Monday, October 31, 2005

Jenni and I were talking about Harry Potter the other day. Those books are growing up incarnate. (does that make sense?) It annoys me to read reviews of the books that complain about Rowling's lack of literariness. Do the kids care? They're the ones that matter.

I find it funny that my first thought about Harry Potter is the turmoil of becoming an adult, not the witchcraft involved, or Rowling's "satanic" bent. The magic is secondary. One critic pointed out that you could take away the wizardry, and the basic story would be mostly intact.

These books will be on the bookshelf in my children's rooms. I used to worry that my kids would be non-readers, but now I'm quite fine with the thought of letting it be. There will be no lack of books, obviously. What more can I do? (or should do?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I don't think I have ever had to force myself to eat chocolate before I went to Mt. Rogers. It was like Fear Factor as I bit off chunks of my Lindt dark chocolate bar, forcing myself to chew and swallow, trying to think only of the calories I needed, not how my gag reflex was threatening to act out.

It was that miserable kind of cold, 40 degrees in the steady rain. You don't even want to take breaks because walking is what keeps you warm. It makes entering the shelter, pulling on dry clothes, and drinking hot coffee pure pleasure. I would have purred if I could, cozily bundled in my sleeping bag.

I thought of myself as tramping across the moors in Wuthering Heights as we crossed the balds, picking our way through grassy humps and rocks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

When I was little, I wrote novels about kids that were suspiciously similar to my cousins and I. The novels usually centered on some adventure that took place in the wilderness, preferably with a madman chasing the protoganists, with some cute boys thrown in. The kids were remarkably self-sufficient; they ate dandelions and crushed ants for food, and caught fish with panty-hose. And they always managed to thwart the enemy through some outlandish means.

I mention this because of my own real-life adventure this weekend. Granted, there weren't any psychos pursuing Jon and I across the balds (I think in my novels I would have had the kids jump on the wild ponies to escape), but we endured the "cold-that-seeps-into-your-bones" and climbed a couple ancient mountains to boot. I can't tell you how pleased I am to have actually enjoyed myself 99% of the time; to have been able to look at the trail snaking its way up the mountain-side and not want to cry at the thought of climbing.

I really have changed since the first time I went hiking in the Gorge and collapsed deliriously red-faced by the truck after a maliciously up-and-down 8 mile trek. We hiked 10 miles the first day, 12.7 miles the second, and 13 miles the third, on our way into Damascus. I was still standing, and quite alert, when we reached the car.

On the third day, Jon woke me up at 4 AM to tell me he was too hungry to sleep. So we got up, went outside in the tar-black darkness to retrieve the food-bag (you hang your food-bag a substantial distance from your camp in case bears amble into the vicinity), cooked breakfast and set out. I can tell you now that I do not like hiking in the darkness and rain. We hiked four hours before the sun rose.

It's like Mom said, you truly have to like being around yourself when you go hiking. Without even the distractions of nature around you, hiking in the dark, focused on the small circle of light directly in front of you from your headlamp, calls for some serious retrospection mixed with zoning out. I just thought of myself as a hobbit on a journey, truding in the cold and wet.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pope caught a rat. He was quite pleased with himself, sprawling on the floor with his grey lion mane fluffed out, eyes half-closed and purring.

He redeemed himself after the mouse debacle. With that one, he just plopped on the floor and watched it run circles around him. That mouse figured out he was safer close to Pope than the 2 humans jumping around with a broom.
One of the few redeeming qualities about working at Joseph-Beth is books--free books. We had our fall rep breakfast last week and I walked away with over $200 worth of books: actual, hardcover books. All for just getting up early in the morning with bad coffee and doughnuts. Some of what I got:

-"The City of Falling Angels" by the guy who wrote "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil"
-"Julie & Julia" some girl cooks Julia Child's recipe book front-to-back
-"The Children's Blizzard"-one of those little incidents in history that were awful, but were barely mentioned in the news
-"The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear" -a weird mix of fantasy, myth, fairy tale, adventure, weirdness all in one
..among others

Whether I'll actually read these remains to be seen.

Here's what else I'm reading:
-Christ Plays in 10 Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson
-Three Short Novels by Wendell Berry
-Lance Armstrong's War (not my typical genre, but this book is amazingly literary)
-The Narnian
-Albion by Peter Ackyroyd
-Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Why do I do this to myself?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

When I was little, I knew that there were wolves in the basement. A child doesn't care for the distinction between reality and dreams; both are equally strong presences in his life.

At night, I always crept into the kitchen (the stairs to the basement were at the far end), and gathered my snack foods as quietly as I could, then turned and ran as though my life depended on it. I remember shadows moving on the floor in the dining room as I dashed through, wildly thinking that the wolves were on my heels. Later, I know that the shadows were only from the tree-branches outside, waving in the night wind. But that moment in my child-life was real.

Now there is a children's book out: The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman. My memory of the wolves in the basement came flooding back. That's one of the things I love about books and reading. Every once in a while, a book comes along that revisits some part of your life, or brings back memories of a long-past era. Lately I have been so busy growing up that I forgot what it was like to be a child, when terror was as simple and as real as wolves in the basement.

Another thing about books is the feeling that some of them bring of entering a light-filled den where dad is calmly watching TV and mom is working on her needlestitch. The wolves in the basement disappear, forgotten as I step into the light and join my family.

PS--I have a new blog that got posted further down, below "Monday October 10th". Mom will probably like it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

While I'm on camping stories... I've told various people this story, and can't remember if I've told you.

Jon and I went to Hot Springs, North Carolina earlier this year to hike to Max Patch bald, a summit that is a little shy of 5000 feet, where you can look to the South and see the end of the Smokies, rising darkly against the sky, and to the North where the Appalachians rear their shaggy heads.

We were dropped off at the very bottom of the trail and began climbing. And climbing. And climbing. At five miles, we had climbed almost 3,000 feet. At eight miles I was weary. At ten miles I was breathless as well. At 12 miles, I was lagging on a constant basis. At 15 miles, my body gave up. My legs literally would not move. I stood there staring at Jon, ready to cry out of exhaustion. He came back down the trail, took my backpack, slung it over his shoulder, and headed back up the trail without any change in his pace, my pack banging against his. Mind you, we were each carrying backpacks weighing between 15-20 pounds. Later, he told me: "It never gets easier. It only gets less hard."

Feeling weightless without the backpack, I could go on, albeit shakily. It is a strange thing to literally toe the limit of the body's endurance, and still push on. The next day was easier. We had reached the top of the mountain, the climbs would be much more subtle, and we could see the sky between the trees (one thing that lets you know you are near the top is when the sky starts to peek through the trees on either side of you, rather than just from above).

That weekend, we hiked 32 miles in two days. When I was walking to class Monday morning, a stroll of 3/4 a mile, I quite honestly felt like I could go on. I could walk past the President's house, get onto Nicholasville Rd, walk out of Lexington and on to Jon's parents' house in Stanford 43 miles away. That frame of mind was so natural to me at the time, and my legs so warmed up to the notion of walking, that I wonder at it now.
Reading my friend Dwain's account of his camping trip is making me excited about our own trip this weekend. Jon and I are going to Mount Rogers in Damascus, Virginia this weekend. Hopefully, I can make it up this time without wanting to die. (It's a little shy of 6,000 feet--but I don't think we will be starting at the very bottom).

There are feral ponies around the trail. They ignore you until they hear the distinct sound of ziplock bags being unzipped, and the jostling of trail mix inside. Then they gather around you, staring at you with one keen eye. Jon says that they will nibble at your socks if you let them. They want the salt from your sweat.

My other distinct memory of this place is when I met Jon here in 2003, while he was on the Appalachian Trail. He had hiked a little over 500 miles by this point and I hadn't seen him for almost two months. I was going to hike a small section of the trail with him, then head on home while he continued on, with the intent of making it to Mount Katadhin in Maine. Well, he was getting fed up with the other thru-hikers, whose goals had quickly degenerated into "puttin' in the miles" rather than enjoy the hike (which is what Jon is all about, as far removed from the discomfort of constant hiking as he is), and he missed me. We had hiked about 3 miles out and were taking a rest stop when he sat on a log, looked up at me and said, "I'm done."
And he came home with me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

His Holiness Pope John Paul III
I'm posting this embarrassing picture because I don't like Pope very much right now...
He has been waking us up starting at 5 AM (that critical point where you can't resume deep sleeping before you have to get up), and for no other reason than the joy of having company.
He seems to know the exact location of your vital organs, or a rather full bladder, and places his paws just so when he climbs on top of you.
Sometimes he gallops across the bed, with such force that he unintentionally propels himself off the other end and smack into the wall. One night I dreamed of intense pressure on my chest, as though I was drowning or being crushed, and awoke to Pope kneading my chest, purring full blast. This is a rather big cat, mind you. So big that the girls below us asked if we had a dog because they could hear the thump-thump of Pope racing up and down our hallway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Who knew that library school could be so funny?
Here is a rule from the fat tome of AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloging Rules 2nd edition):

21.26 Spirit Communications
21.26A. Enter a communication presented as having been received from a spirit under the heading for the spirit (see 22.14). Make an added entry under the heading for the medium or other person recording the communication.

Food for the million, or, Thoughts from beyond the borders of the material / by Theodore Parker ; through the hand of Sarah A. Ramsdell
Main entry under the heading for the spirit of Parker
Added entry under the heading for Ramsdell

Apparently, Mark Twain has written stuff from beyond the grave. I believe that there are books or pamphlets in some library somewhere that have been attributed to: Twain, Mark (Spirit)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The other day I was stepping out the door and heard an angry chattering on the wind. At first I attributed it to 'nature sounds'--my vague catchall for anything I hear outside. Being deaf doesn't allow one to be creative in naming sounds. Then I remembered Jon telling me of squirrels and their active participation in city life. I looked up and saw, sure enough, a grey squirrel staring beadiliy down at me, black fingers curled round a branch, vigorously shaking it like the wind at play with leaves.

I stood and gaped at this furry thing that, to me, had abruptly gained a voice. It was as though one of the mysteries of life had been granted to me, and I could understand animal tongues. We gazed at each other like two strangers meeting in a familiar place, curious yet wary. Then a car roared past, I remembered the keys in my hand, and he dashed off.

This is what life with Jon has done for me; a previously unknown door has been opened. He has been explaining the sounds of nature to me throughout our life together: on hikes, in the backyard, a city stroll. Oftentimes, he'll stand at the door to our apartment, just before we go in with our groceries, and say "Hear that?" and then explains what animal or phenomenon of nature has just sounded out its claim on life. It is all very strange to me, as though I am still a child, learning how to define the world.
After a month of feeling my around the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), I sent out a letter to let people know I was there. I was nervous that I would get either of 2 contradictory results. No one would care or I would be deluged with indecipherable scientific questions.
Thankfully, neither happened. Most of the responses were people who hadn't a clue about the library's existence. A few reference requests were thrown in the batch. Surprisingly, they haven't been that hard. I just have to remember that I don't necessarily need to possess a phD in science in order to conduct searches. I just have to know how to construct an effective search.
The odd thing is that science databases are much easier to search than humanities databases. Science is a more objective field. There isn't much in the way of synonyms and abstract ideas.
On a side note, my first reference request was "vapor intrusion", which sounds somewhat like that murderous mist in Jordan's impossibly long series.

Friday, October 07, 2005

From Gilead by Marilynee Robinson:

"I have been thinking about existence lately. In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. As I was walking up to the church this morning, I passed that row of big oaks by the war memorial — if you remember them — and I thought of another morning, fall a year or two ago, when they were dropping their acorns thick as hail almost. There was all sorts of thrashing in the leaves and there were acorns hitting the pavement so hard they'd fly past my head. All this in the dark, of course. I remember a slice of moon, no more than that. It was a very clear night, or morning, very still, and then there was such energy in the things transpiring among those trees, like a storm, like travail. I stood there a little out of range, and I thought, it is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees still can astonish me.

"I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”

This book is about the joy of living--truly living. And that's all I can say about it.

Here's some pictures of Jon racing. In the top picture, he is the the blue guy furthest to the left, or third person from the front. In the bottom picture, he is the second guy from the right, in orange glasses. These pictures don't do road racing justice. You can't hear the rush of the group zipping by, like an angry swarm of bees, or watch as they all prepare to sprint like mad to the finish (it was a mad sprint that caused one of Jon's accidents where he was literally flipped head-over-heels over his bike handlebars after his front wheel touched the back wheel of a biker in front of him).
This is one of those things that marriage does to you. You find yourself quite interested in something that you would never have paid any attention to otherwise. (Jon just told me he knows the name of Vermeer's famous picture "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" because of me, so it goes both ways).

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Till We have Faces--I must admit that I would never have thought that CS Lewis had written this. I guess Chronicles of Narnia still looms large as my main mental association with Lewis (the movie is coming out this fall, and actually looks like it might be decent. The effects appear Tolkienesque). Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the Psyche & Cupid myth, told in an earthy style that I enjoy.
The land is under a plague and the people demand to sacrifice beautiful Psyche to the shadowbrute, to the god-of-the-mountain. The narrator Orual is not sure whether the stories say that the sacrificial victim is devoured by the brute, or taken to be the bride of the god (to be 'devoured' by his love). She eventually realizes that either way, the term 'devour' is an essential term in relation to the gods. Its violent connotation is reminiscient of the behavior of the gods, who are so far removed from mortals that what they do is all too easily misunderstood by the people of the earth. Those of you who know the Psyche myth know there is plenty more to the story, but this is what I took away with this reading. (My style of reading calls for countless re-readings, with each reading plucking some new grain of truth to chew on).
I think what makes this brooding book stick is the fresh take on Greek mythology. Those stories have been told so often, and the gods are so whimsical, like mortals allowed to have everything their way, that the stories quickly became rote. This book made them intimidating again. It reminded me why mythology has remained even as the years fade away