Books: Take Rooms In Your Heart

After the death of Ursula K. Le Guin, the Wordsmith sent an article by Karen Joy Fowler (Ten Things I Learned From Ursula K. Le Guin). Looking back on all this reading, I find myself thinking about one of Le Guin’s lessons: “There is no reason a book of ideas can’t also be deeply moving, gorgeously written, and inhabited by people who take rooms in your heart and never move out.”

Philip Pullman’s Lyra is truly one of those characters. Our young friend brought me the U.K. edition of the first book in Pullman’s new series, titled “La Belle Sauvage.” (It’s a dazzling physical book – printed watercolor blue waves for endpapers, embossed golden “Dust” glittering the book cloth, and a spine so fat it holds a long quote from the book.)

La Belle Sauvage is also the name of Malcolm Polstead’s canoe, a canoe that carries him, his daemon, and the baby(!) Lyra on a journey along a flooded River Thames. This book is the first of a planned trilogy (“The Book of Dust”) set in a parallel time when Lyra, the unforgettable heroine of Pullman’s singular trilogy (“His Dark Materials”) is but a wee babe.

It’s all here in the new book – a shadowy reflection of our own scary times, enchanting daemons, strange devices for manipulating time and space, big adventures, and spies. If you read and loved the earlier trilogy – welcome back – and if you haven’t, well, there’s a lucky project for the new year!

From the Trail Boss I found a tiny volume in my stocking, “How to Walk” by Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh is wise, comforting, and instructive in the best way: “Walking is a wonderful way to calm down when we are upset. When we walk, if we focus all our awareness on walking, we are stopping the thinking, storytelling, blaming and judging that goes on in our heads and takes us away from the present moment.”

Walking meditation, mindfulness aide – perfectly illustrated by the sumi ink drawings of Jason DeAntonio – Hanh’s voice stays with me (“yes yes yes, thanks thanks thanks”) as I walk back to health.

And, when it first came out, I read Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” – characters so despicable they’ll never occupy my heart. And I fervently wish they didn’t occupy the White House.

 

Lights For The Darkness

Sweet Baby’s parents recently sent a little video of Sweet Baby sitting on the floor next to her dad, surrounded by toys. She has a plastic flip phone with a realistic (old-fashioned) ring, even a fax tone, and she answers and initiates calls:

“Hello, I’m playing with daddy until Christmas! Bye!” Her dad asks who she’s talking to, “Poppa Jim!” When offered the phone to call back, she says, “No, I call Granny Kaytee.” “Hi. Playing with daddy. Christmas lights in the dark.”

When her parents ask for clarification, she (with a little sigh of exasperation), grabs the phone to “redial,” “Hi, Granny Kaytee. I’m just playing with daddy and Christmas lights in the dark. OK? Bye.” She snaps the phone closed with authority.

Well, OK, she’s right! For those of us who live where darkness comes early in the evening and stays long in the morning, dark defines December. And on a morning dim from clouds and rain, when Sweet Baby was here for Thanksgiving week, we lit candles at breakfast. To my delight, each day thereafter Sweet Baby requested that glow.

All the celebrations and realities of the season call for light – warm lamplight, twinkly outdoor sparkles, firelight – and trees! This year will be magic for a nearly three-year old, reading books, decorating the tree, cutting out cookies – and yes, Christmas lights in the dark!

 

Armchair Series – Outdoor

Today I will be sitting in a fine armchair like this to watch the Bainbridge Island Fourth of July parade. The current administration and its congressional minions seem intent on providing a new list of “freedoms” to celebrate: to be sick without the burden of insurance, to enjoy dirty air and water unencumbered by environmental regulation, to deny logic and science, to practice intolerance. The list goes on. But it isn’t who we are or what we celebrate!

A Thank You to Barack Obama

So I have been drawing house moments, chairs and a “settle” and a kitchen dresser, trying to shut out what’s happening, but emotion builds. In part because of the possibilities lost with the loss of the election, and the stark contrast we now face. No grace, no thoughtfulness, no kindness. I don’t even like the present and the future office holders in the same paragraph.

I’m grateful for years of that beautiful smile and sense of humor, for the best example of parenting I could imagine, for being a genuine consoler-in-chief when needed over and awfully over. You can’t delegate compassion and goodness and empathy, you sing “Amazing Grace” at the Charleston church because it’s who you are.

I appreciated not ever doubting that the best interests of the country’s people came first, and that there would be dignity always. President Obama was a grown up (is, it’s only Tuesday), making decisions by listening to the smart, knowledgeable people around him, and then figuring it out with his own set of values, his own formidable intelligence.

A huge part of my gratitude is that because of Barack Obama, we got to know Michelle Obama, that shining star of how to behave in tough, nasty situations and rock a stylish wardrobe, and the only redemption in crying my way through the farewell speech came in realizing he isn’t going away. We won’t have him in charge any more, making White House decisions with calm and reason – but we have him with us politically, to be a citizen as he said, to figure out how to go forward.

Have you seen these photos and captions by the White House photographer Pete Souza? http://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/11/the-obama-years-through-the-lens-of-white-house-photographer-pete-souza/508052/

Or these:

https://medium.com/the-white-house/behind-the-lens-2016-year-in-photographs-9e2c8733bbb3#.bowsyxffm

Thank you, thank you President Obama from the bottom of my heart.

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Just A Few Days To Go

Emotions fill the holiday season, I know that. But this one is different. I write while preparing for the arrival of our younger son, Sweet Bride, and Sweet Baby – and I recognize the privilege of time and space to make merry. Writing helps me wrestle my thoughts away from the anxiety that much cherished is threatened in the new year.

I had planned to write about Ann Patchett’s new book “Commonwealth,” to say that I read all six hours back and forth to Alaska, finishing as the plane landed in Seattle. In the beginning I was confused, chapters back and forth in time, characters I couldn’t quite keep straight, but by the end it seemed perfect to finish with Christmas and a family cobbled together by love.

I cried watching Patti Smith sing Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A’Gonna Fall” at the Nobel ceremony, and I thought of my blue-eyed sons and wanted to write about them, about how astounded I am by them and how grateful for them. They are accomplished and hardworking, and when I watch them care for their own “darling young ones” or hold their wives’ hands, I am undone.

And then today I read “How Does It Feel” in The New Yorker, the wonderful piece Smith wrote about the Nobel event. The link includes the song, and she tells of how she came to sing it, from artful choices and rehearsals through breakfast the next morning. It all fits together to honor art and science, family and friendship. http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/patti-smith-on-singing-at-bob-dylans-nobel-prize-ceremony.

Most of all, at the year’s darkest point in the season of lights, I write to wish you all kindness, beauty in art and nature, and love.

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“Sokay”

I flew to California on an Election Day. On the way to the airport, the taxi driver looked in the rear view mirror and asked me if I had voted, and for whom. He said, “Aah – a little white woman and a big black man, and we stand with Hillary!” He told me he’d think about me that night, and I him. And in a video that day, Lady Baby wore a self-assembled “pantsuit” and chanted “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.” Sweet Baby learned to say “Hillary” in her little voice, with a smile. Such a hopeful day.

I could list the reasons I feel sad and fearful at the Electoral College result and the dark possibilities this election presents to the majority who voted the other way, but you know them all too well.

So far we have seen a graceful Hillary speak and encourage keeping an open mind, and an eloquent and calm President Obama setting an example for the transition. He wants it to be as peaceful and orderly as it is inevitable. But successful transitions require a responsible person on the other side of the transaction.

I wrote this on the plane returning from Los Angeles to Seattle, the land below me all blue and ready to secede. After boarding, I sat down next to a woman and wondered, what does she think? Is she one of the majority of white women (53% by exit polls) who voted the other way? But I spotted her safety pin, and she mine.

It was good to laugh in our misery and confusion, be invited to join Pantsuit Nation, and enjoy the third woman in our row, our little bubble, as she chimed in with agreement.

Often when I start these posts I know where I want to go, but not how to get there. This time I started with a favorite expression of Sweet Baby, “sokay,” her verbal shorthand for “it’s OK.” I thought if I couldn’t write the exultant, thrilled for my granddaughters (and grandson) post, complete with a Madam President teacup, I might at least write that somehow it would be OK. But if anything I feel worse now than late last Tuesday night.

This is so not my desired outcome that I can’t think of any last paragraph right now that ends with it’s OK.

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When They Go Low

Today, thrown against the house by wind from the south, rain pours down. In the middle of two storm systems, I’m grateful to be home, enjoying each and every lamp lit against the gloom, relishing a warm house, and all the easy comforts of electricity – knowing a power outage could darken us at any time.

Yesterday, having business on Bainbridge, (last Thursday by the time this reaches “Her spirits rose…,”) I left home early and spent the day in the car listening to the news cycle, and found myself in tears more than once.

That morning’s announcement of the death of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol colored my thoughts. I knew the Sweet Bride would be so sad, I kept thinking how she, and even her mother, had known this good king their entire lives. As I drove, BBC told stories of his benevolence and concern for his people, a kind and respectful leader.

And then closer to home, the ongoing, orange-tinged insanity continued. Offensive is much too mild a word to describe the disrespectful spewings of venom toward other human beings by the Republican nominee. We have endured this for months, but this day reached the nadir with revelations by his victims.

By midday, bits and pieces of Michelle Obama’s heartfelt, furious speech began to be broadcast. I want to link the whole thing here, because Michelle put into words what we felt, both her disgust at what’s happened and her belief that “real men, strong men” don’t do this. FLOTUS’s speech in New Hampshire.

Listening to the whole speech, I realized that even in her anger, she left me with hope as she described her involvement in the U.S. Government’s initiative to insure education for adolescent girls around the world – “Let Girls Learn.”

I keep picturing Michelle at the podium literally pushing up the sleeves of her navy-blue sweater as she spoke of her hopes for young women (some of their smiling young faces in the audience) – making us want to protect them (and all children) and help them, never, ever disrespect them.

The Nobel Committee also lifted me up that day. The car echoed with the music and memories stirred by the selection of Bob Dylan to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature!

The honorable King Bhumibol, Dylan, and Michelle Obama. I want to fill my mind with their lessons, encouraging us always to “Go High”!

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