Now that Sunday is Advent I, it's time for my "QuickMix" at Pandora to include "Veni, Veni, Emanuel" and "Once in Royal David's City" and "Coventry Carol" and all the rest.
I bought candles at New Seasons for my wreath this year. I was there for the Thanksgiving shopping, and I needed them, and had forgotten that I needed them until I saw them under the votives I was buying anyway, so I just went ahead. They're not very churchy looking -- a bit earthy in their particular purple and pink, but they make me happy.
Have kids? Click on the picture and you'll find a downloadable coloring page.
Aaaahhhh... I do love Advent.
And in the world of writing - at least, in my corner of it - there is a similar process sometimes necessary. My first two PLA essays were about library stuff. This third one, though, is not. It's a communications course (the irony is not lost on me), and proving my personal experience with the subject matter has made a first draft that is currently a 43-page document that is supposed to be a whole lot closer to a 30-page document. Much trimming, unraveling, disassembling, and reassembling must now happen. Put the needle in to mark the spot - otherwise a true disaster could happen. And then pull on the yarn. And then knit it back the way it is supposed to be.
In Japan, the kajika goes kerokero. In Spain the rana sings cruá-cruá. A beka would say bre-ke-ke in Hungary. Here in Norway, frosker sier kvakk.In the knitting world, however, frogs say "rip it, rip it." And that's the reason knitters use the term "frogging" as they merrily unravel their hours worth of knitting.
Then, after I pull out the bits that shouldn't be there, I will still need to compact the thing. Throw it in the hot water and shrink it. This essay needs felting. The individual stitches need to disappear, and the thing needs have fewer airholes. I like the stitching to show. That's what I like. I think there is beauty and elegance in the rhythms and patterns of the individual stitches. But this isn't a beauty contest. This is a task, and the finished work needs no holes. Evaluators aren't judges at the county fair - they want to know if the thing labeled "clog" is in fact a clog, and if it will do its job. PLA essays don't have to be elegant. They have to work.
This is a good discipline. When I have finished writing all the essays I want credit for in this degree, I think my writing will have become less airy. I will still want the stitching to show. I like the way it looks. But in the meantime, I think I will have learned not to put in too many stitches to begin with - or I will have gotten a lot better at frogging. Ribbit! Ribbit!
The green of growing moss and trees and underbrush infuses the very air here, and for most of the year, the whole world is green. At about this time of the year, the color drops back a little. The world plays its cards closer to the vest. The color settles into the trees and the ground, and the bare branches of formerly leafy trees expose themselves to the elements. Bare branches look cold to me - cold and very brave.
This is a suitable time of the year for me to begin to do the hard stuff at school. The first two essays I wrote were about library things - fun to write, semi-boring topics, very utilitarian information. It was like trying to write a user-friendly instruction manual. The kind of writing that is not the least bit baring for the author. I was not exposed.
But now I will be. Now I get closer to my major, and now I have to tell the truth.
I have begun the third essay for this quarter. The third class I am writing for has the somewhat foofy title of Communication of Self-Esteem. I can barely say the words "self-esteem" and take myself seriously. (Is that words ... or just one word?) But I do know, and I know from experience, that what we think we are tends to be what we do, and that what we do effects what we think we are. I can write for this class. I know the stuff.
But the stuff is about me. My branches are all exposed to the biting east wind. (The picture is from Donald Mark - he has lots of the Gorge - just click on the picture.) PLA essays are personal essays. The impersonal academic research style is not used here. Instead, in these essays, the writer says, "I know this. I know what it means, and here is where I learned it in my own life's experience." This is personal.
Personal, but I need it to be beautiful. I cannot stop the compulsion to be artful with the words I use.
And I need not only to be honest, and personal, but I also need to be authentic. Original. I am the only one with my point of view. (Although that's another thing --- if nobody else can see what I see, I am probably standing in a hole. That's a grounding issue - a cue to stop gaping at the landscape and check my feet.) For the writing within my major, I must say clearly what I can see from where I am. No one else is here. No one else has had my life. I am the one responsible for this - responsible for the life, and for what it has taught me. Now I have to put it on paper where other people can see it. This is slightly terrifying.
Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it.I agree with him. I believe him. This is not really about the credits. This is about serving the Art, and telling the truth about the Artist -- and about me. All I need to do is tell the truth. And trust the evergreen trees and the fact of seasons. The leaves are gone for now, but the water is here. Green always comes back here where I live.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Cute kids, huh? Allow me to introduce us. In a previous anthropological era, there were two families of cousins (occasionally managed by adults, but they didn't bother us much) who spent a lot of time together at the beach. The girl with the dandelion in her teeth is Stephie, and the boy in the middle is her little brother Jim, and the cutie pie girl with the gorgeous hair is Marchi. She is our cousin. We like Marchi. And now that we're all grown up, Marchi is still an ultra-saturated living breathing generously overflowing Creativity. It's just what she is. Always was.
Go here for her blog. Go here for her Etsy offerings. See her creations.
She takes my breath away with this stuff. It's wool!
She remembers the beaches, and they flow out of her hands.
I had an appointment with my academic advisor this week. I wanted to get a better handle on where I might be headed from here. Going after a degree in Human Studies is a pretty wide open proposal - what does that look like really? That's what I wanted to know. There is not one single course in the Human Sciences department that I don't want to take, but obviously I can't take them all. Can I? Can I take them all? Should I?
My advisor is a knowing woman. She watched the way I talked about the courses. She saw what really touches off the bonfires inside my head. She said things like, "You would love Psychology of Transformational Narrative. It will be offered this year in Winter Quarter." I kept suggesting the things I least wanted ... should I take this one? Would this other course be a good idea? She wrinkled her nose a bit ... furrowed her brow - just a little ... didn't take me seriously while I was talking about all the things I thought I "should" do.
Then she started to sing to me in the language of the angels themselves. She described a very specific approach - the narrative approach. It isn't a discipline - it's an approach. It works across the disciplines. It's a sort of psychological multi-tool.
I cried. Literally. Wept. She keeps a box of kleenex handy. (Probably a good idea if your students are middle aged women who are beginning at last to use all the parts of themselves on purpose, and who no longer have the pride (or the hormones!) of youth to keep them stoic.) I couldn't quite stop my tears on Thursday this week. Or my mind's crazy happy dance. There are people - real people - university people - who study and theorize and experiment and use this? This is my native tongue. This is the language I speak when I am not translating. There are others? I have a tribe? I have a tribe! Ohmyword! Shh. Don't breathe. Don't talk. Listen. Hear that? Drum beats. I hear them. I have a tribe!
I said, "You have just described the inside of my head. That's the way I think - the way I see the world - the way I talk to people." (Were my eyes as large as they felt?)
She smiled. "Register for Tranformational Narrative," she said. "Just a minute," she said. "I'll call and find out when it's scheduled. It's a weekend course."
"A weekend course?"
"Yes," she said. "All day Friday, Saturday, Sunday. One weekend. Just a minute. I'll check the dates."
She called her assistant. I did some very rapid thinking. One weekend this winter. One weekend to be utterly immersed in the theory of narratives. Three whole days. My word, it would be like a silent retreat for my brain!
There are people who would rather be nibbled to death by a duck than study narrative theory for a solid three days in a row. But me? I'm taking that class next quarter. I have to now. I bought the books for it on the way home.
The day we brought this stuff up here last week was also the day the web access setup completely fooped out on me (not because we moved equipment - it happened before we moved anything), and now I have high speed access up here, a few days after talking to my patient but dogged husband about how much time, effort, and money it was going to cost to reconstruct the wireless network he and the young giant so carefully built a couple of years ago. Add in the fact that I'm taking a class online, and I've already paid for it, and really do need to continue it until it's done ... (leaving out the part where I would be happy to go over to his office to do my class work because I would be quite unhappy to do that) ... and hey, presto, here's my own access in my own office in my own house, where I am once again listening to Morning Edition with my morning coffee. I can't see the horses right now ... I wonder where they are. Three horses live in that field right now. They're not ours, but they're horses, and they're fun to watch.
And I do love a corner desk. The wall behind the computer is going to be a huge bulletin board - a choice that makes sense, considering the fact that I've already started sticking things up there with tape. Evidently I need this sort of thing. I've decided that this room will be all about what I need. Permission came from a wondrous book I've purchased after I borrowed it from the library and fell in love.
It's called How I Write, by Dan Crowe. Inside, there are pages that look like this (click on the pictures to see more of them at Amazon.)
There are wonderful "in his own words" style descriptions of the writing process by various authors, and there are equally wondrous photos of the offices and writing areas of these authors, with an emphasis on the central theme of the book: What do you "have to have" in order to be able to write? Reading this book makes me very happy. Authors are weird, man. Really weird. Funky and wonderful and slightly superstitious and nearly impossible to live with, I betcha. I love these people.
And yesterday I had an strategy session with my shockingly empathetic academic advisor - so I know what I'm taking next quarter and probably a lot more than I need to know right now about what I'll take for the rest of this degree. Then I went over to the parish and set up the first bit of stuff for the coming St. Nicholas Day party (I put out recipes for people who want to bake for the party at the beginning of December) and then I went to the Chinese Medicine doctor. I feel sooooo much better today. I am watching the sun creep across the nearly frosty grass, peeking through the trees and shining through the leaves that haven't fallen yet, and I am utterly content.
(Click on the pictures for some good baking info.)
The thing that keeps sneaking up on me and surprising me is that I am doing this whole thing in several layers - I have more than one story line going here, and I can only just barely keep track of all of them all at the same time. (This is why we generally get our children added to our families one or sometimes two at a time. Humans aren't really very good at more than that much change that fast.)
First, I want an accredited degree. Pure and simple, just one accredited degree. That's all. Just bread. Staff of life, if you ask me. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou. That's the plan. That is my one, most simply stated plan. The jug of wine is our marriage and family and religious life. The loaf of bread is my own education. Thou? Thou art the other person. Whoever thou art, wherever I meet you, whatever we do.
What kind of bread? That was the first decision. What degree? What sort of education? What school? What major? After some brief flirtations with fancier recipes and more ambitious plans, I settled on what feels to me like the Basic Loaf. A degree in Human Studies feels to me like a Basic Loaf. One can do nearly anything if one starts with the basic recipe, and that's the one I decided to bake.
I did, along the way, glance at things as complicated and far-fetched as these chocolate shoes ... yes! Chocolate shoes! (Click on the pic to see the source.)
But then I realized that the complicated, gorgeous, elaborate, perfectly suited to the perfect moment things like decorated chocolate shoes ... well ... it's both more wonderful and more limiting. I've got time to learn the techniques and possibilities for the Basic Loaf, and I have the energy for it. But learn to decorate chocolate shoes? I would have needed the zeal of youth for that. That equates to doing something like Art Therapy - one of my first ideas - and then setting up studios and making business plans and finding grant money ... I just don't have the fire for that one. My fire is bread baking fire, even if I wish it were possible to wear those wonderful shoes.
Can you hear laughing? That's me.
I have all this stuff going on in my life - all this activity, and still, during the whole thing, I am writing the story in my head. Analyzing. Finding vocabulary and metaphor, and feeling the slope and flow of the narrative. And it never once occurs to me that "I can't" do whatever I decide to do. It's not that I can't make chocolate shoes, it's that I decide not to devote myself to it, and I know it would take devotion or it would fail. Is this midlife confidence? Is it awareness of my own capabilities at last? Think a lot of myself, don't I? Hahahaha! It's just a matter of choosing something. That is really how I think about it. (Big head!)
When you bake bread, you have to factor in your own house's temperature and humidity and spores and oven and pans and water and flour. Wait. Let me say that another way. When I bake bread, I do it at home. I bake bread in Aunt 'Nita's kitchen. Great-grandma's kitchen. Their wood stove is gone (okay, not gone gone -- it's in the woodshed.) In this place, in my life, all the factors come into the art of it. I have to knead with my own muscles - use my own hands.
For me, going back to school does not mean to earn a degree - that would be like going to the store and buying bread. Or baking from a mix. For me, it's not like that.
To me, going back to school means I am also learning to be a writer. For me, using the PLA option at Marylhurst means learning to set up my day for writing - not just for writing essays, but for writing - and doing it in a house that needs cleaning and cries out for organizing after far too long a time of neglect. Doing it amidst interruptions. Writing and also going someplace else for work, on someone else's changeable schedule. Writing and being ready with dinner when the real worker in the house comes home at night. Writing and paying attention to eating and health and exercise and ... life. Paying attention to life.
This is harder than it looked.
But think of the possibilities!
Every days function placates us & belie the fact than an unknown future is coming. Complacency in knowing that what we have has worked, is not enough. As time passes, we forget how rough the road was getting to today's operable conditions. Successful operation mandates matching the use of innovation & forward thinking along with known working systems thus avoiding excessive costs or service interruption.
Since this was from the challenger, I decided - for this position, at any rate - that the incumbent could have another turn ...
I bought this magazine the other day. Didn't seem to be able to stop myself - or to want to.
It's not just that I'm eager to have the college boys home - and perhaps the married couple, but we'll see about that. It's not just that I really do enjoy cooking for Thanksgiving or that I am ready to tweak a couple of recipes (but I'll have to be careful because a great hue and cry goes up if I change things too much -- a hue and cry (Latin, hutesium et clamor, "a horn and shouting") was a process by which bystanders were summoned to assist in the apprehension of a criminal who had been witnessed in the act of committing a crime.)
Something new to me has now come to me. This year there is not only the familiar and vague sadness of nostalgia. There is also a new found realization that the losses in life - the irrecoverable and permanent kind, I mean - those losses are the part of life that give a depth perception to perceptive. There must be ground before something can come to the fore. Some things cannot be seen until the contrast is high enough, and it is the accumulation that fills in the background - turns up the contrast. I didn't know this when I was younger.
I did not know that the griefs and losses, large and small, fair and ordinary or heinously unfair and extraordinary, deserved or undeserved, would begin to gather, one pixel at a time, and conspire together to turn up the contrast in my life. Little by little, the picture has grown sharper. Clearer. And I know this cannot happen by means of brightness only.
It used to make me feel a bit guilty and confused - that I had a lot of brightness and not much contrast in my life, I mean. It was obvious that there was a lot of suffering and pain in the world, and it was equally obvious that my little bits and pieces of it were next to nothing. Not really. I was not hungry or cold or neglected or ill or lame. I was not hunted or tortured or anything else. My pouting was just pouting. I knew it. And I wondered why. Why should I be so privileged when so many are not?
Mostly, it's still true. Mostly, I'm still well and safe and warm. I am even still healthy, thank the good Lord and the inventors of the ultrasound machines. Mostly, my pouting is just pouting, and I know it. But I no longer wonder why. There is no answer to that question - not one I could understand, anyway. But I do say thank you.
The thing is, though, this year, the losses filling in the background of my life are showing me something else. This is something new. This year I want to cook - or watch a movie to mark the season - or make things - or observe holidays -- not because I feel nostalgic, and not because I want to grab this moment because it passes too quickly and might be gone too soon. I think the contrast pixelation has had the effect of showing me my own part in the music. It's as if the light has begun to focus on my line - the darkness obliterates the edges and I cannot see past my own music stand.
I wonder ... is midlife when we leave the audience or finally get to come out of the rehearsal sessions and into the orchestra pit? It feels like that. This time of my life feels like enough clarity illuminating my own part, and enough trust in the other musicians and in the Conductor Himself ... enough trust in the makers of music that I can concentrate on only my own part in it. There is a full awareness of my own rehearsal time and my own readiness ... now I know when to play my own instrument so that it adds to the music.
That's why I want to cook for Thanksgiving dinner and do the ironing and write my papers for school. That is my part in the music. The music plays with or without me, and I know it. I got the privileges in this world, and I know that too. I have had the luxury of instruction and time for practice. To this privilege I add awareness.
Obviously, I still have some thinking to do here. This post is a bit of a metaphor mash. I cannot quite tease apart the elements and smooth them into fibers --- !!! There's another one! A dead giveaway, that is. Whenever the metaphors are still thick and tangled, I know I'm not there yet. But I can see it from here. Hear it from here. Loss has turned up the contrast, and the contrast has made is more easy to see my own part. And I choose to play it -- because the music itself is good.
Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh:
"I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated".
So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket."When they're proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh," said journalist Dylan Iorwerth.