A meditation for winter

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Pyrrha in the snow.

I despise the cold, but I’m finding some joy in the winter this year. This attitude has been helped along by daily walks, with the aid of competent warm-weather gear and my good German shepherd, the perfect walking companion; more time to read, and read by the fire; and the quietness of the landscape. This winter, more than others, feels like this restful season of anticipation. Spring brings new life (literally for our household this year), and I am enjoying thinking of winter as a time for appropriate dormancy.

A poem along those lines:

“The Cold”
Wendell Berry

How exactly good it is
to know myself
in the solitude of winter,

my body containing its own
warmth, divided from all
by the cold; and to go

separate and sure
among the trees cleanly
divided, thinking of you

perfect too in your solitude,
your life withdrawn into
your own keeping

to be clear, poised
in perfect self-suspension
toward you, as though frozen.

And having known fully the
goodness of that, it will be
good also to melt.

. . .

Mystical confluence

Typical winter scene.

Winter is a season to light candles and be grateful. It is a time to argue about whether we should get a little Christmas tree (him: for, me: against; he’s been winning the past few years), to go to bed early with great gusto, to read heavy books that never look appealing during the summer, and to make as many fires in the fireplace during the week as we can muster.

I loathe the cold, but I am happy about the season.

. . .

Guion and I have a term for a phenomenon that occurs when you are reading or otherwise consuming content across a variety of media, produced by very different people, in different eras or genres — and then they suddenly start communicating with each other or referencing the same specific thing.

It’s one of my favorite experiences. I started calling it “mystical confluence,” and now we like to share our encounters with each other. For example, you’re reading a history of table manners and a strange Anne Carson poem, and then they both suddenly reference Lazarus being raised from the dead. Or you’re listening to Joanna Newsom and reading an account of medieval cosmology, and now they’re both talking about meteors. Mystical confluence is deeply enjoyable. It always makes me feel that (1) the world is very small, and (2) we are all eminently connected, in ways that we often cannot fathom.

. . .

“The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.”

— Christ, quoted in the Gospel of Thomas

. . .

Qualities that I increasingly appreciate in other people, as I age

  • Conversational graces
  • The ability to set a table properly
  • Disinterest in the news cycle
  • Rejection of small talk
  • Capacity to disagree politely but honestly
  • Eschewing the use of phones at the table
  • Handwriting

How light, how loose

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One of the two dogwoods in the front yard.

Life is short, and the days pass quickly, especially in winter, when we wake up and come home in darkness. My perennials have been stricken by the frost; they appear to have been caught totally off-guard, their leaves curling up with blackened edges. A carpet of red dogwood leaves fills up half of the front yard. I am loath to rake them.

A family of finches is trying to nest in our wall-mounted mailbox. I hear them landing on the metal lid in the morning and catch them poking their heads in the side. They’ve amassed a small collection of building supplies in the mailbox: tiny twigs, bits of green moss, skeins of grass. I’m curious to see how far they can get with this project, what with the daily disruptions from the mailman.

Regular fires in the living room, surrounded by our books and antsy German shepherds, keep the spirits bright. We are getting a new front door installed the week after Thanksgiving, and I remember it eagerly every morning as I curse the hated storm door. But we are lucky, to have warmth and share words with one another.

“My favorite part is connecting the ideas. The best connections are the ones that draw attention to their own frailty so that at first you think: what a poor lecture this is—the ideas go all over the place and then later you think: but still, what a terrifically perilous activity it is . . . How light, how loose, how unprepared and unpreparable is the web of connections between any thought and any thought.” — Anne Carson, “Uncle Falling,” Float

Thoughtful conversation does not happen easily. I admire and envy people who can speak fluidly, in full sentences with fleshed-out ideas. I speak haltingly. I hedge. I go back on what I previously established; I come out with an opinion too quickly. But this quote from Carson makes me feel a little better. If even Anne Carson feels that the web of connections between thoughts is unprepared and unpreparable, then maybe I’m not so alone.

Still, I’d like to be more intentional. I’d like to use better words.

I did not appreciate Sebald in Austerlitz, but I appreciate him now, greatly, in The Rings of Saturn. It is dreamy and rich and full of life.

Coming and going

We were lucky enough to have Angela in town with us this past weekend. She’s our most faithful and fun house guest and we had a peaceful weekend together. We lounged around on the couch, drinking tea; made dinners together; went on a doggy play date; visited our new house; and generally didn’t want her to leave ever. How nice it is to be with old friends!

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge it:

Oh, and it snowed, of course. The first glimpse of actual winter we’ve had all year. It was pretty and thick, but now it is all gone. I’m OK with that. Bring on the spring! More photos from the weekend here.

My Presidents’ Day was spent freaking out about taxes, as I am wont to do. Doing taxes when one of you is a graduate student = Zero fun times. I think I panic about it because a.) I don’t understand half of it, even with TurboTax, and b.) I get the constant feeling that we’re doing something terribly wrong and we’re going to get audited. Angela and I briefly discussed that all universities should require students take a Personal Finances 101 class before graduating. I totally agree–and I work for a finance non-profit! I should know this stuff! But I don’t. A sad and occasionally dangerous gap in higher education…

Next knowledge obsession: Plants and how to grow them. I am still going to be primarily obsessed with dogs, of course, but my next venture is reading everything I can about gardening. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s farming memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and enjoying the practical John Seymour’s The New Self-Sufficient Gardener. As I’ve mentioned, we’re inheriting a pretty serious garden from our future landlord and I want to take really good care of it. And just learn some basics about how to keep plants alive. Any advice is very welcome.

Monday Snax

NERDZ. Bahaha. This makes me laugh a lot.

Cute brothers. Having Win here for the day was the best.

Win came for the weekend to scope out Charlottesville and we had such a good time with him! I have the best bro-in-law ever. We’re really, really crossing our fingers that he’ll come here, but we will support him regardless of his decision. Even though Charlottesville will get the sadies real bad if he doesn’t move here…

Snax with homebrew from the Pratt brother master brewers:

Even Kate Middleton’s Bridesmaid Has Had Enough. I feel ya, kid who looks almost exactly like I did at 4. I was not an attractive baby. (NY Mag)

Netflix Instant for Every Situation. Have totally watched all of the BBC period dramas on Netflix instant. Will not lie. (The Hairpin)

Nontraditional mother. Will never get old. (The Bluth Company)

And that’s why you… A Craigslist post in line of the Bluth family lore. This is awful. Are there really parents out there like this? (You Suck at Craigslist)

Can We Have Some Spare Blank Pages on the Web Site? OMG. I love that there are still so many humans who have no idea what the Internet is. (Clients from Hell)

Iceland, Part 3: From Above. Is this for real!? Is this a town for ants?? Tilt-shift makes everything look so tiny and magical and dollhouse-y. (Krisatomic)

The Advantages of Writing in Bed. Proust did it. Maybe I should try. (The Guardian Book Blog)

In Which I Pretend That We’re the Oldest and Dearest Friends. It’s like a movie review of You’ve Got Mail that’s a decade too late, but on the other hand, it’s an interesting and thought-provoking reflection on the voyeurism and psychological effect of a culture of online living. (This Recording)

What’s Your Secret, Deborah? Apparently, Deborah is the top name for female CEOs. Why? My guess is that these girls heard about the story of Deborah in the Bible, the only mentioned female judge of Israel, and felt empowered to divide and conquer because of their ancient namesake. (The Hairpin)

Where Your Money Is… A small but powerful reminder from my friend Lauren. (See the Cities)

The Tub. So precious. (Emily Corey Photography)

Portraits of Intriguing People. Indeed! I’d like to read a story about all of these people. (Modish)

Monday Snax

My favorite photograph of Woolf, just shy of her nineteenth birthday. Just because.

Another full, enjoyable weekend, despite the weather. I am at the stage in which winter has become personally offensive to me. It is a terrible stage to be in. The first thing out of my mouth in every conversation is now: “Yeah, I’m fine. But WHEN DOES SPRING COME TO VIRGINIA??” I ask it very aggressively, too, as if it were my companion’s fault that sleet, hail, and snow were still on the not-too-distant horizon. I have had enough. Sometimes, if I feel like sinking myself even further into depression, I’ll look at the weather forecast for Davidson or Chapel Hill and a faint tear will form in my eye as I think, “Ah, balmy North Carolina. How I miss thee.”

Winter aside, Nettles (aka my husband, accompanied by other wonderful local musicians and friends) played a great shut-in show at The Garage on Friday night. He dazzled. You really should have been there, but you probably wouldn’t have fit, since The Garage can hold about 10 people inside it, instruments included. And on Friday night I think we had about 20. It was great.

Snax with fistfuls of kale, since kale is having The Best Year Ever, in the words of one J.Hecht:

59 Things You Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf. I mean, OF COURSE I was going to talk about this. It was, after all, my all-time muse’s birthday last week. Some of these facts are kind of stupid, but some of them are quite interesting. For instance, did you know that Woolf was “a formidable bowler” as a child? Naturally. Anyway, happy belated birthday, Virginia. Thanks for being a constant fountain of inspiration in my life. (Flavorwire)

Living In: Howards End. I am leading our church classics book club on Howards End this week and so I was naturally delighted to see this feature on “Howards End,” the 1992 film with Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bonham-Carter, which is incredibly beautiful and perfect–much like the novel. (Design Sponge)

In Another Man’s Prayer Cap. Jonathan Pinckney–the son of one of our good family friends and husband to Grace’s mentor in India–undertook an interesting social experiment: He dressed as a conservative Muslim while flying home. His experience is graciously expressed and very eye-opening. Highly recommended. (On Islam)

Orhan Pamuk Attacks “Marginalization” of Non-English Writers. Guys, Pamuk is MAD. I think he makes a good point, though. And I think he’s an unbelievably wonderful writer. So, translators, thanks for bringing him to English eyes. But maybe we can bring over some other great writers, too, lest many more go undiscovered. (The Guardian)

Japanese Woman Is Best-Selling Poet at Age 99. You go, girl! I’d love to read her work. I highly doubt I’d recall enough Japanese to understand it now, but I’d love to get my hands on a copy. (The Guardian)

The 10 Greatest Child Geniuses in Child Literature. A fun list, because I’ve met most of these characters in my reading life. What do you think? Do you agree with the rankings? If not, who would you vote for as the most eerily brilliant child in fiction? (Flavorwire)

It Doesn’t Get Much Cuter Than This. I don’t know what crimes I have to commit to get a Japanese baby, but I DON’T EVEN CARE. I will do what I have to. Photographs by Kawashima Kotori. (Miss Moss)

FRANCES. The world’s most posh and gorgeous bunny has come home to live with Angela! I swear you won’t be able to get enough of her. I’ve had the privilege of a Skype conversation with Mme Francoise and I must say, she is the ultimate lady. (WXTCHOU)

Magazine Monday: Feng Shui at Work. Can we all just agree that we are totally jealous of Meredith’s gorgeous office and now–completely feng shui–desk? I’m in love! (And Unlimited)

Valentines and Some News. If I ever got a card or letter from famed calligrapher Betsy Dunlap, I think I’d frame it and put it on my wall forever. Such beautiful work. (Betsy Dunlap)

Portraits of Criminals. Haunting vintage photographs of an assortment of Sydney vagrants from the early 20th century. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Better Learning Through Handwriting. Recent study argues that writing by hand strengthens the memory, whereas typing on a keyboard may weaken it. I believe it. (Science Daily)

Am I Compatible With Dad? This is just amazing. And hilarious. And yet I feel like it’s something that would feature in a Franzen novel. (Postcards From Yo Momma)

Model Dude Looks Like a Model Lady. There’s a popular game show in Japan in which contestants have to guess, among a line-up of men in drag, which of them is actually a woman (there is always one woman among them). It’s always very hilarious, because very often, they cannot tell the difference between the men and the real woman. This guy would fool you EVERY TIME. Seriously. He is… upsettingly beautiful. In a thoroughly female way. (Best Week Ever)

Study: 89 Percent of Networking Nonconsensual. Recent college grad = understands how deeply true this is. Guilty! Thanks for being tolerant anyway, professors and former internship bosses. (The Onion)

Monday Snax

With every day that passes, I become more and more excited that January is almost over. I know a lot of dearly beloved people who have January as their birth month, but I’m sorry, guys: It is by far the worst 31 days of the year. I will forgive it once it’s gone. However, the bright side of January is that it has given me ample time to read, drink tea, and–yes, I admit it, world!–watch “Lost” with my husband. He’s doing a pretty good job of convincing me that it’s addictive. We also bought a coffee table yesterday, which was pretty exciting, because I think it means we’re done with buying furniture for our apartment. Mainly because nothing else could possibly fit

Snax in a white bowl of pomegranate arils:

Sit. Stay. Parse. Good Girl! A Border Collie–who knows 1,000 words–teaches us about language. A quote from the article: “Chaser proved to be a diligent student. Unlike human children, she seems to love her drills and tests and is always asking for more. ‘She still demands four to five hours a day,’ Dr. Pilley said. ‘I’m 82, and I have to go to bed to get away from her.'” (New York Times)

Space Invaders: Why You Should Never, Ever Use Two Spaces after a Period. Slate Writer Farhard Manjoo, I LOVE YOU. FINALLY. Someone is talking about this! “What galls me about two-spacers isn’t just their numbers. It’s their certainty that they’re right. Over Thanksgiving dinner last year, I asked people what they considered to be the “correct” number of spaces between sentences. The diners included doctors, computer programmers, and other highly accomplished professionals. Everyone—everyone!—said it was proper to use two spaces.” Me too, same as me, I’m the same! Please. If you are a repeat space offender, read this article. Spread the word. (Slate)

Same Books, Three Ways. Cate’s excellent post about how she’s chosen to display her books as she’s moved. Beautiful! (The Charlotte)

Fashion of the Future. Probably the best video I’ve seen all week: Fashion designers from the 1930s predict what clothes we’ll be wearing in 2000. Totally amazing. (The Charlotte)

Life on a Farm. Brief thoughts from Grace as she begins her stint on a New Zealand farm. (Como Say What?)

Figure-Figure. Lovely pairings of photographs and paintings. (Miss Moss)

Look: Napping. I’ve never been one who was actually able to nap; I feel guilty for napping. But these photographs could almost change my mind. Everyone looks so peaceful. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Morbid Curiosity Leading Many Voters to Support Palin. “A recent poll shows 62% of Americans say they don’t want to vote for Palin, but just kinda have to see what what would happen.” (The Onion)

Dogs in Ginza Wearing School Uniforms and Glasses. Japan, this is taking your little dog obsession too far; too far, I tell you! (Tokyo Times)

However, Since You Are Twelve… “We appreciate your interest in the Marine Corps. However, since you are twelve, you won’t be eligible to be a Marine for a while.” (Letters of Note)

New Game! Is it Etsy or Anthropologie? Hah. Loves it. And it can be very hard to tell. (Regretsy)

This Is the Brooklyn We Live In, This Is the Brooklyn I Remember. A beautiful post about growing up in New York City and then raising your own kids there. It makes me think about what a different life she and her daughters must lead, compared to those of who weren’t raised in the greatest metropolis. (Sweet Fine Day)

Postscript: Reynolds Price. A thoughtful eulogy for North Carolina writer Reynolds Price, who passed away last week. (The Book Bench)

7 Common Investing Mistakes. A place to start, at least. (Wise Bread)

Light Locations. Such a beautiful photographs of such peaceful, bright space. I want to create rooms like this in a house one day. (Ill Seen, Ill Said)

Bruce. I feel like there’s a great short story in this. (FOUND Magazine)

Monday Snax

A view of the street from our study window. Not sure how our windowsill is that dirty. Don't look at it.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day to all! I have the day off from work, but thought I’d bring you a bag of Snax anyway. I’m grateful for the long weekend and the opportunity to hibernate, read, and drink copious amounts of tea. I feel like I’m getting a cold again, which is absolutely unacceptable. I am never this sick this frequently, and so even the slightest bit of illness turns me into an absolute diva. Good thing I have an endlessly sweet and forgiving husband.

Snax in your tea with lemon:

The Charlotte. A handful of my creative, classy friends/acquaintances in Charlottesville just launched this beautiful design and lifestyle blog. I’m loving it and I can’t wait to see what’s next! Do stop in for a visit. (The Charlotte)

UFO Sighting Map. Angela is a genius; I can’t believe she actually MADE this: an interactive map of 15 years’ worth of UFO sightings in the United States. Apparently the aliens really like coasts? Check it out; I could play with it all day. (Slate)

First Few from Wellington. Grace is alive and well in New Zealand! Enjoy these fabulous shots of her first week there. I think she’s now en route to her first farm assignment on the coast. So excited for her; still having trouble believing that she’s actually living down there now. (Como Say What?)

The Hazards of the Couch. New study claims that sitting in front of screens will kill us all. Not even the gym can save you now. I need to get my cousin’s job: Searching forests for black locust trees and then cutting them down with a team of draft horses. No time for blogs if you’re doing that, and ergo, no time for DYING prematurely. (New York Times)

It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It. A short and insightful piece from the New Yorker about the Tucson assassinations: Perhaps Palin’s crosshairs map isn’t responsible, but rather the body of violent political discourse, which has become acceptable. (The New Yorker)

Women of Istanbul. A beautiful portrait series from this amazing, world-traveling couple. (Mr. and Mrs. Globe Trot)

The Year of Journaling Fearlessly. A great article on the challenges of keeping a journal, from a Charlottesville-based online magazine that my friend Natalie runs. I aspire to this type of “fearless” diary-keeping and appreciate the writer’s shared insights. (The Curator)

We Took Him Home. OK, so you know I’m not a huge cat fan, but whoa. Reading this post made me seriously consider getting one. That first picture with her hand full of kitten? Killing me. (Fat Orange Cat Studio)

New Year Wishes. Reason #1,506 why I’d like to be a Japanese woman: They carry rabbits around on their shoulders when walking in the park! (Tokyo Times)

Gold as a Mindset. A simple iteration of the Japanese aesthetic worldview of wabi sabi: Filling the cracks of broken things with gold dust. (Wide Open Spaces)

And the Snow Fell Quietly. This is the kind of snow I can enjoy: From a window or a photographer’s lens. (The title also makes me giggle a bit, though. Who ever heard of snow falling loudly?) (La Porte Rouge)

A Love Story. A beautiful tribute to one of our family friends, who recently passed away. You can’t read what her husband wrote about her without crying. Thanks for sharing this selection from the blog, Megan. (Thoughts from the Nest)

The dentist

Nothing to do with teeth, but it's almost Christmas, and this is almost too much to handle. An extravagant light display in town.

When we were little, Mom would reward us for being cavity-free by a rare trip to Wendy’s to get a Frosty. I understand that this is like giving a pyromaniac child a box of matches as a reward for not setting the dog on fire, but still, it worked. It made going to the dentist a far less traumatic experience–and it kept us brushing our teeth, with the keen aim of winning another Frosty.

Guion and I went to the dentist yesterday. Both of us haven’t been in years, so I was pretty nervous about it. Even though I’ve had practically everything in the world done to my mouth (e.g., braces for four years, permanent retainers, teeth pulled, screws drilled into jaw to install new teeth, phrenectomy, and the list goes on), teeth pain still scares me a lot. More than just about any other pain–except childbirth.

The hygienist was fairly aggressive with her tools, but it didn’t take long and I didn’t have any cavities, which is what I was primarily concerned about. Guion had two, but he’s rather unconcerned about it, so that’s good. I think he’s going to get them filled after the holidays.

In other news, it’s snowing now and I’m home! The office closed today at 11 a.m., so I drove home–and have never been more terrified to be in a car in my life. I was sliding all over the place. The Jeep, which one would think would be a safe car to drive in the snow, is probably the worst. The 4-wheel drive makes the car totally shut down (which Guion and I learned last winter), so I was just sliding all over the place. I drove about 8 m.p.h. the whole way back. But now I’m checking work e-mail and sitting in our cozy living room with my husband, who is wearing his red onesie. He looks like a big Christmas baby. Loves it.