We had a winter storm over the weekend, and I didn’t go out in it. I cleaned the kitchen and changed the cat box and swept the carpet and drank hot chocolate and made macaroni and cheese from scratch. I watched the snow turn the view out my window to a fully-integrated image made up of white and grey and faded brown.
Last weekend, when my friend’s funeral was held, there was no snow and nothing dynamic in the temperatures, and sunshine that gave little comfort, and no birds. I saw: one robin, one hawk, one sparrow in the space of five days. The sky was bald and deserted and I was deeply unnerved. So when I saw a junco hopping through the snow on the balcony railing, a perfect little puff of charcoal and taupe and white underbelly, it was a small monochrome miracle.
There are still distressingly few birds around, but the tracks in the snow under the birdfeeder are signs for rejoicing.
Not as much writing got done this past week as I would have liked, but the black marks on the white digital page have increased by a number greater than zero, so I’ll take it. And I’ll take the lovely thick fog that enveloped the city in the early hours this morning, and the calls of crows in the distance, and the faint limns of buildings buffered away from sight, and the world just a bit muted, the barrage of details hushed, just for a moment, just for a little.
I’ll take those simple things while they’re coming.
Yesterday, all plans I had were completely scuppered within ten minutes of getting up, as what appeared to be ordinary vertigo revealed itself as a full-on norovirus of some kind. I spent the entire day sleeping off nausea and a mild fever. I’m still not 100% today, but I did manage to get out and do things I needed to do. The cat food is not going to buy itself!
December 13th is St. Lucy’s Day, which is still celebrated in Sweden, I believe. It used to be the shortest day of the year — i.e., the solstice — until we changed calendars; now the shortest day of the year falls on St. Thomas’s feast day. Make of that what you will. Before the change, John Donne used the occasion to make a poem of his grief in the darkness, so I include that here.
A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day
‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks; The sun is spent, and now his flasks Send forth light squibs, no constant rays; The world’s whole sap is sunk; The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk, Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk, Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh, Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.
Study me then, you who shall lovers be At the next world, that is, at the next spring; For I am every dead thing, In whom Love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations, and lean emptiness; He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
All others, from all things, draw all that’s good, Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have; I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood Have we two wept, and so Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow To be two chaoses, when we did show Care to aught else; and often absences Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.
But I am by her death (which word wrongs her) Of the first nothing the elixir grown; Were I a man, that I were one I needs must know; I should prefer, If I were any beast, Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest, And love; all, all some properties invest; If I an ordinary nothing were, As shadow, a light and body must be here.
But I am none; nor will my sun renew. You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun At this time to the Goat is run To fetch new lust, and give it you, Enjoy your summer all; Since she enjoys her long night’s festival, Let me prepare towards her, and let me call This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.
For December 14, I give you the sort of calming entertainment that is pleasant to watch while stressed or to doze with while sick: art conservator extraordinaire Julian Baumgartner.
Check out his YT channel for more mesmerizing restoration videos, including ones without the narration in case you’re into ASMR. (Explanations of ASMR always give me a you-had-to-be-there vibe, like I don’t know if the significance of it is something I can really get. Sort of like the Transfiguration, really.)
And that’s…about all I’m up for, today. I’m seriously considering going back to bed.
Trundling on toward the longest night: a chill, barren time. For today’s Advent window I give you a piece of art I make sure to greet every time I’m at the Nelson: Caravaggio’s John the Baptist.
Notes on this painting remark on its introspective quality: the Baptist not as prophet but as hermit of the wilderness, cast in a stark dynamic of light and dark, almost strobed; denuded of symbols except for a reed cross. This is not the accessible icon of John as a narrative figure. This is the John who sends people to ask, “Are you the one we’re waiting for, or should we look for another?”
He’s a compelling image for our skeptical age, but I would think he’d be compelling to people of any time who ponder hard questions when the light is scant. “A voice said, ‘Cry out!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?'”
Here I am, on a Saturday morning, with cat paralysis, in an idle mood. So here are some idle thoughts.
It was very fortunate that I was slated to host the book club this month, as I needed some kind of impetus to unearth my kitchen from, let’s be honest, months of neglect. It’s…still a work in progress, but reasonably presentable. Or at least I hope so, because right after that I had a houseguest — my longtime friend, beta reader, and fellow author Erica Smith — for two days of playing with the cat and chilling on the porch with tea (when I wasn’t at work). I did manage to take a selfie of us at the bagel shop, but didn’t get any other pictures — dammit, apparently even a new camera is not enough to remind me of such things.
Ah well; Erica and I had some good in-person confab about our respective works in progress, which is what’s really important. And Erica didn’t seem to mind my dubious hospitality, which is as much the mark of a friend as going to a friend’s house and finding they didn’t overclean it for your arrival.
It’s my turn to choose the book club book again come September, so in hopes of finding something new to present, I bought a Kindle copy of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. It was entirely worth the recs I’d seen for it: the story was absorbing from the first moment, emotionally complex, with an intricate world and a fantastical, slightly steampunk-flavored atmosphere. And I read it all in one sitting — or I would have, if my eyes hadn’t given out at 96% at which point I realized I was in desperate need of sleep. I finished it first thing the next morning. This book is not, I fear, the kind of universal crowd-pleaser that To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book (the most recent book club book) were — but then, what is? I may make them read it anyway, and get loaded on wine before it’s time to have the discussion.
Anyway, thanks to book club my nightstand currently looks like the quintessence of my mental space, so I took a picture of it to use for the category in future.
And finally, there was really no contest this morning between going out to run errands and getting out my watercolors. I had an idea of trying to represent what a prayer-light bowl looks like, based on a memory of a dish I used to have and with a tea-light in a different bowl as a guide. The result is not impressive but the color is all right. I may try this again on black paper, which would save me attempting a satisfactory background wash.
And that, I think, is all the news that’s fit to print.
Happy Friday to all you cats and kittens! I am about to go out and have some beer with my church, because that is how we roll, one Friday a month anyway. But before I do that, I will announce: we have achieved mappage!
Tori McDonald was both kind enough and intrepid enough to expand her portfolio and draw me a map of Ilona based on my sketch, and I have to say, the results are awesome. I’m working on the incorporation of the image into my manuscripts as we speak, a week ahead of my planned schedule, which is also awesome. Check her out and give her the love she so richly deserves.
Does this mean I am close to releasing the paperback for preorder? Why yes, yes it does. Watch this space.