Thursday, February 28, 2008

Going Round and Round, Round Again

So why, given that I know I should have routines and schedules and systematic ways of getting things done, do I not do that? Something in me resists. Some profoundly optimistic part of me believes that the sisyphean nature of household tasks, and indeed of life in general, will eventually go away. Some profoundly impatient part of me cannot stand doing the same thing twice, and wants to make a completely unfamiliar recipe when company is coming for dinner, hates to practice the piano, and absolutely refuses to knit the same pattern twice even though next time the baby sweater will probably come out right.* So when my super-ego says, "from now on we're wiping down the bathroom counters every morning, and we're not going to leave the house until we've started a load of laundry..." my id is behind its back mouthing "bo-ring!"

But there are three things that I have managed to routinize, and I recommend them highly:

1) Loyal readers know how I feel about dishwasher-emptying. Flylady thinks the secret is a shiny sink and lace-up shoes, but I know that the empty dishwasher, like the listening ear, the open mind and the expansive heart, is essential to a successful life.

2) Daily Mass. For others at-home prayer or meditation may serve the same purpose, but I love to be with other worshipers, in a silence that is very different from the silence of my house, in a space designed for worship. Sometimes I suspect that I do more thinking in that 30 minutes than in the whole rest of the day. Besides, it gets me out the door for

3) Exercise. I almost never feel like doing it, and I am always very glad I did.

*But I have absolutely no problem eating the same breakfast every day, or reading the same books over and over. So repetitive consumption is no problem, but repetitive production is.

Thursday Poetry Podcast: Three From My Thesis

Central Park At Dusk, Sara Teasdale

Let No Charitable Hope, Elinor Wylie

Sonnet CIV, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RIP William F. Buckley

When I was in high school I wrote a sesquipedalian (at least in the view of local readers) letter to the newspaper about some proposed changes to the elementary school schedule and curriculum. More than one person around town, in speaking to my father about it, compared me to William F. Buckley. It made me love him forever, not because I really felt that we were alike (that would be presumptuous on my part, to say the least); but because I felt such warm sympathy with someone who had, I imagined, fallen prey to the same lifelong, tiresome "Oooh, big words!" reaction to what he considered everyday utterances as I had. [Jacob Clifton plug: check out his recaplet of last night's top ten guys. I swear, it's related to what I've just been talking about.]

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Buckley, but I am much fewer than six degrees separate from him on many fronts, and I absolutely adore all the people I know who did meet him. His family of origin, as well as his own family, were clearly fertile ground for brilliance. All mothers should read Will Mrs. Major Go To Hell?, the collected works of his sister Aloise Buckley Heath; and his son Christopher Buckley writes some of the funniest Shouts and Murmurs pieces in the New Yorker, showing particular verve on the subject of aviation.

The New York Times writes that Mr. Buckley and his wife Patricia, who predeceased him not quite a year ago, called each other "Ducky." Is it not delicious to imagine them shouting this out to each other as they meet in the hereafter?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We Now Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Navel-Gazing...

...for an unpaid political announcement. I cannot believe that Ralph Nader is running. I don't mind, in fact I am delighted, because my cynicism at this point is enormous. I can't get excited about any of the candidates for president. I don't really believe in political solutions to the cultural problems that most worry me, and I don't think I'm qualified to identify the best solutions to economic problems. So for me the spectacle of Ralph Nader returning and the chorus of forehead-slaps is amusing. Does anyone remember the Roz Chast "Thank-You Cards to Ralph Nader" that ran in the New Yorker in December of 2000?

What is your problem?
Why did you run?
If it weren't for you
Gore would have won.
Nice work, fella.

There's no doubt about it
Your brain is first-rate
Too bad that this wasn't
A high school debate.
Hope you're happy now, twit.

and my favorite:

When everyone can buy a gun
Without too much ado
A few will say, "who paved the way?"
And I will think of you.
Way to go, pal.

Most blogs don't feel obligated to follow the equal time rule, but I have a unique opportunity to do so here. When I shared my amusement with my father yesterday, and my mother and I were giggling over these greeting card verses, he reacted rather badly. My father feels that Nader is the only candidate talking seriously about our imminent economic disaster. He says that polls revealed that most Nader voters in 2000 would have voted for Bush or stayed home rather than voting for Gore. And he says, and I think I quote, "I love Ralph Nader. I voted for him twice and I'm voting for him again."

Monday, February 25, 2008

All Rebecca West, All The Time

"We had seen her make another of those mistakes that made people think her odd, the morning after we got there. Gaily she had spilled on the kitchen table, in a jumble of Bank of Scotland notes and sovereigns, the whole amount she had contracted to pay for the six weeks of our holiday...It was a delight for her to snatch this money from the mysterious force that acted on all money in our family, annulling it as if it had never been; it was such an indulgence as she had not enjoyed for years to make a payment and prevent it from being even for a moment a debt."

The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West
I feel this way, not about money, but about time, and order. There is a mysterious force that acts on all order and time in my life, annulling it as if it had never been. All right, it's not an entirely mysterious force. It is a compound force composed partly of Reading and Laziness. Every time I empty the wastebaskets, deposit their contents in the outside can, and get the can to the curb on the correct night, it is a delight for me to snatch my house from the disorder that acts on all order in my life. Ditto clearing and wiping the kitchen counters, or "catching up" with the laundry.

I still struggle with time. As I said almost a year ago, I am trying to convince my unconscious that Everything Counts, but I still say things to myself like, "If only you had not had to spend all that time clearing off your desk, you could have gotten something done." I think the problem is with large swathes of time. If I spent 15 minutes every day dealing with what is on my desk, and had a regular time of day devoted to taking out trash, and attacked the laundry in a prescribed way instead of a desultory one, I would never feel that I "wasted the whole day doing laundry."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Change of pace--a little policy and two pictures

Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact the the 1150-page Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of my favorite books, I do not feel qualified to comment on Kosovo's declaration of independence, other than to quote the book, thus:

English persons...of humanitarian and reformist disposition constantly went out to the Balkan Peninsula to see who was in fact ill-treating whom, and, being by the very nature of their perfectionist faith unable to accept the horrid hypothesis that everybody was ill-treating everybody else, all came back with a pet Balkan people established in their hearts as suffering and innocent, eternally the massacree and never the massacrer.

I highly recommend this book, which is technically a Yugoslavian travelogue but in reality so much more, Moby Dick-like, almost Biblical in the multitude of ideas, facts, and ruminations it contains. However, if you can't face it, you might just read this New Criterion article.

M. drew this picture of my mother, which I rescued from the wastebasket because I think it is a remarkable likeness:

This is what we had for brunch today. Does it not look delicious? Let's pretend every meal in my house looks like this:

I baked that roll. Self back-patting now over.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who Wins The Best Husband Contest? Mine Does

Right back at you, sweetie:
Love's Growth

You Know What Makes Me Even Crosser?

Conjunctivitis. I am, as they say, subject to it. This morning I awoke to the familiar scratchy, oozy, swollen feeling and said, as Dave did to Stargate Defender, "It's been a long time." How long? A few years. I know we were still going to the old pediatrician, because I remember taking a sick child in, wearing sunglasses, and seeing Dr. C. peer at me from across the exam room and then back away slightly. "You have conjunctivitis!" People have a visceral reaction to the old pinkeye. Ask me. I know.

Usually it comes later, in the spring, indicating that it is allergic conjunctivitis; but the dear old doctors of my youth never hesitated to prescribe a host of antibiotic remedies.

This, from the quality of the oozing, I would diagnose as viral, darn it. There is no saint maker like the virus, because there is absolutely nothing you can do about a virus except slow down, wait, and offer it up to God. It may not even be viral. It may be caused by four nights in a row of getting up at 2:30 to test R.'s blood sugar. Ah, I haven't posted about the insulin pump. That's a post for another day. Right now I'm busy being self-absorbed and complaining about my eye. My mother tells me that when I was a toddler and had a cold I would point emphatically to my nose and say, repeatedly, with increasing urgency, "My nose!" I still completely understand that. All I want to do right now is say, pettishly, over and over: "My eye!"

Also, every, absolutely every time this happens, I think of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the U.S. I owned a Scholastic biography of her and for some reason read it many, many times as a child. While taking the midwives course at the maternity hospital in Paris (we stayed near's digression day!) she accidentally squirted some eye matter from an infant into her own eye, developed ophthalmia , and went blind in one eye, ending her plans to be surgeon. The book had an unfortunately very vivid description of how her eye felt, and I recognized it. I never actually believe that I am going to go blind when my eye goes south again, but it just...occurs to me.

Which is why, perhaps, I snapped at the infirmary doctor in college who suggested that I let my admittedly bacterial conjunctivitis clear up on its own. "After all, what did cavemen do?" she suggested jovially. "They went blind!" I replied, a little too loud. Or died before they reached the age I am now, I could have added. Inconsistent of me, because whenever I don't want to go to the doctor, which is most of the time, I say to myself, "After all, what did cavemen do?"

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Domestic Front

The good news: R. and S. are very good about putting towels in the hamper, rather than on the bedroom floor as I did when I was their age.

The bad news: they put the towels in the hamper after a single use.

The worse news: we have so many towels that this situation only became apparent to me after a week of mandated daily bathing for the cusp-of-puberty set. Now I have a huge load of essentially clean towels to wash, which makes me cross.

More Notes, Less Waiting

I don't seem to have a lot of long, coherent thoughts lately. I wish I could say that success in my "real" life (meal preparation, laundry, cleaning, child-wrangling, specialized projects like Girl Scout Thinking Day and PTA Adult Speaker Night) was in inverse proportion to my posting volume, but I doubt that's true.

Not only is Andrew McCarthy starring in "Lipstick Jungle," which was not quite bad enough last week to make me stop watching (plus I have to support Brooke Shields, right?), he is also in "The Spiderwick Chronicles." Hooray! I can't help feeling that was a calculated move on the part of studio execs who want woman of a certain age to take their tween daughters to this movie.

Here's something everyone should read: How American Idol Uses and Abuses Melisma. No, Melisma is not the name of a girl from the deep South. It is a singing practice that may once have been part of a balanced vocal style, but should now be banished from music until people learn to use it properly, like a confiscated pocket knife or crossbow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Notes From All Over

  • I am endlessly amused by the New York Times story on those friends who don't recall Barack Obama's youthful drug use. I would love to get the whole gang together on "Meet The Press" and let them fight it out: "Oh, like you would remember! You were doing so many drugs!" "Well gosh, Barry, make up your mind. Were you doing more drugs than we were, or fewer?" "Stop calling me Barry!"
  • When I didn't give up blogging for Lent, I forgot to mention that I had created a special name for it, a la NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo: PeBloPosSe! (Personal blog posting season. Of course I've already ruined it by not posting daily in Lent.)
  • My brother-in-law had a brilliant idea: blue cheese ice cream. Others have pioneered this. I think it would make an excellent Easter dessert, but is it too wintry? We would certainly have to provide an alternative dessert for the children.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Triple D: since you started reading my blog, there's been a significant uptick in traffic. Coincidence?

Triple S: thanks for the Fragonard. In addition to being a delightful surprise and presumably decluttering your mother's attic, it briefly freaked out my husband, which I enjoyed.

In Which Genetics Reveal Themselves To Be More Complex Than Previously Thought

Well, he may have the ramp neurosis, but he does not seem to possess the fictional character fixation or the mental actor database:

MV: R! While I was waiting for a prescription today, I skimmed a Vanity Fair article about the new Indiana Jones movie. Karen Allen is in it! He looks at me blankly. Marion Ravenwood! The only worthy Jones love object returns! R. feigns mild interest. And Shia LaBeouf is in it, who was in "Transformers."
R: Which part?
MV: The...teenager. (Please note I have not seen "Transformers," but he accepted this explanation). No one will confirm this, but the rumors are that he plays Indy and Marion's son! And they're fighting the Soviets, and it takes place in 1962, and Cate Blanchett plays an evil Soviet woman. R. smiles at me and disappears into the bathroom. I go into the dining room and sit down with my coffee.
R: calling from the kitchen What's the artifact?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Bless├Ęd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Thomas Stearns Eliot

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Running Tips:

Never forget to put your hair in a ponytail.

Signs You Need To Get Over Yourself
You realize as you cross the street that you forgot to put your hair in a ponytail, but keep going and do the whole three-mile run anyway. Why? Because what if the across-the-street neighbors happened to be looking out the window at that precise moment, but looked away before you returned, and thought that you abandoned your run after ten seconds?

Monday, February 04, 2008

And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going

Jay tagged me for a meme:

1) Link to the person that tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog.
3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4) Tag at least three people at the end of your post and link to their blogs.
5) Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
6) Let the fun begin!

I'm sure the unimportant things about me are legion, but I'm having trouble coming up with any, especially since I came up with seven random facts just three months ago. I'll tell you one thing, after this post I'm keeping a notepad handy, so when I get tagged for five trivial things about myself in May I will be ready!

1) I was pigeon-toed as a child. For a few years I slept in a brace, part of which was saddle shoes connected by a metal bar. It was a horrifying contraption, and looked more Victorian than Me Decade--sort of like something Colin in The Secret Garden would have to wear. I am still pigeon-toed, and thus skeptical--although by no means dismissive--of medical interventions.

2) I have had a huge celebrity crush on Andrew McCarthy ever since Heaven Help Us, although St. Elmo's Fire fanned the spark into a flame. I made my father take me and a friend to a Broadway play about the Vietnam war that closed in previews because it featured Andrew McCarthy (and also Matt Dillon, a bonus!). I am sorry to report that I will be adding another embarrassing television show to my lineup, because apparently Andrew is playing the Mr. Big figure on the new Candace Bushnell-based series, "Lipstick Jungle." How do we tell Lipstick Jungle from Cashmere Mafia? Beats me, but LJ is the one with Andrew McCarthy. I'm sure it will be more fun than watching him be an evil CIA guy on E-Ring. Don't worry, R., there are only seven episodes in the can.

3) Before I open a soda can, I always tap the pop-top opening with my fingernail, in the obsessive compulsive belief that it will keep the soda from spraying all over me. This has become totally unconscious on my part.

4) I have memorized many poems in my time, but the only one I can reliably produce in its entirety is Housman's To An Athlete Dying Young. And even then, sometimes I forget the stanza that begins "Eyes the shady night has shut..."

5) When I was six my mother let me eat my dinner on a tray in front of "The Brady Bunch" instead of in the dining room with the family, but she made me promise never to reveal this to her best friend.

6) I am a terrible bowler. And whenever I tell people this, they say, "Oh yeah, me too." And then we go bowling, and they say, "...oh. Oh. You are a bad bowler."

Because Jay, Mama and Mary have already done this, I only have two bloggers left whom I "know" sufficiently well to tag: thus, Ergo and C-Belle, you're in for it. Perhaps you should do nine each?

PS The title is meant to convey that I have decided not to give up blogging for Lent this year.