Temperance in all things

I hadn’t quite stopped saying happy New Year to everyone yet, but last Friday something else took my attention.

I’ve got the plague. It’s a bad one this year; a lot of people are down. I hope I recover quickly. I’m hearing some people are out for two weeks.

This was NOT the plan for the New Year. Nobody wants to get horribly sick!

As I sit in a fog, I am catching up on TV shows without stress: documentaries. I’ve picked up Ken Burn’s “Prohibition.”

This one is interesting. The drive to outlaw liquor was a cause led by women. Since men were the ones who earned the money, women relied on their fathers and husbands to bring home enough money to pay for food and shelter.

But again and again, men would spend their pay on alcohol and leave the family with nothing.  It was an evil that had to be stopped.

Forces united and a monumental effort was made to have a constitutional amendment.

NO ALCOHOL

But it didn’t turn out the way they hoped.

Alcohol became more of a way of life than it had been before. And it even jumped the gender divide–women had been excluded from saloons before but entered freely into speakeasies.

It was increasingly clear that it wasn’t working.

And one big reaction was to double down. They said it’s not working because the police aren’t enforcing it enough! Take it more seriously!

I know there have been times in my life when I clung to a goal, not seeing the harm I was inflicting on myself.

If it’s not working that means I must try harder!

I used to think that way, but I’ve learned to take a step back and tinker. What’s out of line? Is there something I’m missing? There’s likely a better way.

As I sit in my brand new year, with my brand new plans for the year derailed, I think how it could have been different. What if the temperance unions had been a little more temperate in their temperance?

Could we have had a whole different ending?

And I wonder what a different perspective could do for me in my life too. Taking an enforced break from my usual focus because of sickness has its benefits. I wonder.

Darker or Lighter

As a women, I have the freedom to try new things with my look. I decided to try something different with my hair: go darker.

This is a thing that matters very litle in the world, but matter a lot in my world. It’s my head after all.

So made the choice, and bought the dye. Darker this time.

And i waited for the big reveal. It has to dry before the color can really be seen.

BUT IT”S SO DARK.

I looked into the mirror and it seemed practically black. Then I took a selfie, and the camera showed a much lighter color.

Then I looked in the mirror

DARK

then selfie

over the next few days I couldn’t reconcile it. How do cameras see this differently?

Remember that weird picture that can be a beautiful young woman in a hat, or a big nosed old woman with a shawl on her head?

I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to see what the camera saw. I began to see the glints of light.

What is the truth? What do my eyes see that others don’t?

There is no doubt my eyes focus on the things I’m most insecure about. But they are probably not as noticable as I fear.

Staring in the mirror to worry about my hair being too dark was not making me happy. And it would seem it’s not even true.

What else is true?

Or, how else can I see the picture that would make me happier? That’s worth trying for. It could be so easy to shift my focus.

2020 what I’ve read

  1. The other americans
  2. be bad first
  3. Fed up
  4. wagner:HIs life and music
  5. the gift of fear nf
  6. good omens
  7. Pachinko
  8. the dearly beloved
  9. eloquent rage
  10. cymbeline
  11. plague of doves
  12. feminist fight club
  13. burmese days
  14. invisible women
  15. coriolanus
  16. getting unstuck
  17. born with teeth
  18. The modern political tradition from Hobbes to habermas
  19. Originals
  20. the inimitable Jeeves
  21. my oh my
  22. tge art of astrology nf
  23. The woman’s hour
  24. The forgotten man
  25. Advanced energy anatomy
  26. barking to the choir
  27. manager hacking nf
  28. The path made clear
  29. the last black unicorn
  30. the wAy nf
  31. Small victories
  32. There therE
  33. unsheltered
  34. Moon is a harsh mistress
  35. the essential Drucker nf
  36. 1066
  37. The song of Achilles nf

Moving into the New Year

“Let’s go dance!”

I was a plus one, coming as a favor to a friend. I didn’t have to impress anyone, and there was free food and a DJ. Her Co-worker’s wife had been talking with me life she was my new BFF and that was fine with me.

But the music was playing, and that was the real reason I wanted to be there. Let’s get this party started!

We made our way to the dance floor, ducking around the buffets and the elegantly dressed men and women. 

At Last!

I found a spot near the front with enough room to move and got my groove on.

Except the people to the side were coming at me. What?

I moved over, and they moved over. 

My new BFF said “It’s the electric slide.”

I don’t know the electric slide. I mean, I know  it but…

“It’s easy I’ll show you.”

This is a club I am not a member of. It seems all of America–maybe other countries too, for all I know–can line up in a row and their left foot out and tap and turn and then bump into me.

I like the song. Leave me alone, I’ll just groove to the song.

But no! Everyone must teach me the RIGHT way to dance THIS song.

I don’t want to do it the way everyone does it.

I want to dance the way I want.

That’s what dancing means to me.

That cannot be permitted. This one has rules.

Unsurprisingly, this song is only played in situation of great conformity:

Weddings

Bar Mitzvahs

Corporate parties

So my klutzy ignorance burns extra fierce as I turn the opposite direction and move counter to the wall of shuffling bodies.

I’m the one who is out of step. Literally, and holistically.

The one who was picked last

The one who stopped conversations when I entered the girl’s bathroom in Jr high

The one who doesn’t understand what the plan was

They’ll come after me, you know. I could leave the dance floor, but someone will take my elbow and say “It’s easy! I’ll show you”

Then I’m back in, crashing my misdirected body into the path of the ones who did get the memo.

This is not who I am! I can do things! I can be coordinated and keep the rhythm with elegance!

Not here. Not now.

Until at last the song ENDS. The sweet release of Wild Thing comes on and I’m set free.

I got this. This space it mine. I can move here. Just get out of my way. You do your thing and I do mine.

I’ve caught this drift. No conversations are stopping because of ME. 

I’ve come a  long way, Baby.

Happy New Year

 

Merry Christmas

I’m celebrating Christmas tomorrow. Actually, I’ve been celebrating it for at least a month now. It’s a big holiday, and it’s part of my family traditions.

All the songs, and the stories

The story of the baby Jesus born in a manger.
Away in a manger
No crib for a bed

We were telling the kids in Sunday school about it. Poor humble Jesus.
Poor Mary on the road because of some highly inconvenient government mandate.

I had to look it up. There are only two gospels that mention Jesus’s birth. Matthew and Luke. Matthew is the headliner in the New Testament, because he leads it. Matthew chapter 1 tells us about Jesus’ birth, with a big “begat” section of genealogy.

Mary is skipped over, mostly. Joseph gets the angel visit in a dream and:

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Matthew is supposed to show the human-ness of Jesus. The “Man”ness of him. So, mom is off screen.

Two whole gospels later, Luke spices up the story. He was writing for a non-Jewish audience, and there is more drama in the popular Greek and Roman mythologies. His audience expects more. He gives some drama, including a solo for Mary.

Adding a musical number gives it some juice! The Angels got an ensemble piece later and the whole thing got wheels. It’s still a hit.

Luke was the one who staged it in a barn, with live animals and a manger and everything.

As far as Matthew was concerned, humble wasn’t the theme. Jesus pops out and almost immediately is gifted gold by leading scholars. He did have a fleeing-from-the-king problem, but that is a high-class problem to be singled out as the usurper.

Luke brought out the humility. And as we were telling the kids about poor poor Jesus in his barn I remembered Milton.

I remembered Satan from Paradise Lost.

We were in the world of Biblical stories with Luke and his ensemble cast. It was within easy reach.

Remember Satan? Starting out as Lucifer, clothed in light, he got jealous and started a coup d’etats up in heaven. Bad move.

He loses and is exiled to fire-and-brimstone hell. Yuck.

There he has time to plot, as well as be described in fantastical detail by Milton. He plots to sneak into this “Earth” place God just built and make some mischief.

The part that zinged my memory was when he lands his big old sneaky snakey body on earth.

He loses his mind by how beautiful it is. Milton puts line after line of archaic poetry in his mouth to express it:
O Earth, how like to Heav’n, if not preferr’d

He is homesick for heaven, missing its glory and when he lands on earth he says that God was just practicing on heaven and made earth even better!

Earth

This place where we keep our stuff.

The sun, the stars, and the cows and the straw.

All the little parts of it in small and in aggregate are glorious.

Hi Jesus! Welcome to Earth!

We have stars and straw!

And moms and cows!

It turns out that even if there had been room at the Inn, it would only have been incrementally more glorious than what this place has to offer.

This whole place–all of it–is a fantastic Christmas present.

I’m so grateful for it all.

And I thank you, my readers, for being here with me.

Merry Christmas! And may your dreams be bright.

artist

Now that I have digital camera in my phone, like almost everyone, I have become a much better photographer. The instant feedback showing how my photo turned out helps me make choices about framing my picture.

But there is one thing a camera can’t change. It shows everything in the range of the lens.

When I look with my eyes, I focus on only a few things. A camera looks at everything.

This is why I find it hard to take a photo of the moon. The moon fills my eyes. It’s the only thing I’m looking at in the sky.

A camera is not that choosy. The ugly power lines can seem even bigger than the magic moon.

I went to the Art Institute of Chicago this weekend, and saw paintings. Paintings are the thing, the first definition of art. Are you an artist? You must be a painter.

The painting does what the camera cannot. It draws the eye to the desired object.

The world, the literal world of the camera, is always much bigger than we can take in. Our eyes choose a few things. What we value, what we fear–this is what pulls our eyes.

I saw a painting by Sargent wherein the ladies face was distinct, but her dress was blurry. The impression of dress was enough as we looked at her face, at how she stood.

The artist is arranging us, as much as he arranged the paint.

I paid for the experience of seeing this art. I am glad to be so manipulated.

I know I am manipulated all the time in my life, with messages and advertisement and instructions.

Professionals also create most of those, too.

Somehow, this is not that. These arrangements, this portrayal of impressions and ideas, are a window outside of my daily life. That makes all the difference.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree

 

It’s the season to smile for the camera. It’s the season to decorate and put on a big show. Costumes and pageants and lights.

Everything has to be perfect.

Don’t ruin it! It’s always in danger and needs to be saved.

it is nice, when everyone gets together. When we take the time to take the time to be together and show our loved ones how we feel.

But it’s a lot of pressure.

People mock each other with ugly sweaters. It was supposed to be real, but now you can buy a brand new ugly sweater, No need to keep the one from the craft Aunt.

Poor Aunty.

Get in the flow of the season! Put on the show even when the show is making fund of the show.

Instagram must be fed. Find the right filter.

get the perfect angle of the tree.

I’m tired of the perfect.

I don’t have that kind of time anymore.

This weekend we picked out our tree. You can buy a tree that is spindly and small in exactly the same way as Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

But Charlie Brown said,“I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas”

I suppose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree for sale is trademarked.

We got our Christmas tree this Saturday. I was desperate to get it done, because I am going on a trip for a week. I had wanted to do it for several days, but my husband didn’t want to get it while it was raining.

I was not convinced hat this was a problem, but he didn’t want to and some things require consensus.

so Saturday it was. We had our tiny window of time and we drove over to the appointed lot. It wasn’t raining that day.

Until we walked onto the lot. Then it came down buckets.

This sped up the choosing quite a bit. I found one that seemed okay, and we cursorily looked for gaps. Then we got out of there. 10 minutes tops.

I didn’t take the time to capture the moment. I was exhausted and it was a task that needed to be done

Maybe one day I will have the perfect Christmas. Maybe i will learn the skills and gain the classy taste to put it all together.

Maybe we will have a family photos in perfect Christmas background for instagram.

Not this Christmas. Good grief.

 

The Battle

I’ve done a lot this year. But I have done less writing than many previous years. People–even other writers–will ask “Do you have writer’s block?”

It’s not like that. I am never dry facing a blank page. That’s not the block.

The block comes way before that.

Virginia Wolfe writes beautifully about a write getting “a room of one’s own” in which to write.

I imagine that room. I have had that room. It is wonderful. This oasis of creativity, a place to form sentences and metaphors, I know it well.

If I could get to that spot, it would be glorious. But that room is fortified. I have to storm the castle to get there.

It’s a scary castle, surrounded by a moat. I can’t just waltz into that castle and skip up to the room of creativity. Oh no!

A battle is raging. The castle is inviting me, but it’s not that easy. I can’t walk directly forward unimpeded. My phone will buzz, with calls and texts and emails. Take care of those first.

And oh that’s right, I am supposed to do this paperwork the deadline is coming up. And what about the school trip?

It’s a mountain to climb to earn that room.

Steven Pressfield talks about The War of Art. How we’ll do anything to avoid the final act of creation, because it’s so terrifying.

But I did not invent these things coming at me! Every single one of them is important.

As I write this out, I am talking myself into recognition. To paraphrase, the important will always be with us.

I want that room.

Can it be important if I just want it?

Only if I decide it.

I can read stories about how other people get to the castle.

For me, I know, it takes a lot of deciding.

And planning.

It will take a while. But I want back in that room.

On how to be Polite

The awkward actor is doing a recital badly, tripping over his lines as Cyrano. All his friends are there to support him, and one literal-minded friend leans to his neighbor to say, “His performance is merely adequate. Why is everyone applauding so much?”

“It’s polite,” comes the reply.

Our thanksgiving holiday has a lot of traditions. Politeness is one.

It is also a tradition that women make the food, and women remind everyone of the traditions. Women are especially concerned with politeness.

In Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, the authors talk about true crimes. They have a successful podcast on the topic and could not avoid noticing that women are so often murder victims. There is not an easy answer for how to protect oneself, woman or not, from murderers. But one of them told her story:

She was young, and was in the cool part of town. She met some new people, and the one guy was very interested in her dreams of acting and modeling. He told her she was a natural, and that he was a photographer. He had his equipment with him and knew the perfect spot to take her pictures.

She got in the car. I barely need to fill in the details. She did not get murdered, but she was taken to a remote spot and the photographer persuaded her to take her clothes off for the camera.

After she got back, she sobbed. This was not what she wanted. So many steps along the way she had gone against her instincts and wishes because of her overriding desire to be polite.

Polite does not deserve that primacy. Politeness does not require self-immolation.

We get to protect ourselves. Politeness can and should include “no.”

At thanksgiving, I can say no. I can politely say No thank you.”

I can impolitely say NO.

Hell No.

There are ways to do it. Politeness is not nearly as important as love, really. In my first story, the actor’s recital got applause because the audience loved him and was encouraging him.

Love holds the door open. I can say politely with love, “I don’t agree with you, but I love you. I need to talk about something different.” That leaves the door open. The other side might slam it shut. Everyone is allowed to make their choices. I’m also allowed to choose to leave if my needs are ignored.

Politeness exists in relationship. And relationship is two ways. It creates something new out of what we bring to it. Stiff self-denying politeness often ends in tears. I’ve had more than one thanksgiving that left me feeling betrayed.

I think the betrayal started with myself. When I learned to ask for what I need, it opened the gates to better outcomes. My new tradition for my loved ones is seconds on what we need.

better than true

A writer puts into words a moment in time. What happened, what she paid attention to, what she felt about it.

And when she chose to write about it, she will have the perspective of that time and place.

It’s a time capsule. Books capture history.

Books are history. History is considered to have started with the development of writing. Before we wrote it down, it was pre-history.

But where does that leave fiction? Fiction didn’t happen.

Fiction isn’t true. It’s all imagination.

Fiction isn’t science–it’s art.

There is an art to imagining a story. The people and the circumstances coming together in a way that fascinates.

And there can be failures of imagination.

We all have blind spots. Looking back, I can see how I missed the obvious. I was convinced of a certain point of view, committed to it.

With perspective I see what I did not see then.

And I see the same in famous books. What was most precious to my ancestors in the past seems limiting now. As clear as cut crystal now that the assumptions were wrong.

When I read the stories that were treasured by my predecessors, I know what comes next. I know how this led to that and how the next thing happened.

My culture is a carpet behind, a littered path of pages. A scrapbook of memories.

Remember when? They are not my stories, but the group has told and retold the stories they are like my own. I remember the plot twists and turns.

A people’s literature is how we tell each other who we are, what we wish we could do and what we want to avoid.

Every day there is a new story, or another hundred. These old ones that we all know though have special significance.

That’s why studying literature is important. Even if it is painful. It is history even if it’s fiction. Our stories tell us who we are and who we want to be. Use your imagination.