The weather turns just a few degrees and instantly my thoughts turn to cashmere.
I just finished the exciting, bizarre, and beautiful Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, a Heian-era (circa 1000 AD!) courtesan with a sophisticated ear for poetry. She’s kind of like the ancient Japanese version of Lydia Davis, if you ask me. Micro-fiction-like fragments and lots of mundane things that get on her nerves. She is an utter delight and the perfect distraction from this miserable election. A sampling:
16: Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
Sparrows feeding their young. To pass a place where babies are playing. To sleep in a room where some fine incense has been burnt. To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become a little cloudy. To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival. To wash one’s hair, make one’s toilet, and put on scented robes; even if not a soul sees one, these preparations still produce an inner pleasure.
It is night and one is expecting a visitor. Suddenly one is startled by the sound of rain-drops, which the wind blows against the shutters.
And so, in homage:
Things that are unpleasant
Meeting someone in person whom you only “know” online and having to start a conversation with him/her. Stepping in something wet while wearing socks. Donald Trump saying, “No one respects women more than I do.” Watching Christians contort themselves to try to defend Trump. Christians defending Trump at all. A whiff of spoiled milk. The way a dying spider’s legs curl into its body after it has been stepped on.
I cut my hair extremely short (for me), as a celebratory gesture, and I think I like it. It felt risky. It changes my behavior. It makes me feel like I have to comport myself differently now.
“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”
— Peggy MacIntosh (1988), quoted in What Does It Mean to Be White?, by Robin DiAngelo (2012)
I have been thinking about this quote so much this week. I read African-American writers all summer but had been lulled into this sense that I was somehow removed from the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America, that it was not about me, a white woman; it was a cause to care about and advocate for but somehow outside my purview or even responsibility. DiAngelo’s book was an experience of having the scales fall from my eyes. I have been thinking about white complicity for some months now, but nowhere nearly as deeply as I have upon reading What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy. I have so much more to say and process on the subject, but I feel like (a) I’m having a personal awakening, and (b) I’m ashamed that it’s taken me this long. Please forgive me. Forgive me for my lifetime of white blindness. I am working on myself.
And it is always good to be outside oneself, to focus sincerely on someone else and her life or his experiences.
I whipped myself into a brief rage today over something very trivial, a benefit that I was usually given that was temporarily taken away (only for a day!), and I was angry until my (weird/genial) coworker asked me to touch his hair and assess if my curly-girl recommendations were working, and I thought, Oh, this person is ridiculous, and I am being ridiculous, and everything is going to be fine. Drink some green tea and get over yourself, Self.
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward
The End of the Story, Lydia Davis
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach
In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way: A Graphic Novel, Stéphane Heuet
In a spontaneous decision, and in a rash of inspiration/desire to look like Marion Cotillard, I chopped off my hair. I donated a ponytail of rough-looking curls and got this, my shortest hair since I was six or seven years old:
I turn 27 next week, and I feel like it was time I had a grown-up haircut. We’ll see how it wears; at the moment, I feel very unlike myself and brimming with possibility.
My delightful husband, who knows me so well, found the perfect little book for me at the library’s annual book sale: A Joy of Gardening, by Vita Sackville-West (most known to me for being Virginia Woolf’s lover and the model for Orlando).
Sackville-West was apparently one of England’s most beloved gardening columnists, and this book is a free and lovely collection of her thoughts about gardening, tempering plants to the seasons, and favorite varieties. The edition Guion found me was printed in the United States in the early 1950s and has all of these beautiful woodcut illustrations of plants sprinkled throughout the brief chapters.
Her gardens at Sissinghurst Castle were renowned in England and are still prized today.
She has a dazzling, dramatic style, characteristic of her Bloomsbury peers. For instance, some of her thoughts about irises:
There is a race of little irises, flowering in spring, and too seldom grown. They do not aspire to make a great splash; their colors are frail; they grow only to six to twelve inches high; they demand a small place to match their small size; they must be regarded as intimate flowers, to be peered into and protected from the vulgar slug.
I love it. The vulgar slug! It is just the kind of book I love: beautifully written, enthusiastic about a specific topic in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn in.
My irises, which were given to me by a mystery benefactor, hail from Thomas Jefferson’s line of irises in his Monticello gardens. (The irises in these photos were from our last house, a rental that benefited from a landlord with an accomplished green thumb.) Here, at our new home, I planted my mystery-gift irises in the fall and watched over them tenderly throughout dark, cold seasons. They seem to have admirably survived the winter, and I am looking forward to their blooms; I haven’t the slightest idea what they might look like.
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?
Our weekend away was a happy, full one. The family women accomplished lots for Kelsey and Alex’s wedding; Pyrrha acted like a normal, stable dog and became fast friends with Dublin; we missed Sam; Dad found a new method of receiving basic channels; we spent most of our free time walking the dogs; I nagged Grace to give me some of her clothes; she said she’d sell me her camera instead. At dinner on Saturday, I announced that I would stay for a month. If only I could.
I don’t particularly enjoy driving and nearly five hours in the car by myself (with a sleeping wolf in the back) was plenty. However, after you pass Lynchburg, the landscape suddenly becomes beautiful. The sky clears. The light is purer, the hills are greener and higher. I feel close to God when I’m driving back home in the mountains. “Virginia is God’s country,” my grandmother, raised on a farm near Amherst, has always said. I wholeheartedly agree.
My hair has reached that long, unmanageable point, but I’m too lazy to make an appointment at the salon. “I think I’m just going to keep it at this length for a while, and then I’ll cut it short,” I told Guion the other night, while I was looking at it in the mirror. “I don’t think that’s how hair works,” he replied.
Here are some things I want to do in theory, meaning, as soon as I actually tried to do them, I would be a.) very mad at myself, b.) tearful, c.) ashamed, or d.) all of the above.
Adopt a cat! (No, not really. Cats, like 50-gallon aquariums, are very nice to look at, but no one really wants to take care of them. Plus, most cats are mean and their poop is making us all schizophrenic.)
Run 10 miles! (Running is for masochists. And it is bad for you.)
Shave off all my hair! (Beth: Are you crying about father? Jo: My hair…)
Grow out all my hair! (Very quickly, I start to look like this. This is also what you get when you type “homeschool hair” into Google image search.)
Live on a farm in the middle of nowhere! (Can I live on a farm that’s near civilization? Do those exist? I’m scared of the darkness in the woods.)
Raise sheep! (Sheep are actually quite gross. Ever tried to pet one? I dare you. If the woolly grease doesn’t get you, the ticks will.)
Take a remedial math class! (I should do this one, but it would make me very much point b, above.)
Train our future dog to compete in agility! (Agility is hard, y’all. Plus, I’m not competitive or aggressive enough to hang with the humans involved in it.)
Re-upholster furniture! (Despite what the Life List says, this sounds like a terrible, terrible idea. I’d rather buy a new chair.)
Do a split! (That is hilarious. Absolutely hilarious, self.)
Happy Friday! Guion comes home tomorrow night! Can’t wait.
SUCH a peaceful and pleasant weekend! On Saturday, I went to the annual library book sale at Gordon Avenue and was soon joined by Celeste, Sarah, and Laura. I’ve been to a lot of book sales in my day, but let me tell you: This one takes the cake. High-quality, just about brand new books in every imaginable genre for a few dollars? This is my version of heaven. I walked away with 32 beautiful new books and paid a mere $30 for all of them. Sunday morning at the SPCA and then an afternoon lazing around the house due to a pulled hamstring from overly rambunctious pups. We watched The Fellowship of the Ring and we are not going to apologize for it. (I forgot how LONG that movie is…)
My Parents Were Home Schooling Anarchists. A piece in the New York Times by Margaret Heidenry about what it was like to grow up as a homeschooler before it was legal. It’s like The Glass Castle from a homeschooling-centric perspective. Extremely fascinating! It’s so interesting how much the homeschooling movement has changed. When my parents decided to homeschool in 1988, it still wasn’t legal in many states, but in 1993, it was legal in all 50. Since then, it’s a rising trend, although the dominion has shifted from free-thinking bohemians to very conservative evangelicals. (New York Times)
The Piano Lesson. A memory from Jared Nigro about his piano teacher and an unexpected gift of mercy. (The Hairpin)
Women in War, Women in Peace. A plea to stop thinking about war as a male-only circumstance. Men start wars and men fight them, but we never think about the women left at home to pick up the pieces. (The Atlantic)
Black Cat Auditions in Hollywood, 1961. There were a lot of eager women trying to make their black cats into movie stars in 1961, apparently. Very entertaining series of photos. I feel like training a cat to act would be akin to training a fish to sing. (Retronaut)
Collection of Rejected Titles for Classic Books. Would you have read The Great Gatsby if it had been titled Trimalchio in West Egg? Yeah. I didn’t think so. Good saves from editors and publishers alike, who usually picked the better title for the soon-to-be classic. (Flavorwire)
The Pleasures and Perils of Re-Reading. These days, I don’t make time for re-reading anything, which is something of a shame. I’ll probably start re-reading in my middle age. Right now, there’s too much still to be read. I do miss the distinct pleasure of returning to a beloved book, however. I bought the lovely and widely acclaimed Pevear/Volonkhosky translation of Anna Karenina at the aforementioned book sale, however, and I may have to return to that soon… (The Millions)
Says the Hummer in the Land of the Hybrid. A mother’s reflection on having four kids when having four kids is not especially chic or socially acceptable. I thought of this in relation to my own mother, toting the four of us around in “inconvenient” places. (Girl’s Gone Child)
What is it about quiet novels about the interior lives of women that resonates so deeply with me? (See: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, which I just started and I love. See also: All Works by Virginia Woolf.)
Is it possible to make quinoa taste like food?
What type of birds were flocked together in that tree, wailing and calling others to them? Were they starlings? I would prefer that they were starlings.
Why does Thanksgiving still feel so far away?
Where can I go where I can interact with more animals?
Are American politics becoming more and more dangerously polarized these days, or is it just me?
What do I have to do to make myself like yoga?
How do you know if it’s the Holy Spirit or your conscience or your latent desires?
This weekend, we enjoyed the beautiful wedding of our friends Michael and Mallory, who tied the knot at James Monroe’s gorgeous estate, Ash Lawn-Highland. Photos on Flickr! Warmest congratulations to Michael and Mallory!
The Hyena and Other Men. These photos are mind-blowing. Photographer Pieter Hugo became interested in a group of Nigerian men who capture hyenas and then keep muzzled on huge chains. Why? Not really sure. My best guess is because these animals are TERRIFYING to look at. These photos are astonishing. I also recently learned that hyenas are not from the canid family; rather, they are more closely related to cats. So bizarre. (Pieter Hugo)
Flowers A-Z: O Is for Orchid. I love orchids so much. They’re the only plant that I seem able to keep alive for an extended period of time. I’m inspired to buy another one from the Charlottesville farmers’ market to put in our bathroom. (Design Sponge)