“In the long run, we’re all dead.”

I have always been drawn to tomb figures.

Last week, I had an opportunity to revisit the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. The book I chose for the drive there and back was The Beautiful Mystery (Louise Penny; 2012). When I returned home, I finished Migrations (Charlotte McConaghy; 2020), which I loved and particularly recommend to fans of Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel; 2014). Related review here.

Since my last annotated list I’ve finished both Othello (1603) and Timon of Athens (1606) as part of my goal to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays this year.

For a recent Chicago Humanities Festival program, I devoured The Taste of Sugar (Marisel Vega; 2020) in two sittings; and for The Readers Karamazov lineup of Middlemarch related texts, I read Clouds (Aristophanes (trans. I. Johnston); 423 B.C.), again relying on the wonderful Reading Greek Tragedy Online resource.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (Oliver Burkeman; 2021) yielded a number of passages for my commonplace book. (The title of this entry is taken from the introduction.) The premise? If we make it to eighty, we live for about four thousand weeks. How will we spend them? This book, writes Burkeman, “is an attempt […] to see if we can’t discover, or recover, some ways of thinking about time that do justice to our real situation: to the outrageous brevity and shimmering possibilities of our four thousand weeks.”

p. 64
In case this needs saying, it isn’t that a diagnosis of terminal illness, or a bereavement, or any other encounter with death is somehow good, or desirable, or “worth it.“ But such experiences, however wholly unwelcome, often appear to leave those who undergo them in a new and more honest relationship with time. The question is whether we might attain at least a little of that same outlook in the absence of the experience of agonizing loss.

p. 115
The trouble with being so emotionally invested in planning for the future, though, is that while it may occasionally prevent a catastrophe, the rest of the time it tends to exacerbate the very anxiety it was supposed to allay. The obsessive planner, essentially, is demanding certain reassurances from the future — but the future isn’t the sort of thing that can ever provide the reassurance he craves, for the obvious reason that it’s still in the future.

p. 116
[T]his underlying longing to turn the future into something dependable isn’t confined to compulsive planners. It’s present in anyone who worries about anything, whether or not they respond by devising elaborate timetables or hypercautious travel plans. Worry, at its core, is the repetitious experience of a mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, then trying again and again and again — as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster. The fuel behind worry, in other words, is the internal demand to know, in advance, that things will turn out fine….

p. 158
The derision we heap upon the avid stamp collector or train spotter might really be a kind of defense mechanism, to spare us from confronting the possibility that they are truly happy in a way that the rest of us — pursuing our telic lives, ceaselessly in search of future fulfillment — are not.

p. 159
There’s a second sense in which hobbies pose a challenge to our reigning culture of productivity and performance: it’s fine, and perhaps preferable, to be mediocre at them.

Flute adventures

When I last wrote about my music studies, I was working on the second of Petites Etudes Mélodiques by Ernesto Köhler, Op. 33, Book 1. I am now working on the second of 18 Studies for Flute by Joachim Anderson, Op. 1. Neat symmetry there. This means that I am about halfway through Robert Cavally’s Melodious and Progressive Studies from Andersen, Gariboldi, Koehler, and Terschak for Flute, Book 1.

I returned to in-person lessons with my private instructor in mid-May, but I have decided not to return to band. By the time I checked in for a few Zoom rehearsals with them this summer, the group had shrunk to seven members. In-person rehearsals resumed this month, but for now I will fulfill the “play well with others” aspect of my music education by working on duets with my husband. After some success on a few short selections from Rubank’s 78 Duets for Flute and Clarinet: Volume 1, we are tackling Nick Homes’ arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” It is much harder than Homes and Charro Flores make it sound, but we’re enjoying the challenge. My teacher also continues to assign duet work; I am polishing the last two (of ten!) pages of Haydn’s Duetto No. VI, Op. 101 (Based on Quartet, Op. 17, No.6), which is the second selection in Selected Duets for Flute, Volume II (Advanced).

I prepared “Scherzino” (Joachim Anderson, Op. 55, No. 6) from Robert Cavally’s 24 Short Concert Pieces for the spring recital, but when the program moved from the recorded Zoom format to an in-person venue, I withdrew and simply supported my studiomates from the (live) audience. (I also attended two delightful senior recitals this summer.) My current solo is “Hungarian Sérénade” (Victorin Joncières), also from the Cavally edition, which I will present for the last time at next week’s lesson.

The flute organization I joined last year sponsors a vibrant and motivational program of online seminars with such artists and teachers as Paul Edmund-Davies, Gaspar Hoyos, and Raimundo Pineda. Some of their exercises, tips, and practical wisdom have made their way into my daily practice, which has expanded to include the additional duet:

— 20 minutes: long tones and scale work
— 20 minutes: Melodious and Progressive Studies
— 20 minutes: assigned duet
— 15 to 20 minutes: second duet
— 15 minutes: rhythmical articulation
— 15 to 20 minutes: solo

As someone who feels she achieves more if the day has reliable rhythms (unintentional pun), I have taken to rising by 5 a.m. each day to complete daily chores and walk three or four miles before my husband starts his work. Over the last few months, I’ve added thirty minutes on the exercise bike and some simple stretching and weight work. After showering and catching up on paperwork and whatnot, then, I now generally begin my music practice by 10 a.m. and finish in time to prepare lunch, which leaves me the remainder of the day for reading and other pursuits.

As I said last September, music ameliorates the isolating effects of the pandemic; I remain so grateful for the opportunity to continue my studies.

A few recent acquisitions

We arrived at the trail for our four-mile walk just after sunrise, and since returning home, we’ve knocked out the few outdoor chores on our list. The calendar may read September, but the weather indicates mid-July: Highs today and tomorrow may hit ninety or more. That sounds like my cue to lower the blinds and the thermostat and settle in with a stack of books after my music practice.

This weekend, I’m reading Marisel Vera’s The Taste of Sugar (2020) for an upcoming Chicago Humanities Festival event, and Laura Lippman’s most recent bestseller, Dream Girl, which is my “Farewell, summer!” selection.

This particular web

Image captured at the conservation district on Labor Day.

From Book II, Chapter 15, of Middlemarch:

I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe.

Although I missed the August meetings of book group, I did finish (re)reading Middlemarch and have returned in time for our three remaining meetings this month.

Book Five, Chapter 44
He distrusted her affection; and what loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

Book Five, Chapter 46
Our sense of duty must often wait for some work which shall take the place of dilettanteism and make us feel that the quality of our action is not a matter of indifference.

Book Five, Chapter 50
“… [T]here are always people who can’t forgive a man for differing from them.”

I also finished reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch.

p. 41
Coming to languages too late for effortless fluency, she set about achieving what she could through resolution and determination. She found an outlet for her hungry ambition by reshaping herself into an intellectual. She turned her yearning into learning.

p. 145
Books — or texts, as they were called by those versed in theory — weren’t supposed merely to be read, but to be interrogated, as if they had committed some criminal malfeasance.

p. 172
Such an approach to fiction — where do I see myself in here? — is not how a scholar reads, and it can be limiting and its solipsism. It’s hardly an enlarging experience to read a novel as if it were a mirror of oneself. One of the useful functions of literary criticism and scholarship is to suggest alternative lenses through which a book might be read.

A book group member recommended The Readers Karamazov podcast, which began its second season with a four-episode discussion of Middlemarch. (And, yes, I must go back and listen to their The Brothers Karamazov episodes.) What a terrific resource! I enjoyed their insights so much that I plan to read along for the rest of this season. Candide (Voltaire; 1759. (Trans. John Butt; 1947.), their next selection, was a reread for me.

In my quest to reread all of Shakespeare’s plays, I have finished Twelfth Night and Troilus and Cressida since my last annotated list.

Under the heading “beach reads” (although I spent no time at the beach this summer), file the following:

The House in the Cerulean Sea (TJ Klune; 2020. Fiction.)
p. 188
It struck him, then, just who this house belonged to, and how much of an honor this would be. For an adult sprite, their dwelling was their most important possession. It was their home where all their secrets were kept. Sprites were notorious for their privacy, and he had no doubt that Phee would one day be the same, though he hoped she would remember the time spent at Marsyas in her youth. She wouldn’t have to be so alone.

The Turnout (Megan Abbott; 2021. Fiction.)
Review here.

The Plot (Jean Hanff Korelitz; 2021. Fiction.)
Review here.

A Trick of the Light (Louise Penny; 2011. Fiction.)
The Inspector Gamache series is actually a number of steps up from “beach read.” As always, many thanks to Robin for recommending these books.

My recent graphic work selections include:
Odessa (Jonathan Hill; 2020. Graphic fiction.)
The Hard Tomorrow (Eleanor Davis; 2019. Graphic fiction.)
Sweet Tooth: The Return (Jeff Lemire; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
It’s Not What You Thought It Would Be (Lizzy Stewart; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness (Kristen Radtke; 2021. Graphic non-fiction.)

Radtke’s Seek You is a gorgeous read. Highly recommended.

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson; 2004. Fiction.)
Speaking of gorgeous reads, how did this languish on my shelves for seventeen years? Beautiful, beautiful.

p. 7
Well, see and see but do not perceive, hear and hear but do not understand, as the Lord says. I can’t claim to understand that saying, as many times as I’ve heard it, and even preached on it. It simply states a deeply mysterious fact. You can know a thing to death and be for all purposes completely ignorant of it. A man can know his father, or his son, and there might still be nothing between them but loyalty and love and mutual incomprehension.

p. 39
But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course that some very tedious gentleman have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp.

p. 197
We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likeness, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us.

p. 233
I was thinking about the things that had happened here just in my lifetime — the droughts and the influenza and the Depression and three terrible wars. It seems to me now we never looked up from the trouble we had just getting by to put the obvious question, that is, to ask what it was the Lord was trying to make us understand.

p. 246
I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turned radiant at once, that word “good” so profoundly affirmed my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.

Recent non-fiction selections included:

Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America (Alec MacGillis; 2021)
Review here.

Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials (Marc Aronson; 2003)

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives (Dashka Slater; 2017)
Original article here.

Other books:

Green Shadows, White Whale (Ray Bradbury; 1992. Fiction.)
I read Bradbury’s fictionalized account of his travels to Ireland to write the script of Moby Dick for an upcoming Newberry Library program.

Medea (Euripides (trans. D. Raynor); 431 B.C. Drama.)
Read before seeing the excellent 2014 production streaming on National Theatre at Home. I also enjoyed the related Reading Greek Tragedy Online episode, which can be found here.

At the Milwaukee Art Museum

It has been nearly two years since we last visited the Milwaukee Art Museum. We had the place practically to ourselves yesterday.