{through the wardrobe}

Glasgow Uni T 15

“She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood toward the other light. In about 10 minutes she reached it and found it was a
lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in
the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter
of feet coming towards her.”

       – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe

P.S. – It was almost 9 a.m. when I took this picture. Dawn is relative, this time of year, and the lamp-post shines all year round, day and night in The Lantern Wastes…

{a tale of tables past}

Pleasant Hill 48

“Gratitude is the antidote. It is a specific against a variety of diseases, from something as vague as the discontents of civilization to something as specific as personal grief – but gratitude is the antidote. Thanksgiving is the holiday of gratitude, and I am always willing to celebrate it.” – Jon Carroll.

So sing we now of tables past,

Of slow-hipped aunties brushing by

With plates and platters. Sing again

Of table leaf, piano bench;

Of room enough to spare for more.

So sing we now with gratitude

The antidote to our discord,

We share the table’s luxuries,

But sing we, too, of just enough –

Of feasts made more by scarcity.

O, sing, and pass the plates around,

With new-made family standing by

With sated hearts. And sing again

Of old made new, of friends beloved,

Of miles bridged close when we’re apart.

Gratitude holds the cure,

– for reality, for family, for lack of sleep –

Take the dose – drink it deep!

And raise your glass to tables past.

Always such busy days, Thursdays, and in the UK, Thanksgiving is inevitably the day for some sort of exam or conference, and Tech Boy is racing around, and I am home making a tiny roasted vegetable bread pudding and pasta and sweet potatoes and pumpkin tarts and all manner of things for which we will run out of space in our dorm-sized fridge. And then, I will play the annual I Will Kick Your Behind At Scrabble online game with my sisters, and then will be the Skype family dinner in which the fam will hold up their plates (Which always cracks me up. What, do we have smell-o-vision?) and talk to me between bites. The nephew will giggle and tell knock-knock jokes when he should be eating, and the baby will dump something over and try wriggling down from his chair, and the whinging will begin, and we will all sign off until next year — or, in this case, Sunday, which is when we always talk anyway.

And I will be grateful, and remember that certainty, that I have something for which to be grateful, and when it is dark and snowing and I slip on the stairs – which will be, in all likelihood, tomorrow morning — I will still feel the thrumming of the antidote in my veins, and I will sigh and get up and be grateful nothing is worse than a slightly dirtied pair of jeans. And I will go on. Because, that’s what gratitude does: lets you go on. In the dark. In the winter. When it is cold, and you would rather sleep than get up.

A lady said to me the other day, “I always thought the Americans just got another day of Christmas,” referring to Thanksgiving, which they are shocked is “so close to Christmas.” Um, not really. It’s a whole month away. And yet, Thanksgiving is a gift. I think I’ll keep it.

Kabocha and Sweet Potato Pies

{time for some Poe}

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(Since with the Cybils and all, I have gotten to be “rubbish,” as they say here, about putting up my Poetry Friday subs, I am just slapping them up when I can. PF today is at Jone’s Blog. Check it out!)

Writers tend to stand on the periphery of things — observers, chroniclers, wallflowers. It’s a known fact that I am an odd duck, but every once in awhile, it really strikes me: Man, all these people know all these ABBA songs. And I don’t. How did I miss knowing each and every word of Dancing Queen?

That was my most recent odd-duckish observation, during chorus rehearsal the other night as we started learning a medley from the musical/movie, Mamma Mia. Hearing those songs was somewhat amusing — the Italian word in a Swedish song sung with a Scottish accent — but it was a telling moment as well: this might be my tribe, but once again, I’m sort of in my own rondavel, as it were.

Last night made me think of this poem. Dr. Hardcastle read it to us in junior English, and I loved it then. It reminded me of a sixties song we learned in junior high chorus — about being a rock and an island. It also made me a little sad — as E.A. Poe, whose failed romances are the stuff of much of his poetry, and the strange and sad circumstances of his demise are the stuff of legend — well, it looks like he had an awkward childhood, too. It gave him lots of fodder to write, but … ouch. Good grief.

Of further interest, this poem has been featured in two recent Cybils SFF reads — one even was about Poe, through some speculative fiction miracle of intradimensional travel. I think mostly the poem was included for the angst factor, though. Imagine coming across this for the first time, and thinking, “Yeah. Exactly.” Although I didn’t “get” the ending when I was a teen (and arguably, none of us really “gets” everything of Poe’s), I thought this was my paean to the shallow world around me.

Yeah. I kind of make myself laugh now. Odd duck that I am, though, I still love this poem. And, it’s still kinda me.


by Edgar Alan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were; I have not seen

As others saw; I could not bring

My passions from a common spring.

From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow; I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone;

And all I loved, I loved alone.

Then- in my childhood, in the dawn

Of a most stormy life- was drawn

From every depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still:

From the torrent, or the fountain,

From the red cliff of the mountain,

From the sun that round me rolled

In its autumn tint of gold,

From the lightning in the sky

As it passed me flying by,

From the thunder and the storm,

And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view.

{cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater}

Man, I wish this was about pumpkins. Then I wouldn’t feel quite so bad about the time I’m wasting thinking about this when I could be finishing my MG novel I was hoping to get done before Thanksgiving. (Vain hope, there. Ah, well. It will be better for the additional time I took, right?) This is not about pumpkins, but about cheating, or as we called it in my undergrad college, academic dishonesty. (I do love a euphemism.)

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A very recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, allegedly written by a “Shadow Scholar” who writes admissions papers, term papers, theses papers and dissertations for college and university students, got me thinking about my own educational experiences. Whatever you might think of the article, which is about the writer’s experiences in churning out these papers, he or she brought up a point that resonated with me — and reminded me of my own teaching days. He wrote that he’d hated high school, and had hoped that college would be the free exchange of ideas, blah, blah, blah, but it turned out to be the same thing – grubbing for grades, pressure, etc.

No, I have no sympathy – but I kind of understand. A little.

I’ve said before that when I was teaching high school I thought teaching English would mean that I would have those Brilliant Exchanges, and that I’d have a mini Dead Poets Society thing going on. While I had transcendent intellectual moments (hah!) in college, thanks mainly to a couple of really personable professors who led me to think, mostly high school and college was just a lot of work — I learned stuff, and sometimes it was exciting to discover things. But it was work, with long stretches of drudgery in between.

The Shadow Scholar seemed to resent that.

When I was little, I remember my Dad coming home from work, generally in a ratty mood. Granted, that’s somewhat of a permanent state with him (!), but right as he drove into the driveway, we kids snapped to and got the heck out of his way. And my mother, with her gift (?) of interpreting some of my father’s more incomprehensible moods used to say, “Well, he’s tired. It’s called ‘work’ for a reason.” Somewhere along the line, people have gotten the idea that nothing should be work, maybe. Nothing should tax us, or make us irritable or tired. And when it does, we should be able to pay someone to alleviate the pain. After all, it works with doctors — if we eat too much, there are umpty-hundred pills on the market to make the stomach pain/indigestion/fat go away. Just ask your doctor!

I wasn’t that great of a student. I was mediocre at everything, neither that great nor that bad. I have a mediocre soul as well, I’m sure, and I don’t want to appear self-righteous as I say this — but it never occurred to me to cheat – to buy a paper from the campus go-to geek for writing everyone’s stuff, or from a company. First off, I would never have been able to afford it — those things cost between $500-a grand. Second — it was foreign to me to trust someone else with MY grades. No way, no can do. I am putting my ethical base, the thing within me which would simply rise up and shriek, THIS IS SO WRONG third, because I don’t want to judge. I know people did this – I must know people WHO did this, although they never said. Unlike a lot of brainy and less-than-socially adept people in high school or college, I was never approached to write people’s papers, or if I was, I was too dense to know they didn’t mean they just wanted a few pointers, or to study together.

Which is a kind of laughable synopsis of my entire educational/social experience right there…

Graduate school was an amazing experience. I took an 18th Century Lit course from a professor who had just published a book on the topic. I found out after the class had started, and I muttered a lot of, “Oh, crap,” going in. And yes, it was grueling. Not only was I required to turn in three peer reviewed drafts of every single paper at whatever random time the professor announced a paper check (this was probably to prevent that term paper purchasing, but I didn’t realize that at the time), I was required to take over the class one day and lecture on one of my paper sources, and endure a fifteen minute Q&A session afterward, in which the professor was also invited to ask questions.

I thought that I might die.

It was intense. There was sweat and blood involved, and possibly weeping and gnashing of teeth. It remains the most cherished memory of my time at Mills. I. was. awesome. I fell in love with the topic (how much do you know about female 18th century poets? How much does anybody?!), and I have the props from my Vessels of the Poets lecture still to hand, thankyouverymuch. (Yes. I used props. Come on – I once taught elementary school. Be nice.) And it was almost an afterthought that I passed that course with distinction in that course – because I loved the experience of having to ride out on that edge where it was up to me whether I stood or fell. (I even took another class from that professor, knowing how she worked. Glutton for punishment? Maybe. But truly: it was amazing.)

Last year, Tech Boy had the immensely frustrating experience of catching a student copying great swathes of work from online articles without giving credit. He worked with the student for weeks, trying to explain why this was unethical and unacceptable, and when he made no headway he finally met with his university supervisors — and the student passed anyway. Apparently this happens a lot. Plagiarism, academic dishonesty – call it what you want – it’s prevalent in not only academia, but in fiction — remember our outrage at Kaavya Viswanathan, or more recently, the German girl who wrote a novel based on someone else’s blog and claimed she was merely the forebearer for a new generation of writers?

Is this …really who we are? No, seriously. I am asking. I’m a hermit – I can’t claim to know what people are like in the mainstream. Is this us?

I find that I want to talk to the Shadow Scholar. I want to discuss cheating with anyone who has ever cheated. I want to sort of …get what it is to need to do that. And I think I want to look at that against the larger background of who we are as a society. Are we all thieves and liars now? Are we all moving toward a place where “cheater” is no longer a game-ending, fists-flying, schoolyard taunt?

Who are we now? And, where does that leave those of us who don’t cheat, and don’t know how?

/ ramble

{For Kenneth. And Mike. And Scooter. And Margaret.}

…and Rick. And Phil. And Kathy. And Steve. And Chris. And Jason. And Reena. And Will. And Stephanie.

— And all of my classmates who chose the military over college – and who stuck with it when it was something most of the rest of us didn’t understand, or particularly respect.

— And all of those who are stuck with it now, who really want to come home, yet understand things about loyalty and duty that I never will.

— And all the families who lost someone in the past, who are missing someone still; for those who lost spirits instead of merely bodies, for all the sacrifices and the reasons that may not never make sense:

… thank you.

{further along the road in the winter of our discontent}

Finnieston 248

The sad thing is, I really love bookmarks.

I have tons of them. Some of them were saved, seriously, from Weekly Reader book orders in grade school. Some of them are left over from when I was teaching – thin slips of colorful plastic with a handy pop-out square to hook over the pages. Educational companies sent reams of bookmarks to my students. I have several of the perforated kind, you pop them out of sturdy cardstock, and voila – your page is marked.

Some of my bookmarks are museum quality. Aquafortis got me a metal one in Italy when she tagged along on the Artist’s sabbatical trip. It looks like a marble mosaic of water and fish. My agent sends me one with each new contract – and his are really nifty carved wooden ones from his various travels. I have tons of the most artistic, unique and beautiful bookmarks, ever, and do you think I use any of them? No, I do not.

Which is beyond pathetic.

Why is it, when I need a bookmark, that I have a headband? Or a sock? Or an ink pen? Or a rubber band? Or the paper tab from the end of a tea bag? Or an eraser? Or a hairpin? Why can’t I just use the sixteen bookmarks stacked neatly on the bookshelf? Would that simply be too convenient???


T's Biker Boots 6

It snowed yesterday in the hills above the city. We’re not sliding through slush just yet, but it is so, so cold. I’m grateful that I found boots before the weather turned the corner.

It’s strange, but when I first moved here, I was somewhat aghast at the Glaswegian habit of not wearing a coat. Now, yes, I’m from California, therefore I wore flip-flops all through November when I was in college, because winter didn’t get serious until January or February. Here, though, I find like some of the hardcore population, I’m pushing the opposite direction. I am grumpy that as soon as ice starts to stick to pavement and underpasses all day that I will have to retire my cardigan. So far, I haven’t put on a coat since last April. Crazy, isn’t it? It was 36°F the other morning as I hurried to my chiropractic appointment, and I was wearing my cardigan, and nothing else. (Well, strike that. My cardigan and PANTS and a sweater and BOOTS and things, but no coat. This is my point.) Granted, it’s a nice cardigan, it’s knee-length and all, but seriously, at what point do we see our breath smoking in the morning air and think, “Nah, it’s just not time for a coat yet”? When we have lost our minds, that’s when.

I have been in this country for too long.

Cranberry Orange Bread 3

There’s something hypnotic about swimming in the rain. I’ve never done it without a roof between myself and the drops, but the “bath” where I swim these rain-whipped mornings has a glass roof, and I stretch out into my very sloppy backstroke and watch the water slide down.

It’s meditative.

I’m a person who actually is very bad at all of that yogic stuff. Meditation, downward-facing dogs, breathing deeply, being in the present — but ever since my friend Jennifer bugged and bugged me into swimming, I’ve found that I can actually get out of my head every once in awhile – which is really necessary these dark winter days. (YES, little voice in my head. I know. Technically, winter does not begin until December 20th or so, but I’m already writing you postcards from the edge. Think you could just let the nitpicking go already? Thanks.) Maybe it’s because I’m still half asleep at ten minutes to seven, but in the water, I can think of everything that is stressful, without feeling the stress. I can do worldbuilding, and let it slip away without worrying that I haven’t committed my character’s new name to pen and paper. I can think of my family, and light metaphorical candles for them while I go back and forth and back and forth. Swimming laps, it doesn’t matter, for once, that I’m not getting anywhere.

(I have no idea why a treadmill doesn’t have the same soothing effect. Perhaps it’s the puffing, and the sweat?)

Baking hasn’t got the same effect, either, at least not for me, but it seems to work for Tech Boy. I am happy to report that my friend J-Dawg sent us Tootsie Rolls, after reading my bemoaning of the sad lack in this country, and Tech Boy found cranberries! We now have six bags stuffed in the freezer, and he has made the most tasty cranberry orange bread.

Seriously: sometimes, it’s just the little things.

I may be treading water on my middle grade manuscript – no closer to the end than I was last week (and why am I so anxious to finish? Where do these artificial deadlines come from?), and I may have too many “emotionally isolated” characters in my SF novel and have to revise, and I may have reams of revisions to do for my paid project and am waiting on my editorial letter again, but I have cranberries and Tootsie Rolls. A little bit of bitter and sour. A little bit of sweet.

I tell you, my life is complete.

{hello, darkness; my old friend}

Lynedoch Crescent D 477

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
  She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.

  She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted grady
  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
  The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so ryly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,

  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
  The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
  And they are better for her praise.

by Robert Frost, 1915, from “A Boy’s Will”

I absolutely love this poem. Frost’s November guest is melancholia, and for those of us living in the far North, blue moods, gray blahs, cynicism, even depression — definitely a little something which returns each autumnal cycle. And though the time changed this weekend for us — two more weeks for you, U.S. — and has given us a last reprieve before the real dark closes in, it’s hard to get up in the dark, and hard to come home in dimness. It helps that right now it’s not raining, but nothing is proof against sorrow. Nothing cures the winter blues, except for the sun coming back. If we could get out of things like this on our own, there would never be Solstice celebrations, and Christmas would be properly celebrated in March or April. (What shepherd worth his crook watches his flocks by night in the snow? I ask you.) Instead, we find our own happiness this time of year in the north, making a meal of crumbs, and a sun from specks of stardust.

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We count our blessings. We give thanks. We hold onto what brings us joy. We string together shiny bits to reflect what little light there is, and flash ourselves Morse Code messages across the darkness: This, too, shall pass

What makes me happy today: I have found knee-high boots that I like! Shopping doesn’t normally gladden my soul — okay, four out of five times, if I have to actually shop, I do a lot of dragging myself around, whining, and shuddering from Too Many People syndrome, but I am well content to have found these (mail order, which is Cheater Shopping, but whatever) boots in not one color, but two. And thus ends my boot-shopping endeavors for at least six years.

Second happy-making thing, in this the time of our yearly sorrow: Leaves. Because of a massive cold snap in October, we have color like wow and oh my. I am obsessed with taking pictures of a tree outside my window that is doing nothing in particular. It’s not even one of the best ones, but when the sun shines on these cold mornings, it just glows.

(You should know that approximately twenty-five minutes after I took these pictures, it was overcast, and two hours later it was pouring. The weather here truly does change on a golfer’s backswing.)

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The third good joy: Pumpkin. As previously whined on this blog, hard squashes are not New World foods, so the UK does not know from pumpkin, except in specialty shops where they sell it for a £ a pound, and my does the price just soar. However! Much like with Google, you can find nearly ANYTHING on Amazon! Amazon UK has unearthed some dusty cans of Libby’s from somewhere in a warehouse probably in South Africa (!) and is sending them out to me. And I am gladdened with the thought of pumpkin bread.

And fourthly, candy canes! – another not UK thing. I have not purchased any as no matter how many lights are up here, it is not yet that season, but I know now that I could. Amazon again. I never buy books there, but random imported food? Yes, yes.

The fourth joy of this season, and really, any season is, of course, books. Cybils reading is trucking along; I have nine books on order that I have finally been able to beg, borrow, and steal from other libraries in the city. Recently I read — in a book that I didn’t particularly enjoy — a rather funny statement. The character’s mother believed that “any book was a Good Book,” and thus any building that protected books was a sacred place.

Libraries as sacred. (And from that point of view, what a variety of strange gods libraries shelter.) A point to ponder.

Those are my joys, this particular moment; feeling my way through the season of darkness, I know my questing hands will find others.

What about you?

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