Tangled up in Headphones, Longer Days, and Literary Links

I love Daylight Saving Time. I metamorphose from a hibernating mammal into an exuberant human being. Changing the clocks (spring forward!) is a hallmark of spring. The worshippers of rosy-fingered dawn lament losing an hour but we see light overcoming darkness. Some states do not, or at least used not, to observe Daylight Saving Time: they were on “God’s time” all year round. But when twilight steals the sun at five o’clock, I histrionically mutter, “I wish I were dead,” and go to bed at eight. As long as I use the subjunctive of to be (were), I am fine. But if I mutter, “I wish I was dead” (the indicative), please ply me with healing subjunctive exercises.

Collection of vintage clock hanging on an old brick wall; Shutterstock

ARE YOU VACCINATED? According to the Atlantic, the U.S. is in good shape with the vaccination rollout, and the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are effective against the new strains. So let us hope we get on top of the fourth wave soon (though isn’t it really just one big wave?). Yes, I have been vaccinated, and I feel more secure. There’s a long way to go, though, with so many, many new cases every day.

MY NO. 1 PROBLEM WITH MASKS: The mask earloops recently got tangled up in my headphones. A delicate disentangling operation had to be performed single-handed in a store.

And now here are three Literary Links.

  1. I recommend Gal Beckerman’s interview with Paul Theroux, “Would the Pandemic Stop Paul Theroux From Traveling?”, in The New York Times Magazine. His new novel, Under the Wave at Waimea, will be published in April.

And here is a short passage from the article:

For six days, Paul Theroux, the famous American travel writer, dined on hard-boiled eggs, microwaved dal and wine.

He had set out cross-country in a rented Jeep Compass on the day before Thanksgiving, driving from Cape Cod, where he has a house, to Los Angeles, where he delivered boxes of his papers to his archives at Huntington Library, and then flying on to Hawaii, his other home.

Theroux said he observed a landscape largely emptied out by the coronavirus pandemic, from deserted motels in Sallisaw, Okla., and Tucumcari, N.M., where he stopped to sleep, to a rest area in Tennessee where he had his solitary Thanksgiving meal, and the In-N-Out Burger in Kingman, Ariz., on his last day on the road. Every night, as is his habit, he wrote out in longhand all he had seen.

2 At Tor, Melissa Baharddoust, author of Girl, Serpent, Storm, writes about “Persian Legends and Their Western Counterparts.” Here is a short passage:

While poring over Persian myths and legends for my novel, Girl, Serpent, Thorn, I was always delightfully surprised whenever I came across a story that sounded familiar to me from my western upbringing. While I don’t have the expertise to speak to exactly how these stories found their way from one culture to another, or whether any of these stories were directly influenced by each other, I hope you’ll join me in marveling at the way some stories speak to and create common threads in all of us.

3 At The Guardian, Sam Byers explores the post-pandemic future in “We will have to choose our apocalypse: the cost of freedom after the pandemic.”

Here is a passage from the essay:

On one thing, at least, we were all in agreement: we wanted to be free. The problem was that we couldn’t agree on what that freedom looked like, or who should enjoy it. Even as new horizons of collective action and mutual support seemed possible, the urge to do whatever we wanted, free from the inconvenience of consequences, took hold with renewed force. Set against the freedom from infection was the freedom to endanger others by leaving lockdown; the freedom to do away with masks and sow airborne death in the supermarket; the right, via “unmuzzled” speech across high-profile platforms, to spread dangerous, divisive fictions. When finally the halls of US government were stormed and occupied, it wasn’t civil rights activists or eco-warriors posing for a selfie in the chamber, it was a loose conglomeration of angry and often baffled conspiracy theorists, splinter Republicans and Nazis, freely subverting the democracy they claimed to defend.

Keep well and Happy Reading!

What’s the Latest Plague Fad? Reading Old Books & a Novella by Elizabeth Berridge

The libraries are closed after a giddy month of opening “an express” for limited browsing (you got a ticket for 30 minutes, and then if you were too fond of books the security guard evicted you). Of course I did not actually go to the library, but I liked knowing it was open.

So here’s the thing: I haven’t seen a person in months (except in my bubble), and when I’m shopping I have so much difficulty talking through a mask that no one knows what I’m saying, and vice versa. “I’m here to pick up an item.” “What?” And then I repeat myself and hand over my piece of paper. “Is your last name Mirabelle?” “That’s my email.” I point to my name on the form. Then he/she gets my item (a throw, or a pair of warm pajamas) and we wish each other well. As I leave, I hear the next muffled transaction. “What?” “Who?”

And so the masked life continues.

AND SO I’M DISCOVERING OLD BOOKS AFTER ACQUIRING A PAIR OF WARM “READING” PAJAMAS, I.E., REGULAR PAJAMAS.

A new edition published by Zephyr Books.

One of the most stunning books I’ve read recently is Elizabeth Berridge’s novella, The Story of Stanley Brent, which was first published in 1945. This exquisitely- crafted novel, about a quiet man whose life is soured by an ambitious wife, is realistic and very moving, with a breath of hope.

Berridge’s prose is so spare that we do not at first notice her great skill as portraitist. No, her writing quietly takes us over. The characterization is so deft and unflinching that we are reminded of people we know.

Of course Stanley is our favorite character. We first meet him when he is in his twenties, happy and energetic, on the day he proposes to pretty Ada. He is laid-back, but Ada is ambitious and rigid. This telling sentence on page nine describes their relationship:

…marriage was first of all engagement, though the time went quickly enough. Ada saved quietly and fiercely for a good home, Stanley lived in the moment and hoped for some stroke of luck, content with the right to kiss his fiancee and hold her hand, to sit out dances with her. She was promised to him, that was enough.

Their life is ordinary, but their relationship is choppy. Stanley, a partner in a land and estates firm in London, is content with his job. And Ada likes their suburban neighborhood, but she wants to impress people and insists on private school for the children. Eventually, the economy falters, business is slow, and they have to cut back. Ada nags him to start his own business in the suburbs, but Stanley goes his way, trusting things will get better.

Parts of the novel are told from Ada’s point-of-view. It is not that she is unintelligent or mean: she simply isn’t suited to Stanley’s buoyancy. In another time, she might have put that nagging energy into her own business. But perhaps not. It is easier to talk than work.

Stanley survives and regains his contentment . I loved this book, and I also wept a bit over the sad parts..

I have long been a fan of Elizabeth Berridge, though her books are hard to find in the U.S. The Story of Stanley Brent is published by Zephyr Books, an imprint by Michael Walmer. Faber Finds has published a few of her novels, and Persephone has published one of her collections of short stories.

This is one of my favorite books of 2020.

Becoming Your Masked Overly-Protective Mom

They lost me at “PLEATS!”

Now is the time to become your overly-protective mom. 

“Have you got your gear?”  I call out to Mr. Nemo.

He does, though every day there’s something new.  The CDC has announced that all Americans should wear masks in public.

I’ve heard for weeks that the stores are sold out of masks.  If that is the case, where do we get them? Back in the day, Mom would get in the car and drive to Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Kmart for every last-minute need–even during flu season. Everyone is woefully unprepared for Covid-19.

I read in the newspaper that women volunteers are sewing masks for the health care workers. The techs and nurses in the Covid-19 test drive-thru seem to be wearing astronaut costumes, but my heart stopped with worry when I saw them.  They are  our heroes, and if anyone needs masks, they DO.

But now  I am expected to sew masks.  My God, am I Little House on the Prairie?  Should I risk my life at Hobby Lobby to buy needles and thread?  And am I supposed to tear up sheets with my teeth?  

 Mom and I didn’t sew, and despised the jumper I was forced to make for home ec.  We–Mom, Grandmother, and I working together — got a B.  And then went to Sears and bought an adorable readymade one.

Do you ever feel you can’t disinfect another doorknob?  And are you ditzily squirting Disinfectant of the Day (Windex or Clorox or whatever is in the cupboard)  on faucets, handles, tables, light switches, or whatever is in sight at the moment?  

I run a (reasonably) tight lockdown, but excuse me while I dump out my drawers to see if I can find a needle and thread. 

Let’s hope the stores get a shipment of masks.