Little lessons learned

Things Moses has taught me

  1. I apparently have a wretched memory for lyrics, demonstrated by my fraught desire to sing hymns to him while he drifts off to sleep. I can only get through a verse before I start making up lines.
  2. I have, perhaps, idolized having a sense of “control” over my daily life.
  3. It is therefore hard to have one’s idols toppled.
  4. I consistently miscalculated how hard this would be.
  5. It is silly to be frustrated with a baby.
  6. Babies cannot be reasoned with.
  7. But I will still try, and I will drive myself to the edge of madness trying to apply reason to the baby’s behavior.
  8. I thus become comfortable with living on the edge of madness.
  9. This edge of madness seems like a new (albeit claustrophobic) home.
  10. So I settle in to this new habitat, congratulating myself for showering, remembering how to drive, and speaking a full sentence in the morning without mixing up any of the nouns.
  11. The new habitat also reveals that kissing babies is extremely delightful.
  12. It is best to do it as many times as possible on any given day.

. . .

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I have an iPhone 5 (yeah, I’ll brag about it); this is the best I can do.

As I suspected, I continue to be very interested in dogs, but I am also more interested in babies on the whole, babies as a universal concept and lived experience. This I did not expect. I even find other people’s babies pretty interesting now. I want to stare and them and find out what they know.

. . .

Pyrrha, our German shepherd, has been a silent angel during these past two months of life with Moses. I wasn’t sure how she’d behave, and I’ve been impressed and grateful for her calm acceptance of this new, often bewildering, creature. She greets him in the morning with a gentle lick to the back of his head or feet, and then she quietly lies down on her rug in the hall, waiting for someone to give her a little attention. She doesn’t stress when he screams (making her the calmest family in the moment).

The other afternoon, I was in the kitchen when he woke up from a nap, and I swear Pyrrha had the purest Lassie moment. I didn’t hear his cries at first, and so Pyrrha got up from her post in the hall, walked up to me in the kitchen and looked me in the eye with concern. She then walked back down the hall toward the baby’s room and stood in front of the door, glancing back at me, as if to say, “Lady, the baby needs you! Please follow me and perform your God-given duties before I have to intervene.”

She’s a good girl.

. . .

During my maternity leave, I was a little depressed to learn that reading is rather difficult while nursing. I can do it if I have a lightweight and semi-floppy paperback that I can hold with one hand, but because Moses has been a rather high-maintenance feeder, I’ve only read a few books during my leave, which is almost up. This has been a bummer. (And no, I don’t want a Kindle. I hate reading on them so much that I’d almost rather not read anything at all.)

As a consolation, I’m really into email newsletters right now. Nicole Cliffe’s has been a daily delight, along with her wise and often hilarious advice column at Slate, Care and Feeding. (Leah Finnegan’s Leah Letter is my other favorite newsletter, but she only writes once every few months. But when she does, it’s worth the wait.) I just wanted to give some public thanks to Nicole Cliffe for getting me through much of my maternity leave with amusing ideas and great articles to add to Pocket and read during that long 3 a.m. feed.

. . .

My esoteric titles are a holdover from my moody days as a teen blogger, which is a real shame, but I can’t help it. I don’t often write posts focused on a single topic, and so choosing some title that could have been a tantalizingly vague AIM away message, circa 2005, well, it continues to appeal to me. No regrets.

Unseen inheritance

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My grandmother, Loretta, with one of her beloved dogs.

I had always expected that once I got pregnant that my adoration of dogs would wane. But here I am, lumbering well into my third trimester, and I continue to find dogs far more interesting than children. They catch my eye on the street far more than babies do. Perhaps I will love dogs less once I have a child of my own. I will, at least, expect to be less focused on them. But I think they will always matter to me. My grandmother, Loretta, shown above, never lost her lifelong love of dogs. We used to joke that she knew more about the family’s dogs than she did about her own grandchildren. And yet we did not resent her for it; it was part of her everlasting charm. She craved the company of dogs, perhaps because they shared her boundless enthusiasm for life.

Whenever I’m away from home, I look for dogs everywhere. They make me feel less homesick; they instantly brighten my mood. While in Charleston, Guion knew I’d want to linger by a dog park and so he let me ogle like a creep by the fence, just to watch the pups play for a bit. I recently returned from SXSW in Austin, where there was no shortage of street dogs to admire. A dog-loving colleague and I would take pains to point dogs out to each other. And then, when I come home to Pyrrha, I am Lazarus, fresh from the tomb: You never saw such rejoicing! Such disbelief! Such yips of ecstasy!

How can you not harbor a lifelong obsession with such a creature? A silent, joyful, juvenile wolf who sleeps in your home and gives you daily offerings of unending love?

. . .

In thinking about our unknown child, our fast-approaching firstborn, I wonder about the unseen inheritances that he or she will receive. I am particularly interested in the personality traits that skip a generation or two. Will she have her great-grandmother’s infectious laugh (and fixation on canines)? Will he have his great-grandfather’s gift of playing music by ear?

“Unseen” is the word that comes to me, although it is perhaps not quite right. “Unknown” or “unanticipated” are probably closer to what I mean. But I like the idea of being blindsided by a familial similarity. You look at your kid one day, when she is six years old, and you realize she has her grandmother’s eyebrows and her great-grandfather’s genteel manner of storytelling.

This interests me. I am not sure how to say more about it than that.

. . .

“The digital clutter of our lives doesn’t merely make us anxious, interrupting our train of thought and blocking us from longer periods of silence and the deeper thinking that can go with it. Our digital clutter redesigns our world around the temporary. Constant interruptions turn us into amnesiacs who are required to respond, reply, and react from moment to moment. This is why we have so little memory of what happened last week, let alone what happened last year or twenty years ago. We are constantly threatened with interruption, so we experience each moment as something that could easily be discounted, could easily be erased or subsumed by some more important message. Our minds, in other words, are filled with the clutter of what comes next: messages and tweets and texts yet to be received. We live in a world of past and future clutter. We are boxed in. There is no space for where we are right now.”

— Heather Havrilesky, “Stuffed,” from her new book, What If This Were Enough?

. . .

Learning more about birth continues to cement my feminist leanings. I continue to trust in the incredible power and strength and wisdom of women. The main things I have gleaned thus far are that women should labor in the place they feel safest, and women should guide other women through labor and birth, as they have done for millennia. I’m not sure this is a realm where men get to have much say (and, in this way, it feels right to treat birth as holy, in the “set apart” sense of the definition). We’ll see how it goes. I am trying not to have any expectations, because I know that none of it can be organized or planned. It will be a great exercise in surrender, an act that I do not typically welcome.

Like the flukes

Things I have taken up lately, for general happiness

  • Reading while walking
  • Darjeeling tea
  • Not reading the news
  • Not looking at Twitter for more than 60 seconds
  • The Curly Girl Method, inspired by my mother

It’s been a very slow year for me with my calligraphy business, somewhat intentionally, and I’ve been really happy about it. It is a nice thing: To come home after working for eight hours and not have another two hours or more of work every night.

“The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?” — James Salter, Light Years

End of October
Pyrrha, creeping.

Sweet, sad Pyrrha, my older dog, has been in a lot of pain lately, and it’s incredible to me how much this has affected my well-being. I feel this pit of dread in my stomach when I think of her, whenever I hear her whine, whenever I let her out in the morning or look over and see her ears pinned back to her head. (It’s probably her hips, which is almost an inevitable ailment with German shepherds, but I’ll take her to the vet next week for a more in-depth assessment.) Just today, I was trying to tell Guion I was worried about her while pumping gas, on our way to work, and these fat tears were rolling down my face. Ugh. She’ll be OK. It’s me that might not be. Emotions! Hate them.

Escaping the outrage machine

November home life
These are my dumb dogs. They have no idea who the president is.

The truth of the matter: My (formerly beloved) liberal media outlets are making me feel like a conservative these days (don’t worry, never will be, would rather pluck my eyebrows off than vote Republican). The outrage is daily and continuous and we’ve all lost big time, but I don’t think I can sustain this level of indignation for four years.

I feel like I can’t even have lunch with someone without having to append some policy-oriented aside to every comment. “It is a good sandwich, but my enjoyment of it is diminished because, as you know, the lettuce subsidies are getting out of hand, and Trump of course is in Monsanto’s pocket…”

We all need to put our sandwiches down and go outside and pet a dog and spend time with people we love. And not mention DJT even once.

In light of this need to escape the outrage machine, here are some nonpolitical things to enjoy and think about.

I’d love to hear what’s keeping you sane these days.

Wield weekend
Here are some dogs in a field in England. They don’t know about Brexit.

Multitudinous selves

Day two
From our second day in Paris; magical mini-canal in some park.

(It’s the most cliché thing, but re-reading Proust makes me feel like I should live in Paris. We should all live in Paris. It’s the only city, right?)

Totally blissed out, throwing so much shade #gsdofinstagram #germanshepherd #doglife #shade
Eden, on Saturday.

I think about dogs a lot; probably 30% of my waking life is thinking about dogs. And I have two extremely high-maintenance dogs who are constantly underfoot, and I write a dog blog, and YET, whenever I see photos of dogs in a news story or a live dog walking down the street, my first thought, every single time, is: I need MORE dogs in my life. I inherited this brokenness from my father. I asked him once why he thought we were both so obsessed with dogs, to an almost debilitating degree. And he answered quickly, without thinking: “It’s probably because our parents didn’t love us enough.”

Walt Whitman lived at peace with the fact that he contradicted himself. He said that he contained multitudes. Proust asks the next question. How much of one’s multitudinous self can a person reveal or embody at one time? The first answer is plain common sense; it all depends. It depends on many things, from chance and volition to memory and forgetting. The second answer is categorical. No matter how we go about it, we cannot be all of ourselves all at once. Narrow light beams of perception and of recollection illuminate the present and the past in vivid fragments. The clarity of those fragments is sometimes very great. They may even overlap and reinforce one another. However, to summon our entire self into simultaneous existence lies beyond our powers. We live by synecdoche, by cycles of being. More profoundly than any other novelist, Proust perceived this state of things and worked as an economist of the personality.

— Proust’s Way, Roger Shattuck

Discussing Swann’s Way with my book club next week, and I am doing an unnecessary amount of prep to lead the discussion, but I love it so much; I love being steeped in it.

I feel really happy and hopeful and distractible. I am trying to write more, and it is going mostly badly, but I feel free about it. And maybe that, that sense of liberty, has been the goal all along.

Saying goodbye to London

London has been our temporary home this summer, and even though I have the first flutterings of homesickness for dear old Virginia, I will miss the joys of this great, sprawling city.

Night in West End with the BushesThings I’ll miss about London/the English way of life

  • All of the glorious, beautifully maintained public parks. Really. I don’t think any city wins at the park game as much as London does.
  • Pubs and pub culture
  • Well-behaved off-leash dogs everywhere
  • Tea! It’s ubiquitous and well made and consumed on a near-constant basis. Unlike in Virginia, I don’t have to explain to anyone what I want when I order tea.
  • Walking everywhere, the preservation of walking culture, the delineation of trails and country paths
  • Preservation of history, architecture, and art throughout the city
  • Endless variety of things to do, see, and eat
  • Every imaginable international cuisine right at your doorstep (or, at least, an hour’s walk away)
  • The friends we’ve made (and reunited with) here

Out with W and T

Things I won’t miss about London/the English way of life

  • Fish & chips. So overrated.
  • Sweltering daily rides on the Tube
  • Having to ride the Tube every day in general. (Although I vastly prefer it to the NY subway system! So much cleaner and quieter and more reliable)
  • Feeling like you are breathing in black clouds of toxins every day on the street. I am eager for that clean Blue Ridge mountain air.
  • The weather! (We had a gorgeous sunny, 80-degree day in Wield; then the next day, it was misty and rainy, and the Brits we were with literally walked out the door into the cold fog and said, “Oh, thank God, the weather is back to normal.” They’re insane.)
  • Walking behind people who are smoking and being unable to pass them
  • Slow walkers
  • How outrageously expensive everything is (we can’t really complain, compared with actual Londoners, but it still was shocking)

Guion and I have been talking about London customs we want to adopt in our life when we get back to Charlottesville. For instance, we realized that we are really lazy about walking places. We live very centrally to many things, and yet we’ll choose to drive instead of walk 45 minutes. A 45-minute walk in London is no big deal. Other aspects to adopt: taking advantage of all of the hikes and parks around us; training the dogs to behave themselves better in public; and acting like tourists in our own city (e.g., we have lived in Charlottesville for six years and have still never been to Monticello. I know).

London, you’ve been grand. We hope to come see you again soon.

Up next: A week in Paris. And then home!

The magical village of Wield

In which we escape to the English countryside for a weekend with friends and are able to avoid our phones and (temporarily) forget the enveloping darkness that our homeland is lurching into…

Wield weekend(Everything about this village = dream life to the max)

The Yew TreeDogs in pubs, dogs everywhere! #heaven

Wield weekend

The beautiful Kate with lots of pups:Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend

And a glorious day at Manor Farm.Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendFinnWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend

Easter and family

A good portion of my family came to see us on Easter weekend — to celebrate birthdays, to labor in our yard, and to provide general merriment. I can’t get over how much fun these people are sometimes. I felt like my Gran when they returned to their respective homes. She, normally of the stoic and sarcastic temperament, would always turn her face and cry a little when family left. This is what I did for a moment on Sunday afternoon, but I know we’ll see each other again soon. (And, ideally, in Europe.)

Spring is finally here, and I am grateful.

Easter 2016The big project: Adding pea gravel to our little fenced garden area. We will eventually add two more raised beds, but we wanted to go ahead and finish the gravel before we depart for the summer.

Before:

Easter 2016

And after:

Easter 2016Easter 2016Didn’t the boys do a marvelous job? I’m so happy with how it turned out. To finish it up, I want to find some low-growing, flowering perennials to put around the edges.

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Thanksgiving

There is a lot to be thankful for this year, even amid the sadness. I am so in love with my family and so full of gratitude for each of them. A few photos from our week at home.

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Short flight, free descent

Little Calf Mountain
Mussed hair, dogs, ripped jeans on Little Calf Mountain.

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…”

— “The Death of Justina,” John Cheever