Just to clarify: I am not the grammar police. Not even after 20 years of being a professional writer and 8 years of being an English teacher. It’s too frustrating. And heartbreaking – it’s to show possession, Smith’s to indicate plurality, and their to contract “they are.” There are just no words for it. Though if you were Trumpkin, these might do: Beards and bedsteads! Thimbles and thunderstorms! Cobbles and kettledrums! Weights and water-bottles!
Which brings us to the English verb – 3 simple tenses, 3 past tenses, 6 progressive forms, the emphatic “do” form, and hey, how about that modal trinity of can-must-should – and LUCKY LUCKY US, beside all those tenses, let’s not forget The Many Moods of Verbs (which rather sounds like a title of a 70s soft-listening LP).
“If you were Trumpkin” is a prime example of one such mood: the subjunctive.
Of or pertaining to that mood of the finite verb that is used to express a future contingency, a supposition implying the contrary, a mere supposition with indefinite time, or a wish or desire.
Yeah. That thing.
We’ve all heard it.
“If I were a rich man, yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.”
“If I were king of the for-eheheheheheheheheheh-st.”
From these, one might reasonably conclude that the subjunctive mood has more to do with lyrical freestyling and jabberwocky antics than with a verbal mood.
If I was. If I were. Does it really matter?
To some people, yes. They argue that if we were to subjugate our subjunctives so as to use them less subjectively and more submissively (in respect to grammar rules) and more subliminally (in respect to rhetorical flair) our speech would more accurately reflect our progressive civility and refinement (or maybe our panties-scrunched-in-a-bunch-ness) and the world would be a better place. For you. And me. You just wait and see.
Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.
But I do know this: if I were a rich woman and also were queen of the forest, I would be able to buy more books and store them in my ever-expanding royal library, which would definitely make the world a better place. For me. For me. You just wait and see.
It seems presumptuous to join all the other Lewisians today in celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday.
But I’m going to do it anyway. Perhaps not brilliantly, but oh well – we can’t all be Lewis.
Set aside for the moment that Lewis and Tolkien had a serious falling out, in part because of Lewis’s decision to join the Church of England after his conversion.
And that his writing sometimes echoes faintly of British snobbery.
And that he occasionally leaves you guessing as to what he really thinks and believes about specific doctrinal points (purgatory, for example).
And that Robin McKinley, one of my favorite young adult authors, who recently converted to Christianity, is quite thoroughly allergic to him (as stated here).
And that Hollywood has made a flozzergnashing priddlyshnotz of Narnia (there are no words for it, really).
And that HarperCollins has ignored all textual evidence, literary logic, and scholarly output by INCORRECTLY renumbering the Chronicles of Narnia (which many of us have ranted about in the past for all the reasons outlined here).
And that Tolkien pooh-poohed his Chronicles in part because they included Father Christmas.
And that many of his colleagues felt he’d sold out to the world of commoners via the BBC and popular publishers (or maybe it was just jealousy).
And that sometimes you have to read his sentences several times over to really digest all of the truth and logic and brilliance packed into them.
And that his literary scholarship can sometimes make current literary scholars feel incompetent.
And that he often leaves readers hanging with, “In a book I read one time – I can’t remember which one…” (the price of possessing a searchable-PDF-high-quality-flatscanner-like memory).
And that he smoked (this one really gets some people).
And drank (now I’ve really done it).
Set it all aside because it doesn’t matter; the fact remains – C. S. Lewis was a brilliant writer. Since his writings are all I personally have of him, they are all I can speak to.
And they are indeed brilliant. Delightful. Unexpected. Rich. Deep. Profound. Playful. Reflective. And so many other things.
The Lewis Society to which I belong does, on occasion, genuflect a bit more than necessary. And a friend of mine sometimes jokes that I adhere to the doctrine of the Quadrinity. But I recognize my sometimes excessive adoration of Lewis for what it really is – sincere admiration (with a dash of awe) for a man who wielded language like a warrior’s sword, waved words like a magician’s wand, and rang truth like a chorister’s bell.
He did this as an expert of literary scholarship.
He did this as a devout believer of Jesus Christ.
I am glad to know him, even if just through his books. Those are more than enough.
[Lewis is so very much more than his Chronicles; even so, many readers only know him as the man who created Narnia. And so here are some of the best lines from that land where we all want to be.]
“Then he isn’t safe” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” –The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” –Prince Caspian
“If they’ve said it once, they’ve said it a thousand times. ‘Puddleglum,’ they’ve said, ‘you’re altogether too full of bobance and bounce and high spirits. You’ve got to learn that life isn’t all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.” –The Silver Chair
“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.” –The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
“Was it all a dream?” wondered Shasta. But it couldn’t have been a dream for there in the grass before him he saw the deep, large print of the Lion’s front right paw. It took one’s breath away to think of the weight that could make a footprint like that. –The Horse and His Boy
Then there came a swift flash like fire either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” –The Magician’s Nephew
“Come further up, come further in!” –The Last Battle
Okay, just one more, from Out of the Silent Planet, basically summing up the entire doctrine of the fall and our subsequent need for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross:
They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – …
“It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils.
“It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray.
I love my book tree just as much unlit by day as lit by night. It’s gracious like that.
Like all beautiful and bookish things, there’s more to this book tree than just a tapered stack of tomes. There is truth. Loads of it. Mostly about the Church and her people.
Lesson 1: If one book falls, they all fall. (Really – is it too obvious to state?)
Lesson 2: Each book brings something unique to the tree – colors, textures, topics, covers, authors, views, titles. The variety is astonishing.
Lesson 3: The tree is made entirely of books that were either destined for the trash pile or stacked in a junk shop before being rescued, bought for a price, carried home, and given new life.
Lesson 4: Some of the books have divergent views on such things as history, humanity, and society, but they all agree to play together nicely and be part of this particular tree.
Lesson 5: Together, these books make something bigger, better, and more beautiful than they do alone.
Lesson 6: Even the smallest amount of book tree light pierces the surrounding darkness.
Lesson 7: The inner book tree lights radiate the space within, then spill out the cracks, tumble over the pages, and radiate the space without.
Lesson 8: The seemingly ordinary books are quite as necessary as the fancifully decorated books.
Lesson 9: The tree stands tall and true only because it is built on a foundation that is strong and level (and also happens to be made out of an old shed door decorated in crayon by the neighbor girl).
Lesson 10: The tree brings me joy. Great, great joy.
So should the Church. And so can the Church. But often she does not because (sometimes) each of her books determines to write its own story, construct its own foundation, and be its own individual tree.
And yet the Lord loves her (and her books) still. Glory be, that is Good News indeed.
[Just one more thing…]
My particular book tree has its own peculiar mix of doctrines that I discovered only after constructing it. (NOTE: The views of my tree do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or its author.)
My book tree:
embraces teaching that is both didactic and narrative
wallows gleefully in human depravity
is egalitarian – or maybe complementarian?
is confidently heaven-bound
warns against backsliding
deals with behavior lapses simply and swiftly (and – let’s hope – privately)
Confession: I own too many books. Not just a few too many, or some too many. A lot too many.
Someone keeps saying it’s a problem.
I keep not listening.
So when I got an email today from one of my literature students with “book tree” in the subject line, I was intrigued. I thought it might be some kind of narrative thematic diagram resembling a family tree, which would be pretty cool.
But it wasn’t.
It was an idea. For a book tree. (Go figure.) Made out of books. To look like a tree. You know, for Christmas and all.
Which was so much cooler than cool I can’t even put it into words.
This email, and the resulting fervor it whipped up in my soul, is precisely why I don’t Pin. I would forfeit my life to this and that and such-and-such and so-and-so and ladeedahdeedoo and pretty soon I would be a crazy person who only converses with glue sticks and rotary cutters.
Proof positive is that I spent several hours tonight constructing this:
It was a lot more work than I expected. The light schematic is pathetic. In a few places, I had to jerryrig shims of folded paper to keep things level. I didn’t know how to finish it off. I made a mess of my bookshelves.
But oh my, I am delighted. Beyond words. Because not only do I love my books (too much, says someone) but I love the season that my new book tree celebrates. The incarnation. The Birth of Christ. The eucatastrophe of mankind’s history (for all you Tolkien fans).
Breathtaking indeed. Beyond words.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Confession: I’m a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.
I like journals. I need journals. I crave journals. (And pens to go along with them. Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.)
Over the years (like every other journal-freak-blank-book-maniac-whatever) I’ve worked my way through more pages than I can count, shifting from composition books to sketch books to notebooks to whatever happens to be on sale.
In the process, I’ve learned there are only two non-negotiables for this slice of my life.
One: no lines. I want the freedom to write sideways, crossways, or diagonal; to doodle, sketch, or chart; to meander, march, or stall; to shout, chat, or whisper; in short, to write or draw in any direction and in any size I want. I totally get that lines help keep things straight and neat and orderly. Not interested. That’s what closet organizers are for. And calendar apps. Journals are for life, and life is usually unpredictable, messy, spontaneous, and slightly (or greatly) out of control. A journal is meant to reflect that, not cure it.
Two: sewn binding. I want to know that my pages aren’t going to fall out. (Journals are meant to reflect life’s messy spontaneity, not mimic it.) I want my pages to lay conveniently flat. (Just because I want the freedom to write up, down, sideways, and around doesn’t mean I want to write over the side of a tumbling paginated cliff or into a valley of stiff binder’s glue.) I want the comfort of knowing my pages are each connected to another page just across the row of signature stitches. (If journaling is an exercise in solitary discourse, it’s reassuring to know that the pages upon which the discourse lives are not themselves solitary but rather sewn permanently into a larger community.)
If this sounds weird or obsessive or (gasp) even a tad neurotic, well (cough), yep.
Too bad for me, unlined sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. At least not if a person cares even just a little bit about style and flair and appearances. And cost. Which means there are actually two more non-negotiables for this slice of my life.
Three: looks matter. At least a little bit.
Four: cost matters. A lot.
Even more too bad for me, cheap, stylish, unlined, sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. So I’ve started making my own.
If this sounds silly or time-consuming or (gasp) even a tad snobbish, well (cough), yep.
But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.
These journals are made from the boards of old, discarded, rejected Readers Digest Condensed Books. You can find them anywhere. Everywhere. Often for free. Free is good. Spines are made of Tyvek tape (right) and duck tape (left). People who know what they’re talking about say you should never use duck tape for this. I used it anyway. (And my needle got kind of sticky.) Innards are made of printer paper, folded, cut to size, sewn into place.
These journals are made from old leather wallets. You can find them at thrift stores for cheap. Cheap is good. Gutting them takes a while. A long while. To do it right you really need to rip out all the seams and then resew the edges neatly. Innards are made from printer paper. My good friend Joanna Benskin gave me this idea. (Her innards are made from lined composition paper. We are still very good friends.) This idea is probably out there on Etsy or Pinterest, but I don’t look at those sites. Sensory overload. I’m sick just thinking about it.
Inside view of wallet journals. (I should mention that part of the motivation for these is that a good piece of leather shouldn’t go to waste. Ever.) Endpapers may or may not adhere. I left the pink one plain because really, what screams competent-and-independant-jeanswearing-thrifty-egalitarian-nonprincessloving-moderndaywoman more than a PeptoBismal Pink Journal-Wallet free of any design distractions?
Confession: I didn’t make this journal. It’s a Moleskin skinny, which is neither cheap nor stylish (non-negotiables #3 and 4). But since I already owned it and didn’t go out to buy it in order to retrofit it, it’s sort of like I got it for free during the makeover stage. Really. This idea wasn’t mine. I saw it at a craft fair. Which had only ten exhibitors due to torrential rains. Ten exhibitors was enough to send me into sensory overload. No, that’s not the original old photo sewn onto the cover. What do you take me for? And yes, I know the people in the photo. The one on the left is an amazing mother and grandmother. The one on the right is a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.
**Top photo: these journals are made from covers of old books. Look – I love (adore, collect, cherish, fondle, drool over) old books as much as anyone I know. I would never sacrifice one if it had even the barest hint of life, value, or that delightful fusty smell so many of us love. But these books were on their past breath – cracked, torn, crumbling, and unhinged. Really, their covers were all that remained of their former glory. I like to think I saved them from the grave and gave them a brand new life. Innards are either printer paper or unlined-and-sewn innards of cheap sale journals with seriously bleh covers, sliced out of their sad and sorry homes (which will be remade into happy, schnazzy book boards at some point), then rebound into these delightful covers from long ago. Spines are made from (variously) Tyvek tape, duck tape, or scraps of leather salvaged from thrift store stuff – you know – jackets, pants, vests, boots, bags…
But that doesn’t mean I don’t pin. I’m not legalistic that way. In fact, I’ve been pinning (actually) long before Pinning (virtually) came into vogue – with actual, not virtual pins. The wooden kind. For clothes. Maybe you’ve heard of them.
They’re perfect for pinning that tiny homemade Guatemalan doll onto the kitchen curtains.
Or for pinning a cardinal’s feather onto the edge of a robin’s nest that graces an end table with its presence.
Or for pinning a quirky ornament onto the quirky tree branch in the quirky pot in the corner of the living room.
Or for pinning old family photos to the clothesline (used for Christmas stockings during the holiday season) strung across the mantle.
Or for pinning stamps and receipts and notes and other important things to the front of bookshelves.
Or for pinning a lovely, wondrous, magical dedication page (torn long ago from an unknown book and saved in a drawer because, well, it’s so lovely, wondrous, and magical) onto a tree branch in the backyard where perhaps the wildlife will appreciate it.
Or for pinning necklaces onto a flimsy, useless-for-towels towel rack.
Or for pinning the recently opened bag of cinnamon-and-sugar pita chips (which is rarely done because, let’s be real, these chips tend to be consumed in a single sitting even though, if one serving equals one sitting, the bag should last eight times longer).
(And yes, that is a box of Red River hot cereal lurking in the background.)
Clothespin pinning may not be as fancy or flashy or fast as the other kind of Pinning, but it has a charm all its own, for this kind of pinning extends beyond what one pins to how and where one pins. In that sense, the possibilities are endless. The pins, however, are not, and that’s good news for a person who lacks her own moderation.
This Summer Olympic season seems like a good time for non-runners to declare themselves.
So, I do declare. Proudly. Boldly.
I. Don’t. Run.
My reasons are straightforward enough:
I’ve heard about how to overcome all these issues, but I’m not interested because the overcoming strategies sound equally painful, sweaty, exhausting, and bor(yawn)ing. I’ve also heard about all the amazing benefits of running, including the euphoric runner’s high that one eventually achieves (at some point after the aches, sweat, exhaustion, and boredom, which seems a little late, don’t you think?), but I have a secret stash of dark chocolate which offers plenty of benefits, thank you.
My running friends swear that running is the best thing ever. But I just recently discovered the joys of hard-steamed eggs – no green gunk around the yolk and a peel that literally slips off – so, sorry, but “the best thing ever” has already been spoken for.
My running friends assure me that running is good for whatever ails me. But I have a giant soaking tub – and approximately 837 books – so, sorry, but “whatever ails me” already has a remedy.
My running friends promise that I’ll love running if I just give it a try. But I have tried it, on no less than three different occasions (as a kid – the obligatory “I want to be an Olympian” phase; as a mom-of-toddlers – the obligatory “I’m getting back in shape” phase; last year – the obligatory “I’m still getting back in shape” phase) all of which ranged from lackluster to dismal failure (not an Olympian; got in shape but killed my shins on the pavement; flew off the treadmill while adjusting the speed and incline) so, sorry, but “giving it a try” was a great big downer. Times three.
But my running friends are still my friends. Even though I don’t run. Even though I just walk. Even though I move at a different pace, with a different gait, for a different reason. Even though I am not just like them.
So with all the other non-runners of this world, I declare this:
I. Do. Walk.
And that’s just fine with me.
NB: For those who are tempted to read into this post some sort of veiled analogy about the recent culture wars, please don’t. There isn’t one. Truly. This is really just about being a non-runner. A content non-runner. A bookish, J.S.Bach-ish, nap-ish non-runner. A devoted, devout non-runner who, nonetheless, is glued to the media coverage of every single Olympic running event. Huh. Life is funny like that sometimes.
My refrigerator crisper froze my bag of fresh spinach.
My over-the-kitchen-island light fixture needs to be dusted.
My bathroom shower tiles are dingy plus a hint of soap-scummy.
My central-air compressor won’t push the cold air to the upstairs bedrooms.
My front-load washing machine has some mildew on the rubber door gasket.
My grocery store stopped carrying my favorite brand of snack crackers.
My all-in-one printer – scanner – copier is out of ink…again.
My iPod refuses to correctly sort my three favorite albums.
My dishwasher left gritty residue on the steak knives.
My car has a funny rattle under the front dash.
And my gas grill has a jiggly handle.
Really. It’s enough to make any reasonable (read: self-important) 21st-century woman throw up her hands in disgust, mutter unspeakables under her breath, and call it quits. Quite. Who, after all, can be expected to function under these desperate conditions?
[And now I will square off with myself and do battle with the ‘I’ that looms largely, always ready to rear her haughty head and claim her full share of centrality. I know her well and don’t think much of her. That Jesus willingly died for her is really quite astounding.]
[In Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light, Vicky Austin reads these lines by the poet Thomas Browne:*
If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, “This is not dead,”
And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes He says, “This is enow
Unto itself – ’twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me.”
[*For all you L’Engle fans, there’s been a bit of rumbling about the authorship of this poem. L’Engle clearly attributes it to a Sir Thomas Browne who lived “at least three centuries ago” which would be the Sir Thomas Browne who wrote, among other things, Religio Medici. But in fact the poem’s author is T.E. Browne, a 19th century educator, theologian, and poet. You can read more about the mix-up here and can read the poem, titled “Indwelling,” here on page 82. Just in case you were wondering.]
Every now and then, I refashion the refrigerator door.
This is something that I imagine organized, intentional, and purposeful people do on a regular basis.
In my case, the motivation has more to do with either 1) avoiding some other necessary and unpleasant task or 2) being bored with (or similarly overwhelmed by) the current refrigerator fashion.
The side of the refrigerator rarely gets such personal attention. With its sidelong stance and hoarding tendencies, it lives a prodigal life of its own making. (Which is to say, I have neither the will nor the stamina to tackle 8 years worth of haphazardly displayed this-and-that.)
The fridge front is currently in a Magnetic Poetry season, a season that usually lasts anywhere from 6-9 months (because it’s so intellectually fulfilling with all of its semantic possibilities) and then gets packed away for 2-3 years (because it’s so pragmatically and emotionally taxing with all of its potential organizational disasters…like when the standby adverbs and adjectives start mixing it up so that I can’t even think straight for all of their renegade whimsey).
Words are just about the best thing ever, which makes sense since God used them (in some perfected and sacred form, I presume) to speak the universe into existence.
With all their inherent power, then, the best writers know how to transform them from individual units of nothingness (dry as dust until someone breathes life into them) into startling and exquisite bolts of energy that can be surprisingly life-giving even as they knock us to our knees in breathless amazement.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
[No digressive Tolkien tangent to follow. Simply this: go here and listen to Tolkien read about Gollum. And this: read The Hobbit if you haven’t. Please. I beg you. Before you see the movie, which is, remember, an adaptation of the book.]
“Oozy smell.” Perfect. Wonderful. Miraculous. Nine letters. Two words. Infinite possibilities.
I recently hosted a play-date with my five-year-old neighbor friend. The plan was to do typical five-year-old-play-date kinds of things – books, snacks, stickers, crafts – but instead, she spent two hours at the refrigerator, choreographing a linguistic dance of sorts with what she dramatically referred to as “all these words that have vowels and competents in them!” Two hours of enthusiastic magnetic lexical ballet thoroughly dismantled the (neurotic) demarcation lines between nouns, adverbs, and adjectives (a good excuse to refashion the refrigerator door in the coming weeks), but it left unscathed the topmost semantic creations from the recent months:
Wild angel worship pierces my night with a vision of sweet eternity.
Translucent and smooth poetry whispers to me and surrounds my broken heart like ferocious love.
Deliciously sacred words dance through the universe and celebrate deep in my blood like fresh morning stars.
And that just about says everything a person could ever hope to say (on a refrigerator door, anyway).