Tag Archives: Domestic Disturbances

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’m not usually much for New Years Resolutions, but as an impatient and impulsive person, I quite liked this list of 7 Healthy Tips For The Impatient and Impulsive by Charlotte Hilton Andersen at the Huffington Post. I especially liked the admonition to “Call your sister!”

2. I love the concept behind Seth Godin‘s new, free e-book What Matters Now where he asks a bunch of popular bloggers to offer their thoughts on, well…what matters now.

3. If you haven’t yet seen this, it’s worth reading blogger James Chartrand – of Men with Pens fame – come out as a woman and explain why she chose to write as a man.

4. And speaking of lady writers, I was saddened to hear that the NYT.com columnist Judith Warner would be ending her blog Domestic Disturbances, which has frequently given me food for thought on this blog. Read her farewell column here.

5. If you’ve ever sat through a children’s Nativity Play, you’ll laugh out loud with recognition at this account by the (London) Times On Line’s Caitlin Moran. Equally engrossing are these depictions of the Nativity story by various modern artists at The Guardian.

6. Finally, for those who are interested, here are my pieces in PoliticsDaily.com this week:  one on the feasibility of high speed rail in the U.S. and another on how British Courts nearly arrested a former Israeli official on charges of war crimes.

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Nostalgia for a Place: When Time Forces Us To Move On

Nostalgia is most frequently defined as a “longing for the past.” This melancholy, sentimental feeling might be triggered by any number of events:  we stumble upon a journal from our childhood…we watch a documentary about the Kennedy family…someone dies. Or it might happen when we re-visit a location that has a very specific, evocative meaning for our lives – a first home, our elementary school.

This sort of deep attachment to a place – and the bittersweet emotions it evokes – was the subject of an essay by Judith Warner in her NYTimes.com blog, Domestic Disturbances, on Friday. Entitled “Summer’s End,” the essay talks about Warner’s most recent trip back to her family’s second home in France following the death of a close friend over there. It’s a wonderful and far-ranging piece, encompassing themes of aging, mortality, friendship and nostalgia all in one go. But what I found most moving was the “irrational” (her word) attachment she feels towards this house as a sort of alternate anchor to her “real life” in Washington, D.C., even as she recognizes that time itself has changed the house’s meaning irrevocably.

As she writes: “I used to feel that our life in France was as solid, as permanent and unchanging as our little house. Like our identities there, built in the moment, always in the present tense, it existed outside of time. That has changed. Nothing can be taken for granted anymore.”

This sort of nostalgia rooted in place is also the subject of a small, lovely movie that came out last year called “Summer Hours” (L’heure d’été). It’s also set in France and is about a group of (grown) siblings who must come to terms with selling the large country home their family has held for generations. The two younger children – who clearly symbolize modern France  – wish to be done with the burden of keeping up the house and move on. It’s the eldest brother who- while realizing that it would be most practical to sell the house and use the proceeds to finance various family expenditures – can’t quite bear to part with it emotionally. But he, too, is forced to acknowledge that times have changed, his kids have grown up, and the house no longer has the same meaning or use that it once did.

I felt this way myself this summer, when I went to Cape Cod on holiday. Our family vacationed there every August throughout my entire childhood, but I hadn’t been back in nearly 20 years. And this time it felt very different, because for the first time in memory, my father wasn’t there.

My father worked a lot when I was a child, so we didn’t see all that much of him during the school year. But those three weeks in August were a special time for us, because – among other things – he was around. And so when I went back this time with my own children, I felt his absence all the more. I saw him at the beach, plunging into the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean and screaming “It’s toasty warm!” at the top of his lungs. I saw him at the corner store where he used to purchase his signature diet of coffee, cigarettes and newspapers (and comic books for us). The big treat were the days when he’d stuff all four of us into the trunk of the car – sometimes with a cousin or two in tow – and we’d drive the 1-2 miles to the store in complete, exhilarating darkness. And I saw his craggy, time-worn face embedded a thousand times in the stones that line Rock Harbor.

But because he wasn’t there this time, I now saw the Cape as I imagine others do: beautiful and rustic, yes. But also kitschy and tourist-y: a jumble of roadside clam bakes and miniature golf venues. That doesn’t make it any less appealing to me. But it does make it – inevitably – something else.

And I guess that’s what it means to grow up.

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Image: Las Dunas de Cape Cod by Copepodo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Revealed Preferences: Why You (Really) Don't Have Photo Albums

Judith Warner had a nice post the other day on her blog, Domestic Disturbances.

The topic was expectations.

In recounting three different conversations she’d had that week, she’d come to terms with the fact that there were several areas in her life where she just wasn’t doing what she “ought” to be doing:

The weeds choking the garden. The hundreds of digital photos that no one has ever seen. The kid-art that hasn’t been hung. All these undone things, all these instances in which I Fail to Meet Expectations (according to the imaginary report card I update every day), derive their urgency for me from the sense that, if did meet performance standards, then I would be living my life to the fullest.

I could relate. I, too, walk around with what I call my “Panel of Elders” – a semi-circle of aging wise men who collectively monitor my every move. The Supreme Court meets Mt. Rushmore, if you will.

And there’s a lot to be said for Warner’s punchline:  that we just need to let go. Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and all that.

Amen, sister.

Upon reflection, however, I think that the take-away point here extends beyond just lowering the bar. I think it’s also about being honest with ourselves about what we really enjoy and letting the rest fall by the wayside.

Economists have a wonderful concept – revealed preferences – which, in layman’s terms, means something like: “What you want is revealed by what you do, not by what you say.”

To take one of Warner’s examples, I actually know plenty of people who keep up-to-date photo albums or figure out some ingenious (and eye-catching) mechanism for storing their kids’ art projects. I’m just not one of them. Having never been a terribly “crafty” person, I just don’t like that sort of thing. (Which may explain why my own kids’ art projects currently spill haplessly out of a makeshift cardboard box. From time to time, rather than sort them out I simply dump a few into the trash, at which point my 5 year old invariably fishes them out as proof that I don’t really love her.)

By the same token, I always feel like I should be doing some combination of:  taking an art appreciation course…deciding what religion I ought to be…learning how to swim properly…re-reading the bible (Thank heavens David Plotz already has that last one covered for me.) The list goes on.

But when I’m honest with myself about who I really am (every third Thursday of every second month in leap year), I  recognize that I don’t actually enjoy most of those things. Or at least I don’t enjoy them enough to already be doing them. Or I would be.

So the next time you find yourself at war with your super ego over that avant garde French Film course you really should be taking (Is that just me??) – catch yourself and just say “no.” Or simply: “I don’t prefer.”

Image: Hand Made Photo Album by bettysoo via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.