Just the weight of God

Clifton Inn
Date night at the Clifton Inn, recently.

After weeks and weeks of rain, a few consecutive days of sunshine feels like being born again.

I am not a particularly emotional person, but I am reminded of the tremendously profound effect of weather on my disposition. I don’t know how people in the British Isles take it year round. (There may be something wrong with British people, it could be said. We lived in London in the summer, which is arguably the best time to live in London, and the Brits we knew complained when it was hot and bright and sunny. They, like swamp aliens, longed for the cold mist and rain and fog!)

All this aside, October has been very good to us. Most notably, we gained our second godson, and we love him so much already. His tiny self and his wonderful parents fill us with great joy.

. . .

I am hopeful about a growing, generalized malaise around the internet and life lived on screens. The world wide web has failed to make us more intelligent, more moral, more peaceful, more charitable. Many seem to be waking up to this reality.

I recently finished Maryanne Wolf’s new book, Reader, Come Home, about reading in a digital world. Her warnings and findings are not new or surprising (the internet has ruined our capacity for deep thinking and deep reading), but her focus on children felt particularly chilling. I recommend it, to anyone who loves reading and has found their capacity for it diminishing, and especially to the parents of small children.

A short selection from her book, as a taste of what she covers:

“When you read carefully, you are more able to discern what is true and to add it to what you know. Ralph Waldo Emerson described this aspect of reading in his extraordinary speech ‘The American Scholar’: ‘When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion. Every sentence is doubly significant.’ In reading research, the cognitive psychologist Keith Stanovich suggested something similar some time ago about the development of word knowledge. In childhood, he declared, the word-rich get richer and the word-poor get poorer, a phenomenon he called the ‘Matthew Effect’ after a passage in the New Testament. There is also a Matthew-Emerson Effect for background knowledge: those who have read widely and well will have many resources to apply to what they read; those who do not will have less to bring, which, in turn, gives them less basis for inference, deduction, and analogical thought and makes them ripe for falling prey to unadjudicated information, whether fake news or complete fabrications. Our young will not know what they do not know.

— Maryanne Wolf, Reader, Come Home

A positive development: After several months of studiously detaching from my phone, I find it less and less interesting. It contains nothing that I really want (and certainly nothing that I need). I still check Instagram once or twice a day and perhaps look at a few emails, but I don’t even really want to be doing that. I’ve deleted the apps that were distracting (Twitter) and kept the main screen limited to simple functions (clock, camera, weather, maps, etc.), which aren’t very interesting anyway. I still have much to regain, by way of attention and mindfulness, but I am feeling freer on the whole.

. . .

Things I cannot resist

  • Sliced cucumber on a plate
  • Watching a dog intently as it trots past me
  • Moonlight on the counter
  • Buying Anne Carson books wherever I spot them
  • Telling Pyrrha how much she sheds
  • Stationery of European origin
  • Linen napkins

. . .

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—

— Emily Dickinson (who else?)

Murmuration

Ash Lawn Highland
James Monroe at Ash Lawn Highland, recently.

This morning, while I waited for water to boil for tea, I watched a tremendous current of starlings fly just above the tree line in our backyard. Pyrrha stood on the back deck and seemed to be watching them too. They flew in a seemingly endless stream from the west. I imagined they were all communicating to each other about the hurricane, cheerfully fleeing en masse, and I wondered where they were going. What refuge do hundreds of starlings seek?

. . .

Even though we will see some flooding and minor wind and nothing much worse, the hurricane has produced this low level of dread in me. We will be completely fine, unlike many in our beloved home state of North Carolina, and so it feels almost callous to worry, when we have so little to worry about. But my hum of anxiety serves to reinforce the main thing I have learned from the past year: Never, ever read the news. The news is engineered to ratchet up your anxiety. This is the only thing to remember.

. . .

I am finally tackling David Copperfield, which I want to talk about because I harbor such a general distaste for Dickens. (Bleak House was pretty good, but I can hardly stand the rest of it.) To my surprise, I am 200 pages in and quite enjoying myself. It’s pleasant to read something that isn’t my typical moody, postmodern fictional fare; it’s nice to meet a character and read the author’s description of his face and know instantly, Oh, this is a villain because he has a dark brow and cleft chin! Or oh, this is an angel! She has glossy blonde hair! It’s pleasing to feel like you can predict almost everything that is about to happen. You shall shortly be orphaned! Your stepfather will continue to terrorize you! You shall be beaten by the headmaster! You will work full-time in a dismal place even though you are only 10 years old! It’s fun. I admit it.

. . .

I have also felt a revival of interest in poetry. I think it’s because of the anticipation of fall; I always want to read poetry in the fall. I have started Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz, and I can already tell I’m going to be a fan.

. . .

“I felt sorry for us, for both, for all of us, such odd organisms under the sun. Large minds, abutting too close on swelling souls. And banished souls at that, longing for their home-world. Everyone alive mourned the loss of his home-world.” — Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow

Mad decent

August
My office on a sunny day

The past year has caused me to stop following the news with such voracious interest. I learn about things piecemeal; I look further into them if I am interested. But I no longer try to read everything that is happening. I am over hot takes; I am over the outrage machine. I have books to read and dogs to walk and friends to eat with. And, in spite of it all, the earth melting and the bombs falling, I am happier than I was a year ago.

The weather has been in that unspeakably gorgeous middle ground lately: the humidity is fading away and the air feels light, burnished, sweet.

Ah, how much easier my life would be without these two German shepherds, and also how much sadder.

“To notice is to rescue, to redeem; to save life from itself.” — James Wood, The Nearest Thing to Life

Currently reading: The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt (which inspired me to start trying to read short stories in Japanese again; it is taking me an embarrassingly long time and yet I feel uplifted and exhausted by it); Sanctuary, William Faulkner; A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin.

Nothing to eat

How to Plant Asparagus

There is nothing to eat,
seek it where you will,
but the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants
and the sea, yield it
to the imagination intact.

— William Carlos Williams

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

I am looking forward to:

  • Getting our yard in shape; planting things (pepper garden, onions, potatoes, flowers). I am desperate for some of our flowers to grow. The daffodils and tulips in the front yard have been taking their sweet time, probably because it’s been so unseasonably cold.
  • Actual spring weather. This cold weather and the persistent threat of snow every weekend is really getting me down.
  • Rescue adoption event tomorrow, to which I will be taking Laszlo. Here’s to hoping that he garners some positive attention!
  • Reading again. I have been in a non-reading funk, mainly because caring for a puppy all day means that I have little ability to divert my attention to quiet, stationary pastimes. I think I have also lost a lot of enthusiasm for fiction, which has never happened to me before.
  • Buying clothes and thinking about clothes and paring down my wardrobe. Still musing a lot on fashion and the importance of dressing well. I am reading a poorly organized book on British fashion, The Thoughtful Dresser, but it has inspired some thoughts. For instance: There is a reason why Paris and New York are hubs of fashion. In those cities, women are seen on the streets all day long. In contrast, there is a reason why Wyoming is not a fashionable center; women fulfill different roles (cattle wrangling?) and thus have no need for stylish, meticulous presentation in dress (functional presentation, yes, but no one would see you in vintage Dior even if you owned it). Something else I’ve been thinking about: Why is there such a lack of diversity in men’s fashion? Has it always been this way?

Happy Friday!

Monday Snax

Another busy weekend in North Carolina: Guion backed Daniel Levi Goans at his CD release show in Greensboro, and I was in Charlotte/Davidson, hanging out with my fam and celebrating with Eva and Peter.

Grace was Eva and Peter’s wedding photographer and has just put up some of her amazing photos from their “first look” on the railroad tracks. Check it out.

Quick selection of photos below:

IMG_7021
We took Ally out for a (belated) birthday brunch at The Egg.
IMG_7036
The beautiful, happy bride gets dressed.
IMG_7057
Eva and Peter get hitched! At the Green Rice Gallery in Charlotte.
The cutest child EVER
Thumbnail from phone picture from a home video. Proof that Sam was the cutest child ever to live.

Snax!

“Cruel,” by St. Vincent. New favorite song (I’m OBSESSED) and album. I can’t wait for her concert here in October! This music video is also totally crazy and creepy. (The Fox Is Black)

The Psychologist. Why novelist Vladimir Nabokov may have actually been the greatest psychologist of his time. (The American Scholar)

The Writer’s Voice. A reflection on the experience of hearing a great writer read his or her own work–with links! Listen to the dulcet tones of Flannery O’Connor, W.B. Yeats, Philip Larkin, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and J.M. Coetzee. (The Book Bench, The New Yorker)

Al Gore’s Excellent Timing. You know all this apocalyptic weather we’ve been having lately? Al Gore chimes in on a reason, and it’s not the Second Coming. These statistics are chilling… or should I say warming? (The Atlantic)

Bookish Illustrations. Lizzy Stewart’s solemn and wonderful sketched book covers for beloved classics. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Meg Gleason: Personalized Stationery. Love these cards, especially the last one in the set of photos. (Design Work Life)

Farm Life. What an idyllic childhood Courtney must have had… Jealous! (Radiate)

Your Wild Horses. Wild, white horses, galloping in the surf? Of course these photos are going to be amazing. (Eye Poetry)

Got a Girl Crush On: Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. Did this really happen?? Has anyone seen this movie? (Got a Girl Crush)

Pen on Paper: A Defense of Writing. Yet another article about why handwriting matters, this time from The Curator. (The Curator)

Chat History. A true and heartbreaking romance, rendered in Gchat. (Good)

The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills. Apparently, if you believe too hard, you can die. (The Atlantic)

Dr. Neubronner’s Miniature Pigeon Camera, 1903. Um, awesome. (How to Be a Retronaut)