Thursday, November 29, 2012

25 Things You Can Do to Celebrate Louisa May Alcott

Note: most of these ideas were inspired by Little Women, but a few were also inspired by Little Men.

Climb a tree.

Eat a really good apple while reading a book.

Hug your sister(s).

Write a sensational story.

Make a delicious breakfast and then give it to someone else.

Put on a play, complete with outlandish costumes and overly-dramatic dialogue.

Create a family newspaper.

Play “kitchen” with a young child.

Listen to some beautiful violin music.

Create the letters of the alphabet by twisting your arms and legs into letter shapes.

Have a sewing party.

Create a group story with each person taking turns picking up where the last one left off.

Paint or sculpt.

Create a family “post office” for the day and leave little notes and gifts for each other inside it.

Drop your glove and hope the guy you like notices.

Go skating (but watch for thin ice).

Forgive someone who needs forgiving (don’t let the sun go down on your anger).

Pretend to be your own housekeeper if a stranger comes to the door.

Make a new dress for the doll of a little girl you love.

Be kind to your aunt, even if she’s getting old and crotchety.

Create a draft of your will and think about what you’d leave to those you love.

Buy a good pair of boots and have fun stomping around in them.

Curl your sister’s hair with a curling iron (but be careful!)

Get a haircut and donate the locks to an organization like Locks of Love.

And of course...
Read the opening scene of Little Women aloud...or pick another favorite scene from LW or another of her many wonderful books. (What is your favorite Alcott scene?) Or read a good biography of Alcott ~ I liked this one. Or read a book about the Civil War.

Happy Birthday, Louisa, Jack and Madeleine!

As I post every year on November 29, today is what I call the "literary day of days." It's the birthday of Louisa May Alcott (1832), C.S. Lewis (1898), and Madeleine L'Engle (1918) three of the most important writers of my heart.

I love that these three -- so different, yet each so wonderful -- share a birthday. It feels like lovely serendipity!

Just in time for her birthday, an official FB page in Madeleine's honor has been launched. It's called Tesser Well and they've been posting some wonderful tidbits this week, including a review of Leonard Marcus' new biography of Madeleine (which I've not yet read, but have on hold) and an article about the dedication today of St. John the Divine's library (where Madeleine was cathedral librarian for years) as a literary landmark. The page is definitely worth checking out. They've created a beautiful photo collage of various editions of A Wrinkle in Time, including many translated into languages besides English.

C.S. Lewis is being honored in a few newspapers who can't seem to resist quoting the eminently quotable Jack. Huffington Post has nine quotes in his honor, but the Christian Science Monitor has gone them one better and posted ten.

The Monitor, bless them, did ten quotes from Louisa in honor of the day too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Princess Academy (review from the archives)

The sweet girl and I finished Princess Academy this evening...her first time to hear the book, and my fourth or fifth time reading it. I found myself wanting to talk about it a bit, but then it dawned on me I did that already, quite some time ago! I went back to revisit the review and found myself nodding in agreement over it all, so here's an oldie from 2009 that I hope you'll enjoy, a reflection I wrote called "Quarry Speech and Kything." Happy Thanksgiving!

Fun note: the sweet girl has been very into Madeleine L'Engle lately, and our reading of this book overlapped our reading of A Wind in the Door. Not planned. Just lovely serendipity.

*******From 2009*******

In the past couple of years, Shannon Hale has become one of my favorite fantasy authors for young adults. I first really fell for her work a couple of years ago when I read Princess Academy. Recently I re-read it again twice: to myself, and out-loud to my husband (who really liked it, and who was pleasantly surprised by the un-Disney nature of the story, given its title!).

I liked it even better the second and third times around, partly because I was fully prepared to enter into the world of Mt. Eskel. Since I knew the characters and the contour of the plot already, I was able to pay more attention to Hale's world-building. I'm impressed by the details she provides about life for the villagers on Mt. Eskel and how that builds a credible, substantial world for the story.

Hale tells us about the strength of the mountain itself, the beauty of the mountain views, the smell of the goats they herd, the beautifully streaked linder stone, the wild miri flowers that grow in cracks of stone, the chips and shards of rock that cut into thinning boot soles, the essential poverty of the people who must work hard to cut enough stone to trade for goods each season. She helps us understand that, while they're illiterate, they have an amazing communal memory which is showcased in festival time through the creativity of their "story-shouts." She describes their folk dances, their physical strength, their skill in mining linder, their lack of political status as members of a non-provincial territory of the kingdom of Danland, the way they care for one another. She hints at the lacks some of them feel by not having time or space in their lives for gardens or art (and their yearning to see the far-off ocean). And of course, she describes the way they communicate with one another in the quarry, using a language without words, often communicated through the sounds and rhythms of the work, tools and stone.

A huge part of Miri's coming of age, and her growing understanding of herself as a true daughter of the mountain, is her newfound ability to sing the mountain's songs even when she is cut off from many of the places and people she once thought were needed to make such speech possible. Before she left for the academy, she had never used quarry speech because she'd never been allowed inside the quarry (her father has his reasons, but he doesn't explain them to her, hence her feeling of uselessness). Her sojourn at the princess academy, along with eleven other girls from their territory, is not precisely an exile, but it functions as one, or at least a time away in a very different place where new thoughts and ideas and dreams arise (which strikes me as a notion one might come across in a Shakespearean comedy). While Miri is there, out of necessity she learns the music of the quarry, and unexpectedly discovers that she can speak/sing it outside of the quarry itself, as long as she is physically touching any stone that can be traced to a vein of linder. That unseen network of linder veins becomes a beautiful, unconscious scaffolding as Miri learns the secret of the speech is built on shared memories/community.

I guess the first time I read the book, I was so involved in the excitement of a first read-through that parallels didn't come to me, but this time through I found myself reading the descriptions of quarry speech and thinking about kything.

Kything is the form of unspoken communication that Madeleine L'Engle developed in her fantasy novels for young adults many years ago, particularly in A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O'Keefe learn to communicate with one another and with other people/creatures across vast distances and without words. The concept is developed throughout the books -- it's not actually named as kything until Wind, when Meg is tutored in the practice by Proginoskes, the singular cheribum who partners with her against the evil, unnaming Echthroi. What intrigues me is that, in that first instance where it's named, Progo works with Meg to help her remember a memory that she didn't realize she had stored in her brain. She heard a conversation (not realizing its full import) and thought she'd forgotten it, but Progo, in communicating/communing with her, is able to pull the memory forth so that she can see it and hear it clearly again. Meg becomes a particularly adept kyther, especially with Charles Wallace in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. While he's off riding a unicorn on the wind to save the planet from nuclear peril, she's in her attic bedroom, keeping her hand on a dog (whom we're led to believe just might be part guardian angel) since the act of touching the warm fur of the living creature seems to connect her more closely to her little brother's mind and heart. Shades of linder lines.

Meg also kythes deeply with Calvin, the young man who will grow up to be her husband. Their intimacy of communication is similar to what she shares with others, but also different, tinged with eros as well as philos, I guess you might say (and all of it bathed somehow in agape). The nuances are hard to describe, but definitely there, reminding me of Miri's ability to quarry-speak most clearly, especially when in peril, with the young man closest to her own heart, Peder. Although their feelings for one another have not been fully acknowledged or recognized even by themselves, the feelings are there (which Hale makes beautifully clear from their awkwardness around one another).

More than Meg and Calvin, however, Peder and Miri's ability to communicate reminded me forcefully of Vicky Austin and Adam Eddington in A Ring of Endless Light. If absolutely forced to choose a favorite L'Engle novel, I would probably choose Ring, which I read over and over again between the ages of 15-25. I don't know why it never dawned on me with any forcefulness (until now!) that the unspoken communication developed in Ring looks an awful lot like kything. Vicky experiences an ability to communicate without words (and to receive communications, often in the form of wordless images) first with dolphins (animals are always very important in Madeleine's work) and then with Adam, the young man who introduces her to the dolphins.

Maybe one reason I never made an explicit connection is because distinctions used to be often made between Madeleine's "chronos" books and her "kairos" books. In her so-called kairos books, characters were not bound by the normal nature of time, while characters in the chronos books never time-traveled. That's a useful enough distinction in some regards, but it's not so easy to break her books down into categories of "fantasy" and "realism" with the kairos books neatly falling into one and the chronos books into the other. Even in her more realistic books, where the characters don't fly with unicorns, there are mystical elements. Vicky, after all, flies with dolphins.

I've wandered far afield. My main observation is that Miri's unspoken message to Peder felt familiar, not in a derivative way, but in a lovely, shared tradition way. Peder's response in her time of peril mirrors Adam's. Vicky and Adam's wondering exchange (once the peril is past) is so sweet and simple: "I called you --" "And I came," he said. Words that could have been quarry-sung in another book, time and place.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What I Am Doing With All The Time I'm Not Blogging

I realized this evening that I am on track to complete my leanest blogging year ever in the (almost) seven years I've been blogging. Which made me wonder...what precisely am I doing these days with all the time I'm not blogging? Just in case you were curious, here are a few things on that list.

1) Grading papers. Tidal wave two hit Friday. As a mere teaching assistant this year, rather than a full-fledged adjunct, I somehow had the mistaken impression that grading would take up less of my time. But when paper deadlines hit for two seminary classes at roughly the same time, the avalanche is still an avalanche, even if I am only grading for mechanics and reading accountability rather than deeper content. Reading a paper and assessing it thoughtfully still takes time...maybe not as much time as it used to, but still plenty of it. So does answering student questions and managing record keeping. All of this, of course, on the everlastingly wonky computer (that I am nonetheless grateful for).

2) Moon watching. The sweet girl has always loved the moon, and lately her love for it seems to have grown. We're doing a lot of moon watching -- and star watching -- in the evenings. And reading/thinking about/talking about moon phases and constellations.

3) Battling a falling apart clothes dryer, whom I have now named Barky. Which, as my husband points out, is better than Sparky.

4) Cooking, cleaning, lesson planning. The usual suspects.

5) Teaching preschoolers about Isaiah the prophet.

6) Planning an out of town trip without credit.

7) Ghost-writing articles (mostly travel ones). Lots and lots and lots of ghostwriting this month.

8) Refining my ghostwriting travel voice by watching Rick Steves travel videos from the library.

9) Reading a lot of Madeleine L'Engle out loud. Because the sweet girl has fallen -- and fallen hard -- for this favorite author of my heart.

10) Watching Mary Tyler Moore season 1 episodes with my dear husband. Not that we have any time, but we're sneaking them in really, really late at night when we're both giggly with exhaustion. And I am discovering that MTM is great television comfort food. I can't tell you how nostalgic and warm it makes me feel. And oh, yeah...a little bit old too (the first season aired when I was 2).

11) Feeling utterly grateful for Christian community. We have been literally held up and sustained in this incredibly lean season by provision we could not possibly have imagined. God's people responding to our needs and to God's promptings and putting feet and hands and hearts to work to help us. My exhaustion level may still be there, but you know, my heart is so much lighter than it was a few weeks ago. Knowing this level of care from so many people makes all sorts of things feel possible in an impossible season.

12) Working on writing chapter 5 of The Four Princesses. Yes!! So excited to get back to this beloved project.

13) Mentally writing book (and movie and music) reviews, and missing Epinions like crazy.

14) Finishing up our afterschool arts program for the fall.

15) Listening to lots of Elgar. And Handel. And Bach.

16) Sneaking in the writing of an occasional poem. (See previous post.)

17) Praying my way through helping the sweet girl with some new levels of intensity and anxiety.

18) Praying WITH the sweet girl, a lot. And reading Isaiah with her. It's been an Isaiah kind of month.

19) Drawing. A little. Mostly in the tired cracks and crevices when I am most worn out but needing a creative boost that involves physically holding a pen/pencil and not sitting at the keyboard.

20) Contemplating where this year has gone. Do you realize Advent starts December 2?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dear Vincent (an original poem)

I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken 
in my great discouragement, and I will go on 
with my drawing.
 --Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

I received your postcard.
I don’t know how much postage
Costs in the past that was your present,
But I do sense that the words cost you deeply.
I thank you for flinging them forward
In the wild, thick-stroked way you love
So that they would stick to the wall of the world
And land in the mailbox of my heart today.
I would just like to say
Take heart, take up, and go on
And know that no matter how hard it feels
To sketch each line
There is someone in the future who believes
That it matters
And who hears the scratching of your pencil
And thinks it is the most encouraging music
She has heard
In a long, long time.

(~EMP 11/16/12)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

3 Children and It

No, the title of my post is not a typo. I know the name of E. Nesbit's classic book is 5 Children and It. It's my favorite Nesbit, and one we read as a family about a year ago.

We've been revisiting Nesbit recently with a family read-aloud of The Treasure Seekers. We finished it last night. This was our introduction to the Bastables (I've been wanting to meet them for quite some time, especially since I realized they merit a brief mention from C.S. Lewis at the start of The Magician's Nephew) and we definitely enjoyed the introduction.

At the end of the book, there was a brief bit about the author, and I shared some of it with the sweet girl and her daddy -- how Edith Nesbit was born in 1858, how she wrote for a number of years before she discovered her great talent for writing for children (when she was about forty), the numbers of books she wrote after that, how it amused her when people assumed she was a man, etc. The synopsis mentioned 5 Children and It, which caused us to remember the story fondly.

Then the sweet girl said: "Ha! That's what Madeleine L'Engle could have called A Wrinkle in Time! 3 Children and IT!" and I just about died laughing.

Today's treat on the library hold shelf -- the new graphic novel version of Wrinkle. I was excited to pick it up, but S. has absconded with it already (she read the first chapter in the library). "When I'm done with it, I'll pass it on," she promised generously. She's been raiding my sock drawer recently for socks, so why am I surprised we're now vying for books on the hold shelf?

Life marches on!