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

And then there was one

Lounging
Content murderess.

I think I have always known that this would happen. Eventually. I had just hoped I was wrong. On Friday afternoon, Pyrrha killed Mayumi, one of our remaining hens.

Mayumi was our rebellious soul; she was the one who liked to escape the garden fence and fly into trees, and occasionally, into the backyard where the dogs run and reside. She was generally able to fly back over the fence into safety, but on Friday, she was too flustered to save herself. And I was not fast enough to intervene.

I had just come out onto the back deck, and I saw Eden chasing the hen at the end of the yard. Eden, unlike her elder sister, is a terrible hunter and seemed merely to want to pin her down. I started yelling and running down the stairs out to the yard, but I am not as fast as Pyrrha. Unfortunately. Before I could even get down the stairs, Pyrrha had Mayumi in her jaws and I watched her give the chicken a good, strong, murderous shake. I was still screaming at this point, and I grabbed Pyrrha so hard that she yelped and dropped the hen. I dragged both dogs indoors and then came out to assess the situation. It was too late for little Mayumi. But she met my gaze, which was horribly sad, as she slowly died, and I felt like a huge failure. I called Guion, breathless and trembling, and he came home from work. By that time, Mayumi had died, and he did the man’s work of confirming her state. We left her body in the alley, where the hawks and foxes roam, and something picked it up by early morning.

So, now we just have one, the long-suffering and surviving Fumiko. It is not good for chicken, like man, to be alone, so we are trying to rehome her. If you or anyone you know in the area would like to add a sweet Japanese bantam to his or her flock, please let me know.

Sigh. I think we will try chickens again next year, after we get back from London. And this time, we are going to target the big, fat breeds who can’t fly.

Vestiges of summer

Edie baby
Dog life.

Are the dogs happy? I wonder this frequently. It’s a question that is more applicable to Pyrrha, because Eden—as you can see from the photo above—is always ready for action, which gives off the appearance of constant verve and joy. The corollary to Eden’s constant need for play, however, is that I believe she is often mentally and physically frustrated, because we cannot keep up with her and her playful demands. Very often, if denied her request to play, she will fix you with a look that says, in no uncertain terms, Screw you, old ladyI’ll make my own fun. And then she tries to destroy something in the vicinity (the door, a forgotten shoe, a pillow, et hoc genus omne).

Pyrrha, on the other hand, is happy about 50% of the time, by my best estimate. Owing to her deep-seated anxiety and psychosis, her qualifications for happiness are strict and precise. Pyrrha is happy when she is eating food, begging for food, or sitting in close proximity to food. She is happy when she is playing with Eden or with other dogs. She is happy when I come home and when she can see me at all times. She is happy when Alex is petting her. That’s about it.

Surviving twoFumiko and Mayumi are recovering after their sister’s murder. For about a week after Chiye’s death, they refused to peck around in the open and instead would spend the entire day in cramped darkness underneath the shed. I don’t blame them for feeling this way. Once you know that death can swoop down from the blue sky, you start treading a little more carefully outdoors (I daresay our hens understand what a bit of what it must be like to live in a country terrorized by US drone strikes). But as of this week, they have resumed parts of their normal routine, and it brings me joy to see them puttering around the garden again. Our illusion of farm peace is shattered, however, and we wait with bated breath every day for the next assassination.

If you ask me about my family, be prepared for an earful that borders on excessive, gleeful boasting. I love them all so much. I want to talk about them for days.

It’s time to take the calligraphy business a bit more seriously. By way of a small step in that direction, I now have an Instagram account dedicated solely to my work: @bluestockingcalligraphy. Follow along.

New favorite things:

  • This face oil
  • Tailoring clothes
  • Concord grapes (got the best little bunch from this local farm, via Relay)
  • Using an iron for once in my life
  • Homemade granola (thanks for the inspiration, Tara!)
  • Seinfeld

What's going on?What do the dogs want? What fulfills their most desperate desires? Can we ever truly know?

Should have known better

Weddings in May
Sisters beckoning to cows. Small-town NC, May 2015.

We had two weddings in two states this past weekend, and they were both beautiful and fun (one wedding for beloved friends, one wedding for family). People are so generous at weddings; I am floored by the multiple kindnesses. At our friends’ wedding, I was especially so impressed by my dear friend, the compassionate bride, and how concerned she was with everyone else’s well-being throughout the day. She was beautiful and happy but thinking of everyone else’s happiness and comfort.

I thought our wedding was ideal, but I would have done things so differently if I had gotten married today. We will celebrate our five-year anniversary at the end of this month, and I smile when I think about what a different day we might have had if we had married now. We had a very small budget, and we truthfully invited way too many people. I would have cut the guest list in half (maybe even have whittled it down to a third); I would have not done a bouquet toss, which is so absurdly insulting; I would have had a ton of wine; I would have had a lot more lovely wedding paper and designed the invitations myself. But everything else about the actual day was really perfect. We were speechlessly happy.

Saul Bellow had a character say or imply somewhere in Mr. Sammler’s Planet that intelligent women were almost always angry because they were paying attention to the world. This has stuck with me since then (particularly as the sentiment is coming from a notable misogynist), and maybe I’ll mull it over for a longer post sometime. I think it is mostly true. I’d rather not live in a perpetual state of anger and frustration, but when I think of the smartest women I know, I would not use words like “blissful,” “complacent,” or “cheerful” to describe them. (I think the same can be said of smart people in general, regardless of gender.) Frustration, ire, sarcasm, and skepticism seem to me to be the hallmarks of an intelligent woman. The intelligent woman is paying attention to what is going on in society at large and therefore has a reason to feel angry. (Insert semi-related point here about my perpetual state of befuddlement that women can and do vote Republican.)

I’m not sure what the conclusion of this thought is, except how can intelligent women channel their anger in useful, publicly productive ways? Writing, for one. Protesting, for another. Starting organizations. Helping others. Speaking up and speaking out. Serving as an advocate for the less fortunate.

In this way, all of the anger that is generated by women who are paying attention may yield fruit (and perhaps some powerful social change). That is something to hope for.

Whenever I settle in and start deeply and intently cleaning the house, one of the first thoughts that floats to the surface of my mind is, Maybe the dogs will suddenly die. Then I won’t have to deal with this horrible mud and endless quantities of fur and dust and slime and drool… if the dogs were dead, I could have nice things… yes, yes, maybe the dogs will inexplicably die. It sounds so horrible to write it here, but I can guarantee you that I will think this as soon as I start dusting, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing again. I fantasize about not having them around. The thing is, though, that if I didn’t have the dogs, the only thing that I would be able to think about would be how much I needed dogs. This is all just to say I love those little monsters. Just when I’m not cleaning up after them.

Below, my sisters, two of the most intelligent women I know. They are more compassionate human beings than I am, and they have found very socially useful channels for their awareness/anger. Brava, G. and K.; proud to be related to you.

10 May 2015
The trials of having beautiful sisters.

Lead me to water

Garden updates, 4 May 2015
Columbine in the front yard finally bloomed.

Some of our best friends in town are getting married tomorrow, and we are flush with excitement, almost as if we were getting married again. We are so happy for them and we have been anticipating this day for years now. Guion reported that when someone asked him to make plans this week, his first thought was, “Oh, I can’t do anything this week; it’s wedding week.”

Late April

One of my chief pleasures is eating lunch during the work week on the back deck, with the dogs milling around the yard and the carpenter bees and wasps congregating near the table. I think I have already written about this, but this practice provides my mental and emotional state with so much energy and relief. It is probably just the benefit of being outside, after four hours in a cube, staring at a screen, but my outdoor lunches can improve the gloomiest mood. I eat slowly; I drink a LaCroix; I read a novel; I throw a stick for Edie; I watch the chickens; I listen to the birds; I feel like a million bucks. (And then I go back to the office.)

We saw Sufjan play in Richmond this week (a moving, excellent show; I’m always in the mood for him). One of the memorable, nonmusical delights of the evening was spotting an old friend from college up in the balcony. We texted from afar, confirming our identities, and I waved repeatedly. We shouted to each other briefly, him from the balcony down to me in the orchestra level, but we weren’t able to meet up afterward. Still, just seeing him filled me with this satisfactory nostalgia. Here we are, after so much time has passed; happy and complete in our adult lives.

I keep a little notebook now, to ease myself back into the practice of keeping some form of a handwritten diary. After about 16 years of daily journaling, I abruptly stopped once I got married. It was as if keeping a diary wasn’t important anymore, now that I had a spouse — which admittedly is a very odd psychological conclusion. But I’d like to get back into the practice, if only to keep up the habit of composing sentences by hand. Even if they’re not very good sentences. The notebook is a hodgepodge of loose diary entries, vocabulary words, and notes on what I’m reading.

I am usually writing about what I am reading there, but I realized the other day that I am only taking notes on fiction. I mentioned this to an acquaintance, and he remarked that that was a very odd habit. “Why wouldn’t you take notes on nonfiction instead?” he asked. “To, you know, remember actual facts and information?” I didn’t have an answer then, but I think I record fiction passages and resultant thoughts because I am often so much more moved by a novel than by a factual account. I am impressed by the beauty, and that is the sensation I don’t want to forget. Data will ebb and flow. But it’s the art that’s worth remembering.

Listening to birds

The sparrow
Photo of an older painting by the fabulous painter Matt Kleberg. Source: Moi.

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.

Intimations of spring

Year-old orchid rebloomed this week
My year-old orchid, recently reblooming, recently alluded to.

Pre-spring thoughts:

  • This morning over breakfast, I made a list in a notebook of behavioral improvements for the dogs. Eden’s list is notably longer than Pyrrha’s. But Eden has far less emotional and psychological baggage. So, we’ll see how this goes.
  • My hair has gotten very long, and I am interested in lobbing it off. A lot of it, anyway. Curly-headed women have somewhat limited options with haircuts, which I patiently acknowledge, but I am itching for a change, along with the weather.
  • I am reading Gogol’s Dead Souls for the first time and I am so delighted to rediscover how deeply funny he is. His pitch-perfect social sarcasm is thrilling to me.
  • I dreamed last night that I had a baby in a bassinet by my bedside and I kept having to wake up to tend to it. As I did, I was humming a song with the chorus, Motherhood is especially unfair, motherhood is especially unfair… This is perhaps one of the most presciently and grimly realistic dreams I’ve ever had. (Not to mention how plainly revealing of my current lack of desire to procreate.)
  • I watch the iris shoots in the front yard with bated breath, desperately hoping for resurrection. They make me feel like I should reread Louise Glück.
  • It is a blessing to live in a town like this. And also to have found Guion when I did.

And a quote, to kick off the weekend:

Can’t anything be innate? he wanted to know, objecting to my probing into his childhood yet again. Does everything have to be an exfoliation from the minutiae of our miserable childhoods? I happen to love silence, he said. Why do we have to be swamped in narrative? Our lives are consumed in narrative. We daydream and it’s narrative. We fall asleep and dream and more narrative! Every human being we encounter has a story to tell us. So what did I think was so wrong with the pursuit of some occasional surcease of narrative?

Mating, Norman Rush

Things I enjoy

Loving on Georgia dog

THINGS I ENJOY

  • Dragging my sleeves through food I am trying to get into my mouth
  • Eating seven clementines in a sitting
  • Reading aloud in a British accent
  • Calling the dogs with a variety of cheerfully vulgar nicknames
  • Melting bits of chocolate into my clothing as I eat it with all the delicate precision of a woodchuck
  • Not living in Florida
  • Talking to dogs
  • Reading with a pencil in hand
  • Not reading the news
  • Touching people’s faces in the middle of a conversation
  • Listening to Guion laugh
  • Practicing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
  • Drinking tea in the afternoon
  • Watching Mitch McConnell’s mouth when it makes words

And then some

“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.