23 May 2013

a lady of leisure: pretending to be a Jane Austen character

Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character.

Perhaps you think I do this all the time, what with the title of this blog and all, but I don't. In fact, the point of the blog's title is more that it's hard to be like a Jane Austen heroine in the modern world. {Should you be extremely interested in this, you should read one of my first posts, wherein I explain the title and exactly what I think dear Jane should've prepared me for. And oh my word, I just realized I wrote that post three years ago today. It's like a blogaversary for me! Please buy me something.}

It's hard to be a Jane Austen character for many reasons:
  • lack of empire-waist dresses
  • lack of a silly mother who draws too much attention to her nerves {and for that I am ever grateful}
  • lack of a horse
  • lack of living in England
  • and the distinct need—and ability—to work

Back in Jane's day, a woman of a certain class wasn't expected to work, even if her family rather desperately needed money. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility embodies this: she, her mother, and her sisters are left virtually penniless after her father passes away and the estate they've been living on passes to a son from dear old dad's first marriage.

And really, when you've been living on an estate complete with a stable and servants and more rooms than you know what to do with, anything less than that is going to feel like you're penniless, even if you do actually have a few hundred pounds a year.

This is Elinor's point when she's trying to talk some reason into her mother as they look for houses to rent: when your income is just a few hundred pounds, you can't spend all of it on the house. You do, at some point, have to eat, and you should probably have money for clothes.

But as sharp as Elinor is, she can't just go get a job at the local bookseller as a way to supplement the family's income. And to think of getting a career, say as a financial advisor or an editor? Please. Women of her class were expected to be well-rounded in things like music and art and languages {who feels a pressing need to re-read the classic discussion of Darcy and Elizabeth on just what it takes to be an "accomplished" young lady?). They were expected to do pretty needlework and know how to run a household and organize games of whist.

But work? Never. Their work was to find a husband who was attracted to all that well-roundedness. {Why be accomplished if it doesn't accomplish you a husband?} And this is Elinor's frustration: she can't even earn a living.

You see, I'm sure, my main challenge in being a Jane Austen character: no, it is not that I'm not well-rounded. It's the whole working thing.

But not today. And not for the last five weeks, actually. I have been, as I like to tell people, pretending to be a lady of leisure as I transition jobs {I can tell you more about that, if you'd like, sometime}. Today, the pretending stopped, and I actually was a lady of leisure, someone who sees the hours stretch out in front of her and doesn't think, 'Oh, but which item on my to-do list shall I tackle first?!?'

Instead, I looked at the hours and thought, 'I shall do some embroidery today, and accomplishing that will be enough.'

I sat on the couch for hours. Just here in one place! I sipped coffee, and I made a little lunch, but mostly I focused on my pattern and watched movies. {Another reason I couldn't be a Jane Austen character: the inability to watch Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina while I do my well-rounded stuff like needlework.}

How long has it been since I have just sat? How long has it been since I didn't make a list for the day? How long has it been since I got to indulge in a day and spend it decadently? {It's an indication that you're a sensible, practical girl when your idea of a decadent day is watching Audrey Hepburn.}

Today, I pretended to be a Jane Austen character {although yes, they did more than just sit}, and it was just what I needed. Also, I've gotten really good at needlework and that in and of itself makes me a modern-day Jane Austen girl.

20 May 2013

crazy in the mid-may heat

It must've been the heat that made the town go crazy.

Or maybe it was the beer tent up at the Taste of Glen Ellyn—the ability to drink beer in broad daylight while standing in a parking lot next to the shoe store and a Mexican restaurant went to people's heads, perhaps.

Add to the beer the deep-fried Oreos, and it was fated to be a dangerous afternoon.

But mostly, I do think it was the heat. We Midwesterners are made for seasons; we like to talk about them and anticipate them and complain about them, but sometimes, they arrive without us expecting them.

You'd think we'd be prepared for them, what with all the talking, but sometimes, especially with summer, we are taken aback by the suddenness of the heat. One night, you're sleeping with the windows open, and the next afternoon, you have streams of sweat running down your back and you somehow left the house wearing too many layers of clothes.

And that's when we go crazy with the heat.

I'm not talking murdering people crazy, but yesterday on my dog walk with Little Pug, I saw:
  • Two men in tank tops that neither one of them should've been wearing almost get into a fist fight. I have never heard the f-word used in so many creative ways in my little town.
  • Children drawing chalk outlines of each other on the sidewalk in gruesome positions, as if they had fallen from the roof and broken both legs. I think they were playing a horrible game called "CSI: Glen Ellyn." That show would not be interesting at all since the police beat report in the local paper mostly lists missing garbage cans and destroyed landscaping, but the children didn't seem to know that. They wanted their neighborhood to be a crime scene.
  • Two stray dogs. Maybe this doesn't sound crazy where you come from, but Glen Ellyn is the kind of town where most dogs live behind an electric fence. Stray dogs just don't happen; here, dogs stay in their perfectly manicured lawns {unless their owners have been the victim of a landscaping destroying plot} and rest on shaded porches that feature American flags and bundles of forsythia by the door.

    So these two stray dogs were very out of place, and my Little Pug on her little leash looked at them with a mix of envy and confusion.

    I kept asking the dogs who they belonged to, but they wouldn't answer, possibly because they were panting so much from the heat, and they weren't wearing any tags. This led a dog-owner crisis moment where I thought: What do I do? Go door-to-door? Tell them to go home and see where they end up? Keep them?

    And then the littler dog—the yippy one— jumped away from me and into the street, straight towards an oncoming SUV. There was a splitsecond where I thought this was going to become a scene with a doggy outline drawn in chalk, but the dog—I am not kidding you—tucked and rolled, avoiding the tires, and then took off towards the two men about to have a fistfight.

    They stopped when they saw this little black furball running towards them—the dog broke up their fight!—and then darted into someone's back yard {followed by the other dog}, never to be seen again.

    At least by me on that walk in the heat of Glen Ellyn when I wondered: have we all gone a little mad in this mid-May heat?

14 May 2013

the delight of a different story

I sit in my car at the stoplight on Butterfield Road. The concrete is still that hurting, unnatural bright of a recently-poured road—white, almost, with a dash of a glinting metal thrown in.

It's only 10 in the morning but the sunlight blazes as if it were 2pm on a July day. Everything is too bright and next to me, there is a strip mall with a store where you're supposed to bring in all your gold and gets lots of cash.

Who has that much gold? Why is a whole store needed? How big of a melting pot do they have?

These are questions I will never know the answer to because I don't care to know the answer: even insatiable curiosity has its limits.

All around me and my car is suburbia, but as I wait for the light to change, I see a pocket of England up on a hill in the forest preserve next to Butterfield Road.

A lake with hills rising sharply from its banks.

Trees on top of the hill, just green in this spring, but off to the right, there are purple flowering trees.

Now, I have a weakness for trees that flower in spring and so my eye immediately jumps to this purple that looks like it doesn't belong, like it has been dropped from another world—a fairy world, perhaps.

Or England, I decided. Looking up at those flowering trees, I want to see a Jane Austen-esque character walking up the hill, book in hand and ready to lose herself for the afternoon.

I will admit: there is nothing particularly English about the scene, but I enjoy, if only for a few moments, the delight of telling myself a different story than one that starts out: I was at a stoplight next to a Cash for Gold store.

07 May 2013

that familiar conviction: thoughts on The Great Gatsby

I sat out on my balcony today, one side of me too hot from the sun beating down. It was only supposed to be a high of 72 today, which I once declared to be my perfect temperature, but there in the sun, it was too hot and I worried about burning.

It's funny: I've been listening to The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and it must be impossible to read him and not suddenly start writing like him. That's what I just did with those short declarations all strung together, even though I started this wanting to talk about another writer from that existentially trying time in Paris—another of that Lost Generation: F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Because the movie of The Great Gatsby is coming out this Friday, I pulled my copy of the book off the shelf: must be a good English major and read the book again before seeing the movie.

I hadn't gotten more than a page when I was struck with that very English major urge to underline.

Oh, the beauty of Fitzgerald's phrasing.

It's not that I had forgotten how you could lose yourself in his language; oh, no. When I was in high school, I had a quote book where I'd painstakingly copy in lines from books or poems or movies or songs that hit me. The kind of lines that may you want to read them over and over. The kind of lines that sent a hot line down your spine every time you say them aloud.

When I read Gatsby for the first time, I wanted to copy in the whole book.

And there I was, 15 years later, sitting on my balcony on a hot spring afternoon, twitching to find my old quote book. I wanted to see if I put in there this line:
And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

Because that line is precisely how I feel right now, even though it is spring and not summer. The leaves have just, rather belatedly, burst forth from the trees, in that way that you barely notice. One day, they are bare twigs and the next day, the world is summer-like and green and leafy and you wonder how you could've missed all that growth.

So the trees have exploded and on this spring afternoon, I felt that life was beginning all over again. I felt it because I was hot from the sun and because I was lost in a book that had been a part of me since I was 15. Life is cyclical, and if it is truly cyclical, then you're always finding yourself in another new beginning, one that feels a little familiar but is fresh all the same.

My gosh, can you tell that I've been reading too much from the Lost Generation?


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