“Nail your trials to the lightning tree”

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spouse ringed spouse with cold pointed words, dishes bled down walls
we hid where we could to keep warm
mostly behind statues of ourselves
doors were cheap umbrellas for that sort of storm
books were best, hardbound deep cover
hear us reciting the logic of myth:

nail your trials to the lightning tree
ink them in crimson on the folded boat
whisper to a crack by the salt-clean sea
feed them to the bird with the ruby throat
sneak grief in a crate of smuggled tea
box damage in alder and pile with earth
banish pain with a dagger or sharp bit of bone
willow binds trouble in a fairy crown
burn notes on the ground by the upright stone
petition the bent man at the far edge of town

worn talismans break with heavy load, crow’s feather frays
so walk until you find a fire
circled strangers with the bent hearts and the worn hulls, making light
warming their hands over the embers
of the crooked timber that comes from family trees
from time to time

- Stefan S.

This poem appeared, of all places, in a comment thread over at Making Light. Too lovely not to share.

My own family life was (and is) nearly idyllic, but this is offered as a gesture of sympathy for those whose homes were a battle zone and not a refuge.

Merry Christmas

Coptic nativity icon
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Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

(From the Nativity Homily of St. John Chrysostom)

More Orwell

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I’ve been reading George Orwell again. It’s hard to stop: Orwell has to be one of the most winsome and charming writers in the English language, and writing, as he did, in the crucial years of the early 20th century, his writing seems to have permanent relevance, even 75 years later. And he provides a wonderful window into the mindset of the British during WWII, when the outcome was unknown and the stakes seemed enormous. It seems obvious to us now that of course the Germans were going to be defeated and of course the Americans would eventually get into the war, but none of those things were obvious at the time. There’s an atmosphere of sincere alarm in many of the parts from the late 30’s and early 40’s, and it’s quite bracing to read.

But he has his foibles, his socialism which is quite sincere and quite disastrously mistaken. He makes this statement, as part of a long essay about penny dreadfuls:

In a Hollywood film of the Russian Civil War the Whites would probably be angels and the Reds demons. In the Russian version the Reds are angels and the Whites demons. That is also a lie, but, taking the long view, it is a less pernicious lie than the other.

“Taking the long view”? Somehow, I don’t think that the long view of history is judging the Reds Bolsheviks very kindly.

But who care about that? Here’s Orwell on a much more important subject, tea:

Lastly, tea–unless one is drinking it in the Russian style–should be drunk WITHOUT SUGAR. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

And finally, about the habits of a book reviewer:

At about nine p.m. his mind will grow relatively clear, and until the small hours he will sit in a room which grows colder and colder, while the cigarette smoke grows thicker and thicker, skipping expertly through one book after another and laying each down with the final comment, “God, what tripe!” In the morning, blear-eyed, surly and unshaven, he will gaze for an hour or two at a blank sheet of paper until the menacing finger of the clock frightens him into action. Then suddenly he will snap into it. All the stale old phrases–”a book that no one should miss”, “something memorable on every page”, “of special value are the chapters dealing with, etc etc”–will jump into their places like iron filings obeying the magnet, and the review will end up at exactly the right length and with just about three minutes to go. Meanwhile another wad of ill-assorted, unappetising books will have arrived by post. So it goes on. And yet with what high hopes this down-trodden, nerve-racked creature started his career, only a few years ago.

Orwell comments that this description could be generalized, with little modification, to anyone in a literary profession. I’ll make no comment on that.

Novel sold!

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So here’s my big announcement: my fantasy novel The Wedding of Earth and Sky has been sold to Red Adept Publishing, and will appear sometime in 2014.

I’m really excited about this. Red Adept is a small press with a focus on ebooks and audiobooks, and I’ve been very impressed by the quality of their product and the professionalism of their editorial staff. Here’s hoping for big things.

Blog redesign

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As a result of other changes ’round these parts, I’ve changed the blog theme and the landing page. Now, if you go to jsbangs.com, you’ll see a static landing page highlighting some of my most recent publications, with the blog linked in the sidebar.

The reason is simple: blogging has been sparse for several months, and will probably remain so for the near future. Instead of showing people a handful of very old blog posts, I’d rather show them some stories that I’m proud of and let them click through to the blog if they get curious.

Other big announcements forthcoming…