1416 miles Away maps the intervals of time and the constant distance traveled by airplane while in my stay at the Cooper Union. Suspended between two separate and distant homes, New York and Houston, the only thing that remains constant is the four airplane rides I take four times a year. But while the ritual of traveling back and forth and the 1416 air miles never change, the notion of where home really is gets blurrier and blurrier by every trip I take.
"A Decade of Dostoyevsky" - Perfect Hardcover Bind
A Decade of Dostoyevsky is a book about a novel I was never able to finish reading; it recollects my memories of childhood and the parental home while tracing my attempts over ten years to read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book mimics the original novel in appearance and it includes both my personal story and quotes from the Karamazov text to comment upon it. Since most of the pages are empty, ‘book marks’ are built into the structure of the book as a way to guide the viewer, map time and delineate my many attempts of reading.
1. Eight hundred twelve pages, ninety-six chapters, twelve books, four parts, three years to write, ten years to try and read, yet haven’t finished once.
“Alyosha used to say that it was frenzied but beautiful as he remembered. But he rarely cared to speak of this memory to anyone.”
2. You sit down and grab your hardcover book, feeling studious and academic, eager to add such a prestigious novel to your resume of narrative conquests – even though so far, as a ten year old, the only other things you’ve finished reading are those most popular poems written by those most popular poets, the ones that everyone should memorize at one time or another. But if your father recommends this book you know for a fact you should read it. With a doctorate in religion, speaker of five different languages and a hero in your eyes, he must be impressed if you get through it.
“Fathers and teachers, forgive my tears now, for all my childhood rises up again before me, and I breathe now as I breathed then, with the breast of a little child of eight, and I feel as I did then, awe and wonder and gladness.”
3. You skip the long introduction, even though you should probably read it – but it is twenty unnecessarily long pages. Once you reach the first chapter, you flatten the pages against the rigid cover and focus all your attention on the first, second, third, forth line. Six sentences and many unfamiliar and puzzling words later, you’re over your first hurdle.
“Mitya was impatiently anxious not to omit the slightest detail. At the same time he was in a hurry to get it over with.”
4. And then you hear your mother talking indistinctly to your sister, who chuckles and follows with a hurried and unintelligible response. It makes you even more aware of the competition that’s ongoing between you; she bet you she’d finish the book before you even got a chance to get halfway. But it’s not fair, she is one year older. Meanwhile, your father must be out working on the car while Hera the dog watches on disinterested. And so you place your bookmark carefully between pages three and four, preparing to pick up where you left off – but only after you join in those daily activities which at this age are all the entertainment you need.
“You must know that there is nothing higher, or stronger, or sounder, or more useful afterwards in life, than some good memory, especially a memory from childhood, from the parental home.”
5. Ten years later, you open the book at the beginning again, skipping over the introduction, fresh start at Chapter One. A newer version, the pages aren’t yellowed with age, but smooth and white, branded with crisp black words – differently colored and sized, the book has that timeless, distinguished appearance nonetheless. A summer at home, you’re trying to get ahead by attempting to read this monumental classic again – the odds are better this time around. You get comfortable, turn off all distractions, and read on through the first chapter until a knock at your door distracts you. It doesn’t take much convincing to make you get up and set the book face down, with its massive slabs of text touching your bed covers.
“Some person or thing seemed to be standing out somewhere, just as something will sometimes obtrude itself upon the eye, even though one may be so busy with work or conversation; yet it irritates and almost torments one till at last one realises, and removes the offending object - some article left about in the wrong place, a handkerchief on the floor or a book not replaced on the shelf.”
6. Now away from home and back at school, three days driving distance or three hours by plane, my father called and scolded me for not returning my library book on time – it managed to rack up five dollars in overdue fees. He reminded me how upset mom would be if she found out, a waste of money. But luckily, he found it hiding, dusty and forgotten under my bed as he was clearing out my old room. He asked how school was going, told me that mom is busy as usual and that the cat missed me – then, following the ‘i love yous’ and before we hung up, he quickly added “Ioana, Bravo! Ai citit Dostoyevsky!” Unbeknownst to him, the only thing I could recount about it is not its plotline, its philosophical themes or even its characters, but why I ever attempted to read it and how it came to be that I still haven’t.
“I spent a long time, almost eight years, in the school at Petersburg, and in the novelty of my surroundings there, many of my childish impressions grew dimmer, though I forgot nothing.”