April 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Well, God, glad that’s over.
In the interest of talking about the most normal, friendly, innocuous things, here’s a picture of my friend Maggie wearing the sweater I knit her for Christmas to work:
It’s a Kristen Johnstone pattern; I knit it in the mountains this past fall.
More of the wonderfully banal:
- guy’s coming to fix the sink tomorrow
- meatballs for dinner
- 1 week left of classes
April 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
PRAISE THE LORD!
Hello, this is Keith Chesterton–you’ve got the right person at the wrong time, but if you leave your name, number, and a brief message, I will impress upon my heart to call you back immediately.
You have a blessed day, now.
And, by the way: I’m praying for you.
April 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I keep thinking about Plato’s description of man–a featherless biped–and here comes Diogenes, you know, with this plucked chicken, and he throws it on the ground and says, Here, here’s what man is to you?
The definition was amended.
Skinny little chicken legs, though. How they snap so easily. So many weird, indigestible bits to the biped: tendons and cartilage, fasciae and bursae.
And so I have begun to wonder when (not if) my legs will snap, to look down feel a dread compulsion to get a move on before it happens.
March 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It’s the second day of spring and forty degrees. Buds belonged to last week, we’re on to crimped wet leaves and forsythia.
I have been thinking about plants (vines, trees, houseplants, leaves) nonstop. What I did for my Spring Break: dreamed about plants. I don’t know how I should classify this agglomeration of ideas–it’s loose.
1) This verse from towards the end of Pindar’s 8th Nemean Ode. It’s used as an epigraph to Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness, and that’s how I first read it, but I turn to it over and over for the freshness of its imagery:
χρυσὸν εὔχονται, πεδίον δ᾽ ἕτεροι
ἀπέραντον: ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἀστοῖς ἁδὼν
καὶ χθονὶ γυῖα καλύψαιμ᾽,
αἰνέων αἰνητά, μομφὰν δ᾽ ἐπισπείρων ἀλιτροῖς.
αὔξεται δ᾽ ἀρετά, χλωραῖς ἐέρσαις ὡς ὅτε δένδρεον ᾁσσει,
ἐν σοφοῖς ἀνδρῶν ἀερθεῖσ᾽ ἐν δικαίοις τε πρὸς ὑγρὸν
αἰθέρα. χρεῖαι δὲ παντοῖαι φίλων ἀνδρῶν: τὰ μὲν ἀμφὶ πόνοις
ὑπερώτατα: μαστεύει δὲ καὶ τέρψις ἐν ὄμμασι θέσθαι
Some pray for gold, others for boundless land:
But I pray to delight the people in my town
until I cover my limbs with earth,
praising praiseworthy things, but sowing the seeds of reproach against the wicked.
For virtue grows, like how a tree darts up to fresh dews,
uplifted among wise men
and just ones, towards the liquid sky.
But there are all sorts of needs for dear friends:
and in the midst of struggles most of all.
But joy also seeks to place trust
before its eyes.
2) I decided back in January that, if I shouldn’t have pets, I’d have houseplants, and that has been a great decision. I bought Tovah Martin’s The Unexpected Houseplant one week ago, and have read it cover to cover three times. I was afraid it might be dumb, fluffy, and skew photo-heavy/info-lite, but it’s great. My plant scheming is constant (my pinterest boards would be overflowing, but it creeps me out to see public caches of folks’ deepest desires. That’s personal.), and I can’t wait to see how they all look in 5 years. The goal is, of course, an indoor forest.
3) So, the word tender is both an adjective (soft, delicate, young), a verb (offer formally), and a noun (person-who-watches). Comes from the Latin verb tendere, to stretch or reach out, like young vine tendrils (the first two are pretty clear, but the last one: the person who tends reaches out with her mind to encompass the thing-tended).
That is so poignant. Also it is my favorite vegetable cookbook?
4) The sticky little leaves in Dostoevsky by way of Puskin
The baffling tenderness in Tsvetaeva
Hildegard von Bingen’s use of viriditas and femininity.
5) So, naturally, reading Life of a Leaf and Plant-Thinking, visiting the Arboretum in the weekdays and the Botanical Gardens on the weekend, contemplating an inane DTH op-ed, Oda a los jardineros (“Gosh, guys, Grounds does such a good job!”).
March 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Yesterday, I wrote about women and working, but, really, social and economic debates aren’t what I came for. I’m here, today at least, for the literary criticism.
Virginia’s Woolf’s 1931 lecture Professions for Women, which would later become the book Three Guineas, contains very many savory parts (“What could be easier than to write articles and to buy Persian cats with the profits?”) but is most considerably spiced by a life-and-death battle between Virginia and The Angel in the House (I guess we have also called it The Feminine Mystique, and today have our endless rounds of Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, and, Is [x] A Feminist?).
But, fighting the angel, killing the angel!
The inclusion of that image is insane, because the only other place in literature I can think of where a human fights an angel is in Genesis–the ur-text of patriarchy–when Jacob Wrestles with the Angel.
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
Jacob walked out of that fight with 1) a limp & a new Jewish dietary restriction, 2) a new name and identity, and 3) a blessing from God, which, pretty good. Virginia’s fight with the angel looks different:
The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman…” And she made as if to guide my pen.
I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her.
…whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time. Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.
Actually, if I had to pick an analogous fight from the list of famous-wrasslin’-matches-of-classical-literature, I’d say it looks like Hercules’ fight against Antaeus, the giant who is unkillable so long as he remains in contact with the earth, his mother. He was also always creeping back when thought dispatched.
We, some of us (white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied and -minded), are lucky enough to only have to kill off the Angel in the House, and not have to also contend with the host of distorted, demonized caricatures that illustrate any and every deviance from that ideal. This Virginia v. Angel battle is really just the expo round of a struggle in which each of us will have to personally engage:
If I have laid stress upon these professional experiences of mine, it is because I believe that they are, though in different forms, yours also. Even when the path is nominally open–when there is nothing to prevent a woman from being a doctor, a lawyer, a civil servant–there are many phantoms and obstacles, as I believe, looming in her way.
What does it mean to wrestle against an Angel of the Lord, versus the Angel in the House (…versus a pre-human chthonic giant who makes skull-temples)? To win through tenacity, or by liberal use of the inkpot, or by getting an understanding of how the thing works? To hang on, despite the breaking of the day and hip-dislocation, despite it being a waste of time (better spent learning Greek grammar, agreed), despite its eternal recurrence (until, that is, you figure out the trick)?
To say, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me? and to walk out of the fight, fundamentally altered?
March 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
Here is what I am so, so, sick of hearing about:
- Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, Hillary Clinton or Anne-Marie Slaughter
- the 50th anniversary of 1) the publication of The Feminine Mystique, 2) Sylvia Plath’s suicide, and the unholy union that is their mystifying conflation
- glass ceilings & sticky floors
- motherhood (y/n), parenting, division of household chores (“the final feminist frontier”)
- putting all these discussions in journalism’s pink ghetto (“Men, y’all go ahead and skip this part. Now, women: you’re doing it wrong.” Discussed here.)
But I did have a few good conversations last night about this algorithmically-perfect (and therefore utterly awful) piece from New York Magazine about (yawn), this one rich lady in New Jersey who quit her job one time to be a perfect, happy wife and mother.
We all love a story of renunciation because it’s escapist–we get the catharsis of trash-talking current situations (“You go to the woods, Thoreau!” “Renounce that worldly wealth, St. Francis!” “You quit that miserable job, lady!”) without a) running any of the risks or b) engaging in real criticism about things as they are (I mean, I don’t want to think about it, either).
The utterly safe route is, at the end, to flip the renunciation–”that isn’t so great either, but now she’s stuck with it!” If seeing through one construct is good, then seeing through two is better, and it leaves the reader and writer allied in the static knowledge that both choices are pretty crummy ones, and they’re too smart for either. Doubling-down on debunking is pretty pleasant, and leaves a nice taste in the mouth: Thank goodness I didn’t fall for that. (Unsaid: I have yet to make any real choices. and Unthought: But why are there only two choices, and why are they both crummy?)
So Kelly, the Retro Housewife, is backhandedly presented as pretty boring and maybe dumb (she spends hours upon hours doing things that would make another kind of woman scream with boredom), retrograde and culturally barren (mining their grandmothers’ old-fashioned lives for values they can appropriate like heirlooms, then wear proudly as their own, best barb in the batch), not even a good homemaker (laundry explosion), willfully blind and morally bankrupt (She resented working with 12-year-old rape victims, and instead misses getting dressed for work in clothes that have buttons and hems and sexy shoes to match). If it weren’t too low a blow, we’d probably get the intimation that young Connor and Lillie are turning out to be dimmer than hoped.
Laborious recusatio aside, I don’t want to talk about Kelly–she’s written in such a way to send us through the cathartic wringer–but I do wonder what about our writer, Lisa Miller, is doing. She alternately rails against and luxuriates in the fantasy of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out:
I press her on this point. What if Alvin dies or leaves her? What if, as her children grow up, she finds herself resenting the fact that all the public accolades accrue to her husband?
How delicious might our weeknight dinners be, how straight the part in our daughter’s hair, how much more carefree my marriage, if only I spent a fraction of the time cultivating our domestic landscape that I do at work.
And I was most interested what was she wrote between lines like these:
But what if all the fighting is just too much? That is, what if a woman isn’t earning Facebook money but the salary of a social worker?
In the tumultuous 21st-century economy, depending on a career as a path to self-actualization can seem like a sucker’s bet.
A lot of the new neo-traditionalists…regard Sandberg’s lower-wattage mini-mes, rushing off to Big Jobs and back home with a wad of cash for the nanny, with something like pity.
And so I couldn’t help but wonder: Why does the workplace rub so many women the wrong way?
Just kidding, guys, that’s a rhetorical question.
ETA: Okay, Emily Matchar (who is awesome! read her blog! I’m so excited to read her book! We live in the same town, so I have this fantasy that we’ll, like, meet at the Carrboro Farmer’s Market and, I don’t know, sneer at the artichokes together or something) has answered a rephrased version of the question I was feeling too–anti-pessimist?–to answer.
Instead of “Why does the workplace rub so many women the wrong way?” it’s “why does American society rub so many women the wrong way?”
I quote liberally:
They’re reclaiming traditional women’s work in the name of environmentalism, sustainable living, healthier eating culture, anti-consumerism.
What they shared was a conviction that America was messed up, and that all-out careerism and materialist values weren’t working anymore. They believed that a different way of life—a slower, more handmade, more family-focused life—was the key to happier, more sustainable future.
Okay, yes, fair. But then Matchar shows where the argument to stay at home & save the world takes a turn for the Tea Party:
These people are taking the bumper sticker sentiment “all change begins at home” quite literally, which is a natural outgrowth of DIY culture and the longstanding American belief in the power of personal agency. Don’t like the public school? Homeschool your kid. Don’t trust the food system? Grow your own tomatoes. It’s a reaction to record-level distrust in government and institutions, to the gloomy economy, to worries about climate change, to fears about food safety.
All too often, the movement ignores broad social change (workplace reform, school reform, food reform, etc.) in favor of a DIY approach. That’s a lot more work for mom.
Is the moral of the story POLITICS? I mean, who were the Luddites? They were knitters.
March 4, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In Love, by Alfred Hayes.
It’s the wrong week for it. It’s been just colder and lonelier than I’d like–uncomfortable, bright, windy–which means that I maybe didn’t mean to spend the weekend reading a contemporary paraklausithyron, and I don’t know who recommended this to me in the first place. It’s a beautifully shadowy book, a story with nameless protagonists that appears in black and white, set in 1930′s or 40′s New York. It very realistically could been read as the dysfunctional denouement to the goofy, hopeful Paperman (which I liked. reservedly): Il Penseroso and L’Allegro, I guess.
There’s our man, 40′s, a writer, content to have his loneliness eased and his evenings occupied, maybe a bit of a failure. There’s our girl, 22, beautiful and vaguely melancholy, loves tarot cards and afraid of living alone in the city, divorced with an off-screen daughter, 4 or 5 already. She is unable to “gouge out…her own private ingot of happiness,” until, enter the rich guy, Howard, a friend of a friend who offers her $1,000 to go to bed with him.
The story is in motion. We know how it ends.
This seed having been planted, our writer watches her slow, drifting absorption into another life, pulled into orbit by the undeniable honeyed gravity of financial security. They break up and he hates her, he suffers (“I found myself horribly susceptible to small animals, ribbons in the hair of little girls, songs played late at night over lonely radios.”), wishes he could “really cultivate some impressive vice.” It’s almost boring, until she calls him back. Their spontaneous vacation to Atlantic City is the miserable, grating climax of the whole thing–with a backdrop of wrong hotel, wrong furniture, raw nerves, and bad sex (…rape? It’s neither no-means-no nor yes-means-yes, but horrible to read), we watch hopeful reconciliation harden into fatigue, annoyance, old resentment. They drive home the silent five hours home in the middle of the night. She’s gone, “happily bedded down with a textile company and a couple of chemical subsidiaries, which of course wasn’t the gentlemanly thing to say.”
There’s an economized metonymy throughout–you want to use terms like gem, novella, and refined–but I’m not sure if the end result of all this craftsmanship is anything but the flat deep impression of bleakness. The images that remain are the sexual elisions–the curl of hair in the bedsheets, the horrible discovery of toothmarks beneath a black turtleneck–but stronger by far is the feel of sulky antagonism.
Could you even write a book like this, now? So much is different, but, on the other hand, so much still boils down to money, feeling safe.
Beautiful. Total downer. Maybe bad to read in the pre-spring underworld weeks of March, and, warning: if you’re an overactive empathizer, you a) might have to guard against letting the antagonistic sulks bleed into your real life, and b) will hallucinate an old boyfriend somewhere in public exactly one (1) time while reading.