I don’t have a lot of set routines in my house, and the ones I have are pretty easily set aside (see Exceptions), but I like a little structure. Some regular practices:
Yoga. I try to start every day with a little yoga practice. It seems to set a focus for my day, and helps to work out the kinks from my achy joints.
Pilates. Because I recently spent two hundred dollars on a Pilates chair, and feel I need to justify that indulgence, I’ve been trying to do some work on it every day. Often, it’s simply the up and down resistance leg exercises that I can do while writing Morning Pages.
Morning Pages. This is stream-of-consciousness writing, ideally three longhand pages, as outlined by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I’ve been trying to maintain this practice for many years now, with wildly varying rates of success.
Walk. The new dog has been a blessing in many ways; one of them is that it has gotten me back into the routine of walking every day. In fact, we manage at least two walks a day, sometimes more. All of the dogs appreciate it, and so do I.
Dishes. One steadfast rule in my house is that dishes must be done every single day. Even if it’s just one coffee cup. Otherwise, my slobbish tendencies come out to play, and my house devolves into chaos.
Sing. It’s a silly thing, but whenever, for whatever reason, I cry out, “Oh, Lord,” I feel that I absolutely must sing out the entire song, in a bad approximation of Janis Joplin’s voice: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends. I worked hard all my life, Lord, no help from my friends…Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” I usually sing all three verses, requesting also a color TV and a night on the town.
Treat. Whenever a dog goes outside, and comes back in, the dog gets a treat. When one dog gets a treat, they all do. I’ve had to cut down the size of the treats over the years – they are now about the size of BBs – because they play this rule for all they can get out of it. I swear, Rosa Parks and Darla have perfected a tag team sequence of going out and coming in that ensures the maximum amount of treats in any given time period. So far, Blackie Chan has not gotten in on the action, and sometimes he looks confused – though pleasantly surprised – at yet another piece of kibble being offered.
Studio. I try to spend some time every single day in the studio. Even if I don’t make anything worthwhile. Even if I don’t make art at all. Even if I only tidy. Even if I don’t even tidy, but just sit in that space. Whatever. Just the act of going there, of being there, enforces the notion that I am an artist, and keeps the ideas coming.
Read. I’m sure I could not fall asleep if I didn’t read a little before bed. Sometimes, I can barely keep my eyes open. Sometimes I have to re-read the same material the next day, because so little of it registered. Still, this is a routine that I never miss.
Gratitude. My mother was big on counting blessings, and encouraged her children to do the same. I am currently reading The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan, and it has reminded me how important it is to look for the good in each day. So, I’ve revived the practice of writing down what I’m thankful for, each night before I go to bed.
As I write today, I have one particular quilter in mind: my friend, Gwen, who is busy right now with the work of leaving this world. When I saw her, just a few days ago, she worded it this way:
“I’m going back to Mother Nature.”
I hold that thought, as I am holding thoughts of Gwen, as she finishes the difficult business of dying.
Her latest book, The Magic Forest: Tree Quilts by Gwen Marston, is an exquisite little volume: just the right size to hold in my two hands, every page a new treasure. The left-hand pages have images of Gwen’s tree quilts, each stylized image perfectly capturing the essence of that tree. The facing page offers thoughtful and complimentary quotes, lines of poetry and bits of haiku. Some of her choices seem especially pertinent today:
“a lovely spring night/ suddenly vanished while we/ viewed cherry blossoms” ~Matsuo Basho
“I hear the wind among the trees playing the celestial symphonies; I see the branches downward bent, like keys of some great instrument.” ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“spring begins/ as it has designed to do/ for a thousand years” ~Kobayashi Issa
“An old banana leaf was once young and green.” ~Nigerian proverb
“When eating the fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.” ~Vietnamese proverb
“Take nothing but memories; leave nothing but footprints.” ~Chief Seattle
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” ~John Muir
“the crow has flown away/ swaying in the evening sun/ a leafless tree” ~Natsume Soseki
“hazy moon in the pine/ passing through/ passing through” ~Kobayashi Issa
“beech, with its smooth gray skin in winter/ shows its bones” ~Gwen Marston
Godspeed, dear friend!
(Update: Gwen passed away, the day before yesterday)
I wonder how many people, participating in the April A ~ Z Challenge, will choose “pet peeves” as their topic today. I’m pretty excited about it. I expect it to be very satisfying to commiserate about things that really gripe me. So, on with it!
Misspelled words. I’m a good and careful speller but, in rereading essays I’ve posted, I still find mistakes. It’s frustrating, but fixable. With all the spell-checkers available, it should be a rare problem. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the language so garbled, I wonder if the writer is even trying!
Bad grammar. Especially when it comes from the mouths of people who know better. As if saying “ain’t got no” will make them seem more relatable, somehow. To me, it just makes them annoying.
People who can’t tell the difference between apology and empathy. I’ve written whole blogs about this. If I say, “I’m sorry,” unless I have stepped on your foot, bumped into you or said something out of line, I am most likely offering empathy. You don’t have to assure me that I didn’t cause the death or disaster. So many aggravating conversations go exactly like that, though. “My water pipes froze, and burst, and flooded my basement.” Me: “I’m so sorry!” “Well, it’s not your fault…” Ugh! I know it’s not my fault!
People who work in customer service that don’t seem to know the first thing about customers…or service. Having spent more than forty years working in restaurants and stores, I know how it should be done.
On the other hand, I am also really bugged by customers who refuse to allow for things that are likely beyond the control of the person in front of you. At a restaurant, the server has little control over the portions, prices, quality of food, or speed of the kitchen. It makes me extremely uncomfortable to be dining with someone who chooses to make themselves feel important by demeaning the restaurant staff. In a retail establishment, the clerks have zero control over the prices. When you take your frustrations out on service workers, you are picking on the people who are on the bottom rung of the ladder.
People who telephone, and then don’t identify themselves. When I’m home, I can usually recognize the voice because there aren’t that many people who call. At work, though, where I field dozens of calls in a day, why, in heaven’s name, would you presume I’d know who is calling? Even if the voice is familiar, I may struggle to associate a name or a face with it. I’m often desperately trying to identify the caller based on the information they give: “…was in your store yesterday,” “…my dog Spot is throwing up,” “…still struggling with that electrical issue,” until a pause in the conversation allows me an opportunity to ask, “Who is this??”
Sarcasm. When I was younger, I used to think it was cool. Now, I think it’s usually just mean.
Unkindness. No matter what, I think we have to hold on to our human decency.
I feel better already, giving voice to all of my pet peeves first thing in the morning!
I am sixty-six years old. That’s a long time to be an active participant in this world. Though there are still many things I have never done, the list of things that I’ve done only once is fairly short. Once in my life:
I got married. I wore a white empire style dress that I found on sale for $75.00, including the veil. Later, my sister Sheila wore it for her wedding, and spilled red wine down the front of it. Still later, my youngest daughter tried to modify it; that was the end of the dress. My bridesmaids had pretty, but cheap, silky red dresses that barely made it through the night before they started to fray and split at the seams. The ceremony was held at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Lapeer, Michigan, where I’d attended mass for all of my life. Because my Dad had a little bit of a feud going with some factions of my soon-to-be husband’s family (and because many members of his family had a pretty big reputation around town as drinkers and fighters), we worried about trouble at the reception. There was none. I smiled until my cheeks ached for my Grandma Florence’s camera. I danced for hours. I tried to talk to everyone.
I got divorced. Marriage was hard; divorce was harder…but at least there was an end in sight.
I flew out to California. I went to San Francisco, San Jose, and north to Calaveras County. I swam in the ocean, camped on the beach, explored caves, and hiked in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
I sailed away from Beaver Island’s Paradise Bay to Port Huron, in a twenty-nine foot sailboat, as part of a three-person crew. In October. Up through the Straits of Mackinac and down the length of Lake Huron, with a headwind all the way. Five days and five nights on the water. It was hard, but wonderful at the same time. I had never sailed before, and I’ve never sailed since.
I took a ride in a bi-plane, doing barrel rolls and spins in the open air.
I traveled to Grand Turk Island, in the British West Indies, to participate in an archaeological dig. While there, I ate conch, served up fried, with chips, and khyton, which I scraped from a rock and ate raw, as the native people we were studying would have.
Though I’ve been on a few “Sisters Vacations” now, and have gotten to Florida in the winter a couple times, I’ve only been to Nashville once. It was with my sisters, maybe four or five years ago. Though my husband and I drove through Nashville many years ago, with our small children, on our way to Little Rock, Arkansas. That was the only time I was there. And, now that I think about it, there were things I did or places I visited on these and other vacations that I haven’t done again, too.
And that. I think, brings me to the end of this short list of things I have only done once.
I read a lot of non-fiction. That’s partly because self-help books are included in this category (and I am the queen of self-help), and also because it encompasses so many sub-categories. Sometimes they overlap, but here are some distinctions:
Biography and autobiography. Some of the dullest books, the ones most difficult to get through, fall into this category. Also some of the liveliest, most exciting books. And it doesn’t simply mean that the subject matter made the difference. It means that good, engaging writing is important, no matter whose story is being told.
Instruction. Cookbooks usually fall into this category. Also books on writing, gardening, exercise, etc. Then there are the many art instruction books; whether for drawing, painting, paper-making, ceramics or printmaking, I have read plenty of them.
Self-help. “How to:” raise [polite/well-behaved/well-adjusted/healthy/successful/happy] children; de-clutter; stop procrastinating; be happier; become healthier; be a better employee; be a better friend; manage money; run a small business; be a better conversationalist; diffuse an argument; train a dog. Like I said, I’m the queen of self-help books!
Inspiration. This is one of those gray areas, but I’ve certainly picked up books that are inspirational first, and the instruction or self-help falls in behind.
Education. Again, this seems to overlap. Educational books could encompass any other category as well. My distinction is that these books do not even attempt to be entertaining. If you want to simply learn something, these books will tell you what you need to know. That’s it.
Memoir. The difference between autobiography and memoir is subtle. Mainly, it seems to me, it boils down to artistic license. An autobiography should have names and dates correct. A memoir, which by definition is reliant on memory, can play a little fast and loose with the facts, and the sequence of events. Some of my favorite books fall into this category: Growing Up, by Russell Baker; The Liar’s Club, by Mary Karr; The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls; Let’s Don’t Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller; Becoming, by Michelle Obama; What You Have Heard is True, by Carolyn Forsche; and many others.
Essays. Of course, essays are not always non-fiction, but the ones I enjoy most are. The Essays of E.B. White are some of the best. Essays by Jim Fitzgerald, compiled together in his book, If It Fitz, also have a special spot on the shelf. Essays by Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Evan S. Connell, Annie Dillard, Bill Bryson, and Anna Quindlan are as entertaining to me when read for the tenth time as they were when I first encountered them.
Reference. Some reference books do double duty as instruction, self-help, education or inspiration books. Depending, I guess, on how likely one is to refer back to it. I’m thinking, though, of reference books being dictionaries, and things like that. Sometimes, in a pinch or for a purpose, fun to read, but mostly just to find a specific bit of information.
Though I love a good mystery, and I relish quality fiction, I’m sure I read more non-fiction than anything else.
I’ve always loved magazines. A nice, regularly received gift in the mailbox, with fresh ideas, new stories and colorful pictures. These are the ones I grew up with:
Ladies Home Journal. I liked reading “Can this Marriage be Saved?” I’d try to make a game of it with sisters or friends. We could each read the accounts by each spouse, and draw our conclusions. Only then would we turn to the opinion of the professional, to see how he weighed in.
McCall’s. As a child, I had a whole collection of Betsy McCall paper dolls, because there was a new one in each issue, along with a seasonal outfits and a short story.
Redbook. This magazine had more stories than the others. Being a reader, I appreciated that.
Reader’s Digest. I loved this compact magazine! I’d first turn to “Life in These United States,” then “Humor in Uniform.” I loved all of the anecdotes. Then I’d find the heart-wrenching human interest story, hidden somewhere in the center. Next, the condensed book featured in the last several pages of the magazine. After that, if I needed reading material, I’d pick it up again, for the stories and articles I’d missed first time around.
Life. Always topical, with famously beautiful photographs. I remember the discussion around the adult table (“no different than seeing a woman nurse a baby,” was my Dad’s opinion) when the cover photo featured a woman, arms folded chastely over her chest, in a topless bathing suit. I recall an issue from the sixties with a photo of a stunning black woman, in profile. The caption stated, “Black is Beautiful.” Growing up in a fairly isolated small town, Life Magazine made the world accessible, and it helped to broaden my mind. When my mother died eight years ago, the issue of Life Magazine that came out right after John F. Kennedy was assassinated was still among her belongings.
I still love magazines, though I don’t have as much time to read them. I’ll get a subscription, then let it lapse when I find I have unread issues piling up in the rack. Every now and then I’ll pick up a People magazine at the grocery store. Though I love all that gossipy news when I’m reading in a waiting room somewhere, it rarely seems worth the purchase price to me. When I’m on the mainland, and have access to a greater magazine selection, I’ll usually pick up American Craft or Ceramics Monthly. Sometimes ArtNews or ArtForum. I enjoy O magazine, and sometimes Martha Stewart Living. I love cooking magazines. I often pick up home magazines, gardening magazines and health and fitness magazines. The only magazine I subscribe to right now is RealSimple. And that’s enough.
English. This is the language I was raised with, and the only one I know really well. There are words, though, that I learned from reading, and never heard spoken. Until that occasion when I’d use one in conversation, garbling the pronunciation embarrassingly. And strong accents often throw me. Beyond that, I’m pretty comfortable with the English language.
German. My great-grandparents, on my father’s side, were born in Germany. My paternal grandfather, whose parents were always more comfortable with the German language and who saw two world wars fought with Germany, used to boast, “we may have been poor, but my children didn’t speak German.” Still, a few things persisted. We sometimes said “danke” or “danke shoene” for “thank you” and we always heard “gesundheit” after a sneeze. That was about it, though.
Latin. I never studied Latin, but I attended Catholic mass when it was still said in Latin. Our prayer books had Latin on one side, the English translation on the facing page. Though I’d have to think a minute about the translation, phrases like “et cum spirii tu tuo,” “Pater noster,” and “Dominus noviscum” still sound very familiar to me.
Pig Latin. Easy-peasy. Too easy to serve it’s purpose of keeping what we were saying a secret. Others soon caught on to the trick, and we had to evolve.
Carnie Talk. It’s more difficult to decipher than Pig Latin, mainly because it can be spoken so rapidly. Sometimes, at family gatherings, my sister Brenda and I are still called upon to speak to each other in Carnie Talk, mainly so that all the young people can laugh at us.
Spanish. I took only one semester of Spanish in college. I loved it so much, though, and did so well at it (and forgot almost everything I learned so very quickly!), I kick myself for not continuing with it.
Russian. I spent a few weeks learning a little bit of this language several years ago, with an on-line program. The Cyrillic alphabet. A few pronunciations. How to write my name, and the names of my family. That’s it.