"A friend asked yesterday if this blog is addressed to anyone in particular? I said yes– it’s a love letter to someone I haven’t met yet."
A Small Motor
by Alberto Rios
The easiest sadness is a boy
Watching another boy
Walk with a barefooted girl, clean
Perfect feet, that kind of nose,
Eyes like those he's dreamed
In the dreams that come back.
A boy watching another boy lucky
Gets an ache
That is a small motor.
In me there is an animal,
And in that animal
There is a hunger.
I remember the boy
Watching a boy,
It was me.
Watching, I was a little bit
The boy walking.
I was both of us.
That's how I felt.
What I could not have,
That's what I was
Inside, an ache
Coming as I stood
Too many places.
A professor I had in graduate school once said people who read for pleasure can be divided into two groups-- Book Killers or Book Kissers. In that he meant the way we treat a book when we read it. I'm a book kisser. When I finish reading something it still looks brand new most of the time. I never fold corners down to mark a place, bend the spine to make the book open easier, write on a page, etcetera. Today on the subway I saw a woman reading a book that screamed she was a book killer. It had the wiggly warped look of having been left out in the rain. Many page corners were folded over, and the spine had been bent back so far that I was sure pages were going to fall out sooner or later. Looking at her first as a fellow reader, I thought poor book. Will it live long enough for her to finish? But then as a writer I thought it also looks completely lived in. It probably goes with her everywhere and has been read in some odd and interesting places. Isn't that the greatest compliment a reader can pay to a writer? That they just can't put your damned story down and have to take it with them everywhere?
A bunch of early teenagers standing together in front of McDonald's, checking out the passing world, rehearsing their adult facial expressions.
The creepy looking man-- is he mad?-- walks towards me smiling. At the last minute he brusquely sticks out his hand. He wants us to shake. I smile small but then say no. He looks like I've betrayed him, says "asshole" and walks on.
I've really never seen two people with more piercings on their faces than this couple. Their ears are all silver, their noses, lips, eyebrows. A perfect pair because with all that decoration they look very similar; sort of like members of some obscure tribe. They start making out in the middle of the sidewalk. I immediately think "God, you'd better be careful!"
An interesting piece of trivia I learned today that has to be useful somewhere in a piece of fiction, even if only as a metaphor. When judging the quality of a guitar, experts listen for four things in particular. The acronym is called ASDR which stands for: Attack (the first sound that comes from the instrument when a note is played), Sustain (how long the instrument body holds the pure sound of the note), Decay (how long it takes the sound to die). Release (the end of the sound). When I first read about it I thought that sounds suspiciously like the different stages of a relationship...
At one of the museums in Vienna is a big new exhibit entitled EROS. I went yesterday and all the usual suspects were on display-- the Egon Schiele skeletal nudes, Picasso's cube ladies, Tamara de Lempicka's sloe-eyed kept women... It was a strange feeling looking at so many famous pictures trying to capture that most immediate, in-your-face human experience. Skin and sweat and sex and sighs... All framed and carefully mounted on white walls in such a formal setting. Well behaved people stood in front of the pictures like good students, listening to voices on their little iPods give scholarly analysis of what the dark pubic hair on Cezanne's women metaphorically represented... It made me smile to look around and see this most intimate, emotional, funky thing on display in a museum. Like looking at a leopard pace back and forth behind the bars of a cage at the zoo.
"There isn't much point to writing if you can't annoy someone."
"...big summer movies, even the successful ones, are designed to be forgettable, passing through our system at precisely the same rate as a pint of Pepsi. Nothing is left but fizzing nerve ends and a sugary soupcon of rot."
Anthony Lane reviewing the latest PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequel
While reading the brilliant Daniel Woodrell's latest novel WINTER'S BONE today, I realized something that made me smile. Besides being a superb storyteller, Woodrell is also one of the great stylists. In one passage, he describes two young women riding in a rickety pickup truck through a winter's night. The descriptions of what they see, what they say to each other, and what they're thinking are marvelous. In the middle of one line I thought, "He's having a ball writing this. I know he's having an absolute ball. I'lll bet a million dollars." Sometimes reading a very good writer you can tell when they're on a roll and having more fun than sex putting words down on the page and knowing slam bam that those are the 100% rightest ones they could conjure. Athletes talk about hitting the "sweet spot" in sport-- the right place on the tennis racket, baseball bat, or golf club to send the ball flying to the moon. The right move, the perfect swing, the right body rhythm to take you to another level, even if only for a little while. So too with writing. Sometimes you hit a point, a sweet spot, where you can do no wrong. The right words pour out of you effortlessly and more importantly, exactly right. Reading Woodrell, I was positive he was smiling when he wrote that passage.
All the beauties:
A large bunch of people have written in asking about what's up with new books. So here goes: my new novel THE GHOST IN LOVE will be published in June 2008 in the US by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux if all goes according to plan. The English version of the blog book, EYE OF THE DAY will be coming out some time before then but we don't know exactly when. Mobius New Media is working on it right now and certain things have to happen before they can say. That book will be like THE HEIDELBERG CYLINDER in that it will only be sold online here at the website and will be printed in a limited edition. THE GHOST IN LOVE will be published in Poland this coming September 2007. I'll let you know when it pops its head up in other countries as soon as we hear.
A while ago I posted a link to a French website where they had the very smart idea of asking bands they like to do impromptu unplugged performances on the streets of Paris. I didn't realize it then, but many thanks to EK, he found this there too. A favorite song of mine, it's called A LADY OF A CERTAIN AGE by "The Divine Comedy." If you like it here, track down a studio version somewhere (like iTunes) and have a closer listen. It's a lovely sad song with poignant lyrics.
"The thing that kept him standing still was the sudden realization that he felt no curiosity about where she was going now, none. He had not been curious about her life for a long time. What she did with her days, what she thought about things, what mattered or distressed her-- he was indifferent. It was ambient sound to him. Granted, some was louder and some softer. Generally though it was mostly background noise, or the soft tune playing in an elevator as you ascend to your floor. Familiar and trivial, the most effect it had was to stay in your mind a few seconds after you left the elevator. Perhaps you whistled some notes of it before moving on to what mattered, but no more. For years she had been one of the most important parts of his life. But in recent times what she did, what she thought, where she went, or what left her lips was like hearing the song 'Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head' for the 1,000th time."
from the new novel
Interesting ad with Richard Burton in the background reading from "Under Milkwood"
And the director David Fincher does an homage (via Japanese Coca Cola) to BLADERUNNER:
Walking along early in the morning, I hear loud singing somewhere. A man's voice, it's hard to tell just what he's warbling-- a show tune? Opera? But the sound is especially loud on this quiet, first light of day street. I keep walking and don't turn around to check it out. A few steps on at a construction site a man wearing a dusty baseball cap is moving large bags of cement. The singing starts again and this worker looks up. His expression is hard-- he obviously think it's coming from me. His eyes scold what the HELL are you doing? It's six-thirty in the morning! A moment later he realizes I'm not the guilty one. As if on cue, the singer appears riding slowly along on a cobalt blue bicycle with some sort of large homemade trailer attachment hooked onto the back, crammed full of junk. The rider is clearly insane, having a great time singing and moving his blue chariot through the world. The worker and I watch the guy pass. Then we look at each other. The worker's expression is now both amused and sheepish. It says, "Sorry for thinking it was you, Pal." I smile back it's okay. But the best part of the experience is knowing that for one split second moments ago, I desperately wanted to throw up my hands and protest to him, "It's not me! I wasn't singing! You've got the wrong guy!" Always trying to prove we're innocent to a suspicious world....
"I sometimes think that people's hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what's at the bottom. All you can do is guess from what comes floating to the surface every once in a while."
"I like to play people that haven't existed yet, a future something, a cusp character. I have that creative yearning. Much in the way Chagall flies figures into the air-- once it becomes part of the conventional wisdom, it doesn't seem particularly adventurous or weird or wild."
"You can't change the world, but you can make the world think."
"Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't. I'm not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other peoples' lives, never your own."
"In fifth grade, Laurie Ross and Cindy Brooks threw a party, one of those parties where children pet and persecute each other. They made a list of the invitees. Cindy's list fell out of her notebook at school and I picked it up. Next to my name at the bottom was a big question mark. When you have a question mark next to your name you never fully recover. Wherever you go or whatever you do you have a question mark, it's like having a tail."
from CHRISTMAS ON MARS by Harry Kondoleon
I was delighted the other day when someone who lives in Los Angeles wrote and said they saw a woman there wearing a T-shirt that said, "IF WE ARE NOT CAREFUL, WE END UP ASKING WHAT LIFE TASTED LIKE," which is a line from one of my books. For the next half hour I grinned like a monkey.
And speaking of T-shirts, I saw two good ones recently:
1. A boy no older than 8 or 9 wearing a shirt that said, "I ONLY GO TO SCHOOL FOR THE GIRLS.'
2. A sexy looking guy with movie star sunglasses wearing a black T that said in Italian:
"I'M AN ITALIAN. GO FUCK YOURSELF (Va Fan Culo)."
When we're kids, the thing we hate most is being shunned. Not chosen for the team, or to dance, not voted into the club... etcetera. Interestingly enough, a lot of that carries over into adulthood. Most people don't like being rejected by others-- dates, the parties colleagues have to which you are not invited, the club you want to enter but the bouncer looks you over and shakes his head no. There's a wide variety of adult rejection that wounds no matter who you are or what you have achieved in life. Yet the most popular shows by far on television these days-- American Idol, America's Next Top Model, Dancing With the Stars-- are based entirely on who "gets in" and who doesn't. I have a feeling that for many, half the fun of watching these shows is guessing (or rooting for) who is going to be rejected. Millions call in and cast their votes for their favorite contestants. We know how terrible it feels to be rejected by someone or something we want very much, yet huge numbers of people do just that week after week: Voting for their favorite, pleased when the others lose.
The same man who was angry at his wife told me a story that happened to him last year.
After working late at the office one night, he stopped at a diner on the way home for something to eat. The place was almost empty so he noticed the other customers. In a booth directly across the room, a couple were eating hamburgers and horsing around. Probably twenty years old, they were obviously crazy for each other and their happiness was as thick as the smell of perfume. They ate and talked with the animation and intensity of children. That picture said everything. You forget what it is like to experience the alchemy of new love. You forget how you want to tell them everything and hear everything they have to say. It does not matter what it is, so long as they keep talking.
His food came and he ate while sneaking glances at them when possible. He didn't want to be too obvious about it so as not to embarrass the couple or make them feel self-conscious. What he liked so much was that neither of them was trying to be cool or aloof. Even from this distance he saw the flurry of goofy expressions on their faces, the constant touching, the giggling and talk talk talk. They weren't trying to impress or play superior. They were wholly comfortable showing each other their joy. It was so nice to see that after his meal, he ordered a cup of tea he didn't want just so he could stayand watch them a while longer.
Eventually the young man stood up and walked to the toilet. The girl began to cry almost as soon as he disappeared behind the restroom door. Sitting there alone, her face tightened and then the tears came. She cried silently but made no attempt to hide it. He couldn't believe it. Why was she crying? Moments ago she had been laughing and flirting, touching her boyfriend's arm and clapping her hands together in glee. Now her face was red in anguish. Where did it come from? Had something been said? Or had she waited till her love was gone before letting her real feelings show?
Fascinated by this disturbing change in the distraught girl, he could not stop staring. In the end she saw him and looked over with real hatred in her eyes; as if *he* were to blame for her tears and all her sadness, whatever the cause. He was so flustered and distressed by her glare that he threw some money down on the table to cover the cost of his meal and fled.
His wife had done a very lousy thing to him and we were discussing it. Why did she do it? How could she? I said maybe there's something you missed or forgot; some word or a significant sentence that had gone unnoticed prior to her selfish, cruel act that would explain it. He shook his head and said adamantly, 'No, I'm not doing that. I'm not going to search for a logical, acceptable reason. What she did was wrong. That's all-- unacceptable, way over the line- wrong. I hate how people always go looking for reasons to justify others' bad behavior. Because sometimes things aren't justifiable-- they're bad, pure and simple. Sometimes people are just shitty and their actions prove it.'
look at the videos on:
I received a harrowing and very beautiful letter from D who is terminally ill. They asked that I cite this passage from OUTSIDE THE DOG MUSEUM because they say it has been a comfort to them as they endure their ordeal.
I am humbled.
"The dying have a quality that even a child senses. Not because they are already removed, but because even young hearts sense their inability to stay longer. Behind the looks of sickness or fear is also the look of the long distance traveler, bags on the floor, eyes tired but nervous for any change that may come. They are the ones going on the twenty-hour flights, and although we don't envy their coming discomfort or time-zone skips, tomorrow they will be *there*-- the place that both terrifies and thrills us. We peek at the ticket they hold, the inconceivably far destination written there, impossible yet monstrously alluring. What will it smell like where they will be tomorrow? What is it like to sleep there?"
SS wrote in with an interesting observation:
Did you ever consider how many love songs could be stalking songs if the love is unrequited/unwanted?
Lesley Gore/Little Peggy March tune
I will follow Him
Follow Him wherever He may go,
And near Him, I always will be
For nothing can keep me away,
He is my destiny.
I will follow Him,
Ever since He touched my heart I knew,
There isn't an ocean too deep,
A mountain so high it can keep,
Keep me away, away from His love.
I love Him, I love Him, I love Him,
And where He goes,
I'll follow, I'll follow, I'll follow.
Or more recently, The Police tune "Every Breath You Take"
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
Ill be watching you
Every move you make
Every step you take
Ill be watching you
Ill be watching you
Ill be watching you
Ill be watching you
Ill be watching you...
And from ON, Salvador Dali on the 1950's TV show WHAT'S MY LINE:
by Alice N. Persons
A guaranteed miracle,
it happens for two weeks each May,
this bounty of riches
where McMansion, trailer,
the humblest driveway
burst with color--pale lavender,
purple, darker plum--
and glorious scent.
This morning a battered station wagon
drew up on my street
and a very fat woman got out
and started tearing branches
from my neighbor's tall old lilac--
grabbing, snapping stems, heaving
armloads of purple sprays
into her beater.
A tangle of kids' arms and legs
writhed in the car.
I almost opened the screen door
to say something,
but couldn't begrudge her theft,
or the impulse
to steal such beauty.
Just this once,
there is enough for everyone.
a passage from THE MARRIAGE OF STICKS requested by JH:
"When anything truly important happens in your life, wherever you happen to be, find a stick in the immediate vicinity and write the occasion and date on it. Keep these sticks together, protect them. There shouldn't be too many; sort through them every few years and separate the events that remain genuinely important from those that once were but are no longer. You know the difference.Throw the rest out. When you are very old, very sick, or sure there's not much time left to live, put them together and burn them. The marriage of sticks."
by Everette H. Maddox
for years, perhaps, you have lived
underground. Handling only
darkness. You have not become
accustomed to it. You want to get out.
One day you find an object which
may be a chair; at any rate,
a surface. Standing on
this dark thing, you reach up.
Here at the top the smell
is oppressive, sweet. You almost
fall. But you push, and the top begins
to crack. Plaster, or something, falls
around you. Emerging, you know
the smell: cake. Noise, lights:
You are outside, standing giddily at the top,
swathed in ribbons. And there
are all your friends,
dressed up, half drunk. The applause
is enormous. It is a party
for you. One of the crowd, the drunkest
and happiest, shrilling through a megaphone
At the party I was talking to a woman who had just celebrated her second year in remission from breast cancer. She said, "When you're a young girl all you want are breasts big enough to fit into your first bra. When you're a teenager, you get furious because all the boys do is look at them. As an adult they're you're best friend because they're such an important part of love making. But as you grow older and they start to droop, for a lot of women they become your worst enemy because breast cancer is like the number two or three killer. Isn't it strange? We go through a complete range of emotions from A to Z with them." She looked at her chest and patted it gently.
The severely hunchbacked man walks into the restaurant and chooses a table nearby. Carefully lowering himself into a chair, with his singular body you know it must be done just right or he will be uncomfortable. He is dressed in a suit and carries a briefcase. The waiter knows him and gives a cordial greeting when bringing the menu. "The usual?" he asks and the hunchback nods without looking up from the menu. A few minutes later the waiter returns with a large mug of beer, a shot of schnapps, a cola and a mineral water. Still studying the menu, the customer drinks the schnaps and then a giant slug of the beer. I cannot hear what he orders but when the food is brought out, there is enough to feed three people. Wiener schnitzel, goulash with spaetzle, a plate of onion rings as high as a birthday cake, more. Plates of food literally cover the entire table. Bent over he eats quickly, taking big portions on his fork and shoving them into his mouth. At one point he looks up and one of his eyes is squinted almost shut. It is like watching something medieval, or a fairy tale ogre feasting before turning his attention to Jack who he caught climbing the beanstalk.
"Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds."
Excerpts from an interview with the novelist Will Self:
What made you want to write when you were starting out?
There can be no more thrilling idea of intimacy than connecting with someone through the agency of the written word. Here we meet, on the page, naked and unadorned: shorn of class, race, gender, sexual identity, age and nationality. The reader I seek is a tautology, for he/she is simply exactly the person who wants to read what I have written, and in this sense writing is a paradigm for the greatest of intimacy.
What makes you write now?
The same things that always have: it's my way of mediating the world as I see it around me. Megalomania: I like the sensation of creating a tiny world that I alone control. Control freakery: it allows me to be in a place that is mediated by rituals of my own devising. Poetry: the delight of experiencing thought as words and words as thought. Oh, and it's what I do for a living. I've been doing it for most of my working life now and would be unemployable in any other field.
Heaven on Earth
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
I saw Jesus at the bowling alley,
slinging nothing but gutter balls.
He said, 'You've gotta love a hobby
that allows ugly shoes.'
He lit a cigarette and bought me a beer.
So I invited him to dinner.
I knew the Lord couldn't see my house
in its current condition, so I gave it an out
of season spring cleaning. What to serve
for dinner? Fish--the logical
choice, but after 2000 years, he must grow weary
of everyone's favorite seafood dishes.
I thought of my Granny's ham with Coca Cola
glaze, but you can't serve that to a Jewish
boy. Likewise pizza--all my favorite
toppings involve pork.
In the end, I made us an all-dessert buffet.
We played Scrabble and Uno and Yahtzee
and listened to Bill Monroe.
Jesus has a healthy appetite for sweets,
I'm happy to report. He told strange
stories which I've puzzled over for days now.
We've got an appointment for golf on Wednesday.
Ordinarily I don't play, and certainly not in this humidity.
But the Lord says he knows a grand miniature
golf course with fiberglass mermaids and working windmills
and the best homemade ice cream you ever tasted.
Sounds like Heaven to me.
There is an elementary school nearby and I often watch parents bringing children to it in the morning. There is a distinct difference between the way fathers and mothers perform the duty. In most cases, parents hold the kid's hand as they walk. But Dads are almost always in a hurry to get there. If the child is a talker or a dawdler, men try to make them hurry up, move along, no nonsense, hup-hup, time for school. They often glance at their wristwatches or talk on cellphones as they go, multitasking. On the other hand, women amble. It's obvious that they genuinely enjoy this walk with their children and doing whatever interests the little one on the way to school. If they want to chat, the conversation is animated. If the child wants to pause and examine something in a window or the street, then they make a detour for as long as is necessary. Moms are okay with the stops and starts, the chats, the many interesting things to be seen and discussed along the way.
word of the day--
Philematologist-- one who makes a formal study of kissing
by David Ignatow
I dream I am flying above the city
on the strength of my two outflung arms
and looking down upon the streets
where people look like so many
bacteria moving about on a slide.
I am alone up here, with no one
to contradict me, free of the noise,
tumult and violence of the living.
Here is my true residence,
and if I say the people are bacteria
who will deny it? I declare
in my circumstances that the people
are what I say they are. The only
question now is whether I can keep flying.
He heard that she'd had an affair with a genuinely awful man. The irony was that they had sometimes discussed this guy when they were together: how stupid and dull he was, the fact he beat his wife, how he had bumbled from job to job never finding any kind of success because he had neither substance nor imagination; All mouth and no brain. This was a long time ago, yet when he learned that she had slept with this cretin, he was shocked. It had been years since they broke up, but after hearing about the affair he immediately started running her and their relationship back through his mind, scrolling up and down its pages, trying to find any indication in their shared history, in what he remembered about her, that would point to her doing this. It was like he had never known her at all, even though at one point in his life he would have said they were open books to each other.
"You never wear a wristwatch, do you?"
"No. If I wear one I look at it all the time. Then I feel like a slave to it."
"But what do you do when you need to know what time it is? What if you have an appointment?"
"Time is all around if you just look closely. There are clocks in store windows, in displays, in ads, on the street. Right now start counting. At the same time start looking for a clock. If you're in the city it's very rare to get all the way to thirty before you can find what time it is. Jewelry store windows, appliance stores...."
"If you carry a cellphone there's a clock on in too."
"But you're being too practical. Of course it's on your cellphone, but I'd rather do a little search for the time, you know, pay more attention to my surroundings and find it that way."
"Cheeriomas" and "Angel Lust"--
"Vanilla is white. Chocolate is brown. Strawberry is pink." The woman says these facts slowly to her small child. They stand together in front of the store's ice cream display. Mama is teaching her daughter what's what and which is which. The child steps closer to the window and presses both hands and her forehead against the glass. Stationed so, she repeats what she's heard except she gets it wrong. Pointing to the vanilla, she says "brown is chocolate." Mama steps forward and gently taking the girl's hand, moves it to where the chocolate sits in its round tub behind the glass. "No, *that's* chocolate. It's the brown one, see?" The child looks at the chocolate ice cream, and then up at her mother. "But it doesn't taste brown." She points again at the vanilla. "THAT one does."
The novelist John Irving remembering his friend Kurt Vonnegut (from an article in Entertainment Weekly online):
"Ten years ago, a package arrived from Kurt, and it didn't look like a book or anything. I opened it, and it was a very ugly, soiled, sweat-stained golf cap, an old man's kind of cap, something I would never wear, really grubby. And I thought, 'What could this thing be? It's disgusting!' And the note --which was a classic-- said, 'Dear John, This hat once belonged to Billy Wilder. He gave it to Saul Steinberg. Saul gave it to me. I give it to you. Keep it going. Cheers, Kurt.' Well, I was terrified. I thought, 'What has happened in his life that has made him clean his house and decide to send such things on?' I thought it was like getting a suicide note or something. So I called him on the phone and said, 'Are you all right?' And he said, 'Of course, I'm all right!' And I said, 'Well, you sent me Billy Wilder's hat,' and he said, 'Well, who would want that around for much longer?' "
He was wearing a t-shirt that said in thick black letters SECOND PLACE IS THE FIRST LOSER. His face was not your friend. It said without his mouth opening you will never be my friend. When he made eye contact it was aggressive, challenging. Who do you think *you're* looking at? DeNiro in TAXI DRIVER: "You lookin' at *me*?" Mr. T-shirt was just sizing you up, that's all you were good for in the few seconds you crossed his vision. He was getting your number, he was getting the world's number. If push ever came to shove between the two of you, he wanted to see right away if he could take you. But if you were smart, you'd never let it get that far. You'd back off or better, turn around and walk fast the other way. His girlfriend was all streaked hair, big sunglasses, sprayed on jeans, and a sliver of silver cellphone pressed to her ear. Passing them, I wondered what they talked about in the middle of the night when they weren't doing the obvious, there was no one around to challenge, and all cellphones were asleep.
Spooky stuff from RC:
Last summer I met a woman who doesn't like to hold hands with her loves. I've known people who aren't crazy about it or are just indifferent to that famously romantic gesture (both men and women). But until then I had never encountered anyone who was 100% adamantly no about it. Curious, I asked why the vehemence. She said, "If I like you, I take your hand and hold it. What does that mean?" On the defensive, I thought fast and answered it means you do like me and that's a demonstrable way of letting me know. It means you want to be physically closer to me. She shook her head and said,"I can think of much better ways to be physically close to you. And how does holding your hand show that I care? Why don't I just kiss you, or tell you, or a million other things. Children hold hands. Old people too because they're wobbly and it helps keep them stable. Holding hands is nice for children and old people but it is *not* romantic." Curious, I asked if she ever put her arm around a lover's shoulder or their waist? Did she do that, or allow it to be done to her? She shrugged and said sometimes, but she thought those gestures were kind of lame too. Since she said that, whenever I see a couple holding hands now I'm sort of torn. It *is* a nice loving gesture, but when you really think about it...
Lots of responses to the above. Here's a sampling:
It's actually pretty straightforward why people hold hands - save for the genitals and face, hands have the most nerve endings of anywhere on our bodies. So while it's obviously not cool to have sex in public, and mostly people don't rub their faces against one another at dinner, holding hands is the most effective (and socially acceptable) way for two people to communicate with each other, physically.
I wonder if the woman you met is shorter than most of the men she's dated. That can make it uncomfortable to hold hands.
What it *means* is "connection". Children may hold hands so they don't wander off, elders may hold hands because they need support. But in all cases, including adults, it is most commonly a way of being connected to another human being, of literally reaching out past the barriers of self, out of the lonely cage, to feel a sense of togetherness as we go along our ways.
Holding hands can mean a lot of things.
It can mean "I'll catch you so you don't fall" or "If you fall, I'll fall with you."
It can mean "I trust you with my body" (the hands, particularly palms and fingers, are one of the most sensitive areas of the body, tons and tons of nerves packed into a tiny space.)
For me right now, it means, "If I run away, I'll take you with me." My boyfriend has a tendency to burst into exuberant movement, either running or skipping, whenever we're walking somewhere. If we're just walking side-by-side, I get left behind; his legs are faster than mine. But if we're holding hands, he slows down enough that I have time to pick up speed until I can run (or skip) with him.