Barbara Pym

This Covid time would have been so much worse for me without books. I’m writing my own book too but right now we are in the middle of a move and I feel too scattered to settle into a daily routine. You never know when someone will want to view your house and thus it must always be in showroom condition and we must be out of the house. I did manage a chapter a few days ago. And I have an idea entirely real in my mind I want to put on paper. I scratched out a few notes until I can give it my full attention.

I’ve not been happy with most of the books from my re-read collection. Too contemporary. I go back to the tattered Regency romance print editions or buy new Kindle copies. I’m on my fourth Pym and enjoying it very much. Hers were contemporary for her time. She was born in 1930s and so wrote beginning in the 50s. Her career was ruthlessly interrupted in the late 60s-70s when her publisher dropped her and she couldn’t get a new one. Her books were just too old-fashioned and sweet. They didn’t fit. They seemed throwbacks to gentler times. But when she re-emerged in the 80s, even all her backlist reprinted by a fancy literary press, I discovered her and fell in love.

She only had ten years or so left to write her sly erudite stories of women’s lives in mid-twentieth century. There’s romance, but usually of the thwarted sort. Right now I’m reading The Sweet Dove Died. A young man with fluid sexuality, his uncle who runs an antique shop, and the three women the nephew falls to some degree in love with: a young woman..maybe a beatnik? An older woman…but still beautiful in her way, and a heartbreaker of a romeo who tosses the young man aside for a new version.

These books don’t seem like much as far as plots go: they are character-driven and the main pov is the older woman. The wealthy antiques dealer uncle loves her and would marry her but she holds him off, allowing him to feed her fancy meals at the best restaurants or see an opera together. I do so love the characters even though they are not typical “good” heroines. Pym wrote before the time of strict rules for writing women characters. They don’t have to be all good; and they are not. They feel more like real people for all that. The other thing that captivates me, besides the lovely London setting, is Pym’s prose. She’s an easy wordsmith and handles her sentences with a lovely dexterity and cadence. She’s a great comfort to me in these days when I just can’t seem to read murder mysteries.

The ReRead Project

I bought this book 30 years ago. As a young writer, I remember being mesmerized by Jane’s adventures with her husband Paul, also a writer. They travelled to Mexico and Morocco, they had exotic adventures and a totally open marriage. I liked the whole idea of a traveling writer. Being so fun, parties all the time, drinking and being carefree. I knew I’d want to read it again someday, after I retired from my job, could travel and my kids were grown and had lives of their own. Well that day is now. I’ve done a few of these rereads, but really I’m addicted to my Kindle. And I like different kind of books now.

Thirty years ago, I wrote poetry and literary short stories. Short things I could do between everything else. Jane never did anything, she had maids and cooks and her husband pampered her. She could be drunk all day every day and sometimes she did that. I loved her strangeness. She was a really odd person. I thought she was cool. She was famous, as her husband was a composer and a writer and they were just high society darlings. My main memory is of being so taken by her lifestyle. To live in Morocco! To cook over an open fire! To have exotic pets! To write, write, write.

Thirty years later, I finished reading Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews on my beloved Kindle and part of the book was set in Morocco. I thought of the Jane Bowles bio immediately and decided it was my next read. I do still like reading real books sometimes. It’s just the Kindle is easier, faster, immediate gratification. It helps my old eyes. I’m about 125 pages in and maybe I won’t finish it. I’m disappointed in my younger self, that I could be so shallow and not see that Jane was possibly (probably) mentally ill. She was always losing her shoes, but she didn’t care, she went barefoot. And if she stepped in glass, well she was usually so drunk she didn’t know. Or care. She published little but drank a great deal. Her husband was a saint. Jane was a lesbian, it seems to me now, or bisexual, as was Paul, and I think that all went over my head at the time. Nothing wrong with their sexuality but it seems a little sad to old conventionally married me. They did not have that closeness, although Paul wanted it. After a few years Jane just said, nope that shop’s closed. And then she flaunted her affairs. She was irresponsible with money and would leave Paul to clean up the finances.

On a whim she’d sell a house and tell Paul later! “We’re moving to Mexico.” Or whatever. I am shaking my head at how I could ever think I wanted a life like that. I’m not sure I did…I threw away all my journals, a habit I keep to this day. My children don’t need to know Mom’s inner thoughts. They have my novels if they want to know me. They have my blog. I think kids just want a regular mom and that’s what I am. And a doting granny. Jane never had children, at least I don’t think so. I’m not that far into the book yet. There is something endearing about Jane. I’m glad she got through her crazy life okay and managed to write a few slim books that were strange reading even then. She was an original. I’m just me, and I like it that way. Reading thrillers with female protagonists and all by new writers like Andrews. I can’t believe it’s her first novel. It’s really good.

Starting Over

In writing and in life, I am ready for what’s next. Our Michigan house is shiny clean and ready to be sold. Since leaving Florida, we have been non-stop cleaning, inside and out. We have hired a realtor and an estate sale team because…we are not taking much. I am taking about 100 of my thousand or so books, some art, family photos, and my granny’s hope chest. Also everything to do with the WIP. I have what may well be my last writers’ meeting (in Michigan) tomorrow. I have ideas for the book, so I have a fresh writing pad and of course all my electronics go wherever I do.

We have our Florida condo, and it’s small, but we love almost everything about it. So we have a place to land once we sell this place. We’re hoping for a final summer in Michigan, and I’m hoping most of it will be in Traverse City. I’d also like to visit Seattle before we head down to Florida, because hugs are officially okay again. I did see my grandson Ben and yes I hugged him! But we have not seen our Seattle family except on FaceTime in 19 months! Our community here in Michigan had the first summer gazebo party this week, maybe 20 people, no masks, and I hugged with abandon! I caught up with a neighbor here who has a place right where we want to be in Florida!!! I knew that, but I forgot.

Covid turned the lights off, but they’re back on and I’m feeling so much better. Some weird things were going on inside me at the end of the lockdown, like I didn’t want to engage on social media. I’ve never been one for phone calls, and am amazed when friends will say they talk to their mom every day at least once on the phone. Or they call their kids every day. I am always worried that I’ll be interrupting somebody. Especially my sons because when I was their age with kids, work, spouse, and friends, my time was planned down to the minute. I lost a few people who might have become friends because I had to cut conversations short. It was dinner time, I was late for class, or writing. And I thought, you know what, if they don’t understand, we shouldn’t be friends anyway.

I have not been blogging as much as I used to…I believe I’ve said it all before. But this next chapter is new, so maybe I’ll soon have fresh gossip or news or both. Getting together with friends again feels like a warm bath after being caught out in the snow. During Covid, all I did was read and write. And shop on Amazon. I want a few things, for example all my tech is old. I’m trying to wait until the computer industry finds a way to banish the foreign hackers. Not that I’m keeping any state secrets, just moving on, literally.

The Last Time

We’ve been home in Michigan from Florida for a week now and have cleaned and decluttered and put things away. Still deciding on what art to keep…the Frida Kahlo canvas print in the photo above is for sure a keeper and so is the hope chest it’s resting on. Of my books, about 2/3 of my library will be culled. We have already donated a huge load of clothing, jewelry, one framed print and other random things from my massive closet cleaning yesterday. I have been ignoring (and missing!) social media mostly but yesterday I did try to make a Canva twitter post about Jane in St Pete to pin to the top of my page. It turned out okay, but somehow I was not able to add an Amazon link or a link to the full review I quoted. And I see, looking at my email, that I signed up for a year of “premium” Canva, perhaps hoping it would help with that. Think I did it for the free month. I’m not sure it makes a difference, but I’ll try one more Canva post before I cancel the paid premium. I might keep it, if it helps me add those links.

The other thing I’m missing is writing, specifically writing the next Jane book. I stopped at a good place, but I want to devote myself to it, and I just can’t right now. The best I can do is write three pages in my journal every morning and I do love that; it keeps the writer in me just short of starving. And I decided to treat myself to a day of reading posts from my favorite bloggers and writing this post to catch you up on what I’m doing. This helps feed my writing self as well.

Feel I deserve a treat after a solid week of working hard to clean and organize the house after more than four months away. And there’s another reason I’m doing an especially deep clean. We’re seeing a realtor this coming week, and I hope we settle on a date to make this house sale official. We’ve lived here eight years. When we bought it I felt as though I was dreaming. I never thought we’d leave our home of 25+ years. I never thought to have such a lovely home. And brand new, too. But my husband had a plan and he followed through in ways I wasn’t even counting on. Al is very smart about the housing market. All the financial markets, really. Economics in general, he’s a savvy guy.

We’ve been visiting Florida every spring break for twenty years. Somewhere along the line, we agreed we’d like to retire there. Along with the other one thousand baby boomers per day who had the same idea. We didn’t think a whole lot about it until my dad moved and we scooped up his place. We’d stayed there often enough. Also with friends who either had made the move or rented for the winter months. Aside from hotel rooms, we never did the rental in Florida, jumping instead straight into buying. Also, yes, my dad now has a lanai, a laundry room and a garage of his own 🙂 Nice upgrade and only ten minutes from us.

So after the sale, we’ll land in our little Florida place for now, but we’ll be shopping for something with a few more of the amenities I miss when we’re there. Like, a laundry room. I solved that problem by taking my clothes to the cleaner, who do a wash/dry/fold service. Al used our shared laundry room for towels, rugs, sheets, and his stuff. So it was affordable, to hire out just my things, although I do a better job. And I’d rather do it myself. I finally got all the laundry we brought home finished, some to be donated and some just because there was a pile of it!

I skipped the cleaners the last week in Florida because I missed my washer/dryer and wanted to use it! Also love having a dishwasher again. And the outdoor deck. And the fact that this ride home from Florida is the last time we’ll have to do that. It’s as warm as Florida today here in Michigan, but the weather people are calling for rain the rest of the week. That’s okay, because I have the one room I missed the most: my writing room, where I’m sitting typing to you right now. I hope it’s sunny and warm where you are, too.

Writing on the Run

This is just one of the many positions I found my new writing desk in as we tried to figure out where we could put it while the kids were here. They’re coming tonight! I’m excited! When we bought the desk, we didn’t expect anyone would come down this year because of Covid. But everybody got shots in arms quicker than we knew and they are not afraid to fly! (I will wait to fly myself until full bar service is restored.) My six year old grandson is bringing his parents and we have a fold out twin bed for him plus the queen-sized bed. The room is small and it just fits those beds, a night table and a suitcase stand. There’s a corner television.

We’re leaving for Michigan soon after they leave, so I had already packed my current work in progress and other files until we’re back in Michigan. We just needed to move the desk from the guest room as it was in the only spot I could fold out my grandson’s bed. So first we tried to put it in our bedroom. But it was a little too long for the wall. I knew at least one of us would run into the sticking out sharp corner in the middle of the night. So Al positioned it like this until we could move a few things around in the living room. We decided it would stay in the living room, because it’s really heavy, and also I really loved that desk because of the large work surface.

Loved, past tense. Al had moved it within a few feet of the space I’d cleared for the now empty desk. My grandson could do his drawing there! I had all the supplies he needed: art paper, markers, stickers…then one of the sides cracked. It was a pretty sturdy desk, especially the expansive wood top. Had a nice subtle curve to it. It would have looked nice. But the sides weren’t super strong. Al could have fixed it but we had ten million things to do before the kids came in and also he just didn’t feel like it. We’d bought it for $100 at our favorite consignment shop, so it was not a great loss. It was one of those pieces of furniture you can break down pretty easily and that’s what he did.

I moved Ben’s art supplies to the coffee table:) But we probably won’t be home much. He can’t wait to go to the beach. And also the dinosaur park in Plant City, where they have over a hundred life-sized and realistically painted dinosaurs, which are his favorite. I’m so excited for my family to be here and then when they leave I can’t wait to get home to Michigan, where I can bring out my book-in-process again. It still needs a lot of work.

We have another big project waiting for us back in Michigan, so I’m not sure how many pages I’ll stack upon the hundred or so already finished. Although I do have an intact desk in Michigan, in fact, a very nice writing room I really love, there. If I could bring it to Florida, I would.