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upcoming semester

It’s nearly residency time again! I’ll be flying out in a few weeks to meet a friend & classmate in Rochester, New York, to join her for the drive down to Buckhannon, West Virginia for the start of winter residency at West Virginian Wesleyan College. You can read about the program I’m enrolled in, if you haven’t already; and you can check out the schedule I’ll be following while I’m there, and read about the seminars I’ll be attending (along with a taste of reading I’m undertaking in the next few weeks – whew!). I am excited to be back in the fold again, with the people who more or less make sense to me and whose weird minds inspire.

Be patient with me during this holiday season, as I travel, read and write. Be patient with each other, always. And stay tuned for reviews of all that reading, and three moves I’m assigned to watch!

What’s new for you in reading and studying as 2017 comes to a close, and what does 2018 hold?

residency report

I’m sorry I missed y’all last Friday, friends. It has been madness. There are some changes underway in my personal life; but also, as you know, I’m just reentering the world again following my second residency in West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in creative writing.

Thus begins my second semester in the nonfiction track. At the beginning of this month, I spent 10 days attending seminars on subjects including poetry as protest; the life and work of James Wright; Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; writer’s block; acquiring an agent; the sonnet; and the lyric essay. I workshopped my peers’ work and heard them critique my own. I got to meet and hear from Jason Howard, Yuri Herrera, Rachael Peckham, Rahul Mehta, Jon Corcoran and Rodney Jones; and I enjoyed again the company and the work of Jessie Van Eerden, Eric Waggoner, Mary Carroll-Hackett, Kim Kupperman, Doug Van Gundy, Katie Fallon, Mesha Maren and more. My classmates are a wild, talented, weird, supportive bunch. These are the best times ever; also the most exhausting.

This semester, I’ll be working with Kim Dana Kupperman, author of I Just Lately Started Buying Wings and The Last of Her. (Also the editor of You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person and founder of Welcome Table Press.) I’m reading another 20-25 books and writing many pages myself. And in this moment, frankly, I’m a bit overwhelmed. So I’m going back to my books. Thanks for being patient with me.

reminder: new pagesofjulia coming

Time is speeding up and the lists are changing shape around here.

Husband and I and our two little dogs have just returned from one of my favorite places in the world: the deserts of far West Texas, around Big Bend National & State Parks, where we rode our mountain bikes and enjoyed sunrise views like this from our cabin.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Next we have a few days in Houston with Husband’s family and all our friends. I hope to catch a punk show in between bike rides & festivities.

And then I’m home for just a day and a half before catching two airplanes and a bus to get to West Virginia for the start of my grad program. I have been busy reading, commenting and preparing for all the hard work that will begin there on December 30. It is a hectic but joyful time!

This is just a reminder to you kind folks out there that my format will be changing a little bit. I’ll post 5 days a week through the end of the year – which is, the end of next week – and then will post just once a week on Wednesdays. Those posts may be a little shorter than usual, too, although some of them will still be full book reviews (including some for the Shelf), maybe even the odd movie review. I appreciate you all bearing with me as times and this blog change.

In the next week, you can look for my usual year-in-review and best-of-the-year posts. And then, we will all learn together what the future may hold!

Happy holidays, friends.

a few notes on driving cross-country

First, some statistics.

  • miles driven: 2999.5
  • state lines crossed: 6
  • passengers: 2 human, 2 canine
  • cargo: some 600-1,000 lbs., including
    • 1 large ceramic sculpture;
    • camping gear;
    • bedding;
    • household spillables & flammables, 1 propane tank, 2 fire extinguishers, 1 CO2 canister, guns & ammo*;
    • 1 crate of books;
    • 2 bicycles;
    • 2 suitcases per person;
    • 1 dog bed;
    • two buckets of dog food**
  • days, total: 14
  • nights, total: 13
  • nights in hotels: 4
  • mountain bike rides: 6
  • books read: 6

Glitches (inexhaustive):

  1. Moving truck broke down before it was able to load our household goods, which were then moved to storage and did not leave our town of origin for 7 days, at which time we had been on the road for 12 days. At time of writing, we are still camping out in our new home with a mattress on the floor and a patio set of table and 4 chairs. We do now have wifi.
  2. House came with stove and refrigerator, no washer/dryer. Washing machine finally delivered 2 days after purchase–did not work. Washer #2 so far seems operational.
  3. Husband woke up grumpy§ and immediately angry that one outlet, then another, then a third would not power his laptop. (He works from home.) I drove him to the local library to work from there; ran an errand, and came home to begin work myself, only to find that he has taken my laptop power cord with him to the library. Text Husband to inquire why he has taken my power cord. Long pause. “So that’s why it wasn’t working.” Turns out the outlets in our house are fine.

Funny observation:

  1. If you go to sit with the dogs in the back bedroom so they won’t bark so much while the man is here to install internet & cable, leaving Husband to deal with installation, Husband may be asked to provide answers to security questions on your shared account. One of these answers will make perfect, intuitive sense to you. One will make no sense at all. No matter: these are the answers to your security questions.

Or, in photos (as always, click to enlarge):

mountain biking with Husband and friend Pete: Redmond, OR

mountain biking with Husband and friend Pete: Redmond, OR

Snake River: Twin Falls, ID

Snake River: Twin Falls, ID

riding Porcupine Rim: Moab, UT

riding Porcupine Rim: Moab, UT

dogs, book, coffee on porch: Durango, CO

dogs, book, coffee on porch: Durango, CO

Turret Arch, looking from North Window: Arches National Park

Turret Arch, looking from North Window: Arches National Park

old dog happy in Guadalupe River: New Braunfels, TX

old dog happy in Guadalupe River: New Braunfels, TX


Quibbles aside, I recognize how extraordinarily lucky I am to have been able to make this move at all, let alone to make it in the way we did: hiring movers to take the bulk of our stuff so we could drive, slowly, just the loving four of us (Husband + dogs), to see the country on the way. Soon, we will have couches and beds and pots and pans and bookshelves again. We love our new hometown. Life is good.


*in other words, everything the movers won’t move.
**the old dog is on a prescription diet.
†thanks to friends & family!
‡including audiobooks and lit journals.
§this is standard.

personal update: on the road again

This post is a bit belated, I suppose: today is the day that Husband and I hit the road for another cross-country move! It’s been just a hair under two years since we moved from Houston to Bellingham, Washington, and now we are en route to a new home in the sweet little town of New Braunfels, Texas. Two people, two dogs and two bikes (and a big precious sculpture and a tent and sleeping bags and lots of books, etc.) in a truck, southbound.

this is two years ago in a U-Haul. but we probably look something like this. Husband says: "Truck-driving Mama and Dog as her copilot."

this is two years ago in a U-Haul. but we probably look something like this. Husband says: “Truck-driving Mama and Dog as her copilot.”

The great adventure continues, y’all.

More big news: in January I will be entering the low-residency Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing at West Virginia Wesleyan College. (Read more about that program here.) This will bring big changes in my life, and is bound to bring some changes here at pagesofjulia. For one thing, I will be cutting my work for Shelf Awareness back drastically, until I get a grasp of what the school workload looks like. It saddens me to loosen ties with the Shelf, who I adore: this is far and away my favorite job I’ve ever had (although I think of the cancer hospital library fondly). It will be important to me to keep doing what work I can for them; but we’ll just have to see what that looks like.

I will almost certainly have to cut back on posting to this blog, too. I don’t yet know what that will look like. Maybe one book review a week would be a safe goal? I can continue with the occasional teaser and book beginning; but I don’t think the 5-day-a-week format will be realistic. I haven’t worked this out yet. If you have thoughts or feelings, I’d love to know them.

In the meantime, you can picture my little family visiting friends in Bend, Oregon; family in Durango, Colorado; doing some mountain biking; visiting some national parks; and moving into a rental home with a big backyard for the dogs. I will breathe deeply, and keep reading.

Posts will continue while I’m on the road, of course, and I’ll see your comments in a timely manner as ever.

Thanks for your support, friends.

art museums: Intersections, The Infinity Machine, and the Surrealists

I made my first trip to Europe with my then-boyfriend, who had an art degree. We went to Brussels and therefore to the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. We spent 8 or 9 hours there, and I have felt an aversion to art museums ever since. (I will say that the Mauritshuis in den Haag is a nice, small art museum filled with classics, including Girl With a Pearl Earring, which is easy to get through fairly quickly and is worth the time.) Despite this aversion, on a recent visit back to Houston, I went with my mother and my “other parents” (old family friends) to a few art museums on a Friday afternoon.

We started with Intersections, by Anila Quayyum Agha, at the Rice University Art Gallery. The piece is a six-and-a-half-foot cube of laser-cut wooden cube, suspended, with a bright bulb inside, so that the pattern cut out of the cube is projected onto ceiling, floor and walls. That pattern is a complex tessellating geometric design, and a short and very worthwhile video explains that Anila Quayyum Agha was inspired by the Alhambra. As a Muslim woman in Pakistan, she was not allowed into mosques (men only) and had few experiences with their interiors, but was struck by the extraordinary beauty and creative power in the Alhambra (which she was permitted to enter as a tourist.) She also spoke of the construction of this beauty by Muslims, Christians and Jews working together, and called it a “gem” of both artistry and unity between peoples. This was the inspiration for Intersections, whose tessellations echo the tile designs at the Alhambra.

Intersections, Anila Quayyum Agha (with Karen, Susan and Bob)

Intersections, by Anila Quayyum Agha. (With Karen, Susan and Bob). Click to enlarge.

It is a work of light and shadow, geometry and projection. The images on the ceiling and floor (closer to the cube) are crisper than those on the walls (which are further away), so the effect is variable. The cube itself is a work of art (although watch out for that ~600-watt bulb within), and the shadow/light-show another layer of it. People entering the room participate, because the shadows are cast on them (us) too. It was striking and meditative, and free at the University. Good stuff.

Next, after lunch, we went to the Menil campus, and walked first over to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel to see The Infinity Machine, by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. This was an excellent counterpoint to Intersections: another room-sized installation playing with light and, in this case, reflection. Many mirrors are suspended on wires and rotate – around as one large constellation, and also in some cases individually. The room is very dark; a docent escorted us in with a flashlight to seat us on a bench until our eyes adjusted. A few lights lit the solar system of mirrors, and we suspect those lights dimmed and brightened or shut off completely or changed colors. It is hard to say, because the effect is disorienting. I had the odd feeling that different mirrors were present upon each rotation: clearly this is not the case, but the view was ever-changing and, I felt, never repeating. It was kind of intense. A soundtrack played, of NASA recordings of solar wind. Perhaps because we had just lunched at the Hobbit Cafe (always a treat), I said it sounded like the Eye of Sauron. I also thought of calling it “dark noise”: like white noise, but darker, spooky. At one point I thought Sauron was coming to get us on a train, with that characteristic clack-clack and growing whoosh. Where Intersections was light, crisp, patterned, and explicitly called for unity, The Infinity Machine was a little foreboding, even threatening – although I was very happy to experience it, and don’t mean that as a criticism. It was fascinating.

We finished with the Menil Collection building, about which I was most ambivalent, but there was a Dalí exhibit! I was enchanted by some of the artifacts in the Arctic Art collection, including a tiny statue of a bust (of a man?) with toddler on its shoulders; it was less than the height of one of my (cut-short) fingernails, and a fraction the width. I quickly browsed the “frottages and rubbings” exhibit. And then surrealism: lots of Victor Brauner and Max Ernest, several Joseph Cornell boxes (an exhibit of whose work first took me to the Menil, in high school), a few Picassos, and oh, Rene Magritte. I love him – although I didn’t feel he fit perfectly in this collection. His images are so crisp and hyper-real, even if they do float in the wrong places. Dalí’s Eggs on a Plate Without the Plate centered this exhibit, which was entitled “The Secret of the Hanging Egg.” But my favorite piece was The Hunted Sky by Yves Tanguy, which transfixed me. I wish I had a full-size print of that in my home to continue to consider, because I feel like I need more time. (You can look it up online but those images do no justice.)

Still, overall and by comparison, I moved through the Menil Collection quickly; I think the room-sized installations are more generally my speed than rooms filled with paintings. But this was a remarkable experience all around. I normally make it into an art museum every year or so, or less often, and generally at my mother’s side (I try to be good-natured about it, she doesn’t drag me). Today’s visit was at least as rewarding as any I can recall. If you find yourself in the neighborhood of either of these big installations, definitely check them out. Everything we saw was free, too (great job, Houston!), so take advantage!


Rating: 9 reflected or projected tones of light.

Atlas of Cursed Places by Olivier Le Carrer

Sailor Olivier Le Carrer guides readers on an enticing tour of frightening places around the world, with maps and pictures.

atlas cursed places

Olivier Le Carrer’s Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations profiles 40 locations around the world, so that tourists may avoid risk and the adventurous may be satisfied that “many mysterious places remain to be explored and understood.” In his introduction, which recognizes Adam and Eve as the origination of curses, he describes these spots as falling into three categories: spiritual or paranormal curses; natural hazards; and human-caused threats. Le Carrer, a sailor, then sorts them by the oceans they lie nearest.

Historic religious conflicts qualify Gaza and Jerusalem: of the latter, Le Carrer writes that “mankind is capable of transforming even the most beautiful holy stories into a nightmare.” Other places are cursed by animal activity, as with Kasanka National Park in Zambia, where five million fruit bats descend annually, and Cape York in Queensland, Australia, where crocodiles reach 17 feet in length and live alongside eight of the 10 most dangerous snakes in the world. Le Carrer’s attitude toward his subjects varies, as he addresses the Bermuda Triangle rationally (“people navigate the area every day without incident, and there are often logical explanations for any incident”) but concludes mysteriously of Area 51 that “accursed nature strikes again.”

Le Carrer’s descriptions of place are designed to entertain and comfortably frighten his readers. His brief, playful evocations are accompanied by historical maps and period illustrations in this large-format book, which will please travelers and trivia fans alike.


This review originally ran in the – issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 possible explanations.
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