Category Archives: Writing

Merry Happy

One of the charms of living on an academic schedule is the frequent opportunities for a fresh start. Every August is a new beginning, complete with that bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils and determined resolve to see the true potential in each student. Every January presents a chance for more changes, which usually start with the purchase of a new bathroom scale (the old one is, clearly, malfunctioning). And every June  provides an occasion for continued improvement (“This summer, I’m going to teach myself ARABIC! (No.)).  Throw in the inspiration of a birthday, and at least one good confession, and you can revive your motivation for self-improvement at least every other month.

In this light, it’s no wonder that educators are such vastly superior beings! We improve, on average, five times faster (…or is it five times more frequently?), than your average Joe.

The thing is, every time I NEED that kick in the pants, a reminder that, Yes–time marches on, but No, all is not yet lost. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again with a clean slate.

Isn’t it funny how the small things weigh us down? I don’t know about you, but my resolve is easily shaken. Tiny failures pile up so quickly. A chore ignored on Monday, a coupon left unclipped on Tuesday, the grading incomplete on Wednesday, and by Thursday I’ve decided to give up, order a pizza, and let the clutter accumulate like piles of broken dreams while I fade into the oblivion of poverty and filth, doomed to a lifetime of obesity and nauseating similes.

But, as the immortal Lucy Maud Montgomery reminds us, “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

And so we begin again. Tomorrow is my first blogiversary: Breeding Lilacs is now an entire year old. I’ve posted 65 times in the past 365 days, and I hope to triple that number in the coming year. Hope to? No, PLAN to. Will.

Those of you who have been with me this whole time know that 2011 has been a big year for the Good family. You were with me during my last months of pregnancy, the arrival of Sam, the early weeks of motherhood and that very long hiatus there during the summer. Often during this past year, the combination of housekeeping, parenting, teaching and playing moderately challenging board games has left me with little time or inclination to write. I’ve missed it, though, and am hereby resolving to stop avoiding it and to stop blaming the baby when I do.

Since we’re still in the thick of the Twelve Days of Christmas, let me wish you a very merry one. And Happy New Year, dears. May 2012 be our best one yet.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Beauty, Mothering, Writing

Bibliophile Break Up

I can see it out of the corner of my eye–cumbersome, yet stately–resting silently on the coffee table. The flimsy front cover curls up at the corner, evidence of my ungentle treatment. The spine, not yet broken, shows a worrisome crease around the fifty-page mark. Its gargantuan mass dwarfs all other volumes in the vicinity. And so it sits, inanimate and imposing, mocking me.

Oh, Boswell’s Life of  Samuel Johnson, why won’t you let me be??

I never should have started it: this whole thing is my fault. Why didn’t I just leave you to spend your days in obscurity on the dusty shelf of eighteenth century British Literature. Sure, Whalen considered excerpts of you important for Victorian Literature, but why wasn’t I content with those tidbits? Why did I think I could tackle you? Your rambling, endless pages?

Samuel Johnson Reading My Dear John Letter

Now I can never escape you. Every other book I read will make sly allusions to your content, bits of wit hidden within your thousand pages of tiny print. Dickens will never shut up about your wisdom. Chesterton will never get over your jokes. All of my favorite British authors love you: why can’t I love you, too? Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, why can’t we ever be together THAT way?

Now you must join the ranks of other prestigious volumes and authors that I have failed  in my career as a reader, teacher, and lover of great literature. Fortunately for you, the very names that make me cringe ought to provide you with good company. You’ll have the entire works of D.H. Lawrence by your side, I’m afraid. And while you may find Rudyard Kipling quite enjoyable companionship, Joyce’s Ulysses might prove a little too radical for your tastes. Virginia Wolfe will not leave one of your traditional sentiments unchallenged, but you might find a kindred spirit in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (except the Scarlet Letter, which alone is exempt from this list of rejected geniuses).

Yes, Boswell’s Johnson, (may I call you that?) my failures are impressive and varied, especially considering the four years of undergraduate work wherein I paid thousands of dollars to be told what to read. A fortunate few have escaped the legions of important, yet neglected classics. Moby Dick used to lead the line-up, but he has broken rank: my husband persuaded me of Melville’s merits, over time, and last year I found the will to get through it. (The experience was not unlike Jonah’s three days of symbolic death, but I was a fool in love! Now I’m just in love.) Anna Karenina broke free during my first trimester reading binge lat fall (though, honestly, War and Peace could have easily taken her place). I also avoided Steinbeck’s East of Eden for years, only to discover its brilliance in my mid-twenties.

What I’m trying to tell you, Boswell’s Johnson, is that you should never give up hope. Just because I’m not ready to be with you right now, doesn’t mean that this is forever. Yes, the sight of your poorly designed Oxford World Classic edition makes me shudder today, but I won’t always feel that way. Someday, I’ll read you. But, today is not that day, Boswell’s Johnson.

Today is not….that….day.

1 Comment

Filed under Faith, Reading, Witticism, Writing

O Entrepreneurs!

(Entrepreneur: An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterpriseventure or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome.)

When I was a kid, my dad was always creating or discovering new business opportunities for me and my brothers. If we weren’t pulling a wagon full of extra zucchini door to door (a dime a dozen, literally) or hawking baseball caps bearing the family restaurant logo, we were mowing lawns or babysitting or yanking weeds in the garden for a small fee. My older brother Andy and I even assumed ownership of a small name plate engraving business for several years. Teaming up with my best friend Hope and her sister Joy, we got some pretty decent accounts from a local community college and a sports camp. DuBois Industrial Nameplate Company, we called it, (“DINC” for short). Andy  handled most of the business arrangements for the company: I think I was more of a liability than a partner, but he still gave me a generous cut of the profits.

 

Our machine looked something like this, but more antiquated.

 

 

In retrospect, we learned a lot from those experiences. We learned about deadlines and responsibility when we almost had to stay up well past our bedtimes finishing a project that had to be delivered the next day. We learned about the rewards of hard work when we spent a Saturday canning a year’s worth of salsa–a family favorite–from the produce of our garden. We learned about the correlation between work and money by keeping track of our hours spent bent over the manual engraving machine (though, some days, my adult experience doesn’t seem to validate that connection). And, perhaps most importantly, we learned a lot about ourselves. For instance, DINC was the first real opportunity I had to grapple with two significant character traits: my tendency to procrastinate and my abhorrence of trying to sell people things.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not really  risk-taker. I don’t see myself as a business woman. But I am LEAST OF ALL a salesperson. Even if I believe in a product or service with all my heart, I cannot bring myself to try to get someone to buy it. It’s embarrassing: I blush and stutter and stumble over my words. I could barely bring myself to look our sweet elderly neighbor lady in the eye when I was forced to try to get her to take some zucchini off my hands. Sometimes I just gave it away, still feeling like a pest. (One of the reasons I dropped out of the Girl Scouts when I was still a Brownie was the unbearable pressure to sell those cookies!)

Despite my former discomfort with the sales aspect of small business ventures, I’m thinking about starting a little venture of my own.

I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. As my maternity leave approaches (only two weeks of classes left!) I’ve been trying to figure out a way to remain intellectually active and possibly work from home. The traditional housewife business ventures make me shudder: while I am grateful for Mary Kay and Arbonne and Tupperware and all they’ve done to liberate women, I would rather eat a cockroach than try to make a living hosting house parties in order to sell things to friends and their friends. I have to turn down invitations to spa parties and trunk shows because, no matter how tempting the free wine and facials and door prizes might seem, I know I will end up spending at least fifty bucks to assuage my easily triggered sense of guilt.

So, like I said, I’m considering a different kind of venture.

The idea came to me while I was working on lesson plans last week. My principal recently approved the addition of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! to my 8th grade English curriculum and I was putting together a new unit for my maternity sub. It was such pleasant work, reading through the familiar story of Alexandra Bergson and her resilience. I wrote reading quizzes and structured daily plans of discussion questions. I wrote a little guide to major themes. I chose key passages for analysis. I got to do the all the mental work of converting ideas from Cather’s pages and my head into something that 8th graders could digest without ever having to talk to an 8th grader.

While I do adore my 8th graders, there’s something so refreshing about just working with the subject matter. Wouldn’t it be great if I could write curriculum units for home school parents or co-ops who don’t have reliable instruction available for upper school literature? I’ve got the credentials, the experience, the practical know-how, and the time: do you think there’s a market? Could it be profitable? The existence of Sparknotes and other free cheat-sheets worries me a bit, but surely there are some people who would pay for high-quality instructional materials from a conservative, even Christian, perspective, right?

What do you think: good idea/bad idea? Those of you with homeschooling backgrounds, feel free to offer straightforward opinions here.

The thing is that I know that in order to turn this idea into a reality, I’m going to have to grow into the role of salesman that I avoided so diligently as a kid. Perhaps I’ll end up more like my dad than I expected to…

Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.” – Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

 

6 Comments

Filed under Consumerism, Courage, Domesticity, Reading, Teaching, Writing

Saturday Sampling

Leave a comment

Filed under Catholicism, Domesticity, Poetry, Writing

Gilead

Every time I read Marilynne Robinson’s quiet novel Gilead, I appreciate it differently. It’s written in the form of an elderly preacher’s diary/letter to his young son. The Rev. John Ames has been diagnosed with a heart condition and expects his seven year old child to grow up without him, so he writes this letter as a way of speaking into his son’s life. But the reflective process of journaling leads the pastor to some profound insights into his own life. It’s not an exciting book: but it is beautiful, and true.

The first time I read it, I remember being struck by the way Robinson creates and maintains a fictional voice of such incredible wisdom and consistency. It’s difficult enough for a writer to create a realistic voice for a character of the opposite gender (For failures, see Hemingways’s A Farewell to Arms, for successes see Cather’s My Antonia), but to craft an entire book in the voice of a fictional character of the opposite gender? And to give that character a lifetime’s worth of literary and biblical references to draw from? Amazing.

My second time through, I grew to appreciate Ames as a person, more than a fictional voice. My husband always says that the great characters of literature are more real than most people ever are. I used to take offense at the idea, but I’ve come to agree that, yes, Odysseus exists in a greater way than I have had the opportunity to exist, and Anna Karenina’s personhood–pathetic though it may be in some respects–eclipses my own in sheer magnitude. Ames does not overwhelm one like these other literary giants; rather, he plumbs a depth of knowledge, wisdom, and compassion that most people will never achieve. His wisdom is best manifest in the way that he acknowledges his weaknesses and moral failings as he experiences them. Instead of waiting until frustration or selfishness has passed to look back on it and note “Why yes, I was thinking wrongly at that time,” he recognizes his errors in real time. Maybe some day I’ll arrive at this height of spiritual sensitivity, but not any time soon.

I just finished re-reading Gilead a third time a few days ago, and it’s been sinking in differently again. This time, I found myself grieving along with Ames at the thought of missing out on his son’s life. The concept was sad enough when I first encountered his story, but I can appreciate the magnitude of that loss so much more now. Is this one of those hidden gifts of motherhood? That bearing a child allows you to go back and re-read every story with a completely different perspective? An entirely new point of identification? I’m so accustomed to identifying with the young characters, the children, the daughters. Will I someday watch Fiddler on the Roof and feel Golde’s pain more keenly than Chava’s? It’s an astonishing thought.

And the change is coming on so quickly, too! Just last night, Zach and I were watching Toy Story 3. Near the very end, as Andy plays with his toys one last time, Zach looked over to catch me crying quietly. (He’s so used to this now, after eight months of pregnancy, that he just chuckles at the sight of my tears, as he should.)

“What’s the matter, honey?” he asked, ever so gently.

Let me just say that I know now and I knew at the time that I was being irrational, but I didn’t have time to come up with a more reasonable excuse on the spot. So, choking back sobs (heavens, I’m tearing up again!), I finally admitted the truth:

“It’s just that….I just….I DON’T WANT OUR BABY TO LEAVE FOR COLLEGE!”

 

2 Comments

Filed under Marriage, Mothering, Reading, Writing

My Favorite Story to Tell

My little brother is visiting for the long weekend and I’ve had little time to write in between our little hiking excursions, games of Snatch-it, and viewings of The Social Network. However, I find myself with a little time on my hands while Peter, Zach, and Leroy take on the slopes at Monarch Mountain. My condition forbids me from joining the (exhilarating, terrifying, fabulous) fun, and so I’ve taken the opportunity to explore the near-by town of Salida, CO.  I have visited Salida only once before, but it will always hold a special place in my memory. As I settle down in my cushioned leopard-print chair at The Simmering Cup, it seems only fitting that I tell you the story of that day.

It was January 9th, 2010 and Zach picked me up early in the morning. A co-worked had generously given us two free lift tickets at Monarch, so  Zach was taking me skiing for the first time. I had over-slept, as usual, and wasn’t quite ready when he arrived, but he was more energetic than ever, running around the house helping me gather gloves and scarves, making suggestions regarding what to bring or wear for skiing. We had just settled into the car when he realized that he had left the snack cooler in the house, so he ran back in to get it. Then we were on our way.

My previous skiing experience was limited to a bunny slope in Pennsylvania when I was eight or nine. The only lasting impression I retained was fear of the rope tow: it shredded my mittens and lurched something awful. And falling. Falling hurt.

Learning to ski with Zach was an entirely different affair. He gave me a few general guidelines, let me practice stopping once or twice, then took me up the lift: no lessons, no bunny slope–nothing. And it was incredible! I made it down the first run without falling once, though I must admit that I screamed (half delight/half terror) all the way to the bottom.

Zach stayed with me the whole day. He kept behind me, even though I’m sure my beginner’s pace was painfully slow for him. He helped me up when I fell (for the beginner’s luck on that first run didn’t last all day). And when I really wiped out and sent a ski sliding down the mountain ahead of me, he went ahead to fetch it and then trudged up the slope in his ski boots to return it to me: no easy task.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Friendship, Marriage, Writing

“Home is the nicest word there is.” — Laura Ingalls Wilder

The idea of putting down roots and the importance of place has come up in a few conversations with my father over the past couple of years, and I still mull over it from time to time. The concept of “home” is a nebulous one to me. That nice little word connotes a sense of comfort, familiarity, steadfastness and true belonging. But what is it? And WHERE is it?

Of course, my parent’s house will always feel like home, in a sense. Yes, they’ve moved a couple of times since I was a child and when I go home to visit, I still have trouble finding measuring cups in the kitchen. And they’ve replaced most of the furniture I abused in my infancy, but their house still is an extension of themselves in a way that makes it homey to me.

When people ask me where I’m from, I name St. Louis as my home town, though that’s not technically correct (sorry, DuBois). And my college roommates would agree that the hermitage in the back of Olds and that corner room at the top of Mauck were as homey as such tiny, ugly, impersonal spaces could be. Hillsdale, though, for all its charms, was never home.

I’ve lived in Colorado Springs for nearly four years now: first in slanted, quirky “Victorian” that was advertised as having plenty of “personality” (unfortunately, it was the sort of personality that let horrible drafts in through the window casings and spewed sewage up the bathtub drain), next in a nice, decent downtown apartment that housed more than its fair share of parties back in my days as a single girl, and now in an even quirkier Victorian apartment with pheasants on the wall paper and a totem pole out front. I think Zach and I have made it into a pretty comfortable living space…but this can’t really be home, can it? No matter how nice the house is, I don’t think my real home can ever be in a place where the grass is brown from July to May.

4 Comments

Filed under Domesticity, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing