Tuesday, November 21, 2017
this quiet moment
Such a beautiful day today. I am currently occupying that blessed space between cleaning the house and the commencement of holiday everything. Yesterday I finished all the boring work (vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms) and now have a bit of time before the fun work (linens! tableware! food! relatives!). With so much to be thankful for. I could kneel down and kiss the ground, or wrap my arms around a tree or a giant glacial erratic, as I have been known to do. How I love this earth, and a quiet day like this, full of peaceful little nothings gently coming and going. How I value solitude, as a necessary bookend to shore up other times full of people and talk and busyness, as wonderful as all that often is. It is during solitude that I catch glimpses of the clarity and calm which help me weather the times of not-so-much. My past two Thanksgivings were spent in and around hospitals, for days that felt like years, with relatives dying and not-dying, so this year, this ordinary/extraordinary quiet time is more appreciated than usual. The moment when nothing much is happening, and it feels full and perfect just as it is. Thanks be.
My stack of books has changed and grown a bit since last we spoke. I am setting Nigel Slater aside for the moment, half-finished, so as not to leapfrog over Thanksgiving and on to the next holiday too quickly, before it's even happened. It does sound like he agrees with me, though, about the necessity of solitude:
"Our lives cannot always be about other people, love them as we do. We need some time for ourselves. " (The Christmas Chronicles p.10)
That's all I've got for now. I'm going to go sit in my studio and watch the afternoon light move slowly across the wall, and count my blessings. Long live the quiet moment. Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.
Friday, November 10, 2017
Ryan and I went to a local library book sale on the spur of the moment last weekend. I ended up with three big bags of books, I think 45 books in total, for $56. That haul, plus a few visits to a favorite local bookshop and some unread books still hanging about from summer, has helped me build a lovely new to-be-read pile for the bedside table. Here it is:
We have Edna O'Brien's memoir Country Girl (Little, Brown 2012), Sybille Bedford's memoir Quicksands (Counterpoint 2005), I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris (Little, Brown 2017), Sherman Alexie's memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (Little, Brown 2017; and omg I must mention this incredible poem by him - if you haven't read it please do so now), Devotion by Patti Smith (from the Why I Write series, Yale University Press 2017), Old Sussex and Her Diarists by Arthur J. Rees (John Lane, The Bodley Head 1929), The Diary of a Country Parson by the Reverend James Woodforde, selected by David Hughes (The Folio Society 1992, from the 1769-81 diary transcripts), and The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2017). With this great stash, I can't help but feel that Christmas has arrived early. And I'm not even going to mention the books I bought yesterday, which are sitting just off stage right as we speak (will save those for another day).
This stack highlights my long-term, continuing infatuation with 1) nonfiction written by novelists, and 2) other people's diaries. Several of each appear here, and I am already making inroads, as you can see from the bookmarks. I meant to start them all immediately, but dropped everything else in favor of Nigel Slater, who arrived in my mailbox last week. I'm trying to go slowly and savor his writing, but am already 250 pages in - over halfway through, arg! It's such a beautiful, gentle book and a few of my notes from it might help explain why I want it to go on and on:
"Winter feels like a renewal, at least it does to me. I long for that ice-bright light.... I am never happier than when there is frost on the roof and a fire in the hearth.... the innate crispness of the season appeals to me, like newly fallen snow, frosted hedges, the first fresh pages of a new diary." (p.1)
He loves winter; he is a homebody even when he travels; he makes lists and keeps diaries. He is a champion noticer of small beauties. He has weathered many storms to come to the place he is now. And through cooking and writing he generously invites us to share his world. Like this:
"'Come in.' Two short words, heavy with meaning. Step out of the big, bad, wet world and into my home. You'll be safe here, toasty and well fed. 'Come in.' They are two of the loveliest words to say and to hear.... There is almost nothing I enjoy more than welcoming visitors into my home. (Full disclosure, I quite like it when they go too.) But in between 'in' and 'out' I want them to feel wanted, comfortable (cosy even) and happy. Yes, warm, even in my rather chilly house, but also fed, watered and generally made to feel that all is well with the world. And yes, I know that the world is a shitstorm at the moment, but we all need a safe harbour." (p.9)
Amen (while trying to overlook the distressing lack of Oxford commas in that passage). I've been feeling the same way and will treasure a safe harbor wherever I find it these days. Not least in books. Although, to extend the watery metaphor, the tide feels like it's turning, finally, here in our beleaguered country. Wow, it felt so good to vote this week. I want to do it again! Soon! But it's going to be another year...! The wheels of justice are turning, but lord, so slooooowly. We must keep working and moving forward, and finding comfort - and giving it too - wherever we can. And remember those safe harbors.
A progress report about one such: one of my bookplates (please see previous post if you missed my bookplate news) is going to feature a hedgehog. I mentioned this to a dear friend of mine who has collected bookplates for decades, and he told me that one of the earliest known printed bookplates (Germany, circa 1450) also features a hedgehog, in both image and word, because the book owner's name and motto are a pun on the German word for hedgehog. How happy this makes me! I am looking forward (with great glee) to spending winter days tipping diminutive hedgehogs into many of my books. I hope they will feel at home. I've never seen a hedgehog in real life, even though people here in Maine can keep them as indoor pets, apparently. The fabled Maine winter may be too harsh for them, I don't know. And winter is certainly on its way. Yesterday morning I had to make a long drive inland, to the westward, and all along the edges of the fields and farmland long blue shadows were full of thick frost, everywhere the sun hadn't yet touched the earth. A gorgeous scene of blue and gold, unfolding for mile after mile. And today, the first snowflakes of the year were flying, early this morning, just after sunrise. I feel ready, and even content.