This morning, while I waited for water to boil for tea, I watched a tremendous current of starlings fly just above the tree line in our backyard. Pyrrha stood on the back deck and seemed to be watching them too. They flew in a seemingly endless stream from the west. I imagined they were all communicating to each other about the hurricane, cheerfully fleeing en masse, and I wondered where they were going. What refuge do hundreds of starlings seek?
. . .
Even though we will see some flooding and minor wind and nothing much worse, the hurricane has produced this low level of dread in me. We will be completely fine, unlike many in our beloved home state of North Carolina, and so it feels almost callous to worry, when we have so little to worry about. But my hum of anxiety serves to reinforce the main thing I have learned from the past year: Never, ever read the news. The news is engineered to ratchet up your anxiety. This is the only thing to remember.
. . .
I am finally tackling David Copperfield, which I want to talk about because I harbor such a general distaste for Dickens. (Bleak House was pretty good, but I can hardly stand the rest of it.) To my surprise, I am 200 pages in and quite enjoying myself. It’s pleasant to read something that isn’t my typical moody, postmodern fictional fare; it’s nice to meet a character and read the author’s description of his face and know instantly, Oh, this is a villain because he has a dark brow and cleft chin! Or oh, this is an angel! She has glossy blonde hair! It’s pleasing to feel like you can predict almost everything that is about to happen. You shall shortly be orphaned! Your stepfather will continue to terrorize you! You shall be beaten by the headmaster! You will work full-time in a dismal place even though you are only 10 years old! It’s fun. I admit it.
. . .
I have also felt a revival of interest in poetry. I think it’s because of the anticipation of fall; I always want to read poetry in the fall. I have started Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz, and I can already tell I’m going to be a fan.
. . .
“I felt sorry for us, for both, for all of us, such odd organisms under the sun. Large minds, abutting too close on swelling souls. And banished souls at that, longing for their home-world. Everyone alive mourned the loss of his home-world.” — Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow
At lunch today, I sat on the back deck and read My Brilliant Friend. The dogs happily accompanied me outside; Pyrrha positioned herself at my feet, as she is the inveterate family beggar, and Eden amused herself by chasing dancing pairs of carpenter bees. (That dog. She is exhausting, but she wears a face of perpetual joy all day long. The only time her face falls is when you tell her to come inside.)
I found myself easily distracted from the novel, as much as I’m enjoying it, and watched and listened to the birds instead. We have a gigantic white spruce tree in the yard, and it seems to function as a high-rise complex for birds. Today, it sounded like an avian domestic dispute happened midway up the trunk, and two robins emerged separately, chasing each other with what I can only presume was marital fury.
When I tried to focus merely on sound, I could hear at least six different bird calls happening simultaneously. I wanted to know what kinds of birds they were and what they were trying to communicate.
I am halfway through Jonathan Franzen’s controversial piece about conservation/birds/the Audubon Society, and so I have been thinking about birds a bit more than usual. Also, our good friends Maddy and Sam are devoted birders, so I always think about them when I notice birds.
Simply: I wish that I knew more than I do, which is one of my most frequent desires.
Corollary thought: Have you inherited your family’s prejudice against certain animals/forms of nature? Odd question, I know. My parents separately taught me quite a bit about plants (my mother) and animals (my father), and I realized today that I bear a lot of their likes and dislikes, for purely emotional or aesthetic reasons, regarding certain species. For example, my mother loathes Bradford pear trees, and I realized this week that I do too (the stench, the shape, the mendacity). We both love cherry trees and dogwoods, however. My father dislikes blue jays, cats, and hyenas, but loves falcons, dogs, and bears, and so I do too, accepting these preferences blindly, as I have since I was a child.
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.
God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This is a funny and strange poem, but I will always recall these lines: “So if you have only a thin wire,/God does not mind.”
(And isn’t that photo by Grace wonderful? Taken somewhere in New Zealand, I think.)
Headed to my parents’ house this weekend for a family reunion, to celebrate Easter, my birthday, and the fact that Laszlo went on trial with an adopter this weekend!
What is it about quiet novels about the interior lives of women that resonates so deeply with me? (See: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, which I just started and I love. See also: All Works by Virginia Woolf.)
Is it possible to make quinoa taste like food?
What type of birds were flocked together in that tree, wailing and calling others to them? Were they starlings? I would prefer that they were starlings.
Why does Thanksgiving still feel so far away?
Where can I go where I can interact with more animals?
Are American politics becoming more and more dangerously polarized these days, or is it just me?
What do I have to do to make myself like yoga?
How do you know if it’s the Holy Spirit or your conscience or your latent desires?
Animals distract me. This, the title of Isabella Rossellini’s new film for Planet Green, could very well be the story of my life. It premiered a few weeks ago and, of course, I really want to watch it. Rossellini is busy training her eighth guide dog and making this documentary, a tribute of her lifelong love of animals and a public exhortation for people to realize how their actions affect other living creatures.
I watched the series of bizarre trailers (in which she impersonates a chicken on hormones and an eyelid parasite) and just kept thinking, “I want to BE this woman. Maybe I AM this woman.” I wish. If only we could all be rich, quirky, gorgeous Italian model-actresses…
I think it’s the title, though, that especially resonated with me. What a perfect description of my (now well-documented) condition! Guion certainly knows this is true. We can’t go on a walk without me pointing out every animal in sight: Pigeons, feral cats, skinks, songbirds, squirrels, and dogs, of course always and forever, dogs. We’ll be driving through the Virginian countryside and I’ll point out cows on the hillside. As if they were something novel! As if we hadn’t passed 700 of them minutes before! It’s a problem. But, like my kindred Isabella, I’ve always been this way.
My parents were fairly tolerant of my animal obsessions as a child. They let me get six mice to “train” for a “science” experiment when I was in early middle school. Really, I just wanted some mice because I thought they were cute. I named them all after Shakespeare characters and kept the males in females in separate glass tanks. Then I found out that Romeo was a Juliet and we had a potential population problem on our hands. The parental edict descended and I had to get rid of them. But they were fun for a while. If extremely smelly.
I went through a brief budgie obsession, which culminated in me getting a pair, Monet and Renoir, for my 13th birthday. They were cute and affable and liked to use my fingers as landing perches. However, I was not prepared for the nocturnal activities of such birds. My annoyance with the noise grew and I began to pray that they would die. This is a dark confession for an animal lover. But there you have it. God rather unceremoniously answered my prayers and about a month later, I found Renoir dead on the floor of the cage. I grieved, but not as much as his pretty gay lover, Monet. Monet died of a broken bird heart a few weeks later. We buried them both in the backyard and ornamented their graves with twig crosses.
Spencer was our family rabbit, a large and happy Dutch lop. He was our first true playmate and easily the most tolerant rabbit ever to live. We acquired him from our irresponsible neighbor, who was running a de facto rabbit colony in her back yard, which met up with ours. She probably had anywhere from 20 to 30 rabbits back there and never fed or cared for them. I like to think we rescued him from that situation, even though he could still play with all of his poor half-siblings, cousins, and assorted relatives along the fence line. Dad built him a two-story rabbit mansion in the back yard. We believed that he played hide-and-seek with us. He never bit us, not even once, which is remarkable, considering that we tried to dress him up and smuggle him inside for tea parties.
Then, of course, you know about Emma, my beautiful, intelligent Australian Shepherd that I failed with my teenager-ness. I think she’s the primary reason I want another Aussie; I have this feeling that I have to make it up to her somehow.
My need to lavish affection on an animal has even extended to Reuben. A fish is barely a pet–they’re about as much fun as a plant–but I love this fish. I talk to him in the mornings when I feed him. I think he’s very handsome and I worry about his manorexia.
The other day, during my lunch break, I made a list of all of the animals I wanted to own on our fictional 300-acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Here is my ideal menagerie:
Pack of dogs, at most four (Shepherds from most regions: Australian, German, and Anatolian. And probably a Great Pyrenees.)
One to two cats. (I do not know anything about cats and I’ve only met a few that I’m fond of; I loved Kitteh, my housemate in Denver, for example. Yet I probably shouldn’t be allowed to get a cat because I think of them as purely decorative beings. Cats are so elegant and pretty and they go with everything! If I got cats, they’d probably be functional barn cats.)
Two to three bunnies. I love bunnies!
A flock of finches or two budgerigars for the parlor. It’s only proper.
Goats for lawn control and cheese.
Sheep for the dogs to guard and herd. And for wool. And lamb kebobs.
A llama. For inter-species friendships with the sheep. And because they’re super-soft.
If we suddenly inherit millions, two horses. For riding around the property and for brushing. Haven’t gotten over My Little Pony yet.
Chickens. Guion will probably make me get chickens. I have no interest in them, but I think I could learn to love them.
This list has the potential to grow. Consider yourself warned, husband.
I am finally going to my volunteer orientation at the Charlottesville SPCA this weekend and I could not be more excited. It’s absurd. I was talking to Emily yesterday about her life and she’s talking about huge things like her career and moving to the West Bank for six months and she’s all, “What’s the big thing in your life right now?” And I’m just, “OMG, I’m going to the animal shelter!!” No comparison in the magnitude of these life plans.
But there you have it. Animals distract me. That’s all I really need to say.
We had the perfect, fresh, spring weekend with Rose and Kemp. Rose and I spent our time on Saturday walking all around town and talking about Life and Other Issues while the boys brewed. We ate tons of good food together and just generally lazed around, too. It was just ideal and we hated to see them go.
In Which These Are the Hundred Greatest Novels. The folks at This Recording have made their definitive list of the 100 all-time greatest novels. This list contains dozens of books I’ve never even heard of, much less read. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t derive deep satisfaction that they ranked To the Lighthouse as the #8 best novel and Lolita, wow, as the #1 best novel of all time. That’s saying something. (And Ulysses was #12! How Woolf must be laughing in her grave right now.) At the very least, the list has certainly given me lots of great titles to add to my ever-growing reading list. (This Recording)
Zooming Out: How Writers Create Our Visual Grammar. This analysis by Rob Goodman claims that great authors–he cites examples from Milton and Dickens, and closes with a few lines from Psalm 8–are responsible for the first true “cinematic jump-cuts.” The article is very well-written and fascinating. I like the notion of a “visual grammar,” of the keen and yet oft-unnoticed importance that grammar and syntax possess over our visual understanding of a narrative. (The Millions)
A Ravishing Knockout of a Book. Novelist Gary Shteyngart talks about his favorite novel, Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, in this 2006 review from NPR. I love Shteyngart AND Turgenev, so I was naturally delighted to find this piece, which I stumbled upon while doing some preliminary research on the novel for book club. If you haven’t read it yet, let Shteyngart convince you that you need to. (NPR, All Things Considered)
Real-Life House from Up. I loved that movie; first animated film to make me sob since Bambi, and this is just great. Well done, people at National Geographic. I wonder where the house came from and who was brave enough to actually take a ride in it? Enjoy, even though this has already been around the Interwebs a few times now. This should brighten anyone’s day. (Vulture via National Geographic)
Best Rare Bird Pictures of 2010. In my experience, birds make somewhat terrible pets, but they are such beautiful creatures to watch. National Geographic has released its awards for the best photographs of rare birds from last year. The whooping crane in the air? Amazing. And the tail feathers of the last bird? Gimme a break! That’s crazy. (National Geographic)
Where Are All the Daring Women’s Heroines? The Guardian’s book blog attempts to address the discrepancy between a plethora of heroines in children’s fiction and a positive dearth of them by the time one gets to adult literature. (The Guardian Book Blog)
Trend Watch: Houses with Slides. I assume these are the homes of multi-millionaires with young children, but, hey, I kind of want a slide in my house. (Flavorwire)
Blue Eyes Are Not Actually Blue. Well. I learned something new today. I can’t tell if I feel downcast because my irises are just an optical illusion or extra cool. (Broken Secrets)