Communing with Jane

I’m sick, the kids are sick, and Carl (also sick) is working a 12-14 hour day. Not our finest hours, for sure.

We are not entirely without consolation however. The June weather has been GORGEOUS here. Our backyard has smelled amazing for weeks on ends (full credit to lilacs, honeysuckle, and now the peonies). Iris finally hit her sicky sleep wall and has spent most of her morning so far snoozing peacefully on the couch. I went on a Disney DVD classics buying binge, and it’s been (mostly) fun to re/discover the magical world of Disney together. (I say mostly because Iris, totally cool with the Huns, was besides herself over the matchmaker in Mulan, shrieking “MEAN MEAN MEAN” literally 50 times straight until I finally turned the movie off which resulted, of course, in an even bigger meltdown. So… can’t win them all?).

And I am rereading all of Jane Austen’s novels. It’s my new summer goal (along with “CRUNCHES EVERY DAY IN JUNE,” affectionately known as “HAHAHA. SURE”).

I thought I was just going to do a refreshed on Emma about six weeks ago before diving into some contemporary literary fiction this summer. If you don’t know me in real life, I am always just on the cusp of diving into a contemporary fiction course of reading that will leave me well-read, knowledgable, and awesome. I never actually do it, naturally.

This time = business as usual. I read Emma, which resulted in a convo with my friend Michele about how we should reread P&P together (we did), which then turned into a texting book club with Michele and another friend as we all read through S&S, and now I’m in withdrawal from finishing that so Mansfield Park it is.

Ok and in my spare time I may also be writing S&S fan fiction—BUT I CAN EXPLAIN. It’s actually awesome and also I am only one healthy week away from transitioning Oliver out of our room and into the nursery, which means massive sleep deprivation ON THE OTHER SIDE OF WHICH I will again be able to think about a real writing schedule.

Writing fan fic is like my workout before the game, right?

Like the crunches I am totally not doing.

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Small Acts

I piled the books and boxes against the wall and set up a card table in the study yesterday. Then I unpacked all my scrapbooking stuff—and I do mean all of it. It may not be pretty, folks, but I finally have my permanent (ok almost permanent) craft zone.

Despot of my own land, no longer will I invade neighboring kingdoms of dining room table or living room floor for unspecified periods of chaotic domination.

This is a major win, both for crafting rights and for clutter control.

Also for one’s self esteem, because yesterday wasn’t really looking like major win material for a while there. First there was the whole waking up to feelings of totally immobilizing exhaustion thing. Then there was the missed phone meeting. Then there was the schedule mix up where I was pretty sure my boss had the time of one of his appointments wrong, but since I wasn’t at my computer to double check I didn’t put up too much of a fight when he insisted it was later in the day. Yep. I was right. He totally missed the meeting. Chalk up one more reason to do those assertiveness exercises the self-esteem books are always suggesting.

… This is why it’s so cheering to have a craft space. I mean, after a day of no shower, no nap, and no dang baby it’s kind of necessary to have a place where it’s ok to spend half an hour trying to figure out how to make a rainbow out of scrap paper.

Small achievements, people. Don’t underestimate the encouraging power of small achievements.

In honor of these small acts, I stopped by the library after dropping Carl off at work this morning and gave myself 45 minutes of unrestricted foraging. I understand most people don’t have time for more than a quick dart to the catalogue computer and a direct line to said stacks. But libraries are a lot like the introverts who love them: you get what you give. And nine times out of ten, you won’t even know the right questions to ask in order to get to the really interesting stuff. It just takes time, a little curiosity, an open mind, and a lot of wandering around.

I’m always interested in spirituality, gender studies, and writing, but lately I’ve been broadening my horizons a bit to include gardening, parenting, and home design/decoration. Here’s my latest haul:

The last title is Thoughtful Gardening, a collection of essays by a scholar who writes prize-winning books on Alexander the Great… while overseeing the grounds at New College, Oxford and writing one of the longest-running columns on gardening in history. I haven’t started reading it, so I can’t honestly say I swoon, but the set-up does sound sort of swoonable, you have to admit.

Although, if we’re going solely on cover art/presentation, I’m probably most excited about Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul.

And if we’re going for most-intellectually-stimulating-and-potentially-rant-inducing, I’m going to nominate Faith No More, an interview and statistics-crunching book that looks at why people leave religion, what the process generally entails, and what kinds of philosophical perspectives the formerly religious tend to favor afterward. The book was written by a sociologist, by the way, so it’s not by any means a lament; I’m sure he has his own agenda to promote, but I’m very curious to hear the actual numbers and actual interviews. It’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I realize most of my Christian friends, when honest, fall into three categories—the minority of which is cheerful, unquestioning orthodoxy while the majority is either polite and infrequent mention of spiritual topics or a kind of wistful, tortuous ambivalence toward the faith.

Attraction, certainly, but also repugnance, and sometimes there’s a difficulty in extracting the one from the other.

Anyway.

I’m looking forward to this week’s reading adventures, even though I’ll probably toss aside half of them as boring and run out of time for another quarter and maybe only actually finish 1 or 2. It doesn’t really matter.

As long as the acts are small, I have time for a lot of them.

My Literary Crush

I don’t remember when or how I first discovered Billy Collins, although I think it was graduate school and I think it was me, wandering slowly though the library stacks on an odd off hour. I used to think locking a kid in a library was probably the cheapest and most direct route to education, and I’m still not sure the idea’s completely wrong.

I’ve told this story before, but when I was in college and still unable to drive, I used to have a 2 hour period where I would sit in the library alone, and of course doing homework was never fun. So I read fiction and those little green books of Latin historians in translation and history and art books and otherwise roamed the shelves looking for things that might interest me.

That’s how I found Jane Austen.

I still remember those strange, old-fashioned copies. At the bottom of each page they would have, dropped below the last line, the very first word of the next page—in case your curiosity was too much to bear for that half second it before you could turn the page.

I loved that.

But about Billy Collins.

I didn’t know much about him when I slid a copy of one of his books into my blue backpack for spring break, but I do remember sitting by a pool in Florida when the sun was just heaving over the snack bar, my beach towel wrapped around my knees against the morning air, feeling that satisfied glow that comes when you find a writer you know you’re going to love forever.

He was the US poet laureate for a couple years at the start of the 2000s, and I’m sure he has lots of other great honors if you’re into that kind of thing, but basically I love the easiness of his language, the ordinariness of his subjects, and the quiet, good-humored kindliness of it all.

And in honor of having nothing better to talk about on this cold, unexceptional January day while Carl and his brother hand the molding in our living room, I’m going to give you my favorite poem of his and recommend you borrow or buy lots, lots more. Here you go (also, you’re welcome):

Marginalia—Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

A few good things

Well, I can’t report on the new writing escapades because the writing thing happens after the blogging thing and, incidentally, after my brain has fully powered up for the day, but I can just comment on all the books and films and music I’ve been enjoying lately.

Which, thankfully, is a lot.

I mean, I usually keep one foot in the stream (not that I’m up-to-date—I seem to stumble onto my favorite things years if not DOZENS of years after it was first pronounced awesome. BUT the world is large, and I’m pretty sure it’s 3 dimensional rather than 2, so you can wander in your own direction at your own speed, right? Also, if we’re talking about pop music, I think there’s a critical cooling period that must be observed before an idiotic song becomes slightly faded and can be enjoyed with a little side salad of irony. And YES, you know I’m talking about you, Marc Anthony.)

Lost my train.

OH. Was saying that I try to keep one foot in the stream, but lately I really dropped off. Didn’t read anything for a month, didn’t listen to music. Sort of an arid winter here abouts.

Am mercifully back to my usual, however, and lately all the lovelies in the top picture as well as some forays into new music… which brought me to this fantastic music video. And let it be noted that I sort of love music videos. I don’t watch very many, because I’m pretty unthrilled with the super sexual ones (or the violent stuff. If the choice is between Grammy and prison, I usually vote prison). And that seems to be the major theme of many, so yeah I don’t watch a ton.

But also yes, I enjoy the unselfconscious ridiculousness. Because you have to be pretty shameless to star in a music video, right? I mean, the whole lip synching whilst making artsy faces thing is kind of fascinating. I can’t even imagine, to be honest. I think I would feel sort of uncomfortable in my plastic space pants and feel (more or less) foolish, eventually edging off the set with a sort of apologetic and baleful look at the director.

I am fascinated by people who don’t.

And in that vein, you really have to check out MIKA’s vid for his single “Rain.” I think it’s the most exuberant marriage of Shakespeare and video game sounds I’ve ever seen. Take a look and then tell me you don’t think of EVERY production of Midsummer‘s you’ve ever seen as this unfolds. And YES, it gets much more awesome as it continues. Wait for the fireworks. Literally.

 

Awesome, right?