All posts tagged: Elizabeth Witte

Friday Reads: August 2016

By ELIZABETH WITTE, EMILY EVERETT, ALI ROHDE, LISA ALEXANDER

 

Our recommended books this month explore unfamiliar territory, in both form and subject. We’re reading formats that do something different with time, place, and space on the page, through writing that is fiercely modern and refreshingly curious.

 

Recommended:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Lui, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, That That by Ken Mikolowski, and Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: August 2016
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The Hands That Touched It Last

Our flight to Boston had been delayed five hours for operational reasons, we were told. The Istanbul airport was hot and thick with people, a hectic crossroads from which we all hoped we’d escape, eventually. We’d been there three hours already—essentially nothing, judging by the quantity of sleeping bodies slumped against each other on the ground, splayed across chairs, face down on tables. We paced the warm corridors, sticky with traveler sweat, past the food court, mosque, flooded bathrooms, Victoria’s Secret. We slumped over a table eating savory pastries, watching others in similar states of surrender.

Olivia ZhengThe Hands That Touched It Last
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Linefork: In Proximity to a Movie in the Making

 By ELIZABETH WITTE

 

storyboard

A familiar sound comes from the other room. A voice—from Kentucky; from a monitor speaker, ten feet away in Massachusetts. I hear it in the kitchen. A clip of speech, a cadence heard again and for not the last time. Open floor plan living: all sounds permeate. Racket of chickens, dogs, lilting voice, banjo.

A film, incomplete—still very much its audio-visual pieces. We cohabitate, this thing and I. I am not the maker, though he lives here too. I am adjacent to the making.

I was there when it happened. The beginnings of this thing that has now sprawled through our lives. That was three years ago, on a summer road trip from Boston to points south, stopping to see friends in Charlottesville, Nashville, Memphis, before making our way back north.

Olivia ZhengLinefork: In Proximity to a Movie in the Making
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On Display

In the cabinet in the atrium outside my office is a glass display case that holds, among other things, a beautiful kidney shaped vessel, its patina smoothed by use. Label: “Brass Pus Basin.” It is an object to stand and stare down at for a while, intentionally or idly, to move on from and return to, to see in passing. Nearby, as part of an exhibit on bloodletting and cupping, are 18th- and 19th-century thumb lancets with their sharp little blades and tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl handles. In the next case over, a collection of 40 or so calculi (“bladder stones”) of varied size and shape, all disturbingly large. This is the Warren Anatomical Museum, at Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library, where “the dead teach the living.”

Olivia ZhengOn Display
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Notes from a Box

CRISCO IN A BLOCK

I’m not really sure why it’s all so illegible now. The ink fades to nothing midway through and is gasping for breath where it’s visible at all. I have a vague recollection of the page living on one side of the fridge for a time (reminding us of its existence)—so perhaps the sunlight hit it just so. Or perhaps the pen itself was too weak, not up to the task.

Olivia ZhengNotes from a Box
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Closed for Good

Lobster in the Rough is over. On a given summer day we can no longer pull off the highway on the Maine side of the border into the parking lot alongside dusty motorcycles, cars, and trucks, and take a seat at the bar or a table beside the bocce courts, inhale lobster rolls in the sun and have a drink among locals and interlopers. This was a place of tribute bands, ladies nights, and horseshoe pits. A place we visited any chance we had heading north or south, a place we returned to, the origin of memories and oft-repeated phrases overheard in the midst of one fantastic day or another. Its closing confirms or reaffirms that these sorts of things—the places we’ve come to depend on to be there as some small but increasingly significant facet of our lives—are going away.This link—to the past we have lived and a past that is hinted at by the place itself—is gone. It’s not a loss of food (certainly there are other shacks within a mile radius that could sufficiently do the job), but a loss of sustenance nonetheless—a shift in atmosphere. Sometime this past winter it transitioned from closed for the season to closed permanently. It’s for sale.

Olivia ZhengClosed for Good
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Friday Reads: May 2015

Olivia ZhengFriday Reads: May 2015
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Chart Showing the Ratio of Church Accommodation to the Population Over 10 Years of Age

colored chart

We were on the small roads that sometimes turn gravel, sometimes dead end, when we found it. This was Vermont, about ten years ago, our first road trip together: a circuit of swimming holes, picnics, and stops for general store ice cream. We passed a series of “Take Back Vermont” signs. Somewhere along the way we came upon the man, who by all appearances seemed to be a Hare Krishna devotee, having a yard sale. It was here in the sunny warm greenness that we found THE PEOPLE’S CYCLOPEDIA OF UNIVERSAL KNOWLEDGE, WITH NUMEROUS APPENDIXES INVALUABLE FOR REFERENCE IN ALL DEPARTMENTS OF INDUSTRIAL LIFE. BROUGHT DOWN TO THE YEAR 1885.

Olivia ZhengChart Showing the Ratio of Church Accommodation to the Population Over 10 Years of Age
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Seeking Warmth, Among Other Things

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Even in the raw of winter, the succulent house will be hot and dry. The air in the palm house will be thick. These alternating glass houses of desert, forest, floral exotica—carnivorous pitcher plants and living stones—will be a refuge when New England is in February; one way to survive the cold.

The greenhouses making up the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College are a study in organization and chaos. The sheer quantity, cluttered within such limited space, suggests the joy of a free-form gatherer (if not hoarder), mixed with the scientific precision called for in a true botanical garden. The product of the exploratory impulse and a ‘you can take it with you’ attitude, overlaid with classification and order. Every thing labeled. Conquered artifacts from near and far, brought from there to here, alive.

Olivia ZhengSeeking Warmth, Among Other Things
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