I have some more serious thoughts about our slow-rolling world war sitch, but they will keep. Here instead is a gallery of shots from recent mornings and walks.
I have hung some orange halves in the hope of attracting orioles, but my expectations are extremely moderate. But to my joy, the white-throated sparrows are back. I haven’t so much as glimpsed one in the years I’ve been here, but ever since I found out who sings their sweet song, I’ve listened out for them in the spring and fall.
Meanwhile I’ve cleared off my deck in preparation for this year’s garden. I wonder if there are blue and yellow flowers that will grow in shade?
A few days ago, in my trawls for reliable bits of Ukraine news on Twitter (I manage to stay off Twitter for weeks at a time, and then the obsession returns like a fit), I ran across this comment on a clip from one of Putin’s speeches:
Yes, that’s Mike Godwin, of “Godwin’s Law” fame. If you need a refresher, Godwin’s Law refers to the end stage of an argument on the internet, when someone brings up Hitler or Nazis or the Holocaust, out of all proportion to the topic being discussed. At the dawn of the public internet, in the late 80s and early 90s, that was a meaningful observation: the Soviet empire was on its way out, and totalitarian movements were (we thought, at least in the West) a disproportionately evil memory, a bugaboo for whiners to invoke when they don’t get their way.
Godwin’s Law, like the post-Cold War era, now has an end date on its tombstone.
When we thought Nazism and fascism were dusted and in the past, invoking them became a way of administering a moral shock to someone whose behavior we were opposing. Everybody knows Nazis are the quintessential bad guys, after all! By degrees, the word’s meaning eroded: at its most specific, it came to mean “someone who fought for Germany in World War II” or “undirected anti-semite.” At its least specific, it meant “bad guy.” And in Putinist Russia, apparently, it means “someone who hates Russia.” The whole Third Reich, apparently, is defined by its attacks against the Soviet state. Jewish people apparently don’t signify much in this definition, which is why some Russians apparently see no problem with calling Volodymyr Zelensky, a scion of Holocaust survivors, a “Nazi” leader.
Thus one instance of the death of Godwin’s Law. The other is here at home.
People still object to being called “Nazi.” But it is now impossible to shame those people who espouse what Nazism actually stood for. They’re not ashamed of it. They’re not ashamed of the idea of suppressing queer communities, not ashamed of treating women like so many milling cattle, not ashamed of rounding up undesirables and deliberately insulting their humanity, not ashamed of training police to deliver white wrongdoers to the inside of a courtroom and black wrongdoers to a grave, not ashamed of randomly accusing people of being pedophiles so as to stigmatize whatever aspect of the person’s identity draws their contempt. They’re not ashamed of putting barbed wire around ballot boxes, not ashamed of looting the public weal on the grounds that they deserve to take and have, not ashamed of being cruel to people in public; not ashamed of sabotaging public health if it’s likely to lead to the deaths of people they hate.
And they measure the rest of us by their own crooked beam, and assume that we would do the same to them and worse.
A lot of us think that this rank outgrowth of evil is due to a lack of education. And it’s true that there’s some staggering ignorance in some of the things these terrible people say. By all means let us upgrade the education of as many people as possible; but it’s my conviction that other people is the education we’re looking for. I recommend Tara Westover’s Educated, and point out for those who’ve read it that it wasn’t Westover’s curriculum that changed and liberated her, it was the influence of reality in the form of the new people she met. The curriculum hardly made a dent until the people in her life gave her the capacity to grasp it. It is not the capacity to understand a treatise that makes the difference. Stupid people are not naturally cruel. I know one young man who has never so much as spoken a word and will be under basic needs care for the rest of his life; yet what capacity he has for trust and concord, he says yes to, in Hammarskjold’s phrase. The most ignorant tweet was written by a person smarter than he is; but they have refused the education of other people that leads to a welcome for reality.
I know that coalitions suck. I know that the best that can be said of some of us is that we’re Not The Bad Guys. I know that we crave a protagonist person or group to rally around. In that sense Ukraine has done the world a massive favor by demonstrating their willingness to fight to the death for their own independence. They are literally on the front lines of democracy. And what is democracy but the education of other people translated into the rule of law?
This, in my view, is the only potent antidote to the cynicism and cruelty the bad guys would tempt us with. It’s the reality that we must constantly set against the fog of lies. The bad guys are not ashamed of themselves: but they sure as hell resent that we think they should be. The Great Litany of the Book of Common Prayer contains a petition to God — “that it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts”; all of which is work for the Almighty. It is not fit for us, and we are not fit for it. We can’t make the enemies of democracy ashamed of themselves; they are not in their present state capable of it. We can, however, fight for reality and truth against delusions and lies. Glory to the heroes.
The thing about the impossible, is that it continues being impossible right up until it isn’t anymore.
That goes for many kinds of things, and it cuts in more than one direction. But right now I’m mostly thinking about world events. There are tipping points accumulating in all sorts of places, and suddenly I don’t think we’re fighting a rearguard action against fascism, cruelty, and cynicism. I think we have a potential for a rout on our hands. But we have to build up the possible.
When an online friend asked his audience, “What do you think you can do, right now?” — he was crowdsourcing answers to get a full perspective on the current state of the possible. I thought of what another friend has been saying about the videos of songs and performances coming from within Ukraine and outside of it: that music is resistance. Every platoon has its ditty; every arena has its chant; every polity has its anthem, to be sung in times of joy and times of anger. Lift every voice and sing — or if you have to, lift every chair and swing!
So what I’m focusing on is art, as nourishment of the possible. I’m thinking of ways to mobilize the art at my hands — whether that’s buying it, playing it, displaying it, or writing it — to continue compiling substance toward that tipping point. And if this idea speaks to you, I encourage you to do it too. Or — if you have a different idea of how you would build up the possible: do that.
If this idea coalesces into something more organized, I’ll update here. Watch this space.
Happy Mardi Gras to all who celebrate, and may your Lent bring you a blessing. Lent, in its original incarnation, was the time set aside for those preparing for baptism into the Church; since I spent most of Epiphany season preparing for a medical procedure, Lent’s arrival doesn’t feel like an ambush to me this year. My house is clean, my larder stocked, I did my errands (carefully), avoided covid exposure, and took lots of “prehab” walks. Now the procedure is in the rearview and so far, the prep work has been paying off.
Something else is different about Lent this year: I’ve come out of the pandemic with a changed perspective. Not a change in beliefs or opinions, really — but a re-saturated perspective on what it means to take on penitence.
In Dante’s Purgatorio, the first thing Dante is bid to do is wash his face with dew, reflecting a doctrine that we don’t really subscribe to anymore: the doctrine that the first duty of a penitent is to be cheerful. It’s always seemed so weird to me that the gospel for Ash Wednesday is the one from Matthew about not making a big production about it when you are fasting or giving alms — as we have ash crosses drawn on our foreheads and put the kneelers to extra use and play hymns in a minor key.
But shouldn’t we be sorry for our sins? I hear the reproach. Why, certainly — but isn’t it so relieving to get started tidying up, to begin pointing one’s feet toward home! Shouldn’t we remember that we are but dust? Yes, but why the long face about it? I just watched a TikTok video of a young Ukrainian girl demonstrating how to start, drive, and make off with a Russian tank. I bet she remembers she is but dust: and the video was funny as hell.
In a time when some people are demonstrating how unrepentantly wicked they’ve chosen to be, I think it is imperative that any penitence we undertake is purposeful, to the point, and above all cheerful. We are good. People are good. We might feel broken from time to time, but nobody is broken on a fundamental level. I escaped thinking that about myself, and I am determined to free the other prisoners.
Pancakes today, fasting tomorrow: and a smile for both.
Or, well, the cat is doing her best, but I’ve been doing laundry and collecting up recycling this afternoon, so she had to wait for me to flop back down to seize her chance.
Here is a gallery of recent photos taken on walks and for morning shots.
I’ve been doing some work to make Future Me’s life easier — decluttering the house, removing a science experiment from the fridge, stocking up to cook more at home again — all of which makes Present Me happy too. The pandemic really helped it to sink in that all those polymaths and prolifics in past ages had wives to take care of all the logistics of living for them; and if they were wealthy, they had servants too, and didn’t have to work a full-time job. Having accepted that working full-time, maintaining my own household, and also writing prolifically is not a reasonable expectation, I find it easier to savor the little victories. Plus, I’ve got more threads of the skein in my hand, and with luck, I’ll soon see the striations of the plot of TLT work together better.
I’ve been bitten by the Clutter Bug and have started systematically going through my house to clear off surfaces one by one. I hope to have reduced the surging piles of stuff in the next couple of weeks. So in a similar spirit of neatening, here are a couple links to things I have been enjoying during the time I neglected the blog.
If you have not already been following it, NASA and its peer institutions in Canada and Europe launched the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day. It has now been fully deployed and inserted into orbit around the Lagrange 2 gravity point, and is now in cooldown mode prior to starting its mission. You can keep track of Webb’s progress here.
My favorite Youtube fact purveyor did a recent roundup of the life of Mary Shelley on the Biographics channel, following one he did on Byron, my guilty favorite of the Romantics. Thanks to yet another video on his Geographics channel, we can thank Mount Tambora and the Year Without a Summer for the epic rain in Switzerland that stuck Byron, the Shelleys, and John Polidori indoors and forced them to come up with a couple little things like, you know, Frankenstein.
I attended a KC Symphony concert recently which included on the program Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by a young guest conductor who has a podcast on classical music, which I highly recommend, even if like me you haven’t always got the attention span for podcasts. You can find out how Shostakovich saved his life and the life of his family in Stalin’s regime by the writing of this symphony here.
And finally, a link to a website I intend to come back to and talk more about in future posts — A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, which is pretty much what it says on the tin: a youngish professor of Roman history comments on SFF media and books, among other things. I really want to write a full-length post on his series on The Fremen Mirage and the worldbuilding pitfalls it creates — because when do I not want to talk about worldbuilding? — so I’m leaving this link here to remind myself.
(Also, having read a good portion of the interesting articles on the site, I notice that our pedant has a Patreon, as so many folks do these days. Very enterprising, but then he’s very disciplined about posting weekly.)
I’m not sure I have anything evaluative to say about 2021, other than that for me it was the year of adrenaline blowback. I did a bit of mental writing and not much else besides watch a lot of recuperative television and obsess over the La Palma volcano.
But the volcano is done erupting, a new year has come, and change is in the wind. I wouldn’t say I feel existentially rested, but the promise of forward momentum on several fronts has lifted my senses a bit.
All of which has reminded me that I have a website that deserves a steady infusion of Genuwyne Quality Content. So here is a small gallimaufry to kick off the new year.
A thing I started doing early last year was to take a handful of photographs while my tea was steeping, and then post them to Facebook as a start to the day. Over the ensuing months I’ve collected quite a few photographs, anywhere from five to ten a day depending on how many interesting things I found in my environs every morning. I have toyed with posting a regular selection here, but didn’t want to commit. However, the server changes from last winter are complete, and I’ve discovered I can upload images from my phone. So here’s an initial selection of morning pics from recent weeks.
But although I did not commit to posting images to the blog, I did start and maintain a mini-newsletter for my readers. Each missive contains my favorite of that morning’s pics; a link to some magpie thing of interest; and a brief meditation, a rumination on my current writing labors, or a (we hope, dear reader, entertaining) bout of recreational complaining, plus the occasional doting dispatch on the antics of my cat. Most if not all of the images above appeared in Morning Lights.
What I’m saying here is that even if this blog falls into neglect again, you can still get a little Morning Light in your inbox every day, for free, without having to look me up on Facebook and hope their thrice-cursed algorithms actually show you the morning pics I post. (Every creator you know is bitter about Facebook.)
I might expand the scope of my newslettering in the future, but for now, I’m keeping it simple. Meanwhile I leave you with the latest custom ambient noise generator I’ve made on MyNoise: Consort of Stars, a homage to the vibrations of stars and galaxies across the universe.
And at the moment, that is all the news that’s fit to print.
It’s a beautiful fall day, with the wind shaking leaves out of the trees and carrying them where they will. So I’m in the mood to post an old poem of mine on the same theme, along with a few of my morning pics. Enjoy!
Temperance: To the Artist (Psalm 147)
The scent of rain sidles in As you notice the wet spots appear on the pavement: First one, then three, then many, Then they overlap, then the light dry spots Are the exception. Before you know it, Your hair is wet and the runnel of water Is flowing along the curb. You put your bare foot into it, And watch it change the flow.
At Christmas you lie in bed, Looking rapt out the window. Outside the dark, quiet house The sky is a silent riot of stars, The Big Dipper huge and haloed, Vincent van Gogh having his way with nature at last. You trace its lines with your finger Before you close your eyes. Van Gogh was on to something. Even if things break loose and roll In your cluttered attic, You can’t stop the stars from singing. They will sing all night long, While you sleep draped in the window-shaped Quilt of starlight.
In the fall when the wind moves And the leaves tumble like confetti, You must have noticed what beauty There is in the throwaway gesture. A leaf, brilliant red, in the wet street, Run over by all the neighborhood cars, Is still a study in careless perfection. The work of the leaf is to grow; The art of the leaf Is to fall.
The stories you tell are like this. You know to wait for the unforced gesture, The quick-dealt outflung pirouette Which may be seen by only a few Or none at all. You wait for the thing That is complete and perfect even in its flaws, For the thing that knows itself as you toss it out To be caught by the wind and carried away, Lost to you and therefore never lost.
Sometimes the waiting is hard. But it’s the only way you know To imitate the one you love.
I’ve been neglecting my blog — it’s one of the hazards of blog-keeping, but I have been preoccupied with a lot of quotidiana lately, and all you who are signed up to Morning Lights have been getting small bulletins on how writing is going. I’m tempted to say that the short version is “Not great, Bob!” — but really, this is a recognizable stage in any project of mine, so the distress is minimal. To go back to the gardening metaphors, it’s not usually a good idea to dig up plants to see how they’re getting on.
Woke up this morning to the depressing news that the reviewer assigned to Ryswyck for an indie contest I entered has DNF’d it.
It’s true that everyone who has finished the book found it “exponentially rewarding” as one reader termed it. But I can’t hang over everyone’s shoulder urging them to go on reading — can’t, shouldn’t, don’t want to. I find myself in the position of being unable to repent my artistic choices, but knowing they have their consequences, and a depressing DNF percentage is one of them. Well, it was a long shot anyway, and as an old internet acquaintance said, we persevere.
I admit when things like this happen I wonder why I am bothering with this enterprise; but as soon as the thought takes shape its answer is already apparent. This is my vocation, and I can’t not do it. I think we think that if someone has a vocation that its truth will be proved by its success, that deserved fame and fortune is an ontological marker for what you were meant to be doing. But, as long as I’m breathing, I’m making up stories and finding ways to put them out in the world for others to find and enjoy and be lifted by. It doesn’t really matter if the work is bad, and I don’t think mine is. For a writer, writing — like blood — is compulsory.
Anyway, when I run into things like this, I give myself ten to thirty minutes to have a panic attack or a despairfest or a hot flush, and then I carry on.
In other news, my photography kick has extended itself now that I have a good phone camera, and I’ve wanted to post galleries on here to go with my daily selection for Morning Lights. I haven’t had the bandwidth to make selections from what’s becoming hundreds of photos, but if I sat down once a week or so to pick a half dozen I really like, it might be a way to keep the rhythm up here. If I want to. We’ll see. Post-pandemic life is a vast improvement on this time last year, but it does throw into sharp relief the stamina one doesn’t have. The bandwidth may just all go into writing, in which case I must beg my readers’ indulgence.