Monday, 29 March 2010


In murky ponds your flattened lengths you hide,
Your heads like tender diamonds gazing dim
'Long logs you use as cover for your slim
And soft bodies, your vision feeble-eyed.
Your race's many members creep in streams
Around this world, yet we the treading swains,
Whose errors cut upon you ample pain,
Do little know your cross-eyed, broken dreams.
Yet every brokenness will yield another
You, from your wound; each fragment blooms into
A separate self. A cloven head's now two
That share a body branching. Quarrels mother
You clones who split your lengths by pulling free;
You worms will grow through love--and injury.

Yup. Planaria are funny little critters.

This is more emphatically a draft than usual. If anyone is out there, interested in contributing, I have a question: do you prefer the fourth line as it is, or would you prefer to see it, "And soft bodies, with tiny muscles filled inside."? Further, would the twelfth line be better as it is, or rendered, "That share a branching body."? Other critiques also welcome.
I had wanted to do more with this, but I often find that sonnets hold less than I anticipate they will, so I have to make due. Perhaps I could write another planaria sonnet, one that should follow immediately after in the sequence, which discusses how sexual reproduction is more genetically beneficial than asexual reproduction... and, yet, asexual reproduction seems to directly benefit those planaria who get injured, since they reproduce their genes exactly. It might be worth another sonnet.
Actually, an aubadina might work well for this subject. Shame it's not a real tradition.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tetramorium caespitum

or, Pavement Ant

You march with many sisters, Amazon.
Across your desert mount you track your twin
In rushed obedience to now begin
The second hill to bring adherents on
This upper plain, for war against your foes.
Of your six limbs you give but empty care;
For queen and colony alone you bear
The unexamined burdens, senseless blows.
If thinking were your province, then would you
Forsake your bloody kind? Does thought condone
That social animals desire to be alone?
Would reason force the end of selfless crews?
What fate's the maid's who lacks a queen to give
Her harvest to, and guards her chance to live?

Friday, 26 March 2010

7 Quick Takes (XXXIV)

1. Using Roman Numerals will become ungainly in time.
2. It's winter again. Blah. After such a beautiful month, too. I think we all saw it coming.
3. At work, I have been spending almost all of my time working with the children's programs. I've been running the Grade Five program for most of the week, actually. It's a good program, and fun. Unlike previous programs, each class is in only for either an afternoon or a morning. With only one group did I have to use my loud voice. I don't often use my loud voice. It is reserved for special occasions. This, however, was a special occasion. I rang The Bell, and they didn't sit down and shut up. That's not that they didn't sit down and shut up fast enough; they just ignored The Bell entirely. This was a mistake on their part.
But over all it had been a good week. I enjoy working with the kids. They can be pretty awesome, even when they're being total brats. I do still remember being that age.
I'll give you a 'for instance.' The program is basically a big two-hour game. I went up to each group during the game and gave them a hint. Actually, I forgot to mention the hint when explaining the game, so I had to go outside and tell them individually, but I phrased it as though I was doing them a real favour here. With one group, I came up and said, "I'm going to give you guys a hint." One of the kids turned to me and said, in all honesty, "No, no hints." One of his teammates (in the context of the game, family members), turned to him and said in a not-very-sotto voice, "Dustin, shut up!" It was hilarious.
4. I am really enjoying the Gospel of Luke. It's funny how every time you read the same thing, it's not quite the same thing. For instance, I am beginning to hear the stylistic and tonal difference between Numbers and Deuteronomy in my OT readings, and I'm feeling a quiet energy in Luke that I failed to detect before. Here's one that really stuck out for me this week:
On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching. The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely. If he healed the man's hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.
But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, "Come and stand in front of everyone." So the man came forward. Then Jesus said to his critics, "I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?"
He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, "Hold out your hand." So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him (Luke 6:6-11, bold formatting mine).
What I like about this is here we get a deeper sense of what Jesus is about. He is working for Life, and he is working against Death. In this passage we see the beginnings of the squaring off between Life and Death (which are also Love and Hate, or Good and Evil): Jesus knows that healing on the Sabbath is a step in the walk to Golgotha, Place of the Skull, where he must die. But you cannot work for Life if you are unwilling to die for Life, and so he heals, an act on behalf of Life, when he knows it means his death.
You know, I sometimes wonder whether non-Christians are very familiar with Bible stories. I imagine they know the vague outlines of them, but would a non-Christian be familar with the one I just copied out? As much as Christian myth* is part of the whole Western cultural umbrella, I get a sense from media and conversation that it's not a well-understood part.
5. At home I have been reading A Ring of Endless Light. I read it at home largely because I don't want to be caught at work reading a "girl's" book. I classify it as a girl's book based on the plot: Vicky Austin must navigate her emotions regarding three different young men who are potential romantic interests, while dealing with the slow death of her grandfather and the resulting family dynamics. Female polyamory x feelings - (action + adventure) + dolphins = girl's book. That being said, it's a good book, full of honesty and compassion and respect and insight. It is written by Madeleine L'Engle, after all. It's also a hard book, dealing with tough subject matter. And it's well-written. A good, honest, tough, compassionate, well-written book is a book that I ought to read, regardless of its target audience. So I'm reading it. Best paragraph so far: "If I'm confused, or upset, or angry, if I can go out and look at the stars I'll almost always get back a sense of proportion. It's not that they make me feel insignificant, it's the very opposite, they make me feel that everything matters, be it ever so small, and that there's meaning to life even when it seems most meaningless."
At work I am reading The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye's defense of literature and the study of it. It's a CBC Massey Lectures book. Americans and other non-Canadians: the CBC Massey Lectures are like the TED Talks, only less about new tech and more about life. Also, each person gave a series of lectures instead of a single lecture, and those series were often bound into book form and sold. The Truth About Stories and The Wayfinders, which I have written about before, are both Massey Lectures books.
6. My folks bought Inglourious Basterds the other day, which surprised me because they tend to dislike Tarentino movies. They liked it, but of course they did; as I discussed with my brother, as much as that movie is a very Tarentino movie, it is far more accessible than the movies he usually makes. The filming is brilliant and the plot, particularly Soshanna's part, is quite good.
7. I am less in the dumps about the world's prospects. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read my last post. Check out the comments, too; they're worth it.
What I feel I must do is write a book something like L'Engle's books, something like Lewis' books, and something like something else altogether, because rewriting what has been already written is no use at all. I'm not sure yet what it will look like, but... we'll see.
Make sure you visit our lovely host, Jennifer Fulwiler.
*"Myth," meant technically, does not in any way mean that the story being told is false; if this were the case, I wouldn't use that word. Myth, understood properly, does not connote falsehood.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


WARNING: This is a very emo post.

Maybe it's because I'm ill, but I'm feeling distressed and melancholy.

I finished reading The Wayfinders today and then picked up Carrie, which I had somehow never read before. I have also finished this. And then I saw this video posted on someone's blog. I spoke with my mother this morning about people protesting and get emotional over such idiotic things as inadvertant ethnic slights at a university, spending their energy protesting a minor social injustice when they could instead be spending that energy aiding the very major social injustice of poverty rampant in the very city they live in. Just now I connected that with this entry in "Stuff White People Like." As a result, I am seeing a decided lack of hope in the world right now.

The Wayfinders tries to end optimistically; even while discussing the horrific and irrevocable environmental destruction that we have loosed upon the world, Davis points to extra-modern cultures as exemplars of living with the environment (as opposed to "off" it, vampirically). His book explores the worldviews of vanishing and marginalized peoples, showing the incredible feats of imagination and technique that exist in these cultures. For instance, for as long as there have been Polynesian people, they have been honing the arts of nautical navigation. When Rome was at its height, the Polynesian culture was already old. While we have been spending the centuries since the Enlightenment developing our technological and scientific prowess, they have been learning to navigate the waves. The techniques they have developed are mind-boggling. Davis reminds us that these people are no less intelligent than we are, so just try to imagine what we could have accomplished if we had focused all of the creative intellect that we have on space travel, architecture, theoretical physics, and nanotechnical instead on other things, like, in the case of the Polynesians, traveling the open seas in a canoe. Of course the results would be stunning. Davis asks us to look at these cultures as alternatives to our own domineering and progress-crazy ethic. Perhaps, he says, these peoples can tell us something about living in the world in such a way that we won't strip it entirely of resources in the next century.

But as I read his book, I am overwhelmed by the damage already done. Can we turn it around in time? I don't know. I'm afraid we can't. I'm afraid our culture is already too strong. Maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully I'm wrong. Because I don't want to think of the consequences of being right.

And I'm as bad as anyone. What am I doing? Will turning off the lights when I leave a room count for anything in the grand scheme of things? Will bringing cloth bags to the grocery store and carpooling and buying used really make a difference? And will writing songs about social justice make a difference? I seriously doubt that writing a Letter to the Editor will. I seriously doubt that the sort of ivory-tower activism we see in university, which is little more than shouting from a soapbox, will make any difference at all. Perhaps, though, I am just being negative today.

I mentioned reading Carrie. King often includes "religious crazies" in his books, such that one would get a very skewed idea of religion if you got it soley from his novels. But I cannot deny that these people exist. Just the other day I was reading a blog about "TrueManhood" (if you Google that, I'm sure you'll find the blog) which has some pretty scary posts. One commenter, in particular, was talking about keeping his guns close at hand, because the time for revolution might not be far. This is in response to Obama's health care plan. In general I am loathe to agree with anything Dawkins says, but in one case I think he's right: religion, at least in some forms, can lead to a permanent shut-down in thinking. When you deal with these "religious crazies," whether violent or otherwise, it's impossible to reason with them or reach some sort of compromise. Most people of any faith are willing to put aside differences so we can live together in peace, but there are some who won't. What do we do with them? How can we deal with the members of our own community who actively prevent peace, either by espousing violence or by treating other people in ways that provokes violence? How do we deal even with the common ignorances of our communities? (I once had a fellow Christian explain to me that Zoroastrians worship fire and believe that God is both good and evil. I tried to explain that the Zoroastrian priest I spoke to neither worshipped fire nor believed that God was evil--these were two misconceptions that he was very quick to dispell--but she was unconvince; she'd read this from a Missionary's Guide to Other Religions that her folks had given her, and that was good enough for her. The scary thing is, she's a sweet girl and has the best intentions.)

I know that I need to have faith; I know I need to believe that in the end, all will be righted. But right now, I do not see this hope anywhere. Even those "inspirational" songs, movies, and books just seem like a waste of resources better spent on directly helping the poor or the endangered or the repressed; that, or a piece of bubblegum stopping a bursting dam. Nowhere near enough.

I suppose that the soapbox-shouting, the inspirational songs, and the activism then do have some sort of function: if anything is going to change, we need pretty much everyone on board, which requires education and persuasion. So in the end I guess I need to write books that will make a difference, just as much as others need to make those movies or write those songs. We can't all write books and make movies, but we do not need to get more people on board.

As the Israelites stood at the edge of the Promised Land, inhabited by giants, they were overcome with hopelessness. So, too, I imagine, did the hearts of the Polish Jews sink when they were hiding in forest huts, surrounded by the Nazis; so, too, did Sheppard likely feel overwhelmed by the task of freeing the people of the Congo from Leopold's rubber machine, and the Athenians against the Persian assault. I pray that, even in my discouragement, I do not despair, that I do not lose the urge to strive nonetheless.

I pray that I even figure out how I can help, what I'm supposed to do.

EDIT: I've supposedly set this blog up so it will direct you to posts which have linked to mine, but it doesn't actually do that. So here I'm doing it manually. Take it away for Karen! (Her name is the link.)

Friday, 19 March 2010

7 Quick Takes (XXXIII)

1. I apologize for being a bad blogger. I was away last weekend, and haven't had much to write in the meantime. I need to produce at least one top-notch post by the end of the month, though, or else I won't have anything awesome to put on Elizabeth Esther's site. Which site, incidentally, has rapidly become one of my most-frequented. (Which begs the question, of course, of why I'm adding another Catholic mommy-blogger to the list. I thought I had that demographic covered.)

2. The reason I was away last weekend was that I went to Edmonton with the folks. It was my Mom's birthday. I bought way too many books, but then you knew I'd say that. We went to a GoodWill and a Value Village and a Chapter's. In total, I purchased 15 books (13 used, 2 new). It was atrocious. I wouldn't bother listing them all here.
In the morning, though, we went to the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA). I like the idea of RAMs and ROMs and AGOs and AGAs. I wish there were more provincial cultural "chains" like that. Personally, I'd like to see a Museum of Religious Culture in every province, but I don't suppose that will happen.
So, at the AGA there was a Goya exhibit, a Degas exhibit (of his sculptures, not his painting), a Karsh exhibit, and some more avant-garde exhibits with whose creators I am unfamiliar. I would love some Karsh portraits to put up in my room: Jung, Einstein, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen the II--or I if you're Scottish), Castro, Hepburn, Luther King Jr. Karsh took such excellent portrait photography. Each of these photographs is so evocative. For the most part Karsh showed his subjects as icons, but with Castro's portrait he did something different. Castro appears far more personal, more human, more intimate, more vulnerable in Karsh' photograph. I generally think of Castro as an ambiguous villainous figure (for no real reason but cultural osmosis), and so it was amazing that this one picture managed to humanize him for me. Of course Castro believed in what he was doing. Somehow this concept never occured to me before now. I feel a little embarassed about that.

3. Obligatory weather-related take: for most of the past two weeks it has been mild. Temperatures have been around +13 degrees Celsius. This held true until Wednesday, during which it snowed. Now we have a layer of the sticky wet stuff on the ground again. For the first time in my life, at the sight of snowflakes I felt physical revulsion. Then again, we knew it would happen.

4. As I mentioned in a previous post, the virtual exhibit on which I have been working for some time is finally live. It is about the role that the Catholic mission played in Fort McMurray's development, including such fascinating things as health care, education, employment for single women, and housing for the homeless.
To prevent confusion, I did not code this site. The format is standard to the Community Memories program. I did the historical research, wrote the text, selected the pictures, and input all of the information into the template.

5. I seem to be sick again. Boo. My immune system seems to be even more lethargic than I am.

6. Oh, right. Almost forgot. So, I got accepted into some more grad schools, and made my final decision. I am attending a school on the Canadian west coast. On the one hand, this is terribly exciting. I have only been in the province of British Columbia once, and briefly at that.
On the other hand, this means being far from my peeps for two years. I will likely be unable to (afford to) visit Ontario during this time, so unless folks come over to visit me, I will not see any of them for quite some time. But this is a good program for me, and I will be happy to attend.

7. Last take. Right. Hmmm. What shall it be about?
Oh, I have been reading The Wayfinders. I'm almost done. It's a pretty solid book. I'll review it once I have finished.

You know what to do: Conversion Diary.

Over and out,

Christian H
aka English Clergyman

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A Website I Made

Go here. This is the project I've spent so long at work making. It's finally live.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Challenge = Possibility

I have until Tuesday to write writerly gold.

Also, I got into another grad program, this time on the west coast (of Canada). I am seriously thinking of taking this one. (Looks like we won't be phantom peers after all, Em, or at least not next year.)

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Saturday Evening Blog Post, vol. 2, issue 3.

It's the first Saturday of the month, and that means that Esther Elizabeth is running her blog carnival. I strongly encourage you to participate. This month I am submitting my sonnet Cepaea nemoralis. I can't wait to see what you guys select!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Forficula auricularia

or, The European Earwig

Your body lithe, you swim in dying leaves,
A hunter seeking moribund remains,
In reeking flowers, dumps, and swollen eaves,
Devouring pests and, lacking them, our grains.
Translucent legs and vested wings your weeds,
Which nightly you parade as ghoulish gown,
Not down those tunnels that your naming reads,
Though still provoking fear with pinching crown.
But 'neath the wintry earth you lay your clutch
In chambers underground, and tending turn
Your eggs to forestall mould, and mother much
Those white nymphs who in spring your ways will learn.
From humankind you've found but constant strife;
Yet buried under death, you raise up life.

4 March 2010, Fort McMurray

For some reason earwigs have always fascinated me; their bodies seem so graceful, their browns so glowing and clear. I used to be afraid of them, but I'm not any more. If they pinch me, it's my own fault for handling them. However, I recognize how other people are afraid of them. I've wanted to write a sonnet on them for some time and, after researching them on Wikipedia and letting the ideas percolate for a few days, something finally came to me. I was meditating on the form of the sonnet, and the above structure resulted.

Lines broken to reflect pauses in reading:

Your body lithe,
you swim in dying leaves,
a hunter seeking moribund remains in reeking flowers
and swollen eaves,
devouring pests
and, lacking them,
our grains.

Translucent legs and vested wings your weeds
which nightly you parade as ghoulish gown,
not down those tunnels that your naming reads,
though still provoking fear with pinching crown.

But 'neath the wintery earth
you lay your clutch in chambers underground
and tending turn your eggs to forestall mould
and mother much those white nymphs
who in spring your ways will learn.

From human kind you've found but constant strife;
Yet buried under death
you raise up life.

7 Quick Takes (XXXII)

1. Saturday was decent. I went to work for an hour, went for a walk, and got some writing done.

2. I managed to miss the Olympic game on Sunday. I screwed up what time it was on, and turned the TV on to see the Canadian team skating the flag around the ice after receiving their gold medals.
"Well," my Mom said, "at least we're saved the suspense."
Belatedly, then, "Go Canada! Woo!"

3. I found out that I was accepted into grad school to study English. I was expecting a phone call at work, so left my cell on (which I never do). I received a call and answered it, and it turned out to be from a university! They are not my first choice, but they are offering me nice incentives, so I'll need to see what I get from other schools which may or may not make offers in the near future. I haven't heard from a few, yet.

4. I spent a lot of time with children at work. This was fun. Where I work we have the Open Minds program, in which a class from a local school will come to the Park for one week and we'll run a program for them. Their teacher and some parent volunteers are there, too, so it's not like we have to run the program entirely by ourselves. For reasons irrelevant to this story I was asked to help with the program quite a bit this week. I have a hard time saying, "No," most times at work; I have an even harder time declining working with kids; and I have an exceptionally hard time saying, "No," to a young and pretty teacher who would like me to work with her class.
Apparently some of the kids thought I was an artifact and wanted to write journal entries about me. Actually, they did write entries about me, but Miss Teacher convinced them that I wasn't actually an artifact, even if I had been at the museum for three years.
Oh, and I got married to a supervisor in a skit for the kids. This is the second time I've been wed in the course of working here. This time there was less ceremony, but a bigger audience.

5. It's been t-shirt weather here in Fort McMurray. It's still chilly in the mornings, but by the end of the day I'm going around in short sleeves.

6. I'm re-attempting The Trouble with Physics. After floundering around in the middle of the book, no longer able to pretend I understand this level of theoretical physics (though I think I did quite well considering when I stopped taking physics in highschool), I quit for a littel while. I have now come back to it, skipping to the final section. This section is less about the history of theoretical physics, what string theory is, and what string theory's rivals are, and more on the social mechanics of the situation.
The book is about the author's misgivings about the resources spent on string theory and the amount of confidence string theorists (and the general public) have in this theory when, in fact, it is far from being proven with any confidence. There are enormous problems with the theory (though no worse than with any of its alternatives) which string theorists seem unaware of. Further, he points out the ways in which physics departments stifle dissent and independent thought, which prevents any progress in either string theory or its rivals. If you're interested, you need to read the book, not what an English major thinks of the book.
Anyway, I'm almost done reading it.

But when and if the issue of finiteness is settled, we will have to ask how it happened that so many members of a research program were unaware of the status of one of the key results in their field. Should it not be of concern that between 1984 and 2001 many string theorists talked and wrote as if it were a fact that the theory was finite? Why did many string theorists feel comfortable talking to outsiders and insiders alike, using language that implied the theory was fully finite and consistent?
Finiteness is not the only example in string theory of a conjecture that is widely believed but so far unproven. What is sure is that the strongest of these conjectures is far from proved, although some weak version is certainly well supported. But this is not how some string theorists see it...

7. I just purchased season 4 of Battlestar Galactica. Uh-oh.
Worth reading: Esther Elizabeth's post.
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