dual personalities

“Being male is a matter of birth. Being a man is a matter of age. But being a Gentleman is a matter of choice.” *

Well, the fashion bloggers are all commenting on the passing of the great Oscar de la Renta, so I thought I’d add my two cents. “His departure is tragic. Fashion will never be the same,” gushed the Man Repeller. Please. He was 82 and had led a fabulous life. His departure was hardly tragic. That is not to say we won’t miss him.


Oscar in ox-blood shoes

Oscar de la Renta was a gentleman, a dying breed, of the old school. I remember seeing him on some talk show 25 years ago, conversing with some clueless host–probably Regis Philbin–about fashion. Oscar was telling the guy, “Oh, no no, you must never wear black shoes in the daytime! They are for evening only!” Regis was arguing with him (!), saying, “But black shoes go with gray slacks! C’mon!” Oscar stood firm. He knew he was correct and that Regis was a cretan.

Anyway, it goes way deeper than fashion. Oscar de la Renta knew that.

In case you haven’t noticed, there are fewer and fewer gentlemen of the Oscar de la Renta variety around. The kind who reflexively takes your arm when crossing a street. The kind who would never dream of using vulgar language in the presence of a female. The kind who always tells you that you look lovely when you get dressed up (no matter how un-lovely you look).

Another friend of mine, an 85-year old gentleman of the old school, died the other day. He went to Amherst back in the day and still wore shetland sweaters over button-down shirts and was like Oscar, in that (for example) if you were driving him somewhere and reached your destination, he asked if you would like him to park the car for you–so, you know, you could get out at the door and not walk in from across the parking lot.

No doubt we women are to blame for the deficit of gentlemen, having insisted on our equality and refused the pedestal. Whatever. I miss those old school gentlemen. And I will miss old Oscar.

*Vin Diesel (of course)

In Xanadu

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a leader of the British Romantic movement and famous opium addict, was born on this day in 1772, in Devonshire, England.

In honor of his birthday, here is one of his famous poems to read aloud.


Kubla Khan Or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round;

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.


But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and enchanted

As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,

A mighty fountain momently was forced:

Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst

Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,

Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:

And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever

It flung up momently the sacred river.

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion

Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Then reached the caverns measureless to man,

And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;

And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure

Floated midway on the waves;

Where was heard the mingled measure

From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device,

A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!


A damsel with a dulcimer

In a vision once I saw:

It was an Abyssinian maid

And on her dulcimer she played,

Singing of Mount Abora.

Could I revive within me

Her symphony and song,

To such a deep delight ’twould win me,

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

If you prefer, here is the great Sir Ralph Richardson reciting the poem: 

Weekend reading

leavesin street

I had a quiet weekend and spent a good part of it reading Marilynne Robinson’s new novel Lila. 

2014-10-19 15.31.28

In this third novel that takes place in the town of Gilead, Robinson revisits the characters we have met in the earlier books (Gilead and Home), in particular the mysterious woman who marries the old minister John Ames. As usual, the author examines the mystery of existence. She quotes John Calvin freely–without smirking. It is terrific.

Robinson just blows me away. Her characters are thoughtful and have inner monologues that are deep and penetrating. The story takes place some time after WWII when people did not have attention spans reduced to tweets. They still think about things. And we are encouraged to think about them (and the mystery of existence) as well.

Anyway, of course, I highly recommend this book and the first two if you haven’t already read them. (Why haven’t you already read them?)

Have a great week!

Almighty God, who hast bestowed thy grace upon thy people by thy Son Jesus Christ: Grant us, we beseech thee, to be enriched with his manifold gifts; that patiently enduring through the darkness of this world, we may be found shining like lamps in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he cometh in his kingdom; to whom be praise and glory for ever and ever.

(Prayer posted by Kendall Harmon on TitusOneNine)

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods*

Another week of breathless routine began with church, followed by a lovely afternoon in the woods.  The DH, son #2 and I spent a couple of hours pulling weeds and chopping wood at the camp.

He's a lumberjack and he's okay

He’s a lumberjack and he’s okay

While they did manly things,  I wrestled with  a nasty vine reminiscent of the one from Jumanji and this Kudzu covered house in Georgia.


Yes, that’s a house. I remember when Honeysuckle took over our back yard when I was growing up, but this is ridiculous. In any case, I did enough hard work to feel pleasantly stiff afterwards and we all enjoyed the fresh air.


It was late afternoon when I took this picture, hence the road was in shadow and the beaver pond still in sunlight. The sky was a gorgeous blue (the color of the water), but appears washed out in these pics. A beaver had been busy tidying the dam in the pond. Didn’t he do a good job? Unfortunately, because the pond abuts the road, trappers come as soon as they notice the presence of a beaver and that, as they say, is that. DSC00827

I have nothing else to show for the week, which, as usual, raced by in a blur of classes, meetings, grading, and reading. It was not unpleasant; just too hectic to enjoy properly. Even the dinner I had out with a friend on Thursday evening was rushed, as office hours kept me away ’til six and she had choir practice at 7. Busy as we all are, it is important to find little breathers during the week. Right now, in my first year class, we are reading James Welch’s Winter in the Blood, which takes place on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana (yes, nowadays they make Blackfoot plural). It’s  a sad, strange book, but the landscape — oh, my — I could live there, couldn’t you?

found at tripadvisor.com

found at tripadvisor.com

Between working Sundays in the woods (when I can get them), I refresh my spirit with beautiful things — anything from photos of landscapes like the one above, to descriptions of imagined places like Fuchia’s attic in Gormenghast or one of Byron’s poems.  As much as there is “pleasure in the pathless woods” and the things we love, there is stress release. Have a great, stress-free weekend!

*Byron, “Childe Harold”, Canto iv, Verse 178

Things that go bump in the night

Halloween jewelry

I have had a crazy week, filled with rainy days and fire drills and the Cardinals tanking. And I have a busy weekend ahead, which includes a fancy dress-up party of the type I do not like. I am at a loss for a Friday movie pick!

So I leave you with this charming flashback photo from 1989 when the boy was a pumpkin and I was sporting some styling jack-o-lantern jewelry of the type young mothers wear to amuse their children. I’m sure you have something equally embarrassing in your jewelry drawer, right?

Have a good weekend!

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows

"The Tree of Life", 1909, Gustav Klimt

“The Tree of Life”, 1909, Gustav Klimt

Yesterday was the birthday of e.e. cummings, the poet, essayist, author,  playwright, and Unitarian (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962). So I thought I’d share this famous poem of his which I like very much.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

If you want to read more about Cummings, here’s an interesting article  by Susan Cheever.

Leave the light on in the yard for me

Last week daughter #2 sent me a present–a new CD! Way to make my week automatically better. (I had been listening to 1970s CSNY. Woof.)

Anyway, the CD was Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs, which is an indie rock band I was not acquainted with. So I have been listening to it non-stop in my car and it is wonderful!

Clearly the lead singer is greatly influenced by Bob Dylan. The album is also reminiscent of Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen–all fine with me. Indeed, there is a lot of “homage” going on and, again, that is fine with me. Try it, I say. You will like it.

Here’s a sample:


So make your week better–and as they say, treat yourself.


“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”

Mottisfont - Winnie the Pooh, -® The E.H.Shepard Trust reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group

On this day in 1926 Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne was published in England.

As I have mentioned before, our pater was a big fan of Winnie-the-Pooh, and, therefore, so were we. No one read A.A. Milne’s stories and poems better than our father. This ability was one of his most endearing qualities.

So in honor of old A.A. Milne, maybe we should put on our Big Boots and have an adventure! But first we need some of these I guess.

Side note: It has been raining cats and dogs here for days on end. Big Boots have been on my mind.

“I can’t look at everything hard enough.”*

Field of Lilies, Louis Comfort Tiffany

“Field of Lilies”, Louis Comfort Tiffany

Last week I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir  (1947) and cried through much of it. Then this weekend I watched Our Town (1940) and wept through the entire third act.  I must say that much of this was due to the great musical scores of both films, by Bernard Hermann and Aaron Copland, respectively, but still. They even changed the end of Our Town! (Spoiler alert) Emily doesn’t die! They softened up the hard ending of the play, but it was still effective.

Then I finished Jan Karon’s Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good and got a little weepy. It is not a sad book at all, but it reminds us all to rejoice and be glad and you know that that can make me tear up.

Then we sang hymn #624 in church–“Jerusalem the Golden”–and I was done (or undone as the case may be).

Well, you know what Frederick Buechner says about tears:

You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay close attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.

(Whistling in the Dark)

So keep your eyes and your heart open as you go forth into the world this week. Thanks be to God.

*Emily in “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder

A Satisfied Mind

Recently, I found out about a wonderful group of Swedish scientists who, over the course of 17 years, took the trouble to insert Bob Dylan lyrics into  their academic papers. They didn’t get together and start doing this on purpose; first a pair of them did it in a joint paper and then they noticed others doing it too. Eventually, they decided to make it a competition to see who could include the most Bob Dylan references in papers before retirement. The catch is that the Dylan reference has to be relevant to the content of the article, and given that these guy are scientists, that’s no mean feat. For example, one titled a paper on whether blood cells can transform into nerve cells “Blood on the Tracks: a simple twist of fate” and another ended an article with “we know something’s happening, but we don’t know what it is.”

This story reminded me that when I was in college, friends and I sometimes had whole conversations in song lyrics (yes, Joni Mitchell or Neil Young — go ahead and laugh). What can I say? It was amusing. I’m sure that the Swedish scientists find it amusing to refer to Bob Dylan, whom they revere. But isn’t that what makes all the reading and listening we do especially worthwhile? Being able to quote and make oblique references is not only satisfying, but it exercises our brains and helps us learn. Now I sound like a teacher, but this is what my students don’t get. I think I’ll tell them about the Dylan-loving scientists. Maybe they can relate. I know I do.

Perhaps I’ll take up the challenge, not with Dylan, but with, say, Mark Knopfler or the Tragically Hip. The possibilities are endless. Although it might be hard to use “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” in a paper on the Neo-Assyrians, “Yawning or Snarling” and “Brothers in Arms” have decided potential.  Who would you sneak into your writing?



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