So there’s this woman…

“A hair perhaps divides the False from True;”
Or False of True thy Verses, we thus due
Of meed bestow on One so bitter-sweet;
We read and dream then dream and read anew.

– Charles P. Nettleton, from the forward of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


“We read and dream then dream and read anew,” the line jumped out at me as I perused a beautiful ruin of a copy of The Rubaiyat printed by the Roycrofters. Reading is something of a dream. Even the way the tone and rhythm of a given story clings to one’s day, disturbing the line between real and oneiric. There is that easy way in which we begin to think of characters as if we know them and miss them when we have had to put the book down in order to, say, make dinner, fold laundry, do homework, or show up for work- all the tasks that we like to think don’t actually make up the bulk of our lives.

“This is what happens when you live in dreams, he thought: you dream this and you dream that and you sleep right through your life” – Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (218).

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter is a lovely story in which many lives overlap and influence each other in this blizzard we call life – the cannibals eat each other while the emotionally starved find meaning in seemingly sacrificial acts that turn out to be the only thing that can’t really be bought or sold. It’s the hard-sell, the prostituting of our collective souls, that is the nightmare we can’t seem to wake up from.

To pitch is to live. People pitch their kids into good schools, pitch offers on houses they can’t afford, and when they’re caught in the arms of the wrong person, pitch unlikely explanations. […]…It’s endless, the pitching – endless, exhilarating, soul-sucking, and as unrelenting as death (28-29).

But what is a dream if not something we always wake up from? Every morning our eyes open to our lives again. Our story can begin anew. And, of course,  it’s all a love story – that’s what life is.  In Beautiful Ruins Walter’s most craven character, the chemically petrified Michael Deane, self-appointed pimp of the pitch, insists it is. And – he’s not wrong. It is all a love story. It can either be pitched as one, or lived as one.

O threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain- This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest – is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

– The Rubaiyat

image from –


9 responses to “So there’s this woman…

  1. Sometimes, as with this Ryan post, I once again realize just how “under read” I (and most of the English speaking world) is compared to your exquisite sense of, and joy in, literature; reading and simply thinking. Your generous sharing and marvelous excitement is palpable and appreciated. So then, what I do, is Google some small salient phrase or author you have profoundly considered and shared and try to catch up to you by following in your footsteps…Or footnotes. That being said I looked up ol’ Charlie Nettleton and discovered, directly after his preface to the Rubaiyat, this poem of his. Now I don’t think that a change from “Boston College” to “Smith College” is needed (and it would slightly fracture the meter) But still and all it’s, goofy and somewhat ironic fun. Oh, and although I have never witnessed your eating habits and table manners I’m sure you use your fingers.

    Weighed, and Found Wanting.


    She was fresh from Boston College and so deeply crammed
    with knowledge.
    There was nothing one could mention that she didn’t
    fully know.
    She was up in every science, every medical appliance, and
    her face it spake defiance
    If you dared to hint but humbly that perhaps she
    couldn’t sew.

    She would lange from charming Cato and the works
    (entire) of Plato
    To the awful thoughts of Butler, or the wild but dear
    Swedenborg and Thomas Dekker, Browning, Swinburne,
    Madame Necker, Shakespeare, Hood and Mary
    These she read before her breakfast, as a bracer for the
    day. .

    She was strong in the poetics, fairly reveled in esthetics,
    But for downright pleasant reading turned to Sully,
    Karnes and Kant.
    Chaucer, Spenser and old Gower she would quote you by
    the hour, while she had the risky power
    Of compelling you to love her — I was for a time gallant.

    She was lovely, wise and witty, and she might have
    stocked a city
    With her awful weight of learning, fj^athered in the
    spring of life.
    But I did not try to win her, for I saw her once at dinner
    and as I’m a blessed sinner
    She ate it with a knife !

    Forty days in consternation, forty nights in lamentation
    Wept i at that revelation, for my soul had called her
    But her moral aberration freed me from the domination of
    my mad infatuation.
    She killed it with a knife !

  2. Hm. Well, I can’t disagree with him. There are two intractable conditions to falling in love – you must be intoxicated by the smell of your lover, and you absolutely must be able to stand seeing them eat.

  3. Or, if they eat with their hands and/or lots of garlic, Romano cheese and let’s say, parsley and basil, you must be intoxicated by the smell of pesto ON your lover. Personally, any woman from whom wafts the seductive essence of eau’ d’ fried chicken or “parfume du cheeseburger” will have me as their slave.

  4. This is one blively blog I will say. I am gladdened to see that Ms Ryan’s exuberant love of literature, the written word, and art does fall on appreciative ears….I too want to run to the library every time I read her blog, but then instead I succumb to the laundry, the dishes, and the sleeping.

  5. beautiful rumination Jessica. Thanks.

  6. reading, dreaming, loving the story of life and sleeping it all away. incredibly beautiful imagery – now i will shut my computer and go make dinner – thank you for implanting these beautiful ruins of thought.

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