On the Reading of Books in the Bath

Back when I did that series of Why I Haven’t Read that Book YetThalia submitted that she might leave a book unfinished because she had dropped it in the bath.

I noted that my fear of getting a book wet had dissuaded me from ever trying to read a book in the bath, and for the most part, this remains the case.

However.  It would be remiss of me not to share this image with those of you who would love nothing more than to take a book and read it amid the delight and bubbles of outrageous bathtime:

Bath book trick

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Joy’s Joys

Back on Dorothy’s birthday, I spent the day sharing quotations of hers on Facebook. They came from her fiction, her non-fiction, and, in at least one instance, from her letters. Among these choice bits was the beginning of “The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers” – better known here as her description of the Egotists’ Club:

The Egotists’ Club is one of the most genial places in London. It is a place to which you may go when you want to tell that odd dream you had last night, or to announce what a good dentist you have discovered. You can write letters there if you like, and have the temperament of a Jane Austen, for there is no silence room, and it would be a breach of club manners to appear busy or absorbed when another member addresses you.

Somehow, the idea of announcing one’s dentist, of all things, captured my imagination the most.

In the spirit of sharing one’s humblest joys, one’s most quotidian triumphs, one’s practical delights…here are my joys of late:

– Yesterday I bought a MacBook Pro. Not without trepidation, mind, as I have always been a PC user. But after my beloved Samsung fried, and my far-less-beloved Asus came to have an inoperable wireless card and tracked poorly…well, I basically went without a home computer for a year, using my smartphone instead, and growing steadily more frustrated by my lack of keyboard.  The new model glows with promise: the promise that updates will not overwhelm me, that I need not pay a subscription to store my own documents, that I might go forth to join others in sub-creation.

– Not unrelatedly, having obtained the equipment to do it, I have started learning about the nuts and bolts of coding in HTML.  My programming brother recommended this course of action to me, and it is perhaps the closest a Muggle gets to reading a book of spells: when you assemble the necessary elements (be they ever so boilerplate) and press “Run,” behold!  These curious ciphers and characters LIVE!  If you did it properly, anyway.

– I have been getting so much delight from the Ann Arbor District Library Summer Game.  But that’s a whole other blog post, it turns out!
AADL summer game top graphic

– The people around me have reminded me of delightful things.  My flatmate reminded me of how delightful Brideshead Revisited is, by preparing a picnic for us to eat on the solstice while reading excerpts of “Et in Arcadia Ego.”  Emily reminded me about that most adorable composition tool, Written? Kitten!   Katherine and Ike, friends from Hillsdale that I hadn’t seen since 2012, drove through the UP before meeting me in Lansing for lunch and a good few hours of catching-up.

There have been other delights this summer – volunteer dill, stars-and-stripes pie for Independence Day, reading Gaudy Night aloud, brunch at Aventura, the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter coming out, revisiting The Great British Bakeoff, and watching The Tempest in the Arboretum.

Truly, these be joyful days!

2048, and other dated thoughts

In a world of hot takes and instantaneous reactions, where we’ve generally moved on from thinking about United Airlines and April the giraffe already…I keep having idle thoughts better suited to 3 years ago, when Frozen and “Pompeii” and 2048 were more freshly on our minds.

So.  Idle question the first: did Elsa control all snow or just that which she caused?  If my car is buried under a foot of snow, can she magically shift it?  Honestly, what are the limits to her powers?  How much effort would it take her to freeze an entire lake or ocean?

Second: Are there any youth pastors who got really into Bastille and did more overthinking of “Pompeii” than I did?  The line Oh, where do we begin?  The rubble or our sin? BEGS to be made into some kind of ridiculous Bible study, all “In a broken world full of distress, is it most needful to address physical needs and realities, or first see to spiritual wounds?”  Or something.  This is preposterous and I want it.

heu

Latin memes = best memes.  Yes, even in 2017.  Even when this song was overplayed so much you stopped hearing it.

Third and lastly: 2048.  When this first became a nationwide (worldwide?) phenomenon, I got really into it for a while – to the point of adding squares in my sleep, you know how it goes – until I gave it up for Pentecost.  As you do.

Lately I’ve gotten back into playing it, and thus keep ruminating on the following: 2048 is like a microcosm of relationships and personality.

You’re young.  You’re a 2.  There are so many people and ideas for you to meet with, and any 2 will combine with you.  You’re a 4, an 8, a 16.  The combinations flicker by so fast, it’s hard to keep up.  And all around you the same: 4s, 8s, 16s.  The 32s fall into line beside each other.

At first, it’s harder not to run into a match, or a fit.  Even a 64 or 128 can match up.  There’s space to maneuver, 2s and 4s are doubling up 8s and 16s all the time.  It’s quite fun, and nearly mindless, because very nearly anything will work out.

2048gif3

Until the board’s worked up to a 512 or 1024.  Suddenly you’re a 64 or 128 or 256, perfectly reasonable – there’s even another 64 and 128 and 256 on the board.

You can see it.  But you can’t reach it.  You have no idea what would have to shift to bring the two together.  Trying to calculate it – trying to predict whether 2s or 4s will appear (is there a formula?), figuring if it’s easier to reach the Largish Number on the other side of the world, or if you have the space/time to wait for a new one to double up – it all leaves you feeling overcalculating, frustrated and impotent if not outright insane, and, unsurprisingly, makes it all feel like work rather than play.

Sometimes your careful machinations work out (o frabjous day!)  Sometimes they just give you a brief reprieve from Nothing Working Out At All, Ever.  Nothing will move.  Helpless, you know that if you could only shift this thing that way, all would fall into place beautifully.

Maybe you bungled it so many moves ago that you can never arrange things as they’d need to be arranged.  Maybe you were so focused on a strategy involving one piece that you missed the opportunity to find or fashion another double elsewhere.  Maybe you forgot that most elementary of facts about how pieces connect with the first match they run into, leaving that second match alone and forgotten.

Then the regret: if only you’d flicked things up instead of left.  If only there weren’t such a plethora of skinny, pretty little 2s gumming up the works.  All the cunning manipulation you’ve got, navigating all the blasted 2s in the world doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you’re a 256 or 512, and there just isn’t a 256 or 512 in sight for you.

It might all change, and quickly!  Or you might just lose.  Again.

You find you’ve run your battery down to 9%.

You feel that you’ve wasted your time and energy even playing.

…but even so, you wonder: what must it be like, to finally achieve that elusive, shining 2048?

2048 win

Watching this is basically like going through someone else’s album of wedding photos.

Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Source: Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Malcolm Guite has written this beautiful sequence of sonnets, and shares with them St. Alban’s Stations of the Cross, Linda Richardson’s artwork, and his own audio recordings of the sonnets.

Among the lines that touched me most:

He and the earth he made were never closer,
Divinity and dust come face to face.
We flinch back from his via dolorosa,
He sets his face like flint and takes our place,
Staggers beneath the black weight of us all
And falls with us that he might break our fall.


Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

 

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.

Lucas

Trying to keep my hand in!  This attempt at painting Lucas the elephant (when he was about 3 years old, I think) reminded me of a few watercolor principles:
– squint at your original to determine where the core shadows are;
– use color/shade contrast to convey shape rather than outlining everything; and
– keep a sense of proportion throughout, using bigger or smaller brushes as necessary.

 

Seal in Triplicate

Last week, I helped with a fundraiser.  Among other things, this involved making a couple of signs to post on the street, pointing folks THIS WAY! 

After a frustrating half-hour of scribbling with Sharpies to make letters readable from a distance, I pulled out my widest paintbrush and Chromacryl paints.  These suckers are about two decades old, purchased from some enterprising lady hawking student acrylics at my grade school.  Should I have tossed them years ago?  Probably.  Did I instead hang onto them for their much-vaunted hour of need?  But of course.  Slightly goopy, but they got the job done!

Chromacryl.JPG

So old that new tubes of Chromacryl look NOTHING like them.

Since then, paint’s been in the back of my mind.  I’ve got 3 different sets of watercolor tubes, 2 sets of oil paint, 1 set of acrylics, to say nothing of various markers, colored pencils, pens, and oil pastels.

I should paint something, I thought yesternight, digging out old watercolor paper that had been divided into quadrants with painter’s tape 5 years ago and never used.  But what?

And then I saw this post, and figured a seal was as good a place to start as anywhere.

What should I paint next?

What have y’all drawn or painted lately?

Foodstuffs to Empty a Pantry

(or: Culinary Ingenuity, Part III)

This doesn’t sound like a thing anyone wants, does it?  The shadow of empty cupboards, or a fridge with nothing but old condiments inside, the wolf of hunger scratching at the door: it haunts us, even those who have never actually suffered from the want that image signifies.

On the other hand, most of us are also familiar with opening the fridge, finding it full of items, then shutting it while muttering “There’s nothing to eat!”  Whatever is there takes too much work to prepare, or there’s so many different types of food that none of it can be combined in an appealing way.

I’ve written before about peculiar methods of cooking food, and weird ways of using up leftovers.  But the current concern is, in essence, meta­-leftovers: the pearl barley my mom gave me that I never use, the two cans of peanuts I bought (one by accident) for a single Thai recipe, the shrimp in the freezer that get passed over for fresh chicken or ground beef or sausage.  The items that sit and sit and sit, because it’s easier and tastier to use lentils or pasta or the fresh vegetables of the day.

But, as with books, no food can sit forever.  There’s a built-in deadline of spoilage, and my own frugality tugs me to use it before I lose it.  This means you, 1.5 canisters of steel-cut oats!  And you, 3 sheets of nori in the corner!  And you, canned beans that I occasionally buy and rarely cook.

It’d be a lie to call myself any sort of minimalist, but one particular bit of Francine Jay’s book The Joy of Less that has stuck with me is her comment that when we get rid of whatever it is we don’t really enjoy, we give ourselves more room for what truly delights us.  Surfaces are to be free for activity.  The less that’s in storage, the easier it is to see what we’ve kept.  Decide what to keep, not what to throw away.

I’ve spent a few afternoons organizing my mom’s canned goods, cupboards, and pantry – enough to know that the deeper and fuller the storage, the harder it is to remember what exactly is in there.  What do I need to replace?  What do I need to use?  Do I actually have that particular spice or mix or can of water chestnuts, or did I make that up?

In my ongoing attempt to be able to see what is in my house, and, specifically, in my pantry, I’ve tried, of late, to use as much as possible of the items there before purchasing more.  This has resulted in reorganizing my canned goods to see whether I have the necessary for chana masala and rajmah chamal (over barley or bulgur, of course), making my sausage-lentil-kale soup with farro instead of lentils, and trying to figure out to do with all the pecans and walnuts I bought.  A tart dough full of nuts?  Homemade Nutella?  Some kind of eggless cookie?

This feels especially appropriate in the days leading up to Lent – and, as it happens, demands far more creativity (Chesterton would approve).  The bananas in the freezer were *intended* for nut bread, but since I have one last egg and no yogurt, I could make them into fake ice cream by blending them with cocoa powder, and use the aforementioned homemade Nutella to top it.  The bag of frozen vegetable scraps could make veggie stock for barley risotto.  There’s some shrimp and bacon lingering in the freezer, which could bulk up soups or pasta sauces.

It’s like I’ve finally come to understand what MFK Fisher and Tamar Adler were talking about.  But more on them later; I think I’ll go use my lone egg to make half a batch of crepes.

a conversation with an imaginary bookmonger

“One of our staff recommendations!  I loved it.  Are you looking forward to reading this?”

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s for my roommate.”

“Oh!  I see.  Well, is there anything we can tempt you with?  I see you have Backman and Bradley in your bag…”

“Eh, they’re both library books.  I tend to prefer the library, actually.”

“Any particular reason why?  It’s not just about the price, I hope.”

“No, well – okay, the price IS right at a library.  It’s more that – I’m a bit of a hoarder.  I – I know there are some people who say It’s not hoarding if it’s books, and they aren’t wrong.  But.  I do hoard other things.  I hang on to notes from the college I graduated from 7 years ago.  Hang onto stuff for scrapbooks and materials for art projects.  I hoard all my good intentions and very rarely actually get around to making my dreams realities.”

“So you don’t want books to be part of your stuff.”

“No – well, books are part of my stuff.  A few hundred of them.  I just – look, it’s not just about money, and it’s not just about space.  It’s about deadlines.  Someone else eventually wants the library book back, and so I can live there for a while and capture those phrases and ideas.  And maybe they’ll escape from my head eventually, but maybe in that amount of time, they’ll transform me.  If they’re mine to read, they’re also mine to ignore.  If absolutely nothing else – if I check out a book and ignore it completely until someone else wants it – I have to look at it when I hand it back in.”

“You need the interruption.”

“The interruption and the deadline, yes.”