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!

Alphabooks: M is for Major

M: Major Book Hangover Because Of…

Although I originally conceived of this prompt as “a story so intense or engrossing that you can’t quite get over it or emerge from that world for awhile,” I’m not certain if that’s what Ms. Jamie was going for.  So, going with my inclination to pursue all possible roads:

Book that made you stumble about, head swollenTechnopoly and 1984 are probably the most recent suspects for this one.  Both of them filled my mind with ideas and indicated that there was so much out in the world to perceive – though not all of it welcome.

Father Brown omnibusBook that gave you a headache:  The Father Brown Omnibus – but it’s not the book’s fault any more than it would be Tanqueray’s fault if I drank the whole bottle.  And the Omnibus has 53 stories, not a dozen or so: a Methuselah rather than a standard bottle, and all so delicious that I didn’t put the book down until my eyes blurred.

Book that made you throw up:  …okay, I included this because it seemed thematic, but this hasn’t yet happened to me.  Either it’s worked out quite neatly to avoid horror books, or I’ve repressed the memory of whatever dreadful thing provoked emesis.

Book that filled you with regret the next dayPostern of Fate.  I’d been warned that the Tommy and Tuppence books were not Agatha Christie’s best, but this one, written as she grew older and lost some of her edge, is probably the worst of the lot.

Book(s) whose world is hard to leave:  The possibilities are many!  After I read The Magician’s Nephew, I longed for some way to reach the Wood Between the Worlds.  After I read Harry Potter a couple dozen times, I brought up Hogwarts and all the implications of magic whenever it could possibly be applicable.  After I read The Silmarillion, I longed to hear the Valar singing together.  After I read The Hunger Games, I went shopping for groceries and was stunned by the amount of food I could just buy if I wished to.  After I read Gaudy Night, I wanted to retreat to an ivied tower to dig into some academic pursuits.  And so on.

What books have been intoxicating to you?

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.