Rather than the tumultuous thinking and over-thinking and re-thinking of everything that is plaguing me (papers that are remaining stubbornly amorphous, research projects without conceivable conclusions, a house that will not–despite my desires to the contrary–just stay organized), I’m focusing on the image of my dog, Ginger, ecstatically snorting and wriggling in the middle of a mountain of dirty laundry, all four legs, tail and tongue waving in the air. Between her incessant and excessive excitement over everything and Zuzu’s zen-inducing purr, I’ve got the best of all possible states of mind, twin swings of the pendulum, ideals, idyllic– in the best and most real sense of the word– illustrated here, (allegories made furry) by the beasties.
Since my re-immersion in the world of academia, I’m finding it a bit difficult to read strictly for fun. I pick up a book, and by the time I come out the other end, I have half a notebook of ideas for research. That isn’t precisely a bad thing- I’d much rather have the creative juices flowing than otherwise- but it makes my leisure reading not quite so leisurely.
Hence, the travel memoir. While I come up with places I’d love to visit, I can enjoy the words more freely than when I am subconsciously tracking how frequently such and such word is used to describe…whatever.
This is the third book of Frances Mayes’ that I’ve read. My favorite is still Under the Tuscan Sun (don’t judge it by the movie of the same name- only the location is the same), but both A Year in the World and Bella Tuscany have images that are knock-you-over beautiful. I feel like I understand where she is coming from–I’m sure many people do–but she writes about getting away from the mad rush of the academic world- always writing, researching, reading, grading- and into a life that follows the planting and the harvesting and the morning cup of cafe at the village trattoria. Exactly what I so often need, even if, for now, it is only accessed vicariously.
In Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes talks about finding, deciding to buy, and restoring Bramasole, her Italian villa. A Year in the World focuses on more exploratory travels- short trips and original impressions of new places. Bella Tuscany is a combination of the two- the heart of the book is definitely in Bramasole, but she talks about several short-ish trips to cities in Italy.
Her descriptions of Venice keep coming to mind: “I long to go inside the houses, experience from the inside what it’s like to have high tide lapping at the lower floor, smell the damp marble, see the rippling shadows of the water on painted ceilings, push back faded brocades to let the sun in.”
Those rippling shadows of water on painted ceilings…
My grandparents owned a house on the Kentucky River–I remember lying on the indestructible brown Berber carpet in the middle of the summer, the river plishing and plashing below, watching the lacy white curtains billow in afternoon river breeze and the hundreds of points of light that the river’s reflection would throw on the white ceilings.
I think this is why I love books so much- that memory was buried under twenty-some years of detritus, but reading her description of a similar sight in Venice conjures those long-ago lazy summer days.
The ancient General Fentiman is found dead in his favorite chair at the Bellona Club. The death appears to be natural, but a survivorship clause in a wealthy relative’s will, also newly deceased, requires a closer look at the circumstances.
The unpleasantness begins on Armistice Day, and echoes of the first world war create a complex theme throughout the book. The general’s two heirs, George and Robert Fentiman, are veterans. While Robert is the classic war hero- all hale and bluff and ready to shoot game in Africa after the war is over- George has suffered from shell shock since his return from the front.
Dorothy L. Sayers’s portrayal of shell shock and frail/fractured masculinities is one of the reasons I find her work so fascinating. Detective fiction, especially from this era, usually serves to shore up the disintegrating class system and the problems of modernity by ignoring all changes (Agatha, I’m talking about you). Sayers breaks that trend: Numerous characters in her books have been negatively affected by the war– Wimsey himself suffers from returning bouts of shell shock, and is open about spending time in an institution of some sort after the war. He met, and was rescued, by Bunter at the front, and Bunter is frequently presented as the indispensable one who knows what to do when the terrors come.
Bunter doesn’t suffer any aftereffects from the war. By positioning the hero, Lord Peter Wimsey (the aristocrat with excellent taste, excellent sensibilities, and excellent mental facilities) as the one with shell shock, I think Sayers is making a rather subversive stab at modern (well, 1914-style) war. She doesn’t make the leap to actually condemn the war– it is shown as a necessary evil–but in showing the repercussions of war, the long-term destruction of the livesthat escaped instant annihilation, she opens a space for a rather crippling critique of war. Presented with such violence, the correct response (since her hero responds this way) seems to be mental fracture. Instead of condemning shell shock (as was a prevalent party line at the time) as the effect of war on “weak, un-manly” men, shell shock seems to be the correct response. (This from Elaine Showalter’s fascinating discussion of shell-shocked soldiers in The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980.)
I also love Sayers’ gestures towards understanding women’s roles. Wimsey is summoned in the middle of the night by the long-suffering wife of the shell-shocked soldier, who has gone missing. The police had made rather a bungle of an interview earlier in the day, and there are fears that George has had a recurrence of his difficulty. Wimsey’s first instinct is pure lord of the manor: he orders her to sit and calm herself, while he begins making some tea for the little woman. He then stops himself with the following reflection:
“One has an ancestral idea that women must be treated like imbeciles in a crisis. Centuries of ‘women-and-children-first’ idea, I suppose. … No wonder they sometimes lose their heads. Pushed into corners, told nothing of what’s happening and made to sit quiet and do nothing. Strong men would go dotty in the circs. I suppose that’s why we’ve always grabbed the privilege of rushing about and doing the heroic bits.”
And then he sits down while she makes the tea.
This is why I love these books: if he had just sat down while she made the tea, he would have looked rather patriarchal/aristocratic/little woman will serve/godawful. Instead, Sayers has him begin to do the expected thing- to take over- then stop himself. Sayers is excellent at discussing the motivations behind actions and assumptions. Even when she is wrong (in my opinion) about those motivations, she articulates a reason behind them. They aren’t just the “natural male response” or the “natural female response”: there are deeper issues at stake. I think she works to expose the construction of identity, and more particularly, of gender.
(And that sounds like an abstract for the paper that I someday will write about her works.)
Today’s the day. This morning I’m flying to D.C. from Greenville, the boyfriend and I are doing some sightseeing this afternoon, and tomorrow we fly to Japan. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.
I’ve yet to decide what I want to do in D.C.–I’ve only been once, and all I remember is seeing the Spirit of St. Louis at the Air and Science Museum. I think I remember that because my mother told me this was the plane that Jimmy Stewart flew. (Not Charles Lindbergh, mind you. Jimmy Stewart. Movies are responsible for so much of my knowledge. )
Anyway, following in the steps of another great Jimmy Stewart movie (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), we’re definitely going to visit all the monuments, but I’ve been informed that it is my decision where we go beyond that. I’m torn. I want to visit museums (the AU art museum has an exhibit of ceramics by contemporary Japanese women that I’m interested in, Night at the Museum made me want to visit the Museum of Natural History, I’ve been told I shouldn’t miss the Holocaust Museum (that would provide such an interesting intersection of WW2 history, since our during our time in Japan we’ll be attending memorial services for the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.) I also hope we have time to wander around Georgetown, and I’d love to visit the Folger Shakespeare library. Unfortunately, we’re going to be in D.C. less than 24 hours, so I think we’re going to have to skip some things.
My flight has been delayed about an hour. After rushing pretty much every minute for the last week (getting up to date at work, packing, cleaning, last minute shopping, getting my life in order to abandon it for two weeks), the leisure to sit and stare is… well, kind of difficult. I’m sleepy and anxious.
There’s something about waiting in an airport that makes you so very aware of the passage (or stagnation) of time. I did quite a bit of research during the fall and spring semesters with Judith/Jack Halberstam’s book In a Queer Time and Place: Transgendered Bodies, Subcultural Lives. Amazing book–ze articulates the uneasy relationship between how we feel about time and capitalism in the introduction: “We imagine that our time is our own, …[and] that there is a time and a place for everything. These formulaic responses to time produce emotional and even physical responses to different kinds of time, therefore people feel guilty about leisure, frustrated by waiting, satisfied by punctuality, and so on….” I’m a little frustrated by the waiting at the moment.
On a lighter note, Jasper Fforde discusses the passage of time in one of his Thursday Next novels. Thursday is learning the policies of the ChronoGuard from her father, a rogue ChronoGuard agent (the ChronoGuard is charged with protecting the temporal stability). He says that whenever they have a lump of time that they need to get rid of (Fforde puts it ever so much more elegantly), they dump it in a doctor’s office waiting room or an airport. People always feel like time moves more slowly there, so they don’t notice when it really is crawling.
I think that is just a fictionalized illustration of what Halberstam is talking about–it’s not the time that is different,or more or less important, or moving faster or slower…it’s all our perception. Which is kind of a basic idea, but when we connect that idea with an investigation into why we feel validated by being on time, and frustrated at waiting, it is at least conceivable that we’ve just completely imbibed the capitalistic preoccupation with productivity. We’re annoyed when we are prevented from producing, because this is how we rate ourselves and our position in society.
At least, that’s what I’m pondering on this Thursday morning.
Whew. Rather busy weekend here on the home front as I prepare to (a.) have someone else move into my house; and (b.) live out of a suitcase for 2 weeks (not a hotel, mind you, in a hotel you can unpack. I’ll be living out of a suitcase. I think our itinerary has us moving every day. So organization is crucial. ). Also, my boyfriend will be taking pictures every second of every day. (I tell him it is a bad habit. I think it is just that I don’t like to pose. Too many people looking at me–I always feel like I need to start vogueing.) So I can’t exactly wear the same thing every day.
For the record, I’m totally proud of my packing ability… so far, anyway. Of course, I don’t have my toiletries together yet, or my books, but my clothes and shoes make a surprisingly small stack in my suitcase. I almost feel like I could travel with only a duffel bag, but traveling for 2 weeks in Japan doesn’t seem like the best time for experimenting.
And on a completely different note–I get to see him on Thursday! Long distance relationships suck. Trust me.) I almost feel like I shouldn’t count down on separations this short…I feel like I should save the true counting down for the horribly long stretches: the next one will be from the beginning of the fall semester (mid August) to fall break (mid October, and more importantly, my birthday!) And I try not to count down until we’ve actually bought tickets–things come up, like conferences and tests, and then I get bummed. Even when it is my stuff that comes up. This one was a short break–really just enough time to get the laundry done, figure out where I stashed the stuff I didn’t get properly organized before he arrived, and get myself packed for Japan.
But yay! Going to see him soon!
The boyfriend left today. Long distance relationships suck. We do the best we can, we rack up tons of miles (and spend tons of money) as we fly to our respective homes, we IM constantly, we talk daily, but yeah, it still kind of sucks. I’m trying very hard to be a grownup about the situation but my cool/calm/collected veneer (never very strong) is kind of crackly around the edges at the moment. I didn’t actually cry on his shoulder this time, which is an improvement. (Last time I stood in the living room and wept. Two days before he flew out. Just because I knew it was coming. Not my finest hour.) You’d think this would get easier. Honestly, the only thing I want to do is sit in the floor and wail.
Ideal Me is mature and realistic about the many excellent reasons for our temporary separation; Ideal Me is happy about the many times I’ve seen him this year; Ideal Me is looking forward to our upcoming trip to Japan; Ideal Me is so very glad to have a boyfriend that I’m so very crazy about. And although I fully plan to begin implementing Ideal Me’s many exemplary characteristics tomorrow, for the moment, Real Me is pouring another drink and sniffling…just for tonight.
On the other hand, the end of this long distance crapola is indeed in sight… two more years of law school for him, eighteen months left in this degree for me. And someday, I truly believe, the experience of missing him so dreadfully will make me less inclined to turn into Mt. Vesuvius over minor things. At least, this is what I tell myself. You know, silver linings and all that. Until then, I’m listening to sad songs while I mope (just for tonight) around the house.
I have a new toy on the way. Here’s the story:
My boyfriend makes amazing mojitos. They are strong and sweet and absolutely always what I am craving. (I was going to make a sappy correlation, but have decided that I’m much too cool for that. As are you, gentle [theoretical] reader.) A few days ago, I was drinking one of these fabulous concoctions while working a crossword puzzle online. Suddenly, inspiration struck. The sun broke through the clouds and a choir of angels geared up for Hallelujah. I knew the word I needed. Unfortunately, as all of these things were happening, I was also mid-swallow of aforementioned amazing mojito. And the laptop, patiently waiting for me to record my inspiration, instead got the rest of my drink–roughly 20 ounces of raspberry flavored rum (yum!), lime juice, mint leaves, and Sprite. Sadly, the laptop did not survive the baptism. The Geek Squad guy opened it up and audibly groaned before gingerly pulling out a wilted mint leaf. Luckily, after repeated scares about lost papers, research, photos, etc., I compulsively back things up. I believe I only lost the group of pictures that I’d taken that day–while that blows, it could have been so very much worse.
The good news is that, after lusting over one for nearly a year, I’m (yay!) getting a netbook. And yes, I know. Everyone I’ve asked has five friends with horror stories about them. But I (well, the amazing boyfriend) did substantial research, and I believe the benefit (extreme transportability, long battery life) outweigh the possible drawbacks (small size will require extra full-size keyboard at home for hardcore paper writing, need to upgrade the memory pretty much immediately, need to purchase an external CD/DVD drive also immediately.) Besides, it’s cute. And a beautiful bronzy/brown color. And it will fit in most of my purses, which is totally cool. And it lasts NINE HOURS on a charge. I mean, I don’t even need to bring my cord with me to school. That’s pretty amazing.
It should arrive today. I am very excited. Apparently the last thing I said last night was “Guess what? I’m so happy…” Boyfriend recounting this says he then leaned closer, thinking I’m going to tell him how happy I am that he is visiting, or how sad I am that he leaves in 2 days, or how much I’m looking forward to going to Japan with him in a week. I then continued “My net book gets here tomorrow!” and promptly fell asleep.