Friday, September 28, 2007

How Does One Write about Such Things?

(I want to apologize ahead of time to Forsyth and my two nieces, whom I hope won’t mind that I am writing about this extremely personal and difficult situation.)

Something terrible has happened in my family, and I have to admit I’ve been in shock most of the week, unable to think clearly, feeling extremely helpless. With Bob down in Pennsylvania now, beginning his new role as minister, while spending a day supervising the unloading of the first moving truck, and me here all alone, getting ready for Stage Two of the move, I’m realizing that I need to write. I need to get this out. I need my blog, and, in some odd way, I need all of you who read me.

Last weekend, the night before Bob’s ordination, my nineteen-and-seventeen-year-old nieces were hit by a drunk driver while they were on the road to visit a friend in a nearby town down in North Carolina. Miraculously, they both survived the accident, although the prognosis was not good for my youngest niece (who suffered multiple life-threatening injuries). How does one write about such things? How does one describe how difficult it is to be so far away, to be in the midst of a move, not to be able to see and hug and hold everyone involved? How does one capture the feeling of wanting to be on the phone every minute with everyone in the family, holding onto voices, at least, if nothing else? How does one come to grips with the fact that she is in some ways carrying on with her life, as usual, not even telling everyone she encounters what’s going on, despite the fact she wants to scream at some people, “How can you care about such stupid things when two beautiful, innocent, extraordinarily-lovable young women are fighting for their lives right now?” How does one struggle with the guilt she feels that she's throwing herself into work and other tasks at hand which are a distraction? Or the guilt she feels because she can still laugh, still interact with others as though nothing has happened?

I’m so proud of my nieces, both of whom are fighting and holding on and are managing to impress everyone in the hospital with their strength and their wills to live. Although they both remain in intensive care, we are no longer worrying about survival. We’re just worrying about the weeks and months of recovery ahead. I’m proud of my sister who manages to call and email and relay news to oh-so-many people who are calling her every minute, proud that she nonchalantly describes one “meltdown” she had one night, when I’m sure I’d be in perpetual meltdown. I can’t even begin to imagine how she must feel, this being every single mother’s worst nightmare. I’m proud of my family, because we’re all so wonderful in moments like this, supporting each other, “tag-teaming,” so that someone from the family is down there to help at all times. They were all here when it happened (Forsyth, thank God, it turns out, had made a last-minute decision due to work and other obligations not to come up for the ordination), and on some levels, that was one of the good things to come of all this, because we were here to get the news together and to offer support. They all chose to stay for the ordination (a decision I think helped everyone involved, because the ceremony was quite soothing, and the loving support we all got was nothing short of miraculous) but to leave a day early, so that at least one of us could get down to North Carolina to hold Forsyth’s hand.

I’m touched by my nieces’ friends as well. Don’t let anyone tell you anything about the selfishness of teenagers. From the descriptions I’ve been getting, their friends have practically been holding vigils at the hospital. Nurses have complained about my nieces having too many visitors. My youngest niece’s boyfriend (who is the hero of the day, having been in the car as well and kicked his way out to get help) has proven his loyalty and love in a way only young, passionate, teenagers with all their raw emotion can.

I can’t stop thinking about what it must be like for them, what kind of pain they must be experiencing. Imagine being seventeen years old, an age at which no one thinks she’s beautiful, and to be facing major reconstructive surgery on your jaw and face. Imagine having your jaw wired shut. Imagine being in a back brace, possibly for months. Imagine being exhausted all the time at an age at which one should be the most full of energy. Imagine having surgery to drain blood on the brain and memory lapses at that age. Imagine missing school and parties and all the other things nineteen-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds shouldn't be missing. And yet, the sarcastic sense of humor, so prevalent in our family, still reins as one of them rolls her eyes at ridiculous questions and the other one, when her mother tells her she (her mother) has no idea where her (the daughter's) cell phone charger is, comments, “Your daughter’s in the hospital, and you can’t give her the one thing she asks for?”

I don’t know. Does it make sense that I find myself experiencing moments in which I can’t stop crying?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake

So in the midst of all this month’s chaos, I’ve managed to find time to read one outmoded author. It helps that it was poetry, rather than some dense, 700-page novel or something.

“I was never a dunce, nor thought to be so,” he writes of himself, “but an
incorrigibly idle imp, who was always longing to do something else than what was
enjoined him.” (Sir Walter Scott and Florus A. Barbour, ed., The Lady of the
, New York: Rand McNally and Co., 1910, p. 194)

“My appetite for books,” he adds, was as ample and indiscriminating as it was
indefatigable, and I sense have had too frequently to repent that few ever read
so much and to so little purpose.” (p. 195)

These quotes come from the biographical sketch included in the wonderful edition of this work I found. I had already developed a massive crush on Scott while reading his incredibly romantic and beautifully-crafted poem. These two quotes were enough to transform crush into full-blown love affair. Will someone please lend me a time machine, so I can go visit my object of desire (preferably during the heyday of his Abbotsford Castle)?

I have to admit that when I first chose to read this poem for the Outmoded Authors challenge, I thought it was going to be Scott’s take on the “other” Lady of the Lake, the one made so famous by King Arthur and his comrades. If you haven’t yet figured this out about me, I’m a sucker for all those old tales of knights, damsels, castles, and danger. So, at first I was a little disappointed when exploration beyond the title of the work revealed that this was merely a poem about King James V of Scotland (whom I vaguely remember from my history course at an English secondary school was, from that teacher’s point of view – who couldn’t possibly have been biased, no more so than Scott, of course -- a particularly cruel monarch).

Well, this “mere poem” teemed with knights, castles, damsels, and danger. And let’s not forget the wonderful hunting dogs, or the king prone to dressing up in disguise. I have no idea how artists like Scott manage to produce page after page of so many well-chosen and well-combined words to ignite my imagination. I can certainly understand someone who may be able to start off with gusto, so that at line 28, we have

The stag at eve had drunk his full
Where danced the moon on Moran’s rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made
In lone Glenartney’s hazel shade,
But when the sun his beacon red
Had kindled on Benvoirlich’s head,
The deep-mouthed bloodhound’s heavy bay
Resounded up the rocky way,
And faint, from farther distance home,
Were heard the clanging hoof and horn.

(Can’t you just see that stag, majestic in the Scottish highlands, the moon dancing, the sun rising, those bloodhounds eagerly pursuing their prey?)

But we might expect some waning by line 4366, and yet, this is where we get,

Then, from a rusted room hook,
A bunch of ponderous keys he took,
Lighted a torch, and Allan led
Through gated arch and passage dread.
Portals they passed, where, deep within,
Spoke prisoner’s moan, and fetters’ din;
Through rugged vaults, where, loosely stored,
Lay wheel, and axe, and headman’s sword,
And many a hideous engine grim,
For wrenching joint and crushing limb,
By artists formed who deemed it shame
And sin to give their work a name.

(A visit to that little passage is far more dreadful than Madame Tussaud’s torture chamber, wouldn’t you say? And with none of the gruesome details today’s authors would deem it necessary to include.)

He never wanes.

I couldn’t have been more fortunate in reading the aforementioned “wonderful edition.” Apparently, Rand McNally published a series of books called The Canterbury Classics, of which this is one. According to the foreword, the series “aims to bear its share in acquainting school children with literature suited to their needs.” So the book opens with color plates of tartans, and there are black and white photographs throughout of the places described in the poem, and of such things as a highland piper. Then there’s sheet music to “Hail to the Chief.” What fun, huh?

The best parts of this special edition, however, can be found in the back matter. Here is where we find an excerpt from Scott’s own Tales of a Grandfather describing the Highlanders and Borderers, as well as James V. This excerpt, along with the poem itself, made me highly aware of the fact that, despite being something like 95.5% Scottish, I am woefully lacking in my knowledge of Scottish history. Now I want to read Tales of a Grandfather in its entirety. The biographical sketch which followed painted Scott nearly as beautifully as his poem painted King James, and this is where I learned, among many other things, that Scott felt threatened by Byron, which is why he abandoned poetry and moved on to writing novels. Then there were all the “Notes” for the poem, followed by this endearing section called, “Suggestions to Teachers.” Listen to this great little piece of advice, “On the side of formal instruction, an earnest word to the teacher, lest, in her attempt to do exhaustive or critical work, she destroy the flavor of the poem. Let not the romantic interest be lost through grammatical or rhetorical questions or through deadly paraphrase.” (p. 252) Don’t you wish people had given such “earnest word” to your former teachers?

All right, I’m beginning to realize that maybe the object of my desire is this particular edition of Scott’s work and not Scott at all. But I doubt it. All-in-all, though, this was a wonderful reading experience from cover-to-cover. I’m ready to go back to read the poem that preceded this one The Lay of the Last Minstrel (perhaps there’s a Canterbury edition of it as well?), which is apparently based on the legend of a hobgoblin named Gilpin Horner. Scott and hobgoblins? That’s even better than Scott and kings in disguises. I’m a goner!

Cross-posted here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Missing You All

I just thought I'd take a brief moment to let all of you know how much I'm missing you. Every once in a while, I log onto Google reader to see what's going on and torture myself by "sort of visiting" at least one or two of you. By "sort of visiting," I mean read one post, when I discover you've posted, oh 28 or so, since the last time I checked.

I can't even begin to tell you how much I can't wait for the second week in October, when I will be living in Pennsylvania, searching through unpacked boxes for that [fill in the blank here] I just have to have right now, and getting back to my normal reading and blogging schedule. Of course, wouldn't you know it? No sooner do I move than I'm on the road quite a bit again for work. So, what I'm really looking forward to is November (or maybe, better yet, January, when the Christmas season is over). Meanwhile, could everyone just slow down a little in your blogging schedules, so I won't feel like I'm the only one not at the party (because, you know, it's not enough that I have a blog that's all about me, all of your blogging lives should all be about me as well)?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

To the Young Ones in My Life

This is a post that was just screaming to be written and didn’t want to wait until October (and I figure I deserve a little blogging break, since I’ve been doing nothing but packing books, “fragiles,” and pictures all day – all the things the movers say will save money if we pack ourselves). Not that I don't have a lot of other posts screaming to be written (like how I hate publishing companies, despite the fact they've put food on my table for the past 17 years, for not agreeing on a standard trim size for all books), but I'm managing to keep them quiet with chocolate and gin.

This post is dedicated to all of Bob’s and my very young friends we have to leave behind in Connecticut who break my heart with their sadness as our departure date looms. Never fear, though. They're going to all be thrilled we moved when they come visit and get to go to Hershey Park with us.

Don’t you love it when the kids you know and love grow up to be people you love even more? My nieces are now in their late teens. I can’t say I had much of a hand in raising them, since I’ve been far away in Connecticut all their lives, but despite their having to survive without the benefit of my expert parenting skills (which I’m sure my sister would have loved), they’ve turned into wonderful young adults. If you’d told me when they were infants in my arms or pudgy-legged little three-year-olds, or earnest 8-year-olds that I was going to love them even more now than I did then, I would have told you it wasn’t possible. My mother has always described this phenomenon to me, telling me her love for her children grows more every year, but of course, I never believed it, just assuming it was one of those nice things mothers say to their children to make them feel good.

Now, though, I’m aware that it is possible. As much as I loved my nieces when they were little, they are so much more fun now. I can have long, 2-way phone conversations with them, instead of conversations in which I’m doing all the talking and am informed by their parents when I’m greeted by silence that they’re nodding or shaking their heads. Their young minds are full of ideas and opinions. They have wonderful senses of humor. They are developing their own life philosophies. What fun it is to observe all this when I get to see them.

When I first moved to Connecticut, in my early twenties, I became friends with a colleague who had two daughters who were ten and thirteen at the time. The first night I met them, that adorable ten-year-old was begging her mother for another Care Bear to add to her huge collection. I had a long conversation that so impressed me with the thirteen-year-old about eating disorders and bulimia. A few years later, I went on to live with all of them for a little while and hope I helped them both through some of their teen angst. That ten-year-old is still adorable, but now she’s a thirty-year-old Ph.D. candidate living in Chicago, and she and her partner are two of the most fun people with whom to sit around for hours drinking coffee and discussing people and ideas (and I’m extraordinarily jealous, because I recently received the email with the photos from their summer vacation to Hawai’i). The once thirteen-year-old and I sit around in restaurants in and around Boston and still discuss food and nutrition and diet, and she and I can still get each other going in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, just like we did when she was sixteen.

Back in June, Bob and I attended the high school graduation party for a young friend of ours we’ve known since she was six. (She won my heart at that age by telling friends of her parents that I was a ballerina. When everyone looked at her in shock and told her I wasn’t, she said, “Well, I mean, she looks like a ballerina.”) We’ve seen her pass through her American Girl stage, and we’ve watched her develop a love of horses and riding. But now she’s a writer, beginning her freshman year of college, and working on her first novel. And you don’t know joy until you’ve talked with someone whose six-year-old self is still so there, but who is now able to discuss so enthusiastically books and stories and her passion for writing with you. What fun it was to meet friends of hers who were just as excited about these topics as she was (not to mention her very cute and properly-devoted boyfriend. Can’t have any bad boyfriends on the scene, you know).

Speaking of budding writers, I have another young friend, I’ve also known since he was six, who’s now ten. He’s an avid reader, and he, too, began working on a novel last year. He shares my passion for board games and is always willing to drop everything to play one. His little sister, who is now seven, and I share a very special bond, because her name happens to be Emily, and when she met me at age three, I was the only other Emily she’d ever known. She likes to play board games, too, most especially if she can be on my team. She and I are hotdog buddies, since her mom doesn’t eat them, and I’ve been known to join them on trips to the hotdog stand (we’re going on what will probably be our last trip to the hotdog stand tomorrow for lunch). I can’t imagine I’m going to be as devoted to these two when they’re twenty-one as I am now, but past experience tells me I will be.

And then there’s my three-year-old neighbor, who takes my hand in his and says, “Let’s go inside your house and see what we can find,” who loves to hug and cuddle when he’s not running around or trying to stand on his head, and who flatters me to no end by wanting me, not his mother, to help get him through the scary parts of Finding Nemo (despite his assurance that he likes “creepy, scary” movies best. A boy after my own heart, huh?). He’s about to be a big brother to twins, and I so wish I were going to be around to witness that (not to mention help his poor mother and father. Can you imagine a three-year-old and infant twins, all boys?) Will he still have this kind of hold on my heart when he’s a senior in high school? I’m sure he will.

So, when people look wistfully at children and talk about how sad it is that they have to grow up, I don’t tend to find myself agreeing. Yes, it’s very sad for the children: they’re going to have to deal with things like betrayal and broken hearts and unfulfilled dreams. My only hope is that they’ll still let me be a part of their lives to provide a shoulder to cry on. As far as being sad for me, though, I’m not: I can’t wait to see them at the next stage.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

See You in September October

I'm afraid those of you who may have become accustomed to a thrice-weekly or so dose of Telecommuter Talk are going to have to seek out some sort of generic substitute for the next few weeks, as moving, work, and ordination (did you know that panning an ordination is like planning a wedding? Neither did I until now!) obligations monopolize my time. I may sneak in a post here and there (as well as occasional visits to all my blogging pals), especially if I'm needing somewhere to release frustrations. Otherwise, I'll be back in full force in October, both here and here (it being October and time for some ghoulish visits and all), provided online hookup goes smoothly in the new home (always a big "if" when you're talking about the sort of luck I have with such things).

Hope everyone has a much more relaxed September than I'm going to have.