Monthly Archives: February 2011

The title of this post perhaps overstates the situation somewhat.  I am not abandoning the blog entirely.  I will continue to post chapters of Lindy and other creative pieces.  I will also post longer essay-length pieces occasionally, and I will not guarantee that the urge to write something blog-ish will not strike me now and again.  On the whole, however, I have decided that I will no longer be writing the blog in the intentional way that I have been over the past three years.

It was not any major event that triggered this decision, just the growing sense that I am becoming bored with the form of the blog post, bored with its brevity, and bored with its lack of focus.  I feel the need to produce writing that is longer and more focused and more reflective and more patient again.  I feel the need to read and write less but to do so therefore with a greater concern for my reading and writing.  So, while I will still be posting in this space, it will be less frequently and probably at greater length.

As part of this change in my focus, I will probably also begin gathering some of  my earlier posts on different topics and editing them into larger pieces that I will then post under the Longer Works section.   Many of the posts that I have written these past years have become reference points for me, like a set of notes for larger ideas and questions, and I would like the chance to spend some time giving these notes a fuller form, particularly those on home, and threshold, and community.  I have begun on some of these projects already, but I will not hazard to guess when anything finished will be forthcoming.

On a final note, I would like to thank everyone who responded to what I have written in this space, either in comments or in conversation.  I have greatly appreciated the ways that you have challenged me to think and to rethink, and I am indebted to you very deeply.

Here is the next instalment of Lindy. I have nothing much to say about it, but 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 Fifteen:
In Which Lindy Meets the Inhabitant of the Mysterious Cottage

When Lindy woke, she was lying on a bed of straw and wrapped in a heavy patchwork quilt made from fabrics dyed in earthy reds and browns and yellows.  It was nicely warm under the blankets and nicely cool on her face where the blankets did not reach, just the way she most liked to wake, and she would have felt quite content if her body did not hurt her so much and if the pain did not then remind her of what had happened the day before.

All in a rush she remembered Khurshid taking the crown and Moe lying crumpled on the ground and the creatures swarming over her in the dark and most of all the picture of her mother, and she began to realize truly what she had done.  She had gotten her mother captured, and she had probably gotten Moe and Cleanna killed, and she had lost the final crown to Khurshid, just as The Crofts had said she would, and now there was nothing to keep Khurshid from taking The Weald and doing what he wanted with it.    She felt a sudden sadness and guilt that went right to the centre of her.  She was sick in her heart, too saddened even to know what to do, and she laid there feeling more and more hopeless and miserable by the moment.

Just then the door to the cottage opened on creaking hinges, and Lindy looked, expecting to see the young girl from the night before, but she saw instead a grown woman who was closer to her middle-age than to her youth, though she was just as beautiful in her way.  The woman met Lindy’s eyes and smiled a smile so open and so sincere that Lindy knew immediately that she could be trusted, and there at the woman’s feet, following her through the door, was the beetle that had led Lindy home the night before, though it did not seem to be glowing now.

“Good morning, Lindy,” said the woman.  She was dressed plainly and neatly in what looked like homemade clothes, and there was something so motherly about her that Lindy half expected to see children trailing after her skirts as she came to the bedside. “My name is Amena,” she said, laying a hand on Lindy’s forehead as if testing for a fever.  “I was hoping we would meet under better circumstances, you know, but at least you’re here now, and I’ll wager you’re not so hurt that you won’t recover .”

Lindy started to thank the woman, only her face was so sore and her mouth was so swollen that she only ended up making a muffled kind of sound and hurting herself even more, and this made her realize again how sorry she really was, and she began to cry.

“Now, now,” said Amena, “You’ll do no good by getting yourself upset.  There will be more than enough time to talk about things when you’re strength is back.”  She took the edge of her heavy wool apron and wiped Lindy’s eyes.  “The best thing for you right now is to eat what I feed you and sleep when I tell you and heal as quick as you can.”  She stood and went to the small fireplace on the back wall of the cottage’s single room.  She ladled something into a wooden bowl and then returned to the bedside.  The bowl held soup of some kind that Amena began feeding to Lindy, a clear and wholesome soup with some vegetables in it that Lindy did not recognize, all cut very small and cooked very soft.  It was warm and comforting it her belly, though it hurt her jaw quite a lot to eat it.

When she had finished the soup, she was pleasantly full, and she thought that she could sleep again.  She watched Amena busy herself around the cottage, washing dishes in water that she carried in buckets from outside and heated over the fire, mending some clothes that Lindy recognized as her own, and then preparing some food at the table.  Actually, it would be truer to say that she half-watched Amena do these things and half-dozed, all the while wondering things like what had happened to the girl who had been standing in the cottage door the night before and how it was that Amena had known her name.  Though she still knew that there were far more important things to worry her, she could not seem to focus on any of them, and she drifted comfortably on the edge of sleep all that afternoon.

Lindy came fully awake only when Amena took the stew from off the fire and began serving it into bowls on the cottage’s little wooden table along with some dark bread and two glasses of red wine, one filled almost to the rim and the other only a little less than half way.  Amena did all this across the room with her back half-turned, so it was only when she turned to the bed that Lindy realized it was not Amena at all but a much older woman.  Lindy shrank back in her bed.  There was much about the older woman that reminded her of Amena, and she was wearing the same clothes that Amena had been wearing, but she was easily old enough to be Amena’s mother.

“Who are you?” asked Lindy, a little frightened and drawing the blankets up around her.

“Oh, Lindy,” the woman laughed, and her smile was the same open smile that Amena had smiled that morning to win Lindy’s trust.  “I’m still the same Amena.  I’m just a little older now, and I will be older still by the time you go to sleep tonight.”

“But how…” Lindy began.

Amena laughed again.  “It’s just the way I am.  Each day I grow older, from daughter to mother to grandmother, and each morning, at the very first hour of the morning, I became a girl again, like I was when you found me last night.  Do you remember?”

“Yes,” said Lindy,” I do remember.  There was beautiful girl standing at the door of the cottage.  And that was you?”

“That was me.  And I will be the same again not very long from now, when the last hour of night turns to the first hour of morning.”

“But why?”

“I told you.  It’s just the way I am.  The way I’ve always been.  And I have been a very long time.”  She reached out and took Lindy by the hand.  “Now,” she said, and her tone said that she had changed the topic of conversation, “Enough questions.  I think you’ll find that you’re well enough to get out of bed for a short while so you can wash your hurts and eat something.  This cottage is the kind of place where people heal quickly, and you’re healing even more quickly than most.”

Lindy allowed herself to be helped to the washstand where Amena had set a basin of water.  It was very cold in the warmth of the cabin, but it felt good to wash herself a little.  Her body hurt her much less than she expected, though her shoulder was still very painful and her face looked a horrible mess in the small and cloudy mirror that hung over the washstand, all red scratches and blue bruises.

Amena sat Lindy down in one of the cottage’s two rough wooden chairs to change her shoulder dressing.  The wound was quite deep in places, and it was still very much open and bloody, but there did not seem to be any infection, and there was already new pink skin showing at the edges.  Amena washed it carefully in salt water and then put some kind of salve into it that burned sharply and smelled a little like vinegar.  Then she wrapped it again and helped Lindy dress in her old clothes again.  Amena had washed and mended them so well that there were no blood stains to be seen and the carefully darned tears could hardly be noticed.

It felt good to be back in her old clothes again, and it felt even better to get some food in her stomach.  The stew was thick and tasty and filling.  Though Lindy was at first sceptical about eating rabbit in a stew or any other way, her hunger soon won her over, and before she quite realized how quickly she was eating she was already wiping her bowl with a piece of the heavy, dark bread.  She was feeling drowsy again by then, especially once Amena made her drink the half glass of wine.  Lindy had sometimes had a sip of her mother’s wine, but just a sip, and Amena’s wine tasted very strong on her tongue, and it was almost half a glass besides, and Lindy was soon in bed again and sleeping soundly.

She woke only once that night sometime shortly after midnight to feel something climbing on her feet.  She was startled, and there was a split second when she imagined herself out in the forest being attacked by the night creatures again, but she soon saw that it was only Amena’s beetle, whose name she had learned was Saffi, making itself a nest in the blankets at her feet.  The fire was low in the hearth, and there was little light in the cottage, but when Lindy looked out from her bed, she could see a very young girl, young enough to be Amena’s daughter, but somehow also unmistakably Amena herself, sitting in one of the wooden chairs and reading something by the firelight.  Lindy suddenly felt truly safe again, maybe for the first time since she had jumped off the wall into Mister Hat’s garden.  She was asleep again a moment later, and she did not wake until morning.

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I have never seen a muskrat before, and I was not expecting to see one when I wandered down for a walk by the river the other day.  I thought I might see the mallard ducks that can usually be found just north of the park, no matter how cold the weather, and I hoped to see some winter birds, some nuthatches, or grosbeaks, or chickadees, or cardinals, but I had no thought whatsoever for muskrats.  As I was taking some photographs of the mallards, however, I saw that they were circling and feeding around a disturbance in the water, and the disturbance soon revealed itself to be a muskrat that pulled itself onto the far shore and began grooming itself as the mallards kept feeding where its foraging had disturbed the river bottom.  I took a few photographs and then tried to get a little closer, but the river was too wide to get a really good shot, and the ice was not as thick as I thought, so I only ended up getting my one leg wet up past the knee.

Now, a muskrat is only a muskrat, granted.  It is not exactly rare as wildlife goes, certainly not if one can be found on the Speed River in the middle of Guelph.  Even so, I was struck by the sensation of newness as I was walking back, the feeling that I often have when I encounter something for the first time, and I reflected on the curiously wonderful fact that I could still have this experience so close to my own door, that I could still walk down the road such a little ways and find something that I had never found before.

As I was thinking these things, it occurred to me that the key to this experience of discovery is a certain willingness to look and to see.  I have said something like this any number of times before, and I know that I am repeating myself, but I think this fact is unavoidable: We must go looking in order to find.  It is not that I went looking for muskrats.  It is that I went looking for something, for mallards, and for some song birds, and for the river itself, and this looking was surprised by something that it did not expect.  I found something new, not because I went looking for it, but because I went looking, pure and simple, and so I was able to find something, even and especially something I did not expect.

For those who are interested, here are some photographs of my walking and looking.

I am interested in the experience of the miraculous, not as a way of proving the existence of miracles, and certainly not as a way of proving the existence of God, whom no amount of miracles would be sufficient to prove and whom no lack of miracles would be sufficient to disprove, but rather as a unique aspect of human existence.  I am interested, in other words, not in miracles as such, but in how people perceive and describe and experience something that they can only call miraculous, even if this something is afterwards demonstrated to have an entirely mundane cause.  What is significant for me here is the experience itself, how it determines how people act, how it comes to be spoken and written and shared, particularly in our current culture where speaking about these kinds of experiences is increasingly unacceptable.  It does not matter, therefore, whether there are miracles.  It only matters that miracles might be possible, that people might believe in them, that they might live differently because of this belief, and that they might share this belief with one another.

Part of what intrigues me about the idea of the miracle is that it is by definition unpredictable, unnatural, unreproducible.  Despite the claims of faith healers and charlatans everywhere, our common experience readily tells us that no amount of prayer, no degree of faith, no focus of will, nor anything else for that matter, is capable of producing miracles on demand.  If there are miracles, if such things do occur, they only occur quite apart from our desires and our wills, and virtually all scientific research on the subject, such as it is, has confirmed this, finding no substantial difference in populations who receive prayer and those who do not.  Of course, if we could produce miracles on demand, they would no longer be miracles, and so part of what makes a miracle essentially a miracle is that it cannot be produced on demand, that it occurs, if it occurs, only where and when it we do not expect it.

The other intriguing part of miracles is that, also by definition, they can never be definitively verified.  It is always possible to rationalize, explain, ignore, or otherwise reject any proofs that might be offered for miracles.  Even if someone was to be raised from the dead, it would always be possible to claim that there had been no death in the first place, that a medical error had been made or that a hoax had been perpetrated.  No evidence can really suffice for miracles.  Because miracles lie, in their nature, entirely outside of scientific and experiential norms, because they cannot be replicated or reproduced, they can never be truly verified, and the very idea of a verified miracle should strike us as a bit bazaar.

Despite all this, many of the people with whom I speak, religious or otherwise, have admitted to experiencing things that have appeared to them as inexplicable, as impossibly coincidental, as unnatural, as miraculous, though they are often reluctant to admit to these kinds of experiences.  They have encountered something that does not fit with their understanding of the world and that certainly does not fit with their rational and scientific culture, and they are not sure what to do or say about it.  The experience has sometimes even come to play a central part in their lives, and yet it is not something that they can readily articulate.

This situation, where the experience of the miraculous has only a tenuous place in public discourse, is a fairly recent one.  Stories of signs and miracles were standard fare in western culture before they were gradually displaced by scientific and rationalist discourses, and these kinds of miraculous stories remain significant in certain of our microcultures, particularly religious ones, but they no longer find any place in our broader public discourses, and I am curious to see how this experience of the miraculous would be expressed were it given an appropriate forum.

So, I am proposing a discursive experiment.  What if were to use a second blog to solicit stories from people about where and how they have encountered the miraculous in one form or another, from the extraordinary to the banal. The stories would be submitted by comment on the static main page, and I would select from among them and publish them as posts.  Submissions could be made anonymously, and they would not need to conform to any form in particular.  The purpose of the project would not be to prove anything about miracles, but to open a space where people could begin to describe their experience of the miraculous within a culture that is no longer able to hear this kind of discourse.  Its aim will be to explore how the phenomenon of the miraculous experience operates in our lives despite the fact that we are no longer able to discuss it openly.  I am not sure how long I would give to let the project run its course, but I think it would be fascinating to read people describe their experiences.

What do people think of think of this idea?  Is there any merit in it?

When people hear that I have one birth son and one adopted son, they are often interested in the kind of family dynamics that this creates, and at some point in the conversation they will probably ask something like, “Are you able to love both kids the same?” or if they are a little more subtle and want to leave the question begging in my favour, “Was it difficult learning to love both kids equally?”  Their assumption, well grounded in a culture that values ideas of equality and egalitarianism very highly, at least in theory, is that a father’s love should be granted equally to both his children, so they are generally shocked when I tell them that I do not in fact love my kids equally, and that I find the very idea of loving equally objectionable.

You see, my kids are not equal.  They are not the same.  There will never be another Ethan, whom I carried along the hospital hallways while his mother slept, and whom I rushed across the road to emergency when he had the croup, and who would cook his own eggs at two years old, and who is in these and every other way uniquely Ethan.  And there will never be another Marlon, whom I first held in his foster mother’s house, and whom I rushed to emergency when he ate a yew cherry, and who loves shoes more than just about anything, and who is in these and every other way uniquely Marlon.  It would be absurd to think that I could love these two sons the same, that I could love them equally, because I love them both for what they are, and they are in so many ways different. The fact that one was born and one adopted into our family is only a very small part of what makes my two suns unique, and to love them the same would not be to love them in their uniqueness and in their individuality.  It would not really be to love them at all.

At this juncture in the discussion the other person, having intended no offence and feeling overwhelmed by my response, will generally try to sooth my feelings by saying something like, “Of course you love them in different ways.  I just meant that you love them both the same amount, right?”   Yet even this is a bazaar idea.  A love is not something that can be measured and compared and weighed against another love.  Do I love one child more than the other?  Do I love either of them more than my wife?  Do I love my wife more than my parents?  How about my brothers, my close friends?  How would such comparisons be made?  I love all of these people in the very different ways that they need to be loved, according to the very different relationships in which I love them, but it would not be possible, not under any circumstances, to measure and compare these loves.  Love does not consent to be hierarchized in this way.  Love is either infinite, or it is nothing at all.  Love is either measureless, total, beyond valuation, or it is not love.

I do not love my children equally.  I do not love them the same.  I love them according to who they are, and I love them with a love that is measureless, because nothing else would be love at all.

We will be screening White Light / Black Rain by Steven Okazaki on February 12th for this month’s Dinner and a Doc. We will be meeting at First Baptist Church, Guelph, which is located at 255 Woolwich Street, eating at 5:30 and beginning the film at about 6:00. Please post a comment or send me an email to let me know if you will be coming and if you would like to bring something to contribute to the meal.

White Light / Black Rain interviews fourteen survivors of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with several Americans who witnessed the bombings.  Okazaki selected the interviews from more than one hundred that he conducted and from hundreds of hours of footage.  The result is a moving and deeply personal account of the bombings.

Here are some links for those who would like some further information:

1) an excerpt from the film;
2) an interview with director Okazaki;
3) a review by C. W. Rogers on

Lastly, here are some of the films we will be showing in upcoming months:
March 12th – The Clinton Special by Michael Ondaatje
April 9th – Capturing Reality by Pepita Ferrari
May 14th – Exit Through the Gift Shop by Banksy

This post should perhaps be subtitled “The Children’s Literature Edition” because since Christmas I have been reading almost exclusively in preparation for a course on fairytales that I am teaching this semester.  If this sort of thing does not appeal to you, it may be best simply to skip the whole post and wait for something more your age.

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn – This book has trouble deciding whether it wants to be a fairytale or a fantasy novel.  It has many elements of a good fairytale, and it sometimes approaches the sensibility of a good fairytale, but it is never quite able to attain to this level, always slipping back into mere fantasy.  I quite enjoyed the book as a whole, but it could have been and almost was something very much better.

Peter S. Beagle’s Giant Bones – These stories are not fairytales and make no claim to be.  They have too much detail, too much reality, and too little of the sense of nowhere and neverwhere that is necessary to fairytales.  One of the stories, “Choushi-wai’s Story”, is structured very much as a fairytale, and it may even have become a fairytale had it been written by another hand, but it too has a sense of time and place that prevents is from attaining to a fairytale properly.  This is not a failing of the book, of course, because it never sets out to be anything but anything but a collection of fantasy stories, but I was hoping for more when it was recommended to me.

Joan Aiken’s The Complete Armitage Stories – I have been told by many people on many occasions that I should read the work of Joan Aiken, and this was my first of her books.  Unfortunately, it does not live up to expectations.  The stories are simply too ridiculous.  I like fantastical stories, true, and these stories are certainly that, but they lack the gravity that I find so essential to fairytales and other tales of this type.  It is not that I object to a little silliness or humour, but the effect of a good fairytale, on the whole, must be of a certain seriousness and propriety, and the Armitage stories are silliness, pure and simple.  They amuse, but there is nothing really true in them.  I could not even finish the book.

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase –  Despite my disappointment with the Armitage stories, I decided to give Aiken a second chance and to read her most famous work, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, and I was much better pleased.  I did find it a bit odd that the wolves, which give the book its title, and which play such a large role in the first chapters of the story, and which are distinguished by being the only obviously fantastical element of the novel, disappear completely after the first half of the book, never to return.  It is as if Aiken grew bored of them or could not figure how to work them into her conclusion and so left this seemingly central motif entirely unresolved.  Even so, the pace is good, and the story is quite charming, telling a tale of unfortunate children that is very much preferable to some other more recent attempts that I could mention.

E. Nesbitt’s The Magic World –  Nesbitt’s stories often approach and occasionally even attain the sensibility of a true fairytale.  They are generally too moralistic, I confess, and they are so very properly British that they will sometimes be unintentionally amusing to the modern reader, but I like many of them anyway.  There are many of them that I will share with my children.

Steve Augarde’s The Touchstone Trilogy –  These novels have much to recommend them.  The plot is interesting, and the characters are engaging.  The second of them, Celandine, does fall into an English public school novel for a time, which can happen in any British novel of any genre at any time apparently, since the British seem to delight in nothing more than to share the horror of their school days, but the story is otherwise very enjoyable.  Augarde manages to avoid the standard representation of fairies as delicate and dainty flower spirits, choosing instead to portray the little people as exactly that, as smaller people, and I count this as a strong point in his favour.  The book as a whole is pleasing, even to someone like me, who is twenty years older than the intended audience.

Paul Glennon’s Bookweird –  The concept of this novel, where a boy begins stumbling into the stories of his books by eating their pages, is interesting in its way, but I would not call its application a success.  The various stories that the boy enters are represented too briefly to make them very compelling, and they are written in the styles appropriate to their genres, so the prose often takes on the faults of the sources it is emulating.  I do not much enjoy reading genre animal fantasies or genre horse novels or genre murder mysteries, so being dropped into these kinds of stories one after the other, however briefly, does not make great reading for me, and the book has little else to it.  There is, of course, a sequel, and it is, of course, called Bookweirder, but I doubt very much that I will read it.