Enviable is the word that struck me this morning, whilst drinking my coffee and berry-banana
smoothie amongst the riot of flowers on my apartment balcony. For all twenty-six years of my mostly-unhappy former marriage, I longed for just such days – unstructured, solitary weekends free of demands I do anything aside from following my fancies and whims.
Spoiler: Some of the best lives consist mainly of fancies and whims.
My definition of perfect weather occurs in the Chicago metro area once or twice a year like clockwork, to my reckoning. The upper-Midwest of the United States vacillates between cold and depressingly wretched to breathtakingly hot and humid, occasional tornados tossed in for variety. I, an unapologetic curmudgeon and reviler of weather extremes, have been gifted with a rare high 70s-low 80s F breezy day. For the moment, all’s right with the world.
Sundays mean luxurious mornings spent with The New York Times, and this week’s one of the more delicious. The Books Section today features the summer reading crop, an extra-large collection of reviews. I covet this edition, even if I don’t wind up reading any of the books. It’s as much about absorbing the best writing of some of the best reviewers, a lovefest of the upper tier in my own specialty, as the books themselves.
Speaking of books and reviewing, I’ve joined the staff of Washington Independent Review of Books, so that’s new. On Friday I received the first title I’ll be writing about, due a month-ish from now. Stay tuned for that, will post once it’s published on their site.
In contrast to today, the first half of 2023 wasn’t kind to me, mental health-wise. That’s one thing keeping me from blogging, aside from general lethargy not helped by a stressful day job. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been through far worse. This year’s iteration was an unrelenting fugue state, allowing me to care about little outside the constant streaming of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I watched all seven seasons twice through, beginning a third round before I managed to claw myself away from the idyllic world of Stars Hollow.
I know what precipitated this, and that fact’s not going away. Not a damn thing to be done about it. I did talk to a therapist and did titrate meds but, without intending to sound dismissive of the professionals, I bloody well pulled myself out of this one. Wrestling with demons teaches you to wrestle with demons: I see through depression’s tricks and, most importantly, I know myself.
Controlled wallowing is fine, so long as it’s time-limited. The growth part happens once you’ve managed to tear yourself away from the catatonic consolation that is internet streaming and facing what’s pulling you down. I self-medicated the same way during lockdown and, believe me, what I watched was far more embarrassingly low-brow than Gilmore Girls. Like all coping mechanisms, though, it served a purpose. In retrospect, while I realize a shorter duration would have been ideal, I’m not beating myself up about it.
That would be the “growth” part.
One very therapeutic, non-medical “rest cure” that further helped dig me out was taking time off
work to spend a long weekend in Mark Twain country – Hannibal and Florida, MO. I am not a Twain super fan but recognize his place in the American literary canon, putting forth Huckleberry Finn as one of the most important and culturally iconic American novels of all time. Considered in company with his contemporary (and CT neighbor) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s astonishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as well as Faulkner’s Light in August, Twain’s novel remains the boldest, most daring early novel written by any white author, calling out the historically vile treatment of Black Americans – one reason it was widely banned on publication and continues to be.
Notice I omit To Kill a Mockingbird from this list (GASP, I know), a novel literally re-written in order to assuage white guilt, when publishers found Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman – a vastly superior novel – potentially offensive to the sensibilities of white readers. Huckleberry Finn was written at a time publishers had bigger balls, to be honest; Twain got away with it because of his massive celebrity status – not that he avoided backlash. The key scene – in which Tom Sawyer’s conscience wouldn’t let him turn in Jim as a runaway slave, realizing “slavery is a God-given right” was bullshit and acknowledging Jim as both human being and equal – was explosive in a way we cannot appreciate in this de-sensitized age. It was a pivotal moment in American literature, the loudest outcry condemning the enslavement of Black people in American letters. It was risky on Twain’s part and he knew it. His conscience wouldn’t allow him not to say it anyway.
It was proximity that tipping the balance toward Hannibal; the places he was born and grew up are literary-related destinations I can reach in just over five hours. Years ago I’d visited his stunning Victorian-era home in Hartford, CT, and I have been to Hannibal before, eons ago. Re-visiting on my own did not disappoint.
While I could carry through and talk more about Hannibal, I requested and received a review copy of a non-fiction title inspired by Twain’s experiences as a riverboat pilot, intending to write about it here, so I’ll hold that for another time. It’s a good a carrot to get me back for another post. The trip’s duration may only have been four days but the advance research I did was fairly expansive. It would be a shame to waste all that.
Meanwhile, this perfect-weather day is escaping while I sit here, typing away. I had to come back inside to connect to the internet with my laptop, for whatever reason. See how much I wanted to talk to you? I gave up an hour or two of one of the two days I can’t bitch about weather in 2023 – and apparently I don’t mind virtue signaling about it.
Here’s to turning the corner on 2023, better late than never.