Currently Reading: The Name of the Rose

The Name of the RoseI never saw an abbey more beautiful or better oriented, even though subsequently I saw St. Gall, and Cluny, and Fontenay, and others still, perhaps larger but less well proportioned. Unlike the others, this one was remarkable for the exceptional size of the Aedificium. I did not possess the experience of a master builder, but I immediately realized it was much older than the buildings surrounding it. Perhaps it had originated for some other purposes, and the abbey's compound had been laid out around it at a later time, but in such a way that the orientation of the huge building should conform with that of the church, and the church's with its. For architecture, among all the arts, is the one that most boldly tries to reproduce in its rhythm the order of the universe, which the ancients called "kosmos," that is to say ornate, since it is like a great animal on whom there shine the perfection and the proportion of all its members. And praised be our Creator, who has decreed all things, in their number, weight, and measure.

Author: Umberto Eco

Mini-synopsis: In the fourteenth century, Benedictine novice Adso of Melk accompanies an intellectual Franciscan monk, William of Baskerville, to a meeting of church officials at a wealthy and troubled abbey with an immense, renowned library. Upon arrival, William is requested to look into the recent, mysterious death of a gifted young manuscript illuminator. William consents, but soon finds himself investigating another death, and then another, all of which seem to center around a forbidden book. The library is off limits for investigation, the likelihood of foul play is high, and the suspects are many—and William must find answers before the Inquisition arrives to threaten him and the monastery alike.

Notes: The above quote is a beautiful thing, very near the front of the book, and it helps kick off a heady and emotional philosophical journey that made for long, but not necessarily dull, reading. The thought processes were fascinating, if often depressing, and arose naturally out of a tragic romance and a garish, Gothic, openly Holmesian detective murder mystery.

Eco, an ex-Catholic and skeptic, set his characters—compassionate ex-Inquisitor William and his wide-eyed student, Adso—to sniff out a murderer while working through concepts such as the presence of order in the universe, the righteousness of laughter and of wealth and poverty, the meaning of language and symbol, the relationship between beauty and sin, and the madness of a single truth unchecked. He is generally free of the ham-fisted ignorance that the average anti-Catholic storyteller possesses; it was impressive how far I could follow him before parting company with his ideas. I got nearly as caught up in the philosophical plot as in the mystery and was likewise enthralled by the characters, including the magnificently creepy fourteenth-century library.

I loved the journey, but I couldn't love the ending. I have never liked deconstruction, let alone the despair that usually results—but Adso's final moments with the library left me with patchy, haunting visions of beauty nonetheless.


Birthday Entertainment

It's Harry Potter Book Club day, but nobody's posted. Christie's trying to manage two jobs and an almost-three-year-old, and Masha's trying to keep a particularly bitter Maine winter out of her yurt. Life happens. And when it does, I don't have anything to respond to. Sometimes, as you may have noticed two weeks ago, I even go silent myself.

Besides, it's my birthday. I'm 36. Mozart is 258. High five, Wolfgang Amadé.

Lou and I are going out to dinner tonight, and I'm going to wear a new dress I got thrifting; I'm very excited about that. Till then, I am celebrating by:

1. Registering to take the SAT.

I'm now officially twice the age of the usual college entrant. Whether that thought will be helpful or hinderful when my number two pencils and I are pitted against a series of lettered orbs in a roomful of teenagers, I'm not sure.*

What I do know is that I desperately need to give myself a refresher course on algebra. I shut my Advanced Math book on my seventeenth birthday with the same fervent glee Anne Shirley displayed in thumping Euclid into a trunk before she got married. I am not, however, willing to be like Peter:

Some of these never get old.
Registering for the SAT might be harder than the actual test, especially for people who were homeschooled eighteen years ago. I had to click "I do not wish to answer" on "What's your GPA?", not because I got bad grades, but because I have never had a GPA. "Not Applicable" was not an option, and neither was not answering the question. But now I'm afraid that universities are going to think I'm trying to hide something.

2. Taking the Firefly personality quiz.

I KNEW IT. Now, if only I could use my wealth and intelligence
to correct some quizmakers' grammatical ambiguity.

3. Working on A.D.'s story.

Writer's holiday: working on the novel that's not under contract.

4. Signing up to take six piano lessons. (Thanks, Lou and Mom and Dad S.!)

Because I am willing to be like Tony.

Someday you and I will rule the world, Tony.
Or—well, we would if we wanted to.
Ruling the world is a tough job for shy, hypersensitive artistic types.

And if I can get a job that will allow me to afford school and take lessons, that will be awesome.

5. Listening to Mozart.

Here's a Mozart piece I loved before I knew I loved Mozart.

And now I'm off, because I really do need to go study for the SAT. Wish me luck. I got very good grades on my GED.... in 1996. I am currently scared spitless.

* I'll try not to give in to the temptation to put rings on the little orbs so they look like Saturn. Wait. The SAT is still taken on paper, with dots to fill in, right? I'm assuming that's the reason for the number two pencils I was ordered in no uncertain terms to bring along.


Old, Patient Calls and other stories

Today I am.... stealing and modifying Masha's meme, as she didn't post it. :)

Rosemary and red-twig dogwood,
arranged by my thoughtful, bush-pruning husband.

Also, I'm:

* * *

Feeling... balanced, en pointe, in tense and thrilling preparation for a move I'm not sure of because I've never made it. But if I do spring, I'm hopeful—even confident—that I can land it.

I'm seriously considering going to college.

Twice in the past I've considered school, and twice I've held back out of uncertainty, out of lack of vision, and, sorry as I am to admit it, out of shyness and fear. This time, I'm not willing to base a decision on fear—and this time, I know what I want, and how, and why. I'm researching the possibilities, and have found at least one online degree program through a state school that I'm thoroughly excited about.

If I don't do this, it will only be because my choice right now is between a focus on learning and a focus on doing. I could go on throwing my current freedom into writing novels and volunteering with choir and gradually schooling myself. There's nothing wrong with that path—it's just that I've been dreaming, since I first moved to Bellingham and had to drive past the WWU campus every day on the way to work, of all the study and direction I was too shy to go for at eighteen and twenty-five.

It's far too late for this writer to get a degree in creative writing, but there are complementary fields of knowledge that interest me very much. I might just have my heart set on directed study.

It means working part time; it means having to prioritize free hours tightly to do things like garden and blog and visit family and direct choir and write future novels (I'll be getting the two I'm currently working on sorted, pronto.)

But I'm seeing an unexpected route to a long-loved vision. I'm tasting dreams and listening to an old, patient call—and I'm grateful for the encouragement my family's given as I've finally spoken of these thoughts—and I'm loving the idea of great books and growing understanding—and I'm hoping I make the right decision, because this is the sort of thing that shifts the direction of whole years, even of life.

* * *

Rather than music today, here's a video about art. It's beautiful.

* * *

I promise that even if I go back to school, I will make an effort to post cat pictures.

Also, because this popped up in my Facebook feed and some of you will enjoy it: Cats Taking Selfies.

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Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Midnight Sun

I have a problem: I might've lost interest in writing extensively about Twilight.

Don't get me wrong—I still enjoy the books, guilty pleasure though they may be. But my sister just gave me a couple of books to read; I've got to get hold of The Outsiders for February's book club; Dorothy Cummings McLean keeps adding to my to-read list, and the Pages Unbound girls are doing likewise—by the way, they're hosting a Lord of the Rings read-along, for anyone who might be interested—and, on top of having two books to write and a chant schola to direct in mid-February, I am currently in the grips of an Idea. It's making it hard to think about anything else.

Cover idea
by "Mel" at thetwilightsaga.com
Meanwhile, however, I did finally read Midnight Sun, which, taking into account that it was half a rough draft, I: a) could not put it down, and b) enjoyed it way too much for a sedate, literary almost-thirty-six-year-old. I can obsess about the minor details of romantically-charged character interaction forever.*

It didn't strike me as shockingly revelatory, but it didn't bore me with old information, either. All of the characters were flatter and more one-sided even than in the Saga proper, but as a novelist, I cannot emphasize clearly enough that that's fairly characteristic of rough drafts. Drafting entails huge amounts of feeling your way forward, which makes it all too easy to overemphasize mental and emotional directions.

It's just a small aside in the story, but the best part, as far as this very tall girl was concerned, was the tale of Angela Weber and Ben Cheney. I felt like applauding. Romance is tough for those who don't easily fit the tall-burly-man-and-smaller-delicate-woman paradigm. Possibly the first time in my adult life that I was comfortable with my height was when I hit it off—albeit very briefly, and not necessarily romantically—with a friendly young man seven inches shorter than I am. There wasn't an ounce of the threatened look in his warm eyes or beautiful smile. After that evening, I went out and bought my first pair of high heels.

(Thanks, O Brief Acquaintance. I liked those shoes.)

Here's to Ben and Angela, then, and here's to not always fitting the cultural ideal of physical perfection. I'll drink to that!

* Possibly I should not be admitting to that. Eh.


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 8-9

Before I do anything else: GO SEAHAWKS!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got that out of the way, I should apologize for playing hooky last week (who plays hooky from Hogwarts?) I was sick. But here I am, ready for some football. I mean, Quidditch. Bah! Dean Thomas and his West Ham soccer team poster know how I feel right about now.

Meanwhile, from my cohostesses: Masha posted briefly about fear and the contrasts between Snape and Lupin as teachers
Snape never should have become a teacher..people who hate people are the worst teachers in the world. But at least his students learn, I mean, once they get past the emotional trauma.. Lupin (in this book) is ideal! He's capable, kind, knowledgeable..a real teacher. I like him..I wish they'd cast someone who didn't look like a grungy drunk in the movie...
...but my favorite part of her post was this meme, which is so hilarious that I'm stealing it:

Alan Rickman: close to Augusta Longbottom's age,
and still a fan favorite.
Masha's source.

Christie posted about dementors, Trelawney, and Sir Cadogan, and since Christie's an M.A. in Arthurian literature, I was interested in her (albeit brief) take on the latter:
The minor character Sir Cadogan was such a nice treat for me—Rowling's clearly familiar with the Arthurian, chivalric tradition, from the Welsh-originating name to the fat knight's dated speech.
Not being an Arthurian scholar myself, I was glad to know it rang true for the pros and not just for the know-nothings. :)

Now, onto this week's reading, wherein we get to turn to page 394. Honestly. I've read all the books, seen all the movies, hung out in fandom, and read Know Your Meme on the subject, and I still do not get why this is a meme. Maybe just because Alan Rickman said it.

* * *
This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapters 8-9

Of course, this week we come to yet another meme:

This one's for Masha. Source.

I suppose that's why I'll never be in Slytherin.

Potential Discussion Points:

Art by bbcchu
1. The death of Lavender's rabbit. Which, despite Rowling's love for cornball wordplay, doesn't seem to have anything to do with the phrase "the rabbit died." Anyhow, I always enjoy Hermione's logical battle with the weeping and credulous Lavender, even if Hermione's unsympathetic timing is liable to ensure Lavender's rejection of logic rather than to clear up her mind.

2. "That suggests that what you fear most of all is—fear. Very wise, Harry." I'm not sure what to make of this statement; to me, it sounds a little bit like "Seize the day" and other bits of popular aphoristic wisdom: helpful enough for certain people under certain circumstances, but not necessarily true in the transcendental sense. I'm afraid of fear, all right, but not more than I'm afraid of becoming evil. Though those two fears are admittedly related.

3. Sirius Black breaks into school. And the mystery thickens. Most of us know how all this ends, but SO MANY SPOILERS, so I'll wait a little while longer to talk much about Sirius.

4. Cedric Diggory. He gets more stage time in book four, but here he's introduced as quiet and talented and handsome and honorable. If he never did anything else in the story, I'd still have thought highly of him for wanting a rematch when he caught the Snitch just as Harry passed out and fell off his broom.

And he was definitely nicer-looking as Cedric than as Edward, I've got to admit.

Fellow Hufflepuff—yay!!

Smile, Ed. You look so angry.

5. "He's only silent because he's too thick to string two words together." Sheesh, Fred. I love you, but COME ON. Some of my favorite people are "the silent type". Including me, some days.

6. Quidditch, dementors, Dumbledore, the Gryffindor team, and the Nimbus Two Thousand. A lot of the best scenes in Harry Potter are the funny ones, especially in these early books, but there are some fantastic poignant ones, too—and I love this one, with the sopping and muddy Quidditch team, sans Wood and avec Hermione, clustered around Harry's hospital bed, shaking and whispering. They've just lost a game, but they put that aside for their teammate. I love the image Hermione gives us of angry Dumbledore; I love the feeling the teenagers show for Harry; and I love that Professor Flitwick and Hermione and Ron bring back the bits of Harry's broomstick. It's a good scene.

Read and discuss!


Discretion in Coughing and other stories

We have a working furnace! And—after all the strangers coming in and out for a week—a very paranoid cat, who is currently hiding behind the couch.

But here she is after coming out from hiding the other night.
I have a lot of post-construction dusting to do—although Hardworking Stranger was incredibly neat; I expected far more mess than he really left—and book club tonight, so I'm giving myself half an hour to post this. Usually a Friday blog takes me at least two hours, so forgive me if this comes off a little rushed.

The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

* * *

Today I am...

Feeling... thoroughly sick of having a cough, but otherwise pretty well. I'm looking forward to book club; also, to a week in which Lou will be home and the answer to demands from the rest of the world is pretty much No. Both of us need a little time to detox after all the busyness.

Seeing... that I need some time to play with my camera and figure out all these mysterious things like the "white balance filter" that Deborah tells me about. I am a rookie, but I'm excited about how much more information it gets into a photo than the old camera does.

Smelling... the little bit of dust-and-burnt-oil scent inherent in a new furnace.

Tasting... Ricola honey-herb cough drops. I hope it's okay to eat an entire package by oneself in four days.

Also, tea. Still. I miss coffee so much.

* * *

Listening... to the most. helpful. website. ever: Corpus Christi Watershed's Gregorian chant resource. I'm directing a men's chant schola for a weekend of Masses in February, and the good people over at CC Watershed seriously took days off my workload. Printable chants! Printable organ accompaniment! Practice videos! YAY.

Their videos aren't embeddable, though, so instead, here's the polyphony piece I'm going to try and get the guys singing—this ought to test my conducting to its outer limits:

* * *

Grateful... for forced air! The house is more uniformly warm, it's much drier thanks to the better ventilation, and best of all, we can get rid of the baseboards.

Reading… The Name of the Rose. And am so caught up in it that I'd like to shirk on all duties till I've finished it. I won't have it finished by book club, unfortunately, but we're just going to watch the movie. Nobody got through the whole book in time. :P

Also, I blew through Midnight Sun earlier this week and enjoyed the heck out of it. And then laughed and laughed at this Dan Brown mockery, which I think makes me a hypocrite.

Studying… pffft. I don't remember; I've been sick all week.

Working on... both books, getting caught up on emails, chant Mass prep, getting my fingers to play Hanon warmups like little robot digits instead of at a random variety of dynamics and tempos, getting them to hit notes in tune on the violin, cleaning up in preparation for Lou's week off.

Loving... my husband, who has been putting up very nicely with all my coughing and subsequent hoarse complaining about coughing.
"Don't keep coughing so, Kitty, for heaven's sake! Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces.'' 
"Kitty has no discretion in her coughs," said her father; "she times them ill." 
"I do not cough for my own amusement," replied Kitty fretfully.*
Hoping... for a restful, quiet week, especially for Lou.

Happy weekend!

* From Pride and Prejudice. Of course. :D


Currently Reading: The Mirror of N'de

Mr. Rakam looked at his children, first Nomish, then Alila. "Now, think on the story you are about to hear, the ancient bedtime tale passed on from our parents, and their parents before them. Like all Ramash traditions, it is forbidden as well. Have you ever told a soul that you know it?"

Both Nomish and Alila shook their heads, and at her own mother's probing glance, Hadlay did the same.

"Well, then, you've passed the first test. Since you have been faithful in small matters, you can now be trusted with weightier matters." Mr. Rakam smiled. "We begin this evening as we have ended many evenings before, telling you the story of the Mirror of N'de. You are initiates now, no longer children, so this is the last time you will hear this tale until you tell it to your own children."

"But why is a silly bedtime tale forbidden?" Nomish asked. Hadlay sat straighter. She had wondered this as well.

"It is enough that it is Ramash," Mrs. Rakam said, a note of bitterness in her voice.

Author: L.K. Malone

From Goodreads: In the mythical city of N'de lives thirteen-year-old Hadlay and her people, the Ramash. Scorned and abused by the unloving and absent Emperor, the Ramash are poor people, placed second to the ruling class of the Oresed. Young but bold, Hadlay rages against the injustice in her city. When she is chosen for the honor of serving the Prince in the Tower, she hopes to find a way to right the wrong . . . but soon discovers that things are worse than she believed.

Notes: I don't think of myself as cynical, but am perhaps a little too much so to be reading and reviewing evangelical fiction. Which is a shame, because this is not a bad story, and if you're ten, or if you're completely unfamiliar with Biblical mythology, or if you're very new to and enthusiastic about the concept of symbolic fantasy, this might just be the book for you. It's got magic (though the author pulls a real reader-gypping with that one), some thoughtful worldbuilding, a strong share of page-turning mystery, a bright winged horse-creature, and an adventurous protagonist who is prone to very serious mistakes. All in all, it's quite readable.

As far as I was concerned, however, the symbolism was overpowering. I was frankly amused by the origin narrative featuring Mada and Avakh getting kicked out of the paradise N'de—after looking in a mirror, of all things, which presumably reflected their names as well as their faces. (Or close, anyway; Eve, in Hebrew, is usually transliterated Chava.) At least it warned me to brace myself for the almost word-for-word Sunday School plan of salvation denouement.

Somewhat more unfortunately, and possibly more personally: as a reader I felt backhanded by what seemed like an obvious attempt on the story's part at being both The Second Coming of Narnia and The Christian Child's Safe Alternative to Harry Potter. Either requires the skill of a circus performer, being a stab at doing the impossible. Lewis is a dangerous author to emulate; he got away with bald allegorical elements and weird mythic mashups by having an exceptional knowledge base, a steady artistic hand, and an unsuspecting audience. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, for Rowling, whose tricks, especially gimmicks like the too-apt naming and the Mirror of Erised, have been so widely read and discussed to death that they probably shouldn't be used again in this generation of literature.

For Malone's sake, however: Hadlay and Nomish were interesting and sympathetic, and there were many moments of rewarding detail. Cynicism notwithstanding, I read late into the night, desperate to find out who was bad and who was good. If the reader's dragons are not too watchful around evangelical symbolism, there's a decent fantasy tale in there.


Hardworking Strangers and other stories

Before I get started on my post today, I'd like to congratulate you all: apparently you've been sharing "fastidious thoughts".

It's actually nice? Don't sound so surprised.
The spammers have been complimentary all around lately.

As astonishing as what? You can't leave me hanging like that!
And yeah, nobody knows more about my favorite movies than I do.

As an aside, they like their twists of fate in advance, which sounds terrifying:

Sweet relief!
It would've been bad if you'd discovered my site intentionally.
Anyway. The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

* * *

Today I am...

Feeling... a little shy and awkward. I am currently sharing house space with a Hardworking Stranger, who is sawing holes in ceilings and going in and out of the front door carrying ductwork. He's installing a furnace, and I am blogging, and we're both minding our own business very nicely. What's the etiquette for relating to shy construction workers? I got past the say-hi-politely-and-make-sure-their-work-space-is-clear bit. Do you offer them coffee? If you're sick and not drinking coffee, do you offer them herbal tea because that's what you're drinking? Can you put a loaf of bread in the bread machine while he's up on a ladder raining plaster into the kitchen, or is that bad manners?*

Oh, and I'm also sick. Getting a scratchy throat and cough when I have to sing for two Masses this weekend was such a bad idea. I have practically no singing voice right now.

* * *

Seeing... Serenity. And it was awesome and I WILL write you about it, Masha, I PROMISE.

I'm not usually much on violence, but... atta girl!!
Love you, River!

* * *

Smelling... plaster dust.

Tasting... mild, chamomile-based tea.

* * *

Listening... to Enya, because my in-laws gave me her "very best of" CD, which is wonderful. Admittedly, I'm not listening to it with Hardworking Stranger around drilling and sawing, but just wait till he's gone.

* * *

Grateful... that my sister-in-law fixed my violin while she was here. I figured I'd have to take it downtown and put some money into it if I ever took it up again, but she got the bridge back on and played it till it stayed in tune.

Of course, now that it works, I feel obligated to play it. Up till this week, I hadn't played in twenty years, and it's completely embarrassing to be squawking through "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" like a five-year-old. I've got just two things going for my snippets of practice time: a) I can read music, and b) I practice smarter than a five-year-old.**

* * *

Reading… The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I might have to spend most of the weekend reading it if I want to be done by Monday night's book club meeting.

Studying… over Christmas? Not much. But I need to email that piano teacher, and I need to put some study into conducting polyphony, because I need to be able to conduct a di Lasso piece by the third of February.

Working on... books and music! I've made real progress on both stories this week. Telling myself that I have to put an hour into the fairy tale every workday or else has, oddly, been good for both books... it stops me from feeling like I should be devoting every spare minute to one or the other. That feeling is usually just paralyzing.

* * *

Loving... the two little dresses I found thrifting the other day. The last few times I've worn my cocktail dress, it's been like, "Well... it fit when I bought it." So I hit the dress rack up at Value Village this week, and got... I won't say replacements, because Lou likes that dress even though it's baggy... but alternatives. I'm totally wearing them on the next two available occasions. And if those occasions don't come soon enough, the dresses might get worn for a date night spent sitting on the couch and watching a movie on Lou's computer.***

I'd post pictures, but yeah, Hardworking Stranger....

* * *

Hoping... that my voice magically comes back by tomorrow. >:( Also, for many blessings on Hardworking Stranger, because he's really gotten a lot done, and I am super excited about having forced air instead of baseboard heat.

Oh, I almost forgot. Cat picture:

Yes, this is from before Christmas, but our tree is still up.
This year was so busy that I'd have felt gypped if we un-decorated
before Epiphany.
Yay for holding out till the Baptism of the Lord!
Happy weekend!

* I promise I could keep the plaster out of the bread.
** On the other hand, I sit next to our violinist in church, and... well. She's stupendous enough to be either inspiration or a hit to the ego. I'm going to go with inspiration...
*** I dress up for home date nights at the risk of my tights. Maia likes to attack ankles.


"That's Where My Demons Hide": Twilight's Edward Cullen

NOTE: For those of you who aren't interested in Twilight, at most I'll be interspersing these posts with book reviews for a few Wednesdays. I've got notes on a fantasy novel I just read and am reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose right now, with a long to-read list in the making, and I don't begin to have energy or time to run an H.P.B.C.-sized tour of Forks this year.

* * *

It's hard to know where to start, especially when I'm not sure where this will end.

When I first read the Twilight saga, I liked it so much that I read the whole series five times. Five. Almost without stopping. To be sure, that was how I read almost anything I really liked back then, back before I started posting book reviews every week and spending too much time on the internet in general.

But I've loved Twilight, and I've cheerfully defended it from various accusations, including:
  • bad writing (it's inexperienced and very uneven, but certainly not uniformly bad)
  • passive heroine syndrome (Bella is my favorite character, natch [well, except for Carlisle])
  • Creepy Obsessive Stalker Romance (okay, our Ed has his moments—but immortal is not the same thing as aged; otherwise, Arwen Evenstar would be a cradle-robbing cougar [see also: It. is. a. STORY])
  • "This book is evil because ________" (I've been a Potter fan too long to have much to say to that one)
Masha recently expressed a hope that reading Tolstoy would have made it impossible for me to go back to Meyer. Now, since Austen and Dickens and Dostoevsky didn't make it impossible for me to read Twilight in the first place, I don't think any one author could stop me taking pleasure in a good story, however imperfectly told.

It has, however, been harder for me to read Twilight this time around. I think the primary culprit behind that is one of my... oh, maybe Theta* readers: he made me a better writer, but he also left me hyperconscious to the point of anxiety about my own word choices. Which made me a lot more jumpy about everyone else's, too.

* * *

My biggest problem with defending Twilight: it means I should think twice before getting snarky at Catholic hymns from the sixties and seventies. (Which I should probably do anyway if I want to keep composing sacred music.)
But the lyrics are so bad.
And yet, so many people love this song so much.

* * *

That said, pop culture successes are almost never academically satisfying—and as long as I'm not looking right at one of Meyer's overblown word choices, I still rather love the story—and I have characters to stand up for and story bits to talk about—so let's do this. Here's some pop culture to get in the mood. Thanks to Laura for this link; the song is just perfect for Edward:

At the moment, I'm planning to work through the story more or less by character, rather than by chapter or plot, because I think the characters have the most conversation to offer.

I never read Midnight Sun, but Edward has always fascinated me as the character who most obviously displays the aspect of being human that the story revolves around: the battle between desires and conscience. Edward's dueling passions for Bella are drawn up against his Carlisle-formed conscience in an intense and prolonged war that only begins to resolve peaceably as he learns the ways of love. And I don't mean romance: I mean good, old-fashioned caritas.

Right now, I'm only halfway through the first book (you know holiday busyness is insane when I can't even get through Twilight in a week)—but I'm seeing that beginning resolution in his understanding that he couldn't live with himself if he ever hurt Bella: an understanding that could easily lead someone with his personality to despair, but which guides him to gentleness and self-restraint. He's got a lot of growth ahead of him, but it's a good place to start.

Art by Eldanis
Edward is depressive, obsessive, pessimistic, and often dismissive of others, all of which have opened him up to criticism. Those are weaknesses—you won't catch me denying it—and it's also true that in the first throes of romance, Bella doesn't see those flaws clearly at all (which may not make for good role modeling, but is certainly realistic.)

But Edward's character, despite his having been a vampire for a century or so, is not so fixed that he cannot learn. Knowing he's a monster and knowing he doesn't want to be, he has practiced to perfection a near-infallible control over his passions, and I respect that. He's also remorseful, and while that tends to manifest in unnecessary brooding, it also changes him: he's gotten good at not doing what he knows he'll regret. And despite occasional severe regressions, he spends a lot of time learning to hope.

Quite apart from the whole vampire thing, Edward is not someone I'd have been likely to fall in love with. The dark-and-broody type doesn't do much for me, and I'm not fond of the guy's gracelessness toward humanity in general.

But I have always loved his battered-but-gritted will to do the right thing, as well as his delight in real purity and goodness wherever he finds it: his reverence for Carlisle, his honor for Seth. And I admire his appreciation for the extraordinary in the unsettled, uncertain, fairly ordinary Bella—because I like Bella, and because half the fun of romantic love is in building a unique and exclusive bond with someone who, to the rest of the world, is just one of the billions.

Here's my glass—well, clay coffee mug full of blueberry tea, because I have a cold—raised to Edward Cullen, then: a monster with flaws who is interestingly and likably human. Love you, Ed.

P.S. I wanted to address the matter of his fitting into vampire mythology, too, but honestly, I can't summon up enough energy, possibly because of the aforementioned cold. If I knew vampire mythology the way I know the Bible, I'd probably have developed the same annoyance I felt at Anita Diamant's messing with Genesis details in The Red Tent. As it is, however, I've only read Dracula, and I wasn't offended by Meyer's blowing off that myth; which means, I guess, that I don't have the information to speak to it, any more than the will. This also means capitulation to Masha's much more knowledgeable points on the subject... but this is popular fiction, and if nothing else, I thought Meyer, in mentioning and then discarding the overall mythology, was within reasonable bounds of poetic license for her genre. Feel free to argue with me in the combox.

* I am way beyond having beta readers with the A.D. story... am probably near the middle of the Greek alphabet at this point.


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 7

Hello! The Harry Potter Book Club is back in session. Christie's having to post as she can—she's got enough to do to occupy any three people—but the show goes on, and all of us with it.

Before Christmas, Masha wrote about about Divination, which was fascinating, since in her pagan days, she'd actually done it:
I can (but don't, so please, don't ask!) read pretty much anything: cards, palms, fire, moles, dreams, handwriting, wax...I used to love it, until I started worrying about my soul.
Her take is thoughtful, too; hardly a case of straight-up scientific dismissal:
It's nice to know the flakes of the world (Trelawney, Lavender, Parvati)  show up alongside the Type - A, rationalists in the wizarding world as well as the real world. And really, there's no better place to reveal them than in the Divination tower.. Flakes of all types love divination  - until you tell them the cute-guy-from-Whole-Foods won't actually be marrying them in the next few months - and Hermione or McGonagall types loathe it..even when it's dead on. 
Read it! And then come back here for boggarts and fear-facing.

Meanwhile, want something fun to procrastinate with? Figure out which Harry Potter character you are. This was a surprising and interesting result:

Maybe we should qualify that.
I may not care much about what people en masse think of me,
but I care wildly about what individual people think.
I love it when they like me as I am,
and I love liking and accepting them in return,
and I'll always love Neville Longbottom.

* * *
This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 7

Potential Discussion Points:

Here's Hank Green comparing the public school system to Hogwarts, unfavorably, by way of cornball song.

"...and they don't put you in Hufflepuff if you're not cool
instead they sort you in the parking lot after school"
I get that second line, but the first... just WHAT ARE YOU SAYING, Hank??!!!

Say 'Everyone who isn't cool should be sorted into Hufflepuff'
one more time.
Just say it.
Erm. Anyway. I'm certainly no defender of concrete boxes and mystery lunchmeat, but Hogwarts ain't a perfect school system, either. Exhibit A: Severus Snape. See below.

1. Bad teachers. Hagrid is incompetent; Trelawney is a dangerous absurdity; and Snape, for numerous reasons, should never have been put in charge of young minds.

Art by Shellvia-Blackthorn
All of these are individuals to whom Dumbledore has extended mercy: sometimes with specific reasons, but always out of the generosity of a heart that recognizes the need for second chances. This probably saved Hagrid's life, and has lent Trelawney what little dignity she possesses—and we could talk about Snape, but it would all be spoilerific at this point—but as a policy, the Hogwarts faculty as a hospital for the screwed up and screwed over is not without its problems. Students learn nothing in Hagrid's classes after the Buckbeak episode. Trelawney is reverenced by some students as an oracle, and is hated by the rest as a fraud; either way, she's doing far more harm than good.

Snape is vicious to the point of being able to inflict lasting damage on young lives. We have limited insights into his relationship with Dumbledore, but if Dumbledore ever pulled him aside and attempted to stop him bullying Neville, we at least know it didn't work. Possibly it wasn't said, however, since it would have had to come out like, "Look, I need you and you need me, but go on bullying students and I have what it takes to land you in Azkaban." Snape knows way too much to make that a good idea. But still.

Dumbledore's 'hospital for the screwed up and screwed over' has at least one almost-unqualified success, however. SPOILERS. Moving on.

Art by Callista1981
2. Professor Remus J. Lupin, D.A.D.A. The new professor's first class gives us a lot of insight—both into Lupin's character and into the art of engaging children in learning. Not a lot of professors would teach you, first thing, how to shoot a wad of gum up a poltergeist's nostril.

This class is brilliant. Lupin saves the reading and essay assignment till after he's carefully coached the class through some unforgettable experience, ensuring that he has both their attention and their respect. When Snape shames Neville in front of him, Lupin calmly displays a confidence in Neville that, as far as we know, no adult has ever given the boy. It's an immense and meaningful gift.

The result, like the gum up Peeves' nose, is a touch ethically questionable—and these are quiet hints at a SPOILERIFIC segment of Lupin's history—but is equally effective. The class laughs, and fear is conquered. It would be hard not to laugh.


3. Neville. He's had great courageous moments before, but Lupin's class is—if I recall correctly—the first opportunity he's ever had to win a fight. The fact that he's been fighting without winning for two books now is sign enough of his character; now, faced with his worst fears but having a capable teacher backing him up for the first time, he shows that his mind is perfectly up to the challenge.

Art by Melody Moore

The Wizarding world is lucky Neville is able to overcome the shame loaded on him by Snape (and Augusta Longbottom, for that matter). That's all I've got to say. For now, anyway.

4. The boggart. I don't know much about boggart mythology—I've never even read Susan Cooper's book—but the concept of a creature that takes on the appearance of a potential enemy's worst fear is fascinating. That would certainly be an effective form of self-defense. I wonder what happens when a boggart actually gets you? Does it just run you over and leave you fainting from terror? Or does it do like the Matrix and kill you with you own mind's tendency to make whatever it believes real?

Or maybe it makes like River and does it for you...
Third year at Hogwarts is probably a good age for dealing with this minor monster. Childhood fears are usually simpler than the fears of adults, as exemplified by Mrs. Weasley in book five.

At the moment I could probably confuse a boggart all by myself... but when I was first reading the books, I knew exactly what it would turn into if it crawled out of my closet: the low-head dam on the Wenatchee River. As a former whitewater raft guide and rescue tech, I know what happens when water hits a smooth, submerged obstacle like that. I know it almost invariably kills you if you get stuck in it, and I know how—I know the details. I used to have nightmares in the middle of the day about that thing.

I think I'd try to make it sprout a bunch of those agricultural sprinklers: the kind that rotate slowly for part of a circle and then speed back: "tchish, tchish, tchish, tchish, tchish, tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tchish..." You know the type. I've always found them amusing.



Old Year, New Year

By way of Christie (I know there weren't many rules, friend, but I think I broke all of them! Oops! XD):

Technically, I'm not supposed to use words, but I don't work that way. ;)
  1. Me and the final Wheel of Time book
  2. Screenshot from the tumblr Title2Come; this happened at least four times
  3. Maia and me at the piano
  4. Flying to Florida to visit my grandparents and uncles
  5. The St. Benedict medal Sarah gave me
  6. The Harry Potter Book Club
  7. Apples by the million
  8. The editorial letter for the fairy tale retelling, under Maia's paws
  9. The computer backdrop I made in commemoration of Lou's and my fifth wedding anniversary
  10. Peaceful scenery at huckleberry picking
  11. Overenthusiastic jelly-making
  12. The hymn arrangement I wrote, in my Christmas choir notebook, complete with directorial scribbles (and dropped pine needles... what?!)
  13. Our Christmas gifts to family, made from garden produce

* * *

Number 11 is more important than it might look; it's a tiny representation of the mental event that shaped 2013 more than anything else to me. This was the year I overdid, over-thought, and overreacted to everything.

Originally—I think—this was due to a reaction to a (doctor-prescribed) vitamin supplement. The mood shift happened on January 2, just weeks after I started taking methylated folic acid (not methamphetamine; I'm not that much of a Bellinghamster :P), and I didn't come down till mid-March, when I ran out of it. Even then, I only came down part way, and it's pulsed back up by day or week or month ever since.

I'll spare you the details, except to say that it involves things like racking up a huge sleep debt without seeming to need to repay it, alternating between various degrees of nervousness without respite, and stirring from a dark reverie in the middle of the kitchen in the middle of the day and feeling the way you feel when you wake at three o'clock in the morning from the kind of tragic dream that haunts you for weeks. Your emotions wind up getting stretched like a set of guitar strings tuned to the highest possible pitch and then strummed with a hard pick.

This puts a threat on 2014: according to Newton's third law of motion and my own past experience, elevated mental and emotional states are followed by equivalent mental and emotional crashes. That's not something I can afford. Therefore, my first goal for 2014 is to allot my mind and feelings some rest.

* * *

Crazy phase aside, it was a quiet and happy and likable year overall. We were mostly spared serious trouble, thanks be to God; up until just before Christmas, things went easily enough. Other year-shaping events of 2013 included:
  • saving A.D. and her story
  • learning to appreciate some modern literature and music
  • going all Gandalf on a series of threats to our little choir's life and health
  • making hard decisions about what I'm not willing to do in order to have children or to feel better
  • unsettling wonder

* * *

The days surrounding Christmas included Katie's wedding, wherein I unexpectedly wound up directing the prelude choir and Lou braved the dance floor with me once just because he knows I love it. There were four days of more natural beauty than I've seen since a Crescent City sunset ten years ago: thick frost on tree branches poking up into white fog, puffs of mist drifting over slate-gray river waters.* I've had time with all of our nieces and nephews, whose ages range from the days-old baby niece, who slept for hours in my arms, to our college-junior nephew, who roomed with us at Katie's wedding and talked football and music with me.

It's been fun, but there's been so much going on that I've had to resort to hiding out in the bathroom and staying up into the wee hours to get introvert time. And that same stretch of time included the praying of two painful novenas simultaneously: St. Peregrine for someone with cancer and Divine Mercy over a suicide.

I've spent time crying over Nick's death, letting things slide out of sheer exhaustion, falling asleep at family gatherings, not caring about anything this Christmas season wanted of me, and yet—always at the last minute—I've been given the strength for what matters, one day after the next.

* * *

I barely knew you, Nick; the one evening we spent together, we were both too shy to say much to each other. But I remember you making me laugh, the last time I saw you. I know you were a bit of a loner, and I know there were reasons I don't know much about that kept you angry—but you were loved. I hope all is forgiven. I hope you're feeling divine mercy like a faithful father's love, and like a friend's.

* * *

The new year came without me being ready, and I'm comparatively goal-less. Mostly, I want to focus on art and prayer and sanity. These aren't S.M.A.R.T. yet; they're a little discombobulated and unfinished, sort of like me right now; but here's what I want to work on in the coming months:
  • not dreading prayer as an invasion on my time
  • writing A.D. till she's whole and who she was meant to be
  • fledging E.E.
  • learning to tell myself no: limiting my link-hopping off Facebook and Feedly, thinking realistically about required investments of time and energy when setting work goals and saying yes to various opportunities
  • avoiding wanting to jump off a bridge when the crash comes
  • spending more time in our garden
  • immersing myself for a while in studying sightreading
  • taking a little piano, and going on playing every night
  • knowing and loving the ways of music and literature better at the end of the year than I do at the beginning, just as I know and love them better now than I did a year ago
  • being present and affectionate and ready to help whenever someone needs me, no matter how small or great the need.
I want peace, hope, beauty, and love for you in the coming year. Thanks for reading.

* It was a bad weekend to forget the camera.... but there was just. too. much.