Regret

After I broke my kneecap, when I woke in the night, I replayed my unnecessary slip and fall – full of regret. My mom was a rusher (she broke her collar bone when rushing), so I’ve known the dangers of hurrying and inattention (maybe the latter the bigger offense). What was so important?

And even worse, when I tried to go back to sleep (after waking at 2 a.m. for half a peanut butter sandwich and Advil dose), the current regret attached to old regrets (deriving from the sub-category of stupid things I’ve done), resurfacing to swirl in my head. Not helpful.

Recently I read an article in the New York Times by the psychologist Jennifer Taitz, describing the silver lining to be found when one redirects regret. In an earlier time I might have rejected this article as impossibly Pollyannaish. For so many things, how could there possibly be a silver lining? But now, four weeks on – “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two” (as the commercial says) – and I think there are silver linings, and to look for them is a positive thing.

But don’t ask me about upsides when I am on the physical therapist’s table, and he is holding my lower leg so that it dangles and the weight encourages the knee to bend – definitely against its will. Or when his colleague, a young and strong woman who is kind and apologetic while she pushes my knee to bend against the resistance caused by weeks of immobilization as the kneecap healed. (What women we are, she repeated “sorry, sorry,” and I said “sorry, sorry” apologizing for tears). Nothing silver there. Except there is – because they are going to make it so I can walk again.

A wise woman once told me that as we age, it is hugely important to be able to be dependent (gracefully, a friend said in a comment). When you go in an instant from fully functional and rushing to scared and hobbling, it would be good to have considered ways to quiet that interior monologue – even if you fail at first. I do better listing the many, many kindnesses I have received – the goodness of people, the patience of my family and friends, this little house that functions, the professionalism and talent of medical people. The many ways I am lucky.

I did love Valentine’s Day this year – all those heart emoji – making the cards to send to the little loves of my life. And my good-natured husband Valentine has been heroic with the household chores and the grocery shopping – including lovely tulips for me to share and try to paint.

 

A Happy 2019 Wish!

And the new year begins – pointed daffodil tips appeared in the pumpkin patch a few days ago, the construction commenced behind us (which feels like it’s in my room – three excavators, a huge Mack truck, and piles of gravel loom over our little fence and shudder the house), but I’ll add one last piece of holiday glitter below.

“Her spirits rose…” will take a little winter break – and then be back for the 10th year! I’ve been thinking about marking that with 10 series of 10 – images to celebrate all these years and reflect what the blog’s been about. (I have to say it here to make it happen.)

Thank you for being such terrific readers, and I wish each of you a peaceful, creative, and healthy new year!

A Spiral Story and A Book of Good Cheer

At the print shop last week to copy our Christmas card, the woman helping me said, “It’s begun – the holiday rush!” I commented that time seems to go more quickly every year, and she told me that a friend of hers says a life is like a spiral. In youth, at the big outer edge, time goes slowly, in the middle of the coil, years seem of similar duration for a long time, but then, as one slips into the center, the circles are smaller, and hence faster and faster. Maybe this is a commonplace – but was new to me and seems spot on.

So, for this rapidly disappearing year, one last book. On my recent birthday I received the perfect gift book: “Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & You” by Lin-Manuel Miranda (the genius behind and star of the musical, “Hamilton”). In short word salutations for each day (originally written for Twitter), Miranda channels Dr. Seuss and his own sweet soul. Page spreads feature a morning greeting on the left and an evening salute on the right, and the book is filled with charming pen illustrations by Jonny Sun. In an introductory poem, Miranda describes how the book came to be:

 

…Then we sat down together and made this;

It’s the book that you hold in your hands.

You can open it at any moment or page

With the hope you find something that lands…

 

I find lots to land and make me smile.

A Happy Solstice to you at the end of the week – the season turns toward the light!

“Snap” and “Station Eleven”

Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel, “Station Eleven,” set 20 years after a pandemic decimates most of the population and infrastructure of the United States, follows a band of survivors as they wander the Great Lakes region by horse and wagon. They stage Shakespeare plays in what’s left of small towns – some hostile, some welcoming. We go back in time to see the creation of a graphic novel (also “Station Eleven”) now treasured by survivors, and meet the characters when their world was intact.

Suspenseful and respectful of both characters and culture, and the need for connection and creativity, St. John said about her book, “There’s something about art I think that can remind us of our humanity. It could remind us of our civilization. So that line became almost the thesis statement of the entire novel.”

In “Snap,” by Belinda Bauer, civilization remains – but a boy’s world ends. I was hooked from the very beginning, when the pregnant mother of Jack, Joy, and baby Merry, leaves them in their broken-down car by the side of a road while she goes to find a phone box. She never comes back, and the family is so devastated, the father gives up and also disappears.

When his mother left the car, she told Jack, 11, that he’s “in charge.” And three years later – when the book takes up with the children again – he truly is. Jack’s turned cat burglar to provide for his sisters, and they pretend to the outside world that the family is intact to avoid Social Services. Jack’s determination to discover what happens to his mother fuels the plot. Insightful about grief and family and leavened with love, the book is also a terrific mystery story.

With both these books, where richly imagined characters form new worlds after the ending of the known, readers reap the rewards.

“Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje

Everybody is busy with preparations for the Thanksgiving meal or important parts of it, hosting or traveling – and time is short. So I’ll quickly write of one book (and add a couple of the little watercolors).

“Warlight” joins Michael Ondaatje’s, “The English Patient” (way up on my list of favorite books ever), in making me reach for words like magical, murky, puzzling, beautiful, enthralling. The one word title “Warlight,” refers to the ambient light during a wartime blackout:

     We continued through the dark, quiet waters of the river, feeling we owned it, as far as  the estuary. We passed industrial buildings, their lights muted, faint as stars, as if we were  in a time capsule of the war years when blackouts and curfews were in effect, when there was just warlight and only blind barges were allowed to move along this stretch of river.

but it also describes Ondaatje’s prose and complex story – you don’t see with clear light, but see enough.

The novel begins in 1945 London at the war’s ending. Fourteen-year old Nathaniel and his older sister have been left in the care of an elusive character they call “The Moth,” while their parents leave for the Far East. Or do they? Set in 1959, the second part of the book tells of the attempts by Nathaniel (now grown and working in the Foreign Office) to unravel the mysteries of his mother’s wartime years.

I love to read Ondaatje for his way with words and sometimes puzzling words: “printless foot” and “nightingale floor,” his plots full of unrelated events (perhaps intertwined), and his intriguing characters. The children’s guardian, The Moth, is probably a thief, The Darter smuggles greyhounds on the River Thames, and Marsh Felon, a roof thatcher who broke his hip in a fall, now climbs the roofs of Oxford’s Trinity College by night (and may be connected to Nathaniel’s mother).

But see, I meant to be short and Marsh Felon is only just a part of this fine, totally engaging novel of spies, secrets, and memory.

 

I wish you such a good holiday of giving thanks – celebrating with family, friends, and food in abundance!

Tales of Two Lives Each: Rebecca Mead and Nell Stevens

A certain kind of book these days combines literary history and memoir, and investigates the importance of renowned novels from the past to readers today. Rebecca Mead did this in 2014 with “My Life in Middlemarch,” which intersperses her personal story with biographical details about George Eliot, and provides an enriching look at “Middlemarch.” Mead has read “Middlemarch” countless times over the years, finding treasures anew each time. I’ve read it just twice – and loved reading Mead’s book to help me make even more of it.

Mead, born in England, recently wrote in The New Yorker (“The Return of the Native”) that after decades in this country and becoming a citizen, she would return to the UK – to London. She writes about what America has meant to her since she came here, first as a graduate student, then a journalist, and describes the decision as “wrenching.” Her life reminds me of many English novel heroines, especially the ones who long to write – beginnings in a provincial town, hard-working student, Oxford, The New Yorker – an enviable trajectory fueled by love of books.

I’m a Rebecca Mead fan – always glad to see her byline. This article movingly sums up the last two decades – 9/11, Mead’s adventurous career, marriage and motherhood, the joy of Obama’s election and the despair of the more recent one – and I could feel her apprehensive excitement about the move to London (a friend, when I forwarded the article, said “I wish I also had a British citizenship.”) I’m happy for Mead – she will give her son the experience of a different culture and remove the ocean that’s separated her from her mother for so many years. And I’m eager for her to write about London as a local.

She left me a departing gift – a review of Nell Stevens’s “The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, A Love Story, and Friendship Across Time.” It’s a book I might have missed about Elizabeth Gaskell, the 19th C novelist best known simply as Mrs. Gaskell, a favorite of mine.

Stevens’s book combines a time in her own life with that of a little-known part of Gaskell’s life (an unrequited but intense romance). Mead describes the result best: “…a gentle satire on the ways of academia… coupled with a painfully credible account of late-twenties love, freighted with all its unanswerable questions about the future.”

When I was an English major back in the days of text only (the novel itself contained all that needed knowing), to read about an author’s life was somehow illicit. Virginia Woolf wrote that “The cheapness of writing paper is, of course, the reason why women have succeeded as writers before they have succeeded in other professions,” and now I feel a frisson of excitement at peeking into the lives, houses and companions surrounding those women authors who penned such long-lasting books.

And it’s a great pleasure to have tales of those lives told alongside the contemporary lives of two masterful writers!

 

November Thoughts

It’s Election Day – but you know that and you will vote or already have – now we just cross our fingers and hope that things will change for the better. Writing about the good, drawing pictures about the colorful can seem trivial in the face of political gloom. But the wordsmith told me that the last post, with all the fall imagery, helped to “ease her mind” – so I’ll take that to heart and just keep going.

I associate November – darkening days, blustery weather, our turning inward – with drawing some series in the early mornings. Thinking I like book suggestions this time of year (as I stockpile my favorite gift-giving solution), I’m torn between wanting to revisit books I’ve read (since last I wrote about books), and wanting to make little watercolors to keep me looking around.

So I begin with the last of the autumn color on my morning walk – always such a lovely walk – a privilege – even on this worried morning!