It is December 1st. Project painting continues and I grow weary of the disruption to my routines, to my thoughts, to my ability to find a quiet space to write, think, dream...
The post I have been planning to write for a week now is still fragmentary, scattered in bits throughout corners of the house and odd meandering pathways of my mind. Instead I shall catch you up with a few of the books I've been reading.
I was looking forward to reading Thomas Keneally's new novel Napoleon's Last Island but in the end I did not finish it before it was due back at the library. I have no regrets. Keneally is an excellent writer, the prose was beautiful, the story well thought out and well managed, but as the novel progressed I became increasingly bored. It was a shame, as the conceit was fabulous and full of potential: Napoleon's exile through the eyes of a child who befriended him. But in the end I felt the narrator was not herself interesting enough of a character to maintain the story. The writing was elegant but elegantly boring, a pedantic accounting of what, where, and when without spark.
I started reading Francine Prose's Mr. Monkey immediately after picking it up from the library, and was smitten. I put it aside however as I could see that as much as it was an engaging fast paced story, and much as I wanted to crawl into a corner with a blanket and a cup of coffee and engorge myself in the tale, I forced myself to slow down. It is a book that rewards all the attention one is willing to give it. Passing itself off as a light-hearted romp through the production of an off- off-Broadway production of a children's musical, it is really a satire of modern life, both tragic and comic. It is an at times grim depiction of despair and the toll taken by a lifetime of failed expectations and also a celebration of life. The author accomplishes all of this through the sympathy and gentleness behind the development of her characters. The story is deftly told from multiple perspectives, and it is a told in a way that adds humanity to the story itself as we see each character as they see themselves, as they wish to be seen by others, and as they are actually seen. But that seeing, which could be brutal, is not. The book is lighthearted and funny, but it is also kind and humane and deceptively deep. It has crept under my skin.
I'll end with a few thoughts that have been swirling around in my head since recently rereading Wendy Mogel's The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. I like, and have kept, this book primarily because of its focus on achieving a balanced life through moderation, celebration, and sanctification, principles I feel are essential to happiness in life. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, that we each have been given a gift, the gift of life, and our purpose in life is to use this gift well and not squander it. In the process we sometimes forget about the principles above, especially sanctification. We get overwhelmed by big issues, we grow comfortable and complacent in our lives, and we forget that there is a holiness or a sanctity in every day actions. Our lives are our sanctuary, our homes are our sanctuary, and everything we do, even the most mundane tasks, can be a lifting up, an opportunity to connect with the holiness of life. Yes, often we feel like much of life is a burden, I am as prone to this as anyone (see opening paragraph) but instead I'd like to suggest that when we allow the weight of the world to oppress us, even in incredibly tiny ways, we are relinquishing some part of our gift. This is the season of advent in the Christian tradition, a season of preparation and waiting, and perhaps a season to cultivate gratitude and the sanctity of caring for ourselves, our homes, and our neighbors.