Multitudinous selves

Day two
From our second day in Paris; magical mini-canal in some park.

(It’s the most cliché thing, but re-reading Proust makes me feel like I should live in Paris. We should all live in Paris. It’s the only city, right?)

Totally blissed out, throwing so much shade #gsdofinstagram #germanshepherd #doglife #shade
Eden, on Saturday.

I think about dogs a lot; probably 30% of my waking life is thinking about dogs. And I have two extremely high-maintenance dogs who are constantly underfoot, and I write a dog blog, and YET, whenever I see photos of dogs in a news story or a live dog walking down the street, my first thought, every single time, is: I need MORE dogs in my life. I inherited this brokenness from my father. I asked him once why he thought we were both so obsessed with dogs, to an almost debilitating degree. And he answered quickly, without thinking: “It’s probably because our parents didn’t love us enough.”

Walt Whitman lived at peace with the fact that he contradicted himself. He said that he contained multitudes. Proust asks the next question. How much of one’s multitudinous self can a person reveal or embody at one time? The first answer is plain common sense; it all depends. It depends on many things, from chance and volition to memory and forgetting. The second answer is categorical. No matter how we go about it, we cannot be all of ourselves all at once. Narrow light beams of perception and of recollection illuminate the present and the past in vivid fragments. The clarity of those fragments is sometimes very great. They may even overlap and reinforce one another. However, to summon our entire self into simultaneous existence lies beyond our powers. We live by synecdoche, by cycles of being. More profoundly than any other novelist, Proust perceived this state of things and worked as an economist of the personality.

— Proust’s Way, Roger Shattuck

Discussing Swann’s Way with my book club next week, and I am doing an unnecessary amount of prep to lead the discussion, but I love it so much; I love being steeped in it.

I feel really happy and hopeful and distractible. I am trying to write more, and it is going mostly badly, but I feel free about it. And maybe that, that sense of liberty, has been the goal all along.

Best books I read this summer

The best books I read (and re-read) while living in Europe and then upon returning home.

May

Troubling Love

Troubling Love, Elena Ferrante. Creepy, sexy, unsettling; filled that Ferrante need in my life.

Up from Slavery

Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington. Gripping and yet also very sad, to think about how grieved Washington would be if he saw America in its current state.

The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature

The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James. Really fascinating and super-relevant, even today.

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf. I cannot even begin to describe what a sincere pleasure it was to read this novel, for the fifth time, in the city of its occurrence. London! “Like the pulse of a perfect heart, life struck straight through the streets.”

My Struggle: Book 4

My Struggle, Book 4, Karl Ove Knausgaard. Teenage boys are terrible things.

Hunger

Hunger, Knut Hamsun. Read the entire thing, in a feverish terror, on an old Kindle on a runway (waiting for our plane to take off for Berlin).

The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope. Apparently, not much has changed in England: Everyone is still obsessed with class.

June

The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays, James Wood. James Wood makes me feel good about myself, because he validates all of the opinions I already hold (e.g., Paul Auster is shallow and Lydia Davis, once married to Auster, is an absolute QUEEN).

Some Prefer Nettles, Junichiro Tanizaki. A small, beautifully written novel about the slow dissolution of a marriage.

Summer, Edith Wharton. In this short, under-read novel, Wharton pulls of a great trick of characterization. (I won’t tell you what it is.)

The Seagull, Anton Chekhov. Chekhov persists in perfection.

The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco. While it was hard to get Sean Connery out of my head, I enjoyed this; I was surprised by how academic it was.

July

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley. Fantastic portrait of a very complex and important American leader and activist. I regret it took me so long to read this one.

Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust; translation by Lydia Davis. A true delight to savor this one for the second time, in preparation for a book club discussion of it.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman. A gorgeously written and compelling portrayal of the tension between a Hmong family and Western medicine. Who is “right,” and what does that even mean in this context?

Persuasion, Jane Austen. Read for the second time. Such a mature and measured novel. Austen exhibits such impressive restraint.

In Defence of Dogs, John Bradshaw. Yeah, I was even able to read dog books while in London. This one is great.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos. China is complicated! Like we all have known for a long time. But Osnos explores a variety of issues with skill and well-researched brevity.

August

The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector. Clarice Lispector wants to melt your brain. (Seriously. Prepare for a novel that will implant itself in your mind and keep feeding on you.)

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois. Powerful and chastening, especially considering how many challenges America still has to overcome.

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson. Magic and tremendously readable. Maggie Nelson covers a lot of ground here and holds everything with such admirable looseness.

Loving, Henry Green. A novel about people who don’t quite seem like people.

A Field Guide to American Houses, Virginia McAlester and Lee McAlester. If you have even a passing interest in domestic American architecture, this book will be a total delight.

The Association of Small Bombs, Karan Mahajan. An active and skillful novel about the intimate ramifications of terrorism.

What did you read and love this summer?

Putting things in order

Friday night

“I always liked to arrange things. I guess it’s my only real vocation. By putting things in order, I create and understand at the same time.”

The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector

In a similar fashion, I am calmed and comforted by arranging. I feel a strong correlation between the appearance of my home and my mental state. But I like this extra component that G.H., in Lispector’s fashioning, adds: that order brings both the ability to create and understand. I have always felt this innately but never made the direct connection. I enjoy creating, but unlike stereotypical “creative types” (e.g., my sister, an artist who thrives amid piles and piles of objects), I have always needed the prerequisite of order. Otherwise, for me, there is no creation. There is no understanding.

There were a few famous novelists stalking around town last week. On the way home from the library the other day, I feel fairly certain that I saw our old landlord haranguing one of these novelists on a street corner. Old Landlord was talking and gesturing and Famous Novelist was listening silently, tight-lipped, while Old Landlord’s patient dog was sitting by a hydrant. I wanted so badly to pull over and eavesdrop. I don’t even know if I saw what I thought I saw, but I wanted to see it, and so now I have.

To end on a grave note: This is the only thing we should be talking about right now. Black lives matter. Say it every day.

And then, fellow whites, let us think about this for a moment, in humility.

I will state flatly that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long; they have been married to the lie of white supremacy too long; the effect in the personalities, their lives, their grasp of reality, has been as devastating as the lava which so memorably immobilized the citizens of Pompeii. They are unable to conceive that their version of reality, which they want me to accept, is an insult to my history and a parody of theirs and an intolerable violation of myself.

— James Baldwin, “The Price May Be Too High” (1969)

An invisible package of unearned assets

Versailles
A statue at Versailles.

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”

— Peggy MacIntosh (1988), quoted in What Does It Mean to Be White?, by Robin DiAngelo (2012)

I have been thinking about this quote so much this week. I read African-American writers all summer but had been lulled into this sense that I was somehow removed from the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America, that it was not about me, a white woman; it was a cause to care about and advocate for but somehow outside my purview or even responsibility. DiAngelo’s book was an experience of having the scales fall from my eyes. I have been thinking about white complicity for some months now, but nowhere nearly as deeply as I have upon reading What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy. I have so much more to say and process on the subject, but I feel like (a) I’m having a personal awakening, and (b) I’m ashamed that it’s taken me this long. Please forgive me. Forgive me for my lifetime of white blindness. I am working on myself.

And it is always good to be outside oneself, to focus sincerely on someone else and her life or his experiences.

I whipped myself into a brief rage today over something very trivial, a benefit that I was usually given that was temporarily taken away (only for a day!), and I was angry until my (weird/genial) coworker asked me to touch his hair and assess if my curly-girl recommendations were working, and I thought, Oh, this person is ridiculous, and I am being ridiculous, and everything is going to be fine. Drink some green tea and get over yourself, Self.

Currently reading:

  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward
  • The End of the Story, Lydia Davis
  • Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach
  • In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way: A Graphic Novel, Stéphane Heuet

All that exists seduces

Front yard, Aug. 2016
Happy hostas and hydrangea in the front yard.

Life, my love, is a great seduction in which all that exists seduces.

— Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. 

(It’s going to be very Clarice-y around here until I finish The Passion According to G.H.)

I haven’t thought about Trump for days. I am at peace. I am looking forward to not thinking about him ever again for years upon years.

I am forcing my book club to read Swann’s Way, and I am so looking forward to talking with them about it. I re-read it (the glorious Lydia Davis* translation) this summer, mostly sprawled in an uncomfortable armchair in our London flat, and was continually hushed and inspired. I think I may start reading a volume a year again.

*Lydia Davis, QUEEN OF MY HEART, is a visiting fellow at the University of Virginia this semester, and I am going to every event she does here. Every one. My goal is for her to leave Charlottesville and be all, Who was that curly-haired goon who sat in the front row of all my lectures?

Oh, Paris! How could I forget Paris?

Apparently, I forgot to do a Paris recap. It is worth doing to me only because of my strong need for consistency in a series. Like comma usage or list styling. The week must be documented.

So, with all of our luggage in tow, we went to Paris for a week before we came home. And it was grand. It lived up to all of my (already extremely high) expectations. The thing I’ve been telling people, when they ask about my impressions of Paris, is that it felt simultaneously a lot dirtier/grittier and a lot more beautiful than London. Perhaps it is not fair to compare cities so directly, but this comparison kept rushing to mind as we strolled along the Seine and stepped in feces. It seems to always be both, in Paris: beauty and excrement.

Photos, commence!

ParisParisParisParisDay one in ParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParisParis selfiesA day trip to the utter madness that is Versailles:

VersaillesVersaillesVersaillesVersailles

Whew. What a magical city. Merci beaucoup, Paris; let’s meet again soon.
Last day in Paris

It is idle to fault a net for having holes

Home, August 2016
Japanese print in our dining room. Formerly hung in my beloved grandparents’ home.

“Am I disorganized because I lost something I didn’t need? In this new cowardice of mine—cowardice is the newest thing to happen to me, it’s my greatest adventure, this cowardice of mine is a field so wide that only the great courage leads me to accept it—in my new cowardice, which is like waking one morning in a foreigner’s house, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage just to go. It’s hard to get lost. It’s so hard that I’ll probably quickly figure out some way to find myself, even if finding myself is once again my vital lie. Until now finding myself was already having an idea of a person and fitting myself into it: I’d incarnate myself into this organized person, and didn’t even feel the great effort of construction that is living. The idea I had of what a person is came from my third leg, the one that pinned me to the ground. But, and now? Will I be freer?”

— The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector (translation by Idra Novey)

Clarice Lispector is blowing my mind right now. I don’t know what she’s on about 50% of the time, but I am so in. I’m committed to whatever game she is playing.

“Don’t you try to Ryan Lochte your way out of this one,” Guion said to me, during a recent disagreement. Normally, we both would have laughed at this off-the-cuff cultural appropriation, but we were too deadly serious in the moment to even crack a smile. I think we can laugh about it now, though, now that “to Ryan Lochte” has become a verb.

No one is ever at the same “life stage” as anyone else and that is OK. (A recent realization.) I used to think “same life stage” was a precursor to deep friendship. It certainly makes it easier to forge a connection with people who are in the same general social/relational place as you (e.g., single, dating, consciously not dating, married but childless, married with just one child, etc.), but I’ve ceased to believe that it is a prerequisite or even preferable. It is silly of me to think that (a) people will always be around who map their lives to my life stage and (b) when they cease to share my life stage, this occasions a natural breakdown of the friendship. Neither is true. When a life stage changes, we may have to work harder to maintain that bond, to find time to see each other, but it is not a moment for grief or an ending. It is good to have people in one’s life who are not consumed with exactly the same things. It is good to be around people who know nothing of your life stage. It is broadening, deepening, humbling.

Charlottesville 2.0 (our post-Europe life) so far has been a continual lesson in patience. And a reminder of the rich, unspoken joys of our community here.

Even amid the oppressive heat and the skunks residing under our shed, everything about my daily life remains good and solid and happy because Mom gave me an e-cloth mop upon our return to America, and it is all I ever dreamed about and more.

*Post title comes from The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, which she (apparently) lifted from her encyclopedia.

Home again

Front yard, Aug. 2016
The front yard has grown very green in our absence.

It is good to be home. We are settling back in to old routines and creating new ones.

I am so happy to have the dogs again, but I think they regret being back with us (there is no Jak to play with them every day, take them for rollerblade runs or swims in the river, etc.). I’ve been trying to walk them more than usual and play Frisbee with Edie at least once a day to make them love me again. Hard to tell if it’s working.

Things I had forgotten to miss while abroad but am so pleased to have again

  • Our public library. I put 10 books on hold the first week we were back, and now I’m swamped, but I am so happy to be back in the swing of reading and to have every conceivable book at my fingertips again. (Our London library, while quaint, left a lot to be desired.)
  • Vast American grocery stores
  • My calligraphy studio
  • Our house, dingy as it now appears in certain lights
  • The local art scene and the people who curate it
  • The subsidized cafeteria in my office
  • Watermelon
  • Our basement
  • The little Wednesday farmers’ market around the corner from our house
  • The loony neighborhood email group
  • My sprawling, mismanaged house plants

Latest reading obsessions:

History of domestic American architecture. Once you see (and learn how to see) a properly and stylistically restored home, you can’t unsee it. I see spindly porch columns and bad banisters everywhere in and outside our house, and now my eyes burn. I suddenly loathe the asbestos siding, the structural incongruities. Would that I had a cool $100K to re-do the entire exterior of our circa-1959 house. I am chock-full of renovation ideas that I utterly cannot fund.

Maggie Nelson. Maggie Nelson! Reading The Argonauts very slowly and drinking it all in. The past year has been filled with these utterly breathtaking women writers who are simultaneously under-read and deeply revered by those who have found them (see: Anne Carson, Lydia Davis). Up next in this vein: Clarice Lispector. Just bought myself a copy of The Passion According to G.H.

Things to be happy about: Donald Trump seems to be trying to tank his own candidacy. We might get to save America from itself after all! Also: So many new babies in town. And dear friends getting puppies and kitties. And today was only 90 degrees, so it felt almost cool.

Saying goodbye to London

London has been our temporary home this summer, and even though I have the first flutterings of homesickness for dear old Virginia, I will miss the joys of this great, sprawling city.

Night in West End with the BushesThings I’ll miss about London/the English way of life

  • All of the glorious, beautifully maintained public parks. Really. I don’t think any city wins at the park game as much as London does.
  • Pubs and pub culture
  • Well-behaved off-leash dogs everywhere
  • Tea! It’s ubiquitous and well made and consumed on a near-constant basis. Unlike in Virginia, I don’t have to explain to anyone what I want when I order tea.
  • Walking everywhere, the preservation of walking culture, the delineation of trails and country paths
  • Preservation of history, architecture, and art throughout the city
  • Endless variety of things to do, see, and eat
  • Every imaginable international cuisine right at your doorstep (or, at least, an hour’s walk away)
  • The friends we’ve made (and reunited with) here

Out with W and T

Things I won’t miss about London/the English way of life

  • Fish & chips. So overrated.
  • Sweltering daily rides on the Tube
  • Having to ride the Tube every day in general. (Although I vastly prefer it to the NY subway system! So much cleaner and quieter and more reliable)
  • Feeling like you are breathing in black clouds of toxins every day on the street. I am eager for that clean Blue Ridge mountain air.
  • The weather! (We had a gorgeous sunny, 80-degree day in Wield; then the next day, it was misty and rainy, and the Brits we were with literally walked out the door into the cold fog and said, “Oh, thank God, the weather is back to normal.” They’re insane.)
  • Walking behind people who are smoking and being unable to pass them
  • Slow walkers
  • How outrageously expensive everything is (we can’t really complain, compared with actual Londoners, but it still was shocking)

Guion and I have been talking about London customs we want to adopt in our life when we get back to Charlottesville. For instance, we realized that we are really lazy about walking places. We live very centrally to many things, and yet we’ll choose to drive instead of walk 45 minutes. A 45-minute walk in London is no big deal. Other aspects to adopt: taking advantage of all of the hikes and parks around us; training the dogs to behave themselves better in public; and acting like tourists in our own city (e.g., we have lived in Charlottesville for six years and have still never been to Monticello. I know).

London, you’ve been grand. We hope to come see you again soon.

Up next: A week in Paris. And then home!

The magical village of Wield

In which we escape to the English countryside for a weekend with friends and are able to avoid our phones and (temporarily) forget the enveloping darkness that our homeland is lurching into…

Wield weekend(Everything about this village = dream life to the max)

The Yew TreeDogs in pubs, dogs everywhere! #heaven

Wield weekend

The beautiful Kate with lots of pups:Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend

And a glorious day at Manor Farm.Wield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendFinnWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekendWield weekend