Friday, August 22, 2014

What Do You Do When You Feel So Mad You Could Bite?

Dear Friend,

This morning I read Montaigne's essay "How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones."
A local gentleman of ours who is marvelously subject to gout would answer his doctors quite amusingly when asked to give up salted meats entirely. He would say that he liked to have something to blame when tortured by the onslaughts of that illness: the more he yelled out curses against the saveloy or the tongue or the ham, the more relief he felt. Seriously though, when our arm is raised to strike it pains us if the blow lands nowhere and merely beats the air . . .
 . . . it seems that the soul . . . loses itself when shaken and disturbed unless it is given something to grasp on to; and so we must always provide it with an object to butt up against and to act upon.
This passage made me think of Mr. Rogers. I remember watching him as a child and feeling relieved because, in his gentle way, he explained to me that I wasn't bad for feeling angry sometimes. He also gave me some great suggestions for how to handle those angry feelings. (For one thing, I could hit a pillow! Hitting a pillow is totally OK!) I believe this song was part of the episode where he gave the anger talk. It seems like the whole world could use this now --

So, what do you do when you feel so mad you could bite?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Montaigne on How to Toughen Your Skin

Dear Friend,

It's 2:20AM. There's a splendid thunderstorm going on. Inside, my house is deliciously silent. We're tucked into the side of a hill, like a ship run ashore. I'm enjoying the view from my husband's office. His large bay window is the prow.

School starts tomorrow for my oldest three kids. The last several days have been noisy and exciting -- Go! Go! Go! -- back to school preparations and a birthday party to boot. The wonderful pulse of life that comes with a large family has lately felt like a marathon for my nerves.

Waking during the night can be blissful, though I'll likely suffer for it tomorrow, especially if the baby won't take a nap. For now though I feel too refreshed and focused to sleep. Maybe insomnia is not something I should battle. Maybe -- like my unusual heart beat -- it's just me.

If your night's sleep is often broken into segments with a mid-night interval, you will appreciate this article. Some of us heed the sound of an ancient ancestral chime. Or something.

Anyway, when I woke up tonight I decided not to be frustrated with myself.

Carpe noctem!

I recently picked up Montaigne's Essays again. Click here to read a short post I wrote two years ago in which I compare reading Essays to paying a visit to my rich, quirky uncle (who happens to live in a chateau).

File:St Michel de Montaigne Château01.jpg
Château de Montaigne via Wikipedia 
Montaigne is considered the Father of the Essay, so I suppose this also makes him Patron Saint of Bloggers. He's quite an engaging person to know. No topic is off limits.
Our life is part folly, part wisdom. Whoever writes about it only reverently and according to the rules leaves out more than half of it. 
But fair warning: rarely does Montaigne stick to his point. He's all over the place! Reading him feels like partaking in a conversation full of delightful rabbit trails. I love him for this. He likes to go deep, but we can also talk candidly about stuff like bodily functions. We can ramble a bit, then go on with what we were first discussing. Or not.

I'm sure I'd grow weary of other writers for using his method, but it works for him. I expect this randomness out of him, I suppose. And because he's the first true essayist, I feel like this gives me permission to loosen up a little and just blog what's on my mind. As I've mentioned before, I've found if I wait until I have time to make my posts tidy I end up going long stretches without blogging anything.

I also believe reading Essays is good for my depression. Montaigne is so much more rational than me! I tend to experience an exhausting array of peaks and valleys of emotion. In "On Sadness,"  he gives examples of people who are seized by a sadness in a "deaf, speechless stupor." Others "languish for love" or even "die of happiness." As for Montaigne --
Violent emotions . . . have little hold on me. By nature my sense of feeling has a hard skin, which I daily toughen and thicken by arguments. 
In one segment of "On Sadness" I wrote a question mark in the margin:
We cannot display our grief or our convictions during the living searing heat of the attack; the soul is then burdened by deep thought and the body is cast down, languishing for love. That is the source of the occasional impotence which sometimes comes so unseasonably upon men when making love, and of that chill produced, in the very lap of delight by excessive ardour. 
Just a question mark. Because this was new information for me. (No one need comment with personal examples of experiencing untimely impotence due to excessive ardor! But see what I mean?This is one example of territory that is fair game for our host to discuss.) He wraps up his comment on impotence with some level-headed advice for life in general:
For pleasures to be tasted and then digested they must remain moderate: Curae leves lonquuntur, ingentes stupent. [Light cares can talk: huge ones are struck dumb.]

I depart from this visit to the chateau , feeling a little calmer, more steady, and rational. I'm smiling, actually. When calling on Montaigne, I must leave my hysterics at the door.

Moderately yours,

Adriana :-)

Friday, August 8, 2014

When Flowers Fail: Moving Forward When It's Time to Embrace Something New

Dear Friend,

My neighbor owns most of the meadows near my home.  This past spring he leased his property to a local farmer. I was told ahead of time that the land would be turned over for soybeans, but I wasn't prepared for the acrid scent of chemicals in our gentle valley. The day after the fields were sprayed, I viewed the land from my car. No sign of life to be found. All was burnt. Yellow. Destroyed. 

It was weeks before the deer crept back into the fields.  Now they come in droves to nibble at the scrawny crop of beans. Tall black stalks poke up through the rows, unsightly as unwanted hair.

I haven't taken many walks down the old paths this summer. I feel something akin to homesickness for the butterflies, bees, and red winged blackbirds that used to flutter, dive, and hum.

The pictures in my post today are from last year. I took them on one of my long rambles when I thought my lovely meadows (which were, of course, not really mine) would last forever.

How many Flowers fail in Wood—
Or perish from the Hill—
Without the privilege to know
That they are Beautiful—

How many cast a nameless Pod
Upon the nearest Breeze—
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight—
It bear to Other Eyes— 

Emily Dickinson

I'm glad I have pictures. 

The images I've captured of my long county walks are closely tied in my mind to the great classic books I've read in the last few years.

Sometimes, as I journey through books, I capture them well; I take lots of great notes, ponder insights, and do research.  More often though, life happens. I become absorbed in my primary job of nurturing my lovely family! (And sometimes, to be fully honest, I become absorbed with less noble things like what my friend Anne Bogel calls the "Facebook Rabbit Hole.") Before I know it, I've read another tome without documenting the experience. The moments -- the flashes of insight and awe -- they slip away like a "nameless pod upon the nearest breeze" and I'm left with a sense of loss. 

I have more unfinished drafts of posts in my blog archives than I have published posts. 

Here are some classic books I've read while on my quest that I've written little-to-nothing about:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville 
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

And here's some modern stuff I've read lately:

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
What Makes Olga Run By Bruce Grierson
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Homeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years by Matthew Pierce
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle
The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim
How to Read Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

So here's to moving forward! To seeking new places to ramble! To reading more and writing more as time, self-discipline, and energy allows!

Peace & Joy.


P.S. I wonder -- is it time for you to let go of something? Perhaps you need to release something that has more gravitas than a burned up meadow and some forgotten quotes. Is it time to move on? Is it time to make room in your life for a new residence or friendship or job or project or pet or ______________?