Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Please Visit...

Please visit me where I REALLY blog. I changed to Wordpress and kind of like it. Comments welcome.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Spectral Dickinson

I have been reading two biographies about Emily Dickinson. The first, White Heat, is beautifully written. This book, which is a biography about the friendship between Emily and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, has many lovely passages, such as this one which describes the Homestead, Emily's home, now a museum, "The Homestead... is spare of furniture; the rooms are cold, and though the docents are helpful, the poet has fled."  I agree with Ms. Wineapple. The Homestead is indeed not haunted. But the same can not be said about The Evergreens, the house next door.  The Evergreens was built by Emily Dickinson's father for her brother Austin and his bride, Susan Gilbert as a sort of  bribe.  The elder Mr. Dickinson (Edward) was trying to convince Austin to remain in Amherst rather than go west to Chicago.

While The Homestead is decidedly ghost free, The Evergreens is not. The Evergreens ironically became a hub of Amherst society while Emily was steadily withdrawing from that same society.  Next door to Amherst's famous recluse, Emerson and Henry Ward Beecher were received and feted.  Today, the house is in a serious state of dilapidation, yet it retains most of the original contents. While dusty and seriously frayed, the chair Emerson is said to have occupied in the parlor looks as if he could emerge from another room and sit down once again, to engage in conversation about the lecture he completed at Amherst College a mere 142 years ago.  Yet, the house is eerie. When entering the dining room where Susan Dickinson entertained her guests, there is a noticeable drop in temperature (even in the summer).  A chill hangs in the air over the table which looks as though it is set for a spectral dinner party.  

But the downstairs isn't the creepiest part of the house, that honor belongs to the upstairs of The Evergreens. Ascending the creaky back servants stairs, the visitor is most acutely struck by the lingering souls of long dead Dickinson's. The nursery of Gib, Emily's  little nephew who died tragically of typhus at the age of seven, remains exactly as the Dickinson's left it after his death. Apparently, in her grief,  Sue just closed the door and NO ONE every went back in.  The feeling of voyeurism is palpable.

However, The Evergreens present a remarkable opportunity to look in on the past exactly as it was, not as a restoration or a recreation of a historical landmark, but as it actually looked (albeit with some deterioration) the last time the occupants left the rooms.  It sends chills up the spine.  It is just plain spooky.  The day I took the tour for the second time, by the time we reached the nursery, early winter darkness had decended and we gazed in upon the doomed little boys nursery by electric lamplight, the lamp swinging in the docent's hand, sending shafts of weak light into the poignantly charming, yet deathly stillroom. Emily's words echoed in my head, "I am out with lanterns looking for myself..."  The Evergreens  is the saddest museum in America.  If there are such things as ghosts, they surely walk at The Evergreens.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Really Exceptional Stuffing (I made this up myself)

2 Boxes of Gourmet Seasoned Croutons - Crumble a bit with your BARE HANDS so they aren't so lumpy
3 Celery Stalks - chopped
1 Big Onion - finely chopped
1 Granny Smith Apple - chopped
1 Bulging handful of Golden raisins - (make sure they are dropping on the floor from your hand when you transfer them to the big bowl across the kitchen- that's how you know you have enough)
2 sticks of BUTTER (the better to kill you with!!!)
1/4 Cup Ice Water
3 Eggs - Beaten within an inch of their life

Melt Butter in an attractive, copper bottomed pan reminiscent of Julia Child. Throw the celery, onions, apple and raisins in the melted butter. Bubble around until the onions and celery are translucent. Taste them a lot. Beat the eggs during this interlude. Pour the celery, onions, apples and raisins over the crumbled croutons and stir and stir until mixed. Taste a lot before you add the eggs. Add the eggs. If you are feeling Russian Roulette-ish, taste again once the eggs are added. With a zig zag motion, pour the cold water over all and stir, stir, stir. STUFF THE TURKEY. Place left overs in a pretty casserole dish, choose the little one you received when you got married from a distant non relative friend of your mother who you called Aunt Patty, this type of casserole works best. If you do not have a non-relative named Aunt Patty who gave you a simple, yet pricey casserole dish, Pyrex works just as well. 


Monday, November 24, 2008

It's Fun Being in the Peanut Gallery

I frequent a few blogs regularly. I think I have it whittled down to about five. Ann Althouse is one of my favorites. This is a public service announcement encouraging anyone reading here to look at her blog.

Some facts about Althouse: She is a law professor at U of Wis Madison. She is unbelievably open minded and fair. She took a vow of cruel neutrality during the election. She voted for Obama. She is very cool.

I make comments and occasionally - they show up in her blog posts - which is really fun.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Creating ourselves - or do we?

     In March of this year, researchers completed a study which concluded a certain degree of our ability to experience varying levels of happiness is indeed genetic. Likewise, there are studies which reveal the genetic markers controlling the degree to which humans will experience shyness as well as other behaviors such as hostility.  The secular, scientific age we live in gives us partial answers to age old questions. Yet, in spite of these conclusions, science is not able to categorically conclude all behavior or personality is something we are born with or derived solely from biology. It appears that at least fifty percent is left to chance and it is within that fifty percent we are either shaped by our own ability to decide or we are shaped by circumstance and other variables such as the influences of family, peers or society. 

     Self knowledge can be identified early in life. Certain symbols can become life long certainties. Like a ballerina spotting an object while she twirls, there can be focal points which remain with us always. These are decisions we formed on our own and are hard to dislodge. For a long time, I have privately referred to it as the Rosebud Theory and I base it on my own love of pink rosebuds. I can personally remember as far back as two years of age, wanting and needing to see, wear, have pink rosebuds.  It was visceral. I wanted my dresses to be adorned with them, I was drawn to baby dolls with “rosebud” mouths. Illustrations in picture books decorated with rosebud borders became my favorites. No matter what I have done or experienced in life, the one constant has been rosebuds.  Metaphorical rosebuds for sure, represented by the kind of books I like to read, the movies I like to watch, the hobbies I have. All are akin to the romantic beauty of a rosebud. This is the self I create and hold sacred; and while it may not necessarily be a ’rosebud’ for other people, I believe there is something similarly representative in everyone’s deeply embedded core. Something, which, like a rosebud, remains constant to define them, on their terms and will unfurl to become a complex person based on the bud that defines our innate preferences.

      When a boat is tethered by a single line to a dock, it may drift in a myriad of directions. Depending on the conditions of the wind it may drift close to the edge of the dock, safely bumping against the moorings, sheltered somewhat from the wider lake. Or, the wind may kick up and pull the boat out far from the dock, the line taut and strained to a breaking point, far from the original source of safety.  Humans are like this. We can be influenced by forces, be they powerful personalities or intervening circumstances, to drift a long way from our original mooring.  It may be hard to remain tethered to ideas we form on our own. We may indeed find the influence of ideas we encounter or people we meet overpowering and may even abandon convictions, change our behavior based on the tug of society’s powerful currents.  These changes may occur through personal choice or in subtle forms of coercion

    It is human nature to believe you are in charge of your opinions or actions. And while, as I briefly alluded to, science can explain some of our behavior as being genetic it also  makes sense this genetic basis is malleable.  In the happiness study I referred to, the researchers were able to conclude a person’s ability to increase their degree of happiness was dependent on circumstance. So while our “happiness set point” might be  one we are born with, the effects of circumstance can increase or decrease our propensity to experience true happiness. Likewise, it is logical to assume other kinds of circumstance can alter who we are or think we are.

     During the run up to the recent election, I found it intriguing to read the brief, yet explosive posts written on the social networking sight ‘Twitter’.  One in particular caught my eye. The person posting posited the question “Is it possible to be married to someone who votes opposite you?” The responses that poured in were overwhelmingly “NO!” This reaction made me wonder how many of those relationships were genuinely comprised of two individuals who came to a relationship with completely sympathetic views.  I pondered the possibility of one personality overcoming another to accomplish such a completely synchronized view.  In this way, it is easy to see the extent to which others can create us. If the tables were turned, perhaps if the individual was married to another kind of voter, their preference would or could be altered.  Like the boat tethered to the dock, the wind whips you in one direction or another and the circumstances of the situation, the inter-personal relationships, alters what may lie at your core. 

     However, you may never relinquish your most deeply held love of rosebuds...


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Dating Game - 21st Century

Lately, I find I find myself thinking the cosmic plates of history and the world are shifting.  I wonder if we are in the middle of a tsunami of cultural change. If we are, I am going to be like that girl in some asteroid movie I saw once and just stand on the proverbial beach and let the wave wash over me. It is all in motion and all inevitable, so why even think about it? I am completely sure I was not what Darwin had in mind when he was having his "I could have had a V-8" moment about survival of the fittest.  

I loved dating. I had the best boyfriend in high school. On alternate Fridays, he took me to Ponderosa Steakhouse and then a movie. He gave me pretty gifts like music boxes and lockets. I bought him shirts he hated and record albums and Brute colonge. We wrote 'like' letters that became love letters.  No, I did not marry him, but I cherish him just the same. It was a ritual, it was a necessary step toward what would come later. I loved being in love. I loved the possibility of marriage. I blatently and with premeditation, dreamt about wedding dresses. I tore pages out of Brides Magazine and kept them in my underwear drawer. Yes, I know. That is wrong. It is silly and probably the result of societal brainwashing. I was probably suffering from a national, gigantic version of Stockholm Syndrome. 

So, when I came across this article about the state of dating, I experienced my usual five stages of culture shock:  hot flash, denial, melancholy, relief I am past this crap, and finally, the shrug, which for me, passes as acceptance... See? I am definitely not a survivor, I will always, in the end, just shrug my shoulders and watch old movies with a vengeance. It is my recurring theme, my inner Betty Crocker...



Words to Live By

" desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil - widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower."

Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) Middlemarch

People who visit