Q: How best to handle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
A: Adriana advocates blood oranges (mixed with a few other ingredients); Patrick uses a light box. Jane takes lovely photos, and Carmen plans (then actually takes) exotic trips around the globe. Jenna does karaoke; Melissa does yoga. We all eat chocolate whenever possible.
The kids aren't feeling it at all; they are cozy on the couch right now, happy as Larry while watching House of Flying Daggers. They're still feeling fresh from a couple of hours outside hurling melting snow at one another with their lacrosse sticks.
I've been feeling logy all day. Adding to my low spirits, the cardigan in the photo above has been taunting me from the top of my dresser. I've been wanting to knit this particular sweater for years. The pattern is from Simply Beautiful Sweaters, by Beryl Hiatt and Linden Phelps, the first pattern book I bought after taking up knitting again about eight years ago. It calls for two luxurious yarns, both by Welsh yarn sorceress Colinette: Fandango, a chunky cotton chenille (I chose Velvet Leaf ), and Zanziba, a funky thick-thin viscose blend (I used the Lilac colorway). It was an easy sweater to knit, but the finishing was very time consuming.
I sewed it together a while back, then realized AFTER weaving in about 7 billion ends that I'd messed up the crocheted border on the right side. Look: the left side is perfectly straight, indicating that I was paying attention as I crocheted approximately two stitches to every three rows of knitting (thank you, Elizabeth Zimmerman and Theresa Vinson Stenersen). I must have done the right side during a particularly gripping part of some movie, however; that buckling you see means I've put in too many stitches. Not quite as frustrating as receiving the critique "Too many notes," but close.
There's nothing for it but to redo that side, which actually won't take long. It's just demoralizing to contemplate, as is the rain falling outside my window right now. Everything is gray and drippy.
My SAD coping mechanism this week has been working on a cardigan for Daniel, using Haiku, another genius knitting pattern brought to you for free by the ever fabulous Knitty.com. I'm using Filatura di Crosa Primo superwash wool in bright blue. It's soft, yet crisp enough for great stitch definition, so the box stitch interspersed with a lot of garter looks terrific.
I bought the yarn when I was pregnant with Daniel, intending to make him a tiny sweater. He's now a strapping almost-three-year-old; I only bought four skeins, which means I won't have enough of the blue. I figure, though, that I can do an Asian-type color block thing with another color (maybe a turquoise or a clear yellow; I'll have to see what Penelope has in stock). A trip to Knittingsmith is antidote for almost any problem, I've found.
But I think I'll take a break from Haiku for the moment and see if I can't tackle that Colinette cardigan edge. Finally getting to wear that lovely fiber will definitely help chase away my winter blues.
Get crafty Christian--he saw a Wikihow article on making a model of the Starship Enterprise out of a floppy disk, and he got right to it. All the kids are now enthusiastic Trekkies, since Santa brought all three seasons of the original series on DVD to our house this year. Daniel runs around with an action figure he calls "Mr. Spot." Once or twice a week, the whole family curls up on the den couch to watch an episode or two together. It's been terrific fun. Bonus: the kids now understand just exactly how funny Galaxy Quest is. Or they will once they've visited a real live SF convention.
Speaking of which, I'm about to send off my early registration for Readercon. Years ago I went with my friend Deb to Readercon and fell in love. Deb and I returned the following year, but after that, I was on maternity leave for quite a while.
You won't see folks running around in Klingon uniforms at Readercon, just a lot of really smart people who love good books, science, and conspiracy theories. Sound familiar? Oh yeah, baby; I'm pretty much a pig in mud when I'm there. The panels are terrific and the bookstore is great.
Last year, my best pal Kara and I applied and were admitted to Readercon's Writers' Workshop, led by Steven Popkes. We got a lot of valuable input from Popkes and the other students and came away inspired, energized, and validated about our own writing. The other highlight was the infamous Kirk Poland Bad Prose Competition. There are no words to describe how funny this event always is. It alone is worth the price of registration and the trip to Burlington, Mass. No, REALLY.
Last year's Guest of Honor was that rock star of the SF world, China Mieville. His book Perdido Street Station is one of the best works of speculative fiction that I've ever read (and I've read quite a few). China was even more satisfying to listen to on the panels than he is to read: funny, literate, thoughtful, bold. Note to self: stop swooning at the memory. This year's Guests of Honor look fabulous as well: Lucius Shepard and Karen Joy Fowler. I've just ordered a couple of their books in preparation for learning at their feet (and for getting signed as I tell them what a Big Fan I am of Their Work). Can't wait!
In the meantime, the kids' school has asked me to give a presentation on speculative fiction to the entire second grade in April. I've got to come up with something interactive and engaging to do with 60+ 8-year-olds for 45 minutes. Yikes. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Karen, Melissa, and I had carpooled to Book Group over at Camilla's house in Golden’s Bridge, chatting the entire time. On the way home, after I dropped off my two friends, I turned on the radio. I had for company someone playing the piano. I half-recognized the piece, but there was something so different about what I was hearing that I didn’t make the connection for a minute or two. Then it hit me with a flash: it was Bach’s Goldberg Variations. And played on the piano, not the harpsichord—but it didn’t sound like Glenn Gould.
I find it particularly appropriate to listen to this piece of music when the rest of the world is asleep. Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations for a Count who struggled with insomnia; the Count had asked Bach to write some clavier exercises to be played in the middle of the night, something to soothe and cheer him through long, sleepless hours. The Variations are named after the Count’s talented young harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; I imagine the poor young man being roused from slumber on any given night to play for his patron, because the Count apparently never tired of hearing them.
The Variations were published in Bach’s lifetime, but for many years afterward were regarded as dry, rather difficult pieces to be played on the harpsichord. In the middle of the 20th century, however, a brilliant young pianist changed popular opinion of Bach’s piece forever.
I know Gould’s landmark 1955 recording of the Goldberg Variations as well as I know any piece of music. I’ve listened to it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. It has been a great friend to me, as the Variations were for the Count who commissioned them. But what I was hearing Friday night was so alien: haunting, personal, almost painful in its execution, where the version I know—lively, technically flawless—evokes a detached, peaceful mood.
Puzzled, I drove on and thought about our meeting earlier. We had had a intelligent and compassionate dicussion of a modern classic: Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner. Its main character, Susan Burling Ward, has chronic myopia when it comes to the life she has chosen; throughout her life, she compares her situation unfavorably to that of her best friend, Augusta. She doesn’t realize that she has within her grasp all the ingredients for a wonderful existence. Her interpretation of herself, the reader easily sees, is faulty. She has, in fact, married the better man; her life of ‘exile,’ as she terms it, has defined and refined her work as an artist, not limited it.
One woman in our group raised a question: How do you know when to be content? In other words, when you are in the middle of living one of life’s countless challenges, how do you stop looking over the fence at seemingly greener grass? It’s a good question, and an old one, one that has given philosophers pause for centuries. After a lot of thought on the topic myself, I think the secret lies in our interpretation of what we’ve been given.
Happiness is a choice; for some it’s a harder choice than for others, but it is there all the same. One need look no further than Victor Frankl for proof of this truth. I myself have been given all the components for a perfect life: good health, every temporal comfort, lovely friends and children, meaningful work, and a dear man who loves me.
But if I’m not careful, I can take the route Stegner’s heroine takes. I can focus exclusively on what I see as being wrong: my weight; brain chemistry that defaults to a baseline level of melancholia; the current state of our yard; the child who is misbehaving on any given day: the list could go on for quite a while, if I let it. But that interpretation of my life is a sure path to misery; I believe this is one of the points Stegner is making in his beautiful book.
Once home, I sat in my dark car in the driveway for few minutes so that I could discover the identity of my mystery musician. At the stroke of midnight, after the last few notes of the Aria died away, Bill McGlaughlin came on the air and informed me that it was, indeed, Glenn Gould playing the Variations—but that this was a performance recorded shortly before Gould’s death in 1982.
This was the same music played by the same artist I thought I knew so well. But the interpretation was so different that it changed the piece completely. Older, wiser, at the end of his life, Gould let his life inform his art and transform it; he put himself wholly into his work, and both were changed thereby.
Stop looking over the fence and start doing all you can to green up what you’ve got. Take plenty of time to rejoice in its verdure, and take plenty of time pay respects to the Source of all that is good and green. It is simpler to write than it is to live, but the secret to happiness is in the interpretation.
I'm starting a Needlework Group! I know that many of us have half-finished (or never-started) projects in closets and cupboards. There they sit in the dark, waiting for us to have a big block of time to get them out and work on them. But we are busy, and our projects languish.
Let them languish no more. The second Monday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., I'll provide my living room, protected from the elements and stocked with good snacks (feel free to add to the stash), as a meeting and working space. We'll get together, visit, support one another's creative endeavors, and eat. Please join me--come when you can, leave when you must. It'll be great.
I look forward to seeing you this Monday, 12 February! Call me or email me if you need directions.