Softening your edges

End of April

I haven’t been putting thoughts down here lately, because, as you can see, we got a used patio table for the back deck. And when I’m not at work or slaving away at calligraphy in the attic, I’m sitting at this table. Telling Eden not to dig more holes in the yard and reading Cheeveresque novels or feminist screeds. As one does in mid-May. As one does.

To look hard at something, to look through it, is to transform it, / Convert it into something beyond itself, to give it grace. — Charles Wright, from “Looking Around”

My fundamental opinions have not changed. But the older I get, the more likely I am to be willing to hear “the other side.” This seems like a simple virtue. I loathe the common trend toward censorship, toward the declaration of opposing opinions as heresy.

Thanks to my work colleagues, and Wei, we’ve been quite interested in the enneagram recently. Yes, personality typing can seem fruitless and limiting (I was skeptical at first and resistant to even reading about it), but this system is far deeper and broader than others I have dabbled in (StrengthFinders, Myers-Briggs). We’ve found it enlightening for our marriage and for navigating the principal ways that we relate to other people. We probably refer to it too much in conversation now, though, and are learning how to tone it down. (For those in the know, I am most likely a 5 with strong 1 tendencies.)

Here, look at Guion. Isn’t he cute.

End of April

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Mornings and aliens

November home life
The fiddle-leaf fig is feeling cornered.

We have breakfast together now, perhaps for the first time in our marriage. Our previous day jobs were structured so that our mornings rarely overlapped. A shared breakfast is pleasant, even if it is short.

He tells me some music news that completely sails over my head; I make lists on scraps of paper; one of us will feed the overeager dogs.

We sit down at the table, facing each other. We each have a cup of Yorkshire Gold (Sgt. Brody’s favorite) and talk about what we’ve read or are thinking about. We are interrupted by getting up and down to let Eden out into the yard. Lately, we tend to share dark and gloomy political predictions. We wax poetic about all the ways America will go wrong in the next four years.

This morning, he regaled me with ideas from an article about intelligent life and made me feel anxious about (a) finding it in a far-off galaxy and then (b) being obliterated by it because it will not value human consciousness.

“They will not recognize the value of preserving consciousness,” he said, “because they will have no need for it.”

“So, they’ll see us like chickens?”

“Yes. And feel the same way we do about eating chickens. No moral hesitation.”

He stood up to leave, already a minute past the time he was supposed to be at work.

“Wait, I have a thing!” I said. “Listen to my thing.”

And I told him about a law in Nebraska that let parents abandon children without legal repercussions, but the law forgot to stipulate an age limit, and so within days, dozens of parents were dropping off kids from the ages of 3 to 17. It was the lead of an article that Catherine sent me yesterday.

“You would read a thing like that,” he said. And kissed my cheek. And we left for work.

(But really, where did Sgt. Brody learn to love Yorkshire Gold? It is not easily found in our shared state of Virginia; I have to buy it online. And as far as we know, he never lived in England. I call foul on this choice by the screenwriters.)

On a quiet holiday season

Thanksgiving in the Pines

I still can’t read the news, because it makes me queasy, so it was nice to remove myself from a screen for a long weekend. We retreated for the Thanksgiving holiday to spend the time with Guion’s family, and it was very nice.

Thanksgiving in the Pines

One supreme benefit is Georgia. This is Georgia. She belongs to Guion’s parents, and she is probably the best dog who has ever lived. She really likes holding hands.

We enjoyed long conversations and memory-sharing at the dinner table; ate sumptuously; and took extensive warm-weather walks.

Thanksgiving in the Pines

(Guion also continues to be very good-looking.)

We are at peace, despite our increasingly doomed country. I let him get his first Christmas tree* of our marriage this year, and he is very happy about it. The morning after we put it up and decorated it, I found him sitting in the dark living room next to it, lights on, drinking his tea. I felt a surge of guilt for being such a Scrooge, for having crushed his childlike spirit for so many years. But we have it now. And Christmas joy permeates the house.

(*”Tree” is a grandiose term; the thing is barely 3 feet tall. My wifely generosity has limits.)

Thanksgiving in the Pines

Shakshuka by the fire

Fatniss Turkeydeen 2016Family is always a solace!

In times of general nationwide gloom, there will always be Fatniss Turkeydeen. (We were delighted to host Kelsey and Alex this past weekend for our Third Annual Fatniss, to celebrate Kelsey’s birthday, cram our gullets with good food, and watch an apocalyptic film.)

It is good to spend time together, as much as we can spare, even if it is loose and unstructured and mostly just punctuated by food and drink. Talking about people we once knew well. Sitting by the fire and having overly spicy shakshuka for breakfast. Walking the dogs on narrow sidewalks and musing about domestic architecture. (I’m thinking about this great little essay from the New York Times about the myth of quality time: There is no “quality” time. You just need time. Don’t put that kind of emotional pressure on time; we resist it.)

And now, for more feasting and more family time, we head into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Having met my reading goal for the year, I am going to take December slowly and start my second read of War and Peace (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky). I am going to force myself to savor it. And allow myself the time to take as long as it takes. Read the dialogue in French before looking at the translation in the footnote. Re-read a whole page if I didn’t catch the gist the first time. Don’t worry about the fact that I still have 1,100 pages to go.

I want to read fewer books next year. I am so competitive with myself that I find it hard to slow down and dive into the long, complex things. I just want to tear through as many books of essays and short novels as I can. But this is a bad orientation to literature. I am trying to fix it.

Here is a photo of Pyrrha, taking herself seriously:

November home life

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

With light from the sunken day

It’s hard to believe that it’s July, that we’re already in the final month of our sweet summer sojourn in London. This month, we have particularly enjoyed a bit less international travel and a bit more local travel: getting to see more London museums, parks, and neighborhoods. Despite my true nature as a small-town-loving woman, I have developed quite a fondness for this sprawling city. Some recent photos follow.

British Museum and nearby
Window boxes for the win.
British Museum and nearby
Decapitated beauties at the British Museum.
British Museum and nearby
The Molossian Hound at the British Museum.
9-mo.-old GSD in the neighborhood
A 9-month-old German shepherd in our neighborhood. Be still my heart.
High tea
Aunt Jane treated us (and Windy) to high tea at Brown’s Hotel.
Hammersmith
The Thames, in Hammersmith.
Hammersmith
Hammersmith.

Pratts do London

We were delighted to host Win and Tracy for the weekend in London. We had a full (and fortunately quite sunny) weekend with them, including a marvelous dinner at Dishoom (thanks, Granddad! We love you!), an afternoon at the Tate Modern (including the newly added wing), and a day exploring the gorgeous Hampstead area. Photos ensue.

Out with W and TOut with W and TOut with W and TOut with W and TDishoomHampsteadHampsteadSwain's Cottage near Highgate CemeteryHampsteadHampsteadHampsteadHampsteadKenwood House

She would buy the flowers herself

Neighborhood strolling(As a preemptive warning, all of my post titles are probably going to be lifted straight from Mrs. Dalloway, which I am currently re-reading for the fifth time. I am suffused with emotion! It is everything I remembered it to be and more, particularly because I am actually living in her pulsing city.)

Neighborhood strollingThis is our neighborhood. It is immensely charming.

Neighborhood strollingNeighborhood strollingThese gardens are the grounds of our neighborhood church in St. John’s Wood.

Neighborhood strollingLooking forward to our first full weekend together in the city!

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.