BRACING FOR THE NEW YEAR

Much happened in my life in the past year that I haven’t mentioned in the blog. My attention was largely focused on the new novel, which underwent three major revisions, completely changing its focus from, first, what Cassia discovered about her hippie father to, second, what she discovered about her Greek-American family through his photos to, third, finally the way she emerged from the emotional loss and grew stronger and wiser as a consequence. Now that What’s Left (the third title, by the way) is finally released as an ebook (Cheers!), you can tell me if it was worth three years of angst, fasting, and flagellation on my part.

One personal accomplishment was my reading the Bible straight-through at the beginning of the year. I started with Everett Fox’s extraordinary translation of the Five Books of Moses and ended with David Bauscher’s translation of the New Testament from Aramaic, while covering most of what’s in-between in the New Jerusalem version. Wanted to hear it all afresh. My notes from the experience will probably fuel an upcoming series, likely at my As Light Is Sown blog.

Also on the religious front, I attended the entire Holy Week (what they regard as Passover) services in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Outwardly, it’s about as far as you can get from my quietist Quaker aesthetic, but again, it was a powerful way of hearing the story afresh. With the shortest service running about an hour-and-a-half and the longest well beyond that, the closest comparison I could come up with would be Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (nightly) or Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which runs shorter in time and isn’t repeated the next morning. It was a miracle the priest and psalmists had any voice left by Easter. And the final services border on chaotic, wax-dripping celebration. Well, that’s the short take. My one regret is that I’ll never again be able to experience this for the first time.

In late spring, I felt called to assist our neighboring Indonesian immigrant community as a number of Christian refugees face deportation to a land where they fear profound religious persecution. As many of us have found, accompanying them to monthly immigration appointments an hour from home has been a life-changing experience. The vigil outside the federal building has been the biggest ecumenical gathering in the state, with clergy and laity blending together. I’m getting teary simply typing this. A last-minute federal court stay has us hopeful, but nothing’s certain as we await the final rulings. I am so proud that my Quaker Meeting has stepped up to this challenge, supported by at least a dozen other congregations in our corner of the state. Whatever action we take, we cannot do alone, but we feel God’s Spirit leading.

At home, our garden flourished, especially with an unprecedented fall in which the first frost didn’t strike until November 8 — a full month later than normal. We still had our own tomatoes up to New Year’s Day.

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MAY WE GROW OLD GRACEFULLY

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. Somehow as a Subway Hitchhiker (at least in my imagination and dreaming) I’ve settled in a small city in a cluster of small cities amid moose and deer and the occasional black bear. As well as the eagle, overhead. Here, with my city farm, as we garden.
  2. Always the Outsider – even when I’m the Leader.
  3. This slow process of learning to trust each other again.
  4. Yet some Wants are also Needs! (To be loved, accepted – even as a writer – even successful or victorious in some manner.)
  5. My Wall is an aspect of Control. (Even if it’s so classic it’s trite.)
  6. Sometimes it seems we don’t play. We don’t play enough.
  7. The pathway is not straight but strait. Not even like a tightrope. No wonder I’m so often off-kilter.
  8. In the beginning was the Plan and the Plan was (as I paraphrase the gospel of John). Yes, simply was. And all we have to do is step into it! As if it could really be that simple.
  9. This is hardly a Literary Life. How different my work would be had I led another existence. Something with more time for serious reading, teaching, refined social circles. Rather than laboring out in the field.
  10. So comforting, this thick terrycloth bathrobe that reaches to my ankles – not a given, at all, when you’re tall. Nice way to round out the year.

~*~

Set for winter. We burn about three cords of firewood to help heat the house each year.
Set for winter. We burn about three cords of firewood to help heat the house each year. As they used to say, “Half your hay by Groundhog Hog,” meaning the amount you’d need left to get through a full winter. It applied to firewood, too.

SO THIS IS THE GOOD LIFE?

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. Is anything more relaxing than sitting in front of a wood fire? Even when it means sitting on the floor?
  2. Gift-buying husbands? Just look! As she says, they’re subjected to indentured shop-itude.
  3. First day of winter and the flannel sheets should be on the bed by now, if not earlier. Flip the mattress and rotate, too.
  4. Our traditional Christmas dinner includes fresh homegrown Brussels sprouts, which means I’m out in the garden harvesting – sometimes in several feet of snow. Likewise with kale and chard: frost improves the flavor.
  5. Let me suggest Mary, as the mother of the church … a slightly different twist on the Nativity story.
  6. For someone who’s lived under relentless deadlines, Christmas itself can be seen as another damn deadline. Or series of deadlines. This year, I think I’m ahead.
  7. Still, I’m deeply grateful for the sense of release – notes, poems, correspondence … the logjam broken … now that the poems and novels are available.
  8. Grandfathers have grandfathers too. In case you’re in one of those inner-child perspectives.
  9. What are the theological dimensions of Alzheimer’s or dimentia? Where are the connections – the response ability – when your story gets so fragmented you’re no longer connected to anything you encounter?
  10. Tell me something true.

~*~

Our own holly, in front of the house.
Our own holly, in front of the house.

THE SILENCE IN BEETHOVEN

When it comes to the fine arts, we love our biographies of tortured genius, and Ludwig van Beethoven serves the storytellers admirably. Baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, his tempestuous and tragic life was one of failed love affairs, strained friendships, and especially the deafness that accompanied his greatest musical achievements. And yet many of us find him not only speaking for us but also extending inspiration in the quest for fullness and fidelity.

In part it’s a story of the way Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven reestablish the center of classical music, centering it in the German-speaking world far from its Italian roots and the Renaissance genius of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

As I discussed earlier this year, Beethoven’s popularity rests largely on works that he wrote in the second half of his life, past the age of Mozart’s death, the years that encompass what are known as his Middle (or Heroic) and Late periods. The years accompanied by deafness.

For much of my life, I’ve not been alone in finding that what most appealed to me were the works from the Middle period – the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the violin and “Emperor” piano concertos, the Rasumovsky string quartets – stirring works raging with dramatic struggle and promised victory. With all of their emotional parallels to athletic contests, these have justifiably ensured his enduring public adoration.

More recently, though, they’ve given way in my estimation as the Late period works have risen in preference. Quite simply, these have never been considered all that accessible. Many of them defiantly turn their back on the audience in a pursuit of boldly intricate, often extended, musical puzzles that plumb the depths of human despair, loneliness, resolve, as well as lofty heights. Indeed, for years the assumption has been that these are not for public consumption but are rather reserved for private investigation among the cognoscenti, should they be so honored.

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YES AND YET

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. She’s big on Christmas traditions, including our observing Advent these days. I’m still surprised she inherited none of it in her family! Created it like a radical quilt. Makes this array all the more remarkable, from my perspective.
  2. Slush on the windshield. Ice underfoot.
  3. Winter’s setting in, though I’m already tired of it.
  4. The earliest sunsets of the year have plateau’d and are already inching back in my part of the world. The oppressive late-afternoon darkness will soon be obviously relenting. We don’t wait for the solstice.
  5. I like the Eastern Orthodox insight of Mary as the Mother of Light.
  6. In reality, I hate being the caretaker, responsible one, cleaner-upper, put-awayer. Contrary to my self-image.
  7. It’s been a long road to here. Sometimes it feels like a hangover.
  8. In working a seasonal job, she has a curious freedom in not having to worry about being fired, losing the mortgage, and so on. Just put the hours in and go home.
  9. Whatever happened to my collection of winter scarves? (As if I really need to ask.)
  10. Authenticity: something that speaks to the bones.

~*~

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Brussels sprouts are one of our crops that taste sweeter after surviving a good frost. We’re known to harvest some for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and that can mean having to dig them out from the snow. One year required us to shovel more than two feet down.