Friday, May 14, 2021
Thursday, May 6, 2021
I redeemed myself in April after a couple of months of very short book stacks. Admittedly, a couple of these were nearly done before the month began, but still, I'll call it a win.
The Ecopoetry Anthology, Ann Fisher-Wirth and Laura-Gray Street, eds. I bought this book on a whim because it was facing out on an eye-level shelf the first time I went into a bookstore after the lockdown started, way back in August, on my birthday (which is why browsing in bookstores is so much better than buying online; how else would these serendipitous finds take place?). At an average of one poet per day, I finished all 576 pages exactly eight months and two days later, on Earth Day, fittingly. About 1/4 of the poems are historical, the other 3/4 contemporary, which was a nice mix I thought. Overall, it's just a stunning collection with an expansive notion of "eco." My sister asked if any poems in particular stood out, and while it's hard to choose, here are a few that I found memorable: The Hurricane Katrina poems by Patricia Smith ("5 p.m., Tuesday August 23, 2005" "Man on the TV Say," "Won't Be But a Minute," "8 a.m., Sunday, August 28, 2005") are heartrending. "The Stars" by Eliot Weinberger was inspirational. W.S. Merwing "For a Coming Extinction." Lucille Clifton "The Killing of Trees." And really I'd recommend everything in the collection except for a small few that left me scratching my head.
What Kind of Woman, Kate Baer. A very different kind of poetry collection, about womanhood and motherhood and wifehood, about the expectations society places on all of the above. I'm looking forward to reading Baer's forthcoming collection of erasure poems.
Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Woodridge. Not an actual book of poetry, but a book about writing and enjoying and living poetry. I've owned this one a long time but only ever got through a couple of chapters. I decided to write a poem (or do a poetry exercise) every day through April, and used this book as a guide for some of those poems, and just read it for enjoyment otherwise, finally making it to the end. It's a delicious invitation to play with words.
North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale. I started reading this two years ago and set it aside when spring ended and summer began. I somehow forgot to pick it up last year, but I resumed this year, and I really enjoyed the quiet, gentle account of a ramble from south to north following the flush of spring over the land.
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. This is a lovely and moving account of family, place, nature, and race and growing up on a farm in South Carolina and challenges of being a birdwatcher, a biologist and a Black man.
One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle. This is another book that jumped off the shelf at me. I'd always enjoyed Brian Doyle's essays when they appeared in Orion or The Sun, but I hadn't picked up one of his books before. The short essays and prose poems here were collected by writer and editor friends after Doyle's death from a brain tumor. Each one is incandescent with joy, love, and humor, even those that were clearly written as he knew he was dying.
Malice Domestic, edited by Elizabeth Peters. I came to this book in the nerdiest way possible: listening to a podcast about the original source of apples (somewhere in Kazakhstan), I heard that the Latin for apple is Malus domestica, and it rung a bell in my head--I knew there was a mystery novel or something similar out there by the name Malice Domestic and I thought I must read the book with such a clever play on words. Turns out it's an annual conference and anthology of short stories, originally started by my mystery goddess Elizabeth Peters. This one, edited by said goddess, is the first of the collection, published way back in 1992, and was highly entertaining. I think short works--both stories and essays--are a good fit for me right now, mentally, especially fun short stories, like those in this collection.
What are you reading these days?
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Tuesday, May 4, 2021
This winter was long, longer than most, despite its relative snowlessness (another reason to read apocalypse in the tea leaves). March brought no relief. It never does. But April, despite what Eliot said, is perhaps the kindest month. Warm breezes and wild flocks migrating north, even in years when the snow hangs around until Earth Day (this year the old snow was long gone, but a new dusting sprinkled down on the 22nd). And though I'm a Leo and a summer girl through and through, April may be my second favorite month. As the world begins to wake up, so too do I, turning outward and uncurling from a winter's introspection, which always, inevitably, leads to moroseness. And so I thought I'd take stock of what's waking me up and bringing me joy this April.
My father-in-law is a hot air balloonist. But that does not mean he hands out rides in the basket like candy. I've been up only once, long, long ago. Earlier this month, when he was taking the balloon for its post-inspection trial flight, he took E and Z along for the ride. C and I served as chase crew, and it was like a small miracle to see our two youngest children ascend into the sky in a rainbow.
April is the month the birds return, and with no leaves on the trees and none of those pesky other b-words trying to suck my blood, it's the month for bird watching. I made a resolution to bird every day this month, and I've managed 18 so far. A first-of-year bird appears almost every time I go out. This week's new arrivals: yellow-rumped warbler, belted kingfisher, American kestrel, broad-winged hawk, and hermit thrush.
Yesterday I stalked a velvety chocolate-brown mourning cloak through the woods. These butterflies overwinter as adults and are always the first to appear and a sure sign of spring. I was amazed a few days earlier to see a little blue butterfly, a northern spring azure, perhaps. I chased it through the field, it flashing luminous blue upper wings while I tried to sneak up to take its picture. Now I'm aquiver with anticipation of butterfly season.
I have no doubt that social media will usher in the downfall of civil society. Nevertheless, it has its good points. For instance, I've been keeping a close eye on the flower buds of trees and shrubs in the woods around our home and snapping phone photos when the buds open and sharing them on Instagramand Facebook. It's made me much more attentive to the slow unfolding of spring, and I'm discovering that there's much about tree flowers I've never noticed, like the flowering twigs of aspen and yellow birch are high out of reach, and oak flowers, which come out after the leaves, I've never seen before.
Friday, April 30, 2021
Since I chose a pattern of 4 and 8-inch squares, it came together quickly, and I'm pretty pleased with the way it turned out, even though it's more pastel than bright, which is my general go-to color zone.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Before the pandemic, I wasn't a huge TV watcher. I'd tune in every Sunday night for Masterpiece and watch a movie on Friday and Saturday, and maybe take in a show that everyone in the family enjoyed once or twice a week, but otherwise usually spent my evenings reading, writing, or projecting. I think. In reality I find it hard to remember how I used to spend any of my time pre-pandemic, and I find it hard to imagine having the energy to do anything other than zone out in front of the boob tube. All that changed with the apocalypse. The need to escape into the normalcy...if somewhat zany normalcy...of other, imaginary, people's lives overpowered any desire for productivity or self-improvement. In looking back over the first thirteen months of the pandemic year, I've had a hard time remembering all of what we watched, so I thought I'd attempt to take an inventory here.
Familiar characters. Known plot points. Memorized lines and jokes. This is what I craved most of all, so early last April I instituted Friends Night every Monday, when we would watch one episode of Season 1 of Friends. I figured the 20 episodes of the first season, which would take us into September, would get us to the end of the pandemic. While this was way more realistic than all of the "shop for two weeks of lockdown" and "we just need to flatten the curve" prognostications, it wasn't even anywhere close. When M went to college, we kept him in the loop by FaceTiming with him every Monday night and setting the phone up in front of the TV. E bought me the discs for Season 2 for my Birthday in August and then Season 3 for Christmas. We're going to need Season 4 pretty soon. I just hope the pandemic ends before we get through all ten seasons.
When one of requires the television equivalent of macaroni and cheese in between Friends Nights, we watch a couple episodes of the BBC/Masterpiece production Jeeves & Wooster, with the madcap duo of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Frye, or (also BBC) Death in Paradise.
When your kids reach a certain age, they want to spend less and less time with you, and one of the only ways of spending time together that doesn't lead to some kind of confrontation (except over who gets what seat on the couches) is to sit down in front of a show everyone can enjoy. Soon after he came home from college last spring, M and I were casting about for something to watch when we came upon Scrubs. C and I used to watch it when it was on network TV (a concept totally foreign to my kids), and I forgot how funny it was (that is until the totally unnecessary and off-the-rails last season).
Before we had kids, C and I used to come home from work, cook dinner, and sit down to eat in front of the nightly Friends and King of the Hill reruns. We kept up this ritual after M was born, until the night when his little diaper butt bounced up and down tin time with the theme song of King of the Hill. After that, we moved dinner to the kitchen table and relegated television to after the kid was in bed time. We reintroduced M to the show, and he loved it still, but instead of his diaper butt bouncing up and down, he took to talking like Boomhauer. Another show we remembered from out network days and that did not disappoint in the humor department (until yet another excessive final season) was My Name is Earl.
We've made Friday night another regular TV night with E and Z, watching The Mandalorian, which I admit I didn't love, then Wanda Vision, which I thought was such a great, original story and a fantastic departure from the predictable plots of most superhero movies. Now C and the boys are watching Winter Soldier and The Falcon, but while I sit with them, I usually read or do a craft project and don't pay much attention, because I don't really like the Winter Soldier as a character and I really don't like the gun violence (as opposed to super hero power violence).
It seems that being trapped at home with four large male people, sometimes going weeks without seeing another woman in person, caused me to gravitate toward shows with women as the primary characters: New Girl and The Mindy Project got me through the rough period of last spring, and often I stayed up way too late at night bingeing on them, avoiding going to bed where I'd have to think about...stuff. I've also been slowly working my way through The Gilmore Girls, but I can only watch that when C's not around because he hates it. He claims the acting is poor, but I tease him that he can't stand watching a show that is entirely focused around women and their concerns, only some of which involve men. (I think I'm at least partly right.)
Life is dramatic enough these days that we've mostly stuck to comedies, though we have continued our Sunday night Masterpiece tradition. I've forgotten about most of these at this point, except a WWII show set mostly in Warsaw after the invasion, which was an extremely traumatic thing to watch during apocalyptic times, and All Creatures Great and Small, which I found lovely and sweet and soothing. Perfectly pastoral.
The Best for Last
It took a couple of years of many people recommending Schitt's Creek to me before we finally dove in and watched. It's true that the premise sounds pretty dumb. And it's true that the first few episodes will have you thinking that it's a show about a bunch of vain, selfish people being not very nice to each other. But it turns out to be very funny, very smart, and also very, very sweet. The characters change and grow over the progression of the seasons, when usually sitcoms work because the characters don't change. They're very loving to each other, in their vain, selfish way, and they love each other in spite of each other's quirks.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
Last month's stack is another mini one. I'm getting cranky about how much work is interfering with my reading time (I've decided to stop blaming television and point toward the real culprit instead--capitalism).
Nonfiction: Erosion by Terry Tempest Williams. I've been a huge fan of TTW ever since I was assigned to read Refuge in college. Her writing is just so beautiful and searingly truthful. This one so much so that it hurt a little to read--about the realities of climate change and the abuses to wild lands by the fossil fuel industry and the previous administration. There's none of the cheery optimism so many nature writers feel compelled to tack onto the hard realities of we're basically f*cked. So yeah, a hard read, but a necessary one.
Fiction: A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette. This book, by contrast, was just pure fun--an ice cream shop, a murder (okay, maybe that wasn't fun for the murder victim), and a number of suspects, including the narrator's father...all tied up in a nice bow after a mildly suspenseful scene, in the best cozy style.
What are you reading this month?
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Last month I was scrolling through my online bank records for 2020 while preparing our tax info for the accountant. I started in December and worked backward, and when I reached the early part of the year, before the pandemic and the lockdown, I became unexpectedly, unbelievably sad. Not because I had booked tickets for the vacation of a lifetime that would have to be cancelled or put a deposit on a venue for a major event that would never happen, but quite the opposite. The utter ordinariness of the transactions--a trip to Goodwill or the bookstore, haircuts for the boys, a pair of shoes--seemed so foreign to the way the world is now that I felt a deep, deep grief.
The pandemic did not change my life materially. My nearest and dearest have stayed safe and healthy so far. I would have been off of work for the entire summer and fall anyway. I might say I even thrived on the opportunity to be in the company of my family and to have the time that I would otherwise have spent socializing, ferrying my kids around, or running errands to focus on writing and spending time in nature around my home instead.
Many people are expressing optimism that now that vaccines are making their way into arms at a thrilling pace, we'll soon be able to go about our ordinary business. But this last year has driven home the reality that "ordinary" is relative. That what's ordinary to me is not an experience that is available to many: Black men and women who are brutalized and murdered by police and vigilantes while going about their ordinary business of buying a sandwich, going for a jog, sleeping. Elderly Asians who are attacked in the street by white supremacists. Asian women shot in their places of work, again by angry white supremacists. Women of all races beaten and murdered in their own homes by those closest to them.
The weather this year has also been anything but ordinary: wildfires going into December; tornados in February; blizzards in the Deep South; a town flattened by a derecho. Thirty years of denying and ignoring the science on climate change are coming home to roost. It seems unlikely we'll ever see an ordinary season again.
Early last year, I was working on a short story called "Soccer Moms at the End of the World." It was to be a somewhat comic, near-apocalyptic tale (quite possibly a genre I invented) about people going about their normal business as if a quite obvious catastrophe was not looming. As the coronavirus epidemic swelled toward pandemic, I felt the urgency of writing it and was making progress. Then, after my kids' school shut down, I lost my daily writing time, the half hour between 7:30 a.m. (when I arrived at work after having dropped them at their bus stop at 7:00) and 8:00 (when I had to actually go into the office and work). Then my work closed too, and what could have been a full-time writing schedule instead became a full-time doom-scrolling schedule. And the apocalypse had become all too real--bizarrely slow-moving but incredibly palpable--which made writing about a fictional apocalypse a little weird. Also, I didn't know where that story was going. I didn't know what to do with those moms, blissfully ignoring the burgeoning crisis as they bought snacks, drove their kids to soccer games, and sat on the sidelines chatting about everything but what was most important. I still don't know what to do with them. They have to get up every morning and take care of their families. As do we all.