Monthly Archives: January 2011

This chapter is quite a bit shorter than most, not for any good reason except that it seemed like the place to stop.  As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Fourteen:
In Which Lindy Finds the Cottage After All

Unseen things surged out of the forest, scurrying across Lindy’s feet and hands, climbing over her body, flying around her face, crawling into her clothing, and everywhere they touched, they bit and stung and scratched.  She tried to stand, but something much larger suddenly grabbed hold of her leg, and she stumbled back to the ground.  She kicked out with her free foot, felt it strike something heavy, and then she was free enough to find her feet, running blindly, brushing at the little creatures that were still swarming over her body.  The branches of trees tore at her face, and then she collided with something large and covered in fur, and she was clubbed to the ground again by a massive paw, and something heavy and hairy and smelling of animal landed on her chest.  She turned her face and arms away from the bestial thing, feeling savage teeth tear into her shoulder, and at almost the same instant something raked large claws across her forehead and something grabbed a hold of her leg again, and she knew very clearly that she was about to die.

She would remember that instant forever after.  It would come to mind at the strangest times, while she was brushing her teeth before bed, or while she was waiting for the school bell to ring, or while she was riding on the bus.  And each time she remembered it, no matter how many times she remembered it, she always felt the same panic that she had felt that night, a panic that came over her all at once and made time seem to stop moving altogether.  It felt as if she might lie there with jaws and teeth and claws and stings piercing her flesh forever, as if there would be no end to the darkness and the pain and the terror.

And then there came a light.  It was not really a very bright light, but in the deep darkness it came like a flash of lightening.  Lindy’s eyes were turned away, so she was not looking directly into it when it appeared, but she was still blinded at first, and then she saw a large wolf-like animal standing over her, though no longer biting her shoulder and already cringing back from the brightness.  She could also see cruel looking insects and rodents scurrying off into the shadows, and what looked like a huge and disfigured bear standing at her feet and pawing at its eyes.  Soon even the wolf and the bear had fled, growling in pain and frustration, and then Lindy was left alone in a pool of light in the midst of darkness.

She lay there a long time, hardly believing that she was still alive.  She could feel stings and bites all over her, and there was blood running down her forehead from the scratches on her head, and her shoulder was beginning to hurt very much indeed.  In fact, she told me later that she almost did not get up at all.  Every bit of her seemed to hurt, especially her jaw where she had been hit and her shoulder where she had been bitten, and it seemed so much easier just to lay there.

It was the light, she said, that finally made her get to her feet, though this is another of those things that I do not myself quite understand.  According to Lindy, the light never actually moved or spoke or did anything at all, but it somehow coaxed her first to sit and then, though it hurt her arm terribly, to stand.  How a light could do this, I have no idea, but neither you nor I were there, so we will just have to take Lindy’s word for it.

However it happened, she eventually found herself standing beneath the light, and she saw that it was actually a creature of some sort, a large insect, something like a beetle, only it was glowing brightly, not with the phosphorescent light of a firefly but with the clear brightness of a full moon.  It was hovering several feet over her head, beating its wings very quickly, but it made only the softest sound, like the humming birds that came to the feeder by her back window at home.  It had been quite still until Lindy looked at it, but then it started to dip and weave around her, and finally it began slowly drifting away.

Lindy was afraid at first that it was leaving her, and the thought of being left alone in the darkness again with the horrible biting and stinging creatures filled her with panic all over again.  She began hobbling after the light as fast as her hurting body would let her, and she tried to call out to it as well, but her cheek and her mouth were too swollen.  She was following so desperately that she tripped over something in the forest litter and fell onto both knees.  Her whole body groaned with pain at the shock, and her mind groaned too, for she was sure that the light would now be too far ahead for her to catch it.

When she looked up, however, the light had not gone but was waiting patiently for her, dipping and flitting above her head.  Lindy knew then that it must be leading her somewhere, and it occurred to her that it might be leading her into further danger, but she could not imagine anything more frightening than being left with the creatures the light had chased away, so she pulled herself to her feet and struggled after it, wherever it might be leading her.

The next few hours were passed in much the same way.  The beetle slowly lit the way, and Lindy followed, staggering and even falling now and again, getting back to her feet, and all the while feeling weaker and weaker until she wondered how it was that she kept going at all. The soft, clear light of the beetle did not reach very far into the dark forest, spreading just a little way around her, like a moving streetlight, and Lindy was sure that she could see things in the shadows now and again.  Some were tall and hulking and ran on two legs, and others were smaller and leaner and loped along on all fours, and still others flew from branch to branch or circled overhead.  She could hear them too, howls and chitters, growls and whines, pants and shrieks, all coming from the forest around her, first here and now there, never in the same place twice, and Lindy knew that they were circling her and waiting only for the light to falter.

At last, when she was sure that she could not go even a minute longer, there was a tremendous noise from all around her, as if each of the creatures that followed her was crying out at the same time, and then she took a few steps more, and she stumbled out from the trees into a small clearing, and there, not more than fifty steps away, was the cottage of her vision, and in the doorway there stood a beautiful girl, nor much older than Lindy herself.  Lindy tried to make for the cottage and the door and the girl, but her body now decided that it had reached safety and needed to go no further, and she fell to the ground and lost consciousness.

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I first began roasting coffee three years ago.  My mother-in-law bought me a roaster for Christmas, and after I was finally able to source a regular supply of green beans, I fell in love, not only with the taste, but also with the addition to my morning coffee ritual.

The problem was that the roaster was a little delicate for life in our house.  It made very nice coffee, and it also had a basket to catch the chaff, a reasonable timing system, and a cooling phase for after the roasting was complete, but the roaster itself always seemed to be breaking.  The chaff basket was a bit top heavy, so the glass container beneath it would sometimes tip, and it broke twice and had to be replaced at a tidy sum.  Then the element burnt out for no reason that I could figure, except maybe that our kitchen is plenty cold on a winter morning and the element may have had too extreme a temperature change.  When I looked into the substantial cost of replacing the element and then added in the cost of replacing the glass holders occasionally, it was more than the price of a new roaster, so I thought that I would take a look at some other roasters that were hopefully a bit more durable.  What I discovered, however, was that a special roaster is not at all necessary to roasting your own coffee.  Not only are there several stove top methods, all of which seem to require a bit of practise, but there is also the standard air popcorn popper, which makes very good coffee with only a little practice, and which has been my primary way of roasting coffee ever since, something like a year now.

Besides making very good coffee, an air popcorn popper is relatively cheap, fairly durable, and widely available.  Even good quality poppers can be purchased for under fifty dollars new, and they can often be found in thrift stores for next to nothing.  They do not have a chaff basket, or a timer, or a cooling cycle, of course, but a large bowl in front of the spout will do to catch the chaff, and the time will depend on the temperature and your preference anyway, and air cooled beans taste no different than machine cooled beans, so the poppers have the advantage of the roasters in almost every way I can think.  Besides, while I am certainly the sort of foodie who delights in preparing things at home, I am not the sort of foodie who expresses this delight mostly through acquiring specialty gadgets, and the popper lets me use something that I have already and lets me hack it for use in ways that it was never intended, all which pleases me very much.

Now, if you are interested in learning to roast your own coffee this way, which is an interest that many people have expressed to me in the last year, the process is fairly simple.  First, you need to acquire an air popper if you do not have one already.  Pretty much any air popper will do, but it does need to be an air popper rather than one of the mechanical poppers out there, because the beans need the air flow.  The only other thing to keep in mind is that a higher wattage is probably better than a lower one, which may be another reason to try a thrift store where you might find one of the old high power, low efficiency, unbreakable units that they used to sell back in the day.

You will then need to find some green beans.  This is not a simple thing here in Guelph.  Though we do have several places that roast their own green beans, and though they can sometimes be badgered into selling some of them, none of these retailers sell green beans as a regular part of their business, which can be a bit frustrating.  There are several options for ordering beans from Toronto, like The Green Beanery and Merchants of Green Coffee, but the closest and most customer friendly source I have found is Eco Coffee in Kitchener.  I use them almost exclusively, and I have never been disappointed.

Once you have your beans, fill the hopper of the air popper up to whatever its regular capacity would be for popcorn kernels.  Avoid the temptation to fill it too full, because the beans need to circulate freely.  Replace the lid, place a bowl under the spout, and turn on the popper.  The roasting time will be highly variable, not only because of air temperature and humidity, but because everyone likes their coffee roasted differently, so never just set a timer and walk away from the popper.  Instead, do whatever else needs to be done in the kitchen and keep an ear on what the popper is doing, because the progress of roasting will be much more evident to the ear than to the eye.

After a few minutes you should begin to hear a distinct popping or crackling sound.  This is called first crack, and it is the sound of the thin outer skins of the beans popping.  About this time you should begin to see these skins, delicate, light brown husks, come floating out of the popper into the bowl, as the beans rub the skins off each other and the air blows them out of the hopper.  These husks will be few at first, then there will be a bunch of them at the same time, and then they will dwindle again, much the same as popcorn pops, and once most of the husks are spent, the beans will be ready for those who like a light roast.

After a few minutes more, during which there should be very little sound, the cracking will  begin again.  This, logically enough, is called second crack, and those who like a medium roast should stop roasting just when they hear the first of these cracks.  The second crack is caused by the centre part of the bean, where it used to attach to the cherry, popping off as the bean expands.  These bits look like little black discs, and they will soon come floating out of the popper as well, slowly at first, then rapidly, and then slowly once more.  Once the second crack is complete, the beans will be ready for those who like a dark roast.

Of course, there are those of us who like our beans darker even than a dark roast, who prefer a French roast or even better, and we will need to keep roasting for a few minutes even past the second crack stage, until the beans start to look very shiny and oily.  At this point, you may even see a bit of a haze begin to emerge from the popper, like when oil is heated in an empty pan, which is essentially the case as the coffee bean oil hits its smoke point on the side of the popper.  This is a good sign that the beans will be dark enough to satisfy even those with the most bitter palettes.

At whatever stage you think your beans are done, you should empty them from the hopper immediately, so that the beans on the outside are not left against the hot metal.  Dump them into a bowl and leave them to cool.  Ideally, they should sit for several hours, but I generally wait only until they are air temperature before grinding them and making that first perfect cup of coffee.

This may seem like a lot of work for your java, but if you turn the roaster on first thing in the morning and leave it to roast while you prepare the rest of your breakfast, the sound and the smell make for an anticipatory experience that more than pays for the time it takes.  I highly recommend at least trying the experiment, and I will even volunteer my assistance if any of you need some help with your first attempt.  It will only cost you a cup of your freshly roasted coffee.

It occurs to me that there is something unique about the two thieves between whom Christ is said to have been crucified.

There were certainly those who believed in Christ before these thieves, those who believed in him as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic prophesy, those who believed in him as the promised Messiah who would reign as king over Israel.  They chose to believe in a man who would defeat their enemies, who would raise up their nation, who would offer them  political and military as well as spiritual salvation.

There were also certainly those who believed in Christ after these thieves, those who believed in him as the originator of a new Messianism, those who believed in him as a Messiah who would inaugurate and rule over a spiritual kingdom.  They chose to believe in a man who could pardon their sins, who could raise up a new kind of faith, who could offer salvation to the Jews first but also to the gentiles.

It is only the two thieves, however, who are asked to believe between these two Messianisms, between a triumphal Judaism on one hand and a triumphal Christianity on the other.  It is only they who encounter him solely in the moment between, where he appears to have failed in every respect, where he is broken and bleeding and dying.  Is it any wonder then, despite two thousand years and more of Christian condemnation, that one of the thieves is recorded as mocking Christ?  Mockery was the only logical response to a man who had claimed to be the Messiah and who was dying like a common thief.  Such a man deserves only mockery, or perhaps pity, but certainly not belief.

Yet, in this very same moment, in those hours between the Messiah that Christ had been and the Messiah that he would be, in the time when he was nothing more than a common criminal, in the moment when no one claimed him or made any claims on his behalf, the other thief believed.  What could account for this?  Surely it is the most remarkable act of faith every recorded.  This second thief has as little reason to believe as the first.  He too has encountered Christ in the moment of his failure, and yet he chooses, against all logic and sense, to believe.

This choice is indefensible.  It is either the most faithful or the most foolish choice there has ever been.

I have noticed lately a disconcerting tendency where people entirely miss irony in conversation.  Granted, I have only anecdotal evidence to support this observation, and I will not make any grand statements about the state of our contemporary culture on that basis, but I want at least to describe what I have been observing and to see if others have experienced this tendency as well.

When I am speaking of irony here, I am referring to verbal rather than situational or dramatic irony, and I should perhaps clarify this distinction a little before I go on.  Situational irony occurs when a well-founded expectation is contradicted by the real course of events, especially when this contradiction occurs in a way that seems particularly apt or appropriate.  For example, contrary to what Alanis Morissette would have us believe, it is not really ironic for it to rain on your wedding day.  Rain on your wedding day would only be ironic if you had strong expectations to the contrary, like if you had gone to the trouble of moving your wedding to the desert just to avoid such an event.  Most people are familiar with this kind of irony, though they tend to misunderstand it, and this is the kind of irony that people usually mean when they say that something is ironic, even if they are most often wrong.

Dramatic irony occurs in theatre or film or literature when a character believes something to be true that the audience already knows to be untrue.  For example, it is dramatic irony if the leading man says that his lover would never betray him when the audience has already seen his lover having an affair with another man.  This kind of irony can also occur in everyday life, when someone says and believes something that we already know to be untrue, like when a friend suggests that a woman we both know will probably never choose to have children when I already know she is pregnant.  I find that most often people do correctly identify this kind statement as ironic if they recognize it as anything at all.

Verbal irony, however, the mode of irony that concerns me here, is when a speaker says something deliberately untrue but in such a way as to make its untruth evident.  The speaker can make this irony evident in several ways: by using a tone of voice that is either sarcastic or dead-pan; by directly contradicting the contextual information at hand; or by directly contradicting the shared experience of those present.  For example, I might say that I am a great basketball player, but I may show that I mean this ironically either because I am using a sarcastic tone of voice, or because I have just missed a shot quite horribly, or because all those present know that I have a long history of missing shots quite horribly.

I find that most people are able to identify verbal irony only in the first case, tone of voice, and even then only when the speaker is using sarcasm rather than dead-pan.  In all other cases, verbal irony almost always goes unrecognized.  I can say the most outrageous things, things that contradict every fact at hand, things that contradict every possible experience, and I can say these things with the most obviously dead-pan tone of voice, and the response will usually be only looks of confusion and and uncertainty.   Even those who have known me long enough that they should now expect irony from me generally fail to catch it.

This is disconcerting for me because my family uses irony continually.  It may not be our most common mode of expression, but it is certainly our most distinctive, to the point where we sometimes claim that without irony we would have nothing much to say.  I grew up in a household where irony was essential to wit, to humour, to criticism, and I still feel often that irony says best what needs to be said, that it speaks to a subject in ways that defamilarize and reorient and therefore allow a different perspective, whether the subject be personal or political or whatever.  This is why it worries me that people cannot seem to use or even recognize irony in conversation, because it limits even further the ways that we are able to think and to converse, because it removes another effective rhetorical tool from our conversational repertoire, because it leaves our language that much more impoverished.

The rain began falling when I turned onto Wyndham Street, close enough to home that I thought I might run for it, but the storm was soon in earnest, and I had nothing to cover the book I was reading, so I stepped under the nearest awning, an organic cafe, fair trade coffee and vegan cuisine, that sort of thing, with the menu in scribbles on dusty chalkboards, and hand painted signs on the washroom doors, and cast off wooden tables old enough to have cigarette burns from a time when it was still legal to smoke in restaurants.

The spatter from the rain on the metal patio furniture reached even to where I stood against the window of the cafe, so I retreated further from it, through the glass door, where the guy behind the bar met my eyes, his hair long and unwashed and uncombed, falling into what were not quite dreadlocks, and I felt that I should at least buy a coffee or something in return for my shelter.

“Coffee please.”

“What kind?”

“The coffee kind.”

“Cappuccino? Espresso? Americano? Latte? Breva? Macchiato? Mocha?  Granita? Frappe? Lungo? Ristretto?”

“The biggest, darkest, blackest, most caffeinated, least adulterated coffee you can manufacture back there.”

“You don’t have to worry about your cream and sugar here, man. It’s totally fair trade and organic. You can indulge guilt free.”

“No. Really. Black is good.”

The barista shrugged and brushed his hair back from his face, then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Whatever makes you tick, man.” He took one of the large mismatched clay mugs from behind him, set it under the filter, ground the beans, and poured the water. It smelled like good coffee. I tasted anticipation on my tongue.

He put the mug down, and I paid better than three times what he asked. “Keep it filled please.”

“Sure, man.” He nodded at the window and wiped his forehead again. “Looks like you might be here a while.”


“Hopefully it cools things off. I’m sweating like a pig in here.”

I carried my book and my coffee to a table. The rain was making a high pinging sound through the screen windows, striking a thousand notes simultaneously from the tin of the window awnings. The coffee was good, not as good as my own, but good, and it seemed to me that there was some relation, unnameable perhaps, but certain nonetheless, between the pinging of the awnings and the movement of the coffee in my cup as I raised it to my lips and lowered it to the table.

I hate what passes for children’s verse these days.   Not only does it lack anything that might approach the poetic, preferring instead to take awkward prose and make it even more awkward by forcing it into artless rhymes, but it has no sense whatsoever of rhythm or metre.

Now, I am not of the opinion that all children’s poetry needs to be rhymed and metred, not at all.  Just as with any poetry, a regular metre is in no way necessary to good poetry.  The problem is that so much children’s verse, and virtually all of the children’s verse that is published in picture books, clearly attempts to be metred.  It most often takes the form of the ballad stanza (xaxa rhyme scheme with lines alternating between iambic tetrametre and iambic trimetre) or rhyming couplets of iambic pentametre, but whatever the form it takes, it is clearly written with little or no understanding of the metrical principles underlying whatever form has been chosen.  The result is in most cases is a completely unreadable rhythm. Let me give a few examples.

The zipper has two sides.
They both fit in.
Just zzzzzzip all the way–
Right up to your chin.
(Snap! Button! Zip! by Abigail Tabby)

His Drawers were of Rabbit-skins;– so were his Shoes;–
His Stockings were skins,–bit it is not known whose;–
(The Old Man and the Suit by Edward Lear)

Down by the river bank, Crocodile was trying to nap,
when Mungo jumped out of the trees and gave his nose a tap.
“Want to play?” Mungo asked. “I know a good game.”
“Really said Crocodile suspiciously. “What’s its name?”
“Funny faces,” said Mungo. “What do you say?”
“I’m not sure said Crocodile. “I don’t know how to play.”
“Easy,” said Mungo. “All you have to do,
is pull a funny face. Look, I’ll show you.”
And he pulled on one jaw, and pushed on the other.
Then he jammed them both together.
Hey, Croc!” he giggled. That’s a really funny face!”
Help!” choked Crocodile, “How do I get out of this?”
(Lost and Alone by Jillian Harker)

These examples are not the worst of their kind.  I chose them because they were the first that came to hand off my kids’ bookshelf, and I could have given many others, some much worse.  The problem with this kind of verse is not so much technical, though they very often display a serious lack of technical poetic knowledge, and though a little technical knowledge would probably improve them to no end.  The problem is that they have a complete lack of rhythm.  Their authors, for whatever reason, fail to hear the music, the movement, the cadence of the language.  They fail to hear the stresses and accents of the words, fail to hear how they should transition from one to the other in a way that is musical and poetic.  The problem is that they lack all poetic sensibility of any kind and that publishers either fail to recognize this lack or fail to think it important in writing for children.

Of course, not all recent children’s verse fails in this way.  The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler is one example of metrically and rhythmically sound verse, as is Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, and most books by Sandra Boynton, and just about anything by Dr. Seuss .  There are also some children’s books that take great care to maintain a strong sense of rhythm without any formal metre at all, like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown or Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.  Here are some examples by way of comparison:

Jack was getting sleepy,
Father read with Kate,
Jack needed singing to,
So Nora had to wait.
“I’m leaving!” shouted Nora,
And I’m never coming back!”
And they didn’t hear a sound
But a tralala from Jack.
Father stopped his reading.
Mother stopped her song.
“Mercy!” said her sister,
“Something’s very wrong.”
No Nora in the cellar.
No Nora in the tub.
No Nora in the mailbox
Or hiding in the shrub.
“She’s left us!” moaned her mother
As they sifted through the trash.
“But I’m back again!” said Nora
With a monumental crash.
(Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells)

We hippos love our belly b’s.
They’re round and cute and funny.
And there’s a place we take them to
When summer days are sunny.
Ah! Look at all the hippos
With a belly button each.
Do you wonder where we are?
It’s Belly Button Beach.
Where tons of hippos stand around
In bathing suits too little
Because they hope you will admire
The buttons on their middle.
(Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton)

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of–
The cow jumping over the moon
And there were three little bears sitting on chairs
And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse
And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a Quiet old Lady who was whispering hush.
(Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown)

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
and another
his mother called him “WILD THING!”
and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”
so he was sent to bed without eating anything.
That very night in Max’s room a forest grew
and grew–
and grew until his ceiling hung with vines
and the walls became the world all around
and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max
And he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.
(Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

These kinds of books, even when they are not formally metred, pay such close attention to the rhythm and the music of their language that the reader never stumbles or labours over a phrase.  The movement of the words draws the reader along and creates a reading experience that is simply not possible when a misplaced syllable or an awkward phrase or a poor rhyme or a jarring metre interrupts the verse.  Unfortunately, these kinds of examples are by far the minority.  In far too many cases children’s verse means only phrases of roughly similar lengths that are arranged awkwardly in order to arrive at forced rhyming words.

As you can likely tell, all of this is more than a little frustrating for me, and I have been enduring it for at least as long as I have been reading books to my kids, but I reached my limit with it this morning.  My two boys and I were walking downtown, picking up my wife’s boots from the repair shop and buying baking supplies from The Flour Barrel, and we decided to stop in at The Bookshelf on the way home.  We do this sometimes, not because we intend to buy anything, since I hardly ever buy new books, but because my kids like to have me read any newly arrived books to them.  Both boys picked three books, and I saw something interesting myself, so we had seven new books to read, which should be a good day any way you look at it.

Unfortunately, five of the seven books were in verse, and all five were so poorly metred that I could hardly read them.  One of them, an ABC’s hockey picture book had to be paraphrased because I could no longer bring myself to read the actual words.  How, I want to know, have we as parents come to accept this trash for our children?  At what point did we stop caring whether the books written for our children were even readable?  How on earth do we expect to encourage our children to read when this is what we put in front of them?  When will we stop sticking random rhymes together and start taking the time and expending the effort to write real poetry for children?

I am so frustrated that I am tempted to try my hand at some children’s verse myself, and I may still be forced to that extremity, but I am first taking the step of removing from our house every children’s book that is not worth reading, whether because of its verse or for any other reason, because I am no longer willing to spend our time reading poorly written books.  Secondly, I am asking you to share with me your favourite children’s books, in verse or otherwise, that meant something to you as a child or as a parent or as teacher or in any other capacity.  There will soon by space on our bookshelves, and I need suggestions to fill them.

Here is the next instalment of Lindy.  I have now all but completed the rough draft, so I hope to post future chapters every two or three weeks as I edit them.  As always, those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Thirteen:
In Which All Lindy’s Plans Come to Disaster

When Lindy was sure that Khurshid was gone, she took the body of the little deer and buried it under some cedar litter and piled some rocks on top of it. She wished that they could have buried it more properly, but the evening was now getting very dark, and they had no shovel for digging, only Moe’s knife, so there was nothing more that they could do.

Moe patted Lindy’s shoulder as they walked back to the fire and told her that things would be alright, and Cleanna said the same, but Lindy felt that things were anything but alright. She lay down in her blankets and tried to sleep, only she kept thinking of the little deer that had been lying right where she was lying now, and she felt very alone and very frightened and more than a little angry too. She knew, just as you and I do, that it was not really her fault that the deer had died. It was Khurshid who had killed it. All she had done was feed it and play with it, yet she still felt guilty. After all, if she had never crossed the bridge and had never played with the deer, Khurshid would never have killed. It was not her fault that it was dead, but it had died because of her, and she could not stop thinking about it.

She rolled over so that the fire could warm her back, and she saw Cleanna sitting on a fallen log keeping watch. Then she must have slipped into a kind of half-dreaming, because the fire grew impossibly high and bright behind her, but she could not make herself turn to see it, and there were shadowy shapes all through the trees as far as she could see, and then she saw suddenly that Cleanna was gone and that Khurshid was sitting on the log where she had been, and then she woke to find that Cleanna was indeed gone but that it was Moe who had taken her place and that everything was as peaceful as a forest night can be.

She fell back asleep, more deeply this time, and she did not remember her dreams, though she knew that they must have been unpleasant because she woke all tangled in her blankets, as if she had been running or wrestling in them, and she felt more tired than before she had gone to bed. She was also colder and damper than she could ever remember being. The fire was still burning, but it was low, and its heat could not match the morning cold.

Lindy would have liked a nice bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea, but there were only old, wrinkled apples and some bread and water, so it looked like a cold breakfast until Moe had the idea of roasting the apples over the coals of the dying fire. The roasted apples were very hot, and Lindy had burnt fingers and a burnt tongue before she was done, but she did feel a bit warmer, especially after she drank some of the water that Cleanna had left to heat by the fire while they packed.

Nobody said much as they ate their breakfast and packed their few things. Moe apologized for losing his temper the night before and putting everyone in danger, and Lindy said not to worry about it, and Cleanna said that no one could blame him, and then they all went back to packing their blankets.  It looked to be another beautiful day, and Lindy thought that the leaves had opened even more overnight, but the beauty of it all was spoiled by the thought of the small dead creature lying on her blankets the night before. She kept imagining ways that she could have stopped Khurshid, how she might have taken the deer from him while there was still time, or how she might have said something to prevent him, but no amount of imagination could change what had happened, and she was always left with the horrible image of the strangled animal lying in her bed.

They returned to the main road just as the sun was truly up over the trees, all of them still quietly thinking their separate thoughts.  Lindy was feeling more hopeful and more determined as the sun rose, and she had even half-convinced herself that they would be able to find the cottage before nightfall, but her hope and determination lasted only the few hundred yards it took them to come across the first of the dead deer in the road.  At first Lindy thought that it might be the same one that Khurshid had killed the night before, that he had uncovered it and put it in their path, but when she bent down to it, she could feel that it was still warm, and she knew that it must have been dead only a few minutes. She carried it gently to the edge of the road, trying not to cry. Khurshid must be just beyond their sight, she knew, and she did not want to let him see her crying, but she wondered how much more she could bear.

“We should keep going, Miss Lindy,” said Moe, as she began to pile leaves over the body. “We don’t have time to do things proper. Just say a prayer, and then we’ll have to keep on.”

Lindy knew that Moe was right, and she got to her feet again, but she felt like something was breaking inside of her. “It’s all my fault,” she said.

“No dear,” said Cleanna, putting her arm around Lindy’s shoulders. “You we’re only being kind and gentle with the little creatures, as anyone else would do.  It’s Khurshid’s fault.  You can’t go blaming yourself for his evil doings.”

Lindy did start to cry now. She could no longer stop herself. “But what am I supposed to do? I can’t help loving things, and Khurshid says he’ll destroy anything I love, just because I love it. How am I supposed to stop loving things?”

“No, no, Lindy,” said Cleanna, her face full of concern, “you must never stop loving, no matter what Khurshid does. If you let him keep you from loving, then you are already what he wants you to become.”

“Oh, Cleanna, I don’t know what to do!” cried Lindy.

“You just keep doing what you were asked to do,” said Cleanna, “and we’ll stay right here with you, because that’s what we were asked to do.  It will be enough. I promise.”

Cleanna led Lindy back from the little burial mound to the road, and she held her hand as they began again to walk along the cobbles. The sun was golden, and the sky was deeply blue against the green of the spring leaves on the branches that arched over them like a vast hall, but Lindy noticed none of these things, only the broken bodies that they kept finding every mile or so, one after the other. She lost count of how many bodies that she carried to the edge of the road. It might have been twenty, but she soon lost count, and the number did not seem to matter much anyway. Each one hurt her as much as the first.  She did not have tears enough for them all, and she soon found that her cheeks were dry, no matter how hard she was weeping in her heart.

At last, though it seemed that the day would go on forever, Moe said that it was time to make camp, and Lindy sat down in the road where she was. They could find no place as comfortable as the grove of the night before, but Moe had seen that the land was rising steadily into a ridge on their left and that it had formed a little hollow at one point that would allow them some cover from the wind. He left Lindy to make camp while he collected firewood, and Lindy somehow managed to find her feet and to unpack their things while Cleanna went to scout ahead again.  It only took a few minutes before the beds were made and a fire was burning, and it was only a few minutes more before Cleanna returned, her wings fluttering into arms with great excitement.

“The smoke is quite close tonight,” she exclaimed, “a little less than an hour’s walk, I’d guess.  And it really is a cottage.  I didn’t get too close, but I could see that it was a cottage.  And I found the tree too, Lindy, when I flew back toward the road.  It was huge, and its leaves look like gold in the sunset, just like you said.”

Lindy felt a great flush of relief.  She had been wondering how much further she could really go, but now it seemed that their journey was much closer to its end than she had feared.

“That’s great news,” said Moe, and he looked relieved as well.  He turned a little smile to Lindy.  “We’re almost there, Miss.  Just a little longer.”

“Not that the wretched woman who lives there will help you much, I’m afraid,” came Khurshid’s now familiar voice.

Lindy looked up at Khurshid’s beautiful face, and she saw that he was holding the twisted body of yet another little deer.  He knelt and laid it very gently on her newly unrolled blankets and caressed its fur. “I know how much you like to see them properly laid to rest,” he said, and his lovely voice was touched with amusement.  “I couldn’t think of any place more proper than this.”

Lindy had never felt so angry and so helpless and so guilty.  She wanted to cry and to scream and to run, but she could not do all of these things at once, so she just stood there, wishing that she could be anywhere else, but wishing most of all that she could be back home.

“Don’t worry, though,” Khurshid continued, coming to his feet.  “You won’t have any more little corpses to bury tomorrow.  I think I’ve made my point quite clearly already, and I do get bored of things so easily.”  He walked closer to Lindy and stroked her cheek again, as he had twice before, and she had the feeling that she was living the same moment again and again, that she would always have to endure that touch again and again, that she would always have to endure little broken bodies on the road again and again.

She met Khurshid’s eyes and saw that he was smiling at her sweetly.  “No,” he said, “there will be no more small bodies on the path.  You know how things are between us now, and tomorrow we will stop playing with pets and start playing with things that lie a little closer to home.  Like your mother, for example.  Have you seen your mother recently, my dear Lindy?”

It took Lindy a moment to realize what Khurshid was saying, but when at last she did, all of the emotion inside her seemed to gather itself into one tremendous scream of anger.  “No!” she cried.  “You keep away from my mother!”

“Oh my,” said Khurshid, as calmly as ever.  “Such an outburst.  But I’m afraid it’s a little late for keeping away from your mother at this point.”  He turned slightly and beckoned into the deepening darkness among the tress, and Lindy now noticed that Khurshid was not alone.  In the shadows behind him she could make out at least three dark figures. One of them stepped forward and gave something to Khurshid before drifting back into the darkness.

“I don’t think you’ve met my associates,” Khurshid said.  “They were all royalty once, just like you, before they made the very wise choice to surrender their crowns to me.”  He began turning over in is hands whatever it was that the traitor-king had given him.  “These three in particular have just returned from your world, dear Lindy, where they lured and captured our mutual friend Mister Alisdair Bridgebane.”

Lindy was trying not to listen, and trying not to think about what he had said earlier about her mother, and trying not to let her anger get the better of her, but she was failing at all of these things.

“You might like to know,” Khurshid continued, tossing the little square object in his hands and catching it, “that Alisdair is still alive.”

Lindy could her Moe and Cleanna both breath sharply behind her.

Khurshid laughed mockingly.  “I wouldn’t get too excited.  He may be alive, but he’s very likely wishing he was dead by now, and I will gladly grant his wish as soon as he witnesses his crown on my head.  I only mention it because I thought that Miss Lindy should know that her dear mother is not alone in her captivity but is together with our good friend Alisdair as she enjoys the hospitality of my friends here.”

He turned just then so that the firelight shone on the object in his hands, and he opened it so that she could see inside. Lindy recognized at once that it was her mother’s wallet, only the picture inside had been changed.  Where there should have been a picture of Lindy herself as a little girl, there was now a picture of her mother, bound and gagged and lying on a stone floor.  Khurshid kept the wallet open only just long enough for Lindy to see what was in it, and then he flipped it closed again and tossed it contemptuously beside the dead deer on Lindy’s blankets.

“So,” he said, “I wonder what it is that you’ll find on the path tomorrow…” but Lindy did not let him finish the sentence.  Even as he turned away from her, she felt herself lose all control, and there was nothing inside of her but hurt and anger.  She bent and took a branch from the fire and rushed at him, striking him with it once across the head and once again across his arm as he turned back to her, but he was prepared for her third blow, catching the still burning embers of her club, wresting it from her grasp, and tossing it into the forest.  There was exultation on his face, and he seemed to hesitate just a little, savouring the moment like a bit of chocolate on his tongue, and then he struck Lindy across the face.

The force of the blow took her off her feet and threw her to the ground, her crown tumbling off as she fell.  Her mind refused to focus, and her eyes refused to see, and her body refused to obey her, but when at last she was able to look around, Moe was lying crumpled beside the fire as Khurshid’s traitor-kings tied his great arms, and Cleanna was nowhere to be seen.

Khurshid was now standing between Lindy and the fire. “You foolish girl,” he mocked.  “You couldn’t resist me even two whole days.  Alisdair was greatly mistaken to think that you could keep his crown from me.  He would have been wiser to die with it on his head. Now, I’m afraid, he’ll live to see me wear it instead.”  He stooped and picked up Alisdair’s crown where it had fallen in the dust, then spun it between his hands and set it on his own head.

“And you may see it too,” he continued, “if you live that long.  And what a joyful reunion that would be.  You, and Alisdair, and your mother, all together, watching me cross that bridge at last.  I can almost imagine the pity he’ll have for you, hiding his disappointment in your failure.  And just think how guilty you’ll feel to see him standing there, watching his final defeat, awaiting his execution, and all because of you.”  He laughed a soft and mocking and terrible laugh.  Then he turned and began walking away.  “Of course,” he called back over his shoulder, “you’ll need to survive the night first, which will be no easy task I assure you.  But I’ll be waiting for you at the bridge if you make it, and I’ll be sure that Alisdair and your mother live at least that long, so you’ll have plenty of motivation to join us.  Until then, I hope you enjoy all the pleasures that my country has to offer.”

Then the fire went out all at once, and everything was moonless and dark, and Lindy could hear only Khurshid’s soft laughter and the rustlings and murmurings of nameless things gathering around her in the shadows of the forest.

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I have been thinking about ideas of relation and connection for several years now.  I mentioned them together first back in May of 2008 in a post called “An Addendum of Sorts” and then again in a post called “Social Holocaust?“, and these ideas have been percolating in my mind ever since, so much so that I thought I would take some time to look at what the words have meant in our language historically as a way to start making sense of what they could mean for us today.

The word ‘connect’ in the sense of ‘joining together’ has been in use in the English language since the middle of the 15th century, and it has been employed in the sense of ‘establishing a relationship” since at least 1881.  With the introduction of telephone connections, it has also been used since 1926 in the sense of “getting in touch”, and this sense has grown to include ‘awakening emotions’ or ‘establishing a rapport’ since the early 1940’s.  In contemporary usage, it has become used increasingly in both technical and interpersonal ways.  In a technical sense it is now used to describe virtually every contact between electronic devices, so that we now routinely speak of internet connections and cell phone connections and wireless connections and network connections.   In an interpersonal sense, we also now refer to our relationships increasingly in terms of connection and connectivity, especially as our electronic connections begin to dominate our interpersonal interactions, so that we now keep connected to our friends through our various devices and applications and speak of these relationships in terms of connections also.

The word ‘relate’, by comparison, comes into English usage a little later, sometime around 1530, and it is first used in the sense of ‘recounting’ or ‘telling’.   It does not come to mean ‘establishing a relationship’ until 1771, and it is only around 1950 that it comes to mean ‘feeling sympathy or connection’.  Whereas the word ‘connect’ originates in the act of joining together, especially in a technical sense, the word ‘relate’ originates in the act of telling.  It comes to describe interpersonal relationships, not in terms of mere contact, but in terms of telling and recounting stories to one another.  We relate our stories, and we thereby come into relation.

Considering the differences in connotations between these two words, I think that our culture’s increasing preference for the word ‘connection’ over the word ‘relation’ is perhaps symptomatic of how our devices and applications are coming to mediate our relationships.  Because these technologies have changed how we interact, we have taken on new ways of speaking about our interactions.  It no longer makes as much sense to speak of having a relationship with someone, because the nature of our interaction is no longer that of relation, no longer that of sharing our stories with one another.  Instead, it makes more sense to speak of our interpersonal interactions with the same terminology that we use to speak of the technology that now enables and produces these interactions, to speak of connectivity rather than relation, to speak in terms of being put in contact or being joined together.

As I was thinking about the implications of this cultural and linguistic shift, it occurred to me that I might also make a similar etymological study of another word that has been significant to me with respect to how we are relate ethically to one another, the word ‘encounter’.  It appears in the English language much earlier than either ‘relate’ or ‘connect’, being used as early as the late 13th century.  Its initial meaning was ‘the meeting of adversaries,’ but by the 16th century it had already weakened to mean ‘a casual or chance meeting’.  This is one of those instances, I think, where the ancient sense of the term bears a much profounder meaning than the contemporary one, an instance where the continuing resonance of the ancient sense is what makes the word so powerful even in its contemporary usage, especially when it is used in an ethical sense.

It is after all a pair of enemies who encounter one another in the quintessential story of ethical relation, The Good Samaritan.  The Samaritans and the Jews were cultural and religious enemies, refusing either to socialize or to worship together, and this enmity is the element of the story that makes the Samaritan’s actions so remarkable.  In a standard interpretation of the story, the Samaritan rather than the Priest or the Levite is the one who acts as a neighbour, is the one who acts ethically, because he shows compassion to the man who had been robbed even though he was a cultural and religious enemy of his people.  I have myself characterized this moment as the moment of ethical encounter in much these same terms, but I wonder, considering the ancient meaning of the word ‘encounter’, whether this is a moment of ethical encounter needs to be understood a little differently.

Perhaps it is only because the one I encounter on the road is other to me, because this one is not of my faith or my race or my gender or my politics or my social status or my pay grade or my whatever, perhaps it is only because this one on the road is other to me, not just different from me but other from me in a way that is a threat and a concern to what I am, perhaps it is only because of this otherness, this enmity, that I can truly encounter the other at all.  Perhaps it is not an ethical encounter even though the one on the road is the other.  Perhaps it is an ethical encounter precisely because the one on the road is the other, must always be the other, no matter how much he or she may appear to be like me.

This otherness, this enmity, this hostility, may in fact be what is essential to ethical relation, may in fact constitute ethical encounter as such.  I am reminded here of Derrida’s idea of hostipality, in which hostility and hospitality are both necessarily present in the gesture of the host, and it seems to me that the ethical encounter functions in much the same way.  It is the decision to treat the other as myself, precisely because the other is not myself.  It is the decision to love the other, precisely because this other is what I do not love.  It is the decision to befriend the other, precisely because the other is my enemy.  It is the moment comprised, necessarily, of both enmity and amity.  The moral of the story is not that everyone is my neighbour and so I must be a neighbour to them.  The moral is that no one is my neighbour, that everyone is my other, that everyone is my enemy, and that I must be a neighbour to them anyway, because there is no other way to be a neighbour.

All this has brought me a fair distance from where I began, but not without value, at least for me, because if it is true that in our culture we now speak more of connection than of relation, and if we have always spoken more of connection and relation than of encounter, the origins of these words should warn us that perhaps our language is betraying a shift away from relationships based on the sharing of our stories toward connections based on little more than mere contact, and that even this shift does not account for a deeper and more worrying refusal to understand how we relate ethically to each other, how the other always encounters us an enemy, how this otherness may even be a precondition for us to act ethically in the world.

So, I admit it.  I jog.

I know this information will likely tarnish the image that I have so carefully cultivated with many of you, but I need to go jogging just to keep up with the other players on my basketball team, and I need to confess it now in order to comment on a phenomenon that is making me a little crazy.

The reason that I rarely admit to my jogging is that other people who jog or run, the people who self-identify as runners or joggers, always seem to assume that I must be as passionate about this activity as they are.  “What shoes do you wear?” they ask.  “What club do you belong to?” they demand.  “What distance are you training for?” they want to know.  “What are your best times?” they query.  They are always disappointed and then dismissive when I tell them that I wear an old pair of basketball hightops, that I try to avoid belonging to clubs of any kind, and that I never keep track of how far or how fast I go.  I jog, they soon realize, but I am not a jogger, not really.  What I do and what real joggers do might casually be called by the same name, but I have not actually joined the club.

This kind of behaviour, and it is by no means restricted to joggers, always annoys me.  It is yet one more example of how much people are generally interested in the signs of the thing rather than the thing itself.  They are more interested in owning the right accessories and in belonging to the right clubs and in achieving the right goals than they are with just doing whatever it is that needs to be done.  They are more interested in being called something than in actually doing something.  Even when they are doing the thing as well, they are really more interested in making sure that they look the part so that everyone will know them for what they are.

I run into this everywhere.  I know countless people who want very much to be writers but who are not so very interested in doing any writing.  I know others who want to be musicians or artists or philosophers or whatever.  They cultivate the right look and the right talk and the right friends, but they seldom spend much time doing what they say they want to be.  They just want to be part of the club.

Well, in jogging as in everything else, I want to do the thing rather than merely to join a club.  I will not likely ever wear the right shoes or run with the right people or achieve the right times.  I will just jog, whenever and however I feel like it.  The real joggers are welcome to the rest of it.

Dinner and a Doc will be cancelled for January. I have a conflict January 8th, which would have been our normal night, and I have been unable to find a suitable alternative. I apologize for the inconvenience. We will bump the schedule back a month and resume on February 12th.

Here is our new schedule:
February 12th – White Light / Black Rain by Steven Okazaki
March 12th – The Clinton Special by Michael Ondaatje
April 9th – Capturing Reality by Pepita Ferrari