By the numbers: end of January outlook

  • 38,000 — words written on “Household Lights”
  • 4 — sequences left to write on my list
  • enough to stuff a cushion — number of tissues applied to my massive sinus infection
  • 5 — approximate number of Very Important pieces of mail I need to unearth for adult things like getting my car tags done
  • 0 — number of fucks I am able to spare for that right now
  • -2 — the anticipated low for tonight’s weather conditions
  • 7 — number of swords I own, in case any Upper Plains person laughs at this
  • 2 — Lindor truffles on my desk…oops

And so on, and so forth, &c. &c. In other words, I aten’t dead. Barely.

Edited to add: I recounted my swords. I have one (1) rapier; one (1) practice foil; one (1) sport saber; and five (not 4) épées. So I have 8 swords, not 7.

I gotta skip my prayer meeting

Snow ice cream wants just eagle brand
And I’ve got eagle brand on hand
And I’d rather not walk to the store
Bringing tracks from my boots on the floor
There’s an 8-inch cake of snow on my car
(And my right windshield wiper blade won’t come about)
And things being how they are,
The morning church service is OUT!
So it’s sticking around on the spot:
But tea, loungewear, and ice cream I’ve got!

My filking muscles are atrophied; I’m not sure what else Nathan Detroit would make of my snow holiday. I do, however, know what I am making of my snow holiday: I’m writing. My aftermathy novella is coming along, though I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that it’s developing a crunchier plot than I prepared myself for. Still, writing is writing, and I think I’ve nearly reached the halfway mark of the piece.

Of course, one can’t spend a snow holiday entirely buried in one’s laptop screen; like everybody else in the city, I had to get out and take pictures and put them on Facebook (obnoxious as it is; note to self — look into getting an Instagram account). People become like small children again, studying the details of the transformed outdoors with earnest enjoyment, shyly waiting till others were out of direct sight to take pictures with their phones.

The gloves I put on for my walk, in a happy serendipity, had a hole in the seam of the right forefinger, and I used it to stir the screen of my phone to take photos, snow lighting wetly on the lighted surface. I took shaky video, too, of drooping branches dotted with berries, of the shifting crunch of my boots as I made my way among the laden branches on the neighborhood sidewalks.

Why? Is it that we can’t help knowing that snow is transient, and therefore want to capture the experience of seeing it, hearing it, being out in it? The way it transforms the everyday look of things and makes them new? My footprints on this walk are visible in the snow — I can see exactly where I’ve come and what my steps look like getting here — but on any other day, I can’t see them. The silence, maybe: the way the snow-filled air wraps one around in a strange acoustic warmth. Maybe those things together make for the urge to reach out — not in the moment, that’s too much a treasure — but right after. On my walk, I met some people and left them to their privacy as I valued mine, but others looked up and smiled, and I greeted them back. I stopped at the entrance to the park to watch families sledding and making snow angels. I almost wanted to take a picture of that too. A picture of the beauty and hardship and holiday and inconvenience that is all so obviously shared by everyone present — a situation — a scene.

Like that old canard about how, when the talk turns to politics or other contentious things, someone suggests: “Let’s talk about the weather.”

Well, why not?

Catgut my tongue

One of these days, I keep thinking, I’m going to write one of my snarky posts for this blog; I mean, it’s not like I don’t have anything to be salty about. But today is not that day.

The approach of Christmas is always one of those prismatic times, where we touch the meridians of previous experience and feel them thrum. I wound up plucking and strumming a lot of my own inward strings this week, some for the sake of sermon composition and some because, well, because it’s just the nadir of the year and I wind up doing that in the holy dark. So for my post this week I will just share two of the things in the cedar box of my heart and let them stand as commentary on the whole.

The first is a poem I wrote several years ago, as a response and counterpoint to Psalm 80. That psalm is one of the readings for this day, and while I was working on my sermon I remembered that I had written the poem, remembered the inward aridity that had begged for expression; and so afterward I dug the poem out and reproduce it here.

Flower Cross (Psalm 80)
The real problem with determinism
Is the hardening of allegory into concrete.
All those lessons I failed to learn,
All those unhappy endings that meant even less
Than I thought, all the glacial grooves of pathology
That started before me and will not end with me,
And which I fought so feebly and uselessly,
Become the antarctic mutterings
Of ice shelves scouring themselves
Over and over. In heat or in cold
The aridity is all.


I could crumble to dust where I stand.
At one time I could taste the hot salt
Of my own tears; then I could taste
Only the memory; then nothing at all.


Oh, look at me, look at me,
Let your face open to me in recognition
Like the doors that do not exist
For me to beat my fists on.
If you know me, tendrils will rise
And curl over the dust, running
With warm green sap, twining about me,
Threading below my fingers and over the palms
Of my open hands outstretched, dripping
In pale green finials of blossoming filigree,
Heavy with nectar, ringing with scent
Like the cicada’s song from where I stand
To the sun-sparked newborn shore.


Like new evening and new morning I would be
In the moment you saw me.

Yet even in such a time, one can be shaken into real tears without warning: I remember during that same period, one morning close to Christmas, I was driving alone on a country road eastward into the rising sun, and NPR was interviewing Eric Whitacre about his virtual choir. Then they played the piece he had written for it, and all of a sudden I was shedding uncontrollable tears, the gold-white light flaring as I wept and listened.

This kind of thing is so not like me. I am contained whether I want to be or not, my emotional reaction time slow, my sense of awe or worship or grief always slightly out of orb with my surroundings. Even music, which often reaches me uninhibited, doesn’t unhasp my control. Except, obviously, for a very few pieces. I don’t know what it is about this piece that does it to me, but it nearly always does. I get the sense sometimes, when people talk about this piece, that it fails to be truly highbrow in some unspoken way — a little embarrassing, maybe, a little overearnest. That could all be true. But it will never matter, not to my guts and tear ducts.

May the light break over you, like the songs of the morning stars, this holiday.

Of arts and crafts

Once, watching a friend create a delicious meal in her kitchen, I observed a distinction that I had often had in mind about creative endeavors: that there is a difference between a person’s art and their craft. Craft, as I feign it, is a thing you can learn, become enthusiastic about, even take to a satisfying level of mastery. But art is more than that. It’s the ability to take that endeavor’s internal rules and see how to bend them, even break or replace them, to make something unscripted, something previously unimagined — by one’s self at least.

For my friend in the kitchen, cooking was her art: she could follow a recipe, but she could also reverse-engineer one. She could take what she had mastered about cooking food and do something new with it; she could create, with joy and (sometimes only medieval words will do) maistrie in her own domain.

Cooking is not my art. I have managed to develop some craft, but the kitchen is not what I would call my natural domain.

All the same, it’s stimulating and salutary to take up crafts from time to time, new and old. I immersed myself in two crafts this weekend, and it was a great deal of fun. I joined my friends and their baroque jam band for a Beatles-themed Christmas concert; and while I was at it, I borrowed a friend’s camera and practiced composing shots of my friends playing while the chorus (me) was resting.

Neither music nor photography is my art. I’ve been a player of flute and piccolo, an ensemble singer, a self-appointed rhythm section in church (friends don’t let friends clap on 1 and 3!), but despite all those years of practice and effort and enjoyment, I don’t have the ability to intuit a musical situation and jump into it the way my musician friends do. My musician friends don’t go off-piste: the piste is wherever they say it is. And it sounds wonderful.

I’m not a photographer either. But recently I’ve been so sick of my crappy phone camera that my friend (possibly to stem the tide of recreational complaining) lent me his camera to practice taking shots with. I got a few good ones and probably a large number of unremarkable ones; photography as a craft, for me, is pretty satisfying.

Writing is what I consider to be my art. I work at craft, refine it, revamp it, but in the domain of words, the piste is wherever I say it is. Of course, unlike with music and photography and the visual arts, everybody speaks a language — and everybody has an internal world that they believe contributes to the sum total of positive meaning in the universe. Which it does. So to jump into the situation and start articulating what it means, besides being a creative enterprise, is a very brash act.

I’m not a particularly humble person, but there’s a point where ego simply gets left behind and what remains is a realm of divine stubbornness. I think every person who has discovered that divine stubbornness has found their art: regardless of whether they achieve recognition or confirmation of their quality. The rest, as the poet says, is not our business.