Monthly Archives: September 2010

Novelty: the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder…

This is the only book by good old Mr. Berry offered by my library.  In fact, I found it ferretted back in a little section classified as “Young Adult General Non-Fiction”.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  At any rate, I think I enjoy the clarity and immediacy of Berry speaking directly (even all the way back in 1977) just as much as I enjoy the beauty of his fiction.

It is a book of essays (indeed, so indicates the cover).  Part of the second, entitled “Healing,” I thought worthy of taking down to remember.  What is creativity?…

The task of healing is to respect oneself as a creature, no more and no less.

A creature is not a creator, and cannot be.  There is only one Creation, and we are its members.

To be creative is only to have health: to keep oneself fully alive in the Creation, to keep the Creation fully alive in oneself, to see the Creation anew, to welcome one’s part in it anew.

The most creative works are all strategies of this health.

Works of pride, by self-called creators, with their premium on originality, reduce the Creation to novelty– the faint surprises of minds incapable of wonder.

Pursuing originality, the would-be creator works alone.  In loneliness one assumes a responsibility for oneself that one cannot fulfill.

Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.

Wendell Berry, What Are People For?; “Healing”, part II

The “faint suprises of minds incapable of wonder.”  Hm.  Food for thought.


knit & purl…

It is late, and I have been knitting.

I spent last night with my friend Beth, and she offered me a pair of knitting needles, instruction and support after it came up in conversation that I had tried time and again and never could seem to get the hang of knitting.  (I always say, since it’s so very clever, that the problem is there are no hooks on knitting needles to hold the thread on.)  Beth walked me through casting on, then knitting, then purling, and it all came back and somehow it worked.  The yarn stayed where it was supposed to, instead of slipping off the tapered needle tip at every inopportune moment!  How exciting!

This spurt of knitting madness was actually sparked by a visit to etsy.com, where I found (the other day– today it seems they have all sold!) some most wonderful, big, slouchy knit hats.  I want one.  Badly.  It seems essential to my fall and winter happiness that I have a cranberry-colored, big, slouchy knit hat.  I have a thing for red hats anyway…

…as is evidenced by the provided photo of myself, odd expression, big nose, wastebasket and all, modeling my first hat-love– a thrifted felt number.  Joy!

As I wasn’t ready to send upwards of $40 or $50 sailing into cyberspace– and as I can’t even find the coveted knit hats on etsy today– the fact is obvious: I must learn to knit.  And learning I am!  I have a little rectangle of blue stockinette stitch hanging off my needles right now, slightly surprising even myself.

I think I’ll finish it off into a little potholder, and give it to Beth.  And then move on to hats!  Sounds like a plan to me.  Onward!…


At long last, Berry

I am finally reading Jayber Crow, the novel by Wendell Berry.  My friend Judy so graciously gifted me with a copy of my very own exactly five days ago.  (Thank you, thank you, yet again and as usual, Mrs. C.!)  I have not been living only between its pages, however, so I haven’t made amazing time reading… just 34 pages in as of tonight, but then again, Berry is like dark chocolate… there is a richness in each bite.  Sometimes his prose is more poetry than anything.  And he likes to surprise you with tiny and delightful turns of phrase.  A window permitting him to observe “the life history of leaves.”   A distant house “at the point of the meeting of earth and sky.  I would let my mind go there and make itself a home.”

Mr. Berry and I are only slightly aquainted (in his writing), and as I only know the merest details about the man and his work, the only observations I can make are more notes of discovery and delight (or disappointment, I suppose) than anything.  The first thing I could get my hands on bearing his name was a new novel, Andy Catlett: Early Travels.  It is short, and basically plotless… and suddenly you realize it’s quietly come and taken your breath away.

There is one passage of the book that I found so evocative, I had to read it over and over– and aloud to my parents.  I remember feeling it, feeling the darkness and the cold wind and the aloneness; it was real, so real.  As I find the page and read it again now, I can almost feel what I felt at that moment.  How did he do it?  How did Berry lay out words on a page that could make me remember the feeling of something I’d never experienced?

Grandma blew out one of the lamps and picked up the other.  We went through the shadows out into the cold front hall, up the stairs, and into the room over the living room.  Grandma set the lamp on the washstand.  I put down my grip and, standing over the register that let some heat come up from the stove, I began to take off my clothes.

That reminded Grandma and she said, “Did you brush your teeth, Andy?”

 I said, “I don’t need to, I don’t reckon.”

We both knew that was a fib, but the pitcher on the washstand was empty and it was a long way to the kitchen, and so we both pretended that I didn’t need to.

I didn’t tell her that my pajamas were in my grip.  The room was cold and it would be colder in the morning, and so I left on my shirt and long underwear, like Grandpa.

Grandma turned back the covers, I sank into the feather bed, and she covered me up, adding another quilt from the closet.  I was so pressed upon from all sides I didn’t think I could move.

Grandma said, “You’re snug as a bug in a rug.”  She said, “Go to sleep now.”  And that reminded her of a scrap of eloquence she loved, and she repeated it: “Sleep is nature’s sweet restorer.”  I was a long time learning that she was quoting from Edward Young’s Night Thoughts.  But where had she learned it?

She kissed me goodnight then, picked up the lamp, and went out.  She closed the door, perfecting the dark, and I heard her footseps cross the hall.

We had made little enough of a stir all the evening, but now as we settled for the night the quiet if the empty rooms began to seep into the occupied ones.  The old house clicked and ticked in the nighttime cold, and the wind, I thought, was trying to wrap all the way around the walls.  In that house, especially in winter, you never forgot the weather.  There was no insulation in those days, no double-glazed windows.  Only the two rooms were heated.  The others, except for hearth fires at special times, stayed cold.  And you could hear the wind.  My earliest dreams that I remember were dreams of the wind, dreamed in that house.

At first the bed was ice-cold.  But I began, gradually and deliciously, to get warm.  When I was fully warm, I slept.

Typing it word by word, it still gives me a chill.  I think it reminds of me something familiarly foreign, old people’s houses, other people’s grandparents; and darkness, and empty rooms, and being alone… which was to me as a child the worst sort of foreigness, a knawing fear.  But now, remembering the feeling, it takes on a different quality.  It is a loneliness that I can bear, and examine, and allow myself to feel, and maybe perceive as comfort and even beauty.