Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Last Post

Life is picking me up into new and different places these days, as I'm sure you've realized, and it's the sort of thing where I need to take it where it's taking me and do what I can with it.

Yesterday I was sorting through Lenten polyphony for an old friend; we used to sing together in college, and he's now working on a master's in Sacred Music, singing with more choirs than probably even he knows, and directing one, too. He needed some materials for these next five weeks, so I pulled out all my binders and stacks and folders and lent him every heart-rendingly, achingly gorgeous piece of polyphony I could find. Of all the sacred music I've ever sung, the text and music of the Lenten motets are what get to me the most. And this year, for the first time in more than ten years, I won't be singing them. Yes. I told my choir mates a few weeks back that I'm not going to be singing with them after our next event, which happens at the end of this month. I've sung in choirs, sometimes as many as three at a time, ever since I was twelve; this is not an easy transition.

The thing about bittersweet choices, though, is that part of them is sweet. As you might suspect, the reason I'm quitting the choir, and the reason I'm not going to be keeping up this blog anymore, is because my life is filling up with other things, good things, and people, that I love. Midwifery school is asking more of me, now that I'm at the point where I get to help deliver babies instead of just reading about it. Guess what? It turns out I'm really good at helping Mamas, helping to comfort them, and helping to make them feel strong and capable and beautiful; I'm able to help them through one of the scariest, hardest things that they'll ever do. This means I need to learn how to help them better, and spend more time with them, and with the wise women who have already spent decades serving them. (The French term for midwife is sage-femme: wise woman.)

I'm increasingly aware that life moves in phases. Different things are allowed to us and expected from us in each phase. We can't do everything in all times, and we'll only make ourselves unhappy if we try. There was a time I spent fifteen hours a week singing, another time I spent probably thirty hours a week reading literature and poetry. And for a few years there I wrote some good poetry. I also went through a couple of years where I got to practice piano a lot, and started to get reasonably good at it. I have a lot of other things that I'd like to try sometime, and still other things I can't keep up anymore that I hope one day I'll get back to. And maybe I never will.

But when you've spent time praying and reflecting, deliberating and deciding, sometimes you find the choice has already been made by you (and sometimes, blessedly, for you) without you realizing what was happening all along. And if you're lucky, the sweetness of what's waiting ahead of you will be so clearly precious that the bitterness of leaving behind what you've known and loved is worth every sting.

I beg you would not misapprehend my meaning. I have not recently woken up and realized that I no longer care about powerful words, intriguing phrases, and beautiful language. On the contrary, I'm more in love with them now than ever before. That is the way with things we love, when we really love them, isn't it? It isn't in the nature of a real love ever to regress. Love is intrinsically exponential. And each thing, each person, that we love, and our act of learning and pursuing them in our love for them, prepares us to meet whatever graces and challenges are waiting ahead of us with greater purpose and nobility. Faith's inexpugnability, which yearns to see a brave new world, shan't be disappointed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Recommendation: The Paris Wife

Writing over for Dappled Things today . . . have you all heard of this book about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson? I have a weakness for all things Lost Generation, so I'm already inclined to love anything by them or about them (you've probably picked up on this already). But, I know lots of other people who have also loved this book, so give it a shot. It's easy to read, historically informative, and has good characters.

You can visit Dappled Things' blog, Deep Down Things, to get a nice excerpt and hear more (from me) about why and how Paula McLain does such a convincing job capturing Hemingway and all his struggles.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why Should You Write?

One day, I'll actually write something. But before that, I am going to keep asking what should we write, how should we write it, and why should we write it. Perhaps it's the cowardly approach; I can talk about it till kingdom come without actually doing anything. But maybe it's being deliberate and careful? Think of it what you will. And, in the meantime, head on over to Dappled Things to ponder the latest cowardly (?) deliberations (?).

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Twinkling of an Eye

I haven't read any great literature lately. But, I have been reading. And studying. And singing. And so, in that order, let me catch you up.

One of the books I finished last week is not a book I can just out and out recommend that everyone should read. When I saw it at a used bookstore in Leesburg (a wonderful little bookshop you should visit, Books and Other Found Things), I thought it might not be a bad idea for me to look at the whole midwifery thing from a more human point of view. Studying it in textbooks is one thing; viewing it through the eyes of actual people (fictional though they might be) is something else. I'm not even convinced that I like it. I think that, as a novel, it was somewhat lacking, particularly in it's shoddy conclusion.

The story: Sybil Danforth lives with her husband and 14 year old daughter in a small town in northern Vermont. She has an established midwifery practice and a good reputation in the world of maternity and natal care. But one night, circumstances combine in the worst way possible, and she ends up performing an emergency C-section with a kitchen knife. Grisly business. As you might imagine, all hell breaks loose and she ends up going to trial for involuntary manslaughter.

It is, in many ways, a compelling story. For particular people, it's a good story to read. Expectant mothers should not read it. Women thinking of becoming midwives should, though. It's a real eye-opener, and will make you stop and think seriously about the messier side of the profession. Gents, I don't know if any of you would be interested in such a thing. If you're curious about the world of midwifery, it would certainly be informative; the book is well researched. But beware the frequency (and sometimes gratuitous use) of gynecological vocabulary. It comes with the territory.

As far as school is concerned, this will be a much easier semester than last one was. I have fewer classes, and two of them are about words and writing (Medical Terminology and Writing for Midwives), which means that they come easily enough and I get to nerd out over etymologies. So far, the word to end all words: endoscopicretrogradecholangiopancreatography. Boo-yah. My third class is Holistic Health, for which I do things like making tonics and yogurt and playing with herbs and oils. I feel... crunchy. I do actually have a book recommendation for you on this one, though. I always appreciate it when cookbook authors understand language and food together. The author of Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon, is such a culinary scribe. For example, here she is expounding upon the problems that arise if we forget about real nutrition when we utilize technology in food production (fascinating, I know):
The wise and loving marriage of modern invention with the sustaining nurturing food folkways of our ancestors is the partnership that will transform the Twenty-First Century into the Golden Age; divorce hastens the physical degeneration of the human race, cheats mankind of his limitless potential, destroys his will and condemns him to the role of undercitizen in a totalitarian world order.
It's okay. I know. Just breathe. I never thought of food in such a teleological manner either. But perhaps we can start together, and gradually help each other to think more apocalyptically about our PB&J. By the way, Sally Fallon understands butter and whole milk. Fat is good for you, people. Eat it. Drink it. In moderation.

Singing. Oh the drama. The choir I've been singing with at weddings, masses and holy hours for the last year and a half just put on our first honest-to-goodness concert. Usually we get to hide in a choir loft. But on Tuesday night I was approximately a foot and a half away from the ears of the guy in the front row. No pressure, you know? But, we made it through! And it seems it all went off well enough, despite the fact that we sang a few modern pieces; they're not really our forte. (Ha! Get it?) So now I'm going to do a bit of promoting. You should go check us out on Facebook and look over our upcoming events: https://www.facebook.com/thechorussinenomine

It's hard to get everyone to open their eyes at the same time. Especially when they're sleepy.

And this is how we sound when we sing. You'll have to forgive the poor quality of the recording; likely it's from a phone set out on the railing in front of us. (By the way, I just uploaded this to YouTube today. Share it with your friends! Help us get some more views!)

Okay. I think that's just about enough for today. One last bit: The title of today's post is from 1 Cor 15:51-58. It's all about abounding in good work and looking forward to that moment at the end of all time when we'll be transformed, imperishable, and death will be swallowed up in victory. It's been running through my head for the last week. You should go read it; it's like a work-out song, but in a noble way, like the beginning of Chariots of Fire. It'll make you feel tall and strong and indubitably indomitable. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Where Do We Go Now?

I've been given leave to share some year-old correspondence with you all; although the thoughts aren't hot off the press, they are, nonetheless, not yet out-dated. Enjoy!

In query to me:
 So, here's a big question: do you ever speculate on the future of English poetry as such? Like, where the whole enchilada is going from here? From my impoverished standpoint, it seems as if the last really original poet in the language was Eliot, almost a hundred years ago now. I mean, I guess Ginsberg did something sort of new, in the sense of taking the dissolution of thought about as far as one can while still being at least nominally coherent, but that's a false path if there ever was one. It feels like the rest of us are just sort of chewing over the old forms and watching them get staler and staler. There's never going to be another great epic; the sonnet is beginning to feel antiquated even to me, who love sonnets more than pizza (well, some days, anyway); and free verse seems to have largely devolved into simply an excuse not to bother with finding viable rhymes while talking about one's feelings or opinions. So where exactly do we, or can we, go from here? The language itself may have to start changing pretty radically in order to open new doors of expression--but then again, it's poetry itself that drives changes in language, or ought to be. (Ever read Poetic Diction, by Owen Barfield? It's one of those books that end up shaping the foundations of my every waking thought. The gist, in extreme brief, is that Poetry and Thought Itself are eternally connected in a sort of reciprocal chicken-and-egg cycle of influence. Profound stuff.) I dunno, dude. I kick this around in my head from time to time, and lately it's been head-kicking time around here once again. I'm not sure I'm any closer to a useful idea, tho'. Any thoughts?
And my response:
I don’t know. I do wonder about it – not, I think, as often as you do, or with such apparent intensity. I entirely agree with your interpretation of modern free verse; it is romanticism at its lowest, most unintellectual and solipsistic form. I’m a huge fan of writing in regular rhythm and meter. I feel a little like a character in one of Edward Eager’s books who, upon hearing that most modern poets don’t rhyme, sniffs and says, “Hmph! Lazy things!” 
I suppose one option for forward progression is to return to skillful use of form with modern language. Yes, the sonnet, for example, is antiquated, and so it does in a way make sense to use archaic language when writing one, but perhaps we need to start working within the strictures of iambic pentameter, or any regular type of meter and foot, using colloquial diction. A return to form of any sort, at this point in our free-love free-everything radically liberal world that rejects structure in the name of individuality and rights, would be a vast improvement and a gigantic leap. Maybe we can get villanelles to replace sonnets as THE POETIC FORM. I’ve never read one that I’ve been really convinced by; the repetition always seems contrived and sort of sing-songy. Get on that.
I don’t know Ginsberg. Can you tell me more about that?
Unfortunately, I don’t see our language changing radically anytime soon. As everything in our world becomes smaller and more universal, idiosyncrasies of dialects and regional linguistic movements have less and less chance of survival and development. I heard a radio show the other day about how many distinct accents there used to be in Texas, and how so many of them have either already died out or are on their way out. Last time I was in Europe, people were surprised that I was American, as I didn’t have a particular regional accent. Many assumed I was British. (Yes, even in Scotland. Go figure.) Of course, they could have been limited in their view of how Americans speak. But seeing as I have lived, among other places, almost 8 years in Dallas and 12 near Boston, both of which places have fairly distinctive accents, you’d think that I’d speak one way or the other. Once in a great while I hear myself drop an r from the end of a word, and I do say both ya’ll and wicked from time to time. (“Ya’ll come ovah hee-ah wicked fast.”) But with these particularities of speech habits fading out, the more substantial structure of the language will continue, I believe, to become increasingly universalized and less exciting. Unless there is a huge disturbance to the world order, a dissolution of equalizing technology and world-wide communication, not to mention an eradication of blandi-fying TV, I don’t know that the language will do anything but become more standardized. That clip of The Three Little Pigs Shakespeare-style is, I think, a clear enough example of how much our language has declined in richness over the centuries. If only we had some barbarians with a currently unknown language who could rise up from somewhere, conquer the English speaking world, mix their language with ours, and somewhere 100 years down the road allow for an incredible wealth of novel and rich poetry, we might have some hope. Besides the linguistic wealth and innovation such an occasion would allow, we would have some pretty fantastic subject matter. I mean, hell, we might get another Aeneid out of that! And maybe our neo-Virgil would actually finish the story this time around.
All of that being said, I did go to a lecture last night on Sunni Jihadist Islamic militant movements in North Africa and the Middle East. The speaker seems to think that we’ve got 5-10 years before the failed tactical methods of the U.S. in the area will come back to bite us and all hell will break loose as a radically violent religious ideological organization that spans portions of two continents and 10-15 countries makes war on the remnants of Western Civilization. So that was a little scary. Silver lining? If that happens, we might get some good poetry out of it. Hmm. Perhaps you and I need to realign our priorities.
Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield. I have not read it. His thesis is one to which I’ve given a fair amount of thought, however, and it sounds like I agree with him. I think that good writing is a reflection and refinement of the thoughts of the times, stemming from them, but saying them more cohesively than they have been expressed, thereby allowing the people to know what they’re thinking with a clarity previously unheld. Certainly, the refinement of the thoughts shapes them in a particular direction, which is where the chicken-egg overlap happens. So yeah, I think I would like Mr. Barfield. I like his name, too, for that matter. 
Anyway, thanks! It’s always good to have a chance to think about this stuff. And did I mention how much I enjoy writing? It’s just great. The Toilet Limerick, by the way, is something that I thought that you particularly would enjoy. Was I right? Oh, and about that, does a proper limerick have to be in anapestic trimeter in lines 1, 2 and 5? I started beating out the several limericks I know, and discovered many variations in syllable length for each of those lines. Most were somewhere from 8 to 10 syllables, but even that is quite a margin. I think I decided that since it is such a trivial verse form, attention to detail needn’t be so strictly observed. But then, maybe that’s me being the lowest form of Romantic poet. Ah well.
Well, friends, I hope we've given you some food for thought. Get to it! I would like 5 villanelles by the close of business, please.

Friday, January 3, 2014

When the Goad Rises

What do you hate when you're hating, and why do you hate it?  Or, How to stop being such a pompous ass.

Posted over on Dappled Things today. Merry Christmas, Cheers and a Happy New Year, peeps!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gift of the Magi

Do you all know P.J. Lynch? He's done illustrations for lots of children's books, such as The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, and he's also apparently collaborated on a book of Irish myths and legends, something I could totally go for. I was doing some Christmas shopping at Barnes and Noble a few nights ago (shocker), and I came across O. Henry's story, The Gift of the Magi, done with P.J. Lynch's illustrations. If you're not sure what to get for that niece or nephew, or really anyone (I am a firm believer in giving kids' books to adults), do yourself and them a favor and go get this one. The combination of O. Henry's little side conversations he has with his readers, his excellent word choices and his fondness for his characters, coupled with the warm and gently beautiful illustrations, makes for a delightful read. Some of my favorite bits and pieces (the first one, admittedly, because it thematically ties in so nicely with my previous post):
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. (That's for you, Mary Powers.)
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had Kind Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends -- a mammoth task. 
"Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered, but nobody could ever count my love for you." Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction.

So, yes. Go buy the book. Or buy five copies of it. And get The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey while you're at it. Merry Christmas, friends!