E. B. White is one of my writing heroes. I loved his children’s books and later, as a graduate student, I discovered his essays. I was enraptured by his writing style, his farm in Maine, and his New Yorker career. I basically wanted to be him.
When I moved to New Jersey, I thought, eh, close enough. I figured if everyday life on a farm could inspire his writing, everyday life in a townhouse could inspire mine.
Not so, unfortunately. It’s been eight months since my last post and I don’t think I’ve written really anything in that time. Rather than be inspired by daily experiences, I’ve become distracted by them.
To be a writer, even a secret writer, one must write. Here’s hoping the start of Autumn will bring more writing for this New Jerseryer.
I’ve been in my house for almost three whole days. And by ‘in my house’ I mean IN my house – I haven’t taken more than a step out the front (or back) door. It’s snowing in New Jersey and my southern driving skills compel me to stay the **** inside.
I’ve watched three documentaries and a few cartoons even.
I’ve read one book.
I’ve taken up bullet journaling (I was going to share a video showing what bullet journaling is but realized it made my own efforts look pitiful and so no video for you guys)
I made cough drops, and cough syrup, and baby food, and two crock pot meals, and lots of Ritz peanut butter cookies.
I spent time video-calling my mom, and two of my sisters.
I washed and folded a veritable mountain of laundry.
I unpacked the LAST BOX in my kitchen.
I rearranged my bedroom (thanks, mom, for the new goose feather quilt!).
I organized all the household bills.
I spent a lot of time sitting on a foam playmate with my equally stir-crazy son and border collie.
It has been a long, cold, snowy 72 hours. Hopefully, we’ll get out tomorrow, all three of us.
Thanksgiving is this week. does it make me unAmerican if I don’t cook or watch football? Maybe it is my years living in England, or the fact that family is so far away, but I don’t feel particularly inclined to mess up my kitchen for traditional dishes that I don’t really like anyway. Instead, I want to go out to dinner. The only trouble is the rest of the country is home cooking dry turkeys and too-sweet Sweet Potato Casserole or tinned– sorry, “canned” is the American word — String Bean Casserole. The thought turns my stomach a little bit.
When I was 9, I became a vegetarian. It lasted ten years before I began to reintroduce meat to my diet. The first dish to be sacrificed to my new diet was Thanksgiving turkey. I hated it anyway so it was a small loss. The only tricky part was keeping the grown-ups from realizing I wasn’t partaking in this much-honored American tradition.
Fast forward some more years and I’m sitting at my computer wondering if I can ignore the holiday completely. My small son is too young to care, my family of three isn’t into sports and only my dog will miss the turkey. I certainly won’t miss paying for a turkey. I don’t mind spending money on delicious food, but spending money on a meat I already dislike that promises only hours spent in the kitchen, endless leftovers I’m duty-bound to consume, and a messy kitchen that will take an age to tidy. No thank you.
Yup, folks, Thanksgiving dinner is doomed. I will be thankful, I will feel blessed and appreciate my family and my life, but I am not cooking a turkey. It’s decided then.
I am a reluctant airplane chatter. If I can help it, I will get on my flight and read a book silently. I prefer an aisle seat so I can avoid squeezing past my seat-mate to use the restroom. Despite my reservations at engaging in mile high chitchat, if someone happens to start a conversation, I can’t help myself. To allow the conversation to lapse into silence and pick up my book feels rude, exclusionary. So I don’t. I’ll continue chatting, probing the details of my neighbor’s life.
“What brings you to ___(city)___?”
“Is it stuffy in here?”
“Hopefully the flight won’t be too bad!”
“So what do you do?”
I try to avoid party politics but otherwise it’s fair game. I become that person you hate to be stuck by and I hate myself but I can’t stop. Eventually, with nothing else left to talk about, I excuse myself to go to the restroom, slipping easily from my aisle seat (a bitter comfort since I’m talking anyway). In the tiny airborne porta potty, I splash my face, fix my hair, pep talk myself into silence. Composed, I return to my seat. If my neighbor says nothing or, best of all, has gone to sleep (I suspect more than one person has feigned sleep to throw me off), I quietly buckle in and take up my book, passing the remainder of the journey the way I wished to in the first place. If, however, my neighbor speaks. Oh if they speak… We are right back where we started and I awkwardly push through. After a long day of strained small talk with people who likely never wanted to tell me how they drink gingler ale/hot tea/coffee on flights, are traveling to visit friends/family/for work, about the newest pet/grandchild/niece to join the family, or whether the cabin pressure felt irregular, I hurry home to shower. Partly to rid myself of the myriad of germs undoubtedly clinging to my person and partly for the icky feeling familiar to any young highschooler who has just made it through a terribly awkward encounter with their crush.
Our house is in a historic district. A tiny town of families who can trace their history back generations, often in the same house. They celebrate every holiday and know everyone’s business. Recently we discovered lead paint in the house and have started the process of abatement and removal. When I mentioned this to my neighbor He’s seemed surprised. Lead is a dirty word for these communities but it is in far more homes than people realize. The next day my neighbor was, as usual for the retirees in this town, sitting on the front stoop of his townhouse two doors down from mine. He got up when I was walking to my car and handed me a printed invoice and told me he went to two local paint stores looking for the special lead encasing primer I briefly mentioned the day before. Not only that, but he had the one of the two that did carry it print out an invoice with prices and gave me the phone number of a distributor that the other store had recommended as a potential source. Apparently home repairs are a community project here and neighbors willingly lend a hand, a tool, or advice. This type of involvement caught me offguard as I still don’t even know the name of my parents’ neighbor and they have lived there 10 years.
I have moved frequently and from my many towns and cities I could probably list a dozen or so neighbors whose names I knew. We have lived in this new house for two weeks and I already know the names and detailed history of upwards of 20 people on my block.
I look forward to the many conversations and unsolicited advice of these small town veterans.
I’ve given up entirely on sleep. For the past several weeks, I’ve averaged 2-3 hours of (on purpose) sleep (as opposed to fell-asleep-at-my-keyboard sleep), and most of that is in an afternoon nap. I stopped by to share another White quote:
And remember that writing is translation, and the opus to be translated is yourself.
E. B. White, December 1951, Letters
Ten days until thesis submission. I alternate between being relieved and being horrified.
I am drowning in thesis edits, but I’ll be back soon! I just stopped by to share this wonderful quote:
I am sorry for all those who have agreed to grow old. I haven’t agreed yet. Old age is a special problem for me because I’ve never been able to shed the mental image I have of myself–a lad of about 19.
– E. B. White
He wrote that in 1969, with 16 years left of his life. I hope I never ‘agree to grow old’ and instead live every day (and night, for the life of a nocturnal grad student) to its fullest.
Wish me luck in my edits!
Have you heard the phrase “the unquantified life is not worth living”? I’m not sure where the quote originates, but lately I have a growing appreciation for exactness, thanks to my partner and our expense-tracking Excel sheet.
I read E. B. White’s essay “The Practical Farmer” from August 1940. Therein he is discussing a book he read by H. A. Highstone*, Practical Farming for Beginners, which delineates exact expenses to set up a self-sustaining farm. In short, starting a life is expensive, a lesson that really hit home today.
Getting our new life in the USA situated requires a few things, namely a house and a car. In the past 24 hours, I have acquired both, and a new laptop as well. Here’s how it happened.
- Last night, my partner surprised me with a new laptop, a much needed and appreciated upgrade = $
- This morning my realtor called about the bid I placed on a house. The owners had countered, would I accept? I would = $$$
- This afternoon we went car-shopping and found a great deal on a sporty SUV = $$
I told you it was an expensive weekend. How many people do you know who buy a house, car, and laptop all within 24 hours? Typically I try to stagger major life purchases.
I suppose it is cheaper than setting up a farm (though not cheaper than a 1940s farm). In any case, I am excited about these new life developments.
My wallet may be lighter this weekend, but my heart is full.
* I have a theory about writers. It seems many of the good ones have a particular format to their names. Can you guess it? It goes: X. X. [LastName]. For example J. K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, E. B. White, C. S. Lewis, H. A. Highstone (though having not read Practical Farming for Beginners, I cannot vouch for Highstone’s ability as a writer)
The irony of focus is that the moment you realize how well you are staying on topic is the moment you stop concentrating.
Lessons from a chronic daydreamer.
I have one child, not really a child yet, still an infant and just beginning to express his own personality. When he was born, we had a vague idea of names, but it wasn’t until we left the hospital and baby was 5 days old that we settled on his first and middle name and the spelling (the spelling is really what tripped us up. We polled every nurse, doctor, and medical tech that bustled around the busy ward and wrote their answers on a white board. In the end, the spelling that featured “-an” versus “-in” won and we made our decision).
Next time, I’ll be ready. My first child is only a few months old and we are still at least a year if not two from even trying for a second baby, but I am convincing myself that writing out hypothetical offspring’s names is a more valuable use of my time at 3 a.m. than working on the graduate degree thesis for which I am staying up in the first place. All that to say, the house is quiet, my baby and partner are sleeping, and I have a name. If my next child is a boy: Hudson Wilder. The Hudson River is now close by and much of my education has focused on the societal study of wildness (environmentalism). Hudson Wilder fits. I don’t know if my partner will be on board, but I do quite love the name and will fight for it if need be. For a girl, I am not 100% sold but I am liking the sound of Eloise Brooklyn, not least because she’d have E. B. as her initials the same as my favorite author, E. B. (Elwyn Brooks) White. And the name Brooklyn itself would be in homage to Mr. White: Brooks was his middle name, his family was from Brooklyn, NY, and his farm later in life was in Brooklin, Maine. Besides the literary connection, I now live nearishly to Brooklyn, NY, so if we go by location proximity like the Hudson River (though, let’s be honest; I just like the sound of the name Hudson).
Such are my musings on this late night/early morning. Now I will return to my thesis work. In a few years, this degree will be finished and I will be running after my toddler in various public places with corresponding degrees of humiliation yelling “Hudson Wilder! Eloise Brooklyn! Don’t you dare ___!”