Today is my 41st birthday. Today, I begin the year in my own life that was to be the final year of Jane Austen’s, and this year alone, this one single year, is the entire reason for this blog.
Come with me back in time, some 10 years ago (after returning from the trip shown above) when, standing in my kitchen, I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve just had the best idea ever!” She waited with the patient gaze of someone who hears the best ideas ever about four times a week (day?!) But this one was really it.
“Ok,” I went on. “In 10 years, when I turn 41, I’m going to dedicate the entire year to Jane. I will only read books by and about Jane, movies and television made from her works or about her.” In my imagination of my younger self, I picture me clapping my hands and then doing some kind of ta-da, jazz hands gesture. “What do you think?”
If I am true to form with all my brilliant ideas, so is my wife in her response to them.
She’s forborn quite a lot regarding my Jane Austen fascination and dedication, including my stalwart refusal to consider any name other than Jane for our oldest daughter. It was simply not up for discussion. So I wasn’t entirely deflated when she was less than ecstatic. I would guess we were having the same thought: I’ve got 10 years to talk her into/out of this.
Over the years, I have come to realize that an entire year dedicated only to Austen is probably not feasible. Worse still, it occurs to me that if I can overdose on chocolate pudding and never want to eat another bite of it in my life, it’s entirely possible the same tragedy could happen with Jane. Exceptionally unlikely, but at the edges of every universe, there exists an unexpected margin.
So, if perchance you have been reading this blog or stumbling upon it, what you will find is a rededicated site to one reader, cook, homemaker, and writer’s experience of reading mostly Austen and Austen-themed content for the next six months, ending the first part of this year-long experience on the day of her death. I will move in the order that seems most sensible to my writerly self: the order of publication.
First up, Sense and Sensibility.
Good morning and Happy Birthday, Amy!
You brought joy to me first thing this morning, when– here in our Palm Beach Gardens home– I picked up my iPhone and checked out my emails, surely long before you were awake, if you’re still nestled in Portland. What a delightful journey for your 41st birth year you’ve chosen! And I love hearing your voice again, even in this snippet. My first thought was how much I’d love to join you on this adventure. However, more awake, I recognized that that could not fit into my own game plan for this year.
By eerie serendipity, resting on the ottoman in our living room right now is your chapbook of short stories which I just rescued from a stack of miscellaneous readings last week. Wanting time to mentally reconnect with you when I read it, I still haven’t read it! But yesterday I was showing it to Allen and telling him about you.
It arrived last summer at our Indianapolis home while I was anxiously trying to complete my ever-growing to-do list before we left for our winter in Florida. While Allen is still sharp much of the time, his Parkinson’s symptoms have progressed, and I have assumed responsibility for many of his former tasks. And with two homes, that takes time. Also, after he had a wreck in July in our new hybrid sedan in July—totaling the car but not injuring us, I primarily bought and became the sole driver of our 2nd new hybrid sedan. In November we flew back to Florida, having our car shipped on a hauler. Excellent new plan after 18 years of driving both ways, but we’ll miss the mini-vacation on those drives.
Also, just yesterday on a zoom conversation post-Sunday service at my UU church, I spoke of my AP curriculum and students. Since today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that service highlighted the message in King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Congregants gave selective readings from that, relating it to our congregation and our actions — past & future. In our zoom talk-back, I shared with them that I had included that long letter in my AP Sr. English course, using it as an example of masterful and persuasive writing. And I always recall the positive reactions students had to it as they came to understand in greater depth the impact of slavery and the breadth of segregation in our country. ……..Of course I know that Miss Austen joined us in your junior year, but the deep interaction among some of you was the same.
I also periodically refer to my courses and students when I’m leading our UU book group, which I’ve done now for nearly 15 years— these past two years totally by zoom. And I must confess that I lead it more like a seminar— or an AP class– than a normal book club. That tells you the caliber of participants we have. Since we always met in person before the pandemic and many of our members are seasonal, we only meet six months each year. So six months of serious focused reading and sharing, and six months for whatever we want! I evolved into having an annual theme, and —with input from others in our group of @18— I chose the selections, mostly contemporary literary fiction, but often some nonfiction or older classics.
For a birthday gift for you today, I’m attaching the list of our readings through the years. I select these each summer as seriously as I built my curriculum for you and my other students, and I lead our discussions in similar ways, as well— drawing out insights from all of our participants. While my fellow readers seem to appreciate this group very much, I of course am the one who benefits the most. As I focus on our ever-changing world, I have reason to search and select excellent literary works addressing current issues.
So my appreciation of writers with powerful ideas and style —like you and Jane Austen— continues to this day. And I look forward to following you on your journey in this 42nd year.
Keep growing, dear Amy, keep growing!
Dear Mrs. Maxwell,
Starting off, I have a funny experience to share: I started to write “Dear Dorie,” your Christian name, as Jane would say, and yet, something stopped me! My relationship to you has been one of the most important of my educational and literary life, and we began at a certain phase, as mentor and mentee, and now, I find that there is something so beloved in writing Mrs. Maxwell that to do otherwise just feels…off. 🙂 Even now, at 41 years old (though I did get carded at the beer store, which I mainly attribute to masks, thank you very much), I still feel the reverence in our monikers. It reminds me much of Emma Woodhouse and Mrs. Weston/nee Miss Taylor.
Thank you for sharing this update wtih me! It is wonderful to get to hear more about your adventures and the ways in which you continue to bring your passion and brilliance to those around you. What a gift for them! I hope they recognize what a very great gift it is.
Please pass my love to Allen as well. I took his Political Science course at IUK many, many years ago, but alas, I only had the opportunity to take once course with him, so I doubt he remembers me at all. I do remember arriving at the parking lot together and he got out of a VW bus. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but my wife and I bought a Vanagon when we moved to the Pacific Northwest and had some wonderful adventures in it (some of which were the result of sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow). Once the children arrived, we had to move that vanagon along, but I always think of those particular vehicles with fondness (not the gas mileage, though).
Wow, I admire your interest for Jane Austen, and I love your enthusiasm. It’s always amazing to see someone so deep into their passions, so thanks for this inspiring display! And please keep sharing!
Thank you indeed, Stuart! I appreciate your note.