746. On tending: thoughts on a used book

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One of the books that I bought when a friend gave me a gift card to Half-Price Books several months ago was French Dirt: The Story of A Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman. (I wrote about it in my newsletter last week and am writing of it here as well, adding some new thoughts.) Since I'm not a gardener, I'm not exactly sure why I put this book in my stack, but I know its cover art along with the suggestion of a creative endeavor in France held substantial appeal. A first-time gardener, plus being from New York City, Goodman had many questions about how to begin. One of the things he quickly learned was that he must "tend" his garden every day. Tend: isn't that a great word? It means "to have the care of; watch over; look after." Reading French Dirt made me think not only about how much I'd love to travel to the South of France but also about my writing and how long I sometimes go without tending it. Perhaps you have something to tend as well, something that's not your paid work but work of another variety, even work of the leisurely variety. (As his book affirms, there's sometimes a thin line between work and leisure). What a gift it is when someone shares the way in which they tend what is theirs to tend.

And speaking of someone sharing their way, another thing that interested me in reading this book is that although it looked brand new, there were three papers stuck in the pages, which I hadn't noticed until I started reading. First, there was a receipt for the book, dated New Year's Eve of 2010, from Haslam's book store in St. Petersburg, Florida, my old home town! An independently owned bookstore, Haslam's is now more than 80 years old. Next, there was a short page of four notations from the book. Among them the reader had noted a gorgeous piece of writing on page 26, in which Goodman wrote about watering the garden by moonlight, a section I had just read and delighted in before discovering this paper, and a word on page 82 that I also had paused over, estival, a new word to me but one that is most appropriate right now because it means " pertaining or appropriate to summer." Finally, there was an article from The New York Times, dated August 28, 2011, about Richard Goodman riding his bicycle nearly daily from his home on the Upper West Side down to ground zero, or as close as he could get, for three months after 9/11 ("Coping With 9/11, Riding on Two Wheels") and then writing about it in a limited-press book called The Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker's Journey Through 9/11, which he did in partnership with the book's illustrator, Gaylord Schanilec.

I like to think the book's previous reader intentionally left these papers stuck in the pages for the benefit of its next reader. A camaraderie of sorts. A mystical tending of the community of readers.

~~~

[Photo: taken of the cover of French Dirt.]

745. Patricia Hampl's new book on leisure

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Two friends recently gave me a copy of Patricia Hampl's new book, The Art of the Wasted Day. It's a memoir about Hampl's lifetime desire for leisure, meaning not passive entertainment but rather "the life of the mind." (Hampl's book A Romantic Education, first published in 1981, is considered the start of the modern memoir.) A couple weeks ago the three of us had intended to go together to hear her read and speak at Macalester College in St. Paul, the city where she's from and about which she has often lovingly written, but I had to back out because of an evening work conference call. It seemed ironic to pull out of a reading about leisure due to work, particularly because the last book I wrote had explored the conflict between leisure and work. My friends went, however, and gifted me with the book. 

Hampl posits an interesting question: Does leisure suggest a life in which you stay put, "lie low," or one in which you "journey"? It's an interesting question and she structures her book along these lines in three sections: Timelessness, To Go, and To Stay. I am still reading it but wanted to already share a section:

But if leisure (the leisure that promotes the life of the mind) is what’s missing from our overamped world, if the rich multi-tasked life is the problem, shouldn’t a person stay put, lie low? .... This is the dilemma, my dilemma, maybe an essential contemporary middle-class dilemma: To stay? Or to go? Be Pascal? Or be Chaucer? ....

If you’re a “seeker” (and who, opening a book, is not?), isn’t the open road the only way, paradoxically, to find the lost life of daydream where all the rest–wisdom, decency, generosity, compassion, joy, and plain honesty–are sequestered?

If life is a journey, has it just become a getaway to somewhere warm on JetBlue?

I'm sure I'll post more about this book when I've finished.

~~~

ps. I've written a couple other posts about Patricia Hampl: click here to find.

[Photo: taken of emerging fiddlehead ferns.]

696. Listening to the music

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Sunday, at church, after the service was over, we sat again, as has become customary, while our extraordinary organist played the postlude.  Instruction to stay seated is not given in the bulletin; it just started happening. Not everyone stays and listens. Many get up and move to greet the minister, chat with a friend or visitor, or go find the coffee and treats. Those of us who do stay usually keep seated where we are but some switch to a pew closer to the front, where the pipe organ lives. Sunday's postlude was the most beautiful Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major. I love this quiet moment, this spontaneous and organic practice of leisure, this corporate dwelling in beauty.

In my work as a medical writer I've written a little about "consolidation therapy" - for some kinds of cancer, once the main treatment is finished another course of something is given to "consolidate" the main treatment's effect and to help finish the work it started. I sometimes think of walks after a session of creative writing as a period of consolidation. The thoughts and images that had earlier rushed in at the writing desk are given a chance to gel and find their place.

It struck me on Sunday, sitting quietly in that pew with Bach ringing, that this post-service listening is a kind of "consolidation therapy." The Word that has already moved through the hymns, the prayers, the readings, the sermon, the communion table now sinks in deeper, finishing the morning's inner work in ways unseen.

~~~

[Photo: taken on a Memorial Day hike.]