Shafts of light pierced the swirling snow, revealing the wolf hides draped over the massive thighs of the two stern warriors at whose feet she lay prostrate. The sun descended below the clouds, filling the huge stone form they flanked with an eerie inner light. The warriors pounded the mountaintop with the butts of their bronze spears. The crouching idol spoke:
1. Be the Wall. Many years ago, my beloved and I attended a few child rearing classes, from which the one thing I remember was the stern admonition to Be the Wall. Kids are going to want to test their ideas and your limits. If they get all emotional and vehement, interpret that to mean they trust you, their mother and father, enough to risk real exposure. This works from toddlerhood all the way to adulthood, and is in no way contradictory to being loving, supportive and gentle. Kids need to push to grow up, and pushing against people they love and trust, and who they know will love and trust them back even if – especially if! – the answer is ‘no’ is the best way for them to learn self control, self respect, and how to stand firm themselves.
So, parents must be the wall, neither giving an inch nor overreacting to the pushing. Not always easy, but necessary. A key part: knowing what you stand for, knowing the places you will not give. These should be few, and consistent. Everything else should be negotiable. With any luck, children so raised will be able to carry these lessons out into the world, and distinguish between principles and necessary rules, and things that can be negotiated. They will be able to behave as adults.
We live in a world of feral children – of all ages. They have pushed, and found no wall. Many times found no mother or father. They pushed, and one time, the wall fell with hardly a breeze; the next time, it pushed back violently. They pushed and pushed, and ended up in the streets, looking for something, anything, that will push back.
Thinks that should have been learned in the privacy of family life and that can only be learned in family life are now lacking in public life. Our feral children find no walls. The drive to push is unsatisfied and unabated.
2. Fight the Urge to Dirge. Ye Sons and Daughters is one fine Easter song, great tune, tells the story in a charming, memorable way. Only one problem: for some inexplicable reason, choir directors seem almost universally to take what should be something like a bouncy waltz, tempo and feel wise, and turn it into something more like a funeral processional. With a bit a vim, the song is catchy and easy; plodding, it is just another forgettable church song.
You can imagine what brought about these thoughts. We did do some glorious Easter hymns yesterday as well. But it hurts to see such a charming tune done so – bleech.
3. White Sunday/Mercy Sunday Pizza bash! Invited all sorts of Catholics with whom it is meet and just to be celebrating the end of the Easter Octave over – had maybe 30 adults and a dozen or more kids (many of whom wanted to make their own pizzas, which we did – maybe made 20 pizzas in all). Kept it going from 2:30 until after 9. A lot of fun.
Two thoughts, and if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears: when inviting people to something like this, it is customary for them to ask ‘what can we bring? aaaand customary for me (who tends to be the major cook for these things) to say ‘nothing’ or ‘something to drink’ – because trying to manage who brings what is just more trouble than it’s worth, But: people want to bring something, at least, I know I do when the roles (and, possibly, rolls) are reversed. So, this time, due to the large and uncertain numbers of people, I said: we’ll be providing main courses, you needn’t bring anything, but you can if you want.
So, yesterday, at 10:00 at night, I’m packing away A LOT of food. We ran through the pizza stuff, sure, but I made a vat of guacamole and about 8-9 lbs of pastrami with ciabatta rolls and fixings to match and – lots of stuff. But lovely and generous people also brought lots of delicious things, much of which got left. Into the freeze went pastrami, a couple chickens, a couple dozen ciabatta rolls. The fridge and a couple coolers are packed with salads and vegetables; my wife made delicious pashka and kulich – which got lost in a sea of wonderful desserts. So, into the freezer or coolers it goes.
There are only 4 to 6 of us at home (it varies because – story). I hate throwing food, especially really good food, out, so now I’m looking for homes for at least some of the more perishable stuff. Work, school, neighbors are all likely to get some nice gifts – but this becomes another task on top of set up, food prep and clean up.
I also hate telling people how to be generous and all the planning it takes to be able to say: no, we have enough salads, how about a dessert or some wine? Or whatever.
Finally think I’m getting the hang of the brick oven. The usual advice is that each oven is different, you just have to use it and see what works. What works for this oven: at least a two-hour burn before you start cooking. Three hours is better, although this probably had something to do with all the rain making the whole oven a little damp. Then: just keep it going – at least 2 or three logs burning at the back in addition to all the hot coals while you cook. By the end, we were popping pizzas in and out in 2-3 minutes each. And they were excellent.
If I ever build another brick oven, please shoot me. I mean, I’ll make it more massive and better insulated. Also, getting the hang of Naples-style pizza dough, which you make a few days in advance and let chill until a few hours before you’ll be using it – slightly sour taste, excellent stretchy texture for making those lovely thin-crust pizzas that work so well in a brick oven. (I honestly cringed a little when the kids were manhandling those beautiful dough balls on the way to making cheese and olive or pepperoni over store-bought sauce pizzas – but that’s what they were there for! Deep breath. I do love kids more than cooking. Really. And they had a blast.)
Great fun. Looking forward to doing it again next year.
4. Finally, I compulsively reread this bit of flash fiction fluff, and got a little worried that people might think I was making fun of Southerners, when nothing was farther from my mind – Edgar and Bill are perfectly competent adults who love telling tales and maybe messing with the out of towner a bit. Colorful locals, in other words, not red neck morons. I worry some people don’t know the difference, one difference being that, in my experience, there are many more of the former than the latter.
Anyway, came across this YouTube video, wherein an English shipwright is rebuilding the Tally Ho, a hundred year old classic harbor clipper style racing yacht. He’s rebuilding it in Washington state, but needed a lot of extra-sturdy Southern live oak for the structural members.
Turns out that a man named Steve Cross in southern Georgia runs the only mill in America that handles live oak – the very characteristics that make it ideal for ship structural members render it very difficult and uneconomical for commercial mills to deal with. So Steve builds his own Rube Goldberg style mill out of parts from tractors, forklifts and combines and whatever else was lying around, and serves ship builders and restorers around the world.
He’s clearly a mechanical genius of sorts – and is just as clearly one of those colorful locals messing a bit – a completely friendly bit – with English Leo the shipwright.
We were not a literary family. Mom read Reader’s Digest condensed novels, a brother or two read the sports pages. Nobody that I can remember read to us when we were little. In a way, it’s a little amazing more than half of us 9 kids got through college – three of us overcompensated with Masters (one of my sisters has *3*); one even got a JD.
Dad always thought and said that education was for getting a job. He himself had pursued all sorts of vo-tech stuff, back in the day, learning first how to do office work (he decided early on being an Oklahoma farm boy was not his vocation) and then how to do everything in sheet metal fabrication. He stayed home during WWII – a crack welder with two small children was the kind of guy they were happy to have stay to help build and repair stuff.
So education = job prep. Reading was something mom did in her very limited free time, or guys did to see how the pennant race was going.
Let’s say I didn’t fit in. Didn’t learn to read until I was 6, I think because nobody showed me how. I remember learning phonics (dark time, 1964!) and going wow! THAT’s how it works! and driving the family nuts for a few weeks sounding out every street sign and billboard that went by as we drove.
(This is also when I had my first splash of cold water in school: I LOVED to read, and did it very well – and so teacher never called on me in class. She would ask, I’d practically jump out of my seat, hand held high – and never got called on. Because – and this logic baffled me then – because I could do it. But I had to stay in class anyway…)
Discovered the school library in 4th grade. Tore through the Time-Life Science books – picture books with science-lite in them, but good enough for a kid. I even read a college level history of Rome (have no idea what it was doing in a grade school library, but there it was) because one of those Iowa basic tests said I read at a college level in like 5th grade, and so, literalist that I was, thought I should start reading college level books. Well, I could sound out all the words, sure, and knew 99% of the vocabulary, but I don’t think I was quite ready intellectually. At any rate, don’t think I learned much. Did muscle through the whole thing.
Around the same time, due to the accident of there being a series of short books in the bookcase under the windows in the 5th grade classroom, I read a lot of biographies. Mostly American heroes. I’d learned that if I sat in the back and didn’t bother anybody, the teacher would leave me alone. I sat in the back near that bookcase, and wold grab a volume when I thought no one was looking. So I began the habit of ignoring what went on in class and surreptitiously reading something. Became my M.O. well into college, when I discovered I couldn’t pass the classes if I didn’t pay attention. Go figure.
I early developed this bias that a serious reader read real stuff, not that frou-frou fiction stuff. In my innocence, I thought Time-Life science books were real stuff. Wasn’t until about 6th grade that I got into fiction – science fiction. Bradbury was my first love, followed by Asimov. By my junior year in high school, I’d switched to philosophy – Plato, mainly – because I’d decided to go to St. John’s College and thought I’d get a head start.
But there were mom’s Readers Digest condensed books lying around the house, so I read those. Occasionally somebody would suggest something and I’d read it (read Lord of the Rings, was not impressed. Hey, I was young and stupid. Now at least I’m not young). And I’d thumbed through hundreds of books at the Whittier Public Library, read a few on fairly random topics (e.g., frogs, ancient maps, paleoanthropology). No program, just pulling stuff off the shelves.
What does this have to do with story-telling? Outside Bradbury, Asimov and Star Trek TOS, I din’t really have much experience even hearing stories, let alone telling them. Nobody I knew wrote much of anything. The world of writing was as distant and theoretical as the world of doctors, lawyers and professors. The typical adult I knew was a welder or a housewife. The kids I knew read comic books if they read anything.
In college I discovered a new world, where everybody, it seems, was the son or daughter of a lawyer or doctor, everybody had read a ton of books, people kept folders or files with stuff they wrote in it, and all in all treated this intellectual stuff as if it were work! As if it had value.
Sometime after college I discovered that I really liked writing. By then, I’d hacked my way through the Great Books as well as a more broad selection of fiction. But emotionally, it was never real work, the results were of mere mystical value, not like the sheet metal buildings and cabinets my dad turned out. Always felt weirdly guilty about writing, and could hardly work up the perseverance to finish anything very long – I mean, it’s not like it has any value…
My wife, in a fit of inexplicable foolishness, married me when I was 29 and almost an adult. We had our first child in 1991, with additions roughly 2 years apart until we hit 4 in 1997. I built a weird bunk bed – queen on the bottom, twin on the top – out of scrap lumber (we still have it). To give my poor wife a break, I’d put the kids to bed – I’d lay in the bottom bunk, 2, 3, or 4 kids cuddled up next to me.
And tell stories. Eventually, I’d let each child pick one or two characters and then try to work them into a story. Got pretty weird, with video game characters, Disney princesses, made up creatures (that would come with rambling dissertations about exactly what they were like and what powers they had, and woe to dad if he forgot to work those into the story!) and so on.
It was a challenge and a delight. Must have told several hundred of those stories over the years. Perfect audience. The race was to see if they would fall asleep before I did – even money.
Then the kids wanted to tell stories, too. I served as stenographer to the two oldest and the Caboose. Hope I can find those stories to embarrass them at their weddings.
Then came this blog. Here I can write as long or short a piece as I want and just throw it out there. Well over a 1,000 posts and 1,000,000 words. I suppose that counts for something, like carving a statue out of a grain of rice – cool, sorta, but why?
There’s now this pile of story ideas and drafts and even a few completed ones. Couple novel outlines. I had hoped to get into it more about a year ago, but then life got really complicated – no, really, much more complicated than it had been, with many additional obligations which sap my time and energy. So – maybe next year.
Either I’ll learn how to work around life, life will get a bit simpler, or it won’t.
I must have half a dozen books/magazines going right now, may be some kind of record for me. Plus a bunch of things I’ve finished that I ought to review. So, of course, started another book last night – I admit, a blurb yanked from a review did me in:
“It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.”
I mean, c’mon. So I’m about 50% into The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz, which is book 1 in the series book 2 of which earned the above comment. So far, yep. Dude is very good and inventive writer. If he keeps it up, I’m up for the series. Plus, it not too long.
And a pile of books on mythology that I tend to read when nothing else appeals to me at the moment. Greek, Roman, Polynesian.
And the Phenomenology of Spirit, where I stopped half-way through the main text after having read Hegel’s interminable introduction. Read it in college, need to finish up the reread.
Read a bunch of superversive/pulp rev magazines that I’ve yet to review. Have a pile I haven’t started yet. Also, looking sternly down at me from the shelves, are some Flynn, Wright and Wolfe. *gulp* In addition, I have maybe half a dozen books and stories from the Essential Sci Fi Reading List I’ve yet to get to. There’s maybe 20 more I haven’t tracked down a copy of yet.
Aaaand – there’s the longer term projects. Half way through some education history and biographies of the major players, but set all that aside as I need to be sitting up at a desk taking notes, not drifting off to sleep, to read these. I want to write a book or two about my findings one of these years.
So much for the reading side. On the writing side, seems I’ve done nothing since about August of last year. This is not merely inertia or laziness – life got complicated. I have maybe 3 out of 4 Friday and 2 out of 4 Monday evenings free – weekdays all booked up otherwise; weekends are a crapshoot. I get up by 6:00, so pulling 10:30 – midnight writing jags really isn’t in the cards, at least not regularly. And, for spiritual/emotional reason (fancy way of saying it calms me down) I’ve taken to playing piano an hour or two a day. About halfway through learning Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, as well as continuing to plow through the Well Tempered Clavier (have about 6 down pretty well, and a few more sorta kinda). Also throwing in a little jazz and improv.
That said, for some reason I reread a bit of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (except here’s a sample that has since been revised and may not even end up in the book) the other day, and started getting excited again, and wrote another few pages, and – I need more time, but I also need a job.
Very sad last few days at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, where my charming and beautiful younger daughter is a junior. The little brother, 11, of one of the students fell into a coma out of the blue, and died. No one knows why, totally unexpected. Please say a prayer for the repose of his soul and comfort for his family and for the College, which, being tiny, is taking this very hard. A number of other sad things have happened there as well – when there are only 125 students and everybody knows everybody, problems and tragedies are communal things. Tough Lent for them.
Me? Feeling better, love, love, love being involved in RCIA, the First Communion Parent’s class and my Feasts and Faith class at the local parish, even when it does burn up a huge chunk of time – but then, that’s what life is for. So that’s all good. Have almost completed the transition from worrying about raising our kids right to worrying about what they will do with their lives. Youngest just turned 14, the three others are in their early 20s. And worrying about how they take care of themselves. Fortunately, we were blessed with truly wonderful kids, so we don’t worry too much over things most modern parents worry about. But, still.
I’ll be 60 in 2 months. This is cause for self-indulgent navel-gazing self-reflection. Also, I’m feeling a bit better, let’s see if I can write anything.
The only things in my life I’m unequivocally happy about are my marriage and our children. Work? Nah. Grim necessity that is made worthwhile by the just mentioned wife and kids. I’m a stone expert in certain arcane corners of equipment finance. Not a great conversation starter. I dread answering the question: what do you do for a living? I tend to say ‘sell software’ because it’s true, although not really the heart of the story – which no one wants to hear anyway.
Got a boatload of hobbies that have evolved over time. Love to make things out of wood – our house is full of bookcase, tables, shelves, and boxes I’ve made.
Giant pizza peel
our patio table, seats about 10
Archery rack, drawer for arrows. It has since had a few swords added.
Bar-b-que table made from old signposts
giant toy box on wheels
For the last few years, it’s been bricks:
Pizza oven, rear
Pizza oven, front, with it’s oak door
front walk with planters and bench
front walk in progress – the fun part: actually laying bricks!
Pouring concrete – a necessary evil.
The woodworking I’ve been doing since I was 5. The first thing I remember trying to build was a boat, out of scraps of paneling left over from redoing the garage. Remember cutting a piece into a gothic arch sort of shape, and trying to attach sides with finish nails – yikes! Didn’t get real far, but kept at if for a good while, as my handsaw chops were, I imagine, only slightly better than your typical 5 year old. Realized it would never work because I could never get the seams closed enough to hold water. I remember sitting in it and pretending, though.
My proudest childhood achievement was a total remake of a 4′ x 8′ playhouse my older brothers had built earlier, when I was 11:
Added a 2nd floor, which required reinforcing the ceiling/roof;
Repurposed a ladder from a bunk bed into a super-cool retractable ladder hinged to a board that fit into the ceiling – the whole thing was balance by a series of pulleys, nylon cord and a coffee can full of rocks, so that when you lifted it, it just rose right up into the ceiling;
Added a door and windows that could be closed.
Added some railing around the top floor so kids wouldn’t fall 60″ to their deaths.
Ended up converting the playhouse into a workspace for balsa wood models, of which I made maybe 3-4.
Also, at age 5, my mother let me plant some pansies in a little spot by the front porch. I was fascinated by them, watched them grow. I have no green thumb, but do love growing things. Put in an orchard this past spring:
Peaches on the left, apricots on the right.
Pomegranite. This little bush – and I’m trimming it to keep it a bush – is one vigorous, undisciplined little guy – trimmed it twice already!
Dwarf fig, on the walk to the front door.
I’ve tried and mostly failed to grow stuff over the years, in the sense that, for example, the few tomatoes I’ve grown are very expensive even if I value my time at next to zero. I can’t even grow zucchini. But I keep trying.
Back to my wasted youth. Then we moved. At age 12, started working for my dad on Saturdays and eventually summers at his sheet metal fabrication shop, sweeping floors and cleaning up the scrap metal. Eventually learned to do most activities except welding (a failure I regret to this day) and set up of the fabricators and presses. (I was pretty good with a blowtorch – 35+ years ago!)
Dad had a heart attack at 59 that nearly killed him, and turned him from a high-energy maniac into a more plodding and easily-tired maniac. His doctor told him he had to sell the business. Neither of my older brothers was interested in working with my dad, I was all of 18 at the time – and so, after a 15 year run, Astro-Fab was sold, and my parents and youngest brother moved to Newport Beach.
Skipping over the boring basketball/drama/choir combo that occupied my time in highschool (and made me the oddest of ducks even before you factor in my reading habits – V-II docs, Plato and Asimov’s non-fiction, for example. Fit right in!), we get to a possibly odd little fact: I grew up in a blue-collar household, where achievement meant making something you could see. There was no value placed on what might be called intellectual achievements.
This bias toward stuff you can, as Ted Nugent says, bite and away from less concrete achievements I absorbed with my mother’s milk. It just is. College was, in some sense, baffling to me: unlike high school, which was filled with students who could have hardly cared less (or were careful to project that image) about intellectual stuff, here were all these people my age who, for example, kept papers they’d written! Like the written word was some sort of achievement to be proud of!
I could not imagine. Intellectually, I get it, but even now there’s a part of me that whispers: writing is not work, it’s not worth anything. (This same voice tells me in the same way that I, likewise, am not worth anything. Package deal.)
I try to battle on. When I decided to write music (left out the part about taking piano at age 15 – bless them, the folks were cool with it), I developed a beautiful music script, even going so far as to get some calligraphy tools to make sure it was pretty. This, despite my handwriting being all but completely illegible. See, I think I needed to make it pretty to look at in order for me to think it was worth anything. Or something – all I know is that, when I wrote music, I compulsively wrote it out again at least once, to get the spacing right and clean it up. Pretty sure I spent as much or more time writing it out as I did composing the music in the first place.
Had one musical triumph: got a composition teacher in Santa Fe when I was maybe 23 who also directed the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble. After a few lessons, she told me the Ensemble would perform a piece if I wrote one for them.
Wow. So I threw myself into writing something, decided to go ultra traditional and set the Kyrie. The first part was very much inspired by traditional polyphony; she told me to make the Christe part contrasting – which I overdid, a little harmonically adventurous, let’s say. Anyway, it was OK – I spent hours writing out a beautiful copy, even got a calligrapher friend to do a cover page – and they sang it, people paid to go to that concert, even got reviewed (favorably – the reviewer compared my piece to Victoria – I blush!) .
And – can I find that review? Can I find that recording? I can lay my hands on the music, I think, because I made a bunch of copies for the Ensemble – in a accordian folder somewhere.
Was I thrilled? Did I go on to be a composer, at least as a hobby? No, and pretty much no. Have a small pile of pieces, almost all incomplete, almost all 35+ years old. They molder.
Around this time I decided I actually enjoyed writing. This is pre word processor, and I don’t know how to type (this self-indulgent dump is brought to you by fast hunt & peck). Don’t know why I liked it. But here we are: half a dozen years, 1200+ blog posts and a million words later. Got piles of mostly unfinished stories and parts of maybe 3 novels accumulated over the last 30 years doing the electronic equivalent of moldering.
So: can I spend the years left to me overcoming a lifetime of failure to follow through and complete intellectual things, and get some stuff finished?
Been feeling weird. My wife offered ‘Painless Migraine’ as an amateur diagnosis of whatever it is that has slowed my brain to molasses. Description seems about right – dizzy, a little nauseated, can feel all the little biological mechanisms working that keep you from falling over and convert binocular vision into a seamless 3-D representation of the world. I’m an observer of some of the base biological underpinnings of my own human consciousness. A little unnerving.
Be that as it may, kicking off 2018 in a bit of a fog. Weirdly (seems weird to me, anyway) while writing and even reading are difficult, playing the piano is OK up to a point. So, when I’m up and about, tend to wander over to the ivories and tickle away. Gonna have some Bach and Beethoven down if this keeps up.
Twitter, as a low-attention-span medium, has risen to the top of my low attention over the last week. Odd snippets of thought.
Once you’ve thought of Keanu Reeves as Gilligan in the gritty reboot, there’s no going back.
Then, a thought over 3 tweets about how Hegel’s baleful influence manifests in the current mishegas:
1 Just had a thought: if being exists transiently in a world of becoming (Hegel) vs becoming existing in a world of being (Aristotle, Thomas), then it is meaningless to speak of defending a culture. There is no eternal good, true & beautiful for a culture to reflect. All is grass.
2 We who think the good, true & beautiful can be present in a culture, however imperfectly, might think the culture war is a battle over what culture we’ll have, when it’s really over whether there will be a culture at all.
3 With no external referent, culture can only be the arena within which the will to power plays out. Battle is over whether we get to have any culture at all, or are merely pawns in somebody’s power trip. (Twitter is a poor place for this sort of ramble!)
And…. That’s about as deep and coherent as I’ve managed. You know, same old.
Distant kids save one have returned to distance. The one, younger daughter, will be with us for another week until heading back to frigid New Hampshire and Thomas More College.
I miss them already.
Vacation was hardly. Had plans to write a bunch, finish some stories, but with 30+ relations in town for grandmother Brilliant’s 80th and a couple events happening at our house, ended up prepping and cooking for days at a stretch. Then, this lingering ‘I don’t feel exactly right’ thing made writing pretty much impossible.
So, hoping things pull together. I could use some prayers about my job and other issues I need to address. Stress level is high.
But, hey, Happy, Holy & Blessed Epiphany! It is a beautiful and moving time, when the veil is near and sheer.