Smelling Spring

I have been inhaling my way through spring, almost drunk on the fragrant shrubs in my garden. Last year’s extreme pruning left me with fewer Lilacs this year but I am reassured by wiser gardeners than me that next year will be better. Tiny Carol Mackie Daphne, on the other hand, is exploding in exotically scented little blooms. The Daphne’s fragrance is more delicate than the larger, almost vulgar smelling Virburnum shrub with it’s heavy white heads of flowers.  I made the mistake of planting these beauties all in the same corner at back of the house where we like to sit in the summer, imagining a scented garden. But it’s still too cool back there at this time of year and we rarely sit, as I’d imagined, inhaling the perfumes while soaking in the sun.  Instead, I regularly venture out to this spot to get my scent-fix and lob off branches of blooms to fill the house. But  after only a day or so, both blossoms and perfume fade. It’s not the same.

What is it about scent that is so evocative? I think it’s the ephemeral, passing quality – like time. We cannot keep it – not for long. There, the poignancy of spring.



I have a quick fix for not having enough time to write or read: do not turn on the television.  We’re not bad in my house – we will go days without watching TV and on Sundays, it’s banned until after 5 PM. The rest of the week, we rarely turn it on before 7:00 and then, it’s me who’s the culprit, switching on the BBC to follow the latest international calamity. We have effectively bullied M into not watching much boob-tube when we’re home and if she does, it’s set so low, our deaf ears can barely hear it anyway. And canned laughter is forbidden. That works because she mostly watches CSI and medical mystery stuff. She recently pointed out that our favorite programs, John Stewart and Stephen Colbert have the same laughter tracks.  No, it’s a live audience, I pointed out.  But it sounds the same, she retorts. And it does. But the difference is, we’re laughing too, so it’s not irritating to us.  A benefit of the parental role is hypocrisy like this.

Anyway, once the idiot box is on, it’s hard to turn off. Let’s see what Lidia’s cooking tonight, then Jacques Pepin. Because we can record shows, we feel like we are efficient in our viewing – fast-forwarding through commercials cuts down on at least a third of the time.  True-confessions: we are American Idol fans. Embarrassing, I know.  I’m also addicted to whatever Masterpiece Theater show is out there, although I usually watch that alone and I’m way backed up. The Office is a family favorite and a new favorite is Parks and Rec.  That’s about it — but there you have it — the evening is shot, swallowed up by TV-land.

And the worst part is, television is completely soporific for me and I rarely stay awake beyond 9:00 PM. I can if I am reading or writing, but on the couch, in front of the television I just conk out. If Rob is there beside me and holding my feet as he sweetly does, I sleep to The Simpsons or Nova soundtracks (his favorites) until I can force open my eyes just wide enough to stumble upstairs. This image of myself reminds me of my father when I was growing up — always falling asleep on the floor in front of some mystery series or Columbo.  “Why don’t you go to bed, Dad?” we’d urge. Probably because we wanted to change the channel.  He’d rarely leave, instead rallying for a few more minutes after our harangue before his head would wobble down to the pillow, us kids cracking up at his snores.

When We Win the Lottery

Sometimes Rob and I indulge ourselves in the fantasy of what we would do with our millions if we won the lottery.  Sometimes, we even buy tickets – a quick pick and one with a mix of birthdays.  Lump sum – we want our winnings in one full swoop.  We think we’d keep this sweet little house but make it a little less, little.  From the pointiest part of our roof, I think we’d be able to see the Long Island Sound and that’s where I’d like my writing room to be.  Something closer to the water would be nice too, so maybe we’d get one of those mysterious, abandoned looking places out on the islands we kayak around in the summer.

Both of us say, we wouldn’t quit our jobs right away, but certainly would take time off. Mind you, I like my job – how can I not? It’s books I am selling. Still, I’d like more of those 40 hours a week for my own.  And that’s where our lottery fantasy really takes off for me – when I think about being able to structure my day-to-day life without the demands of a job.  Weekends (especially long ones) and my summer get-away-with-the-Studio 70 Sisters, offer a glimpse of what I would do.

Read. First I’d make my way through the piles of New Yorker Magazines.  Somehow, I actually thought I’d get around to reading this weekly and subscribed. I try to bring it in the car and read while waiting for M or for the morning manager to come and open the store, when I get there early.  If I get hooked on a story, I’ll read it over lunch – but back issues folded open to some half-read page have been abandoned in the back seat, and another stack is on the living room table.  For the first day or so in the Catskills last summer, I lay in the porch hammock and read through months of issues. In between napping, I got through them all.  If I won the lottery, I’d renew my subscription and read it weekly, as intended.

I’d tackle the piles of books around here.  Rob built me another bookcase and yesterday, I began almost-organizing my shelves, filling them with books I mostly haven’t read yet. And besides those crowded shelves, I have a NOOK – and my cyber library continues to grow.  Right now I am reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and just the other day I bought Eden by Yael Hedaya – an Israeli author who was a guide at the United Nations at the same time as me.  Also on my virtual shelf are Franzen’s Freedom, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobsonand I have yet to read a page of them. I borrowed The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson thinking I’d indulge myself this weekend, and it sits like a big box of chocolates I’m afraid to open because I won’t be able to stop.  Time.

I bought the NOOK because I felt like I better embrace the party-line and now, sincerely do.  Yesterday, reading the New York Times (only weekend delivery and still hours added for reading that!) there was a piece about an author, David Vann who’s first book, Legend of a Suicide piqued my interest, and I was able to immediately find it on my NOOK.  I used some self-control and so far, only downloaded a sample although I think I am hooked on Vann’s writing and will have to go all the way on this one.  All of this, from the comfort of my couch.  Of course, to some extent, this is an oft discussed issue – is this cannibalization for the bookstore? But that’s a question for another blog entry — I’m planning my lottery-won time here, after all.

Travel. Lots of trips — although we’d still be constrained by M’s school schedule — we’d travel to warmth in the winter.  Sharing places I have been to and loved with my love, and bringing M to the town in Italy where she was born. Bali, Japan, China. New places -Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Thailand, Egypt, Israel, anywhere – everywhere. We’d visit friends around the world: Helene and Paul in South Africa, Jenny in Tasmania.

Garden. I’d build a much better fence to deter the creatures from eating everything. Plant more flowers and some fruit trees.  And get bees – although for this, we won’t wait for the lottery.  We decided against chickens although our neighbor’s fresh eggs were addicting. Birds just never really appealed to me as pets — I don’t want to touch them and I don’t think we could get away with that if we had chickens. Maybe a goat or two…

I recently finished an advance reader copy of And I Shall Have Some Peace There, a memoir by Margaret Roach, who, without winning the lottery, managed to choose the life she wanted. Roach clocked in many years in a high-powered job working for Martha Stewart and walked away to live the life she really loved, gardening, writing, and just being in the Hudson Valley.  Roach does not sugar-coat her new life, honestly sharing the pitfalls and struggles as well as the joys, in this compelling and inspiring read about what to do with one’s time.  Roach reminds us that our time here is limited so: carpe diem.

Write. With my new room (my own!) at the top of the house and a view of the Long Island Sound, I could disappear at any time to write.  I’d probably still stick to my morning regime when it feels like my subconscious is still boss.

Volunteer. I’d up my donations and time to the organizations I already love working with like Fairfield County First Book and The Bridgeport School Volunteers Association.  And I’d send lots of money to MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

What I would do if (when?) we win the lottery, is what I do anyway – but I’d do it more. And that’s the best part of periodically indulging in this fantasy – discovering we are already living the life we want.  It’s not more things we want — just more time.


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