time to light a candle

by dichroic in musing

I post the lyrics to Peter Yarrow’s song Light One Candle every year at Chanukah, because I believe deeply in the message in it. It’s also relevant to a couple of articles I’ve recently read; one describes the song as being controversial because it’s “not Jewish enough”; in my opinion if that whole Chosen People idea means anything, it means that we have certain responsibilities toward other people that come out of our own experiences. “Light one candle for those who are suffering the pain we learned so long ago.”

Tikkun Olam, healing the world, is a Jewish value; to quote the Velveteen Rabbi quoting the Pirke Avot, “Jewish tradition teaches us to cultivate hope in place of despair. It’s not incumbent on us to finish the work, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it.” That is also why I agree with another article, that “Black Lives Matter!” is indeed a Jewish issue. All lives matter.

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn’t die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker’s time is at hand

[Chorus:]
Don’t let the light go out!
It’s lasted for so many years!
Don’t let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

[Chorus]

What is the memory that’s valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What’s the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they’ve not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

[Chorus]
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!
Don’t let the light go out!

the downward slide

by dichroic in daily updates

Four days left – I’m off for the next two weeks.

And after quitting time on Friday I plan to do two weeks’ worth of nothing.

At least, that is, for values of “nothing” including: pack up the car and the cats, head out to the lake house, finish the Holiday Challenge (Friday or Saturday depending when we go to the lake, get the tree and set it up, have the roofer out to fix a leak he appears to have missed, wrap all the presents, cook holiday-ish meals, probably host the in-laws for a few days, do some house cleaning that gets neglected when we’re only there for a couple days at a time, row if the weather is nice, go hiking maybe, get in a bunch of weight lifting since we have a weight set there but not here and, you know, the general stuff of life. As long as there gets to be lots of knitting and lots of reading, everyone present is well-fed, and people like the presents I give them, I’m good.

These are not good poems, I don’t think

by dichroic in poetry

THe first one suffers from lack of water time. It’s a response to Millay’s “My heart, Being Hungry”, and its startings came to me while I was out rowing. But I haven’t been in a boat for a while (and I won’t be, until after the Holiday Challenge at least) and so finishing it was a plod. In particular, Millay has that beautifully polished lapidary ending (“Nor linger in the rain to mark the smell of tansy after dark”) while here I was trying to evoke grander pleasures with the idea of working up to them, and I think in the process I lost the tight specific focus that makes a good poem. But anyway:

A Growing Heart

Millay would deprecate as meager gain
the sweetness of a stolen ear of corn,
the smell of sagebrush desert after rain,
a red moon rising, early in the morn.

She’d swear a well-filled heart would never feed
on pillow’s kiss that ends a weary day
or sunglow captured in a field of weed
or kind-eyed stranger’s smile shared on the way.

But, rudest wildflower or cultured rose,
on these quotidian pleasures my heart grows
and burnishes a place with anxious care
with room enough for any it might snare:
sprawled mountain views, a star-filled night
heart-filling dreams of love and hope and light.

And this one is part of my annual light-in-darkness series, but it’s purely a romp:

Midwinter
When days draw down and nights grow colder,
Tasks seem endless, aching joints feel older
All ahead looks only weary,
Joyless, rocky, grey and dreary,

Then light a flame to call the dragons!
Roast the feast and fill the flagons,
Sing your songs of light and better days.
Dream of wild rides and plan adventure,
Hoist your flag and flee the drear indenture,
Kindle fires to keep your life ablaze.

In other news, I’ve done 121,000m in the Hoiliday Challenge – 79km to go before Christmas so I’m well ahead of schedule. I can’t say all this exercise is making me feel fitter, but it’s affecting my sleep for sure. feel like I begin each week rested, sleep lightly the first two nights, and then by midweek I’m just zonked and being surprised by the alarm every morning. My head is getting better at distance, at least; whenever I start working on longer pieces, they go on f-o-r-e-v-e-r, and then eventually I get to where I can zone out and focus on the view of my audiobook. I’m at that point now and it definitely makes the whole experience a lot pleasanter.

I’ve got one present to buy and about 5 cards to write, so I’m in decent shape for the holidays. We won’t decorate until the weekend before Christmas when we get to the lakehouse, so the only thing I need to do right now is start planning menus and shopping lists. (Other than Dec 25: turkey.)

And I’m due for a new phone, which I’ll go order probably today or tomorrow, so I need to deciude between the iPhone 6 (big) or the 6+ (bigger).

noodling with theology

by dichroic in musing

In honor of Curt Schilling, I’m going to ramble on about theology for a bit. I’m just noodling; the below is speculation, not to be construed as a statement of everything I believe and certainly not an attempt to convince others. But I do believe that if you’re going to espouse a faith, then you ought to examine it and yourself, and make sure that what you say you believe is consistent with what you do believe.

Also, it’s pretty clear that Schilling doesn’t have the faintest understanding of evolution, since he’s made comments about “missing the intermediate stages between monkey and man”. No one ever claimed that humans were descended from monkeys; the fossils of stages between the earliest hominids and later ones like us certainly do exist, as well as the fossils of stages between those hominids and their ancestors, from primates on back to microfauna.

Anyway, those disclaimers aside, what bothers me is that Schilling espouses an almighty God but seems to actually believe in one created in his own image, who populated the earth in the same way as I might create a diorama – first drawing the background, then putting in little figures here and there. I don’t need a God who’s just a slightly bigger version of me. If I’m going to believe in a deity I want one who contains cosmoi. It’s been understood since Darwin’s day that evolution isn’t inconsistent with religion; the preacher Henry Ward Beecher said “Who designed this mighty machine, created matter, gave to it its laws, and impressed upon it that tendency which has brought forth the almost infinite results on the globe, and wrought them into a perfect system? Design by wholesale is grander than design by retail.” For that matter, it’s been understood since at least St. Augustine of Hippo that science in general isn’t incompatible with belief and that ignorance is not next to godliness.

If I’m going to believe in a God who is worth believing in, I want one who set the universes in motion, who laid out the physical laws that allowed drifts of primordial dust to develop into suns and comets, black holes and galaxies, amoebae and fungi and plantlife, other animals and us, and for all we know other forms of life that are currently beyond our ken.

I want a God who is beyond my understanding; I don’t need one who looks like me. Still, I have to think even a transcendental and omniscient deity would want me to use my brain, whether it’s personally marked with the Shekhina’s “thumbprint” or the outcome of a million infinitely complex processes, to understand the universe in which I exist and to delight in its beauty and intricacy. However they developed, intelligence and free will are gifts, the best we’ve been given, and I have to believe that the best I can give in return is to use mine to make the best choices I can and to try to understand, within the limits of my mortal comprehension, where I am and how we got here.

Literal Bible believers dislike the idea of evolution because it doesn’t match the Bible’s precise words. But even if you believe in the Bible’s inerrancy, the stories in Genesis are a few thousand years old. They weren’t even written down for the first part of their existence; they had to speak to the people of that time in order to be remembered. When you tell a three-year-old about where babies come from, you don’t tell her about gametes and zygotes or the growth stages of an embryo and fetus; you tell her some variant of “the Daddy puts the seed into the Mommy and it grows into a baby”. (I don’t have a kid; maybe those discussions are slightly more accurate these days, but I bet they’re just as simplified.) What you tell the three-year-old is true, but it’s only a platform for her to build more understanding as she grows up. You’d be a bit appalled if her understanding hasn’t progressed beyond that when she’s twenty-three. One of my less favorite Biblical quotes is “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I’d prefer “when I grew up, I saw childish things in a new light,”; either way it applies here. Like the average twenty-three-year-old, we’re far from knowing all there is to know about our world, but hopefully we’ve learned a few things since our species’ early childhood.

Mostly, I just want people to stop telling me I should follow their God, when all they can offer is a version of themself, just with better toys.

monstrous regiments

by dichroic in daily updates

I have been thinking about communities of women. I’ve encountered two literary ones recently, in very different books. Given who she is, it’s not surprising that Phyrne Fisher seems to know every female doctor, lawyer, pilot or adventurer in 1920s Melbourne (all one of them, in some cases). She also runs into a wide swath of the city’s other professional women – writers, editors, modistes and so on, as well as a women’s club (I suspect it was modeled on London’s Cavendish Club, founded in 1920 as a refuge for VAD veterans.) There’s also mention of Phryne’s inclusion, during her time in Paris, in the women’s arts community there in the days of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Dolly Wilde (Oscar’s niece) and Marion “Joe” Carstairs.

We see a bit of a similar community in Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor – though this one doesn’t have the historical basis of Phryne’s, of course. Maia’s – the Emperor’s – sister even makes it explicit: “Of course, when we say ‘friend’, we do not necessarily mean we like the person particularly. We mean that she shares with us the belief that women can and should do the same intellectual work as men.”

I got to thinking about those communities, and about the first literary sisterhood of professional women I ever met – the one Louisa May Alcott drew in “An Old-Fashioned Girl”: “Polly came to know a little sisterhood of busy, happy, independent girls, who each had a purpose to execute, a talent to develop, an ambition to achieve, and brought to the work patience and perseverance, hope and courage. Here Polly found her place at once, for in this little world love and liberty prevailed; talent, energy, and character took the first rank; money, fashion, and position were literally nowhere; for here, as in the big world outside, genius seemed to blossom best when poverty was head gardener. Young teachers, doing much work for little pay; young artists, trying to pencil, paint, or carve their way to Rome; young writers, burning to distinguish themselves; young singers, dreaming of triumphs, great as those of Jenny Lind; and some who tried to conquer independence, armed only with a needle, like poor Jane.”

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. The only place I’ve encountered anything at all similar is online, where my primary communities (in the blogosphere and then on Ravelry) have been largely though not exclusively female. I like the idea, though, of a community not just of women but of women who Do Stuff.

On a completely different topic but also worth noting, I have been finishing a bunch of knitting lately – socks, minisock ornaments, a sweater – and should get some pictures up here. And I have already finished one quarter of this year’s Concept 2 Holiday CHallenge – 50 km erged since THanksgiving.

how can I keep from singing?

by dichroic in daily updates

I am a singer at heart – not a singer as in people want to hear me sing, but one as in that’s what I do when I can and it’s actually a bit hard for me sometimes not to sing, as when I’m working along and can’t see others in my office but know they are within earshot. (I don’t mean that I do sing in that circumstance; that would be rude and obnoxious. I just mean I have to impose some control on myself to make sure I don’t.) I play guitar a little, but I’m not pulled to it in the same way, and my only real interest is to accompany myself.

When I sing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy; my brain tends to supply songs to suit the moment. I’m very much a word person, so it’s the lyrics that matter – happy or wistful or dramatic or exultatory as the case may be. Or suited to a particular time or place. In particular, I have songs for this time of year; my usually ones are Bob Franke’s Thanksgiving Eve and Gordon Bok’s Turning Toward the Morning, with which I fell in love before I ever even heard the tune. (Though Bok’s voice would have made me fall in love with it anyway, if I hadn’t already.)

I think it’s time to add to my autumn repertoire: Robin Williams’ October Song (which I know from Cindy Kallet’s cover of it) and Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes?. I just can’t figure out why those two songs are so elusive. There are songs I can hear once and sing back, and ones I need to review over and over and I still forget parts. I can’t quite figure out what the difference it, though it probably has a lot to do with how predictable the song is – teling a coherent story or staying within a metaphor or just repeating itself. These two are hard, but somehow I feel I’d be better for knowing them.

One of my rants, one of my regrets about current culture, is the idea that you have to be of nearly professional standards before you can sing in public. Shows like The Voice are great for bringing music into living rooms and for letting people see how much technique there is in singing well, but I don’t think they should set the standard for life. Also they tend to reward only one style of singing (loud and dramatic, mostly). You’ll never hear a beautiful lullabye singer or a laid-back Bing Crosby crooner or someone who can chant a chantey loud enough and rhythmic enough to motivate people to do physical work. I like sing-alongs, I like people to sing while they’re working, and I even like when they sing off-key with their favorite song on the radio. It’s like sports: if you get joy from it, you should be encouraged to do it, even if you’re not really that great, because it’s a better world when people get to do the things that give them joy and challenge and consolation.

le bon temps, they roulez’d

by dichroic in daily updates

Last weekend was fabulous. My husband appears to have hung out entirely with a core group of friends in college and to have known hardly anyone else – but that core group were all back in New Orleans for Homecoming at Tulane this weekend, and they are a nice bunch of guys. I enjoyed meeting their wives too – I’d met a couple before but only once or twice many years ago. We just had so much freaking fun hanging out with them all, not to mention consuming beignets, seafood gumbo, shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, and hurricanes.

I think I can fairly claim to be midddle-aged now (47) and there’s an odd and particular pleasure to spending time with people of the same age: it’s not that we can’t stay up til 2 if we want to, but that we don’t want to so much because we have less tolerance for feeling like crap than we once did. No one minds if you want to sit where it’s quieter so you can talk, or if a spouse who likes to go to bed early sends her husband off alone (not me; someone who likes to go to bed at 7 or 8) or if you switch to water after a beer or two. I think they got kinder – these were always nice guys but there might have been more ribbing twenty years ago.

That made it easier to pace myself. I always find New Orleans a but overwhelming – all that food and drink don’t go well with IBS – but I did a good job pacing myself and taking rests when necessary to prevent crashing and burning.

The age thing really did affect how we all relate, I think, though of course it’s only one factor. This is an age where you begin to know you’re aging – most people were a lot grayer than we are, though otherwise looking pretty good – but you still feel good and can do just about anything you once could, and you know who you are if you’re ever going to. This was a bunch of people who are all fairly successful and who were, after all, all friends to begin with and who were always pleasant to be around; it will be interesting to compare to my high school reunion in a couple of months, which has a wider range of people though a similar narrow band of age.

We talked about kids (theirs), and books – I recommended some, which always makes me happy, and others that I think I’ll like were rec’d to me, which makes me even happier. I was talked into buying a hat that got me compliments from random strangers. (“Nice hat!”, not pick-up lines.)

The football was pathetic, but the tailgate party was the most luxurious one I’ve ever seen, with big tents,free food and swag, and clean bathrooms.

It was four days of good time, and I’m very glad we went. And tonight we get to have dinner with a rowing friend who’s in town – I last saw her when she visited me in the Netherland and the time before that was in Australia, so this is going to be another good time.

packing

by dichroic in daily updates

Nope, I still don’t really understand the concept of packing light. I’m packing for a long weekend in New Orleans. Warm climate, short trip, should be easy to pack carry-on-only, right? Except that said trip will involve lots of walking – fine, I’ll wear my sturdy shoes on the plane. And a possible outing to a restaurant with a dress code, meaning I need another pair of shoes – fine, I have ballet flats that pack small, and maybe I can get away with a skirt and a t-shirt I can wear again, instead of a dress. And a football game, and there’s the rub. In my experience, anything that involves just sitting around can get pretty damn cold even when the temperature is in the 50s or 60s. I do have a heavy sweater that’s pretty close to Tulane green – actually, writing this all out I’ve nearly convinced myself maybe we can get by with a backpack each and a small suitcase. Hmm. (This is a god thing about blogging. The examined life can be useful.)

This is all assuming we don’t get waylaid on our flight by snow in the Midwest, of course.

The other good news is that I only have about 23 workdays left between now and the end of the year. Because of this long weekend, this is a four-day week and so is next week, then there’s a three-day week because of Thanksgiving, and so on.

not quite a review: The Goblin Emperor

by dichroic in books

Note: It’s not a review because it’s my idiosyncratic response to a book in a very specific situation. It’s got some of the things you’d expect in a review in it (even on the erg it’s impossible to miss how well Addison handles her protag’s first encounter with the idea of same sex relationships) but most of you probably don’t rate books on how well they work for listening during rowing.

You know about the New Book Threshold? That’s the one where you’ve been reading books of a given kind that aren’t too demanding – comfort rereads, or books within a series, or fluffy books that won’t leave you any different when you’re done except that you’ve been entertained a little while longer – and then it’s a bit hard to start something new, especially when it’s long, dense, or demanding of attention or emotion. Sometimes it’s even harder when the new book is somethign you expect to love; I’m not quite sure why.

It turns out that the New Book Threshold is even steeper for erg books, since what you mostly want there is distraction and motivation, and any required thinking needs to be snuck in there.

So it was a bit hard to step out of the comfortable rut I’d been in of the Phryne Fisher series (which are good-ish, but I’m halfway through the 20 or so books and not seeing any growth in Phryne as a character) and plunge into Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor. It’s been well worth it; the most important thing about erg books is that they need to be immersive enough to add some motivation for stepping into that torture device. This one definitely works for that, tothe point where I’ve been (almost) sorry on my off days that I don’t get to listen.

It is a bit introspective for an erg book; a lot of the action is in Maia’s head, so it definitely wouldn’t work if I didn’t have good enough headphones to be able to catch every word. Even so, I’ve also read the Kindle version (up to the point I’ve gotten to in audio) to savor the details. A downside for listening is all the names – I understand why they’re so long and complicated, because she’s done a lot of work on the language design and the names all have meanings, but it does make it a little harder to follow the audio version. There are also a lot of small linguistic points to catch, that matter to the plot – “he used ‘we’ in the plural sense, rather than formally.” On the other hand, the plot is not too convoluted for erg listening; I’m not sure if this is intended as YA but unlike Addison’s work published as Sarah Monette, it would work well for a YA reader. THe central theme is Maia’s growing into himself and into his role as emperor; in that respect it reminds me of a few of Sherwood Smith’s works like Crown Duel in which the young protagonist has to learn to understand nuance and what politics are for instead of rebelling blindly.

Not that Maia ever rebels much. He’s got the moral sense and earnestness of Fanny Price, if not quite her diffidence (thankfully) despite a childhood of neglect and abuse. He’s a throwback to the nineteenth-century books I love, in that he is always trying to be better, and he has a strong sense of what that means and of what he owes to himself, to the nation he rules, and to the mother who gave him what love he had. He’s no saint; it’s not that he doesn’t have cruel or vindictive urges, but that he surpresses their expression. Sort of like most of us do (I hope).

Addison also does an impressive job handling prejudice, ont he bases of race, sex and sexual preference. They have it. It’s built into the society and into some people’s attitudes. Other people are fighting various forms of it, and many just haven’t really thought much about it, or having only thought about what affects them personally. The worldbuilding is intricate and comprehensive, but there’s enough of us in Addison’s elves and goblins to make them instantly recognizable as human.

I’d like to read another story in the world, but possibly not one centered around Maia; he’s come into his own enough by the end (I admit it, I peeked ahead) that it feels like his major story arc is over. But there’s plenty of room for a novel around Idra or Ceredin or others.

autumn ramblings

by dichroic in daily updates

Autumn in Oregon has hit with a vengeance – the skies are dark gray and it’s been raining more often than not. Most often Oregon rain is light enough not to mind, but it’s been heavier for the last week or so. Unfortunately, this resulted in our finding another couple of leaks in the lake house last weekend. Luckily our architect (who lives out that way) was willing to get a roofer out there for us. (He – the architect – used to be a general contractor, so he will do some stuff like this, which has been very helpful for us. He’s a good architect, too – if anyone in the Eugene area needs a recommendation, his name is Michael Soraci.)

So we’ll be headed out to the house this weekend to verify the roof repairs and empty the containers we set out in the attic under the leaks. This is unfortunate, since I’d expected to be at home this Halloween and had laid in candy accordingly. I guess our coworkers will benefit.

My colleagues should all be ready to eat candy anyway, now their blood sugar has been duly recorded – we had our annual company-provided (voluntary!) annual health checkups today. I “lost” two inches around my waist by simply pulling up my heavy shirt and having her re-measure, which makes me wonder about the accuracy of the whole thing. I hope her blood pressure results are accurate, though – mine was 119 / 76, which makes me very happy since I was on high blood pressure meds for a while after my Dutch doctor prescribed them, until my US doctor said she thought I didn’t need them any more. I have no idea why it went down. I haven’t lost weight – in fact, I gained some over the past year, after starting back to work (if there’s one thing I dislike about this job, it’s that there’s too much sitting). It could be from moving back to a place where I understand how everything works, but my BP was already going up back when we lived in Arizona. It could be from living in a place I really like, but I liked the Netherlands too. I’ve tried to cut back on salt a little, but it’s not like I’ve ever kicked my pretzel habit. Odd.

I don’t think this autumn has been as good for leaf colors as last year – I remember that as being surprisingly bright. This year, we had a long lingering summer and as soon as it cooled down it immediately turned wet, so we don’t seem to be getting colors quite as vivid – I’m seeing maples that are the color of oxidized bronze instead of bright red. It’s still beautiful though – whenever the rain lets up enough for colors to be seen!

At least our weather is temperate; I had a trip to Toledo, Ohio last week that found me scraping ice of the car window one morning. In a few weeks we have a trip to New Orleans, and I’m sure I’ll find it difficult to believe while I’m packing that the weather really will be much warmer. (I’ll take some warm stuff anyway, though – in wet climates like that it can feel COLD when the actual temperature isn’t all that low.)

I thought this entry was going to be unconnected rambling, but instead it’s turned out to be connected after all (though still rambling). Maybe it’s my outfit. I hadn’t planned on wearing a costume to work, just an orangey-melonish-colored henley shirt, but ince I started accessorizing, I realized I had a costume after all. I’ve got a red leather leaf holding back my hair, a brown-and-gold leaf pin halfway down my shirt, and earrings with brown stone “planet” beads that look like shiny seeds or the acrons that are ubiquitous outside my office building. I am Autumn.