Friday, December 28, 2007

Where have I been?

The answer is sick. I spent a day in bed with a bad cold turned to flu and another day on the couch with the same complaint and an extracted tooth. I'm still not quite up to speed but I'm hoping to recover and be posting a bit more regularly soon. I've got some books to review as soon as I can take the time to sit down and do it.

Why I write

I want to spin a story out of nothing, to paint the tale of the people in it against a blank wall in vivid colors, to make their world real for the time it takes to tell their story. I want to tell the kind of story that stays with you long after the covers of the book are closed, that enters into your life in some quiet way. I want to tell a story that smiles a little, that cries a little, that faces the darkness and comes out stronger.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Living by a different time

Or perhaps I should have said, living by a different calendar. You see, myself and my family are Old Calendar Orthodox Christians. *NOTE: I am not getting into The Debate here. I am simply telling how this has been a part of my life. Those of you who are not Orthodox may be confused here, but don't worry. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the note doesn't apply to you.* Being Old Calendar means that our church life is thirteen days behind everyone else. For instance, today is the 7th of December OC, not the 20th. Our worldly lives use the usual Gregorian calendar (anything else would be a tad awkward) but our religious lives operate on a different time frame.

Around this time of year the difference seems startlingly apparent. Practically, it means that December 25th (Gregorian) isn't Christmas. It's the feast of St. Herman of Alaska. Similarly, January 7th isn't just another day--it's the Lord's Nativity. It means that certain dates have great resonance for us which the rest of the world doesn't even think of, while other dates are far less busy than they are for others. For myself, New Year's has always seem stuck in the middle of St. Herman and Nativity.

Since my parents are converts we experience some of the more "normal" excitement surrounding December 25th. We generally open presents from our non-Orthodox relatives on that day so they don't think we've forgotten about them. But in a way, it's their day not ours, and our hearts really glow more at the thought of the beginning of Orthodoxy in America than sugarplums and snow fairies.

I like having this very literal sense of Orthodoxy operating on a different temporal plane than the rest of the world. I like that Christmas for us remains uncomercialized, still wonderful for its sacredness, not for its presents. Though, of course, I like the presents.

This is killing me

We're taking care of a dog for two weeks. She's a lovely little spaniel and as sweet as they come. But that's not the point. The point is, I was taking her for a walk this morning and we passed a house that had a sign with "Christmas" "Jesus" and "Remember Him." The decorations on the house were a Christmas-y train and an inflatable Santa.

Oh, the irony.

It always amuses me when people profess support for a certain position but then don't follow up on it with their actions. Of course, I'm not a huge fan of most yard Nativity scenes either since I find most of them corny in the extreme, but at least you're decorating your yard according to your stated principles.

Back to the dog, for a moment. As far as walks go, she pulls a lot. Which is fine, but it's certainly a different way of going around the neighborhood. Instead of sedately wandering down the street, I'm pulled along with about forty pounds (an estimate, probably far off) of Dog on the end of the leash. Dog in a new place with lots of interesting smells, no less. It only got really bad when she noticed the flock of birds in the grass up ahead of us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Just a quick personal update. I'm swamped by finals and stressing out about a paper that is refusing to be written, which is why I haven't posted much lately. Unless the paper manages to write itself by the time I go to bed tonight, don't expect to see me around until Saturday or Sunday.

But have a happy Windsday! (What's left of it.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Quote from my current reading

"I just try to warn people who hope to be published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing you had to force yourself to do--the actual act of writing--turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony."

--Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p. xxvi

Good writing

A forum I visit is having a writing contest based on the prompt "Winter." To get some ideas I re-read Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." Good writing like this fills me with a certain satisfaction that nothing else can. I'm not saying that it's the best satisfaction, but it is peculiar to writing, a certain voice that says "yes" very quietly when I finish it. Then I am left with feeling of great space and often sigh deeply and look out of the window, if I happen to be near one.

It's a strange way of judging a piece of writing and certainly entirely subjective, but I can't deny that those writings which cause that reaction are in a special category and are those which I am most likely to touch very gently when they are sitting on the bookshelf, to put somewhere easily accessible. They're the ones I tend to return to again and again, both reading them and thinking about them.

A short list of these:

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"
The Blue Sword
The Thirteenth Tale
"Death be Not Proud"
The Rosemary Tree
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

School things

I had my last class of Medieval Art and Architecture today. Very sad. I really enjoyed that class since it was a subject I was interested in but didn't know much about. It was also very well taught and set up. I had brief crazy thoughts of switching to an art history major, but they died a quick and painless death. I'm an English major through and through.

My schedule for next semester is as follows:
Russian 232 (fourth semester)
Upper level creative writing poetry
Intro to Anthropology
Intro to Biology

The last two take care of the last of my general education requirements.

My study abroad application is in. Now I wait until March to find out if I'm accepted or not.

I'm busy with finals, so I'm not sure how much I'll be posting until the end of the week. Next week I have two finals on Friday and a paper due by Saturday, but the beginning of the week I'll have no class and no tests.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My namesday

It's the Entry of the Theotokos into the temple and therefore my namesday. My parents gave me a beautiful woven bookmark with an icon of the Theotokos on it.

I've always liked my namesday because it's a quiet and tender kind of feast.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

November Reading List

The Amber Spyglass--Philip Pullman: Probably my least favorite out of the three books. I feel that it's too preachy and unequivocal to be a good story. It also seems to me that Pullman's language is much flatter and less interesting in this one.

The Farthest Shore--Ursula LeGuin: One of the Earthsea series. It was probably my least favorite out of all of them, although I love Lebbannen. I would still re-read it, and it's Ursula LeGuin, so it can't be bad.

Don't Let Me Be Lonely--Claudia Rankine: For my poetry class. A beautiful set of poems. I think there are a few parts that would be disturbing for some, so tread carefully if you object to violence.

Tehanu--Ursula LeGuin: I like this book overall, although LeGuin becomes very explicitly feminist and there is a little, um, interesting bit at the end. But overall, a very satisfactory finish to the Earthsea series.

The Good Thief--Marie Howe: Another book of poetry. Very beautiful poems, although pretty explicit in places, so I can't just recommend it.

A Man Lay Dead--Ngaio Marsh: A re-read. I love Inspector Alleyn.

Enter a Murderer: Ditto the above.

A Passage to India--E.M. Forster: For Literary Theory. It was okay. Not great, though.

Brinkley Manor--P.G. Wodehouse: The man is a genius. This is the one with Gussie Fink-Nottle and Aunt Dahlia and Madelyn Bassett. And Jeeves and Wooster, naturally.

Morality for Beautiful Girls--Alexander McCall Smith: The third in the Botswana detective stories. I really like these books for the simplicity of the language and the main characters.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men: Ditto the above, except it's the fourth book.

The Inheritance of Loss--Kiran Desai: Another Literary Theory book. Not my favorite. Enough said.

Death of a Peer--Ngaio Marsh: This could well be one of my absolute favorite Ngaio Marsh books. I love the Lampreys and I love Roberta Grey, and I love Inspector Alleyn.

The King of Attolia--Megan Whalen Turner: Have I mentioned how much I love this series? Because I just discovered it this summer and I can't stop reading it. It's amazing! Loves Gen and Attolia and Eddis and Sophos and....

A Clockwork Orange--Anthony Burgess: One of the most interesting books I've read in a long time. It's written in a made-up street slang which derives from Russian. Since I'm taking Russian I had fun deciphering the meanings. But it would be really confusing if I didn't speak Russian! It's very dark and violent, so be warned, but it's definitely a good read if you can handle it.