Author Archives: Paige Eve Chant

On Virtual Learning Commons (Or, How Libraries Will Save the World)

So the headline already hints at my bias: I’m a big fan of virtual learning commons, perhaps the latest trend in the intersection of libraries and information technology. They are, in my view, libraries’ secret weapon to expanding their services and reaching new users where users are

Virtual learning commons also strike me as an innovative way to take the best of the library and the best of the Internet to create a mash-up, if you will, of wondrously user-centered resources and services.  Continue reading

The Dangers of Writing in the Wild

IMG_1869Rural Vermont is, it turns out, very rural. When we arrived, the gray-haired tour guide, who also doubles as the office secretary, detailed which walking areas were safe and which were not. It’s hunting season, she said. You know those blaze-orange beanies you’ve been seeing in town? That’s to set you apart from the deer. I nodded soberly, immediately recalled this horrific hunting “accident” I’d seen on the Investigation Discovery channel months before. Spoiler alert: the dead guy was wearing an orange hat. Stay on the marked trails and you should be fine, she said half-joking. And everybody laughed. But here’s the thing: she was only half-joking.

            Later I saw a woman in running clothes outside my studio building. Where’s the best place to go around here? I said.

            Up the road, she said, past the lumber store, take a left on the trail. It’s a little secluded, but totally beautiful.

            Clearly, I thought, this woman does not watch Investigation Discovery. Do you know how many women runners are accidentally, or not-so-accidentally, hunted when they’re out alone? I don’t have the exact figure, but thanks to a mass chain letter my mother once emailed me—PLZ READ IF YOU LOVE WOMEN, said the subject line, and so I did because what kind of person would I be if I didn’t?—I no longer wear my hair in a ponytail when I run. Continue reading

Leaf-Peeping on the New Jersey Turnpike

IMG_1148

Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new; but that is enough.

– Eudora Welty, “Place in Fiction”

 Say what you will about New Jersey: beauty abounds.

It has taken me nearly three years to see it, but now that I have eyes, I see it everywhere. Part of it, of course, is the seduction of an east coast autumn, that mythical season I grew up learning about from my mother, a California girl who spent four falls staring up at the treetops, wide-eyed, as she walked to and from classes at Vassar (followed by four winters blow-drying her waist-length hair so it wouldn’t freeze whenever she stepped outside).

New Jersey, of course, is not New York. New Jersey, in fact, is the very opposite of New York, as any New Yorker will be the first to tell you. 

Still, whenever fall descends each year, it graces New Jersey with a rare and unexpected glamor that manages to surprise me every time. The leaves on the trees transform so rapidly, fierce and brazen in their new and changing colors, that, for a brief time each year, it looks as if the world this side of the Hudson will burst into flame at any moment.

 The days take on an oddly apocalyptic feel and, as if in response, my heart takes on a new and sudden greed.  Continue reading

On Being a Writer of Faith (and of Doubt)

10300238_703013109778807_6610893359144546667_nThis post originally appeared on Good Letters, the blog of Image Journal, on July 16, 2014.

I am not the kind of Christian my parents wanted me to be. Case in point: I rarely call myself a Christian in public. These days it seems more of a political statement than I’d like it to be—and often not one I’d care to make.

I just don’t want the ordeal.

Any faith I could be said to have is troubled by doubt, such that most days I do not know where one ends and the other begins. This is not a new problem for me and hardly unique. It is not even, when you come down to it, a problem. It is simply the way of things.

Most days I feel I am a terrible Christian. And most days that’s exactly what I am.

You will protest. You mean well, of course, but you don’t know me like I know me. The human heart is not an easy organ to live with. Continue reading

The State of a Modern Writer

unnamed

Recently, my hubby and I tried to work together. He is a writer, too, though I doubt he would call himself this out loud, or even thinks of himself in this way; what I mean, though, is that he writes for a living. That he is a demographer at work on a dissertation and I am a daydreamer at work on a novel seems irrelevant when it comes to actually doing the work: both of us, after all, have to get our lovely little asses in our chairs and write.

 Sometimes we try to do this together. It does not work often; we are different creatures. My hubby likes coffee shops and office spaces, the gentle pressure he feels to work when other living beings are thinking and moving around him, ostensibly doing their own work in the world.

 I prefer to work at home, alone, where I have a little writing desk wedged into a corner of our living room, facing the wall so as not to become distracted. But distractions abound. There are dishes to be washed, after all, and snacks to be eaten, and back-to-back marathon episodes of Sex and the City to watch. There is also, of course, the couch, where yesterday, after changing into my workout clothes with every intention of walking outside by the canal, arms pumping, I proceeded to sit down and watch television for three and a half hours until I realized I needed to get ready to meet my hubby for a social gathering we had planned. At which time I stripped, showered, and re-dressed myself in what I hoped was casual chic before leaving the house, never having written, or worked out, at all.

 So. Today we went to the public library, my demographer-hubby and me.  Continue reading

An Ode to Watching Television, Old-School

unnamed-1To be clear, I got it for free. A postdoctoral fellow in mathematics had posted it on the university’s classifieds page.

27”, I read in the ad.

27”, I thought. The perfect size for our humble living room (which, it should be said, has an orange vintage settee in place of a couch because, let’s be real, I’ll choose orange tufted velour over practicality any day of the week).

But I had forgotten: 27” was much bigger a decade ago than it is today.

Especially when said 27” comes in the form of an old-school tube television that a skinny, bearded mathematician has to wrestle into the back of your economy-sized hatchback car.

The last time we owned a television set, we were newlyweds living in a tiny in-law unit in the backyard of a mansion in the Berkeley Hills. We kept it on a rollaway cart in our lone miniature closet and pulled it out whenever we had the hankering to watch a movie.  Continue reading

How to Write in a Sick Person’s Body

photo-48This post originally appeared on Good Letters, the blog of Image Journal, on October 16, 2013.

Not too long ago, just as spring was turning over into summer, I awoke with a slight numbness in the fingers of my right hand. The morning was early yet, the sky outside still dark, and as I wrote, my fingers were a little slower than usual to find their keys. By the end of the day, I was fumbling in the most ordinary of tasks, like opening a jar of peanut butter or reaching for a doorknob.

The next morning, I dropped my toothbrush; days later, I could no longer sign my name, which struck me as somewhat scandalous. I could not brush my hair (a secret vanity of mine), or unbutton my husband’s shirt (a secret pleasure of an altogether different kind).

Before the end of the week, I found myself in the radiology unit of our local hospital. As the technician pushed me into the MRI machine, I thought of medieval monks with their halos of hair and the coffins they climbed into each night to sleep.

Time is an altogether other force in the tube—it operates by a different set of rules—but inside, holding myself stiller than still as each scan sounded its blaring alarm, I did not worry so much as wonder at this swift betrayal of my body. Even then, in those early days, my body did not seem unkind to me.  Continue reading

A Baptism by Dishwater, Courtesy of Mary Oliver

photo-47On days like today, when I wake up early enough that the world still has a kind of blue-lit darkness to it, I feel as though the world belongs to me alone. Snow covers the ground in patches and the sky hangs low. I stand at my kitchen sink, looking out over the canal outside my window, where wild geese gather, honking happily at me in the cold morning air.

I sip my cup of matcha, then feel the fluttering of an old woman at my back, a gray-haired poet moving about my kitchen, making impossible exhortations as she roots around in my green cupboards: “You do not have to be good,” she says. “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

I try to believe this.

In the fall, outside this same kitchen window, there sprung a beautiful, bright red bush. It was an unworldly color. All season long, washing dishes at the kitchen sink, I stared at that bush in my bare feet, half-expecting it to burst into flame at any moment.

Some days, there was the rustling of leaves, a sound that, if you did not strain too hard, might be a whisper.

I have nobody who can confirm this, but I should tell you: I believe I am my best self when I am standing alone at my kitchen sink. All manner of things happen to me on that little rug where I wash the dishes. Geese descend. Poetry arises. A bush alights.  Continue reading

A Peculiar Case of the Body Snatchers

100_3094

As it turns out, I have a body.

I am thirty years old, but this is news to me.  

I have spent much of my life in my head, contemplating and imagining and daydreaming and worrying and, of course, reading and writing. All of these skills are very good skills to have, I believe; for me, they are essential to meaning-making and good storytelling and, that very best thing of all, love, love, and still more love. (Which is to say: the good life.)

And yet, spending so much time in my head sometimes gets me into a bit of trouble.

For starters, a permanent crease (read: wrinkle) has settled between my eyebrows, such that it looks like I’m perpetually in deep-thinking mode, even in those rare moments when I truly am just staring off blissfully into space, for once not taking myself too seriously—not taking myself any way at all, actually. (Now that I think about it, I suppose my face really has gotten stuck “that way,” as the adults in my life always warned the child-me that it would. I did not know then the hazards that too much thinking could pose to a person’s soul, much less her body. Sigh.)

I am what I believe they call too cerebral. (As if you hadn’t gathered as much already.)

And so, when my body began failing me, at first I did not notice; or I noticed, but I did not heed it. Who needs a body?  Continue reading

Confessions of a Rookie Blogger

 

IMG00038-20110107-1358I cannot tell a lie. I have blog envy. You know the blogs of which I speak (er, write): those hip, beautiful, impossibly current and tirelessly relevant blog entries that someone, somewhere out there in the ether, devotedly posts in such timely and regular fashion as to make the rest of us (read: me) look, well, lazy. (After all, the title of this blog just about necessitates that I, in fact, post in fits and starts, wouldn’t you say?)

These blogs are witty. Or full of beautifully staged photographs keenly stylized so as to look precisely un-stylized. The bloggers have christened themselves with clever nicknames. Or they’ve christened their readers with clever nicknames (because, you know, they actually have readers—scratch that, they have followers).

Some days it’s enough to make this rookie throw up her hands in despair.

Because, to be honest, I find the Internet—and all its constant, continual updating of information and commentary—to be, well, exhausting. Sure, I waste as much time as the next writer reading Buzzfeed accounts of the nostalgic whimsy of the Koosh ball when I should actually be, oh, I don’t know, writing. But I find it over-stimulating, this kind of reading—it’s burdensome, draining. I still operate in an increasingly shrinking universe where paper rules. I find comfort and rest and beauty in the pages of physical books. I need to hold the story in my hands, feel the weight of the words as a physical presence in the world. (The word made flesh, you might say.) But I digress. (Sigh.)  Continue reading