catching up and cleaning up (and thinning out books the NOT KONDO way and still feeling joy)

 

Feels like forever since I was here. Had some work done in the house and so my office was incommunicado and then after the work was done I needed to recuperate from the work. Not that I did much of it. Although I pride myself on a bit of painting, which, I swear I don’t understand how anyone can actually enjoy doing. As if colour selection isn’t crazy-making enough, the taping and spilling and wiping that goes on, the tedium of painting edges and around windows and baseboards. I know, I know, some people find it meditative and I love meditation so believe me I tried to find the zen, but I prefer my trances to include comfy cushions and closed eyes.

All this work required things taken off shelves, filing cabinets emptied so they could be moved, closets, drawers, all kinds of removal and boxing up and then putting back. The best part of which is that you never put back exactly what you take out… if all goes well, there is quite an enormous difference in fact, with a load of bags and boxes to give away or shred.

So now I’m not even sure what’s making me happier, the new floors, the new wall colour, or the new ‘space’ everywhere. Not that I went all KonMari or anything, I did NOT, but I did discard the stuff that was (literally) blocking me from seeing the actual stuff I like or need to see or from reading the books I have that were so deeply stacked everywhere that I could hardly be bothered to approach any one stack, preferring, instead, the easier (and so very sweet) route of just buying new books. (To then read and/or stack, because they had nowhere else to live….)

The biggest difference (apart from having a functional office) is that my bookshelves are now welcoming spaces (to me and to new books) rather than overstocked storage areas and the best unexpected gift of all this is how the organization of it makes me feel like I suddenly live in my very own bookshop, a place that welcomes browsing, with titles you can read and books that you can easily find and take from the shelf.

I’ll admit that I do have a ‘new’ stack of books… (let’s not be coy, I’ll always have a stack of books)… but these are titles from my own shelves, happy surprises that emerged from the cleansing to say hello! you’ve always meant to read me, remember????

And I’m getting through this stack with such pleasure! The weight, the literal weight of so much unorganized and unread accumulation having been lifted is liberating. (And please understand, I still have shelves and shelves of hundreds of books… books that I actually want.)

The first of the ‘new’ stack that I read was a cloth bound 1937 edition of Letters to a Friend, by Winnifred Holtby, which I bought very many moons ago at Hannelore’s (an absolute brilliant fixture of a second hand book shop in St. Catharines). (The copy is marked with a stamp indicating it was once property of the Naval Vessels Reading Service in Halifax… one of the best things about second hand books is what you find in them.)

Winnifred Holtby was a feminist, a socialist, a pacifist, and pals with Vita Sackville West, Vera Brittain and Leonard Woolf, though these letters are written to Jean McWilliam, whom she met during her time with the WAACs. McWilliam is referred to as ‘Rosalind’ and Holtby signs off as ‘Celia’, a reference to the cousins in Shakespeare’s  As You Like It.

Here is a good outline of the book.

For my part I’ll leave you with a snippet, from the opening page where, in the very first letter to ‘Dearest Rosalind’, there is this… (which, if I should ever receive the like in a letter from anyone, I will insist that person never ever stop writing me letters.)

“The roads were fine and hard, made for walking, spreading themselves across the hills, and opening out at the crossways to tempt us on. We talked about burlesques an school discipline and Dostoevsky and porridge, and whether bread and cheese and beer are really better than stuffed olives and champagne, and neckties and dons and all the thousand and one silly things that one talks about on a long morning when the air is frosty and the roads are dry.”

And, for the record, based on the above, (I mean, Dostoevsky and porridge??? ) this is someone I would dearly love to have walked with.

More excavations to follow.

 

 

 

other people’s bookshelves

 

It’s Wednesday, which means I ought to be posting a mysterious photo or story prompt… more or less a self-imposed rule, which makes it easy to break.

Instead, I want to talk about bookshelves, other people’s, and how a recent snoop is connected to last Wednesday’s mysterious photo.

Snoop is a harsh word. I was more ‘browsing’ at the cottage where we stayed recently, a remote place in 300 acres of forest, on a lake, surrounded by trails and perfect snowshoeing conditions. We go to this place every year for the seclusion and disconnection from everything other than books, food, wine and fireplace (tea and starlight and thick blankets on the deck also allowed).

As always, my travel bag is mainly filled with books, even for just a few days. But if there’s a bookshelf where I’m staying, chances are I’ll be seduced. (There is something so satisfying in perusing other people’s bookshelves.)

It should be noted that my interest is not to see what they’re reading, as in current titles… bore bore bore… but rather what they’ve collected, the quirky books that might have been culled over time but were kept instead. Those are the ones I’m drawn to. Cloth covers and dust, that kind of thing. Also how the books are filed is interesting… alphabetically, by subject, theme, mood…

This place does it ‘by subject’, which subjects include theology, Shakespeare, political memoir, climate, history, nature, art, Ireland, novels about Ireland, and classic novels, the Brontes, etc., as well as obscure (to me) volumes of poetry such as ‘I Take it Back’, by Margaret Fishback, who strikes me as a sort of poetic Dorothy Parker for all of her delicious rhyming sarcasm as she comments on the state of society. (The rhyming, of course, is essential to the sarcasm.)

To a Baby One Day Old

It seems a sweet absurdity
to call so small a morsel ‘he’.

I mean, to think she was writing about gender identity in the 1930’s…

And this, a little tongue in cheek for, well, you know who you are.

On My Toes

I’m the pronunciation snob who knows
how to cope with the Ballet Joose…
nor does the Monte Carlo Ballet Russe
stagger me as it may do youse.

**

I also read about Lewis and Clarke and how Lewis was a bit of a jackass who thought very highly of his white self and neglected to give credit to the Shoshone wife of a member of the their crew. Her name was Sacagawea and without her they’d have been sunk as she was the only one who knew the terrain, the language and how to navigate the territory, including interactions with indigenous ‘residents’. Fortunately the transcribing of Lewis and Clarke’s journals fell to Clarke after Lewis’s death and he, being a much more decent bloke, gave her the credit she deserved (and which Lewis had conveniently left out of his own notes).

**

And I read about Emily Carr, who I’ve read, and read about, many times. But this was different in that the book I found was a rather obscure volume, written by one of her art students and life long friend, Carol Pearson. And not only was Pearson a friend of Carr, she grew up to be Aunt Carol to the people who own the cottage we were staying in. And not only that but Aunt Carol had a small cabin of her own in these very woods, which is now ramshackle (but the dish rack remains) and every time we’ve been up here I’ve passed it and wondered who it belonged to. And now I know.

This is what happens when you snoop in people’s bookshelves.

I mean browse.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

this is not a review: ‘braiding sweetgrass’, by robin wall kimmerer

 
 
Oh nuts. Time has whipped by and my inter-library (thank you, *Trent Hills!) copy of Braiding Sweetgrass  is due back before I’ve had the chance to read more than a few of its essays.

This is down to a couple of things. The stacks of books and papers in my house being the only one worth mentioning. (Tho’ if you must know, the other is an obsession with watching taped episodes of Escape to the Country, which occasionally cuts into my extracurricular reading time.)

In any case.

I did read enough to know that I’m not troubled by having to give it back because I’ve decided I need my own copy of the book. In the same way and for many of the same but also different reasons that I needed my own copy of Theresa Kishkan’s beautiful Mnemonic…  a memoir through the memory of trees and, often, the houses and lives surrounded by them, not all of them her own — “All my life, I have wondered at the feeling I have in particular houses, usually ones in which no one lives any longer.”

And Peter Wohlleben’s The  Hidden Life of Trees , which I read in a Kawartha forest cabin and then wandered among the birch and spruce in a whole new way, alert and hopeful for a sense of the conversations I now realized were going on all around me.

And The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, one of those tiny eye/mind openers that change your world in the very best way. Every bit of clover in my yard is because of her.

So, yes, I’m looking forward to adding Braiding Sweetgrass  to that particular shelf and to continue reading Kimmerer’s gorgeous essays on nature. Here’s just a wee slice from ‘Asters and Goldenrod’ where she writes about the reason she chose to study botany in the first place… a moment from her intake interview at college:

“How could I answer, how could I tell him that I was a born botanist, that I had shoe boxes of seeds and piles of pressed leaves under my  bed, that I’d stop my bike along the road to identify a new species, that plants colored  my dreams, that the plants had chosen me? So I told him the truth. I was proud of my well-planned answer, its freshman sophistication apparent to anyone, the way it showed that I already knew some plants and their habitats, that I had thought deeply about their nature and was clearly well prepared for college work. I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.”

Kimmerer is my kind of guide through the natural world because she doesn’t see a difference between it and us. (Spoiler alert: she gets into botany school and learns the science, but never, thankfully, unlearns her innate connection and unique eye/heart/spirit for what is real.)

_______________

* That Trent Hills Library happens to be in Campbellford, a place I only discovered and fell into great affection with last year (they have a Stedmans!), is the kind of scrumptious serendipity that makes my heart sing. Also, I love the inter-library system.

 

savoury sentences from several sources, part 3

 

“I imagined her at her closet, deciding what you’d wear to go learn something about your child that just might break your heart.”

from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,  by Karen Joy Fowler

 

“She said it with just a hint of bitterness in her voice, enough that I could taste it, like a squeeze of lemon in a glass of milk.”

— from ‘Serendipity’ in the collection Flesh & Blood,  by Michael Crummey

 

“She had no children and beautiful shoes in a range of colours, and each pair had its own matching bag.”

— from ‘The Green Road’,  by Anne Enright

 

“It surprises me that he could have seen any delight in Toby Whittaker, an exhausted-looking young man who, after shaking hands, said not a word from first to last, but whose silence emitted a faint air of disaster and gin.”

— from ‘A Serious Widow’,  by Constance Beresford-Howe

 

“Recently, everything around me felt familiar yet amiss, like the first time you ride in the back seat of your own car.”

— from  Let the Northern Lights Erase your Name,  by Vendela Vida

 

“The smoke in the dark looked like a dove that whispered the future to saints in paintings.”

— from Lullabies for Little Criminals,  by Heather O’Neill

 

“Home was something that you could fit into a suitcase and move in a taxi for ten dollars.”

— from Lullabies for Little Criminals,  by Heather O’Neill

 

“The mixture of cafe au lait and impatience was producing an exquisite vibration.”

— from Still Life,  by Louise Penny

 

“The problem is he married a Pole. Turns out she doesn’t know her arse from her elbow. Doesn’t even keep Keen’s mustard on hand.”

— from Are you Ready to be Lucky?,  by Rosemary Nixon

 

“That was the trouble with grown-ups: they always wanted to be the centre of attention, with their battering rams of food, and their sleep routines and their obsession with making you learn what they knew and forget what they had forgotten.”

— from Mother’s Milk,  by Edward St. Aubyn

 

“They were not merely sentences but compressed moments that burst when you read them.”

— from the essay, ‘Thank you, Esther Forbes’, by George Saunders

♦♦♦
 

More sentences here 710px-Woman_reading,_1930s

and here.

 

 

it may seem we’ve come a long way but you’ve got to admit, the bar was pretty low…

 

In 1854, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon published a pamphlet, A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning  Women; Together with a Few Observations Thereon” ; this is an excerpt:

“A man and wife are one person in law; the wife loses all her rights as a single woman, and her existence is entirely absorbed in that of her husband. He is civilly responsibly for her acts; she lives under his protection or cover, and her condition is called coverture.

A woman’s body belongs to her husband; she is in his custody and he can enforce his right by a writ of habeas corpus.

What was her personal property before marriage, such as money, becomes absolutely her husband’s, and he may assign or dispose of them at his pleasure whether he and his wife live together or not.

A wife’s chattels real (i.e., estates) become her husband’s.

Neither the Courts of Common law nor Equity have any direct power to oblige a man to support his wife….

The legal custody of children belongs to the father. During the life-time of a sane father, the mother has no rights over her children, except a limited power over infants, and the father may take them from her and dispose of them as he thinks fit.

A married woman cannot sue or be sued for contracts—nor can she enter into a contracts except as the agent of her husband; that is to say, her word alone is not binding in law….

A wife cannot bring actions unless the husband’s name is joined.

A husband and wife cannot be found guilty of conspiracy, as that offence cannot be committed unless there are two persons.”

 

* In 2007, the British equal rights campaigner and feminist Lesley Abdela came across the grave of Barbara Bodichon. The grave lay in the tiny churchyard in Brightling, East Sussex, about 50 miles (80 km) from London, in a state of disrepair, its railings rusted and breaking away and the inscription on the tomb almost illegible.[  About £1,000 has since been raised to restore the site.

220px-Barbara_Bodichon_sketch

* With thanks to Wikipedia.

utopia

 

A strange conversation, recently overheard…

In a book store yet.

DSC02069

One woman to the other: I get fidgety if I sit too long.

The other agrees, says, yes, that she has friends who can read for hours;
she has no idea how they do it.

Exactly!  says the first. l mean, I Iike to read… but not for  hours.DSC02070

Another exchange, in the same shop, one that made more sense—

I ask the owner how many books he guesses he has in here. DSC02072

His answer: not enough.

Every day, he says, someone comes in and asks for something he doesn’t have.

DSC02075

We get that, right?

“Literature is my Utopia.” ~ Helen Keller

savoury sentences from several sources — part 2

 

“I always knew that sentences, beautiful perfect sentences, were the minimum of what was going to be required.” ~ Peter Behrens

“… I may be the only narcissist in the world with a case of unrequited self-love.”— Stephen Reid, Crowbar in a Buddhist Garden

“Being the class clown was like always picking up the cheque and having no one appreciate it.” — Heather O’Neill, ‘And They Danced by the Light of the Moon’, The Walrus, July/August 2012

“…one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.” — Joan Didion, ‘Goodbye to all That’, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

“”I’m not religious at all,” says Hilary. And the quick way she straightens her back shows me a woman who was baptized, took communion and knows the Act of Contrition by heart. She might as well be making the sign of the cross.”  [can’t remember who wrote this… help! anyone??]

“”Well, don’t read the bible,” I tell her. “That’s what Protestants do and look at them.””  [ditto above]

“Portugal is a fine country, for example, but I only found a couple of poems there.” — Lesley Choyce, Seven Ravens: Two Summers in a Life by the Sea

“To say what a letter contains is impossible. Did you every touch your tongue to a metal surface in winter–how it felt to not get a letter is easier to say.” — Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband

“When the cat died on Veteran’s Day, his ashes then packed into a cheesy pink-posed tin and placed high upon the mantel, the house seemed lonely and Aileen began to drink.” — Lorrie Moore, ‘Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens’,  Birds of America

“Though he looks at her, he doesn’t see her. He sees a version that suits him.” — Marnie Woodrow, ‘King Cake’, In the Spice House  

1024px-Penciltip

savoury sentences, part 1