Staying The Same

My birthday today, and I sorta just like the same things as always: My family, books, teaching, rivers, camping, poetry, great stories, and this place – The Columns, Eugene, Oregon (@jskorty pic):

climbing poster Columns

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Happy Birthday, Toni Morrison

It is Toni Morrison’s 88th birthday today, February 18th. Hard to believe that she’s 88, but we all march toward death – the unavoidable – and hopefully she won’t go soon.

My favorite Toni Morrison novels in order:

  1. A Mercy (I know this is a controversial choice, but I’ve read it four times and I know what I know)
  2. Beloved (Pulitzer Prize, 1988)
  3. Song Of Solomon (National Book Critics Circle Award, 1977)

On writing novels, Morrison once famously said, “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Thank goodness that she chose to write rather than continuing as a book editor. Her work on other writers’ novels would never have equaled her ability as a writer.

Also:

Dear Ms. Morrison,

If you would like to get together and talk about writing, I would love to drink coffee or tea with you.

Please contact me through my agent (or directly here at this website).

Thank you.

Love,

Don Pedro

Watching Scary Movies – One Of The Things I’m Not Good At

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When I was 15, I went over to a friend’s house where a group of us were gathering to watch a scary movie on his big-screen TV. The group consisted of girls and boys. There was a lot of junk food in the house. We’d have fun, watch something slightly horrifying, maybe even cuddle with someone we liked?

It was gonna be a great night.

The only problem was the movie: The Silence Of The Lambs (Tomatometer of 96% and Audience Score of 95%). It SHOULD have been a great movie. Everyone said it was a great movie. People even said it might win an Oscar. But to be honest, I hated it. And to be completely honest, I didn’t finish it.

Halfway through the movie – when I was scared out of my mind – I took a break and went into the kitchen. I ate a few chips out of a bowl. Then I ate some Red Vines. Then I walked to the bathroom and washed my face. After that, I stared into the mirror for about five minutes.

Then I slid back into the kitchen and snuck out of the house, down the driveway, and walked all the way home.

I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving and I didn’t call my parents for a ride. I needed some fresh air and some alone time. I needed to NOT watch a scary-as-fuck movie with some concepts that I didn’t want to visualize ever again.

So I walked home, went out onto my back deck and lay there, staring at the sky. The stars calmed me down after an hour or so, and I felt a little bit better about the world.

Then I was able to go to sleep…sort of…with nightmares all night long.

And the thing is, I didn’t learn to like scary movies later. In fact, I’ve never learned to like them, and I probably never will.

To add insult to injury, everyone always tells me that “The Silence Of The Lambs” isn’t even a horror movie. They always say, “Dude, that’s a thriller. That’s not a horror movie. Have you ever watched an actual horror movie?”

But to me, “The Silence Of The Lambs” was horrifying. Therefore that movie counts as ‘horror’ in my book.

So I’ve never watched an actual horror movie. Never watched something technically categorized as ‘Horror’ (by peopled who like to categorize such things). And the idea of watching something like “Saw” or “The Ring”? Uh, no thanks.

I’ve watched a few thrillers, and those were definitely movies at my threshold. They were as scary as I could handle, and sometimes I can’t even handle movies in that category.

A couple of years ago my older daughter, Rain – who, like most teens, enjoys scary movies – showed me an Australian thriller that she thought was pretty good. Well, to be honest, she showed me half of an Australian thriller that she thought was pretty good. Because halfway through – in the midst of some humans doing HORRIBLE things to other humans – I got up and went to the bathroom.

But Rain knows me well enough to read my face, so she followed me, knocked on the bathroom door, and said, “Hey, Dad, are you okay?”

I opened the door and said, “Uh…the thing is, my stomach hurts a little bit?”

“Do you want us to turn this movie off?” She patted my back.

“No, no, I’m fine,” I said. “It’s really good.”

“Dad,” she said, “I’ve already seen it. Do you want to stop watching it?”

“Would that be okay?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s fine.”

So we stopped watching the Australian thriller. And I never actually gone back to it.

I’ve continued to not watch scary movies. In fact, I’m getting really, really good at not watching scary movies.

 

Driving Fast – One Of The Things I’m Not Good At

I know I’m supposed to be good at driving fast. I mean, I’m a man, right?

But the thing is…

I don’t like to drive fast. I don’t enjoy it in the city. I don’t enjoy it on a rural highway. And – to be completely honest – I don’t even like driving fast on the interstate (for example, on I-5, where everyone is supposed to drive like a homicidal maniac).

When my friend Ben Temple drives with me, I can feel it killing him. I can sense his sideways glances, his not-so-subtle checks of my speedometer. Or when I’m driving my daughter Rain somewhere, she often says, “Uh, dad, you’re going 28 in a 35.”

That’s right. I’m that guy.

So I try to drive a little faster, to make people happy. I try driving ALL THE WAY UP TO THE SPEED LIMIT sometimes. And on freeways, I sometimes go over. But I don’t enjoy the experience at all.

Honestly, I’d prefer to drive 25 or 30 almost everywhere. I mean – when you think about it – that’s still pretty fast, right? It’s faster than I can sprint. Faster than most humans can bike. And I looked it up, that’s as fast as a horse runs. So going 30 miles per hour is like being on a horse going FULL SPEED, but for longer than a horse could ever go full speed!

Also, I kind of like looking around and relaxing while I drive. I like to notice the types of trees I’m passing, the water level of the river passing under the bridge, how many crows are in a field, and if there are any red-tail hawks on any of the fence-posts.

I realize that my style of driving is not popular. People complain about it. People honk at me. They ride my bumper. They flip me off. Often, people do all three of those things even if I’m driving the speed limit – say, 25 in a 25.

When my wife asked me what I was typing right now, I said, “I decided to write about some things that I’m not good at.”

She said, “Like what?”

“Well,” I said, “like driving fast.”

“Oh yeah,” she said, “you’re not good at that. You’re really not good at that.”

Rest In Peace, Mary Oliver

Photograph of Mary Oliver raising a glass at her home, Pembroke Lodge, Richmond [1930s] by Eileen Agar 1899-1991

Although Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, she was never respected by serious critics the way she deserved. For example, she was never given a full-length review by The New York Times. She earned a full-length review from the Times but did not receive one.

To be clear though, Oliver wouldn’t have cared about this. She wasn’t in love with mere things. Instead, she loved the natural world, geese, the sun, grasshoppers, and – of course – her dogs (I’ve gone through her poems and attempted to count her dog companions, and it’s impossible. She rescued too many to count).

Mary Oliver passed away today at the age of 83. What she left behind is incredible.

For people who don’t know much of her work, here’s a short poem called “Praying”:

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

– Mary Oliver

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And for readers who don’t know her work at all, here is her most famous poem:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver