Blinding Gold

“A kind of light burned within me.” – Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book 2

I have five pages left of My Struggle: Book 2. I will board a plane for Canada in a few minutes.

Had I not, simultaneously, become obsessed with Sally Mann’s photographic memoir, Hold Still, My Struggle: Book 2 would have been completed by now.

In need of traveling light, a thought comes before I enter the airport. Yes, of course -tear out the final pages – no matter how sacrilegious it might seem. My copy is already battered.

One night, late, I enjoy a glass of wine while reading Book 2. I lounge on the couch, read a few pages and then whoosh – sleep. The old vine Zinfandel makes maroon Rorschach stains on page after page.

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Another day, while checking out books at the library, the entire contents of my son’s water bottle spills and heavily soaks a quarter of the book. I pull it out of my bag, make sure to point out to the librarian, “This is a book from home,” and then because I can’t stop there I say, “It’s one of the greatest books I have ever read. I love them so much and the library doesn’t have them, only four have been translated so far.” She hands me a paper towel, says, “It’s the kind of book people wouldn’t check out here.”

Once home, I open up my adored book like a fan and place it on the deck, the off white newsprint pages splayed so the light can reflect off them. Some of the wine has washed away, transparent violet watercolors fade in the sun.P1130116

In the end, I simply forget to tear out the pages at the last minute. I will now carry a five-hundred and ninety-two page, mostly completed, book on my back during a week of travel in Canada and realize it as I place my mahogany leather boots on the conveyor belt at security check where I am felt up by a woman with a Russian accent. When I question the necessity of this, she points at her evidence, an x-ray of my body – a yellow blip marks one breast.P1130135

Disconcerted, I pick up my backpack at the other end of the conveyor belt and feel relief and comfort already by the weight of My Struggle: Book 2’s nearly six-hundred pages, knowing it’s with me, knowing I can disappear into it and take refuge in the heights of Knausgaard’s passages which knock me like a wave and suck me into their undercurrents.

I then carefully place my laptop back in the backpack and watch, out of the corner of my eye, each body behind me, robotically, go through the motions: shoes off, jackets off, belts off – a river of disheveled humans passing unevenly through gates.

Were the next Walt Whitman in this line, or wandering the halls of the airport or waiting for his/her flight – I’d like to think I would notice him or her standing out from the crowd – bright-eyed, thinking something privately to him/herself, ruminating deeply on some topic, face not epically cast down, illuminated by a handheld screen in the terminal, but facing toward the world, alert and awake, eager to make eye contact with another human being who has chosen to step off the electricity powered walkway and take notice now and then of the natural light outside the vacuum sealed windows.

On the first leg of my flight, I finish the rest of the book before the plane lands. A tear, held captive on the surface of my eye, wavers. I’m moved by the book’s conclusion and totality, but also I’m away from my son for the first time and alone for the first time since I gave birth to him.

My impulse to wake at his subtlest note in the night will have no purpose for a week. I don’t know where these instincts will take me left to flounder. The image of a fish, without the luxury of arms and legs, violently thrashing and flapping its entire body on land comes to mind – the desperate act of being driven toward water.

Barely gone, but 30,000 feet above the earth where he plays, where he puts the magnetic pieces of his wooden train cars together, I already feel a stabbing, tugging ache like the prick and release of a needle.

Alone, even the seats beside me vacant, I look out the window of the plane. I see a circular rainbow form around the sun while it remains obscured by clouds. Then later the sun, as it begins its ritual descent, illuminates the uppermost cloud cover, shadowing its undulations in blinding gold.087

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Nietzsche 101 for Toddlers

Karl Ove and NietzscheMy two-year-old saw The Portable Nietzsche beside my bed, which bares Nietzsche’s image on its cover, and asked, “This, Karl?” (referring to our previous conversations about writer Karl Ove Knausgaard). Not expecting the question, I laughed abruptly, “No,” I said, “This is Nietzsche.”

“Oooooh, Nietzsche,” he said as if he knew exactly who Nietzsche is, and now clearly recognized him, which made me laugh more.

So our first conversation about Nietzsche, it turns out, is when you are two, I think to myself.

He belted out the name, “Neeee-chuuuuh!” a few more times because this new recitation brought pleasure to his lips, mouth and vocal chords, but also because he could tell how much it amused me.

Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Ove Knausgaard: a resemblance?

Then I see what I had never noticed before, which my son in an instant must have recognized: on the book covers of The Portable Nietzsche and My Struggle: Book Two both men are photographed in black and white, both look with heads turned completely to the west with a determined, pensive gaze; both have their right arm lifted. Nietzsche rests his head on his hand, propped up on bent elbow like Rodin’s The Thinker; Karl Ove’s arm, and bent elbow, is lifted to bring a cigarette to his lips. Nietzsche has an impressive thick wooly mustache, and Karl Ove a modest beard. They both have tasseled hair because when you are a person who prioritizes, above all else, thinking and writing it will always take precedence over making sure each hair remains in place.

A couple weeks later we are traveling in Boulder, Colorado. I unpack my bags, set a couple books beside my bed, including My Struggle: Book Two of course.

Seeing this my son said, “Oh, Karl!” and then, “Where’s Nietzsche?”

“Nietzsche didn’t come with us to Colorado.”

“Oh, okay.”

And then uncontrollable joy comes over me and laughter that makes me rush to him, scoop him into my arms, squeeze him and kiss his luscious cheeks over and over again. A huge smile of confidence, half aware of his cleverness and how pleased I am with him, lights up his entire face.

Yes my dear, dear, boy, Nietzsche didn’t come with us to Colorado.

Karl Ove’s Spring

I just finished reading My Struggle: Book I by Karl Ove Knausgaard. The novel sat beside my bed and traveled everywhere with me for the past month, from Asheville to Key Biscayne, Miami to Los Angeles, and West Hollywood back to Asheville. My son, not yet two, would sometimes look at the book and ask, “This man?” Karl Ove’s intense searing eyes looking back at us, from the book cover, complex and mysterious, like every moment he had lived and every word he had scribed, every struggle, both significant and mundane as well as every cigarette he had chain-smoked, was written into a map on his face. “This man is Karl Ove,” I would say almost proudly, with an air of he is someone important, just one of the greatest writers of the twenty-first century! Eventually I would just hold up the book for him and say, “Who is this?” and he would say, “Karl,” as if Karl was a good friend of ours. It never ceased to amuse me.

Karl or his novel, the first in a six-part series (four volumes published in the U.S. so far), felt like a good friend to me as I read it. It has been quite a while since I have fallen-in-love with a “novel” and it feels good to be in-love with one again. Spring is the perfect mise-en-scene for such sentiments, as it is here in one of my favorite passages from the novel. The “character” Karl Ove, as a teenager, has fallen in-love for the first time, simultaneously spring is unfolding in his hometown in Norway:

“Few things are harder to visualize than that a cold, snow-bound landscape, so marrow chillingly quiet and lifeless, will, within mere months, be green and lush and warm, quivering with all manner of life, from birds warbling and flying through the trees to swarms of insects hanging in scattered clusters in the air. Nothing in the winter landscape presages the scent of sun-warmed heather and moss, trees bursting with sap and thawed lakes ready for spring and summer, nothing presages the feeling of freedom that can come over you when the only white that can be seen is the clouds gliding across the blue sky above the blue water of the rivers gently flowing down to the sea, the perfect, smooth, cool surface, broken now by rocks, rapids, and bathing bodies . . . One evening in March the snow turns to rain, and the piles of snow collapse. One morning in April there are buds on the trees, and there is a trace of green in the yellow grass. Daffodils appear, white and blue anemones too. Then the warm air stands like a pillar among the trees on the slopes. On sunny inclines buds have burst, here and there cherry trees are in blossom.”