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Monday was lovely.  I don’t think that’s a sentence I’ve ever typed before, but I shall explain.  After work I met Sarah and Becky at Sushi O in Raleigh, where we feasted and caught up on each other’s news.  From there we went to King’s Barcade to hear The Lighthouse and the Whaler in concert.  The opening artist was exceedingly unpromising; I felt very, very sorry for the singer.  He kept trying to get the audience involved, but all of his songs were downers.  I felt deeply  uncomfortable clapping along to a song about someone’s dying mother.  Mercifully, his set dragged to an end at last, and we excitedly waited for Lighthouse to take the stage…only to find there was a second opening band called Neulore.  Fearing another unwanted trip into a stranger’s psyche, we braced for the worst–and were pleasantly astounded when Neulore turned out to be as good (maybe even better) than Lighthouse.   See the music area below for a bunch of links to their music; you’ve got to check these folks out.

Other events this week included watermelon and discipleship on Wednesday and coffee with a friend I’ve not seen in a long time on Thursday.  This weekend I’m wending my way to Winston Salem to see a pack of friends, so there is much laughter and very little sleep predicted.  I can’t wait!


Know this:


Books: You may remember me enthusing over the recent publication of The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I guiltily paid full price for it at B&N, but after reading it, I have no regrets.  It was worth every cent.  Latest in a long line of posthumous publications edited and compiled by Tolkien’s son Christopher, The Fall of Arthur is a tragically incomplete alliterative poem in the Northern and Anglo-Saxon tradition.  Think Arthurian Beowulf.  If there’s anything more perfectly calculated to make me fall in love with it, I’ve never encountered it.  The poem is absolutely exquisite, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to forgive Tolkien for dying without finishing it.  Aside from the subject matter, the poem itself is an astounding piece of skill.  English alliterative meter is no joke, and according to Christopher, his father just dashed large chunks of it off without batting an eyelash.  Christopher’s extremely detailed (if a little dull) analysis of the evolution of the poem is still worth a read, and if you read nothing else of the supplementary materials, at least check out the Appendix on the verse form so that you can appreciate the difficulty of writing alliterative verse.

I breezed through The Burning Hills by Louis L’Amour as a dusty, danger-filled, light-hearted excursion before tackling something more challenging.  Grim westerns are my comfort food, evidently.

It’s been a little bit of an odd week, for some reason.  I rolled out of bed Wednesday morning in a snarling bad mood that took me the rest of the day to shake, but in the evening we got together for discipleship for the first time in a month, so that improved things.  On Thursday I had the unexpected pleasure of having dinner with Sarah at Greek Fiesta–definitely one of the highlights of the week.  After church on Saturday Mom and Dad and I visited Ed at his place, and we walked around uptown Charlotte and had dinner at a schmancy sushi place and had good Ricker family times.




Books: I fell in love with Fred Chappell during Southern American Lit class at college, and I was reassured to discover I’m still in love.  I ambled through Farewell, I’m Bound to Leave You (another library sale find) and savored every word.  The book is a collection of shorter stories, all told by the family members of the narrator, and each one is captivating.  Some people classify Chappell’s works as magical realism.  I don’t completely agree with that (and for the record, neither does Chappell)–I despise magical realism as a rule–but I do appreciate the taste of whatever it is people are trying to name when they call his work magical realism.  There is something enthralling, unearthly, and completely familiar all at the same time in his work.  Check him out and be enchanted.

I’m almost done with Dragonwitch by my friend Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and the realization that she somehow manages to get even better with every book has struck me anew.  This story is beautifully woven, and I’m completely immersed in it while I’m in that world.  The story within the story is perfectly paced so that you discover the interplay between the tales at just the right time.  Each book adds to the reader’s depth of understanding of the characters, so I feel like I’m getting to know old friends on a new level as the tale unfolds.

Backpacking/camping did not happen, sadly, due to uncooperative weather radar.  Instead I had the laziest four-day weekend imaginable.  I don’t think I even left the house on one day.  I had lunch at Tir Na Nog with friends on Thursday and wandered around the Raleigh street fair, and on Friday I went to the Garner fireworks, which were surprisingly impressive.  The town must put their entire annual budget into fireworks.  On Sunday I visited Sam and Gentry at their snazzy new Durham digs.  Everybody’s buying beautiful houses these days!

This week was quiet, aside from my and Sarah’s annual participation in Cow Appreciation Day at Chik-fil-A.  This year I was a standard cow, no 1920s bovines.  I enjoyed the heck out of some free chicken, and the giant cow hit on me again.  I’m trying really hard to take it as a compliment that I’m the bovines’ type.  The only other exciting thing to happen this week was seeing a fox while I was out running at night.  We nodded in mutual acknowledgement of each other’s coolness and went our ways.



Books: I grabbed The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter at the Charlotte airport in desperation, but it turned out to be an excellent decision.  I’m usually leery of co-written works; authors are typically people who work best by themselves, and tandem works often seem stilted, with jarring plot elements.  Not so, this time around.  I’ve never read any Baxter, but he works very well with Pratchett.  Pratchett is often a little scattered, a little too harum-scarum to be exactly coherent, and Baxter seems to solidify things.  The premise of the novel is fascinating: a possibly infinite number of parallel earths exist, and one day everyone discovers how to step into them.  What would be the ramifications, if suddenly billions of people could leave this world for another?  Word has it that a sequel has just come out, so I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

Since I was on a Pratchett kick anyway, I went ahead and read Johnny and the Dead next, which is part of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy.  I haven’t read the other books, so this was my first foray into Pratchett’s young adult fiction.  It was very enjoyable, but my socks weren’t knocked off.  Perhaps they would have been if I’d read it at 12.  I should find a 12-year-old and see what he thinks of it.

I just finished The Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley, and it was delightful.  This had all of the things I love about McKinley and none of the things that occasionally bother me about her.  Several of the stories are retellings of existing fairy tales and one or two are original creations, but all of them have the same feeling of authenticity.  I love fairy tales, and these are of the best.  I particularly enjoyed the last story, a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

My Minnesota trip didn’t quite go as planned–which I end up saying about all of my trips, I guess.  Makes life interesting.  I left Saturday night and connected in Charlotte…where the air conditioning was out in all of Concourse C.  And there must have been something wrong with a bathroom somewhere down there, because let me tell you, it STUNK.  Imagine, if you will, a sweltering hot, crowded airport, reeking of human excrement, with yours truly camped out reading the below-described One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Good times, y’all.  I eventually reached MN, and after a lengthy cab ride with a cabbie who was chewing his gum like an overzealous cow chewing cud, I made it to my hotel.  It was 1:00am Eastern Time, and I had work early the next morning, so I was eager to get to sleep.  A very apologetic clerk with some kind of European accent (Belgian?) told me that I was getting the very last room in the hotel, but it wasn’t a real room.  “Er, what does that mean?”  “It’s a room with a pull-out couch.”  The poor guy was all but cringing, clearly expecting me to blow a gasket.  He explained that the Gay Pride parade was the next day, and every hotel for miles was booked solid.  I had reservations, of course, but since I arrived after midnight I don’t think that really meant much.

I traipsed off to my not-real room, which was a weird little meeting room between two other suites.  The pull-out couch had springs coming through the mattress, so I didn’t have the most restful night of my life, but I got a free breakfast and a free night’s stay out of it, so I can’t really complain.  They moved me to a “real” room with a bed and everything the next day as soon as some people checked out.  The actual meeting went well; I was manning an exhibitor booth with some coworkers at the American Society of Echocardiography’s Scientific Sessions.

In the evenings I mainly wandered around Minneapolis.  It’s a beautiful, clean (for the most part) city with some really stunning old churches on practically every corner.  I walked over the Stone Arch Bridge past the locks and the Falls of Saint Anthony, and I saw the Gold Medal Flour Mill that exploded in 1878.  I also people-watched a lot, because let’s face it, 2000+ cardiologists in their suits colliding with a comparable number of homosexual folks in rainbow gear is just an interesting study in humanity.  One night I walked down to a park and took paparazzi photos of birds and found a mulberry tree.  I climbed up and stuffed myself with berries, enjoying the breeze up in the branches.

My trip home was also unexpectedly eventful.  Once again, Charlotte was the problem, or rather Charlotte’s weather.  As we neared the city, the pilot came on the intercom, audibly frustrated, and said that we were being sent almost all the way down to Atlanta to come around a storm system.  By the time we finally landed, it was iffy whether I would make my connecting flight.  Then the jetway broke–it would move from side to side but wouldn’t extend to the plane.  By the time they got that fixed and we all stumbled off of the plane, my flight was long gone.  Fortunately they were able to rebook me, but by then I was out of reading material (gasp) and facing a long wait.  I perused the airport book stores and had an entirely unprecedented experience: I couldn’t find a single thing worth reading.  Airport bookstores SUCK.  On my second try I found a Pratchett novel, so I ran with it and counted myself lucky.  Flying home with Pratchett is a decent way to spend an evening.




Books: I recently read A Tangled Web by L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books.  The book tells the story of two clans on PEI, the Darks and the Penhallows, and I savored every quirk and idiosyncrasy of these two families.  Highly enjoyable, delicious Montgomery.  If you love the Anne books, please check this one out.

I read One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, and I kind of wish I hadn’t.  I usually enjoy the classics, if only in terms of admiration of the technical skill required, but I really can’t find anything nice to say about this book.  As a castigation of the American mental institution (which, so far as I can tell, is the main reason why this book is considered a classic), it’s only marginally effective in my opinion: the narrator is unreliable, and the reader isn’t quite sure if the abuses being described are real or not.  As a criticism of American society that sustains mental institutions, it’s a little better, but not good enough to warrant putting up with the rest of the sordid, steaming pile.

I read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut in one sitting on the flight home from Minnesota, and I don’t recommend doing that.  Still, Cuckoo’s Nest made Slaughterhouse seem cheerful by comparison, so I kind of enjoyed the break.  I was prepared to have mixed feelings about Vonnegut, and I think that turned out to be an accurate assessment.  I’ve read a lot of war novels and a lot of military history, but the firebombing of Dresden isn’t an event I know much about.  I disagree with most of Vonnegut’s philosophy of fatalism, but I was intrigued by how he portrayed it.  I was particularly interested in the idea of how the Tralfamadorians approach death and time.  They see time as a whole, so when someone dies, they acknowledge that things aren’t great in that particular moment…but there’s no point in mourning, when that person is perfectly all right in all of the past moments of his or her life.  Vonnegut’s existential, post-modernist approach makes sense with his topic: as he rightly says, there’s nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.  Overall, I was intrigued, and I’d like to explore more of Vonnegut’s works.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

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