My #FridayReads: Faithful and Virtuous Night

by Rachael on November 20, 2015

And in the middle of the sky,
the immodest god.

Things are, he says. They are, they do not change;
response does not change.

How hushed it is, the stage
as well as the audience; it seems
breathing is an intrusion.

He must be very close,
the grass is shadowless.

How quiet it is, how silent,
like an afternoon in Pompeii.

— Louise Glück, from “A Summer Garden

by Louise GlückHow I admire the authority of Glück’s voice — so calm and cool, it burns. Though I finished reading Faithful and Virtuous Night more than a week ago, I’ve been carrying it around with me so that I can keep reading it, checking it in the way that people check their phones on the subway or while waiting on line.

I also reread her interview last year in Poets and Writers, and I really must pin these words to the wall above my desk:

I used to be approached in classes by women who felt they shouldn’t have children because children were too distracting, or would eat up the vital energies from which art comes. But you have to live your life if you’re going to do original work. Your work will come out of an authentic life, and if you suppress all of your most passionate impulses in the service of an art that has not yet declared itself, you’re making a terrible mistake.

I can especially trust this wisdom coming from a woman who (she says) read nothing but garden catalogs for two years — and then wrote The Wild Iris.


Other books I’ve read this fall include the following:

  • The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante (of course!)
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
  • Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso (a reread)
  • Bluets by Maggie Nelson (a reread)
  • Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (a reread)
  • The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits
  • Missing Person by Patrick Modiano
  • Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
  • A Plate of Chicken (a reread) and Surrounded by Friends by Matthew Rohrer

Most likely I’ve forgotten something. What are you reading?


The Only Way

by Rachael on November 12, 2015

puddle, leaves, reflectionThough the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees and holiday lights have already been hung along Cortelyou Road, I spent much of the last few weeks working through the remaining karma of summer. I often go through such periods in which all my time and efforts are given over either to meeting professional commitments or taking care of my family. Meanwhile, neglect piles up around us, in its usual forms: the dust on our floors, the stacks of laundered clothing not yet put away, the jumble of unopened mail and unread library books, possibly overdue. . . .

The only way to unburden myself of my obligations, I kept reminding myself, was to meet them. Or, as I more often put it, the only way out is through.

This statement always reminds me of Robert Frost’s “A Servant to Servants.” The narrator of this poem — the servant to servants — is speaking to a naturalist of some kind who has been camping on her property by the shore of Lake Willoughby in northern Vermont. She is haunted by the madness that she fears may run in her family. A deranged and violent uncle was once kept in a sort of jail or cage in her home, and she herself has spent time in a state asylum. Her husband, Len, however, remains optimistic.

He looks on the bright side of everything,
Including me. He thinks I’ll be all right
With doctoring. But it’s not medicine —
Lowe is the only doctor’s dared to say so —
It’s rest I want — there, I have said it out —
From cooking meals for hungry hired men
And washing dishes after them — from doing
Things over and over that just won’t stay done.
By good rights I ought not to have so much
Put on me, but there seems no other way.
Len says one steady pull more ought to do it.
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through —
Leastways for me — and then they’ll be convinced.

How I long for this woman to be unburdened of her housekeeping! And so I often puzzle over the conclusion of the poem.

I ’spose I’ve got to go the road I’m going:
Other folks have to, and why shouldn’t I?
I almost think if I could do like you,
Drop everything and live out on the ground —
But it might be, come night, I shouldn’t like it,
Or a long rain. I should soon get enough,
And be glad of a good roof overhead.
I’ve lain awake thinking of you, I’ll warrant,
More than you have yourself, some of these nights.
The wonder was the tents weren’t snatched away
From over you as you lay in your beds.
I haven’t courage for a risk like that.
Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work,
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept.
There’s work enough to do—there’s always that;
But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do
Is set me back a little more behind.
I sha’n’t catch up in this world, anyway.
I’d rather you’d not go unless you must.

On the one hand, her housekeeping nearly undoes her; on the other hand, she suspects that without her house — and the burden of keeping it — she would certainly be undone. But are those two possibilities (including one that isn’t really a possibility) really the only two possibilities for her?

As for me, I have no plans to “drop everything and live out on the ground.” I am trying to drop some things, though, and so far the only way I’ve found to do so is by doing whatever it is I think I have to do until either it’s done or it no longer seems so necessary and important. The trick, of course, is not to pick up any more things along the way. . . .


Something That Suggests Grace

October 8, 2015

It appears that “what must have seemed like grace,” according to Ruthie’s imagination, probably was. Said Marilynne Robinson in a 2009 interview with Andrew Brown: “One of the things that has really struck me, reading Calvin, is what a strong sense he has that the aesthetic is the signature of the divine. If someone in […]

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How I Spend My Days

October 1, 2015

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. — Annie Dillard (via Brain Pickings) For years I’ve done my best to log my working time, and apparently my best isn’t very good, because usually by the end of the working week I would find that I had stopped recording my working hours […]

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Vast Emptiness

September 24, 2015

Our home is cluttered, my schedule packed, and my inbox filled with unanswered emails. Even my ambition is overfull: I wish to pursue far too many career goals. Thus, during morning zazen, my attention on the breath is often obscured by a swirl of concerns, as I keep trying to work everything out. When am […]

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September 17, 2015

She had always known a thousand ways to circle them all around with what must have seemed like grace. She knew a thousand songs. Her bread was tender and her jelly was tart, and on rainy days she made cookies and applesauce. In the summer she kept roses in a vase on the piano, huge, […]

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Vacation Reading

August 14, 2015

If the best part of summer is reading, the very best reading is vacation reading. On vacation, the worlds on the page — Toronto, New York City, wherever — are infused with sunlight, the lapping of the lake waters, and the distant presence of the mountains. This year I read only two books — How […]

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The Best Part of Summer

July 14, 2015

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month participants talked about getting out to enjoy the warmer season as a family. *** No matter how many times I have […]

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To Myself on the Last Day

June 9, 2015

Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month participants wrote letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival […]

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in Just-

March 10, 2015

We are not quite “in,” but with the return of Daylight Saving Time, warmer weather has come, and with it, many puddles. L and the Gnome do so love the puddles, but for some reason the uck of mud troubles L. As for me, I love the squash of luscious mud underfoot and to gaze […]

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