Uncut 2015 Christmas Letter

Hello, people-I-swear-to-write-but-never-do, relatives, and/or those who have filled me with a sense of obligation by mailing me something first!  Greetings of a seasonal variety to you!  May your Christmas season be full of love, hope, peace, and other fruits of the Spirit.

What follows is my attempt to sum up my year, despite the fact that you probably have learned most of this information via Facebook and, moreover, don’t expect changes of any great magnitude, because there weren’t any.  Unless you count starting on an antidepressant, in which case: there was one change of some magnitude in the past few months, and it is somewhat obvious if I forget it.   …pardon me a moment, I just realized I forgot something…

Right, so.  Life!  And the aspects thereof.  Well.  First off, there’s my…

Job: Yeaaah, I’m still at the law office.  I’ve now spent half a year as secretary for two attorneys, without more salary to show for it. Awesome.  Also awesome: doing anything with the court of appeals for the first time; we are all of us flailing about and consulting the court rules every 5 minutes.

Housing:  You may recall me living in a rental house with 3 other ladies.  As one of my erstwhile roommates got married and remained with her spouse in the house, Cecilia and I moved a whopping .8 miles north and east across Washtenaw.  This is close enough to walk between them, but far enough that anything you sent to my old address will miss me.  Except that I eventually put my mail on forward.  I meant to send you a tidy little handwritten note with my new address, but that just didn’t happen.  Sorry.

Romantic Relationships: Hahahaha, psych!  There’s been nothing of the sort for the last eight years at least.  This year, I went on 3 mediocre dates and 1 decent one, followed by some uninspired texts and no calls.  Friends have suggested I broaden my field of search to include more states, or at least the Fort Wayne seminary.  I may yet do so.

But! I am not without commitments: I have bought two new bookshelves this year and, by virtue of having a roommate who did the actual acquisition, acquired two kittens.  I’ve also become an official member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, having decided after 1.5 years in their choir that I wouldn’t just run off somewhere else.  Except for the weekends when I’m off attending weddings, when I will run most anywhere given sufficient notice.  There were three such weddings this year – those of my erstwhile housemate Hannah G. W., my other erstwhile housemate Liz C. N., and my concert-going, somewhat-indie music-supplying, lemon-jousting drinking buddy Hannah M. K., whose Astoria wedding was a delight to witness and stand up in.  I also attended my friend Zach’s ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, which is basically like a wedding, except without a 300% markup on the celebratory cake.

There is now another wedding on the horizon, as my brother Paul is engaged to one of my dearest friends, Michelle; I am quite pleased for them (mostly because I am not the one currently dealing with obscene markups for nuptial celebration paraphernalia)(but also because I love them both dearly and, you know, hope they will carry on in delight together &c)(that said, Paul could be a bit less nauseating in his effusions of loving feeling)(someone get me a bucket).

I'm not even an engineer. Just label me "Exhausted" or "Envious" or something.

I’m not even an engineer. Just label me “Exhausted.”

Other celebrations: 12th Night (complete with Shakespeare, almond cake, and crowns); my first Feuerzangenbowle (complete with fiery sugar and carol-singing); Michaelmas (complete with more Milton than I’ve ever read in one sitting before); St. Crispin‘s Day (complete with yelling the Henry V speech to passersby on Mackinac Island); and birthday celebrations of several people, including me (complete with playing two games of Boggle at once!  Or eating Moroccan food/bowling/drinking Greek wine/reading Evelyn Waugh/however we celebrated birthdays).

I also basked in the reflected glory of my brother John competing on Jeopardy! in January, and his return for the Tournament of Champions in November.  My own knowledge of trivia has not been sufficient to get me past the online Jeopardy! test, but it HAS won me a few rounds on LearnedLeague.com.  Aw yiss.  So much less of a timesink than either TriviaCrack or JetPunk, addictions which I have overcome!   …Sadly I have not overcome my addiction to Sherlock fanfiction; please pray for my soul and/or recommend a support group.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

No one can tell this deer is wearing jeans anyway.

On the bright side, I have profited greatly from reading both The Joy of Less and unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com, not that you can necessarily tell by looking at my work desk or my bedroom.  But I’ve managed to dispose of some papers that had lingered for the last year or six, and got rid of some brown pants just in time to miss them at Halloween.

Other consumables:  Continuing my tradition of checking things out of the library for as long as possible, I’ve had a couple books by Milosz out for 2 years now. It’s like grad school library privileges without needing to be in grad school.  Books I actually read include some volumes on orthography, a couple intriguing books by Neil Postman, and I, Robot; generally my reading material has been more poetic, word-loving, critical, depressed, and mildly feminist.

Viewing-wise, this has been the year of my finally watching Die Hard, The Room (via RiffTrax Live), Zoolander, and White Christmas for the very first time.  National Theatre Live brought Coriolanus and Hamlet within my purview, for which I both bless and curse them.  2015 also involved an Iron Man marathon (which, lest you be deceived, involves no physical activity) and more watching of The Decoy Bride / Not Another Happy Ending than is strictly advisable.  Not to mention The Mindy Project, Inspector Lewis, and odds and ends from Parks and Rec.

I remain a member of the UMS Choral Union, which performed Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Handel’s Messiah; as mentioned above, I’m part of my church choir as well.  Occasionally I pinch-hit as an alto because we are as poor in altos as we are rich in sopranos.  Shocking, I know.

This year’s culinary adventuring included the eating of Moroccan bistilla (would recommend) and the cooking of meringues, gluten-free pizza, and gluten-free fried chicken.  There were also a fair allotment of cocktails: lots of G&Ts and a fair sampling of Drinking with the Saints.

Also wik:  I read with some alacrity the epic saga of Brother Orange; I learned more of the geography of John and Elizabeth’s neighborhood whilst dogsitting, when I accidentally walked their dog Hektor 5 miles longer than necessary;  and I did the most Pinterest-y project of my life, namely, using twine and clothespins to hang a bunch of stuff, mostly calligraphy, on my bedroom wall.

963

There you have it: a far longer summary of a year than you might want or need.  Merry freaking Christmas, y’all.  See you all in 2016, unless I don’t actually.

Much love,
(really, I promise)
Joy

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!  Onward to 2016!

Tough questions in Greek Class

You need a little background for some of the stories I’d like to tell. Last year, I audited a conversational modern Greek class at the hoity toity university where my husband works. It was a tiny class, so I wasn’t off the hook for anything; I did the homework, took the tests and participated freely. Which was great, of course. It was marvelous. But…

I am 8-10 years older than the other 5 students.
I have 2 completed degrees.
I was recently married.
I was pregnant and, while not puking (good), wasn’t sleeping much (bad)

So there may have been a gap between the other students and me. Maybe just a chasm with fire and snakes. We didn’t always understand each other in English, things got dicey in Greek.

One day, I dragged my insomniac bum to class, and found that several of the other students had decided to skip. This left me alone with the teacher, the teacher’s decaying patience, and the quietest of the male students. The student who claimed to enjoy reading, tennis and Kafka. Right. The order goes forth: Talk to each other. ‘Οχι. Στα ελλενικα.

The other student exhaled, flipping through his notes. He inhaled. He exhaled. He looked at me pointedly and asked, “Eiste pantremenos?”

I panicked. He wanted to know something about me. Something I know I knew. Something we talked about…recently…something I …was? wasn’t? was? AM I PANTREMENOS? I beat my brain with a stick and peered at the dust that shook out. My brain didn’t oblige. I flipped violently but fruitlessly through the week’s notes. Nothing.

The teacher sighed deeply. She repeated the student’s question. She looked at me pointedly. She sighed. I forgave her the double sigh. I deserved it.

I gave up entirely. I wasn’t going to get it. If it meant “tired”, I was that. I didn’t think I was anything else. Just tired. I didn’t know what it meant, so I said so. I don’t know. “Den Κsero” (Prettier in Greek: Δεν ξερω)

The teacher exploded, slapping the table and laughing hysterically. The other student laughed audibly and looked like I had just told the funniest joke he’d heard in a year. I goggled.

When she recovered herself, the teacher told me what had been asked. “Are you married?”

Oh.

 

 

 

 

Death of a Battery at 5:30 AM

Death of a Battery at 5:30 AM

Had it happened in the driveway,
We might have been forewarned,
Delayed our start till after the rain
Began to coat the road and land,
Or before salt trucks fired headlights,
And bridges sent cars widely sliding
In wild spirals of tire and ice,
Fingernails, wheels, rails colliding.

Drifting, tenebrous, flakes settled down
Against still shadows in cadence.
Breath turned vapor before speech,
Blood slowed, the flares burned out
And cold pressed round our patience,
Which is when the battery died.

“My Gracious Silence”

I watched the Hiddlestone Coriolanus a few nights ago, and was enthralled. It is an excellent production, from casting to staging, as Terpsichore described. (Seriously, how does a dirt-grimed man moving a chair look so attractive?)

He doesn’t know either.

Coriolanus is a grand tragedy of political and personal dimensions, revolving around several very forceful, very egotistic, and very vocal characters. Caius Macius Coriolanus is the manliest of men, (especially when played by Hiddleston,) but cannot bend his convictions (however flawed they be) to curry political favor. His bossy mother Volumnia not only verbally whips her son, but claims responsibility for his martial prowess.

But in this version, my attention was caught by the quiet, peace-loving wife, Virgilia.

This Virgilia is only vocally silent.

In their first scene together,  Coriolanus address his wife as “my gracious silence”. This phrase has always captured my attention, mostly because that adjective lends a warmth and power to a quality that is often overlooked or criticized. But as a  epithet, it often translates into a negative portrayal of the character.

Virgilia has barely 26 lines, in the whole play, none of which are particularly poignant or important. Her title and her words combined mark her as a passive character, waiting for the action of others to determine her fate, apparently ruled by her voluble mother-in-law, and cloistering herself inside to await her husband. (While her mother-in-law, Volumnia, lives up to her name with some of the most rhetorically powerful speeches in the play.)

Shakespeare’s actions most often occur through the spoken narrative and language of his plays: actions are recounted by messengers and mediated through rhetoric, and interior action revealed through monologues or dialogues. The power of speech is particularly highlighted in Shakespeare by the dearth of stage directions. (But the ones he does have are either direct or narratively expansive. Exit pursued by a bear.) character with few lines often fades into the background.

Yet in this production, Virgilia’s silence is not taken to be complete inaction. When she first appears, her mother-in-law and various friends are trying the convince her to leave off  worrying and weeping over the absence of her husband. Her continued weeping often cements her image as weak-willed, but that discounts one revealing fact:  Virgilia is the only character in the play who hears the rhetoric of persuasion unmoved. While the rest of the cast fall prey to various arguments, it is only Virgilia who remains steadfast in her convictions and in her silence.

She might be silent in part because it is impossible to speak when Volumnia holds forth. But in a play with increasing tension between honest speech and “fair words”, it is notable that Virgilia repeatedly ignores that dichotomy and chooses to hold her silence. Volumnia, the passionate orator, urges Coriolanus to,

” . . .  speak To the people; not by your own instruction,
Nor by the matter which your heart prompts you,
But with such words that are but rooted in
Your tongue, though but bastards and syllables
Of no allowance to your bosom’s truth. ” (2232-2236)

And when Coriolanus bends his character to comply, Virgilia responds by becoming almost mute. When his inability to make the bastard words credible destroys Corilanus, Virgilia (in this portrayal) uses her own lips only for kissing him.

It is not passivity that silences Virgilia;  it is words themselves that fail her.

Corrupt language is what destroyed her husband.  At several points she can only issue broke cries of, “oh heavens, oh heavens!”, as if words themselves cannot hold depth of her heartache (2533).  She is almost choking on her words, as if to articulate them would derive them of reality. Speeches would only make her agony seem trite, so she bears suffering quietly.

Shakespeare, the word master, has crafted excruciating monologues of pain, grief, and reasoning, so it is more than strange that he gives Virgilia such a consistent silence. Yet his use of silence is not uncommon; “silence is the perfectest herald of joy”, declares Claudio, the false lover. Although Claudio’s joy and faith falters,  silence does herald a great many other interior movements. Sobs speak more tellingly of grief than words, as in Lear’s broken speech over the death of Cordelia. And both Hero’s and Hermione’s outrage and sorrow are manifested in the gravest of silences.

This staging of Coriolanus embraces Virgilia’s actions as speaking more poignantly than all of Volumnia’s syllables. Where Menelius and Volumnia use language to deceive, incite, and woo, Virgilia’s lack of words grounds her husband.  Her love for him is clear in every gesture, and needs no other articulation. Virgilia’s lack of speech is not empty, but is a powerful counterweight to the rhetoric of Menelius’ smooth persuasions and Volumnia’s fierce lectures. Where words corrupt and manipulate, Virgilia remains constant.  Her silence is truly filled with grace.

who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you

The Lost Formality of Letter Writing

Dear Friends and Lovers,

When I was in grade school, (not sure which grade: homeschool years all blend together,) my writing book had a section on the formal writing of letters. Each letter must have a heading, a greeting, a body full of either chatty anecdotes, witty quips, or occasional fulsome gratitude, and then a formal close and farewell. I had to write fake letter after fake letter until my teacher-mom was satisfied, and I could move onto the next unit. The main interest of the exercise was to relieve the dreariness of 5-sentence paragraph writing.

As I progressed in my studies and pretentiousness, various examples of epistles came before me: Daddy-Long-Legs, Mr. Darcy’s letter,  Woman in White, and the correspondence of the Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Each gave me an idea of how to write an organized, proper and, most importantly, interesting letter.

My favorite example of a formal letter comes from C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian. High King Peter dictates a challenge to King Miraz, a document wreathed in formal titles, archaic phrasing, and righteous with cool confidence. I modeled quite a few missives after Peter’s, finding obscure titles for myself and the intended recipient and couching every term in as medieval an accent as I could conjure.

But the age of email dawned, and there are now few calls for the formality of letters. And that lack of pen and paper seems to encourage casual correspondence.

Recently I have had the dubious honor of being on the receiving end of a few formal communications. Or rather, they were short queries from students that should have been formal.

I know for a fact that the grade school students at my school learn and practice letter writing. Yet through either the strange and laid back aura of the interwebs, or the lazy and rebellious disease that attacks middle and high schoolers, my students cannot formulate a proper email. Granted, their questions and requests are usually brief and quickly dispatched.

But I would have died before I sent an email to my professors with the greeting “hey”. Not me name or a proper address, just “hey”.

As a teacher, I also highly recommend using correct capitalization and punctuation in all communiques with a teacher. Yet many students neglect this simple strategy of currying favoring. (Or at least non-ill-will.)

But my biggest pet peeve, pulled from almost all student emails, is lack of a close to the email. Yes, I know that your name and address appears in my inbox. No, I don’t need your signature to know who you are. But typing out “sincerely, yours” brings the whole note to an easy, pleasant completion. An empty space at the end of an email feels unbalanced, disordered, impolite, cheeky insolent . . . etc.

So, dear readers, kindred spirits, erudite partakers of tea and enlightenment, think twice before snapping at a student for insolence sending an email. The Person the other end might be judging you in need of the old world formalities to alleviate her cynicism.

With the utmost gratitude, sincerity, and snarky sermonizing,

Melpomene
Muse of Tragedy, Lady of Melancholy,  Loamer of Egotists, Companion of Nienna, Teacher of Sarcasm, Magistra, Queen of the Classroom, Non-Answerer of Informal Emails, Poetess extraordinaire, and Instigator of Havoc

Review: August, Osage County

Wednesday was $5 day at my local theater, so after watching Frozen, I set out to give myself emotional whiplash by heading straight into August: Osage County.

Okay, that’s a lie.  I set out to watch Benedict Cumberbatch in one of his five movie projects released in 2013, and perhaps to see what Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, et al. brought to it.  The emotional whiplash was just a side effect.

August is the time of year, Osage county in northern Oklahoma the place.  Plot summary: author Beverly Weston disappears from his home (and, incidentally, puzzles me, because who names their son Beverly?  I bet he had a brother named Sue Not-Appearing-In-This-Film).  His family – 3 daughters, a sister-in-law, and their respective spouses/children – come home to empathize with his wife Violet while waiting for him to turn up, and are thus ideally placed for the funeral when he turns up drowned.  And then, the players having congregated on the board, family dynamics drive each person hither and yon again.

At first, I thought “This is one of the realest stories I have seen in a while.” The rural Oklahoma setting, for one, reminds me of my familial home down in southern Illinois in so many ways. It has the flat land, the oil wells, the unforgiving heat and the shimmer of the air, the small town nearby, even the left turn from the highway onto the dirt road heading home. The cars they drive, the style and decoration of the house, the casserole dishes: it all felt familiar, more familiar than I’ve seen in a film before.

You may be focusing on the knock-down brawl going on, but I am looking at those wooden pillars at the sides of the room. My grandparents’ house has pillars just like that!

Then there’s Meryl Streep as Violet Weston.  She’s phenomenal.  She stumbles in as Beverly interviews a young woman, Johnna, to be housekeeper.  “You an injun?” Violet asks, with the casual racism of the woman too old to care about political correctness (or too apathetic until she can attack someone else for alluding to childhood games of “cowboys and Indians”).  The way her voice alternately sweetens and sharpens as she asks Johnna about herself, addresses her husband, and gives some details about herself and her mouth cancer – I have seen that before, mostly in my grandmother as her own dementia began to progress.

Bev disappears.  The girls come home from Colorado and Miami, everyone bemoans the heat, the sheriff arrives with news and a body that needs to be identified, the funeral is followed by the most painful funeral lunch you ever saw.  Violet’s speech, her swift changes of mood, her not-always-appropriate anecdotes, her occasional lapses into bitterness over her children and what she sacrificed for them – these all prompt the other characters to react accordingly, also true-to-life.

Then it all goes a bit…screwy.  No, more than a bit.  The Weston family is far more dysfunctional than mine: there’s more divorce, the lone teenager is angstier (shame she doesn’t have siblings or cousins), there’s such distance between everyone…not to mention suicide, a touch of drug use (prescription and otherwise), and a soupçon of accidental incest.  Possibly more than a soupcon, actually.  There’s also far less religious observance – you can tell by the awkwardness of the mealtime prayer – which helps explain why no one ever seems to have heard of forgiving, forgetting, or wishing for another’s good more than one’s own.  Toss that all in a room together, and it becomes one big powder keg.

Here’s where the post-Frozen whiplash gets bad: whereas Anna trusts her sister Elsa unstintingly despite years of isolation (and that one time with the ice spikes), and Elsa protects Anna the best she can after conquering her fears, the Weston ladies are, as Ivy puts it, “Just people accidentally connected by genetics.”  You can’t pick your family, it says, though Charles Aiken (Bev and Violet’s brother-in-law) reminds everyone in word and deed that you can choose how to regard your family.

That’s more or less the upshot of it.  Violet and her oldest daughter, Barbara, might provide grim amusement with their increasingly vicious, obscene, and histrionic hollering, but I reckon they’re more important as an all-too-realistic cautionary tale.  I’ve read that Tracy Letts, the playwright and screenplay writer, is preoccupied with the question of “whether it’s ever possible to overcome the dysfunction passed down through generations.”  Of course, yes, it’s possible – but not alone. You need grace for that.  And grace, like Sue, is not appearing in this film.

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Requiem for an Automobile

Yesterday morning I was in the kitchen making breakfast, when I heard a dull thud from the street. “That sounds almost like a small accident,” thought I. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was someone running into my car?” Secure in the knowledge that such event was unlikely, I went back to my yoghurt.

I am currently living with a friend in Texas while I desperately assiduously job search. It is a residential neighborhood where many people park in the street. As driveway space is limited, I parked in the street as well.

Before I swallowed even one spoonful of yoghurt, my curiosity and slight anxiety started pricking. Well, more like nagging and poking. Incessantly. So I looked out the front window.

I should have seen my sweet little car sitting quietly directly in front if the house.

What I saw was a mangled bumper gently rocking on the sidewalk.

Through a slight haze, I managed to notice the neighbor’s yard had a new lawn ornament: my car. My faithful, lovely ride was straddling the sidewalk, rear end crumpled.

EbyCarWreck

For seven years and two cross-country trips, this car has served me faithfully and resolutely, and I killed her. Right after I replaced all the breaks, too! Why did I not remember that Texans can’t drive? Why did I park on the street?

But strange things started to happen. After the sadly-born call to the police and insurance, the trauma and drama did marvelous things for the community. Three runners stopped to watch and chat. (To be fair, the car was blocking their path.) Four city utility vehicles (two water inspection officers, one “community patrol” guy, and one fire truck cruising the route,) pulled over to “check on the crash”. Human curiosity is a fascinating thing. Five neighbors came to stand and watch. One, the lady whose lawn my car now adorned, fluttered over to ask for the whole story, and pat my arm sympathetically. Tragedies bring people together in the most exciting and human way.

So, farewell, my hard-working automobile! Even in death you continue to help people gather together. Go to the Happy Car-Crushing Ground!

Disney Wars

By this point, I am pretty sure you have heard that Disney bought Star Wars.

My reactions to this news are mixed.

On one hand, I do have to agree with The Blimey Cow Brothers, here.

 

 

But on the other hand  . . . .

 

 

After all, Disney has already done this to THE Ultimate Space Epic.

 

 

 

What thinkest thou? Any visions of the future of Star Wars?