“Unless one practices medicine or works with medical literature, one is unlikely to encounter the enormous mass of words used to describe the things that go wrong with us. But the words are out there, multisyllabic and waiting.”
My mother has told me a beautiful story since I was quite young. The story goes like this: Once when I was very small I followed my father into the bathroom where he was replacing a broken mirror. Somehow—the events get fuzzy here—I ended up in the bathroom alone, and she found me there sitting in the middle of the pile of broken pieces, squeezing them in my small fists. At the moment she found me, there was a split second when—as she saw the blood and broken bits surrounding me—she did not move. She could see that I was watching myself amplified over and over in the strange glass. I imagine this is the first time I had ever looked in a mirror, but that is only my imagination—I don’t remember.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is not a train station now, and never was in Hamburg. It’s a museum of contemporary art in Berlin. It’s also a good metaphor—in name and in content—for this city where nothing is quite as advertised. Though a very fine layer of general German Ordnung covers everything here, it gives way easily to a jumble of rules without regulation, a mass of juxtaposed and unlikely objects of which I am also, and only, one.
In Antonya Nelson’s short stories, I find the way time is handled to be intricately connected with how convincing the particular world is that she has created. While I liked many of the stories in her latest collections, Funny Once (2014) and Nothing Right (2009), there are some I enjoyed more than others. This is, perhaps, to be expected, but what stands out to me about the stories I liked best seems to have to do with memory and how it is recreated.
As I’ve written before, my grandmother’s apartment holds a particular place in my head. I keep revisiting the floor plan, and the room that glows brightest in my memory is the kitchen. The kitchen, I think, is the quintessential center for grandmothers, mothers, and female authority in general. And while my grandmother was not maternal, not soft, rarely kind, she haunts the kitchen, vapors of past dinners clinging to her permed hair and her stained apron.