21 November 2014

Update on Cueball Joe

He and the family are finished.


I am not terribly happy with the results, but I  had a few things working against me. First,  I'm out of practice when it comes to carving, so I lost a lot of my chops.  I have to start somewhere to try and get back into the groove, and here I am.     Hopefully the next one will be better  Secondly, the wood was against me.  each piece is made from a block created by laminating four pieces of pine together.  Two of those pieces carved like butter and were beautiful to work with.  The other two were lousy.  Again, it's part of the 'lost my chops need to get some experience' thing   

So, here I am looking forward to the bazaars.  Here goes not much.

20 November 2014

There are days

I suppose I should begin by explaining the mundane insight of my title: there are days. Obviously there are days, and just as obviously there are weeks, and it follows that there may be months which leads to the outrageous proposition that there may be such a thing as years. But this mundane insight is made more complete by the additional observation that there are days, and then there are days.

That there are days should come as a surprise to no one who has had a day, but that there are days is a fact unknown to anyone who has not experienced such a thing. And it seems the sad condition of our time that many, if not most people, fall into the latter category.

I came upon this train of thinking whilst reading a short essay cum book review by a young lady over at Welcome to Arhyalon. The young lady, who is all of sixteen years old, began her essay by saying these words: "When I was quite young..." and I confess that I had a small chuckle at her expense, for from the span of my time I cannot conceive that she has had a day or indeed a day wherein she was not quite young. Perhaps she is remembering yesterday.

But despite her youth she had a quiet intelligence and even signs of wisdom in her essay, thus showing that occasionally old heads do grow on young shoulders, and those who are young occasionally have something to teach to those of us who are not. Her subject matter was a favoured book read to her in her -ah- younger days by her loving mother, which has shone like a light down to her since. It is a book that exemplifies to her what a good book should be: a light in the darkness.

Her article is part of a new and hopefully growing movement among a small but hopefully growing number of writers. The movement calls itself Superversive, a word coined by essayist Tom Simon. It's goals are to be the opposite of the goal most modern and post modern literature, which is subversion. Both superversion and subversion begin with the same assumption: that the world is not what it should be, or more importantly, what it could be. Subversion seeks to come in from below, and to undermine and ultimately overturn the existing structure, or what subversives like to call "the dominant paradigm". Most subversives I have known seek to overthrow and are strong on overthrowing, but are ewak when it comes time to replace or rebuild. If their success is total, all will be a wasteland. Superversives do not seek to overthrow, but rather to build up. Not to demolish, but to set examples, and to point out, as the young lady did, lights shining in the darkness, and to seek to create through art, to strengthen what is right, as more important than destroying what is wrong.

(Sadly, the postmodernist within me which I have neither been able to ostracise or exorcise bids me to point out irony here: the success of the subversive movement has made them the dominant paradigm in literature or at least "serious" literature. The Superversive movement, in seeking to reverse that trend, is seeking to overthrow the overthrowers. Therefore, it is in itself a subversion. Ironic, no? And now that my postmodernist has had his say, I will bid him adieu)

The Superversives are, like any who begin a new movement, wrestling with the question of what they are. With these first uncertain steps it is often easier to say what one is not before one states what one is. They are wrestling with the idea of what makes a good book, and this is one of the most difficult questions of all for most people.

Many years ago I too a class in Creative Writing which was taught by a man who was neither creative nor a writer. I imagine such a thing must seem unimaginable to most: it is rather like taking a music class taught by someone who believes themselves competent to teach even though they can't play an instrument, or sing, or read music, and are in fact tone deaf. My only explanation for this egregious breach of common sense is that it occurred at a university, where common sense is egregiously breached as a matter of course, or Course, for the mere price of a few thousand dollars per.

Yet he had an insight for us which stayed with me for years, until my own experience completed it. That insight was this: When critiquing a book or a short story, he said, it is very easy to say what is bad about it, but it is often impossible to say what is good. I knew very well what he meant. He, for instance, took as his model of all that is good in literature to be James Joyce, a man who embodied what he considered to be every virtue in writing. In fact, he heaped scorn on his pupils when we spoke of our favourite authors, and found our writers to be guilty of the unforgivable crime of not being James Joyce. He often could not say what it was that made Joyce so great, and in this we were in utter agreement: I find it impossible to say what was great in Joyce myself, unless it was nothing.

The professor couldn't say what could be good about a book, but the young lady who wrote the essay that inspires today's musings very aptly puts her finger on it through analogy. I will quote her entire paragraph here:

It is one thing to enjoy a decent book and then be done with it, much as you would enjoy cotton candy and then move on to the next thing. But if you had a good, wholesome meal, it would not only taste just as good as the cotton candy, or even better, it would give you more to chew on and leave you satisfied for longer. Maybe you’d even remember it years later as that “One dinner Grandma cooked.” And this is how we should write, and how to write in a superversive way.


It is that "One dinner Grandma cooked" which I wish to discuss more fully, and which brings us back to days and days. I have known both, but it seems to me too many modern writers have known only the one.

Let us return again to Joyce and the only book of his I read from beginning to end: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It is a series of days in the life of the 'artist'. One scene that sticks out in my mind is a scene at dinner with his family. The table talk slowly gets twisted around to misunderstanding and an argument breaks out, with all the hurt of years coming to the fore as the adults rehash every argument they have ever had. I can find nothing technically wrong with this scene: it is quite well done. Upon reading it I feel that I know these people, that I understand exactly what is happening. He is perfectly drawing out an experience I have lived many times. If these were all that I had lived, or all the days that I remembered, I might think Joyce a great writer, rather than a merely a talented writer who liked to write about loathsome people.

But I remember other days, days for which I am blessed and which shall live in my heart as long as I draw breath. I remember playing games with my family, or going on fishing trips, but my favourite memories, like the young lady's example, are of dinner.

To explain these dinners, one must understand the strange group of people who gathered around the table. I lived in a house with my two parents, my two sisters and one brother, and also my mother's brother and sister. My uncle was the nil plus ultra of uncles: a generous man who loved to laugh and wanted nothing more than for everyone around him to be happy. Everyone should have had such an uncle, and by some great mystery, I find that many people have. As he grew older his memory began to fade to the point that he would be telling a tale, get a little confused in the middle, and then say "That reminds me of a story..." and he would begin telling his story again, not knowing he was repeating himself. It didn't matter: we loved him so that we would not point it out to him. Having received so much love and happiness from the man, we wished only to give it back with interest. With him was my aunt, an altogether more complicated character. It seems to me that there were actually two of her in the same body: a good aunt and a bad aunt. Good aunt was also generous and kind to us, but bad aunt would tally up those kindnesses without balancing them against what she received from us. Bitterness welled up from her from time to time and covered us in an asphyxiating blanket. Of my siblings there was my eldest sister. In those years, before we were aware of such things, she was manic and depressive, and also anorexic and bulimic, and periodically she would leave suicide notes around the house. My other sister was calmer, but she too had an edge. In a family that often showed its affection by trading insults, her tongue was the sharpest. My brother was more often quiet. He was my childhood's chief protector and bully in a way that only elder brothers can be. My father was a master storyteller, but only when the mood was upon him. In those years work took a toll on him, and at times he was worried about a jobless future, and how he could continue to support the family. He did not wish to burden us with his worries, but there were days when he sat quiet and brooding at the table. My mother and father both had strong opinions, which were unfortunately opposite each other. Woe to us when politics were mentioned. My mother was the cook, and she was not terribly good, nor was she perfectly terrible.

With such a crew as this, we could not help but have many Joycean dinners. But we had other dinners, just as we had other days, when mom cooked a dinner that wasn't half bad, and the good aunt was with us, and uncle could tell a joke from beginning to end, and elder sister was in a state that was neither manic nor depressive but somewhere in balance and at peace and the insults were never personal. Times when Dad would lean back in his chair after dinner and take his "tea"- it was a peculiar concoction that was half tea, half milk and half sugar- and light up a cigarette and say, "Y'know, I remember a time..." and he would begin weaving his magic spell.

Those were blessed days, which the young girl understands but neither Joyce nor my old professor ever did. Those dinners live in my memory as a beacon in the darkness. No cold can touch me so deeply, nor wind blow so fierce as long as these memories live within me. No day is so bad that the memory of the old days and the hope of days to come cannot ease its ills.

I suppose my old professor would say that there was something unspeakable about these days, an ineffable quality that cannot be put into words, some thing right that cannot be spoken of. Perhaps I am in danger of effing the ineffable, but I think I know what was right about those days. The professor's mistake was in thinking it could be one thing that was right to explain these days, but it was not any one thing but everything that made those moments what they were. All was good, with no trace of ill. Many things could of gone wrong, but, for a little while, all went right. The bad that might have been was turned aside, and we were all happy.

And conversely, we were made happier because we had memories of those other days and those other times. As Prince Hal once noted, if every day were a sporting holiday, then playing would ultimately be as tedious as working. There are days and then there are days, and we need both sometimes, and to remember that life, and sometimes books, are both to be endured and enjoyed.

Although, in the case of books, those which are endurance tests may be set aside or avoided completely. And it is only right that we do so.

18 November 2014

Here and there

Everyone here is sick. Again. I'm on my fourth cold since September. In between colds one and two I had a round of the flu. Frodo has missed at least half of his school days. I don't know what cold he is on by now, but yesterday Puff took him to the doctor and the kid scored a hat trick. He has a cold, pink eye, and an ear infection. Everyone else is coughing like they're trying to barf up a lung. At least they're not literally barfing like last time.

***

Anyone wonder when 'literally' went from meaning, y'know, literally to meaning, y'know, figuratively. These days it's a modifier, essentially a variation of 'very'.

***

I'm wondering if feminism has finally jumped the shark.

I thought of this first when I heard that people are voting for the word feminism to be banned from the language in 2015 in the Time magazine poll. I thought of this again when I heard the news about Matt Taylor, the man behind the project to land a probe on a comet.  He announced the success of the mission, and was promptly attacked by feminists for wearing a shirt that-get this- was offensive to women. The shirt was a birthday present to him made by a female friend out of material featuring fifties style pin up girls with lasers. Let me put that into context for you: a nerd wore his new favourite nerd shirt. Dozens shocked and offended.

Let me put that into another context for you: A group of feminists- you know, the same people who have claimed repeatedly that a woman should be allowed to wear whatever she wants, wherever she wants, whenever she wants and not be harassed- yea, even to the point that a woman should be able to walk buck naked into a biker bar and not be in any way objectified or harassed- are harassing a man over his shirt.  The group that claims a woman she be regarded as a person and respected for her accomplishments have completely ignored the literally astronomical accomplishments of this man to heap abuse on his shirt.  This transcends mere irony: it is mere rank hypocrisy.

On the blogs I've been reading I've seen more and more people coming out and saying this is just plain stupid. Feminism, and all these other isms along with their hordes of the perpetually outraged, are constantly looking for offence and taking it where none is intended. They have become the boy who cried wolf and people are starting to tune them out and flat out dismiss them. They have no one but themselves to blame, although they will blame someone else. And that blame will be another cry of wolf, and yet one more reason to dismiss them. In other words, go for it.

***

The advent recital at my church got cancelled. The school choir is busy with other things and other problems, and several members of the adult choir would not be able to make it that night. Unfortunate. Though the last one was not that well attended, I was hoping we might be able to build upon it. As I said in the brief history, for the, Oh, half dozen or so who read it, I believe that one of the things we need to do is rebuild the community and make the church- by which I mean the building itself- a a more prominent part of the people's lives, and not just a place people go for an hour on Sunday. Churches need regular events to help build and solidify the community.

Incidentally, the music I was preparing to sing were the last two O Antiphons and Alma Redemptoris Mater chant.

***

I was at St Michael's Cathedral the other night. Renovations are still underway so the entire interior is filled with scaffolding. It isn't a place for the claustrophobic these days. I think all those vertical and horizontal lines of the pipework of the scaffolding makes for some really neat perspective. If I were a photographer, I think some interesting photos could be taken.

At any rate, the main altar still has the Benedictine arrangement of six candles -three to a side- and a crucifix in between. For the communion hymn they sang a responsorial psalm, which I thought interesting. My impression- probably wrong- from the cathedral and other places I have seen is that the regional church always seems to be one Pope behind. I'm seeing more of Benedict in the parishes during Francis' pontificate than I did during Benedict's. Which means we will not feel the full effects of Francis until after he is gone.

***

Going back to colds: I always seem to get smacked around by disease right on the weekends when I will be singing at Mass. I ws sick the last two Sundays I sang as well. I'm up again for Christ the King and the First Sunday of Advent. Christ the King is sort of typical of the days I get. When they want loud and bombastic, they come for me. Hopefully I'll have enough voice to be able to growl out the music.

My wife says she likes my voice when I'm slightly ill. It gives it an interesting resonance and edge. It certainly improves my Lou Rawls and Barry White Impression. Hey, baby.

As a bonus for Advent, I won't have to sing the sea shanty Gloria. Yay.

***

Recently there was a spate of hits on an old post I did on the Basics of Western Literature, where I argued that there are some basic books one has to read in order to understand most of Western Lit. It reminded me that I started a series of posts on those basic works, and only completed the first one in which I briefly discussed the Iliad. Perhaps I should continue on to do the Odyssey, but I never liked that one much. It read like an endlass barbecue. Everywhere Odysseus and Telemachus go someone kills a cow, has a feast, and then "when they had put aside their need for eating and drinking" they ask questions to get the story from the stranger who showed up on their doorstep. Then Odysseus comes home and slaughters people. And has sex with his wife. The end. The whole thing is done with repetitions and formulaic phrases like "when they had put aside their need for eating and drinking" which begin to grate after the fifth or sixth feast, though I should add Aristotle thought it one of the perfect works of art. If you have to choose between the opinion of Aristotle or myself, go with Aristotle.

***

Any questions?

11 November 2014

Lest we forget

They shall grow not old
As we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We shall remember them.

4 November 2014

I learned a new word today

Echolalia- the automatic repetition of vocalizations.made by another person.

I found it here, in a photo post about the relationship of an autistic boy and his mother.  Wikipedia says it is one of the " is one of the most salient aspects of communication disorders in autism."  In other words, it is another box to be ticked in the ASD.

Echolalia is Frodo's main form of speech.  He rarely speaks outside of it.

I've been learning more about the boxes that are to be ticked.  Last week we had a meeting with Frodo's teacher in the presence of an expert.   School is not going well for him.  He is aggressive, uncommunicative, and has no interest in doing what everyone else is doing.  Tick, tick and tick. He is not particualrly concerned about whether or not he keeps his clothes on.  The teacher kept repeating some things over and over, as though they contained some greater significance than would appear at first.  They too were boxes to be ticked.

"He walks on his toes- all the time.  On his toes."

Tick.

"He speaks in a high pitch squeak, not a normal child's voice- just a very high pitch squeaky voice.  Very high pitched, very squeaky."

Tick.

 He hates school and tries to avoid going.  In that respect he is advanced:  it took the girls until grade three before they hated school and asked us to keep them at home.  It took him less than a month and a half- and that with a bunch of sick days in between. 

When I take him to school I often see other children from his class walking with their parents.  Sometimes the child will spot us and start pointing.  "Look, Mommy! See?  There's Frodo, the one I was telling you about.  There he is! It's him!"

And now, Echolalia.  Tick.


3 November 2014

Some thoughts on yesterday's music

I sang yesterday for All Souls' Day. I wrote to a cousin and mentioned that I would be singing at Mass. He wrote back that it would be better if I thought of it as singing the Mass.

Yesterday we went outside of the usual hymnal for much of the Mass. The ordinary of the Mass was a dreadful piece of writing and I would gladly get rid of it if I could, replace it with the Jubilate Deo Mass at least. We're all supposed to know that one by now. But I am stuck with that for the foreseeable future. I tend to focus mainly on the music over which I have some control. With that in mind, I sang the Introit of Requiem Aeternam, the offertory O God Our Help in Ages Past, Communion Jesu Dulcis Memoria, and the recessional was In Paradisum. I also intoned the Communion Antiphon, and sang the Solemn tone Salve Regina for the cleansing of the vessels. That was a spur of the moment thing. There isn't always time for a post communion piece, so I've taken to having something on hand just in case.

I hope I did the music justice. People sometimes tell me they like my voice, but I've managed to convince myself that I am really terrible and they are merely being polite. I still have in my ears something my singing teacher said a few months back: "You know you're not a very good singer, right?" Thanks, coach. The singing lessons cause other issues in themselves. Every time I go my teacher isolates and works on one aspect of my voice, and tells me to work on it until the next lesson. A few months ago I was singing in a way that favoured the upper part of my range, with a high and light tone. Now I am singing down in the bass range, heavy and dark. It'll have to stay that way for a while. I lost some hours at work so money is tight yet again, and I won't have the extra cash for lessons this month. Another month of pasta.

I had hoped I might be able to make a little money from my singing at Church. I should have known better. Catholics pay money? Ha Ha. At this stage, even if they offered me money I couldn't in good conscience take it. The bulletin publishes the weekly collection. We average about $1600-$1800. How can I even think of taking anything from that pittance?

Because this week was rather heavy on the Latin, We decided around Thursday to print off the texts with parallel translations so the congregation would know what what the words meant. Puff handed out the printouts to the congregation as they were coming in. She had just two reactions. One was from a couple.

Couple: What's this?

Puff: It's the words to the music that'll be sung at Mass today. We're singing some things that aren't in the CBWIII.

Couple: Good. We don't like the music in the CBWIII.

The other reaction came from an elderly woman whom I used to refer to as "my fan club".

Elderly woman: What's this?

Puff: It's the words to the music that'll be sung at Mass today. We're singing some things that aren't in the CBWIII.

Elderly woman: Pfui.

I think I may have lost her as a fan. That leaves Mom, I guess.

On the whole, those were the only reactions I got to the music. In my own inadequate way I am trying to follow the recommendations of Vatican II: the treasury of Sacred Music is a treasure beyond compare, and we are to use it in the fullest possible way. All other things being equal, Gregorian Chant is to have pride of place. That sort of thing. I don't know what I expected when I started doing this. Some opposition, or perhaps some support? A little of both? What I didn't expect is an almost complete indifference.

2 November 2014

Updated Cueball Joe, or: how things sometimes go wrong in woodcarving.


I don't normally do much carving for the bazaars and craft season.  Carving is very skilled (I'm so so at best) and time consuming work, too much so to be put on a craft table in a church basement where customers come and say things like: "Hey, that's nice.  I'll give you five bucks for it."

But I thought I would give it a shot this year.  I decided to try and do a small nativity set and see if can give it a decent price and still move it.  So I found some plans for a nativity set on line and took a shot at carving them out.  They are ok, as far as carving plans go.   The clothes are mostly featureless, which is okay since I didn't want to spend hours upon hours carving drapery and just bleeding all the profit out of it.

However, I did hit a snag when carving Joseph  For some reason, the plans gave Joseph a mullet.  That's not a terrible idea, as the hair would then cover both the neck and ears, which can be a little tricky for carving.  My problem came when I was carving in the front of his hair- in truth I was close to giving Joe a pompadour- when my carving tool snagged on the wood a little and blew out a large chip of his hair. The chip fell to the floor and became utterly indistinguishable from the other chips lying on the floor.  It was not going to be found, so I couldn't glue it back in.  The upside was that it was only hair, and if I merely changed his hairstyle he would be fine.  The other downside was that the only style that now fit was bald.





I've worked on Joe a bit since I took the photo.  I've shortened up the beard and worked on the hands.  I'll put up another picture as soon as the sky clears enough to have some decent light.   He doesn't look too bad, though he looks a bit old.  Oh well.

Joseph was an old man
And a very old man was he,
When he married Mary
In the land of Galilee...


I wonder how many of the great sculptures of old turned out the way they did because a chunk fell out of the wrong place and the sculptor had to improvise away from the original plan.

The other problem is the prominent glue lines- they are most obvious on Mary and Jesus (not shown).  I had to glue up some boards to get a block thick enough for the carving.  Usually the glue line is nearly invisible, but this time it stands out like a sore thumb, which means I'll have to paint these if I want to get rid of these lines.  Which means more time spent on this, which means, assuming they sell, that I'll be paying myself about a dime an hour.

UPDATE:  I've done some more work on Joseph.  He looks a little better, I think, although he bears a slight resemblance to Charles Darwin.


He's supposed to be holding onto his staff.  I'll add that later after the painting is done.  Now, onto the baby.

The answer to this question is "yes".

"One cannot help but wonder whether, weighed down by their own contradictions, the champions of “empowerment” have at last become what they despise themselves?"

Read the whole article.