Upon reading the lyrics of Joanna Newsom’s new album, Divers, one is filled with an acute sense of despair and wonder. How is it fair that one woman should possess all of these gifts?
I want so badly to write this thing, this thing I have been mulling over for about a year, but I realized that I cannot write a good narrative. I don’t know how to write dialogue; I can only tell. I am afraid of mimicking the way people speak. In the same moment, I realize I am also afraid of cats, in a fundamental way. I am afraid of cats, like I am afraid of writing dialogue, because I do not understand how they work.
(I should not be blogging. I have had wine.)
I love how much my husband loves women artists. It is a rare thing in a man, I think.
I don’t think I could ever have a cat, even though I admire them from afar. For one, I abhor keeping any pet that shits in your house. For another, I mistrust an animal that has no sense of mercy.
At a recent dinner, in front of a table full of super-intelligent, beautiful, agnostic women, I admitted that I went to church on a regular basis. I felt shy and exposed, and felt like I should have stopped myself, but I was received kindly and graciously, without apparent judgment. Some of them seemed curious about this admission. We talked freely about religion and what we liked about it, what we felt it could add to our lives.
“Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we despise death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of a night and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience…”
“I am happier now than I think I have ever been,” I told Guion recently one night, as we were getting into bed.
Something I’ve been thinking about lately: I will probably only ever have dogs as pets, because dogs are perhaps the only animals who really want to be sharing their lives with humans. Cats could take us or leave us, and the rest of the lot (horses, rabbits, tarantulas, lizards, hamsters, parakeets, chinchillas, and so forth) would likely prefer not to share our company; they don’t revel in society of human beings. Dogs are perhaps entirely unique in this aspect.
I think a lot about animal well-being these days. And sometimes, even though we may love riding horses or wearing parrots on our shoulders, we are giving those animals a limited and frustrating existence by forcing them to live in the way we want them to. I love animals, and I want to collect them all, so this is a principle that is hard for me to accept. I’d love to have a veritable menagerie in my home, but in that instance, I am thinking only of myself and not of the animals.
What is the natural state of a parakeet? It is not in a cage in a living room. What is the natural state of a rabbit? In a den, in a meadow. What is the natural state of a betta fish? In a puddle in Thailand, not sitting in two cups of water on your kitchen table. What is the natural state of a lizard? Under a rock, in a sand dune, not in a glass terrarium. And yet, what is the natural state of a dog? In a house, connected to a human.
House cats are a secondary exception. Even though cats are not truly domesticated, many of them would not do well without human care and some seem to even like/tolerate people. I have no objection to people having cats, and I sometimes think I would like a cat, although perhaps for the wrong reasons (they strike me as excellent home decor; cats make every room look elegant).
That said, we might get chickens one day, but I don’t consider chickens to be pets, even though we will treat them with lovingkindness and not eat them. Chickens do not exist in the wild, so they, along with other livestock, are a notable exception to this rule (animals we have domesticated to suit our needs vs. animals we have turned into pets over time).
A strange thing to write or even think about, but it’s something that has been taking up space in my brain.
Gardening has become one of my chief pursuits — specifically, landscaping the front yard. (Guion has jurisdiction over the backyard, including the large vegetable garden.) My goal is to eradicate all of the grass and fill the entire space with plants. I want to spend every spare penny on plants. On Monday, we planted ferns, an obsidian heuchera, a young crape myrtle, and a full flat of pachysandra, to jumpstart my groundcover ambitions. (We also bought, in our overeager desire, allium and crocus bulbs, which will need to be planted in October.)
I consider myself an amateur, experimental gardener. The internet, along with vestiges of my mother’s advice, are the only reasons I know anything about plants. I do a little bit of research, and then I just go out and buy what appeals to me visually. Naturally, I’ve already made many errors, but my joy knows no bounds when plants succeed.
Here are some things I want to do in theory, meaning, as soon as I actually tried to do them, I would be a.) very mad at myself, b.) tearful, c.) ashamed, or d.) all of the above.
Adopt a cat! (No, not really. Cats, like 50-gallon aquariums, are very nice to look at, but no one really wants to take care of them. Plus, most cats are mean and their poop is making us all schizophrenic.)
Run 10 miles! (Running is for masochists. And it is bad for you.)
Shave off all my hair! (Beth: Are you crying about father? Jo: My hair…)
Grow out all my hair! (Very quickly, I start to look like this. This is also what you get when you type “homeschool hair” into Google image search.)
Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere! (Can I live on a farm that’s near civilization? Do those exist? I’m scared of the darkness in the woods.)
Raise sheep! (Sheep are actually quite gross. Ever tried to pet one? I dare you. If the woolly grease doesn’t get you, the ticks will.)
Take a remedial math class! (I should do this one, but it would make me very much point b, above.)
Train our future dog to compete in agility! (Agility is hard, y’all. Plus, I’m not competitive or aggressive enough to hang with the humans involved in it.)
Re-upholster furniture! (Despite what the Life List says, this sounds like a terrible, terrible idea. I’d rather buy a new chair.)
Do a split! (That is hilarious. Absolutely hilarious, self.)
Happy Friday! Guion comes home tomorrow night! Can’t wait.
SUCH a peaceful and pleasant weekend! On Saturday, I went to the annual library book sale at Gordon Avenue and was soon joined by Celeste, Sarah, and Laura. I’ve been to a lot of book sales in my day, but let me tell you: This one takes the cake. High-quality, just about brand new books in every imaginable genre for a few dollars? This is my version of heaven. I walked away with 32 beautiful new books and paid a mere $30 for all of them. Sunday morning at the SPCA and then an afternoon lazing around the house due to a pulled hamstring from overly rambunctious pups. We watched The Fellowship of the Ring and we are not going to apologize for it. (I forgot how LONG that movie is…)
My Parents Were Home Schooling Anarchists. A piece in the New York Times by Margaret Heidenry about what it was like to grow up as a homeschooler before it was legal. It’s like The Glass Castle from a homeschooling-centric perspective. Extremely fascinating! It’s so interesting how much the homeschooling movement has changed. When my parents decided to homeschool in 1988, it still wasn’t legal in many states, but in 1993, it was legal in all 50. Since then, it’s a rising trend, although the dominion has shifted from free-thinking bohemians to very conservative evangelicals. (New York Times)
The Piano Lesson. A memory from Jared Nigro about his piano teacher and an unexpected gift of mercy. (The Hairpin)
Women in War, Women in Peace. A plea to stop thinking about war as a male-only circumstance. Men start wars and men fight them, but we never think about the women left at home to pick up the pieces. (The Atlantic)
Black Cat Auditions in Hollywood, 1961. There were a lot of eager women trying to make their black cats into movie stars in 1961, apparently. Very entertaining series of photos. I feel like training a cat to act would be akin to training a fish to sing. (Retronaut)
Collection of Rejected Titles for Classic Books. Would you have read The Great Gatsby if it had been titled Trimalchio in West Egg? Yeah. I didn’t think so. Good saves from editors and publishers alike, who usually picked the better title for the soon-to-be classic. (Flavorwire)
The Pleasures and Perils of Re-Reading. These days, I don’t make time for re-reading anything, which is something of a shame. I’ll probably start re-reading in my middle age. Right now, there’s too much still to be read. I do miss the distinct pleasure of returning to a beloved book, however. I bought the lovely and widely acclaimed Pevear/Volonkhosky translation of Anna Karenina at the aforementioned book sale, however, and I may have to return to that soon… (The Millions)
Says the Hummer in the Land of the Hybrid. A mother’s reflection on having four kids when having four kids is not especially chic or socially acceptable. I thought of this in relation to my own mother, toting the four of us around in “inconvenient” places. (Girl’s Gone Child)
We went on a long, beautiful hike up to Carter Mountain on Saturday with Win, Bo, and new friends Joseph, Lauren, and William. The day was a flawless example of the beauty of this area in early autumn.
I have never been a cat person. If you know anything about me, it is probably that I am totally OBSESSED with dogs. But, lately, cats have been very interesting to me.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to get a cat anytime soon. But I would like to learn more about them.
Volunteering at the SPCA has changed my tune about cats. I used to proclaim that I really disliked cats. I don’t say that anymore. I still don’t understand cats, but then again, who really does? I can read a dog’s body language quite quickly, and I like to think I’m pretty good with dogs, on average. But cats? They mystify me.
For example, the last time I went to the SPCA, I decided that I’d spend a few minutes in the Cat Socialization Room. This is a little room with a TV and a loveseat and two litterboxes where eight to ten cats roam around daily. I tentatively walked in and crouched down, waited for the herd of kitties to come to me. I didn’t make any sudden movements. A few came up and sniffed me, but one attentive tortoiseshell put his paw on my knee. I was thrilled. “He likes me! We are going to be friends!” Without my encouragement, he climbed up in my lap and settled down.
I began to slowly stroke him and he started to purr. This continued for a minute or so, until, in mid-stroke, he turned his head and bit me. Not a play bite. This was a “Get away from me now” bite. He jumped off my lap. I was bewildered. What did I do? I moved around the room again, stroked other kitties, and then I felt a paw on my knee. Same sassy tort. He climbed back in my lap, of his own volition, and I let him stay there. Then he tried to bite me again. Seriously. What IS up with CATS.
Dogs would not do that. If a dog pulled a stunt like that, he’d be diagnosed with some kind of brain deformity/chemical imbalance. But cats? Apparently this is normal behavior. I asked my coworker about it; said coworker has 11 (yes, 11) cats and is a general expert on felines. He told me that he had a few cats who would act like that–solicit attention and then lash out for no apparent reason. His best explanation was that cats are extremely complex and they can change their minds from second to second.
So. Things I have lately learned about cats:
Not all cats are aloof; some actually demand affection from humans.
Cats are way more unpredictable than dogs. A cat’s mood can change in the blink of an eye, while most dogs tend to be temperamentally stable in given situations.
Cats cannot truly be called domesticated, as Temple Grandin points out, since they could switch back to being feral whenever they wanted to. Modern dogs, on the other hand, could not survive without some proximity to people, which therefore indicates that dogs can be truly called “domesticated.”
Per point 3, cats are not nearly as attached to humans as dogs are. Evolution does not necessitate their development of a close relationship with humans, although it can happen, should the cat deign to extend his favors to you. For example, cats are not necessarily attached to their families. They can–and will–leave home for months at a time. Most dogs (unless you have an intact male husky) wouldn’t dream of such a thing.
Pregnant ladies should not have cats! Kitty litter will make your baby come out like a cyclops or something.
Cats are very low-maintenance pets. They don’t need even a tenth as much attention and training as dogs do.
I like the idea of getting a cat, one day, many, many years from now. I am not half as interested in cats as I am in dogs, but I think I would like to have one around. Mainly because they make any room in your house look more interesting and glamorous.
To conclude, a photo of the only cat I’ve ever loved: Kitteh.
Kitteh was my landlords’ cat when I was living in Denver for a summer. Her official name was Kitty, but I found that dull, so she became Kitteh. (Apparently, her people now call her that full time. I am proud.) Kitteh was very docile and affectionate. She slept in my bed with me on the downstairs floor, climbed on my stomach while I was reading, was generally totally wonderful and soothing. If I could get a cat exactly like her, I would.
Weekend no. 3 of house guests: Family Edition, Part III: Family Women Descend. (And Mike, for a night!) We had a raucous and wonderful time with my sisters and mom this weekend, who were here for a humid visit and happy celebration of Mom’s birthday. We got to eat lots of delicious food (including perennial favorites Eppie’s and Himalayan Fusion, which Grace gainfully guided us through), see Nettles in concert at the Tea Bazaar, watch “Parks & Rec” and laugh a ton. I miss them already! Complete set of photos on Flickr.
Snax with perfect summer orzo:
Overeducated, Underemployed: How to Fix Humanities Grad School. OK, fine. Maybe I won’t go to grad school after all. This is depressing. The author exposes how humanities Ph.D.s may actually be more disadvantaged in the job market than people who only have bachelor’s degrees. Burdened with thousands of dollars in debt and no job skills, save the weak consolation of your knowledge of critical theory? Sigh. Maybe I’ll just get a master’s degree. (Slate)
We had a delightful (if extremely hot) weekend with Kelsey and Alex. They are a lot of fun and I’m so glad they were able to drive up for a few days. We ate dinner, grabbed dessert and drinks at The Local, sweated around downtown, and introduced them to the joys of “Friday Night Lights”–and didn’t want them to leave! In other exciting news, though, Win is moving most of his stuff today into his swanky house in town. Our crafty plan is to get all of our family members to move to Charlottesville… so far, it’s working. A few more photos on Flickr.
Snax with lemonade so refreshing you wish you could just bathe in it:
When All Is Lovely. Oh, nothing. Just pictures of my dream life, that’s all. (La Porte Rouge)
Elmwood in July. Can I live here, too? All peonies and rowboats in the mist? (An Apple a Day)
A Dinner Party. Amazing things like this happen all the time in Charlottesville. Sarah of JohnSarahJohn writes a guest post for The Charlotte about a classy party she threw at the new store on Main Street. (The Charlotte)
A Cube with a Clever Layout. With the help of a Japanese designer, UVA graduate Alison Threatt builds this crazy house in the woods outside of Charlottesville. Featured on the New York Times this past week. (NYT Home and Garden)
Height and Cancer. So, I used to be proud of the fact that I was a tall woman. No more! Because now I’m going to DIE of CANCER. For sure. (The Hairpin)
Molly Stern: On Makeup and Motherhood. A down-to-earth makeup artist to all the biggest celebrities talks about how she juggles her looks-driven career and her children. (Girl’s Gone Child)
Riding Bikes While Wearing Skirts. I am also a huge proponent of this practice. Although, perhaps, I am too enthusiastic about it, as I once mistakenly tried to ride my bike around campus in a wrap dress. Yes. I sufficiently flashed the entire student body and not a few significant professors at UNC that day. (A Cup of Jo)
If Women Ruled the World. As a feminist, I’m not supposed to like this, but… it’s funny. (And probably true?) (French By Design)
Texas Forever. A meditation on Tim Riggins–in the Paris Review! Love it. And this, because truthfully, we have all prayed the same prayer:
When I lie in bed at night and imagine white-bearded God making his earthly presence known at the foot of my futon, he asks, “And what is your deepest desire, young man?” I say, “Lord of all things, king of the universe, purveyor of rain, and pain, and occasional love, would you be so kind as to turn me into Tim Riggins?” (The Paris Review)
Do you want to know why Ayn Rand’s books sell so well? he [Rand’s editor] countered.
Because she writes the best children’s literature in America, O’Connor said. The Fountainhead is practically a rite of passage for alienated youth. She writes these epic, Wagnerian things. Where the sex takes place on the very highest plane and it speaks to the kids’ highest aspirations, their youthful idealism. It’s all YA stuff.
In that case, I argued, people should grow out of her, like a phase, they should get over her ideas when they become adults.
This is America, he said. There aren’t many ideas. Ayn Rand had a few simple ones which she believed in fiercely and promoted relentlessly. (The Millions)
We had a perfect, celebration-filled weekend in Davidson and Charlotte. Complete set of photos here!
Snax with a piping hot cup of darjeeling tea, imported straight from the region itself:
What I’ve Done. Just reading the list of things Grace did these past six months is enough to make one’s head spin. Proud of you, muppet, but mostly I’m just really, really glad that you’re home. (Como Say What?)
Memories of Chekhov. An excerpt from a new book of people’s opinions and stories about the great Anton Chekhov. Delightful. (New York Review of Books)
The Lake House, Part 2. Does this look like the absolute perfect vacation or what? I’m enamored. (Sweet Fine Day)
What a busy and full weekend! I got to see my parents twice, take the train to D.C., spend a weekend laughing and making dumplings with Angela, brunch with Eric and Cristina, and see Kelsey all in a matter of two days. Whew! More photos on Flickr.
Brief reflections on D.C.: The city as a whole seemed a lot more neighborly than I thought it would be. Everyone was out on their front stoops hollering at each other. It was great. I loved how everybody so carefully and meticulously cultivates their tiny squares of grass in their front “lawns.” Free museums = totally awesome. Most stressful part of D.C.? DRIVING. I got really anxious every time we had to get in a car. I don’t know how anyone drives in that city. Those roads were not made for cars. Or people. But the Metro was fun and you can walk just about everywhere, so that makes up for those barbaric streets.
Snax with dumplings made from scratch, which are clearly the best:
So! You Want to Get Married! Ladies, please enjoy this 1947 book for young Catholic women, advising them on how to snare a man and be a perfect wife. My favorite bit of advice? “But if you whine and complain, if you get your ‘feelings hurt,’ you can make him a nervous wreck: when that happens, you will have your hands full. You might have to go out to work to pay for his hospital expenses.” Take this to heart, wives! If you complain, your husbands might get committed to an asylum and then, heaven forbid, you might have to go WORK. (The Hairpin)
In Which We Take Notes on the Important Parts. I resonated deeply with this author’s childhood self, because it was my childhood self. I was also an obsessive list-maker and I still am. I enjoyed her guesses as to why this might be, why girls like us loved Harriet the Spy. (This Recording)
George Steinmetz Lands in the Lower East Side. Charlottesville’s photo festival gets a shout-out in the New Yorker! These giant, aerial-view photos were so mesmerizing and beautiful–especially when hanging in treetops on the Downtown Mall. (Photo Booth, The New Yorker)