Near my desk, I keep a copy of A Moment’s Liberty: the Shorter Diary, Virginia Woolf’s paper-bound “blog” of decades, abridged into one volume, including glimpses of her life in reading, writing, gossip, dinners, and funerals, the flood of ideas that never made it into her novels and some that did. Recently, I flipped to this entry:
“Saturday 12 April, 1919
These ten minutes are stolen from Moll Flanders, which I failed to finish yesterday…yielding to a desire to stop reading and go up to London. But I saw London, in particular the view of white city churches and palaces from Hungerford Bridge through the eyes of Defoe. I saw the old women selling matches through his eyes; and the draggled girl skirting round the pavement of St James’s Square seemed to me out of Roxana or Moll Flanders. Yes, a great writer…imposing himself upon me…”
In the same way that Defoe’s worldview took over Woolf’s eyes and ears, the writers in this issue of Drunken Boat will take over yours. After reading Irina Reyn’s “Two Extremes,” you’ll see the world in pairs. Ordering ice cream will gain a new, existential dimension. Reyn’s essay travels through time in the prism of two.
Michael Hemery makes unreliable narrators of us all in “Reconstruction.” His portrait of the mind rests on a continuum between an archaeological dig and the ocean—covering and revealing objects at random. Forgetting is the mind’s default. To remember is a task and an art.
After reading Jeanie Chung’s “Cuts and Folds,” I carried this line with me for days:
“It’s easy to change something like your eyes, or your hair, or your legs, or your stomach, or anything about the way you look. But your heart’s desire, deep down, that won’t ever change.”
Chung’s distilled essay shows the danger of surface-based ideals of beauty. Alida Karakushi’s trip to the beauty parlor in “Snapshots of Albania” yields an education about the insidious nature of oppression when enacted from within a family. Meanwhile, the addition of a ninth floor to the writer’s apartment illustrates political tensions in Albania.
The all-photographic essay, “In A Stark Light,” by Serge J-F. Levy makes a theater of daily life. Set in cities around the world, this wordless essay speaks of contradictions and fleeting connection. The light comes from the sun, street lamps, reflections, neon signs, and the juxtaposition of light and dark. Levy’s photo diary will saturate your surroundings with new, heightened colors.
New York City is the stage for “Twirl/Run,” a series of photos by Jeff Mermelstein that inspired the accompanying lyric essay by Robin Hemley. Hemley turns chance moments on the street into a script of the hopeful and the aloof. Unconscious gestures become choreography in this collaborative work, an urban fairy tale made up of twirlers and runners.
Caitlin Leffel’s “High School Dance” takes us underground on the A Train to a scene that plays out between passengers. Tension, tossed food-wrappers, and tacos makes the whole come together in a dance on the city subway.
“Cartography of Flesh” goes further underground, under the skin to look at what lies inside each of us. Andrea Nelson’s imaginative dissection goes beyond the scientific and turns the natural world inside out. With wildlife at the forefront of political debates, her essay is particularly relevant as it imagines animals in ways that connect rather than divide us:
“And this is what’s inside a deer, same as you or me, blood thick and red, pulsing through the flesh.”
Read the writers in this issue to sample new ways of seeing. Carry these authors with you on your next trip as Woolf did Defoe. After reading, tell others to read them, too. Or command, as Woolf did in her trip to London:
“I was beckoned by Forster from the [London] Library as I approached…I commanded him to read Defoe, and left him, and went and got some more Defoe, having bought one volume on the way.”
Excerpt of Virginia Woolf’s diary:
Bell, Anne Olivier, ed. A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990. p.75