Monday, December 31, 2018
"I must confess: it embarrassed me to go after a truth in my underwear."
Sunday, December 30, 2018
From The Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons
There is now not a single
leaf on the cherry tree:
except when the jay
plummets in, lights, and,
in pure clarity, squalls:
then every branch
breaks out in blue leaves.
Saturday, December 29, 2018
SISTER WENDY BECKETT
The modus vivendi
Of Sister Wendy
Sent her out to the world as a famous art-fan
Then straight back to God in her caravan.
"I was the boy who went up the hill and then, inexplicably, turned around and came back empty-handed. I was Little Boy Blue asleep with his horn, while his sheep roamed the meadow, and the cows ate the corn. I was ashamed for all of us, every one."
From Success Story
Friday, December 28, 2018
"In short the last three years felt like a lifetime."
From Within the Walls
Thursday, December 27, 2018
"Wit is the art of bringing unlikely things or ideas together, in such a way that the scandal or shock of their proximity arrives alongside a conviction that they have always belonged together."
From On Aphorisms
Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
From On Christmas: A Seasonal Anthology, introduced by Gyles Brandreth
IN THE MEANTIME
"In the meantime , we must not forget the children. No one else could."
From Christmas Afternoon: Done in the Manner, if not the Spirit, of Dickens, by Robert Benchley
Monday, December 24, 2018
It didn't start with dogs, it started with flamingos.
Every year when I go home to Pennsylvania to see family, I sleep in what was my old bedroom. Nowadays my old room is full of my mother's crafting projects; painted slates, decoupage. (I admire the things she makes. I have four pieces at my desk at work, and keep a painted tea-kettle and a collage coffee-pot in my library at home.) Most of her projects get cleared away before I come to visit. (It's a lot.) And on what will be my nightstand again, next to the button-lamp my mother made, there they are: two ceramic planters in the shape of spaniels, one green, one red. They're decorated with a kind of swirling, 70s, floral mange and they have daisies for tails. Their heads are elongated as if they are being pulled slowly into the gravitational field of a black hole. Their dead eyes stare at me when I reach to turn out the light every night. They are hideous. My mother knows this. I hasten to add, my mother did not make these abominations. (My mother's projects are actually rather beautiful.) The dogs came from an auction box, or a yard-sale, years ago. Their only purpose is to taunt me. They're a running joke between my Mum and me; call it, Brad's War on Kitsch.
As I say, it started with lawn-flamingos.
When I was a child, we went sailing on the weekends. Never had a boat. Not much for being on the water. Yard-sailing, we went, my mother and I. My hometown, hers too, didn't have a bookstore. Still doesn't. We went to yard sales because we were, if not poor, far from "comfortable," as the rich say. My mother likes a bargain. I needed books. The Thursday paper listed yard sales. Sometimes the listing mentioned books. We always went to those first. If we could, we'd try to go Fridays. First day had the best stuff, before it "gets all picked over." I had school and Mum worked, so we had to go early or not at all. She cleaned college dormitories, which was horrible, and the homes of the local professional-class; professors, doctors, and the like.
I couldn't have been more than ten when I tripped to the fact that any house with a lawn-flamingo was unlikely to have books, and even if books were advertised, the books would not amount to much if there was a flamingo in the yard. My mother found my snobbish deduction hilarious, but over time had to admit the truth of it.
When I came home from college for the first time, my father made a sign for the yard that read "Welcome Home Brad." My mother put lawn-flamingos on either side of it and stood grinning by them as we pulled into the driveway. After that, it was our "thing."
For my last birthday I got a shirt with tiny flamingo print, a necklace of flamingos, a flamingo that nods in the sun, etc., etc. In my middle-fifties. Mum's in her eighties. The woman is relentless.
Actually, my mother is known for for her style. Her taste is good. She dresses well, never leaves the house without her face, has an eye for fabrics, and color, and drape. She taught me to see beauty in simplicity, utility, age. She doesn't know the word, but she has always been quick to point out the ersatz and to find the one good thing amidst the dross. Were I to find fault now I'd just say she's always been sentimental and likes "cute things" simply for being "cute," and that we do not share.
It was, I think, my father who bought the painted plaster dogs that lived either side of the front door. These were ugly; machine-made, badly painted, clumsy. I found their ugliness offensive. I would hide them behind the furniture. Likewise I'm pretty sure Dad was the one who got the Fork and Spoon salt-and-pepper-shakers I hated as a kid. I thought them impossibly tacky. My mother thought them "cute." I used to hide them in a cookie jar that sat unused on top of the refrigerator. My mother is short and could not reach them there. They didn't "go" with the china I liked. Quite the little aesthete, setting the table in the double-wide.
I was an insufferable little shit, is what I was.
One Christmas, my mother sent me the Fork and Spoon salt-and-pepper-shakers, beautifully wrapped. Next time I went back for a visit, I hid them in plain sight in her china-cabinet. Got them again the next year for Christmas. I made her a calendar the year after; color pictures of Fork and Spoon, in a different setting each month: under a palm tree in California, in the mountain snow, visiting Las Vegas.
It was a thing.
And now the dogs. In retirement my father made a living from reselling stuff he bought in auction-lots: furniture, housewares, collectibles, "junk." The dogs came from there. My mother it was who probably rescued them from "down in the building" where such stuff is sold. Brought them up to the house specifically to put them by my guest bed, just to goad me. Relentless. She doesn't even much like dogs.
Dad did. He always kept dogs. Blueticks, bloodhounds, beagles, and mongrels, some for hunting, some to race, some just company, but all his dogs. When the last ancient beagle, slow as death and deaf as a post, went off after a rabbit and never came back, Dad said he was done. "Too old to chase her," he said, "home or heaven, up to her." He was right. She was his last dog.
My mother only ever had the one dog, Buster. Only animal big enough to bathe that ever lived in her house -- other than us. Buster was his name. Buster was special. A bright little terrier-mix. He'd hide under the sofa and growl when my scary grandmother came every day. Smart. He stayed when I left for college. When he died on the road, my mother said she'd never have another dog and she never has. People tried to give her dogs, still do, but no. My brother's dog, Bear comes across the yard from his house to hers every day now. Brings her the newspaper and gets a treat. Since my father died, when they bring my mother's supper, Bear brings the bread in a bag, or a napkin, something, just to have something to bring. That's his job. Otherwise he sits on the porch mostly.
Nowadays, my mother's mostly alone.
When Dad was still alive, he was in on the running joke too, specially around Christmas. One year they sent me a giant tin frog for the yard. Not pretty. Another time they sent an antique mirror decorated with -- wait for it -- painted pink flamingos. You get the picture. Relentless.
I still have Fork and Spoon, by the way. Mum has a picture of them framed in my old room. Everybody wins.
Auden said that the surest sign that a person had taste was that the person was never sure of it. I don't known that I'm sure of nearly so much as I was when I was fifteen. Fork and Spoon seem rather dear to me now.
But those ceramic spaniels? Those things are just ugly as sin.
Well played, old woman, well played.
"'Wassail, you chaps!' he shouted.
'Wassail, old sport! the shouted back; 'we'd jolly well well drink y'r health, only we've nothing to drink it in.'
'Come and wassail inside,' said Bertie hospitably; 'I'm all alone, and there's heaps of "wet."'"
From Bertie's Christmas Eve, by Saki
Sunday, December 23, 2018
"Her life would have been easier if she hadn't loved him so much, but she couldn't help loving him. Just to look at him was to love him."
From page 266
Saturday, December 22, 2018
From The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
ON THE POINT
"I was on the point of answering, 'I never said so.' But the vicious cockatoo ruffled his clipped wings, and gave a screech that set all my nerves on edge in an instant, and made me only too glad to get out of the room."
From The Second Epoch, Chapter II
Friday, December 21, 2018
"Thrifty," Katarina Maria recalled, "that was Mom's word for it." Theo remembered Christmas less kindly, "That old woman loved Woolworth's. If it was in a bin by the door, and the shit was less than a dollar, then... maybe." "It wasn't like we didn't have money," his sister explained, "she just didn't want to spend any of it. Old world, maybe. Who knows? Anyway, me and Theo, we robbed that Woolworth's blind."
"Happiness can be variously understood."
Thursday, December 20, 2018
"Before I reached the age of forty, I never even considered that my relationships did not last because I did not know enough about love."
From Chapter Seven, Choosing and Learning to Love
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Was somewhat lax in
The spirit was willing, but the flesh kept creeping.
"There was one question that the judge and prosecutors and the defense never asked the jurors but that was central to the proceedings: Would the jury of twelve white men ever punish another white man for killing an American Indian?"
From Chapter 20, So help you God!
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Monday, December 17, 2018
From All that Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson, by Mark Griffin
"With a secret, sexually transgressive lifestyle imprisoned within a 'normal,' straight-acting, suitable-for-framing public persona, Rock Hudson is not only the star of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, he is one."
From Chapter 9, Written on the Wind
Sunday, December 16, 2018
"One might imagine it'd be unpleasant, being sealed in a tree. One might imagine, ah, pining. But the scent lightens despair. It's perhaps a little like wearing a coat of armour except much nicer, because the armour is made of a substance through which years themselves, formative, have run."
From Chapter Two
Saturday, December 15, 2018
From Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
"Look, you: there are enough stars for everyone tonight, and among them shine the satellites, those counterfeit coins."
From Less Moroccan
Friday, December 14, 2018
From An Untouched House, by Willem Frederik Hermans, translated by David Colmer
"I picked up the bayonet and her handbag, which I clicked shut. There were no more signs of what had happened in the marble bathroom."
From page 58
Thursday, December 13, 2018
Who can forget Christmas, 1927? That was the year Bettelhiem's Acrobatic Babies -- probably the most notorious little people act in American vaudeville -- shot up the boarding house in Paducah. "I never had trouble from Show People," said the landlady, Mrs. Emma Thrush, "exception being Ernie Bettelhiem and his damned tumblers." She went on to tell the local paper, "He wasn't good to 'em, that's true, so when they got into my peach brandy, why, next thing you know, the boy's got my late husband's deer riffle, and all Hell broke loose." The act broke up shortly thereafter.