just ordered: the land of steady habits

debutnovelistI’m on the hunt like a shipwrecked sailor who just washed up on shore.  Where are all the funny books because I am dying of thirst?!

Luckily this morning while sipping coffee and mingling in my social networks I stumbled upon this author’s hilarious platform he and his publisher have trotted out to help sell his new book, The Land of Steady Habits.  The Tumblr site hitched up to Little, Brown’s flagship site is called “Ask the Debut Novelist,” and the blog reads like a Dear Sugar for writers.  You know, the struggling to publish write in with thoughtful industry questions, and he heaps gobs of witty advice back at them.  Well, he made me laugh.  He writes wicked good sentences, and I think this clever gimmick just made me order his book.  I can’t wait to read it.  Here’s the blurb from his website:

Coming of age can happen at the strangest times. For Anders Hill, long ensconced in “the land of steady habits”—the affluent hamlets of Connecticut that dot the commuter rail line—it’s finally time to reap the rewards of a sensible life. Into his sixties and newly retired, his grown sons’ college tuitions paid in full, Anders finds the contentment he’s been promised is still just out of reach. So he decides he’s had enough of steady habits: he leaves his wife, buys a condo, and waits for freedom to transform him.

But as the cheery charade of Christmas approaches, Anders starts to wonder if maybe parachuting from his life was not the most prudent choice. Stripped of the comforts of his previous identity, he turns up at a holiday party full of his ex-wife’s friends, and sets in motion a series of events by turns comic and catastrophic. Before the year has turned, he has to face the startling possibility that the very world he rejected may in fact be the only one he needs.

Charting the arc of a forty-year marriage this finely observed novel about a man deep in conflict with his community and his past brings into sharp relief the powers of memory, miscommunication, routine, and disappointment to shape and define a family’s mythology. The Land of Steady Habits introduces Ted Thompson as an auspicious talent with striking compassion for his characters and new insight into the American tradition of the suburban narrative.


David Daley of Salon says of the novel and its protagonist, Inside the ruined heart and soul of Anders Hill is a warning: even the life you think falls short of your dreams must not be taken for granted.

Ted Thompson is being compared to Cheever and Updike, and for more gracious blurbs and to order his book, click here.

POST SCRIPT: Ted Thompson follows me on twitter, and you should, too!  Scroll down for latest tweets and click button to access my profile.

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keep me reasonably gentle o lord

I came across this prayer today, full of self-deprecating wit and wisdom.  Would that I and anyone else in occasional need of gentle reminders toward kindness and humility should print it out and tape it to our foreheads.

Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess:

Lord, you know better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But you know, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask you for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

Amen

― Margot Benary-Isbert

And when all else fails, there’s always the ever graceful, gentle wit of Ann Landers: “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.”

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on art and those other elements

O'KeeffeTheir fleshy curves and folds so unlike the artist’s own toned body suggest possible associations with other elements of human anatomy.  This was written on the gallery description accompanying one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings that I saw at the de Young Museum recently.  I presume the curators sought to explain the context behind the piece, and how O’Keeffe had suggested it depicted her legs as she rowed across Lake George with her lover Alfred Stieglitz.  Um.  If you say so, Georgia.

While I was growing up there were fine art photographs and gallery pieces hanging on the walls of our dining room.  Two prominent Ansel Adams photographs.  A Ruth Bernhard nude.  And a Georgia O’Keeffe reproduced print.  Long before I had a single course in critical theory or art history, I looked at that O’Keeffe — each night at dinner to be exact– and what did I see?  A big vagina.  In the gallery today?  Vivid colorful unmistakable vaginas.  Flowers, feminine and splayed open with onlookers gazing into them to study their brush strokes.  The sensuality (and scandal) in these images I suppose is what has drawn people to O’Keeffe’s work, but I’m still giggling from across that table.  Especially at the people who are not seeing the big hoohaw in front of them and still hang it on the wall.  The artist herself bristled at this interpretation of her work and insisted she was not working with “feminine iconography” but only painting what she saw in nature: and that would be flowers, people!  Um.  If you say so, Georgia. But these look pretty much like vaginas to me:

Blue Flowers     okeeffe     series1

Why protest so much?  I think she should have run with this, don’t you?  What’s wrong with feminine iconography?  Men and women.  Straight or gay.  Human beings are drawn to the feminine life source.  We associate the feminine with creativity, with comfort, connection and love.  Feminine iconography has been rendered in art throughout history, from carved idols to cave paintings to modern photography.  It even shows up in contemporary architecture and gasp in the Church.  This past Christmas I took my mother to a choral concert at a magnificent cathedral recently constructed in the Diocese of Oakland.  It’s a Catholic church, mind you, and when I took one look at it, what did I see . . . a big vagina, of course.  To be more specific, it’s a cavernous womb.  A light-filled holy place of worship beautifully named Cathedral of Christ the Light but now affectionately called among other things “The Vagina Church.”

I am sure the Bishop who presided over the design and the architects and builders insist, like O’Keeffe, that this is just a majestic glass building.  I am sure they didn’t gather around the conference table bursting with giggles and obsession with feminine iconography and say, I know!  let’s design the facade to look like gigantic labia and oh, let’s have the visitors walk through those labia and into the sanctuary — the womb of Mother Church — where a five story high phallic hologram of Christ awaits them behind the altar.  No.  I’m sure they’d dismiss any of these associations with those other elements of human anatomy as simply preposterous because they make us uncomfortable– it’s just a work of high tech modern design, people!  But you take a look at the photos and decide for yourself.  Regardless of what you or I see, this building is a beautiful expression of the artistic vision, and like all works of art, O’Keeffe’s paintings or the magnificent Cathedral of Christ the Light, they engage us in a conversation about the mysteries and wonder of creation.  With a notably feminine touch.

christthelightentry     christthelightceiling     Cathedral_interior1

If you go, Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George is at the De Young Museum in San Francisco through May 11, 2014.  Highlights for me were her Lake George Barn paintings, the quotations scattered throughout the gallery space, as well as the collected letters of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, a ten pound tome entitled My Faraway One available for purchase in the gift shop.

. . . he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all . . . .

~ Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses

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