On Existential Angst


(graphic credit:  Corey Mohler)

On Existential Angst

Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber. ―Kurt Vonnegut

This week I was visited by an old acquaintance. Fortunately, we don’t spend too much time together, but when he arrives, it seems that all else stops until his departure. I’m speaking of, of course, Existential Angst.

It is his custom to arrive unbidden, and to depart thus. So when he appeared in my bed early in the morning, I took some time to try to figure out just what, or who, had invited this unsolicited guest. Could it have been that penultimate (I do love that word) episode of Downton Abbey where Mary committed a reprehensible wickedness, yet went on to find happiness, at least in the short-term, right in that same episode, and just happened to have a wedding dress in her closet to boot? Perhaps her foul behavior triggered some of my own familial issues, issues that I thought, hoped, were long-resolved.

So, where to turn? Always, to books. This time to Alexander McCall Smith and Isabel Dalhousie, whose philosophical musings customarily help, or at least did before she too found happiness all too easily. And then Ann Lamott is a solace, but I did like her better when she was less sure of God, struggling with both her life and beliefs. I need questioners, doubters to lean on, to go to, for who better to understand a questioner, a doubter?

At any rate, said Existential Angst seems to have departed for more fecund territory. And I wish him both well and good-riddance. I don’t know why he decided to exit after such an abbreviated visit, though I am grateful (having hung on to gratitude as my lifeline throughout). So I have gone back to the Y, to the hyper-chlorinated pool, back to my keyboard and novel-in-progress, back to a sort of life-rhythm (a lot of hyphens here, I see). And for the time being, I have pushed nihilism to the rear, and I can see a patch of blue. At least for now. Although I did just spy  him in the driveway, waiting.

Another Sunday,  www.cynthiastrauff.com


Why Are We All So Angry?


Why Are We So Angry?

Carl Jung said that all politics is projection (or something close to that) and that we project both those qualities that we love about ourselves, and those qualities that we hate in ourselves, onto the character of our politicians. If this is so, all I can say is that there must be copious self-loathing floating around in our atmosphere.

So many of us are so sure that we are right, that God, however we define him/her/it, is definitely on our side, whispering, even howling, inspirational words to guide us.

A Supreme Court Justice dies. He was a scoundrel some write with abandon; good riddance they say, because, after all, he held a different philosophy so he must be of a lower order, not worthy of our mourning. And, by the way, the first response from those on the “other” side involved exhortations of blocking any replacement our sitting president might put forth, though I do think he has that right under the Article Two of the Constitution (Justice Scalia would back me on that), and yes I do know that he/she has to be approved by the Senate.

Our anger, and indeed our hatred, seems to be playing out on the national stage with our Republican primaries, as well. It appears that we have transferred an abundant expanse of anger and hate to our candidates who proudly wear it as their mantle of purple, and highly-moral purple at that.

Though I am a registered Independent, and find both parties odious, I do think the Republicans win the prize this year for repugnance, at least on the national horizon.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Democrats, donning the cloak of love-for-all (except those who might have the audacity to disagree with them), are gleefully blaming Republicans for gerrymandering two blatantly politicized voting districts, while conveniently forgetting that it was their own party who blithely engineered the first one, a district roughly two blocks wide and ninety miles long.

So, I am now as bad as those I criticize, feeling thoroughly self-righteous in my bi-partisan disgust. Now if I can dredge up some respect and regard for those with whom I disagree, and actually listen to what they have to say without formulating my response while they are talking, it might start a trend. I might even change my mind.

Bird-by-bird, starfish-by-starfish. I’ll let you know how it goes.

On Loving My Friends on the BBC


On Loving My Friends on the BBC…

Last night I watched Episode One of the BBC’s production of War and Peace. I’ve started to read the book three separate times, and have never made it past page fifty. So, I decided, this was a good a chance as any, and most likely would be more authentic to the page than the 1956 Hollywood version with Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer.

Imagine my delight when the first person I recognized was Chief Superintendent Innocent, Robby Lewis’s boss (Inspector Lewis), She was quickly followed by Cousin Rose (Downton Abbey), and then I’m almost sure by Edith (Downton, again). My head was spinning. Here they were, playing different parts, but I knew them. Yes, here were my old friends.

Then, all before the first commercial, mind you, who appeared but my dear sweet Sydney Chambers (Grantchester) who somehow managed to look fetching, tortured and incredibly handsome in a bicorn hat that covered his ears. Then I discovered Agnes (Mr. Selfridge), although, I must admit, it took me a while to place her.

Seeing these people whom I knew gave me a warm feeling, for, indeed, I do feel that I do know them. We watched an old, old episode of Midsomer Murders a few evenings ago, and there was Carson (Downton, again) only this time with dark hair and a decidedly sexy manner. We saw Hathaway (Inspector Lewis, again) in an early episode of Foyle’s War, and then, what a treat, to see younger brother Tristan (All Creatures Great and Small) as the lead Detective “Dangerous”  Davies (The Last Detective), and then again as the chief constable enamored of Adela Bradley (Mrs. Bradley Mysteries).

My husband is sure this reappearance of familiar faces is because they just don’t have that many actors in England. (He considers all BBC productions to be repertory.) I don’t subscribe to that. Rather, I like to think that they are aware of the special place they have in my heart and know that their visits bring me joy.

To be fair, the series has quite a few heavy hitters besides those whom I recognize from new and old BBC series. Paul Dano as Pierre, who to me looks like an aging Harry Potter who’s enjoyed quite a few cheeseburgers, and Jim Broadbent who is, as always, superb in his understated craftsmanship.

It is hard work to see my pals as the characters they’re now playing – Natasha, Pierre, Sonya, Bolkonsky…. but I do know who they are, really.

Now, I must return to Episode Two. I can hardly wait to see which of my BBC mates will surprise me with an appearance.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com





On Structure, Habits, Routines and Rituals


Every day since I left the world of paid employment, upon waking, I savor my freedom. Oh, the joy of having my hours to call my own, to choose how I want to spend my days, an ecstasy that makes even doing laundry a delight.

I’ve known, since I was a child, that I am a person who likes, okay, I’ll say it, loves structure, and over the past years, I’ve developed a rhythm, a cadence, mapping out a time to write, or at least a time to dither about not writing while finding what might be considered odious chores around the house, rather than “sit, stay” at my desk. I devotedly make up my to do lists– they provide me with a texture of security, of protection.

This week, while putting off returning to my novel-in-progress, I happened upon Mary Oliver’s Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, in which she considers habit and life’s rhythm, and how it sets a context for the daily-ness of our lives.

I give you her words, which say it better than mine ever could:

(with habits) “life’s fretfulness is transcended. The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers. If you have no ceremony, no habits, which may be opulent or may be simple but are exact and rigorous and familiar, how can you reach toward the actuality of faith, or even a moral life, except vaguely? The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real. (the bold is mine)

… Most people take action by habit in small things more often than in important things, for it’s the simple matters that get done readily, while the more somber and interesting, taking more effort and being more complex, often must wait for another day. Thus, we could improve ourselves quite well by habit, by its judicious assistance, but it’s more likely that habits rule us.

And so, as I consider the habits that are my master, I ask you to consider those traditions that rule you. And not all bad, I’d say.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com