Groundhog Sonnet

Photo: CKirgiss
Photo: CKirgiss

Groundhog Day 2013 is fairly mild in the heartland. The snow is dusted sugar. The air is misted grey. A person can breathe without shellacking her nasal passages into a frozen wasteland.

But in northern Minnesota, Groundhog Day is never mild. Never sugared. Never shadowed.

It matters naught what Punxsutawney Phil does or does not see in faraway Pennsylvania. If he were brave enough to live in the northern tundra, he would always be quite shadow-free on February 2.

Truth be told, most northern tundranites like it that way. Cold and snowy, that is. Cold and snowy and beautiful. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial and magical. Cold and snowy and beautiful and substantial and magical and real.

Still – every now and then, sunbeamed shadows on February 2 in the northern tundra would probably be most welcome.

Like when there’s been snow on the ground since Halloween. Like when the collective preschool population is riotously climbing the city walls. Like when the ice-fishing villages have become so established that it’s hard to distinguish whether their sprawl is seasonal or permanent – or whether they will ever yield up their devoted inhabitants (who hopefully still have jobs and families somewhere on the mainland).

I’m long gone from the northern tundra and suspect I would not survive another of her winters. But at one time, her frigid air was shellackingly familiar. Sonneteering was one of several (quirky) strategies to survive the season. And so this, from 1999:

SPRING? ME THINKS NOT

Hark! What sound doth I hear out my frozen
Window payne on this early and frigid dawn?
A scraping, snuffling, earthy noyse; chosen
Claws and whyskers scratching the earth upon.
Ah! thinks I, ’tis the February’s moon
Day two – Candlemas, Purification –
A day whereupon northerners cry, “Soon,
Oh dear God we beggeth a vacation.”
But the scraping, snuffling, earthy thyng laughs
Softly in its fur, yawning at the syght
Of a dark and shadowless land what hath
No shine, no thaw, nor any ‘morrow’s light.
Up here are froze our fannies and our cars.
But in their sacred course, we’ve still the stars.

Wishing you and yours a Blessed Groundhog Day. Go ahead. Have a party.

Subjunctive – schmunctive

subjunctive

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.

C.S. Lewis, Lore, and Love

Photo: CKirgiss

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.

Lewis at The Kilns

Writing an unlined life

Photo: CKirgiss
Homemade journals. **Details at bottom of post.

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.

It is.

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.

It is.

But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.

****

Photo: CKirgiss

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.

Photo: CKirgiss

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.

Photo: CKirgiss

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?

Photo: CKirgiss

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…

You’ve (not) got mail

Photo C.Kirgiss

This is what came in the mail yesterday:

  • a shoe catalog (addressed to the previous homeowner)
  • an Extended Service Plan offer for my 5-year old washing machine (LAST CHANCE!)
  • a flyer for Sear’s 1-Day Sale (HURRY IN!)
  • a “Customer Appreciation” letter from a car dealer (WE WANT TO BUY YOUR CAR!)
  • a Special Financing announcement from an appliance store (ZERO DOWN! NO INTEREST!)
  • a credit card offer (YOU’RE PRE-APPROVED!)
  • a utility customer service questionnaire (WE WANT YOUR FEEDBACK!)
  • an offer for prescription insurance (SAVE EVEN MORE!)

In other words, nothing.

In other words, a big stack of recyclable junk.

In other words, another let down.

I remember the days of waiting expectantly for the mail to arrive, an event that looked different as the years passed. While growing up it meant reaching just outside the front door to the small black box mounted on the house. In college it meant walking to the main campus building, descending to the basement level, and peeking into box 992. In apartment one, it meant unlocking box #3 in the main floor entryway. In house one, it meant walking to the end of a long gravel driveway. In apartment two, it meant driving to the post office and unlocking box #73. In house two, it meant waiting for the loud “CLANK” of the brass mail slot door in the front entry (along with a blast of cold Minnesota air in the middle of winter). Now it means walking to the end of a short paved driveway and wrangling with the honeysuckle growing up and around the mailbox post.

“Mail’s here!” has always implied a certain amount of junk mail, even when I was a kid. But it also referred to real mail. Letters. Notes. Cards. Today, though, “Mail’s here!” is pretty much synonymous with, “Meh. Why bother?”

I love technology. I love cyber communication. I love social media. But I bemoan the death of real mail, the excitement of receiving a colorful postcard, the joy of ripping open a hand-addressed envelope, the delight of reading and savoring and re-reading a lengthy letter from a friend or relative.

I have five shoeboxes of letters stashed away in a dresser drawer. Some are my own, some have been passed down from relatives now deceased. Each one is a treasure in so many ways. I can hear the writer’s voice in the lilt of the phrases, the slant of the words, the rhythm of the thoughts. The letter – held in my hand, read with my eyes, consumed with my soul – keeps the writer alive in a small way (or, in the case of the New Testament epistles, in a large way).

This is what came in the mail today:

  • the schedule for a 2013 conference (BE SURE TO REGISTER!)
  • a coupon for an oil change (BE GOOD TO YOUR CAR!)
  • a collection of recipes from a local grocery store (KEEP YOUR FAMILY HEALTHY!)
  • a reminder to renew my driver’s license (TIME IS RUNNING OUT!)
  • a 12-page mattress ad (THE BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR!)
  • a flyer for a new area dentist ($25 GAS CARD FOR NEW PATIENTS!)
  • a mortgage refinancing offer (YOU QUALIFY!)
  • … and … a letter – a real-live, genuine, hand-written letter from the only friend I have who still writes such things.

The dishes can wait. The laundry can wait. My email can wait. My voice mail can wait. Even my favorite book can wait.

I will be busy for awhile, soaking up the lilt of the phrases, the slant of the words, the rhythm of the thoughts. And then I will soak them up again, several times over, before folding up the pages neatly and storing them away in one of my shoeboxes. The hand-written word (oh, thank goodness) isn’t dead quite yet.