Fall

Matt and Julia's wedding! #cheers2thechisholms
At Matt and Julia’s wedding in Fort Mill.

Once upon a time, I was capable of keeping a fluid, literate blog. I’m not sure what’s happening to my writing abilities, but they seem to be diminishing rapidly. I spend all of my free time reading or gardening these days, and so my space and context for writing is shrinking. I feel sad about it and yet incapable of forming a solution.

“Virginia is very punctual with the seasons,” Guion remarked recently, and I think he’s right. By the second week of September, we were experiencing that invigorating coolness in the air, the gradual turning of leaves, the steady growth of plants, the beginning of blooms on my cherished autumn joy sedums.

Emily and Wheeler told us at dinner that they had gotten addicted to yoga. “But I want to get addicted!” I exclaimed. I seem to be lacking this gene, which many people seem to possess, that enables them to become dependent on healthy things, like exercise. I was super-faithful to morning yoga every morning for a week, and then, suddenly, that extra hour of sleep became much more important than practicing the pigeon pose. I don’t know how to make it into a routine. Help.

I have been on a book-buying spree lately. My small calligraphy earnings largely fuel this habit (along with my predilection for expensive French face creams and buying shoes online that are too big for me). I put so many books on hold at the library that I’ve started to feel a little embarrassed, because I’m in there at least once or twice a week. This is a foolish feeling, and I’m sure it’s invented, but sometimes I feel like the librarians don’t like me. (I care too much about what people think.) So I’ve started to buy more books, because I can, because Thriftbooks is a veritable addiction, and because I can spend more time with tomes.

Recently added to my shelves, waiting to be read:

  • Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (I already owned it, but the bad translation, so I shelled out for Pevear and Volokhonsky)
  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • 2666, Roberto Bolano
  • Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
  • Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks
  • Independent People, Halldor Laxness
  • The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel
  • Just as I Thought, Grace Paley
  • Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (currently reading Wolf Hall)
  • The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford
  • The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens

I am so enamored with my family. I want to spend so much more time with them than I do.

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Questions and answers

Wednesday afternoon | Abby Farson Pratt

What is your favorite website?

Goodreads, by far. By far! Life would be a bleak, formless void without Goodreads. It is the only acceptable form of social media (besides Instagram).

What makes you happy these days?

Not being on Facebook. Not ever reading any online comments, ever. Ever, ever, ever. That might be my only life rule: Never Read the Comments. Also: Guion, clean floors, dogs when they are sweet, iris seedlings from a mystery friend, books, our church.

How can we stop the terrorists?

Stop talking about them on Facebook would be a start. That’s what they want you to do…

Why does your hair often look ratty?

This is the Lord’s business, apparently, as the Lord has not yet given me a solution. As my mother, from whom I received my hair type, likes to remind me, “This is just the way it’s going to be for us. Because of our hair, we have to dress like hippies. We will always look like hippies.”

What is your favorite food currently?

It’s a tie between avocadoes and watermelons, straight from the fridge. May summer never end!

Which dog do you love more?

It depends on the day and which one is barking like an idiot at the moment.

How do you decide what to read next?

I have a system that waxes and wanes between order and impulse. The order is that I stockpile all of the books I own but haven’t read in my nightstand cubbies, and then I judiciously select a new title once I’ve finished a book (I try not to read more than five books at a time). The impulse is that I comb over my Goodreads list and then pick a book that appeals to me at that moment and request it from the public library. I am also strongly affected by my constantly wavering obsessions. Right now, I’m reading a lot about zen and Christianity, but last month, it was French women novelists, and the month before that, Southerners. It’s hard to say what it will be next.

How’s that yoga thing working out for you?

I don’t know, decently? I didn’t practice in the morning much this past week, as sleep seemed so much more precious, but I sneaked in a few poses in the afternoons. The other night, Eden decided to turn my (expensive) yoga mat into rubber confetti and destroy my nice, leather-bound Book of Common Prayer, so I’m not sure whose side she’s on (Eastern meditation vs. Episcopalian meditation). Aside from that, I recently tried to do a sun salutation on the deck while the dogs were out there with me, and Eden pounced on my head (like, dog claws into skull). Eden and yoga do not mix. Pyrrha, however, adorably practices a very well-formed downward dog whenever I start to stretch. (Fine, I love Pyrrha more! I admit it!)

Shyly venturing into yoga

Hood Ornament: 1948 (via Shorpy)

While recently enjoying a lovely weekend with my parents and sisters, I was struck again by my exclusion from the family way of fitness. My mom and sisters look like Athleta models. They are tall, toned, strong, and have impeccable posture. I am also tall, but I am weak and stiff. When I have joined them in yoga classes, I am the inflexible duckling, and they are perfect yoga swans. (Grace is particularly intimidating, as she is a licensed yoga instructor, and just about everyone looks like a toad next to her.) On Saturday morning, the three of them went to an intensive yoga class and cajoled me to join them, but I went with Dad and Dublin, the neighbor’s dog, to drop off stuff at the dump instead (because I will always choose dogs and dumps over fitness).

My sister the yoga instructor, practicing in Thailand. (c) Grace Farson.
My sister the yoga instructor, practicing in Thailand. (c) Grace Farson.

But I started thinking about yoga again. And feeling like I should try it, even though I am so intimidated and so weak. (I can’t even touch my toes, something I have always blamed on my extra-long legs, but which I now accept as a cop-out.) I asked my friend James, a yoga instructor in town, for advice, and he wrote such a forthright and gracious response that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Yoga appeals to me because it isn’t supposed to be aggressive or competitive — qualities which have always made me despise the American mentality toward exercise, weight loss, and gym culture. I am not trying to “get jacked,” lose 30 pounds, or strain my body to meet a cultural objective. Rather, I’d like to get to know my body better. To be strong. To be confident.

I have shyly started practicing yoga at home, and thanks to James’s advice, I have scouted some studios I’d like to visit for classes and instruction. I fully recognize that I’m at least 20 years late to the yoga bandwagon, but I hope it’s not too late for me on the whole, to gradually become flexible and strong.

Have you ventured into yoga? What have you found?

Exercise for the person who hates exercise

If I’m being honest with you, the most physical activity I get during a week is when I walk the dog.

Rivanna Trail hike
With Pyrrha by the Rivanna River.

Clearly, this is not sufficient, and I need to do more. I’d say that we eat quite healthy (meat only once a week, lots of vegetables and fruits, no desserts, no soft drinks) — although I’m sure we could eat less cheese, which is not really something I’m really willing to sacrifice, owing to the immeasurable joy that it brings to my life. That aside: I need to get moving.

I have a standing desk at work, which is already something in my favor, according to every fifth article you see these days. But aside from taking P-dog for strolls, that’s about it.

I’m also the athletic black sheep of my family. My dad plays hockey or some other strenuous sport almost daily. My mother has a six-pack and goes to these super-intense workout classes every other day. Kelsey (and her husband) are impeccable physical specimens; Kelsey is a champion hockey player and Alex is a titled martial arts master and surfer. Grace, as I mention below, is a certified yoga instructor and all-around badass. And Sam is also a champion hockey player and possessor of generally remarkable abs.

And then there’s me. The one who doesn’t even LIKE exercising, much less is trying to fit it into her life. So, personal assessment time.

hikers
Hiking with Christa in some beautiful park, July 2009.

Favorite forms of exercise that I’ve tried:

  • Walking. I love walking; I really do. People laugh when I say that, but it’s such a pleasant, mind-clearing activity. I’m looking forward to walking to work soon and continuing to walk around the neighborhood and to the Downtown Mall. We’re lucky to live in a very walkable place. And having a dog as a walking companion is the best possible thing.
  • Hiking. The fittest I’ve been in my life is when I spent a summer living in Denver and went hiking multiple times a week. I actually had muscles! I hardly ever go hiking in Charlottesville (like, once a year), which is a real shame.
  • Ballet. I took two ballet classes this year and loved them, even though I’m a wretched dancer.
  • Cycling. I love biking around town, but I need to get a bike first. Goal for next year!

Things I’ve tried that don’t work for me:

  • Yoga. I really like the IDEA of doing yoga. It appeals to me so much: breathing and twisting your body around in a quiet room with a bunch of sexy women. But I am TERRIBLE at yoga. So terrible. Even though my little sister is a certified yoga instructor, I have a wildly different body type. Where she is muscular and compact, I am long and weak. My legs are disproportionately long, my arms are spindly, and I am the least flexible person I know. I’m always the person in the room who needs “special help” from the teacher. So I don’t practice yoga. Because it makes me feel bad about myself.
  • Swimming. Ever since my parents forced me to join the neighborhood swim team when I was young, I’ve despised the pool. My coaches told me that I had lovely strokes, but that I was just way too slow. Just the slowest. I hate smelling like a pool and I hate the notion of swimming laps.
  • Zumba. No. Just no. This is my personal hell.
  • Running. My father was a champion professional runner, and he likes to tell me that I was “built to run,” but I just cannot make myself do it. Again, I like the idea of being great at running, but I lack so much motivation. I think part of me is also reactionary to the prolific running culture in Charlottesville. Not participating makes me feel like a curmudgeonly rebel. (“You ran 10 miles this morning? Well, I sat on the couch and looked at my dog.”) Also, everyone I know who runs all the time is constantly in and out of physical therapy, which is not something I’m particularly interested in trying. I think I could make myself run in moderation in temperate weather.

I’m generally quite lazy, and so partner accountability and public shaming do wonders for me. Also being a part of a class. Having paid for a class (as with ballet) where I’m expected to show up each week and where my friends are counting on me (to at least give them rides) is helpful.

Based on this information, what do you think would help me? What is your weekly fitness regimen, and why does it work for you?

Today’s questions

Why is my hair less curly?

What is it about quiet novels about the interior lives of women that resonates so deeply with me? (See: Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, which I just started and I love. See also: All Works by Virginia Woolf.)

Is it possible to make quinoa taste like food?

What type of birds were flocked together in that tree, wailing and calling others to them? Were they starlings? I would prefer that they were starlings.

Why does Thanksgiving still feel so far away?

Where can I go where I can interact with more animals?

Are American politics becoming more and more dangerously polarized these days, or is it just me?

What do I have to do to make myself like yoga?

How do you know if it’s the Holy Spirit or your conscience or your latent desires?

When can I get a dog?

Family love: Grace

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the seventh installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Gracie, Petunia, Chicken

Coming third in the family birth order, we have the natural rebel, the original maverick. To some, it may seem a disadvantage to be born after two other sisters, to get proverbially lost in the shuffle. But little Adrianna Grace wasn’t going to be forgotten very easily. She came into the world screaming and, as my parents say, didn’t stop screaming for the first three years of her life.

My mother likes to say that all of her babies were pretty easy — except Grace. Grace formed her own opinions about reality very early in life and stuck to them with outrageous tenacity for such a tiny human. The famous story about Grace was her self-imposed hunger strike when she was about four years old. We had asparagus that night for dinner and Grace refused to touch it. The family rule was that you had to at least try everything on your plate. Grace insisted she couldn’t even look at it without feeling near death. Mom told her she couldn’t have anything else to eat until she tried the asparagus. Grace refused. Breakfast came. Mom gave her a stalk of asparagus before her cereal and said she had to try it. Grace refused. She did not eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner for two full days, since she was greeted with a tiny stalk of asparagus before each meal. On the second day of the strike, Kelsey, the sweet one, came sobbing to Mom, saying, “Please, Mom! You have to feed her! She’ll STARVE!”

Starve she might have — if only to prove a point. Once Grace’s mind is made, you cannot change it. (As children, we found that reverse psychology worked pretty well on her.) Her natural stubbornness might sound like a fault, but it has served her as a virtue in many ways. Because of her natural independence, this child does not take “no” or “nobody does that” or “that’s weird” as a rejection; rather, as an opportunity to explore, to pioneer new territory. Girls don’t just take off on a six-month trip around the (predominantly) third world? No one gets their yoga teacher’s license at the age of 16? Most humans don’t have that many thrifted clothes in their entire lifetimes? People don’t just visit almost all the continents — and pay for it themselves — before they turn 20? Well, you haven’t met Grace. She lives to push boundaries.dover beach

She was an incomparably beautiful baby: White blond hair, round blue eyes, little doll-like features. (Despite a penchant to look like Jeff Daniels in a strange number of family photographs…) She is still extremely beautiful today, as everyone who knows her can agree. Her impish grin flashes at the most unexpected moments.

In our childhood, I was not a model big sister to her. (Truth be told, I was not a model big sister to anyone, but especially to Grace.) Kelsey and I were close in age and we were natural playmates. When Grace came along, I saw her as a disruption to the family order. Kelsey was my BFF… and this mewling porcelain doll-baby, the natural favorite of my father? What were we to do with her? Torture her, of course. And leave her out of play dates. And begrudge her presence when Dad told us we couldn’t go anywhere unless Grace was invited, too.

Thankfully, this prejudice against Grace tagging along wore off as we both grew up. Interestingly enough, I think we became extremely close once I left for university. We started talking about art and ideas and new music and found that our temperaments had far more in common than we had ever thought before. Grace bathes with elephant in Nepal

Today, I depend on her. My life is far less interesting when she is not around. She makes me laugh and she makes me think. My favorite moments in life are lounging on the couch with her in Davidson, watching trash TV, simultaneously talking about all of the great food we’re going to make and the new ideas we’ve latched onto.

She’s incredibly accomplished. Her photography and her paintings are laudable by any standards. She is as strong as a little sun bear, thanks to her years of yoga practice. She dresses with the structure and flair of a true artist. She writes a blog that’s way better and more popular, for good reason, than mine. If I ever want to impress someone, I just have to start talking about what Grace has done in her short time on Earth. She’s accomplished more in her 19 years than most people accomplish in their entire lifetimes.

IMG_6926

Grace is sensitive and profound and loving. She is my true hero. Among my family members, I think I understand Grace the best — or, at least, that’s my perception. It may very well be true that I haven’t even begun to get to know her. Because let me tell you: There are miles and miles to this girl’s soul.

Monday Snax

This weekend has been a whirlwind, as we are house/dog-sitting for friends, and because we bought this:

Our new car

So. Yes. It is a lot of fun. Driving to work this morning was actually very exciting. Lots happening! Guion also got the part-time job he wanted at the Wine Guild, so we are thrilled about that. I’m still feeling a bit blurry and hazy from the weekend, so here are some Snax with a lot of caffeine:

A Night with Nettles. Grace took some photos of Nettles‘ recent concert at the Tea Bazaar. A very good show. (Grace’s other photos from the family trip to town can be seen here. For all the Baby Charlie fans out there, there are some amazing shots of him.) If you’re in town, come see Nettles on Friday night at JohnSarahJohn. They’ll be performing for an art opening by Matt Kleberg. (Como Say What?)

Yet More Charts That Should Go with Debt Discussions. Yes, the economy is tanking again, but we should cut down on the griping. See exhibit 1: Americans pay some of the lowest taxes of any developed country. (The Atlantic Monthly)

God’s Blog. God wrote a blog post and is subsequently subjected to all of the crazies on the Interwebs. Not even God can catch a break from those virulent commenters… (The New Yorker)

Wellness Wednesday: Yoga and Why It’s OK to Suck at It. Nina, who is so sweet, makes me feel better about being terrible at yoga. I should start practicing again. (Naturally Nina)

Mariachi Band Serenades a Beluga Whale. This is all over the Cool Lady blogosphere, but I will join them in adding my delight over this clip. It will make you happy. I promise. (Door Sixteen)

Felix’s Felicis. Natalie got a bunny, named him Felix, and broke my heart. I want a bunny! Not as much as I want a dog, but almost! I think Felix and Frances should meet and fall desperately in love. (Peregrinations of NJM)

The Last Thylacine. This is one of the strangest-looking animals I’ve ever seen. It’s a marsupial, but it looks so much like a proto-canid. Those stripes! Sad that it’s extinct. (How to Be a Retronaut)

How to Achieve Uncluttered Without Going Bare, Cold, or Minimal. Such clear and salient advice for people like me, who will be living in small spaces for a while longer. Highly recommended for renters like us who don’t want to live in a place that still looks like your college dorm. (The Small Notebook)

The Filming of Breathless. Guion is a huge Godard fan and this is one of the first of his films that I saw. It’s magnificent and these behind-the-scenes photos are really enchanting. (A Cup of Jo)

Document: Woolf’s Letter to a Young Poet. Virginia Woolf writes a brief review and encouragement to her nephew on his poetry. (The Paris Review)

In Which Vladimir Nabokov Navigates Hell for Lolita. Yes, the protagonist is very icky, but I think it’s one of the greatest novels of all time. Even Nabokov had a hard time convincing people of this, though, as you can see from his letters about the book, compiled here. (This Recording)

To Go-To Snacks of Literary Greats. A series of cute illustrations of what the big writers liked to eat while writing. I don’t think Michael Pollan can be called “a literary great,” but it is interesting that he likes to drink his tea in a glass. I remember seeing that on Food, Inc. and wondering about it. (Mod Cloth blog)

Good News for Wombs: U.S. Paves Way for Free Birth Control Everywhere. All I can say is: It’s about damn time. Look at you, America. Finally catching up with the rest of the developed world! (Good)

Monday Snax

Excellent. Just excellent.
It's time to party.
The sisters
On our best behavior.
Happy birthday...
Mom doesn't look a day over 30.
Dude wants to walk
We ran into Dave and Charlie on the mall, which was a definite highlight.

Weekend no. 3 of house guests: Family Edition, Part III: Family Women Descend. (And Mike, for a night!) We had a raucous and wonderful time with my sisters and mom this weekend, who were here for a humid visit and happy celebration of Mom’s birthday. We got to eat lots of delicious food (including perennial favorites Eppie’s and Himalayan Fusion, which Grace gainfully guided us through), see Nettles in concert at the Tea Bazaar, watch “Parks & Rec” and laugh a ton. I miss them already! Complete set of photos on Flickr.

Snax with perfect summer orzo:

Overeducated, Underemployed: How to Fix Humanities Grad School. OK, fine. Maybe I won’t go to grad school after all. This is depressing. The author exposes how humanities Ph.D.s may actually be more disadvantaged in the job market than people who only have bachelor’s degrees. Burdened with thousands of dollars in debt and no job skills, save the weak consolation of your knowledge of critical theory? Sigh. Maybe I’ll just get a master’s degree. (Slate)

Penguin Modern Book Classic Covers by Charlotte Trounce. I am going to keep posting re-designs of classic books until they stop making them. (The Fox Is Black)

First Roll of Film (In Almost 10 Years). Kristin’s babies are so beautiful. And so are her photographs! (Kristin Moore Photography)

How to Make Old Jeans New Again. Grace is so crafty. She wore that acid-washed vest number here and it looked pretty amazing in person. She also has a new blog! (Como Say What?)

Study: Seriously, Yoga’s Actually Pretty Good for You. I just like the headline. As if we needed more studies to tell us this. I just wish I liked yoga. I really want to. I’m just so terrible at it. (GOOD)

How to Start a Bad Novel. The winning sentence for this year’s Bulwer-Lytton prize. It’s pretty remarkable. I’m kind of shocked that Nelson DeMille didn’t write it. (The Hairpin)

This girl’s. Whose breakfast looks this delicious every morning?! WHOSE?? Cue envy. (Simply Breakfast)

Sneak Attack. I’ve never seen a dog actually hunt a cat before. But don’t worry, cat lovers: It ends well. (Animals Being Di*ks)

Generate Seamless Japanese Patterns. You can make your own origami paper… for your computer! (How About Orange)

Magic in the Water. How does this happen? Why is it so mesmerizing? (The Lighthouse Keeper)

Week 2: Daily yoga

In honor of my sister Grace, I am imposing a set of weekly challenges on myself. For 12 weeks, I will attempt a different “challenge” each week–to do one thing every day for seven days, ranging from serious to silly. At the end of each week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Grace gives us a partners' yoga training session on the porch last spring.

“Ugh. Yoga.” This is generally my internal reaction when my mom and sisters want to go to yoga class. I am the only woman in my family who can’t touch her toes or jump right into a split. I haven’t the slightest amount of flexibility. Not to mention the fact that I am uncommonly bony and weak, so I look enormously stupid when I do yoga. I’m always the girl in class that the instructor will come up to, interrupting her instruction, and bend down and whisper, “No, dear, you need to be doing it like THIS,” and then she presses my body into some painful, unnatural shape. I hate going to yoga class.

So, there you have it. I’m maybe one of the only women in America today who doesn’t gush about yoga. Not that I don’t think it has immense benefits–I have just never enjoyed it. Because I’m bad at it. And my sister is a licensed yoga instructor! She’s a beast. I love watching her practice yoga; it really is a beautiful thing. Talking with Grace about yoga has really made me see how positive and affirming it can be–I just don’t really believe that it will ever be positive or affirming for me. I’d rather run an 8K than take an hour-long yoga class.

I committed to this challenge because I’m trying to conquer my general fear of yoga. I don’t know if it worked. I’ll confess that I kind of broke this challenge and I only did yoga for four days instead of all seven. So…

WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Yoga is a lot harder to do in the morning, at least for me. My body is so stiff! But I think it actually feels better in the morning. My head is clearer, my meditation is much more focused.
  • I still feel bad about my body when I’m practicing yoga. I feel bony and ugly. I don’t think I’ll ever get over this.
  • I like the meditative part of yoga. My mind does feel restful and clear.
  • I like how conscious I am of my balance and posture after I’ve practiced yoga for a while.
  • I may never get any better at yoga, but I’m not opposed to practicing it on my own, in the comfort of my home, without anyone–even Guion–watching.

Whew. Honesty is a bit exhausting. Thankfully, next week’s set of challenges is going to be a whole lot easier and sillier: a week of red lipstick! Bring it on.