Tuesday, September 18

Today's Joys

Things I thoroughly enjoyed today:

Walking in light rain down to the Mississippi.

Watching the white heron I've been seeing lately. Watching the shimmer of waves in subdued light.

Taking off my shoes, standing barefoot in cool wet grass, and eating raspberries until I could eat no more.

Choir practice at First Universalist: both the singing and the joshing around. The basses as usual were the "troublemakers," the tenors had ready quips, the sopranos were thin and lovely, and the altos laughed at all the jokes.

An extended call to the help desk at work, because Tony cracks me up. I can feel myself on the verge of losing it laughing, and sometimes I roll right over the edge.

Sitting in a bookstore, drinking tea, reading a magazine, listening to the rain pound on the outside. (Vastly preferable to being stuck in extra-slow rush-hour traffic, on top of post-bridge collapse congestion, on top of our already crowded streets and highways. I waited it out at Borders Books.)
I copied the picture of the heron from this blog entry about herons: http://qualiajournal.blogspot.com/2006/12/white-herons_8518.html

Credo, #2

(The picture shows Bach's original manuscript for the Credo section of his B Minor Mass. Click on it for a larger view.)

Ever since I became acquainted with the "Credo" from Bach's Mass in B Minor, I've tried to determine what my credo is. What do I believe? Here is a not-very-serious but absolutely-for-sure list of some things I believe.


• Always keep your sense of humor.

• Take your work seriously but don't take yourself seriously.

• Never make a decision at night. (Grandpa Ray)

• If you can't sleep, turn your pillow over so the cool side is up. (Grandpa Ray)

• There's always time to go to the bathroom.

• You get what you pay for.

• The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

• Take time for quiet time, also known as "To keep crisp, reroll inner bag." (Kellogg's Rice Krispies box)

• Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great Battle. (Philo of Alexandria, philosopher)

Friday, September 7

Books to avoid

I was browsing the mystery section at my local library the other day and found a lot not to like. I might be considered fussy, though not by me. I don't like my mysteries too cute, but I've sworn off the ever-escalating "can you top this" violence at the other extreme. Why are serial killers of young women so popular? I find it disturbing on so many levels.

Books I avoid include features such as:

- horrifically mutilated corpses of young women, and I don't care how good the writing is. I'm just done with this.

And on the other extreme:

- blurbs which include descriptions of Westies, Wheaten Terriers, or any small annoying dogs
- blurbs in which people "stumble across a corpse." Uh-huh. Repeatedly, book after book. Uh-huh. Really.
- blurbs for fantasy books which include anyone "wise in the lore of" anything
- any combination of cooking and murder
- books where the protagonist puzzles through one scenario after another, with the most gossamer of rationales, reeling off theory after theory based on nothing at all
- any combination of the romance genre with the mystery genre.

Which brings me to some deliciously awful writing I've been meaning to post. This is from Andrea Kane's "Dark Room," a book with a fairly good mystery which in my humble opinion is completely ruined by overlaying it with romance. You don't need to know much about the story to -- well, enjoy it is not quite write -- er, right . . . but here: Morgan is the one who, yes, "stumbled upon" her parents' bodies. Her father's best friend and his wife Elyse raise her along with their own daughter, Jill, with whom Morgan now runs an upscale dating agency. Lane is the hunky love interest. And now, with a flourish: ~~~~

“Dressed in an emerald-green velour Lacoste running suit, with her frosted blond hair cut fashionably short and wispy, Elyse invited Lane in, took his coat, and asked what he’d like to drink.”

“A lump forming in her throat, Morgan studied her mother’s handwriting—the flowing letters, the achingly familiar use of circles to dot her i’s.” (!!! Hair standing on end!!!) =:0

“Lane wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting, but it wasn’t the fine-boned brunette who walked in. Shoulder-length hair. Pale green eyes. Fine features and delicate build that conveyed fragility. But with a take-charge self-assurance that completely contradicted the vulnerable image. No, actually it enhanced it. Sensitivity and strength, composure and fire, with a depth and expressiveness in her eyes that spoke of compassion and pain.
‘Hauntingly beautiful’ was the term that sprang to mind.”

(Feel free to permit yourself a small shudder at any time.)

“He glanced from her to Jill and back. ‘Two beautiful, intelligent women--one, charming and intuitive, the other vivacious and enthusiastic. It’s a pretty unbeatable combination. I can see why clients flock to your agency.”

This last reminds me of those clippings the "New Yorker" used to run, captioned, "Shouts we doubt ever got shouted." Things like "The crowd shouted, 'take your wife and your childen and your old green Chevy and get out of town." Not really pithy shouting material.

I can think of no proper summarizing remark. I'm at a loss for words.


I checked out a book about Chiyogami, a kind of Japanese paper, usually with a small all-over pattern. As is so often the case, I didn't have time to do much but skim it and look at the pictures. I did find out there are dozens of kinds of Japanese paper, but didn't really understand what differentiates them. Here is a particularly lovely example of Chiyogami from the internet. If you're like me, you'll recognize it as origami paper, but there seems to be a distinction. Maybe chiyogami is used for origami but other papers are, too? Who really cares? Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, September 5

The Music of Failure

I think about failure and success, having such a spectacular track record of failing to find a library job. I console myself with the character-building qualities of failure, and with the opportunity to develop spiritual robustness with all the time I save not having a demanding job. I regret my inability to provide more security and more fun for my children, and I don't have a silver lining for that.

I am attracted to stories of failure, its antecedents and consequences. Last night after a heavy day of resisting that insistent voice in my head chanting "loser, loser, loser," I reached for Bill Holm's The Music of Failure. He grew up in a small rural town and calls those a success who pass on a love of learning and beauty, particularly his friend Pauline Bardal and her brother and sister.

I'm an adult living in a wonderful city that values learning and beauty. Though I may occasionally inspire such a love, so do multitudes of other influences.

Here in the city, in my adult life, I count myself as a success those times I am kind, the times I am optimistic, the times I listen from the heart. These are qualities I possess that may be in short supply around me, and which could kindle another's heart the way the Bardal's love of learning kindled Bill Holm.

Is it spiritual discipline or cop-out to believe wholeheartedly that is enough? I work to believe that intangibles such as love can be my success, but keep a cynical eye out for self-delusion.

Here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt from The Music of Failure:

"Pauline, in American terms, was a great failure: always poor, never married, living in a shabby small house when not installed in others' backrooms, worked as a domestic servant, formally uneducated. . . gawky and not physically beautiful, a badly trained musician whose performances would have caused laughter in the cities. She owned nothing valuable, traveled little, and died alone, the last of her family. . . Probably she died a virgin, the second most terrible fate, after dying broke, that can befall an American.

Pauline shared a small house with her brother Gunnar and her sister Rose, and when she died, the last of the Bardals, there was no one to inherit it. Holm helped clear the "pack rat" house for the executors.

"They accumulated no cans full of bank notes, no hidden treasure, nothing of any genuine monetary value; the Bardals were, in that regard truly poor. But not poor in mind and spirit! They owned books in three or four languages: Plato, Homer, Bjornsson in Norwegian, Snorri Sturlasson in Icelandic, Whitman, Darwin, Dickens, Ingersoll, Elbert Hubbard, piles of scores by Handel, Bach, Mozart, George Beverly Shea and Bjorgvin Gudmundsson, old cylinders of Caruso, Galla-Curci, Schumann-Heink, John McCormack, cheap books reproducing paintings and sculpture from great European museums, organ, piano, violin, trumpet, manuals for gardening, cooking and home remedies, the best magazines of political commentary and art criticism next to Capper's Farmer, the Minneota Mascot, and The Plain Truth, dictionaries and grammars in three or four languages, books of scientific marvels, Richard Burtons's travel adventures, old text books for speech and mathematics, Bibles and hymn books in every Scandinavian language, Faust, The Reader's Digest, and "Sweet Hour of Prayer." That tiny house was a space ship stocked to leave the planet after collecting the best we have done for each other for the last 4,000 years of human consciousness. And none of it worth ten cents in the real world of free enterprise! The executors might as well have torched the house, thus saving the labors of sorting it, giving mementos to friends and peddling the rest at a garage sale on a sweltering summer afternoon. What one realized with genuine astonishment was that the Bardals piled this extraordinary junk not only inside their cramped house; that house was a metaphor for their interior life which they stocked with the greatest beauty and intelligence they understood. They read the books, played the instruments, carried the contents of that house in their heads, and took it off with them at last into their neat row in the Lincoln County graveyard."

"But not entirely . . . Anyone who carries a whole civilization around inside gives it to everyone they meet in conversations and public acts. Pauline gave me music; Gunner, the model of a man who read and thought . . . Rose, in her odd way, her crazed longing for God. Not one of them had so much as a high school diploma. "