WHY THERE ARE WORDS: the golden bridge

Thurs Jan 13 11, Studio 333

(Evan Karp)

This past week Why There Are Words celebrated its first anniversary by inviting some of its inaugural year highlights back to read. As per every second Thursday, Studio 333 was packed. It’s been a long eventful year in the world of Bay Area readings. More than one new series has sprouted up each month — the list, incomplete though long and pretty darn thorough, can be found here. But with WTAW, Peg Alford Pursell has created a golden gate bridge between the many SF series and the plethora of talented writers in Marin.

Bay Area literature: it’s not just in San Francisco anymore. In fact, writers from all over the country have inundated Peg’s inbox with requests to read in the series, which is booked for the next several months. Hot ticket? Yes. And if you’ve been, there’s no wonder: the charm and elegance of Studio 333’s high-vaulted ceilings and wood-paneled floors represents the series well. I’m no SF Weekly, but Why There Are Words receives Litseen’s first award: Classiest Reading Series. Hands down. Watch the videos below. I’ve included some favorite quotes with each reader, presented in the order of performance.

Michael Alenyikov « Ivan and Misha

  • “… too beautiful to survive the passage into sound …”
  • “Ivan and Misha are twins, fraternal. They don’t keep secrets. They are close, like two fingers crossed for hope, for love.”
  • “The art is the everyday, not the thoughts racing through his head.”
  • “Ivan is too in love with the world to be paranoid.”

Alice Laplante « The Making of a Story

  • “My guess is that a smile would be inappropriate. Fear may not be.”
  • “My name is I forget and I am a I don’t know what.”
  • “I am a visitor from another planet and the natives are not friendly.”

Catherine Brady « The Mechanics of Falling

  • “When they stepped outside, the physical world was breathing its wanewashed gratitude, the air alive with the promise of greening, the odors of sap and brass and leaves and dirt.”
  • “The aim of teaching literature is to get around some of that good sense, some of the time. …  Dorian said, I’ve almost finished that Faulkner novel you gave me. He’s right up my alley, hanging his gems on every vowel: ineluctable and indefatigable and irrefutable. As if Hemingway hadn’t figured out how to strip out every excess word, Alice said. Your father would have approved of Hemingway’s method, not Faulkner’s. She finished her hem. Hemingway scouring the language of impurities and Faulkner just wallowing in them, the opposite tact trying to catch the same wind to make a better instrument for feeling.”

Tamim Ansary « The Widow’s Hudband

  • “They assumed their child had gone insane.”
  • “I wrote to Liz promptly; wrote crazy, surreal stuff because that’s what Phoebe admired and thought I wrote. ‘The moondog howls in the swamp at the edge of midnight where God’s orchids bloom when the sun is in Scorpio.’ That’s not what I actually wrote, just my present day approximation of what I think I might have written then. Any gibberish that sounded cryptic.”
  • “I felt a little disappointed about my elevated consciousness.”

Janet Thornburg « Rhubarb Pie

  • “Dostoevsky said ‘Hell is the inability to love.’ Yes. And then, after your heart opens and you lern to love, hell is realizing you can’t protect the ones you love. If you survive that and keep loving, hell is arriving at a garage sale at the house where you used to live and finding the red velvet bustier you gave to your beloved spread out on a truck between a George Foreman grill and a giant rainforest puzzle.”
  • “Now, I’m not remembering anything. I’m feeling this really old, really familiar pressure pushing up through my guts through my beat-up heart, past the lump in my throat. It stops in my lower brain and chants: Act out. Act out. Act out. But how? Where? I’ve been married for 19 years; I’m out of touch. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I’ve been clean and sober for 28 years. There’s got to be another way to *pow!*

Stephen Elliott « The Adderall Diaries

  • “I’m not quite done with the abyss, though. I approach it with a familiarity that makes it easier, and a purpose – even if it’s meaningless – to sell a dozen books every night to a group of strangers. Driving North from Connecticut to Hudson the streets are cold and wet and full of leaves and it’s quite beautiful, the gray fog on top of the mountains, and to the West the fog houses and green hills, but it’s not as beautiful as San Francisco.”
  • “1. Optimism is important. Without optimism you can’t accomplish anything. 2. Cynicism is death. Worse even than being a victim. 3. But cynicism and optimism are only tenuously related to the truth: the pursuit of honesty is the only chance you have. For what? For anything that matters. And when I said that, I thought maybe I was creating a philosophy, laying the bedrock for a set of beliefs, also building a wall that would stop me from interacting with and understanding people. People that believe things too strongly are like ideological anorexics. Perhaps the pursuit of honesty is more about art and less about living. I know people who think if they don’t lie they can have anything they want. They use the truth to distance themselves from responsibility for their actions. But honesty is not an excuse for anything. It’s not even an excuse to be late for dinner.”

You can expect this kind of diversity and talent at every show. There is no one answer for the reason for words. But all serious writers must answer the question.

Credit: Mohan C Mohan

Be sure to check out the next installation of Why There Are Words on Thursday, February 10 at Studio 333. The theme will be Maybe, and readers will be Lauren AlwanLucy Jane BledsoeKatherine EllisonFrances LefkowitzMeg Pokrass, and Jaqueline Luckett.