Category Archives: Literature

Zadie Smith, Lifevest

In which Carrie goes back to college . . . . 

This itch.  Once at the height of my intellectual stamina.  The time when the person starved of morality sees the world through literature, and begins, anew, on a quest for purpose.

Zadie Smith will save me.

Memories of dead philosophy professors, still living and some actually deceased.  Byron, vanilla-flavored pipe at the lips.  Simple-minded me telling you I will take a trip to Bhutan where they believe in Gross National Happiness.  You said, Professor, with a keen moral philosopher’s mind, are you sure it follows from the social structures availible?  Me, in my naivete, thinking surely this other culture has it figured out, why wouldn’t I believe this catchy abandonment of Gross National Product.

Fast forward to the decision of a profession.  The requisite undergrad initiation into literature proper.  E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.  Followed by On Beauty.  Modern British Authors or something number 400 level course for English majors. An inspired body reaction stemming from a mind well-used in the recognition that symmetry is possible and two books side by side will yield the same message: social injustice.  Amazing to behold, one in each hand.

One may as well begin with letters and emails sent between characters . . .” start Forster and Smith, signaling the conflict which invariably arise from relations with others.  Zadie says I will tell a modern day version of a brilliant commentary on upper class warfare on the less fortunate.  Forster, one in a setting favoring the genteel persons who are obliged to pretend concern for the state of the world.

“He [Leonard Bast] was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more.  He knew that he was poor, and would have died sooner than confess any inferiority to the rich … But he was inferior to most rich people, there is not the least doubt of it.  He was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable.  His mind and his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor …” (Chapter 6, HE)

Bast is on his way home from a concert where the classes mixed, and where he almost lost his precious umbrella to Helen, a stranger-to-him, of the upper classes.  He then goes home to his stuffy flat,  umbrella retrieved, which he shares with a desperate woman who won’t understand his dreams, and cracks open his copy of Ruskin’s Stones of Venice.  He reads it slowly and with the performance of one separate from those who take Literature and Art for granted, struggling to understand it and integrate it somehow into his relations with people he wishes to rise above.


Smith, post-Modern British author, writes a similar scene centering on a middle to upper class, mixed race family.  They too have been to a concert, a free one featuring Mozart’s Requiem.  A mix-up occurs between the proprietership of similar discmans (not umbrellas): one belonging to Zora, the daughter in love with those in her father’s collegiate cohort yet able to mix with those in the hood, and a Leonard Bast look-a-like (except, in Beauty, a six foot something black man) named Carl.  Carl wishes to improve his mind through free concerts and lectures and poetry performances, and thereby his standing in the world of Art and Literature.

“‘You at college or . . .?’

“‘Nah . . . I’m not an educated brother, although . . . ‘ He had a theatrical, old-fashioned way of speaking which involved his long, pretty fingers turning in circles in the air.  His whole manner reminded Levi of his grandfather on his mother’s side and his tendency to speechify, as Kiki called it.  ‘I guess you could say I hit my own books in my own way.‘”  (Chapter 7, OB)

Like in 2007 when I first studied the British Moderns, I felt a sympathy for these characters, the poor wishing to improve themselves.  These who valued something which they were excluded from by birth, yet craving it for its intrinsic nourishment commanded by the elite. I, too, felt this craving to shed the skin of a confused past where I never learned to properly write or appreciate beauty in the way of scholars, and gain it through higher learning.

And so I return.  To the past of my betterment and the post-modern exploration of the same material. I now read these two novels in tandem – an exciting rejuvenation of a self slightly successful – and study the possibility of developing my own Art and Beauty.





Ghost Vision

In which Carrie was startled and nostalgic …


Ghost Vision

The light

Or the memory of light

Or her brain reaching

Outward toward

The light

Entered a subjective field of vision

Populated with



Players of Poker

Time and spatial curves

Even things of light and joy:

flowers, children, summits of mountains, books

Which once made the seeing

blind eye

Grasp at the infinite


The Universe holds no color.



In which Carrie writes a poem …

Horse photo Sisters



When the rider is green

and keeps falling of

the old cowhands say:

She’s got too much horse.

But she always learned

To get right back up.


I Reckon

In which Carrie reflects on the matter ….


Explosion of earthly


I wonder why

I am born a reckoner

And would I be

without our

Milky Way.


Orion points me true

I see you in the

spattered galaxy.


From Sisters

I stop and think

Of ways I might

have been


Less beautifully.



Love and Grit

In which Carrie thinks of two “Bobby McGees”  . . .


A jarring purr-call of crows in the forest, which, to other avians must seem like a lion’s roar.  I ignore my labor and self-doubt with the distraction of interesting looking forest debris and idle chatter about things I would have a much easier time discussion were I sitting with my hiking companion over a cup of coffee.  It is eight in the morning and we put one foot in front of the other up a gentle incline which nature will turn into steep, loose cinders later on in the hike toward the end.  This is my first, my second, my third, my fourth attempt up the mountain.  They all blend into each other.  I have known this country.  My memory assures me it was I, Carrie Anne Ebner, who travelled there.


I also once tried the Portland Marathon.  I remember this September (or was it October) morning, after a night of watching two strange black-and-white movies (Pi was one of them) and not really feeling like sleeping, as the sun was rising by the second and I was smiling (at least internally) at the little downhill bit near the Naito Parkway.  An older woman passed me and I followed her skinny frame and the sign clipped to her shirt which said, “This is my 18th marathon.  How about you.”  I remember lime green something, and her moving farther along ahead of me.  It didn’t matter that she passed me or that this was my first official marathon, or that she was, like, 80.  I was happy to be there.  I wore a cut-off shirt with a giant sunflower printed on the front.


I have just read, and re-read a quote found in the book Running Away: “When a bad thought floats into your head you have to say, Thank you for coming, thank you for visiting, now go away.”  The runner Bobby McGee said it.  It is probably a well-worn sentiment used by coaches of many varieties to motivate their charges.  It has succeeded in both advising me right now while also invoking the Janis Joplin song which will probably be in my head for most of the day.


The trail is getting steeper, but I know there is relief coming, this being my multiple time here, the Three Sisters Wilderness.  Soon it will flatten into a plain and to the right of my companion and me will be Moraine Lake, and Broken Top, void of snow this August, farther off.  We’ll stop for a snack and some water up by those damn-tough looking trees.  They are probably five hundred years old or something.  How would I know, but that I suppose someone told me that they grow slowly, but enduringly, in this hostile habitat.


The other marathon was a lot more successful, though unconventional.  I might have worn that same sunflower shirt part of the time.  I remember waking up on my twenty-first birthday with something like a smile.  I had been thinking of running my own version of 26.2 miles for a week or two, and took two days off of work at Black Butte Stables to allow for the run and a day of recovery.


I jogged my first 5-mile loop in sweatpants.  I came home and ate and drank water, changed my clothing into something cooler–it was August– and went for a different loop.  Ten miles in a row was the longest set I had put in ever. My “training” consisted of ten-hour work days with horses and an occasional hike.  My ambition was fueled not by knowledge that my body was ready for this but that I loved something about the idea.  I wanted to at least try.


I went for another jog, had a longer break and completed the last 10 or so with a couple of friends of mine who seemed to admire me for this strange enterprise.  For some reason I didn’t consider it a big deal, not like getting an advanced degree or having a baby or buying a home.  I sipped a few gulps of merlot where they took me for a birthday dinner and complained of soreness.  I had run five and a half hours in one day which, by my loose estimate on my average mile time (13 minutes), was, indeed, a marathon.   I am the tortoise.


I miss running.  The book I read made me crave it.  I missed running and hiking long trails when I was studying philosophy and linguistics at Portland State.  I underwent a different genre of endurance–one where my thought and creativity and scholarship was remarked upon to the point of feeling not very good about myself–almost the entire time I was there.  I would read biographies about mountain climbers–the real ones who faced actual death every moment of their Himalayan treks–and would fit some homework in here and there.  Probably those stories kept me on track to graduate.


It was hard to thank the bad thoughts which floated into my head and firmly, but gently, invite them to leave.  I took therapeutic walks with my German shepherd while writing my papers in my head.  The verdancy of Tryon Creek State Park enriched me in my darkest moments in which I composed nothing resembling philosophical argument but passionate explorations of deep philosophies–useful ones.  Life-affirming ones. I would look upon the cyclical habitat with awe.  I came to know Wolf spider webs in the fall and explosive buds littering the trail in the spring.  Very different from where I grew up.


The summit of the mountain wasn’t really the end.  Nor the second or third one. Maybe that is what helped me think, It’s not a big deal.  Sure, nobody can take away those accomplishments one accrues in a lifetime, but there is still the downhill trek.  And the next unremarkable day unremembered now.  I faced other ambitions later which took longer and required the participation of more than one or two people in order to make me win or lose, more or less.


I finish and finish again and try something else and remember who I was in my sunflower shirt with nothing, really, to lose.


April 23rd – Poem in Your Pocket Day

In which Carrie shares her poem in her pocket for this most notable holiday from the ordinary . . . 

I’m a little fascinated with language for its own sake.  Georges Perec, a French author with many instances of the vowel “e” in his name, endeavors to write La Disparition (French), a novel which omits the vowel in its entirety.

A Void Cover


The translator of my copy, Gilbert Adair, had an even harder task for the English version, A Void.  In this English version, syntax is convoluted, characters are always looking for something missing, and several of our poets–Milton, Poe, Shakespeare–are reproduced, without retaining that popular vowel in any of the semantic forms.  One such is a rendition of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy.

LIVING, OR NOT LIVING by William Shakspar


Living or Not Living Page 101 A Void


Living or Not Living Page 102


It is of personal preference that I recommend “Po’s” poem BLACK BIRD, which would take too much space here.

On Reading Infinite Jest, part I

infinite Jest photo

Dave Eggers, forwarder, egged me on last summer, when I bought Infinite Jest.  He said all kinds of nice things about David Foster Wallace and non-lazy writing and what kinds of readers would like this book and much of it both spoke to my identity and my need for literary climbs to the yet unknown. Inspired to look into it by a friend who said it would be her “summer challenge” I decided thus it would be mine.  Eggers was right, though.  It isn’t to be taken lightly.  I put it down – it’s 2 inch thick, 40.8 ounces – noticing it would be both unwieldy to read in bed and that I definitely needed to restructure my life around its possibilities if I were to succeed in the way Wallace would want me to to.


I had read chapters “Year of Glad” and “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” already, so it was a review-with-pleasure that I indulged again, highlighting snippets of master-crafted energy, what I would have with pencil, greyily in my kindle.  Hal, with his strange noises representing intellectual mammothism, and the Insectdude, too polite to make himself a burden on society, allowed me into, respectively, the frustrated or secretive depths of their thoughts. Hal, in first person, thinks:

“The familiar panic at feeling misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds.  I expend energy on remaining utterly silent in my chair, empty, my eyes two great pale zeros.  People have promised to get me through this.”

And Insectdude, in third person limited, is shown to think:

“Once the woman who said she’d come had come, he would shut the whole system down.  It occurred to him that he would disappear into a hole in a girder inside him that supported something else inside of him.  He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question.  It was now almost three hours past the time when the woman said she would come.” 

The reading of this novel will accompany a book on epistemology and done with a couple of other people.  I hope the pleasurable pressures of literary and intellectual rigor will keep me apace, and the companionship will also if they are not too whelmed by the work as I was last summer.