Bits of Hegel and Marx and Ibn Khaldun and Nietzsche and such, for Historiography (We’re almost done and I shall be sad — how is next week the last week of classes already?)
The Song of Roland, for the fun of it
Gaudy Night, read in pieces before bed on occasional evenings — still very good
I’m still chipping away at Christ Among Us on the same system, but it goes much more slowly. Partly, I think, it’s that it’s so ecumenical and soft, and I know that if I open it I’ll be lucky to get three pages without groaning. Not very good bedtime reading, because then I get annoyed, and start formulating arguments, rather than going to sleep. (Not that it’s always a certain book’s fault. Some nights I do have to make an effort to turn my brain off if I’m to get any sleep at all. I could leave it talking and probably it would be very productive, but I’d pay for it the next day. And it’s always a bit of work because the brain doesn’t turn on and off like an electric light.)
And Ten Thousand Thorns, the newest fairy-tale retelling by Pendragon’s Heir‘s authour! It’s officially published as of today, and if you’ve no objections to e-books, well — shoo. Go get it. I reviewed it here already, so I won’t do that again.
Over the Thanksgiving break I actually dipped into a couple of stories, so I have a few snippets for you. The most notable school-writing, besides that scholarship essay I mentioned a while ago, was a paper comparing the historical methods of S. Augustine and Ibn Khaldun. Part of which the professor read in class as a good example, with my sister sitting outside and taking notes the whole time. . .
I started the prelude to Rose-Tinted Arrows, and wrote most of the opening chapter, and have ideas for more (a lot of them, honestly, based on the question “How would a seminary student with such-and-such a trait adjust to this condition or that?” so that will be fun). It starts when Algernon isn’t captain at all, but running from a miscarriage of justice. There’s going to be a lot about civil disobedience, the least of these, revenge, and the lack of toothpicks in the Black Forest (which he eventually comes to say isn’t as black as it’s painted) in this one — and not a single girl anywhere in the cast. Anyway, the outlaws take him in, and over the next few years he grows in favour with the current captain, and (this isn’t spoilers, is it, since those of you who’ve read about R-TA knows he ends up that way?) becomes captain eventually. But that’s closer to the end of the book.
* * *
But as he passed under a big tree near its foot, other shadows descended on him from either side — strikingly corporeal shadows, he discovered, as one of them grabbed his right arm and the other kicked his legs from under him. For a long mad moment he drowned in surprise and fear, the very physical flinching away from the sudden blows, the terror which went to the stomach.
“All right, all right,” he heard himself babbling at last, raising his free hand. “I’m not here to fight.”
His unseen assailants paused for a moment, as if taken aback in their turn, and then hauled him to his feet.
* * *
“Well,” he ventured, looking from one profile to the next, with a grin he did not quite feel, “and who might you gentlemen be?”
The pertness and general idiocy of his statement struck him too late, and with a double stab at his pride, for who in his right mind would be worrying about what a couple of roughs thought of the conversational skills of a man they could be about to kill?
They glanced at each other. “Bandits,” rumbled one, at the same time “Ootlaws,” said the other.
“What!” Algernon said. “You call yourselves bandits, and you don’t even wear masks?” He raised his eyebrows and drooped his mouth in disappointment.
* * *
“Don’t blow on it so hard,” one of them enjoined another, as the man whose head was nearly in the fireplace sent another gust from his lungs into the flames. Sparks shot out in every direction, and a cloud of smoke rolled out into the room, setting some of the bandits coughing. They all watched as it disappeared.
“You’re going to set the smoke alarms off,” said one of the men.
“It’s been at least something like half an hour,” the human bellows objected. “It’s still too cold.”
“Blow gently, like this,” his neighbour said, and demonstrated with a quiet, steady breath that sent a flame leaping up. “Soft and steady.”
The first bandit, on his hands and knees, rolled his eyes and breathed out as instructed. Then he tossed a crumpled paper on the fire, which seized it eagerly.
* * *
It’s interesting being inside his head, rather than seeing him from an outside perspective as in Rose-Tinted Arrows. He. . . has an interesting head to be in. (Also I’m not used to masculine narrators, but it was surprisingly easy to do it, once I got going. Like a certain bit where he’s comparing his arms to someone else’s — not something that would ordinarily occur to me, unless someone’s asking me whether I do rock-picking, but it came pretty naturally, and makes sense.)
I was home alone almost all day when everyone went Black Friday shopping, and it was a pretty productive day, once I got going — I’d been away from OtN for too long, and was a bit stiff getting back into it, but it was perfect weather for it, and that helped. I kind-of-sort-of outlined the three missing chapters in the middle of the first half, and found homes for some homeless scenes, and got a bit of an idea of what I need to research next. Being mainly the liturgical calendar, what an ordinary Mass would have been like (assuming it’s changed since then, which I know it has), what you’d do for processions if there were no other churches near enough to process to, and what feast food would have been like. Once I know about that, putting in the high feast days and such should give me at least ten thousand words (her first Sunday there in detail; her first Advent, Christ’s mass, and Easter, and probably Whitsun, and maybe something a bit more local like some of the feasts Liturgy Architecture and Sacred Places mentions).
But I did write one scene I liked quite a bit at the time.
* * *
They were up early that morning, before the sun rose. The sky was a flat dull sort of blue with a few bars of dull purple cloud, the heavy sculpted kind: very blank and missing something. Then you turned and saw one in the east streaked with red that shone like silk or fire.
Red turned to gold as they went about their chores, in the air around them the daily noises: cocks crowing (Rohan had come at last), dogs barking, children calling. Smoke began to rise and swirl in the dawn-wind above each roof. The golden cloud shone brighter and brighter until you’d think surely it was a hole in the sky, the gap leading to Heaven — can it get any brighter? — so bright it hurt. Is this (as the first bell rang for Lauds) what it means to rejoice in glorious hope?
The eastern half of the sky was Our-Lady-blue and the cloud was still gold when they turned to go inside — it must have some great significance, some transcendant grace — why else such beauty? Why stir the heart so if it were for nothing? — and now AEschild saw the brown earth lying velvety under the sky, and the little puddles in ruts and furrows turning the light back like so many stained-glass windows. She looked up and saw one of the clouds she’d forgotten, now nearly overhead, dissolving in pink rain. Further in the west, a cloudbank along the horizon, which the sun hadn’t reached yet, a solid dark-blue wall. Down the valley, a single vulture floated lazily, stooped, and was gone.
AElflaed pushed back the shutter to the wall when she came in, and golden light splashed across the far wall and ran down, like liquid honey, like something so much there you could take some on your finger and eat it, and it would be like manna.
* * *
If it seems very dramatic, that’s partly its placing in the story, which is definitely spoilers.
Nothing at all that I can remember. Oh well, there’s only two weeks of classes, then finals — then if that weren’t the tail-end of Advent already, maybe I could say things would be quiet enough to get back into actually doing things and not just thinking about them. There’s an experiment going on (see here), which I’d like to be a part of — anything for destroying misconceptions about the Middle Ages.
Uncle and grandfather, maternal, visited for Thanksgiving. I won’t say a debate with the former over the cessation of prophecy didn’t happen while we were doing dishes one evening. It’s almost enough to make one want to go over to Rome.
Speaking of which, Joel, JP, David, and Cole ate supper with Olivia and me on Tuesday. It’s looking fair to be the last such meal this semester (next Tuesday is the concert and as far as we’re concerned it’s all chaos). At one point JP was gone for a minute and Cole and David were talking about something, and Joel said to Olivia, “How was your Thanksgiving?”
“Okay, I guess,” she said.
“Why, did you have arguments?”
“But not with close family, right? Just extended?”
“Actually, with close family,” she sighed.
“But not religious or anything — right?”
“Well, actually. . .”
So then the whole story came out.
Before the other three showed up, Olivia and I were eating supper with Cole. I heard a couple of people come out of the library and I stopped listening to the immediate conversation because I thought I recognized one of the voices. I wasn’t quite sure if it was who I thought it was, though, so I was concentrating on it. Cole said, “You look pretty focused,” and I started to try to explain. Olivia took the more concise route of saying “She heard a voice upstairs and was seeing if it was someone she knew.” Cole laughed and said, “A lot of people hear voices upstairs all the time.”
“Not from upstairs all the time,” I said, “we write villains too.”
Cole looked very shocked and said, “That got even darker really fast.”
Yesterday was the Undergraduate Research Conference, which meant a lot of poster presentations and dressed-up people and things. The poetry workshop students had to read some of their work aloud in one of the bigger rooms. There’s a bit of a running joke at church about me and microphones, because I’m so quiet and Pastor always has to put it very far down for me when I read minutes from previous meetings, only he always forgets to until I just stand and stare at it instead of reading. Whoever’s report is after me is always very tall and makes a show of adjusting it a lot too.
Well, the way that room was set up, the microphone was on the far edge of the desk, and not adjustable, and if I wanted to get properly close to it I would have had to lean on the desk and bend over. Also I was the last one reading, so I couldn’t even get it over with quickly. But I survived, and perhaps by contrast to the things that came before it (including hobnobbing with pointy hats), the reading wasn’t too embarrassing.
While I was having lunch Jenny and I were chatting, and she asked if Cole would be interested in either of the two upcoming Avonwood meetings. I said he was downstairs, so I’d run and check. (I’d go down instead of yelling over the rail because it was so noisy that day he wouldn’t hear me from the distance.) So I went down.
He was sitting at one of the tables with Cora, one of his girls. Cora was answering a woman’s question about where the nearest women’s bathroom was. Only she wasn’t quite sure, because the actual nearest one might be out of order, so the next nearest one would be. . . and so on. Cole was sitting and looking encouraging.
The woman got the directions, thanked Cora, and left. Cole and Cora then told each other how awkward that kind of thing is when you’re not sure of the answer. The President of the school passed, and since the stranger was by now out of sight, and hearing Cole say something about asking for directions, said, “What are you looking for?” (Cora went to get her food out of the microwave.)
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” said Cole with a gallant smile, “but a lady stopped just now asking where the nearest women’s restroom is, and we weren’t sure where and whether it was out of order.”
“Oh, I see. Well, thank you for being so helpful.”
“Not at all, no problem,” Cole said, smiling and nodding. The President left and he and Cora and I all turned to each other and started laughing.
“Well, I wasn’t helping any,” said Cole to Cora. “You’re the one who knows, er. . . who would know that kind of thing.”
With the day beginning like that, the reading was surely fated to go off terribly, I thought. But in fact the only trouble was that, being unable to get close enough to the microphone, I was too quiet. And one can always laugh at these things in retrospect.
I’m still putting off deciding about grad school, but if I do go anywhere, it’ll be for something medieval. University of Toronto and St Andrews Edinburgh have both been recommended me. They look good (St Andrews has the added benefit of being on the same island as a lot of the good museums), but they’re both in different countries, and one’s across an ocean. So, really, I’m no closer to deciding.