Tomorrow, Tuesday, Earning Pay

It’s a misty and muddy Monday morning, or was as of this writing, and I cannot come up with a really good excuse for not going to work today. I’m fond of my job, don’t get me wrong, but, well, it’s raining, and it’s dreadfully cold, and I don’t want to. None of those are acceptable reasons, even to me, and so I layer on my clothing, drag myself out the door, and tell my phone to play some music as I drive, in an effort to find some comfort in the cold.

What plays is this, my latest official endorsement for A Song to Stare off into the Distance and Be Dramatic to This October Morning, a song with a steady, if quiet beat, good for making oneself get up and go out, out of a sense of duty, if nothing else.

Schooldays over, come on then John
Time to be gettin’ your pit boots on
On with your sark and moleskin trousers
It’s time you were on your way
Time you were learning the pitman’s job
And earning the pitman’s pay

Come on then Jim, it’s time to go
Time you were working down below
Time to be handling a pick and a shovel
You start at the pits today
Time you were learning the collier’s job
And earning the collier’s pay

Come on then Dai, it’s almost light
Time you were off to the anthracite
The morning mist is on the valley
It’s time you were on your way
Time you were learning the miner’s job
And earning the miner’s pay

That’s “School Days Are Over,” the cover the Chieftains did with this band called The Low Anthem. The original song is by Ewan MacColl; the lay listener might have a chance of knowing a much more popular song he is the original writer of, namely, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” MacColl has an impressive pedigree, as described by Wikipedia, being “a British folk singer, songwriter, communist, labour activist, actor, poet, playwright and record producer born in Lancashire to Scottish parents.”

Contrary to what you might expect, “School Days Are Over” is not an especially political ditty – although the adverb there is important. It’s meant, as far as my limited internet research leads me to believe, as a more general lament, “a wistful song,” as I read it described. And that is how I feel, listening to it: wistful. Though what I have to be wistful about it comparatively limited.

I awoke in a nice, heated apartment, and put on my nice, soft clothes and my nice, new (!) boots, deposited my belongs in a nice, padded backpack, and drove – not walked – the ten or so miles to my workplace, where I parked on the first floor of a parking garage and then walked, covered the whole way from the rain, to an elevator that took me up – not down, into the earth – where I spent most the day sitting in a not uncomfortable chair typing, which is not a very labor intensive skill. I’m hardly a lad newly off to a life of backbreaking work.

Am I wistful about the idea of my school days themselves being long over? I never much liked school, though. But perhaps it is the more universal themes espoused by the song that’s affected me just so this morning. You are grown, your school days are over, time to be earning the [insert occupation]’s pay.

Well. I look forward to what’s supposed to be another long rainy day tomorrow.

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Stop and Smell the Daisies

“Have you ever heard this group before?  My wife and I go to their concerts every time they’re performing within 300 miles of us.”  I had just sat down at the Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem concert when the elderly man to my left spoke up.  I explained that I was unfamiliar with Daisy Mayhem, and we began to chat about the group.  When the lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and the four performers walked onstage.  In the concert that followed, I discovered that in rare instances I do actually like bluegrass/soul/American folk music.

While I enjoyed many songs in the concert, my favorite piece at the time was the Appalachian song “Singing in the Land.”  The style of the song was wistful, for it was about wanting to go to heaven.  All four musicians stood around one microphone, and Anand Nayak accompanied on acoustic guitar.  Arbo started the singing alone, and the rest of the group began harmonizing.  Then, bass player Andrew Kinsey, percussionist Scott Kessel, and Anand Nayak each sang a solo.  At one point, Kinsey performed alone on a wind instrument that had a mellow timbre.  When the singers sang about heaven, the music was higher in an example of word painting.  The song ended peacefully with the guitar fading out right before the last word.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem group
From left to right: Scott Kessel, Rani Arbo, Andrew Kinsey, and Anand Nayak

Since the concert, I have gone back and listened to several Daisy Mayhem songs, and my two regulars now vie with “Singing in the Land” for top spot.  The first is “I Love This City,” which is a beautiful depiction of how a person can become fond of a city—in this case New Orleans.  The song is lovely and resonates with my sentimental affection for my hometown (word of caution: there are occasional curse words in some of the group’s songs, including this one, but it tends to be for dialect purposes).  My second Daisy Mayhem top hit is “Roses.”  Arbo explained that this song was about a friend of her mother’s who began a rose garden in New York City years ago near one of the churches.  The friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer later in life, and when she asked her oncologist whether she should start spending her money, he told her “yes.”  So, she went on a cruise in Scandinavia.  A European couple on the cruise mentioned that they had visited New York City, and the woman asked them how they liked it.  While the husband had loved the city, the wife said that she didn’t really like it—except for this particular rose garden near a church…the very one the friend tended!  When the friend returned home, her oncologist told her to stop spending her money after all because her cancer was in remission, and she lived for several years longer.  This story combined with the music and lyrics of makes “Roses” a special song.

Many concerts finish with on a rousing note, but Daisy Mayhem closed with a meditative song called “Crossing the Bar.”  The lyrics are from a poem by Tennyson, and Arbo explained that her mother-in-law quoted the poem on her deathbed, leading Arbo to write a melody for it.  Arbo described the poem as an expression of “conscious dying.”  I think this conclusion to the concert represents a lot about what makes the group unique.  Their songs are often personal, tender, and haunting.  Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s music brings out the beauty, character, and joy of everyday life and reminds their audience of the seemingly unimportant moments that make life special.  Not only do these songs encourage you to stop and smell the roses, but they also encourage you to enjoy the daisies—humble flowers that have their own kind of beauty too.


Note: I originally wrote parts of this review for a music appreciation class but wanted to share it in an updated form so that perhaps others can enjoy the music too.  For those of you who aren’t usually fans of this mix of genres, I encourage you to give it a try because, like me, you might be surprised.

Do not forsake me oh my darling

The battle between William Kane and Frank Miller in the movie High Noon epitomizes what makes good Western films powerful: the struggle between duty and chaos, good and evil, and self-sacrifice and selfishness. Through the movie’s one hour and twenty-five minute runtime, the audience is given a glimpse into the many motivations that lead men to take what doesn’t belong to them, live in apathy, or stand their ground in the face of insurmountable odds. One facet of the movie that sticks with you long after you leave is the main theme which is interwoven throughout:

 

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn ‘tweenst love and duty
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise as a bride
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, don’t think of leavin’
Now that I need you by my side

Sporting a solid cast with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, High Noon was, and still is upon recent re-visitation, one of my favorite Western films of all time, and well worth a watch if you enjoy tales from the old west.

 

Lyrics:

Read more: Frankie Laine – High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

Recipe: Friendship

 

NOTE: This recipe is reliable but unpredictable in its results. Use with caution.

Ingredients:

  • 1 person (in addition to oneself)
  • common experiences
  • a shared interest
  • sarcasm or humor, to taste

Serves:

2, in some cases for a season, in others for a lifetime

Preparation Time:

10 minutes – a year

Directions:

  1. Meet someone–and have a shared experience together; this could be a class at school, a job, or some sort of social event. This shared experience can be either good or bad, and the experience doesn’t have to be anything dramatic or even interesting. These factors are incidental and should not affect the quality of the friendship.
  2. Find a common interest and mix this in. This could be a love for writing letters, or cinema, or painting one’s toenails, or vigorous exercise. The point is that people tend to need an excuse for a friendship, and a common interest often provides that initial glue to bring two people together.
  3. Be patient: occasionally the ingredients do not react well at first. Sometimes, close friends start out as irritating acquaintances, so it’s important to keep an open mind regarding people.
  4. Spend time with this friend and, for added fun, go on adventures (a recipe that pairs well with this one).
  5. Not all friendships will be equal in depth; this is normal, and having a variety of friendships can make life more fun.
  6. When fitting, add sarcasm or other varieties of humor; some cooks prefer sincerity and verbal encouragement, but my personal preference is to avoid the entire sub-genre known as “words of affirmation;” do your best to kill the friendship (I call this the “charbroiling technique”). If the friendship lasts, you’ll know it was real.
  7. If the above steps don’t work for you…then write your own recipe!

What are your recipes for friendship?

Please Sign Here for the Princess

Though it had been an excessively long, mildly inconvenient journey, here it was at last: the great palace of the kingdom of Lira. As his aide-de-camp pulled the horseless carriage round the grand driveway in front of the palace, Prince Albert of Forint couldn’t help but lament (to himself, of course) upon noticing all that scaffolding clinging to the entirety of the east wing of the building. That was the older part of the palace, he knew, and considered hopelessly old-fashioned, but of a style that Albert privately still quite liked. Those thin, clear windows mass-produced nowadays might be more practical, but could they hold a candle to the ornate, handcrafted stained glass of the past centuries? Maybe not, however, Albert reminded himself, he was not there to critique windows.

The carriage came to a halt, and Albert removed his goggles. His aide-de-camp hopped out, darted round to open Albert’s door, assisted in removing the voluminous duster that covered Albert’s shining gold armor, and produced a handkerchief that banished any stray flecks that had managed to get through said duster. A Liran official rushed forward – sedately, of course – to provide honored-to-welcome-yous and right-this-ways, and, following that way, Albert strode up the stately steps, his armor flashing in the brightly shining sun, looking every inch a king’s son come to win the hand of a fair princess. Which, of course, he was.

Admittedly, by the time he reached the top of said stately steps, Albert was not over-fond of said brightly shining sun, as the former was very long and the latter very hot. Once inside, had anyone asked his opinion on the subject, he might have said the temperature in the palace itself was untowardly warm, especially in the throne room, where he was received. Otherwise, it was all that was splendid, with the well-dressed courtiers of Lira seated in ornate chairs of dark wood on either side of the room, and the King of Lira seated in an ornate chair of gold on a dais at the far end of the room.

The official Albert was following stopped about halfway up the aisle and began howling out may-I-presents and of-that-names. Albert might have moved a bit closer to the dais himself, as, when the king spoke his own welcome in a voice of average volume, Albert had to strain just the slightest to catch every word. But, while Albert thought that stepping forward slightly as he gave his reply showed a bold spirit, any more might be taken as presumptuous.

At any rate, Albert didn’t really need to hear all that much, as he had memorized the words of the ceremony for the Winning of the Hand of the Fair Princess since he was old enough to do so, and had seen it take place for several of his own sisters. As was custom, the Princess of Lira herself was not present in the room. However, he’d heard of her as a kind, virtuous, accomplished young woman, qualities which of course meant nothing individually, as everyone said that of most princesses. But, taken together, they meant that she wasn’t a madwoman, at least. More importantly, he’d seen a photographic portrait of her, and had been pleased to discover it wasn’t entirely unlike her painted one. So, with confidence, he responded with gusto to the King’s scripted hast-thou-come-to-win-the-hand-ofs and dost-thou-accept-the-tasks-set-forths.

And so, at long last they came to the very end of the ceremony. Now all that was needed was for the King to say, “Verily, I see thou art a man of great heart and courage. Go forth, with my blessing,” and Albert would be shown to his guest room. There’d be an opulent ball this evening, where he would meet the Princess – along with all the other suitors, poor fools – and then he’d actually go forth and complete the tasks the following morning. Said tasks were fairly standard stuff – find this mystical jewel, slay that marauding dragon – he’d review them again in the morning.

But, only, the king didn’t say what he was supposed to stay. Instead, he said: “Verily, I see thou art a man of great heart and courage. Now, all that is needed is for you to acknowledge the Terms and Conditions.”

Albert let a good thirty seconds go by while he 1) heard what the king said 2) realized it wasn’t what the king was supposed to say 3) realized that he didn’t understand what the king said 4) realized that, because it wasn’t what the king was supposed to say and he didn’t understand what the king said, he didn’t know how to respond to what the king said 5) waited to see if the king or anyone else would say anything else to explain what the king said 6) realized no one was going to explain what the king said and 7) spent ten seconds coming up with something to say in response to what the king said. Those ten seconds produced this: “Ah, I beg your pardon, your majesty?”

The king merely repeated what he said: “Verily, I see thou art a man of great heart and courage. Now, all that is needed is for you to acknowledge the Terms and Conditions,” but this time Albert was a bit more prepared.

“Your majesty, might I inquire what these Terms and Conditions are? Lest your majesty mistake me, let me state that I know of the concept of Terms and Conditions. I merely inquire as to what these specific terms and conditions are. And, if I might be so bold, what their place is as a part of this ancient, most hallowed ceremony for Winning of the Hand of the Fair Princess?”

The King waved his hand, a bit more dismissively than Albert would have thought appropriate. “Our legal representative shall explain the Terms and Conditions momentarily. As to their place in this ancient ceremony: my daughter may wish to grant her hand via traditional means, but we are a modern monarchy living in modern times, are we not?”

There was another uncomfortable silence, during which Albert gradually realized he was expected to respond. “Ah, yes, sire.”

“Then,” continued the King, “We must take modern precautions.” He clapped his hands. “Honored Beatrice, if you please?”

A woman, whom Albert was forced to assume was Honored Beatrice, rose from the crowd and came across the room towards him, holding a large stack of papers, on top of which rested an inkwell and pen. While there was as yet no gray in her hair, she was of such an age that Albert would have been comfortable referring to her as a spinster. Nevertheless, she wore an elaborate ebony gown, which gleamed like fish scales, with an excessive number of drape-y bits that wafted behind her like wings.

“Your grace.” She inclined her head respectfully, but with a smile he couldn’t place and didn’t like. “Allow me to present the Terms and Conditions, as well as a Medical and Bodily Injury Waiver, for your detailed perusal and signature.” She held out the stack of papers.

It took Albert a moment to realize that she meant him to take them, and he grabbed at them very awkwardly once he did comprehend this, as he was, of course, still wearing his golden gauntlets.

“Take as much time as you need,” Beatrice assured him. “There are fifteen sections, each of which require your signature. You can also opt to have the conditions read out loud by Winston over here, if you would prefer.” She motioned to the official who had shown him in, who had now taken a seat.

“Ah, no, that won’t be necessary,” Albert responded. Beatrice smiled, and went back to her chair.

Somehow, and he wasn’t quite sure how, even as he did it, Albert managed to position it so that he was holding the pen and inkwell in the crook of his elbow, while one gauntleted hand uncomfortably held the stack of papers, and the other clumsily turned the pages of Section I: General Disclaimers, which numbered seventeen pages. However, this method for safekeeping the pen and inkwell proved his undoing when it came time to affix his signature to the end of Section I. He read the closing paragraph twice just so he could strategize how he was to do it. He was keenly aware, more so as every second passed, that 1) they had not given him a table or anything remotely of the sort to utilize 2) he was actually the only person standing in the room 3) everyone in the room was looking at him and 4) it really was very hot in there.

He eventually decided to abandon a slight bit of dignity and place some items on the floor, reaching for them when the time came. Dignified, perhaps not, but better than ink-spotted armor.

Only, the ink was all dried up.

“Ah, Honorable Beatrice,” he spoke up. “Might I trouble you for a renewed supply of ink?”

“Of course,” she replied. And then they waited for a good five minutes while a serving man ran off to find, and then back again with, a new inkwell.

“Thank you,” Albert said.

The silence as he signed was deafening, save for the scratch of the pen. Perhaps…he spoke before he could lose his nerve. “Honorable Beatrice, mayhap it would be best to have these Terms and Conditions read aloud, for the benefit of those assembled here.” He realized, after he had said it, that that last part made very little sense, but, well, no takebacks now.

“Of course,” Beatrice assented. She produced a second copy of the documents from somewhere in her robes and handed them to Winston.

Winston then began to read, for the next hour, the Terms and Conditions and Medical and Bodily Injury Waiver in the fastest monotone Albert had ever had the misfortune of hearing. He really only understood a word or a phrase here and there, such as “agree,” “the Princess’ sole discretion,” and “hold harmless,” intermixed with a steady barrage of legal gibberish, such as “indemnify.”

Nevertheless, he signed everywhere they said to sign. And, once that was over with, the King mercifully gave his blessing, and everything was back on track.

Or so Albert thought, all through the ball and his many dances with the Princess, who did seem to be gracious and accomplished and did not look unlike her photograph. And all through the many tasks he undertook to win her hand, and all through his many triumphant completions of said tasks. And right up until he found himself seated in a small room, in front of a desk, behind which sat the Honorable Beatrice in a pair of spectacles, again with that same smile he couldn’t put a name to but didn’t care for.

This was no way to treat a champion like himself, he who had won the Princess’ hand. For won it he most assuredly had. For sure, a few slobs had come close to beating him at a few tasks, and to his chagrin, one personage – not even a prince, simply the second son of a duke – had even somehow bested him at one particular challenge. But, never mind that. Albert had won 10/11 of the tasks. He had scaled the monstrous mountain to defeat the terrible troll, dived to the depths of the devilish lake to fish out the priceless pearl, sprinted across the scorching desert to defeat the sniveling snake, etc. So why, then, was he cooped in this dark room with the Honorable Beatrice, and her bat wings, and not being paraded into the grand hall to wed the Princess right then and there?

“Well,” began the Honorable Beatrice. “I’ll just come right out and say it: you did not win the hand of the Princess.”

And so it was that Albert experienced yet another shocked, awkward silence at the hands of the Liran monarchy.

“I beg your pardon?” he nearly gasped.

“You did not win the hand of the Princess,” repeated the Honorable Beatrice.

More silence. That was apparently all she was going to say, so Albert managed to choke more words out. “But, but how could that be? Did I not scale the monstrous mountain to defeat the terrible troll? Did I not dive to the depths of the devilish lake to fish out the priceless pearl?” He was becoming bolder and louder as he went along, remembering all that he had suffered. “Did I not sprint across the scorching desert to defeat the…”

“Yes, yes, you did all that,” the Honorable Beatrice interrupted him. “But, well, the simple fact is…the Princess doesn’t like you.”

“I must beg your pardon, once again?”

“Well, you, like all the other participants, were given the chance to interact with the Princess at the Questing Eve Ball, and, apparently, you, em…” She paused a brief moment, and appeared to check some notes. “You talked about historical architecture, specifically the techniques by which you create multi-colored glass, for a solid hour and fifteen minutes. Whereas, this other fellow, the Duke of Shilling’s son, was apparently much more agreeable, simply by virtue of talking about different sorts of muslins for two minutes.”

Albert once again allowed his incensed-ness to fuel him: “The Duke of Shilling’s son? Is that the one who has won the hand of the Princess?”

Beatrice grew tight-lipped. “I can neither confirm nor deny the final winner of the Princess’ hand. I can, however…”

Albert dared to interrupt: “I demand to know how this is even possible. I won the tasks, I must win the hand of the Princess. Such it is and such it has been, throughout Winning of the Princesses time out of mind. You are saying that these tasks counted for naught, and that the winner was decided at the very beginning of this…charade.”

“Actually,” interjected Beatrice, “If you reference page thirty-five of the Terms and Conditions which you signed, you will note that it clearly states that the final winner of the Princess’ hand is up to the discretion of the Princess, who may take into account the winner of the tasks, but is not obligated to do so. And, actually, there was the potential for the winner to be decided at any point during the Winning of the Hand of the Fair Princess, up to and including the end of the final task. But, yes, it just so happened it was decided on the first night.”

Albert had never heard anything like this in his life, and he said so.

“Well, your grace,” Beatrice smiled that smile again, which he was now able to recognize for what it was: condescending, and perhaps a tad dash of cruelty. “I know that you come from Forint, where they are, perhaps, a tad more attached to the old-fashioned ways of doing things than we are. We are…”

“…a modern kingdom yes, yes, yes, I have heard this word used a thousand times in my presence during this charade,” now that he’d found the word, he didn’t want to stop using it. “But,” he forced himself to calm, for a moment. “Will you not take under consideration the great love I have for his majesty’s daughter. My feelings…”

“…are entirely legitimate, I am sure,” said Beatrice with faux-sympathy. “Here is what you do: ‘Feelings,’ you say, ‘I have no further use for you. You are simply cluttering up my mind, and tripping up my thoughts. Goodbye now.’ And then, you toss them out.”

“Well, madame,” responded Albert after a biting pause. “While my feelings for the Princess are strong, I can see but one recourse: you will be hearing from my father’s lawyers.”

That smile again, but not condescending, merely…hungry. “I look forward to it.”

And so, as Albert turned to walk out of the room, he wondered how he had ever thought her shining scales to be those of fish or her wings those of a bat. No, it seemed there was a new kind of dragon abroad in the land, standing between noble princes and their fair princesses: Lawyers.

Jasper and Life’s Silver Linings

 

I

Jasper clambered up the metal post, grabbing the railing and swinging himself up onto his front porch.  Claws scrabbling on the crinkly foil front stoop, he pulled himself up into his bedroom loft.  He sighed with satisfaction as he inhaled the invigorating aroma of hamburgers and hotdogs.

Only a few days before, Jasper had been homeless, sneezing in the sopping grass and damp dirt in a hole beneath a tree.  The moist environment played havoc on his sinuses, and he always seemed to have a head cold.  Then, while he was out scavenging one day, he scented a lovely, smoky aroma.  At the end of the trail it created, Jasper discovered his new domicile.  A warm, dry, cozy cave that would protect him from predatory cats and snakes and head colds—what more could he ask for?

II

Jasper was snuffling in his sleep when he jolted awake to the sound of thumping and the thunderous bark of a dog right outside his bedroom.  He quivered instinctively for a moment, then reassured himself, It’s all right.  Nothing can get to me here.  Calming his shaking nerves, Jasper sat back on his haunches and peered around in the dark.

Then his roof disappeared, and Jasper went blind.  Bright sunlight doused him, and he cowered for a moment, protecting his eyes.  A cloud passed over the sun, and Jasper raised his head, the cloud looked at him and blinked and yelled, and his roof fell with a clang.  More barking and yelling.  Jasper’s hands were over his head.  Every moment, he expected the world to end and his home to collapse around him.  When several minutes had passed and the noises had died away, Jasper peered out between his paws.  He scrambled to the opening over his front porch.  With a crinkly thud, Jasper landed and shimmied down the post beside the platform.  Scurrying behind a giant orange bolder with a small bush growing out of it, Jasper peered back at his home.  Perhaps he should monitor it for a little while to see if it was safe to return.  Jasper lay down, munching on a leaf he had pulled from the plant above him, and stared intently at his home, ready to flee at the first sign of danger.

III

Every time Jasper nodded off, bad things seemed to happen.  This time, Jasper’s nap was disturbed by another volley of thumping, and he started up just in time to see a mammoth figure towering over his house, pulling off the roof, slamming it down again, and rolling the structure away from Jasper’s hideout behind the boulder.  The figure and the house disappeared around the corner of the mountain in the shadow of which Jasper’s house had nestled.

Jasper hesitated, devastated and immobile.  Where was his house being taken?  Would he ever see it again?  Gathering his courage in both paws, Jasper blocked out all thoughts of danger and dashed off in the direction his home had disappeared.  He wasn’t about to relinquish his new home that easily.

IV

Rounding the mountainside, Jasper spied his house been lifted into a giant thing that was all shiny and black and bulbous on four big circles like mushrooms turned sideways.  In a last spurt of desperation, Jasper scaled one of the fake mushrooms and slung himself in after his house.  Jasper hoisted himself up the pole, onto his porch, and then into his bedroom.  He wasn’t going to part with his house again, and there was nowhere else to hide.

A rumble began, and the floor vibrated.  Then Jasper found himself lurching one way and then another, bouncing off the walls of his house several times before managing to brace himself in a corner.  This continued for a while before the shaking and the noise abruptly stopped.  Something heavy slammed.  Then the ominous thumping approached, and Jasper heard a grunt and his home plunged downward, causing him to almost slide out onto his porch.

After a few minutes, the motion stopped, the noises receded, and Jasper’s breathing finally returned to normal.  Exhausted, Jasper fell into a light doze.

V

This time, his growling stomach was what awoke him.  Jasper rubbed his belly, groaned a bit as he stretched his stiff and bruised muscles, and then cautiously lowered himself out of his house.  What he saw as he landed on his front porch and surveyed the view convinced him that he must have died and gone to paradise.  Sunlight streamed down in golden puddles, and he was surrounded by enough food to feast on for a year and home improvement materials that would be perfect for furnishing his new house.  He inhaled the new, odorous air and smiled toothily.  Perhaps it’s true, he thought.  There is a silver lining in every cloud, even the ones that blink and scream and try to kidnap your house.

Some thoughts on Out of the Silent Planet

Having recently finished reading Out of the Silent Planet on holiday, two quotes from separate, but closely tied, passages struck me especially. Not having read the book since high school, almost 8 years ago at this point, most of it was new to me in terms of the ideas presented and general plot; and as is often the case of most ‘first time’ read-throughs where only the veneer of ideas is genuinely discovered, mine was no different. All that to say, even having just finished it, the book already entices me to read again and see what other worldview and cosmological tidbits Lewis has sprinkled throughout this first in his space trilogy.


Quote 1: On Death

“Many thousands of thousand years before this [talking to Weston], when nothing yet lived on your world [earth], the cold death was coming on my harandra. Then I was in deep trouble, not chiefly for the death of my hnau [creatures] -Maleldil [God] does not make them long-livers -but for the things which the lord of your world, who was not yet bound, put into their minds. He would have made them as your people are now -wise enough to see the death of their kind approaching but not wise enough to endure it. […]The weakest of my people do not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maledil you would have peace.” (Lewis, 138-139; Chapter 20)

Quote 2: On Bent and Broken Men

“I see now how the lord of the silent world has bent you. There are laws that all hnau [creatures] know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a little, blind Oyarsa [king] in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you why it is a law you give no other reason for it than for all the other and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. […The bent one] has left you this one [law] because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one.” (Lewis, 137-138)


I like the above conversations between Oyarsa and Weston. Prior to and during this conversation, Weston has waxed eloquent about how ‘humanity’ must be perpetuated at all costs -even if it means sacrificing their physical form, the lives of individuals (like the protagonist), etc. Through this whole dialogue, Lewis demonstrates mankind’s propensity to try and mentally block out and avoid what they know to be their ultimate end. In Weston’s specific case, Lewis also makes an interesting statement that a bent man is more capable of evil than a broken one. A man driven by greed, for example, will only cause so much harm, and is no longer so much a man as an animal since he no longer operates under any pretense of ‘law’ but simply carnal desire. However, the tyranny of the moral busybody, the man who will go to any extreme for a ‘good’ end, can be the most destructive, and Lewis understands this because he saw many such men in his own day, as we do in ours.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” -C.S. Lewis

Forest Grump

Granthos, the troll, hoisted the tree trunk to his shoulder and with a guttural noise, raised it overhead. One-two-three. Granthos pumped the trunk with his right arm several times, to a total of eight repetitions, and then, with the grace of a ballerina, he lowered the trunk to the ground.

Wiping his granite-like hands on his workout loincloth, he rested his hands on his hips for a moment. Standing 7 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, Granthos had always been short and skinny compared to his more athletic siblings. Even his sister, Marthos, was taller than he was–something she had reminded of him of every opportunity she had. “Hey Granthos,” she would say, “Can you reach this rock? Hah! Well, I can!” And other similar remarks.

But Granthos was not an ordinary troll–he had dreams of greatness. While his siblings were throwing rocks at each other and yelling loudly and scaring travelers passing through the forest, Granthos had discovered his one true passion: bodybuilding. Inspired by the greatest troll bodybuilder of all–Arnos Boneshaker–Granthos eagerly learned all he could from Arnos Boneshaker’s TV show, Building YOUR Boneshaker Body.

Boneshaker was a giant of a man–10 feet tall and 1200 pounds, but he talked emphatically about how he had once been a “TINY weakling.”

“Once, I had arms like small rocks,” he would say, while doing bicep curls with an Oak that must have weighed at least 400 stones. “But then one day, I said to myself. I am TIRED of being weak. This stuff is for sissies. So I started to train, and I trained harder and harder, and I was consistent. That was the key. Anyone can do it, but you have to SEE your goal and then pump YOURSELF up. I committed to this path, and now–” he said, pausing as he hefted one arm and flexed his bicep into a granite ball, “I have biceps like BOULDERS and am the champion of MANY bodybuilding competitions.”

When Granthos heard this, his whole life suddenly became clear before him. He knew what he wanted to do; he knew what he must do.

“ONE!”

“TWO”

“THREE”

Granthos bellowed out the numbers as he squatted, the trunk of a large fir tree spread across his back. His legs strained under the exertion–sometimes his legs would cramp, and they would become as immovable as the mountain in whose shadow he lifted. In such situations, he would fall clumsily to the ground, bellowing out a string of troll-ish profanities. But today he felt strong enough to complete the set: eight repetitions.

Pushing into a standing position for the last repetition, Granthos roared and threw the tree to the ground. It crashed into the undergrowth, startling some doves that fluttered away. Then he sat down to rest. Nearby, a stream of water gurgled, and Granthos reached over and scooped a draught of water from the stream, then ladled it into his mouth.

Granthos’s stomach growled–he could use a snack. Just then, from behind a clump of trees to his left, he heard whispering voices. Leaning towards the copse and concentrating, Granthos made out the faint conversation.

“We need to run! Did you see him–he must have pulled that tree right out of the ground, then threw it away like it was a toothpick! Plus–you heard him grunting and bellowing. He’s feeling grumpy today, so it would be very dangerous to bother him.”

Granthos recognized from the high, nervous patter of the voice that it was a human being. Grumpy? thought Granthos. I’m not grumpy. I’m feeling PUMPED.

But, thought Granthos, licking his lips. Now that I think about it, it is time for my post-workout meal.

The End.

Peculiar Planet

Back in the day, and by that I mean less than a month ago, I was in a position where I had a fair amount of “dead” time on my hands. And, somehow, I honestly don’t recall how, I stumbled upon this zany little website that is now my official recommendation for a time killer: “Amusing Planet,” or www.amusingplanet.com.

Best described by its Twitter bio, “Amazing Places, Wonderful People, Weird Stuff,” this offbeat website is a collection of blog style posts, accompanied by plenty of full-color photographs, detailing the bizarre, extraordinary quirks of planet earth, both natural and manmade. From “rocks that give birth” to decorative Japanese manhole covers, it’s all here.

You can simply scroll down the list of articles, or you can browse by sections: Natural Wonders, Historical Oddities, and Art, and you can view posts by country too, if that floats your boat. As I might write in a work email, “please see below” for a list of just four of of my favorites, aka the ones I remembered without too much effort and could find easily without exerting a ton of patience:

Whether an internet tourist looking for something diverting, or an actual tourist looking for sightseeing inspiration, there’s sure to be an article for you. While today I am the former, perhaps, one day, I’ll visit the Museum of Bad Art myself.

Little Carolina Wren

Cuter than a chickadee, you have

Ample shares of character.  You hop

Round my porch clutching a leaf that is

Old, withered, and bigger than you are.

Little wren, every happy hop

Is full of lively energy.  Please

Never stop your cheery chirping that

Always brightens up my day with smiles.

 

Wiser birds I could find, but I would

Rather your tiny company to

Enjoy than that of less silly or

Nobler birds, my Carolina wren.