Break-ups and Infidelity: Knitting for Couples

We’ve all been through it. Break-ups and infidelity.

I wandered blindly... woman breaking up romanceAt first it’s hard to take in.  You’ve got the job, you’re winning awards, you’re happy.  You had no idea your husband or boyfriend would ever cheat on you.  He loves you so much.   He never looks at another woman, ever.

Then it happens.  It’s sometimes a midlife thing.  It starts in one’s thirties, a doctor once told me.  You can read some statistics about infidelity at The Huffington Post.  According to data in The Normal Bar, a study of romantic relationships by Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte, 33% of men and 19% of women said they were unfaithful.

I know the scenarios.  He sleeps with that woman in the office.  Or maybe he has an affair with that very good friend of yours who kept bringing food to the house while you were ill.

Someone always tells you, and you deal with it in different ways at different times of life.  When you’re young  you lose your looks because you cry all the time, sometimes for months.  And then you get divorced and all the single guys are either 20 or 80.  All the married men suddenly want to go out with you.  No, no, and no.

My cousin was in love with a man who cheated on her.  Now she’s alone.

Booze no longer allows her to sleep.

I tell her to go to a doctor and get antidepressants or Ambien, anything to help her sleep.  When she sleeps, she’ll feel better.  Sleep can be her new lover.

I tell her my stories.

I threw a bagel at him. He ducked.  It was a lot like the time Bush ducked the shoe.

I double-locked the door and told him to go to a motel.

I flew to Veracruz.

Twice divorced, and of course I’m MARRIED.  These experiences are a part of life.

She pulls out an adult education schedule.  She wants me to take a “Knitting for Couples” class with her.

It’s a class where you work on a knitting project with another person.  You decide what you want to knit, maybe a big blanket or an ottoman, and you have eight weeks to knit it.  It’s supposed to be therapeutic.  You learn how to work together, and you talk about it in class.

I will do anything I can to get out of a knitting class, so I tell her, “We’re not a couple.”

“I checked on that.  She said I could bring a friend.”

I only like adult ed when I’m the teacher.  I took a knitting class and learned nothing because I couldn’t see the teacher.  (I needed new glasses). I taught an adult ed Latin class for a while, and it was fun, a nice group, and  most of them obviously wanted to meet people, so I tried to structure things accordingly.

I know that this Knitting for Couples isn’t a good idea for her.  She needs to take something with people who aren’t in couples.

Maybe a cooking class.  Didn’t I see that in Hereafter?  (But it didn’t work out for Matt Damon.)

My cousin is used to getting her way, but she doesn’t seem too surprised when I say no.

“Maybe I’ll get him back,” she says.

I’m so glad I didn’t trash him, because maybe she will.

Anyway, I don’t have to take the knitting class.

Blogger Gets off Her Bicycle: The Guardian Book Page, Bloggers, & Borrowings

Disheveled blogger gets off bicycle to say, "Criticism is dead!"

Blogger gets off her bicycle.

Critics and journalists often suggest that blogs are not worth reading.

So let me pose a similar question.

The Guardian book page:  is it worth reading?

The reviews are fast and sloppy, barely more than plot summaries.

Don’t get me started on the reader reviews.

Then there are the staff writers.

Alison Flood, who used to write amusing articles about her middlebrow reading taste, now does cut-and-pastes from other journalists’ writing.

And Robert McCrum cannot be quiet about blogs.

What is it about him and online writing?  He was editor in chief at Faber and Faber, is an associate editor of The Observer, and the author of a biography of P. G. Wodehouse.  In a recent article, he aligned himself with Orwell and Jonathan Swift (and I can only say, “Really?”) and wrote about the “abuse and impoverishment of English in blogs and emails.”  He writes:

Some while ago, with reference to Orwell’s essay on “Politics and the English language”, I addressed the language of the internet, an issue that stubbornly refuses to go away. Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to consider afresh what’s happening to English prose in cyberspace.

To paraphrase Orwell, the English of the world wide web – loose, informal, and distressingly dyspeptic – is not really the kind people want to read in a book, a magazine, or even a newspaper. But there’s an assumption that, because it’s part of the all-conquering internet, we cannot do a thing about it.

Doesn’t he understand that hundreds of thousands of people love to write? If you have ever gone to a writers’ conference–I did in 1984; does that make me George Orwell?–you will discover that doctors, waitresses, counselors, professors, lawyers, salespeople, plumbers, housewives, and painters are writing books in their free time.  And they pay $300 to $1,000 to spend a week or two writing and attending workshops where their writing is analyzed (usually constructively).

The blogosphere is like a huge writers’ conference: one or two people are very good, but the others all love to write, too.  Bloggers are writing for themselves, a few readers, and the bots.  Oh, and our husbands.

No matter the quality, our blogs are not going to be praised by conventional journalists.

My friend Ellen suggested that the FBI is reading our blogs.  God forbid!

And now for Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “borrowing”

Two-Part Inventions SchwartzIn her not very good new novel, Two-Part Inventions, a novel about musical plagiarism, Lynne Sharon Schwartz includes a scene that is surprisingly similar to something I wrote at my old blog.

In an essay about trying to get ice for my mother’s iced tea at the nursing home (I went to the nurses’ station, and was told to go back and push the call button), I said that you could push but not  too hard because you didn’t want anyone to hold it against the the patients.  I added a few lines about my  mother’s former pushiness when I was in fourth grade:

It’s like the time in fourth grade when she complained to my teacher when I got a B instead of an A in geography.  For the rest of the year, the teacher humiliated me by asking,  “Are your grades good enough for your mother?”

In Schwartz’s novel:

Her quarterly report card gave him nothing to reproach her with.  Until, in the fourth grade, she presented a report card to him as usual for his signature…  He gave the report card a cursory glance, a small folded four-sided document on stiff paper that attempted to look official.  He was searching for his fountain pen, when he noticed the B+ in geography.

Schwartz’s scene is better-developed, and the  father makes his daughter confront the teacher herself.  But it is similar.

What are the odds?  I mean, B’s in  fourth-grade geography?  A parent displeased?  Why not change the subject and grade?

At my old blog I highly praised Schwartz’s novel, The Writing on the Wal, and she probably continued to read my blog.

Is this kind of borrowing “plagiarism?”  Or is it something else?

She thanks a lot of people in the Author’s Note, but my name isn’t mentioned.

I would really like to say to her, “Get out!” like Elaine in Seinfeld or “Get the f___ out!!” like Susie Essman in Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I don’t want writers “borrowing” from my blog.

Another Giveaway: Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm

Heart of Palm laura lee smithI absolutely loved Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm, a “high middlebrow”  Southern novel about a “redneck” family:  the father’s a redneck, the mother’s more or less an “aristocrat,”  the boys are wild, and the daughter has OCD.  The novel is a comedy, but the family is bound by tragedy,  and it follows Arla and Frank and their children through 40-odd years.   (I wrote about it here.)

We have 5,000 double-shelved books and are running out of room.

Leave a comment if you’d like this book.

I truly recommend it.


Vacation Day Two: Bicycling & Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm

The river is rising.

The river is rising.

Vacation Day Two.  We bicycled 40 miles.

I am very slow.  To tell the truth, my husband could have ridden the trail in half the time.  Sometimes I tell him to go ahead so he will get a better ride.

I felt marvelous after 20 miles.  Twenty more miles and I felt very stiff.  First break:  Gatorade at a picnic table.  Second break:  I didn’t even get off my bike.  I just stood there, straddling the bike, and when my husband handed me the camera to put away, I said, “Uh-unh.  You do it.  I’m not getting off the bike.”

I used to be able to ride 80 miles in a day.  My goal this year is to do 50.

My bike

Mine is the blue bike.

My husband wants to buy me a new bicycle, but I love my Cannondale.   Made in the U.S.A.  I bought it 10 or 11 years ago, and I admit it has a few replacement parts. See the green pedals?  They were made for some super-mountain-bike off-trail event that I will never participate in, but were the only ones in the store.  See the tape on the seat? Last year it got so hot the gel started leaking out.  But the seat has since been replaced.

We love this trail.  For two years it was closed after the Flood of 2010.  A disaster.  Bridges out.

Now the river is rising again.

“She’s running wild,” a bicyclist said.

He was talking about the river, not me.

The river.

The river.

We’re all very concerned about the flooding.

Look at these photos of flooded fields on the trail.  Unbelievable.  This is not a lake.  This is a field.

Flooded field

Flooded field

Here’s another picture.

Flooded field.

Flooded field.

Not to lecture, but….  A gorgeous planet destroyed by burning fossil fuel.  Can’t you imagine the Zeus of Prometheus Bound, or Ovid’s Juppiter in the Deucalion and Pyrrha myth looking down?  “Thank you, human beings.”

Heart of Palm laura lee smithBest Vacation Reading: Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm.  I adored Laura Lee Smith’s charming, comical, sometimes tragic, novel, set in Florida, the story of two generations of a redneck-on-the-way-up family, the Bravos. This is great vacation reading, what I call “high middlebrow.”

Arla Bolton is not a redneck.  Dean Bravo is.  Having broken up with her boyfriend, she is walking down the road in her bikini and sandals when Dean stops to see if she wants a ride.   He, of course, is driving a truck.  And of course she knows who he is.

The writing is simple but very fast.

You’re Dean Bravo,” she said simply.

“I am,” he said, surprised.  “How do you know?”

“We all know the Bravos.”

“Who’s we?”

“Me and my friends.”

After they get married, there is a tragic accident.  Dean takes Arla out in a boat with no one to spot her on  waterskis.  Dean is reckless.  He drives the boat like a maniac.  She falls in the water, and her left foot is cut in half.

And so she will walk with a cane the rest of her life.    She is no longer the beautiful rich girl:  she is as crippled as Utina, Dean’s hometown,  where nobody wants to live, and where Dean has bought a huge rambling house, Aberdean, near the sea.  And every time Dean looks at her, he remembers that he wrecked her life.  Dean works at a paper mill, breathing toxic fumes, and he is an alcoholic, but he usually does the right thing by his family until the youngest son, Will, dies in an accident.  Then he leaves.

Now, forty or fifty years later, a development company wants to build a marina in Utina.  They have approached Arla, now in her sixties, and her children about selling their land for millions.  Arla doesn’t want to sell;  the children are (mostly) ambivalent.

The novel is told from multiple points of view.   Frank, the middle son, the manager of a restaurant, is the most endearing and is at the heart of the novel.  He is always anxious about whether he left the fryer on at the restaurant; he drives everywhere with a sociable dog named Gooch; he tries to negotiate between Arla and his sister, Sofia, who has OCD and anxiety disorders and who still lives at Aberdeen, when they quarrel over whether a termite-laced piano should be moved out of the house or not; and he is secretly in love with Elizabeth, the wife of his sleazy financier brother, Carson.

It may seem that the other Bravos are just hanging around their Southern house like a family in a Tennessee Williams play, but they actually work.

Arla irons vestments and church linens for a living.

Today, in the living room, the ironing board stood in its usual place in front of the west-facing window, and three plastic laundry baskets of carefully folded clergy vestments were lined up in a row on the floor.  Since she quit coming to the restaurant regularly years ago,  Arla had methodically built up a small, strange business as a laundress of vestments and church linens, a sideline she started when the kids were still small and had continued all these years, servicing, by now, all seven Catholic parishes in St. Augustine….

And Sofia cleans the restaurant.

Carson is in so much trouble with his Ponzi scheme that if he doesn’t get that development money he’s going under.

I picked this up because Richard Russo has a blurb on the cover, and Smith’s spellbinding story does remind me of his early work.   I really enjoyed it.

Vacation Day One: Rain, Our Tree, & Iowa City

Pear tree.

Pear tree.

Our new tree is drowning.

It rained. Again.

It has been the wettest spring on record in our state, 17.48 inches of rain as of Thursday.  It was also the wettest May on record, with an average of 8.66 inches of rain.

Today I wanted to go to Iowa City, my hometown, but they’re sandbagging again.  It is sad.  They haven’t recovered from the Flood of 2008, when the art museum and Hancher Auditorium were destroyed.  Now the water is rising again.

Sandbagging in Iowa City.

Sandbagging in Iowa City.

We have been lucky so far here.  Rain in the basement.

This poor tree.  I bicycled to a nursery and chose it.  I walked among the acres of trees.  Did I want an autumn blaze maple, a pear tree, a linden, or an aspen tree?

I decided I wanted at least one tree that blooms.

At our first house as adults, we had pin oaks and pine trees.  After a storm, an artist asked our permission to take  a big oak branch home.  We were flattered.

We live now in a neighborhood of maples, lindens, sycamores, oaks, apple, pear, evergreens.

Last year our maple was destroyed by a storm:  we had to cut it down so it wouldn’t fall on our neighbor’s house.

You cannot imagine how horrible it is to go out in the back yard on a sunny hot day with no trees:  well, there’s still one tree in the WAY BACK, as we call it.

All you can do is straighten your back and go buy a tree.

It is strangely exciting to buy trees. Expensive, though. My husband has said I need to stop blogging and write some articles. All right, send me to Afghanistan or Iowa City.  Give me a notebook and I’ll find a story.

Or maybe I can write about the nursery.  Forty-five acres, yes, of trees.  Interviews, interviews.

Thee nursery landscaping team came and planted our new trees .  I looked out the window and there they were.  I practically missed the planting because they were so fast.  They jumped on the rootballs, I swear.

We know exactly how much water they’re supposed to get each week.

And now this.  It looks green and beautiful, but the leaves are drooping.  Too much water.

Poor pear tree.

Poor pear tree.

I have tried sitting next to the tree to encourage it.  Yes, that’s my Adirondack chair.  I sit back there and read Anna Karenina.  I jump up and touch the leaves a lot.

On the other hand, the hostas are loving the rain.  But didn’t we used to have more hostas?



My 99-cent flowers are pretty much deluged.  I’ll have to plant more.


What am I doing blogging when I’m on vacation?

Well, it’s like this.  One year we were going to an island and there was a hurricane warning.  We ended up instead in Bloomington, Indiana.

So we might as well skip the island and go to Iowa City.  Great bookstores, a pedestrian downtown, and an excellent university library.

I would love to do some research in the archives at the university library.  Whatever happened to the underground papers of the 70s, The Oppressed Citizen and Ain’t I a Woman?, the paper that was eventually taken over by the lesbian feminists?

magic-mountain-2005But what I NEED in Iowa City is a copy of The Magic Mountain.  I looked for it at our B&N.  Uh-unh.  No Thomas Mann at all.

B&N has new books.  But if you want to buy Saul Bellow, there is no Saul Bellow.  If you want to buy Katherine Mansfield, there is no Katherine Mansfield.  They have a very poor backlist, which has recently gotten worse.

And there are strange errors.  You will find Lucan’s Civil Wars, an epic poem, in the ancient history section.  I could have told the know-all boss that it was in the wrong section, but she would probably have poisoned my coffee.   She follows customers around with her x-ray vision, hoping she can catch someone committing a crime.

B&N’s crime against me:  the bookseller’s pick this week is Dan Brown’s Inferno.