Mysteries of life: I’ve changed since November 2016

My friend Michele came to visit the other day. I was apologizing for not going down to DC to visit her, and tried to explain what had become of me in the past two years, how I don’t seem to be able to leave my territory, except for family visits to Jersey.

It seems I’m keeping vigilance in some sort of way. Guarding what I know, armed against the unknown, the unacceptable. Defending democracy, I guess.

As always, Michele came up with a kinder, more psychologically penetrating and accurate description: she said I was in a “nesting” phase.

Nesting. I’m taking up “nesting” as a solid description of my daily doings.

After a lifetime of colorful adventures in exotic locations, I have developed an odd reluctance to venture spontaneously far beyond my immediate homeland. I did go to Coney Island and Brighton Beach recently with my friend Wendl, although the line for the new shark tank was as long as lines for Disneyland rides, so we left without seeing the sharks. Nor did they see us.

Novelty, newness seem to be problems for me. That same me who has thrilled to driving alone through other states and seeing, for the first time, signs for cities and towns where I’ve never been. Right now, as I told my cousin Ruth, I’ve developed a strange yen to see Lake Huron (does anybody go to Lake Huron?) but have done nothing more than think, “Lake Huron,” and look at it in my atlas.

I have a subscription to Acorn TV but although I have added some series to my love list (Australia supplies me with some enjoyable stuff), I will often default to re-watching Foyle’s War. Which I have seen so many times, I can replicate every nuanced Michael Kitchen expression (and probably do as I’m watching.)

I am loathe to read any fiction by a writer as yet unread by me — and that includes my addictive relationship to mysteries, thrillers and the like. I re-read my favorites so often I have memorized most of them.

Occasionally I try a new writer, but only grudgingly. I’ll start a book warily, and give it a chapter or two before I decide whether I have any interest in continuing. And for the first time in my life (except for I Promessi Sposi, which many years ago I flung across my bed after a couple of hundred pages of Ghelphs and Ghibellines and will never, ever pick up again), I say “nah,” pretty quickly and return the book to the library, or give it away.

Currently, I’m re-reading The Forsyte Saga (second time) and Lord of the Rings (uncountable time). Next I will probably go back to Jane Austen, even though I re-read my three favorites only a few months ago.

And Austen reminds me of yet another change in my innards. I have lost tolerance for morally compromised protagonists. I never warmed to Emma — she is smug, manipulative and snotty — and you have to live with her for quite a long while before she has an epiphany and is sort of redeemed. But now I don’t want to know her, so if it is indeed an Austen character I return to, it’ll be Lizzie, Eleanor or Anne Elliot. (I like Fanny very much but I worry about her future and find her stalker so viscerally unpleasant, it’s hard for me to re-read Mansfield Park.)

So when my brother recommended Don Winslow, I started The Force, but as soon as I understood the protagonist was apparently a crooked cop, I stopped reading. I’ll go anywhere with Reacher, with Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport but I will not be a companion to a guy who is introduced as bad, even though he may turn out not to be bad by the end of the book.

And I won’t be re-reading my favorite novel of my early teen years, Vanity Fair.



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