the rum was barely breached and
the wrappers from the bits and pieces of
now pulled crackers and
and paper crowns
refolded neatly - set at right angles to the books -
little pointed careful neatness in the mess.
And there was laughing.
I think I may have laughed myself.
But for all of these
and all the other sins I cannot now remember
I beg forgiveness.
The offspring of the Virgin's womb
the boy she bore to live, to love us all
and prove it by a death so brutal and inglorious
the fine exacted punishment for Love.
Last week we called it Christmas.
And I think I laughed.
I know the others did.
I know I cooked. We feasted and we even loved
the brussels sprouts.
The scattered bits and pieces and the dishes
sitting waiting to be cleared
restored to order
put away privily because I will not
make it public.
I ponder in my heart.
I think I laughed on Christmas.
I know I loved.
I wanted quiet, but the shepherds came.
Of course they did.
The whole of arching, reaching, dark and vaulted
sky was full of angels, and the startled shepherds
had to come.
I have read the story.
what happens next. Here is a little space of time and
quiet so that
the baby grows until another angel brings
Gold and frankincense and myrrh and
terror as the blood of babies
drips from soldiers' swords and
This is the One enormous Glory
as it labors and delivers.
This is the stuff of saints and angels.
The innocent and martyred babies, dying,
make their mothers
The Holy Family flies to refuge
in a place that is not home and do not know
that it will all be right
in the end
after the blood is shed and tears dried up.
They do not know.
They have not seen.
- I made a largely successful, but not universally loved trifle.
- My husband found one first edition, one British edition, and one other very well preserved book to buy me the whole Eliot trilogy, by Elizabeth Goudge. And not satisfied with that, he also found and bought for me a very unusual pearl bracelet!
- The newest consensus on Christmas stockings is this: "Having a stocking is not the important part, Mom. If not having a stocking means less candy, I want a stocking. If having a stocking means less candy, I don't want a stocking." (Santa used bags this year. Momma needs newer, larger, more manly stockings to hang.)
- A person who attended Midnight Mass put a drawing into the offering plate and told my husband, the usher, "This is all I have."
- I got a hand painted cross from one of my Sunday School children ... wrapped in the most amazingly spiraled gift wrap, stuck together with bright blue duct tape.
- The next day, I got a handpainted wooden tulip from another of "my" girls ... I feel very loved, and both handpainted wooden items are now part of my growing Fontanini nativity set on top of my piano. (I got camels and camel accessories this year.)
- After getting past the initial surprise that my 23-year-old son would rather go back up to school a week earlier than classes start because he has reading to catch up on, I realized that I am relieved to have a week's space before my classes start. I need to do some weeping, and I can only hold it together for a couple more days.
- My daughter has spent "Christmas" in a convoy in Afghanistan. (Hence, the necessary weeping time.) And that same daughter pretty much provided Christmas for us this year. She shopped online, and the nice delivery men have been greeting our dogs every few days for the last couple of weeks. The ... uh ... "tavern puzzle?" Uh, yeah. Now everyone's irritated by it, and the youngest young giant took it home with him, determined to solve it.
- I bought some Armagnac soaked prunes stuffed with foie gras for my husband. He has only eaten one of them. We have two Christmas crackers left. I figure we'll crack the crackers and eat the earthy, fragrant, permeating, gorgeous, rich, decadent little bits of amazingness on our first evening alone in our house again.
I have a small house.
In my house I have too many things, but not THAT many! I'm not completely buried under! I can see inside my cupboards just fine.
And the bowl is not small. In fact, it's rather impressive.
Straight sides. Flat bottom. Beautiful, clear glass bowl. I've had the thing for more than 25 years. And THIS year I can't find it! I made the pudding and cut up the pound cake ... I'm ready to assemble my Christmas trifle.
But WHERE is my BOWL??
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect, says that Evil is:
- The exercise of power to
- harm another person psychologically, and/or
- hurt another person physically, and/or
- destroy others mortally, and
- commit crimes against humanity.
ordinary people whose social action is extraordinary, who act when others are passive, who give up ego-centrism for socio-centrism.I had heard of the Stanford experiment, but I had never heard of the book Zimbardo wrote until my daughter read it while she was at AIT in Arizona. (Advanced Individualized Training, in which the Army teaches you to do your specific job - theoretically, that's what it is - practically, well ... it's the Army. The right hand is not only ignorant of the left hand's actions, the right hand is pretty sure the left hand was blown off in a previous conflict, so the hands don't much communicate. But AIT is supposed to be about training for a specific job, her job is intel, so - on her own - she read this book.)
Now, the reason I have been thinking about this is because this is the season of evals. Yeah, that's right. Evals. Rather than getting grades, my son gets evaluations each term from his instructors up at The Evergreen State College. (This poses us a new twang to the twizzle with this kid. Now he scorns music with meter and the convention of grades. I've taken to rolling my eyes so much I'm getting dizzy. Whatever, dude.)
My eval season looks back every Christmas - across the whole vista of all of the years - and asks, How did I do? What has been the effect? What did my kids do with what I taught them ... and what I prepared them to learn on their own? Who have they become in their own rights?
The same world holds both angels and demons. The same opportunities and situations produce both heroes and tyrants. So ...
My actions? My social life? My private life? How about my marriage? I do my evaluations, and I - conventionalist that I am - I tend to assign grades. I don't think to myself "I've gotten about a B+" or anything like that. But I do think about my placement on a reasonable expectations scale.
Zimbardo's "20 Hints About Resisting Unwanted Influences On You" read a lot like an Examination of Conscience before Confession ... but not on the level of the inmost soul. On the level of the psyche, this is a good evaluation form, I think.
- Do not maintain an illusion of “personal invulnerability” – If it can happen to them, then it can happen to you too.
- Be modest in self-estimates – it is better to perceive yourself as vulnerable and take necessary precautions than to go “where angels fear to tread.”
- Engage in life as fully as possible, yet be mindful and aware, attuned to the moment, and prepared to disengage and think critically when necessary – people are generally good and trustworthy, but others make their careers as “influence professionals” who try to get you to do what they want.
- Be aware of Cialdini’s contexts and principles of compliance; when you sense you are operating on one of the principles, look to the relevant context being manipulated on you and pull back; where the context is obvious, expect the principle to be activated.
- Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind.” Cut bait, accept immediate loss of money, face, etc. that could lead to bigger long term losses – Dissonance and consistency then go limp in the face of such self-honesty.
- Separate your ego from your actions; maintain a sense of positive self-esteem, that is independent form the occasional failure and your stupid actions at times (Laugh at yourself once a day. This is especially true for shy folks.)
- Separate messenger from message in your mind, process each systematically not heuristically, be aware of being tired, a “cognitive miser,” wanting simple short cuts, giving in to non-verbal tricks. There are no free lunches and no quick and dirty paths to anything worthwhile – sloth and greed breed gullibility.
- Insist on a second opinion, a delay in signing contract while thinking about it away from the situation; never immediately sign on the dotted line.
- Develop ‘Discrepancy Detectors,’ alerting mental and intuition systems that stem from vague feelings of something wrong, something in the situation or the story you are being handed that does not fit to analysis to counteraction -> dissent -> disobedience.
- Try playing devil’s advocate, be the deviant, to assess the reactions against you and that position, when the influence agent says he/she is only doing X for your good.
- Avoid ‘Total Situations’ where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks (cults and the most powerful forces of social influence thrive there), you do not want all your reinforcers to come from these new sources.
- In all authority confrontations: be polite, individuate yourself and the other, make it clear it is not “your problem” in the process, or situation; describe the problem objectively, do not get emotional, state clearly the remedy sought, and the positive consequences expected – hold off on the threats and costs to them or their agency as last resort.
- When in some situation of authority encounter, you are being challenged – ask for identification, demand to see it, get person’s name (write it down) and all details about the encounter.
- Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – do not accept putdowns against them.
- Remember all ideologies are just words, abstractions used for particular political, social, economic purposes; be wary taking actions proposed as necessary to sustain that ideology – always question if the means justify the ends, and suggest alternatives.
- Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people in following other’s advice to act in specific ways against what they represent.
- Trust your intuition, gut feelings when you sense you are becoming a target of influence, put up your counter-arguing mentality, and dig down for sources for resistance.
- Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.
- When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior – yours or others – never rush to the dispositional, always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.
- Imagine Dr. Z as your conscience, your personal Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) sitting on your shoulder and saying be cool, be confident, be collected—to avoid becoming a Jack Ass.
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
I did a search. My brain wasn't clicking on the right name, but I knew the name Arnold Lobel was in the file somewhere. Oh!!! Of course! It's the Frog & Toad guy! Those are the most wonderful books! Now, why didn't I know there was this little volume of verses? My children would have loved this book. I am going to have to go find a copy in the store and add it to my collection soon.
I do not currently have books to the ceiling, books to the sky in my office, however. Well, not really. I mean to say, the books to the ceiling, books to the sky are not the ones that were piled in here a couple of weeks ago because of school. I took all those books back to the
About ten years ago, my daughter once threatened to switch my piles with the piles of a family friend - and then sit back and see how long it would take the two of us to figure out we were working on someone else's piles. (She's got a mean streak, that kid.) There are fewer piles in my house these days, though. I don't think it's less stuff - it's just more selective. Fewer categories of time and attention = fewer piles.
Piles I want to compile in the next few weeks are food piles. I want to make bits of things on sticks and toast dollops of things on little toast triangles, and then pile those up onto pretty plates on the table near the bottles of lovely things to drink. The Great Husband seems to be thinking along the same lines. He just sent me this picture of Stilton-Pear Crostini drizzled with pumpkin seed oil. That's what was on his home page this morning. (You can click the pic for the recipe.) See how the little crostini are piled up? There are only two, and yet the photographer/food stylist person felt the need to pile them. We're in a compiling time of year.
People compile lists of things at this time of the year. Gifts, and shopping items, and people being invited to the party. Soon, it will be annual resolutions - and receipts. My lists of compilation are mostly interior right now. I've been compiling memories and prayers and perspectives, largely due to the fact that I've now got three adult children who are spreading my inner world to four corners of the earth. It's an interesting thing nobody ever told me. If you expand your heart so that your children all have access to it, and yet are not confined by it -- if your heart allows their growth and their comings and goings and successes and failures as theirs, not yours -- then you end up expanded and pried open and broken and renewed much, much larger than you'd ever meant to be. It's very odd.
Right now, there is a pile of UPS and FedEx and USPS boxes compiled on a side table, unopened. I'll open them - wrap them - and that pile, all things sent to us by our soldier daughter, will become the bulk of our presents pile under the tree. It's a lean year - for us, and for a lot of people. Those expansive offspring have also expanded our financial obligations for now, and so their Christmas piles are going to be a collaboration between Santa and their soldier sister, with their parents providing bits of things on sticks -- and duck a l'orange -- so it's not like anyone's doing Christmas with Oliver Twist in a cellar or anything. There just won't be compiled toomuchstuff this year. No one will be sad, I'm sure.
We'll compile heaps of branches and clippings in the middle of the living room floor in a few days. Someone asked me if I was going to buy decorative greenery this year, and I had to tell 'em. I live on forty acres of decorative greenery. I just have to go outside and cut some of it. To that pile, I'll add a whole tree for decorating. That I'll have to buy - but I'll go and pick it out where it stands now, growing in the good Pacific Northwest earth, waiting for me to find it.
Then we'll pile up the boxes of decorations, and somehow, inevitably, there will be people in the living room, leaning to the left and right, watching the television while I walk back and forth between them and it. Why is that? Why is there something on the television when the tree is being decorated? Decorate it at another time, you'll say. Yeah, yeah. The theory's sound, but it just never works that way. It's one of life's mysteries - like the fact that the less distance there is to travel, the more likely you are to be late to an appointment. And when the tree is decorated and the various annually displayed oddments are nested into random bookshelves or perched on picture frames, the boxes will all be compiled in the cupboard for a few weeks until they're filled back up and stored away for the year.
Here we are, at the compiling time of the year. We heap up the piles of This Year's Stuff - or, I do, anyway. Look it over. Set it out where I can see it. Take some of it back to the libraries (seasonal work that's over now), throw some of it away (because some packaging's just packaging and how you learned that or where you did that isn't the point of it), wrap some of it for giving to others (right now, I'm very busy packaging a lifetime's study, learning, experience, and enjoyment for a suddenly larger Sunday School), and some of it gets displayed where everyone can see it.
But some of this year's compiling is private. After the shepherds came to worship the Baby, after they left and noised it all abroad, the Blessed Mother began a life that was about to hold all the pain and difficulty of the best of blessings. That Baby of babies was God, and she knew it. Yet she didn't feel the least bit like following the shepherds out the door to help them prove their story. She didn't show that tiny bundle to the folks in house after house, saying, "See him? This is the Incarnate God! Isn't it wonderful?"
No, the Blessed Mother did something I am very glad the Evangelist included in the story. I'm glad I know about this part. I feel a particular fellowship with her this year. She "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
Some compiling is private. This year, on my fiftieth Christmas, pay no attention if you see me cry. I'm just compiling.
And for starters, this year, taller young giant tells me he is bringing home eggnog from Golden Glen Creamery. They use non-homogenized milk and he says it's delicious. That's my boy!
Other things I'm thinking about are found at places like smitten kitchen. Things like "Creamed Mushrooms on Chive Butter Toast," and "Vanilla Roasted Pears" have me ready to make very detailed grocery lists.
Many years ago, when that same young giant was so active and so young that we put our Christmas tree up on the table where he couldn't reach it, we made Duck L'Orange from the French language cookbook my husband had. (has? -- hm. I wonder where it is now?) We made it together because I can't read French. I've decided this is a good year to reprise that dish, whether we use the old recipe or I find a newer one on the web somewhere. Christmas Dinner just might be:
Onion Soup (smitten kitchen again)
Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta (ditto, s.k.)
Garlic mashed potatoes
I might even try a Buche de Noel
1. ... what Scandinavian women do to keep their skin from becoming all cracked and itchy all winter? I have Nordic skin - and it's having an issue with this cold we're experiencing. I figure other very pale people might know what to do since they've lived in the cold for generations.
2. ...how cats know what part of the paper on the coffee table is the part that you're reading? That's always where the cat sits. Why is that?
3. ...if there is such a thing as a warm slipper that will not also become a sweaty slipper? I am not a fan of shoe-wearing, especially not in the house. I can't think with my feet all covered up. But I need slippers for the winter, and winter slippers are toasty warm, and toasty warm leads to slightly sweaty, and that's just gross.
That's all. I'm just wondering.
The ocean is my friend. The ocean is my primordial home. My retreat and my perspective and my sure and certain awareness of my most real self. And sometimes, the ocean gives a hint of the things it usually doesn't say. (Click on the picture to look at a slideshow of the most recent Eddie. For video, go here. This kind of power is what expletives are for. Use your own. I'm using mine.)
And note to self: the thing a person buys by completing tasks as soon as the tasks appear is this: peace of mind. Many things conspired to force my last week of the quarter to be a real squeeze, and that's simply the way it fell out this time. But still - putting things off in order to build a momentum and an energetic push has very limited power in it. The common claim, "I work better under pressure" is true, but it doesn't answer the whole issue. Better than what? I now suspect that the desire to have the "pressure" is actually the desire to avoid awareness of the whole task. Pressure forces us to focus on only one piece at a time. Maybe it's better to learn to ride a wave than to hold one's nose and tumble ashore inside of it.
(yikes. even my metaphor maker is tired out.)
The final draft of my final paper for HMS 481 has been dropped into the drop box, and that's the 10-pager knocked outa my way. I've got about 30-35 pages left to go.
Pages, and a package to mail to my soldier, a forty-page essay to deliver to my school, a haircut appointment to keep, and a parish hall to decorate for the St. Nicholas party on Sunday. Let's see ... it seems like there was something else.
Library books to return.
I think that's everything.
Last night, I made fresh leek and potato soup for dinner - with several different kinds of tiny potatoes, and since there was no red wine in the house, we drank champagne. It's all improvisation, really.
The forty-pager is done. I'll take it to the school tomorrow. It ain't no draft. If there's something wrong, I'll take my lumps.
Now a ten-pager and a 30-35 pager to go.
I even showered and went downtown to get the mail today. AND I stopped for lunch.
Time - for me - usually - especially when I'm doing a lot of contemplating and cogitating - it seems so much more global than it is. Omnidirectional. Optional, even. sigh ...
2. Re-learn walking.
After an autumn of stump-drag ... stump-drag ... stump-drag ... my gait is not exactly graceful anymore. I've started hauling myself around like an old woman - a fat old woman. Not pretty. (And this is not the first time I've had to re-learn walking. I had to do it after I had rheumatic fever as a child, I had to do it after I broke this same foot in high school, and now I have to do it again. I'm sure it's a manifestation of something, but I have too much school work to do right now to stop and think about it.)
3. Continue the habit of jotting notes in the night.
I discovered a great technique last night. Rather than turn on a bed lamp and wake my husband, I stayed as quiet as possible. Rather than toss and turn (making the thought in my head foam and froth), I got up. Rather than take a notebook to the living room and write whole thoughts, I came into my office, turned on the overhead light in here, and penciled a couple of notes on a notepad (not into the computer, which I left turned off). This morning, my notes make sense and I know what to do with them ... and best of all, last night I could get right back to sleep.
This midlife stuff. It's like living with an adopted child - or a new roommate - or someone else who brings a life and a personality to the relationship, and I'm doing my best to have a compatible life with her. But she's a bit distracted, and sometimes she gets hung up on the most basic stuff! She's making me a little nutty. I want to go home now.
Only I am home, and that's my soldier daughter in Afghanistan during winter, and these are my assignments put off for too long, and that's my face in the mirror. I'm my own weird roommate.
Time for Derek Walcott again, I think.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Our Ticket Out of AfghanistanThe Afghan National Army is a powerful force for upward ability and national stability.By Anne ApplebaumPosted Monday, Feb. 9, 2009, at 7:56 PM ET
President Obama wants to send 30,000 American soldiers; the Germans have promised more money; the Poles have just taken charge of a province; even the Dutch are thinking of keeping some men on the ground. This is all very well, as long as everyone realizes that the long-term solution to Afghanistan's security doesn't lie in soldiers sent by Washington or Berlin but in the ones who can already be found on a square of dusty desert a half-hour's drive from Kabul.
(Read the rest here)
I'm not a hippie. I'm too young, for one thing, and I'm not quite crunchy enough for another. I believe in a greater good worth dying for - and worth living for. We are proud of our soldier and the ideals that caused her to enlist. But now I'm worried.I'll be listening tonight. I want to hear the reasoning. And I want for my daughter what she wants for herself -- I want her to come home intact as a human being, and not just in body. It's not pretty over there. Most reg'lr 'mericans would be horrified at the daily goings on, and I'm not going to elaborate here because it's not fair to my soldier and it's not the whole picture either. But descriptions like "cockup" and "fubar" come to mind. Thirty thousand more soldiers?
O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.