Tuesday, January 29

This is a meditation I've been working on for several days. I was recently able to spend several lovely rainy hours reading T. S. Eliot on my balcony. That sort of environment is very conducive to odd strains of thought while reading the Four Quartets, and this piece is the result of that. Please feel free to critique!

Reading Eliot in the Rain

I sit out on my balcony, with an old copy of the collected poems of T.S. Eliot. The book is a rather unattractive edition, in a dark teal with a picture of an aging Eliot on the front. The dust jacket has been covered with that plastic that librarians use to make sure that the cover will not stay in place, and will crinkle loudly whenever it is adjusted. The words are difficult, and do not always scan easily. Across the street, a neighbor locks his car doors with a jarring squawk of the remote, making me jump and lose my place.

Time present and time past are both perhaps present on this balcony. I am surrounded by things that are mine, and yet not mine. This book is a used edition that I got at a bookstore; though there are no markings in it, you can tell that it has been read often. I am seated comfortably in an old blue armchair donated to me by my parish priest. Since it is chilly outside, and drizzling rain, I have wrapped myself in two warm blankets. One is a bright blue fleece, a gift from my grandmother who got it for donating money to one of her many charities. The other is a thick brown blanket, with deer on it; it was given to me by my best friend, and yet it always makes me think of my grandfather, now dead for fifteen years. This balcony is attached to my room, in a house that I am leasing from someone I have never met. What I own is what I do not own.

Between the stanzas of the poem I meet one walking whom I had known; some dead master, both one and many. The thinning white hair, the glasses (are they his, or Eliot’s?), both familiar and strange. The college professor who encouraged me to write the first story I ever put to paper, and the poet who guides me through these lines; it does not matter which. He is gone forever beyond recalling. I turn towards him to speak the words of thanks, but my hand meets only the chilly air of a California winter. A bird calls through the rain, the lament of the disconsolate chimera.

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, and my father (who looks so much like his father) spends a day walking through the empty house he was raised in, before it is torn down for farmland. I have the cold of Scandinavian ice in my spirit, an inheritance from ancestors I never met who spoke a language that I do not understand. And what they had no speech for, when living, they can tell me, being dead: the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living, especially if that language was Norwegian.

The fog is in the fir trees. The rain comes and goes; sometimes the clouds are a grey sheet, completely featureless. Now and again they break apart, and are blown by the wind, forming and reforming as the sunlight spears through the brief apertures. A blast of wind shakes the bare branches of the trees, and sends a shower of leaves cascading from the roof, scattering onto the driveway. While the light fails on a winter's afternoon, in a secluded cul-de-sac, history is now and California.

A plane descending breaks the air, and time reasserts its presence. My ancestors and the professor take their places beneath the yew tree once again, my father is in Texas, and I am here on a balcony in an old arm chair that makes my legs go to sleep because it has no footrest. The rain is still falling, with that faint scattered roar that seems to fill the senses, and it is time to go back inside, but I cannot bring myself to leave. I close my eyes for a moment, inhaling the scents of rain, smog, and jasmine. There is a stillness between the drops of the rain, and the voice of the waterfall can be heard in the rush of water in the gutter. It is enough. And all shall be well.

Book meme

Shamelessly stolen from Julie at HappyCatholic.blogspot.com!
  1. Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Well, until last year, it was Pride and Prejudice. But then I finally read it and liked it, so...hmmm. Have to pick a new irrational dislike soon.

  2. If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be? Drat, Julie already picked Harry Dresden. I guess mine would be Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde's hilarious books, Dejah Thoris from Burroughs' Mars books, and Gabriel Gale from Chesterton's stories. The afternoon would consist of throwing squashy veggies at over-rated authors (C. Paolini, watch your back!)

  3. (Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for a while, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations. I like Dickens, but hey.

  4. Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? Actually, I don't pretend to have read books. I may pretend to remember more about a book than I actually do, but I think that's it.
  5. You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead and personalise the VIP). Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. Fascinating overview of history from pagan times forward. Good idea for any VIP to read, regardless of personal theology.

  6. A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with? Hmmm..hard to choose between Latin (so much beautiful stuff) or Greek (Plato in the original! *drools*). Oh the whole though, there's more to read in Latin. And it would get me out of 3 months of Latin homework that I haven't done.

  7. A mischievous fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick? Only one? Well, I already read A Christmas Carol every year, and I'm starting to re-read The Divine Comedy every Easter...i guess maybe Eliot's Four Quartets? I re-read a lot...Books are wonderful friends!

  8. I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)? Well, I like most genres and styles as it is, so mostly the book bloggers make me aware of single books I haven't read: Eifelheim, World War Z, etc. No, I take it back: classic pulp. My love of classic pulp was instigated by John C. Wright's blog. since reading that blog, I have begun the Lensman series, the Tarzan series, and the Mars books. I love them all!

  9. That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leather bound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. *brain freeze induced by excessive bookyness* Uhh....Well, all the pulp would have two editions: the original and a good pulpy-looking paperback that's readable. I'd have at least one signed edition by each favorite author (my entire Bradbury collection would be autographed). I'd have copies of the classics in their original languages, and in English translations (if someone put Dorothy Sayers' Dante translation and notes with Gustav Dore's drawings, that would be heavenly). Of course it would have stone floors with thick oriental rugs, and those high bookshelves with the rolly ladders. Think the library from Beauty and the Beast, but in rich earth tones instead of icky pastels. And cushy armchairs, deep enough to curl up in. And a fireplace. And big french doors that open up onto a balcony with a mountain view. And a refirgerator, because I'd never leave to go get food. Seriously.

Monday, January 28

A re-post

I am re-posting this, because I want some of my writing groups to see it, and don't feel like moderating comments that far back in the archives
Four years ago, in my friend's English class, the prof was talking about the idea of the sublime, and said that some things, such as elephants running off a cliff into the sea in a rainstorm, could not be sublime. Liz, of course, took this as a challenge, and had our writing group write scenes in which that experience is sublime. Here is mine:

The problem with being granted a sign is that quite often, you need another sign to explain the first one.

So it is with the sign I have been given. I have no doubt that it is, in fact, a sign: it has unmade my thoughts and my heart is aflame. But what the sign signifies is beyond my ability to grasp.
It was a day ripe for signs, an apocalpyse contained in a rainstorm. The air was heavy and pregnant with moisture, yearning for release. The wind was cold and damp, heavily scented with the smell of the sea and rains from distant lands. The clouds hung heavy, barely clearing the ground, and lightning flashed in the distance.

I stood, with the ocean on my right and the trees to my left, looking out along the coast, and admiring the brief reflections that the lightning cast on the water. The waves rippled in the wind, as restless as the air itself. Suddenly, as the storm drew closer, an arc of lightning dashed out from the stormfront and cast itself into the water. The air was full of steam, and my nose prickled with a scent unlike any I had ever smelled. If anyone had been around to see, they would have seen my hair standing around my head like a halo, practically shimmering with electrons. It was then I knew that I must wait, for a sign would be granted.

I'm not sure how long I stood there, the incense of fire and water wafting around me, but it could not have been long, for the steam was still rising from the water when I began to hear it. At first, it was indistinguishable from the thunder. Then it was part of the thunder, a deep rumble in the land. Finally, it become the source from which the thunder rolled, crashing about my head.

As I turned to the trees, I saw them. They moved out of the trees as if they did not see them, and I am not at all sure that they did. I would say that they moved through the trees like ghosts, but it would be more truthful to say that the land and all that was in it were like ghosts in their presence. As they moved across my line of sight, I could see the water in their eyes. It called to them, as it had to me, but they alone knew how to answer the call.

To this day, I do not know whether they were called by the water, or the lightning, or by some force of which both were merely a symptom. But on they came, the lightning reflected in their tusks, ears blowing in the gusting wind. They were silent giants, except for the thunder of their stampeding feet. They did not trumpet to herald the lightning, nor to mourn their passing, but accepted it in a way that I cannot. For as they reached the cliffs that overlooked the sea, they did not slow, nor did they turn to the left or the right, but simply went over the edge of the cliff, into the water. Perhaps my hearing was damaged that day, or perhaps I simply was not listening, but I did not hear a single splash as they entered the water. The size of their bodies should have made a terriffic impact, but I heard nothing. Nothing, except the thunder of their feet, thunder beneath the waves.

I do not expect you to believe that this was a sign. After all, what could be significant about a herd of elephants running off a cliff into the ocean, in the rain? But this was my sign, my grail, and I do not know what it means. But to this day, when I hold a seashell to my ear, I hear a dim thunder beyond the rushing sound of the sea.