Continued travels

There isn’t yet Internet out at the Old House, but I endured this lack of connectedness and survived. It is actually quite nice not to have this distraction; I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was a good few days in the country, hearing the coyotes howl and being woken by cockcrow (and going back to sleep again); it rained, and our car got stuck in the mud while surveying our property; while trying to find brush and whatnot to make the mud have more traction I inadvertently stuck my hand in a fire ant nest. With a startled shout to see my hand covered with ants, I ran to the shore and, plunging my hands into that cold water, was reminded of Pilate, doomed to wash his hands in the waters of Lake Lucerne for eternity. Fear not gentle readers, I only was only bitten a few times.

Then we left the Carolinas yesterday morning, driving across six states to return to the Promised Land, where at long last, I am reunited with my co-conspirator, my partner-in-crime, my comrade-at-arms, in others words, my best friend, Kelly, the Literary Cat herself. It is New Year’s Eve, and so I have persuaded her to stay up by watching a movie. Thus now we go to watch Lawrence of Arabia, about whom all I know is that only his friends call him by name, that he goes native, that his memoirs were stolen in manuscript form — and so it is probably about time that I begun my education about this intriguing and admirable personage.

Carolina Christmas

The virgin birth has never been a major stumbling block in my struggle with Christianity; it’s far less mind-boggling than the Power of all Creation stooping so low as to become one of us.

-Madeleine L’Engle

After weeks of oddly solemn Advent and few Christmas decorations (even the town’s decorations were lackluster—no St Andrew’s Fair to usher in Advent? No lights on Market Street?), it has finally felt like Christmas. Going to my brother’s house today where I danced with my (eldest) niece and (second-eldest) nephew to “Carolina Christmas” and “Hot Christmas” on repeat until the three of us collapsed to the floor gasping, watching White Christmas with the adults and with whatever kid wandered in to sit with us, finally opening presents with many play breaks in-between, tracking Santa’s progress, and then dragging my parents to Christmas Eve Mass at the local episcopal church. Maybe it is the medievalist in me, but I love the idea of holding vigil. There we were in a centuries’-old chapel (yes, you can find those in the States) lit by candlelight, saying the Creed together and singing “Silent Night” as it became Christmas Day. What promise Communion holds on Christmas! The power and mystery of the Incarnation. Finally I got to sing carols, and ones I knew the both the words and the tunes (and even the harmonies) to also.

It has been a very good Christmas Eve indeed. Skyping with dear friends in the morning, walking along the beach with my parents before lunch, then spending the rest of the day with family with festivities and fun, ending, as it should, with the quiet joyfulness of remembering that on this day our God became human.

Happy Christmas!

Boring stuff

It was a long long day yesterday, with various other travel (travail) adventures, but by 10 PM I finally made it to my brother’s house. The benefit of this was going to bed at a normal sleeping hour and then waking at a normal waking hour. Most of the day was spent lounging on the couch with various children watching Christmas specials on television. I took a walk in the evening (there was sunlight after 3:30 PM!) and it was a bit bizarre to be walking down streets lined with palm trees and needing only to wear a sweatshirt. A man standing out on his porch startled me when he called, “And how are you today, young lady?” I walked around a pond that had a sign warning against approaching alligators, and later found a tennis ball by the tennis courts and bounced it while walking past enormous Charleston row houses. The house I live in could fit at least twice, if not three times, inside my brother’s house. Just a vastly different concept of space.

I know I have only been away for a day or two, but already I am missing Scotland. After much deliberation, I wrote on the customs form on the plane that my country of residence was the UK. I have lived there for over a year, and will live there for at least three more — it is where I live now. I’m sad that I will miss the last Sunday of Advent at my church tomorrow, that I’ll miss upcoming movie nights and tea times and walks in and out of town. I am glad to be here, to see family again and soon to see my best friends who are like family; this sense of “missing” something means that I have made a home there, in that town by the sea, for you cannot miss something that you have not loved. And like Russell said in the movie Up (which I watched on the plane), “Sometimes, it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.”

And sometimes it’s the most mundane things you find yourself doing, like trying to switch on the bathroom light from outside the door rather than inside, that remind you that you came from someplace “different” after all.

I am here, but I will be coming back. True voyage is return — but which direction is going, and which returning?*

.

* Perhaps the answer lies in Le Guin’s Always Coming Home?

Missed connections

I had meant to be blogging in the Amsterdam airport right now, about my last sights of Scotland, how it was all licorice and icing in the dusk of night, and cottages little gingerbread houses across the fields, but instead I am back in the comfort of my room. My flight was cancelled, and after standing for three hours in the queue (with whom I stood other passengers of our nonexistent flight, one of whom was convinced I was not American but Canadian), was told that my entire flight had been rescheduled. So I am once again at home and will be leaving, alas in four hours. I am eternally grateful to my landlord, Neil, who will be driving me back to the airport, and to Jesse and Casey who took it in stride when I called saying, “Just to let someone know, my flight has been cancelled. More details to follow” (Oh, if only I were as eloquent in speech as I am in hindsight). All in all, this evening was one of missed connections, including late buses and confused bus drivers, as well as the unfortunate missing flight from Amsterdam. I rode, sat, and tromped through the snow, and only the trains were running on the schedule.

All this to say, gentle readers, I shall be attempting to fly to the States again in just 7 hours. Let us hope the travel gods are more inclined to let me pass this time. (There is more snow to come! Be kind, ye gods.) During tonight’s travails I read Agamemnon by Aeschylus; he sacrificed his daughter to win the winds of Thrace, but I hope that for me it will not come to that (especially when I have no progeny to offer forth).

Good night, good night.

Work hazards?

I finally turn on my computer this morning, and the flurry in the SFF world is all about Dr Peter Watts, a Canadian SF author who was arrested and beaten by U.S. Border crossing guards. The main article can be read here, a thoughtful follow-up here, and from his own blog here (and an update). Sherwood Smith writes about it here, including a plea for aid.

I have not actually read any of Watts’ work, but among the rest of the horror he experienced, this is what struck me most: ‘computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots’ — because, I write science fiction too, and any of you who know anything about Orion also know that Jenai and her crew are not the most law-abiding citizens. And though I know the chances of something similar to what happened to Watts happening to me are very slim (because I’m female? because I can mask my tone well? am American? wouldn’t have gotten out of the car?), it is still scary, and I hope that Peter Watts gets out of this on top, and not in jail.

No, we don’t know the entire story yet, and I suppose it says something about my priorities that I was first more concerned about his notes and story than anything else. (Well, and being let out into a winter storm without a coat??) Er.

Between worlds

Today was one of fog and faeries. I looked outside about mid-morning and suddenly could not quite see across the street; the haar slips in silently, swiftly. When I went out to run errands, I decided to first ‘go for a pastoral’. The spires of the ruined Cathedral rose up majestically from the green and graves, vaguely undefined, a testament to the ages and yet hinting of unreality. I, the single living soul, passed through the graveyard and the fog of time, and continued on toward the sea. A saxophone played from St Mary’s on the Rock, but was instantly lost in the fog behind me. I alone went down the pier; at the end, there was no town, no beach, just the stones beneath my feet, the sea below, and the fog above. All was silent and still; all was silver and slate, gray as pearl, the air, the sky, the sea. The water shimmered, rippling faintly as the veil between worlds. (Waiting to be parted, or torn?) A small fishing boat drifted by, sharing, for a brief moment, the same realm of consciousness.

When I finally turned back, the town appeared ahead of me, wakening from a long forgotten dream: the harbor, the gulls, the sounds of trucks and boats and people. I stepped onto the ground of reality and rejoined the realm of mortals. On my way back into town to undertake my mundane tasks I passed a little old man stepping out of his home, and nearly said, ‘Lovely day!’ It takes a certain type of soul to glory in blurred edges, and who is not frightened by the undefined.

Then there were more walks in the fog, and talks of faeries and otherwordly things. I am thinking about green being the color of the dead and that I may be on track for a very cool thesis topic indeed.

Scatterbrain

I am leaving the country in one week. For a month.

TO DO:

  • Buy Christmas cards and write them.
  • Christmas gifts.
  • Mail things.
  • Pack.
  • Pick up Rx’s.
  • Another thesisy meeting.
  • Continue my regularly scheduled researching.
  • Finish books and return them to their respective owners.
  • Edit Bede?
  • Fill out Visa application, etc.
  • Download articles, make sure Thesis will be okay while I’m away.
  • Clean, laundry, etc.?
  • Other things that I know I have forgotten but will hopefully remember later.

And all I want to do is reread The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia. Not that I’m not enjoying the book I’m reading right now (I am), but I love Megan Whalen Turner and these books are more than wonderful and just—there is no time. Alas. (IF A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS COMES OUT LATER IN THE UK THAN IN THE U.S. I SHALL BE MOST UPSET.) Ahem.

Four fairy stories

During November, I read fantasy novels were also fairy stories to help inspire NaNoWriMo. They were: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I read Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan some time ago, but never got around to writing about it, so I’ll throw it in here.

The Last Unicorn is one of my all-time favorite stories. I grew up watching the film version, and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it was based on a novel. The film is actually an amazingly faithful adaptation, so I wasn’t disappointed by going from the film to the novel, instead of vice versa. One day a unicorn overhears hunters in her forest remarking that she was the last unicorn in all the world. The unicorn then sets out into the world to find out if this is true; to find the others, help them if she can, or join them. She has many adventures outside in the world, and along the way picks up two companions: Schmendrick the magician and the ever-practical Molly Grue. Their quest leads them all the way to King Haggard’s castle and the sea.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman has a similar feel to The Last Unicorn, mainly because they both inhabit worlds of fantasy and their characters are aware of the conventions of fairy tales and quests, and their roles within them. (It is also a film, but I have not seen the adaptation.) Tristran Thorn makes a rash promise to his lady love, that he would bring back the star they had just seen fall, and thus win whatever he desired. And so, he sets off beyond the Wall into Faerie to find the star. He is not the only one seeking the star, however: there is also a witch and the three sons of the dead Lord of Stormhold. As expected, Tristran has many an adventure in Faerie, many of which include the star, and which eventually raise the curious question of his birth. Once again, Neil Gaiman proves his worth as a storyteller.

The Perilous Gard and Midnight Never Come can also be discussed as a pair: both take place in Tudor England deal with faerie folklore. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan is a story about the two courts in London: Elizabeth I’s mortal court, and the immortal Faerie court below London. Lune is a fae sent as a spy in the human court, but must tread carefully because she has lost favor with her queen, Invidiana. In the human court, Deven and his employer, Walsingham, are trying to determine the secret force that seems to be influencing their own queen. While holding much potential as an interesting story, and with great insight into Faerie and its workings, Midnight Never Come actually falls short. The prologue solves the mystery before the reader even knows its a mystery, the flashbacks remove all suspense, and the second problem the characters must solve has a deus ex machina ending that didn’t seem to fit—all things an editor should have caught, and I feel more sorry for Marie Brennan than annoyed, because this could have been an amazing book otherwise.

The Perilous Gard, however, manages to successfully treat both the Elizabethan court and the Old Religion of faerie. Kate Sutton is exiled by Queen Mary to a remote castle in Derbyshire, the Perilous Gard. While there, Kate becomes involved with the mysterious disappearance of Sir Geoffrey Heron’s daughter, resulting in a series of events which lead both Kate and Sir Geoffrey’s brother, Christopher, to the underground world of the Fairy Folk. The Fairy Folk are remote, distant, immortal; they are a people older than the Druids and who still demand human sacrifice. This book had me staying up into the wee hours of the morning, and reading it at breakfast (and thus being late to work) because I had to find out what would happen to them. I won’t say what happens, but this book did give me a ballad that I will probably use in my thesis.

Both The Last Unicorn and The Perilous Gard are illustrated. I am enchanted by illustrated books; when done well, illustrations truly do enhance the reading experience.

In unity, One

The other day at lunch, the group of us were having an interesting conversation about religion. At one point, one of us remarked, “Wow, we have quite a good spread here. Catholic, Evangelical, Catholic, Lutheran…” and as he went around the circle, he ended with me, and then he faltered. “High church… liturgical…”

“Something,” I volunteered.

Moments like these make me wonder if I ought to have a “label” with which to easily describe myself. I recall an exchange I had with a friend’s father a few years ago: he had asked what I “was”, meaning, what denomination, but I answered simply, “Christian.” “How postmodern of you,” he said. I didn’t comment at the time, but I wanted to say, “Or, how early Church.” I have not avoided a label out of the desire to be postmodern or cool, or what have you. I prefer not to use the term “nondenominational” because in my experience, it ends up being yet another version of mainstream Protestantism, just without the label Baptist or Methodist. A Catholic would not feel welcome there. Yet I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able. I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen; in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God; in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life — in other words, the Creed. I am Christian.

It is my hope and dream to someday see ecumenical reform. I dream of a Church that is one holy, catholic and apostolic Church: a Church in which all of us, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox, can gather at the Communion table and break bread together, believing that we are one body, because we share the one bread. A Church in which all of us recognize each others’ baptisms, bringing to fullness that we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. A Church that fulfills the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden, that we would all be one, as He and the Father are one. Not that we all have to become the same, no: in this dream is a Church in which we finally realize that the divinity of God can handle our diversity.

And because this is my dream, I must first start with myself. I come from a background that includes Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopalian, and that has a strong Catholic influence. I say, “Christian,” because I have brethren in all of these, and in more.

A weekend

Full moon over the North Sea

This weekend almost doesn’t fit in one post. Saturday, we had Thanksgiving at the Sharpes’. My mother brought corn meal all the way from Texas in order to make corn bread, to the enjoyment of several Southern and Western American ex-pats. We had quite a spread. In addition to the turkey, polenta, cornbread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turnip-something, two types of cranberry sauce, two types of gravy, pecan/cheese biscuits, sweet potatoes, and waldorf salad, we had three types of pie (pecan, pumpkin, fudge walnut) and apple crumble and ice cream. And we watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving, and, of course, had an overall great time.

As you may have noticed, my NaNoWriMo badge has changed from “participant” to “Winner!” and my word count widget has remained stationary at a triumphant 50,194 words. I finished The Faerie King on Sunday, 29 November, a full day early. According to the first response from my most faithful reader, I have succeeded in writing not only a fun story, but a fantasy one, and a funny one at that. And before I can say, ‘Now what do I do?’ I remind myself that I have Bede to edit. But hey, a month ago, I didn’t have a novel. Now I do.

The Cathedral

Oh, and then on Monday I graduated. I knelt before the university chancellor in front of an auditorium of people, and the chancellor said, ‘Et super te’, tapped me on the head with a three hundred-year-old cap (rumoured to be made out of John Knox’s breeches), and I was made Master of Letters. Most of the ceremony was in Latin. When the University Court processed out of the hall, the graduates followed them and we walked down North Street to Sallie’s Quad. For me, the most magical moment was walking beneath the double arches of Sallies—it truly felt like Harry Potter.

Monday was also St Andrew’s Day. My mom and I went to the castle, because it had free admission. The town piping band led a procession down South Street and Castle Street. Some people carried torches and there was this sense of camaraderie as we marched alongside other townspeople under the bright full moon; this deep sense of doing something old, something that people in this town have done for hundreds of years. The procession led to a stage of some sort set up on the Scores where there was a modern music and dance performance of a story of Cuchulainn, but I couldn’t quite follow it. But there was fire, and that is always exciting.

Cuchulain awaiting battle.

Anyway, I would say that this was a very full, but good, weekend. Now it is already nearly half way through an already busy week—and, what? December already? Oh my!