Literature


So the other day Liv plopped herself down in the desk chair in my room, gazed up at the many shelves of books which decorate the walls, and told me that I should lend her some books. We’ve been talking about this since I and my library moved in, but she’s been pretty busy until recently writing her Master’s thesis. I looked around at my collection, and asked her what kind of book she would like. “I have history, sociology and biography over here. That big shelf over the dresser is all poetry. Over the desk is sexual ethics, reference books, and foreign languages. That shelf is fiction hardbacks, and the small shelves by the bed are the fiction paperbacks, except for the science fiction, which is on the bottom shelf of that book case. And those shelves over the chair are theology and philosophy.” She processed this for a few moments, and then said that she would like about half a dozen books with a mix of fun and make-her-think. So this is what I picked out:

  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (one of my favorite books of all time)
  • Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (more pure, wonderful silliness than ought to exist in one book)
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (solid entertainment all the way through)
  • The Art of Loving God by St. Francis de Sales (a book that has had a pretty big impact on my spiritual life, also easier to get through than some of the other stuff by St. Francis)
  • Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (all about the small things which change the way we live our lives)
  • The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim (another interesting book about the ways we use fairy tales to explain/understand our lives)

Liv started on Cordelia’s Honor right away, and is devouring it gleefully (“I didn’t know science fiction could be like this!”), which makes me so glad. I identify so much with that book; it would have been very hard if she didn’t like it. (I remember how anxious I was when I lent this book to Trey last spring, and how relieved and thrilled I was when he loved it.) The other books aren’t as crucial, though I would wonder what was wrong with her if Cold Comfort Farm didn’t make her laugh.

Anyway, yesterday I told my brother Larry about this, and he asked me to make a list for him of twenty or so books that he should read. It made me think of all the books I love that I wish everyone would read. Most of them aren’t the books you’d find on traditional Must Read book lists. For instance, I don’t think everyone should read War and Peace, and while Jane Austen is a supremely wonderful author, I can acknowledge that not everyone would appreciate her charms. My book would include such works as the above mentioned Cold Comfort Farm, and Gentlemen Prefer Blonds by Anita Loos, and maybe Stephen King’s Carrie.

It’s a lot to think about, and I’m not sure which books I should put on the list. Therefore, I am now officially opening the floor to suggestions. What books would you consider Must Reads, not because of some high cultural value, but simply because they make the world a better place?

I hate writer’s block.  Especially when it seems to be selective writer’s block, only specifically blocking the one thing I really, really, really need to be working on right now.  And I was on such a roll this morning before I had to stop to go to my first class.  Why can’t I get back there now?  Arrrgh!

So I’m blogging.  Because that helps with writer’s block, right?  Right?  Well, at least it’s an attempt.  It’s better than reading Veronica Mars recaps on Television Without Pity.  Not that I’m, you know, doing that at the moment or anything.  Though it would be research for when Justin trades me his DVDs of the first two Veronica Mars seasons for the Heroes Season One DVDs I just finished.  (I still like Sylar the best, except for perhaps Mr. Muggles.  Is this wrong?)

Ok, moving on… I had a good Easter break.  I dug the vegetable garden and planted sweet peas and lilies of the valley.  Hopefully the seeds haven’t frozen in the ground by now, what with all the random snowflakes flying around, but they’re cold-weather plants, so I think they can take it.  I think.  It was one of the happiest times of the last couple months digging out in the garden under the wide, open sky.  I forget, during those months when I don’t have access to the ground, how much being outside helping things grow fills me up inside.  I don’t know how people could live in urban concrete jungles with no access to growing things.  I couldn’t do it.  I think part of me would die inside.

The Easter Vigil was fun.  I wore my new peep-toe shoes (Liv: “Peep!  Peep!”), and got to sit next to Eric, who is one of my favorite relatives ever.  (No, really, ever.)  We can’t sit next to each other in church too often.  We find the same offbeat things utterly hilarious, and can’t help pointing them out to one another.  It makes for a very distracting sort of Mass.  The Easter Vigil always starts with the lighting of the new fire, followed by the candlelight procession into the church.  After the Easter proclamation, everyone blows out their candles and sits down to listen to the Bible readings.  There are a lot of them since this is the Easter Vigil.  Eric was fidgeting with his candle during the readings, peeling layers of wax off of it, then breaking it into segments and folding it into a figure 8 which then got reinserted into the paper cuff that’s supposed to catch the wax.  This meant that when the time came to relight the candles later in the Vigil, his candle had two ends we could light.  So we did, giggling silently as we watched them burn down extra quickly.  Then I had to recite him the oh, so apropos Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (“My candle burns at both ends,/ It will not last the night./ But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,/ It gives a lovely light.”)  That was pretty funny too.

The other fun thing was that I took Liv home with me for Easter dinner.  I love watching her hang out with my family, especially the guys in my family.  The thing is that she’s really, really beautiful.  However, she doesn’t see her own beauty, particularly since she pays little to no attention to her looks whatsoever.  In her book, her blond sister is the beautiful one in the family, and Liv is the tomboy that nobody looks at twice.  Plus, she grew up rough-housing with two little brothers, so she doesn’t quite understand how the same behavior that’s really annoying in an older sister could be, well, really encouraging in a cute young woman sortof your own age.  It’s a kind of innocence.  Mikey is still young enough that they can play together without worries (plus he’s the one she trusts enough to carry her from my car into the house), but it was interesting watching Larry, my oldest brother.  He had just gotten his hair buzzed really short, so she had to rub it (she rubs her little brothers heads when they’ve just gotten a buzz cut).  It was awesome watching his brain melt and dribble out of his skull right there in my aunt’s living room.

And the other good part about Easter?  I got to talk to Joe.  When I was getting ready to leave my aunt’s house I saw that I’d missed a couple of calls, one from Ella, and one from a number I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t really think it was him, but part of me hoped (I’ve been missing him a lot, and it had been over a month since I got his last letter).  So I listened to my messages right then and there.  One of them was from him, telling me that he’s in New Orleans and giving me a number where I’ll be able to contact him from now until May.  Do you know how long it’s been since I had a phone number I could dial and connect with Joe any old time I wanted?  Years.  I mean, first he was in Afghanistan, then world traveling, then sharing a phone with the whole Jesuit novitiate.  It’s been a long time.  I got myself and Liv home as quickly as I could, went directly up to my room and called 14.  We talked a long time, the first time I think we’ve been able to talk ourselves out since he left town a year ago.  Then last night I called him again, just because I could. 

Now I’m trying to finish up school projects, clean the house to make a good impression of the potential roommate who might come visiting this weekend while I’m gone, and getting ready to leave for Boston.  Yup, friends, it’s time for the Boston Tea Party!  I’ve been waiting for this since I came home from my first Tea Party last year.  I’m so excited and nervous and stressed thinking of all the things that have to happen between now and when I fly out of Columbus on Thursday.  Thank goodness this year I have a room in the actual hotel, and if all goes well I’ll actually make it out for Thursday night instead of missing my flight like last year.  I’m also registered to compete in the West Coast Newcomers Jack & Jill.  Also, John Lindo owes me two dances.

Eeek!  Just thinking about it makes me nervous.  Breathe, Bernadette, breathe.  Ok.  I’m going to take another stab at that paper writing, and if that doesn’t work, I’m doing laundry.

Jenn just messaged me that K-Mart is selling roses for cheap!   Maybe I’ll have my rose garden after all!

Once upon a time, in a blogoverse far, far a way, I had another blog. It was my starter blog, that first taste of blogging crack that created the blogging jones I live with today. In the beginning I thought it would be a fun way to keep in touch with the girls from the junior high small group I led at my parish youth group. Then I publicized it to my friends in far off places, and it started to take on a life of its own. One day a young man suddenly showed up in the comments section. His name was Andy, and he seemed a nice enough guy. He shared an interest in C.S. Lewis, and seemed to have a similar offbeat sense of humor. We commented back and forth, getting a little flirtatious at times. It never really went anywhere. We came close to meeting each other in person once or twice, but never quite made it happen. Things petered out, and I almost forgot he existed.

In the meantime, I started wanting a somewhat different blogging experience. My previous blogging service was regrettably teeny-bopper-ish. Plus, I had too many close acquaintances reading it – people I saw regularly, but with whom I wasn’t close enough that I really wanted them knowing too much. I started self-censoring a lot, and feeling the pressure to be cute! and perky! all the time! And then, what if I wanted to blog about a guy? No way was I going to do that on my old blog except in the most oblique fashion. After all, even if the guy himself wasn’t reading the blog, I knew for sure that people who knew him and would be able to readily identify him were definitely reading it. It all got to be a lot, and so I started this blog, the blog no one knows I have, the grown-up blog on which I write about grown-up things and also crushes. (Contradiction? What contradiction?)

So… back to the story about Andy. A few months ago he found me on facebook, and we became friends there. We chatted a little, but then things dropped again, and I was happy to let them go. Then I decided to have a party, a nice, quiet party for my Catholic young adult friends. I created an event on facebook, and when it came time to invite people, I threw him in for good measure.

He accepted the invitation.

It was surreal, like some postmodern piece of fiction in which the characters come to life and start arguing with the author. This guy… actually existed? As in, the real world? Lived, breathed, walked around, and was coming to my party? How… odd. And then, why was he coming? Sure, we’d read each others blogs for a couple of years, but that didn’t mean we really knew each other. What did he want? I didn’t think he was romantically interested – I hadn’t gotten a flirtatious vibe from him in a long, long time. It was almost as if Bingley from Pride & Prejudice had announced he was coming to my party. If it had been Darcy, there would have been swooning and frenzied preparations to ensure that everything was picture perfect. But… Bingley? I wasn’t frazzled or nervous, just puzzled.

The party was last night, and about fifteen minutes in, he walked through the door. A slight, reasonably attractive young man, just like his facebook pictures. He was shyer than I had expected, but very nice. He laughed at my jokes, and helped carry things. He seemed to have a good time, hanging out with lots of different people. He didn’t pay me much particular attention, though he seemed to generally drift to the part of the downstairs where I was. He stayed until close to the end, and said he had a good time. My sister was encouraging him to come to our Catholic young adult group, and I seconded the invitation. I hadn’t thought to invite him before since he’s pretty Methodist, and we’re pretty Catholic. But maybe he would like it after all.

I just don’t quite know what to make of it.

People who read my blog are actually real?

So I was thinking about putting together a few New Year’s Resolutions for myself, which caused me to realize a few things. First, I realized that absolutely nothing that I hoped for last year came true for me. Then I realized that this was because pretty much all my hopes were bound up in Carlos making good on all the promises his flirtatious behavior had seemed to make. I had kindof a half-formed goal of becoming a better dancer, but I hadn’t thought much about what that actually meant. My dancing has improved immensely, but if I were to judge the year’s success by my current relationship status, things would look pretty bleak. Sure, there was the Actual Date with Basil, but at year’s end I’m pretty much where I started. So this year I decided that not a single one of my goals should involve romantic relationships in any shape or form. For a while I toyed with the goal of having gone on another Real Date, but in the end I decided even that was too much. Instead, this year I want to focus on other things, like:

  1. My dancing. I have some basic things I know I want to work on (my balance, spinning, not drifting when I spin, relaxing into the lead, etc.), but those are things I’ll be working on probably my whole dancing career. This year I want to work on my solo Charleston. Specifically, I want to be comfortable enough with it, comfortable enough with my own body, that I can dance a whole song by myself without needing anyone else dancing along side me. One of the very few sad things about PittStop was that no matter how infectiously Charleston-y the song was, I couldn’t get anyone to form a Charleston circle with me for love or money, and I wasn’t confident enough to go it alone. Lucy has traditionally been my steady Charleston-circle partner in crime, but there’s a good chance that she might be leaving town later this year. So I need to work up the chops to go it alone. We’ll see how that goes.
  2. My friends. There are too many people I really care about whom I hardly ever see. This is partly because for the last two years I’ve been consistently choosing to spend my available free time dancing, and too many of my friends don’t dance. Still, I care about them and I don’t want to let them slip through my fingers for lack of a little effort. I’m a person who needs structure, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to structure friend time into my life. So far what I’ve come up with is having friends come over to watch TV with me, now that I actually have a TV night again. I know there’s got to be other ways to work this in. I’d be happy to hear other people’s ideas on this.
  3. My finances. I’m not gonna lie – I’m pretty much a spaz when it comes to money. I do stupid things. I buy stuff I don’t need. I either don’t plan ahead or I don’t follow the plan I have. I’ve bought the financial software, but I don’t use it. I never turn necessary paperwork in on time. I’m just awful at this stuff, and I know it. The accumulated impact of failure after failure becomes so overwhelming sometimes that I become emotionally paralyzed and can’t do anything at all until something snaps me out of it. However, little by little I’ve been improving, planning ahead, taking necessary steps to make sure every thing’s covered. I’m still far from perfect, but I have hopes that finally, this year I’ll get my stuff together.
  4. My writing. I took first prize in a poetry contest in 2007. Now I have two publishing creds under my belt. I’d like to have more. I don’t want to set a goal for acceptances or prizes, but I would like to send out at least two submissions every month. It’s not a lot, but I think it’s an important step for me. In his latest letter Joe sent me information on a poetry competition for a magazine he reads. I think I’ll start there.

And that’s what I have. I think they’re pretty good goals, challenging but achievable. The best part? None of them involve romance!

Lately, in the odd moments between writing feminist research papers and studying for Aquinas exams (or, rather, avoiding those things through mad procrastination and science-fiction reading, mostly a lot of Mercedes Lackey and Neal Stephenson), I’ve been musing about why it is that I enjoy ballet so much. It’s not that I’m particularly good at it, my “nice, straight back” aside. I have yet to execute anything like a passable pirouette in class. And there’s no real social interaction as an excuse. After all, you have to admit that half the charm of any social dance is that you get to do it with real, live members of the opposite sex. While in ballet you may dance alongside and, perhaps ideally, in unison with other people, you’re not really dancing with them but next to them. You don’t get to dance with someone else until you’ve gotten higher than I’ll ever go, assuming an obliging member of the opposite sex can be found. Actual men tend to be rather scarce in ballet. So… what is it about ballet that sends me hunting online bargains of cute dance warmups instead slavering over the expensive-but-exquisite goods on the tango shoe websites (ever so nice for Balboa)? What makes me willing to shell out extra money for an adult ballet class, and actually miss part of my university swing club night so I can attend?

So far what I’ve come up with is that ballet is one of the few dance forms where it’s ok for women to look serious. Most dances don’t go well with serious looks. Weekend before last I took a Westie workshop that challenged me in a number of ways, so I was concentrating hard. Towards the end the instructor reproached me a couple of times with, “You’re so serious! Smile!” See, in most dance forms you’re supposed to be happy all the time. “Big smiles, girls!” After all, a bright smile covers a multitude of dancing sins. And if you don’t look like you’re having fun, then, well, you must be doing something wrong. Lindy is very like this. I think of it being a little like Tigger in Winnie-the-Pooh: “Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!”

If you’re not being happy, then you’re being sexy. Think Blues. Or Tango. Tango is a very serious dance, but it’s in a we’re-barely-restraining-ourselves-from- ripping-each-other’s-clothes-off sort of way. You can be angry with Hip Hop, but otherwise it’s all looking languidly bored or playing up the sex. There’s very few dances where you get to be just plain serious. Or sad. It’s like sadness is the unacceptable emotion. Women can be happy, sexy, or (rarely) angry, but they can’t be serious or sad.

Not in ballet. This is a dance form in which one of the definitive performances is Anna Pavlova performing The Dying Swan. Death, sorrow, revenge – it’s all there along with the lighter, more acceptable emotions. You don’t have to be happy or sexy all the time, although ballet can definitely be both. When I dance ballet I can be myself, concentrating hard on the muscles I’m using, the line I’m reaching for, not worrying whether I’m looking happy or cute. When it comes time to let the emotions through I can mourn my friend’s rapidly approaching death from liver cancer. I can express how much I miss Joe. I can be myself, my whole self, not just the fun parts of me. And that, I think, is why I love ballet.

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