Week Eight: A Study in Alcott

You’re thinking “Did she steal that title from Arthur Conan Doyle?” The answer is yes. Yes I did steal it from Arthur Conan Doyle.

Here is my Sherlock Holmes doll to tell you congratulations on recognizing a thing. He is joined by Edgar Allan Poe and my Roald Dahl and Mary Poppins and Enchanted Forest Chronicles books, for reasons known only to him.

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This has been one of the busiest weeks of my entire life. Being busy is nice because, you know, the point of the blog

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And I like feeling energetic and getting out and doing things and being active.

On the other hand, it’s really hot here and with all the walking to and from my apartment and around campus, I feel like I’m being slowly brined. I bet I am so delicious right now. Also, my new laptop arrived and I have not had time to even set it up. Also also it took me three hours this evening just to internet all the things I usually internet! I had to scroll back like 150 pages on tumblr. Did you know Breaking Bad ended? Man I feel like I didn’t get that information often enough when I emerged from my work coma.

The busy stuff is probably not going to let up next week either, but at least when it ends, I will have a birthday! We will probably be going to an hibachi grill because I really like it when chefs set towers of onion on fire and throw rice at my cleavage.

Because of the busy, I don’t have a lot of time to talk about things, but I am formulating some thoughts on LMA and politics and stuff, so when the crazy days are over that may be my topic. For now, I want to talk about Halloween. While Halloween in the South is never going to be as Halloweeny as Halloween in New England, it is admittedly nice to be able to wear a costume without thermals underneath. I am dressing as Sharknado. I will probably get very drunk and hug people a lot like last year.

Other things to be done in and around Halloween time:

  • Watch Practical Magic
  • Watch Hocus Pocus
  • Watch Sleepy Hollow (the movie and the tv show)
  • Carve pumpkins only one day before Halloween because otherwise they will be rotten pumpkin soup the day of
  • Maybe buy a little striped costume that says “Rufferee” on it and make my dog wear it and take pictures of her shame

Okay, back to work!

Fun links

Writers who exercise. They left off Simone de Beauvoir, who walked miles and miles every day, Joyce Carol Oates, who apparently writes entire books while she runs, and Louisa May Alcott herself, who, as one of my aunts pointed out, was a runner. Imagine running in all those clothes.

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books. Good stuff, not what you’d see on most top 100 lists. And like – it’s David Bowie.

The people who bet on who will win the Nobel Prize for literature, as told by a bookie.

For the linguists, listen to a story told in Proto Indo-European, aka an attempt at capturing the linguistic origin of the Indo-European family of languages.

 

Week Six: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (of 1858)

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Emerson lately – both by choice and because of school – and thinking about the really wild absolutes he espouses in Self-Reliance and the Divinity School Address and American Scholar. The thing about Transcendentalism as a movement is that it’s really sort of rooted in this concept of being a perfect person. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with being perfect. When I was younger, I would make lists of my faults and try to figure out ways of overcoming them so I could be perfect. Then I focused on things like being popular or getting high honors, and now I focus on…shutting up so people won’t be annoyed by me and getting a 4.0. It’s a sad moment when you realize you’ve been working on the same faults for 20 years and haven’t really made much headway. I even looked to literature for inspiration back in the day too, although then it was Judy Blume and now it’s Alcott and Emerson (and a dozen others I haven’t even gotten into yet who don’t sound quite as good as “now it’s Alcott and Emerson hort hort hort CLEVERNESS”). I have wanted to achieve some mythical state of having my shit together for so long that it’s just like a part of my character now, or something. That’s what this entire blog is about – I’m not here to accept things about my own nature or learn to be kind to myself or any of that. I’m very kind to myself, to the point that it’s self-defeating. I’m here to stop being such a lazy asshole and learn some discipline. This is why the Transcendentalists, particularly Emerson but also the Alcotts, are a good resource. They do not mess around with ambiguity. No Nathaniel Hawthorne whining about whether isolated intellectualism is morally right. This is not a brotherhood; this is about looking inward, finding out what’s wrong with you, kicking its ass, and working really hard all the time so you will never feel like you’ve failed to live up to your own potential – “Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself.” •••

As I’ve said before, my main problem is that I’m really tired. Also internet, but mainly the tired thing. I don’t understand people who have energy. I feel energetic for a maximum of one hour, after I’ve had coffee. Before I started drinking coffee, I could barely function until about noon. The rest of the day I spend wanting to sleep and then, when I’m allowed to sleep, remembering there was a thing I wanted to read. The usual advice doesn’t seem to work for me. Does it work for anyone? Are there people who are actually rejuvenated by a mid-afternoon snack of granola and blueberries? Are there people who can actually nap for only 15 minutes at a time and not crash for six hours and wake up in the middle of the night wondering what century it is? If they exist, I think I hate those people.

So I’ve been working on figuring out what things might actually give me energy. Here are a few:

1. Music, obviously. I’m going to post my energy playlist in the midweek update. Just know that it involves some embarrassment and a quite frankly alarming amount of songs about shooting people. Pumped up by the death of my enemies! Hell yeah! This is Sparta!

2. Telling myself I’ll regret doing (or not doing) something in a week, i.e. “M, in a week you will look back and regret not doing your lesson planning right now.” Sometimes that backfires and I go SO WHAT, BRAIN, but mostly it works.

3. ????

4. Profit.

I really have no other things. If I drink more than a cup of coffee a day, I get heart palpitations, and I’m pretty much convinced energy drinks are the Baby Boomers’ way of culling the herd so there will be more room on the planet for them to live forever, because that shit is going to kill my generation before we’re fifty. Exercise makes me sleepy. Speak to me through the ages, Louisa May Alcott! Or other energetic people! Does something just wind you up at the beginning of the day and you don’t wind down until bedtime? What is your secret, people who are compelled to do stuff other than sleep on weekends? Tell my kind of your wisdom.

Next week: Emerson and Pound and Hemingway (oh my).

*** There’s a footnote in my edition of Emerson’s essays that says, “In the first edition text (1841), Emerson wrote: ‘But do your thing.'” Clearly me and Emerson were meant to be bros even though I can’t imagine what he’d say about the state of my netflix queue.

 

Fun links:

The 5 best mothers in literature, including Marmee, who is apparently too perfect for other people as well.

What kind of reader are you?

The best times to buy things.

This Girl travels to Concord, Mass.

Week Four: the Revenge

Sometimes it’s difficult to get underneath the text and find where LMA is actually writing her own philosophy rather than “moral pap for the young.” I don’t think it’s really a surprise that she didn’t like the books she was writing, was startled at their success, and would rather have been writing the Gothic thrillers she liked so much. So it’s hard to find her in her novels, and since it’s her philosophy I want to get at, I’ve been thinking about the way she writes about the March sisters and what that might say about her own ideals.

She did not 100% approve of her sister Anna’s (the one Meg is based on) ideals, particularly her marriage. Anna, like Meg, was the super Victorian one who fit right into the ideal of true womanhood, and her husband was very dominant and she was very submissive. LMA doesn’t seem to want to criticize that ideology, and in fact praises it quite a bit, so if you’re reading the books to try and get an idea of LMA’s way of thinking, Meg’s chapters are probably not it. For example, one of the formative chapters on Meg is the chapter in which she goes to hang out with her rich friends and, because being poor really sucks and it sucks even more when you realize other people get to have nice things through no particular accomplishments of their own, she gets all hussied up and feels bad afterward. To me, Meg is the least interesting character in the book (except for Beth), but I sympathize with her completely on that point: it is really, really hard being poor. She comes home and asks Marmee if she really has “plans” for the girls’ futures, the way Mrs. Moffat thinks she does. This is Marmee’s response:

“I want my daughters to be beautiful, accomplished, and good. To be admired, loved, and respected. To have a happy youth, to be well and wisely married, and to lead useful, pleasant lives, with as little care and sorrow to try them as God sees fit to send. To be loved and chosen by a good man is the best and sweetest thing which can happen to a woman, and I sincerely hope my girls may know this beautiful experience. It is natural to think of it, Meg, right to hope and wait for it, and wise to prepare for it, so that when the happy time comes, you may feel ready for the duties and worthy of the joy. My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world-marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing-and when well used, a noble thing-but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.”

Super helpful, Marmee, thanks. Being chosen by a good man is pretty much last on my list of things I care about, and I don’t think it’s really that high on Jo’s or LMA’s lists either, so I’m not sure what that was all about. Later in the book there’s another section where Meg is wrong and her husband is right and she has to fix it, and LMA actually writes: “a woman’s happiest kingdom is home, her highest honor the art of ruling it not as a queen, but as a wise wife and mother.” Which…what? No. LMA never married, was never interested in being married (I’m pretty sure that, like me, she preferred the ladies), and probably had seen enough “domestic bliss” to last several lifetimes.

So where is LMA’s real voice here? It’s definitely in any of the chapters about teaching children, but where else? I can never be certain. In the chapter in which Jo gets published for the first time, her father’s reaction is to say, “You can do better than this, Jo. Aim at the highest, and never mind the money.” Which is kind of a dick thing to say to your daughter when she’s been successful at something, but it comes up again and again: don’t write trash, Louisa Jo. You don’t see him complaining when she gets paid tons of money later on and he gets to be president of the college she pays for, now do you? Is it too obvious I’m not a fan of Bronson Alcott/Mr. March? I guess I’m not very fond of a someone who would let his kids starve so he can pursue his ideals. I think maybe that will get me kicked out of the Transcendentalist club, but LMA was a Transcendentalist and she certainly seemed to realize making filthy lucre was a necessity of life if you didn’t want scurvy. Only a page or two later, she says,

Wealth is certainly a most desirable thing, but poverty has its sunny side, and one of the sweet uses of adversity is the genuine satisfaction which comes from hearty work of head or hand, and to the inspiration of necessity, we owe half the wise, beautiful, and useful blessings of the world. Jo enjoyed a taste of this satisfaction, and ceased to envy richer girls, taking great comfort in the knowledge that she could supply her own wants, and need ask no one for a penny.

I think this is more her style. Hard work, yes, independence, yes, but money is not a bad thing and it’s very nice to be able to eat.

However, it generally seems that when she describes Amy’s life, this is what she thinks of as the ideal. Or maybe that’s me talking, because Amy is my favorite, and if I were to take any of the characters as models, it would be her. She’s diplomatic, artistic, practical, and kind, which are all things I would like to be. When I was younger, I was really scared of everything and would have tried to be more like Jo, not letting people run all over me. I went in the opposite direction for a while and was very sarcastic and kind of horrible. But the older I get, the more I want to be a kind and compassionate person. Everybody hates Amy because of the book-burning thing and because she ends up with Laurie and Jo doesn’t, but for my part I’d much rather be Amy than any of the other characters.

I think if I’m going to get at LMA’s real thoughts, I think I’m going to have to go outside the text and read her biographies and journals. Am I going to end up a Louisa May Alcott scholar by the end of this project? I feel like this is destined to end with me in a huge taffeta dress, reciting things in front of an audience at Orchard House, but nothing on earth could make me do my hair like this. What were you thinking, Louisa May Alcott?

Next week: talkin’ bout work, work, work.

Midweek: Wishing for Concord, Mass

mosaic

1. Concord School of Philosophy, 2. Louisa May Alcott School–Cleveland, Ohio (4), 3. Little Women / Louisa May Alcott, 4. Little Women (1994), 5. Little Women cover, 6. Louisa May Alcott’s house, 7. Concord, Massachusetts, 8. Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts, 9. Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump

I’m really just in the mood for nice New England things right now. Autumn doesn’t happen where I live until about December or so, but we bravely drink pumpkin spice lattes in 70-degree weather in October and pretend the leaves are changing color because it’s cold and not because it hasn’t rained for three weeks. So I’m definitely in a Concord frame of mind. One of my professors is there right now, and left us with a video called The American Transcendentalists. She warned us it would be cheesy, but nothing could have prepared us for the dude cosplaying Henry David Thoreau, swirling his hands through the water of Walden Pond and reciting from Walden with dramatic…pauses and theatrical emphasis. Lots of gentle guitar in the background. Louisa M. showed up briefly, so they could show her grave in Sleepy Hollow. No Alcott cosplayers available, I guess.

Things are going quite well. I’ve gotten many things done, almost all of which I intended to get done, followed my schedule…mostly…and actually went to sleep at 9:30 last night and will probably be in bed by 9:30 tonight. It’s a Christmas hot summer miracle!