Friday, October 29, 2010

Appropos of the Season

The fall is a wonderful time to begin a new mystery. Dracula, if you have not yet read the novel, it is a particularly good choice.

Bram Stoker was born in 1847 in Clontarf, Ireland. Dracula was published in 1897 while he was manager of a London theater. While he wrote the novel, the trial of fellow Irishman Oscar Wilde took place, to great scandal. This is high Victorian era, remember. Stoker reveals in the novel many of the anxieties that characterized the age, such as the repercussions of scientific advancement, the consequences of abandoning traditional beliefs, and the dangers of female sexuality. To this day, Dracula remains a fascinating study of popular attitudes at the end of the nineteenth century.

Wilkie Collins' superb mystery which is generally accepted as beginning the genre, The Woman in White.

"Collins composed his masterworks during one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of English literature. England's cities and industries were booming, poverty and crime filled the news, melodrama ruled the theaters, and newfound wealth made class barriers increasingly permeable. Dickens had just started his periodical All the Year Round, which helped to bring literature to a mass audience and blur the boundaries between highbrow and middlebrow culture. The new audience demanded a new type of novel, a novel as compelling as the scandalous headlines it competed with at the newsstands, able to keep readers in suspense from month to month and eager to buy the next issue."

----- Penguin Reading Guides

I have on my short list some novels by Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), and Dorothy Sayers.

And, why not, even some Poe...

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'....


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

M.S. Degree From the TeeVee

I was at a friend's house dropping off our nut sales (no, I'm not selling my family members, it's for Girl Scouts) when she showed us part of an episode of "Hoarding: Buried Alive." Seeing the piles of junk lit a fire in me. When we returned home I began to attack my paper piles.

My mom might say I save too many things. My husband thinks it's too cluttered around our house. What do I see?

I see some clutter. It constitutes the things that I don't necessarily have a place for and don't know what to do with, so they sit out or get pushed into piles and forgotten. I also see changes that I've made to make it less cluttered. There is the huge basket that sits in the living room and looks nice, but it holds a bunch of yarn. The yarn is hidden, and it looks neat. I see the end tables I bought that have drawers and shelves so that books can sit in them. More examples abound. What I see are the accomplishments I've made in order to advance in the direction of an organized person, in addition to what I have yet to do. Seeing the things that don't have a place doesn't bother me so much probably because I know I will take care of it. I know it needs to be done, it just hasn't been done yet.

That sounds like an excuse. It would be, if I sat on the couch eating bonbons all day, but I don't. I do other things. What I need is to incorporate (better) the habit of organizing the oddball items that don't get into my daily routine of putting s#it away. Specifically, my problem is paper. There is my work from the most recent term of school, OC's school things, some random old mail, and other weird stuff that has no place. I have a big basket for the things I feel I need to keep for a month or so, then they can go away. The problem is that a month goes by and I don't revisit the pile. The piles multiply into hairy monsters that look too scary to go anywhere near.

The other problem I had was in dealing with things that were too painful. There are boxes filled with sad things like funeral notices, or pictures that I haven't been ready to come across. It is better now, because time has gone by since the sad events. And, I've recently reorganized and cleaned out one side of our attic area, including dealing with several boxes filled with emotional napalm, organizing what I'll keep and tossing others.

After OC saw the show, and when she looked at her room she told, "At least my room isn't as bad as those!"

She's right. There is no black mold in there. There are no pathways (although sometimes there is a crunching sound when one walks across her floor....) and she manages to keep up with most of the daily tidying up.

What is surprising to learn is that the hoarders tend to be perfectionists. It seems counterintuitive, but, they usually have some type of compulsion or depression. The stuff is there to either fill an emotional hole, or because they know it needs to go but they need to deal with each individual piece first, or there is a shopping compulsion, etc.

Myself, I'm no perfectionist. While I like a clean house, I don't like to clean the house. I like to have everything in its place, but I don't always know where that place is for some things. Where do I stash a flier for the High Desert Museum's programs that I might want to look at to schedule a field trip? Possibly that should be recycled and I could use the internet to look up the information. See? THAT'S PROGRESS RIGHT THERE.

I've come a long way from the days when I had emotional attachments to objects, especially those that were given to me. It would have constituted a personal insult to get rid of a gift until one day I realized that the person who gave me that thing would not want me to feel burdened by it. The idea clicked, and gave me what I needed to break that habit.

The decision-making process is what gets me. Where to put it once I know I actually do need it? I don't have a problem getting rid of things or organizing, but I get stuck when I feel overwhelmed by too many decisions. When that happens, I don't want to deal with it at all. The piles go untended and grow facial hair but I sometimes ignore that. This can go on until their voices change, then I figure it's time to do something.

I don't know if I have a problem, or am experiencing a normal amount of overwhelming indecisiveness? I don't think I'm alone in this. TheYarn Harlot posted recently about an unusual room in her house with an organization problem.

Me? I've got clutter but I'm also working to find places to put it all away. The reward is knowing what I have and where it is located. Perhaps a steady dose of the revolting visuals on "Hoarders" will propel action to become a good habit. It's not a bad way to feel better about one's self, anyway.

I'd like to think I'm normal, but I'm not asking for your opinion. Thanks, anyway. I'll deal with it before my piles ask for the keys to the car.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She Bakes

Sometime in early September the weather turned cooler and OC decided to bake. And wear a hat.

Perhaps I encouraged her relentlessly, but for whatever reason, she made this fantastic batch of chocolate chip cookies.

You can never have too many chocolate chip cookies, nor persons in your house who will bake them. She really knows how to get on our good sides.

Not only are we suckers for kittens, we love us some fresh-baked cookies.

Now, if we could only find an enthusiastic dish washer. As much as I've tried to enlist their help, the kittens do not like water and are against the idea.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Sister Wendy

Fridays are art and music days. Oh, did I mention, I'm homeschooling this year?

Cart before horse. Reverse that. Now you're all caught up.

One of the programs I remember seeing in college was part of a series by Sister Wendy. She's a fascinating art lover with a wonderful perspective on the pieces she presents. Orthodontically challenged yet wildly perceptive, the idea of a nun presenting art seems somewhat antithetical. Most stories about nuns include rulers and the rapping of the knuckles of little children. Sister Wendy is nothing like that. She exudes warmth and intelligence, attracting the viewer with her obvious passion and understanding.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has an authentic copy of "The Thinker" from Rodin's studio. In the 1960s as some sort of display, explosives were placed at the sculpture's base (it sits outside the museum building) and the explosion ruined the lower half of the sculpture. The museum decided not to fix it. Sister Wendy thoughtfully considers this:

"If one can draw any benefit from such an act of senseless vandalism, it's this. That here "The Thinker" isn't perched aloft, above human conflict, he's been plunged into it. He's exposed as vulnerable, as subject to the chaos of the world as we are, and that makes him peculiarly and tragically accessible."

-----Sister Wendy

I like this analysis because of the connections she makes between the reality of the world at the time, and the history of the sculpture and its time. Rodin's figure is pulsing with muscles that are tensed, as if thinking with his whole body (Sister Wendy's words). The piece was designed at about 27 inches tall and to sit above the viewer, as part of a large work that was never finished. In Cleveland it is much larger and perches outside the building on a kind of pedestal. Instead of contemplating those curled feet and toes, there is nothing. One must move up the leg and then the sculpture begins. But it isn't as it was meant to be, and that is her point. Isn't that fabulously astute?

Last week, we watched Sister Wendy at the Art Institute of Chicago where Grant Wood's "American Gothic" resides. Yesterday, I bought OC a Chai tea at a coffee shop that uses AG as their stylized logo. Instead of holding a pitchfork the man holds a coffee cup. She recognized it right away, remembering the painting's title and painter's name. A+!

Usually, one is at a loss to teach for lack of examples. Not so with art. It is a subject with an overwhelming plethora of styles, traditions, artists, symbols, elements, modes of expression, meanings, disciplines, forms, genres, and theories.

Still Life with Two Lemons, Pieter Claesz, 1629.

Queen Isabella of Spain's illuminated prayerbook, Ghent, c. 1497.

Standing Bodhisattva, 1st - 2nd century AD, or CE, Pakistan.

"[Still life] was considered the lowest form, the foot soldiers of the army of art, mean of spirit, who only painted things instead of people and events. And yet what hypocrisy, because everybody loved it, and we still love it."

----- Sister Wendy

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Taking Ownership

The thing about a cedar fence is that, unlike trees, it doesn't just sit there and look pretty for decades. In a few short years, the fence is going to need maintenance.

I went to Home Depot to find out what I needed to take care of my fence. We had just moved and extended the fence in order to incorporate part of the front yard with the back yard. Now, the big old elm tree was enclosed, and we were oh, so proud of our work. Look at all of the space we have! And, privacy!

So, back to Home Depot, port where the reality of home ownership smacks you upside the head. A helpful salesperson told me all that I needed to know, which was that I could look forward to applying a cleanser to the surface in order to open up the pores. After it dried sufficiently, I could apply my chosen oil-based sealant.

It almost sounds like a facial.

I bought a small bottle of cleaner, a brush, and a 5-gallon bucket of wood preservative and stain. $144 later, I was stocked and ready to get to work.

A project such as this is the kind of moment where the idea of teenage children is appealing. I do not yet possess one of these indentured servants, and the kittens are absolutely worthless at do-it-yourself. Unless you require a piece of furniture reduced to shreds.

The cleanser is serious. It requires watering your landscaping before use in order to avoid killing it, but after this process you can apply and hose it down without a worry. I watered, watered, watered.

My fence is getting better care than my face.

While washing sections of fence it is recommended that one keep these areas damp for the 10 - 15 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. I suppose this is what really gets the wood to open up its pores. What's weird is that after I rinsed, I could tell the boards were clean. The pores were open and ready to receive a protective coating to keep out the damaging rays of the sun and effects of harsh weather.

Not so much with my face.

Half the fence, both sides, were washed in one afternoon one and a half weeks ago. I finished the rest of it just the other day.

I do not like this, Sam I am.

The staining is going well. I'm almost one quarter of the way to halfway point. The threat of rain halted my specifically charted progress. It makes me feel like I'm getting a lot done when I count to the hundredths place.

Now that I think of it, 1,600 square feet of cedar fence is looking more and more like a decision made while drinking margaritas one summer night. It was like someone shouted, "Hey! You know what we need? A million board feet of cedar that needs to be washed and restained every couple of years!" And we were all, "brilliant!" and thought it was the most amazing idea, ever.

And you thought pot made you stupid.