Refection on Reflection

I often feel this way after some heavy reading, or hard periods of news activity. Frazzled, taut if you know what I mean. On edge. One fine day, a voice in the upturned cauldron piped up and said, “Look, I know you mean well, and all that, but the old brain is not quite suited for deep learning, heavy news and all that lark. We’d better leave all that to the algorithms, while we potter around in the sunny recesses of the spring garden. What? What do you think of that?” I took a serious look at the proposition, and nodded along enthusiastically. Everyone should do what’s best suited to them, right? So, I should .. eh..potter and totter, nourish and cherish, or perhaps enjoy refection on reflection.  

So, it was with a wholly energetic outlook that I went on to read several books to air the musty brain a bit.  P.G. Wodehouse – that unwavering rallier of spirits rallied like nobody’s business, and started off by soothing the sore spot at once:

The Pride of the Woosters is Wounded, By P.G.Wodehouse:

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a quiet life. I’m not one of those fellows who get all restless and depressed if things aren’t happening to them all the time. You can’t make it too placid for me. Give me regular meals, a good show with decent music every now and then, and one or two pals to totter round with, and I ask no more.

It was after I had revived after a spot of humor that I went in for a bit of magic. The Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith. It is a lovely little collection of essays on Middle Earth. The courage of Hobbits, the lore of the Ents. As I started reading the little book on Magic, it made me realize why we love Lord of the Rings so much that it endures on a century later. The hobbits are lovable in a way that is easy to relate to. They lead us to the joys in a simple way of life.

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The Wisdom of the Shire

Hobbits like a good meal, think nothing of throwing in an energetic walk in the Shire, enjoy the companionship of fellow hobbits and are generous enough in their outlook. Some of the essays on the Hobbits were:

Eat like a Brandybuck, drink like a Took

Sleep like a Hobbit

It seems they know how to enjoy a magical do-nothing day as often as possible.

Incidentally, A Magical Do Nothing Day is a wonderful children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The book practically tugged at me in the library. Some titles speak to your heart, and this was one of them.

A Magical Do Nothing Day. Swirl it around, and feel that sense of peace descend upon you. The book gently takes you on a slide down the mountains, a whirl among the leaves, a dip in the pond and the exquisite pleasure of touching a snail.

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For each of us, a Do-Nothing Day would be different. I am curious to hear what a Magical Do Nothing Day signifies for you. Please share your ideal version of a Do-Nothing day with me.

I had several Magical do-nothing moments recently. Moments  in which the children and I learnt to skip stones in a pond, or I stood mesmerized by a cherry blossom tree that looked like garlands on every branch. The beauty around us is ethereal, and that makes it all the more inviting to go and enjoy nature.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower – William Blake 

 

 

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The Artistic Touch

I waltzed in to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art thinking my usual self should do. It didn’t do. It pursed already thin lips and drew in breaths that should have been released.

So, here is a tip: Before you head into a museum, prepare to put on a face that reminds you of a serious matter: something like a puppy being pulled back home from a glorious spring saunter that yielded an unexpected bone, a couple of birds to chase and beautiful water hydrants to raise their hind legs against. An occasional smile commiserating with the owner (or the puppy) is okay, but grim seriousness is admired.

Remember: Life is Stern, Art is Earnest & Its Depiction Torturous. Good.

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What tripped me up was this: I walked into a largish room and found a men’s piddle seat in the middle. You know one of those umbrella-handle shaped urinals? In the middle. I know I have expressed the opinion that I wished the blasted things in bathrooms were less in the corner when you were trying to tighten a screw, but by gosh, I had not quite meant this! I am afraid I did the wrong thing here – I pointed and let loose a guffawing squeal and giggled at the exhibit. Modern Art patrons are a tolerant lot. Tolerant towards Art I mean – they scowled at my flippant attitude, while the urinal drew admiring noises.

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Random pic of some urinal from the internet – I did not take a picture of the thing!

When I finally tottered away from this marvel, there was a painting around the corner, that reminded me of one of P.G.Wodehouse’s short stories. Reggie Pepper (who gave PGW the idea for Jeeves) says of his Artist friend’s work:

I’ve seen his pictures, and they are like nothing on earth. So far as I can make out what he says, they aren’t supposed to be. There’s one in particular, called “The Coming of Summer,” which I sometimes dream about when I’ve been hitting it up a shade too vigorously. It’s all dots and splashes, with a great eye staring out of the middle of the mess. It looks as if summer, just as it was on the way, had stubbed its toe on a bomb. He tells me it’s his masterpiece, and that he will never do anything like it again. I should like to have that in writing.

Art certainly conflicts: I stood astonished I suppose that one would take up a whole wall for a work like that when I looked around, and was told by a Patron, “Don’t you just admire how a true artist comes out?”
I eh-ah-ed weakly. When he says, artist comes out: Did artists lay their intestines out on canvas? It certainly did look like it. I recoiled a bit, but luckily the fellow was well launched on his story to notice. He then proceeded to tell me the most extraordinary thing.
Apparently, this artist was hailed as a genius after his death. His paintings regularly sold for $150 million dollars. I gasped at this. I should like to see these patrons! Apparently, one of his works made it to the local Goodwill shop where a lady paid 3 bucks for it. I suppose it must have shocked the $150 million dollar fellows, but life is tough. Anyway, a friend of the $3 buyer said there were enough squiggles to make the fellow a big artist, and had her check it out. Apparently, she got $25 million bucks for it but was not happy, since the other paintings of the fellow sold for over 100 million bucks. People I tell you. Never really happy! Tush.

There were beautiful paintings that managed to depict the 4 seasons, something that looked like a desert sunset, geometric shapes and so much more.

 

All of these marvels jostled with what I thought were the trial canvasses of the artist – you know those sheets against which you imagine them testing their strokes, and shaking out the extra spots on the brush and so on. (They weren’t – they were the real pieces of Art. I checked.)

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What really got me thinking about this whole Art business is the Sensuous blue painting.

There was one painting that looked like this.

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Oh, sorry, that is a picture of my daughter’s wall.

This is the painting.

 

Next to this was written a most poignant note. If I had not read the notice, I could not have imagined such a beautiful set of phrases can be applied for the color blue.

The final straw was the one where the artist forgot to paint and occupied a wall.

 

“Does this white square hold a mystery?”

I shoo-hoo-ey-ed my way up the floors, all the while admiring the many works, stopping to muse at a fair few, and thoroughly enjoying myself. When they say Art is mind-blowing, I could agree. I may not be able to appreciate the finer details of each piece the way the sturdier patrons do, but I was quite sure, it awakened some dormant senses.

 

Finally, I washed up in front a pool of floating dishes. Not a dishwasher, more like an indoor pool with clean china chinking and tinkling against each other producing a haunting musical memory to go with the visual. It seemed like a marvelous touch depicting the day at the museum.

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All in all, the museum should have made me feel like this character from one of P.G.Wodehouse’s story on being in the presence of an Artist:

She was perfectly pleasant, and drew me out about golf and all that sort of thing; but all the time I felt that she considered me an earthy worm whose loftier soul-essence had been carelessly left out of his composition at birth.

But it didn’t. There was matter enough to engage simple minds like mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Humor Jumped In Neptune’s Pool

California has many things to offer: it is home to sprawling deserts, cold beaches, misty forests, rainy fogs, snowy stretches, marvelous lakes, fast flowing rivers, and so much more. It is one of the reasons why we had neglected the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California for this long. Every time some one asked us about Hearst Castle, we’d say, “Oh – yes! Must go” without conviction and move on. This time, however, we took the plunge and buoyed up in Paso Robles, California.

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Once in there, it is imperative that you follow your hosts’ instructions scrupulously, for the tour guides there do not put it past themselves to take a ruler and rap it across your knuckles if you don’t. One time, we found ourselves standing in the game room and the guide went on and on about the parties the rich man used to give there (Their guests used to play scrabble here, and then they would move across the hall, and play the uno cards there. Sometimes, they would think that chess might be a good idea, but thinking was hard….). Then, she stopped mid sentence, found my pinkie toe not on the carpet, and pulled me up in front of the whole tour. “Ma’am. Ma’am. I ask that you stand on the carpet.
To which I looked around to see who the rule-breaker was, and found there was no Ma’am in the general direction she was shouting at except me. I asked her, “Who? Me?”
Yes Ma’am. Please stay on the carpeted area.
“I am on the carpeted area.”
No ma’am. Your pinkie toe is out.
Sticklers for perfection the Hearst Castle folks.

When you go up to the Hearst Castle, you cannot but help noticing that the man, William Hearst, had nothing to do, had wealth with which he knew not what to do, and therefore he thought it a perfectly reasonable thing to build a castle that made Napolean Bonaparte, Julius Caeser and King Henry the VIII all squirm together in a co-ordinated pirouette in the nether world. As though the human built edifice wasn’t enough, he decided to introduce some zebras, llamas and mountain goats into a habitat that boasts natively of some squirrels and lizards.

If the tour guide is any reflection on the hospitality offered up at the home of old William Hearst, I should like to pass on the invite. We were all now made to stand in attention in the dining room where folks, I was enlightened by the tour guide, ate. I did not know this. So, I looked up.
Sometimes, they had potatoes for dinner, sometimes they had eggs, oatmeal…

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I must mention that this punishing tour was happening at an hour where breakfast is a memory and lunch a yearning.

The guide’s voice was one of those voices these sharp nurses who brook no nonsense have. To top that, she seemed to belong to the category of folks who swallow their sense of humor mistaking them for calcium tablets in their youth. Her jaw set, her face impassive, she went on and on like a steady drip into your veins.

I have always felt for these tour guides. I am not sure what draws them to the career in the first place. It must be a beautiful thing to proudly show the legacy of the place the first three hundred and two times. But the three-hundred and third time, must get somewhat repetitive what? And then, you have people who refuse to keep their pinkie toes on the carpet. Hard.

If you were a guest here at the castle, you would be given the place of honor the first night and sit right next to Marion Davies (his mistress), and then as more and more guests joined, you will be moved along the table. When you find yourself at the end, it is time for you to go.”, she went on in that flat dictaphone commanding her troops sort of voice.

I am sure that was a line inserted for humor. I could almost see Humor springing gay and carefree in that line, and then tripping on the carpet that all toes were supposed to be on, and falling nose first and splattering on the floor.

People shuddered at the implication, thankful that their pal William Hearst did not send them a personal invitation.

A giggler throughout, I was quite sure I would have myself thrown out of the hilltop if I did not behave, but I could not help thinking of P.G.Wodehouse’s quote:

“It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.”

P.G. Wodehouse, The Girl in Blue

I laughed and the husband yanked me to the back of the troupe, to save me from myself.

It was in fact, P.G.Wodehouse, who had put up that gag about being shoved off the table if you stayed too long.
Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with [William Randolph] Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and [actress-mistress] Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Marion’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor.”—Humorist P.G. Wodehouse, in a letter to a friend describing his visit to William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon, Feb. 25, 1931, quoted in The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.

If only PGW knew how his good pal, Humor, jumped into Neptune’s pool to avoid further torture, he would have had a gag or two about it for sure. (Neptune pool is a monstrosity with *gulp* Roman columns surrounding a humongous pool, that was dry and was up for renovation because it drained some 5000 gallons of water, when the rest of the state was smacking their lips in thirst).

Do Not Hate In The Plural

I was reading a short story by P.G.Wodehouse on the train. These are the times when I most mistaken for a lunatic. My seat shudders with unconcealed mirth. I giggle, laugh and sometimes wipe away tears of laughter, while the world is going about the stern business of earning a living. He is one of my favorite authors, and after every few books that makes me mope around the world pondering on the wretchedness and seriousness of life, I turn to a P.G.W book to remind myself that tomfoolery is a virtue to be exalted and celebrated. His turn of phrase, his romping joy, is enough to set me straight.

When I read his autobiography ‘Over Seventy’ a few years ago, I could see that the septuagenarian viewed his own life pretty much the same way he came across in his writing: Sunny and delightful. In his own words, he simply lacked the life required for a gripping autobiography because one needs some level of suffering to bung into the thing. “My father was plain as rice pudding and everyone in school understood me perfectly.” he wrote.

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So, it must have been particularly jarring to the man when he was treated as a pariah in his own country.

P.G.Wodehouse had his head in books and led a sheltered life. Whether it was Blandings Castle, or Jeeves rescuing his young master, his thoughts were almost always occupied with love and the stirrings of the idiotic. P.G.Wodehouse, known as ‘Plum’ to his friends, had a villa in Le Touquet, France where he and his wife Ethel often stayed. Plum and his wife were unfortunately there, when German troops stormed France, and he was taken prisoner at the beginning of the Second World War.

The Germans released him after 42 weeks, when he was nearing 60 as they seldom kept foreign internees beyond the age of 60. Through an old Hollywood friend of his, they sought to use him to make humorous broadcasts about his internment, and he naively did so. His was a trusting nature completely devoid of malice of any kind, and incapable of seeing political propaganda. Though he suffered immensely during his internment – he lost around 60 pounds, and ‘looked like something the carrion crow had brought in’, he did not quite realize the extent of evil and genocide that was happening inside War-time Germany. He simply intended to let his readers know that he was alive and well.

That back-fired, however, and the author went from beloved to pariah in his native United Kingdom. People were looking for a scape-goat and he fitted the bill perfectly. He sadly became his own Bertie Wooster with no Jeeves to help.

Sometime after the Second World War ended, P.G.W was goaded by a journalist asking him whether he hated the Germans for what they put him through. To which the author supposedly replied, elegantly smoking his pipe, ‘I do not hate in the plural’.

A truly astounding statement. It was this statement of ‘not hating in the plural‘ that I sought out to find when I read the books below, but I could find no reference to the actual statement.

 

What I found instead was a man who was not only the world’s funniest author, but also the most hard-working, shy, kind and gentle person, who so magnanimously shared the gift of his sunny mind with the world.

I read all five of his broadcasts in entirety and to my equally naive mind, there is nothing in there that can be seen as treason. It shows how war, and malice can take any inane thing and wring it out of shape and proportion. What is real and what is fake when power is involved?

The piece written by George Orwell defending P.G.W’s innocence is well worth reading:
Quote :
The article and the broadcasts dealt mainly with Wodehouse’s experiences in internment, but they did include a very few comments on the war. The following are fair samples:
“I never was interested in politics. I’m quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”

P.G.Wodehouse was finally knighted by the British Government in January 1975. He died the following month on 14th February 1975, aged 93.

I am immensely grateful to the dear author, even if that means the Prims & Propers of the world lift their eyebrows and look away uncomfortably when I laugh. I cannot say it better than Stephen Fry does on the personal influence of P.G.Wodehouse:
He taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.

 

A Jane Austen Education

 I like to draw relaxation from the joy in little things. The ability to stop and look at a flower or amble along with friends and family discussing the little matters of life that make up the notes of music as we hum along in our lives.

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The ability to feel like it is okay to not be driven by this high sense of purpose, but living a useful life all the same.

There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. - Booker. T. Washington
There is no power on Earth that can neutralize the influence of a high, simple and useful life. – Booker. T. Washington

When people talk about good stories, they are usually pumped up about plot, drama and suspense. I am all for plot, drama, suspense, mystery, hot-cold love and so on. But our lives don’t always turn out that way, nor should it. That is why I recharge myself with writings of Miss Read, Jane Austen and P.G.Wodehouse. When I read these authors, I can assure myself that it is perfectly okay to lead lives that will not get a dramatist to reach for his recording device, but one that is joyful enough in its pursuits and activities to make it an interesting one.

Every time, I unwind with a Jane Austen movie, the nourish-n-cherish family rolls its eyes and flees the television area. Now that I think about it, it seems to be the only way for me to get some air time with the television. Hmmm (Evil laugh with gleam in eyes). But I hope one day to be able to get them to enjoy the movies with me.

I am reading ‘A Jane Austen Education’ by William Deresiewicz, that is essentially all the life lessons that her writings have for us to imbibe. Such a delightful book! There are some things that are clearly just the author’s perspective of applying her writing to his life. Not to mention that this book was written by a man, so it is only natural that his and my perspectives vary. 

The books starts with my favorite book of hers: Emma.

Little nuggets of writing like this spot the whole book and make me want to open it up at random and read again.

Jane Austen was about a year old when another English Author wrote a statement that could serve as a motto for all her books. “Life is a comedy for those who think”, said Horace Walpole,  “and a tragedy for those who feel.”. Everyone thinks and feels, but Jane Austen’s question was, which one you are going to put first? Comedies are stories with happy endings. I could grow up and find happiness, Austen was letting me know, but only if I was willing to give up something very important. Not my feelings, but my belief in my feelings, the conviction that they were always right.

Another one:

Being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same thing.

A dictum that Mansfield Park reveals, that is as good today or even more apt today than any other day in the past.

Perpetual amusement leads only to the perpetual threat of boredom.

 I can tell you that it was truly a shocking revelation to me, that a recent study said we reach for our phone 221 times a day. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/02/25/we-are-hopelessly-hooked/)

Imagine that. More than 200 moments in time when we could be observing (anything at all really) spent checking a digital device. Are we not just as guilty as the Crawfords in Mansfield Park for needing that kind of continuous stimulation? It is no wonder that Digital Addiction is a real thing  requiring treatment.

http://www.gq.com/story/video-game-rehab?utm_source=nextdraft&utm_medium=email

It reminds me of this article:

Anyone with any degree of mental toughness,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe wrote in contemplating life and the art of setting priorities, “ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.

A sobering thought indeed.

How is the Hot Water?

Things started off normally enough on our recent trip to Bishop CA: I had strained my neck, slept badly, refused to let the husband drive and rest the shoulder, and was playing with snow on the frozen lake. Though I could easily have iced the area, I did not. The children were throwing snow up in the air, and so was I, yelping like an puppy being beaten every time, but enjoying the snow all the same.

The husband looked at me being an obstinate ass, and decided to take things in hand. “Maybe it is time we went and had something hot to eat.”, he said and smartly frisked all the red-nosed snow saddled simperers into a log cabin that boasted of hot soups and sandwiches.

Things that usually happen in a restaurant happened. We asked for water-no-ice, deftly spilled a glass and mopped the contents, apologized to the table, asked for more napkins and settled down to eat.

I find this a bit trying while dining at restaurants, but waiters and waitresses come up to you during the meal, usually when you have slobbered a bit of sauce on yourself, or stuffed your left cheek to goading point, and ask you how the food is. Now really! Can you not see we are busy tucking in? Must you ask how the food is?

Well… the truth be told, in this particular case, it was horrendous. The pasta was not cooked enough, the vegetables were soggy and the olives did not really go with the sliced jalapeños and certainly not on pasta. Also, it was a bit much using the same condiments on the nachos (s.jalapeños & olives) in the pasta, and passing it off as vegetables in the pasta.

But …..

(a) The poor thing smiled in a rather disarming manner, that I hadn’t the heart to lay the truth out for her.

(b) It was hot food in a cold place and I could well appreciate the logistics of running a restaurant in such a place.

(c) She wasn’t the chef. What could she possibly do? She’d probably tell the chef the food was sub-par, and the chef, if he or she were a temperamental one like Anatole, would behave like a dish pot and spout steam at her.

Simply no point. So, I turned a regal eye upon her (my neck remember?),  and said it was good, in my best hauteur. I hoped that would send a message enough. But it didn’t, so I asked for a cup of hot water instead. She recoiled. All waitresses do when I ask for hot water. They simply don’t know what to make of this simple request. She looked at me questioningly, but my neck helped me with my aura, I stiffened the upper lip with the neck, and smiled curtly not backing down.

She bobbed up with the hot water in due course, and asked us how the food was. I simply could not answer. I was fighting pasta battles of my own.

Maybe that was the problem. She was back with us again. Within minutes. It seemed like every time I managed to turn the upper torso, there she was at our elbows asking how the food was. I mean – really! I was trying to cook the pasta in my mouth with the hot water.

“The hot water is wonderful! Can I have another glass?” I said. Catty? Perhaps.

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Just as an experiment, I must say what I really think and see what happens. I can already see the husband squirm uncomfortably, and make secret plans to move to another table.

The Efficient Baxter Takes a Break

One morning, when the husband was away, the daughter sighed wistfully, as we piled into the car to get to her school on time, and said, “I miss Appa. I miss the action before going to school.”

“What do you mean?” I asked guardedly. This is the sort of conversation that will lead to promises involving television time, chocolates or extended bed-times, and drama about broken promises for things that should not have been promises at all in the first place.

“Well…you know how you get things ready the previous night and then we come in the morning and take everything and leave?”
“Yes…”
“Well..we’d never do that if Appa was around would we? We’d run, and you’d run and there is more, I don’t know, FUN!” said the daughter.

I could not deny this allegation.

School-going time is one packed with drama, hilarity, perplexity, action and yawns. Feathers ruffled at this time smoothen themselves out before we get to our various institutions and good humor and charm overtake the retelling of it in the evenings and the family hums along with its customary cheer once more.

We also have strange customs and rules such as ‘Check the rear-view mirror till the car gets to the main road.’  I have run after the car on several occasions looking like a windmill flailing my arms, waving the latest piece of homework, or some paper that is required to be handed in. It is very hard to do that. Windmills function beautifully because they don’t run.

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One time, I was charging behind the snorting car, looking like a pumped up rhinoceres because the daughter forgot her shoes. Her SHOES! I ask you. She explained that she likes to relax in the car and put on her shoes, so she can chill at home. When I told my friends this, they didn’t bat an eyelid. They said they always have an extra pair of shoes in the car for just such emergencies.

One time, I had to take her shoes into school because she wore two left shoes to school. (https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/miss-goodie-two-shoes/)

The time when the check-rear-view mirror became a rule was on a particularly cold day in the Winter. The temperature gauge was mercilessly pointing at sub-zero and the daughter forgot her lunch-box. The house inside was toasty and warm, and I had forgotten how cold Californian winters could get. I charged after the car barefoot, running a sprint, with a lunch bag in my hand. My athletic coaches in high school always thought I performed best when I had a dog chasing me causing my heart to pump like it was powered by an industrial pump, but I wish to tell them that I perform pretty well when barefoot on sub-zero roads as well. The car, already late, was doing its best to keep the distance between us level. I was running and creating such a ruckus, some geese stopped their flight mid-air to see who the dickens was rivaling their squawking.

Luckily, the car’s merge into the main road was somewhat delayed because of the traffic and I managed to bang the car from behind and cause the husband to turn around. The sheepish daughter took her lunch box,  had the sense to thank me for the food later that evening, and all was laughed at, but it is now a rule. Everyone has to look at the rear view mirror before going ANYwhere.

When the husband travels, I throw my lackadaisical side aside and step into the role of The Efficient Baxter. Since I am rarely the Efficient-Person, I do a sincere job at it when I do step up, and I cannot deny, it snuffs the joy out of the process.

With the husband back, The Efficient Baxter has taken a break again, and we scrambled most satisfactorily this morning. I threw a well-aimed jacket through the open car window as it left, and received a beaming smile and a Thumbs-Up from the occupants.