Mystical confluence

Typical winter scene.

Winter is a season to light candles and be grateful. It is a time to argue about whether we should get a little Christmas tree (him: for, me: against; he’s been winning the past few years), to go to bed early with great gusto, to read heavy books that never look appealing during the summer, and to make as many fires in the fireplace during the week as we can muster.

I loathe the cold, but I am happy about the season.

. . .

Guion and I have a term for a phenomenon that occurs when you are reading or otherwise consuming content across a variety of media, produced by very different people, in different eras or genres — and then they suddenly start communicating with each other or referencing the same specific thing.

It’s one of my favorite experiences. I started calling it “mystical confluence,” and now we like to share our encounters with each other. For example, you’re reading a history of table manners and a strange Anne Carson poem, and then they both suddenly reference Lazarus being raised from the dead. Or you’re listening to Joanna Newsom and reading an account of medieval cosmology, and now they’re both talking about meteors. Mystical confluence is deeply enjoyable. It always makes me feel that (1) the world is very small, and (2) we are all eminently connected, in ways that we often cannot fathom.

. . .

“The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.”

— Christ, quoted in the Gospel of Thomas

. . .

Qualities that I increasingly appreciate in other people, as I age

  • Conversational graces
  • The ability to set a table properly
  • Disinterest in the news cycle
  • Rejection of small talk
  • Capacity to disagree politely but honestly
  • Eschewing the use of phones at the table
  • Handwriting

Alteration is what we keep

Ischia
Castello d’Aragonese, Ischia, this May.

Summer slipped through our fingers.

Here we are at the end of August, a bit dazed by how quickly the season left us. We are going to New York soon, to see old friends and eat a good deal of food and ogle modern art, and it feels like a fitting conclusion to what was otherwise a quiet and domestic summer. This summer has been marked by much thinking about our house and a possible addition; exquisite meals made by Guion; the basilica cocktail; daily walks with Pyrrha; near-daily thunderstorms; roaring symphonies of cicadas; a return to evening reading; and breathtakingly oppressive humidity.

. . .

A sweet thing: A husband who reads a poem by Danez Smith to me in the morning, while he is finishing his breakfast, and when he finishes the poem, he looks up and me and his eyes are rimmed with tears and he laughs and says, “It’s too beautiful,” and looks up at the ceiling.

. . .

Gratitude works quickly on the mind. I am always pleased to discover and then rediscover this.

Lately, I have been astonished by the power of the mere reminder to be grateful. Guion also deserves credit for this. As I have been absorbed in planning our home addition and finalizing plans with our architect, I have taken to griping about things in the house that have bothered me. I hate the rattling storm windows, which are impossible to clean. I loathe the sloppy molding and the cheap hollow-core doors. I detest that multicolored berber carpet upstairs. And sometimes (more often, lately) I say so.

Guion has taken to reminding me that nothing is wrong with our house (echoing the sentiments of a new favorite writer, Kate Wagner). It is good. Each room has something to be grateful for, to give thanks for.

And it’s working on me. I am pleased with the small things: the way my bare feet feel on our hardwood floors in the summer. The actual tininess of our bedroom, because we do not need it to be bigger. The fact that we have two bathrooms, even if they are not in the right place. The good choices that the previous owners made when they renovated the kitchen. The long flat yard, which has allowed our gardening imaginations and experiments plenty of room to flourish. I even like the pale green color of our ugly asbestos siding. Sure, there are things I still want to change, and I still hope we get to do this addition, but even if we don’t, I am thankful.

. . .

“Alteration”

By Hayden Carruth

You thought growing older
would be more of the same,
going a little slower,
walking a little lame.

But you knew, or you were a fool,
that alteration is what we keep;
tonight will not be the equal
of last night, even in sleep.

Mutinies

Italy
Views from the Castello Aragonese, Ischia.

(Definitely not the first person to make this observation, but I’m going to make it anyway.) When you are well, your body is invisible. The body is this lovely, useful scaffolding, like a shoe so comfortable you forget you are wearing shoes.

But when you are unwell, the metaphor is no longer useful. Illness is not an uncomfortable shoe; illness is a mutiny. When you are unhealthy, you feel betrayed. You turn your back and see that your team has abandoned you; your family, those you knew and loved, have not only rejected you but decided that you’re the target now. They’re out to get you, and you never thought this day would come, not from your beloveds, not from the heartbeat that was so strong and regular, not from the hearing that never faltered, not from the immune system that shielded you day in and day out. The feeling of betrayal is really what lurks beneath that pervasive grief of illness, especially chronic illness. The traitorous war is never over, and you’re always on the losing team.

Grateful for

  • Coming home and wanting to come home
  • Fireflies, standing on the back deck and watching them light up the dark trees with G.
  • Friends who make us dinner and let us talk about Italy, even though it’s really boring to listen to people talk about their trips, they always act interested
  • Friends who went to Italy and shared slideshows with us and let us try our best rendition at Neapolitan pizza on them
  • Coming back to work! I genuinely missed my team.
  • Stupid pups who love being alive
  • A refreshed desire to read everything in sight
  • A flourishing front yard, even though I’m anxious to transplant things I underestimated

“Love came to confirm all of the old things whose existence she only knew of without ever having accepted or felt them. The world spun under her feet, there were two sexes among humans, a line connected hunger to satisfaction, animal love, rainwater headed for the sea, children were growing beings, in the earth the sprout would become a plant. She could not longer deny… what? She wondered in suspense. The luminous centre of things, the confirmation underpinning everything, the harmony that existed beneath the things she didn’t understand.”

Near to the Wild Heart, Clarice Lispector

A piece of a wasted hour

October with Wei
Virginia is perfect this time of year. (A vineyard nearby.)

“Still, a great deal of light falls on everything.” — Vincent van Gogh, in a letter

Annals of Everyday Sexism, No. 1,204

I told him some about my new job and what I would be doing and how I was so excited about it, about the work itself and about all of the new challenges and opportunities it would bring.

“It sounds like Guion and I would be better at that job than you would be,” he said as soon as I finished.

I blinked. “No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” I said, and then with uncharacteristic firmness, “I am going to be great at this job.” My blood was feeling hot in my face.

He furrowed his brows, implying he didn’t believe me. But for once, I had a retort ready.

“Just because I’m not constantly talking about myself and how great I am all the time doesn’t mean I don’t have any skills,” I said, turning away.

“Oh, you’re adorable,” he said, in the purest of patronizing tones. And all this despite the fact that he is several years younger than me.

(You are not surprised when it happens, this kind of thing, because it has been happening all your life, but you are now almost 30 and ready to say something about it when it does. To name a thing, to call it what it is, to not hedge anymore.)

That said, I just finished the first week at my new job, and I am feeling all of the good feels: happy, grateful, fortunate, enlightened, challenged, hopeful, thrilled, capable, eager.

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened, and its deepest mystery probed?” — Annie Dillard

I just finished The Abundance, which I thought was a new collection of Annie Dillard essays because I didn’t read the subtitle carefully. It isn’t; it’s almost entirely old stuff, repackaged. But her old stuff is still beautiful and challenging and mind-expanding, and I was happy to re-read it. If I ever were to aspire to nonfiction in this way, Dillard is all that I could ever hope to be. Her boundless curiosity, her lyricism, her patience, her directness. It will always be difficult to convince me than any other American essayist can surpass her.

Up next on the reading docket: A big haul from the library book sale (somewhat thick, heady European novels that have been on my list for a long time + James Baldwin + John McPhee + Simone de Beauvoir’s short stories) and the Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector (I’m scared).

Ephemeral

The Grays at Pollak
Pollak Vineyards, this past weekend

(I never have any good ideas for blog post titles, which is why they are always so inscrutable and senseless.)

I am looking forward to being with the family this week, but I also feel a lot of anxiety and sadness about the pending visit. I keep crying in public when people ask me about my grandparents (so, fair warning if you see me). I cried yesterday at work, in our department meeting, when our boss asked us to go around and say what we were thankful for. “My family,” I said. “And how dependable… and loving… they are…” And then I dissolved into ugly tears over free bagels.

The US political field is so ugly right now, and I am so ashamed of the surge of hatred, fear, and bigotry that the GOP candidates have inspired among the public. Whenever a candidate says anything, I visit FactCheck.org, which has become one of my sole barometers on the validity of political pronouncements. I have been astonished at how many blatant lies are circulating.

I am thankful for

  • the opportunity to be with Mom, Dad, Kelsey, Alex, Sam, Ma-Maw, and Da-Dan this week;
  • starting a Five-Year Diary;
  • sweet friends;
  • cataloging photo archives;
  • Guion, always;
  • my calligraphy studio;
  • kind colleagues and perceptive managers;
  • This American Life keeping us awake and inspired on road trips;
  • dogs who patiently wait outside the door while I nap off a migraine;
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus; and
  • a clean house.

Hope those of you in the US have a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.

Thankful for

Playing in the yard with the girls

Today, I am thankful for:

  • Guion
  • Gorgeous spring weather
  • Toiling in the earth alongside my helpmeet
  • Maddy, Sallie, and Tara
  • The fact that Rachel has kept up her blog; equally thankful for her gift of expression
  • This town
  • Dog-savvy people who bring their dogs to play with our psychopaths
  • Cherry trees in bloom
  • Everything in bloom, actually
  • Not going to the forum on the church and homosexuality so that I could have a long brunch instead
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Dirt under your fingernails
  • Our house
  • Books in translation and being able to trust that the translation is good
  • Dogs chewing on sticks
  • Open windows
  • Smelling like the earth after a long day working in the yard
  • Men who listen
  • The Wire
  • Annie Dillard
  • Family and friends who don’t ask me when I’m going to spawn a child and why I haven’t yet
  • Journaling again
  • Not having to moderate Facebook for the shepherd rescue anymore
  • Mom, Dad, Kelsey, and Alex coming to visit this weekend

Thankful for

Today I am thankful for…
Orchid re-blooms. #orchidpride #houseplantfever

  • Orchid no. 2 re-blooming.

So seductive. #ediebaby #germanshepherd

  • This dog, who makes me laugh.

Date night

  • Date nights with Guion.
  • The fact that English is not a gendered (e.g., romance) language. This makes it a lot easier to be simultaneously politically and grammatically correct.
  • Time to revisit Virginia Woolf (currently re-reading A Haunted House, a tiny collection of short stories).
  • Family group texts.
  • All the money my parents put into my teeth, so that I wouldn’t have to have the smile I was born with, which would have resembled that of a medieval kitchen wench from the British Isles.
  • Weekends with weather that resembles late spring.
  • A kitchen that is a joy (instead of a biohazard) to keep clean.
  • Electric kettles.
  • My calligraphy studio. Such peace in my Room of My Own.
  • Wearing a skirt without heavy tights.
  • Friends who still ask me to do things with them, even though I’ve been neglectful of them for months.
  • How sassy Jesus is in the Gospels.
  • A pen pal who got surprise-married in the snow.
  • Men who identify as feminists.
  • This weird organic face serum (mostly water, aloe vera, and coconut oil) that has made my skin look clearer and better than it has in years.
  • America. No, really, I am.
  • Seeing that your dog (in this case, Pyrrha) loves you for more than just being the Giver of Food.
  • Tea.
  • A great university education.
  • Our church.

What are you thankful for today?

Thanksgiving

Dusk in the neighborhood
Dusk in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow morning, Guion, Pyrrha, and I are setting off for Southern Pines for a long weekend with the Pratt family. I am looking forward to seeing everyone, taking long walks with Pyrrha and Windy around the neighborhood, and stuffing my face.

On the eve of this great American holiday, here is a preliminary list of things I am thankful for right now:

  1. Guion, everything that he is now and is becoming. And those blue eyes of his! Like an ice dragon! Have you looked at them lately? His eyes are a seriously unreal color, much like Jack Donaghy’s.
  2. Mom and Dad.
  3. Mike and Windy.
  4. Kelsey and Alex.
  5. Grace.
  6. Sam.
  7. Win (and Tracy, by extension).
  8. Pyrrha, our sweet and neurotic little baby.
  9. Our community in Charlottesville.
  10. Christ Episcopal Church.
  11. The women in my small group.
  12. A fenced-in backyard.
  13. Kind-hearted, attentive landlords.
  14. My job.
  15. My coworkers and bosses and the camaraderie we share.
  16. Louis, my new camera, inherited from Grace.
  17. The poetry of the Bible.
  18. The public library system.
  19. Used book sales.
  20. Ballet.
  21. Skype.
  22. Tea. Always and forever tea.
  23. All the dogs!
  24. Old friends.
  25. New friends.
  26. Maxi skirts and dresses.
  27. Makeup samples.
  28. Marcel Proust.
  29. The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.
  30. The trees in Charlottesville in the fall.
  31. Marilynne Robinson.
  32. Our cars, that they run.
  33. Poetry.
  34. Sufjan Stevens.
  35. Japanese vocabulary that still comes back to me.
  36. Art museums.
  37. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art.
  38. The Atlantic Monthly.
  39. The New Yorker.
  40. Calligraphy.
  41. Pyrrha’s dog friends.
  42. Handwritten letters.
  43. Nettles.
  44. Joanna Newsom.
  45. Friends’ babies.
  46. America.
  47. Pyrrha’s ecstatic jumps in the air when I come home.
  48. Peace.
  49. Eyeglasses.
  50. Long walks around town.
  51. Enormous clouds of starlings.
  52. Virginia Woolf.
  53. Great restaurants.
  54. Brother Beer Works.
  55. Japanese ceramics.
  56. UNC-Chapel Hill.
  57. All of my beloved former English professors and even the journalism professors who scared me into a job.
  58. Boots.
  59. High-quality writing utensils (especially pens from Japan).
  60. Childhood memories.
  61. Horses.
  62. Letters from Aunt Lib.
  63. The Chicago Manual of Style.
  64. Soft leather leashes.
  65. Editing.
  66. Fonts.
  67. Vladimir Nabokov.
  68. The Eucharist.
  69. A community of artists.
  70. Little notebooks.
  71. Relay Foods.
  72. Ample storage space in our tiny hovel.
  73. Pie.
  74. Memories of the Compline service at the Chapel of the Cross.
  75. A new Trader Joe’s in town, even if the parking is apparently atrocious.
  76. Anton Chekhov.
  77. Tights.
  78. My beautiful rings, from Mary Windley.
  79. Cut flowers on the kitchen table.
  80. Homemade oatmeal.
  81. Journals, which I have kept for about 18 years now.
  82. Solitude.
  83. The Book of Common Prayer.
  84. A priest who loves William Faulkner.
  85. The view of the mountains as I drive home from work.
  86. Talking about film with Jonathan.
  87. Rabbits.
  88. American literature.
  89. Alphabetization.
  90. Sex.
  91. Grapefruit.
  92. A warm home in the winter.
  93. Forgiveness.
  94. The Virginian countryside.
  95. The person of Jesus.

Thinking, breathing

The Hill and Wood Funeral Home

Thoughts, on this first day of October:

  • What a lovely, lovely wedding, Chris and Sallie. We are so happy for you two and delighted that you will remain in our lives in town. Don’t ever leave!
  • I tried to be brave like Maddy, but I’m apparently not over my stink-bug phobia. I looked like a foolish, fretful 3-year-old while Maddy calmly and competently plucked stink bugs off my back and chair and plate all night long. She is a gem.
  • These days, when I look at Pyrrha for a moment, these words well up in me: Thank you thank you thank you.
  • Reading The Second Sex and Rebecca simultaneously is very jarring.
  • Rose and Kemp are coming to visit this weekend! On the agenda: Hiking, apple picking, solving the American political system, and in Rose’s words, “intimate woman-time.” While the boys are presumably doing man stuff, like talking about beer and comparing muscles or whatever it is that boys do when they are alone…
  • Speaking of intimate woman-time, on this day in 2008, this is where I was. Missing it (and them) now.
  • I try to be calm when I look at the calendar. I fail.

Behind the ecstasy is something else

Source: House Beautiful.

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness–in a landscape selected at random–is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern–to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”

— Vladimir Nabokov, in Speak, Memory

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thanks for all of the kind comments and feedback! I was honored to have been Freshly Pressed yesterday!

And now, we’re off for another weekend jaunt home, to celebrate at a wedding with Guion’s old friends. Have a peaceful weekend, everyone.