Sunday, January 29, 2012

Possessions, Pathology and a Reading List

Curtains at last!
Yesterday, after vacuuming and scrubbing the floor, I pulled out and catalogued my fabric stash, from the suitcase, the bin bag, the potato sack and the holdall.  Everything.  I now know that I have the materials to make 26 garments.  I am not proud.  I suspect I do not even like some of those materials, but at least they are listed and quantified.

Over the past week, I have been reading Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill.  The premise of the book is the rediscovery of a lifetime's reading collection around the author's home, the chance groupings of like and unlike texts and the memories associated with each.  The outcome of her year-long survey was a list of 40 books she could not live without, an idiosyncratic list, but all the more interesting for it.  It made me regret the purging of my library before I came North.  I whittled it down to three boxes, donating many many more to a London University library and a Walthamstow charity shop.  Where are those books now, I wonder?

At the same time I have been dipping in and out of The Wonderful Weekend Book by Elspeth Thompson. It is subtitled: "How to reclaim life's simple pleasures" and sets out to cover similar ground to Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach, a book I keep by my bedside at all times.  But I am afraid the Wonderful Weekend irritated me in that special way reserved for (whisper it) J.B. the author of a famous domesticity blog / books.  In one word: privilege.  I can't cope with it.  Shoulder chip?  Moi? Absolutely.

Moving on, and I am currently immersed in The Stranger in the Mirror by Jane Shilling.  Subtitled "A Memoir of Middle Age", it is speaking to me.  So much of this is familiar.  And frequent references to Virginia Woolf only serve to endorse what she writes and make it... true.  But I was bristling at a quote from Simone de Beauvoir of the "Pathological Creativity" of middle-aged women.  Pathological?!  Because we can no longer make babies we manufacture endless and pointless knitted and crocheted artefacts.  Ouch!  I need to go back to The Second Sex.  I remember being totally taken with it in my teens.

Jane Shilling writes about observing her mother and her grandmother, and their relative acceptances of age and aging.  And about having to choose "which parent to save", deciding to leave her father in a nursing home for a week in order to take her mother on holiday, returning to find him withdrawn and terribly alone.  It is not an easy read but it feels like an important one. 

Last night, as I was curled up on the sofa with The Stranger..., FL got up from sleeping in his chair and shuffled through to the toilet.  Shortly afterwards there was an almighty crash.  I ran through to find he had tried to reach above his head to switch on the bathroom heater, overbalanced and fallen backwards, hitting himself on the bath and pulling the towel rail off the wall on his way down.  He claimed to be "fine" but he stayed in bed longer than usual this morning and has not gone out to meet his friends at the golf club.  He has a new vulnerability.  This is what aging really means:  the subtle changes that lead to a loss of independence, the worry of leaving a partner on their own in case of an accident. 

Today I indulged in Angry Cleaning.  This is how I let off steam when I am scared or worried:  I scrub and scour and tidy and restore order.  The kitchen reeks of bleach.  The dog is hiding in his basket.  I will finish writing this and then pick up my pathological knitting or perhaps another book.

Also on the windowsill:
The Age of Shiva
The Proof of Love
Spin Cycle
Alone Together
and (not pictured)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


House of Pinheiro said...

Hi Ruth, yesterday I was digging into my stash too.. I clean up 5 bags of scraps/ left over and cataloged into piles .. I even used to sew a quick skirt... When you know what you have it's so fun to think what to do..

Christine Laennec said...

Your stash purge and Angry Cleaning sound like productive ways of using up energy, as long as you feel better afterwards. I'm really sorry to hear about FL's fall. I imagine it's the bruised pride that hurts the most. I know a few older people who are going through similar things: one man has twice fainted in church and now feels he can't come back because of it. Part of me wants to argue, "We don't mind!" and most of me knows we need to respect his decision. I do hope that FL will get back to golf, which I imagine is EVEN better for one's health than church! ;-)

Re. de Beauvoir, I have always found her a bit depressing, if revolutionary. I have to agree with Jean Leighton who says that de Beauvoir "shares in part the anti-feminism she condemns".

didyoumakethat said...

You write the most beautiful blog posts, even when angry and frustrated. I always love your book recommendations, even if I don't immediately order them - so much lined up to read. Eek - challenging reads, indeed.

Ambermoggie, a fragrant soul said...

Oh my dear what can I say? I know some small part of what you are going through but that doesn't help you I know. My thoughts are with you both and sending much positive energy your way for the cleaning and all else. Btw I love your book lists

kbenco said...

You write so well.
I wonder how Simone De Beauvoir would describe her writing? In her truly awful life, surely it served a similar purpose to "pathological creativity". Of course one could always just watch televsion instead of making things. How dull.

Susie Hemingway said...

I am so sorry to read of FL's fall - praying he is ok and taking it easy now. Keep strong lovely lady.

Clare said...

I'm also annoyed with the SdeB comment - if only I had the hours in the day to be pathologically creative!! hmph - privilege indeed!

Miss M said...

My stash of garment yarn is roughly in the same order of greatness as your stash of garment fabric. And it takes a while longer to knit something than to sew it. *sigh* I should really get on that. Bad Miss M.

And darling, I do hope FL is ok. I worry about him sometimes, mostly when I cycle or run past the golf club and see the old gentlemen playing a slow round. And I hope you're well too. Smooches!

Katherine said...

I agree that the JB style books can be irritating because of the privilege factor, but did you know that Elspeth Thompson sadly committed suicide? Sometimes these 'perfect world' books/articles/blogs can be hiding darker thoughts. Which is not to say that you still can't find them irritating of course. I always come away with a feeling of 'you do know you can only do this because you have money, don't you?'.

Hope FL gets over his fall.

Sarahel said...

'This is what ageing really means....' You are so right. My OH tripped and fell 2 weeks ago while we were out, fortunately with little resulting damage. But I thought 'we've reached this point', and have since learnt indirectly that this was not the first time. I so feel for both of you.

Oh, and I admire your resulting cleaning frenzy. Sadly my reactions do not manifest in so useful a way.

Roobeedoo said...

Katherine - yes I knew about Elspeth T's tragic end. As a result I had to edit out a comment I had written re J.B.: "in case she haunts me" - not exactly sensitive!

Everyone - thanks again! You really MUST read Jane Shilling.

Gaylene said...

Hope FL is recovering. I'm afraid my inner curious bitch got the better of me, so had to trawl around to identify 'JB'.....i'm not very well blog-read, and definitely now see your point. Thanks though for an uplifting reading list. All best wishes.

Sigrid said...

I always love your reading lists and I am going to order some of these form the library. I have had a difficult relationship with Ms. de Beauvoir myself, and learning more about her life and relationships has made my impression of her arrogance even stronger.

"Pathological creativity"? I have enjoyed that off and on through out my life, but it was at it's worst during my 2nd pregnancy, which sort of blows her theory.

Roobeedoo said...

Sigrid - ha! Love that comment! I seem to remember that happening to me to: the quilt made up of 1-inch squares of fabric? Definitely pathological and pregnancy-induced!