What cans’t thou say, in the midst of a popular concerto for the umpteenth time

The probing question by seminal Quaker George Fox, in a setting totally foreign to his comprehension, leads to the mystery of what makes something constantly new after any so many encounters.

Say a route you retrace daily. What do you discover for the first time today?

A spouse or a child, even more so.

And yes, a passage of Scripture or music.

Or whatever else is on your plate.

When accent marks count

Learning a foreign language includes acquiring an awareness of subtle distinctions. Oh, we really can have pity on anyone trying to navigate English as a second language!

Here are ten things I’m finding in Spanish.

  • Bebe / bebé … He/she/it drinks versus a baby.
  • Papa /  papá … A potato versus Daddy.
  • Mamá / mamaMom or mommy versus breast.
  • Esta / está … “This” versus he, she, or it is.
  • Si / síIf versus yes.
  • Hablo / hablóI speak versus he, she, or it spoke. In other words, that accent changes both the person doing the speaking as well as the tense.
  • Que / quéThat versus what.
  • Él / elHe versus the.
  • Sé / seI know versus reflective pronoun for he, she, it, even you.
  • Cómo / comoHow versus I eat.
  • Sólo / solo … With the accent, it can also mean “just,” in addition to “only.”

Of course, I don’t have those accent marks on my English keyboard or cell phone. Things can get really tricky when I’m trying to reply en Español.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, please take a bow

My novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks gives good reasons for Cassia’s future father to celebrate once he’s finally met her mother, as he does in my novel What’s Left. She quickly becomes the love of his life, and they’re well matched.

Do you know any couples who were brought together by a sage introduction from someone who knew them both well?

~*~

Greek migrant woman at the close of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th. How many of her customs continued?

Reasons I still love type on paper

Well, compared to ebooks and all this digital reading.

  1. I can caress it. Yes, even the texture and weight of the paper itself.
  2. Admire the spine on a shelf.
  3. Frame a page and mount it on a wall. (I’m thinking of a broadside, especially.)
  4. There’s marbling in some old editions, and end-papers. Nothing like that in ebooks.
  5. Underline and make notes as I read, enhancing the engagement.
  6. A sense of timelessness. Unlike a computer crash.
  7. Open an old book and there’s a special aroma. Hopefully not mold.
  8. Reading one works better at the beach, in full sunlight.
  9. Easier to find errors when correcting galleys or drafts.
  10. It really does feel finished.

The Achilles heel in Quaker culture  

When the Quaker movement swept through the English-speaking world and a bit more in the mid-1600s, it saw itself as primitive Christianity restored from before the time apostasy set upon the church – that is, sometime before the Nicene Council of 325 CE.

In theory, nothing could have been simpler or more welcoming than what they presented, an alternative Christianity for all, though in practice what emerged was often more difficult than many could follow, even before the disciplined rules of conduct set in.

I could lay out many of the obstacles to continuing the faith over the generations, even admitting that I wouldn’t have survived the lifestyle restrictions during much of that time, but more recently I’ve been seeing the most insidious impact was in the curtailment of emotion.

Yes, Friends were often seen as gentle and kind, but it came at a price. The Quaker culture that evolved, quite simply, suppressed any expression of anger – which was usually seen as leading to violence, which Friends abhorred – but only in recent decades has there been an acknowledgment that emotions don’t go away, and suppressing the expression of one curtails an open experience of the others. Burying anger, in fact, festers as depression, which can be glimpsed in the memorial minutes of many of the “weighty Quakes” of the past.

While moderation in daily life and meekness were encouraged, they could be performed thoughtfully or habitually without being deeply felt.

I’ve heard instances of old Friends’ reluctance to show emotion.

Greeting a son returned from wartime service with a handshake rather than a hug, for instance. My own family, several generations removed from its Quaker and Dunker (Brethren) roots, was similarly restrained. And, as has been said, the Hodsons didn’t know how to have fun. (When students at one Quaker school asked to have a fun activity, the elders had to withdraw to ponder the peculiar request and then came back with a proposal to paint a widow’s barn. An old Brethren, asked what he did for fun as a child, was perplexed by the very notion and finally replied he guessed it was bringing the cows in each evening.)

Then there’s the sly comment that passed among young Friends in the 1970s, asking if we knew why the old Quakers were so opposed to handholding. The answer? It might lead to premarital intercourse, not meaning sex but rather conversation.

There are also stories, usually told within families, of the individual who would never, ever, express anger only to have an offense fester, leading to deeply hurtful reactions in convolutions much later. You can guess, the baffling ex-mother-in-law, after the divorce, that sort of thing.

Not all birthright Friends, I should add, are so conflicted. Many I’ve known have been among the most loving individuals in my acquaintance.

But in looking at the decline of the faith over its history, I feel an awareness of the psychological undertow needs to be acknowledged, especially as we face the future.

Religion, as I see it, always has work to do to bring each person to a fuller experience of life.

What are your favorite Christmas hymns and carols?

Frankly, I can do without all of the secular holiday music, or at least most of it. I want something less contrived and commercial. Even Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score wears thin.

I’m not entirely insensitive, though. Here are ten I enjoy singing, especially in a choir.

~*~

  1. People, Look East: this 1928 Advent carol by Eleanor Farjeon is a joyous accompaniment when making preparations ahead of Christmas.
  2. In the Bleak Midwinter: I want to think of this as a plaintive folksong, but the words are by Christina Rossetti and the music’s by English master Gustav Holst. It catches the blue side of the approaching winter, but also the hope and comfort to be found therein.
  3. Once in Royal David’s City: If you can, go for the fully celebrative midnight mass with a full pipe organ and all five verses sung in the Anglican style that alternates soft and loud.
  4. There Are Angels Hovering Round: It’s an old call-and-response hymn that seems to have hundreds of verses, if you want to keep going. There’s no escaping the sense of togetherness when you’re singing.
  5. Fairest and Brightest (Star of the East): I first heard this in a recording by Kentucky folksinger Jean Ritchie, but it also works in formal arrangements. The text is a protest song befitting the suffering classes of the story.
  6. Nouvelle Agreable: by Swiss composer Jean-Georges Nageli, the bouncy music almost sounds like Mozart though even Native Americans near the Arctic will sing and dance to it, too. (Check it out on YouTube.)
  7. La Valse Cadienne de Noel: words and music by Jeannette V. Aguillard. What, you don’t waltz during the Twelve Days of Christmas?
  8. Traveler’s Carol: A traditional Catalan carol of coming together for the holiday. We use English by Susan Cooper in an arrangement by George Emlen.
  9. The Coventry Carol: a haunting sense of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and of the crucifixion to come infuse this lullaby.
  10. The Old Year is Dying: a cheerful Welsh piece to welcome the New Year. Again, New Year’s Day falls in the Twelve Days.

~*~

What are your favorites?

Hey, Figaro!

How is it the young Figaro, in “The Barber of Seville,” is so worldly-wise, especially in the ways of attracting women, while a few years later, in the “Marriage of Figaro,” he’s so confounded by the Count’s moves toward his own beloved? And, oh, yes – what happened to all that business savvy?

Well, it was a French theater comedy series originally. One obviously without a continuity editor.

I’ll give the author, Beaumarchais, some slack, since he was busy on many other fronts. And give him lots of credit for knowing how to cut satirically to the quick.