the august earthquakes

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

— Tuck Everlasting

I’ve got a
lot of good
ideas but not
one that
will get me

— Eileen Myles


J. has been posting about August for weeks, and I’m here still going around in circles too. Looking out from the windows at the faults splitting the earth in front of me, riding it out. What is it about this month?

It’s incredible, every single book I pick up by accident discusses at length the following topics: volcanoes, earthquakes, Iceland, love, grief, and/or being alone. (see: The Faraway Nearby, The Importance of Being Iceland, Falling Off The Map, Becoming Wise). So much land to cover, is it thrilling? Exhausting? Both? For both you who keeps reading and for me too. Like Hamilton, I’m definitely writing like I’m running out of time. I wake up before dawn, filled with something inarticulate, that hangover feeling you get after the loss of love.

Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is a whole book of her attempt at writing her way out of it: “Nelson hopes that writing about the bluets will “empty me further of them, so that I might become a better vessel for new blue things.”

And me, over the past three weeks I’ve written maybe over 50 essays about you, Iceland, love, grief, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.; so I might as well keep on towards closing out our book before the month runs out. I always joked that if you don’t want to be written about, don’t date a writer. And I wasn’t lying when I said I’d write my way out of this.

Onwards, then:


1. the eighth month of the year, in the northern hemisphere usually considered the last month of summer.
“the sultry haze of late August”

2. Old English, from Latin augustus ‘consecrated, venerable’; named after Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor.

It’s August now. Since my return to the city from the land of ice, it’s been sweltering hot but we’re finally through to the other side. I can sense the air getting a touch cooler every 8 minutes in the evenings. My bare arms prickle at the sensation. Seasons are incredible, I marvel as a native Texan, because every two weeks you feel the seismic movement of the weather changing everything about how you experience the city.

Maybe this is how we thrive as humans, too.
Molt the last season or relationship, transform into the next. Each a little different from the last. We feel we are facing something immense that we cannot deal with, that we cannot even begin to grasp. So we trade stories. There’s a sort of kinship, a relief to find out that others can relate to us, that rises from these experiences.

There is this thing about dusk here in New York City, when the vanishing light creates valleys across the building tops though there are no actual mountains in sight. The topography tricks me, and I meander from bookstore to bookstore with an impassioned gait as if they are outposts in the wilderness.

I stand in the center of Union Square as the sunlight fades across the mountainous skyscrapers. My natural state: wandering by myself, clutching books, and still writing about love. It actually feels great, it feels like home. If you’re not paying attention, if you’re not trying to break through to the other side of something, are you really living?

A saxophonist plays his scales quietly while standing behind his station wagon. The car’s trunk is open, his sheet music is nestled there. His friend eats a blue snow cone while listening to the saxophonist play. Everything is inaudible and happens as if in slow motion. For weeks I couldn’t listen to songs with saxophone on the tracks because they would make me too sad. That’s how you know you’re dangerously in love, when even the world’s highest beauty makes you cry.

The square is dotted with people standing still, not moving: on their phones, like me. Are they texting back their loved ones? Are they writing a note about love, like me? Are they aimlessly catching Zubats, Bulbasaurs, and Pidgeys?

The other New Yorkers walk around us like currents. The tide is coming in, I’m diving into the wreck. I tell myself you’re a myth, mostly.

I’m dizzy from the men I meet at restaurants instructing me to read more Jonathan Franzen, the men with suggestions on how I should eat, the men hungry for more power, the men trying to fill the god-sized holes in their hearts, the men telling me how to find another man, the men telling me to freeze my eggs to buy more time, the men trying to colonize women as if we are little islands or rocks.
Or glaciers. Isolated, disposable, and disappearing. The world trying to melt us away for ages — and us, exhausted, finally complying.

At this point, I certainly feel like an island, surrounded by the cliffs of setting sun and people who seem to be filled with greater purpose in their lives. Me, aimless. Me, taking flight. Me, always the runaway train that no one can stop. Me, the nameless land. Maybe you feel like all of the above, too. I think of you, modern day Icarus, and I try to believe that I won’t suffer the same plight. Maybe that’s why Iceland felt so right. Iceland was just the name they mistakenly heard when someone pronounced “Island,” because it’s not actually as icy as Greenland. Seems apt, a mistake that lives on forever into the future.

Where will we each end up as the light fades? When will my Little Prince aviator start his route to me?

We are things apart now; the same tectonic changes that brought us together shifting to break us away.

C. writes: “I’m exhausted from being happy either because or in spite of you. The only solution is to not know you.” Should we call stalemate? Because as a man, you’ll never have to think about time the same way women do.

Miranda July discusses this:

miranda july

I pretend I can turn back time to before I met you. You also say aloud that you wish that you could go back, and I immediately assume that you also mean to say that you’d would want to undo us. Everything that got us together into this mess.

But you always did defy my assumptions while wrecking me at the same time. You clarify that you are actually referring to three weeks ago- not that you’d undo everything about us, but that you’d want to undo the earthquake that put us now on different shores. The book I’m reading describes the cause of earthquakes: “A capacity to accommodate fragility, he says, is a fundament of vital, evolving systems, whether geological or human. Earthquakes happen when weaknesses cannot be expressed.”

Anyway. I don’t know anymore what continents to cross, or what ships to take to get there. Just here now, rising to become a better vessel for the new blue things.

But here’s everything I’m feeling: risk, zeniths, and changing leaves. James Salter sums it up for me:

“There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk.”

― James Salter, All That Is

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  1. Pingback: Hiking the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland – rose in midair

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