Why cast the world away

Family weekend
Ladies at Blenheim.
Family weekend
The boys with kayaks.

Fam came for the weekend, for Mom’s birthday, for kayaking down a very low river and for visiting a winery and Monticello. Time with them is always very good; it always goes by too quickly.

I used to keep much more fluid and interesting blog elsewhere. I wrote about people and events as if I was writing in a private paper diary. It’s a little shocking to me now, rediscovering my late high school and college blog, but I also think I was a better writer back then. Sure, I was self-righteous and affected, but it was far more scintillating. Now, when I look at this thing, which I have maintained over the course of seven or eight years, my mind feels empty. I have nothing, it seems, to say.

Things I enjoyed reading online

(Hot tip: If you want to know what I enjoy reading online, you can sign up for the bimonthly email I curate: Story Matters.)

“God’s world is good. Only one thing in it is bad: we ourselves.” — Anton Chekhov

Writers I’d read on any topic

  • Anne Carson
  • Annie Dillard
  • Lydia Davis
  • John McPhee
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All dresses, all the time

I just received a spam comment on this blog that said, “STOP! What are you doing blogging will never make you any serious money.” Too true, too true, spambot. (That is, unless you are a trendy Mormon lady blogger…)

Why I only ever want to wear dresses

Abby and Kelsey (Childhood)

I would like to only wear dresses, ever.

My mom told me that when I was a tiny child, if she tried to dress me in pants or shorts, I would tear them off and INSIST on being put back in a dress. (My child-mind reasoning went as follows: Girls wear dresses. I am a girl. Ergo, I must wear dresses.) I still feel this way (that I must wear dresses, not that all women should or must).

While I must give homage to my feminist forebears for the freedom to don jeans, I have never looked good in pants. My legs are too bony and shapeless to fill out pants, and so I labor under the delusion that my bird legs look better under a breezy skirt. They might. I wear pants, obviously, particularly in the fall and winter, but you should know that I’m always doing it against my will.

I counted them the other day. I currently own 37 dresses. And yet I still feel like I need more.

I hope maxi dresses stay stylish for a million more years. I want to live and die in a maxi dress. I want to buy all the maxi dresses. I want to be in one right now.

Men, you don’t know what you are missing. There is tremendous physical freedom* in dresses. (*At least, in modern dresses. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to be a woman living in any time period prior to 1920, caged in and weighed down by yards of stilting fabric.) I encourage you to try a dress, or at least a skirt. It really is a shame, for your sakes, that you are not culturally permitted to wear dresses. Because dresses rule. Your lives would change if you could wear them.

In college, I started a little challenge among my friend circle, No Pants April. We had to wear dresses or skirts every day for the month of April. (The only exception was exercise clothes; no one except good, pure homeschoolers should suffer the indignity of having to work out in a skirt.) It caught on quickly and soon I had a dozen women joining me in the challenge. Word has it that Grace has even tried to keep up the tradition there.

You see, I am a fundamentally lazy dresser. This is why dresses are flawless to me. Dresses can do no wrong. You jump into one and you’re DONE. No need to pair tops and bottoms and belts. It is the Complete Outfit, the perfect uniform. A complete godsend for sartorially anxious, lazy people like me. I will wear dresses until my last breath, until it is no longer even mildly appropriate or attractive for me to wear them. I pledge to further eradicate pants from my wardrobe, for the good of my soul.

Monday Snax

This weekend has been a whirlwind, as we are house/dog-sitting for friends, and because we bought this:

Our new car

So. Yes. It is a lot of fun. Driving to work this morning was actually very exciting. Lots happening! Guion also got the part-time job he wanted at the Wine Guild, so we are thrilled about that. I’m still feeling a bit blurry and hazy from the weekend, so here are some Snax with a lot of caffeine:

A Night with Nettles. Grace took some photos of Nettles‘ recent concert at the Tea Bazaar. A very good show. (Grace’s other photos from the family trip to town can be seen here. For all the Baby Charlie fans out there, there are some amazing shots of him.) If you’re in town, come see Nettles on Friday night at JohnSarahJohn. They’ll be performing for an art opening by Matt Kleberg. (Como Say What?)

Yet More Charts That Should Go with Debt Discussions. Yes, the economy is tanking again, but we should cut down on the griping. See exhibit 1: Americans pay some of the lowest taxes of any developed country. (The Atlantic Monthly)

God’s Blog. God wrote a blog post and is subsequently subjected to all of the crazies on the Interwebs. Not even God can catch a break from those virulent commenters… (The New Yorker)

Wellness Wednesday: Yoga and Why It’s OK to Suck at It. Nina, who is so sweet, makes me feel better about being terrible at yoga. I should start practicing again. (Naturally Nina)

Mariachi Band Serenades a Beluga Whale. This is all over the Cool Lady blogosphere, but I will join them in adding my delight over this clip. It will make you happy. I promise. (Door Sixteen)

Felix’s Felicis. Natalie got a bunny, named him Felix, and broke my heart. I want a bunny! Not as much as I want a dog, but almost! I think Felix and Frances should meet and fall desperately in love. (Peregrinations of NJM)

The Last Thylacine. This is one of the strangest-looking animals I’ve ever seen. It’s a marsupial, but it looks so much like a proto-canid. Those stripes! Sad that it’s extinct. (How to Be a Retronaut)

How to Achieve Uncluttered Without Going Bare, Cold, or Minimal. Such clear and salient advice for people like me, who will be living in small spaces for a while longer. Highly recommended for renters like us who don’t want to live in a place that still looks like your college dorm. (The Small Notebook)

The Filming of Breathless. Guion is a huge Godard fan and this is one of the first of his films that I saw. It’s magnificent and these behind-the-scenes photos are really enchanting. (A Cup of Jo)

Document: Woolf’s Letter to a Young Poet. Virginia Woolf writes a brief review and encouragement to her nephew on his poetry. (The Paris Review)

In Which Vladimir Nabokov Navigates Hell for Lolita. Yes, the protagonist is very icky, but I think it’s one of the greatest novels of all time. Even Nabokov had a hard time convincing people of this, though, as you can see from his letters about the book, compiled here. (This Recording)

To Go-To Snacks of Literary Greats. A series of cute illustrations of what the big writers liked to eat while writing. I don’t think Michael Pollan can be called “a literary great,” but it is interesting that he likes to drink his tea in a glass. I remember seeing that on Food, Inc. and wondering about it. (Mod Cloth blog)

Good News for Wombs: U.S. Paves Way for Free Birth Control Everywhere. All I can say is: It’s about damn time. Look at you, America. Finally catching up with the rest of the developed world! (Good)

I knew I was not magnificent

Source: Flickr user lovebrowne

Part I. On Not Writing about Jesus

When I was a young blogger, I wrote more freely about my faith. At that time, I assumed that all of my readers were also like-minded Christians. This was a fair assumption, since I think my mom, my grandparents, and my sisters were my only readers. But over the past two years or so, I’ve more or less stopped writing about my faith and I regret that. The gospel is important to me, but you’d never get that impression by reading this blog. I write about all of the other things that are important to me–Guion, friends, family, books, dogs–but not about Jesus.

Why not?

Here’s my best guess as to why I stopped doing this. I have followed the tendency of many bloggers to whitewash my life. The one thing you learn about blogging for a few years is that you can’t express an opinion about anything without offending someone. Because of this, I have tried to avoid topics that are inherently personal and offensive, like religion and politics. While most casual readers could probably divine my political leanings (it is evident that I am not a Sarah Palin or FOX news fan), it would be trickier to actually figure out what I believe about God.

Lately, I’ve tended to keep my thoughts about God closer to my chest. I have many friends who are not Christians. I am hesitant to write about my many religiously oriented thoughts and concerns for fear of alienating people. Even I don’t like to read long-winded and highly emotional posts about religion. It’s not often enjoyable and it is often hard to relate to; faith is, by definition, such an intensely personal thing. Even more than puppies and books. It’s generally more enjoyable to read a post about someone’s kitchen makeover than it is to read a post about their internal turmoil over transubstantiation. Intensely personal things are not always blog (aka, The Entire Internet Can Read This) material.

However. All of this to say: I think there are appropriate and considerate ways to write about one’s faith on the Interwebs. I am going to try to do this with more frequency, but I think I’ll also spend some time studying good examples. Mrs. Pinckney and Betsey come to mind as people I know who blog gracefully and fluidly about the intersection between Jesus and life. I hold them up as valuable examples.

So, here’s a short attempt:

Part II. I Knew I Was Not Magnificent

No one enjoys receiving criticism. But when you don’t hear it for a while, you start to think that you’re pretty awesome. Boy, there’s nothing wrong with me! I am the best.

If we’re lucky, however, we have people in our lives who are able and willing to tell us that this is not the case. After a few months of believing that I was super, I’ve received a lot of criticism from important people in my life over the past few weeks. As these people pointed out, I am grumpy, judgmental, and anxious. I am an energetic young curmudgeon most of the time. I am fundamentally cynical about most things. I am an obsessive planner because I tend to expect worst possible outcomes and because I thrive on a high degree of responsibility.

As these people kindly pointed out, these aren’t the best personality traits. I had more or less forgotten about these unfortunate aspects of myself until I heard these reminders. To be pushed back to God, to a place of humility–it is a necessary chore. I think God speaks to us through other people sometimes. Often, through our closest friends and loved family–and sometimes, through a much-lauded hipster musician.

We were listening to Bon Iver’s new album on our drive to North Carolina this weekend. The gorgeous song “Holocene” came on and we talked briefly about the chorus.

we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be
now to know it in my memory:

… and at once I knew I was not magnificent
high above the highway aisle
(jagged vacancy, thick with ice)
I could see for miles, miles, miles…

“I knew I was not magnificent.” What a simple and perfect expression. It’s that place of humility that we all have to reach with ourselves at some point or another. Acknowledging that I am not magnificent was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Difficult, but essential.

Whitewashing your life, or why I blog

Blogging: An exercise in vanity. Source: Flickr user Ana Santos.

It seems that, to be a Cool Lady Blogger, one must be very skilled at presenting a thoroughly beautiful and flawless portrait of one’s life. Essentially, you must be a good storyteller. My biggest beef with the scads of Cool Lady Bloggers is the continuous presentation of this perfect, shiny life, as I’ve written about before. I get so weary with the immaculately dressed moms, the beribboned babies, the glowing white kitchens, and the Anthropologie-inspired explosion of twee crafts.

I self-righteously thought I was above this life-whitewashing trend of bloggers–until I had a recent conversation with Jonathan. It was a long and good conversation and I’m glad we had it. He carefully pointed out that my keeping a blog is keeping me from honesty and vulnerability. In many respects, this is true. I need to keep the blogger’s mentality of life whitewashing out of my real friendships and I deeply appreciated his reminder.

I understand that, for the most part, one does not keep a blog to be vulnerable and intimate. After all, the whole of the Interwebs can read anything you write. I am probably not going to tell you about what made me cry today, Internet. But there is a certain virtue to carefully cultivated honesty. If you’re a popular blogger, honesty about the grittiness of your real life unfortunately opens you up to the hoardes of Totally Insane and Mean Anonymous Commenters. But that’s the risk you run when you say anything about anything on the democratic forum that is the Internet. Honesty and willingness to suffer the slings and arrows of the crazies is why I think people keep coming back to Dooce. Heather Armstrong told the World Wide Web about suffering through postpartum depression. She didn’t have to do that, but she created a lot of credibility, trust, and sympathy with that decision. Today, she supports her family with her blog. Millions of people have watched her daughters grow up through her website. It is perhaps a false intimacy that is created–the feeling that I know this family–but isn’t that what the Internet is for? False intimacy?

Either way, my conversation with Jonathan made me think a lot about why I blog in the first place. I never have a good answer when someone asks me this question. I feel kind of defensive when I try to explain it, and I should, since a blog is nothing more than a concentrated exercise in pure vanity and narcissism.

Here’s my best shot at an answer: I like to write. I have been writing since I was a child. From the age of seven onward, I have been keeping scads of personal diaries, notebooks, and prayer journals. No one reads these life records except me. But I’ve realized that I write best when I think someone else might read it. Since I’m not a journalist anymore or anything remotely close to a novelist, a blog is my main creative outlet, as sad as that may be. Even if no one is actually reading it (like my dog blog, for instance. As I confessed to Jonathan, I’m writing to myself there and I am OK with that), the illusion of an audience makes me a better writer. So, that’s why I blog. It’s not noble. But at least it’s kind of honest.