Rabbit Trail: Friday Faves!

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I hope to have time this weekend to write up the next installment in the Mating in Captivity series. Meanwhile, I figured we’d check out this rabbit trail and share some of our favorite things. I’ll go first!

Favorite Book:

That’s like asking me to name my favorite child. When you read as many books as I do, the favorite among them changes in relation to the genres and types of books that have been read in the last year. My favorite book at the moment is a tie between A Girl of the Limberlost, Barracoon, and How to Be Unlucky by Joshua Gibbs. I haven’t reviewed the latter book yet because I want to give it a re-read before I delve into it. This guy really resonates with me, from a spiritual point of view. I never cease to be amazed by that since he is Orthodox and I am what I refer to as a raging Protestant.

My favorite movie:

At the moment? Chef, starring Jon Favreau. I wrote about that one recently, complete with a couple of video clips. My favorite film of all time if I had to pick one is probably the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (I wrote about that one here before as well), followed lastly by the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments.

My favorite place to vacation:

The mountains win this one, hands down; The Smokey Mountains in particular. I live near the beach, so while I enjoy it, it’s not my favorite place to get away. That said, there is no place quite like the Florida Keys, my second favorite vacation adventure, followed up by our nation’s capital. There’s so much to learn in Washington D. C. that you could go there every year and learn something new almost every time.

Favorite school subject:

I suspect this one is a no brainer. Writing and literature, of course! I read mainly for pleasure, but I rarely read a book without jotting down my thoughts and opinions about what I am reading as well as any memories or feelings it evokes. I do that whether or not I post a public review of the book. Doing this is highly satisfying to me, which is why it isn’t particularly difficult or time consuming for me to review books here. I always made A’s in English and literature.

My favorite form of exercise:

High Intensity Interval Training, usually referred to as HIIT. My preferred version is a good hard run alternated with brisk walks. I used to think log jogs were the best, but I’m over those now, unless my kids rope me into doing a race. By race, I mean a race against myself. I’ve never run fast enough to win a race. Wait! I did take top place female in my age category at a 5K about 4 years ago. Hah! I am not a huge fan of weightlifting, but I do moderate amounts because it’s good for me and my husband will gently remind me of that if I start to try to avoid doing it.

My favorite beauty routine:

Currently, it’s using my jade roller, which I use after a pretty extensive skin care routine. It only takes about 20 minutes a night but my husband says it seems like it takes 45. The results speak for themselves though, so I continue to do it.

My favorite beauty product:

M.A.C.’s 24-hour concealer is my go to whether I’m getting made up or not. The stuff is awesome. My favorite –currently- hair product is Mielle Organics Pomegranate and Honey Leave-in Conditioner. This one is specifically formulated for tightly curly hair, so not a universal product. It makes my hair feel good, and it’s not unusual for someone to hug me and note that my hair smells good. Win-win!

Those are a few of my favorite things. Currently!

If you feel like it, take a minute to share your favorites in any of these categories. I’m most interested in your favorite books, movies, and vacation spots.

Have a great weekend!

Mating in Captivity: Introduction – Chapter 2

mating in captivity

Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic, by Esther Perel. Originally published in 2006. Hardcover; 272 pages.

I decided to break this review up into several posts because, as with The Feminine Mystique and Modern Romance, the scope of ideas in the book are so wide-ranging I wanted offer a clear picture of what you’ll find within the book’s pages. Rather than removing the possibility of ever reading the book, in my own reading life I have found that such analyses propel my resolve to read the books for myself to better draw my own conclusions. Because of that, I have no qualms about doing chapter by chapter analyses of nonfiction books.

When considering my analysis, a few stipulations:

  • This is a purely secular book written by a Belgian psychotherapist and relationship counselor.
  • My opinions in these analyses are offered from the perspective of my Christian faith.
  • My position on reading varieties of views and schools of thoughts can be found on my standards and quotes page.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can take a look at what this increasingly popular lady has to say about the “reconciling the erotic and the domestic”.

Introduction

The introduction of the book lays the groundwork for what lies ahead. It’s a short explanation of the problem Perel is going to describe and then aim to solve:

Psychologists, sex therapists, and social observers have long grappled with the Gordian knot of how to reconcile sexuality and domesticity. p.xiii

In essence, Perel sets out to figure out why long term married couples (in aggregate) report a sharp decrease in desire for one another over time. She explores this by offering different examples of real life couples she has counseled over the years and the suggestions and homework she gave them which helped to reignite some of what they felt for one another in the beginning.

Being almost completely unfamiliar with this particular marital malaise, I am finding the book somewhat fascinating, even as I disagree with many of her bedrock assertions.

Chapter 1: From Adventure to Captivity

At some point, we can thoroughly address the whole notion of this “captivity” thing, but not quite yet. Chapter 1 begins with Perel describing the scene at a party for authors she attended several years ago. Different writers were mingling about with each other, sharing what types of books they were writing. When she shared that she was writing about, she was suddenly the star attraction.

Everyone in her vicinity had strong opinions and wanted to weigh in, with two distinct, caricaturish camps emerging; the romantics and the realists. The romantics“refuse a life without passion”, squared off versus the realists for whom “maturity prevails. The initial excitement grows into something else-deep love…diminishing desire is inescapable. You tough it out and grow up”.

Perel makes the case that our modern expectations of marriage are wildly out of proportion to anything out ancestors would have expected, and I agree with her. The demise of religion, long held traditions and community institutions (not to mention distances between extended families) have caused the majority of people to expect their spouse to replace everything that these support systems used to provide. She conversely asserts, and I agree, that deep love and desire are not mutually exclusive; that these can be maintained in the same relationship over time.

She rounds out the first chapter with a look at two of the couples she has counseled in her practice as an example of one of the things (I presume) she is going to use as a basis of foundation for her solution to the problem. Each of the couples entered territory where they sacrificed or hid parts of who they are for the sake of the whole, new entity they were creating as they merged their lives together. Perel asserts, and again, I partly agree, that a large part of the excitement of a new relationship is the unknown factor. The unpredictability and instability of a new relationship is the accelerant for the fire that ignites the desire.

At the beginning, she mistakenly calls this phenomena love, asserting that “love is inherently unstable”.  I disagree. Love isn’t inherently unstable. Real love is the most stable thing you can build any life on, the only thing really, and plenty of people experience the fire and excitement of desire without ever getting to love. Later, she reworks her terminology, correcting this earlier misstep of interchanging love for desire. It made for a much clearer communication of her points going forward.

She’s wrong to dismiss the need of sacrificing parts of oneself for the greater whole, but she’s absolutely right that being able to see our spouse as an individual, separate and distinct from us goes a long way to fight off the malaise that diminishes desire over time. There’s a lot more to unpack there, but not without quoting the whole book.

Chapter 2: More Intimacy, Less Sex

In this chapter, Perel expands on her preceding intimation about the need for separateness as a prerequisite for desire, using the example of a unmarried couple she saved by counseling the woman to move out, and how the shift re-ignited their relationship. As if often the case when Big T truth isn’t the foundation of counsel, we skip around the edges of truth just enough to sound good, but miss the heart of the matter. The thesis, if you will, of Chapter 2 is that when we become too enmeshed, we lose the ability to see our mate’s “otherness” enough to want them:

With too much distance, there can be no connection. But too much merging eradicates the separateness of two distinct individuals. There is nothing more to transcend, no bridge to walk on, no one to visit on the other side, no other internal world to enter. When people become fused-when two become one-connection can no longer happen. There is no one to connect with. p.25

Sigh. So much potential, so little Truth! Being a Christian, I am solidly and immovably in the camp of husband and wife being no longer two but one. Merging is a beautiful thing. Mrs. Perel got that part wrong. The intertwining of souls, however, doesn’t negate the reality that the differences between men and women, coupled with the reality of growth and change over time leaves us plenty of bridges to cross to one another as well as internal worlds to enter. The problem is that we often don’t want to do the work or experience the discomfort of crossing those bridges or even acknowledging the bridges.

Marriage as a destination rather than a journey is at the heart of a lack of desire is what Perel seems to be trying to get at, and she’s not wrong. That, and the tendency we have to set up our lives where we never have the opportunity to see our spouse’s otherness, to view them with new eyes, or outside of the context of very narrowly proscribed parameters.  Christians can be particularly susceptible to this tendency. When there are opportunities to see your mate within the context of the environments that intrigued and captivated you at the beginning of the relationship, desire can’t help but re-emerge.

This one has the makings of another one of those books that occasionally parks right alongside the curb of truth, but never makes it across the lawn to the front door.

We’ll see.

 

Preview of Coming Attractions: Mating in Captivity

Ever since reading a snippet of her writing in Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, I’ve been trying to get a read on what author and marriage therapist Esther Perel actually counsels. Her influence is increasing in the marriage and relationship industry, so regardless of whether I am personally affected by what she espouses, it interests me on a larger scale.

Just when I thought I had it figured out, and that she is extremely damaging, I’d hear or read something that made me think maybe she isn’t as bad a counselor as I thought.  I had ruled out reading any of her books because my reading queue is so full -and backed up- already. However, I changed my mind and decided to take the time to read Mating in Captivity, which I’ll start today over lunch. Soundbites and extemporaneous commentators are no substitute for reading her book for myself.

After I get underway with it, I’ll decide whether to write one comprehensive review at the end or if it is meaty enough to divide into several discussion posts.

Incidentally, this is a slow blog even by slow blog standards, but my posts on Modern Romance consistently report higher stats every week, from readers all over the world; even when little else is being read here. Two years since I first reviewed it, readers are still drawn to it.

Clearly, Ansari struck a chord with many people. Modern Romance is a very insightful, honest, and informative book. Surprisingly so, given that it’s written by a left-leaning American comic. It strikes at the heart of mating difficulties in our current culture, while stopping short of offering anything approaching a realistic solution. For those who haven’t read them:

Look forward to my review -or chapter summations- of Mating in Captivity sometime next week!

The Ever-Evolving Summer Break

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When I was a kid in school, the sound of the last school bell on the last day of school was a clear and crisp break from all things school related. Alice Cooper’s screechy anthem about school being out for summer is an apt description of how we felt.

One of the things I’ve noticed as we move away from homeschooling at the elementary grade level is that summer breaks are not the same as summer breaks when I was a kid. I was of course, educated in government schools, which played a large part in the way I experienced summer breaks. After spending time this week with other homeschool mothers, I realized that there are several differences contributing to the way our kids experience summer break today, regardless of how they are being educated.

Summer is often when we catch up on subjects that we didn’t finish during the school year while managing life. Dealing with the plumber, caring for aging parents, or even simple things like making dinner early in preparation for mid-week church activities cuts into time that might have been spent doing more school work. This is not an issue when kids are in school all day, leaving Mom the margin to tackle all those tasks without worrying that education is being diminished. Someone else is doing the heavy lifting of setting the pace and disseminating the instruction.

Even when we’re taking breaks for fun activities and summer vacations, preparation for the upcoming school year is always on our minds. Courses at the most popular tutoring and private schools which offer classes in partnership with homeschoolers fill up fast in the spring. There’s also the push to shop for the best curriculums at the best prices.

Another reason summer breaks of yesteryear were a lot freer is that for most of us, both parents were at work, so unless a kid was naturally an avid reader, summer could be pretty void of intellectual pursuits. In our house, there were more chores to do, such as yard work, cleaning house, and hanging laundry on the clothesline, and there is a lot of value in those things. Our culture underestimates the dimension it adds to a young person’s life when they contribute to the life of the family.  Additionally, we usually had activities in our immediate area to participate in; sports and camps at local schools which we could walk to rather than being stuck in the house because we couldn’t go anywhere without a ride from our parents.

The memory of walking to local activities reminds me of yet another difference between summer break then and now. We walked to these activities with other kids from the neighborhood. Friends were always nearby. We had time outside, exercise and a healthier overall environment than kids today. Our kids are spending a lot of time with their friends this summer. But they are only able to do it becuase their mothers, acting as social secretaries, carve out the time to make sure they get to one another. My closest playmates, however, lived on my street. None of this includes consideration of how many kids are more content staying inside playing on computers, video games, and smart phones than going outside.

Our kids have a lot of fun times to look forward to this summer. They’ll be learning new things in a fun environment, swimming with friends, and taking a few short trips; when they aren’t catching up on mathematics.

If this sounds like a lament that our homeschooled kids are not enjoying the identical flavor of summer break that I did, it isn’t. While things are unquestionably less idyllic than my summer breaks, there are many things that are much better.

First of all, they get to learn in a safe envirnonment.  I get to know them, for better or worse, in ways I wouldn’t if they were gone 7 hours a day. They have opportunities to develop life skills beyond things you can learn in a book. They also engage a wide variety of people -including kids across a wide age range- which is much more preferable to spending the entirety of their days sitting cheek to jowl with kids who are the exact same age as they are, a situation which offers very little opportunity to learn deep truths about love, life, and faith.

So while I’m noting that summer break is not as unstructured, school free, and carefree for my kids as it was for me, it’s still a great time of relaxation and fun. It’s not just a tme of relaxation and fun. Truthfully, continuing math and setting reading goals throughout the summer costs a little time while paying huge dividends. Things just aren’t as simple as they used to be, and you hardly see any suburban kids out and about, regardless of school type.

Maybe the unencumbered summer break is going the way of so many other relics of times past.

Is what it is.

 

 

 

 

Current Kid Read: The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Our 12-year-old is the only one of our five offspring who is not an avid reader. She reads the books she is assigned for school, with mixed reactions. Every now and again, she’s assigned a book she really enjoys, but most of the time, she grits her way through it. It is a source of angst to me at times, but I’ve learned to accept that there are people born into the world, even born of me, who don’t enjoy reading.

This week, however, she has been more engrossed in and talkative about a book than I have witnessed since she read Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which she truly loves. This extraordinary book -in the sense that my kids is captivated by it- is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Young Readers Edition, which her sister picked up for her as a spontaneous gift.

omnivores dilemma young reader

I’m not sure how she knew 12-year-old would like the book, or if she even knew the book would be such a hit with her, but it has really piqued her interest in myriad ways.

Sitting next to me as I try to recapture my inner student (I recently started taking online classes via Local University.) was this child informing me that we are all basically composed of corn. The first sections of the book assess the expansion of the corn industry and how it affects nearly every food we put into our bodies. Unless of course, we avoid processed foods and make as much as we can from scratch.

Before encountering the book, this child was the least likely of all our children to show much interest in what was in her food so long as it tasted good. This kis has always had trouble dealing with my propensity to have cabinets and a fridge with nothing but healthy fare. Now, she takes the phrase “USDA Organic” with a heaping grain of salt, and is infinitely more curious about where and what kinds of meats I buy when I shop.

Behold the power of books.

Jane Austen: Queen of the Romance Tropes

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Recently, an earnest 18-year-old young woman asked me a question in the wake of a spirited discussion in her literature class. They read and were discussing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It was a question I dislike and tend to circumvent for myriad reasons, one of which is that I am conflicted on the subject. There is a “right” answer, an answer based on my own experience and marriage, and the truth, which is somewhere in between the two. By now, you may be wondering what the question was, so here it is:

“Mrs. T, do you think people should marry for more pragmatic reasons or only when they find ‘true love’?”

It was the end of the day, so I asked her to let me think about it in the hopes that she would forget to come back to me and follow up. Thankfully, it seems she forgot, but I didn’t forget and her question made me consider the various romance tropes to be found in classical literature.

More specifically, I noted that Jane Austen’s novels touch on almost every conceivable route to the altar to be found in life and literature. When you get past the familiar underlying theme of women on the cusp on spinsterhood, the story arcs offer a fair amount of variety. As I said, Jane Austen hits all the romance tropes (and some not so romantic tropes). Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Friends to Lovers:

  • Emma (1815). The titular character and heroine Emma meddles in everyone else’s affairs, offering bungling them while remaining clueless to the chaos she’s left in her wake. Mr. Knightley, the only sane man in the room and Emma’s eventual husband, is always there to set her straight and bring her back down to earth. I have a particular fondness for Mr. Knightley.
  • Sense and Sensibility (1811). This is one isn’t readily included in this trope because Elinor and Edward clearly forge an emotional bond early in the novel. However, it is clear that they are also good friends, and Edward was engaged to another woman initially before eventually being freed to marry Elinor.
  • Mansfield Park (1814): In the midst of a story replete with broken hearts, infidelities, and all around awfulness, Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, her cousin by marriage, eventually recognize how important they are to each other and get married.

Enemies to Lovers:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): Lizzy initially finds Mr. Darcy pompous, then evil, and eventually realizes that the tallest, handsomest, and richest man around is the perfect man for her.

Soul Mates:

  • Persuasion (1817): Having -under family duress- broken her engagement to Frederick Wentworth seven years earlier, the novel opens 7 year later with Anne Elliot still unmarried at 27, and the much wealthier and more established Captain Wentworth is also still unmarried. His love for Anne is as fervent as it was when they were young. After the customary dramatic twists and turns, they end up together.

If you can’t be with one you love, love the one you’re with:

  • Pride and Prejudice: I suspect the marriage of Charlotte Lucas to the obnoxious and offensive Mr. Collins was the impetus of the question posed to me by the young student.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Marianne Dashwood landed quite a catch in Colonel Brandon, but should the story have continued, it would have been a few years before she fully appreciated it.

May-December Romance:

  • Sense and Sensibility: Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood are ages 37 and 19 respectively when they eventually marry. Mr. Knightley and Emma are ages 37 and 21 when they are wed.

Fools Rush In:

  • Pride and Prejudice (1813): The foolish and rebellious Lydia Bennett runs off with the caddish and opportunistic Mr. Wickham, leaving Mr. Darcy to try and save her honor by paying Wickham a large dowry to marry Lydia.
  • Sense and Sensibility: Before coming to her senses and marrying Colonel Brandon, Marianne Dashwood foolishly gives her heart to Mr. Willoughby, and spend the lion’s share of the novel pining a man who is never going to marry her.

Those are just a few of the major tropes that spring to mind as I consider all that is encompassed in Jane Austen’s magnificent body of work. There are of course, many more; unrequited love, redemption, and whatever it is called when a man thinks a woman can save him as Henry Crawford seems to think that Fanny Price will do for him in Mansfield Park.

Can you think of any other Austen tropes which I might have missed?

 

Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.