on. “It’s not like a Steven Spielberg-scripted event when you’re there,” he told me. “You’re like, Well, did we win? I’m confused. Did they win? And then you look up and you’re like, Well, is the game over?”