Thursday, June 28, 2007

for Elliot on his birthday


The second half of my life will be black
to the white rind of the old and fading moon.
The second half of my life will be water
over the cracked floor of these desert years.
I will land on my feet this time,
knowing at least two languages and who
my friends are. I will dress for the
occasion, and my hair shall be
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old
birthday, counting the years as usual,
but I will count myself new from this
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift,
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder,
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road.
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed,
fingers shifting through fine sands,
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet.
There will be new dreams every night,
and the drapes will never be closed.
I will toss my string of keys into a deep
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.

by Joyce Sutphen

Thursday, June 21, 2007

For I am persuaded

"Buried with my own hands five of my children in a single grave... No bells. No tears. This is the end of the world." - Agniola Di Tura, Siena 1347

I just finished Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and despite a few quibbles I ended up liking it very much. I'm not going to write a regurgitated synopsis of the book - if you want to know what its about you can read the Amazon or Wiki synopses. Instead I'm going to cheat and mostly just take snippets from the email conversation Elliot and I had about it earlier today. Oh, and there will be spoilers.

First, a couple of things I found frustrating about the book:

-1 - The illogic of dropping a female historian in a forest in the Middle Ages and expecting her not to be taken too far away from the drop location and for her to be able to find it again in 2 weeks with little trouble; when Dunworthy and Colin go back to find Kivrin they have a *locator device* with them - so what, they can break the rules when its an emergency but not to prevent one? In my mind the fact that the entire plot centered around a drop that went wrong, but didn't have to have gone wrong in quite that way detracted from the realism of the book. (I mean, I know academics are supposed to be a little off, but c'mon!) And I know that Kivrin's being taken away from and not being able to relocate the drop was integral to the plot, but I feel like Willis could have achieved the same effect but set things up so that we didn't question the characters' intelligence as much.

- 2 - The sparsity of character development. You never learn anything about who Kivrin is - her family, her likes, her dislikes, her more private feelings (like for Roche). And the family she's with - Eliwys and Agnes and Rosumund and Imeyne and Gawyn - sometimes they feel like carricatures. Eliwys in particular - you never find out what she's thinking about anything and her dialogue makes her seem so dense. Its too bad because you suspect that she's really a fascinating character and has a story to tell but we're never allowed to hear it. (Actually one could easily make the same argument with Roche.)

And time and again when Kivrin was with Rosamund or Eliwys or Imeyne, I was so frustrated that she didn't ask them more things - like about Eliwys' sons and husband and why exactly they were in Bath (you never find out!) and how old the sons were and whether Eliwys' marriage was a happy one and etc etc - or even show more outright sympathy, rather then just implied sympathy. I mean, Rosamund is a 12 year old child bride who is clearly going through emotional hell and Kivrin recognizes that but does a baffling job of being encouraging. She pushes her towards doing her duty and rarely shares her own opinion of things. Maybe this is Willis trying to have Kivrin be an impartial historical observer, but one wonders who would really be capable of being such under the circumstances!

However, the second half of the book became so intense that I gave up objecting and just fell into it. Despite all I just said about the character development (and my objection stands!), you still manage to start loving the people as Kivrin does (Imeyne and Mrs. Gaddson excluded - I never did stop wanting to slap some sense into them).

Especially Father Roche - I think I developed a small crush on him - well, who wouldn't love a "cutthroat"? This led to Elliot (Claw of the Conciliator) and I having a mini-debate over whether things between Roche and Kivrin should have been *ahem* consummated (hmm... this lends a whole new meaning to "'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished"...). They never are. In fact, in most of what passes between them you have to read between the lines and guess at what they truly feel for each other.

Elliot says: "...chaste love can be very classy. And really, the 'priest-breaking-his-vows-for-love' trope has gotten kind of hackneyed. That idea comes up in The Child Goddess, an sf novel I just read, except in this case it's a futuristic female (Catholic) priest, who's broken her vows in the past and now is struggling against breaking them again with the married man she loves."

I say: "Unconsummated love is sometimes better. I kept thinking of how it would have worked if they had done anything and it might have wrecked things. Or it might have been totally awesome like the scene in The Name of the Rose..."

The Doomsday book is steeped in religion (for some reason I wanted to say "dunked," like a donut, but I stopped myself just in...). This is a pretty obvious statement when you think about just how Christianized Britain and Europe had become by the Middle Ages, but this didn't have to be the case for the parts Willis set in "present day" (actually the future - around 2200 AD). She chose to set the entire story - both Middle Age and present day - at Christmas time and include as much religious paraphernalia as she could cram in - complete with numerous visits to church(es), Latin chants, bell ringers and all. She tries to diversify a bit in her present day story by name-dropping a few non-Christian religions that exist, but you can tell her imagined world is at heart a very Christian one (well, at least, Britain specifically is). Though this is a bit annoying, she does manage to do a very good job of showing a broad spectrum of Christian faith - from the absolutely galling, jeremiad-spewing Mrs. Gaddson to the gentle, quiet, subtler faith of Father Roche - and many more in between.

And then there's Kivrin - who, despite my complaints above, is still a fantastic heroine and who goes through what can only be called hell-on-earth. She's swept up in the wake of the Black Death - the most horrific disease imaginable (though one contender has put forth the Ebola virus as a possible second), which historians - as Willis reminds us through Kivrin - believe wiped out up to seventy-five percent of Europe.

says: "I thought Doomsday had a really interesting and sophisticated ending. She rages against God, against the meaningless of it all, which is completely the right and understandable thing to do. I mean, it's the freakin' Black Plague. But then Willis weaves in these hints that Kirvin's presence was actually a blessing, that people who saw her as an angel weren't entirely wrong. The message I got was 'it's not *that* you die, but *how* you die that matters.'"

The questioning of faith and the questioning of time - in the world that Willis has created, a world in which the past is mind-blowingly accessible, Willis questions time's significance: when Kivrin is trapped in the Middle Ages and time is a barrier keeping her from home, friends, and family, there are moments where a feeling that all times are one time comes over her - that the past, present and future are all happening at once - Rosamund and Agnes and Mr. Dunworthy and Badri and Montoya and the Black Plague and Baliol - everything. At her most despairing, with death all around her, Kivrin speaks into her recorder: "Is God there, too, I wonder, but shut off from us by something worse then time, unable to get through, unable to find us?"

I don't think I'll ever be able to get certain lines of Shakespeare or the Bible out of my head, and when I'd finished the book, one came to mind: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God."

P.S. Elliot says that in Willis' next book, which continues in the same world as the Doomsday Book, Kivrin is mentioned briefly and offhandedly as a church-goer.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Social utility... or social crutch?

The lack of posts are a direct result of my recent Facebook addiction.

I said I'd never join because they "steal your soul" (i.e. steal your personal information and hoard it) and I find that scary - but then I discovered a work around (i.e. lie about my real information) and signed up.

I'll return to my regularly irregular posting just as soon as the novelty of it all wears off.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

After Harry...

"Vancouver’s Raincoast Books keeps its offices over a 44,000-square-foot warehouse on the banks of the Fraser River. As the Canadian publisher and distributor of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the company’s headquarters has become a kind of paean to Potter paraphernalia. When you walk in, pennants and a huge pair of handmade quilts — depicting cover art for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — frame the entranceway. Four conference rooms (Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin) are named after the houses at Harry’s fictional alma mater, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And there’s a prominent spot for Rowling, too: her only visit to the complex, seven years ago, is captured in a large photograph hanging near the front desk."

An interesting article on what the last Harry Potter book will mean for Vancouver's Raincoast Books

(But really, I think the more important question should be: What will the last Harry Potter book mean for me!? )

Monday, June 11, 2007

In case you were wondering...

.... what I've been up to lately....

I have an exam tomorrow for my Exploring the Religious World class and so I've been studying for that. Well, except for the time I spent yesterday watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with Jared and Aelys. And the hours and hours I spent reading The Queen's Fool on the balcony and watching the rainstorm and eating Chinese food. Oh, and the time I spent on Saturday going out for dinner with Vanessa, dropping in at Dirk's 26th birthday party, and then hanging out at the Toad with Sarah, Tim, Jenn, Karina, Erin and others in celebration of Erin's graduation from the UofM.

Besides all of that I've been studying. Yep. On Wikipedia. :P

Okay, okay - and in my textbook, too. I'm actually really lucky because I love reading my textbook. Its very well written - to the point where I often read further ahead then I have to just because I can't wait to find out what's next.

Other then the exam, I'm also reassessing my... well, life, I guess. My priorities. (Yes, I have priorities!) I've realized that I'm stuck in a trap right now. My cushy, mindless, overpaid unionized job (not saying where) with its terrible schedule and constantly changing hours allows me to have a car and eat out lots but its awful for school. It means that I'm never able to take anything close to a full course load because of my schedule and because I make too much money to qualify for a student loan. So instead I've been paying for school myself. On the one hand, that's a good thing because it means less debt. On the downside, I can't afford to take more then 2 courses at a time. So, I've decided I don't care about the debt - I just want to graduate and get a Real Job that I actually enjoy and which can move me towards other goals, like traveling and moving to another city/country.

So, to stop rambling, the point is - I'm probably going to be selling my car soon and getting a new, part-time, less-well-paying job that will enable me to take out student loans and go to school full time (or as close to full time as I can handle without having a nervous breakdown from too much homework). At this point I'm back to thinking of Education - either Middle or Senior years. I just have to decide what I want to teach. Probably History or English with a minor in either Politics, Religious Studies, Philosophy or International Development...

Wish me luck!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The World Is a Beautiful Place

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don't mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don't sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn't half bad
if it isn't you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling


Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(Yeah, yeah, I know, I know - too much poetry; not enough prose. *sigh*)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The hour is getting late...

"There must be some way out of here,"
said the joker to the thief,

"There's too much confusion,
I can't get no relief."

Season 4 will be the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica.

They have 22 episodes in which to bring it all together and finish off with a glorious bang.