This week in pictures

This was my last full week of vacation. It was quite lovely–we’ve been spending the holidays with my aunt in Kentucky. Several years ago she inherited the family home, a beautiful old white house on the shore of the Kentucky river. The house was built in 1855 by a river captain for his bride–we even had a widow’s walk, until an electrical fire about a decade ago required a new roof.

The house is gorgeous, but the setting is even better (even though the history is a little dark.) In the mid-1960’s, the town fell victim to the TVA’s appropriation of land as the river was being tamed by the installation of dams. Most of the inhabitants (many of whom had been in their homes for generations) were removed to a new spot a few miles away; we really have no idea why our house was not one of the condemned. Houses larger than ours, more historic than ours, were flattened, the house in the lot immediately adjoining ours was flattened–but ours survived.

There’s a lot of emotion about this in the area: while it’s admitted that the river was dangerous (every decade or so since its founding, the town flooded) so many people were displaced and dispossessed. I’m torn–my better self is sympathetic and horrified at the trauma inflicted (much of it unnecessary, as a good proportion of the flattened and condemned lots were not actually in the path of water)… but my selfish self knows that my house–our acres on the lakefront–would be completely different if still on the town-square, separated from the water by a half-mile of streets and shops and houses. I have trouble with this: regretting the dispossession of so many implicates me and my enjoyment of this lovely place… and I need this place. I sometimes feel like it’s the only place I can breathe. (Since I had absolutely nothing to do with either the decision to flood nor the protection of this house, guilt is a futile emotion [as guilt usually is]. But still, I have trouble regretting what has happened. Though I should. I think I should. Perhaps I should?)

Regardless of all this mental entanglement, this place is gorgeous.Displaying IMG_0602.JPG

 

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Besides sitting on the shore, watching the waves, I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading and knitting and organizing for the upcoming year. I got lots of books for Christmas–(more on that tomorrow!)–and a lovely stash of yarn that I just can’t wait to get cracking on. And a set of planners that I absolutely adore.

Displaying IMG_0631.JPGAll of this lovely, squishy, so-soft yarn… and an entire set of interchangable circulars, and a zillion patternbooks…love love love.Displaying IMG_0632.JPG

 It’s possible that I’m prouder of this cabled sweater (part) than anything else I’ve done. Ever.

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I looked for eons for the right planner… and it turned out to be 2 instead of 1. My keep-everything-straight (and carry with me) planner is the Kate Spade in front (isn’t it beeeyoutiful?) and my reflect on the day/plan tomorrow is the turquoise in back. Love them both.

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#sorrynotsorry

Once upon a time, my mentor gave me a framed motto that says something like “Don’t apologize, don’t retreat, get the thing done and let them roar.” She said she had it on her desk when she was in grad school and starting her career, and since I had (have?) the same propensity to constant apology, I should maybe try to work on that. Apologizing, especially when it isn’t needed, just makes you seem weak*.

And so, although I always feel a little odd coming back to my blog after a long absence–like the friend you just got too busy for, emphasizing the extenuating circumstances for the neglect in a transparent bid for sympathy and forgiveness–I’m coming back, and without an apology, except, of course, for that rather surreptitious one that is providing the subtext for this whole blog post. Yep, you noticed. You’re so smart.

I have big things going on next year. Don’t we all? I’m officially done with the MA in Literature from American University (yay!) and, just for funsies, while I was there I picked up a graduate certificate in gender. And because of all that lovely education, I get to teach a gender course next semester! I’m over the moon–I’m spending the next two weeks writing my syllabus and planning the first few weeks of classes. I’ve taught before, but it wasn’t on the university level. So perhaps a leeetle intimidating. I have 40 students. In my first class. Yup, maybe a little intimidating.

And I’m applying to PhD programs in literature. Most of my applications were due mid-December, but I’m still gathering the stragglers. So I’m either moving to a new location in a few months (eek!) or completely freaking out about my future prospects if I don’t get in anywhere. Either one is completely possible. (It’ll be ok, either way. I have a job in the field, so mostly it’d just be embarrassing not to succeed. So so embarrassing. Horrors.)

Anyway, like that friend you keep meaning to call but avoid because there is just so much that has happened, here’s the getting-caught-up post. More to come about all of the fun stuff that I’m doing next year, so stay tuned!

*It’s a gender thing: women consider their behavior to require apology 37% more frequently than men: http://www.centenary.edu/attachments/psychology/journal/archive/nov2010journalclub.pdf. Of course, any thinking person would question why men’s behavior is considered the standard, and wonder how long women have to be in the workforce before “professional” doesn’t just mean “how the old boys club has always done it.” But I suspect that’s a rant for another day.

What are you reading? (Monday 25/52)

Monday.readingThe last week or so has been unexpectedly stressful, as a housemate has decided to try to get me evicted me in favor of some of her friends who are moving to town. Lovely.

Being a bit of a nester, even in rented spaces, the prospect is more than slightly daunting. And so. While I battle on the home front, I’ve been indulging in some lighter literary fare.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

  • The P. G. Wodehouse Collection 

Wodehouse cures what ails ya. This collection contains Right Ho, Jeeves, a full-length novel about the mad love of Gussie Fink-Nottle (who studies newts) for Madeline Bassett (who unashamedly proposes that the stars are God’s daisy chain), Aunt Dahlia (who may have gotten into a bit of trouble betting in Cannes), Antoino (who is more than a little touchy about his cooking), Bertie (of course), and, ever and always, Jeeves.

In an attempt to raise poor Gussie’s courage (literally: he’s a teetotaler, and no man, according to Bertie, ever screwed his spirits to the sticking point without a liberal application of spirits) enough to propose to the drippy Angela, Bertie proceeds to get Gussie very, very drunk. Unfortunately, Gussie also has to present the prizes at the Market Snodsbury grammar school later that day. Stephen Fry, in the article “What ho! My hero, PG Wodehouse” talks about this scene, which is considered the highlight of the novel:

The masterly episode where Gussie Fink-Nottle -presents the prizes at Market Snodsbury grammar school is frequently included in collections of great comic literature and has often been described as the single funniest piece of sustained writing in the language. I would urge you, however, to head straight for a library or bookshop and get hold of the complete novel Right Ho, Jeeves, where you will encounter it fully in context and find that it leaps even more magnificently to life.

This collection also includes a bunch of short stories– “Deep Waters” and “Extricating Young Gussie” (rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay!)

  • That Part Was True, Deboray McKinlay

I read this in one long, lovely gulp lying on a quilt on my roof on a sunny and windy Saturday morning. Quite delightful. Here’s what The New York Times had to say about it:

How rewarding to perch on the shoulder of a character Barbara Pym might have conjured — a late bloomer who possesses “brickish stoicism” and brews tea on an Aga. So when the British author Deborah McKinlay takes us to “the depths of the English countryside, in a house that was an advertisement for the English countryside,” we recognize that a Lively voice — à la Penelope, that is — will be reporting with wry detachment and affection.

“That Part Was True” is part epistolary, beginning with a fan letter sent by Eve Petworth to Jackson Cooper, a ­Robert-Parkeresque, best-selling American novelist. (His recurring protagonist is “a dry-witted sleuth with gourmet tastes and a talent for observation.”) Cooking earns a starring role in their correspondence; as it continues, he begins to think of her as “his food friend,” enjoying on paper “a chaste, if warm, thing based on a mutual interest.”

Poor Eve, a divorced romantic pessimist, suffers anxiety attacks, brought on by almost anything outside her four walls. Her daughter, Izzy, and Eve herself consider Eve to have been very bad at mothering. And now Izzy’s coming wedding introduces additional angst in the form of Simon, the long-estranged ex-husband and thrice-married father, who is making up for lost time and absent scruples.

Equal space is devoted to Jack, twice-divorced, sort of enjoying bachelorhood in the Hamptons. “For the past 15 years, women had been trying to please him. Not many had managed it.” Several now seem “gluey.” Especially skillfully rendered is his affair with a diffident New Yorker, Adrienne, a dispenser of unwanted editorial advice. Worse — she’s a vegetarian who hardly eats! Mineral water and a salad don’t keep good company with omnivore, gourmand Jack. Far-off Eve, on the other hand, is a safe, quixotic object of affection and a source of recipes.

McKinlay can dip into preciousness (“He detected on her ivory-headed notepaper the fine, fresh scent of herbs”). Yet almost every page offers delicious, offbeat descriptions. Izzy’s fiancé is “all dangly charm and winsome scruffiness.” His co-workers are “tidily polite.” A waiter describes offerings “with religious gravity.”

Will a culinary correspondence (“Mutton is good with plums”) be enough to fan a flame? I worried that invitations to rendezvous in Paris were premature and unearned or, as Eve’s housekeeper warns, “dodgy.” But mercifully, Jack and Eve think so too. Jack wishes “he hadn’t said that stuff to Eve; it sounded pretentious in the daylight.”

Whereas some weak-kneed (literally: her anxiety attacks result in dead faints) characters might test our patience, we’re always on Eve’s side. She’s self-aware, her own best critic, in search of coping mechanisms and peace.

Will these pen pals actually meet in a cafe on the Left Bank? McKinlay teases us, allowing them to correspond with a bit more ardor than their nonacquaintance warrants. If we occasionally wince at Jack baring his soul, going poetic, and with Eve responding in kind (“When it had all gone — my buoyant roundness and openness to joy — when it had been stripped away, I tried to forget everything”), we understand that distance and semi-anonymity are making them brave.

I won’t say where their missives lead, but I will applaud the sensible outcome. This is England, after all, and we trust that Mrs. Petworth won’t do anything rash.

And that’s me. Anything great you’ve been reading? Please share!

 

a thousand delicate joys

Walking is the perfect way of moving if you want to see into the life of things. It is the one way of freedom. If you go to a place on anything but your own feet you are taken there too fast, and miss a thousand delicate joys that were waiting for you by the wayside. ― Elizabeth von ArnimThe Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen

Took a walk with Ginger–every time, I see such beautiful things.

The bookstores of New York

The New Yorker commissioned cartoonist Bob Eckstein to draw his favorite bookstores. Love these.

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Read the article here.

And I love this quote:

“For the last several days I’ve had the sudden and general urge to buy a new book. I’ve stopped off at a few bookstores around the city, and while I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of books in that time, I have not found the one book that will satisfy my urge. It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that’s afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I’ll discover something soon.”
― Lewis BuzbeeThe Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History

Flower Fashions: Studio Saint-Ex and Grace Ciao

Last week, I reread Ania Szado’s Studio Saint-Ex, the plot of which centers around the launch of a fashion label in war-time New York. Mignonne Lachapelle collaborates with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s wife to create a line based on The Little Prince. The central piece of the line is a dress based on the prince’s rose:

But what lifted the dress beyond stunning, making it unforgettable, was the shimmering red rose that dominated its front.

Consuelo walked the length of the parlor, back and forth.With each step, the rose moved as though bending to the wind or arching to hear a loved one’s voice. She swiveled her hips and the rose sashayed with her. She was the rose, through and through, bright and shiny-eyed, glowing with beauty and pride.

But even had I not just finished this book, I would have found these amazing.

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Grace Ciao’s illustrations are created entirely from flower petals. She says she was inspired to begin this project when she noticed that a rose that had been given to her was fading–she wanted to find a way to preserve the fading beauty.

See more on her blog or Instagram account.