A Love of Books

I have found another link in the chain of my past lives in the person of Richard de Bury (24 January 1287 – 14 April 1345). He seems to have been an exceptional man and I can only hope to approach his love of books as epitomized in his grand work, The Philobiblon. Writing and subsequently reading this work, which I’d like to discuss at some length, appears to be about the best possible use of anyone’s time in the fourteenth century.

I just need you to be prepared for what will follow. I will elaborate upon that volume and that is all that the rest of this post contains.

First, I would like to share with you the titles of the twenty chapters because each and every one is so wonderful and delightful.

  1. That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books
  2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Books
  3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books
  4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted
  5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners
  6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants
  7. The Complaint of Books against Wars
  8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books
  9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns
  10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books
  11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law
  12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared
  13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets
  14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books
  15. Of the advantages of the love of Books
  16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old
  17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books
  18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure
  19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students
  20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers

This guy seriously loved books and, therefore, is a hero. Loving books was neither a common nor a generally acceptable pastime in medieval England.

I must confess, I have not read The Philobiblon in its entirety. However, I have perused a large number of quotations and have found them, one and all, to be exceedingly correct and meaningful and wow. I will not here present all of them but I do want to call a couple to your attention.

How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity.

The chapter goes on to relate how, in books, the whole of the world is opened to us, from digging minerals and jewels from the earth the the North Pole to the Milky Way. Through history and the lessons of those who came before; through  science and a growing understanding of the world around us; through diligent study of literature and scripture–a mind and a world are opened.

An argument oft repeated in his work is that the whole of wisdom is contained in books, and thus the title. You may know that philosophy comes from the Greek for love of wisdom and, accordingly, philobiblon is the love of books.

This second quotation, which I encountered via a picture of the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as inscribed over an entrance, inspired my journey of getting to know the venerable Richard de Bury. It says,

Books alone are liberal and free, they give to all who ask, they emancipate all who serve them faithfully.

LAlibrary

Books cannot give you everything in life, I confess. But what they can give, they will provide without fail. The freedom of the mind is the freedom of the soul, and books are one of its favorite tools. A love of books has always served me well. In times of loneliness or companionship, melancholy or joy, faith or doubt; reading has seen me through. May we all be grateful for the gift of books without which life would be that much darker. Books are not perfect but they are, I think, perfecting. They continuously add to the global body of knowledge and they lift us as a society when we need lifting.

They give to all who ask.

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One Sun

I’ve just finished a lovely book called Same Sun Here by Neela Vaswani and Silas House and I’d like to share some thoughts.

The book is a series of letters written between penpals–an Indian immigrant girl in New York City and a boy in rural Kentucky. And they’re middle schoolers and the book fits with that but it also had some good things to say for non-middle schoolers such as myself. It talked about some of the more obvious things: immigration, racism, Obama’s first election. But also a diversity of other topics, from mountaintop removal coal mining to pets to eviction to mental illness (obliquely).

But the title really got the gist for me. We all live under the same sun. Difference is often what makes friendships interesting but we’re all much more similar than we realize. To deny difference is blind but surely denying the manifold ways in which we are the same is folly of equal, if not greater, magnitude.

There’s been a couple moments recently, and even just this week, when I’ve been really astonished and humbled and honored to witness people earnestly and respectfully seeking to learn more about different people and how to affirm those differences while acknowledging the similarities. Empathy is a cool thing.

Also, here’s a cat update for you. Some snuggles from the desert kitties.

 

This week, I’ve been really thinking a lot about my current joblessness. What I would be willing to do. What I would refuse to do. What are things that I might have to just suffer through. Mostly, I’ve been wallowing a bit because I feel like I’ve paid my dues. Yes, I only worked at Target briefly. Yes, Korea was only one year. But I feel like I’ve pretty much had my fill of doing jobs I don’t want to do. And I feel like that’s kind of justified; I do, after all, have a graduate degree.

I feel like somehow I’m just not applying to the right places, I’ve somehow missed the obvious jobs for me, that I haven’t been looking hard enough, long enough, desperately enough. I feel like I’m really trying. I’ve been pretty promiscuous about where I’ve sent my résumé. It’s a little discouraging. I know I haven’t been at it for that long but still.

On the plus side, I have at least received a couple formal letters declining to hire me, which is more than I can usually say.

The other thing is, of course, what to do if I get an offer at a place I really don’t want to go. I know it’s sort of a thing that you have to pay your dues, the your first job isn’t usually one that you love. But here’s my thing. A) that’s not really a reason, there are not actual dues to pay, you’re just resigned to young people having jobs they hate which I think is dumb and B) can you quantify these dues for me? did Korea count for nothing? how many jobs, how many years until I am allowed to work somewhere I enjoy working?

In summation, capitalism sucks and old people are mean. A bit of a rant, just let me vent. If you know me in person, you don’t need to check up on me, I was just having a moment. I’m like 83% okay which is very fine. Seriously. Don’t worry about it.

Anyway. Here’s the finale to this round of Songs Keegan’s Been Listening To. Maybe YouTube one or two if you feel so led. If not, move on with your life. Until next week.

  1. Glorious – Macklemore feat. Skylar Grey
  2. From Nowhere – Dan Croll
  3. Netflix Trip – AJR
  4. Back of the Car – Miike Snow
  5. Lost in Japan – Shawn Mendes
  6. Science Love Song – ASAP Science
  7. Making Money – Ben Rector
  8. Delicate – Taylor Swift
  9. Mystery of Love – Sufjan Stevens
  10. Torches – X Ambassadors

Santa Fe

Surprise surprise, this week involved a great deal of doing nothing and so I’m already back to the super boring posts. Quite a letdown after Australia and New Zealand, but che sera sera.

I did, this week, finally finish a series that I’ve been reading. A nine book saga, it was a trashy gay FBI romance and I’d say each book was worse than the last but it’s simply not possible. They were absolutely overflowing with cliché and cheesy lines, scenes, and plot points. It was unreal. If you really want to know, message me and I’ll tell you but I wouldn’t otherwise recommend them so no title for you.

Obviously, I still read all nine and enjoyed them. Though they were not emotionally draining like a lot of books that I read, I did get caught up in them and had to put them down occasionally because my feelings were getting a little out of hand. Things were also easier to deal with because I had absolute certainty that there would be a happy ending (partially because I asked my sister and partially because no way would books like this not have a happy ending).

Nine books involved quite a bit of the two main characters’ lives, though it started relatively late age-wise. Plenty of FBI-related action and twists. Eventual marriage (which was precious). Even retiring and opening a little bookshop with their apartment above (the literal epitome of precious even though it was in Baltimore and not Croatia). Plus cats and the CIA. Something for everyone.

Escapism is such a great word. And a great concept. Even when you’re escaping your own problems to deal with other people’s and theirs are much worse. I mean, I get tremendously emotionally involved with my books, even the bad ones, but it feels so right to have these fictional lives to deal with instead of whatever mundane complexities I’ve got going. I love the heartbreak and trauma and all of it, though sometimes I need a nice ending wrapped up so completely and satisfyingly.

It just feels nice to read some books that are just nice, you know? Many other books I read have happy endings, of course, but it feels so good to have everything so unrealistically pat with a bow on top. I’m already feeling a little nuts being at home–anxious to get out and anxious about having so little willpower to do anything that will help me get out (mind you, I am applying to jobs, I just feel like I’m not doing enough and I’ll be here much longer than I want to).

Whenever the subject of me ‘getting out’ comes up, I feel a little guilty. There’s nothing (much) wrong with here. Many people I care about very much are here. I can’t really explain it, other than encountering other people who just know exactly what I’m talking about without explanation. I’ve just got to get out and the feeling’s stronger now than ever. But that means back to the horrible task of begging for rejection in the teensy hope that someone will eventually say yes. The same task that threw me to Korea.

So those books were a bit of a turn away from the doom and gloom in the more surface-level, essential role of entertainment as escapism. Because, bombs and serial killers and drug cartels notwithstanding, you end up with a great husband, a cozy bookstore, and maybe a few black market orchids. And cats, did I mention the cats?

Here’s hoping we all get a little bit of the escape we need this week, whatever its guise.

In Which Little Is Done

I’ve been trying my darndest to come up with a topic for this week and I have failed. Normally, that wouldn’t stop me since all I put on here anyway is random nonsense. But, like, I really have nothing. Very little happened this week and I haven’t even been thinking any thoughts of note. While I try to figure something out, enjoy this two-for-one cat picture.

BubbaCamaro2018-2-8

I hope you enjoyed that little interlude. They’re so nice.

The main event this week was movie night which, not to sell it short, is now a typical feature in my week. This week, it was Moulin Rouge with a friend who hadn’t seen it before and now understands the magic. Such a fantastic movie, so many emotions. And honestly, the songs in it are pretty much all better than the originals. Even if I really like the originals. Just so good.

All I can think to talk about is how soon my time in Korea will be over. I’m overwhelmed, really, and so I’m not preparing nearly as much as I need to be. I have two weeks and a couple days. That’s it. While I’m definitely ready to be finished, I’m not currently ready to be telling you about my year in review, so I’ll save that I guess. Next week is a holiday and I only work Monday and Tuesday (though I’ll also be working this Saturday) so I should be able to concoct some good musings by then. Or not. We’ll see.

In the meantime… nope. Still got nothing. I’m sure I’ll meander around until I get a decent word count because, as you all know, I can ramble until I confuse even myself.

I’ve been reading again this week, finished three books. One stand alone (or I guess there’s a sequel but it ended nicely and I don’t want to read it) and the first two in a series. None of them were incredible, but all were decent. The first was just a straight-up gay romance and I was all about it (I honestly didn’t realize I just said ‘straight-up gay’ until several hours later). Pleasant characters and some surprisingly realistic moments in the midst of straight-best-friend-turns-out-to-be-bi fantasy land. The other is a fantasy series, intrigue and theft, and such like. The characters are pretty thin and nothing I want happens with them, but the plot is super interesting so I’ll continue to book three for that reason.

Man, I miss reading in the sun. In the warm.

Next week, I’ll definitely have some things to say. Hopefully, I’ll have done some packing, had a nice start to the holiday, and tell you about my big adventure coming next Friday. And then it’ll be my last week and then I’ll be on another adventure. So here’s to that.

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

Lucy2018-1-27

The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Wine Stains; Unsent Invitations

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to you, readers, but there is an extraordinarily comprehensive wine stain on the wall of my apartment. Sitting at my desk, where I spend most of my time, I am constantly thinking various droplets are bugs and sometimes even move almost involuntarily to smash them (not entirely unreasonable seeing as there are often bugs but that’s a separate issue).

To be clear, I did not put the stain there. It was the previous occupant, another teacher who left when I arrived and whom I never met. I have it on good authority that they tried very hard to clean it but it wouldn’t budge. There is even a place where they must have tried some truly serious intervention because it seems to have stripped away the protective layer from the wallpaper in a weird-shaped blotch before they gave up. Honestly, if I had made such an incredulously large and splattery stain I think I would leave it untouched as a badge of honor.

I would include a picture but the lighting and tones make it difficult to capture what I can see so easily. But believe you me, this thing is (I cannot impress upon you how un-exaggerated this is) approximately ten feet across and extends from the floor to the ceiling in a number of spewed arcs from what appears to be multiple sources. And by ceiling, I mean it extends in one particular sweep a solid three feet into the room.

There’s a Russian saying, к хорошему быстро привыкаешь, which means ‘you get used to good things quickly’ and which I think is probably true. But though it might take longer, I think most mediocre and even bad things can gotten used to. The problem is that being used to something is not, in and of itself, a bad thing but it usually ends up that way, at least in my life. Maybe that’s why (one of myriad reasons, I’m sure) it took so little convincing for me to agree to move to Korea.

‘Variety is the spice of life’ is one of my unofficial life mottoes. Aside from being absurdly cliché, it is my greatest retreat when people tell me I’m boring which I am. I like to think that I have variety in the small things so as to preserve the greatest possible monotony in the big things. This doesn’t seem to hold true insofar as living in one place goes, but in many other ways it is suspiciously close to a religious tenet. I make the same soup every day, but I season it differently. Usually. I get frustrated and resentful when my routine is disrupted but I also like going on spontaneous three-hour walks to new places.

Okay, basically my arguments about variety fall apart under even cursory examination. Anyway. I thought I might write about the Reformation this week but surprise, I’m not going to. A book got in the way.

The book is a seasonal favorite. I’ve read it a few times, not nearly as many as I’d like. It’s not an outstanding book but it’s good and it’s very Christmasy. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos.

1 November is the date on which I have historically sent out invitations (via Facebook) to my annual Christmas party. Annual as in since 2007. Annual as in this would have been the eleventh annual. Correct, would have been. Because I’ll be here, in Seoul. And while I’ve known that, of course, and knew it going in, sometimes I remember particularly and it’s a small anguish.

I’m very possessive about my favorites lists, it takes a lot to change them (I think we’ve covered that I’m not wild into change). One that I’ve had to face up to in recent years is favorite Christmas song. It used to be, for many years, The Christmas Song aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. But in Ireland, I think, I finally acknowledged that my new favorite is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Because it says, “Through the years, we all will be together if the fates allow,” and “Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more.”

So I guess this post is mostly things I did not do this week. Invitations were not sent. Bugs were not squished. Well, actually they were, but not the phantom wine stain bugs. Changes were not made and my soup was only marginally spiced. Some weeks are just like that, I guess. Weeks of not. I’ll live.

추석 (or: A holiday that I don’t feel and important feelings that I do)

It’s impossible for a city with an eight digit population to empty, but the feeling in Seoul during Chuseok (that’s choo-sock) is probably about as close to that as you can get, I figure. As I understand it, things have gotten more relaxed about the holiday of late but even still, and even in Seoul, things are closed and people are gone. There are still millions of people out and about, obviously, but I’d say the majority of businesses outside of like convenience stores are closed. Biggest travel time of the year, it seems, which is in line with the general comparisons to Thanksgiving.

I haven’t talked to loads of Koreans about it, so I can’t say exactly how it’s felt here for actual Korean people. Traditionally, Chuseok is a harvest time festival where you go to your home village and do some ancestor honoring. These days, I think it’s more just a visit family and eat kind of day, though I’m sure there’s plenty of ancestor-related things that still go on. It strikes me as sort of a straightforward family holiday but with none of the special holiday season feeling that I associate with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Gift boxes also seem incredibly popular as gifts to give. Including, if my grocery store is anything to go by, a great deal of Spam gift sets. Which. Hm. We talked about it in class and one of my students just really loves Spam and it kind of hurt me inside but it gave me an excuse to show them the Spam song from Monty Python so everything happens for a reason, I guess.

Anyway, I have some time off! It is of no moment that I had to make up most of this time off and the rest is coming out of my vacation time. Tuesday after work (we blessedly received an extra half day), some of us went out for tacos and churros which were excellent. On Wednesday, I just walked down to the river for a little picnic and reading session. Today, I met a friend for breakfast at a fancy and delicious buffet. Tomorrow, I will go to Incheon because I miss the ocean. And on Saturday, I’m going on a hike with friends. Yay holidays that I don’t celebrate so I can spend time doing whatever I want!

The strange part is having a holiday that doesn’t move you an inch take hold of the whole country around you. Another aspect of being a minority that I’ve never had to experience and a small dose of empathy for the religious and other holiday diversity (especially since I won’t get holidays I do care about off). I think I’ve intimated here more than once how strongly I feel about Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In other Keegan news, today marks the 103rd straight day I’ve done Duolingo and I’m so pleased with myself. I don’t do much each day but hey. My Russian hasn’t totally faded into random words and terrible grammar like my German has. So I’m feeling good about that small, easy piece of self-discipline in my life.

With that, I’d like to turn to something else. I’ve let this blog see some pretty personal things in my life and it’s not a trend I feel able or willing to reverse.

So a couple months ago I wrote a post called Learning to be Proud because I was learning to be proud. But this week I think I was finally taught my first real lesson. Well, second. But. Obviously, the lesson came in the midst of a book because books are powerful.

There are so many people around the world who feel wrong and broken and hurt and confused and scared and worthless because of who they are. People who have been told or even come to believe that their inmost heart of hearts is something disgusting, sinful, and shameful. I am so proud to be gay because being proud is what it takes to refute that. Being proud is what it takes to justify our existence, the simple fact of our lives. Being proud means that I assert my worth as a human being. Being proud means that even when well-intentioned people think, at best, that I’m mistaken or making a poor choice I can say that who I am is who I was made to be.

I had no obstacles to coming out save an irrational and labyrinthine thought process that took me probably a decade to unravel. For many, their obstacles are much more tangible and damaging. I cry big, hot tears for everyone who hurts because of their sexuality or gender identity. I love you. You do not have to justify or explain yourself to me. You are real and valid and valuable and not to be ignored.

I love you I love you I love you.