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

A bead of sensation (six years)

Abby_and_Guion616
© Meredith Perdue

We are celebrating six years of marriage in Berlin today! While we’re experiencing the city with Grace and Jack, I am increasingly convinced, as I look over at Guion, that there isn’t anyone else I’d rather have with me during our European summer—and during the whole of my life, however long it may be.

This passage from Woolf’s diary expresses so much of what I feel about the daily work and magic of marriage:

Arnold Bennett says that the horror of marriage lies in its ‘dailiness.’ All acuteness of a relationship is rubbed away by this. The truth is more like this: life — say 4 days out of 7 — becomes automatic; but on the 5th day a bead of sensation (between husband and wife) forms which is all the fuller and more sensitive because of the automatic customary unconscious days on either side. That is to say the year is marked by moments of great intensity. Hardy’s ‘moments of vision.’ How can a relationship endure for any length of time except under these conditions?

Virginia Woolf, autumn 1926 (A Writer’s Diary)

As all of the days pile up, I am inexpressibly grateful to be accumulating them with Guion.

Abby_and_Guion262
© Meredith Perdue

Wedding outtakes

Reading Sally Mann’s excellent memoir, Hold Still, has made me feel particularly compelled to keep better photographic archives. In that vein, I finally uploaded and successfully archived our wedding photographs, which were shot by the incomparable Meredith Perdue.

It was such a delight to look back through these photos, especially the less glamorous or amusing ones that I had forgotten about. Without further ado, here are some wedding outtakes. Just because. It’s a cold, blustery November day, and looking at these pictures fills me with a sunny, Chapel Hill brand of romantic nostalgia.

Abby_and_Guion021Abby_and_Guion087Abby_and_Guion184Abby_and_Guion216Abby_and_Guion316Abby_and_Guion319Abby_and_Guion375Abby_and_Guion535Abby_and_Guion568Happy Friday!

Autumn day

Pyrrha and home in September

I am really taken with this poem, by Rilke, translated by David Ferry:

Herbsttag

Now is the right time, Lord. Summer is over.
Let the autumn shadows drift upon the sundials,
And let the wind stray loose over the fields.

Summer was abundant. May the last fruits be full
Of its promise. Give them a last few summer days.
Bring everything into its completion, Lord,
The last sweetness final in the heavy wine.

Who has no house will never have one now;
Who is alone will spend his days alone;
Will wake to read some pages of a book;
Will write long letters; wander unpeacefully
In the late streets, while the leaves stray down.

— Rilke, translation by David Ferry

I am sad to see summer go, because it was full and lovely, but I was a little bit excited to come home yesterday and feel cold and feel the urgent need for a sweater. Just a little bit excited.

Days of Our Youth
Mom and Dad on a camping trip, circa early 2000s?

Today is my parents’ 31st wedding anniversary. They are funny and weird and delightful and totally crazy about each other. Until I was married myself, I do not think I realized what a profound blessing and relational boon it is to have had (and to still have) happily married parents. We are given domestic gifts we neither deserve nor anticipate.

It turns out that I am simultaneously (a) full of ambition and (b) fabulously lazy.

We have a very busy season ahead of us (e.g., every weekend in October is currently booked with either small travel plans or house guests), and that makes the large portion of my personality that is introverted feel extremely anxious, but I have to keep telling myself that it’s always fine, or more than fine, in the end, because it turns out that I actually like people, despite what I am inclined to believe.

Unbroken reel

Home (August 2015)
Living room in August. Fiddle-leaf fig is clearly hungry for more light.

One sign of people growing on each other: Once we get in the car and start driving home after a dinner or a party or some social function, we say some pat, predictable things about the event (“That was nice,” “the food was good,” etc.) and then we suddenly, almost simultaneously, say the exact same, small, specific observation to each other. “Wasn’t it strange the way that cat was nibbling on the ends of the rug?” “Absolutely!” “Didn’t you think his opinion about Mumford & Sons was surprisingly nuanced?” “Why, yes, I did; I thought the exact same thing.” This is perhaps, I think, one of the tiny reasons that people stay married, to have that comforting confirmation of one’s own observational debris.

Thanks to the recommendations of our friends Zaynah and Forrest, we have been watching “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” and taking notes on all of the important, beautiful films we haven’t seen and then lining them up on our queues. The melodramatic narrator drives me a bit crazy at times, but it’s been an excellent overview of the history and development of cinema as an art form. Along with Jonathan, I am feeling especially wild about Yasujiro Ozu. The fact that his complete oeuvre is on Hulu makes the subscription totally worth it. I want to steep myself in All Things Ozu.

I am interested in and appreciative of selfies. I think it’s only a matter of time before a book-length thesis on the Millennial mindset regarding self-preservation and self-documentation is published (if it hasn’t been already). But I won’t be writing it, because I am not especially adept at explaining why I like selfies, especially other people’s. I, for one, have never taken a good photograph of myself.

Face diary
Notes on your face. 14 August 2015.

But I sincerely like other people’s selfies, especially people I love. I don’t even mind the ones with poorly disguised motives. Here is a photo of myself looking my most luminous, my most attractive, etc. Those are most common. But I am especially interested in self-deprecating selfies. Here I am with my natural blue–black bags under my eyes. Here I am with baby vomit in my hair. 

I don’t know. I know I am making limited sense, but there is something cheerful to me about people posting selfies. Because the people who do are saying Here is my face. This is my body. I am happy with it. I suspend judgment. I applaud them quietly.

Four years

Today, I happily celebrate four years of marriage to Guion. Every year with him just keeps getting better and better! Soon, we’re just going to reach this weird, silent, blissful nirvana in which we have no need for language. OK, not really. Marriage is hard. But there’s no one else I’d rather be yoked with; I can’t even imagine a better partner.

And now, some infrequently seen photos from our wedding day, taken by the incomparably great Meredith Perdue. Click on a thumbnail to flip through the gallery.

No faith in your own language

Irrationally proud of myself for coaxing this #orchid to re-bloom.
Orchid No. 2 is about to bloom again!

Sunset
Louise Glück

My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.

You have no faith in your own language,
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.

And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of the summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response.

I think this poem is about God, but sometimes I think it is about marriage too.

We’ve been married for three-and-a-half years now. Sometimes we don’t listen to each other. Sometimes we forget to pray. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and assess how the other one is genuinely doing. Three-and-a-half years is comparative blip of time, a twitch of an eyelid. Sometimes it feels like ages; sometimes it feels like we’ve only been married for a few days.

We like to ask each other questions at dinner. What kind of restaurant would you be the proprietor of? If you had to spend an entire week with a relative (excepting immediate family), who would it be? What high school friend do you wish you were still in touch with? If you could have any artist write a review of your masterpiece, who would it be and what would they say?

And we listen to each other’s answers, our eyes open, surprised by this person sitting in front of us.

The fermentation master is back in the game. #coldmuch #kombuchaforeveryone
Starting kombucha again.

Lately, I’ve been waking up in the middle of dreams. It is a disorienting experience, and one of the consequences is that the half-finished dream sticks with me throughout the day. Today, for instance, I can’t stop thinking about how Kelsey is going to get all of that molten silver out of her hair, and why it is that Rebecca, my BFF from elementary and middle school, decided to marry a morbidly obese man simply because he wrote her a letter on a piece of yellow notebook paper. When conscious, I had to remind myself, “Kelsey’s hair is OK. Rebecca is already married.” But part of me still thinks that reality is awry.

My fleeting obsessions* in 2013:

  • Ballet
  • Houseplants
  • Fashion
  • Interior design
  • Real estate

(*I define “obsessions” as topics that are suddenly deeply fascinating to me. I then go and read armfuls of books on the subject at the public library and start consuming blogs and websites on said topic, until it eventually ceases to hold my interest. The only two obsessions that have never failed to captivate me are reading and animals, specifically dogs. For the rest of my life, I will be obsessed with books and dogs.)

I wish my obsessions would trend toward more useful things, like personal finance, basic math, the tax code, or local politics. But, alas. I am only interested in the inconsequential.

I’d like to see myself get back into foreign languages, personally. I only practice a little Japanese during my weekly meeting at work, in which I take notes in a mix of hiragana and bad kanji. (I’ve forgotten so much. Gomenasai, sensei.) I’d like to refresh Japanese and take Level I French. I think I’m ruined for other languages, though. I once tried to speak a line of French in front of a French person, and she said, “Hm. Weirdly, your French has an… Asian accent.”

As an extension of one of my 2013 obsessions, I think I’d also like to get obsessed with bonsai.

What do you think I should be obsessed with in 2014?

For Courtney, because she asked.

Happy Year 3

To us!

(c) Meredith Perdue

Yo, G: Here’s an idea. Let’s be married FOREVER, OK?

(c) Meredith Perdue (c) Meredith Perdue

Hard to believe we’ve been married for three years. The days pass in joyful bliss and wonderment with champagne fairies and moonbeams!

But for real. I love this man more and more all the time. Life with him is really, really, really good.

Photos © Meredith Perdue.

A sister married, a brother gained

(c) Grace Farson.

This past weekend was so perfect in every way. I was blessed to witness my beloved sister marry one of my dear friends. I was overwhelmed by her happiness, by the love that exists between them, by the idyllic weather, by the community created by our families and friends. The wedding couldn’t have been more beautiful.

I cried at multiple points and could even cry again just thinking about the two of them. This was surprising to me. I didn’t cry in my own wedding. (Instead, I was busy hissing at Guion not to cry during our vows, because then I would really lose it.) I started crying when Kelsey walked down the aisle, when she was saying her vows, even when Grace and I dropped them off at the hotel! (And for this, I was much mocked by Grace, who has no heart.) I just LOVE THEM a lot, OK?

Even though the ceremony was everything we hoped and dreamed it would be, I am far more thrilled by the fact that Kelsey and Alex are married. They have a whole lifetime together, to love and be loved, to make each other more and more into the likeness of Christ. I am so happy for them and I can’t wait to see them over the upcoming winter holidays. (I am a little peeved that they wouldn’t let me stowaway on their tropical honeymoon, however… Why can’t I tag along and lounge on the beach for a week? Come on, guys. You wouldn’t even know I was there.)

(Here are my few photos from the weekend, if you care. I was much too busy to take many, but the few I have are special to me.)

In which my femininity does not suffer

We grew this.
We grew this.

I am the lax gardener in this household. But I did grow that succulent little watermelon in the photo above. (And by “grow,” I mean plant the seedlings way too close together and leave them to their own devices for two months and then take credit for the beautiful harvest.) We had it for lunch yesterday and it was perfect.

Guion, it turns out, is the better homemaker. He is the champion gardener. He is the master chef. He is the kitchen sink doctor. And I am perfectly OK with him being all of these things. My femininity does not suffer a whit.

I thought it would. When we were first married, I wanted to follow those traditional Southern-woman housekeeping roles. I had to be the better cook. I had to have this instinctive green thumb. I had to fold hand towels in thirds. If I couldn’t or didn’t, I would be a bad wife. Many women imply this, even today. They see this 1950s housekeeping mold as The Gold Standard of matrimony and domestic living: The proper wife stays home, gardens, tidies rooms, makes 95% of the food (leaving only the grilling and the slicing of meats to the husband); the proper husband goes to work, mows the lawn, and fixes broken appliances. These are the roles and you stick to them.

This, obviously, is a fading archetype in modern America. And yet I wanted to follow it. Sometimes, when I do spend time with family (particularly my maternal side of the family), I feel like the lesser wife, the domestic failure. I was raised, after all, by and among these paragons of domestic virtue, the hostesses of wide repute, the kitchen gourmets of local renown. And so it is astonishing to my relatives that my husband is the one in the kitchen, whipping up some chutney from the tomatoes he grew in the backyard. Isn’t that women’s work? The men in my family can barely wash a dish, much less follow a complex English recipe from produce they harvested. And here is my hard-working, housekeeping husband, the culinary trailblazer. He is pure mystery to them all. They stare at him with bemused wonder.

I have always thought that my attainment of true womanhood, of authentic femininity would lie in my inherent ability to whip up a pound cake, hem a skirt, and grow daffodils. I cannot do any of these things. I despise DIY home decor projects. I cannot improvise a marinade. I have never learned how to cut a man’s hair myself. And for the first time in our marriage, I am not ashamed to admit any of these things. I do not feel like a lesser woman or a bad wife anymore.

All this to say: I don’t know what kind of wife I am. I am not the traditional model. But I do know that I found myself a very, very good husband. And we make it work.