Saturday, December 31, 2005
I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year 2006 and to thank you for 2005. I started this blog in August with only a general plan. All of you helped me shape it with your participation and comments these past months. I've learned a great deal about my writing, and through your feedback, I believe I've improved. I'm in your debt.
It's almost midnight here in the eastern U.S., so here's a toast to you! Cheers!
(The picture is from my day trip through the Poconos. In a snow storm, no less.)
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Rain unrolled across the hills. As the drops smacked the puddles, they exploded in thousands of tiny bowls. Evan and Sara pressed into the cold shelter of the mausoleum stairs.
"This is just our luck," Evan said.
"It’s not so bad. Kinda fun, actually."
Sara nestled into him. The hems of her jeans were soaked.
"I hope it lets up before we have to go back to the car."
"It’ll let up," Sara said.
Evan peeked from under the roof. The night sky boiled with flickers of lightning.
"I don’t know," he said. "Looks like a monster."
Somewhere close, a bolt seared the air, and a tree detonated.
"My mom’s gotta be crapping her pants," he said. "Good thing we didn’t tell her we’re going to a place she can call."
"It’s an autumn storm," Sara said. "Unpredictable. The sky might be crystal clear over there."
Evan nodded, then stared out over the glistening cemetery. So many shapes and heights of stones. An angel perched over all. Its head tilted in observance of the lowly Earth.
After a silence, Sara spoke.
"You think we’ll be married someday?"
"Married?" Evan asked.
"Yeah. You know, with a house of our own?"
The roar suddenly softened, and a restless wind stirred.
"I think so," he whispered.
"Look, it’s breaking up," Sara said.
Evan leaned forward. Indeed, the curtains were drawing back, but only crack in the heart of the storm.
Another power was building. Soon, Evan and Sara could feel it in the their skin. Tingles raced across their bodies and their breaths tightened. The air grew still and sizzled with electricity.
Then, their eyes filled with a hazy, purple light. Along the fence and all the iron spires, licks of mystical flame leapt.
Sara gasped, and her hand dropped to cover Evan’s. St. Elmo’s fire danced in the night.
And high overhead, secretive beyond the clouds, the Big Dipper turned among the stars. In the spirit of the season, the great ladle tipped, and the heavenly deluge poured and poured.
Friday, December 23, 2005
As the northern world floats in darkness and cold, remember the untold years of humans upon the Earth and how the ancients shuddered under the narrow sun and the vast curtains of night. Gather in the warmth with family and friends and catch the sparkle of life-giving light in your eyes.
Beyond all religion, we are one in this. Beyond all conflict, in the labors upon the circling Earth we share.
And as a small gift in this holiday time, I offer you a bit of music. A carol played by me on the shuttle pipes, a fireside version of the great highland bagpipes. Enjoy!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Evan stretched on a lawn chair and twined his hands behind his head. Framing the sky, the trees winked with hundreds of spectral lights. The fireflies had swarmed at dusk from the grass to the tree tops.
A triangle of light opened across the grass, then the backdoor quietly closed. Soft footsteps approached, nearly drowned by the night insects pulsing in the heat.
"What're you doing, big guy?"
The man crouched and followed his son's eyes upward. "It's getting late."
"I know," Evan said.
"You've been out here a while."
The man smiled in the dark. He ruffled Evan's hair. For once the boy didn't protest. "Beautiful night. Very clear."
"Mmm hmm," Evan agreed.
"Which ones are you looking at?"
Evan pointed. "Cygnus the Swan. You see those stars that make a big cross?"
"I think so," the man said, even though he knew the sky better than Evan's teachers.
"Lyra the Lyre is right next to it. Vega is the brightest star," Evan observed. "It must be huge."
"Do you see all that light in Cygnus?" Evan asked. "That's the Milky Way."
The man nodded. "You know what's amazing?" he asked.
Evan turned his head towards his father.
"All these stars," he said, sweeping his hand across the heavens, "all these stars you see are right here in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Millions and millions. Almost more than you can imagine. And yet, we're just one galaxy in a whole universe of galaxies."
"But I thought that was the Milky Way," Evan said, pointing again.
"Well, you know how galaxies are big spirals, like frisbees? When you look at Cygnus, you're looking along the disk, through the disk, rather than out into deep space."
Evan didn't notice his father take control of the conversation.
"Can you see other galaxies?" Evan asked.
"Sure. Except you need a telescope for most of them."
Evan stared back upward, captivated by the infinity of his thoughts. "Can I get a telescope?"
The man chuckled. "If you really want one, ask Santa."
"What? You got a problem with Santa? Maybe for your birthday, then."
Evan groaned, but it was a good groan.
"You should be getting to bed. In a few minutes come in, okay?"
"Alright Dad, I'll be in."
The man stood. "Couple minutes," he repeated, but had no intention of truly rushing him.
He returned to the house, careful not to wash the boy with light. Telescopes, he thought to himself, more than a little excited. He always wanted a telescope. A big one. A really big one.
Couldn't let on though. Didn't want to spoil it. No matter old how they get, after a certain age, that stuff is all uphill. They don't understand how rare and meaningful it is to learn together.
Evan would sure dig it, though. And just the right story might even convince his wife.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Evan slammed the door. Unsatisfied, he grabbed the knob, ripped the door open, then slammed it again. He stomped off into the yard.
Sparkles in his vision wiggled on the background of darkness. His head pounded in rage.
One o'clock in the morning. Work tomorrow.
Three months bled into one monstrous day. Evan thought he could handle it, if he could just have his sleep.
Night after night. So many temptations. Hold the baby. Rock the baby. Sleep with the baby. Feed the baby. But the baby must learn to soothe herself. Alone.
And she was learning. Slowly. She cried while she learned.
Meanwhile, the night ticked away. His eyes burned in the morning. His concentration fell flat. Six hours to sleep became five, became four. The baby woke for feedings. To help his wife, four became three.
Evan looked back. In the night's stillness, he could hear the baby crying.
Frustration and fury bubbled in him like a cauldron of lava, hideously hot. His eyes raced. Desperate, he grabbed an old broom handle leaning against the shed. He savagely beat the ground. Pounding. Pounding. The blows sank, and the Earth calmly accepted them.
Still streaming fire, Evan swung at a tree. The hard connection sang deliciously in his hands, but he knew enough not to hurt the tree. He threw the stick aside, then snatched a log from a nearby stack.
He hurled it against the fence, watched the chainlink buckle, pop back, then rattle. He picked it up. He heaved it. Again. And again. And AGAIN.
Panting, Evan dropped to his knees. The lava was spattered over the ground. Spent. And finally cooling.
With eyes brimming in defeat, he looked up at the sky for long minutes. He surrendered to it. Pleaded with it.
He spied the giant square of stars forming the body of Hercules. He followed what should be the powerful reach of arms and legs. Instead of muscles, though, his mind saw only the spidery thin connection of dots.
He chuckled at the flabby state of Greece's greatest hero. Dude seriously let himself go.
He looked down. He chuckled at the mud soaking into his pants where he knelt. He chuckled at the befuddled log lying before him. Thank God the lights were off at the neighbor's house.
Evan noticed his watch, sighed, then ran his fingers through his hair. His legs wobbled a little when he stood. On his way back toward the house, he paused.
Silence. The baby was sleeping.
At the door, he saluted. An offering to Hercules and his great labors enshrined in the sky. Greek champion. A man over all other men.
He saluted then whipped him the finger.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
1. Funny the meme mentions hand-illuminated. I talked about the Roycrofters in another meme, and sometime I'll have to do a history post on them. Suffice it to say now that the Roycrofters were an example of the Arts & Crafts movement during the early 1900's--a rejection of industrialization and a return to hand-crafted, simple, beautiful objects. Mission-style furniture and Tiffany lamps hail from this period. But, I digress. I couldn't find an example to post, but my first choice would be a hand made, tooled leather, illuminated book produced by the Roycrofters.
2. Keeping with the Arts & Crafts theme, a copy of The Canterberry Tales published by the Kelmscott Press and William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
3. Are you getting the sense I'm a collector type? Hmmm. It's not the value of these things which intrigues me. It's the rarity and the impact they have. So add A Message to Garcia as originally published in the Philistine magazine (again, the Roycrofters). This essay (which I'm sure you never heard of) happens to be one of the most published works of all time.
4. A first edition of Moby Dick.
5. A first edition of A Christmas Carol.
6. My wife told me about a young adult book she loved as a teenager. If you wished really hard and did certain things, a witches spell book would appear in a tree outside your window in the morning. I'd like to wake up and find it there (move this request to Halloween so as not to offend anyone).
7. A copy of the 90 or so pages of a novel I started (The Forsaken) when I was 15. I lost track of those pages years ago. They would be fun to read now.
8. A copy of my work in progress (see my updated profile), which I will furiously finish and revise in time for Christmas. Not.
9. An example of a medieval work done by a scribe on vellum and preferrably written in Latin (I'm getting out of practice).
10. A history of the area pictured in my previous post (the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Delaware River, called Chehocton, the wedding of the waters, by the Leni Lenape.
I'm too exhausted to tag anyone else! If you'd like, give it a go!
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Victorian cemetery art incorporated elaborate symbolism to convey the hopes and sorrows of those left behind.
Hands Clasped: Symbolizing a final farewell. Attention should be paid to the cuffs in hand symbolism. A frilly cuff indicated a woman. These are too worn to be certain.
Usually the hand grasping the other depicts the person who died first. Here, the grasping hand is also pointing downward, indicating mortality. Mourning is symbolized by the drapes over the headstone.
Geo. W. Case
Dec. 21, 1821
Aged 30 yrs. & 9 mos.
(Rest is unreadable)
(Unmarked rural cemetery, Wayne County, Pennsylvania)
Friday, December 09, 2005
And when you stop by, please be sure to say hello!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Evan brushed away the snow and lifted the tarp. The stiff plastic crackled. He heaped a stack of logs in his arms, then let the tarp fall. His breath billowed in brilliant white clouds.
Turning back to the stairs, he avoided the crusted ice. Each thump of his boots across the porch echoed in the walls of the cabin. He dropped the load next to the door, then returned to the railing, which overlooked the silent woods. The slopes held a luminescence. The leaves had fallen and now knitted into the soil under a layer of snow.
Evan blew heat into his cupped hands. A waft of smoke swirled, then melted into the air. The bitter smell evoked the warmth of firelight inside. Still, he remained.
Overhead, the heavens dazzled with stars. So many stars. Shining with infinite variations. Evan marveled at the display. The haze of summer never could compare, even in those remote mountains where little light bled from civilization.
Evan questioned whether he was lonely.
Perhaps. But only in the most profound stillness could he hear the voice where all branches of his personality rooted. Only in isolation would the bending of himself ease and the lines become true. He decided he welcomed the fleeting loneliness.
He swept the northern sky in the hope of catching the dance of solar winds, the aurora borealis. Instead, only the cold permanence of stars. So, he climbed and wandered the great circle of sky. There he saw the three stars of Orion's belt. Orion the Hunter. And below, like the tip of a sheathed sword, the great Orion nebula. So profoundly beautiful in pictures, the nebula hung like cotton without color or definition.
The first shivers tickled his legs, and he yawned. The late night was drifting into morning. Evan drank one last view of the rarity, then hurried back inside. In the trees, a breeze stirred, and a few clinging leaves chattered. Icy crystals sprinkled, then the hush settled once more.
And for a moment, as Evan nestled under the blanket of the sleeping world, curtains of blue shimmered in the north.
Mystical and secret.
Monday, December 05, 2005
I'm sorry. I'm going to get a little theoretical today. But I need to get something off my chest. Perfection is a powerful state of being. Overwhelming, I'd argue. But there is a quirk in music in which perfection, stacked upon perfection, stacked upon perfection leads to what? You guessed it! IMperfection.
What?? Pythagoras, the ancient Greek triangle dude, really dropped a whopper on us. Maybe you can help me understand what's going on. The universe is at stake, after all. But before we can get to the heart of the problem, I need to set the stage.
You appreciate well tuned musical instruments, I'll bet. Ozzy Osbourne aside, a well tuned instrument is a must if you don't wish to sour the gentle ear. But what is tuning? Sure, you play into some fancy electronic gizmo, and it tells you what to do. But did you know that modern tuning (or "equal temperament") is based on an artificial compromise? It sacrifices perfection to eliminate an odd anomaly in music. And that anomaly bugs the heck out of me.
Let's keep to the basics. A note is a sound wave oscillating at a certain frequency. The frequency determines the perceived pitch. With me so far?
An octave is created when you double the frequency of any given note. For example, if a note is at 440 hertz, then the same note one octave higher is 880 hertz. Thus, an octave is a ratio of 2:1.
Now when you play two notes at once, sometimes it sounds nice and sometimes it sounds bad. Why? Because the two sound waves interact with one another. When the waves complement, they sound smooth and pleasant--consonant in music theory. When the interaction is dirty, causing some parts of the waves to cancel and some parts to augment (interference), beating is heard--dissonance in music.
After the octave (ratio 2:1), the most consonant of all the intervals in music is the "perfect fifth." Think a C and a G note in the C major scale. The perfect fifth has a ratio of 3:2. With this ratio, no interference or dissonance occurs. The result is harmony. Smiling faces. Beauty.
Yes, perfect fifths are cool. (And I don't mean Jack Daniels! Stay with me now.)
Here's the kicker. Pythagoras discovered a tuning system called the "circle of fifths" or "just temperament." Basically, if you start with a note, go up a ratio of 3:2, then go up another 3:2, and again, and again, eventually after 12 of these "fifths," you will reach a note roughly 7 octaves higher than the starting point. If you bring all those notes down to fit into a single scale, you've just tuned your instrument to the pure mathematics of the universe.
Oops, wait a minute, I said "roughly" seven octaves higher. In fact, after this stacking of perfect fifths, you end up 23.46 cents too sharp (don't get hung up on "cents," it's logarithm mumbo jumbo). That error is called the Pythagorean Comma, and the end result is that your beautifully tuned instrument is now harboring a clunker or a "wolf interval." Basically, certain musical keys will sound great, and some will be unplayably bad. That's a problem for a keyboard instrument which lends itself to playing many keys of music. It's not a problem for many folk instruments (like my bagpipes), which only play in one key.
The problem was so irritating that Bach experimented with artificial adjustments to tune out the error. The result was "well temperament" (hence the musical collection penned by Bach called the "Well Tempered Clavier," which demonstrated the new versatility). Modern tuning is a refinement of well temperament.
Interestingly, the rub between tuning systems can be heard if a piano using equal temperament is played with a guitar tuned by ear. Since ear tuning is based on harmonics and the perfect fifth, the two instruments will diverge and sound out of tune. To remedy the situation, the guitar must be tuned to the artificial, modern system.
What is the source of this mathematical punk, you ask? Simple. No matter how many 3:2 ratios you stack up, you can never equal a 2:1 ratio, which defines the octave. Simple fractions. Just can't do it.
But wait!! Perfect fifths are tidy. They sound nice. They build, logically. Shouldn't there be a reward? If you stack one on another, shouldn't you come full circle? Why do you just dribble over where you expected to be? (A 23.46 cent dribble to be precise.)
The circle of fifths isn't a circle at all. It's a never-ending spiral. To what? Hell? Is 23.46 cents the sign of the devil??
The space-time continuum is ripped! I'm tumbling in! The garden path leads to a swamp.
It just doesn't add up!
And in the midst of all those ear-tuned death spirals, Ozzy's starting to sound pretty damn good to me.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I was tagged by Kelly (Writers Words) and Mary Louisa (Yes, I do Mind) for a Book Meme. You list 15 facts, personal preferences, and quirks about books. Not easy! Here goes:
1. I think a book should be made to last--acid-free paper, sewn (not glued), hard cover, etc. Only a book made with care has the right feel to me.
2. Once I start a book, I feel compelled to finish, no matter how awful it might be. I've put down only a few books in my life.
3. Case in point re #2, Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I was prepared to be blown away by his creation of a back story for the Wizard of Oz. Instead, I was disturbed by how badly his story meshed with Dorothy's journey to see the Wizard. The part which should've been the focus seemed an afterthought.
4. I'll use just about anything as a bookmark rather than dog-ear the pages. However, I routinely dog-eared pages when I was younger.
5. When I was nine, I starting reading (er, trying to read) "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe. I think I was inspired by a film strip (for anyone under the age of 20, a film strip was a celluloid series of pictures fed through a projector, one picture at a time. Sound, if available, was provided by a separate cassette tape). ;)
6. My cousin tried to scare me one night when I was 10 by telling me about Jodi the red-eyed pig in The Amityville Horror. Intrigued, I read the book when I was 11 (how did I get my mother to buy that???).
7. I was mesmerized by the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews (when she was still a person instead of a corpse animated by a ghost writer) when I was 12. (Note to self: don't die without next of kin. Your extended family will have no shame exploiting you).
8. Dust jackets come off my books before I read them. It might take years before I put them back on.
9. I read A Christmas Carol to my young children, unabridged.
10. My friends and I wrote a sequel to "The Jabberwocky" called "Revenge of the Bandersnatch."
11. I have 5 to go? I think in the future this should be the 10 book things meme.
12. I have a few handmade books made by The Roycrofters. I used to live in East Aurora, where the Roycroft campus was located.
13. Many books are my favorites. I don't think I could choose one above the others.
14. In college, I took a bunch of 18th century literature courses. Consequently, I read nearly nothing of the modern "greats," e.g., James Joyce.
15. When those scholastic order forms for books would come in elementary school, I would always snatch up any ghost/paranormal/mystery stories. Hmmm. I guess it started young.