Category Archives: No space for it

Where the heart(h) is: Staying home, spiritually

RediscoveryofManThis is difficult to post, because I know that many of you will disagree with my decision.

From childhood through college, I was a tremendous reader of books. Then in graduate school, this tapered off. Then the internet came of age as a popular phenomenon, and after discovering news and debate sites like Zero Hedge, I have hardly gone back to reading books again, despite owning a computer and someone having given me a nice Kindle. I currently read on average maybe one or two books a year, typically light reading. Not infrequently, one of those books is fiction by Cordwainer Smith, the Christian science fiction author, whose writing I find enormously comforting.

SpiritofHappinessHowever, I have a lot of religious books on my Amazon wishlist, more than I can read in a couple of decades, at the rate I am going. I have been struggling for weeks to get through “In the Spirit of Happiness” by the Monks of New Skete, and while it is definitely not a difficult book, books no longer pull me through them the way they used to. When reading, I walk into the wind.

The books from outside my religious tradition are on my wishlist mostly from idle curiosity, to see what other brands taste like — from basic shopaholism. They are not there from a true wish to deepen my religious experience. Keeping them on my Amazon wishlist is pure vanity to flatter myself with what a broad thinker I am, or plan to be, someday, when I buy those books. Right.

So here is the difficult decision that I am sure some of you will disagree with: I am going to remove from my wishlist all religious books from outside my own religious tradition.

BrotherLawrenceYes, these other books can be of value. Yes, they can be deep. I’m not covering my ears and shouting “Lalalalala.”

I am an enormous fan of “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and cannot recommend it too highly. I run across sayings by various Buddhist teachers and think they must be very perceptive people to say things like that.

But in the remainder of a lifetime that is growing shorter by the minute, I have to be realistic about the time I have left. Not to be melodramatic about it, really: There is the simple saying that in every gardener’s lifetime there are only a finite number of seasons in which to grow things. And none of us has more time left today than we did yesterday.

Is there really enough time left in life to plumb the depths of that lovable, wonderful, frustrating, central book of the Bible, its prayerbook, the Psalter that teaches you many ways to speak to God? (Buy a good useful edition here that guides you through a reading of the entire book of Psalms once a week — every week, if you wish.)

ElchaninovI do not plan to retire from work before I have to, and furthermore, I know from experience that should I have a serious illness, I just won’t have the concentration to read a book. (I spent one entire hospital stay fascinated by a little cosmetic catalog, which was all my mind could handle.) For the first time in my life, I have recently taken up exercise, which my doctors have long begged me to do. And so, because of the limits to the time left in my life, I find that my own religious tradition has enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

Suppose someday I convert to another religion: That is the proper time to look for books from another tradition! But now, now is the time to grow within my own.

Too snug

I started out by writing some nonsense about not having posted for over a week because I was struggling with a topic. Indeed, my next post will be an Observation, and those always take a little longer to write.

However, the main truth about my silence was that in my constant war against overflow of the “bathtub” of my SRO, I’ve had to turn my emotional attention, slowly and very reluctantly, from shopaholism to hoarding.

Packratting is boring compared to shopaholism: I don’t want to gather up all my trash, then walk it down two storeys to the garbage depot, and then walk back up. Same story, again and again. And the more days I am in denial, as I have been this past week, the worse it gets.

At this time of year, facing my clutter is even more difficult. I don’t want to deal with the gifts that people give me, so I leave them here and there half-opened so that the boxes and wrappers snag on me when I try to walk from one place to another in my little home. (Let’s see if I get to the Harry and David’s basket before the pears go bad.) Then there’s the problem of the original boxes that things were shipped to me in that aren’t nice enough to use to give people their presents in. And now I don’t have space to gather up trash as I usually do, so the bags and boxes from needful things like food and prescriptions pile up, ready for me to slip and fall on and for vermin to explore

It’s like the huge garbage whorls in the Pacific Ocean. There’s the big patch by the sink, the patch between my computer and the window, the patch by the door on the closet side, the patch by the door on the other side…

It always amazes me that in about ten days I can go from imagining that I’ve got my hoarding sort of under control to finding that I’m living in quite unpleasant circumstances of my own making. Given that my place is only 8′ x 10′, I shouldn’t be so surprised at how fast this happens, but the sudden ballooning always takes me unawares. I really do feel like Alice (in Wonderland) panicking at how small my room has become so quickly.

I took a couple of little presents to the foyer and put them on the freecycle shelf for someone else to use as their Christmas presents for people in their lives, but that’s not nearly enough to make up for the chaos reigning rampant in my home.

So I am sorry not to have written as I regularly do, but I think the hoarding situation is urgent enough for me to sign off now and put some sweat into dealing with the mess. Housekeeping requires a completely different sort of asceticism from restraining shopaholism, but it is ascetic nonetheless.

640px-Pacific-garbage-patch-map_2010_noaamdp

A delusion, not a fantasy

The waiting room in Radiation Oncology had as its focal point a big, expensive saltwater aquarium full of colorful fishes with lovely cool blue illumination. The fish were not just the center of attention; they were celebrities who got the most flattering light in the place. The walls were off-white yellow and the fluorescents the old-fashioned greenish kind, so all the humans in the room looked utterly drained of hemoglobin, as if the Angel of Death had drifted by, as, perhaps, it had.

As the treatments progressed, I realized that the lighting in the clinic was not solely to blame — I really was turning pale. Blusher became not a grooming accessory but the way to keep from looking like a cold ivory carving.

After I recovered, I kept wearing blusher, because I never did regain all my color. Blusher (or rouge, as my mother called it) makes me feel more confident and energetic. The range of tints is wider than one might imagine, and selecting just the right colors of blush and lipstick each day is a minute of calm pleasure in the morning rush.

I discovered that blush looks so stripey or dotty on most people because they actually use the doll-sized brushes that come with the compact. Cosmetics are no exception to the need for the right tool for the job. So I became fascinated by blush brushes in all their many shapes – flat, oval, fan, round, angled.

da Vinci 332 large travel blush brushI bought just two, though, from Bdellium and Mary Kay. They were perfectly fine, but they could not keep me from obsessing over the luxury collection of da Vinci brand makeup brushes. In particular, I pined for the $65 large retracting travel blush brush in a gleaming metal case. I imagined how smoothly the mechanism must work, how soft the brush must feel and how evenly its perfectly domed fluffiness would apply color so naturally, as if I really still did have roses in my cheeks. I envisioned myself opening the case, swiveling out the brush, touching it to the lovely pan of color, and making my aging, post-cancer complexion come alive.

But then I realized that the da Vinci brush was so magnificently large, shiny, scratchable, and dentable, it wasn’t practical for daily use in my purse (alongside my headlamp), nor for the one-night “mental health breaks” I take in hotels a few times a year (a chance to soak in a tub, sleep in a bed, and watch TV). This brush was meant for the kind of travel that involves entire weeks away from home.

At that point, the brush came to represent for me a fantasy life of leisure, of weeks spent here and there in five-star hotels, in multiple homes in the great cities of the world, and in a quiet, breezy villa overlooking the blue, blue ocean the color of the aquarium in the Radiation Oncology waiting room, but with the drowsy brushing sound of waves soothing me as I gently used the brush to apply to my skin the shade of lifeblood, even when nobody was around to see, or perhaps too when there was someone special nearby.

All for a clever piece of metal filled with artfully shaped hair for which squirrels doubtless have more practical uses.

The fantasy is having the villa; but the delusion is that owning that brush would get me somehow closer to having the villa, in the manner of sympathetic magic. No, I can daydream about a villa just fine without delusionally spending money on something that I cannot use in its proper manner. But if you are the kind of person who uses the words “summer” and “winter” as verbs, and you use rouge, I recommend this brush highly because it is beautiful and so consistent with your way of life.

Bundt exotica

Bundt CakeYou know what a bundt cake is, even if you may not have known what they are called. They are toroidal cakes that are baked in special pans with a hollow center so that heat can come up and cook from the center, which is why bundt cakes are so much taller than ordinary sheet cakes. Although many recipes can be baked in a bundt pan, the stereotype is a yellow poppyseed cake with lemon glaze drizzled over the top. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad bundt cake – the thick center helps keep them moist.

Wikipedia says:

The Bundt cake derives in part from a European brioche-like fruit cake called Gugelhupf which was popular among Jewish communities in parts of Germany, Austria and Poland.[1] In the north of Germany Gugelhupf is traditionally known as Bundkuchen (German pronunciation: [ˈbʊntkuːxn]), a name formed by joining the two words Kuchen (cake) and Bund.[2]
Opinions differ as to the significance of the word Bund. One possibility is that it means “bunch” or “bundle”, and refers to the way the dough is bundled around the tubed center of the pan.[2] Another source suggests that it describes the banded appearance given to the cake by the fluted sides of the pan, similar to a tied sheaf or bundle of wheat.[3] Some authors have suggested that Bund instead refers to a group of people, and that Bundkuchen is so called because of its suitability for parties and gatherings.[4][5]

Because of the topic of this blog, I don’t often talk about what I want to own that there is no compelling reason not to own, things I really may buy for myself someday.

One of those is a toaster oven. I don’t mean those little things that are sold to college students in August; I mean the spacious ones that are often promoted as “second ovens” (in addition to the one underneath the stove I don’t have in my nonexistent kitchen). I could own a big toaster oven as my One Nice Piece. I could cook far more healthy food in it than the chow from the diner across the way. I just have to get rid of more of my stuff to make space for it. No reason not to own one. I don’t mind the smell of baked food getting into my closet.

320px-Sydney_Opera_House-_2006For years, I have mused on what I can cook in a big toaster oven, ranging from simple chicken and vegetables to olive rolls and brioche. But there is one piece of baking exotica I have wanted for years that I do not think I should own. That is a bundt pan that, instead of being shaped like the usual fluted ring, is shaped something like a cathedral, or, as it looks to me, the Sydney Opera House. (Yes, I guess this is another example of my fascination with tech without moving parts or electricity!)

Nordic Ware, an early and current manufacturer of bundt pans, makes a variety of unusual shapes ranging from a heart, a Star of David, and a rose, to holiday forests and fairytale castles and cottages.

Cathedral bundt pan

The cathedral bundt pan catches my imagination because it’s pretty, it’s unsentimentally stylish, it’s spectacular, it’s sure to elicit comment wherever I take a cake. Most people have never seen anything like it.

But I do not have much use for one. There’s just me to feed at home. My church buys food for its coffee hours instead of going potluck. I would rather buy my coworkers something really special, New Skete Cheesecakes, once or twice a year, in order to support the nuns there. And if I wanted to carry around a cake, I’d have to get a cake carrier. Suddenly, what seemed amusing seems like a whole lot of storage space for the pan and carrier. And you know how much storage space I have. Cake fantasies aside, this is not a fun idea for me any more.

If you, however, like to bake and have a convenient audience and some storage space, I think it would be lots of fun for you to get at least one of the cleverly shaped Nordic Ware bundt pans and play with them. How un-boring they are! We are getting into good baking weather, when it is pleasant to come indoors to enjoy the warmth and fragrance of baking goods. You can make a few cakes and learn the pan’s ways in time for the holiday season. And then you can make gifts that will always be appreciated, as well as something tasty for you and yours. Yum!

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