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Archive for June, 2008

I never really notice my house till I clean it. You know, all the furniture, the colors, how dirty it actually is, etc. And then, above it all, I notice the mountains rising up behind the windows and suddenly all the mismatched colors, the eccentric arrangement of chairs and tables strugglig to give definition to the rambling living room, seem strangely congruent with the view. With a bank of dormer windows stretching out to meet the blunted blue peaks, their domes become as much a fixture of the house as the stone fire-place. They, more than anything else, seem to allow for the irony of grandma’s hand-crocheted afghans clashing loudly with the new couch. And maybe, in their benevolent presence, it is a little more reasonable for me to listen to Pandora radio piping from my shiny white macbook while I scrub a wind-up victrola.

 Mountains smile at incongruity. They invented the word to excuse their broken ridges and the weird mixture of hippies and Evangelicals squashed together in their shadow. I don’t want to live in the pages of Southern Living with gracious plantation porches. I want to enjoy all the weird tradition of antique meat saws hanging in the kitchen, old moonshine bottles above the mantel rubbing shoulders with the chinese tea-pot. These are the mountains. They are too old to care for convention. 

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Romanticism 101

Life as a romantic is difficult. “Duh,” you might say, “a quick glance at a Norton Anthology could tell you that!” But no, my complaint is not that of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, that only the barren elements can comprehend the vital passion of the romantic hero, thus rendering him an outcast from humanity. No offense to Byron, but such self-flattery does little to recommend the romantic movement. 

What I really mean is that life is just more difficult when every great adventure glows valiantly in one’s mind until the awful moment of hanging from a rock face with aching fingers and bloody knuckles wondering how one got into such a predicament in the first place. I suppose one could call it “The Baggins Effect” when the Tookishness has worn to shreds but Smog’s lair still remains to be plundered. Damn.

I have been pondering this effect since I finished Maiden Voyage, Tania Aebi’s account of her circumnavigation at age eighteen. It is a wonderful story, (one which I highly recommend for summer reading), but it certainly popped my nautical bubble, so to speak. For a few years now I have considered sailing around a few seas; the Mediterranean to follow Aeneas’ voyage, and the Caribbean simply because it is beautiful and exotic and suggests rum-soaked sunshine. Wrapped in my respectively Mythological and Jonny Depp-ish day dreams Tania’s story of battling lice, bleeding calluses, faulty fuel-pumps, and learning engine repairs, actually surprised me, much to my chagrin. After all, isn’t Tania supposed to achieve Byron’s goal of emotional enlightenment through unity with the ocean after rejecting society? No, not really. Not anymore than I was ever able reach a higher level of existence through bruised toe-nails and dirt-tarnished pink satin slippers.

No, adventures promise the same reality of farts, belches, pimples and cases of morning breath as Prince Charming. But one still has to take them, adventures and princes, for what they are. The only difficult part, about being a romantic, is that one often forgets all about the blemishes until they rudely interrupt the most delightful phantasies. Perhaps practically minded people have an easier time thinking “Yes, I shall go rock climbing. Yes, the sharp rocks, by virtue of the fact that they are rocks, shall most probably bruise and otherwise lacerate my hands. Yes, I am out of shape and have never enjoyed great strength in my upper-body, beside the obvious fact that I am female and am therefore at a physiological disadvantage. But I shall deal with these difficulties and shall go rock climbing anyway.” I, on the other hand, experience that wonderful surge of “I shall climb a mountain with my bare hands, struggling valiantly to the top where I shall survey the world at my feet and know that I am one with the earth and the God who created us both.” And inevitably, such ideals suffer a swift death in that quintessential moment of “Damn.”

But the Tookishness lives on, stubbornly as ever, and I begin to resign myself to the idea that always and forever when an idea strikes me as particularly brilliant and poetic, I must denude it of all fantastic glory and examine the facts on a purely practical level. I hate this process, as it is exceedingly difficult to re-clothe an inspiration in shimmering vitality, but it is a skill well worth learning. After all, it is romantics who possess the singularly intense emotions necessary for such a task, and emotional coal-mines are a fair exchange for the heights of Mont Blanc.       

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Mom always warned that if I couldn’t say anything good I shouldn’t say anything at all.  It is a good rule, and quite practical for reducing fights between young children.

I have learned to live by this rule when dealing with my family and it has done enough good in that sector that the time has come to direct the phrase toward my writing. To say nothing that is not good…. A tall order, but then the best things in life are never easy. And so we shall see what, if anything, of good I come up with, and you shall decide if it is worth the reading. After all, literature is purely a matter of taste and you may prefer more solid fare to my whimsical and exotic ramblings. 

 

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