Thursday, January 20, 2022

Spiritual Dungarees

My mother, and hers, enjoyed Mrs. Miniver--the book, rather than the movie (which was also fine).


A new furnace, heading to installation in the basement,
 has a red-carpet moment.
Meanwhile, the old furnace went out the back way.
Yes, I feel sorry for the old furnace.
 



And as a result, Mrs. Miniver became one of my book-companions in early high school. 


Mrs. Miniver is an upper-middle-class woman in her thirties in the thirties, who lives in London with her three children and her architect husband. They also own a summer house in Kent.


She's an observer of life, rather like myself (and my mother and grandmother). I know I've written before about "eternity framed in domesticity," and how a parent has a different relationship with each child--not more or less loving, just different. 


Note that the full text of the book, along with publication notes and commentary, is available here. It's also a pleasant book to look for if you need a reason to browse used bookstores. Someday, we will again.


She's been on my mind recently, because we've had an autumn and winter (so far) of STUFF HAPPENING. Here's her description:

As a rule she managed to keep household matters in what she considered their proper place. They should be no more, she felt, than a low unobtrusive humming in the background of consciousness: the mechanics of life should never be allowed to interfere with living. But every now and then some impish poltergeist seemed to throw a spanner into the works. Everything went wrong at once: chimneys smoked, pipes burst, vacuum-cleaners fused, china and glass fell to pieces, net curtains disintegrated in the wash. 


Here's her remedy:

At such times, she knew, you must just put on spiritual dungarees and remain in them until things are running smoothly again. 


Luckily, she's due to meet a friend (Badger) (not an actual Badger) for lunch, and he's late, so she has time to wait in someone else's home--as she says, she has truancy thrust upon her. 


And here's what she found happening.

She leant back in Badger's armchair and prepared to let her mind stray wherever it liked. But it had got into spiritless habits, like a dog which has been kept on a lead, and for several minutes it would do nothing but potter about sniffing at the kind of object it had grown accustomed to. There was a handle, it informed her, missing from Badger's desk; the bookcase had a cracked pane, and the glass finger-plate on the door was hanging by a single screw. Look here, said Mrs. Miniver, haven't I had enough of this sort of thing lately? Run away and bring me something interesting. That's what any decent mind ought to do

 

So she looks closely at the carpet on the floor and begins to name the colours along the edge. And from there springs insight. Which you can read. Go here and search for Badger, and in the hits down among the twenties, you'll find this episode.


Not everything in life requires a lesson, but moments of perspective do help. And (this time through) I found it especially interesting that Mrs. Miniver finds what she needs in the act of labeling of the colours of the carpet. It's the type of mindful exercise that I hear recommended often. (Search for "54321 Exercise," for example.)


They can be useful especially at this point in the pandemic. She, of course, was living through uncertain times; namely, the lead-up to a second World War (having been young during the first one), which I think about a lot, too. 


Now we HAVE a new furnace and it's creating new noises that will fade into an unobtrusive humming in the background as we become used to them. The change of year also brings other workaday tasks--I foresee spending significant time with spreadsheets as we ready for the year's taxes.


But for now, I've "taken time off"--yesterday, after another stretch in spiritual dungarees and unavoidable appointments, I accepted truancy and ignored my to-do list. 


And now I'm trying, through close attention to colours and shapes and music, to return my mind to the other world I know, slightly, with its islands and maps, history factual and otherwise, relationships and disappointments. It's waiting for me, content with the moments I've given it recently but ready for more. And so am I.