Filed under: Travel — Administrator at 7:23 am on Monday, June 3, 2013
Last week I went to Michigan for work. We left the day after Gideon’s first birthday. The day before his birthday, he took his first step. The day after, he went in an airplane for the first time. Go-getter!
Gideon was patient on the plane and seemed to think traveling was a great adventure—except for when he was in the car seat. Then he cried and cried. Gideon hates being strapped on his back like a beetle. To make it up to him, we went to a zoo in Lansing where they let you get close to the animals. Pictures:
I forgot what the last thing was called, but it was adorable. It’s a large rodent, some kind of hare.
This was one of those zoos that have peacocks wandering around everywhere. I had forgotten how stunning these birds are.
It’s funny how the most stunning things can seem ordinary. Then one day, you’ll see them with fresh eyes and realize how amazing they really are.
(A peacock with its tortoise friend.)
Peacocks are from India. But did you know there’s also a green peacock? It’s from Southeast Asia. It seems more exciting than the blue peacock because it’s less ubiquitous. In fact, it’s endangered. Also, look at it:
Filed under: Joy's Work — joy at 7:17 am on Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I am a fan of Mental Floss, so I’m thrilled that they are running an article I wrote … about stilts!
In France in the 19th century, an entire town lived on stilts. Stilt jousting is a real thing—an entire tournament in Belgium is devoted to fighting on stilts. Then there’s powerbocking, an extreme sport that has popped up (pun intended) around spring-loaded stilts. Other people work on stilts, and it’s so dramatic. I mean, check out these stilt fishermen in Sri Lanka.
Filed under: Inspiration — Administrator at 7:32 am on Monday, April 22, 2013
One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk.
To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.–Herman Melville
I am three-fourth of the way through Moby Dick, and I am shocked to find that I’m really enjoying it.
Every year at this time, I get obsessed with gardening. I have a wonderful God-like moment in early spring where I feel like my yard is under control and I know what I’m doing, but experience had taught me that this is hubris. The more complacent I get about the yard, the sneakier nature will be in undermining me, all in quest—it feels, anyway—to humble me.
Being humbled by bugs and voles is a particularly spectacular kind of humbling. I am smarter (I’m pretty sure that’s true), but there are so many of them. Anyway, we have put in raised beds this year in an attempt to stop the voles and gophers from eating everything I plant. It’s a lot like a king building a fortress to stop invading forces. I understand these kings now, the ancient ones who built castles on hilltops surrounded with moats and pointy sticks. How anxious they must have been all the time—and how angry. Fortresses are well worth the price of a more peaceful state of mind.
Has motherhood made you feel differently about yourself?
There was a period in my early career that was determined by the images of women writers I was exposed to—women writers as genius suicides like Virginia Woolf. Or genius reclusives like Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. Or doomed people of some sort, like the Brontës, who both died young. You could fall back on Harriet Beecher Stowe or Mrs. Gaskell; they both led reasonable lives. But then George Eliot didn’t have any children; neither did Jane Austen. Looking back over these women writers, it seemed difficult as a writer and a woman to have children and a domestic relationship. For a while I thought I had to choose between the two things I wanted: children and to be a writer. I took a chance.
Filed under: Inspiration — joy at 8:29 am on Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I went mushroom hunting. It was fancy mushroom hunting at a winery on top of a hill, and afterwards a chef made us a 3-course meal featuring local mushrooms.
It has been a hot, dry spring, so there weren’t many mushrooms to be found. I found this one. It was covered in tiny spiders. We didn’t try to eat it.
I learned a lot about mushrooms. I learned, for example, about candy cap mushrooms, which only grow in Northern California. They made us ice cream made out of this candy cap mushroom. It had a slightly spicy maple syrup flavor that stayed in my mouth for hours afterwards. I didn’t know a mushroom could have a flavor like that.
Mushroom season is over now, even though there are some growing in my yard. In the fall, I’m going to go hunting again.
A thing that amazes me: there are millions of mushrooms that have not been identified. No one has bothered to figure out what they are and what they are capable of.
We think we know how the universe formed and what the past was like and how we got here. The truth is, we don’t even know all the mushrooms yet.
Side note: two dogs lying on the sidewalk this way. Oh dogs…
When I knew her, it was during her most writing-for-Mademoiselle-ish days, and she had bobby socks and totally artificial bright red lips and totally artificial bright blond hair, and I remember her as a made-up creature with no central reality to her at all, always uttering advice like a woman’s magazine advice column. She wrote beautiful words, but there wasn’t anybody inside there.
I have read that last part—“there wasn’t anybody inside there”—over and over and I still don’t know what it means. I have thought people were fake or shallow, but I have never looked at someone and thought, “He has no central reality to him.” Maybe I should. It seems like a good way to dismiss people who annoy you.
To be fair, Plath said similar things about herself. She seemed to feel untethered within herself, as if she could be everything and nothing at the same time. Maybe that’s why we’re all so eager to put interpretation on her life, to make her into a feminist martyr or a case study for mental health. Still, whenever I read her work, all I see is one huge “I” there.
Ted Hughes said: “I never saw her show her real self to anybody–except, perhaps, in the last three months of her life.” This rings true for me. I understand hiding behind social expectations to disguise the ugliness of the self, or to protect what’s precious and complicated.
Or maybe I don’t understand Plath anymore than anyone else.
SEVEN. I have a reoccurring dream where I go back in time to save Sylvia Plath from suicide.
I’m not kidding—I have the most literary-nerdish dreams ever. Someday I should tell you about the one where Jack London drives a double-decker bus.
In the Plath dream, I’m always in the hallway of the apartment building where she died, and I have to knock on the door to get her to answer. Sometimes she doesn’t open the door. Sometimes she does, and she’s this banshee-like, half-ghost thing already, one second away from a shrieking fit, very hard to reason with. Several times, I have explained to her that she’s going to be a major poet and that it’s all going to be okay. “Just six more years and there will be feminism!” I say. But Plath is always like, “Who are you? Go away. You are going to wake my kids.” and forces me back into the hallway.
I wonder what would have happened if Plath hadn’t killed herself. She would have been a great poet, but she wouldn’t have had the same kind of fame. Plath is the literary equivalent of a painter whose paintings quadruple in price after she dies. Her last poems are most powerful seen as the work of someone moving toward self-destruction. As the work of a living poet, I can understand why some editors rejected the last poems. Those editors were idiots, of course, because those poems are wonderful, but I can also understand being put off by them. Imagine getting “Lady Lazarus” in your inbox: “Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.” Yeah, that would scare editors even today.
EIGHT. Despite all the articles and books written about Plath, people rarely focus on the poems themselves. If the poems are mentioned, they are mentioned as something she was doing right before she died. The details get lost in the Plath shuffle.
I wish I could explain what it feels like for me to listen to this recording of “Tulips,” the way it slides masterfully from metaphor to metaphor while circling around the bigger metaphors of life and death. The last stanza:
The tulips should be behind bars, like dangerous animals;
They’re opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And come from a country far away as health.
When I read that, I get the shiver I get when confronted with something I think of a complete work of art.
NINE. The real tragedy is that Plath killed herself right as she was coming into her matures powers as a writer. All the skills she had been single-mindedly working toward her entire life were finally starting to emerge. She cut them off just as they were getting started.
TEN. I still read Plath’s journals. I like reading toward the beginning of her relationship with Hughes, where she was really starting to write and was still happy in her marriage. I like Plath. She was bitchy and witty and disciplined. She was funny. She complained about her period and got nervous about dinner parties and had dreams about Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. She was always making beautiful visions of how she wanted her life to be—her kitchen full of like-minded artists, her yard full of life-sustaining plants, a “book shelf” published between Ted and her—and setting out to make these things happen. I agree with her about a lot of things. Child rearing, for example. Hard work.
And also, this:
For me, the real issues of our time are the issues of every time—the hurt and wonder of loving; making in all its forms—children, loaves of bread, paintings, buildings; and the conservation of life of all people in all places.
Ironically, considering the source, this isn’t a bad way to live.