Again and Again

I’ve had things to write about. I just haven’t got round to it, see. So all these nice ideas were piling up in my head, threatening to form this big, old entry about things I like and things that are great and things I’m thankful for, and I thought, “Man! That’s so unoriginal. That’s been DONE.” And it has. Again and again. By me. Here and here and here and here and also here. (For example.) In fact, that’s most of this blog.

But funnily enough, in all that listing and enumerating I have yet to exhaust God’s blessings. Think of that. And I’m commanded to praise the Lord. Again and again and again. Isn’t it lovely when what you’re commanded to do and what you want to do is precisely the same thing?

So here we go, friend.

One thing:

Last week I went to a little meeting with the staff of The Quad and we had this discussion about why we read and what it means to be a good reader. And normally, that would have been just fabulous, but this time instead of participating properly, I quietly had myself a little existential crisis.

Why did I read? I knew all the right answers, about how it makes you more fully human and more fully alive and all that, but why did I, Alice, who had written multiple papers on this very topic, actually read? What were my real motivations? Was I only mimicking my parents? Did I really even like it? Was my whole life a façade?!?

So I sat in the corner and stewed and drank apple cider and did not contribute to the discussion. But then later, you know, I figured that if my life was a lie and all that, I probably would have had an inkling of it before age twenty. I’m fairly introspective (read: self-absorbed.) Also maybe, just maybe, I’m a normal person who reads for the normal reasons. Sometimes to escape, sometimes out of habit, sometimes because I have to, and sometimes that I may “know life and know it more abundantly.” So now I’m re-assured. And that’s a good thing.

Another thing:

We’ve had game night at the Edwards’ a couple times so far this semester. And it’s a little thing, but for me it’s also a big thing, (and after all this time I still don’t even really like games.) Sometime I’ll write another separate entry to tell you why, but no hurry. It’s going to be a part of my life for the next while here.

A third thing:

I have a smallish job this semester and it’s a gem. Every other week on Friday or Saturday morning I borrow my dear roommate’s car and drive to Mercer while everything is still dewy and chilly, with myself and the quiet and that one field of sunflowers by the side of the highway. And then I clean Dr. Brown’s house. This morning I did windows. Soap and rinse, time to dry and Windex. (Time to dry is my favorite part.) I’m tired at the end. I’m tired at the end because I did something. In the quiet morning, I did something.

And then I drive home, put on decent clothes, eat lunch, and go to class to read books. It feels marvelously like a double life. And I like both parts.

The next thing:

There’s something else that deserves a whole entry, which I’m hereby scheduling for late February. It’s the American Shakespeare Center at Blackfriars in Staunton, VA, or, as I like to call it, the happiest place on earth. I’m going over our break in February with Dr. Harvey and other delightful people for a one credit travel course to see four plays. There’re still spots open, so you should come too. Even if you think you don’t like Shakespeare, even if you think you don’t like anything, you will like this.

A particularly delightful thing:

One of my favorite things about this semester so far has been the friendships. Every day, I wake up shocked to discover how great it is to have friends. (God only knows why I’m surprised to find that this is blessing.) I’ve always had friends (really, I have—even in seventh grade when I specifically planned not to because I was only going to be at that school for a year and who really needs ‘em?) But this year, we’re upperclassmen, spread across campus, (or even states and countries) busy with non-intersecting things, and I seem to have entered into the wild, wonderful, and weirdly adult world of intentional friendship. The kind where you send notes and emails and say you and me tomorrow, kid.

It keeps surprising me what friendships grow and last, when I didn’t think they could. It even surprises me what friendships happen at all, and how once you get past the first layer of person there’s more of them underneath and more and more and more. C.S. Lewis wrote that “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” It’s true, friend. And it’s kind of astounding.

The greatest thing:

Well, I suppose the best part is the again and again, the knowing of life more abundantly. Miss Jan, a dear friend from long ago used to sit at the fascinating piano in her living room that had keys and magical buttons, and sing the final verse of “Amazing Grace” this way:

“When we’ve been there ten MILLION years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun!” (Again and again and on and on)

Favorite Books

Just now I had the great pleasure of staring at my bookshelf for a couple minutes, deciding what to write to you about. I’ve had these shelves since Mary and I moved into this room when I was about five, and they sag a little with an assortment of classic literature, children’s books, and a growing number of writings on educational theory and policy. I skipped over ones I know you will have heard of. You know Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, and Harper Lee, and if I have not already told you about I Like You and The Cozy Book, I’m sure I will someday, whether you want me to or not. Also, though I’m appreciative of all the ed books, I am not destined to crack any of those bindings with overuse. What I chose, perhaps unsurprisingly, was almost exclusively kid’s books.

There is something in childhood flights of adventure that is binding. It is the dyscatastrophe and the eucatastrophe, the moral imaginings of battle and redemption and grace. Not that most of these are adventure stories in the traditional sense, but they are written for people who are still small enough to see how grand this Story really is, who have not yet believed the falsehood of everlasting meaninglessness. Thus, when you read these stories, you have to read them like a child, like they matter, else you’re reading blind.

All of the below books fall into one of two categories. Either when I first read them I wouldn’t shut up about them, like I won’t shut up about the ASC in Staunton, VA, or, more simply, I cannot remember a time when their stories were not a part of my bones. They are listed roughly in the order that I first loved them.

The Melendy Books by Elizabeth Enright: (The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, Spiderweb for Two) Mary and I sometimes reminisce about these as if Mona and Randy and Rush and Oliver and Mark were real live people we actually knew, as if we too used citronella to ward off mosquitoes, and had a Cuffy to boss us about. Their childhood was my childhood. Last fall, I read The Saturdays to Liesel, and was delighted to discover that it was the same wonderful book I remembered, only better.

The Story of the Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit: She dedicates it “in memory of childhoods identical, but for the accidents of time and space.” I do sincerely hope that everyone’s childhood contained moments like this, when you went on some complex quest for honor (and adventure,) and anyone who told you it couldn’t be done was only “Albert-next-door,” and not to be heeded. Also, Oswald Bastable is my favorite narrator of all time.

Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes: The bits of this book that I remember coming back to time and time again are the chapters that Pinky, the cat, supposedly writes herself on Mr. Pye’s typewriter while he naps. The entire story is also good for learning about how to properly enjoy a summer vacation, pygmy owls, and watching.

The Witches by Roald Dahl: You may know this one, but still, isn’t it marvelous? There’s an underground network of evil out to get you and only you, and you and only you can fight it. Grandmothers are wise; pretty women with candy are not to be trusted; one may sustain awkward battle wounds; Quentin Blake’s illustrations are quite perfect—good lessons all. (Also see The BFG.)

The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh: (followed by Mennyms in the Wilderness, Mennyms Under Seige, and Mennyms Alone) Often when I describe this series to someone who hasn’t heard of it, (which is, it seems, everyone but myself) they get a look on their face as if I’ve smilingly advised them to eat raw meat. It’s about a family of life-sized rag dolls who live unobtrusively at 5 Brocklehurst Grove. The story’s solemn weirdness is just mundane and unselfconscious enough that the entire thing is utterly enchanting. Trust me on this one: Soobie alone is worth the read.

The Penderwicks by Jean Birdsall: When I first got this book for Christmas in 2005, I read it three times in row to myself, then aloud to my family who was stuck in the car with me. I couldn’t stop. It’s subtitled “A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.” All books should have subtitles like that. All of them.

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman: I’ve never read The Golden Compass, and have no opinion to offer. This, however, is a marvelous little mystery about orphans and cursed jewels and opium dens. He writes chase scenes that actually interest me, and that’s quite a feat. (I am not, strictly speaking, a fast-paced action kind of girl. I like talk.) I have a specific memory of outlining the whole plot for Sarah Moon on Mrs. Liebmann’s board one day, when we should have been doing classwork.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke: I like this book because of Venice, and I like this book because of Scipio, the thief lord himself. It starts as a story about friendship and growing up, then two-thirds of the way through, just when you’re quite comfortable, it begins to spit magic, forcing you to put in some effort and suspend disbelief you didn’t think needed suspending. But really, how could you be a child in Venice without a touch of the fantastic?

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume I, The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson: You saw the title—what else can I say? “Historical fiction about the Revolutionary War” doesn’t begin to cover it. Somewhere between fact and fable, it wasn’t written, but lovingly created.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre: This one is different. It’s not a children’s book. It’s not even a novel. A family friend and former teacher gave it to me as a graduation present two years ago, and though during its first reading I accidentally dropped it in the slimy spillway at my grandparents’ house, that doesn’t reflect how I feel about it in the slightest. I think everyone should read this book, particularly people who use words on a daily basis. It is about being good stewards of language, perpetually handing it with care and wisdom. In her chapter called “Read Well” she writes about why it matters “Our lives are lived in relationship to words, written and spoken, sacred and mundane. They are manna for the journey.” Golly, I love words…but that’s for another day.

In Other News

I haven’t written in a long time. Sorry about that. There hasn’t been a lack of material, just more of a lack in interest in said material. But I’m gonna muster up some interest, okay? Here goes.

– I got into the Raleigh airport at eleven p.m. and three of my very best friends picked me up and we went to Waffle House, acted obnoxious, and gave the nice waitress a large tip consisting mostly of change.

-My family had a staycation (Hooray, Mom!) which included a visit to Blandwood  Mansion (which I didn’t know existed), a trip to the art museum in Raleigh (where the Rodin was lovely), a voyage to Staunton to see the ASC (The Tempest was wonderful-wonderful), and a drive up to Hanging Rock (where I discovered that sometime in the last ten years I have become a very bad hiker. Awful, actually.)

-I have gone on four runs,  and now own my first-ever sports bra and real running shoes. I have yet to make it a half mile without stopping to die and walk.

-I am addicted to Hulu. Arrested Development, The Glee Project, How I Met Your Mother, Merlin, Project Runway… It really needs to end.

-Last week I had a little Tres Amigas reunion at the lake with Kinsley and Ruth. We watched some weird movies, ate pizza from the grill, and had a mysterious (but casualty-free) accident while tubing. Just like old times.

Downton Abbey is lovely. Go watch it.

-Mary and I (and Karen [not Hannah]) painted our bedroom, which desparately needed it. I had been subjecting the walls to duct tape for years. It is now ballerina pink and looks like a hotel room. I kind of love it…

-I found out the names of my freshman little sisters, sent them an exuberant email, friended them on facebook, and burnt my fingers making them the best welcome posters ever.

-Everybody got engaged. (And by everybody I mean Beth and Tim, Hannah and Nathan, and Alyssa and John. ) Weddings! Huzzah! In other life-changing news, Emily and Casey will very soon have their new boys home from Ethiopia. Huzzah again!

-Additional highlights of being home have included finally seeing Harry Potter with Abby, making very oily Ravioli with Karen, buying an excellent leather skirt from Goodwill with Hannah, and discovering a diary of a long ago trip to Grandma’s with Mary. Also, that night Hannah, Karen, Patrick and I went to Walmart and put name tags on everything. That was good, too.

On Friday I go back to school. Between now and then I will snap out of myself. I will go see The Help with Annie, I will visit Mrs. Liebmann, I will look up fall fashion and get excited,  I will pack, I will plan, I will smile, I will get of bed the moment I wake up. In a week, I will be hugging so many people so much. It’s gonna feel good.