Not-Reading

I’m well into Ulysses (which means, I’ve started it and have yet to run shrieking from the room) and might even have some things to say about that in a day or so or more.  But I also have two other books underway and wanted to tell you about them because of one simple fact they have in common: I’m not actually reading either one of those, if by reading you mean holding a book in your hand and sitting down with a cup of tea and maybe a cookie, or just sitting on a train with the book on your lap which, if you don’t know by now, are the two ways I read.

The first book I’m not reading is The Aeneid. Although Virgil wasn’t an oral poet like Homer, (I looked that up to make sure I wasn’t just manufacturing that statement — here), it’s a poem that’s written in the oral tradition and is well suited to being read aloud. So I went over to audible.com and discovered that there’s an audiobook of the Fagles translation I got for Christmas and I listened to the sample, and on came this guy with one of those wonderful, delicious British voices that could make a reading of the California Code of Civil Procedure a thing of wonder and mystery and before I knew it I was a lifetime member of audible.com, and the head of delish Brit’s fan club. And yes, it’s true, when he starts talking I find I can barely breathe. I wish his name wasn’t Simon Callow, though, but if I think of him as Delish Brit, I’m okay.

So far, I’ve gotten up to the point where Aeneas makes it to Carthage, and Dido is about to fall in love with him. Poor Dido. The whole thing is quite wonderful. I listened to it yesterday while I was on a walk around our neighborhood, and although I would sometimes drift off into a weird reverie induced by the beautiful voice of Delish Brit, I believe I was really only absent from the story for a moment or two because I do know what happened and I have some coherent thoughts forming about the gods, and about the structure of the story. There are hours to go, and I’m so glad, because I don’t ever want to say goodbye to Mr. Delish Brit.

And then there’s DailyLit (or litbit, which makes it a sort of cousin of delishbrit, see paragraph above). I read about DailyLit today on the 9rules blog. You probably already know about litbit, because it seems tailor-made for bookish sorts, but basically, they slice up great books (the ones that aren’t under copyright anymore and so can be sliced up) and email them to you in tiny, daily packages. I considered doing that with Ulysses for about ten seconds — until I saw that it would take about 322 days before I finished. I think I can read (and skim) faster than that.

But I did see something I liked the look of, something that’s a perfect marriage of the efficient litbit form and the book itself, somthing that looked like too much fun to pass up — an early 20th century self-help book, Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (which is actually part of a larger Bennett project called, simply enough How to Live).

And so today, I received my first bit of Bennett on the question of how to live on 24 hours a day, which is actually this question: how do you get a really huge number of things done every day. And the answer? You’ve got to stop sleeping so damned much.

Turns out (no surprise to me, but maybe he found it surprising), lots of people think they can’t do that. And in 1925, when he wrote this book, the biggest problem people had with getting up early was this: “I couldn’t begin [the day] without some food, and servants.”

Ah. Servants. Now, food, I’d have guessed, but there aren’t any servants around at 5 a.m. was not on my list of the top ten reasons why I can’t get up early. Still, Arnold Bennett has the answer for this problem of how on earth we can get up early if there aren’t any servants around and it turns out to be a pretty good answer, and one I’m going to try to implement myself:

“Surely, my dear sir, in an age when an excellent spirit-lamp (including a saucepan) can be bought for less than a shilling, you are not going to allow your highest welfare to depend upon the precarious immediate co-operation of a fellow creature! Instruct the fellow creature [in my case, I suppose this would be my husband], whoever she may be, at night. Tell her to put a tray in a suitable position over night. On that tray two biscuits, a cup and saucer, a box of matches and a spirit-lamp; on the lamp, the saucepan; on the saucepan, the lid– but turned the wrong way up; on the reversed lid, the small teapot, containing a minute quantity of tea leaves. You will then have to strike a match–that is all.

“In three minutes the water boils, and you pour it into the teapot (which is already warm). In three more minutes the tea is infused. You can begin your day while drinking it. These details may seem trivial to the foolish, but to the thoughtful they will not seem trivial. The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.”

I’d like to repeat this and put it in bold italics because it strikes me as the most important thing I’ve heard yet this year: The proper, wise balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.

Okay, I’m with him. I do indeed believe that a lot of things depend on tea. (In your case, this might be another beverage, and I am perfectly fine with that.) And if tea could be arranged at, say 5 in the morning, I might, just might, drag myself out of bed and read some more of Ulysses. Especially if there’s a nice tray already set out and waiting for me with a biscuit or two on it. Who knows, with tea and a biscuit or two I might even finish Ulysses before 2008.

A Bunch of Gorgeous Guys

A few days ago, I thought I’d do a little computer housekeeping. You know, erase the 26 episodes of the Daily Show I’ve been hoarding, see if Jon Stewart’s the reason why I keep getting the spinning disco ball whenever I try to do online banking. And while I was at it, I thought I’d put some documents in folders of my own choosing, maybe even answer some emails. That sort of thing.

But what began as a quick cleanup occupied the better part of two days.

That’s because at the same time I was doing my electronic housekeeping, I was also taking care of a flu-stricken 11 year old boy. He seemed to regress every six hours into an even more helpless version of himself. Every time I started to do something that required concentration, he’d shout my name (which is mom, by the way, but pronounced like it’s a three syllable word, like this: maaaaahhhh-ahhhhh-aaaahhhhhmmm). And then, when I’d come running upstairs to see if he needed immediate medical attention, he’d ask me to do something like hand him the glass of water that was on the bedside table inches away from his hand.

Before long, I was muttering dark things about the male sex and their well-known difficulty dealing with illness. Right around then, I got to my iPhoto library. And right around then, any irritation I might have felt about having to take care of a helpless pre-teen was banished. You see, dear reader, what I found on my computer was something that made me look at men and boys in a completely different way. I discovered — right in front of my eyes — six gorgeous, inspiring, amazing 21st century male role models. And I didn’t even know that’s who they were when I took their pictures. It could be that’s because most of them were dressed in Halloween costumes. Still, here they are — the sort of men I wouldn’t mind any of my sons growing up to become, after he gets over the flu, I mean, and starts growing up again:

I’ll start with Farmer Jonah. He’s new at the school. The regular school farmer is named Farmer Ben. But his first baby arrived over the summer and he took a leave. He won’t be back until January. So Farmer Jonah arrived. He’s dressed, in case you’re wondering, as a giant ear of corn. Obviously, he is not bothered by itchy things and he loves the garden. He’s a gentle soul — and very funny.

Oh, here’s Farmer Jasper. He dressed up as an ear of corn for Halloween too. In this picture, though, he’s holding a giant sign he and Farmer Jonah made. It announces the First Annual JackRabbit Juice-A-Thon, in which I assume, things will be liquefied and then drunk. He’s explaining this to a child in the lunchroom. Y ou will also note that he is wearing a sticker. It says I voted. And a good thing too. Thanks to Farmer Jasper and others like him, we now have the first woman House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi.

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Farmer Ben came by the school on Halloween. I’m pretty sure he’s dressed as Che Guevara. His daughter’s very cute. As is he. All the farmers at the school have lovely patches of color on their cheeks because they’ve been working hard showing children how to juice things and how to bring in the harvest. Everyone misses Farmer Ben. He could be counted on to play long games of kickball after school. He went to this school when he was a child. The children love that.

This is Damian. He’s the student teacher in my son’s classroom. He plays the congas. He was responsible for the spirited parade around the neighborhood on Halloween.

He’s also a wicked dancer, even when he has a lollipop in his mouth. Here he is with my son’s teacher. What you don’t see is the swirl of little kids all around him, dancing along.

Here’s Luis. He’s one of the fifth grade teachers. He dressed up as a very natty Latino guy. Come to think of it, Luis IS a very natty Latino guy. It’s just he doesn’t usually do his hair like a pop star.

Luis is a fabulous kickball player. He and Farmer Ben are the go-to guys for kickball. But in Farmer Ben’s absence, Peter’s been in charge. Peter works in the afterschool program. It was dusk when I took this picture, but here he is, Peter, a man who loves hanging out with children:

One last note, something I think registers a sea change in what it means to be male. Peter is wearing Ugg boots. The kind of boots Kate Hudson wears.They’re not very practical for kickball. So, when they started getting in his way, he took them off and played in his bare feet. He was very matter of fact about it. He liked those boots. But he didn’t need to try to run in them. Every child out there, including the little girls who’d been wearing those princess shoes that kill your feet earlier in the day, must have been delighted to see Peter take those boots off and run around the playground barefoot. It’s probably not allowed, regulation-wise, but as a model of how to get around your gender get-up, it seemed perfect to me.

And that’s what all these men have in common. They’re very male — but they also mix it up with things you’d think of as female: they dance, they dress up for Halloween as sexy pop stars, they wear impractical shoes, they show little kids how to make juice, they take time off to be with their new baby. And they all play a really fine game of kickball and every single one of them has chosen a job where they look after children and teach them how to grow up in the 21st century, a time when maybe men and women will be allowed to be whoever they want to be.