How light, how loose

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One of the two dogwoods in the front yard.

Life is short, and the days pass quickly, especially in winter, when we wake up and come home in darkness. My perennials have been stricken by the frost; they appear to have been caught totally off-guard, their leaves curling up with blackened edges. A carpet of red dogwood leaves fills up half of the front yard. I am loath to rake them.

A family of finches is trying to nest in our wall-mounted mailbox. I hear them landing on the metal lid in the morning and catch them poking their heads in the side. They’ve amassed a small collection of building supplies in the mailbox: tiny twigs, bits of green moss, skeins of grass. I’m curious to see how far they can get with this project, what with the daily disruptions from the mailman.

Regular fires in the living room, surrounded by our books and antsy German shepherds, keep the spirits bright. We are getting a new front door installed the week after Thanksgiving, and I remember it eagerly every morning as I curse the hated storm door. But we are lucky, to have warmth and share words with one another.

“My favorite part is connecting the ideas. The best connections are the ones that draw attention to their own frailty so that at first you think: what a poor lecture this is—the ideas go all over the place and then later you think: but still, what a terrifically perilous activity it is . . . How light, how loose, how unprepared and unpreparable is the web of connections between any thought and any thought.” — Anne Carson, “Uncle Falling,” Float

Thoughtful conversation does not happen easily. I admire and envy people who can speak fluidly, in full sentences with fleshed-out ideas. I speak haltingly. I hedge. I go back on what I previously established; I come out with an opinion too quickly. But this quote from Carson makes me feel a little better. If even Anne Carson feels that the web of connections between thoughts is unprepared and unpreparable, then maybe I’m not so alone.

Still, I’d like to be more intentional. I’d like to use better words.

I did not appreciate Sebald in Austerlitz, but I appreciate him now, greatly, in The Rings of Saturn. It is dreamy and rich and full of life.

Men and women at parties

Home in March
Our living room in its natural state.

Something I dislike: Going to a party in which the men only speak to the men and the women only speak to the women.

I’m going to hazard a generalization here, but this happens far more often when we’re in our Christian circles than when we’re not. Christians, even modern ones like us, still mistrust the sexes. There’s a lot of gender baggage there, skating under the surface.

Non-Christian men, in my experience, tend to talk to me as if I were an equal, as if I could generate a conversation that would interest them as much as a conversation with my husband. They ask me about what I’m reading or what I think about some recent event or to weigh in on a dog breed dispute. This is not so with most churchgoing menfolk or womenfolk. The women talk in a corner about womanly things (probably babies), and the men talk at the mantel about manly things (sports, news, culture). God-fearing men will speak to me kindly, but only as long as they have to.

At gatherings such as these, I am grateful for female company, because it is safe and comfortable, but I am often looking longingly at the closed circle of male conversation. I could do without the football analysis, but they are often talking about ideas. They’re debating some theological point or evaluating some political story. I want to talk about ideas! I don’t mind hearing about people’s children—I love my friends’ children—but I like a healthy mix of baby stories + everyday philosophy.

I have guesses as to why we women, especially in these circles, shy away from discussing ideas. It’s not that we don’t have any ideas, but again, it’s the experience of growing up in and living within a highly gendered culture. We’re wired to take care of things, whether it’s our houses or spouses, besties or babies. Caregiving, more often than not, leaves little room or energy for theory-making. And so we talk about the people or things we look after: our jobs, our kitchens, our children. We leave the debates to men, who have that kind of mental leisure.

I am perpetually frustrated by this division, but I accentuate it in my own way, too. I like talking about my charges with other women. I like taking care of my house and my incorrigible dogs. And I will always love—and preference—the company of women. But I also like talking to men. Like any restless animal, I want a diversity of conversation. I want to talk about diapers and cryptocurrencies. I want to discuss recipes for homemade cleaning products and half-baked defenses of predestination. I dislike feeling excluded or relegated to only one sphere.

And so I try to do my part, whenever I host dinner parties or gatherings, to mix company, to seat women next to and across from men, to create a space for conversation that can involve everyone at the table. We could learn a great deal from each other if we would take the time.

In three ways

At work
New work space.

“Nobody was taking any notice of me yet there was a lovely comforting sensation that beneficent things were being done for me somewhere. I think, as human experiences go, that is one of my favourite ones.” — Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond

Lies I tell at parties

“I’m not much of a hypochondriac.”

“We don’t really watch that much TV.”

“Isn’t that cake delicious? It’s so good, wow.”

How a conversation can collapse (a humorous exhibit)

Man 1: My son married his sister [pointing to other man off stage]. Isn’t that funny? We’ve become like a clan. You [looking at me] should probably get in on this and marry one of them too.

Me: Oh, it’s too late for me.

Man 2: Don’t say that. I had a friend once who got married at 60…

Woman 1: I don’t think that’s what she means. I think she means she’s already married.

Me: Yes. I am married.

Man 2: Oh, I’m sorry. I…

Man 1: Let’s continue our tour.

Family love: Mike

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my immediate family. This is the fourth installment. All wedding photos courtesy of the brilliant Meredith Perdue.

Mike

One of my favorite qualities about my father-in-law is how easy it is to fall into a serious conversation with him. It’s not that he’s overly solemn; rather, it’s because he’s always ready to engage with you on a level that transcends small talk. He also knows a lot about a lot of things.
325/365Mike has taught me a lot about how to love people. And even more than taught: Mike has shown me how to love people. Since we met, he’s always shown me deep wells of compassion, even when I had done nothing to merit such merciful treatment.

Mike’s theology matches the way he lives. He knows more about Anglicanism than anyone else I’ve met, but he also lives a daily practice of grace and love toward everyone. Mike and Windy were YoungLife leaders back in the day, but Guion likes to say that they never stopped being YoungLife leaders. I think that’s probably true. Their welcoming home in Southern Pines has never stopped being “the hang-out place” for kids during the holidays. Mike is able to keep up with people with astonishing energy and accuracy. I like to think that he and Windy were gifted with an endless supply of social energy. It’s very admirable and it frequently amazes me.

He can switch from joking to serious life discussion in a minute’s time, whatever the group or mood or tone requires. His careful mix of humor and politeness has always astonished me, because, well, I grew up with Juju, whose humor is never tactful.

M. PrattAside from Angela, I think Mike has been mine and Guion’s biggest fan. His unconditional support to us while we were dating, engaged, and now married has been invaluable to us both. He often reminds me that he and Windy have been praying for me since I was born. I smile, thank him, and feel overwhelmingly grateful.

Married to a poet

Last night, we’re just about to fall asleep, when Guion’s phone starts buzzing.

Abby: Ugh. What is that?
Guion: Oh, the switch on my phone is broken. The switch between… um… shiver and vocal.
Abby: Shiver and vocal? Do you mean vibrate and normal? What is wrong with you?!
Guion: Sorry! I’m a POET!

Lots of laughter over that one…

Meanwhile, we’re jetting off to Raleigh this weekend for Win’s graduation from NC State! Yay! Hope your weekend is also full of celebration.