Saturday, December 24, 2016
On this quiet Christmas Eve our house is filled with the scent of gingerbread, as batch number two is nearly ready to come out of the oven. Rain is falling lightly outside but doesn't seem strong enough to melt the snow from earlier this week. Presents are wrapped. Blessings are being counted. Christmas books are being re-read and loved anew. Like this one:
The diminutive, paperbound Christmas Verse (Oxford University Press 1945, 34 pp). Designed by John Begg, this is a bibelot of high order. Each selection is presented in calligraphy or typeface appropriate to the time period of the verse in question. Typefaces and letter families (I think I just made that term up) include those used by Caxton, a few in the Aldine tradition, and Bembo, Bell, Caslon, Scotch Roman, Cheltenham, and Times New Roman. The text selections range from the twelfth century to the twentieth. A peek inside:
And a few more, showing examples of titles, initials, and fleurons, in blue, red, and black inks:
The little pottery dish is four inches across, and was made by the M.A. Hadley company in Louisville, Kentucky. My family has always kept some Hadleyware around the house and this was a recent antiques shop find. It's such cheerful stuff I can seldom resist it if I come across it. (Makes a good book weight, too, as is evident.) One more picture, with a locally-made pottery wren peeking in, for good measure:
All that is to say - here's to tradition, and cozy holidays, and tears in our eyes while listening this morning to the Choir of King's College, Cambridge working their magic on the radio, with A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. During this year's broadcast, this haunting carol was the one that got me where I live, here on a country hillside, in the snow, near an ancient apple tree. Joyeux Noël and Peace on Earth in the new year, and far beyond.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
the elephant in the room
Politics. Not to disparage elephants, but it's the elephant in the room, right now, in so many ways. It doesn't feel possible to not talk about what's happening in our world. But it's also so overwhelming and the noise is already so great, that on this blog I'm going to continue conversing about books, mostly. Because my heart isn't made to maintain the permanent state of outrage and fear that the current political climate and the climate-climate is so loudly calling for. The internet and media in general is exploding with directives for resistance against fascism and racism and sexism and you name it. I take this all very seriously, and am educating myself as best I can, and as I mentioned earlier this week, I'm taking small active steps in the fields of engagement I believe in, while still attempting to maintain and further the quiet life I love so much. Because the loud shouts have so often drowned out the quieter voices, and yet, here we still are, working away at what I hope and believe is the good. And besides, the quieter voices often make history by writing books, not by shouting. With that in mind, here are some of the books I'm into at the moment - as always they feel like little life preservers, helping me keep my head and my heart above water. My reading of the immediate past, present day, and immediate future:
I just finished Born to Run last night, I am in the middle of the Nora Ephron essays and Irving Sandler's memoir A Sweeper-Up After Artists and the final published volumes of the diaries of Frances Partridge. I am dithering about whether to read Nigel Slater or Alan Bennett or Patrick Leigh Fermor next. Or the memoir of Frances Partridge's early days. Or the other books pictured here. What a great problem to have! In writing this I notice that these books reflect my current, pressing concerns and interests, besides just generally being the kinds of books I want to read at any given time. The authors of these books lived through wars of all kinds and faced (and continue to face) social problems that plague us, in the arenas of art, culture, nature, family, sexuality, race, and class. For someone who just said she isn't going to write about politics much, this post seems to be concerned with exactly that. Hm. Is there no getting away? I suppose not. Pesky elephant.
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
cheerful, despite all
Wow, a lot has happened in a month. And you know what, I've decided to be of good cheer. When the apocalypse arrives, and world war three starts, and the oceans rise high enough to engulf us all, and whatever daily disaster sucks all the air out of the room yet again - whenever I turn on my computer and gaze at the news with fascinated horror - when all that happens, and in spite of all of that, I will continue to be of good cheer. Because I am actively counting my blessings, not least of which are that yesterday I was able to spend six hours painting in my studio, for the first time in several weeks, then after a lovely supper with my husband Ryan and some time in front of the woodstove with Hodge the cat, I spent two hours making significant headway in Bruce Springsteen's autobiography Born to Run (Simon & Schuster 2016). Any day I have painted and read something this fantastic is, in my book, a freaking awesome day. Sometimes I think, selfishly, If world war three is starting, will I have time to make just a few more paintings and read another book or two...? Before I have to throw myself on the barricades...? I write letters to elected officials, I donate money to needful causes, and I will do whatever I need to do, whenever I need to do it, but OH how I love a quiet peaceful day with art and books. What can I say. I am essentially a dormouse. Back to the present moment, though, and another blessing - yesterday Ryan picked up the handmade quilt he just won at the local historical society raffle. We bought raffle tickets weeks ago at the town office, right after casting our votes on election day. It's a beautiful quilt, with deep red and cream floral and figurative patches, backed with a subtle cream and white floral print, quilted all over with stars, and it's hanging over the rocking chair in our dining room as I write this. It's so American! Like a flag, multicolored and festive and antique, yet also brand new. It even feels redemptive. I look over at it and am so grateful for the many gifts of this life. Sometimes you know they are coming, sometimes you can earn them or get them for yourself, and sometimes they fall out of the sky unexpectedly, like grace notes from a favorite carol. Thank you, historical society!
And speaking of thanks, I wanted to write here, as I usually do, for Thanksgiving. But at that time I was in a place beyond regular words - a lot was happening and it was happening quickly and intensively. I had few words to spare. In fact I think I was already using all I had. Because I spent the week of Thanksgiving with my family, gathered together in a hospital in southern Maine. We had one of the most unexpected and truly thankful Thanksgivings I've ever experienced - by Thanksgiving Day itself, you see, we knew that our beloved family member was going to not only survive his heart attack but be able to recover almost completely, after an initial diagnosis of heart failure (and even after thinking the worst, for a difficult day or two). Four of us had Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital cafeteria, and the cafeteria food was... cafeteria food, but it was all there and so were we - turkey, stuffing, pie, the works - and I ate it and gave thanks from the bottom of my heart. And now, back home, picking up the strands of daily life once again, accompanied by our first real snow of the year fresh on the ground from last night, I just put two balsam wreaths up. I love to lean right into them and breathe in - that cold, spicy, wintery scent is all the Christmases I've ever known and all the ones still to come. Yes, counting my blessings. Because I'm feeling, even in this dark time, as if the light is very close. I know it is. I welcome it and I plan on adding to it, in any way I am able, even in those ways I can't foresee. That is why I am of good cheer, and will remain so.