Season of the Body: Essays / Edition 1

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A memoir in essay form, with the body as its central reference point.

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Editorial Reviews

Mark Doty
These sensuous, memorable essays are an inquiry into what it is to be a body in a world of bodies, an alert, receptive, physical woman moving through interlocking realms of culture, geography, and spirit. ‘It's not just the animal body I want,' Brenda Miller writes, ‘the mathematics of sex, the coupling: I want another heart, an extra one, a contrabassoon to echo my everyday pulse.' And these essays are, in a way, just that: the inner life captured in language, a pulse captured on the page.
Robin Hemley
Names, lineage, the dark history of the body, even the promise of a transcendent body carried within her bones–all of these, Brenda Miller meditates upon in a prose that sacrifices none of its lyricism for its breath-catching honesty. Miller shows us that a love of language is not merely the province of the poet, but that in the hands of a skillful and original prose writer, the essay becomes, in its own fashion, an ode, an elegy, a sonnet, a sestina. With this debut, Miller takes her place in the first ranks of contemporary prose writers.
William Kittredge
Season of the Body is calm and lovely, occasionally broken-hearted, always clear-eyed, about loss and the primordial importance of touching one another while recovering. It is about physicality and love, hands-on repair and continuing. This book is a gift both useful and beautiful. Brenda Miller should be thanked for it every day.
Publishers Weekly
In this collection of affecting and thought-provoking essays, Miller, an English professor at Western Washington University, addresses how so many people try to move determinedly forward in their lives, but often find themselves "doubling back" and "playing out the same plots again and again." Likewise, the forward motion of each of these essays tends to loop back and revisit themes of love, loss, loneliness and healing. Reflections on Miller's romantic relationships, Zen meditation practice, Jewish heritage, infertility, surrogate motherhood and work as a masseuse are among the many points of access through which she explores physicality. Details such as the red and gold of autumn leaves link vastly different vignettes on the pain of a miscarriage, a walk in the New England countryside and a lack of communication between a mother and daughter. Miller's expressions of sadness and loneliness are never laments, though; they're juxtaposed with themes of rebirth, renewal and healing love. About a breast cancer patient, she writes, "I cupped my palms on her sternum, and felt the absence there, an ache traveling up my arm and into my own breast. We both started to cry then: not in a debilitating way, but gently, almost happily, as if we spoke a language of the female, body-to-body, unhampered by the tired obstacle of speech." Miller's observation that "endings never stay put, but keep changing into beginnings; eventually we're left reeling in a perpetual present" serves not as a warning, but an invitation to embrace the cycles of life with calm receptivity. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In these autobiographical essays, Miller reminds readers of the mind-body connection, observing in her introduction that "the body knows a language the mind never wholly masters." Before becoming an assistant professor of English at Western Washington University and editor in chief of the Bellingham Review, the author was trained in therapeutic massage. Her work in the creative nonfiction genre allows her to combine body memory with intellectual memory, creating personal essays that reflect one woman's spiritual and cultural experience. Born into a Jewish household, Miller was given the choice of staying in Hebrew school and having a bat mitzvah or dropping out to pursue her own interests, which started her on a lifelong quest to find answers for herself. The resulting essays are memorable for their sensuality and unflinching honesty. Miller's works have appeared in The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Storming Heaven's Gate: An Anthology of Spiritual Writings by Women. Recommended for all libraries, public and academic, with large collections of women's literature and self-help books. Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bellingham Review editor Miller's debut essays are elegant examples of life considered not theatrically or oppressively, but as a glistening, sensuous, and respectful tracking of intentions and acts. These 22 reflective pieces have an admirable fearlessness in roving about the palpable connections in life. These can be between lovers, friends, and families, can be about the hours given to-or exacted by-melancholy, or given to bliss or to the fading of relationships ("two people begin to misplace the selves they have formed over the years") or to love ("to probe that scared flesh and not hate each other for it"). Miller is not a minimalist, but she also doesn't stand a lot of clutter and appreciates delicacy, as when your lover asks how many came before: "You must analyze the question carefully, because a correct answer does exist, in the air between you." This is not coyness-Miller is never coy-but the taking of an artful, chess-like enjoyment. At other times, without slipping her moorings, the author moves into stormy reaches. "We sleep alone but something musses our hair in the night, strokes us into dishevelment, so in the morning our mirrors give back a person foreign and wild." Miller takes enough chances, for there are inevitably to be jarring notes, as in the comparison of writers to masseurs, both "requiring the same inclination to listen with a hand pressed to the holy bone," an awkward glancing reach. But playing in the fields of the emotions through the electricity of touch, she is finely tuned. She volunteers to be with newborns struggling through all sorts of ailments; "it's a moment of simple communication," she says, but readers will experience it as sublime, so holy doesthe writer cradling the child in her arms feel. Miller knows how to let physical exploration of touch, comforting to intimate, pierce but not smother.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781889330693
  • Publisher: Sarabande Books
  • Publication date: 4/1/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 941,554
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

As I lay in my childhood bed in Los Angeles, religiously following the step-by step directions in the needlepoint kit, my mother seemed to be always washing dishes in the kitchen down the hall-the water constantly running, the clank of silverware in the sink. Where did so many dishes come from? I think she sensed I a little ashamed in front of her; before I was rushed to the hospital, she was the one to find me collapsed in the bathroom, in such pain I couldn't speak or cry out; she had seen me vomit; she'd seen my robe pulled askew across my legs as I fainted.

But every couple of hours the water in the kitchen ceased, I heard my mother's footsteps in the carpeted hall, saw her tiny figure in my doorway, "You need anything, sweetheart?" she asked. She didn't wear an apron, so her sweatshirt was always dotted with dishwater. She stood half-in, half-out of my bedroom until her maternal instincts overwhelmed her; then she slid onto my bed, her palm on my forehead, her eyes teary with concern. I can't remember if we'd ever really talked about sex; we attended the mother/daughter lecture in junior high auditorium called "The Joy of Being a Woman," but that was more about Kotex than it was about intimacy, and even then I could barely stand the embarrassment. Once, feeling bold, I'd asked her if she and my father had sex before they were married. "Oh, of course not," she answered, blushing, turning to fuss with pots and pans on the stove. "And you better not, either." As she sat with me on my bed, I wonder if she looked at me, her daughter, and couldn't help imagine what I'd done, if my sexuality made her angry or sad or ashamed.

My mother never mentioned my young boyfriend. She barely mentioned the pregnancy. Instead, she admired the growing needlepoint, rubbed the bulky fabric between her fingers, talked about having it framed and mounted on the wall above my bed. She knew that sometimes only the simplest actions are feasible, and those are the ones that lead us out of illness and back into the world. So I pulled strands of thread through tiny holes until one day I was able to walk, and one day I was able to laugh, and one day I was able to cry. Recovery, it turned out was inevitable.

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Table of Contents

Body Language 3
Needlepoint 11
The Names 21
A Dharma Name 33
Basha Leah 37
Next Year in Jerusalem 57
How to Meditate 75
A Thousand Buddhas 87
Sean Falling 99
Split 107
Artifacts 111
Infant Ward 117
A Brief History of Sex 129
Prologue to a Sad Spring 137
The Date 141
Grape Hyacinths 153
Time With Children 155
A Field Guide to the Desert 165
Gourd 171
Kimono 173
Season of the Body 189
Epilogue 201
The Author 209
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