Friday, October 21, 2011

A Glancing Blow

More than a Glancing Blow: Hail that Bashed Dents in Spouse's Car two days ago
I've just hit the War part of War and Peace. The first war part, that is. (The parts I skipped the first time around. Though I hasten to add that the first time I read Moby Dick, I did read every word of the whale bits, those endless 'cetology' sections. Though only once and never again.)

I thought it would be an endurance contest, these hundred pages before the family dramas of the next peace part return. Surprise, surprise, to quote our Southern philosopher, Gomer Pyle: Tolstoy is as lavish with psychological insight in the war bits as he is in the rest of the novel.

You must know the feeling.  You're humming along with exuberance about something or other you've done or achieved or are planning to do when a stray look from a stranger, a casual comment from a friend, and whap! you realize what an idiot you were to think that x,y or z had any point at all. I hit this all the time. I suppose it's over-awareness of what other people are thinking--might be thinking--and therefore a character defect to overcome, but I'm not exactly sure how you do that. Put on another layer of skin? Not as easy, sigh, as slipping on a sweater or adding a few extra pounds of body insulation, aka fat. (Speaking of cetology.)

It doesn't even have to be a glance that sets this in motion. It can also be simple silence. Sad to admit that one is that aware of other people, perhaps, but there it is.

So what relief to find it in Tolstoy, too: Prince Andrei as courier is exultantly bearing news about a very minor Russian victory (more a survival than a victory.) In the moments it takes him to enter the office of the Minister of War he is reporting to and wait for the man to look up from the documents on his desk, Andrei's spirits falter, then sink altogether as he interprets the Minister's silence, initial expression, and, finally, few comments. His news, Prince Andrei realizes? or mindreads? is hardly of interest to the Minister; the victory must scarcely be worth being called a victory; the battle which had seemed of keenest excitement and importance was after all simply--one more in a long series of easily-forgotten skirmishes.

"When Prince Andrei left the palace, he felt that all the interest and happiness afforded him by the victory had now left him and been given over into the indifferent hands of the minister of war. . . . His whole way of thinking changed instantly. . . . "

In the space of a few moments, with little or nothing actually said by the other person.

Ah, yes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Carry On!

What Was Supposed to be in the Spinner
(From our garden)
 This morning I found an empty salad spinner in the refrigerator.

Which certainly beats finding an empty pot of rice in there as I'm frantically pulling food out for a last-minute supper.

All part of having a number of family members with ADHD (the real, tested-diagnosed-mostly-treated kind, not that metaphoric "Oh, they're just so forgetful").

Along with cell phones in the washing machine, prescription glasses buried in the garden (or, this morning, discovered in the chicken house), library fines that approach the national debt (OK, OK, some of those are mine), and the omnipresent wail, "has anyone seen my keys/my phone/my glasses?" ("Did you try the chicken house?")

There are many advantages to having ADHD around. Creativity, for example: innovative ideas seem to pour out like November rain.
It's the routine maintenance part that's so hard for an ADHDer. Those last boring details: take the Ipod out of the pocket before it hits the washer, put the finished library book in the car, the empty rice pot in the sink. ADHDers excell at coming up with projects, and if there is the exciting crisis of a looming deadline, can be pretty good about ending them.

It's the middle part, the slogging-through part, the soggy-middle-of-the-sandwich bit where they run into problems. And often give up.
But then I get bogged down in the middle, too.

This year, my winter reading is War and Peace.  There is a magic about opening a new book or starting a new course. Do you know it? Some hangover from our earliest school days, when the pencils are sharp, notebook paper crisp, and even the smells from the cafeteria seem mysterious and promising, not the boiled-cabbage and disinfectant, closed-in smells of the coming winter days.

Then you hit the second week. The middle pages.

Last year, I read--yes, and finished--Augustine's Confessions. I was so excited when I started it, and as I approached the end, so motivated to get to that last page. It was in the middle where I'd look at Confessions, look at the new mystery sitting on my bedside shelf, and--choose the mystery.

Right now, I've hit page 105 of Tolstoy. Only about 999 to go, more or less. (Quite a bit more, actually). So the initial excitement has worn off a bit.

Ditto with Biology: I am working through a college level Biology text and CD-rom AP course along with my tenth grade homeschooler. She's on week five; I'm still trying to finish the reading from week three. (Please don't tell her that.) Granted, there's a lot of it, 4 or 5 very dense chapters some weeks. Granted, I read fiction, not science. I'm not used to having to stop every sentence, every half sentence, to puzzle over the words to figure out what they mean.  Especially sentences like this one: "For atoms with valence electrons in both s and p orbitals the single s and three p orbitals hybridize to form four new hybrid orbitals. . . . "

Say what?

I'm in the slogging-through part.

So what keeps me going? I was thinking about this after talking briefly to my college son who is a bit bogged down with his senior thesis. He's in the slog part. And it's dreary. Hard. Lonely. That's when, with my senior thesis, I developed the lifelong bad habit of "stuck? a little bored? Go make some more coffee!"

What helps more than caffeine is something that's much harder to find around here than my coffee pot.


I'm reading War and Peace along with one friend in North Carolina and another in California. They don't know each other, but the three of us make up a no-pressure, long-distance "reading group." So that when I open up this very-heavy book every morning to read my few pages, I feel their presence. Not in a "you better read this or else" way, but in a "someone is sharing this, someone is doing this with me" way.

With Biology, I have my daughter to commiserate with. To encourage, and to be encouraged on by.

Just as with blogging, I have you, my readers, my fellow bloggers. To be cheered on by, to cheer on. To say, and to hear, in the words of one friend, "Carry on!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why "Where?"

Where I'm Supposed to Be.

What kind of a name is that for a blog? Why didn't I just get right to the point with Will Blog for Chocolate? Or Still Standing After All These Years? (Hey, I kind of like that.)

But  Where- -? Why?
(Where I Was)
Because. It's been the question of my life.

Ocasionally "Where?" as in why on earth am I back in Tennessee when I fell in love with New England the 7 years I spent in school there--with North Carolina, where I'd begun to develop a writing community before we left there 22 years ago. 

But mostly, I'm not talking geography. Though I've certainly played the "geographic cure" game in my time: "Oh, everything will be better when we move to Chapel Hill/Western Carolina/into town/out of town/an actual apartment/a house/a house with a real floor."

What I'm really talking about is "Where" as in "what am I doing?" "What am I supposed to be doing?" "What do you want me to do?" All questions I've asked over the years while pacing up and down our very long and wooded, more-trail-than-gravel driveway. Occasionally out loud, in hopes that some God somewhere will favor me with an answer or even a moment of clear thought. More often round and round and round inside my own brain, which by now must have grooves worn in it like the ruts in the carpet under our kitchen chairs in our old trailer.
The Long and Winding Drive

Questions that became more frantic those times a teenage homeschooler had drained me of every ounce of patience and I still had to walk back inside and calmly explain how to put together an essay. Or when more music students were on my waiting list then I could possibly teach without giving up everything else and I couldn't figure out if I was primarily Suzuki or homeschool teacher, writer or mom. Or what.

Or, as now, when the whole prospect of "OK, so I've finished another manuscript and this time I've got to figure out how to find an agent" seems too overwhelming. (. . .  ."On second thought, maybe this manuscript isn't actually finished, anyway; really, I should I tweak this, tweak that.  Or just scrap it altogether: whoever needs yet another fiction submission, anyway?". . . .)

If God, someone, anyone, in those times (these times) had sat me down and said, "This is what you're supposed to be doing. Just this. Not all that. Just--this," how much easier/more confident/happier? the years might have been.


One thing I am clear on. (Finally, something!) God is not a fairy godmother. He/she/it doesn't wave a wand and make problems go away.  Or confusion.
So after all these years of living in a state of continual doubt, self-doubt, questioning, whatever you want to call it--(waffling! obsessing!) I have to wonder. Maybe that IS where I'm supposed to be. After all. Asking the questions, not necessarily getting answers.

And going ahead, anyway--whether it's figuring out an AP Lit curriculum or starting another novel before the last one is truly launched.
Pushing on, even if, maybe especially if, living with the questions makes me feel like I'm driving with the parking brake on. So to speak.

I think I kind of finally get that this is what faith is. Going ahead anyway. Despite not knowing. Or ever knowing. Whether with homeschooling, writing, or even just living.

You think?

Where I'm supposed to be.

I don't seem to talk to many people who wonder about this. Do you? Even if only in those moments when you've run so headlong into so many brick walls that your bones are still reverberating from the collision?

Do you second-guess yourself--"Should I maybe have veered a little to the left back there? Or maybe avoided this altogether?"

I'm not just being nosey. I'd  really like to know.

Or maybe it's just me.