I have been fortunate enough in this life to read many books which have touched me deeply and resonated profoundly. Usually, when I come across soul-touching passages in these books, I have to pause in my reading and copy them into my journal. Houston’s book, Contents May Have Shifted, definitely gave me pause. The book implies travel, implies a leaving and an arriving, implies an unquenchable longing for both love and for places that are not home, and for places that are. It puts into touching narrative the absolute compulsion to go and the longing to return. (As in yoga, “the union of opposites.”)
I’m glad I checked it out from the library and brought it along with me to the ranch.
The following are excerpts from my journal.
8 June 2012. 4:38pm. I have been reading this book for a few days now. Her writing inspires me. Teaches me. The story itself is good so far, as this woman (based on the author, I understand), searches unsuccessfully for love. But she also travels an exorbitant amount which is validating for me, as I need to go. Have to go. She makes observations and plants them in the middle of her narratives. And they fit. And enhance.
She inspires me and teaches me. I want to be a writer. And, I want to travel. Like Pam Houston.
10 June 2012. 8:55am. I’m finishing my coffee and reading: “Last week in therapy, I told Patrick that in that awful mediation, it was actually Tom [her boyfriend’s ex-wife’s husband] who repeatedly stood up for me, but that I wasn’t mad at Rick about it because if anybody ought to have been taking care of anybody that day, it ought to have been me – of him. Patrick said, “Can we sub out the word mad here?” I said, “Sure, for what?” He said, “Abandoned, demoralized, crushed like a grape.”
Sometimes this book and its “heroine” frustrate me, but her words in this passage are the first to make me actually roll my eyes.
12pm. I’ve moved to my chair in the living room, reading: “Back in Pangaea, a real couple sits beneath the couple in the painting. They are fiftyish, in brand new love. The man says to the woman: ‘I already miss the dogs we haven’t gotten yet.'”
12:35pm. But it now occurs to me – and it is the reason I requested the book from the library after all – that the character Pam in the book – the heroine who is probably the author, broken by love; her escape is to really escape. And, Rick, even though I’ve wanted her to break up with him since probably before they even met, is willing to go with her – to France, Tunisia, New Zealand, Barcelona, Oregon, Arizona. That’s significant and maybe it signifies something, too.
I really like Pam Houston’s beautiful writing. Even though it’s sad. George [my husband] is reading a happy book right now, in his chair made higher with bed lifters: 40 Years’ Gathering. Almost continually, he smiles as he reads.
1:40pm. “118. Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Snake River at sunset, gray glacier water, shiny steel. A pair of trumpeter swans flying north. It is reaching 50 degrees in the heat of the day and the snow beneath our skis keeps getting soupier. Hailey says she doesn’t mind bringing up the rear, but I keep thinking if I were a grizzly bear, I might be about to wake up hungry.”
But not quite being Hemingway is better, I think.
3:20pm. “Chapter 121. Quirpon Island, Newfoundland” is officially my favorite chapter in the book. If I never see this island, I will still feel as if I’ve been there, even though the island, in the chapter, is mostly shrouded in fog. That’s how good she is.
4:10pm. “For a long time I thought the object of the game was identifying the question, love versus freedom, Mandela versus Buthelezi, leave or stay forever ghosted under a thick curtain of oil. Nora said, Maybe a choice isn’t the right way to think of it, by which she might have meant, A question loses its power when there is only one answer, as in yes to Bhutan and Barstow. Yes to chanterelles and portobellos. A temple. Yes. A mosque. Yes. The changeable heart of a child…How did I ever think I’d get freedom, without my arms swung open wide?”
4:25pm. From the book, to explore further:
- New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 by Mary Oliver
- Dixie Chicks documentary, “Shut Up and Sing”
- The Kingdom of Bhutan
- “Guys and Dolls” musical
- Jokhang Monastery. Lhasa, Tibet. And Potala Palace. And the Sera monastery and the Monks’ Debates
- Mavis Staples’s “I’ll Take You There”
- “The French Connection” (but I’ve tried to watch this before and the initial violence deterred me. Will try again.)
- Calistoga, California
- Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Says”
- “The Phantom Menace” (movie)
- Sedona, Arizona
- Waitomo, New Zealand and its underground rivers and the limestone caves and blackwater rafting(!!!)
- Cave of Pech Merle, near Cahors, France
- Jayhawks “All the Right Reasons”
- “Ring of Bright Water”
- Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”
- “The Long Way Home” movie
- “No Regrets, Coyote”
- B. Andreas posters
- “The King of Hearts” (movie)
- Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags”
- Goosenecks of the San Juan, Utah
- Interpol’s “Stella Was a Diver and She was Always Down“
Later, I bought the book. You should, too.