Cold as Snow

If you do not currently or have not ever lived in the Puget Sound lowlands, you may perhaps not understand the excitement with which I write to you: it snowed this week!

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Our backyard

Of course, because it is the way of things, the snow did not amount to much nor did it remain long. Nonetheless, I rejoice because I love snow and there is little joy quite like watching snow fall, even if it’s in huge, wet flakes that foretell the incipient return of rain. the morning was made even more delicious by the fact that I didn’t have to work so I could wake up lazily (at seven) and spectate without a cloud of weariness. Indeed, I basically glanced outside (after winning the battle to leave my warm bed), saw white, turned on my phone to take pictures, and ran outside in my bare feet.There are some things worth numb toes.

Regardless of the length of the snow’s stay, this event has helped me overcome, in part, the difficulties in feeling Christmasy mentioned in last week’s post.The snow also recalled to mind a wonderful carol from my childhood, but more on that at the end. Suffice to say, the snow was well enjoyed while it lasted and called attention to inner chills of perhaps greater import. Anyway, a brief feline interlude.

The cat picture this week is a little different….. because variety is the spice of life? Also because the British Museum is the single most incredible building I’ve ever had the privilege of spending a day inside.

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Cats deserve an afterlife too. Yes, there’s a mummified cat inside.

Many, many moons ago, I sang a song in choir called Child of Peace for our annual Christmas concert, Gift of Song. The third and final verse reads, in part, thusly:

Child of Peace who came so long ago!
Child of Love still with us here we know!
Let thy tears of passion freely flow,
Melting hearts within us cold as snow.

This world is certainly not at peace. This world certainly does not exhibit much love, it seems. This world is a world of snow, and not the fun holiday kind. Like, snow in January snow– nobody wants it because January isn’t a warm, cozy month full of Christmas decorations. The next world, I think, will only have December snow. But until then, we look to that Child who came so long ago and in so looking we are reminded that he is with us here, now. We not only wait for the surpassing peace of the world to come, we work it out now because the Prince of Peace is with us.

Let us, then, be melted.

Let us pray for peace, people everywhere.

Let us serve both the poor in body and the poor in spirit.

Let us remember that his law is Love and his gospel is Peace.

Goons and How Not to Be Them

I listen to Christmas music any time and every time, but in my book it becomes socially acceptable on Thanksgiving while cooking, though Black Friday is I guess the first real day of the season. So I hope yours is off to a lovely start. We’ve gotten and decorated trees at both houses and I’m ever so glad because yay Christmas trees. Also just yay Christmas in general.

Last year around this time, in the midst of my eight million Christmas song quotations (which I will not apologize for), I mentioned that great line from Muppet Christmas Carol that says, “It is the season of the spirit; the message, if we hear it, is make it last all year.” Aside from Muppet Christmas Carol being fabulous in a general way, this line is a key one. Allow me to take a moment to expound.

With everything that has gone on in the past few weeks (and eighteen months or whatever, you know of whom I speak), it seems a little trickier than usual to feel Christmasy. Everything that Christmas stands for (which is to say, everything that Jesus stands for) has been challenged. Not by a ‘war on Christmas,’ an silly idea with which I choose not engage at this present time, but by a war on common decency and human kindness that apparently has millions of ostensibly very religious supporters. Let’s not get started on that statement because  yes, other things and stuff and reasons; I get it, let’s just take it at face value for a second and move on.

So. Goons. I looked it up, because I try to be accurate when I write on here, and goon has two meanings, basically: a silly person and a thug. I would suggest a third meaning to apply in Bunny Foofoo’s case, referring to a squidgy monster of no consequence or something of that sort. But that’s beside the point. The point is this: don’t scoop up field mice and bop them on the head. If you’ve been systemically ignored and suppressed by the Good Fairy, that’s a shame. If the Good Fairy has lied to, offended, and ridiculed you, I’m sorry. But nothing about that justifies inflicting pain on the least of these. Indeed, imagine being one of the field mice whose entire existence seems to consist of being bopped on the head.

Wow, okay. Looking back at what I’ve written, it’s just really not what I wanted to write this week. It’s not a great December opener and, frankly, the Bunny Foofoo stuff is pretty out there even for me. I clearly don’t have myself together enough to say quite the right things yet. But at the same time, I don’t want to not say them because it’s difficult. I’m confident that at least one person will get what I mean (over what I say) and that’s enough for me. In fact, I know what I mean over what I say so I don’t really care if you do (though I do very much hope you do). Anyway. I’ll leave you with a final thought which is much more coherent and generally just better in every way. Plus, it has a call to action so my AP Lang teacher would be pleased. Okay. Here you go.

The other day, I did something I had never done before–at least not that I could call to mind. I hand-wrote letters to my three congresspeople (and was reminded that both of Washington’s senators are women, yay Washington). 10/10 can recommend writing, respectfully, to your representatives at any and all levels–plus you know how much I like telling you to write letters.

Now, I have a generally positive opinion of my three Congresspeople and their records so the letters were mostly thanking them and highlighting some issues that are important to me (environmental protection/renewable energy, education, and marriage equality/LGBT non-discrimination). The gist was basically aiming to encourage them in what will almost certainly be a very difficult four years to be in Congress. I concluded each letter with a particular sentence and I would like to conclude this post with it too, not because we’re perfect but because we can aspire to form a more perfect union, whether in government or otherwise.

Please continue to be tireless in your defense of the defenseless, neither relinquishing your values nor fearing compromise.

Gather

So I know I’ve been a little etymology crazy on here of late, but that’s just because I’m that way in real life and it’s finally bleeding through on here. But anyway. Thank. Same origin as think. I quote, “The Old English noun [þanc–thanks] originally and chiefly meant ‘thought, reflection, sentiment; mind, will, purpose;’ also ‘grace, mercy, pardon; pleasure, satisfaction'” (from the OED). Any thinking creature should be thankful. I think therefore I am? I thank therefore I am. Gratitude is living.

The etymology of gather is pretty straightforward, it’s basically always had the same meaning. Interestingly, the very distant root is not only shared with together which has a similar sort of meaning, but also good. Things are good when they are whole and complete and together. This same root also led to an Old English word that we no longer use, gæd (fellowship, companionship) and it’s partner gædeling (companion). 

How’s that for a Thanksgiving post opener? Anyway, things that aren’t etymology.

Closed doors are not things that I typically think of being grateful for, but I am, I guess. Those closed to me rather than by me (I suppose there are some of those too). I do not think it would have been bad if I had gotten the job I applied for in Budapest or if I had stayed in Ireland to look for work or if I had started work at a private school in Santa Fe. But because none of those things happened, I am grateful that I have wound up where I am, doing what I am doing, rather than something awful. Truly, what I’m doing is not what I would call ideal but it is nowhere near awful, not at all. So I’m grateful for the closed doors that led me here.

I’m also grateful for my family. They weren’t all able to make it up to our house this year, but it’s a pleasure to see as many as I can. I’m thankful that I know my family, and know them pretty well. I don’t have many cousins, so it’s not super hard, but I’ll definitely never be one of those people who hears years later of the marriage or death or whatever of a distant cousin I’d never met. And that makes me glad. We’ll always have each other because we’re just sort of inextricably bound up together whether we’d wish it or not (and most of the time I wish it😉 ).

My friends are also a great source of gratitude. They’re so cool. Friends old and new (though not too new because I’m real slow at making friends). Those who have stayed in touch across many miles and a variety of life changes. Those who have stayed in touch 24/7 because we need each other kind of a lot, not just because we send each other cat pictures and discuss doughnuts. Those who make a commitment to Skype or call or text or whatever because we care enough about our friendship (even when neither of us are quite organized enough to stay on schedule, it’s the thought that counts 100%).

There are many other things I’m grateful for, but I also want to take a second to think about people too far outside my circle for me to be directly grateful for. A friend recently posted on Facebook asking us to look beyond our own blessings and wish joy for someone else. So I’m grateful for those at Standing Rock peacefully hoping (and acting in that hope) for justice; I wish them success, protection, and perseverance. I’m thinking of the people in Syria and Iraq who so desperately need so much; I wish them protection, health, hope, and a peace within and without.

This strange holiday that we Americans and Canadians have has plenty of historical (and contemporary) baggage, I won’t deny  it. And it is problematic in many ways. However, the very fact that we have nationally celebrated holidays literally called thanks-giving is important, I think. We should give thanks. Lots of thanks, because we have lots to be thankful for. I have been blessed in so many ways and I pray that I can be a blessing and, perhaps more importantly, that I seek to bless others very far away and very different from myself.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends and family, hiwscipe and gædelingfar and near.

Tender Not-Resignation

So I think the phrase ‘tender your resignation’ is a weird one. I don’t generally think of resignation as a tender anything. I know of an example of tenderly not resigning, but more on that in a minute.

I struggled to find the origin of the phrase which I guess is just a residual set phrase left over from older times. It fits into a larger definition of the word tender as a verb, meaning to give or offer. Thus it is also used for money (‘legal tender’) and to tender for a job, meaning you offer to do it for a certain price (I’ve never heard this usage before). But how this coincides with the other meaning is elusive. The connection is deep in Proto-Indo-European coming from the root meaning stretch or something along those lines. In one sense, stretch came to be associated with thin and therefore delicate, weak, young. In another, it came to mean to stretch forth as in to offer. So there you have it, learn something new everyday.

Also, I’ve been neglecting my cat duties once again, so here are the precious ones.

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The world is such a place, guys. Like, yeah. What are we doing. We have so many problems. And there are loads of them that really have nothing to do with Trump, though that situation certainly isn’t helping. I oscillate between caring too much and not caring enough because the world is just such a big deal and I’m so small. I am small, but we are not, if only we set our minds on acting together. Anyway.

You may have thought I had forgotten to follow up with the whole ‘tenderly not resigning’ but I have not, behold. I have a little something for you and I wanted it to be at the end of the post because reasons so here you go.

This month is not a poem-a-week month, but this is a poem that I very much admire by one of my favorite poets. I share it both because it is beautiful and because it reminds us that just because it’s the way things are doesn’t mean it’s the way they should be. In the past week I’ve read the word ‘normalize’ in mainstream discourses (I am sort of used to it in academia) much more than I had hitherto thought possible. And with good reason: we are in danger, those of us who have not yet succumbed, of normalizing a broad set of extremely unacceptable behaviors. But no matter how commonplace something becomes, if it’s wrong it’s wrong.

There are three things this poem says that I think speak to our times: I know, I do not approve, and I am not resigned. We must know and then we must act. This is basically what I said last week but it bears repeating. Incessantly.

I will not approve and I refuse to be resigned.

Dirge Without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

My Sword & My Thanks

So this week was the presidential election.

I can’t say nothing. But I haven’t yet managed to say what I want to say. Or even figure out what that is. So bear with me, I’ve bookended this post with some thoughts, partially coherent, substantially plagiarized.

I want to say that, as truly terrible what has happened is, we can move on. But we can’t. We must stay right where we are because for some people, their right to move on has been taken from them. Now we face the long dark. And we have to fight the long, slow battle. It will be difficult, but it must be fought. And it absolutely must be won.

My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage and my courage and skill to him that can get it.

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War Memorial Garden, Oxford

It’s a bit early for Thanksgiving, but often in my haste to celebrate Christmas as much as possible it gets short shrift. So here’s a little bit on Thanksgiving–without drama, mayhem, or even a particularly large scope– from my heart to yours.

In the past four years, I have spent Thanksgiving in a variety of interesting contexts, none of them at home. Once, I was in New Jersey with a couple friends and some strangers. Once, I was in Ireland and, at least on the day, I had class and dinner as usual, alone. But twice–twice (I’m blessed)– I was lucky enough to spend Thanksgiving with my sister. I flew up to Vermont, where she was in grad school, and spent a few days just the two of us, making Thanksgiving our own. Those precious few days constitute some of my most treasured holiday memories and so this week, I would just like to share a little about what made them so wonderful. I’m very, very thankful.

  • Lake Champlain is lovely.
  • So are the Green Mountains.
  • Burlington is one of my all-time favorite small towns in America that I have visited for less than two weeks in total all around the same time of year.
  • I particularly like Church Street ect.
  • They have a Christmas tree lighting on Black Friday that we went to both years. One year, it began to snow delicately right as the tree was lit.
  • Previous to the tree lighting, we treated ourselves at Champlain Chocolates.
  • I like Skinny Pancake.
  • Everything is named after Ethan Allen.
  • We are both decision cripples, so we watched a lot of Netflix and stuff, including Stardust, Twisted, and the first time I saw Frozen.
  • Mostly Twisted. Taken from us too soon.
  • We had some cooking adventures.
  • My sister is a very good cook, basically. But no one’s perfect.
  • We had these enormous pasta shells once–like lasagna sort of but in shells. They were good. And, like, hand-sized.
  • Cook the sweet potatoes first.
  • Don’t coat rolls with butter using a paintbrush (though in a pinch, you can usually manage to pick off most of the hairs).
  • Also, those rolls were delicious. Spiral-y and wonderful.
  • I can make good mashed potatoes.
  • Cabot cheese is super delicious and, unsupervised, we ate like two blocks in one sitting.
  • We also went to the Cabot factory once, which was super cool (and where we bought the cheese we binged on) but they don’t sell cheese curds which is disappointing.
  • Maybe because I was only there for a few days at a time and not during the absolute coldest, but I loved the cold weather. The coldest I’ve ever been in, I think.
  • Also, snow.
  • We wandered around the campus of UVM and took fun pictures in the snow and it was lovely.
  • Ice skating is cool, even though I’m not great at it (and have been like three times) but it’s particularly cool in Vermont because people like, ice skate there. A lot.
  • We saw a movie each time, too, though both times were foiled in seeing the ones we wanted to because they weren’t showing.
  • Driving back from the theater one year, it was snowing pretty heavily and she made me drive so I did. On totally unfamiliar roads in the dark through thick snow. It was fine, we lived.
  • She practiced all sorts of strange physical therapy stuff on me to study (mostly just pointing at things and naming them, as one does). It was weird but also sort of endearing.
  • Did I say it was pretty?
  • It was.
  • Did I say that the tree lighting ceremony was precious?
  • It was.
  • Did I say we became really invested in Twisted?
  • We did.
  • Did I say that my sister is much better than everyone else’s?
  • She is.

It will be nice to finally be home for Thanksgiving. But it will not be a Vermont Thanksgiving with my sister.

As we enter this new reality, I have no words of advice or encouragement or wisdom. All I know is that there is a King of Kings. I am a stranger in a strange land and my primary directive is to love. Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–think (ACT) on these things. Reform the line, reform the line. Ride out with me.

There is some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

Music of Decline

Light pollution. Like, I don’t want to denigrate or minimize the urgency and depth of pollution, but how poetic is ‘light pollution’? What fathomless, pure beauty does the night sky hold that we might call light itself a contamination?

A few days ago, I marveled at the night sky, so perfectly and unexpectedly visible as I headed out to work. The moon was a gibbous sun and the stars, though I know not what they are, twinkled their level best. Across the water, Tacoma’s dim glow besmirched the otherwise spotless sky and it looked every bit like a pool of luminous smog.

The other day, Facebook reminded me of a fabulous Brian Andreas quotation (if you’ve never heard of him or seen his art, correct that) which I find just very lovely. He says, “We lay there and looked up at the night sky and she told me about stars called blue squares and red swirls and I told her I’d never heard of them. Of course not, she said, the really important stuff they never tell you. You have to imagine it on your own.”

As deeply as I despise the development of what should be a small fishing hamlet, I do appreciate a few things about this town. For one, the stars. Though our sky is often veiled, if one happens to be outside when it’s dark and clear, the stars are a lovely jeweled crown in the heavens. Certainly we are not in the unpopulated Nevada desert or what have you, but we do alright in the star department. As much as I am loathe to admit it, something in Gig Harbor calls me to stay and look at the stars while they may yet be seen.

It is easy for me to say that I do not like fall colors because I do not identify with autumn at all, as a season. I am much more an end-of-summer and depth-of-winter kind of person. Which is to say, August and December. This means, unfortunately, that much of this season’s beauty is often lost on me. However, even I must on occasion admit that autumnal scenes can stir my heart much the same as any other’s. Driving across the Spit in the pearly, pre-dawn light drowning in fog, ardent arboreal flames burning on the edge on visibility, the water a still, grey mirror of the still, grey sky.

This is where I find myself now. In a season (though I hate it vehemently, if irrationally, when people talk about life having seasons) in which I am not comfortable largely because I never thought of myself as an autumn person. And somehow managing to find beauty nonetheless and completely contrary to my best efforts.

I do not wish for complacency but I do wish for contentment. If November comes before December, so be it. And if the star-studded sky is often veiled, I can find solace even then because I know, like Samwise Gamgee, that there is something up there that no darkness can ever touch.

Happy November, friends.

Electoral Optimism

It takes zero anything to know that this election season in the US is absolutely of the worst kind. Things have been said and actions have been acted that debase the whole idea of America, human decency, and general good things. It’s ridiculous to think of this Presidential choice as a case of the lesser of two evils, but it’s significantly less than ideal nonetheless. My choice was a very simple one, but I’m not left feeling particularly positively disposed toward politicians and the American electorate.

Yet, in spite of everything, I remain an electoral optimist. I can’t shake the feeling that when I vote, it matters. In Washington State, we vote by mail and I cast my ballot on Monday. There were plenty of initiatives, county charter amendments, local and state officials, and, of course, a few federal offices to vote on. Mostly, I didn’t have too difficult a time coming down on one side or the other, and I had some congenial conversations with the parentals about raising the minimum wage and the proposed state carbon tax (both of which I support, FYI). And, when I sealed my ‘secret envelope,’ I felt important, like I had done perhaps not everything that I could have, but plenty. Maybe not persuaded but at least talked.

This is a feeling I’ve always had. Growing up, not that I followed politics really at all, I never had any doubt that participating in democracy would just be the coolest. And it is. I don’t get people who don’t vote (or don’t even register). I mean, maybe you don’t vote for every item on the ballot if you’re truly unsure or haven’t done and research, but like come on. It’s so important and doesn’t really take that much time. And maybe it’s a bad position to have, but I definitely think that it’s better to take a chance than to totally abstain. Stand for something, right?

I hate kind of a lot about our political system and just politics in general. But i cannot countenance the thought of not even trying. It’s not uncommon to hear that you’re not allowed to complain if you don’t vote (100% true) but you also shouldn’t really participate in anything because you’re so lame. Didn’t vote? Don’t go to public school. Didn’t vote? Don’t drive on public roads. Didn’t vote? Don’t receive or send mail through the USPS. Didn’t vote? Don’t tell me because I don’t want to hear it. Remember that time that huge group of people substantively changed policy for the better by not voting? Me neither.

People who know me know I’m really not patriotic. But I am civic. As a citizen of a place where the government is up to the citizenry, I may not be the most engaged but I recognize the importance of at least performing this most basic task. I connected every arrow on the ballot because I expect things from my government and I want them to know what I expect, even in the smallest way. If I can have my input, I definitely have the right to complain. And maybe someday I’ll become more engaged and active but for now I’ll settle for voting and having conversations with people where I articulate and defend my beliefs.

Because democracy, freedom of speech, and buzzwords.

Vote.