Friday, December 25, 2015

Six Words

Christmas on the road, again, now.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 24, 2015

It's quiet here.

Across the street, the one-bedroom apartment dwellers have fled to more populous climes.  The parking lot of Target, this morning spasming with cars, has begun to unclench.  And yesterday's  thunderstorms blew overnight to the east, although the air left behind still feels, for December, like breath against our skin.  

Perched, for the moment, in our new home, we've opened our gifts to one another- some thoughtful, some pointed, some exhilaratingly pointless. We've labored over bread, guzzled good coffee, and accidentally butt-dialed the landlord.  We've done all the things you ought to do when you seek to mark a day but one of you isn't sure why, or how.

Happy Christmas Eve.   May your day be quiet -and light. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 in Books!

There's nothing like a book to show you your place in the world.  Think you're troubled?  Try Tartt.  Think you know the South?  Read Faulkner.   Think you're an idiot?  I guarantee Don Quixote has more claim to the title than you.

A book is, in fact, the only mind-altering substance that clarifies, as opposed to clouds, your perception.  So they are especially useful to have when life turns upside down.

2015 was a shakeup.  I started my year a complacent Virginia homeowner and ended it in a rental house half a country away.   I began with three solid careers and ended with three rocky ones.  It's been a year of uprooting and unsettling- all the better to do it with books!

According to Goodreads, I read 36 books I will admit to.  Some were good.  Some were OK.  Two were dreadful.  But you probably don't want to read those.  So here are five that were stellar!

1. So You've Been Publicly Shamed (Jon Ronson).   PR professional Justine Sacco boarded a plane after tweeting a bad joke and woke up an international pariah.  Ronson's book, in which he interviews Sacco and other shamers and shamees, is an uncomfortably funny, can't-look-away catalog of humiliations past and present.  And although it pains me to write this without irony, his message is capital-I Important.  Additional kudos to Ronson for annihilating the best-of-2015 list I'd dared to construct before picking up his book (sorry, Gail Godwin).

2. My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante).  Two Neapolitan girls endure the travails of poverty, institutional violence and impending womanhood as they journey to....snore.  I mean, God, there's no way to juice the plot summary on this one.  But the book is wildly better than its blurb.

3. Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel).   Plague!  Shakespeare!  Empty airports!  This book has every ingredient you could ever want.  And yet, unlike if, say, you took all of your favorite culinary ingredients, mixed them together and then baked them, which my little brother did, once, and we tasted it, and  the results ended up on the lawn where they were summarily ignored by all wildlife while undergoing a bizarre combination of putrefaction and petrification- unlike that,  it's awesome.

4.  Fun Home (Alison Bechdel).  Just pretty much the best graphic novel I've ever read.  Never mind that it's the only graphic novel I've ever read.  It's still fantastic.

5.  The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown).  So this is the kind of book I hate.  It's non-fiction, written by a man, about sports, with a World War II theme.  And yet, I cried more reading Brown's book than I've cried since Old Yeller bit the dust.  Read this.

Honorable Mentions:  Flora, Gail Godwin; A Long Way Gone, Lou Berney; Lila, Marilynne Robinson

Monday, December 21, 2015


Apparently bears do not need to urinate while they hibernate?

Until yesterday, this numbered among the vast constellations of facts I did not know.

I am comforted that they are out there, these galaxies of ignorance. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Once More into the Breach


It's what my son shouts every time he's delighted, or surprised, or even mildly interested.   A squirrel daring across the path of his stroller: AGAIN SQUIRREL!  A first responder, careening past: FIRE TRUCK!  AGAIN!   A burst of rain: AGAIN RAINING!

Of course, I have no control ( yet) over the squirrels.  The fire trucks elude my whims and I have been unable to bring the weather to heel.  I explain this to my kid -that I'm a powerless mote in an unblinking, heartless world- but it doesn't seem to stick.  AGAIN MOMMY!  AGAIN!  My son wants a do-over the and the universe better listen up.

To be truthful, I'm daunted by his demands.  I am tired of singing "Row Row" for the fortieth time.  "Honk Honk," that paragon of children's literature, palled after the sixtieth reading.  And I feel, acutely, the heaviness of the responsibility he has laid on me-  to spark his delight, to bend the world into a gob-smacking, soul-kindling, repetition-worth place. 

And yet, in some sense, it's salutary.  Wielding his two-syllable whip of a word is my child's way of saying: pay attention.  Here's something worth noticing.  Twice or thrice or a hundred times: look, again.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blow Up

One peculiarity of moving to a city most people never think to leave is..... well....its peculiarity.  St. Louis is chock-a-block with weird traditions and cultural flotsam that most St. Louis residents (who by and large seem to be kind, straightforward lovers of bad cheese) don't seem to realize are theirs and theirs alone.  

Take Halloween.  Unlike other places I've lived, in which, to procure candy, the only requirement is that you waddle or bounce or demand to be carried up to a door,  here in St. Louis, you must joke.

That's right, as in knock knock.   Or why did the chicken?  Or a guy walked into a (candy) bar....

When the first kid did it, I thought it was funny. When the 30th kid's eyes rolled back in his head in an attempt to dredge up, from the depths of his candy-addled brain, the punchline, I realized I'd crossed into an alien land.

It was like waking up in the twilight zone.  Here I was, drinking the dregs of white middle class cultural specificity, poised atop one of the few heaps of Anglo-American tradition not yet flattened by the inexorable glacier of T.V.

It was only October.

I had yet to witness the rise of the Christmas inflatables.

You may think you know Christmas inflatables.  Unless you live in St. Louis, you are mistaken.  When I say Christmas inflatables I mean Christmas inflatables on a scale you have not yet dreamed possible-  Christmas inflatables more numerous, more varied, more sizable, more artfully positioned and more turgid than your most wildly inflated dreams.

I mean Christmas inflatables possessed of moving parts, Christmas inflatables that gibber and yawp, Christmas inflatables tumescent with light.  When I say Christmas inflatables I mean that you will see things inflated that you had not conceived were within the power of human endeavor to inflate.

I admit it is taking me a while to acclimate.  I have not yet crossed over; there is nothing inflated about my yard save for my lawn-care-related shame.  But someday, if I stay in St. Louis, I know I will eyeball a spot on my lawn and mutter- here.

And on that day, when the air rushes out of my lungs and gently, yet inexorably, into a moderately sized accordion-playing Santa - on that day, I will be home.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dec. 16

Christmas vacation: A door jerks open with all of your weight behind it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Six Words

Still bone tired after copious coffee

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Letter

Dear Friends,

I want your Christmas letters.  I want your best-crafted, most thoroughly curated cardboard mockups of yourselves.  I want your your glossings-over and your under-reportage, your artful excisions and misleading interpolations.  I want it all, friends.

Why don't you give it to me?

I'll resort to playground antics.  I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

So greetings!

I'm writing to you from the great flyover state of Missouri, where we've recently moved and are sort of settling in.  David is loving his new job.  Good thing, or I would have been really steamed because moving is the worst. The move from Virginia went as smoothly as it could have but was still huge pain in the *ss,  for which I am working desultorily at being extremely grateful!

We found a wonderful rental with a range of plumbing problems in a fantastic, walkable neighborhood really far away from work, and we love strolling to the nearby park.  Anne had a whole lot of trouble but eventually found part-time work in one of her fields and is with agonizing slowness drumming up work in the others.

William is learning how to throw tantrums and growing too fast to keep him in shoes!  He knows many words some of which we wish he didn't and is sharing several of them with me at the top of his lungs while trying to bite my ankles as I write this.

Ampney has spent the year breaking every drinking glass in the house and barfing up ribbon and being a cat.

I hope to hear from you soon.  Why haven't you sent me a d*mn Christmas letter, you monsters?
There is no good cheese here.  We're on the lookout for dairy Nirvana in the new year!  Send cheese.

Love to you you ingrates,