Saturday, April 28, 2012

Overcome with light

You may think that this has little to do with my prolonged absence, but let us talk books for a moment, no really, indulge me, it's been a long time.

Each generation, it seems, has a few authors, a few "Great American Novels" that perfectly embody its moment in history. The roaring 1920s had Fitzgerald,  the Great Depression had Steinbeck, The Lost Generation had Hemingway, the 50s malcontents had Salinger and Kerouac and so on.

Sometimes their greatness is chic, obvious in the very moment, sometimes legible only in hindsight. Some remain famous, while others fade into history.

If you're interested in literature it is only natural to try to keep an eye out for who the voice of your generation might be, even if it is impossible to tell until the requisite, if undefined amount of time has passed. Personally, I've had a feeling (since I read almost exclusively women) that the-times-they-are-a-changing, that perhaps it could be someone like Nicole Krauss, Rivka Galchen, Karen Russell, Julie Orringer, or...Lauren Groff. 

So while it might be ill-advised to make such predictions of something only published mere weeks ago, I'm gonna go ahead and proclaim that Lauren Groff's Arcadia should be the novel that defines this decade and possibly even her generation.

In one fell swoop, Groff gathers together such disparate strands as the 70s commune movement, the original back-to-the-landers that many of us now follow, global climate change, the human change as a result of the internet, the impending sense of doom, the hollowness and vulnerability of our times and the inexplicable hope in the face of unfathomable adversity. Arcadia is a seminal novel for this moment, capturing everything about it in pale, golden light.

Perhaps it should be said that I may be a little biased. 

I did not read a lot of fiction last year. In fact, for me, I read almost none. Five maybe, six books, most of them entirely forgettable. The only two novels that meant anything were gifts from bloggy friends. Cold Mountain from Amber and Into The Forest from Missa, both gorgeous novels, both devastating and hopeful in turns. Both about two women trying to survive in circumstances where normalcy has been suspended. There are other comparisons too, but I don't want to ruin the experience for those of you who have not had the pleasure yet. Just go and read them already.


And I guess I should disclose that I am quite the Lauren Groff fan-girl and have been following her career since the publication of her excellent short story Lucky Chow Fun  in Ploughshares six years ago.

In fact, the first post I ever wrote was about my inability to hold off buying her first novel The Monsters Of Templeton, which was good, but didn't quite live up to the promise of her short stories. Interestingly enough, even her short story collection didn't quite live up to the promise of her short stories. Honestly, after devouring tales like the aforementioned LCF,  Ausbund, Viaticum and Above and Below, I kept waiting for the pay-off, the full flowering of her talent. And boy, is Arcadia ever the mother lode.

Future literary students will be able to identify in it all the classic hallmarks Groffism: the way epidemics shape human lives from Viaticum and L. Debard and Aliette, the doomed, tender love affairs of, oh every character she's ever written in love, the almost clairvoyantly sensitive child's perspective, the gentle people of Ausbund, people wandering out of their lives like the nameless main character in Above and Below, and a personal Groff hallmark- the technology fast.

Every year Ms. Groff disconnects herself from the internet, her computer, the world a-chatter-with calamities and intimacies, a process that she says she greatly enjoys, and after my unplanned one month hiatus, I can only agree with her. 

In the month I've spent mostly offline, mostly without a phone, ipod lost, computers and DVD players not available, I've read every precious spare moment. I've concentrated on the present, the immediate. That's not to say I didn't miss many things from this world, only that the absence makes the heart grow fonder and perhaps more cautious.

Here I am though, at the bus, cat-sitting my own cat. The perfect crime, I think.
The drawback of an internet fast is of course that I have a whole months worth of posts unwritten. April, you see, is not the cruelest month, but rather sweet and the sweetest thing about it for us was going to Seattle to see the Bowerbirds with the Kid.
It was C.'s mom's birthday and his sister J. was in town for the last time for a while. She's moving to San Francisco-another reason to visit beautiful Northern Cali!

We had dinner with the family and then headed out. Though actually, before the dinner we went and had drinks at a Tiki bar in downtown Seattle, a completely surreal experience. The bartender was so bored he ended up buying us a round of drinks and it turned out that he too was going to the show. It's a small town after all, if not quite as small as some; Mali and I kept making comments about how "our bar" closed before the happy hour at the Tiki bar was even over and the guy was like "You guys own a bar?" "No," we said "it's just that there's only one bar where we live."

You can't tell we're from the country, right?
The show was at The Crocodile, where I'd never been before, but it was a sweet venue. Needless to say we all go a little drunkie-spice. It is our custom after all.
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In addition to an in-house pizza oven the Crocodile also had some blog-appropriate decor. I also like the artwork next to the bear. It says "Be Aloof! The World could use more loofs!". Needless to say that the Seattle concert-goers weren't exactly movers and shakers.
I wore one of my three new favorite dresses. This one came from Smock-top, who found it on her travels. It definitely goes on the permanent collection once I get my frocks back.  You'll be seeing the other two in subsequent posts.
 Damn if these band names didn't make me feel old. Who names their band "Tennis'?!? Kids these days...
I need to keep better taps on what bands come to play in Seattle, there are some cool ones I've missed on this wall.

And speaking of cool bands not to be missed; I don't want sound too bossy about what you should read, or listen to, but I'd recommend you check out Dry The River, who were the opening band. Those boys are gonna be big.        

Ethereal vocal harmonies, aggressive guitars, a lead singer who looks like a young Kurt Cobain...need I say more?
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 They had such a great energy it really made me wish Seattle hipsters danced. Hopefully we'll get to see them again some day. The band, not the hipsters.
 These guys are stoked to see a girl play the accordion! Or are they just drukie-spice? It's hard to tell at this point.
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And accordion she did play.
Sister and I continued another ancient gig going tradition, in lieu of dancing.
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Phill's voice is completely hypnotizing. There's so much emotion in it that listening to them, live or on record, is a kind of a spiritual experience. Hear for yourself.  

I wasn't the only one complaining about the rigidness of the crowd. While in the bathroom between the songs, I heard these two awesome girls declaring the same thing. So what did we do about it, you ask? Made a pact to run out to the floor and dance our hearts out. 
It was an impressive dance floor of about five.
The girls who's names I never caught were from Tacoma, which instantly became a far cooler place in my eyes. I guess it just goes to show that there are like-minded folks everywhere and it's good to talk to strangers.

Just like C. did. I think he's trying to convince Phill to come play on the Islands. I think they'd really love it here, actually. Hopefully C. was persuasive, eh? One of the things I love about my hubby is that since he's completely unpretentious himself, he has no qualms about talking (or not talking) to anyone. I always choke up when I'm talking to someone I admire, but he just treats it like another conversation.
Since all good things have to come to an end, we headed out into the moonlit streets, or more precisely Dick's-a local burger joint legend and downed some fries and milkshakes. 

We shall return shortly. Now go read books!


  1. Your April travels and reading list looks lovely. And as for the non-dancing Seattle hipster, I say screw 'em. Dancing is a primal instinct and if they can't fully enjoy good music because of massive insecurities, then it's their loss. (But for the record - I saw Bowerbirds in DC a month ago and my friends and I were one of only a handful dancing..).


    1. Yayay your dancing shoes! I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to your email yet, BUT I look forward to seeing you when you get here. It'll only be a hop and skip and a ferry ride away. Stoked to meet ya. Maybe we'll dance at

    2. Doe bay I was gonna say...

  2. The last time I was at the Crocodile was when I saw Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and my friend and I were the only ones dancing! The band actually approached us and thanked us for looking so happy! Sometime later, after phone numbers were exchanged, we all ended up at a strip club in Portland. But that's another story...

    Thank you for the reading recommendations. As far as a "voice of a generation," have you seen anything by Lena Dunham? I may just be a sucker for dry humor and quick wit, but as a twentysomething living in the city, trying to navigate life, I feel she captures it all (dating dunces, low paying jobs, etc.) with aplomb that would seem naive coming from almost anyone else. Almost the opposite of Groff, I suppose, because her content is very much focused on the city.

    1. I love Lena Dunham and actually feel very empowered by her career. She's part of this awesome pack of female film/tv makers that I hoped and prayed would appear all through my college career.

      On a completely different note just looking at these comments I think that we should try to organize a Washington coast meet-up. After all these years of bonding with California girls, I'm so stoked to get to know some ladies closer to home.

  3. That show looks so awesome!! I love the Crocodile! I am so behind on all the music now that I'm a mama, and I realize I oughtta pay more attention - there's some awesome bands out there, after all.
    Good for you for getting the dancing going! I wish our hipsters would loosen up and dance. What's with kids these days? ;) At least back in the 90's everybody jumped around and bumped into each other and stuff!

    1. I know right! 90s was very uninhibited in that way. I keep dreamin' that someday I'll have 90s themed birthday shindig and dance with reckless abandon to the hits of my youth. Hope you'll be there too ;)
      oh and see my comment above to Nicole. Whaddya think?

  4. I'm very excited about reading Arcadia. I keep hearing great things about it. I was slightly disappointed with Monsters of Templeton, but still, it contained enough beautiful, heart skipping passages that I know there is a great writer in there! I need to read the short stories...
    I've also had Into the Forest on my list for ages! I need to get on that!
    I'm glad you met cool people from Tacoma at the concert because that is where I live and I think its pretty nice myself. ;-)
    I love hearing about your concert rituals. I saw Jeff Magnum (Neutral Milk Hotel)a couple weeks ago and it was a peek Life Moment. No dancing, but lots of crowd singing-along and it was so beautiful to be a part of!
    Happy spring to you! It was great to see you post again!

    1. Okay so Tacoma's cool points are on the up and up in my book. I bet you'll love Into The Forest, speakin' of books. And see my comment above to Nicole, let's make a meet-up up?

    2. I just finished Arcadia the other night and returned here to re-read this post. I would LOVE to get together for a Washington meet-up! I'm trying to get back to blogging myself because I'm realizing more and more how much I miss connecting with people I have "meet" in this way. (Also: Arcadia was just amazing. I loved it so very much.) Happy Summer Solstice!

  5. I was to go to that show but ended up unable to find a sitter. Honey, I know, most people in seattle are too insecure to dance. there are some dancey types but generally not at the croc... oh well. I LOVE LOVE LOVED cold mountain!! such a wonderful and magical book! xo m

  6. Well I certainly have little choice about that! I will have to get that book, and the title brings me back to the The Pyrennees.
    It is so lovely to be back reading your blog again, and boy do you make me smile Milla. I have had such a busy few months, such a determined and hard working lassie, that I have hardly had time to swing by to your world and see what completely magic thing you are up to.
    I have moved blogs and am rebuilding my little nest now over here now

    xx E

  7. I just finished Arcadia last night. I didn't want it to end!

  8. books and music, yay! i'll check out your recommendations, i need something new to read and considering i NEVER read anything current it will be a nice change. btw- so glad you posted, i missed you!!!

  9. so good to see you back and wearing clothes again :) ha ha!

    i agree a disconnect is always so refreshing. I really want to reconnect with my fictive literary self this summer :) awww summer!