Woolf, more on street harassment, and simple things

How Virginia Woolf did not age well (or, rather, she aged very rapidly) and yet she maintained this essential quality of light elegance, quiet composure. In contrast to her brilliant, racing mind? I feel somewhat obsessed with that photograph of her, from 1938, just three years before she died; her limpid expression, the angle of the camera, the light behind her.

In the grim state of affairs regarding women’s public safety, my conclusion is thus: You simply cannot trust men you do not know. This sounds dark and cynical, but I feel dark and cynical about the state of women’s freedom and the outrageous lack of respect for women as human beings. A close friend worked at the same hospital as Hannah Graham’s alleged murderer and rapist and said he was the nicest, gentlest guy; so did many of his friends. “So, now knowing all of this, and knowing how I found him to be such a trustworthy person,” my friend said, “how can you trust anyone?” We let the question fall and didn’t answer, because what could we say? Who can you trust? But “anyone,” to me, is the limiting factor. I’d answer that you just can’t trust unfamiliar men with your physical safety, ever. Because Lord knows a woman isn’t going to rape you and then throw your body in a stream.

We were talking about this case again with friends around a bonfire and the daily reality of street harassment came up. Except that the men around us — thinking, respectful, generous men — seemed somewhat shocked that this was a daily reality for us women. We women all agreed that we were always on alert, everywhere, even in daylight, even in familiar places. Stories about harassment that had happened just a few hours prior bubbled up. The men were silent. But none of it was unusual to the women. Constantly checking our surroundings, whether day or night, watching for suspicious characters, cringing when walking past a construction site: these are not behaviors that men commonly concern themselves with.

Someone said, “Well, they’re just yelling at you; they don’t have any real power over you.” But men who harass you on the street do, unfortunately, wield a form of power over you. Because they make you afraid. They make you feel unsafe. They make you frightened of your surroundings, mistrustful of society at large. They make you feel exposed and vulnerable. This is how a patriarchal society works.

I have to quote Rebecca Solnit again, because I feel like I just can’t get over this:

Women have routinely been punished and intimidated for attempting that most simple of freedoms, taking a walk, because their walking and indeed their very beings have been construed as inevitably, continually sexual in those societies concerned with controlling women’s sexuality.

— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Please, look me in the eye and tell me that we don’t need feminism. That women have enough rights already. Say it to my face.

We talked about ways to respond to street harassment and didn’t come up with any workable solutions. Responding, to me, is giving such a man what he wants (recognition that his words have affected you), even if that response is a middle finger (or a thumbs down, as someone cutely suggested). I’ve always chosen to ignore, to steel myself to wear an unfeeling mask. But I don’t know if that does anything to resolve this ongoing issue.

Every time something as horrific as Hannah Graham’s murder crops up in the news, every time a man shouts an obscenity at a woman in the street, the only refrain I can recall is you are not free, you are not free, you are not free…

As a corollary to this conversation about street harassment, my friend Tara made an interesting side note. “No one hollers at you when you have a bunch of babies strapped to you,” she said, with a wry smile. That interested me. I wonder if other mothers would report the same? Street harassment is negated if you are accompanied by small children?

A woman will also never experience catcalling if she is accompanied by a man. Presumably, that woman is owned by her male companion and she is therefore protected, as his property, from verbal abuse. So there’s that. (Which also enrages me in a different way. That even the basest men somehow respect this misogynistic code of behavior toward one another — if a man has “his” woman with him, “his” woman is therefore ineligible to receive harassment. But a woman daring to walk alone? Open season!)

Virginia Woolf, June 1926. (c) National Portrait Gallery. #virginiawoolf

Virginia Woolf, June 1926. National Portrait Gallery.

This devolved rather quickly. I had intended to write about simple, pretty things.

Like how my rosemary has flourished in the front yard. Like the way Eden leans against my chair while I am reading and looks directly into my eyes with an unblinking, expectant stare. Like the fact that I am savoring Lila and reading it with worshipful patience. Like having lunch with Guion on the deck on a weekday, with the dogs sunbathing, with the leaves fluttering to the ground, with the yellow jacket persistently hovering over your raised spoon.

Cosmetics roundup

Model applying lipstick, vintage photograph

I have never been shy about how much I love beauty products. Furthermore, I am unabashed in my adoration of French cosmetics, although I rarely can find it in myself to shell out the cold, hard cash for products of such Parisian perfection (even though I believe they’re worth every cent).

Without further ado, here are some products I’ve recently been using and loving.

Recent favorite products

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré (24-Hour Miracle Cream) - 75 ml

A long revered French beauty staple, I’ve had this face cream on my wish list for years. It’s worth the hype! I treat it like gold and use the smallest amount on my face at night and feel so very luxe. Makes your face feel like silk. That’s really all there is to it. There’s a whole worshipful post about it on Into the Gloss, if you’d like more convincing. ($28 for 75 ml on Birchbox)

Jouer Matte Moisture Tint

I kind of want to talk to everyone about this. I have tried at least 10 different types of BB creams and tinted moisturizers, and this is the champion, by far. Of course, it’s also the most expensive that I’ve tried. Naturally. That’s how makeup works. This tinted moisturizer offers enough coverage to call itself a BB cream, but it is light as air, has a matte texture, and boasts SPF 15. What else can you say this about? Nothing. Nothing, I tell you. ($38 for 50 ml at Jouer Cosmetics)

Benefit They’re Real! Mascara

Benefit They're Real! Mascara

Benefit is one of my favorite brands, and this mascara is fabulous. It really does make you look as if you were wearing falsies. My only complaint is that it can be a bit hard to remove, but this also means that it has lasting power throughout the day. The medieval-looking spike at the end of the wand is a bit frightening, but it’s a perfect tool for separating stuck lashes or getting the ends of the lash line. ($23 at Sephora)

Benefit Gimme Brow

Benefit Cosmetics - Gimme Brow

A well-groomed brow is an essential part of every lady’s face. This is one of those universal truths that I hold very dear to my heart. And this product by Benefit is incredible. Don’t use eyebrow pencils; they rip out your fine brow hairs. Instead, a lightly tinted wand (like a tiny mascara brush) is just the thing for taming, shaping, and enhancing. Geez. Benefit really needs to put me on retainer. I could write these rave reviews in my sleep…. ($22 at Sephora)

The Balm Hot Mama! Blush

theBalm® cosmetics Hot Mama Shadow & Blush All-in-One

If you are a white lady, it turns out that peach/pink tends to be the most flattering universal shade for blush. And this blush by The Balm apparently mimics the cult classic NARS Orgasm blush, but is $10 cheaper, so it’s a big win in my book. You just need the lightest dusting of this blush. I think my compact is going to last me 10 years. ($20 at The Balm)

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie

Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie for Thick, Curly Hair

Shea Moisture might make the best and most natural line of products for naturally curly-haired women. I’ve become a devoted fan in a short amount of time. This tub of coconut oil/neem oil/and other things I don’t know much about can be used to reshape dry curls on the second or third day after a washing, and it really works. Plus, it smells amazing. This tub will also last me maybe 20 years. It’s not a product for women with fine or straight hair; it’d be disastrous for such ladies. Thick, frizzy, naturally curly hair only. ($12.99 at Shea Moisture; also sold in drugstores, Target [for $9.79], etc.)

New routines

I’m also exploring new beauty routines, which I find to be very refreshing.

  • I’m not using shampoo anymore, or using it very sparingly (once or twice a month). In lieu of shampoo, I use a sulfate-free conditioner when I shower. There’s a whole explanation and enormous benefit to it, for us naturally curly folk, which I won’t bore you with, but basically, it’s wonderful, and my hair is happier than ever.
  • I’m taking a break from nail polish, which I think my nails have needed. They’ve never been spectacularly healthy-looking, and I daresay they are appreciating the time to breathe. I love having well-done nails, but it’s a luxury of time that I can’t bring myself to these days. Also, gardening + dogs + calligraphy (certain nail polishes will leave streaks on paper!) = nail polish is low on the cosmetics totem pole.
  • I’ve become very faithful about daily moisturizing, and I think my skin is thanking me for it. My complexion is clearer than it has ever been and has felt more balanced, now that it’s getting an appropriate mix of cleansing and moisturizing. Once in the morning, once at night = face is happy.
  • I’m returning to my Clarisonic, after I finally figured out how to get the brush to stop smelling like feet. I use it once or twice a week, and I imagine that it is doing something beneficial for my skin.
  • I use a bit of perfume now in the morning, especially on work days. Current favorites: Tokyo Milk’s French Kiss ($30 at Tokyo Milk), which my sisters bought for me on our honeymoon and I finally restocked (every time I use it, I’m transported back to our magical honeymoon; c’est très romantique!), and Tocca in the Stella scent ($68 at Anthropologie), a gift from my dear mother-in-law.
  • I’m applying lip balm in the morning before any lipstick, which I’ve found makes a huge difference, as I have a tendency toward dry lips. I swipe it on while getting ready and it stays on through breakfast, until I brush teeth and apply color.

Your turn to dish! What are you loving lately that you’re putting on your face?

Previously in this series: An amateur’s journey in the beauty cosmos and a few of my favorite things.

Also: I feel like this isn’t worth adding, but no one asked me to say anything about any of these products. I bought them all myself with my hard-earned, improperly budgeted cash.

 

Little ways to eclipse anxiety

I am a profoundly anxious person. I am easily ruined if my routine is disturbed, easily consumed by the various worries I collect.

Guion goads me to release my anxieties, and I want to, more than I can say. But I will always be an anxious person at heart. I will never be the kind of woman who would let her dog run around off leash or walk on a slimy riverbed barefoot or trust her own instinct with directions or cook without following a recipe. Sadly. (She sounds like a nice woman, and I’m sure I’d love to be her friend and envy her personal freedom.) Rather, I am the kind of woman who makes compulsive lists so that she can cross things off; who schedules free time in hourly increments; who takes excessive notes in any lecture; who remembers obligations, appointments, and debts with nigh sacred devotion.

But. To bend my will and to step out of this anxious frame, I have discovered that there are small things I can do in a day to improve my mental state and ward off anxiety.

If I begin to feel the creeping fingers of anxiety, I like to

  • Clean the kitchen, paying special attention to polishing the counters and cleaning the floor
  • Make the bed
  • Write a letter
  • Finish a book
  • Start a book
  • Take the dogs on a walk
  • Examine my plants in the front yard and clear out weeds
  • Look at flowers, tend to my orchids
  • Mentally recite the scripture I still remember
  • Make a list
  • Throw things away
  • Recall Japanese words and phrases
  • Take notes on a good book, even if I will never look at said notes again
  • Mow the lawn

These things have been perpetual antidotes, soothing balms. I am not ashamed to say that I rely on such simple actions to restore me to equilibrium.

The urban farm grows

Newest additions (chickens)

… with the addition of three Japanese bantams, acquired from the Montgomery family, who also gave us their amazing coop.

Newest additions (chickens)

Andrew is an architect by trade, so you know we’re getting a top-of-the-line construction here. Isn’t it great? These are very trendy hens with a high standard for interior design. I’d like to get them a Bauhaus era chaise lounge…

Newest additions (chickens)

Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi.

I’m pleased to introduce Chiye, Fumiko, and Mayumi!

Newest additions (chickens)

Mayumi and Fumiko.

Japanese names were chosen over Indonesian, once I learned their specific breed, which I am clearly thrilled about. I’ve been speaking to them exclusively in Japanese, so that they will feel at home. And I think it’s been working, because we got our first egg last night! Such a darling, cute little egg.

Newest additions (chickens)

I was hesitant to jump on the backyard chicken bandwagon, because of the fact that we house two high-energy chicken predators, but our garden fence serves as an excellent barrier.

Newest additions (chickens)

And we’ve positioned the chicken mansion behind the shed, so the dogs don’t have a clear view of them. We’ll let the ladies run around the garden fence when we’re out there and when the dogs are safely barricaded indoors. No plans to introduce the species.

Newest additions (chickens)

We’re very grateful to the Montgomery family for jump-starting our chicken-rearing dreams with this magnificent coop and the well-reared brood. More to come, certainly, on our continued adventures in urban homesteading and gardening…

Newest additions (chickens)

To call you by your name

Since I was a very small, I have reveled in calling a thing by its name. I want to know the name, and even better, to bestow the name. I have always taken stock in the value of names, the meanings behind them, the spellings, the derivations. When I was 10, I checked out every baby name book at the library and read them cover to cover. I wrote long stories about wistful teenaged girls with absurd, meticulously chosen names (Shenandoah Artemis Montgomery was a favorite oft-used heroine). I wanted to know all of my friends’ middle names and reflect on them.

My grandmother has been cleaning out her house, and she has been finding pages upon pages of lists of names I made as a child. Sometimes she sends them to me in the mail. A recent find: On a tattered sheet of notebook paper, when I was perhaps 8 or 9, I have written in pencil three columns of names of dog handlers, dog breeds, and dog names, for an imaginary dog show. Why? I have no idea. It seemed important to me at the time.

When we were small and traveling with Dad on business trips, we listened to books on tape. We were listening to Where the Red Fern Grows, and I was listening with rapt attention. Finally, this boy had saved his entire life’s earnings and bought himself a pair of redbone coonhounds. I was elated. And then the boy said, “I will call them… Big Dan and Little Ann!” My parents said I let out a loud wail from the back of the minivan. They were startled. “WHY?” I lamented. “WHY SUCH TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE NAMES?”

When we first started dating, Guion gave me a compliment that I had never heard before and have thus always remembered. He noticed my predilection for calling out the proper names of animals and plants when we walked. “It is like watching Adam walk through the garden, this need of yours to name everything,” he said, adding, lest I found the remark a reprimand, “and I love that about you.”

So, I’m thinking about names again. (We are on the verge of adopting a trio of bantam chickens, and so I’ve been doing a little research on Indonesian girls’ names.) And that is what I am thinking about now. Why this compulsion for naming?

My best answer is this: A good name gives dignity to its owner. And since I was tiny, I have felt that to be an important virtue.

Whether a plant, a mouse, or a small child, a name gives meaning and worth to that being. This is why farmers don’t name their livestock who will be killed; it is much easier to kill a nameless thing. This is why I’ve never liked the tradition of juniors (for pity’s sake, give the kid his own name). This is why I sigh when someone with a very plain surname gives their kid a very plain first name. This is why we gave our first dog a crazily spelled name (Pyrrha) and why we gave the second one a name in a similar mythological theme (Eden).

Or maybe all of this is just a heads-up to let you know that if and when we have children, be prepared for a weird name. A husband named Guion, after all, means that we have high expectations for ourselves in the odd name department.

 

Ambivalence, grace, and the choice to have kids

No one ever asks a man, “Are you planning on having children?” But it’s a question that is often lobbed at women between the ages of 20 and 40. And it’s a question that I often ask myself. Am I going to have children?

Ann Friedman’s recent piece on women’s ambivalence toward having children struck a chord with me. Like the women Friedman characterizes, I am open to having children, but I’m also not sure if I particularly want them. I find that many of my childless friends express a similar sentiment. It is, perhaps, one of the first times in history in which women have felt confident enough to say such things out loud.

Growing up, I never envisioned myself as a mother. I did not play with dolls or play-act at breastfeeding or other mothering activities. At a young age, I was teased, by my older female relatives, for my considerable lack of maternal instinct. I preferred reading and bossing my peers around; I didn’t want to be anyone’s mother. I baby-sat often in my teens, and even now, I am still quite adept at diapering an infant, but I never particularly loved watching other people’s children. Unlike many of my female friends, I never begged to hold people’s babies; I didn’t know what to do with them. I preferred the solemn six-year-olds to the babies every time.

Partially because I’ve never imagined myself as a mother, I find the joys and trials of parenting very difficult to envision. As an outsider, I just see all of the sleep-deprived, home-bound, strung-out young parents — who, by the way, are doing incredible jobs at raising their children with great love and daily sacrifice — and think, “Why would I want that?” Because I’ve never experienced or even witnessed these parenting highs (naturally, because they surely occur in the intimate, private moments between parent and child), they seem so foreign when mothers describe them to me.

Furthermore, I also wonder, what is the point of having children? On a purely rational and self-preserving level, it’s so that we can have someone take care of us when we are old, because our beloved dogs won’t be able to afford our retirement homes. On the evolutionary level, it’s so that we can push our genes (regardless of whether they are genes worth preserving) onto the next generation and thereby further the human race — despite the fact that the world is already grossly overpopulated with our species. It’s the emotional level that I don’t understand. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a compelling reason for children from the emotional or psychological perspective. Surely that reason exists; I’m just not sure what it is. (If you are a parent, chime in!)

I reject the notion that because I have a womb, I ought to fill it with offspring. Further, I roundly reject the notion that God will love me more if I procreate. I am deeply opposed to any denomination or branch of theology that asserts that the more children you have, the holier you are. This is an incredibly short-sighted, reductionist, and offensive stance.

I am so glad that many people have decided to become parents. I know so many wonderful, loving, shining exemplars of mothers and fathers, and I know they do good, hard work every day to raise their little humans. I just don’t know if I’m cut out to join their throng.

In intimate moments, this is a conversation that comes up often among the women I know. I said all of these things, the sentiments above, to Tara, one of the best mothers I know, and was a little fearful to hear her reaction. Tara is one of those gloriously sympathetic human beings who was born to be a mother. She is smart and compassionate and sacrificial; her kids are her pride and joy, and for good reason (they’re amazing little kids). She seems to really revel in motherhood, in this beautiful, awe-inspiring way.

And so I was worried, to say all of these things to her. But this is what she said: “Abby, if you do have kids, that is great. God will give you the grace to be a great mom. And if you don’t have kids? That’s OK too. God will give you the grace for that too.”

It was such a simple sentiment, but it brought me to tears. No one has ever said that to me before. To receive such grace! And especially from a Christian mom, who have, up until this point, always said that I need to stop being so fearful, so selfish, so cold-hearted. To be told, regardless of what you do with your uterus, you are loved and accepted. I have been waiting so long to hear this from someone. It brings me to tears even now, just writing about it.

I have always assumed that I would have children, because that is what you do when you are a married person (and when, in my case, you are married to a person who wants children). But I feel no great fervor for child-rearing. And I am OK with languishing in this ambivalence for now. I have a few more years before the demands of biology start to become urgent. And then to wait, to receive grace for whatever comes.

Fall

Matt and Julia's wedding! #cheers2thechisholms

At Matt and Julia’s wedding in Fort Mill.

Once upon a time, I was capable of keeping a fluid, literate blog. I’m not sure what’s happening to my writing abilities, but they seem to be diminishing rapidly. I spend all of my free time reading or gardening these days, and so my space and context for writing is shrinking. I feel sad about it and yet incapable of forming a solution.

“Virginia is very punctual with the seasons,” Guion remarked recently, and I think he’s right. By the second week of September, we were experiencing that invigorating coolness in the air, the gradual turning of leaves, the steady growth of plants, the beginning of blooms on my cherished autumn joy sedums.

Emily and Wheeler told us at dinner that they had gotten addicted to yoga. “But I want to get addicted!” I exclaimed. I seem to be lacking this gene, which many people seem to possess, that enables them to become dependent on healthy things, like exercise. I was super-faithful to morning yoga every morning for a week, and then, suddenly, that extra hour of sleep became much more important than practicing the pigeon pose. I don’t know how to make it into a routine. Help.

I have been on a book-buying spree lately. My small calligraphy earnings largely fuel this habit (along with my predilection for expensive French face creams and buying shoes online that are too big for me). I put so many books on hold at the library that I’ve started to feel a little embarrassed, because I’m in there at least once or twice a week. This is a foolish feeling, and I’m sure it’s invented, but sometimes I feel like the librarians don’t like me. (I care too much about what people think.) So I’ve started to buy more books, because I can, because Thriftbooks is a veritable addiction, and because I can spend more time with tomes.

Recently added to my shelves, waiting to be read:

  • Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol (I already owned it, but the bad translation, so I shelled out for Pevear and Volokhonsky)
  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
  • 2666, Roberto Bolano
  • Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, David Foster Wallace
  • Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks
  • Independent People, Halldor Laxness
  • The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel
  • Just as I Thought, Grace Paley
  • Bring up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (currently reading Wolf Hall)
  • The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford
  • The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens

I am so enamored with my family. I want to spend so much more time with them than I do.

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special color.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

10 under-read novels

A list of 10 novels that everyone should read that no one ever really talks about.

Memoirs of Hadrian

  1. Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar. “I begin to discern the profile of my death.” So, certain extremely well-read people of my acquaintance (e.g., James) knew about Yourcenar, but I had never before heard a professor or fellow English major mention this French woman’s absolute genius. Her convincing embodiment of the Emperor Hadrian and her breathtakingly beautiful prose make this novel an essential member of the Western canon.
  2. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles. Everyone should read Paul Bowles. Everyone! He’s like a darker, deeper, richer Hemingway, and this is a novel that will get into your head and refuse to get out. It’s unbearably creepy and wonderful.
  3. The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead. Jonathan Franzen, whom I love, despite the fact that most people don’t, has always mentioned this novel as one of his favorites, so I felt that I had to read it. This novel also appears on Francine Prose’s list of Books to Be Read Immediately. Stead, an Australian, wrote this strange and utterly engrossing novel about a large, savagely dysfunctional family in the 1940s, and it has unfairly faded into obscurity. Also ought to be read.
  4. The Makioka Sisters, Junichiro Tanizaki. I had the pleasure of reading this large novel while in Tokyo, and I fell in love with it. Tanizaki could resemble a Japanese Tolstoy, and there are moments of humanity, depth, and insight in this novel that aren’t to be missed.
  5. Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara. When I was a teenager and beginning my foray in to “real” literature, my neighbor Dave, a gifted writer and author, told me I should read Appointment in Samarra and lent me his copy. I was suspicious, having never heard of it before, but this book blew me away, particularly because I’d never heard anyone else mention it before. It’s a forgotten American tragedy that deserves to be read. Moral of the story? Trust your talented neighbor’s recommendations.
  6. I, Claudius, Robert Graves. Reminiscent of Memoirs of Hadrian, this is another beautifully written book from the perspective of a Roman hero.
  7. Cousin Bette, Honore de Balzac. I adore Balzac! More people should adore Balzac! He’s certainly not forgotten, but perhaps his fame has faded? Unfairly so. No one writes about money and what it does to people like Balzac. Also loved Eugenie Grandet and Pere Goriot.
  8. Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy. Anna Karenina and War and Peace are, deservedly, on everyone’s lists of greatest novels, so much so that Tolstoy’s other brilliant books are easily ignored. Like Resurrection. I mean, whoa. Naturally, this book is mind-blowing, because it’s Tolstoy. This was his last major novel, and it includes remarkable reflections on justice, social mores, and redemption.
  9. Tinkers, Paul Harding. This is the most recent book on the list, and it won the Pulitzer in 2010, so it’s perhaps not forgotten or neglected, but I still don’t think many people read it (also, it gets shockingly low reviews on Goodreads, which rankles me). And that’s a shame, because this is a gorgeous little novel, defying convention and structure, about time, family, death, and the things that we leave behind. (It’s also the first novel that Guion has read in many years, and he loved it. So that’s a strong recommendation.)
  10. A Sentimental Education, Gustave Flaubert. Easily overshadowed by the masterpiece Madame Bovary, this novel is great in its own right and also should not be ignored. A classic bildungsroman!

Sentimental Education

Honorable Mentions

The Makioka Sisters

What neglected masterpieces would you add to the list?

And then some

“I am happier now than I think I have ever been,” I told Guion recently one night, as we were getting into bed.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: I will probably only ever have dogs as pets, because dogs are perhaps the only animals who really want to be sharing their lives with humans. Cats could take us or leave us, and the rest of the lot (horses, rabbits, tarantulas, lizards, hamsters, parakeets, chinchillas, and so forth) would likely prefer not to share our company; they don’t revel in society of human beings. Dogs are perhaps entirely unique in this aspect.

I think a lot about animal well-being these days. And sometimes, even though we may love riding horses or wearing parrots on our shoulders, we are giving those animals a limited and frustrating existence by forcing them to live in the way we want them to. I love animals, and I want to collect them all, so this is a principle that is hard for me to accept. I’d love to have a veritable menagerie in my home, but in that instance, I am thinking only of myself and not of the animals.

What is the natural state of a parakeet? It is not in a cage in a living room. What is the natural state of a rabbit? In a den, in a meadow. What is the natural state of a betta fish? In a puddle in Thailand, not sitting in two cups of water on your kitchen table. What is the natural state of a lizard? Under a rock, in a sand dune, not in a glass terrarium. And yet, what is the natural state of a dog? In a house, connected to a human.

House cats are a secondary exception. Even though cats are not truly domesticated, many of them would not do well without human care and some seem to even like/tolerate people. I have no objection to people having cats, and I sometimes think I would like a cat, although perhaps for the wrong reasons (they strike me as excellent home decor; cats make every room look elegant).

That said, we might get chickens one day, but I don’t consider chickens to be pets, even though we will treat them with lovingkindness and not eat them. Chickens do not exist in the wild, so they, along with other livestock, are a notable exception to this rule (animals we have domesticated to suit our needs vs. animals we have turned into pets over time).

A strange thing to write or even think about, but it’s something that has been taking up space in my brain.

Gardening has become one of my chief pursuits — specifically, landscaping the front yard. (Guion has jurisdiction over the backyard, including the large vegetable garden.) My goal is to eradicate all of the grass and fill the entire space with plants. I want to spend every spare penny on plants. On Monday, we planted ferns, an obsidian heuchera, a young crape myrtle, and a full flat of pachysandra, to jumpstart my groundcover ambitions. (We also bought, in our overeager desire, allium and crocus bulbs, which will need to be planted in October.)

I consider myself an amateur, experimental gardener. The internet, along with vestiges of my mother’s advice, are the only reasons I know anything about plants. I do a little bit of research, and then I just go out and buy what appeals to me visually. Naturally, I’ve already made many errors, but my joy knows no bounds when plants succeed.

Bright with praise

Japan: Day 1

First meal in Tokyo, 2008. (c) me.

PRAYER AFTER EATING

Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.