Monday, October 25, 2010

And they lived lonely women, for all eternity.

I don't like Jane Austen. And I've read 4 1/2 of her novels, and only liked one (see below), so I have a right to this opinion. Perhaps I'm lacking in proper breeding, or intelligence, or a heart. Whatever the reason, I don't like her.

And I feel the same for the movies made about her books or about her. Do modern-day women have no better use of their time than to use it swooning over men in ruffles who fall in love with women who aren't even lovable? And, according to Jane Austen, in order to make a truly great story:
  1. If anything drastic is to happen in the plot, it must be raining.
  2. The most honorable, respectable, and noble men must have very, very wicked relatives.
  3. An annoying woman who talks too much is necessary to say uncomfortable things at awkward moments.
  4. Some sort of secret about the hero must be revealed that threatens the heroine's happiness with him!
  5. But all will be cleared up in the end so that the hero comes out even more heroic than before.
  6. The heroine has no wealth, and this is a great conundrum as to whether the hero can love her anyway. Which he either does, or doesn't and therefore is not the hero and the hero swoops in gallantly at the end and the heroine realizes she's loved him all along.
However, I have to confess that I have been watching - and reading - a lot of Jane Austen recently. Yes, I know. I have nothing better to do with my time than swoon over men in ruffles who fall in love with women who aren't even lovable. And I have been doing a lot of swooning, especially over this ruffled man:
Here Mr. Tilney is saying, "I am sarcastic and mocking, but also capable of great emotion and passion. Love me."
I like Northanger Abbey so much because it's funny. The whole novel is basically poking fun at itself. And if any other man had played Mr. Tilney in the movie, I don't know if I would enjoy it so much. I say "enjoy" because watching the movie is an ongoing process for me. Like a remote-control all-you-can-eat buffet of witticisms.

There are great dangers in watching/reading too much Jane Austen, I've discovered. One (and by "one," I mean single females, like me) will begin to expect reality to follow the rules of Jane Austen, instead of the rules of, well, reality. According to Jane Austen, in my life I should expect:
  1. A man, possibly up to 20 years older than me, will ride 50 miles on horseback to confess his undying love for me even while having no idea if I return his affections.
  2. If I have curls around my face and am seen by candlelight, men will love me without knowing anything about my personality.
  3. Poetic thoughts will be narrated in a British accent while I look at the landscape and heavily sigh. "Life will never be the same, but hopefully my heart will mend. Oh, will I ever see Philip again?" ("Philip" being the name of the argyle sock I can't find. Its mate, Rosalind, is lonely, and my feet are cold.)
I need to stop watching these things because I'm beginning to think like this, and this is bad. If only I had a rich relative or relation to take me under his or her wing to some foreign place for a few months so I could be introduced to good and bad people that will alter my life and fortunes forever.....Is that too much to ask?
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

adventures in nannying

I saw this as my friend's Facebook status today:

"An adventure is only an inconvenience, rightly considered. And an inconvenience is only an adventure, wrongly considered." -G.K. Chesterton

I would say that yesterday was an inconvenience that I rightly considered, but then I realized it was more than an adventure. It was a harrowing escapade.

The day started as any other. William got up from his nap, giggled when I used cold wet-wipes on his bum, and cheerily waved his hands in the air as I put him in his high-chair to eat some sliced strawberries. Then the doorbell rang. The doorbell has never rung, and as I walked toward the door, the first thing I saw through the window was a badge. For some reason I automatically racked my brain for anything that I could be in trouble for. The only thing I could think of was that I was parked on the grass. Am I getting a citation for parking on the grass? But it's our grass!

It was the sheriff, and I propped the door open with my foot as he asked if I'd heard any strange noises last night. Reason number one for watching too many detective shows: My thoughts weren't gasping at what crime might've taken place last night, but instead were occupied with why this "sheriff" didn't seem to have better people skills, and whether he was really the criminal in disguise trying to decifer if there'd been any witnesses to his crime.

I told him I was just babysitting, and he'd have to come back later to ask the real residents.
"What is their last name?" He whipped open his pad of paper and tucked his badge away.
I told him, hoping I wasn't spelling out their death.
Then Rajah, their bengal cat (which is half domesticated cat and half leopard, in case you didn't know), bolted out the door between my legs.
"Rajah!" I called in distress, as if he would stop running at the sound of his name and return sulkingly, muttering under his breath, "Nobody ever lets me do want I want to do...."

So, in turn, I bolted out after him. I whisked past the sheriff on the front steps, running through the neighbor's grass in my socks, in 50-degree weather.

"Don't chase him, he'll come back!" The sheriff called after me. My thoughts weren't rationalizing, "Maybe he's' right," but instead, "I hope he doesn't steal William, and I hope William isn't choking on strawberries."

I didn't know what to do! Rajah just kept running farther and farther away, and the pine needles in the grass poked my thinly-covered feet. So I came back to the house, and apologized to the sheriff for running away. He apologized for making me let the cat out, and we ended on good terms. As he turned to leave, I asked after him, "Is there anything we should be concerned about?"

"No, no," he said, because policemen usually have a habit of wanting you to feel safe, even when you aren't. "It was a car parked outside...the had nothing to do with the house." I nodded, as if I understood what he was trying to say. Again with the people skills. What was a car parked outside? Which street? This house? In other words, he could've smiled politely, tipped an invisible cowboy hat, and said, "You needn't worry your pretty little head, ma'am. I'm not going to tell you anything."

When I got back inside, William's hand was halfway in his mouth and his bib splattered with strawberry juice. He looked at me as if to say, "Whatcha been doin'?" So I put my shoes on and ran out the back door. I found Rajah a couple yards away, his head stuck in a pile of brush. I grabbed him from behind and tucked him under my arm.

Then he growled at me, and hissed angrily, and turned around and attacked my forearm with his teeth. I think saying "ow" is probably the stupidest habit the human race has passed on through the years, because what does "ow" even signify? Nonetheless, I shouted, "OW!" and tried to keep his undomesticated teeth from piercing my flesh any more.

"Rajah is an evil cat," I told William, walking in the house. William looked unconcerned. I opened the basement door and threw Rajah down the steps. "You think about what you've done!" I told him. I surveyed the scratches on my arm, two of which were drawing blood. If I get cat-scratch fever and die, I want this blog entry read at my funeral.

After the strawberries, William and I went to the park. On the way there, I made him repeat after me. "I will not eat sand," I said. William gurgled. I considered it good enough.

But William did eat sand, and reason number 2 for having watched too many detective shows: The jeep parked on the street by the park gave me the heeby-jeebies, and I imagined some guy finding out the police had talked to me about last night and was now waiting to pounce. I walked past the jeep on the way back to the house, and a lone man sat inside with a bluetooth in his ear. I imagined he probably said something like, "She's leaving the park now. I'm in pursuit." Do criminals use cop-terms? I only ever hear these things from the detective standpoint, so I don't know. But the entire walk home I kept glancing over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't following me.

Today nothing was remiss, and my cat wounds show no signs of gangrene. And William and I even dressed alike. Does this mean we spend too much time together? Or that 23-year-olds shouldn't wear overalls?
Sunday, October 17, 2010

prudent microscopes

I came across my writing notebooks from sophomore and junior years. Reading through them made me miss my writing classes, and the things they made me squeeze out of my imagination like paste that doesn't look appealing, but ends up adding a bounty of flavor to the main dish.

I don't know what the prompt was for this poem, but I don't remember writing it a'tall, and it makes me giggle:

(written April 2008)

Back on Uranus,
we eat squirrel.
On earth, they're cute and furry.
I saw a girl
run over a squirrel
with her car
while using my laser vision
to toast my albino squirrel
(the white meat is healthier).
From within closed windows
I heard her scream
and saw the tires
absorb the shock
of the little lifeless body.
She kept driving,
I assume she cried,
and I retrieved
the dead squirrel for dessert.

I usually write much more serious poetry, on my own. But for writing classes I always wrote goofy things, because I was too afraid of criticism. Once I wrote a poem I absolutely loved, and was told I had to change everything about it because of "pathetic fallacy" and "archaic language." Why must there be rules to poetry?

This is the most original version of the poem I could find, having edited it to death to please the masses (aka my writing professor). I wish I still had the original, as it was my favorite. But this one will have to do:

On A February Walk (written February, 2008)

A tree branch creaks a sad, sullen moan,
a lone, tired voice in the midst of a roar.
Blustered and blown, the clouds, thick above
are sick with a gray that drifts down in small pellets
of snow that won't stick to a ground, soggy brown,
so they circle around, in careless, cold dances.

The branches are bare, with not even a coat
of ice that would care, in its unfeeling way,
to lend beauty in bleakness to a sad, creaking tree
that, in its meekness, creaks not to be heard,
but to let out the pain of its old, wooden joints
that burns with cold fire and subsides to rekindle.

Oh, winter, with winds that brutally blow,
lend me some snow in what compassion you own
to coat all that's ugly in a blanket of white
and mute my trite groans, lonely and bitter.
For somehow, to tread upon glistening flakes
makes the walk less despondent to take.

If you want, you can visit the place this poem was written. Just take a jaunt to Wilmore (some of you may already be there) and hop on my favorite college campus. The tree's the big one right in front of the steps of Morrison and, when the leaves aren't there to rustle when the wind blows, you can hear the branches creaking so sadly that the tree deserves a poem written about him. (Yes, poet scholars, I referred to the tree as he.) I listened to it on my way to class and sat on a bench with cold fingers gripping the pencil as I jotted down lines to remember later, when I was warmer and could write more.

I miss being a writer.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010

summer, fall, time to go

Today I sat on a bench in the middle of a park behind my house. I've walked through this park when the summer sun is turning everything green through the flesh of the leaves, and when the parking lot is frozen over with ice so thick I could skate on it in my boots. (And I have.) Today the ground was covered in brown crunchy leaves, and the naked trees rattled in the wind. I thought about seasons.

I had just gotten off the phone with my dear friend and sister, calling from Namibia, Africa. We've been through a lot of seasons together, from summers spent watching The Office while eating brownies or hiking up mountains in Utah, to traipsing through Columbus strung in Christmas lights and watching Little Women off-Broadway. Different seasons bring different things.

I was introduced to "chider" last week, or half chai and half apple cider. It is my new comfort drink. And it goes perfectly with autumn. I just drank a mugful and my tummy is now satisfyingly plump. Also, I am missing Zachary's candy pumpkins. I used to buy them by the carton for $1.88 at Nicholasville's Wal-Mart, but last year they weren't there, and I have yet to find my favorite football-watching snack anywhere. Don't even try to replace them with Brach's. Ick, Brach's. It's a Zachary pumpkin or it's no pumpkin at all.

THIS JUST IN. I'm going on a candy pumpkin hunt tomorrow. I'll let you know if it's fruitful.

The only thing I do not like about autumn is Halloween. In fact, I hate it. I could give you some religious lecture about the origins of Halloween being pagan and evil, but, frankly, I don't know the origins of Halloween. I've heard mutterings of them over the years. But even if I knew nothing about them at all, Halloween, to me, is unpleasant. Why graveyards and witches and spiderwebs seem fun, I don't know. Why people string orange lights from their houses and hang ghosts from their trees, I do not understand.

And Monday as I rode my bike back from the gas station with a gallon of milk making my fingers go numb, the little 4-year-old boy in my neighborhood rode his in front of my house.
"Can you ride with me back to my house?" He asked me. "There's something on my porch that's scary and I don't like going home alone."
So I rode with him down the street, and on his porch was a tall zombie skeleton in a black cloak hanging from the ceiling. The little boy eyed it warily as he parked his bike. Why does anyone want to celebrate things like that? If you celebrate Halloween, tell me why. I want to know the appeal.
Saturday, October 9, 2010

breathe on me, breath of God

This is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. I've never even seen Blood Diamond, because the one time I sat down to watch it, I fell asleep. But today as I baked a banana cake with the TV on in the background, this scene made me still myself in the middle of my kitchen.

I don't know what Blood Diamond is about, other than that it takes place in Africa. I do know that the African man traveling with Leonardo DiCaprio had his son kidnapped, who was then made to believe that his father was the enemy. So at this point in the movie, his son pulls a gun on the two of them, and his father just looks at him. "Look at me," he says to his son. And, when he has his attention - this is the part that captivated me - he tells him with complete authority and conviction, looking straight into his eyes, exactly who he is.

"You are Dia Vandy," he says, "of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy, who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantanes and red palm oil stew with your sister N'Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again."

I love this. I feel like this is what God wants with each one of us. He wants to look us in the eye and tell us exactly who we are. Can you imagine what that moment would be like? To have the God who created you stand in front of you and say, "This is who you are." How different would it be from our image of ourselves and others's images of us? To live only hearing the voice of God speaking the truth of your identity into you like breath into lungs. I want to live like that.
"The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." - John 10:3-5
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

book review

I have a problem with children's books. I have a difficult time when someone mentions Goodnight Moon and a chorus of "I love that book!" arises. What about that book is so lovable? How is saying goodnight to inanimate objects at all captivating, adventurous, or even endearing? It requires no imagination, whatsoever. My child and I can easily say goodnight to everything in our room without paying $12.99.

The 11-month-old I nanny has two favorite books. Now, to be fair, I don't remember what books (if any) interested me as an 11-month-old. I do remember, as a little girl, loving certain books. I would crawl up on my grandmother's lap and have her read The Little Red Hen to me, which taught me to have helping hands. (I can still hear my grandmother's voice reading that book, so many years later.) I also loved The Grouchy Lady Bug, which was colorful, and taught me how to tell time. If You Give a Moose a Muffin had me in stitches, I would giggle so hard. It also made me imagine sometimes that I had a moose. My favorite of all time was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But that wasn't until high school.

But William's two favorite books are Trucks! and Cat. The titles say it all, I think. And perhaps you'd think, in the fashion of Goodnight Moon, they'd be painfully simple and redundant. Well, they are redundant. But instead of opening Trucks! and telling William to point out the semi truck, or the pickup truck, I have to turn the page and say in a cutesie voice, "Can you find the giant excavator, Will? Ooh, where's the skid steer? Yep, that's the backhoe loader! Good boy!" Puh-leeze. What happened to Make Way for Ducklings?

Then comes his book about cats. I like cats. This book has pictures of real cats, and it rhymes, too. I like rhymes. And on each page it shows cats doing things, with descriptions like, "Cool cat, copy cat, furry cat, bald cat," and more. But then, I turned the page and I saw this:

I wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry, or shut the book and bury it in the backyard. That is one of the most terrifying images I've ever seen. I would've had nightmares had I seen this. In fact, I think I do have nightmares because of this. I'm having one right now, and it gets worse every time I scroll up.

All right, perhaps I'm being a tad unjust. I mean, the book about trucks has little windows that William likes to open, and some of the cats's tails are fluffy. I understand that babies probably could not sit through a reading of Where the Wild Things Are if there was not something to tangibly discover. Their little minds aren't apt to discover things within them, yet. But also to be fair, anyone could write a children's book. I'm going to write one about a little boy who died from eating sand. It'll be textured and everything. And maybe then William will stop eating sand.
Saturday, October 2, 2010

"A fellow can't live on books."

Ah, but Theodore Laurence, he can try.

Over the past four years, I have tried to squeeze in desired pages of desired texts over Christmas breaks and summer breaks, and sometimes over no breaks at all, which left me feeling guilty and slightly ill-prepared when the test rolled around. But now, nobody is telling me what to read, and I have two full bookshelves, the contents of which I've only probably read one-third.

The logical side of me tells myself to read something I haven't before. But a wise friend once told me that life's too short to read something you don't want to just because "you should." So I'm going to read all of my favorites again. Some I can't remember why they're my favorites, because it's been so long since I last read them. Others I would forget only if someone beheaded me. So...never, let's hope.

Here's my list of favorites-to-read-again. And autumn is the perfect time to begin a new (or old) read.

  1. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins. I read this three Christmases ago. It's 600 pages; I read it in three days. Besides the fact that I couldn't put it down, I remember very little about it. This warrants another late-night binge on 19th-century mystery.
  2. Howard's End, by E.M. Forster. This book instantly made Forster one of my favorite authors. I devour his dialogue and wonder at his display of human nature. He's so real.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Once, in high school, I finished this book, then flipped back to page one and started it all over again. I love that Harper Lee only wrote one book. She had a story to tell, and she told it. She wasn't writing for the masses. And that makes her story beautifully, meaningfully, and simply told.
  4. Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Of course. How could this book not be on this list? Yesterday I told the 11-month-old I was babysitting, "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again! No, nor any of my folk!" And that's when I knew it was time for another GWtW reading.
  5. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkein. I read The Lord of the Rings once a year, for four years straight. I sat in front of the fireplace and tuned out planet earth for the Middle one. This year's reading of TLotR was for a class and gave the reading a little different taste. But I haven't touched The Hobbit in years, and another fireplace-adventure with Tolkein is in order.
  6. I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. I was so delighted in this book that I couldn't believe it wasn't more popular. It's funny, adventurous, and somewhat philosophical.
  7. An Absolute Gentleman, by R.M. Kinder. This book is seriously weird, and horrible, and yet so incredibly good that I could not put it down. Well, it's about a serial killer, from inside the  head of the serial killer. So, not so good. But the author is incredible. And after you read it (if you read it), look up the author online. She is not who you'd imagine to write a book like this. 
  8. My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du'Maurier. Another of my favorite authors. I recently reread Rebecca, and her genius in crafting such a story just amazes me. Maybe you think I'm silly for thinking so. But I love her, and I think she's genius.
  9. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I wish I could explain in a convincing way why this book is my favorite book, above all. A million little things that add up to one big love. Right now I'm reading a copy printed in 1880, merely 12 years after it was originally published. Can you believe it? Collectors would probably tell me to put it on a shelf so as not to lessen its worth. But it was meant to be read, and I can't help loving the smell that wafts up to me when I turn a page. Inside is inscribed, "Emma L. Greenbery from Santa Claus 1892." How could I not hold this in my hands? I like pretending I'm reading it after it's first come out. And I love this story so, so much.
So there you go. Read away. And happy autumn, again.

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