Lockdown life

How quickly things change! Here we are, huddled at home, like the rest of the world. It continues to feel surreal, like an irritating dream that resembles everyday life but is more… horrible somehow. That said, we are all well, learning a new routine as we figure out how to work at home and mind the boy. I am grateful for many things, and Guion and Moses are chief among them, along with our jobs, which we still have and are able to do remotely, and our weed-filled yard, which has needed the extra attention.

I have nothing profound to say about this strange moment, except that I have faith that it will end, one way or another.

. . .

When the library shut down, I panic-ordered $100 of used books from ThriftBooks. I am not worried about running out of toilet paper, but running out of new books to read is a real threat to my well-being. I gravitated toward lots of serious, crisis-heavy tomes, whether about the dictator Trujillo’s murderous reign in the Dominican Republic, the fall of the Soviet Union, or the excesses of the Roman Empire. They comfort me, these catastrophic histories. Things have been dark before. They will be dark again. But hope persists.

In my reading life, I also acknowledge that this time of quarantine is an opportunity to read all of the thick tomes that have been languishing on my shelves for years (Don Quixote, Life: A User’s ManualThe Hemingses of MonticelloHirohito, The Golden Notebook, to name a few). To that end, I am also enjoying taking my time and reading through the books that have long been gathering dust on my shelves.

I started Don Quixote, which I have been putting off for at least a decade, and it has utterly enchanted me. Why didn’t anyone tell me how deeply funny it is? I hold you all responsible. It has provided a strange and charming sense of reprieve and escape from the news, which I no longer read at all.

. . .

I am thankful for technology, but I am sick to death of video calls. They are a poor substitute for human interaction. They leave a bitter taste in my mouth, like artificial cherry flavoring when you were wanting the real, fleshy taste of a perfect cherry.

. . .

biz-moses-IMG_9755

At least one member of our family is perpetually cheerful, living proof that ignorance is bliss. He will be a year old in early May, which is hard to believe. He will not get to have the birthday party I had hoped for, gathering all of our family and dearest friends at a park, but I’m the only one who is disappointed by that. He has no idea. We will give him his first taste of refined sugar in the form of a cupcake, take a few photos, and say, “Congrats, boy, welcome to adulthood,” and call it a day. And he will be happy, thinking it just a slight variation on any normal day, which he now spends happily destroying his “safe room” while his parents try to work and take dozens and dozens of… video conference calls.

Love to you all; be of good cheer. This will end one day.

The little myth

September
Tree, from a recent hike.

On the precipice of 30, I am learning how to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. L’art pour l’art.

In my youth, I felt I had to master anything I loved. But then, inevitably, my inability to master a thing diminished my passion for it. For instance, I loved ballet. I loved watching ballets, studying ballerinas. I took ballet lessons as a girl, and then, as a young adult, read Apollo’s Angels and took two beginner’s classes. I was, and still am, a terrible dancer. I am neither strong nor flexible and I have none of the free courage of movement that dancers require. My inability to master ballet itself dimmed my love of the art form. My ballet slippers collect dust in a drawer upstairs; I have forgotten all of the warm-up stretches I used to try every morning. It is a sad and frustrating conclusion to a brief flicker of interest. I never thought I’d become the next Margot Fonteyn, but I expected more from myself. I let myself down quickly.

I’ve been thinking about this false exchange in one particular realm lately. I have loved fiction since I was a child and still do. I read, on average, 50 to 60 novels every year. I study novelists; I drink up their Paris Review interviews; I am obsessed with the craft. And yet, despite all of this, I do not think I can write fiction. I keep trying and loathing myself.

Maybe I will get over it; maybe I won’t. Maybe I will finally write that thing that has been rattling around in my head for years. But either way, I am now repeating to myself the fact that love and mastery do not have to go hand in hand. I can love a cello concerto without ever having to pick up or know anything about the instrument itself. I can adore Italian film without having to learn key phrases. I can devour fiction without having to write a novel. It’s a little freedom I am giving myself.

“Historical sense and poetic sense should not, in the end, be contradictory, for if poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.” — Robert Penn Warren

I do not think I will ever be in the mood to read Don Quixote. Can I take it off my to-read list, where it has been languishing for seven years?

A month after the rally of hatred, our parks are still in turmoil. The Confederate statues are covered up with gigantic trash bags in the morning; in the evening, an unauthorized group of men is tearing them down (which we witnessed last night, walking back to our car). Insipid tourists pose for photos, cheesing in front of the Lee statue, which irritates me to no end. (It’s such an insensitive and weird impulse, to want to pose with this now-infamous statue, which you never would have cared about, much less noticed, before a woman died in the street.)

One thing that has comforted me lately is the presence of excellent local journalists—namely, Jordy Yager. We heard him speak in a panel of other journalists on the topic of race and racism in the news, and I was so impressed with and grateful for his deep grasp of Charlottesville, its history, and the white supremacy that controlled and still controls so many of its institutions. There is still much to be done, but there are many who are fighting the good fight for the long haul.

Books I own that I will probably never read

I own a lot of books. It is dismaying, however, that I own so many that I have little to no interest in reading. I haven’t given them away yet, because I am suffering under this delusion that I will wake up one day with nothing I want to read and gamely pluck Beowulf or The Tale of Genji off the shelf. I doubt this will ever happen. I doubt I will ever be in a mood to read Don Quixote. So, these books are going to probably stay, unloved and unread, on my shelves for another decade or two.

To name a few of the neglected:

  • Beowulf. Should read it; Guion even has the sexy Seamus Heaney translation with the creepy/awesome cover. But… ugh… man. It sounds like zero fun times.
  • The Gulag Archipelago, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn. Talk about zero fun times!
  • The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu. I really should read this: It is the first true novel ever written and it was by a Japanese woman. Why haven’t I read this?
  • Vanity Fair, William Thackeray. Also looks long and boring.
  • Don Quixote, Miguel des Cervantes. Did anyone actually enjoy this novel?
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi. Someone told me the title is a lot more interesting than the book itself. Sounds plausible. I can’t bring myself to toss it.
  • The Longest Journey, E.M. Forster. Is this one of your bad novels, Forster? Is it? No one ever talks about it, so I’m guessing that it is.
  • Germinal, Emile Zola. Never read Zola; don’t even know what this is about; looks and sounds dry.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy. I got over my Hardy phase when I was in high school.
  • North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell. I watched the great BBC adaptation of this with Emily, but that novel looks so dauntingly long. And I already know how it ends.

Have you read any of these? Are they worth changing my opinions about?

Books I have not read that I am supposed to have read

A List of Books I Should Have Read by Now, But I Am Either Too Lazy to Remember or Their Statute of Limitations of Interestingness Has Expired, and My Pertinent Excuses.

  1. Beowulf, Anon. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I’m strong enough to wade back into the swamp that is pre-medieval literature to me. But Guion has Seamus Heaney’s translation, so maybe I will read it one day. Only for Heaney.
  2. Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, all those English history plays with the names of kings, Shakespeare. See also: Laziness.
  3. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes. Supposedly it’s 1,000 pages long. Who has that kind of stamina anymore? I’ve exhausted mine with Proust and the Russians.
  4. Vanity Fair, William Thackeray. It looks… so… long. Plus, Reese Witherspoon already ruined it for me. Boo.
  5. The Stranger, Albert Camus. I’m not really into existentialism right now.
  6. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu. There are about 596 reasons why I should have already read this book. First novel ever recorded! By a woman! A Japanese woman! But… why? I don’t have any legitimate excuses. I even own it. I just haven’t read it.
  7. Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton. A hundred people have told me to read this. That means I probably never will.
  8. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut has never sparked my curiosity, but I have no good reason why.
  9. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. I’m actually planning on reading this after I finish all of In Search of Lost Time, so, three summers from now.
  10. Harry Potter. I know. This is a “statute of limitations” one. Just not interested.

How about you? Any books you “should” have read but probably won’t?