Monday, September 30, 2013

Money and Spirit

I've been reading Lynne Twist's The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources (2006) with a degree of ambivalence.

On the one hand, it's certainly better than reading about what Congress is currently doing (or not doing). 

Personally, I'm kind of at the point where, I don't care if you're Democrat, I don't care if you're Republican, I don't care if you're Green, I don't care if you're Liberal, I don't care if you're Tea Party: stop holding your constituents hostage every fall with this crap about the budget.

I think we need a law that states that if a fiscally responsible budget isn't passed every year, by such-and-such a date, all members of Congress are officially laid off, and they will be required to serve in the military or in various federally-funded public service sectors, without pay, until their replacements are elected.

Harry Reid can answer phones for FEMA.  John Boehner can clear brush out in Yellowstone.  Things like that.

I think our Congressional representatives need a better sense of their own job description.  Because right now, I can't see a single person in Congress, from any party, who is doing anything I would actually consider a form of employment worthy of a paycheck of any kind.  But that's just me.

Okay, so this was at least some of the source of my ambivalence towards Twist's book.  I'm already in a bad mood about "money," writ large. 

I'm also always suspicious when people who have a lot of money, who hang out with people who have a lot of money and who make money getting people with a lot of money to give them their money (Twist is a fundraiser), take it upon themselves to tell the rest of us about the value of our "inner resources."

Cuz to me, that always kinda comes across like telling people, "You're so lucky you're poor.  It keeps you so grounded.  You know, in a dirt-floor-hut kinda way.  You must really cherish your family ties, since you really and truly can't live without them... or you'd starve.  That must be nice."

I'm also wary of people who claim that there is a "soul" and a "spirit" to be found in relationships with money.  Because money isn't actually necessary for functioning human societies, and some societies don't actually have or use it.

But Twist in fact points this out.  Her book reads like a kind of Buddhist relationship to money, which also gave me a bit of tic for a while there, because really and truly, Buddhists believe that the source of all human misery is attachment.  This is why Buddhist monks practice poverty and asceticism.

So in a way, Twist's approach already has a bit of a disclaimer.  None of us want to be Buddhist monks, of course, because we like our self-centered lives and our comfy stuff, so... this is the next best option.  An option that boils down to an awareness of the fact that money isn't everything, basically.

I did like Twist's book, though, in some ways.  I think we could all use reminders that we aren't what we buy or what we can afford, and that life isn't always about buying and affording stuff.  Twist's anecdotes about people who have achieved a healthy relationship to money are interesting, although the points she makes tend to be a bit redundant.

About halfway through the book, I ended up feeling that there wasn't much that would be new to learn or think about in the remaining pages, and this is never a good feeling for me.  Repetition is a key to learning, but it's not the only key, obviously.

But I really liked Twist's observations about creating sustainable communities in impoverished areas.  She takes to task traditional conceptions of "charity" which are, in fact, premised on schemes of power and social superiority. 

I like Twist's attentiveness to the way in which power plays a role in our impulse to "write a check" for a charitable cause and rest on our laurels.  I also like her emphasis on the fact that there is nothing "natural" about economic behavior that revolves entirely around a system of competitive accumulation--because nature in no way boils down to a simplistic system of "survival of the fittest."   It is a far more complex system of give-and-take, and we tend to lose sight of that.

If some things are more important than money, then we need to figure out what those things are and behave accordingly: this seems self-evident, and yet, as Twist points out, it's worth repeating. 

In cases where we do possess money and the power that comes with it, we need to think about how to align our non-monetary values with the ways in which we utilize our wealth.  If we pay more attention to what other people have to offer, instead of always reducing everything to the bottom line, we can begin to look at our communities and our circumstances in new ways.

Twist offers several compelling examples, but my favorite is the one about the women who wanted to set up a teahouse.  In a remote African village, a group of elderly women realized that they needed to find a way to survive and function as contributing members of their society.  They could no longer farm or do the kinds of labor that the younger members of the community were expected to do, but they were by no means willing to consider themselves useless. 

They came up with the idea of setting up a teahouse on a well-traveled road.  Farmers and merchants could stop in on their way to and from the local markets, to rest and relax a bit.

They built a makeshift shelter entirely on their own and got started.  Eventually, they contacted The Hunger Project, which is how Twist found out about them.

The women didn't need money, and they didn't ask for it.  They needed teacups.  That was something they didn't have and couldn't acquire, so they asked for help obtaining it.

Although this might seem like an insignificant difference (obviously, you can use money to buy teacups), as Twist points out, it isn't.  The women didn't see themselves as poor or as lacking in resources, they saw themselves as lacking one specific resource that another person or organization might be able to provide.

So that's what they asked for. 

As Twist points out, providing that one resource--or putting a person in touch with someone who might be able to provide it-- is very different from simply writing a check and giving a donation.  It levels the playing field: people with money aren't necessarily perceived as more "powerful" in a system of barter and exchange (since I may not actually need money, if I live somewhere where there isn't much to buy) and the people who don't have money may nevertheless have things that are extremely marketable (like ideas and integrity and ingenuity).

Again, it doesn't seem like much of a shift in mindset, but I think Twist is right that it is an important one.

Several years ago, I started looking into the possibility of donating blankets to Project Linus.  Project Linus gives handmade blankets to children and families in need, whether through hospitals or shelters.  One of the local chapters I approached openly indicated that, if the blankets are nice enough, they set them aside and sell them at their local fundraiser.

I like Project Linus.  Make no mistake, I give them blankets.  But still, when I heard this, I didn't like it, and it took me a while to figure out why. 

My gut reaction was, "I don't want my blankets sold.  If I did, I could sell them and give you the money.  I want someone who needs a blanket to have this blanket right here.  Particularly if it seems like a really nice one.  For me, that's the whole point: I can make something they need, and I want to do that."

But I eventually realized that, in American culture, what I was saying would probably seem like splitting hairs to most people.  If you're giving something that can be converted into cash, you're essentially giving money. 

Except that you aren't, always, and I think that you shouldn't be, always. 

If there is a spirit to money, it lies in the spirit of the exchange, something that is not always reducible to the bottom line.  This is the point that Twist's book made extremely well, and that made it, in my opinion, valuable reading. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Autumn Weekend (In Pictures, Mostly)

I had a few projects to finish this weekend.

A cord of firewood is now officially stacked.  One more cord to go.  I'll get that in a few weeks.  I need a breather.  As I told my neighbor, I think I'm kind of an idiot.  I ought to at least lead a guy on long enough to get him to stack all my firewood for me.  Then I can tell him it "isn't working out" and retreat to the comfort of my wine and my couch and my fireplace.

If you think I spend a lot of time putting fruit scraps into jars and covering them with water, sugar and--on occasion--cheap vodka, you're right.

This is peach liqueur.  Fresh local peaches.  Grated lemon zest.  Cheap vodka.  Need I say more?

This is apple cider vinegar, in its earliest stages.  The peels and cores are fermenting in a mixture of water and sugar.

I have all of those peels and cores because I made these:

Raisin-apple oat muffins.  Local apples.  I swap in half whole-wheat flour.  This makes them "healthy."  Really, it does.  I also double the amount of apples, because I don't think apples should be something that we skimp on in life.

In heaven, these muffins will be served round the clock.  On days when I feel like it, I'll make them, but on the other days, the angels will do it.  It's right up their alley.

I love homemade mustard.  I don't know why anyone would ever buy it.

It's not at all hard to make, although you do have to buy the mustard powder in bulk (I get it from Penzey's Spices).  And you probably want to make it during a season of the year when you can have the windows open, since it involves vinegar.

But it really is quite wonderful, so you should do it.  When you do, you can then use some of it to make homemade mayonnaise as well (using fresh local eggs).

No, I'm not kidding.  You use homemade mustard in the homemade mayo and it's wonderful.

A sweater is done.  I love this pattern, and I love this yarn.  It's Pam Powers' "Devonshire" in Elsebeth Lavold's Hempathy.


Here's a picture of the back of it (because it looks cool and this is what I'll look like when I walk on by).   
My apologies for the bad photos: I have no patience with the task of making a sweater look all pretty for a photo, so I just fling it down and click.  As you can tell.

But in case you didn't catch it, this is that lace detail. I love it, which is why I keep taking pictures of it.

Meanwhile, the laundry is done.  The lawn is mowed.  I went to the library, took out two books on Dostoevsky's The Idiot, and finished one.  So that's something else that I didn't photograph.

Add in a bike ride and a little cookout, plus some time spent catching up with friends, and you have the big picture of my weekend.

Tomorrow, this awaits me: peppermint and pineapple sage, to harvest and hang to dry.  Just a last little batch before the weather gets cooler, I think.

And there you have it.  An early autumn weekend, mostly in pictures.

And yes, I'm pooped.

But happy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Timing Really Is Everything

I've become very aware over the past few days of just how crucial timing can be.  In big ways and in little ways.

A little way: the other day, I hopped into the pool for a swim.  The guy sharing the lane with me apparently didn't see me on his return trip to the wall, because he did a flip turn and totally splashed the shit out of me.

I'm sorry to phrase it so bluntly, but that's what he did, and I think it best that I not mince words about it, since I was really kind of annoyed by it.  So, there.  I said it. 

Splashing someone on a flip turn is an action that always raises my hackles and gets my dander up, because I'm always a bit suspicious when someone does that kind of thing.  I confess: I tend to think maybe they're doing it on purpose.  Because I find it very hard to believe that the person who did it really and truly didn't see me standing right there in front of them, just slightly off to the right.  I'm as blind as a bat, with like 20/800 vision, and even I can see dark-colored, bathing-suited, human-sized masses through fogged-up swim goggles.  In the POOL.  During LAP SWIM time.

I mean, what else could it be, really?  It must be a person.  (It had better be a person.)  And I've seen people do wonderful flip turns and not splash people.  So... I'm just saying.  It shows a lack of awareness, at the very least.

But anyway.  He did it.  It's done.  I got over it (sort of), and moved on.  I began my swim.

When I returned to the wall, he was standing there.  He began waving at me vigorously and yelling, "We can split the LANE.  There's only TWO of us.  We can split the LANE.  Until someone else comes!!!!!"

Yes, I know.  This is why I was standing there like that when you splashed me, because I was going to ask you if you wanted to split the lane.  And it would seem to me that when I nod and start swimming down the same half of the lane I just came back on, it means I heard you, so you don't need to keep yelling "TWO!" after my retreating figure. 

If I can hear you with my ears under water, I'm pretty sure it means you're yelling.  Again, just saying.

So anyway.  I swam for a bit, and then a woman joined us.  I saw her, because I'm like that.  I look where I'm swimming.   But wouldn't you know it, when I got back to the wall, the guy started waving vigorously at me and yelling again.

"We have to swim in a CIRCLE.  There are THREE of us now.  THREE.  THREE!!!"

He actually held up three fingers at me.  I considered holding up one, but I didn't.

Shortly after this incident, I realized I was too annoyed to swim anymore, so I got out.  I felt certain it was only a matter of time before he began waving and shouting at me again and I just couldn't deal with any more of that kind of thing.

Oh, and did I mention he took up the entire lane when he did the Butterfly?  Yeah, that too.  So I swam with the anxious awareness that at any moment I might be inadvertently punched in the face.  Oh well, it's over.  It was just bad timing on my part.

Because if he had said any of these things when I first entered the pool, I probably wouldn't have cared, because at that point, I was thinking, "We should split the lane!  Let's do that!" and I wasn't feeling at all aggravated.

Meanwhile, we found out yesterday that my little section of RI is under a "boil water" advisory because e coli levels are apparently a bit high.  (FYI, I call it "mine," but in fact, I typically share a large portion of the state of RI with quite a few other people.)

A friend dropped by to tell me the news.  He was a bit chagrined because he had been using the contaminated water to make the baby's formula for an entire day.  I was going to tell him that he really shouldn't worry because given the number of bacteria and viruses we're all exposed to on a daily basis, e coli is really the least of anyone's worries, quite frankly.  Of course, infants are somewhat more susceptible, given that their immune systems aren't fully developed, but if you look at infant mortality rates across the past century, really, that baby stands a better chance of survival than many did in previous generations--and not all that long ago--even with being fed bottles laced with e coli.

I did not say this.  As I opened my mouth to do so, I thought of the many times that friends have kindly alerted me to the fact that sometimes--just sometimes--the things that I may find comforting are not really comforting to... other people.  (They never, ever use the phrase "normal people," and this is why they're my friends.)

A friend once explained to me that it's simply that, in my world, knowledge is power and because I like to be prepared for the worst, I find disheartening information useful (albeit disheartening), and I then think of that information as simply "useful," forgetting that it can be a bit disturbing and unexpected to be suddenly (and earnestly) presented with these kinds of odd facts.  More or less out of the blue.

She gently pointed out, "It can seem a little weird to people who don't know you."

I must say, I was very glad she had alerted me to this when I went to a movie with a couple of people I had only recently met.  When I heard one of them whispering to the other person, asking what the prostitute had just said and what it meant, I knew it was best not to lean over and explain what "half-and-half" is.  They will simply have to find out for themselves.

So anyway, I have spent the day boiling whatever water I need, and each time I do, I think of all the times on Saturday and most of Sunday that I just cheerfully used the water, unboiled and unaware that there was any kind of problem.  Because apparently, the water samples were taken "late Friday," and we didn't get the boil advisory until "late Sunday," so in my book, that's a full 48 hours to load up on a whole lot of extra e coli.

So I sent an encouraging "holla!" out to my intestinal tract and reminded it that "we can handle this."  Because it already houses e coli anyway, so what's a few extra house-guests on a weekend, really? I then spent the remainder of the day trying not to think about the fact that e coli gets into the water supply via the intestinal tracts of others.

I think at least part of my devil-may-care attitude is stemming from the fact that I have to read John Hersey's Hiroshima for class this week.  So although I will be devastated and outraged if I come down with a stomach bug (because that's what E coli is, really: a good old fashioned stomach-bug), I suspect that even if I do, I will think, "At least I'm not suffering from the impact of an atomic bomb."

Added to this is the fact that I had a nice ego-boost to compensate for a very disappointing image last spring.  Last fall, I bought a spandexy-type top and tights to wear when I ride my bike in the colder weather.  When I put this outfit on in the spring, I was shocked to realize just how unforgiving stretchy materials are.

I mean, I knew that I had put on 5 lbs over the winter, but I had no idea it would look like that.  It seems to me some of that weight could have been distributed around my wrists or ankles, or on the back of my neck or something.  It shouldn't have all gone to my mid-section.

Anyway, today I put on the same spandexy (yes, that's a word) outfit and I thought, "Well, see, now, nothing wrong with THAT!"  So that was a nice change.  

Like I said, timing is everything.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Turn My Soul to Stone": Akhmatova's "Requiem"

Near the end of her life, twentieth-century Russian poet Anna Akhmatova reflected on the extent to which
her poetry constructs a relationship to the past that is both personal and political:
“I never stopped writing poems.  In them is my link with time, with the new life of my people.  When wrote them, I believed in the resounding rhythms reflected in the heroic history of my country.  I am happy that I lived in these years and saw events which cannot be equaled.”   
This claim is somewhat surprising, given that Anna Akhmatova not only lived through the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, but also survived the massive famines that accompanied World War I and World War II in the Soviet Union. 

She endured the violent upheavals of Soviet collectivization and the consequences of Stalin’s rise to power, including the arrest and execution of her first husband, the arrest and imprisonment of her second husband (who died in a forced labor camp in Siberia in 1946), and the repeated arrest and imprisonment of her only son. 

Throughout her lifetime, many of her friends and colleagues opted to live in exile in Europe.  Akhmatova, however, refused to do so.  As she wrote in 1961,

No, not under the vault of alien skies,
And not under the shelter of alien wings—
I was with my people then,
There, where my people, unfortunately, were.

Нет, и не под чуждым небосводом,
И не под защитой чуждых крыл,—
Я была тогда с моим народом,
Там, где мой народ, к несчастью, был.

Akhmatova’s decision to remain in the Soviet Union was by no means an easy one.  In 1914, critic Boris Eikhenbaum characterized her as “half-nun, half-harlot,” a slur that was later picked up by the Soviet authorities in order to discredit her work.  

 In the 1920’s, Akhmatova’s poetry was dismissed by Leon Trotsky as “irrelevant” to the emerging intellectual and artistic climate of the Soviet Union, and in 1925, the publication of her work was (unofficially) banned by the Communist Party.  In 1946, she was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers, on the grounds that her writing was “harmful” to Soviet youth. 

Akhmatova’s poem cycle “Requiem” is a collection of 15 poems composed between 1935-1941.  In particular, “Requiem” represents a period known in Russian history as “The Yezhovshchina,” or “Yezhov Terror,” named after Nikolai Yezhov, the chief of the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) from 1936-1940.  During this period, the persecution, arrest, imprisonment, exile and/or execution of alleged opponents of Stalinism reached record proportions—rough estimates suggest that nearly 1.5 million people were victims of Yezhov’s “purges.” 

Akhmatova knew that the poems of “Requiem” were too politically dangerous to commit to paper: instead, they were memorized by friends and circulated orally or in secret through a practice known as samizdat, in which documents were reproduced by hand and passed from reader to reader.  “Requiem” was first published in Munich in 1963.

In “Requiem,” Akhmatova seeks to construct the past—both her own personal past and the history of her country—even as she testifies to the terrifying, present-day realities that have  engulfed her world.  Many of the poems of “Requiem” deal with the issue of time and with the way in which discrepancies between memory, expectation and reality can shape (or hinder) the poet’s ability to make sense of the events she is witnessing.

In the fourth poem of the cycle, for example, the speaker claims, “You should have been shown, you mocker … /What would happen in your life--.” Similarly, the seventh poem of the cycle, entitled “The Sentence,” insists:

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone
I must learn to live again—

У меня сегодня много дела:
Надо память до конца убить,
Надо, чтоб душа окаменела,
Надо снова научиться жить,—

The poems of “Requiem” repeatedly testify to Akhmatova’s sense of moral responsibility as a poet.  Akhmatova believes that her artistic talent compels her to both remember and represent the past—and to insist that others do the same.  In “Epilogue II,” she writes:

I will remember them always and everywhere,
I will never forget them no matter what comes.
And if they gag my exhausted mouth
Through which a hundred million scream,
Then may the people remember me
On the eve of my remembrance day.

О них вспоминаю всегда и везде,
О них не забуду и в новой беде,
И если зажмут мой измученный рот,
Которым кричит стомильонный народ,
Пусть так же оне поминают меня
В канун моего погребального дня

Ultimately, Akhmatova’s poetic construction of the past in “Requiem” is shaped by an underlying paradox: exhausted and gagged by historical and political events, she nevertheless recognizes—and embraces—her role as a voice for millions who have been silenced. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Elves For Hire

There's something about knitting the sleeves of a sweater.  Some say it's because you have to knit 2 of them (obviously), while others can offer no explanation at all--they just sigh and say, "that's the way it is."

Because I'm here to tell you that nothing--I mean nothing--will derail a nearly-completed knitting project as quickly as the need to knit that second sleeve.  And in my case, it is truly absurd, because I will typically knit the second sleeve until it's almost done, and then I quit for a bit.  And by "a bit," I mean a good month or two.

Why?  I don't know.  I just do.  For some reason, that last 2-inch section of a sleeve cap represents the point at which the project has reached critical mass.  From that point on, it will be blown off for a good long time.

I realized yesterday that I have about 3 nearly-completed knitting projects and when I started sifting through to see which one I wanted to finally finish, I realized they were all at the point at which I needed to finish the sleeves.  And in most cases, it was only that damn second sleeve.

Sometimes it's a neckline or a collar.  That's even worse, because at that point, the thing is basically done and often it has even been sewn together, I've just left it in a condition in which it is still, fundamentally and unnecessarily, unwearable.

So that's what I did for a while yesterday afternoon.  I shamefacedly finished knitting the last 20 rows of a sleeve that has been sitting there for over a month now.  And then I knit about 20 rows of a neck-edging that has been sitting there for over a month now.  And then I knit the 20 rows on the other side of that neck-edging that has been sitting there... well, you get the picture.

I went out for ice cream last night to reward myself.  I'm hoping to turn the tide on this trend of knitting things until they're nearly finished and then quitting, but I'm not optimistic.

Because I do this all the time.  I can't tell you how many 20-page articles I've written over the years that have gotten to the 15-page mark and then simply sat on my laptop, unopened and untouched, as the weeks unfolded.

And then one day, I'll open the file up and say, "Well, this is dumb," and I finish it and send it out all in an afternoon.  I have 2 articles sitting on my laptop in that very state right now, actually.

I've been known to not frost cakes.  I've been known to not frost cupcakes.  A friend once said, "But... why?  You did the whole thing... the frosting's the best part... it's almost done."

In my world, it is debatable whether the frosting is the best part.  For those who will eat the cake (or cupcakes), yes, of course, it's obviously the best part.  But from my perspective, there is nothing enjoyable about the realization that that damn frosting is now hanging over you like a sugary Sword of Damocles.

Yesterday, I made a couple of pounds of homemade pasta.  This time, it wasn't the pasta machine that stalled my progress.

It was the fact that I didn't feel like taking the dried pasta off the drying rack, bagging it up and putting it in the freezer.  I just kept making more and more pasta and cramming it onto those blessed dowels.  I finally put it all away, only because I was going to go to bed.  (And because leaving dangling strands of pasta out overnight when you have 2 cats is just... not something you should do.)

I currently have no fewer than 5 books that have 100-150 pages left to go before I finish reading them.  (See that "What I'm Reading Now" section on the upper right-hand side of the page?  Yeah, I know.  I'm aware.  And FYI, that isn't even all of them.)  Last night, I sighed and stared for a full 15 minutes at the one that's lying on my bedside table.  And then I turned off the light and went to sleep.

I will regularly grade a huge swath of papers, only to leave maybe 5 or 6 unfinished.   They will then sit for days, waiting for me to get back to my grading.  (My sincerest apologies to any former or future students who have found themselves in that unfortunate last cohort: it's not you, trust me).

Over the years, I've come to a simple conclusion: I need elves.

I truly believe that I should be able to put all of this stuff aside and wake up the next morning and have it done.  I remember that as a child, I would read the Grimm's fairy tale, "The Elves and The Shoemaker" over and over again, thinking, "Oh my god, that is awesome... How does that happen?  How do the elves find out about you?  Can you get put on a list, somehow?"

Of course, given that I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time, I probably didn't say "god" or "awesome," but you get the point.  I'm pretty sure I asked my mom how we could go about letting the elves know that I needed assistance.

Setting aside the slightly unnerving fact that I would apparently prefer to have naked midgets in my home every night rather than simply finish what I've started, I think the story speaks to a universal human truth.

The "I-Don't-Feel-Like-Doing-The-Rest-of-That-Right-Now" Facet of Human Existence. 

Because I know I'm not alone.  It's everywhere.  I remember the first time I read Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," I thought, "You asshole.  Think you're going to call it "A Fragment" and blame it on some dude from Porlock?  Yeah, I see you."

The husband of a friend of mine once had a talk with my friend's teenaged daughter.  He told her, "If you start a load of laundry, SEE IT THROUGH.  Please.  Or leave a note for one of us, if you have to go out.  You're slowly killing your mother and I."

I was visiting them one day, and I saw what they meant.  They generously offered to let me use their washer and dryer, if I needed it, and I did, so I went to the basement.  Before I did, they warned me that their daughter had been down there earlier, "doing some laundry," so they didn't know what I would find.  They apologized in advance.

Their daughter had apparently decided to let something soak.  Turns out, it was a queen-size comforter.

She had stuffed it into the washer, dumped detergent on it, and let the machine fill, leaving the lid open.  And then she left.  All indications were that this had happened anywhere from 18-24 hours prior to my arrival.

I realized at that moment that this might be why, statistically, most murder victims are killed by a family member.

My mom used to worry openly about my tendency to walk away from an unfinished project.  She would reproach me every time I started a new project without finishing the previous one.  (This almost happened yesterday afternoon, actually.  I spent an hour investigating other knitting projects I could start, in order to avoid finishing the ones I have.  I truly think the only reason I didn't start something new is because the instructions I encountered all appeared to have been written while the designers were incarcerated in institutions for the criminally insane.)

Over time, my mom realized it was pointless.  I was going to start what I wanted to start, no matter what she said, and actually, as she pointed out, "You do finish all the projects.  Sooner or later.  Which is a bit odd, because most people leave them and walk away and that's the end of it."

I've decided that, in keeping with the wisdom of Van Halen, "I like to look at the long run, but I like to take each step one by one."

And until I get elves of my own, this is just how it has to be.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Today has been a day to regroup.  It was another busy week, but the good news is, my schedule is going to be opening up a bit over the next month. 

It has bothered me a lot that I haven't had time to blog more than once a week for the past month or so, because that's a sign that I haven't been having time to read and knit and think and find intellectual nourishment.  And I need to do all of those things, really, to stay focused and happy in my life.

I decided last week that I had to rethink some options and jettison some commitments--and a few things ended up being decided for me, actually.  The result is, I feel like I can breathe again and look forward to the upcoming months without the anxious sense that my every minute is being claimed by something or someone else and I'd better stay on task... or else.

So many of us do this to ourselves.  We overschedule our lives and then struggle to keep up.  I think that's the biggest challenge I face, figuring out a way to pace myself.  I tend to like a challenge and I often step up the pace in my commitments to other people only to realize that I'm doing work I don't really want or need to be doing, and often feeling over-stressed and under-appreciated on a regular basis as a result.

Because even though I haven't been blogging, I have been literally chained to my computer for the past several weeks, answering emails and doing all kinds of work that I don't really want (or need) to be doing (see above).

If there's been any benefit to going through the various struggles I've gone through in terms of the deaths of loved ones, it's this: it makes what's important (and what's not) crystal-clear.  It's permanently underlined, highlighted and italicized.  So there's just no way you can look at life and the world around you and delude yourself anymore when you know you're focusing on things that aren't worth your time or effort.

It stops some of life's bullshit from snowballing, to put it bluntly.  You just see it piling up and you think, "No."  And in those moments, it's all very clear what you need to do, and why, and nothing anyone else can say or do will change your mind anymore.

It brings new meaning to the phrase, "hold your ground," because you realize you've reached a new level of groundedness in your life through your experiences with death.

So today, to regroup, I went the the orchard and picked more raspberries.  I came home and spent the afternoon reading and knitting and chatting with my kitty cats, something I haven't been able to do for weeks, and something that has really bothered me.  (Having lost a much-loved kitty of many years, I now realize I treasure my two more than ever and regret when I don't have time to pay as much attention to them as I'd like.) 

I had a more or less sleepless night last night, because of a stressful day, so I took a nap and woke up feeling quiet and energized in a way that I haven't felt for a while.

It took a while to de-stress, but it worked.  I haven't been able to read for weeks, I've been so busy writing and emailing and doing all of this other stuff I had put on myself to do, but today I was finally able to sit down with my knitting and start reading Elaine Feinstein's biography of the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, Anna of All the Russias (2007).

After weeks of staring at the pages of books and wondering why I couldn't fix on something and get motivated to read it (an odd turn of events for me, obviously), I realized why this was.  I had too much mental clutter in my life.  Because once that was all cleared away, I read and read.

So I'll be back to the blog again soon from now on.  I promise.  And I want to get back to my Read-a-thons and my Classics Club list.  Looking at it now, I realize I've actually read one of the works on it and didn't even realize it.  So I'll need to do a post to update that.

The Dewey's Read-a-Thon is coming up on Oct. 12th, and I'm going to do it again and try to get through some books I've started and set aside and that big virtual pile of ebooks waiting on my Kindle.

I'm looking forward to it. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Aftermath (Told You So)

A little over 48 hours later, here's where things stand:

6 quarts of crushed tomatoes have been canned and stored.

A dozen apple-carrot muffins have been made.  (Several have even been eaten.)

3 pints of raspberries are frozen and in storage for the winter.

The house has been vacuumed.  The laundry is done.

Two batches of committee-work are nearly finished.

Classes are prepped.

The new research project proposal has been drafted.

Emails have been answered.

The roof is fixed.  The gutters are cleaned.  
(I personally did neither of these things.  I simply arranged to have them done.)

I swam a mile.

Color me caught up.

Told you I could do it. :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I don't know what's happening, but I have become so busy, it isn't even funny.  The good thing is, it's all great career-stuff, so this year is turning out to be pretty solid for me in terms of my professor-gig.

And I only have myself to blame for the fact that I'm overbooked, of course.  I tend to see an interesting project or idea and I think, "sign me up!"  And I go and sign me-self up.

Case in point.  I just finished writing up a research proposal and got awesome feedback, so I made the changes I needed.  This means it's done a month ahead of time. Yes.  This should put me ahead of the game.  Give me all kinds of free time now.

And it would have, except that I had no sooner clicked the little x to close that file, when I opened my email and there was an invitation to contribute a research proposal for another, different project.  To take place next spring.  Due in a month.

So of course, I had to do it.  So much for that "ahead-of-the-game" thing I had going a few seconds ago.

Scroll to the next message in my email.  An editor for a journal in the UK wants to know if I'd be willing to work as one of their book reviewers.

Well, of course I would.  If you're going to send me books and then ask me to write about them and publish what I write, there's no way I can say no to that.  Plus the review wouldn't be due until next June, so that's totally no problem.

(Let's ignore the fact that I have now agreed to submit a review for publication immediately on the heels of finishing the research seminar I've just signed myself up for, moments earlier.)

And since we can't have it be all writing all day, we have to throw some presentations in there.  Change it up.  Because teaching and holding office hours for 12 hrs a week isn't enough public-speaking for a card-carrying introvert, now, is it?

Last spring, I agreed to do 2 additional public presentations.  Just two, little, day-long seminars.  9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in front of total strangers.  Let's book those on Thursdays, when I don't teach.

And then, I thought, well,  gosh, that can't possibly be enough, so I signed myself up for another.  Just a nice, hour-long presentation.  On a Thursday again.

All the while that I'm doing this, of course, I totally know that I have already agreed to chair an important committee, which means I'll be running those meetings every two weeks.

And now, hey, lookit this here in my next email.  A request to do an hour-long presentation.  This one's on a Monday, though, so that will totally fit.  I mean, I already know my Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are booked until December, but no one's gotten ahold of one of my Mondays yet.

Sign me up!

After all, I'm only serving on two other committees that have a lot of work scheduled for the next two months.  Those don't get cranking until next week.  No problem.

That's why, when the third email in the inbox was about a project I had agreed to work on last spring, I blithely reassured the sender that I was going to get working on it "any minute now."  Just waiting for that "minute" to open up.

Meanwhile, for Labor Day weekend this year, we had non-stop thunderstorms for 3 days.  The term "wash-out" didn't even begin to cover it.  And yet, I went to 2 perfectly wonderful parties and had a great time.  Clearly, it's not the climate that makes a party, it's the company.

Nevertheless, it was a bit bizarre: I didn't think thunderstorms were allowed to schedule themselves at 4:00 a.m., but they did.

When I went to the basement to unplug my dehumidifier at 4:00 a.m. during one of them, I heard a dripping sound.  After panicked prayers of "please, not the septic!" and "please, not the plumbing in general!"  I heaved a sign of relief. 

It's only the roof.  A leak around the plumbing vent.

So all I need to do is schedule a roofer to come do the work.  Sometime in the next week or so.  No problem.  What are Fridays for, after all?

Another project.  No problem.  It's not like I'm going to have to budget time to stack two cords of firewood and cover the garden with chicken wire anytime soon.  Oh, wait.  That's right... winter's coming.  Hunh.

As I stared at my calendar last night, I began to feel a slight--oh, ever so slight--feeling of despair.  I'll admit, I softly whispered the words, "What have I done?" to an indifferent universe comprised of meager, 24-hour days.

There may not be enough of them, as it turns out.  I appear to have been budgeting for 36-hr days and operating on the assumption that there are typically 36 days in a month. 

So I've decided I'm going to do what any intelligent, sensible woman would do in such a situation.  I'm going raspberry picking.  And when I finish that, I'm going apple-picking.  And then I'm going to get a nice bushel basket of tomatoes, so I can do some canning.  I'll stop by the farm store and get some fresh eggs, and then I'll maybe make a carrot cake with the carrots from my garden.  After all, I made eggplant parmesan from the eggplant in my garden last night, so tonight, it can be carrot-based carbs.

And then maybe I'll go for a swim or a bike ride.  Denial is clearly the order of the day, under such circumstances. 

Projects be damned.  I'll do all that and then some.  Just you wait and see.  (Gulp.)

Later that morning...

All the ingredients for a PERFECT Saturday!