The Jury

I don’t recall exactly the first time I heard the phrase “the jury is no longer out” in the figurative sense but I’m pretty sure it was in Ms. Kurtz’s AP Lang class junior year of high school.

I think of three questions to ask about books–particularly when reading ‘literature’: Did you enjoy it? Do you appreciate what it has to say or how it says it? Can you understand its broader importance?

You can enjoy a book, or not, solely based on your own tastes and understanding. You can appreciate a well-crafted book, even if it’s not really your cup of tea. And you can acknowledge a book’s importance in a cultural and historical sense even if you didn’t enjoy it and don’t think it’s all that well done.

But the point is this: you can’t really say that a work of a major literary canon isn’t good just because you didn’t like it. The jury is no longer out. People have spent decades, even centuries, by and large in agreement that certain books have got it, whatever that may be. Some may fall in and out of favor with English teaching or academic regard but I doubt the consensus will ever say, “Charles Dickens and all his works are unmitigated trash.” Even if people no longer support it, they’ve got to admit that his writing had a huge literary and cultural impact for a long time.

And so I have been making an effort to train myself to present my opinions as they are, that is, as opinions only, without particular weight in any area, lacking any personal authority. I try not to say “it is bad” about a book or movie or whatever that I don’t like and instead say “I don’t love it” because it may well have weight beyond my enjoyment of it and I don’t need to yuck your yum all the time. By the same token, I’m also wishing that some people could be more able to acknowledge things as well-done or important even if they personally didn’t enjoy it.

The thing is, this mindset is transferring to other areas as well.

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz around the US about postal voting. People are having arguments about it. As though it’s a new thing. And it is not. The jury is no longer out on voting by mail. We’ve been there, done that, it’s fine. Haven’t received a million complaints, haven’t had our elections thrown out. There is literally no defense for people trying to limit voting by mail.

I truly do not understand it. Multiple states have held entirely mail-in ballots for years. Not a word was spoken against it. No one has claimed that all of Washington’s elections for the past several cycles have been illegitimate, massively tampered with, or somehow undemocratic. I didn’t vote in person until I lived in Michigan and I honestly thought the whole experience was a waste of time.

And let’s be clear, it’s not some liberal plot, either. You can find basic information here. The five states that currently do postal voting for everything all the time are Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, and Utah. Let’s hear your argument about how the Utah State Legislature is part of the deep state conspiracy about… literally anything. It’s Utah. Further, there are three states that permit counties to decide to conduct all elections by mail (this is how Washington arrived at its current mode) and they are California, Nebraska, and North Dakota. The list of places that sometimes allow postal votes for some things in some places is actually pretty long.

I’m reasonably confident that I’m preaching to the choir here. I imagine that most of my readers don’t mind postal voting, and may even have been doing it for years. I just needed to have this little moment here because I see on Facebook plenty of people–who I would generally consider left-leaning–doubting the security of voting by mail. As if we don’t have any data about it. As if it’s an unknown quantity, an untested method. It drives me nuts.

We don’t need to eliminate in-person voting, though I think it’s a huge expense without many advantages. But the possible shortcomings of postal voting could be addressed on a local level within a context where postal voting is default and then circumstances for individuals or communities could be addressed by special dispensation. Unlike now, where postal ballots are special dispensation and the standard is waiting in line on a non-national holiday and all that.

Bah. There’s a lot to it. To make us feel better, here is a calming nature cat.

A Slow Flower

What a tremendous sin impatience is. It blinds us to the moment before us, and it is only when that moment has passed that we look back and see it was full of treasures.

I am bookending this post with a couple quotations from a book I finished a couple days ago. They were such great lines that I really wanted to share them, though I couldn’t bring myself to offer much commentary on them.

Both of them strike me as particularly topical, relevant, and encouraging but at the same time, I promised myself that I wouldn’t keep hounding on the same old themes that I’ve been occupied with lately. I just need something else going on, as I’m sure you all understand. So while their content is really something I think we need to hear right now, I’m going to spend more time talking about their source.

I have finally read a book! The past couple months, I have been reading essentially not at all. No motivation to read, even things that I knew I’d enjoy. No drive to find something new, no yearning to refresh something old. Just general listlessness of the worst kind. But last week, I sat down, checked out an ebook from the library (that I had actually gotten by hold a couple months ago and eventually returned, unopened) and just started reading. I don’t know what switch flipped but I’m happy that it did.

I finished it altogether too quickly but I’m grateful that I at least had a couple days back in the enjoyment of reading a good book. It was the final book of a trilogy that I have quoted on this blog before, this entry being City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett. And what a wonderful conclusion it was.

Each book of the trilogy focused on a different main character, all three united in the first and then the following only having relatively small appearances by the others. Normally, this is a format of multi-book writing that I really dislike but these books made it work.

More on that in a sec but first, cat gallery. Lots of cute moments captured this week. And I’ll reiterate to whomever of my friends do read this: please always send me cute cat pictures. I may post them here, with your permission, but I will cherish them regardless.

Gah, I love them so much.

Anyway, these books were so interesting. Such a fascinating look into the way we construct our worlds, the agency we do and do not have, the faith that drives us–whether divine or wholly personal. I enjoyed the way the fantasy world was constructed, and how it held together in view of a number of existential plot-driven crises. There was a cohesive structure to it all, even if that structure was, by nature, bound to change.

It reminds me of something I often say in defense of reading fantasy and, particularly, young adult fantasy (which this was not, but the idea still applies). Regular fiction is great, no problem, but I love having the questions raised be not only vital to a person or a family or maybe even a town. The scale of fantasy novels tends toward the dramatic: the fate of the world, the universe, time itself.

When you raise questions with stakes like that, your answers may be a little less personally applicable but I think they’re a lot more clear. Fantasy can give an opportunity to ask big questions, provide small answers, and urge us to seek the rest in our own lives. That’s kind of what these books did.

I was particularly interested in the big questions because they’re ones I’m interested in with regard to this world. Questions about colonization, race, and governance as much as faith, sorrow, and personal agency.

This final book in particular sought out the hows and the whys along with the whats, perhaps even more so. In many ways, for example, it concerned itself largely with the question not of ‘what does a just society look like’ but ‘how can we begin a change from an unjust society toward a more equitable one?’ The status quo is a powerful thing but it is not permanent. We can always strive.

Change is a slow flower to bloom. Most of us will not see its full radiance. We plant it not for ourselves, but for future generations. But it is worth tending to. Oh, it is so terribly worth tending to.

Story

Books about books is one of my favorite genres. I immediately feel an intimate kinship with the bibliophile main character, almost as though we’ve talked through many late nights together reveling in the power of stories. And I semi-secretly semi-suspect that all lovers of books semi-wish for miraculous, mysterious, magical things to happen to them because of their deep and loyal affection for books. I know I do, at least, and most book-centered stories I’ve read agree. We want the magic we know exists on the page to leap out and become manifest and tangible.

I read a fantastic book this past week. It’s a new book by Erin Morgenstern called The Starless Sea and I so enjoyed it. Ten out of ten would recommend to fantasy-minded book lovers and also anyone who can appreciate the interweaving of stories. A couple quotations and a moment of thinking about them.

Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words in the pages become so precious that they feel like a part of your own history because they are.

There is a certain joy found in kindred spirits who have loved the same stories. With Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and others, there is an enormous group of people with whom I share an immediate bond of a sort. At the very least, some conversational common ground. By the same token, how much more delightful is it to share a corner of my heart with another by discovering that we have treasured together a much more obscure title; relived the same scenes, adored the same characters, gazed upon the same landscapes in the mind’s eye.

I think the best stories feel like they’re still going, somewhere, out in story space.

This is at once the best and most difficult part of being a book lover. When I get invested in a story and/or characters, I always want more. Sometimes it’s because the story ends before all of my questions have been answered (which can be frustrating when done poorly but can be done well, too). Other times, it’s just because I’m so in love with the setting or the characters that I don’t care if the story is all wrapped up, I just want to hang out in that place with those people more. And so this makes me feel better, imaging the story ongoing, even after I’ve read every word.


There is a second reason I wanted to talk about stories this week. Last Thursday, I headed up to Seattle for the Reformation Project‘s Reconcile and Reform Conference. If you’re unfamiliar with the organization, they’re definitely worth checking out. In brief, they’re an organization that advances LGBTQ inclusion in the church and is particularly interested in the bible-stuff relating to that mission.

It was much smaller than the conference I went to in Chicago last January, through Q Christian Fellowship, and it was a lot more focused. The historical, social, political, linguistic, cultural foundations of many of the conversations the church is having (or not having) around this topic. Much of what was covered through the speakers and sessions was information that I was already familiar with but there was a great deal of new as well.

It’s been difficult to decide what I want my post about that conference to talk about because so much ground was covered. Every time I’d hear something that I wanted to share, I’d think about how I really wanted to do a whole post just on that particular thing. And, to be clear, I thought that for a whole host of things (maybe a series of posts in the future, we’ll see). But I really wanted to see if there was a way for me to kind of give a singular summary, or one particular thing that I want to highlight.

And so, having finished The Starless Sea and dwelling in that feeling for a little while, I decided to tell you about my experience through the lens of stories. In particular, three kinds of stories: those we tell ourselves, those we tell others, and those we hear from others. Just a couple thoughts for each. Distilling the conference is hard so we’ll just have to let be whatever word-vomit comes next.

First, the stories we tell ourselves. How does our interior monologue talk to us? Who do we think we are? Why do we treat ourselves the way we do? I know some people are uncomfortable with the idea but it says it right there–if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, the implication is that we must love ourselves. If God loves each of us–completely, unconditionally–then so too ought we love ourselves. We are all of us flawed but we are also all of us inextricably bound up in bearing the image of God.

Second, us to others. By this, I mean two things: what we say to others about ourselves and what we tell say to others about themselves. For the former, I’d like to just focus on one thing, honesty and authenticity. Growing up in Christian circles, lots of people love to talk about authenticity. And if you want me to be authentic but don’t want me to marry a man in your church, that’s a big yikes. For the latter, unsurprisingly, is also about love. I mean, Jesus literally told us to love our enemies.

And third, the stories that we hear from others. Again, thinking about two aspects of this. Hearing and understanding and empathizing with queer stories changes things. When you learn about another’s life–their struggles and the ways in which you, personally or corporately, have been complicit in those struggles–it should change how you live your life. But you have to listen to people who don’t often get listened to. The corollary to that is, being intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually honest enough with ourselves to a) challenge what we hear and evaluate it for ourselves and b) know when we are wrong, apologize, and change. Because changing your mind happens sometimes when you genuinely seek the truth of a question.

I really feel like I’m not doing the conference (or the book, for that matter) justice but that’s what I have for the moment. I really do strongly urge you to read the book, if that’s your scene, and to investigate The Reformation Project whether it’s your scene or not. Much of the conference was recorded and you can watch parts on their Facebook page.

One final thought on stories, to conclude. As many have noted before, stories are powerful. They have their fingers in pretty much every pie of human existence including, importantly, faith. And because they are powerful, we must think about them critically, with our minds and our hearts.

Do not believe a story that has been told to you; believe a story that you have heard, evaluated, and lived in. We can all be a part of the great, ongoing story of love, reconciliation, and reformation.

Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone

This is a very disjointed post, I’m not sorry. I will never get over the horizontal line feature. Anyway. We’ll start with cats (a very good place to start).

They are still, as ever, very cute. And I’m so pleased to have gotten a semi-decent picture of Bubba sitting still.


Events this week have included not a whole lot, other than the relatively unsurprising but still very disheartening news that I will not be moving to New Mexico any time in the near future. It was a distinct possibility, and one that I had staked rather a lot of hope (of necessity, since I have had no other leads), but it all proved to be in vain. I’m not utterly broken by the news but it was hard to hear all the same.

I had already started planning a little bit about what I would do if it didn’t come through but those plans are still very nascent and so who really knows what’s coming. It’s scary and uncomfortable and I hate it.


I was reminded of a series of Tweets I saw on Facebook (social media, what have you done). Someone named Julia Rodgers was responding to Christians who asked whether/how they can love queer people without being fully affirming. She responds, in part, “Love draws us outside of ourselves and moves us to think of other people first. If we keep returning to questions that are about our beliefs or our experience of them, we might ask whether we truly love them or are just trying to manage our anxiety about them.”

I don’t disagree that sometimes loving people means choosing for them something they would not choose for themselves–helping someone recover from addiction may be a good example of that. But imagine being told that, though all sin, you are so uniquely sinful that you are prohibited from falling in love. Not with a specific person or in a specific situation, just ever. So while choosing good for someone else is a thing, how do you know what the best thing is for someone? What does the fruit (to speak a little Christianese) of those choices have on the people you’re choosing for?

I’ve also never gotten the whole concept of considering homosexual acts different from simply existing as a homosexual person. God looks at the heart, I think it’s pretty clear: looking lustfully is the same as committing adultery, being angry with someone is the same as murdering them. My heart is so very gay. Either it’s a problem or it’s not, regardless of how I act.

I’m not expressing myself well here at all, alas. I just wasn’t expecting to be in this place again this week but, as I have seen and been told, you never finish coming out. Sigh. I am not perfect at love, so forgive me. But also, if you’ve asked the question above, please listen.


I read a new book this week (sorry, Far from the Madding Crowd, you’re on the back burner already) and it’s pretty good. It’s City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. I want to share with you three quotations, all from the same chapter, in fact, around one third of the way in. The first two are from a Buddhist monk-type guy who is talking with the main character about why he still performs acts of charity when his god has been dead for decades. The last is a while later, from the main character to an old lady from an opposing ethnic group.

“I never saw a country before […] All I saw was the earth under my feet.”

“Good can be done at anytime, anywhere, to anyone, by anyone.”

“I don’t have the time or the energy to hate. I only wish to understand. People are what they are.”


I would like to conclude with a poem by Mary Oliver (who sadly died earlier this year) that one of my correspondents sent me in a letter this week. It ends with a sentiment that seems to me–at least in my current state–both haunting and hopeful.

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

And I Know Things Now

This Saturday is graduation. Instead of having end-of-job thoughts, it might be nice to take a sec to have some graduation thoughts instead. Graduation thoughts are hard, though, so I’ve taken some inspiration from a book and a song. Because, you know, that’s how I do.

Yesterday evening, I finished reading the first in a new series. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. A really interesting book, a fantasy set in a world inspired by the kingdom of Ur and the Tower of Babel, but steampunk. Adventure and romance and conspiracy. It’s a fun read, and well-written. Would recommend, though we’ll have to see how the rest of the series pans out.

At the end of the book, there was a brief author interview. Mr Bancroft had this to say about his main character, Senlin:

He rushes when he should linger, and he is patient when he should insist. He does learn, but slowly; he grows, but not in a straight line.

When I graduated high school, I felt pretty good about where I was going. I tried to be open to the possibilities of the formless future, but I had a pretty good idea of a direction. Not a detailed plan but some strong, if general, convictions. I had fairly concrete goals, which started with a course of university study but continued after I received that diploma. I was going to go places and do things and it was going to be great.

Then, I redefined my goals, what I wanted my life to look like. A valid thing to do, but what I came up with as a replacement was exceedingly vague and, in response to the pushback I’d been given by the world, a little more half-hearted because I wasn’t sure that I could really accomplish much. Not that I’m entirely lacking drive or purpose, but they’ve both been tempered by setbacks which, I suppose, are inevitable to most people with dreams.

I’m not about to fill this blog with a bunch of advice for graduates. I’m not far enough removed from it myself, for starters, and I’m not sure that advice of that sort is as helpful as we’d wish it to be. Experience is sometimes the best teacher. I feel like parents can attest, sometimes children just do dumb things no matter how persuasively you explain that it definitely won’t end well. We will, like Senlin, learn slowly, misjudge, anticipate inaccurately, take lessons from situations that are not perhaps the lessons we ought to take away.

And in this, there is a constant kinship with the recent graduate. I’ve spoken with some older people recently, those who seem to have normal real-person careers and whatnot, and it seems to me that we’re all just bumbling around pretending that we know how to do stuff but in fact, we are still rushing when we ought to linger, being patient when we should insist.

Can I just take an extra moment here? I love that phrasing. So poetic and so exactly right.

I’ve had things pretty good. My trials have been trials, but they have been small trials. And for that, I am exceedingly grateful. I am not afraid of growing slowly (at least, not in my best moments). No experience is ever wasted, as I was always telling myself in Korea. I do know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before.

And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.

Now I know:
Don’t be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.
Isn’t it nice to know a lot!
And a little bit not.

May we know the difference between nice and good. May we learn to linger and insist appropriately. May we grow, be it ever so slowly and circuitously, into more compassionate, wise, and humble human beings. And may the growing never cease.

Any Unsaved Progress Will Be Lost

Update on what it’s like to live in northern Michigan: More snow. Still cold but substantially warmer. Really a great deal of ice. That’s been my Michigan February experience and I have to say, I’m not taken with it. But this past week, I’ve really felt the extended daylight, so that’s a plus. Spring is coming. Eventually. Daffodils I need you.

Not much excitement to speak of this week (as per usual, I know). I wanted to tone things down a bit from the serious level of last week’s post and it’s pretty easy since I don’t have anything to say. Kinda making it up as I go along which, surprise, is often the case here. We’ll take a brief cat intermission because that’s always a good idea.

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Aren’t they just so cute. My sister was telling me that she’s been taking fewer pictures of them because they’re just constantly so cute and I get that. But of course she does still take some pictures because look at them. You can’t not.

Not feeling particularly nostalgic this week but for once the title came first and I wanted to write a post that fit. Maybe it’s just a bit of a late-ish winter vibe (what is the line between late winter and ‘spring is late’ anyway). Maybe it’s a bit of a low-key ache for companionship. Maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me (that’s a joke, food always agrees with me, I just don’t always agree with it). Maybe it’s just your friendly neighborhood ennui. Anyway.

Life in some respects mimics video games. The endless pursuit of mostly meaningless coins; repeated and often fruitless efforts to save a prince(ess); overt level-ups at 16, 18, and 21. And plenty of other things. But a big disappointment (is it really disappointment if I never expected it?) is the lack of saves. You can’t save the game. (Also, no magic.)

I don’t mean that in the old-people sense of ‘I want to go back and try again now that I know all this stuff’ nor in the sense of ‘I have a new strategy that I think would give me a higher score’ nor even in the sense of ‘I have regrets.’ I mean it mostly in the sense that, if I may mix my metaphors, saving the game acts like a bookmark so that you can close the book for a sec and see how far you’ve come and how far you’ve yet to go. A major strike against ebooks.

In that vein, sort of, I have this blog. It is at once a real-time ticker of things happening in my life, and a record of my previous weekly save points. Reviewing those saves is often pretty cringey (I mean, do you remember that time I literally titled a post A Dark and Stormy Night and it wasn’t really ironic). But I also love looking back and remembering my trip to Amsterdam, or the unimaginable victory of turning in my dissertation, or stepping into North Korea, or all the people and places I’ve said goodbye to, even at this fairly young age.

Also, it’s always a delight seeing the languages I’ve had in my titles. Let’s take a second to count: English (169), Irish (4), Russian (4), French (1), Norwegian (1), Welsh (1), Navajo (Diné) (1), Korean (3), Latin (1), and most recently, Croatian (1). Hope to see that diversity continue to grow. Probably will need a Dutch one when I go back to Amsterdam and a Portuguese one when I get to Portugal. Because those trips will hopefully happen eventually.

Some little nuggets of memory are almost silly while also being cool. That two day trip to Oslo, amirite. Wild. The blessings of the doughnut gods of Tesco, sending me gifts beyond my worth. That’s really a big one. When a pipe burst and the floor below my apartment flooded and froze. Yech.

Anyway. Saving…

 

 

The Oozy Emerald Frog

One of the things that I can see as publisher of this blog is how many people click the links that I include. Typically, I will get 0-1 clicks any given week that I include one. This week’s title is such a lovely phrase and most of you will just go into the rest of your day never knowing where, exactly, it comes from. Just saying.

Surprise, I don’t have a whole lot to share this week. No trips to Chicago, hardly any trips at all. Because of the snow. Not feet upon feet but enough to make me increasingly wary of driving. And though for the moment, temperatures are maybe around the mid-twenties, there were a few days where the high barely made it into double digits, if at all. And there will be more such days shortly forthcoming.

And, as I wake up this morning, apparently we have a winter storm warning in the area. Several inches of snow to come this afternoon. Not quite a blizzard but very wintry and snowy and Narnia-y (pre-Pevensie, of course).

Quite cold, no matter how you slice it. Some small comfort, however, that I do not live in Yakutsk. I implore you, look up Yakutsk weather if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere’s winter. In fact, I’ll include it for you here. (Though if you have a lot of money and are willing, I would gratefully accept a trip to visit Yakutsk because how interesting).

Anyway. I’ve not been up to much this week. Reading, of course. I was reading a book and it got to an emotional moment that was not a good kind and I needed to not continue for a while, so I started another book that I had just gotten off hold from the library–and that book very quickly gave me an emotional moment of a gross kind so that I needed a break from that one too. Frustrating. Not even the good, heartstrings bits that thrill me even as they tear me up inside. Just gross, hurtful, sad times that weren’t even morosely fulfilling. Ugh.

So I didn’t do a whole lot of reading yesterday, maybe today I’ll be in a place to pick them up again. We’ll see. If they were cooler emotional moments, I might tell you about them but mostly they’re just lame. Alas.

The plus side of all of the weather, if I may backtrack for a sec, is that I’ve seen some lovely winter sights. Snow-laced trees and ice-crusted stream and whatnot. This campus does have its moments.

I have spent a great deal of time inside, as one might imagine, but rest assured that I have enjoyed the snow in person as well. It is very beautiful, even if the very cold weather is not my strong suit. The snow lends an element of happiness/peace/something good that the bitter cold I had in Seoul last winter lacked most of the time.

Just a quick thought for you here at the end. Kind of totally unrelated but also kind of very relevant.

You may know, in a three way tie for my favorite poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay. She wrote a poem, [Still will I harvest beauty where it grows], that I’ve been thinking about this week. The thrust is mainly, I think, that beauty can come from anywhere–including places others may find gross. Very Ratatouille; not everyone can be a great chef but a great chef can come from anywhere kind of vibe. But tonight, writing this, I find myself thinking about the first word, primarily.

Still. In the midst of all that is going on. Though there is so much ugliness in the world. Despite the general state of things, as I see it. Even so. Still will I harvest beauty. Nothing will dissuade me from finding what is beautiful, even when others tell me there is no beauty to be found. The world may be hurting but it is still beautiful.

Fast Away

I hope you all have enjoyed your Christmases, if that’s your thing. I certainly did. Plenty of running around and about but also plenty of time together and hope and joy and love. Obviously, lots of singing of Good King Wenceslas, especially yesterday. It is just the end all, be all of awesomeness that God is with us. How neat is that? Yay Christmas.

Important gifts received include several books that I’m very excited for, you know how I do. One of them is the final installation of a trilogy, so I obviously have to reread the previous books and so it’s really like a gift of three books in one. Yay books. But also, of course, the love language I like to receive is quality time so that was the most precious gift to have.

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The Princess on the Feast of Stephen

Being home has been really nice. First, just to get away from Michigan and work for a sec. Green. My home is green. Second, to relax in a place that I just know. There’s a certain level of know that comes from just being in a place for years and years and, for right now, Gig Harbor is the only place I have that with. I can remember the turns to a house I haven’t visited in ages with a spare moment’s thought–even with my disastrous memory. I can sit on the couch and exist in a place that I’ve existed in for a long time before.

It hasn’t even been that long since I was pining for a way–any way–to get out of here. And Michigan is not that far away. Even so. There’s a special joy in leaving but there’s also a special joy in coming back. Even back to places you don’t want to stay.

But New Year’s, wow, 2018, am I right. This year has dragged on for ages, let me tell you, but the end of it has snuck up on me rather abruptly. A lot going on in the world but let me have a sec to make it all about me. It is hard to recall that I was in Korea, went to the Olympics, went to Australia and New Zealand, spent a long time living at home, then moved to Michigan all in the first eight months. That’s wild. My year-in-review thoughts are honestly all over the place. But I guess I don’t really need a year in review at this juncture. This time is ending.

The old year passes. Greet the new.

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And Bubba all curled up

I’m not sure what to expect for the coming year. I’ll be in Michigan to June, at the very least. So that’s about six months settled. But after that, it’s all fairly uncertain. Again. It’s a state that I’m kind of uncomfortable with–generalized uncertainty–but also at home with.

I’ve done a lot of relatively short stints in fairly diverse places since high school. And I just don’t really mind it, as much as I’d like to find a place I love and put down roots. It’s mostly been routes thus far. I may be staying in Michigan for another year. I may be elsewhere in the US. The dream, of course, would be another intercontinental move. Europe, maybe Oceania. Hard to say.

In the midst of uncertainty, the few things that are sure increase in value. And those things, for me, are the things I’ve been celebrating all week. Friends and family who love me and whom I love. The comfort and position that I have been blessed with. The consequential, profoundly true knowledge of an unconditional, boundless love from a perfect, omnipotent deity.

Some people live lives that are more predictable than mine but, in the end, precious little is truly certain. So I’m greeting the new year in a spirit of adventure, as every day should be met, because possibilities are endless when every moment is a moment that has never come before.

Anyway. Happy New Year. Fa la la la la la la la la.

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.

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