Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Or is this what being home is like: home as a place from which the entire world is suddenly possible?

Hisham MatarThe Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between


Image: Let’s Eat Cake

Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts

The scent of sun-dried sheets fresh off the clothesline can completely change my state of mind. Like the sense of well-being that comes over me when a song from my youth is playing on the radio, the smell of line-dried sheets takes me home to Alabama, back to a time when all my beloved elders were still alive, still humming as they shook out a wad of damp bedsheets and pinned them to the line.

This summer I have repeatedly washed not just our sheets but also our 20-year-old matelassé coverlet, whose scalloped edges are now beginning to fray. I have washed the dust ruffle for possibly the first time in its entire existence. Once the linens are reassembled, I crawl between the sheets, breathe in, and feel the muscles across the top of my back begin to loosen. As my friend Serenity’s mother is fond of saying, “There are very few problems in this world that putting clean sheets on the bed won’t improve, even if just a little bit.”

These days it’s truly just a little bit, even when the clean sheets have been dried on a clothesline in the bright summer sun. Everyone I know is either suffering terribly or terribly worried about someone who is suffering. When will they ever find work? What if they get sick at work and can’t afford to take time off? What if they bring the virus home to the people they love? How will they work and also home-school their children? Will their parents die of the coronavirus? Will their parents die of loneliness before they can die of the coronavirus?

For months now, all my phone calls and texts and emails have begun, “How are you, really?” or “How is…?” Sometimes I’m the one who’s asking and sometimes I’m the one who’s being asked, but every exchange begins the same way.

Without even thinking about why, I engage in useless compensation. Bringing a few swallowtail caterpillars inside to save them from the red wasps. Repotting eight years’ worth of Mother’s Day orchids. Buying mask after mask, as though this color or this style or this pattern will somehow protect me and those I love. I am getting through these days primarily by way of magical thinking, and sheets billowing on a hot August wind are my talismans against fear and loss.

In June, after 25 years in this house, my husband set to work on our 70-year-old kitchen cabinets, chiseling out layers of paint, planing and sanding warped edges. When he was finished, the cabinet doors would close all the way, and stay closed, for the first time in decades. If you ask him why he went to all this trouble, he has no explanation beyond the obvious: For 25 years it needed to be done, and so he finally did it.

But I think it’s more than that. I think he was worrying about his lonesome father, quarantined in an efficiency apartment, and that’s why he fixed those cupboard doors. He was worrying about our oldest son’s pandemic wedding and our middle son’s new job as an essential worker. He was worrying about whether our youngest son’s university would make the inevitable decision to hold classes online before we had to sign a yearlong lease for an apartment our son might never set foot in. My husband can’t control any of those things, much less cure Covid-19, but he can by God make the kitchen cabinets stop flying open and knocking us in the head while we cook.

The other day, I posted a picture on Facebook of our masks drying on the clothesline. “At some point I’m going to have to stop buying masks with flowers on them,” I wrote. “I don’t know why I keep thinking a new mask with flowers on it will solve everything, but I keep thinking it anyway.”

My friends began to chime in. “In case you are wondering, ice cream doesn’t seem to solve anything either, but I’m still collecting data,” my friend Noni wrote. “I confess I have not picked up an iron in years, but I now iron our masks each week,” wrote Tina. “It’s important to get the pleats just right. For some reason.”

We know the reason. In Margaret Atwood’s 1969 debut novel, “The Edible Woman,” a character named Duncan copes with chaos by ironing: “I like flattening things out, getting rid of the wrinkles, it gives me something to do with my hands,” he says.

A few days later I was still thinking about Tina ironing those masks, so I asked, outright, what my Facebook friends are doing to manage their own anxieties. When I checked back a few hours later, there were more than 100 comments, and every one of them was a lesson, or at least a needed reminder, for me.

My friends are giving themselves difficult and absorbing assignments: reading classic novels, learning a new language or a challenging song on the guitar, working complicated puzzles. “I am doing so many puzzles because it feels good to put something back together again,” my friend Erica wrote.

They are throwing themselves into the domestic arts: preparing complex meals, learning to make paper flowers and, yes, ironing. “I’ve been ironing my pillowcases,” wrote Elizabeth. “They feel so crisp and cool on my poor menopausal cheeks.”

They are putting in a garden, in the suburban backyard or on the city balcony. They are feeding the birds and sometimes the turtles, rescuing orphaned opossums, walking in the woods. They are sitting on the porch — just sitting there, listening. At night they are going outside to look at the stars.

They are taking care of others — adopting puppies and lonely neighbors, coaching elderly aspiring writers via Zoom, breaking their own rules against pets in bed, taking the time to get to know their U.S. Mail carriers. They are meeting friends — outdoors and from a safe distance — and making a pact to talk about anything but the coronavirus. They are reveling in the slower pace of family life and falling in love with their partners all over again. My sister, who still lives in Alabama, is sending boxes of Chilton County peaches to faraway friends who have never before experienced the taste of heaven.

Tears welled up as I read their stories, and by the time I’d reached the end, I was openly weeping. It felt like nothing less than a blessing, in this hurt and hurtful time, to remember how creative human beings can be, how tender and how kind.

We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars.

—  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

none of us can bear too much reality

Thinking about swifts has made me think more carefully about the ways in which I’ve dealt with difficulty. When I was small I comforted myself with thoughts of layers of rising air; later I hid myself among the whispers of recorded works of fiction. We all have our defences. Some of them are self-defeating, but others are occasions for joy: the absorption of a hobby, the writing of a poem, speeding on a Harley, the slow assembly of a collection of records or seaside shells. ‘The best thing for being sad,’ said T. H. White’s Merlin, ‘is to learn something.’ All of us have to live our lives most of the time inside the protective structures that we have built; none of us can bear too much reality. We need our books, our craft projects, our dogs and knitting, our movies, gardens and gigs. It’s who we are. We’re held together by our lives, our interests, and all our chosen comforts. But we can’t have only those things, because then we can’t work out where we should be headed.

—  Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)


Photo Salvi Danes, (Barcelona) (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Saturday Morning

One’s very own room, ventilated to please one’s self, furnished just as one wishes, with one’s pet belongings arranged to suit one’s own tastes; an entire bed in which one may pitch and toss, stretch and yawn, without the consciousness that another would-be sleeper is being annoyed – all of these are aids to happiness.

Virginia Terhune Van de Water, “From Kitchen to Garret,” (Published in 1910)


Notes: Quote via Schonwieder. Photo via Sabon Home

Not a big ask…

I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be writing […] But warm, eager, living life—to be rooted in life—to learn, to desire to know, to feel, to think, to act. That is what I want. And nothing less.

~ Katherine Mansfield, (1888-1923) in a diary entry featured in Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield


Notes: Quote via minima. Photo: Jac Graham | wood worker & mead maker (via small & tiny home ideas)

Miracle. All of it.

It is, after all, not necessary to fly right into the middle of the sun,

but it is necessary to crawl to a clean little spot on earth where the sun sometimes shines

and one can warm oneself a little.

~ Franz Kafka, from Letter to His Father


Notes:

Go ahead. Draw your feet up a little.

blanket-jpg


Source: Via New England Journal of Education (1878). Thank you Rob @ The Hammock Papers

 

Saturday Morning

sleep-dog-pet-cute

If you love home—and even if you don’t—there is nothing quite as cozy, as comfortable, as delightful, as that first week back. That week, even the things that would irritate you—the alarm waahing from some car at three in the morning; the pigeons who come to clutter and cluck on the windowsill behind your bed when you’re trying to sleep in—seem instead reminders of your own permanence, of how life, your life, will always graciously allow you to step back inside of it, no matter how far you have gone away from it or how long you have left it.

~ Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


Photo: Your Eyes Blaze Out

And then at some point late, late, late at night, say just a bit before dawn…

the most important°

And then one student said that happiness is what happens when you go to bed on the hottest night of the summer, a night so hot you can’t even wear a tee-shirt and you sleep on top of the sheets instead of under them, although try to sleep is probably more accurate. And then at some point late, late, late at night, say just a bit before dawn, the heat finally breaks and the night turns into cool and when you briefly wake up, you notice that you’re almost chilly, and in your groggy, half-consciousness, you reach over and pull the sheet around you and just that flimsy sheet makes it warm enough and you drift back off into a deep sleep. And it’s that reaching, that gesture, that reflex we have to pull what’s warm – whether it’s something or someone – toward us, that feeling we get when we do that, that feeling of being safe in the world and ready for sleep, that’s happiness.

– Paul Schmidtberger, Design Flaws of the Human Condition


Source: Quote – Petrichour. Artwork: the most important° by Kerstin Kuntze

There’ll be days like this

Home at last, I haul in the grocery bags, swallow a couple of extra-strength Tylenol, put the entire Van Morrison play list on the stereo, and spend the afternoon roasting vegetables and making pasta sauce, salad, and a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Outside, the rain comes down in sheets. I am singing “Days Like This,” belting out the song. The kitchen fills with good smells.

~ Katrina Kenison, Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment


Notes: Related posts: Katrina Kenison

%d bloggers like this: