I just finished Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost, a series of inter-disciplinary essays–part memoir, part art/lit-crit, part history–exploring the theme of getting lost. They’re brilliant. She’s a gorgeous writer with a contagious curiosity and sense of wonderment at the world around her, and the breadth of her scholarship is dazzling: she’s equally at home — and demonstrable of commensurate analytical prowess — discussing Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” as she is Yves Klein’s art or the history of the forty-niners crossing Death Valley in search of gold. In each essay, she jumps around from point to point and then ties everything together in an exquisite finale, in a movement that mirrors the map-reading she discusses so frequently in these essays, as if we’re putting a finger on random coordinates and then discovering the path between them at the end.
My only quibble with it has more to do with my readership: I should have read the essays here and there over the course of a few months rather than back to back in one big gulp. There’s a lot going on in her essays, and, at some point, I felt something akin to intellectual exhaustion, so overwhelmed was I by the weight of her observations. Better to drink in sips.
One of the essays, though, talks about dreams — not the aspirational sort, but rather the actual dreams we have when we fall asleep. She makes the point that, in our dreams, nothing is ever lost: we see toys from our childhood, homes we used to live in, people we used to know. The odd inversion is that we are ourselves lost in them, wandering through them out of control and with no sense for the connection between things.
I found myself musing over my own dreams for the next few days, specifically reflecting on a recurring nightmare I had as a child that I had long since forgotten about. In this dream, I would find myself on a D.C. metro platform, with its waffle-style domed ceiling above me, and I would see a literal smoking gun — a cinematic cut-away to a close-up shot of a gleaming silver gun in someone’s hand — and then the metro whirring past me, and an increasing sense of panic that something had happened to my parents. The dream was haunting and absurdist, and I remember being terrified of not only the feeling that my parents were in danger, but the jaggedness of the dream itself, in that I could only see this specific string of bizarre images, and I could never see across to the other side of the metro platform or understand who was holding the gun or who it was pointed at or why my parents were in harm’s way.
This was around the time that I was coming to terms with my parents’ mortality, which I can nearly assign a time and date to: when I was eight, my parents went out to a wedding one night and I lay in bed, fretting, as the night hours crept by, for the first time in my life convinced something had happened to them. I slid out of bed and climbed into a big green upholstered armchair in a little window nook close to my parents’ bedroom that overlooked the front driveway of our house and peered at every car that drove by, willing it to be theirs. The smell of my mother’s perfume was still in the air, and I preoccupied myself in the intervals between passing cars by placing my fingers in the gridded top of the old-fashioned radiator beneath the window. They came home, the headlights of their car on the wet driveway like two beacons of hope, and I buried my face in my mom’s dress, and then I started having the metro dream over and over again. I would wake up and run to my dad’s side of the bed in their bedroom, and he would pick me up wordlessly and let me curl up under his warm arm. I knew better than to wake my mother: she would get up, put on her white terry robe, and, with her characteristic pragmatism, ask me the following four questions: “Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you hot? Are you cold?” If my answer to any of those was yes, she would address the situation accordingly, and then put me back to bed. My Dad, on the other hand, would scarcely say a word–would just reflexively pull me under the covers and keep me safe–and I would nearly always wake up at some point in the early dawn hours back in my bed, or in his arms, being carried back to my bed, the thud of his feet on the carpet soothing me back to sleep, while the early morning light streaked the hallway and buoyed my spirits: it was almost morning.
This nest of experiences blur together in a funny way: the choppy fragments of the metro dream, the echo of my Dad’s feet on the carpet, the lingering scent of my mother’s perfume, the look of the slick wet driveway as the headlights of my parents’ car turned onto it and then abandoned it. They form a sort of texture of loss, in that when I think about “growing up” or “the end of childhood innocence,” I think about this cluster of experiences, and the details from my dream reinforce the details of real life, and everything is about incompleteness.
So when Solnit talked about dreams as a sort of “lost and found,” I related in a profound way. In a weird metanarrative sense, too, the essay enabled me to recover a lost set of interrelated memories and dreams I’d not thought about for some time, and it struck me that a lot of good writing is like this: resurrecting for us some subset of forgotten emotions or experiences, almost like a pianist tapping a key, in turn lifting a lever inside the piano that then drops a felt-covered hammer on just the right piano string to achieve just the right reverberation. It astounds me that there are writers with enough precision to affect such delicate mechanics, and Solnit is among them.
Which writers affect you in this way? What else should I be reading? I have gotten so many great book recommendations from you in the past — please share additional ones in the comments below, especially while I am on this reading tear.
P.S. — 10 books that will change your life.
P.P.S. — Does everyone have these kinds of formative dreams?
Finally, while on the topic of DREAMS, I thought I’d share the five splurge-ish items I have my eye on RN:
Dream No. 1: The Aquazzura Powder Puff Pom Flat
I’ve found it: my splurge shoe for fall: the Aquazzura Powder Puff Pom Flat ($650) in moss green. The color is unexpected, the pom dramatic, the shape tres au courant.
P.S. — Get the look for less with these.
P.P.S. — Mules fo’ life. (Or, for the next season or two.)
Dream No. 2: The Caroline Constas Tropical Dress
I’m smitten with this Caroline Constas OTS beauty ($495).
Get the vibe for less with this hibiscus-print clutch ($154), these adorable banana leaf print mules ($170), or this precious dress ($108).
Dream No. 3: The Twinset
I’ve been looking for a fresh outfit to wear for a few casual events coming up, and I am finding it hard to resist the appeal of this MDS stripes crop top (on sale for $147) and coordinating skirt (on sale for $267). Very Brigitte Bardot?
Dream No. 4: The Gucci Marmont Bag
Gucci continues to reign supreme — these velvet Marmont bags ($1,290) are so voluptuously chic. They would be the perfect little bag for this fall…
Dream No. 5: Vintner’s Daughter Serum
Ever since mentioning it in my beauty refresh post, I’ve been lusting after Vintner’s Daughter serum ($185). A few of you have raved about it. Worth the splurge?
So, you can see, I have my shopping attention split between two seasons, anticipating the fall and still very much living in the summer. I must therefore also admit two items closer in / more realistic when it comes to my shopping forecast: this very chic eyelet flounce dress ($149) and this shibori-style printed asymmetric top, on ridic sale for only $41!
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10 thoughts on “Pipe Dreams.”
This was beautifully written! I have similar memories of fearing my parents’ deaths as a child and being afraid whenever they went out to dinner or a party.
Thanks, Rachel! I wonder if it’s a childhood milestone for a lot of us?? The sudden realization of mortality?? Thanks for reading!
Oooh, that MDS Stripes set! Love love love! I particularly love the skirt.
I have been reading a ton lately, too. Currently I am indulging my fluffy side with The Royal We, which is essentially Kate Middleton fanfic (!) But I just finished The Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace, about a bright young man from Newark who gets into — and graduates from — Yale, while battling childhood demons, and whose life tragically ends at the age of 30. SO GOOD, and written by one of his college roommates, a writer. Cannot recommend enough, though if you’re like me, you’ll be crying at various points throughout the book!
Otherwise, I also recently read Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, and it was excellent and a very quick read. Before that, I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and fully enjoyed it. We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele are also excellent.
I haven’t read any Rebecca Solnit yet (?! — what! I know!), except for her lovely Nonstop Metropolis, which barely counts, in some ways. Adding your picks to my wishlist now!
Related: do you use Goodreads? I dorkily started using it a decade ago and now am addicted.
And, finally: your writing is so heartfelt and evocative and keeps me coming back to your blog on the regular (though I am always a few days behind on commenting, ha!) Just wanted to say thank you for being such a great resource — for both fashion fripperies and serious topics.
FANTASTIC suggestions — just added these to my reading list. The Royal We is my all-time favorite beach read (so delicious), and I’m particularly intrigued by the work on Robert Peace. I have used GoodReads a bit, off and on — I’m trying to get better about posting there because my sister is also an avid reader and loves to keep tabs on my reading list. I feel it’s a great practice to get into because you then have a little log of all you’ve read, and I like being able to write brief reviews — more like little notes to self. And, finally, and most importantly, thank you for the generous words and encouragement. I have loved getting to know YOU through this blog; I always look forward to your insightful commentaries and reactions and discoveries. (Case in point: I had to look up the word “fripperies.” Thank you for a lovely new word in my repertoire!) Thank you for reading and writing and keeping it real in these footnotes 🙂
Have you read Alyssa Mastromonaco’s book (Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?) about her time in the Obama White House? I just finished it and I liked it a lot — it’s an easy breezy sort of read with some good big sister type career and life advice. I had a few little quibbles with it but it gave me some interesting perspective on what may (or may not) be happening in the current WH.
Next up I have The Signature of All Things (a friend swears I will love it) and Trevor Noah’s new book, which I’ve heard great things about.
GREAT suggestions. Signature of All Things was a stirring and impressive book — super ornate and detailed in the most incredible of ways. I think you’ll enjoy it! xo
Something a little different, but I really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale (now a show with Elisabeth Moss) and Alias Grace, both by Margaret Atwood who specializes in dystopian novels, so I recently started Oryx and Crake, the first of her MaddAddam series. It was a challenge to get into but very interesting, I picked it because I have also been reading a lot and thought getting into a series would avoid the challenge of finding my next book to read.
On another note, I recently read and enjoyed the collection of short stories The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and the mystery novel The Perfect Stranger.
Ooh — these are GREAT suggestions. Added them all to my Amazon list. ALSO — I feel like we’ve talked about this before, but do you ever rent books from the library on your Kindle? I just figured it out and have already rented a handful. I wonder if this could also be helpful to you?
I love Rebecca Solnit…you’re so correct, she is incredible at talking eloquently about anything. Have you read her feminist essay books? The Mother of All Questions and Men Explain Things to Me? I loved those…and I agree, maybe read her work more slowly, those essays are a lot to take in intellectually.
If you’re in a fiction mood, I definitely recommend Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (great summer read) and Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. Non fiction, try Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (AMAZING investigative reporting) and Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel, about this Maine hermit that lived alone in the woods for 27 years without being detected. Fascinating story!!
Hi Emily! I just added these to my reading list — thank you so much for the recommendations. I also enjoyed Woman in Cabin 10, but my favorite twisty-turny summer read is “The Couple Next Door.” I don’t think I put it down for 24 hours! Ha. Thanks for reading! xoxo