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.

The earth soaks up the sun

Italy
View from Castello Aragonese in Ischia (May 2018).

Mavis Gallant is my latest obsession. (Dear friends had a beautiful baby girl yesterday, whom they named Mavis, and the name feels especially precious right now.) Gallant was a French-Canadian short story writer, and I feel simultaneously alarmed and elated that I had never read her until now. This is always such a pleasurable feeling, to discover a brilliant writer, after decades of reading, whom no one you know has ever told you about. (Anne Carson, I suppose, cannot count as someone I know.) She feels like a private discovery even though I am extremely late to the party.

Here is how Gallant starts her immaculate short story The Wedding Ring:

“On my windowsill is a pack of cards, a bell, a dog’s brush, a book about a girl named Jewel who is a Christian Scientist and won’t let anyone take her temperature, and a white jug holding field flowers. The water in the jug has evaporated; the sand-and-amber flowers seem made of paper. The weather bulletin for the day can be one of several: No sun. A high arched yellow sky. Or, creamy clouds, stillness. Long motionless grass. The earth soaks up the sun. or, the sky is higher than it ever will seem again, and the sun far away and small.”

Her prose has this unbelievably effortless quality to it, and the stories unfold in this strange yet natural way. I have been devouring them at breakfast. I feel a strong urge to buy everything she’s ever done.

. . .

A friend, with her bright-eyed baby on her hip, passed me in church after the service and said, as an opening salvo, “Summer is the best time to be alive.” I lit up, agreed, said something vapid about the food and the heat. I love conversations that start in this way, with a statement instead of a predictable question. And I felt the imperative truth of what she said. If we do not eat the earth’s bounty every night, if we do not walk every morning, the season will pass us by and soon we will descend into the darkness of winter. This is the blessedness and urgency of summer.

. . .

Life is very short and yet happy. My houseplants are suffering. I have had them for many years and just this season, they seem to be waning away, after years of moderate health and growth. The bird’s nest fern hanging over the armchair was so happy in that spot for a year, and now it looks burned and angry. The fiddle-leaf fig just keeps growing taller and taller and has no strength and keeps flopping over, weeping with its large leaves that I perpetually neglect to dust. I need to re-pot the six-year-old jade plants, growing in odd ways out of the cracked yellow urns, but I am lazy. I look at them and think about this every other day: You need my help and I am lazy.

. . .

“I always ran Home to Awe when a child, if anything befell me,
He was an awful Mother, but I liked him better than none.” — Emily Dickinson

Can’t you see us bashing around London

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We shove off for our summer in London at the end of this week. After anticipating this brief journey for almost two years now, it feels hard to believe that it is time to go. And we will miss our life in Charlottesville, especially our dear friends, our pups (who will be having a ball at with Juju and TT in Davidson), and our garden.

I am excited about all of the glories that London offers a former English major (and a Woolf acolyte, especially), but I also looking forward to the mundane, domestic aspects too, such as pretending to be a local for a few months: taking the Tube to and from work, acquainting myself with office life, and getting to know our neighborhood.

I hope to post more regularly here with travel notes and photos. Until then, insert some insufferable British farewell here!

(Oh, Teddy, I’m not fashionable enough for London.)

Free and content

Front yard in July 2015
In the summer, we take our time. We talk about the plants, the chickens, the dogs. We eat slowly. We read poems on the back deck if we want to. We sweep the kitchen again. We slide over the clouds of dog fur. We pick little theoretical fights with each other about politics, religion, or art, each of us playing devil’s advocate to the other’s position, just to make it more interesting. We dream up far-fetched home renovation plans. We fail to keep the mosquitoes away, and we never remember to put on enough sunscreen.

And I can’t help but think, every evening, Ah, we can do all of these things because we are childless.

One day, perhaps, our freedom will be interrupted. And one day, perhaps, we will welcome that interruption. But for now, we are free and content and we recognize and appreciate that.

Front yard in July 2015

A summer update

Another bouquet from the front yard #wildflowers #flowerlove
Wildflowers from the front yard.

Apparently, I haven’t had much to say lately. There are dogs to be walked and books to be read and friends to be moved, near and far. After a run of house guests and weekend travel, I have relished our recent weekends at home — even if the last weekend meant relishing by way of contracting this horrible fever virus that is worming its way around town. I was in bed all day on Thursday, fantasizing my death, sending incoherent e-mails to family members, letting Pyrrha lick my limp fingers as she made her rounds around the house. She is a very sweet nursemaid. I was going to say that she had such concern in her eyes while I was laid up in bed, but I think she might always have concern in her eyes, burdened as she is by her myriad fears. My dear troubled dog.

Beauties
The girls.

Eden, on the other hand, was quite put out with my laziness. She is merciless toward the weak.

Lately, I have derived pleasure from:

  • Post-dinner walks with G. and the girls
  • The wildflowers in our front beds (an Easter gift from Mike and Windy)
  • The short stories of Paul Bowles and re-reading Pale Fire
  • Looking up words I don’t know in Pale Fire, only to discover that Nabokov made them up
  • A granite/Corian counter-top cleaner I made myself, thanks to the glories of Pinterest
  • New jewelry from Tara Montgomery’s fall line
  • Watermelon and peaches
  • Going to bed before 10
  • Teaching the dogs some (much needed) new behaviors
  • The resurrection of family e-mail chains
  • Not having any calligraphy jobs on the immediate/urgent docket
  • Guion’s new melodies
  • July days that top off around 81 degrees

You?

Life improvements

Captive swallowtail. #butterfly
Swallowtail, mistakenly trapped in our sunroom. Looks like he wounded his wing, too.

It’s the little things, you know?

  • A dark & stormy with Guion before dinner.
  • Buying a big cup with a straw to force myself to drink more water at work. Goofy, right? But apparently it has these deep psychological powers.
  • A pre-dinner or post-dinner walk around the neighborhood.
  • Saying no to things I just don’t want to do.
  • Reading again.
  • A new lamp in the living room.
  • Taking a few minutes every day to train the dog or to reinforce old behaviors.
  • Eating dinner at the kitchen table, face to face, to talk about life, to read and discuss Mark (with good ol’ William Barclay).
  • Opening the curtains in our room every day, for the sake of the schefflera.
  • Keeping a training log for the dog.
  • Hair, do what you will.
  • Actually using the expensive pens I was hoarding. Hoarding for what purpose?
  • A cup of tea in the morning, even if it’s hot outside.
  • NOT looking at my new iPhone.
  • Actively unfollowing people on Facebook. Guys, this is the best. It has made Facebook so much more bearable.

What little things have improved your life lately?

The books we need

Epigraph to Anne Sexton’s book All My Pretty Ones (1962):

… the books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation — a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.

— from a letter of Franz Kafka to Oskar Pollak

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

Frightening and lovely!

Thinking about: how I really need to get serious about training the dog, all-black outfits, how much I dislike the word “outfit,” courgettes, lemonade, North Korea, if I will ever read fiction again, mantis shrimp, and the farmhouse smell and feel of our house (hovel) in the summer. (I am calling it summer now, since we hit 90°F this past week.)

Looking forward to this weekend: Kathryn is coming to stay with us, and then we’ll be traveling to see Catherine, Russ, Ava, and new baby Auden!

Monday Snax

I decided to send a few belated Valentines and used my copperplate nib so I could go all-out with the flourishes. Happy V-Day from the two of us!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Guion and I have enjoyed a particularly laissez-faire holiday and went out for dinner on Saturday and then tonight, he’s promised to make me filet mignon with fingerling potatoes. Who needs chocolates and roses when you have the best husband ever? That’s what I want to know.

And this week’s Angela quote, even though it’s not true about me:

(ALSO WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY LIFE-LIST? THERE ARE ONLY TWO THINGS ON IT (YOU INSPIRED ME TO MAKE ONE, BUT THINKING BACK ON IT, ALL OF YOUR ASPIRATIONS ARE LIKE ‘GET PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORKER AND DONATE EARNINGS TO CHARITY’ WHILE MINE ARE LIKE ‘EAT 10 HOTDOGS IN ONE SITTING WITHOUT THROWING UP”)
–E-mail from Angela

That said, here are some Snax on a bed of red rose petals:

The Cheapskate’s Guide to Making Valentine’s Day Plans. Still don’t know what you’re doing yet with your lovebird? Let Mint’s sarcastic flowchart help you out. (Mint)

Google Art Project. If you use the Internet at all, then you already know about this, but I’m posting it here because it BLEW MY MIND. Google Art Project. OMG OMG.  I just went to the MoMA on my lunch break, and then I strolled around the Palace of Versailles before checking out a few paintings at the Met. Yes. This is basically Google Street View for art museums. It’s not without its drawbacks, but it really is an amazing prototype. Have fun! (Google)

Missing Summer. Sad about how cold it still is outside? Then these photos might make tears come to your eyes; they certainly made my eyes get misty (even though today we’re going to enjoy a high of 61!! This calls for a garish number of exclamation points!). (Clever Nettle)

Fly Me to the Moon. Danielle has a conversation with one of her students about what it is that astronauts actually do. Hilarious. I miss getting to hear these stories around the dinner table at 208. (Gallimaufry of a Girl)

Period Films! Um, yeah, I’ve probably seen all of these. At least three-quarters of them. And I’d watch them all again today. A collection of stills from period films, just because. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

John Stezaker. An artist who merges vintage photographs of people with vintage landscape postcards. Sounds dull, but the results are actually quite fascinating and beautiful. (Freckle Farm)

Princeton, 1969. Great photographs from a Life magazine feature from 1969, which was the year that women were admitted to Princeton. I loved the images of these young women and their fashion aesthetics, but it also made me think about how little college students have changed in 40 years. (Miss Moss)

Sadie North. Another gem Miss Moss found from the Life magazine archives. I hope I’ll be just like this woman when I’m her age. Look at her on that bicycle and mowing her lawn and snuggling that baby! Who says that old age has to slow you down? Not Sadie North. (Miss Moss)

Reviewers on Reviewing. Interesting and clever thoughts about the state of book reviewing today, considering Zadie Smith’s new post as the book critic for Harper’s. (The Book Bench)

Six Expressions that Hollywood Will Turn into #1 Movies. Because you know they will. (Best Week Ever)

Rifle Paper Co. 2011 Sneak Peek. Really love the palette and design for this stationery/notebook line. (Rifle Paper Co.)

Sights & Sounds: Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. Did you know that Sam Beam did all of the cover art for his albums except for “Creek Drank the Cradle”? I didn’t. That’s one talented, bearded, whispery musician, and here’s his interview with the ladies at Design Sponge about his artwork. (Design Sponge)