Tuesday with Thalia: She’s. Back.

Well hello, friends!

I’ve discovered the secret to getting things done. It’s not going to make you happy, because it is the same thing that your mama has been saying, but it does work. Have a schedule, give it a chance to settle, and you will find you have lots of time, get lots done and suddenly find that you are oddly full of ideas. Turns out, work does preceed inspiration. It’s very peculiar, and it’s only a step or two ahead, but it is actually true. Start doing the drudge work around you, and I bet within 45 minutes or so, you’ll have a brilliant idea. (or at least an idea…) Lots of people have remarked about this, actually. Agatha Christie said that she got her best ideas while washing dishes. Stravinsky said right out that work doesn’t just help inspiration, it breeds it. (Oh, stop whining. My pronouns arn’t that tangled. Former/Latter. It/It. Work/Inspiration.)

I have now too many ideas to share all today, so I am reinstating my Tuesday with Thalia posts so that I can schedule my ideas. Otherwise I know they’ll slip away! So today, since I’m talking up work and inspiration, I decided I would share with you a 30 minute lecture on creativity. It’s tremendously insightful. When I tell you that it is given by John Cleese, you will recognize your old friend the Dead Parrot. So clearly it is creative! But I urge you to spend the 30 minutes and listen to this lecture. It is broad enough in its spectrum to speak to every possible discipline and art. What I gained from it two weeks ago may not be what will strike you. Please do watch it for yourself. (and oh, enjoy the subtitles.)

(“Ipswich. Bolton. It’s a pun. No, it’s a palindrome.” ”  No, that’s not possible. The palindrome of Bolton is Notlob.”)

Go forth. Work. Think. Create!


Tuesday with Thalia: Winning Words

Lovelies, I am not feeling especially clever today. So I am taking here the path of least resistance and interpreting this to mean “words and phrases that I love.” I know that there are lots of other interpretations. I look forward to reading about them. But for today, bear with me, my friends, and let me share some delicious phrases.

I am an insatiable connoisseur of tasty words. If you don’t know what I mean, I can only conclude that you had a barren and dusty childhood which warped your soul into an unhealthy shape. Some words taste really, really good when you say them! Here is a sample drawn from an endless supply of Tasty Words.

sphygmamanometer, bumbershoot, cudgel, pith.

Chant those for a while and get a feel for the flavor, the rhythm, the feeling. Then get back to me, cretinous one.

Anyway, my favorite phrases and words from books share a few things. Strong imagery, lyric rhythm and the music of sound are important. There is also a deepseated need for style. Style, the indefinable quality that distinguishes artistry from pedantry.  Hwaet.

“I shrugged my shoulders, and burnt my boats.” The Pale Horse

“Once there was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“No more of comfort shall ye get/Save that the sky grows darker yet/And the sea rises higher.” Ballad of the White Horse. 

“Death smelled different in Russia.” A Time to Love, A Time to Die.

“There he saw the sister of Gregory, the girl with the gold-red hair, cutting lilac before breakfast, with the great unconscious gravity of a girl.”  The Man Who Was Thursday

“….That meeting displeases me. I am going to pull that meeting’s great, ugly, mahogany-colored nose.” Ibid.

“Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house. ” The Two Towers

“‘I knew it!’ said Peter. ‘Whoop! I knew it!! You blasphemed the aspidistra and something awful has come down that chimney!'”
Busman’s Honeymoon 

“Two Beggars said I could not miss my way!” Cymbeline 

“This is the forest primeval….” Evangeline


Off the top of my head, I can’t remember any more. I know there are many lines that I read which strike deep and sink into my heart. But they are archived for moments when I need them. These are the ones in the top files today. Do share your favoritest line of writing in the comments!


Tuesday With Thalia: Author Overload

Dear Friends,

Today’s ritual duty will provide you with a view of my bookshelves. Gazing into the depths of the china hutch I use as book storage, I was struck by the aptness of my books. Until, well, frankly, until just now, I hadn’t noticed the strong link between a personality and its books. My books are so deeply mine that I hadn’t really looked at them before. Familiar as my own reflection, I look at them without surprise. They suit me.

Naturally, I can see other people’s reflection in their books. I can see Terpsichore in her Archival Room (where she happens also to sleep) and Melpomene in the coffee table Richard Wilbur. My mother keeps an entire closet lined with shelves and full of uncategorized miscellaneous books. Last week, I visited a pastor and his wife and found their home lined with books, organized by category. Books of theology in the dining area. Hymnals (about 30) beside the piano. Genealogy in the living room.

But I can’t see my own face.

So this is my mirror. I’ve taken a good long look into my bookshelves and I find a few things the rest of you probably already knew.
Firstly, I have widely varied interests that alternate at a whim. World War One poetry , Shakespeare, Newbery Award winners, Theology. They’re all represented and well loved.
Secondly…I have a lot of violin books. While they’re not by the same authors, this arena completely drowns every other category. I have stacks and stacks of concerti, sonatas, etudes, gig music, show pieces, exercises, and practical theory. And nowhere near half of it is with me at my apartment. Mom has the rest. Poor woman.

But what you want to know is the name of the author who runs rampant through my bookshelves. Clearly, it is Agatha Christie.

As of this spring, I have read everything that Dame Agatha wrote. This is no idle boast. I have even read the books published under other names, the autobiography and the (not terribly successful) poetry. Most of her works I have read more than once. My favorite titles are falling apart. I don’t own all these books by any means. I read all of them from the library and judiciously pick my favorites to weigh on my shelves. I own about eight. There could be more, tucked away on the wall side of my bed, or providing ballast in my trunk. But there were seven on the shelves, and I know I’m forgetting one.

Lord Edgeware Dies
The Pale Horse
Sad Cypress
Evil Under the Sun
The Man in the Brown Suit
Come, Tell Me How You Live

I do love Agatha Christie. I love her sense of humor, and I love her self effacing modesty. She loves life and humans, watching them and pondering humanity. Oh yes, I love her. I think one day I will tell you why, but that is not the story for today. Now you know with sureness that Agatha Christie is the author by whom I have the most books (sexy grammar? I think yes.)



PS. May I point out, in addition, that in my household, Terpsichore and I own every Lord Peter Wimsey book. Except Five Red Herrings, which we don’t like. T.

Tuesday with Thalia: Best Villain

There’s no way around it. This is going to be one great big spoiler. So here’s the deal. I’ll unveil the title of the book with my choice of best villain, give you a nice big picture of something pretty, and then all you purists can go off. If you don’t mind, by all means, continue reading! If you hate spoilers both the people who perpetrate them and the “ruined” stories, go read the book and come back for my reasoning.

My pick for wretched villainy belongs to Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit.

There’s such a sweet story associated with the book for me. Melpomene came down to visit me a few winters ago while I was in graduate school. I planned the food, but I didn’t plan any activities, so we wandered about the town. We found a bookstore and both purchased a nice little murder mystery. Then we dashed through the rain to a wonderful coffee shop where we sat and had a competition. We had a speed reading competition! We just sat there and drank coffee and read like maniacs without speaking for 3 hours. Melpomene won by 3 pages and 7 minutes. It is a wonderful memory.

Now. Stop yer reading, me scurvy, picky, spoiler hating mateys.


Now isn’t that lovely? Apparently that’s a Wisteria tunnel. Purloined shamelessly from Google images.

In The Man in the Brown Suit , as with many of Agatha Christie’s villians, Sir Eustace Pedlar is the least sinister and quite frankly rather loveable. In fact, he is one of the narrators of the story. Through his diary, you see the story from his point of view. And from his perspective, he is not evil. He is a loveable, wealthy, clever business man. And that is what you see through the leading lady’s eyes as well. His secretary, now that man is creepy. He has a solemn face, “like that of a Quincecento poisoner.” Oh, and the man of many disguises, who captures Our Heroine and tries to kill her (at least twice). They are to be suspected!

But in the end, after a wonderful denouement, you discover that all along the mysterious evil presence is Sir Eustace himself. He portrays himself as charming and believes himself to be so but he is directly responsible for the  murder of 3 people, the attempt to kill the woman he “loves”, the theft of  diamonds, and the spark of fire that begins a gory revolution in Africa.

So this is my idea of villainy. It is so deeply treacherous that the villain himself does not think he is evil. He is so far gone, he has no guilt. No longer is this villain human, for he has forfeited the best part of his soul.

There are a lot of other traitorous smiling villains that I considered. For pure evil, though, I have to suggest you look to the eponymous character of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. That villain manages to destroy lives from beyond the grave. Talented!

To Be Happy: Read Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie and I are friends. Of course, since she died right around when I was born, it’s all through her writing. In college, Poirot and Miss Marple stood beside me through everything that place dealt out. I used to sneak a soda and some M&M’s into the “quiet” library and hide in one of the cages with a nice little murder. I never even try to figure out “who done it”. I prefer to be surprised. In grad school, I started working on a theory about the place of murder mysteries and other popular styles of books in serious literature. This was really just a clever feint to read more Agatha Christie more often.
Now, when I need a pick-me-up, I have this habitual way of turning to Agatha Christie for a charming afternoon.
Miss Marple is just such a dear! Poirot, that vain man, really belongs in this very egotist’s club. Japp and Hastings, and all Miss Marple’s friends and neighbors are so delightful.
My favorite nerdy thing to do for a break from troubles is to find episodes of Poirot or Marple on youtube. They are blisteringly slow moving and strangely lit. There really isn’t any cinematography. The acting, though, is fantastic. The costuming and hairstyles are beautiful. Every gentleman always wears a boutonniere. if you have the patience, you will certainly be rewarded.
This last week, I’ve been worried about this and that, so I’ve been rationing episodes of David Suchet’s Poirot.
So gentlemanly, courtly, and self assured, he charms me. I am willing to wait for ages for a good line. I am rewarded, and I will share the best of them with you now, to save you the time.

On Women
“No, no, no, no, no, Hastings! Women, especially the architecturally inclined, do not want to talk about Bernini and cubic thingummies!”

On Happy Endings
“Yes, it is hard to bear, but we must put on the brave face and not allow cheerfulness to keep breaking through.”

Ordering Food in a Foreign Country
“The bowels in spit….I have your assurance that it is lamb kidneys on a skewer? Oui? Then I will have the bowels in spit. Thank you.”

Philosophic Tautologies
“Yes, but Miss Lemon, that was yesterday. And Yesterday was YESTERDAY!”

On the Course of Life
“Trust the train, mademoiselle, for it is Le Bon Dieu who drives it.”

Messieurs e Mesdames, Poirot salutes you!