March 2010

A much happier month for book-reading; indeed, it would have been happy if the only book I read was A Conspiracy of Kings, but I had the pleasure of also reading other wonderful books.

  1. Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance by Lucy Allen Paton.
  2. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.
  3. The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.
  4. The Arrow by Christopher Morley.
  5. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
  6. The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner.
  7. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner.
  8. Bede: a novel by C. A. Cole and Kelly Ledbetter.
  9. Digging to America by Anne Tyler.

O Light perpetual

It would be incorrect in every sense to say that so near the end of his life he had lost his faith, when in fact God seemed more abundant to him in the Regina Cleri home than any place he had been before. God was in the folds of his bathrobe, the ache of his knees. God saturated the hallways in the form of a pale electric light. … How wrongheaded it seemed now to think that the thrill of heartbeat and breath were just a stepping stone to something greater. What could be greater than the armchair, the window, the snow? Life itself had been holy. We had been brought forth from nothing to see the face of God and in his life Father Sullivan had seen it miraculously for eight-eight years. … This was not the workings of disbelief. It was instead a final, joyful realization of all he had been given.

from Run by Ann Patchett (2007)

Conspiracy theories

1. A Conspiracy of Kings — Read in whirlwind of cover-to-cover, staying-up-past-midnight bliss, it was, of course, marvelous. Thinking of it still brings a smile to my face. Though, I realized with some horror that I will most likely have my PhD by the time the next book comes out. It will be the highlight of my year.

2. Bede: a novel — I have sent my edits to my co-author. The black binder that holds my copy of the manuscript no longer sits conspicuously on my desk; the map that has hung over my desk for over a year and a half has finally been taken down.

3. Short stories — Onward to the stars: time to edit and (I hope) write science-fiction, in which things are still not all what they seem.

A Thief in the night

I was early returning from my errands before lunch, and so I went out to the sea, alone, to face my melancholy thoughts. I stood atop the cliff, face numb from the freezing spray and wind, looking down at the sea all chiseled and edged like slate. I went to be reminded that the created world cares little for our mortality. Grain by grain the relentless waves reduce the castle into sand. We live but the span of a few breaths, and though our foundations of stone outlast us, the sea was here in the beginning, and the sea will outlast us all.

There was something infinitely graceful in the way the seabirds flew into the wind.

I had another, impromptu, meeting with my Primary today, to follow up from last week’s, and it was the meeting I was hoping for. She had rescheduled to the afternoon, unwittingly allowing me more time to prepare. At least for this section, we are on the same page, for the first time this year. I actually left smiling instead of near tears, even if I jokingly offered to be in a crisis to save her from a meeting she didn’t want to go to.

And so, so, so, though this morning had a melancholy start, and though the haar has rolled in and I can barely see the next building across the street or the lamplight shining in the dim, the day has ended well. At long last I have A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner. I shall go put away dinner dishes and then begin. As Kelly so aptly put, consider this my ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.

Sunday morning

Some time ago a friend of mine said that she didn’t see how anyone could reconcile a belief in a loving creator-god on days when everything piles up: the conjunction of a bad head cold, the start of a period, past injuries flaring up. Surely God, too, would end up in tears at the top of a flight of stairs, if we are made in His image.

I didn’t reply at the time; what I had to say were not words of consolation. When my arthritis is flaring up and I have a migraine and a sinus infection, and I still have to go about life doing things like making meals and eating them, going into town to work, all the while in pain, I have also taken a swipe at God. On days like today, when I can’t walk enough to make it into church or when my hands hurt too much to do my Lenten devotion, there isn’t much stopping me from cheekily saying, “You know, it’s not my fault I hurt.”

What I would have said is, “Our pain is the result of a fallen world. The universe is broken, and we are broken, too.” If I were more evangelistic, I would then go on to say that we hope for the renewal of all things in eternity. I have written here before about that future hope. But that’s just it: it’s in the future. Not only a new body, but a new name, a new reality; eternity is the impossible future, beyond whatever human understanding I have now. It doesn’t remove the pain right now, doesn’t alleviate it, doesn’t explain anything.

I remember how the story of Job was always the answer to suffering for no apparent reason. Unknown to Job, he was the field of contest between God and Satan. Job had the gall to demand explanation from God Himself, and God did not explain. His answer was, essentially, “Am I not God?” Job’s possessions and health were then restored—in this life, not the next. His suffering was temporary; what then for us who suffer chronically? It is not a comforting book.

Like the man born blind the apostles accused of being punished for his or his parents’ sin, my body is not broken because of anything I did. Perhaps I can be self-absorbed enough to say that my arthritis is an opportunity for God’s glory. It certainly can be, but I hold no delusions that I will be healed instantly—though I would sing and dance if that were to happen. Instead, the glory comes day by day. It is easy to turn to anger and despair; it is much harder to grin and bear it and confide in an invisible being that you don’t necessarily approve of how He’s doing things. I am a symptom of a broken world, and I am broken too. God is God, and I am not. Hollow words sometimes, even to my ears, but no less True.

Seeing the sunlight

Anna recently posted some very insightful observations about depression in her post, Who’s afraid of the dark? She points out that, like with plane crashes, it’s often a series of little glitches that can get us spiraling down that dark pit again. Even being aware of the triggers, and panicking when we see them, is enough to set it off.

But we can battle the little things with little things. My mother once told me that we have the power to choose how we respond to things that make us unhappy. It’s up to us.

Spring is coming, and with it, the sunshine.

Notes and edits

Two weeks in a row now I have completed my weekly goals by Friday afternoon. It is a good feeling. Especially today, because I have sent off a draft of some mostly-okay words to my oh-so-kind friends to edit, thus leaving me to blissfully ignore the literature review over the weekend. Thanks friends. Now I might get to reread Bede tomorrow, going over my own edits, before beginning the typing-up process of said edits.

Also, I am highly enjoying rereading Queen of Attolia. Last night I read one of my favourite lines: ‘If I am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make up my mind for me.’

To follow up on an earlier post about health care reform, this story was on NPR this morning: Christian Groups Find Way Around High Health Costs. It is about a ministry called Samaritan Ministries in which families help each other cover health care costs. The ministry has quite a few caveats and exceptions, though, most of which are understandable given the contexts of a Christian organisation. However, just from what is said in the article, it does seem that the ministry is catering more towards Christians than it does at helping out non-believers.

The ancient Night

I’ve been working on a new playlist for ‘Whiter than snow’, a short story that has been dreaming itself in my head for quite a while. I think I’ve decided to end the playlist with Steven Delopoulos’s ‘Open Your Eyes’, if only for this line:

Take me through the stream
Across the ancient night

—though certainly the song holds more relevant lines than that. I have been surrounded too much by Fantasy, by magic and things tied to the earth. This year is supposed to be the Year of Orion; my mind longs to break free of gravity and clouds and atmosphere, to cross into the ancient night and dwell in those silences between the stars.

I have been editing Bede, yes—but editing is not the same as creating. Tolkien once said that because we are made in the image of a Creator-God, we too contain the creative impulse…

The Ideal Reader

I have, at long last, finished reading If on a winter’s night a traveler. It is a book that I at first enjoyed: it was creative, employing the use of the second person, and had a mystery of the missing novel. However, by the third or fourth interrupted novel, I as the Actual Reader was already expecting this to happen. I began to treat each new novel incipit as a short story, or rather, not investing too much in the story because I knew that the chapter would cut off at its most climatic moment. The Character of the Reader, however, the ‘You’ character, continued to invest himself, to follow the mystery. It was not until the seventh or eighth interrupted novel that the conspiracy theory began to take off—so, if I was already expecting the stories to be interrupted at the third occurrence, you can imagine my annoyance that it took four more repetitions until the alternate storyline began to pick up.

While at first creative, the use of the second person for the narrator failed with the second chapter. In the first chapter, the Character of the Reader is gender-less; by the second time you see him, he has become clearly male and it becomes immediately apparent that he has a sexual attraction to Ludmilla, the Other Reader. As first or third person this character might have worked, but as second person it did not. Instead, Calvino was imposing upon the Actual Reader a persona that the Actual Reader does not have.

Continue reading

It’s Greek to me

One of the things I resolved to do when I came back from my visit to the States was to eat better: to take time to cook consciously and creatively, to have leftovers to bring into lunch, and to make sure I have something already prepared on the days I’m late coming home. I’ve been trying one new recipe a week, and one vegetarian recipe, but most weeks it seems like everything I’m doing is new. I noticed this weekend how I’ve become able to juggle certain measurements in my head: cups to grams to ounces—the result of thinking in English but working in metric. It’s beginning to feel like I’m starting to get a hang of this cooking thing. Some days, if my research feels like it hasn’t gotten anywhere, at least I can come home and cook a good meal. I’m still absolutely terrible, however, at guessing how long things will take.

Anyway, this week I’m beginning to repeat some of my recipe discoveries, so I thought I’d share one of my favorites. (I’d post a picture, but I didn’t take one. Sorry!)

Greek Fakes (lentil soup)

  • 8 ounces brown lentils
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 pinch dried oregano
  • 1 pinch crushed dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place lentils in a large saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook for 10 minutes, then drain lentils into a strainer.
  2. Dry saucepan, pour in olive oil, and place over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, and carrot; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Pour in lentils, 1 quart water, oregano, rosemary, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the lentils have softened, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add additional water if the soup becomes too thick.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar.