Les Semaines

January 6, 2008

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

 §

Epiphany 2008

Today is Epiphany, Twelfth Night, the last day of Christmas. Thinking about Epiphany always makes me think about James Joyce's lovely story, "The Dead", which takes place on Epiphany and has one as its main event.

I could use the latter kind of epiphany. For the capital "E" kind, we celebrated by writing, eating leftovers from our New Year's Day dinner, and taking down the meager number of Christmas decorations we'd put up. The Christmas door is undecked, the altar to the Great God Book is long emptied, the books all back in their places, various hanging balls are all packed and boxed up and resting in the basement for their next appearance.

All that's left of Christmas are two gift bags, one for Devin and one for Tamar, because as they've both been traveling we haven't managed to get together yet to exchange gifts. Oh, and we do have some leftover chocolate in case of dire need and some cookies still in the freezer.

My unscheduled entry summarizing last year makes me think about what I want for this year. Obviously, I don't want any bad or ugly. Duh.

I want to finish all my writing projects, sell everything, keep the house perfectly clean, keep Jim (and the cats) perfectly happy, cook exquisite meals, get my study sorted out and catch up and stay caught up on my email. Ha. Well. We'll see, won't we? It should be an interesting year as it brings my mother's 80th birthday, our 25th wedding anniversary, and my 50th birthday. I'll keep you posted.

I wish us all an epiphanous year, which the Oxford English Dictionary tells me means resplendent. May it be short of epiphora, which the same source describes as superabundant tears.

Epiphanous. Resplendent. May it be so.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

The New Year hasn't brought us any new music yet. So I was still listening to Laïs, The Ladies' Second Song as we took down the holiday decs, with which we had decked the halls. Their harmonies are so wonderful. I loved them when they sang more traditionalish material and now they're just as wonderful. Hard to describe, though.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

Cassandra Clare, young adult contemporary fantasy novel, City of Bones is the start of a series. Clary, a teenage girl, suddenly finds herself witnessing a murder when no one else can see the perpetrators--this is how she finds out she can see people and creatures otherwise hidden from human site. Then her mother suddenly disappears and her home is full of demons. The murderers are actually a demon-hunters in training, and take her in, where Clary slowly discovers how her previous life has been a lie. Entertaining and well-plotted, though it all would be strengthened with deeper characterization.

John Flanagan's The Ruins of Gorlan, the first book of his young adult Ranger's Apprentice fantasy series is set in a typical medieval/feudal world. Here a young orphan needs to find a trade. When he's accepted to be a ranger, he's disappointed at first--he wanted to be a soldier like his friend, but gradually he learns to appreciate the match the trade is for his abilities--rangers are not exactly spies, but inconspicuously and discreetly gather information to protect the land. This was an enjoyable and lively written example of its genre.

Ursula Dubosarsky's young adult novel The Red Shoe is set in Australia during the Cold War when a Russian diplomat defects. Matilda is about six and her world is complicated by her mostly absent father and his depression, her uncle, and the mysterious goings on in the usually empty house next door. I found this a little flat for me.

Laura Williams McCaffrey's fantasy Water Shaper was a strange mix, parts of which I really liked and parts which read like they were from a larger novel that I should have read before this one. It's set in a low-technology, high-magic world where demons threaten constantly to drag humans down to their underground lairs forever. People are dependent on holy men to keep the demons in check. A misfit in her kingdom because of her inherited water magic, Princess Margot runs away with a neighbouring king and holy man. She protects her until he discovers that she has been hiding this magic from him, so she runs away to an underwater kingdom, which she also finds she doesn't fit in. The world is well-imagined and intriguing, but this was less satisfying that it might have been.

Anne Ursu's children's fantasy The Shadow Thieves surprised me. It starts off with an overt omniscient narrative voice, the tone of which is somewhat arch, but the story still managed to involve me with the characters and their struggles (perhaps because the author uses that voice sparingly). Charlotte is a normal girl, but her life starts to get strange when her English cousin suddenly moves in with her family. He's a nice guy, a soccer player, seeming to be far more popular than she is, but the reason he left England--that all the people his age he encounters suddenly get a mysterious illness where they become bedridden--starts to happen in his new school. He has somehow attracted the attention of a semi-demon who wants to take over Hades, and he's gathering an army of children's shadows to do so. Charlotte and Zee have to stop them. This is fun, warm-hearted, charming and just a little chilling.

Jane Mendelsohn's young adult novel Innocence is the lyrically written story of Beckett who has just moved to Manhattan after her mother's death. Happenings around her are not what they seem. The school nurse that his father takes up with may not be either. Then her boyfriend is attacked and winds up in a coma. Beckett is trying to sort out what's going on. Surreal? A little. Gothic, yes. More fable than fantasy.

Alma Alexander's young adult fantasy Gift of the Unmage, the first of her Worldweavers trilogy, caught me up immediately. Thea is the rather cosseted Double Seventh, the seventh child of two seventh children, and thus expected to be a magical star, such that a great deal of publicity attends her birth but gradually, as she proves to have even less magic than the most awkward of her brothers, feels a failure. As a last resort her father sends her to a Native Shaman, where Thea does indeed learn many lessons, both magical and life lessons. So when she returns home still showing no magical powers and is sent to the school for unmagical children, she has to figure out how to use her gifts to fight a mysterious force that is killing magicians. This book divides almost too strongly when Thea leaves the Shaman and goes to school, the former feeling detailed and rich and in the latter things happen just a little too quickly, but that is a small quibble when the book is part of a larger work. This volume has that essential thing: a satisfying ending in and of itself. And even more essential, episodes that truly feel magic, where you can read them and feel the wonder Thea feels as she experiences them.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

Did make some progress in the novel. Still sorting things out since I'm at such a turning point with its plot, but I am moving forward.

Also worked on a new poem called "Petraphilia."

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

June 21, 1994
Mainland, Orkney

Jim's Journal

Used by permission; Neile failed to write anything about the rest of this trip.

Usual breakfast. Met up with Jens at 9:30. Drove out to Ring of Brogar, but there were too many people there since it's summer solstice. Decided to head over to Yesnaby--where we saw lots of shale, some stacked up in small cairns. Neile and Shelagh wandered off into nearby field looking (fruitlessly) for Scottish primroses. I poked around in two old WWII lookouts and gun placements, Just concrete sheds with brick buildings nearby. Yesnaby is a dramatic cliff point.

Drove next to Earl of Orkney's Palace. Had been a dark place, where Earl was cruel to peasants. Neile and Shelagh didn't like atmosphere of place. Huge outer walls and some inner chamber half-walls are all that remain.

By this time (11 a.m.) we could get across to Brough of Birsay, a marvelous Pictish and Viking settlement. Layer upon layer of houses. Center is church of St. Magnus. Shelagh and I photographed bird nesting in grass-covered rock in one of outer house foundations.

After lunch we took Shelagh back to look out for Wideford Hill Cairn. Made a short drive to Kirkwall and stocked up on food. On outskirts of town in industrial area we found Grain Earth House. Had to get key from Ortek jewelry store. Was very small with narrow-low passageway to main chamber, room enough for only 3-4 people to crawl in.

Next we went to Orphic Bu and Church. This was 12th-century nave. Outside wall was the remains of an old mead hall. Most stones of nave had been taken away to build church in 15-16th century, which itself had been destroyed. Lots of 19th early 20th century graves nearby--at one grass had been cut and pressed down in shape of angel.

Before going home stopped back at Brogar to take photographs.

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