As my family and I settle into our school year schedules--as usual, we're dealing with four different schools, and my elder son is a very involved high school freshman--I have been thinking about time: having it, enjoying it, making the most of it, treasuring it. Now that Son #1 is a ninth grader, I am very aware of how soon he'll be headed off to college, since the ninth graders I teach today are juniors tomorrow and then --gone.
At the same time, my time/our time/time in general seems more cram-jam packed than ever. September featured a dizzying array of orientation meetings for my school, my husband's school, both the boys' schools, all their activities, and then various update meetings once those organizations got underway. Throw in two cross country schedules, my two outside committees, one birthday, and boom! It was a crazy month.
But--it was also a chosen month, and that's what I've been trying to force to the front of my mind and my heart lately. We have all chosen our activities, and they are all (I'm only being a tiny bit generous there) welcome and important and mostly well-run. One of the biggest, church, is a deliberate choice, and not always a popular one with all the members of our household (Son #1 at age nine, being marched to car at 9:45 on a Sunday: "Mom, I don't even think I believe in God." Me: "Yeah, sometimes I feel that way too. Get in the car."), but there are valuable reasons behind it and beloved faces and activities as part of it. The fundraising suppers got us out and sitting down to eat with friends we see too rarely; the meets have gotten me and my husband out in this lovely fall weather and younger son in particular active in a new arena.
And, ultimately, the question is what life is about, at its core. I'm listening to Barbara Kingsolver's new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the car, and today she discussed the time demands of farming and how she's come to view them as part of a life lived deliberately and fully. Similarly, I've come to resist the teacher disease of enduring the weeks to get to the weekends, of tearing through my errands, sighing and tapping my feet when I'm held up. What we have is time: and is life about prying out another half an hour to lie on the couch reading a book which (see my earlier blog) might not be so good anyway? No, I have decided that life is about enjoying the things that make up our days. If we have chosen well, if we have made sound and careful decisions, the things we have to do will be worthy of our time and our attention. They'll be what we feel pleased to do, what gives us joy. "Life," as some sage said, "is what happens when you are making plans for tomorrow." As I gape at our full calendar, I work to keep that idea in my head, and to see these commitments as what I get to do, not what I gotta do.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
I used to think that I would turn into my paternal grandmother when I got old, charmingly interrogating everyone in line in front of me at the grocery store: "How do you like that jam?. . . Did you know there's a sale on kleenex?. . . Where are you from and what's your life like?" However, lately I'm afraid I'm turning to another line of reality: I am becoming a grump, a curmudgeon, an old standard Colonel Blimp character muttering, "We never did it like that when I was a child!" Sometimes the mental image I have of myself is of the Maxine character from the cartoon: feisty, sharp, and never afraid to share her opinion. God forbid you end up in front of HER in the grocery line!
A few of the issues I could hold forth on, bitterly but (I say) insightfully: the fact that the governor will pick on the school budget but not stand up to the casinos; the fact that he's now working on the prisons, where a lot of the kids unable to thrive in (underfunded)school end up; the fact that we still pay stores that sell lottery tickets more per ticket sold than any other state in New England but we are slashing our payments to foster care providers (now there's a highly paid group!); the fact that any assembly at my son's school is marred by terrible behavior by the kids in the audience, unchecked by their parents; and, finally, the state of books today.
Not all of them, of course. My socks get knocked off once or twice a year, and I do find myself with a good stock of "good reads". But far too many times I read a book and find myself running into editing errors ("thought [a character] with indignance". . . excuse me? How 'bout "indignation"?) (and don't get me started on the Apostrophe Question, which rear's it's ugl'y he'ad all over the place). In the sake of honesty, however, I should move from the sweeping generality to the specific, and admit the sad truth: my current book is giving me fits.
I am half-interested and sticking with this book because I like the characters and heck, it's about knitting! and half-repulsed because it is flabbily written with too much telling and too many loose, rambling passages. I keep putting it down because there is some egregious section that simply drives me nuts, and then picking it up because (shhhhh) the cover is gorgeous. It's irresistible: bright, fuzzy balls of yarn on a dark background, elegant font. . . I want to like what's inside it. I want to own it and carry it around and press it on friends. But, due to the "hate" part of the "like-hate" relationship mentioned above, I can't. And compounding this "maybe therapy would help" situation is the fact that if the author (whom I am not naming due to the niceness impressed on me by the grandmother first mentioned)and her editors had taken a few more weeks, maybe months, had really edited this novel, it could have been a pleasure to read. It might have sung in my ears, lived in my heart, echoed in my brain: it would have lived up to its cover. Instead, it's still a junior high student of a book. It's trying to do too much, be too grown up while seeking reassurance and over-explaining itself at the same time. Each time a character begins "to slowly walk" up and down a street (could we "wander"? "meander"? Lotsa choices out there!), each time one character looks into another's eyes and sees "the look of warning within" and then on the next page looks into someone else's and sees "the look of defiance within". . . I sigh, and close the book. And then I see that glorious cover.
I think I'll skip the rest of the novel: I'll read the end, though I have a 99.9% hunch it'll end happily (though I bet there's a miscarriage. When more than one woman is pregnant, there almost always is) and then drop it and its artful cover into the bookdrop at the library, free at last. I've spent probably 10 hours reading it and then writing this piece, and I feel that's enough of my life. Maybe I should make a bumper sticker: "Life's too short to read poorly written books!" That clearly lacks the oomph of, say, "Bread not bombs" but it encapsulates the problem that all General Objectors To Society's Trends face: we care deeply about something other people don't even notice.
Go ahead. Make that book a bestseller. Just don't stand in front of me in the grocery line raving about it!