The Egotist’s Club Turns Three!

We are ancient. At least in blog years. But it has been a good three years. We have laughed, we have cried, we have rhapsodized, and we have slacked off. Unfortunately, the pressure of being an adult in an adult world seems to sap our cognitive and scribbling strength. But we have been doing better lately, haven’t we?

It was an eccentric, but delightful partnership between Thalia and myself that began this blog. (The story is related here.) It was in part as a challenge to practice writing (haha) and in part as an outlet for snark and craziness. We have matured and grown in wisdom since then, moving onto grander flights of fancy and deeper plunges into melancholy than ever before. Sometimes we chose to share these with you, and sometimes we did not. Consider that to be both a blessing and a curse.

And as we approach middle-age-blogdom, it is time to reflect on all the changes that have happened in our lifespan. So, it the last three years:

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In Which There is Guising

My workplace is quite spirited at present!

From the look of things, we were really concerned about the possibility of being bothered by the Aos Sí at work today.  Or perhaps we wanted to placate some demon or other such that it would not disrupt the harvest?

No idea.  If that last one was the idea behind dressing up at work today, it has backfired tremendously: we were a good two hours into the work day before anyone besides Paul did any work.

Zorro Zorro and Garth Paul Bunyan
Zorro, Garth from Wayne’s World, and Paul Bunyan: keeping evil at bay with sword, drumsticks, and axe

Mephistopheles Greg the Stormtrooper
Then I suppose we have the contingent of those who would imitate the wicked!!  Insert attorney jokes here.Group shotPaul is the Green Monster, which is sort of along the lines of metaphorical costumery.  Sort of like that time when Melpomene dressed as “the wine-dark seas” and her friend “the rosy-fingered dawn,” but less epic.Bigger group shotLet’s see…Zorro, Clone trooper, Garth, a witch, Midshipman Millington, baseball player who has tragically left her gloves at home, Trinity from The Matrix, the ghost of Halloweens past, two of Los Tres Amigos, Paul Bunyan, Mephistopheles, and another witch.

It may not protect us from fraudulent invoices, mistaken mailings, and silly phone calls, but who can say what vexations these guises have kept at bay?

In any case, I feel that we’ve been suitably primed for our new firm picture.

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.

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”*

Spirit,
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:

ocean-park-no-131

Re: un tarde de Julio…

an envelope not yet trimmed or folded
into
usefulness.
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.
——-
Void,
Promising.
A template ?
Abrupt, the hope
(Absurd)
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.

Marvels of Midsummer

Having been summoned from daydreaming, ruminating, and general gathering of wool, I have my own corner of aestival excellence to share.  Here are some facets of life that have loomed large of late in the kaleidoscope of my imagination:

Lawns.  Is it odd to have such affection for a big patch of grass?  Very well, I shall be odd.  My particular lawn has been carefully cropped, groomed like an Oxford quad, but without the threat of severe displeasure from some vexed gardener should any dare to set foot upon it.  It is rich, opulent, luxurious the way carpets wish they could be – particularly when combined with

Rain!  Nothing like rain to break the summertime swelter, drops pelting the parking lot at work, the road home, one arm flung out the window as I head back.  Nothing like luxuriating in soaking wet grass, wriggling my toes among the drenched blades.  Nothing like turning my face to the sky, though the drops fall too hard to keep my eyes open in the face of them.

My commute.  I keep wanting to post about this and then stop because it Roundaboutseems bizarre and hypocritical; if I could, I’d teleport to and from work to save myself some time.  But then I’d miss passing the farms on Ann Arbor Road, with their cows and horses and hay bales.  I’d miss the fields and foliage down Prospect.  I’d miss my favorite roundabout (…yep, I’ve got a favorite roundabout) on Geddes, that takes me down a two-lane road so shadowed by trees that it feels like a secret.  Pairs well with…

Driving with the windows down.  Instead of being packed like a lemming in my shiny metal box, I like to let the wind blow my hair around, thrust my hand out into the buffeting air, and feel the bite of rain showers.  It reminds me that I’m real.  It also helps me appreciate another fact about the summer: there’s no better time of year to listen to some good old country songs (which means, evidently, songs that aren’t quite as old as I am…).  Maybe it’s me, but there’s something summery these songs capture that newer tunes just don’t quite catch…a quiet drawl of slower days, perhaps, or a lack of pretension.

Clouds.  Storms.  Melpomene’s right on: clouds are a thing fantastic, rippling and shifting as if alive.  The light that glimmers upon them, or the shadows looming within them, is marvelous.  Add in flashes of lightning and the distant rumbling of thunder and you have my idea of summer, right there.  My co-workers all wonder why I run outside precisely when they run in…

Fireflies.  For those less fond of lightning itself, there’s always the lightning bug.  The back lawn is a haven for them; for hours every evening, they flicker on and off, little green will-o-the-wisps, a creature of faerie my camera cannot capture.  A friend caught one, but it’s just as fun to watch them fly about without pursuing them.

Fireflies

[These fireflies were captured by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu.]

Crepes.  Turns out that they’re much easier to make than I had thought.  Keep the batter thin and the pan hot, and voila!  You have yourself a lovely little vehicle for all manner of cheese, meats, fruits, jam, or (of course) Nutella.

Adventures.  This is an awfully big umbrella.  New films, drinks, sushi, and chocolatiers fit under it.  The heptacycle and all seven people riding fit under it.  A lovely old quadrangle with selections from Brideshead Revisited fits under it.  So does Neil Gaiman and the theater waiting to hear him.  So does the art gallery in need of a good mocking.  So do Shakespeare, grass stains, and six-hour road trips.  So does the process of meeting a friend through a friend, and thus meeting more friends, and suddenly having more friends and three jars of homemade jam.  Get out your adventure umbrella, y’all, because that’s what summer’s for!

Things of Awe

There is not enough giddy joy and absurdity in the world.

Well, there probably is, but it takes special eyes to see it. Thalia and I started this Club with the idea of training ourselves to look for that angle of wonder and adventure, but somewhere along the way it seems to have gotten slightly lost.

So, as a round-about way of getting back, I present . . . . AWESOMENESS!

Here are a few of the awesome things that I have seen or observed, online or in real life, in the past few weeks.

 

  • Last week I set my requirements for a personal library. I forgot to mention a slide.

Can you slide AND read a book?

 

  • Storm clouds are exhilarating. There is nothing like racing a thunders storm across the desert towards mountains.

 

StormyRoadCollage

 

  • Clouds are really strange and fascinating.

 

CloudsCollage

 

  • So are windmills.

WindmillCollage

 

  •  Armadillos.

IMG_20130706_115427

  • Grocery store cashiers can be pretty darling. They might be the new bar tenders psychologists, in a really short-and-sweet way. Have you ever found yourself moaning about something in brief to the cashier, and he or she moans with you and then encourages with a simple “You’ll be all right, sweetie!” as they hand you your bags and send you out the door? Oddly, I never see that same cashier again . . .

 

  • Carnivals. The kind that set up in grassy, abandoned lots, and that moms never let us go to when we are little. The kind that sways a bit in the breeze. They are amazing. I kicked my feet like a three-year old and was intensely glad that none of my students could see me.

CarnivalCollage

 

  • “Instagram”. I just discovered it, and the level of pretension inherent amuses me to no end.

 

 

  • Alcoholic juicy-juice! Well, alcohol in a little box with a straw like juicy-juice. This is apparently common in Korea, and it is called “boxed sujo”. Why have I never been to this magical country?

 

  • Star Wars, as it might have been written by Shakespeare. This is brought to us by the same people who did “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, so I reserve judgement. But the theory is the personification of awesomeness. As much as a theory can be a personification. Be quiet and go read the excerpt!

 

 

Library Guidelines

There is a meme making its way around the interwebs that declares, “I would marry the beast for his library!!!” Or something like that.

It sounds like a great idea.

There is even a facebook group for these brilliant and enterprising people.

At first I was amused and pleased by this sentiment. A library is marvelous, magical, mysterious place, and I see nothing whatsoever wrong with marrying in order to get material possessions books.

And then I remembered what this library looks like.

The Library of the BEAST!!!!*

And I cringed.

Oh, in theory it looks amazing. Millions of books, gracious curves, elegant stairs, long ladders, shiny marble, towering ceilings, etc.

But where is the familiarity? the comfort? the ease of finding your book? I get the feeling that even the librarian (do we meet a librarian in the movie?) has a hard time finding a specific book. Do we need to establish architectural rules for what makes a good library? I think yes.

So in reality, that library only has two attributes from list my for Good Library. Not a brilliant library, mind you, just a good library.

A Good Library

  • Books (Yeah . . . )
  • Some system of organization, so that you have an idea of where to find the book you want.
  • All books are within arm reach. I am not saying don’t have several floors or balconies (what do you call an indoor balcony?) but the ladders make things a tad ridiculous. Just add more walk ways!
  • Many cozy corners, with seats and windows, or maybe a window seat!
  • A friendly ceiling that does not threaten to echo every footstep or loom over you from such a cold distance. (Seriously, how did they keep that room warm in the winter?) High ceilings and open space is good, but not if it is overwhelming.
  • Colors that put you at ease, so you actually want to spend time in the library.
  • The atmosphere should be peaceful and relaxing, so you actually do spend time in the library.

I realize that this rather vague. Also, it is hard to find all this in an existing library. Most public libraries pick one, maybe two, items from this list, and discard the rest. And the old renaissance libraries are worst! They must have been the inspiration for the Beast’s library, as they tend more towards the grand than the comfortable.

Stiftsbibliothek, Admont Monastery Library, Austria. Would really want this in your house? Where would you read?

 

That all as my caveat, here is my list for my future dream library.

 

A Brilliant Library

  • Everything from the Good Library List.
  • Everything has organization, but it is okay if books get slightly out of order, or will not fit, or somehow mutiplyand suddenly you have books than bookcases and must start stacking on top of the neat lines of books.
  • Wood. Lots of wood. Wooden floors, wooden shelves, wooden chairs. Everything from oak to mahogany to ebony to purpleheart.
  • Because wood can feel cold, carpets. Possibly oriental carpets. And cushions on the chairs.
  • More window seats. A few must have a little ledge that can also serve as a desk.
  • A spiral staircase. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • A fireplace. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • Huge, plush, comfy armchairs. The kind in which a person can curl up. (There is no way to not end that sentence with a preposition. Sorry.)
  • This color scheme: —>
  • More windows. So you get good reading light. And you can get some idea of what is going on in the outside world without needing to leave your seat.
  • More books. You will find the room. And if you can’t, build more shelves! This is not hard. Books seem to breed; every time you turn around there are more!

 

 

The Beast’s library is too huge, hard, and cold. I would not even know where to start looking through the books!

 

The only public library that comes close (but lacks comfy seats!) is the Bodleian Library. In fact, I cannot find a photo of anything I would deem perfectly brilliant. But all of these below come pretty close.

The Bodleian, Oxford. So pretty, AND friendly!

Wood paneling and fluffy chairs. Yay!

What is with those knick-knacks? Get rid of them, and get more books! Otherwise, perfect.

Oooh! So awesome!

Not quite comfortable, but the piano is brilliant idea!

It needs more soft things!

And last but not least, Henry Higgin’s Library. Ideal. (Actually, it was filmed in the Groussay Library, and the comfy cushions have since been removed. But you can imagine them there!)

My dream library is in the body of an old lighthouse, carefully refurbished. The bottom floor would be the children’s books, comfy chairs, large desk, and fireplace area, and each landing up the hand carved wooden spiral staircase would have its own set of shelves and designation (poetry, lit crit, philosophy, etc.). The top, where the light would shine out, would be a 360 window seat, with very comfortable seats and an amazing view. As soon as I can figure out how to take photos of dream land, I will let you see it!

What is your dream library? Do you have certain guidelines for what you need in a library?

*Because saying “The Noun of the Noun” is so much better (read ” more pretentious”,) than saying “The Noun’s Noun”.

Clearance Cairn

We often compare the mind to a computer, nowadays: we process information, we save information in our hard drive, our neurons form a network…and should we find ourselves burdened with trivia, we attempt to delete it.

But one of the more traditional metaphors was that a mind resembled a field.  It was cultivated, like a garden, and ideas sprang up from the fertile soil of an imagination well-watered with reading, observation, and life experience.

There has been nothing to harvest from my mind-field of late, no matter how I rack my brains for it, so I reckon that something is preventing proper growth: neglect of planting, poorly chosen seed, stony soil, lack of light or water or air…hence this post, wherein I dig out a few rocks, hopefully, and assemble them into a heap of stones, and perhaps aerate this fallow field a bit.

Clearance Cairn

~~~~~
To the great amusement of my housemates and friends, I occasionally issue myself orders out loud.  Sounds mad, a bit, but since orders must be direct and succinct, they almost always work.
~~~~~

I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness again last night.  This is atypical; it’s odd enough for me to see a movie opening week, much less twice, much less thrice.

My roommate and I keep wondering why anyone lets Jim Kirk be in charge of anything.  He’s even more of a Gryffindor than Harry Potter.

~~~~~

Last weekend was my first comic-con.  Tomorrow is my first steampunk expo.  Tonight there shall be hasty costume-fashioning; fortunately said comic-con outfitted me with goggles, and as everyone knows, that fulfills the second law of steampunk (right after “slap some gears on it”).

Huzzah for the Salvation Army, and how much easier it makes the costuming process!

~~~~~

On reflection, this was sort of a nerdy week.

I love it.

~~~~~
Work, on the other hand, is going quite slowly this week, so slowly that I started a phone log out of boredom.  Each day I’ve answered, on average, 38 calls.  Most are dull, but this one wasn’t:

Can I talk to an attorney?  What’s the issue?  Well, it’s complicated.  Okay.  My in-laws own a house right next to theirs.  They added one of their sons to the deed many many years ago because he wanted to fix the house up, and he needed it for collateral – he was supposed to fix it up and pay rent.  We just found out that he didn’t do any fixing up at all - they don’t even know what he was using it for.  His ex-wife was helping him by getting a friend of hers to notarize it – and he abandoned his 19-year-old son in it with no electricity, water, or food.  The son went psychotic: he set the woods on fire, he set a Bible on fire, he said that the voices told him to do it.  He needs psychiatric help and someone took him to the hospital for treatment.  The dad wants to say it’s his house.  The grandparents are still on the deed; they never gave him the house – and the father somehow lied to the psychiatric hospital and got his son back and put him back in that house with no electricity or water.  He’s just in there alone with a pit bull the dad feeds gunpowder to, and we’re just wondering what rights the grandparents have with respect to the 19-year-old…

My first response is “Well, our firm can help with your questions about the deed, but I’m not sure we’re qualified to answer questions about psychotic breaks or pit bulls.”

My second response is “Kyrie eleison.”

My third response is something like “Ummmm, 19-year-old?  No matter how psychotic he is, he’s passed the age of majority.  Americans 18 and older are legally adults, but it sure seems like there’s this effort to keep ever-older people in a state of adolescence.  … …I wonder if the laws will change in the next decade on account of it.”
~~~~~

My youngest brother gets married a fortnight after tomorrow.  For all that I’ve been willing and waiting for this event for years, I am not ready.  For all the weddings I’ve gone to before, none of them increased my own family at the end.  I feel as though there is something I’m meant to say to them on this occasion, something significant, a poetic farewell to the single years before it, a greeting of the coming years of married life.

So of course nothing comes to mind.

~~~~~
3; 4.75; 3.85; 4.68; 1.60; 3.34; 2.78; 4.06; 3.6; 3.3; 3.4; 3.91; 3; 2.51; 2.15; 4.21; 4.21; 3.35; 4; 5.64; 5.75; 7.54; 4.37; 2.84; 3.15; 2.85; 2; 4.47; 4.38; 2.85; 5.19; 3.73; 3.13; 3.56; 5.12; 3.42; 2.92; 2.31; 1.88; 2.5; 6.82; 6; 6.13; 3.81.

This may look like a string of random numbers, but it is in fact amounts spent on each serving of a lunch made from scratch over the past few months.  The average cost of these 44 meals is $3.82; the six meals (not listed) with partly pre-made ingredients from the store averaged $5.04; and the average restaurant or takeout lunch cost $6.69.  As you might guess, I delight in rather anal-retentive precision.  Even if it’s generally accepted that making your own food costs less than having someone else make it for you, I like to have data to back it up.
~~~~~

Sometimes while driving I am gripped by wonderment and horror that I’ve been entrusted with two tons of metal, to drive when and where I will.  Not that I am a big fan of the TSA, or in favor of further government intrusion into daily life, but I don’t recall the licensing process as being that thorough.  Considering how much time I spend on the road, they hardly vetted me for this!  Good heavens.

In my less generous moments, the horror and wonderment focus much more on the other drivers who have been trusted with so much with so little cross-checking.

~~~~~

field

Neither need you tell me that we must take care of our garden.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.