Happy Birthday; Happy Easter

My mom would have been seventy today, or at least I’d like to think so. Even had violence not intervened, Mom had been ill for decades, and the decline had become continuous and steepening, even startling as I’d come home after being away for a few months at a time. Still, she was as stubborn a person as I could imagine, and had made much of her life out of fighting her body’s failures, and I think it possible that she might have seen her threescore and ten.

Easter was Mom’s favorite holiday — although as it is in the rest of our culture, Christmas was a bigger deal in our family — and she and I talked about that a few times. She loved the certainty of resurrection it offered, the promise of a time without the pain of loss, the pain of the space between desire and ability, the pain of misunderstanding, the pain of imperfection. These days, I treasure those promises more than I once did, and I value Easter accordingly.

I remember that she was particularly tickled in 2003, when Easter and her birthday coincided as they do today. I trust she enjoys it again today.

I’ll close with a snapshot of my mother in what appears to have been one of her few healthy years, and in one of her moments of goofiness, a share of which I’ve inherited over the years as well.

Mom, circa 1974. Shorts set probably from Sears; Hat courtesy of God. Picture probably by my dad.

Mom, circa 1974. Shorts set probably from Sears; Lilypad Hat courtesy of God. Picture probably by my dad.

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It Still Moves; It Still Matters

This semester marked the debut of a new course in the Mondoville English program, a senior/capstone seminar. A colleague of mine was the professor of record, but at various points in the term, each of the others of us took a day to discuss whatever we wanted with the kids. One colleague discussed a favorite genre of writing; another made them read Milton’s Areopagitica, both because of its ideas and because they need to read hard things.  And so on.

So when my turn rolled around last week — tail-end Charlie, as is my habit — I decided to talk about what comes next. I asked them to read two texts: Samuel Johnson’s Rambler 103 (“The Prevalence of Curiosity”), and Housman’s “The Chestnut Casts His Flambeaux.” The first was to encourage them to keep their minds alive and active when they leave Mondoville — and not to settle for gossip like Nugaculus (either immediate or as the product of celebrity culture).  The second was to discuss what we do when the world collapses upon us and we must, like Housman’s people, shoulder the sky. Literature may teach, as Johnson does, or it may comfort, even if that comfort is grim, and merely the reminder that we can persevere.

My point Monday morning, and its one to which I return over and over, is that literature matters. People ask my students — and have asked me — “What are you going to do with that?” I’m going to live, and sometimes live better than I would have without what I have read.

And all this leads me to an essay by Rod Dreher. It’s called “How Dante Saved My Life,” and had I known about it Monday, I would have assigned it as well. Give it a read.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to the Gormogons.

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The Return of Gradeapalooza

It started last week, and gets really serious next week, so I’ve been scrambling a bit, and will continue to do so. By way of an update, the Spawn made it home safely, and the rest of life continues apace. Meanwhile, my daily comics reading juxtaposed a couple of strips that struck me as connected today. So I pass the juxtaposition on to you as well.

First, I read today’s XKCD:

free_speech

A moment later, I read today’s installment of Freefall:

Freefall

May your day bring you what you want.

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The Spawn Hits the Road

For the weekend, anyway. She set out around midnight for her marching band trip to Disney World. Apparently, they’ll be playing in a parade there on Sunday. So we supplied her with enough provisions to have made Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow a walk in the park and loaded her onto a motor coach headed South, along with the rest of the band and a few hardy parent chaperons. They’ll return Monday at about 3 a.m., but they’ve been granted the day off from school, so she’ll have some recovery time. No such luck for Mrs. M and me, though, as we both have to work.

The Spawn took the liberty of sending me an update from the road about an hour ago. For your shopping lists, she informs me that at a convenience store about four hours from her destination, she saw the brother of the legendary Three-Wolf Moon.

Order now -- supplies are limited.

Order now — supplies are limited. But only because we live in a finite universe.

Further reports as events warrant.

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Quietus

[...]I went for a run along the ocean… Well, along an asphalt path along the ocean. And twenty minutes in, I stopped beside some wood, you know, planks, that someone had made to spell “Bye, Kurt [Cobain].” I took a breath, looked up at Seattle and wondered, “What didn’t he see?” And if I’ve ever been to a vigil, I guess that was it. – From “Vigil“, by Bruce McCulloch

Long-time readers know that although I’m a medievalist by training, I harbor great affection for the “Long 18th Century” (Call it 1660-1798 or so, or Dryden through Johnson). As part of that, one of my go-to texts is Johnson’s “Vanity of Human Wishes.” I include it each time I cover the period, and talk to the kids about the various things Johnson tells us aren’t worth asking for — preferment, wealth, beauty, and the intellectual life among them. But one that often startles the kids is when Johnson adds “multitude of days” to the list. “What’s wrong with living a long time?” they ask.

Enlarge my Life with Multitude of Days,
In Health, in Sickness, thus the Suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his State, and shuns to know,
That Life protracted is protracted Woe.
Time hovers o’er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the Passages of Joy:
In vain their Gifts the bounteous Seasons pour,
The Fruit autumnal, and the Vernal Flow’r,
With listless Eyes the Dotard views the Store,
He views, and wonders that they please no more;
Now pall the tastless Meats, and joyless Wines,
And Luxury with Sighs her Slave resigns[...]

But grant, the Virtues of a temp’rate Prime
Bless with an Age exempt from Scorn or Crime;
An Age that melts in unperceiv’d Decay,
And glides in modest Innocence away;
Whose peaceful Day Benevolence endears,
Whose Night congratulating Conscience cheers;
The gen’ral Fav’rite as the gen’ral Friend:
Such Age there is, and who could wish its end?

Yet ev’n on this her Load Misfortune flings,
To press the weary Minutes flagging Wings:
New Sorrow rises as the Day returns,
A Sister sickens, or a Daughter mourns.
Now Kindred Merit fills the sable Bier,
Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear.
Year chases Year, Decay pursues Decay,
Still drops some Joy from with’ring Life away;
New Forms arise, and diff’rent Views engage,
Superfluous lags the Vet’ran on the Stage,
Till pitying Nature signs the last Release,
And bids afflicted Worth retire to Peace. (255-66 ; 291-310)

I thought of this passage this morning when I read Kevin Williamson’s essay on the death of an 89-year-old British woman named Anne, who euthanized herself with the assistance of a Swiss organization called Dignitas, so weary she was of a world in which she no longer felt she belonged. Indeed, the inability to belong seemed a driving factor in her suicide: Williamson quotes her as saying, “They say adapt or die.”

Williamson’s piece is well written and compassionate, and worthy of your attention. And wherever Anne is, I pray she sees what she wants to see.

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Genetically Connected Links

My colleague and friend David Rachels has an interesting short piece at Paul D. Brazill’s blog. The subject is freedom of artistic expression, focused through the lens of the career of noir writer Gil Brewer (a subject on which David is expert, having edited some of Brewer’s work. I think David is working on a bio of Brewer as well, but if I’m mistaken, I hope he’ll correct me.)

Meanwhile, David’s 17-year-old son Gus will unleash a new album upon an unsuspecting world tomorrow. If you like your rock and roll young, loud, and snotty, you could do much worse. Get a preview here.

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QotD: Whispering Glades Edition

I reread The Loved One last night, and remembered how much I enjoyed it. Once again, it’s so dark that it veers into the ultraviolet, but it’s also wonderfully elegant, and quite funny. It further reminded me that in nearly every satirist there beats the heart of a moralist — if you have no principles, then there is no cause for outrage. (Now, whether those principles are good or bad is another matter entirely, but that’s not where we’re going here.)

In any case, I found myself reminded of one of my favorite Waugh stories. By many accounts, he was a thoroughly nasty person. In a letter to a friend, Nancy Mitford reports that she asked Waugh how he could reconcile his seemingly devout personality with his often beastly conduct. And that leads us to our (indirect) Quote of the Day. Per Wiki:

 When asked by Nancy Mitford how he reconciled his often objectionable conduct with being a Christian, he replied that “were he not a Christian he would be even more horrible”.

I can see the truth in that.

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