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Les Semaines

02.01.06

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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A Foothold Into January

The holidays already seem ages ago. How does that happen? It's only Epiphany today and officially the twelve days of Christmas are just barely over. (Shouldn't we all be reading James Joyce's story "The Dead" or watching the movie?) But Christmas seems over. Maybe because all my visitors have gone home and we've both had to go back to work. We've taken down all the holiday decorations and the house feels suddenly spacious. It's only six days old, and already the New Year is bossing us around. Do things. Make things. Make this year count.

The cats are luxuriating in the feeling of space now that the dogs have been gone for a while and don't seem likely to come back, and even the guest room has turned back into my study and the bed is free for cat naps (both of them are curled up now on the clean sheets ready for me to make the bed up again). I wonder who will sleep there next--right now we don't have any visitors scheduled, but that doesn't mean anything.

We had another couple of good days' visit with Christina. We didn't do much of note but sleep and talk and enjoy being in the same place for a few days. The three of us spent New Year's Eve watching some of the DVDs Christina had bought ("Monty Python and the Holy Grail"--one of my favourite movies of all time) on my computer (it's the only DVD player we have) and eating way too much bad-for-us food.I drove her to the airport on Wednesday and came home to a very empty-feeling house.

Suddenly on Thursday night I realized that my back had stopped hurting. It does this. And now it feels just the slightest bit stiff and sometimes tired but otherwise fine. I'm trying to be careful not to overdo it, but I feel so normal that I could go back to all my normal activities without any trouble. That may be true, but I'm going to try to be careful just in case it's not. Better to ease back into exercising that overdo it and spent another couple of weeks in pain. It feels so good not to hurt anymore!

Speaking of which, Jim's brother continues to recover. I'm sure he still hurts a lot, but he's mending and is beginning physical therapy as his bones heal enough.

So now we all have our new beginning--to make our marks on this new arbitrary marker, we name 2002, a palindrome year. I wonder what I'll be saying here at the end of this year? Who could ever have anticipated the ups and downs of 2001?

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Listening

I finally put together a list of some of my favourite discs from 2001, though I never did manage this for 2000. You can find it here.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

A busy reading week.

Frederic S. Durbin's Dragonfly is an odd book about a young girl, nicknamed Dragonfly, who when the uncle she lives with discovers that alarming people are building in his basement, follows the man he asks to help him deal with them into the basement world. This turns out to be a whole new underground world full of dark characters (an evil overlord and his minions, vampires, werewolves) but also some better-hearted people, escapes from the evil overlord and some gypsies. This is the tale of their attempts to escape and to defeat the dark lord. Rather horrific and somehow an odd mix of Christian faith, a child's book, a classic horror tale, and even an odd love story. A strange but intriguing book.

River Sky Summer is a children's book written by a friend of mine, Rita Donovan, whose adult novels I love. It is about Ruth, a young girl who has to spend a summer in the country with her aunt and uncle when her mother needs to recover from an illness. She's bored and lonely until she meets a equally lonely boy, and together they discover a secret about the town. This is a well-constructed highly readable novel, which I enjoyed even more than I thought I would. I especially enjoyed how the story unfolds at just the right speed with the right emotional power that the story is quick but doesn't feel rushed like so many children's novels with this level of complication.

Charles MacLean's St. Kilda: Island on the Edge of the World is a nonfiction account of an island off the western Hebrides of Scotland, where a population lived in isolation for more then 2,000 years until the 19th century and then had to ask to be evacuated in 1930s. The tale of this place and people has fascinated me since I first heard of them, and this is a complete and fascinating story of their history, sympathetic but realistic about the pressures the population of the islands faced. Highly readable.

Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders is a novel based on the historical story of the inhabitants of the English village of Eyam which in 1666, who once they discovered they had plague in their midst, deliberately quarantined themselves for a year. The novel is about a young widow who lives in the village with her two young boys, and who takes in a lodger, a tailor, who brings in the infected fabric that carries the disease to the village. The novel is about the villagers' decision and what happens to them, and her, in their isolation amidst the despair and death as the plague ravagers their population. I found this interesting and a good novel but not as powerful as all the hype about this novel would suggest. I was especially disappointed in the ending, which felt very much separate from the rest of the story (and rather tacked on).

Jo Walton The King's Name is the sequel to The King's Peace (commented on in my October 29, 2000 entry). Like The King's Peace I found this grew on me and I ended up by liking it quite a bit despite it not really being my thing. This focuses Sulien's (a battle leader for a King based on Arthur) as she helps her land cope with a civil war.

Sheri Holman's The Dress Lodger is the tale of another historical town in a plague year. This time it is Sunderland in 1836, a year when cholera has struck. The story focuses on two characters: Gustine, a "dress lodger" (a prostitute who rents a fancy dress from her landlord to attract a higher-class clientele than she could otherwise command) who also works in a pottery factory and has a four-month-old son born with his heart on the exterior of his rib cage; and Dr. Henry Chiver, a surgeon, who several years before had to flee Edinburgh where he was known to be one of the doctors to buy corpses from Burke and Hare, hanged for murdering the poor to provide those corpses for doctors' dissection. Gustine wants the doctor to help her son live; Henry wants to learn about how to prevent disease and to find corpses for his students to study. All the while, cholera is spreading in the town. This is an interesting tale that illuminates much about early medical science, the lives of the poor in provincial cities of the time, the lives of the middle class. All in all a quite interesting novel, even if I did have trouble knowing all along that there couldn't be a happy ending in this situation.

As soon as I read the first pages of Sherryl Jordan's young adult novel, The Raging Quiet, I felt it was in good hands, and I was. This is the tale, set in a classic rural European pre-technological myth-time, of a young woman who marries the younger son of a lord whose family is in decline, but when he dies only two days after their wedding, finds herself trying to learn her way in a new town on her own. Befriended by the local priest but considered a suspicious stranger by the local villagers, she begins to realize that the local young madman is really simply deaf. She devices a kind of handtalk to communicate with him, but this makes the villagers suspect her of witchcraft. While the tale has many clichéd elements, the story itself was so well-told that I found this enjoyable through and through.

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Writing

Starting work on a poem due next week for a workshop session. Ahem.

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Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

February 1981

1220. Candle making                            February 14, 1981

Melt the wax from a hard
nameless block, go liquid.
Use your child's crayon for
colour, add your cheap perfume,
throw it all in. Do it all at
once, pull the wicks taut
in the frames and molds. Tighter.
Dip the frames, keep the
rest liquid and pour
into the molds, on
your hands.
Pour into the
mold. Go liquid. [1]

1221. Aside                            February 16, 1981

I can only repeat
what I've said before
about the rain and
the wind in the dark
of night, the violence
that washes winter
alway, sifts it from
the ground and brushes
the traces away. I don't
want to talk of the
season or the weather
I only want to say:
let the wind turn
to like the season, let
the season warm you
like the wind. And the rain,
let the rain sink you
into the cedar twigs
on the forest floor
[later addition in pencil:] (and you'll have gone somewhere) [2]

1222. Journal from (--?) Winter                            February 17, 1981

Today is Tuesday
and I wish it were
any other day--
not that Tuesday
is so bad, but
I am.
The rain
never stopped, but it
[snapped?] drummed against the
windows--a constant
warning
like a stranger
watching in.

Wednesday--Today
I couldn't move,
the house cottage shifted
under my feet,
I knew outside
would be more.
The wind was wild
a beast [still] ready
to shake the house [wd?]
as I write, watching
for the smallest sign
of life.

Today, Thursday, I
went outside, I walked stepped
three times around the
house/cottage
cabin and brought
fallen boughs of fir
to the fire. It is strangely
warm, but?, and the boughs
burning crackled and brought
the scent of the forest
in.

Though today is Thursday
I couldn't bring myself
to write. I have a note
for Stephen nothing
more. Asking him to
to come.

Friday. Today came
the mail with no
letters. I tore put the
note to Stephen in
the fire, watched it
flare with a kind
of relief ["blah" written in the margin here]. I watched
the crows harass
a hawk, was glad
when he drew them away.

Saturday--a day
I can remember.

Already Sunday, while
the batteries in my radio
barely bring in the CBC.
Miles away, I can measure
with my ear as it drifts away.
I went outside and got
caught in the rain,
was held by the sound
of beating on the leaves
--but when inside
before I [got lost].

Monday. I had a strange
dream last night
that I was a small
animal in a shell--it
made me realize
my time is not
linear, moving through
changing territory.
My days are round
and slow. Inside them
I move like an embryo. [3]

1223. Tunnel stolen from dream                            February 18, 1981

Living beyond myself, I am pushed beyond my endurance, to something so cruel as to be comfortable. Bits of myself snap loose, painful but bringing relief. I dream I am in a tunnel that goes on for a near eternity and comes out someplace entirely different. But that is still ahead, now I am walking through it, in brown dusty light, walking beyond collapse, when walking means leaving parts of myself behind. I tear them off like limbs. I have lost something but I can travel lighter, and can go farther through the tunnel until there is something else weighing me down I must ride myself of to carry on--but later in the dream when I have arrived in the new place the people there are trying to go back.


NOTES

1. "Candle Making" appears in Seven Robins very much as it appears here, though all the end lines are in italics and instead of "on your hands" it reads "through your hands". Much less painful.

2. This snippet never made it anywhere.

3. This poem appears in a revised form as the first poem in Seven Robins:

Journal in February

Tuesday. I wish it were
any other day--
the rain never stops, it
snaps against the
window like a stranger
watching in.

Wednesday. Today
I can't move,
the cottage shifts
under my feet,
I know outside
will be wild, the wind
is a beast shaking the house
as I write, watching
for the smallest sign.

Thursday, I
went outside, and brought
fallen boughs of fir
to the fire. It is
warm, and the wood burning
brings the scent of the
forest in.
I couldn't bring myself
to write more than a note
asking you to come.

Friday. Today
the mail came with
no letters. I put your
note in the fire,
watched it flare.
I turned to the
window to see
the crows harass
a hawk, was glad
when he drew them away.

Saturday.
I can remember.

Already Sunday.
My radio barely draws
the music in, I measure
it drifting. I went outside
was held by the sound
of rain on the leaves, but
escaped inside.

Monday. I had a strange
dream last night
that I was a small
animal in a shell, it
made me realize
my days are round
and slow. Inside them
I move like an embryo.

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