Sumptuous destitution

Our dear friend Kyo came to visit for the weekend, which was a real delight, as he always brings a lot of levity and thoughtfulness to every conversation. One of my favorite conversations oriented around this Emily Dickinson poem, which he shared with us:

In many and reportless places
We feel a Joy —
Reportless, also, but sincere as Nature
Or Deity —

It comes, without a consternation —
Dissolves — the same —
But leaves a sumptuous Destitution —
Without a Name —

Profane it by a search — we cannot
It has no home —
Nor we who having once inhaled it —
Thereafter roam.

It has been rolling around in my mind all weekend — the fluctuating, dissolving nature of mundane joys. I have been thinking of these vanishing delights as I light the beeswax candles or repaint the grout on the bathroom floor or pick up Moses in the morning from his crib.

Perhaps it is fruitless to dissect or name these pleasures, as Dickinson suggests, or even to try to replicate them. They come and go as they please, and we’re left in that ineffable state, resting in our sumptuous destitution. As summer burns away and fall approaches, I find that I am more mindful of these domestic, everyday joys. It shall soon be time to stay in the dull, reportless places, and yet even there, we are experiencing the richness and fullness of life.

moses-blenheim
Kyo, Guion, and Moses at Blenheim Vineyards.

The poem hits me strongly because of autumn, but also because of baby.

Now, in month four with Moses, I sense a return to old ways and old pleasures. I didn’t think I’d feel this way in those traumatic early days. I kind of felt ruined, if I’m being honest. And now, things are forever different, of course — gone are the days of spiriting away to a restaurant on a whim! Ne’er shall we leave the house without a tremendous amount of infant paraphernalia! — but the small activities that buoyed the spirits are now capable of being rediscovered. Such as: Painting one’s toenails. Reading a book. Making oatmeal the slow way. Writing words down in a notebook.

Yesterday, for the first time since Moses was born, Guion and I enjoyed one of our “quiet nights” — a screen-free evening for reading and writing. In our recent childless days, we used to enshrine them in our week. These evenings are much harder to come by since we’ve added this little person to our home, but I felt last night how deeply I have missed and needed them. I read a little of Nell Zink’s new novel, Doxology, and tried to get through John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara but couldn’t (it’s almost too lyrical) and felt a vast pleasure wash over me. The days with Moses are full and heartwarming, but the evenings without him can be also (especially now that he’s sleeping through the night!).

(Upon copying the text of the poem, I’m also reminded that Anne Carson has played with it in Men in the Off Hours, splicing Dickinson’s letters to Thomas Higginson with some thoughts on the way we read women. Have you a little chest to put the Alive in? Dickinson! What a bone-chilling genius! I have come off the weekend convinced that we do not talk about her nearly enough and feel that I need to read the giant tome of her complete poems daily, like a liturgy.)

. . .

Obligatory baby photo: Enjoying his first flight! Visiting dearly beloved (and missed) friends in Chicago.

moses-plane

Too porous?

Italy
Somewhere along the Amalfi Coast.

Sometimes I worry that I am too easily persuaded, that I am too porous. If I spend too much time with someone I like, I start to pick up her hand gestures, I start to mimic his philosophical cant. Some days I feel anxious about this, but on others, I think: This is just what humans do. In good company, we’re always bleeding into each other, picking up one another’s stories and making them our own. Over time, we become more and more like our spouses and close friends and neighbors. It is alarming sometimes, for sure, because we cherish this notion of ourselves as peerless individuals, untainted by external influence, but as I age, I am finding it comforting. I am OK being a sponge. I happily soak up other people.

. . .

A small side-step from porousness: I been married for eight years, and every year seems different from the last.

Last night in Praiano
Praiano, May 2018.

Recently, I have delighted in this simple duality: familiarity and surprise. There is this pleasant sense of comfort and ease that comes from living with someone for so long. We finish each other’s sentences (sandwiches); he can typically predict what I am about to do or say or which gesture or joke I’m going to deploy, and vice versa. And then, at the same time, amid all of this charming predictability, marriage is still full of surprises. We uncover a previously hidden aspect of personality (or one that is just developing). We find a fresh angle in a perennial disagreement. Who knows what could happen next? We certainly don’t.

. . .

Yesterday, we were enduring a trip to Giant, and I was, I thought, helpfully putting ears of corn into a plastic bag Guion was holding. I was apparently being too forceful, however. The bag split and the corn tumbled onto his sandaled feet, bruising his toes. He cursed a little under his breath as I picked up the corn. Later that night, I reminded him of how angry he’d been about that corn. “It’s because you were throwing it in the bag like Zeus throwing lightning bolts!” he protested immediately, and I started crying from laughter. And then it was hard to fall asleep.

. . .

I continue to move faithfully away from the news and Twitter, and with each day that passes, my happiness increases. Twitter has been a particular cesspool lately.

. . .

Things I harbor strong opinions about despite knowing very little about

  • The evil of college sports, especially football
  • The dangers of motorcycles
  • The origins of poodle mixes
  • Philip Roth and John Updike
  • Almond milk

The loneliness of the web and the lines that need to be drawn

I feel like I haven’t had a lot to say here lately. We have been having very busy weeks and there seems to be no end in sight. I find myself retreating to books more often, to experience the reprieve of listening to someone else, instead of dredging the internal well for something to spit out here.

I never want to be online when I am home; it makes me feel lazy, pathetic, lonely. The Internet often makes me feel like that, as I’ve mentioned before. I feel like I am wasting my entire life and then that I am incredibly far away from real people and that I will never be close to them again, that artificial ties are all that we have at our disposal. (I was extremely upset when Guion showed me Google’s promotional video of their prototypical glasses, so you can wear your computer on your FACE and never have to talk to a real human again. Super Sad True Love Story is becoming an imminent reality.) I am as dependent on the Internet as the next person, of course; I love the opportunity of keeping multiple blogs, of pinning every damn dog I see on Pinterest, of the immediate accessibility to every conceivable source of information… but it makes me very tired.

I crave Guion’s company when I come home. A human! With a face, hands, words coming out of its mouth in real time! How refreshing. His daily life/work requires less of constant computer usage than mine does, so I am positively crazy for him, that flesh-and-blood connection, right when I get home from work. He’s used to this by now and accustomed to my grumpy face if he sits down on the couch to read Pitchfork when I’m around. I’m possessive of his human attention. His is a far nicer screen to stare into.

There’s not much more to say on that front, except that I am thankful for this outlet, which does not make me feel guilt or pressure. We are moving in three weeks and six days and it’s basically all I think about, because that house, that sprawling garden, that promise of a dog of my own, will give me infinitely more reasons to avoid my laptop.

 

To be the heart of things

A Paris flat, unopened for 70 years. Source: Retronaut

To something proud and restless–the spirit, perhaps–that looked out from inside her, nothing must make death more humbling than the idea of its ease: death should have a harder victory. This was stepping through still one more door held courteously open for her. Better to be rooted out hurt, bleeding, alive, like the daisies from the turf, than blow faintly across the lawn like a straw. All these years she had stood by, uncritically, smiling, had she been wanting really, like other women, to be the heart of things, to be what was going on? No wonder she gave such tender attention to small everyday things, living as people wish they could live over again, slighting nothing.

The House in Paris, Elizabeth Bowen

Happy Friday! Also, if you’re cruising around for something good to read, check out Guion and Caleb’s new music blog: Jams All Year. It’s funny and erudite and will almost certainly direct you to some great new tunes.