Here’s the sequence: I’m lying on the bed reading the opening chapter of a library book on my phone. I don’t know why I’m doing this: I’m several chapters into Deep Work, about which I’ve just talked Scott’s ear off for an hour or more during dinner and, afterward, our walk; and I’ve got another Mary Stewart novel on the Kindle, which I know I’ll find totally absorbing as soon as I settle into it properly. And here beside me on the bed: A Tale of Time City and Elizabeth and Her German Garden, both of which I read, oh golly, back in the ’90s I guess it would have been. (Or more precisely, Time City was read to me by Scott, one of the books we enjoyed aloud together when Jane was a newborn. I nursed, he read.) I grabbed them on my way into the room, for no particular reason. I’m hungry for something, pacing a mental library like a caged tiger, wanting a contrast to the sobering, change-demanding Deep Work.
And so here I am ignoring the books already in progress or gathered on my way to this quiet corner. I got up at six this morning and was in my chair, writing, by 6:10. I haven’t stopped since, unless the walk counts as down time. (It does.) Now the rest of the family is watching Superman and I have an hour free, an hour to spend reading. I ache to read. I think about it all day long: how I can’t wait until evening is here and I can read.
But then I don’t. I work on tomorrow’s NYT crossword puzzle, which hits my phone at 7pm. Get about halfway through before flicking away. Instagram, but only for a moment. I want to read. Why am I not reading?
I remember that a Penelope Lively book I’d requested hit my Overdrive account today. I tap open the Libby app (though I’m not clear on why I’m now using Libby for Overdrive; the library website nudged me in that direction but didn’t explain why) and there it is: Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir. I’m going to relish it; this I know from the cover, the brief description. Below this new arrival, there’s the audiobook of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, a big chunk of which I listened to last Sunday while doing some handwork—and then in the rush of the work-week, forgot all about. I was enjoying it quite a lot, and the audio version is wonderful: a delicious array of voices.
Below that, the Mary Poppins audiobook—that’s my next Brave Writer Arrow title, I just turned in Redwall today, and in late afternoon I decided to get a jump on this next assignment. I looked all over the house for our copy of Poppins; I know it’s here somewhere; it’s nowhere to be seen. Thus the audio, which I’d downloaded last week in anticipation, and spent some time with before dinner this evening. This is suddenly adding up to be a lot of books in progress (let’s not mention The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, which I’m reading to the kids but didn’t today). And below Mary Poppins on the Libby screen, yet another book I put on hold (not audio this time)—last weekend, I think, when my friend Kelly Ramsdell mentioned it on Instagram? Ursula K. Le Guin’s No Time to Spare. The title terrifies me. It sounds like more Deep Work. I scroll back up and tap open the Penelope Lively.
Oh dear, the Preface, I’m hooked already, I genuinely want to read this. By page two, I want to read it on paper. This keeps happening lately—is it a delayed reaction to purging our shelves of (sob) hundreds, really I think it might have been thousands, of books before the move last summer? We couldn’t afford to move them—you know how it is with books—and I’m sure there are still a thousand left on my shelves, here in Portland, it’s not like I’m deprived…but I miss the abandoned ones. I remember particular volumes and where they lived on the shelves. I can’t think about it too hard. And I’m not buying books at the moment but I keep wanting to. I want this one, this Dancing Fish and hello, you had me at Ammonites to hold in my hand, to mark up with underlines and notes. Earlier today I was pining for a hard copy of Deep Work—again the urge to scrawl in the margins, to make satisfying little checkmarks next to bits I like.
Penelope Lively ends her preface with this:
“…most of us end up with an identifying cargo—that painting, this vase, those titles on the shelf. I can give eloquence to mine—I know what they are saying. Not so much detachment here; more, a flicker of memoir proper—a voyage around the eighty years by way of two ammonites, a pair of American ducks, leaping fish…And a raft of books.”
Oh Penelope, what are you doing to me?
I flick to chapter one but my eyes have left the screen; I’m staring at the nearest shelf and thinking, suddenly, that what I ought to do is forget about all the books I don’t have on hand and just—oh it’s a ludicrous thought, I know that even before the thought completes—read my way back through my own shelves. Every book, one after another, in the order in which I find them on the shelf: a sort of Julie-and-Julia project, aspic and all.
Ridiculous, I know. But the idea tickles my fancy and I go to the bookcase nearest the bed, just to see. Top left corner, the obvious place to start. Oh but I can’t start there—it’s the Norton Anthologies, the five we kept for homeschooling purposes. You can’t start with Norton Anthologies! Can you?
Next in line: The Lord of the Rings. Which, you know, you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to fall into those volumes…but it is wise? How many dozens of times have I read them!
(The Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature is whispering to me. How long is it since I’ve read The Awakening? The Bluest Eye?)
The rest of that shelf is old Greensboro Reviews—I was poetry editor in the early 90s—and some back issues of Flow Magazine. This will never do. I huff impatiently and turn away from this bookcase, which is laughable, since shelves four and five are where I’ve been stashing books I own but haven’t read yet and really want to. Look, I’m tired, I worked really hard today, I’m perhaps a bit irrational. There are two tall, crammed bookcases on the next wall. Top left corner: some picture books, I can skip those (or can I? what rules do I want to invent for this game I know I’m not actually going to play?); what’s the first novel-length book on the shelf?
Lloyd Alexander’s Time Cat. Er, I’m not in the mood. The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle, hahahahaha. Next. Papa’s Daughter by Thyra Ferré Bjorn, read half to tatters before I turned eighteen, and perhaps only once since. If it were Papa’s Wife I might have succumbed—the Lucia crown; the lutefisk and the midnight sun!—but Papa’s Daughter, eh, I feel impatient with Button’s moods already. Oh here’s The Sherwood Ring, lying sideways because I pulled it out two weeks ago for a juicy reread…and then didn’t. I stand there for a moment, falling into page one, this is perfect, it’s just what I was looking for to counterbalance Deep Work. (Forgetting again that I already have that counterbalance with the Mary Stewart novel I started the other night, which one is it this time? Nine Coaches Waiting, that’s right.) (Nobody mention the subtitle of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Oh, that’s rich.)
I abandon Sherwood Ring, too, and wander to the computer to chronicle this foolish indecision, this half hour I could have spent, you know, READING. I’ve crammed all the books back on the shelf. It’s 9:30, which is when I watch TV.
If anybody says the word “August” to me I shall scream, ’Enry ’Iggins, I shall scream. It’s simply Not Possible we are almost there.
School doesn’t start for my rising 9th grader (!!! — now it’s your turn to shriek at the passage of time) for another month, but the rise of restlessness and quarreling among my smallest fry signaled to me that it was time for the tide to come back in. We picked up some dropped threads this morning—the Shakespeare speech they were learning in June (which I was pleased to see they remembered in full, so now I get to choose the next one); our German lessons; the study of ancient counting systems that Rilla is so enjoying. “Who knew I would be SO INTO numbers?”—/endquote.
And we began the second Penderwicks book. I had a different readaloud in mind but I was shouted down. “No offense to your choice, Mom,” I was assured. “It’s just…I mean, the Penderwicks.”
Indisputable logic. We’re on Chapter 3 of Gardam Street now.
Huck is clamoring for a return to Poetry Teatime (our July Tuesdays were full of misadventure), so that’s tomorrow. And if the heat breaks, I’d like to get them doing some baking once a week. I miss baking bread. Ooh but also! A German bakery is opening in our neighborhood! I may be a wee bit excited.
I read approximately one zillion Mary Stewart novels in June and early July, and then I completely forgot how to read. No wait, that’s not accurate—I read two entire Jean Webster novels on the plane to and from San Diego. But I got home a week ago and I’ve been floating from first page to first page ever since, like a butterfly sampling nectar and not finding anything quite satisfactory. Which is ridiculous, given the size of my TBR pile, not to mention the queue on my Kindle. Hundreds of options. I keep pulling out stacks and then…not committing to anything.
I’ve been steady at art, though, and that’s not nothing. Drawing or painting almost every day, and quite a bit of embroidery. This topic requires pictures but I can’t be bothered just now, please understand. I’m trying my long ago (so very long ago!) trick of using a quick blog post (timer set for twenty minutes) as a transition between the homeschooling mom and writer-with-a-deadline parts of my day. I daren’t go a minute over.
But here—three people to visit for gorgeous needlework pictures and patterns:
SO MUCH TO CATCH UP ON HERE! A children’s hospital stay, a San Diego trip, Comic-Con, oh my. But not now! I gotta work! But I wanted to share this thingie I made.
This morning I mentioned on Facebook that I was updating my boy’s medical one-sheet in preparation for a visit to a new doctor. This remark generated a flurry of requests for a shareable template. So I’ve put one together and stuck it on Dropbox. I’ll work on a Google Docs version later.
San Diego Comic-Con is a week away. Eek. It’s our first time attending as out-of-towners and BOY does that change the equation. Scott can’t hide at home until I call and say head over soon, we’re having dinner with so-and-so…And I will have to make painful decisions about which shoes to bring.
(Whichever they are, they will be Dansko. Dansko soles are the only way my feet can survive Comic-Con.)
(Somewhere, somewhere in this blog’s archives I have a pic of a drawing I made of my swoony red Dansko shoes. I went looking for it—in vain. Whatever I titled the image, it didn’t include the words “Dansko,” “red,” or “shoes.” But in my quest I did happen upon this post from 2012…and I’ve been sitting here laughing for ten minutes. Okay, y’all, THIS is why I blog. Remind me of this when I drop the ball again. This stuff is golden and I would NEVER have remembered.)
As I was writing the above, I heard a great outcry from the living room as all six of my offspring—and their father—yelled out at once. I dashed out of my studio to see what was happening. “OH NO, MOM’S HERE!” someone shouted. No, it’s not that I caught them (all seven) in some mischief. Turns out they were watching American Ninja Warrior…rooting hard for the guy on screen…and, well, my family does not tend to be superstitious, except where Ninja Warrior is concerned. It seems I’m a Ninja Warrior jinx. They all aver that if I enter the room, the person they’re rooting for gets knocked out of the race. I can tell you right now your “correlation not causation” arguments won’t faze them a bit. I’ve tried. Nope: apparently it’s all me—my mere presence in the room causes the person to fall off the giant twirly climby thing…at a taping some months in the past. THAT’S what kind of mojo I have.
Now if only I could muster this superpower on purpose…
• “The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.”
• “There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.”
• “There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise. The automobile will have driven out the horse. Cattle and sheep will have no horns. They will be unable to run faster than the fattened hog of today. A century ago the wild hog could outrun a horse. Food animals will be bred to expend practically all of their life energy in producing meat, milk, wool and other by-products. Horns, bones, muscles and lungs will have been neglected.”
• “Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span. American audiences in their theatres will view upon huge curtains before them the coronations of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient. The instrument bringing these distant scenes to the very doors of people will be connected with a giant telephone apparatus transmitting each incidental sound in its appropriate place. Thus the guns of a distant battle will be heard to boom when seen to blaze, and thus the lips of a remote actor or singer will be heard to utter words or music when seen to move.”
• “There Will Be No Street Cars in Our Large Cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above ground when brought within city limits. In most cities it will be confined to broad subways or tunnels, well lighted and well ventilated, or to high trestles with “moving-sidewalk” stairways leading to the top. These underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight with cushioned wheels. Subways or trestles will be reserved for express trains. Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.”
• “Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Even to-day photographs are being telegraphed over short distances. Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.”
• “Hot and Cold Air from Spigots. Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of the bath. Central plants will supply this cool air and heat to city houses in the same way as now our gas or electricity is furnished. Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.”
• “Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with the private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes. Great business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles will distribute purchases from house to house.”
• “Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed. Such wholesale cookery will be done in electric laboratories rather than in kitchens.”
And in the Isn’t It Pretty to Think So department:
• “A university education will be free to every man and woman. Several great national universities will have been established. Children will study a simple English grammar adapted to simplified English, and not copied after the Latin. Time will be saved by grouping like studies. Poor students will be given free board, free clothing and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses. Medical inspectors regularly visiting the public schools will furnish poor children free eyeglasses, free dentistry and free medical attention of every kind. The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions. In vacation time poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world. Etiquette and housekeeping will be important studies in the public schools.”