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.


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)

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!

Onward, majestic Frog Steed!  Onward to 2016!

Open Post-It Note to Nosy Strangers

Dear _____________, 

I am from the Midwest. Not the UK. My “accent” is a result of clear enunciation. 

Please stop staring. 




(There, now I’ve said it to the internet, everyone will know, right? I won’t have to give people at the mall/ in cabs/ at the checkout line any more funny looks. I won’t have to try to find a polite way to say I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 20 years, just like they have? Please, internet, make the awkward go away.)

Calling Captain Obvious

Sometimes I amaze myself with my inability to recognize the obvious.

Last week I walked to the library, keeping a steady pace for the two and a half miles there.  Sure, I hadn’t changed shoes for the outing, but shoes are made for walking, right?  Curious, then, that my heels should hurt so badly. Must have developed a blister, I thought, which turned out to be true enough.  In fact the blisters were so thoroughly developed that they reached the peak of blister civilization before a most dramatic and painful decline, which is to say that I arrived home and peeled off my socks to find them bloodied.  Ah.  Guess that explains why reading Cavafy the whole way home wasn’t enough to distract me from my feet hurting.  Good job, genius.

Then there was the afternoon I ate a bowl of French onion soup and was surprised on finishing it that I felt so warm all of a sudden.

Or the day when I set up one of the three floor lamps I bought a couple years back and was surprised and delighted by the fact that my room was suddenly better-lit, as though I had not once already grown impatient with a dim living space and acquired a remedy.  Somehow I let a year pass without realizing that it was in my power to make the day seem longer and the room warmer and my very self more lively.

The worse by far was my weeks and weeks of failure to recognize that cutting oneself off from the Creator of all beauty was not a very effective way to find anything beautiful or worthwhile – not in myself, nor in anything or anyone else.

Moments like this make my mom sing "She's a SCHULTZ MAN" to the tune of "Soul Man"Has anyone else had this sort of moment?  What is it that wakes us to recognize the thing right in front of our face?

An Experiment in Art Criticism

A couple weeks ago (gosh, is it already that far past?), Thalia and the Brilliant Scrupulously Exact Physicist came to visit.  Having but limited time together, and the Scrupulously Exact Physicist having nixed the suggestion that we go busking with a plaid hat and a repertoire of hymns, we took ourselves down to the museum in town.

You know the one.  The one with a weird bit of iron out in front, and a weird bit of carved wood out back, and oddness in between.

We determined that it would be diverting to level our most withering wit at the works within, provided we were suitably fortified; Thalia had the further brainwave that we might tell the truth slant – in fact, not merely slant, but actually perpendicular to our normal mode of discourse.  All of which is to say that we gathered up our pens, notebooks, and a flask of bourbon, and rhapsodized in the blankest verse we could muster.

(Dear sweet teetotalers: surely even you understand the importance of fortification against the utter lack of metanarrative in postpostmodern art?  Have you not read your Walker Percy? Do you not know that “post-painterly abstraction” is an honest term used by an art critic to distinguish from earlier abstract expressionism?  Read this whole page  and tell me you don’t want a drink by the end of it.)

(N.B. that we were, at least, covert in our potation.  The Scrupulously Exact Physicist whose pockets guarded the flask ended up quaffing the lion’s share, which is to say, maybe an ounce or two more than the rest of us.)

So without further ado, here are the fruits of our labors.

First, the piece the Scrupulously Exact Physicist wrote on:  Smoke Rings, by Donald Sultan

Smoke Rings

“Thunderstorm in Purple No. 6”*

inspiration drawn,
flames of unity,
darkness spills through it.

A phoenix is promised to ignite from the ashes
its crimson mane flowing,
as the firefox turns
and peace is dislodged

How many times?
will an elder rise or fall?
a leaf
falling Adonis
Cut from the top
in a swirl of cloud.

I wrote on something by Richard Diebenkorn.  It might not have looked exactly like this, but it was…similar:


Re: un tarde de Julio…

an envelope not yet trimmed or folded
rain has worn down the lines
of division,
jagged door opening
revealing naught but beige beyond.
Three figures sit at the bottom of it,
soon to be cropped out
by demands of time,
the folds pulling upward and away.
That bleeding paper
(such it might be)
bled not from any meaningful word,
any knife of truth.
All is quiet

All is empty.
something wrong:
assayed beauty via truth
as assured by Keats of unity
and believing truth
simple to see
simple to sign

a veil drawn over drawn truths
or a wash over half-depicted figures

not sad empty hopeless being,
nor vacant past plains:
a slightly yellowed page
awaiting drawing of the future.

Lastly, Thalia peered up at Helen Frankenthaler’s Sunset Corner, wrote a while, then carefully removed a number of connecting words and threw a brick at her punctuation.  Seems apt. Sunset Corner

Venetian Earthquake by Candlelight*

Lofty Depth.
Sundered plain
(Cower, blood – Dry)
murk, jagged; lurk, snagged –
Possess, weigh, measure, despair
Ache,  bile, blotch
Central – corrosive
Control, Knot, Vomit.
A template ?
Abrupt, the hope
Hence therefore; hell.

*Credit must be given to our friend, the Doctrix M. Harrison, for pointing out that such poetic assays must be titled appropriately, and for her endeavor to find something appropriate.

The Consolation of Mediocrity

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to look at the mountains which other authors, past and present, have scaled.  There are heights of prose I will never reach, beautiful stories which I did not write, and twists of thought my mind would never formulate.

What is perhaps the best response is the difficult one: to read more, to write often, to practice the craft, to risk saying something that will upset others, to confess what will tear at my own heart.

But the easy response is to find someone who wasn’t necessarily very good at composition, and kept doing it anyway, and console myself that so long as I do write, I can’t possibly be worse.

With that in mind, let me present William Topaz McGonagall.  He was a Scottish weaver, born in 1825 or thereabouts, who at age 52 felt led to begin writing poems.  Some he recited as entertainment for his friends; some were published on handbills or in books; some got him thrown out of a pub for their quality.  William McGonagallHis slavery to masculine rhyme, repetitious vocabulary, wretchedly wrenched syntax, and terrible rhythm contribute to the extreme badness (I wish I had a stronger word!) of his verse, and all this does not take into account the themes he favored: disasters, deaths and funerals, temperance, moral tales, and the like.

I’m a bit surprised he hasn’t been mentioned before here at the Club, as Thalia first introduced me to his work, and his 200 Poetic Gems remain as entertaining now as they were to contemporary audiences.  See McGonagall Online for further information, if you like, or just try reading the following aloud with a straight face:

Women’s Suffrage

Fellow men! why should the lords try to despise
And prohibit women from having the benefit of the parliamentary Franchise ?
When they pay the same taxes as you and me,
I consider they ought to have the same liberty.

And I consider if they are not allowed the same liberty,
From taxation every one of them should be set free;
And if they are not, it is really very unfair,
And an act of injustice I most solemnly declare.

Women, farmers, have no protection as the law now stands;
And many of them have lost their property and lands,
And have been turned out of their beautiful farms
By the unjust laws of the land and the sheriffs’ alarms.

And in my opinion, such treatment is very cruel;
And fair play, ’tis said, is a precious jewel;
But such treatment causes women to fret and to dote,
Because they are deprived of the parliamentary Franchise vote.

In my opinion, what a man pays for he certainly should get;
And if he does not, he will certainly fret;
And why wouldn’t women do the very same?
Therefore, to demand the parliamentary Franchise they are not to blame.

Therefore let them gather, and demand the parliamentary Franchise;
And I’m sure no reasonable man will their actions despise,
For trying to obtain the privileges most unjustly withheld from them;
Which Mr. Gladstone will certainly encourage and never condemn.

And as for the working women, many are driven to the point of starvation,
All through the tendency of the legislation;
Besides, upon members of parliament they have no claim
As a deputation, which is a very great shame.

Yes, the Home Secretary of the present day,
Against working women’s deputations, has always said- nay;
Because they haven’t got the parliamentary Franchise-,
That is the reason why he does them despise.

And that, in my opinion, is really very unjust;
But the time is not far distant, I most earnestly trust,
When women will have a parliamentary vote,
And many of them, I hope, will wear a better petticoat.

And I hope that God will aid them in this enterprise,
And enable them to obtain the parliamentary Franchise;
And rally together, and make a bold stand,
And demand the parliamentary Franchise throughout Scotland.

And do not rest day nor night-
Because your demands are only right
In the eyes of reasonable men, and God’s eyesight;
And Heaven, I’m sure, will defend the right.

Therefore go on brave women! and never fear,
Although your case may seem dark and drear,
And put your trust in God, for He is strong;
And ye will gain the parliamentary Franchise before very long.

Mouth Music

While we are on the subject of a capella music, I would like to point out that saying “making music with your mouth” is fairly redundant.

A few coworkers and I recently went to see the movie “Pitch Perfect”. Or “Perfect Pitch” . . .  I can never get that name straight. And throughout the movie, the peppy girls kept running around describing their a capella group by saying, “We make music . . . with our mouths!”

It drove me bonkers!

Um, all types of singing are making music with your mouths. Also, about a third of  types  of the instruments in existence require the use of mouths to make music.

What they really mean, is that the parts of the music usually performed the instruments is done with the voice.

Which actually is pretty cool.

So, I would like to share some of my favorite Mouth Music with you. Where not only has the performer played all the parts of the intstruments, but has also fitted words to the music!



And, of course, The Doctor Who version.



And of course

Yesteryear: The Spittoon

It’s a touch peculiar to long for devices of times gone by, when one has no experience of their use.  One never knows what downsides or health risks one may overlook, and students of history may justly criticize breezy whitewashing of the same.

And yet, here I am, craving the return of the spittoon.

I’ll be frank: I don’t yearn for the gilded age of the spittoon because I look back with fond nostalgia to a time when people stuck chewing tobacco between their cheek and gums, ruminated until the nicotine was consumed, then spat the whole foul lot into a receptacle set aside for it.  Though I hate the sight of a parking lot or sidewalk caked with blackened spots of chewing gum, I think it’s a better chaw, on the whole, than tobacco.

Nothing like a substance that leaves your pavement resembling a Dalmatian.

Nor do I necessarily crave the company of other present-day cuspidor users: the dental patient beside the spitting sink, the wine taster who would not pass the point of hilarity, or the folks who still buy wintergreen Skoal and main street gas.
Dental Cuspidor

It might be argued that I wish more spittoons were around so they could crop up in conversation; try having dictionary.com pronounce it for you and it rapidly ascends to Joke Word status.  But that is not the chief reason for my current cupidity.

No, mostly I wish we’d kept spittoons because at the moment I’ve got a cold.

It’s been lingering over a week.  My throat gets a bit better, then grows more inflamed again.  Efforts to stay hydrated doubtless improve the general situation, but there’s no escaping the vexation of a productive cough.  Avail oneself of Kleenex?  Ahh, summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and a 500-count box hath all too small a count, particularly when one soggy tissue soils whatever pocket or purse it must be stuffed into.  Forgive my excessive candor, but there are times when one cannot do anything but spit.

Mayhaps they needn’t come back into general fashion (seems there may have been some tuberculosis passed about last time around), but please: someone bring me a spittoon!


I try not to blog about the stupidity that passes for entertainment in our culture.

Not out of any desire to be virtuous or good, mind you. Just out of a darkly perverse refusal to grant the stupidity any more attention.

I do same thing with anything that is really, really, REALLY popular. Things that are so popular that they could not possibly need or want my attention anyway.

So I virtually ignore them.

(Or, more exactly, I ignore them virtually.)

However, this does not prevent me from verbally ranting to my friends about such things.

And one of my pet peeves is . . . . .  song lyrics!

Bad song lyrics.

Annoying lyrics.

Illogical lyrics.

Lyrics that are founded upon corrupt philosophical paradigms.

Lyrics that are so dumb no musical brilliance can save them.

Earlier this year I was certain that the lyrics to a Certain Overplayed Song were the Worst Lyric in the Universe.

They went something like this:

I’d catch a grenade for YAH.
Throw my hand on a blade for YAH.
I’d jump in front of a train for YAH.
You know I’d do anything for YAH
I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won’t do the same.


Leaving aside the fact that the music had a rang of about three notes, the lyrics are just fundamentally UNSOUND!

Butthen, someone introduced me to Justine Bieber’s latest hit, “Boyfriend”.

. . . I . . . I . . .  um . . .  no words.

No words can ever describe the idiocy of this . . . thing.

It is not a song.

It a collection of words and noted all jumbled together.

I would accuse the kid of da-da-isms in both lyrical and musical attempts.

But that that would be crediting him too much intelligence.

You should not ever torture yourself with the song.


So imagine my horror when I learned that my students, at the tender age of 10, adore Bieber.

On second though, don’t inflict that on yourself.


But then, Liam Neeson did  dramatic reading of the . . . thing.

I giggle.

Thankfully, the “music” is not included. And even Neeson’s Voice o’ Velvet cannot salvage the nonsense.

But it is funny.

Have a gander, and let me know what you think of the “lyrics” being fed our youth.