Tag Archives: books

The fish and the hairdryer

SmokedRainbowTroutDo you like smoked fish? I do, a lot. Nom nom nom! It’s full of that famous new type of flavor, umami, which distinguishes simple salt and vinegar, sugar and bitter, from luscious savoriness. It’s fun to eat a generous helping of that stuff, but really, very little is needed to be satisfying. It tends to be expensive because of the labor that goes into making it and the small amount produced, what with the wood chopping and the long drying at low temperatures, but that doesn’t stop me from standing at the display at the corner store and feeling myself starting to drool at the vacuum-sealed package of peppered smoked trout.

There are many and varied editions of anecdotes from the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who were Christian monastics, mostly from Egypt of the very early middle ages, and some from the Russian steppes of the early modern period. (Wait, this is connected!)

51hM9lR63QL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_One monk who lived out in the Egyptian countryside got a hankering for smoked fish. Smoked fish not exactly growing on trees in the desert, he had to walk to town to get some. He walked miles and miles with his mind preoccupied by the fabulous thought of a bite of smoked fish. (Being poor, he probably could afford no more than a bite.)

Finally, he got to the town, and suddenly realized that he had put an immense amount of time and labor toward acquiring nothing but a flavor that would be gone in minutes. “This is nucking futs,” he said to himself, or whatever early medieval Egyptian monks said to that effect. He repented of his gluttony. He turned around and walked all the way back to his home in the desert where, I imagine, in the typical monastic fashion he had bread, water, and probably nuts and dried fruits.

For over a decade, my doctor begged me to find some kind of exercise. (Wait, this is connected, too!) “Do what you enjoy doing,” he said. “Maybe you could try walking. Walk five minutes in any direction whatsoever, walk back home, and you’ve got ten minutes done.” I always replied, “No. What I enjoy doing is lying on the floor in front of my computer. A rolling chair like in the movie ‘Wall-E’ would be nice, too.” I am allergic to the term “exercise,” what with its connotations of “fitness” (what, so everyone else is unfit to live?), and sweatiness and heat.

But on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I found myself in a hotel pool paddling back and forth doing laps. I suddenly realized with dismay and logic that I had found the famous “form of physical activity I like,” something I was so prepared to do voluntarily that I had packed my swimsuit in anticipation. So after six weeks of trying to ignore this grim fact, I joined a gym with a pool. I had a suitable gym bag, an extra hair dryer, some slippers.

Andis RC-2 Ionic 1875W Ceramic Hair DryerSo the first thing I did after my pleasant first swim at the gym was to go on a shopping quest, to look for a new hair dryer. The vast array online offers so many desirable qualities! Quiet, lightweight, folding, powerful, with a retractile cord, professional sturdiness, and all the cascading bounty of “ions” a girl could ever want. So much nicer than the old ones I have. I spent an hour or so putting many models into my wishlist. Such a technological upgrade!

And then, like the monk who wanted smoked fish, I suddenly said, “This is nucking futs.” I have a perfectly good hairdryer I use at home, and I had bought it as a quieter replacement to the one I keep in my until now-unused gym bag. To spend an hour selecting a third when I have two that work fine? That’s nucking futs!

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.

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