In Pursuit of the Obvious

In the course of writing last night’s post, I struggled to corral my thoughts so as to share them in an orderly fashion.  But these other quotations express a little bit more on the subject, so I wanted to share them too.

~~~

I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.  – GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them – never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through? – CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

I have the most ill-regulated memory.  It does those things which it ought not to do and leaves undone the things it ought to have done.  But it has not yet gone on strike altogether.  – Lord Peter Wimsey, Gaudy Night

I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.  – Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

500!

Dear readers, today is a day – though, in fairness, so are all days – to summon up all the grandiloquence I can muster.

To wit: the world, and WordPress, tends to judge on the basis of readership, on likes, on pages viewed and comments made.  This is well and good: whatever else the world can get wrong, it does well enough with quantitative data.

But none of that data could exist without posts to support it.  An empty blog drives no engagement, no discussion, contains no ideas whatsoever.  And so today we celebrate, for this club of ours now has 500 posts to its name!

Okay, so, 501 once this is published, but still.

Okay, so, 501 once this is published, but still.

Not only so, but the annual report shows thousands of views from 119 countries all over the world.

Stat Map

140 since they started the stats-mapping business. I have spent a year wondering how to lure readers from Greenland and Kazakhstan.

All of which is a delight to see.  Therefore do we sip at our whiskey and reread our manifesto, before turning our eyes to other stories and poems awaiting us.

Thank you all for joining us in the club.  The firewhiskey of words served neat, the chamomile of comforting stories, the vanilla waft of lignin from older books, the smoke of snark and the warmth of conversation: all would lose their savor without you.

We hope to share them all with you for hundreds posts more!

That Hideous Habit

It’s been two months now that I’ve been talking to myself in the Club.  This is a lonely state of affairs, but at least we have good port, yes?

Not that it matters, as I have left the Cockburn ‘96 untouched.  Though the bottles have settled again, that’s the sort of thing I’m unlikely to consume by myself.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

Always drink in celebration, never in consolation; and if you must drink in consolation, never drink alone.

I can only assume that my sister muses are all busily engaged elsewhere, or that the Prince of Stories has stayed far from them and thus they are uninspired.

Perhaps I should tell of stories I’ve read lately, but I tell you what: I picked up A Severe Mercy to reread it, and threw it down in frustration because I’m so irritated at how much delight Sheldon and Jean shared.  I picked up Gaudy Night, and though I love the writing, the storyline, and the honest exploration of what constitutes a woman’s work, rereading it tore at my heart just as much.  At present I’m working my way through That Hideous Strength for the third or fourth time.  I’m not convinced that its denouement will distress me any less, but at least the book prompts more general thoughts and questions about the role of science in society and the role of man in the universe.

One of the most ghoulish images in it is the bodiless face: a bit of skin, a horrible flap of mouth, a drooling tongue, carefully preserved by dials and tubes and various climate controls.  It is able, through the worst sort of manipulation, to speak, but none of us would regard it as alive.  It is not viable, not an entity on its own, unable to wipe the saliva from its lips.

Pausing in my reading and pondering this sad facsimile of a Head brought to mind a question posed to my Philosophy 101 class, years ago when I was a Hillsdale freshman.  “Say that you could be hooked up to a machine that would provide you intense, unceasing pleasure, for as long as you wanted it.  Your body’s physical needs for nutrition etc. would be taken care of.  Would you opt in?”  We all declined (with the possible exception of the class smart aleck; I can’t recall), stating that our lives were meant for more, yes, even if it involves suffering, that we wanted to accomplish things, that surely there is a difference between manipulation of the brain and the real deep delight of taking some sort of action and reaching some kind of result.  Our various arguments – some more reasonable, others more emotional in nature – all denied the humanity of a being attached to a dopamine dispenser.  We declared that such an existence, no matter how pleasurable, did not suit the dignity of a man.

All of which is to say that my freshman-year self is standing in judgment of my present-day self, since my present-day self has spent huge chunks of time – embarrassingly long chunks of time, really – reading and reading and reading fanfiction online.  “That’s not so bad,” you say.  “Fan-written stories?  Surely you’d get impatient with them if they were rubbish.”

Sadly, I don’t.  I click ever more furiously.  I go for the hit.  I keep clicking.  It is everything I admitted in my Obsession Confession Session, if not worse.  The Twitter account @VeryShortStory summed it up well:  I fed the King another story for his pleasure. It was his opium. He lived in my words, while outside, his defeated kingdom crumbled.

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Study in Pleasure Receptors: a self-portrait

Sisters, please come back, lest you find the place in ruins.

De Luain

In the Absence of Thalia – and oh! what a hole that leaves in our dreary lives! – I, Melpomene the Tragic shall fill in the Monday Special.

It is hot now, almost into July. Where I am now, in the Midwest, the corn is a little more than knee-high. The sky is a large, wide blue, interspersed with fluffy, round clouds of whimsy. And the lazy days of Summer are interrupted only by all the weeding that needs to be done around here.

And porch painting.

And housecleaning.

Ya know. All those chores that for some reason can only be done on nice Summer days.

 

In lighter news, Terpsichore has experimented another special cocktail known as The Union Club.

Urania is planing a cross-country road trip, which might include such attraction as: The World’s Biggest Ball of String, The Cowchip Throwing Capital of the World, and The Suitcase of DEATH.

Calliope has been painting a study of the Gypsy Madonna by Titian.

I am meanderingly reading through Sayer’s Gaudy Night, yet again. Savoring every bit of delicious word play and philosophical discussion that falls out of that wonderful book . . .

And Our Dear Absent One is undoubtably listening to strings, at her string  retreat. I am told by an undisclosed source that if you want to get a small taste of the craziness she has been enjoying, type “Gilles Apap” into a Youtube search and follow your nose.

Er, ears. Follow your ears.

I not sure exactly what all that means, but for the sake of continuity, I will give you a Monday Musical Selection that at least has some strings in it.

Also, it mentions Monday. Albeit in Gaelic.

The story told is that of Hunchback Donall, who heard the fairies singing “Monday, Tuesday . .  .” and then they – silly fairies! – could not remember what went next. And poor Donal was so distressed by the lack of narrative completion that finally sang out, “Monday, Tuesday, WEDNESDAY!” And the fairies were so delighted with his addition that they took away his hunchback.

May all your Mondays come to a similarly pleasant conclusion!

Love,
Your Friendly Neighborhood Muses

 

De Luian, De Mairt, by Gaelic Storm

One night through the black,
Poor Donall hunch back
His cart down the glenside was bringing;
When he heard the sweet sound
Of the faeries all round
And this is the song they were singing:
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt…

He stopped in his track,
Poor Donall hunch back,
At the voices so beautifully blending.
Though the music was sweet
It was quite incomplete,
For they couldn’t remember the ending:
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt…

Though poor Donall was shy,
He could never stand by
And leave their frustrations unheeded.
So he stifled his fear,
And he sang soft and clear,
Adding the word that they needed.
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt, agus Ceadaine.

And the faeries were glad,
So grateful he had
Put an end to the song they were voicing,
With their magical knack
Took the hump from his back,
And Donall went homeward rejoicing:
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain, Dia Mairt
Dia Luain …Dia Mairt…. Ceadaine!

 

(P.S. There is an addendum to the tale of Donall the ex-hunchback.

Another hunchback heard the story, and decided to try to imitate Donall’s good fortune. He went off to the woods, and waited around until he heard the fairies singing, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday . . . ” and in his eagerness, he promptly gave them ALL the rest of the song: ” . . . Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday!” But fairies have very little memory space, and when they heard all these long confusing names they forgot even the weekdays that they had already learned! And then, in a fury, the cursed this man and sent him home to two humps on his back!

Moral: Pretend that Monday through Wednesday is that there is to the week, and you will get through much easier!)

A Most Auspicious Occasion

Which would be . . . . the birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers.

It would be a poor thing if we, as the Egotist’s Club, passed over the natal day of the woman from whom’s writing we have derived our identity.

“The Egotist’s Club”, described first in the Wimsey short story “The Man with Copper Fingers”, and mentioned – more saliently to our purpose – was created by Sayers one of the Gentleman’s Clubs frequented by Lord Peter.  I would like to think that it was a nod to the literary publication of Pound and Eliot called, “The Egotist”.

Sayers was a brilliant academic, who wrote many essays, stories, and translations. She was one of the first to translate Dante into English keeping the terza rima scheme, although she died before she could finish.

And despite the turmoil and difficulty of her personal life, her thoughts are beautiful. Her mystery stories are unique in being not only character driven, but in delving into the consequences of the different ideas and approaches to life. Each story is really an exploration of how ideas affect decisions, how philosophies can kill.

Ms. Sayers, your imagination spurs ours. We raise a glass in your honor. Cheers!

 

 

Thursday Dances: Vade Mecum

And now for another question I have never pondered before.  The hypothetical husband is agreeably alliterative, but so nebulously nonexistent that it’s distracting me from the book question.  The hypothetical honeymoon just makes me laugh, because while it’s true I never travel without at least one volume in hand, I don’t think books would top my list of packing priorities.

“So discuss the books that are integral to understanding you!”  Hmm.  I’ve already talked about a lot of integral books.  Check the archives, my dear future spouse, and be sure you’ve read them.  That is all.

Oh, that’s not all?  Well, fine.  Get me your respective list and I’ll try to read it.

Still not satisfied?  Greedy, I calls it.  I suppose I’d take Perelandra along.  Gaudy Night would make for interesting reading and perhaps a fair amount of important discussion; nothing like going from academia to the writing of books to methods of defense against possible stranglers to that dance between the sexes to haggling to punting to fiscal responsibility.  If it gets too heavy, one can skip to the sections where St. George turns phrases and smashes meringues.

Since I never really travel with just two books in hand – my friend will recount how I once set myself a limit of 5 books but packed 8 “because these three are skinny” – may as well toss in a smaller collection of Calvin & Hobbes (Yukon Ho! or suchlike).  And of course it’d be fun to read aloud from O Ye Jigs & Juleps!, which is my newest hysterical collection of essays (and the only such collection by an 11-year-old writing in 1904).  Should my lace handkerchief see no other opportunity for use, we could read (or recite?) The Ballad of the White Horse.  Five volumes would be a respectable number without weighing us down too much in Algarve or the Grand Canyon or wherever (am I a liar?  I could be vastly mistaken or a liar).

Other considerations:  Narnia would precede the engagement if not the third date, as would Brideshead Revisited and a particular collection of Ray Bradbury called The Toynbee Convector and Other Stories.  If he hasn’t read Harry Potter, he might survive but he’d get confused fairly often.  The Four Loves could be reread on anniversaries or other appropriate occasions.  Not to mention that hopefully, said fellow has his own contributions to the luggage and the library!

I could be won over by this library.

Thursday Dances: Words With Which to Woo

I once heard of a couple girls (A and B, shall we say) who spent a day picking out what manner of engagement rings they wanted from a jeweler’s website: an exercise in aesthetics, perhaps.  This done, B told A’s boyfriend all about it so he could get exactly what A wanted without tipping her off.  On one hand, it seemed nice that he would trouble to learn her opinion – but on the other, it struck me that it should have been unnecessary.  Surely if he knew her well enough, he’d be able to discern whether she preferred antique or modern styles, round or square cuts, white or yellow gold.  Surely her character and personality would indicate what would suit her.

This post feels similar: picking out the things that seem shiny or seem to fit.  Any enterprising fellow who likes may feel free to use them, should he find opportunity.  But surely anyone interested in winning my heart would be able to find his own words.

…or perhaps not; “Sihaya” was the nickname an old boyfriend gave me, and I include it now though it has lost most of its power.

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
- W. Shakespeare, Sonnet 29

“Joanna,” he said, “y’ ’ave saved my life, and I have saved yours; and we have seen blood flow, and been friends and enemies—ay, and I took my belt to thrash you; and all that time I thought ye were a boy.  But now death has me, and my time’s out, and before I die I must say this: Y’ are the best maid and the bravest under heaven, and, if only I could live, I would marry you blithely; and, live or die, I love you.”

“And, dear Dick—good Dick—but that ye can get me forth of this house before the morning, we must even kiss and say good-bye.”
“Nay,” said Dick, “not I; I will never say that word.  ’Tis like despair; but while there’s life, Joanna, there is hope.  Yet will I hope.  Ay, by the mass, and triumph!  Look ye, now, when ye were but a name to me, did I not follow—did I not rouse good men—did I not stake my life upon the quarrel?  And now that I have seen you for what ye are—the fairest maid and stateliest of England—think ye I would turn?—if the deep sea were there, I would straight through it; if the way were full of lions, I would scatter them like mice.”
“Ay,” she said, dryly, “ye make a great ado about a sky-blue robe!”
“Nay, Joan,” protested Dick, “’tis not alone the robe.”
- R. L. Stevenson, The Black Arrow

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
that you were beautiful, and that I strove
to love you in the old high way of love…
- W. B. Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”

O go you onward; where you are Shall honor and laughter be,
Past purpled forest and pearled foam, God’s winged pavilion free to roam,
Your face, that is a wandering home, A flying home for me.

- G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
- E. E. Cummings, “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond”

“Miss Vane – I admired you for speaking as you did tonight. Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it – still more, because of it – that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself.”

“Just exercise your devastating talent for keeping to the point and speaking the truth.”
“That sounds easy.”
“It is – for you. That’s what I love you for. Didn’t you know?

She had often wondered, in a detached kind of way, what it was that Peter valued in her and had apparently valued from that first day when she had stood in the dock and spoken for her own life. Now that she knew, she thought that a more unattractive pair of qualities could seldom have been put forward as an excuse for devotion.

“Placetne, magistra?”
- Lord Peter Wimsey, D. Sayers, Gaudy Night

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower… I think that she has tamed me…”

To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you– the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Le Petit Prince

“You are Sihaya, the desert spring.”
- Paul Muad’dib, Frank Herbert, Dune

“Dying would have been the easy way never to have to answer your question,” he said, “or any questions, and if there is one thing that has always been true about you, it’s that you make me question myself — and questioning myself inevitably proves to me how little of myself exists to sustain that sort of interrogation. I know you, my dear, better than I know myself. You are whole and entire — loyal and honest and stupidly, amazingly stubborn and beautiful as you are — and I’m shadows and the ghost of old lies held together by good intentions and hope.”
- Not telling.  Muahah.

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!