30 November 2012

Briefly: Value and Visibility

A person's notoriety and importance have no direct relationship.

20 November 2012

Mindful Moment No. 2.

Last night a friend of mine decided to crash on the floor of my room to finish a paper, which was due at 8am today.  (She got it in, thankfully.)  It was for a systematic theology class and she was writing about the Trinity.  We had talked about it before - had pondered the impossibility of trying to explain a three-personed, one-natured God - and she was a little frustrated by it all.  But long after the point when I would have began yanking at my hair, she still had a fresh stream of wonder flowing through her thoughts.  Just think, she exclaimed at one point, that because of Jesus Christ's work on the cross God has invited us into the eternal love and completely fulfilled community that the three persons of the Godhead shared from time before time.  Although we have nothing to offer Him, no basis upon which to stand before Him, He decided to send His only Son for us - a member of the Trinity submissive to death so that we finite creatures could live with Him and in Him.  As she went on, she began to grow inarticulate with astonishment, and ended with "Oh! oh!" as though words had become inadequate to express the magnitude of the thought.  And in that moment I was struck by the realization that in the wonder and joy of those wordless syllables there was more wisdom - and more knowledge of reality - than in any amount of vain droning from an unbelieving philosophy.

11 November 2012

Mindful Moment No. 1.

 We often chart life in terms of its large phases or landmarks, but just as single bricks make up the building I live in, single moments make the life I'm living through.

It has always been a conundrum to me why some students here describe our library as a pit of despair.  (The larger floor is in the basement.)  While I understand that desperate late-night sessions drafting papers on issues in theology can taint a space with misery, I have always found myself guarded by my abiding love of libraries in general.  Unlike my unfortunate fellow students, I associate libraries with light and life, not with drudgery and distress.

Part of the magic of the C. Library, to use its initial, is its media room.  I suppose when you see those words, dear reader, you think of a space full of computers, possibly with a mediocre CD and DVD collection stockpiled against one wall.  Not so this media room.  The first layer is CDs and DVDs, yes, but probe a little further and you'll find - gasp - cassette tapes and VHS tapes.  The adjoining room even has equipment to play them.  But venture all the way to the back wall, past the music scores and the study recordings, and you'll find a true treasure: a whole row's worth of vinyl records.

I had discovered this very early on - when I visited the school.  But I had been keeping it tucked away in the back of my mind, in a sort of vault of Special Things to Treat Myself With.  The other day, with the stress of a midnight deadline before me, I decided to bring the knowledge out of the vault.  I wound my way toward the media room with a strange lightheartedness, despite my deadline, and established myself by a venerable stack of old Denon stereo equipment with a turntable perched on top.  I scurried to the records and surveyed the shelves with something of the sense of a child at the Thanksgiving table.  Finally I pulled out a record that said OCKEGHEM on the spine.  Good old early music composer, Ockeghem, about whom I knew nothing.  Perfect place to start.

It took me several minutes to figure out the turntable.  Remarkably, I had used one before, since my parents used to have one hanging around the house, but it had been years since I'd learned to use it.  I turned on all the power, channeled the sound to the right pair of headphones, and slipped the record out of its sleeve.  It hung from my hand, glossy black and refreshingly tangible, perhaps untouched for years until this moment.  I placed it carefully onto the turntable, used the Lift button to raise the needle, started it spinning, and hit the Lift button again to drop the needle.

I watched it descend, lightly hit the grooves in the vinyl, and begin its labyrinthine journey.  A moment's silence - and then a voice, clarion and supple, bloomed into my headphones out of the past, and my heart filled with awe.

15 September 2012

Interview with Gwen {author of the blog Alberta Girl}

This past August I took part in a blog button swap hosted by Bree at Tea & Bree.  My buddy Gwen and I have been taking our own sweet time about completing our posts to exchange, but hey, why not?  I was interviewed over on Gwen's lovely blog Alberta Girl a few days ago, and here I'm pleased to present my interview with Gwen (who also goes by the dashing pseudonym Ivania Navarro).  I've truly enjoyed getting to know her.


Salutations!  Let's begin with the basics:  What is the first thing you share with a person you're just meeting?

Hello there! Hm. I don't actually meet new people too often, but usually I tell them the usual. Age, name, favorite book or movie or song, something along those lines.

The title of your blog intrigued me immediately.  What is a life like in southern Alberta?

The biggest thing that makes Alberta stand out is the weather. It's completely unpredictable. In the morning it could be sunny and bright, and in the evening we could be drowning in rain. It's not uncommon to get one or two snowstorms in July either! The other thing about the weather is the seasons. The lucky places have spring, summer, fall and winter. Here, we get winter for about half the year, muck and wetness for a few weeks, summer for about three months, two weeks of fall and then BOOM it's winter again.

What I love about Alberta though, is the friendliness of it. There aren't too many big cities here, and almost everyone is really, really nice. We've got a thriving economy, beautiful scenery (we're an hour's drive from the Rocky Mountains) and lovely communities. I just realized I sound like a commercial, but oh well!

Happy residents are a region's best adervertising, one might say!  Now tell us something about your identity as a Canadian.  Unfortunately, I think many Americans know Canadians mostly through stereotypes...

As a start, I solemnly swear that I almost never say "eh!" Interestingly, the only person I've met who said eh on a regular basis was American.

For me, being Canadian means living in a lovely (if somewhat thinly populated) country under the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (I had to include that, since a lot of people don't know the Queen is our Queen too!).

As for the other myths...we don't ride sleds to school being pulled by huskies, we don't ride beavers, our government is not composed of moose, and the entire country is not covered in snow. ;)

Far from it!  From what I've heard, Canada is beautiful in the summer.  Do you like to travel, or are you more of a homebody?

I like traveling, unfortunately, I don't get to do it very often. I've only been out of the country once, and that was when I was a baby. I'm hoping to become a flight attendant in a few years, because I really want to travel.

Turning to your blogging career now:  How long have you been blogging?

Roughly around three years. I've deleted my first few blog posts, so I can't tell you the exact date I joined.

Why did you start?

I originally started because I'd read an article on this website called Feelin' Feminine, where it challenged young ladies to try out wearing skirts for a week, and blogging about it. I didn't have a blog when I first read it, but I decided to get one. The first few weeks were pretty embarrassing, as I had no idea what I had been doing!

I'll send back a great question you gave me:  If you could choose three words to sum up your blog, what would they be, and why?

Oh...hm. Harum-scarum (is that a word? I saw it in a book once), opinionated, lazy. I think that sounds just like my blog.  x)

Haha, well, I would never have guessed.  : )  I enjoy the diversity of topics you blog about.  Do you have a favorite subject for posts?

I'm not sure. I'd wanted to try to stick to a particular topic (femininity is a big one for me) but I have no imagination, and was unable to come up with enough to write about in just one topic. So I write whatever's on my mind. Big issues, little issues, thoughts, ponderings. I like to write whatever comes into my head, especially questions. Or ask myself questions and then answer them in a post. Like, why don't I believe in soul-mates? The other thing I do is write little...almost sermons for myself. Why I should stop complaining. Or worrying about how I look.  Things like that.

Your blog has a great aesthetic.  Did you do your own design?

Yes! I run a little blog design called Prim and Proper Designs, but I'm considering shutting it down. My partner has abandoned me (although my new one has been such a help) and with school starting, I just don't have time.

We have a shared passion for old typewriters.  How did you come to love them so much?

I'm not sure. I like writing a lot. Short stories especially. But when I'm on the computer, I get distracted so easily. Some people suggest turning off the internet, but that doesn't work if I need to look up names or places or dates or definitions. And when I do that, I usually get distracted by something else. A typewriter seemed a logical solution, but I didn't want one of those ugly plastic ones. I wanted a real, vintage typewriter. It was something of a daydream, I'd been picturing myself in a floral 50's dress with my hair all teased with orange light coming through my bedroom window, possibly smoking a cigarette because that's what everyone did back then.

I think typewriters are loveable as much for the image they project as for their usefulness.  What do you use your lovely old typewriter for now?

Right now, nothing. It needs some work, and I have to look into costs. But once it's fixed, I'll definitely be using it to write my stories, and probably letters too!

Okay, the impossible question - allow me to apologize ahead of time:  Favorite book.

How evil of you. At first I had an answer, but then I started thinking about it, and now I've got about ten books listed in my head. Can I put two? The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. They are both what I call my "comfort books." I read them to cheer myself up.

I can never answer that question with one book either.  What kind of music do you like?

I like a wide variety of music, but I'm not a huge fan of rap or rock. Anything else, sure. I've recently re-discovered my love of Owl City, since I just bought his new CD, The Midsummer Station. And I love it.

What's the most satisfying way to spend a rainy afternoon?

I'm going to be super unoriginal here and say curled up in a blanket with some tea and a book.

Thank you for hosting me!

Thanks for chatting with me, Gwen!  And you, lovely readers, make sure to come back for Gwen's guest post later on.  Cheers!


Postscript.  There's a little story relating to the button swap that I thought might amuse you...

Those of us who participated in it were randomly paired up with the blogger we were to swap with.  When I had just found out I was going to be paired up with Gwen, I was browsing her blog and reading back a few posts when I came on one about her recent acquisition of an antique typewriter.  At this, a spot in my heart felt sore, because I have longed for a typewriter ever since my mother's electric one finally joined the ranks of the mastodons and brachiosaurs.  I admired Gwen's photographs of her new old teal-enamelled Royal, sighed a little sigh to myself, and went about my day.

Several weeks later I happened to be thrifting.  (Not an infrequent occurence.)  I was poking through some office items when an oddly-shaped brown case on the bottom shelf attracted my attention.  "That looks like a..." I said to myself, hardly daring to finish the sentence.  Gingerly, I lifted the lid.  It was!  A beautiful old manual typewriter!  In good condition!  As soon as I had hit some keys and made sure it was operational I formed a resolution to take it home with me.  As it happened, a very kind relative I was with offered to buy it for me as a gift.

So there you have it.  I am the contented owner of a Smith-Corona Galaxie XII.  Next Great American Novel, here I come.

07 August 2012

A Timely Word.

I ran across this word in a book about writing fiction.
I think it's one of my new favorites.
Are you ready?

08 July 2012

Books With a Past

The bookplate in my copy of The Great Good Thing by
Roderick Townley (recommended).

Confession:  I used to be a clean book snob.  In other words, I was horrified at the idea of marking a book, only wanted "clean copies" of anything I bought, and considered it a sort of crime to take to a book with a highlighter.  (Pencil was only a misdeamenor; it could be erased.)  I attribute this partly to my perfectionism and partly to my desire that the markings not obscure the contents of the book.  It seemed an intrusion on my experience of the text, a private encounter that I didn't want interrupted.

But times have changed.  I'm in college, and have found that sometimes one serves the spirit of a book best and learns from it most thoroughly when one marks it up.  I underline in my books now and scribble notes in the margins.  I haven't persuaded myself to highlight yet, but the day may come.  I also write my name in any book I don't think I'll want to sell to a grateful underclassman.  (I say that with no condescension; I was that grateful underclassman myself.)  I've considered getting bookplates, but in the end concluded that my handwritten name was better - partly because I've become fond of the inscriptions and labels in used books I've bought.  They hint at the life the book had before it came to me.

In the upstairs bookcase there's an old, old book of American poetry that's been in the family for years, in which my great-grandfather scribbled notes enough to cover the back endpapers.  There's the name and address from a nearby town in the book of English poetry I bought in a thrift store.  The single name "Nolan" is scribbled in my copy of Goops and How to Be Them by Gelett Burgess.  There are stamps and card pockets in discarded library books, sometimes from another state.  There's the note on the front endpapers of Gulliver's Travels (which I've yet to read!): "To John - Happy Birthday!  Lots of good wishes and lots of good reading.  Love, Aunt Lois & Uncle Lewis."  All these books had lives before I picked them up; other readers laughed at them, gawked at them, frowned at them, contemplated them.  These inscriptions remind me that my experience of a book is something to be enriched, not interrupted, by others' thoughts.  They remind me that reading at its best is a dialogue, not a one-way street.  They remind me that I don't read alone.

In the past, I would reach the blank last page of my "clean copies" of books and find I had a swelling tide of questions, comments, and arguments, which I expended on my family and wished I could share with a wider circle of readers.  The history of my books urges me to find these other readers, book in hand, and ask them, "What did YOU think?"  And maybe, someday, I'll pass on my books with an added inscription of my own, vaguely linking my reading with the next reader's, and somehow, anonymously, linking our two lives.

It turns out I'm not the only one interested in book inscriptions from people I've never met.  See this blog, Lonesome Books, for a wide variety of inscriptions.  I was also interested in this New York Times article, which tells the story of a man who reconnected with an old friend through finding some old books that had his name in them.

Also, if you're looking for a rationale for marking the text of your books, I recommend "How to Mark a Book" by Mortimer J. Adler - it's the essay that persuaded me.

07 July 2012

Exoplanets {from XKCD}

Once upon a time, I wanted to be an astronomer.  Now I'm glad at least I know enough to read the news with some intelligence.  Things like this make me open my eyes wide and grin.

29 June 2012

Minnesota is Epic (Expanded Version)

From the 16th to the 23rd of the month I visited a dear friend from my college at her home near Minneapolis, MN.  It was the first time I had spent much time in Minnesota; my experience of Minneapolis was limited to the airport and the train station.  I had no idea what a treat I was in for.

Here are some highlights of my trip (and, by way of implication, places you should visit if given the chance!).

  • Park Rapids, MN & Itasca State Park

We visited a relative of my friend's who lives in Park Rapids, MN, about three hours north of Minneapolis-Saint Paul.  The downtown has some of the usual boutique-type stores, but also a unique dollar store (a Ben Franklin) and grocery store which seem to indicate there's more to the community than the summer crowd.
This old Chevy truck (left), stunningly maintained, was parked in front of a cafĂ©.  As we enjoyed our drinks in the sunroom, we noticed the driver get in with two large poodles, one white and one black.

Within a shortish drive of Park Rapids is Itasca State Park, where the headwaters of the Mississippi River flow through notable stands of red and white pine; they were saved from lumber interests at the turn of the 20th Century by the courageous actions of the first Park Commissioners.  (One interim commissioner, Mary Gibbs, stood up to lumbermen with guns who had refused to open a dam that was causing the shoreline to flood.)  
The Mississippi River originates in Lake Itasca.

The rocks in the lower part of the picture (above) form a stepping-stone path across the creek that flows out of the lake, which is the start of the Mississippi.  It's not more than thirty feet wide.  Lake Itasca also has a swimming area; it was lovely on the day we went, with a gusting breeze rippling the water.  (Right, the marker at the lake.)

Itasca State Park has many other smaller bodies of water and the famous pine forests.  We drove around the 5 mile one-way loop that gives an excellent view of the park's beauty and opportunities to stop for the state's largest white pine, the (former) largest red pine (until it was damaged in a windstorm), and a very tall lookout tower.  Along the road we were delighted to spot a cluster of Showy Lady Slippers, the Minnesota state flower (below).
(Pardon me for a moment while I dance in honor of the bokeh I miraculously got.)

  •  Como Park, Zoo, & Conservatory in Saint Paul, MN

    While I was growing up I spent a considerable amount of time wandering around zoos and museums with family and friends.  I harbor much nostalgia for both, and have by no means outgrown a child's excitement about them.  Consequently, when my Minnesotan friend asked me if I had any requests of things to do during my visit, one of my items was visiting a zoo.  (The other was swimming in a lake, which we did at Itasca State Park.)

    I couldn't have asked for a nicer little zoo than the Como Zoo in St. Paul.  (Left, a view of the conservatory, which we didn't have time to visit.  I hope I can make it back, because things of that kind are another especial delight of mine.)  I was astonished at the friendliness of the animals.  They had no hesitation in coming up to their glass barriers or staring back at the people staring at them, sometimes with insolence.  One of these snow leopards, below, stared at me for almost ten minutes.  I don't know why.  Old jokes would suggest maybe I looked delicious but I kind of doubt that.  Maybe it was the gray velour sweatshirt I was wearing; probably looked a little like moleskin.

    (The streaks are from the glass I was photographing through)

    Some of the animals wanted to show off (Mr. Sea Lion, I'm looking at you) but others were more interested in having a quiet day (Mr. Land Lion, right).  Some merely seemed content to go about their daily business in the public eye, like the orangutan mother spoiling her baby with some affectionate roughhousing - right next to the glass.  One of my most exciting encounters was with that illustrious creature, the Tufted Puffin.  I never did quite figure out to what purpose this noble bird was going through his antics - I suppose it was his bath, though that seems paradoxical in the case of a waterbird - but I certainly enjoyed watching.

    The seahorses seemed merely bewildered (left).

    One of the other joys of visiting zoos is watching the humans who come to see them.  It was raining on and off during our visit.  During one heavy shower, we took cover under an overhang not far from an umbrella-sheltered table where a few families with small children had parked.  One family had all the children in shades of yellow, wonderful for regathering them when they scattered.  They were all running about getting soaked, jumping in puddles, dancing through the raindrops.  I watched the little girl's unaffected, somehow both graceful and clumsy movements, and wished I could still dance with that much unselfconsciousness.  A few minutes later we passed the same family on the way out and I noticed all their shoes had disappeared.
  • The Lego Store, Mall of America, Minneapolis, MN

    Let me be honest and tell you right now that I'm not a big fan of malls.   However, I wanted to see Mall of America because the descriptions of its size were bogglingly large (78 football fields?) and it seemed a curiosity.  I did enjoy seeing it (and being treated to socks at Little MissMatched, thank you, kind friend), and yes, it was bogglingly large.

    Although I am not a big fan of malls, I am a big fan of Lego.  Consequently this view caused me to stop and stare a bit.

    The blue legs you can barely see behind the bridge belong to a fearsome sort of machine, right.  If you love Lego, you ought visit this store (or the one at Water Tower Place in Chicago, which I've heard is comparable).  They have kits for sale from most of their major lines: Technics, City, Star Wars, Architecture.  Yes, if you were wondering, I bought one.  I waffled between Anakin Skywalker's pod and Luke Skywalker's vehicle that floats (can't remember the name) and finally settled on a real-world mining truck.  With a boulder and gold crystals.  And a Lego guy with a plaid shirt and a beard!  Does it get better than that?  I gave the kit to a sibling of mine as a gift.  However, if I'd been a child visiting this store, I think I'd probably have wanted handfuls and handfuls from this wall of bricks.

    They didn't have this many colors when I was little.  Pout.

The hardest part of a trip to describe is the just hanging around, enjoying the area, not particularly sightseeing.  I enjoyed that as much as "seeing things."  Minneapolis-Saint Paul seems to be a great area to hang around in.  The cities are clean and situated beautifully.  Check it out!

View of Minneapolis over Lake Calhoun

Are you taking a trip this summer?  I'd love to hear about it!
NB:  All photos in this post are by me and belong to me.  You're welcome to pin them but please no copying. : )