The Book of/from the Sky

Oh my goodness, the written word. But what if it is made to mean nothing? 

In China, a person is literate if she can read 4,000 characters. So artist Xu Bing invented 4,000 “fake” characters to render a person illiterate. 

He spent four years making his installation, pictured above, and now on display at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. Xu’s “Book from the Sky” embraces traditional Chinese bookprinting techniques but creates an illegible text. The result is nevertheless a clear memo: meaning lies somewhere beyond the word, the word exists beyond meaning, the relationship between a word and its meaning is not monogamous. 

For Xu, they are, in fact, divorced but still very much in love. 

For My Birthday, Synchronicity

Today, 35 years ago, I was born. To celebrate my birthday, I wanted to discover someplace random, easy-to-get-to, young, intriguing and fun. Someplace like Austin, Texas. 

For weeks and without much formal thought, I let the idea float in my mind. Then the universe began to emit signs. First, my credit card sent an email with hotel promotions in Austin. As an avid unsubscriber, I am not quite sure how the flyer got in my inbox. Then, my parents announced they would be in my hometown for my birthday, allowing my husband and I to leave our two babies. 

Without even googling the weather, I got our tickets to Austin. Who even knew Austin is the capital of Don’t Mess with Texas? 

Last night, standing in front of our hotel room, I froze. We’d been put in room 629, my birthdate. Shortly after, our dinner search resulted in one clear winner: Elizabeth Street, which served peanut sauce, my favorite food. Elizabeth Street also happens to be the name of the NYC street I lived on after college, the place where my husband and I officially began our story during a weekend snowstorm. 

As I poured peanut sauce over organic tofu, my husband asked me what all these signs meant. Basically, I said, it’s like in the “Bourne Ultimatum” when Jason lands in New York without anyone knowing except for CIA agent Pam Landy, and she sends him a message over the airport loudspeaker letting him know she is with him, she is on his side. 

After some of the most challenging months of my life, I read these signs as a message from my cosmic Pam Landy letting me know that I am on the right path. 

It is, no doubt, a birthday gift — this certainty that the universe is conspiring with me. This Texan message saying: “Howdy, child, do not be afraid to maintain your stride.”

Mid-Year Resolution

It’s almost impossible for me not to finish a book once I start it. No matter how dull, poorly written, unecessary it is. 

But I am making a mid-year resolution to ditch bad books. Reading hours are far too precious to spend them reading anything less than spectacular. 

And so I say good bye to Rosa Montero’s “Dictadoras,” on the lovers of history’s most evil men, and say HELLO to “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith. After the first chapter on Stalin, I confirmed that “Dictadoras” is unduly unimportant. Plus, I’ve been meaning to read Smith’s debut novel since college. 

More to follow. 

Dora, the Dictadora

About to hop on a flight with this read on the women who loved the world’s worst men, written by Spanish uber journalist Rosa Montero, whom I saw speak at the Cartagena Hay Festival a few years back. 

In “Dictadoras,” Montero digs deep to pile new dirt on the wives and girlfriends who warmed the beds of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and Franco. 

If the book sounds gossip-y, it is because it is, as are most well-researched history books. 

In fact, I truly think that the reason why historical fiction has become such a popular genre is that it is a veiled form of juicy gossip.  

Maybe reading about Cleopatra’s lovers can teach us about strategy, perserverance, fragility, the timeless nature of tragic love. But, it also just teaches us about Cleopatra’s lovelife, which was scan-da-lous. Because Cleopatra is a historical headline, though, reading about her hot sex becomes a legitimate intellectual persuit.  
And, so, legitimately, I plan on enriching my intellect with the real-life, true story of Stalin’s numerous, illegitimate early mornings. 

El viaje de Borja


Tomorrow is May 20th. A day I’ve been dreading because it is the last day to pre-order my book mid-life. Since pre-sales determine how many books will be published, tomorrow matters.

If any of you out there had any intention whatsoever of purchasing my book of poems, I would truly appreciate it if you did so before end of day tomorrow. Although the publishing house keeps all the sales proceeds, having a good pre-sale run is important for a writer. And I kind of hope to be that — a writer.

As always, thanks for reading!