Saturday, January 28, 2012

Today ... The Day Of Reckoning...

Odilon Redon, 1914

Today I did something I have not done for several months. Should I have done it? Well ... yes, but I wish I hadn't. Will I do it again? Now that I have done it once, unfortunately I am now committed to it and I will have to do it every day. Was it a wise decision? Probably one of the wisest I have ever made. I have been living in denial for too long now, and it's time to face my demons. Denial is an emotion we all use as a coping strategy. Denial and pretense.  And avoidance.  That's my particular favourite.  Even if I know something to be true, and I cannot pretend any longer, I can still fall back on avoidance.  Oh, I'm the queen of avoidance.  We can get a lot of mileage out of avoidance, can't we?  "I'll do it tomorrow."  Usually those three coping strategies ~~ denial, pretense and avoidance ~~ follow each other in stages.  "Me?  No...!"  Deny, deny, deny.  Well, perhaps me, yes, but I will just pretend ... "No".  But that little voice keeps whispering, and we go into avoidance mode, until we can no longer avoid the situation, and we have to admit, "Yes.  Me ... Houston, we have a problem." 

So, today, Saturday, January 28, 2012, I did something I have not done for several months.

I stepped on the bathroom scale.

Why did I pick today to do it?  Oh, I don't know.  I suppose today was as good as any day.  The day of reckoning dawned, and I just decided to do it.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes.  Was I shocked?  Well ... yes and no.  All through my denial, pretense and avoidance phases, that little voice in the back of my head kept whispering ... whispering.  So, I really could not deny, pretend or avoid any longer.

The next step is action.  Goodbye denial, pretense and avoidance.  Hello action.  We all know what it is we're doing wrong, and we all know what to do right.  There are mountains of information available to us at our fingertips, and the weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. It becomes confusing after a while, but in simple terms, in order to lose weight we require a 1,200 calorie diet that would consist of no more than 660 calories from carbohydrates, 180 from protein, and 360 from fat. This is the premise of all weight loss diets such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig.

And no more Purdy's dark chocolate-covered marzipan. Or butter chicken. Or peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. At least for a while.

Oh, don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a weight-loss blog, but I will let you know how I'm doing. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Wot's A Weekend...?"

It is no secret that I am madly in love with Downton Abbey. It's the most wonderful series to have been on PBS Masterpiece since Brideshead Revisited. The Brits really know how to do these things, don't they? Downtown Abbey is about life with the aristocratic Crawley Family, Lord and Lady Grantham and their three daughters, in their English manor house during the Edwardian era.  It is filled with drama and intrigue, and of course scandal that could ruin a young woman's life, involving a somewhat shady *gasp* foreigner. It's all there. The cast of the series is perfect, but none is more perfect than Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. She's an insufferable snob, still living in an earlier generation, but she steals every scene she's in with her wonderful one-liners.  As soon as her Ladyship enters the room, we know we're in for some fun.

Lady Grantham: "You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal."

Mrs. Crawley: "I take that as a compliment."

Lady Grantham: "I must've said it wrong."

If you haven't seen Downton Abbey yet, you're in for a real treat.  In the meantime, here are some of her Ladyship's one-liners.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Muddy Waters of a Wayside Ditch...

Today is the 138th birthday of one of my favorite authors, W. Somerset Maugham. He was from a different era, but as with all classic writers, his work still holds up today, and many of his stories continue to be made into movies, such as "The Razor’s Edge" and "The Painted Veil".  Somerset Maugham understood the human condition almost more than any other writer. His stories were tales of individual frailties, transgressions and ultimately redemption. He believed we are all capable of making errors in our lives, and we are all capable of forgiveness, not only of other people, but of ourselves. When I was a teenager, I used to read my father's collection of Somerset Maugham short stories, and one of my favorites was a story called "The Judgment Seat". It left an impression on me. I had been raised in the Anglican Church, and our Minister, Reverend Horsefield, had put the fear of God into me. As a child I thought, "How can I possibly live up to God's expectations of me?" And then I read "The Judgment Seat" and it gave me a whole new understanding of God and His expectations of the human condition. So, in honour of Maugham's birthday today, I am re-posting my favourite Somerset Maugham short story. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I do.

The Judgment Seat

They awaited their turn patiently, but patience was no new thing to them; they had practiced it, all three of them, with grim determination, for thirty years. Their lives had been a long preparation for this moment and they looked forward to the issue now, if not with self-confidence, for that on so awful an occasion would have been misplaced, at all events with hope and courage. They had taken the strait and narrow path when the flowery meads of sin stretched all too invitingly before them; with heads held high, though with breaking hearts, they had resisted temptation; and now, their arduous journey done, they expected their reward. There was no need for them to speak, since each knew the other’s thoughts, and they felt that in all three of them the same emotion of relief filled their bodiless souls with thanksgiving. With what anguish now would they have been wrung if they had yielded to the passion which then had seemed so early irresistible and what a madness it would have been if for a few short years of bliss they had sacrificed that Life Everlasting which with so bright a light at long last shone before them! They felt like men who with the skin of their teeth have escaped a sudden and violent death and touch their feet and hands and, scarce able to believe that they are still are still alive, look about them in amazement. They had done nothing with which they could reproach themselves and when presently their angels came and told them that the moment was come, they would advance, as they had passed through the world that was now so far behind, happily conscious that they had done their duty. They stood a little on one side, for the press was great. A terrible war was in progress and for years the soldiers of all nations, men in the full flush of their gallant youth, had marched in an interminable procession to the Judgment Seat; women and children too, their lives brought to a wretched end by violence or, more unhappily, by grief, disease and starvation; and there was in the courts of heaven not a little confusion.

It was on account of this war, too, that those three wan shivering ghosts stood in expectation of their doom. For John and Mary had been passengers on a ship which was sunk by the torpedo of a submarine; and Ruth, broken in health by the arduous work to which she had so nobly devoted herself, hearing of the death of the man whom she had loved with all her heart, sank beneath the blow and died. John, indeed, might have saved himself if he had not tried to save his wife; he had hated her; he had hated her to the depths of his soul for thirty years; but he had always done his duty by her and now, in the moment of dreadful peril, it never occurred to him that he could do otherwise.

At last their angels took them by the hand and led them to the Presence. For a little while the Eternal took not the slightest notice of them. If the truth must be told he was in a bad humour. A moment before there had come up for judgment a philosopher, deceased full of years and honours, who had told the Eternal to his face that he did not believe in him. It was not this that would have disturbed the serenity of the King of Kings, this could only have made him smile; but the philosopher, taking perhaps an unfair advantage of the regrettable happenings just then upon Earth, had asked him how, considering them dispassionately, it was possible to reconcile his All-Power with his All-Goodness.

“No one can deny the fact of Evil,” said the philosopher, sententiously. “Now, if God cannot prevent Evil he is not all-powerful, and if he can prevent it and will not, he is not all-good.”

This argument was of course not new to the Omniscient, but he had always refused to consider the matter; for the fact is, though he knew everything, he did not know the answer to this. Even God cannot make two and two five. But the philosopher, pressing his advantage, and, as philosophers often will, drawing from a reasonable premise an unjustifiable inference, the philosopher had finished with a statement that in the circumstances was surely preposterous. “I will not believe,” he said, “in a God who is not All-Powerful and All-Good.”

It was not then perhaps without relief that the Eternal turned his attention to the three
shades who stood humbly and yet hopefully before him. The quick; with so short a time to live, when they talk of themselves, talk too much; but the dead, with eternity before them, are so verbose that only angels could listen to them with civility. But this in brief is the story that these three recounted. John and Mary had been happily married for five years and till John net Ruth they loved each other, as married couples of the most part do, with sincere affection and mutual respect. Ruth was eighteen, ten years younger than he was, a charming, graceful animal, with a sudden and all-conquering loveliness; she was as healthy in mind as she was in body, and, eager for the natural happiness of life, was capable of achieving that greatness which is beauty of soul. John fell in love with her and she with him. But it was no ordinary passion that seized them; it was something so overwhelming that they felt as if the whole long history of the world signified only because it had led to the time and place that had brought them together. They loved as Daphnis and Chloe or as Paolo and Francesca. But after that first moment of ecstasy when each discovered the other’s love they were seized with dismay. They were decent people and they respected themselves, the beliefs in which they had been bred, and the society in which they lived. How could he betray an innocent girl, and what had she to do with a married man? Then they grew conscious that Mary was aware of their love. The confident affection with which she had regarded her husband was shaken; and there arose in her feelings of which she would never have thought herself capable, jealousy and the fear that he would desert her, anger because her possession of his heart was threatened and a strange hunger of the soul which was more painful than love. She felt that she would die if he left her; and yet she knew that if he loved it was because love had come to him, not because he had sought it. She did not blame him. She prayed for strength; she wept silent, bitter tears. John and Ruth saw her pine away before their eyes. The struggle was long and bitter. Sometimes their hearts failed them and they felt that they could not resist the passion that burned the marrow of their bones. They resisted. They wrestled with evil as Jacob wrestled with the angel of God and at last they conquered. With breaking hearts, but proud in their innocence, they parted. They offered up to God, as it were a sacrifice, their hopes of happiness, the joy of life and the beauty of the world.

Ruth had loved too passionately ever to love again and with a stony heart she turned to god and to good works. She was indefatigable. She tended the sick and assisted the poor. She founded orphanages and managed charitable institutions. And little by little her beauty which she cared for no longer left hr and her face grew as hard as her heart. Her religion was fierce and narrow, her very kindness was cruel because it was founded not on love but on reason; she became domineering, intolerant, and vindictive. And John, resigned, but sullen and angry, dragged himself along the weary years waiting for the release of death. Life lost its meaning to him; he had made his effort and in conquering was conquered; the only emotion that remained with him was the unceasing, secret hatred with which he looked upon his wife. He used her with kindness and consideration; he did everything that could be expected of a man who was a Christian and a gentleman. He did his duty. Mary, a good, faithful and (it must be confessed) exceptional wife, never thought to reproach her husband for the madness that had seized him; but all the same she could not forgive him for the sacrifice he had made for her sake. She grew acid and querulous. Though she hated herself for it, she could not refrain from saying the things that she knew would wound him. She would willingly have sacrificed her life for him, but she could not bear that he should enjoy a moment’s happiness when she was so wretched that a hundred times she had wished she was dead. Well, now she was and so were they; grey and drab had life been, but that was passed; they had not sinner and now their reward was at hand.

They finished and there was silence. There was silence in all the courts of heaven. Go to hell were the words that came to the Eternal’s lips, but he did not utter them, for they had a colloquial association that he rightly thought unfitting to the solemnity of the occasion. Nor indeed would such a decree have met the merits of the case. But his brows darkened. He asked himself if it was for this that he had made the rising sun shine on the boundless sea and the snow glitter on the mountain tops; was it for this that the brooks sang blithely as they hastened down the hillsides and the golden corn waved in the evening breeze?

“I sometimes think,” said the Eternal, “that the stars never shine more brightly than when reflected in the muddy waters of a wayside ditch.”

But the three shades stood before him and now that they had unfolded their unhappy story they could not but feel a certain satisfaction. It had been a bitter struggle, but they had done their duty. The Eternal blew lightly, he blew as a man might blow out a lighted match, and, behold! where the three poor souls had stood – was nothing. The Eternal had annihilated them.

“I have often wondered why men think I attach so much importance to sexual irregularity,” he said. “If they read my works more attentively they would see that I have always been sympathetic to that particular form of human frailty.”

Then he turned to the philosopher, who was still waiting for a reply to his remarks. “You cannot but allow,” said the eternal, “that on this occasion I have very happily combined my All-Power with my All-Goodness.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Separated At Birth ... ?

Sorry ... I couldn't resist. I have been trying to think who Newt reminds me of, and some things are just too much fun to pass up.

My apologies to Gnomeo.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hello ... Are You Still There ...?

Good morning, everyone...! Are you still there? I am still here. I have been in hibernation over the past couple of weeks, reading some wonderful books, getting lots of sleep, trying to stay warm ... brrr. Have you read any good books lately?  The novelist John O'Hara once wrote a collection of short stories called "Waiting for Winter". The title of the book was in reference to the fact that during the summer months he could only write short stories, and in the winter he wrote his serious books. I think that is sort of like my blogging, except just the opposite. I start to thaw when the spring months roll around. I'm not a big fan of the cold weather. I'll be back very soon.

In the meantime, please ... um ... bear with me.



Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Being Temporarily Reclusive...

If I were to win a lottery, or find a magic lamp with a genie in it, and I could wish for any sort of house to live in, this would be the house I would choose.  Isn't that insane?  But, it's true.  There is something about this little house that I find so cozy and appealing, especially with the hollyhocks growing outside the door.  I love hollyhocks and anywhere I live, I would have to grow hollyhocks.  This cabin is called Dietrich Cabin and it's located in Franklin County in Kansas.  It was originally built by Jacob Dietrich and his wife Catherine.  After Jacob died, Catherine raised her children there.  This little cabin is now a museum.

At this time of year ~~ the weeks between the frenzy of Christmas and the blooming of the daffodils ~~ I curl up in front of my fireplace and become a recluse.  The interior of the Dietrich Cabin looks just about as cozy and perfect for hiding away from the world as anything could possibly be.  Check out that beautiful old stone fireplace, and the rocking chair next to it.  Notice the little child-sized rocking chair on the right.  Isn't it cute?  And you can see the gleam on the wood floors, and the solid rafters, where the dried flowers are hanging.  I would take that room over a Park Avenue apartment any day.

I received three wonderful books for Christmas, and I'm enjoying them so much.  One book is an Atlas of Dynasties and Royal Houses ~ right up to William and Katherine.  It's wonderful.  I find royalty fascinating.  Another book is Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, complete with the CDs of her voice as she is being interviewed by Arthur Schlessinger, Jr. You can even hear the traffic noise in the background, over her whispery voice. It's amazing. The third book is Colors, What They Mean and How to Make Them, which is incredibly beautiful, and has inspired me to paint again.  So, that's me, curled up in the corner of my little cabin, enjoying the solitude, and peace and quiet.  It's only temporary though...

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Best Thing Since ... Sliced Bread ... and Toilet Tissue

Well, it's official, I have become a *women of a certain age*, you know the ones ... we all see them trekking back from the grocery store with their little carts.  I have one now too, and I absolutely love it.  Isn't it wonderful?  Why on earth didn't I think of this sooner?  It was given to me as a Christmas gift, and it's the best thing since ... well ... sliced bread ~~ which I will now be able to buy and cart home.  I don't own a car, so I walk everywhere, and struggling home with armloads of groceries is not always the easiest thing to do.  I can also use my cart to transport my watercolour paper, paints and brushes to my little art classes that I have signed up for in February.  And now, when toilet tissue is on special, I can buy the large rolls instead of the small ones.  How great is that!  There's even a little pocket where I can put my wallet, lipstick and compact, and I don't have to carry a purse.  My New Year's resolution this year ~~ yes I know, we all make them and we all break them ~~ is to do more walking.  And now I can take my little cart with me and bring home all my purchases.

If you should happen to see a little old lady trekking along, a plastic hat on her head, plastic booties, her glasses on a string around her neck, and pulling a little cart behind her, please stop and say hello.