Guy’s night out

Timeout now for something that is more likely to appear on my wife’s blog.

Two years ago when my wife was stuck in bed pregnant with our first son (little mister), I spent many many hours with my daugher (curly miss). We played together, traveled around town in the stroller, ran errands, and talked a lot. We really bonded a lot during that season. I love my son, but we’ve never had the same kind of opportunity. I see him a lot of course, but his sister is always around too. It’s just different. I feel like we never have as much chance to connect on a certain level.

Tonight though, we decided to have respective guys and girls nights out. Wifey took curly miss to the mall to do who knows what. Little mister and I decided to do manly men things. We walked straight down to Bucer’s smoke room, lit up pipes and each had a pint of Guiness.

Except that little mister is only 2.5 years old, so we didn’t do that.

First, we needed to take charge, be responsible and get necessary chores out of the way. We scooped the very stinky cat box and then fired up some candles to fumigate the bathroom. Then we transferred laundry to the dryer. Little mister helped me throw each article in, declaring each one to be “wet!”.

After all this work, we needed a snack. Mister got out peanut butter and Ritz crackers form the little cupboard. Hit the spot! We practiced rubbing our sleave in the peanut butter on the table too.

With the minivan taken by the women, we resorted to travel in the “Stinky Banana Car”. It’s the only way to fly. I threw mister in the back seat and away we went. First stop: The service station to pump up the chronically flat front tire. Next to the gas station were 3 teenagers in full-plate armor whacking the crud out of each other with heavy metal swords. Part of the local Dungeons and Dragons reenactment crew or something. They looked like they were having a good time though so we resisted the urge to throw +6 attack lightning bolts at them as we drove by. Restraint of power is a kingly thing. I want my son to be virtuous like this.

After we were sufficiently inflated, it was time to become scientists. Little mister has been very interested in hills lately. Going UUUUUP the hill and DOOOOOOWWWWN the hill. It’s a study of gravity. On 6th street in our town is a very steep hill. The kind you avoid when it’s icy. We went UUUUUP and DOOOOOWWWWN this hill several times, observing the effect on our stomachs.

This reminded us that we hadn’t had dinner yet and we were starving.

I asked Mister: “Do you want to go to the grocery store and get some dinner?”
Mister: “doh-nut!”
Me: “You want a donut for dinner?”
Mister: “white one!”
Me: “You want a white donut for dinner? How about some chicken nuggets?”
Mister: “Nooo!! Doh-nut!”
Me: “We’ll see….”

Upon arriving at the deli, we order a very health dish of tofu on a bed of leafy greens with a side of steamed white rice.

Well, we tried to order that, but somehow we ended up with corn dogs instead.

After that is was on to daddy’s office, where we rode the elevator and experimented with the robotic door openers. If you hit the button enough times you can make ??? happen. Little mister apparently was shooting for this.

We also took some pictures with the built-in camera at the desk.

We also commanded Mario to stomp on a few goombas. I couldn’t have done it without him actually. We make a good team.

Finally, we made our way to his favorite coffee shop where commenced a deep literary discussion on the book at hand. The book was about dinosaurs of course:

Mister: BIG ino-or!
Me: Yeah, what’s he eating?
Mister: grass
Me: How about this one?
Mister: Big horn.
Me: Yeah, he has a big cool horn.
Mister: Make box

And that was the end of our reading. On to building several different size boxes made from little foam puzzle pieces. The pieces have pictures of Pocahantus and Snow White Spider Man and Beowulf on them so that was extra manly.

Finally it was time to return home. Wow, those two hours flew by with no show-stealin’ sister around! We had a good time. Little bits of his personality I don’t usually see came out. We’ll have to do that again some time.

Looking for wisdom in poetry

This short passage from Lewis is absolutely brilliant. It explains why so much contemporary literary criticism is crap. That 500 page thesis on “Transgender Identity in Shakespeare’s Sonnets”? How about “Dante: Animal Rights Activist”. Also related to this is why in high school you had to read Cider House Rules but not Milton. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg really. This helps explain all kinds of things!

I think we demand of a great poem something that can be called Wisdom. We wish, after reading it to understand things in general, or at least some things, better than we did before. Wisdom by itself does not make a great poem or even a poem at all: and the value of a poem is by no means in the direct ration to its wisdom. But the demand for wisdom remains. It is indeed so strong that critics to whom the obvious content of an old poet is mere ‘theological rubbish’ usually find it necessary to convince themselves that he had some profound wisdom of quite a different kind, some ‘real subject’ which no generation till our own ever suspected. The whole biographical bias of modern (or recent) criticism is possibly due to the desire to find wisdom in poems whereof the obvious meaning has ceased to appear wise. If Heaven and Hell, gods and heroes, the innocence of Imogen and the horrors of conscience in Macbeth, seem to man ‘rubbish’, then his last resource for restoring importance to the texts is to suppose that the poet is revealing the secrets of his own heart. The demand that to read great verse should be to grow in wisdom has not really altered.

-C.S. Lewis, Williams and the Arthuriad, p.190

More on Broceliande forest

It is indeed in that forest, inextricably mingled with the mystical sea-spiritual distance, that all these places of margel must lie. It is, after all, one of the great forests of myth – greater because of its hidden mysteries than Arden or Birnam or Westermain. The wood of Comus may be compared with it; and indeed it is poetically a part of it, except that itis a holy place and uninhabited by such sorcerers. A nobler comparison is with the forsest which Dante found at the foot of the Mount of Purgatory and where he came again to himself, or that other on the height o the Mount where Beatrice came again to him. But it is not proper to do more than shyly observe comparisons between such myths. It is a place of making and of all the figures concerned with making.

-Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, p.82

Other mysterious woods?

Arden, Birnam, Westermain, and Comus.

Where do we find these? Among other places…

Shakespeare (As You Like It), Shakespeare (MacBeth), George MacDonald, Milton


But Broceliande is really more than any of these. It is THE place of making.

The home of immense dangers and possibilities

The mysterious forest of Broceliande figures heavily into Charles William’s account of Arthurian legend. It’s kind of in Wales, and kind of in the ocean, and is more of a fairy place that can’t always be gotten to. Both Carbonek (home of the Holy Grail) and the castle of the headless emperor on the edge of hell lie within it. Few who go deep within it ever come out. The ones that do are either astonished, like children, or lost in a bitterness the remainder of their life.

A casual glance may see it as simply an interesting stage for stories and adventures, just about anything you like, to happen, but it is so much more than that.

In a writer whose philosophy was Pantheistic or whose poetry was MERELY romantic this formidable wood rom whose quiet and timeless fecundity ‘the huge shapes emerge’ would undoubtedly figure as the Absolute itself. And indeeed Broceliande is what most romantics are enamoured of; into it good mystics and bad mystics go: it is what you find when you step out of our ordinary mode of consciousness. You find it equally in whatever direction you step out. All journeys away from the solid earth are equally, at the outset, journeys into the abyss.

Saint, sorcerer, lunatic, and romantic lover all alike are drawn to Broceliande, but Carbonek is beyond A CERTAIN PART of it only. It is by no means the Absolute. It is rather what the Greeks called the Aperon – the unlimited, the formless origin of forms. Dante and D. H. Lawrence, Boehme and Hitler, Lady Julian and the Surrealists, had all been there. It is the home of immense dangers and immense possibilities.

-C.S. Lewis, Williams and the Arthuriad, ch.2 p.101

Photo credit

On becoming our God

I’ve heard the notion of “you become what you worship” spoken of from a lot of different sources lately. I’m curious as to why I never heard this growing up. Maybe I did and just wasn’t paying attention. I’d really like to see specific examples of this explored more. It seems like a really good (and useful) spiritual principal. Since we all end up having a distorted view of God, do we “become” like this false image? I guess it’s mostly an image of him being not as truly good as he is. Or maybe or more defined one, like an image of our own father.

Every man becomes the image of the God he adores. He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes a dead thing. He who loves corruption rots. He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow. He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing. The contemplative also, who seeks to keep God prisoner in his heart, becomes a prisoner within the narrow limits of his own heart, so that the Lord evades him and leaves him in his imprisonment, his confinement, and his dead recollection.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.14 Sec.3

So what’s the point? To discover if this is the root of some of my own failings and sin. Then changing this image may be the doorway out, as opposed to just striving harder to be a “good person”, which as we all know, doesn’t really work.

Ever feel rotten?

Now we still have the desire to do the right thing, for we are created in God’s image and inwardly seek the things of God. But that godly desire is trapped and imprisoned with a wall of disordered flesh, emotions, and destructive thought processes. The spirit is no longer our primary driving force. It is covered over or forgotten.

Our bodies and souls are also changed by the Fall. The soul is disjointed and confused within itself. The body loses its original God-given beauty and innocence, a loss we try to cover over with often futile efforts to cosmetically enhance our appearance. In short, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the paradise of the Garden of Eden isn’t a long-ago fairy tale. It’s an existential, cosmic reality, and it’s something we experience in the here and now of everyday life.

-John Michael Talbot, The Music of Creation, p.40

On rereading William’s Taliessin (this time with a guide!)

For my second journey into the mind of Charles Williams, I chose his Arthurian poetry cycle, which includes Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. Williams worked hard on these poems. All accounts say that he viewed them as his greatest achievement. Turning out novels and other books for some profit was always getting in the way of his accomplishing this task. In fact, death put a stop to it before he could finish the cycle with a third volume.

And so, I started to read. It was slow going. I only understood about 10% of what was going on. I almost quit…

Then, I discovered The Figure of Arthur, a concise history of Arthurian legend, written by Williams and published (in part) after his death by C.S. Lewis. This was immensely helpful, for now many of the names and places mentioned in his verse took on a history. The book also includes extensive notes and literary criticism from C.S. Lewis on the poems themselves. He admits that in some ways, they aren’t very good. But he praises them for other qualities that I hadn’t considered (perhaps more on that later). With Lewis to guide me through the cycle, it suddenly became much more interesting. The words on the page transformed right before my eyes! That is to say, suddenly the poem didn’t suck anymore.

Lewis explains that a lot of the best writing out there has prerequisites to reading it with understanding. That is why studying the classics is so valuable. However, you have to draw the line somewhere:

[concerning T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land], if you have never read Dante or Shakespeare certain things in that poem will be obscure to you. But then, frankly, we ought to have rad Dante and Shakespeare; or at lest the poet has a right to address only those who have done so. And if the only result of a first reading of The Waste Land were to send you to Dante and Shakespeare, your time and money have been very well spent. Similarly in Williams. He assumes that you know the Bible, Malory, and Wordsworth pretty well, and that you have t least some knowledge of Milton, Dante, Gibbon, the Mabinogion, and Church history. Difficulties of this sort are wholly legitimate. But there are border-line cases.

When Mr. Eliot assumes that you know Miss Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, or Williams that you know Heracleitus as quoted by W.B. Yeats – or still more when the one assumes a knowledge of the Tarot pack and the other of the Sephirotic Tree – the difficulties are becoming less obviously legitamate. We have not indeed, reached the frontiers of vicious Privatism. The things referred to are accessible: the poet may be innocently mistaken about the extent to which they are – still more about the extent to which they ought to be – matters of common knowledge among educated people.

-C.S. Lewis, Williams and the Arthuriad, Conclusions p. 189

So I read something, and found it boring and confusing. But I wasn’t conviced is was the author’s fault. It had a hint of something more there, if only I could put my finger on it. So I spent a few days studying the background, then returned to it. What a difference!

The entire cycle really is pretty slow going. I don’t think I’ll end up carefully reading through the whole thing right now. There are other things I’d rather explore. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find the extra effort worth it!

Naming your stuff “Ron”

I’m curious as to why, in some myths, the actors have names – proper first names – for much of their gear. Just to infuse them with more meaning and a sense of history I imagine.

In their early account of the battle of Badon hill, where Arthur defeated the Saxons, both early poets (Wace and Layamon, ~1155) point out that our hero had names for more than just his sword:

…,the king wore a sword forged in Avalon, almost a faerie place – forged ‘with magic craft’, says Layamon, who calls it Caliburen, but Wace names it Excalibur. Layamon adds that his helmet was called Goswhit, and his shield Pridwen, on which was engraved in tracings of reddish gold, the image of the blessed and glorious Mary. Both poets add that the name of his spear was Ron.

-Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, p.41

We all know about Excalibur, but what about Ron, man?!

Beowulf also had a magic sword, named Hrunting. In this same vein, Tolkien gave names to many of the important weapons in Middle Earth, including Sting (Bilbo/Frodo), Glamdring (Gandalf), Narsil (Isuldur), Anduril (Aragorn), Herudrim (Theodin),  and so forth. Apparently though, their helmets and shields are not important enough to mention. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Do we still do this today? All the time I think. Musicians often name their instruments. Eric Clapton had Blackie. Pierre Bensusan has “The Old Lady”. In college, my friend’s french horn was named Leopold. The 2-ton concert tuba (available for check-out) was called Buba.

My car is know as the “Stinky Banana Car”, or SBC. Long story.

Computers are so cold and lifeless, so we typically give them names to infuse a little character into them. I’ve worked on servers called Coyotee, Hornet, Snake, Deathstar (how many servers out there have Star Wars names? Thousands?), Thalia, RedTape, BlackWidow, Redwood, Snarky, etc. Sometimes they told a story (RedTape audited accounts). Some were just fun. Now all our servers where I work have names like web-1, web-2, email-1, etc. Boring…

IT Director: Why is the new database server named “Ron”?

Developer: From King Arthur’s spear you uncultured swine!

Writing good literature

Speaking on the evolution of Arthurian legend to include Galahad, the Round Table, a more interesting Merlin, etc:

It is occasionally forgotten, or seems to be, in the great scholarly discussions, that anyone who is writing a poem or a romance is primarily writing a poem or a romance. He will, of course, be affected, as the Crusaders in their task were affected, by all sorts of other things – his religious views, his political views, his need of money, the necessity for haste, the instructions of a patron, carelessness, forgetfulness, foolishness. But he is primarily concerned with making a satisfactory book. He may borrow anything from anywhere – if he thinks it makes a better book. He may leave out anything from anywhere – if he thinks it makes a better book. And this (it can hardly be doubted), rather than anything else, was the first cause of the invention of the glorious and sacred figure of Galahad.

-Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, p.62

This is another thing you can put in the “captain obvious” file, but it’s worth bringing up. His point is that this is forgotten in some SCHOLARLY discussions. It’s also why a person you share nothing with politically, religiously, or socially can still write a book that you recognize as outstanding. If they’re intention was excellent literature, they will do whatever they need to craft it well. However, if they’re primary intention was to preach (be it about global warming or eschatology), they may easily end up writing garbage. Even if the agenda is something you favor, it doesn’t make the literature any better.

Which way does the admirable feminine mind spring?

I’ve found Charles Williams “The Figure of Arthur” to be much more interesting (and readable) than his own stab at Arthurian verse (Taliessin through Logres). It seems to be a thorough, yet concise history of how the legend evolved over the years. It was reimagined by different poets, other myths were mixed in with it, and so forth.

At one point, he explains how courtly love was a formalized exaggeration of real romance. Nevertheless, it is founded in reality.

The extreme ideals of courtly love our demonstrated in the poem Lancelot by Chretien de Troyes:

The most famous incident of his career, after that manner and in this poem, is that of the cart. Lancelot lost his horse, apparently in a battle with Meleagaunt, and presently overtook a cart driven by a dwarf. Now at the time a cart was a rare thing, and evil. There was only one in each town, and it was used to expose and carry to execution, thieves, murderers, traitors, and other criminals. Anyone who had been carried in a cart lost all reputation and legal right; he was dead in law, and could no more show himself in courts or towns. Anyone wo met a cart crossed himself and said a prayer.

Lancelot asked the dwarf for news of the queen [(his love, who had been kidnapped)]; the dwarf answered that if the knight would mount the cart, he should presently hear of her. For a couple of steps Lancelot hesitated. Reason and Love dispute, for that time, within him. Reason loses; Love triumphs; he climbs in. Presently, when he had undergone many adventures, and crossed the sword bridge, and overcome Meleagaunt, he was brought by Bagdemagus to the queen, whom he now liberated. But she had herd of his hesitation. She threw him a cold look and would not speak to him.

Lancelot, ‘feeling very helpless’ (how one’s heart leaps at that phrase! how one recognizes the chily glance, the silent mouth!), decided that his fault must be in having ridden the cart at all. This of course, is exactly what a man would think, and might even sometimes be quite right in thinking; one never quite knows which was the admirable feminine mind will spring. He was wrong; his fault lay only in his delay. Presently, after an alarm of death on both sides, she softened. He dared to ask her how he had offended her. She answered: ‘You must remember that you were not at all in a hurry to gen in that cart; you went two good steps before you did.’ Lancelot absed himself profoundly. ‘For God’s sake lady, take my amends, and tell me if you can forgive me.’ The queen said: ‘Willingly; I forgive you entirely.’

William’s continues:

No doubt this is an extreme example of courtly love. But no doubt also it is based on general human experience. The delay in action may, to a woman, mean more than the action itself. ‘I’m not convinced by proofs but signs’ says Patmore’s young woman; and all masculine heroism without feminine tact is apt to go wrong. Where one expected gratitude (not that Lancelot did) one finds austerity. Oh perhaps the Provencals [the cultural founder of courtly love] manipulated love too much, but undoubtedly they knew what they were manipulating!

-Charles Williams, The Figure of Arthur, p.?

I found this whole story to be ammusing.

Lancelot: “For cryin’ out loud lady, I just went to great lengths to rescue you, just about got myself killed 100 times, and you totally give me the cold shoulder! What did I do? It must have been that I allowed myself to be humiliated to complete the journey. You’re ashamed of me for laying down my honor.”

Queen: “No, it’s just that you got here a bit late because you mind had wondered from me for a moment. I’m so offended. (Makes a frumpy face). Oh, OK. I forgive you.