30 October 2012

thither and felicity: talk like Jane Austen day

It's Talk Like Jane Austen Day, according to Twitter—and if only I had known before noon today. So many missed opportunities for Jane-ness! I could've demanded someone bring me tea in bed or made the guys at the front desk of the gym call me Miss Walker early this morning.

{However, if I were true to my Jane Austen-ness today, I probably wouldn't have gone swimming. Even my very practical one piece would be rather shocking, although perhaps if I called my swim cap my "bonnet," I could've gotten by.}

There's a website devoted to Talk Like Jane Austen Day. You can see it here, but I would like to warn you that it's not the prettiest of sites and it includes this gem: "All tolled, Jane Austen published four novels in her lifetime..." as if her novels were part of the Illinois Tollway and you need an iPass to get from here to there.

So, praytell, how does one talk like Jane Austen?

For starters, work in the word praytell wherever you can.

Also, use one a lot. Whenever you would say you, you should say "one," even if leads to awkward constructions/social moments.

For example, when offering someone coffee, ask, "Does one take cream or sugar?" This will make the person feel like 1) you maybe can't remember their name and you're disguising it by being so formal, 2) you were raised by the Queen of England, 3) you don't like them very much—certainly not enough to call them "you."

To increase the social awkwardness, one might want to ask about how much money one "has" every year. It's basically asking for their salary so that you can judge them worthy of your company at the ball you're both attending.

That's the other thing: if you really want this Talk Like Jane Austen Day to be a success, you might want to attend a ball. Then you can say, "To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love." People will be impressed that you're quoting Pride and Prejudice, but do watch who you say this to. Imagine if one said it to someone one didn't care for very much: it could give the wrong impression.

{Bonus Jane Austen fact: The original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions.}

Or you could watch this clip from You've Got Mail where Kathleen Kelly {Meg Ryan} tries to convince Joe Fox {Tom Hanks} to read Pride and Prejudice, which she has read about 200 times.

{And which I re-read every year, making it easy for me to offer these very helpful Jane Austen tips.}


Work all three of those into conversation tonight, and you will officially be a Jane-ite and part of the club. We meet quarterly and wearing an empire waist dress is not required.

26 October 2012

french enough for me

A few weeks ago—no, over a month ago now—when I was in Quebec, I picked up a French book at the airport. This may have been a desperate attempt to keep my French self happy as I left a cobblestoned, francophone area, headed back to the suburbs and the dare-I-say-it harsh tone of our wide-mouthed American English.

{If you disagree with me on this harsh tone point, please just watch any period piece from England and tell me if you don't wish you had a mellifluous accent like that.*}

I found a book by Philippe Delerm and snatched it up immediately, as if there weren't 10 other copies. Philippe is one of the French writers I can understand without too much thinking. He is, I mean to say, a writer I can read as if he were writing in English, and when I read his books, I sometimes have to stop to think: OMG, I might be bilingual. {If I'm really immersed, that might even come out in French.}

But really, it's Philippe Delerm bilingual, but I'm okay with that. I live in the middle of America and go to French-speaking areas, on average, once every year. In other words, my French brain doesn't get much use, although I'm forever telling myself that I should watch more French movies or read more French books or join a French conversation group.

That doesn't happen, though, when I get caught up in my very English life here, and so I use Philippe Delerm to make my French self feel better: At least you can still read this, I tell myself.

The thing about Philippe Delerm {besides that he's from Normandy, where I used to live} is that he writes in French about stuff I like to write about in English: brief snatches of every day life. Little descriptions of how the sun played off the roof on a walk. What the first sip of a coffee is like.

We are surrounded by insignificant-seeming moments, but Philippe Delerm shows them to us and gives them a glow of great significance. That's what I try to do in {some of} my writing and maybe that's why I can understand him so easily: we speak the same language, of a sort.

My new book by him is Le trottoir au soleil: The Sidewalk in the Sun.

Just listen to this:
On arrive là en fin d’après-midi, on fait une grande balade autour des champs qui encerclent le hameau. Le soleil commence à fléchir quand on revient vers la voiture. Il y a une petite terrasse de café. On ne resiste pas au plaisir de s’y installer. […]

La lumière est en vous aussi. Chaque seconde qui passe vous rive advantage à ce miracle. Un soir d’été. Comment partir?

Beautiful, n'est-ce pas?

*My gosh, I am so classist, but I'm trying to hide it in a footnote. When I watch English shows—Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or of course Downton Abbey—I wish for the mellifluous accent of the upper classes. I would also like someone to bring me tea in bed every morning, but I would be demanding/unusual and request coffee. I would also be unpredictable and sometimes want it from a French press and sometimes from an Italian press.

25 October 2012

for darkness shows the stars: a new take on jane austen

I swung by the library last night after work to pick up a new book.

At home, I am surrounded by books, and in case you can't tell from that widget over there on the right {scroll down: see the one called "Also, I Heart Reading"? Yeah, that's what you need to be looking at}, I'm almost always reading multiple books at once.

Stacked around my apartment in odd places—no, let's not call them odd. Let's call them quirkily surprising places. Let's call them proof that I love reading; surely I must if there is a stack of books on top of my microwave.

And on that tiered lamp from Target; one of the other shelves is currently holding nesting dolls from Russia {well-travelled and literate and a stacker!}.

And by my fruit bowl.

I am surrounded by books wherever I go, and so it's always surprising when I find myself uninspired with my selection. I have—literally but not in a hoarder kind of way—stacks of books to choose from. Books that at one moment I found interesting enough to buy but that, at this moment, aren't meeting my reading need.

I read multiple books at once to fulfill multiple reading needs. I like non-fiction for the weekends and travelling, when I have more time to read.

I like literary prose for the early mornings, when I do my best writing.

And I like engaging stories for bedtime, and that was what I was missing. I was trying to read literary prose {Dearly Beloved, a stream-of-consciousness novel by Anne Morrow Lindbergh—yes, that Lindbergh—that makes me think of my beloved Katherine Mansfield} at bedtime, and instead of calming me and transitioning me into sleep, it somehow made my dreams fantastical and memorable and I woke up more than I usually do.

No, that wouldn't do at all, so I swung by the library last night to pick up For Darkness Shows the Stars, a young adult book set in a dystopian future.

Nothing says "will not give you fantastical dreams" like "dystopian future," eh?
Oh, but it's more than a dystopian future: it's a re-imagining of Jane Austen's Persuasion in that dystopia.

Last year at this time, I re-read Persuasion {you can read about it here}, so maybe this is just my Persuasion season. Maybe next year, I can read a utopian future re-telling of it.

But for now, I hope in this For Darkness Shows the Stars, I get:
  • discussions of how many pounds a year a man has: Unless this dystopia has no money and therefore no way to judge a man by how much he's worth.
  • a silly, overdramatic scene that takes place on the pier in Lyme Regis: If you've read Persuasion, you'll know that there's a pivotal scene involving some jumping that is too precipitate, poor communication, and an unfortunate hitting of the head on the pier. I think in this re-telling, Lyme Regis should still exist—it should represent some indestructible part of society, and it should be the only place left to have fun, even though, in the movie version of Persuasion at least, it looks like a wet, windswept, unfun place to be.
  • a letter written by the Wentworth character that makes the rest of the story worth it: As I wrote about last year, I will read 234 pages of that story, just to get to the point where Wentworth passionately declares his love—in a letter. {Um, sorry if you've never read the book. I probably should've said: SPOILER ALERT.} In this dystopian future, I will accept a hologram communique {you know, like in Star Wars} as the form of this letter.

12 October 2012

on the corner of 8th Avenue and Possibility

On the corner of 8th Avenue and Possibility, a girl sits on a bench.

Oh, she knows that there's no such street as Possibility, but that is how she's come to think of this corner.

From here, the Possibilities are—well, as innumerable as the people flowing past on this Manhattan evening.

She comes here most Wednesday evenings, just to sit and watch, although she supposed that'll change when winter comes.

Already, she has her scarf wrapped tight against the October breeze, but maybe her Wednesday evening tradition won't have to change, she says to herself. With the right warm clothes and a hot cocoa to look forward to, she could still come here to take in the Possibilities.

She hasn't lived in New York City very long—a few months—and it wasn't long after she moved here from Mishawaka, Indiana {"What a name!" people always say, as if she might've invented it} that she started coming to this corner.

It started quite by accident one Wednesday after work: she had a pebble stuck in her shoe. She was in her heels and always worried about catching the heel in a grate on the sidewalk, but here she was with a pebble.

And so she sat down on this bench on 8th Avenue to get it out. Annoyance gone, she looked up and suddenly realized how tired she was.

It had been a long day {up by 5am!} and sitting, just for a moment, made her feel that her day had been full of pebbles, little annoyances, and that she'd spent all day pulling them out of the metaphorical shoe.

But sitting down, she could slow down.

She could take in the world marching past on the gridded streets of New York City, and that day, she actually said out loud—before she could stop herself—"It's a sea of humanity, it really is."

What a true and obvious thing to say, she had thought then, and watched all the people with all their lives.

Tourists: always looking up, as if they've never seen a building more than three stories high.

Couples on their way to a Broadway show, both of them dressed up.

Other workerbees making their way home, perhaps just as tired as she was.

Babies in strollers.

Men dropping the restaurant garbage bags on the corner.

Homeless people with their McDonald's cups out, jingling for spare change.

A sea of humanity and a world of possibilities.

That day, as she looked down the street at the hot dog man {just $2 for a meal! This is living!}

and as she looked kitty-corner at the fancy ice cream place {artisanal is probably the better word}

and as she was bathed in an orange glow like a Technicolor dream from the digital billboard across the street,

she had decided to come here every Wednesday evening to remember that the world is bigger than small pebbles and little annoyances. It's bigger than a desk job and buying new shoes and the day-to-day life we can get so focused on and it's even bigger than Broadway.

There are Possibilities all around us, if only we'd sit down to take them in, as she does every Wednesday evening on that bench on 8th Avenue.

11 October 2012

sometimes {a poem, not by me}

Seeing this tree in fall glory every day {or nearly every day—I'm in New Jersey today, so I'm missing it} makes me feel...that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. {Fall always brings out the Anne Shirley in me.}

Or in other words: it makes me feel what this poem says. Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse.

A red tree on a blue day reminds you of that.

Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you

08 October 2012

find your fall rhythm

"Find your fall rhythm."

This is part of the Starbucks fall ad campaign, and the poster I saw this morning had a woman wearing a creamy, dreamy cardigan, haloed by golden autumnal sunshine, and smiling beatifically—presumably because she was thinking about a pumpkin spice latte.

Starbucks gives suggestions for your fall rhythm: leaping into leaf piles and screaming at the sidelines, but aren't those more high notes than rhythm?

Those are the things that make fall so enticing, so iconic, so memorable&dmash;but they can't be part of your everyday rhythm, the beat alternately pushing and pulling you along.

Leaping into a leaf pile every day would mean:
  • you'd need rake leaves every day, or
  • you'd need to closely monitor your neighbors for their raking habits—sneaking in to jump in their pile just when they look up to appreciate the color play between the red leaves still on the tree and the blue sky
  • you'd eventually reach a point when you see a pile of leaves and want to run screaming from it. Too much of a good thing.
  • Also, you may end up with leaves in your hair a lot. The wood sprite look, you know.
A fall rhythm is for finding a groove—not a rut but a beat for walking through your day, and you can't find a beat if you're randomly jumping into leaf piles.

It's about buckling down for work and feeling proud when the job is done and done well, an idea that must be in our DNA from generations of harvest time. To see the sheaves of wheat in a field at sunset: that is a fall rhythm, and with the first brisk morning, we are drawn to it.

And if that first time you see your breath again in the early morning doesn't make you think of wheat, it might make you think of school. You may have been out of school for years—longer than you were even in it—but come mid-September, you may feel a need to buy every college-ruled notebook you see at Target.

You may yearn to draw up a schedule for the day, one that beings with free reading time in your homeroom {No, seriously, why can't we begin every work day with that?}.

Perhaps you want to pick up a textbook, cover it with an old grocery bag, and then, finally, really get straight what the Stamp Act meant.

A fall rhythm is about order and closure.

But paradoxically: it's also about disorder and beginning.

The leaves fall chaotically, and we make plans for winter projects, many of them involving a facet of self-improvement.

I will cook one new recipe a week.

I will swim twice a week.

I will read Dickens and Austen.

That sort of self-improvement thing: as the world becomes a stripped down version of itself, we want to build ourselves up, perhaps yearning to fill out all the gaps nature is leaving behind in color, warmth, and growth.

So you see, fall's rhythm is confused and always changing temp; by its very nature—its very weather—fall keeps us guessing.

As much as it makes us long for stability, it's, of course, a transition season, and you never feel that more than in the early morning as you're trying to figure out what to wear.

It may be 39 degrees out at the moment, but you know that by mid-day, it'll be in the upper 60s or even 70s. How to prepare for this? How to dress?

This is why, I believe, the fleece vest was invented. It is the epitome of the transition clothing and helps keep one part of you warm while letting another part breathe easy. You are ready for cold and warm at the same time, plus you look outdoorsy and like you might take a hike at any moment, maybe over to the Starbucks, where you will order a pumpkin spice latte and think: Fall, can you please stay forever?

04 October 2012

on the absurdity of the debates

I watched the Presidential Debate last night, and I wanted to throw something at the TV only a handful of times.

Given my record of yelling in my car during political commentary {most memorably at the Not-So-Super Committee}, I think I should be rewarded for this.

I turned it off before Jim Lehrer could ask his third question {so...that'd be over an hour in to the debate}, and this morning on my run, I kicked through the fall leaves and thought about how I would improve the debates.

Just so you know, when given the choice of working out your aggression by kicking leaves or kicking the TV, choose the leaves.

Kicking leaves is a much more useful/fun way to channel frustration at a debate full of:
  • blah blah blah rhetoric from both sides
  • a moderator who said approximately 17 words the whole time
  • snippets of sentences that you immediately knew would become soundbites {OMG, Romney hates PBS. A vote for him is a vote against Downton Abbey! Vote for Obama if you ever want to see the Dowager Countess ever again!}
Here is what I came up with on my run, based partly on this really terrible idea I had about the Olympics in August.

I decided, as I watched the Parade of Nations, that we—as in the world—should use the Olympics as a way to solve conflicts.

That is: North Korea and America have some, shall we say, ideological differences and general hostility toward each other. Before the Olympics begin, they pick a sport they're both competing in and say, "Okay, whoever wins this game is declared the winner of whatever conflict we have going on. The other country has to accept defeat, and we all move on. End of war/aggression/conflict/whatever."

Same deal for Greece and any country in the Euro Zone. If Greece wins, out go the austerity measures, and the Germans have to swoop in with loads of money and everybody drinks embarrassing amounts of ouzo.

There are so many things wrong with this plan, I know, which is why I said it was really terrible. But it does have a certain "clear the air on the field of sport" charm to it, kind of like something that might take place at Eton.

Which brings me to my plan for the debates. The next two debates will be replaced by a three-sport competition between Romney and Obama.

First Sport: Basketball {clear Obama advantage}
Second Sport: Polo or Rowing or maybe Cricket {whatever sport Romney is good at}
Third Sport: Carrying an Egg on a Spoon while Running Down a Hill, Followed by a Three-legged Race with Their VP {need to get Ryan and Biden in there somewhere and we all need a little lighthearted relief these days. Watching men in suits in a three-legged race might do the trick.}

Anne and Diana in their three-legged race in Anne of Green Gables. The candidates may want to study up on their strategy.

And the winner of those contests will be declared the winner of the debates, and the pundits can analyze performance for days on end. ESPN can be brought in for expert commentary.

Give me a few days/a few more runs while kicking leaves and I just may come up with a similar plan for deciding the whole election.

fall song {a poem, not by me}

On a cool, bright morning like this—a morning after a day of rain—I want nothing more than to write a poem.


There is the dog to be walked and breakfast to be eaten and work to be done.

So I turn to Mary Oliver, that quiet poet of hushed beauty, that writer who can whisper the profound and make you feel like truth has seeped into every corner of your soul.

A morning like this, when there is no time for my own poetry but there is still time for Poetry: this is when Mary Oliver comes in handy.

Fall Song
Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

03 October 2012

a picture a day keeps fall here to stay

That's true, right? That a picture a day keep fall here to stay?

If I can document the color, then it never has to fade. Let's pretend that is true, and look at this tree I pass every day on my walk with Little Pug.

It is fall. It is brilliant, even on a gray day like today. It is what I want to remember from this time, even as I notice day by day that it's changing and we're marching ever closer to winter.

In fact, I think I will take a picture every day of this tree: to help me pay attention.

{As a bonus, this will also probably confuse Little Pug: Why do you stop here every day? She will ask me that with her eyes, and I will tell her stories about fall. I'm sure she'll appreciate my rhapsodizing about colors when all she wants to do is go on a walk.}

02 October 2012

promises, promises

It was one of those work days where chocolate was necessary, and so around lunchtime, someone ran over to Target and came back with Dove Dark Chocolate Promises.

Now, I have a complicated history with Dove Dark Chocolate Promises {it involves a pug, Dr. Zhivago, Christmas chocolates, and a lesson that chocolate really is toxic to dogs—and it's quite obviously a sad story}, but I am never one to turn away chocolate.

Nor am I one to just have a piece or two, and so I found myself with a handful of Promises back at my desk.

{As a sidenote, "handful of promises" sounds like something that could be cross-stitched with a Bible verse and then hung above the mantel. It also sounds like the potential title of a book, one that's most likely about hard times in a marriage. Oh my, I think I need more chocolate.}

Having now sampled quite an array of these Promises, I can safely say: Dove, you make terrible Promises. I mean, the chocolate is great—just right, in fact.

And I know it's great because did you know that I have this random condition called geographic tongue that causes my tongue to react to certain triggers? {Trust me, this is related. Also, trust me, I'm not just making this condition up. Here, read this thing from PubMed about it.}

One of my triggers is good dark chocolate, so I can always tell the quality of chocolate based on the reaction of my tongue {it just gets a little inflamed and discolored}. My tongue is akin to the creaky knee that tells you when it's going to rain, only knowing it's going to rain isn't nearly as deliciously useful as being able to tell the quality of chocolate.

So, Dove, your chocolate is good, but your Promises are...well, first of all, most of them aren't even promises.

They're more like thought-provoking conglomerations of hmmm.

Here's a sampling of what Dove promised me today:
  • Don't settle for a spark...light a fire instead. This is what, I imagine, everyone who's ever set a forest fire has thought. Also, people who burn books like in Farenheit 451. Encouraging pyromania does not make a good promise.
  • Feel free to be yourself. Okay, piece of chocolate, I will. But this sounds more like something Oprah would devote a whole show to, back when she still had a show.
  • Chocolate brings good things to life. I'm guessing this was actually supposed to be in your marketing campaign for the fourth quarter, and it somehow ended up in the file that was sent to the printer who does all your foil wrappers.
  • Satisfy your sense of surprise. I assume you're encouraging me to hide behind trees and jump out at passers-by while yelling, "GOTCHA!" I don't know if that will bring me satisfaction, but you did tell me earlier to feel free to be myself, so if this is what the real me wants to do, I am free to do it.
  • There's a time to compromise. It's called "later." Wait, are you saying we should never compromise? That we should procrastinate on compromise? That we should be stubborn?

    This is right up there with that famous line from Love Story: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." If we all followed that advice and this "Promise," we'd have a stubborn, unrepentant, demanding society on our hands. In other words, we'd all be like Kim Jong-il, and I don't think that's what anyone—least of all Dove—wants.
In conclusion, I will not be quitting my day job to write Promises for Dove—partly because at this day job, I can eat all the Promises I want and make fun of them. If I worked there, I probably wouldn't be able to eat the moneymaker {who else is having visions of Lucy and Ethel in I Love Lucy shoving bon bons in their mouths?}.

Or, on the flip side, I would be allowed to eat all the chocolate I want, and my geographic tongue would be all I would talk about.

In any event, Dove, if you believed in compromises, I would offer this to you: I will eat your Promises, and I will only laugh at one per chocolate-eating session. But since you believe compromises are for later, I offer that our deal start tomorrow.

01 October 2012

a second spring

My mother sent me an email today to tell me that she'd thought I'd like this quote:
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.
Albert Camus said that, the great French existentialist.

How beautiful and how relatable, which isn't something I often associate with existentialism.

I more associate it with the glib phrase: my existential crisis, that panic that often hits in the mid-twenties when you're trying to figure out who you are and pay your bills on time and make new friends in an unknown place and realize that your paycheck is the only gold star you're going to get.

Who am I? What am I doing here? How did I become someone who works in a cubicle?

The questions come pounding in, and you freak out.

That is the existential crisis, and you get through it—partly by doing things like noticing that every day has something good in it, something to be thankful for, something worth paying attention to.

Right now, it's the fall leaves. Every one of them is a flower, and I plan on noticing them this year, don't you?


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