Into the grey

There were four big fishing boats out in the sea and a grey heron standing near the pool when I went down to Castle Sands this evening. I’ve been trying to put my finger on the greyness of the past week or so. There are lots of factors involved: I’m staying on top of my school work, doing some extra reading when I can, working on a short story and now working on Bede, squeezing in time to read for fun. At the same time, not getting enough sleep, and then sleeping through my alarm two days in a row, when usually I wake up before it goes off. Having phantom sinus issues, headaches. Have not yet found a quasi-Kelly/Sarah/whomever Scottish equivalent. Friends, yes, for which I am glad, but not quite the same. But such persons need to be developed as well as discovered, and both take time.

Remembering Castle Sands just now, how the darkening dusk blended the skyline into the sea, how I soon lost sight of the heron when he folded his wings into the grey distance, it struck me just how isolated the Town can be. In some ways, it is more a bubble than undergrad ever was. I am aware that the world exists outside the trinity of North, Market, and South Streets, but in an abstract sort of way. I read headlines, blogs, twitter; I ask the occasional question of those on the other shore, but they are words on a computer screen. What is real are the seagulls spiralling over Sallies Hall, the song of the flute on the wind, the next book to be read, and that I need to buy more peanut butter and apples from the store. Ibi pax in simplicitate est. The danger therein is if it is also isolating; this, too, is grey, unknown.


n63654Yesterday was my day off, so I read The Day of the Owl, a semi-fictional account of the mafia by Leonardo Sciascia. I found the characters’ feigned ignorance and that half the novella was complete anonymous dialogue without any tags whatsoever tedious. Very Hemingway. I like Hemingway, but this was a bit much. I probably would have appreciated the novel better if I had known more about the mafia, or at least had seen The Godfather; as it was, I was mostly working from what I gathered from The Sparrow and Children of God (I’m beginning to wonder if there’s something not mentioned in those books…). The day was not a complete sabbath because I managed to slog through the introduction to The Regiment of Princes.

Knowing that I had much to do, my goals today were to translate half of The Wife’s Lament and read the Prologue to Regiment, roughly 2000 lines (of Middle English, to be read on the computer screen). Felicity and I went to 666 this morning and stayed there until we were done.


It was a pretty day, so to take a break I went on a walk. I like to talk to people when I’m on walks, but none of my usual contacts answered their phones, so it was a good thing I took my camera along with me as well. I was defeated by a massive depository of seaweed so I didn’t make it onto West Sands proper (I must invest in a pair of wellies)—all of the people in my picture were sensible and took the long way around. I’m pretty sure that some of the coolest cloud formations I’ve seen have been at West Sands. The sign, in case you can’t read it, says, “Danger.” The black bird sitting on it amused me. I also went to Castle Sands and almost didn’t recognize the beach: the rock ridges (“bones” as I think of them) were completely covered with sand. I hadn’t been down there with the tide out since before the massive storm a few weeks ago, so maybe that’s what did it.


Now it’s back to work until time to Skype with Kelly, and possibly Kali…

At half three we shall
speak philosophy and life;
find joy in laughter.

Week Two

Well, Week Two will be interesting. All four of my classes will meet at least once, and only Latin at the times  it should meet, which, considering Dr M-S, does not surprise me in the slightest. My classmate’s plane was delayed so he missed Old English today, but I got a chance to talk with Christine about what’s giving me trouble with the language. I asked a lot of technical questions about verbs, indicating that I’d like to be able to practice them and memorize the different classes. She basically looked at me like I had just grown antlers and told me that no one in the field goes that far into it and even she has to look up words every day. She, like every other language teacher I’ve had except for Dr M-S, wants me to memorize vocabulary instead of grammar and learn the language that way. Fine, that’s wonderful for people who learn that way, but I don’t learn that way. I have to know the structure first, the puzzle, before I can start fitting the pieces in with confidence. Which is why I love Latin so far. It’s orderly and makes sense. Oh, and apparently my spelling abilities cross over into Old English because I had noticed a typo on the last test, and as a result won a bottle of wine. Those who have drunk of it inform me that it was very good wine. It smelled good, for my part.

I also just found out that there are now five people in what had begun as a private special topic. There are benefits to this, but I’m still a bit miffed.

But, despite all that insanity, I had a very, very good evening. Jesse and Casey invited Felicity and me over for dinner. When I saw the Sharpes at church yesterday, Morley wanted me to come over right then and later said that he wanted “the dark to come”—because when it’s dark, it’s time for dinner, and that’s when visitors come over. So when it was getting dark, Felicity and I walked back with Jesse and the boys were so excited. I played with them and read to them until it was time for dinner, and after the boys were put to bed we talked for the rest of the evening. And had amazing strawberry shortcake. We forgot to play Squabble, but there’ll be a next time.

Back to normal

The spring semester has finally begun. The break was long enough that the seeds of self-doubt began to break the surface, and my perception of reality began to numb at the prolonged lack of direction. I knew this would fade once I had a schedule and things to keep such thoughts at bay. So in Latin this morning, when the class arrived early out of fear of being late, when Dr Maxwell-Stewart strode in wearing the full kilt get-up, skindu and all, and immediately began reviewing participles before going on to introduce deponent and semi-deponent verbs, and the present subjunctive, when Felicity and I were the first to be called on to translate sentences, I knew the world was back to normal.

My sentence today was: Utinam Corpus et Sanguis Domini Jesu Christi nos ab omnibus iniquitatibus nostris liberunt. May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ set us free from all our iniquities.

And, Dr M-S’s quote of the day: “When you have read the Mass, read the Bible.”

No Old English this morning, to my relief, which means the rest of the day is “free.” Read: time for laundry, reading up on William Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, reviewing Latin, translating Old English. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. The world is back to normal, neh?

Eald Englisc

I sat down to begin my next bit of translation for Old English (we’re continuing with the Life of St Edmund, by Aelfric) and I translated the first line with needing only to look up one word. Þa gewende se ærendraca arodlice aweg and gemette be wege… (The rest of the sentence went on to say: Þone wælhreowan Hingwar mid eallre his fyrde, fuse to Eadmunde, and sæde Þam arleasan hu him geandwyrd wæs.)

And then it occurred to me: I’m working on my Masters degree. In Scotland. And I’m learning two languages. Whoa. (And then I proceeded to have to look up eight of the next eighteen words, which hey, I guess is still pretty darn good.)

More than ‘just semantics’

Words have worlds of meaning behind them, and often it seems that words are thrown around too easily without any consideration for their connotations as well as their denotations. I am advocate of precise language: use the best word possible for what you mean, do not settle for synonyms that are left grasping at your intended meaning. For instance, “compassion” may be a synonym of “mercy,” but mercy connotes action, compassion feeling. Another synonym is “pity,” but that connotes condescension.

To some, this is splitting hairs over words that have more or less the same meaning. “Just semantics,” they would say.

It was brought to my attention yesterday that C.S. Lewis insisted upon the archaic spelling of “abhominable” in Prince Caspian, when Edmund brings the challenge of mortal combat to King Miraz. I wouldn’t be surprised if most readers thought Lewis was just keeping up the chivalric atmosphere, or was using a quirky British spelling, and that what he really meant was “abominable.” Yes… and no.

abominable (adj.) – repugnantly hateful; detestable.

abhominable (adj.) – obsolete, from ab homine, or inhuman.

“Ab,” out from, or to be cast out, and “homine,” man/mankind. When High King Peter and King Edmund describe King Miraz’s actions — regicide, usurpation, oppression of the Narnians as well as his own people — they are not merely saying that he has done something detestable. No, his actions have been so counter to the accepted chivalric code that he has effectively made himself an enemy against humanity. He has rejected what it means to be human; he has cast himself out from humankind.

In an increasingly postmodern and “anything goes” Western world, do we have the ability to make such judgements anymore? Do we have a clear sense of what it means to be human, to be a part of the fellowship of humankind? With growing awareness of human rights and social justice (another example of similar things, but with differing shades of meaning), should we not reclaim this word, lest we lose the ability to define certain acts as being truly abhominable?