A Pilgrimage to take when things are Open again

I’ve been somehwat obsessed with this little Minster town of Southwell for some time now. My introduction to it was via Alison Milbank, canon theologian at the Minster and professor of religion in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Nottingham (which is my university, too).

Anyway, this pilgrimage is one I’ve wanted to undertake for a while now, not simply because it is to Southwell, but also because its starting point is the Thurgarton Priory, a monastic house whose records I’ve been using in my research.

A Post from a January Journal

4 January 2019, Friday

Began by reading in Lewis the chapter on Friendship in The Four Loves.  Here are some reflections and excerpted passages:

‘Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves.  Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend.  They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, “Here comes the one who will augment our loves.”  For in this love “to divide is not to take away.”’ p. 92

‘In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no one can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah VI, 3).  The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.’ p. 92-3

‘The sensible women who, if they wanted, would certainly be able to qualify themselves for the world of discussion and ideas, are precisely those who, if they are not qualified, never try to enter it or destroy it.  They have other fish to fry.  At a mixed party they gravitate to one end of the room and talk women’s talk to one another.  They don’t want us, for this sort of purpose, any more than we want them.  It is only the riff-raff of each sex that wants to be incessantly hanging on the other.’ p. 110

“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” and “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” 

This is really just a tasting of this chapter, and this book.  If I were to summarise this chapter it would have to include a sentence or two, a thought at the very least, on what Lewis says about the dangers of Friendship as well as its shining attributes.  For what we are seeing in the vitriol, anger, and division of our country, the United States of America, is in a sense this friendship gone entirely wrong.  Lewis has written about the ‘Inner Ring’ in a separate essay or lecture, but he does not hold back from including much of that sentiment and warning here.  The need for approval, accpetance and coterie are, as we know, incredibly strong, and the vehicle of friendship—perhaps less friendship than loyalty, agreements—serves to move this vice forward.  A quote on the matter, worth including, is this one: ‘But the dangers are perfectly real.  Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice.  It is ambivalent.  It makes good men better and bad men worse.  It would be a waste of time to elaborate the point.’ p. 115.

Monday into Iceland

We are moving at a speed unknown to ancient man.  Our medieval ancestors did not even know about the nine planets, only seven, and two of them were moon and sun.  I like this world, the one in which man does not move from continent to continent within a span of evenings but from a web of lifetimes, coming bold into a new country with the knowledge that his feet have touched the ground by way of effort and of worthwhile travel and not merely because of an amazing flying machine.  

Reminders of a less aerodynamic world.

Screens that bind

Orwell knew: we willingly buy the screens that are used against us

I won’t say much about this article because it speaks for itself (especially if you access the curio.io audio feature).  The irony behind this is everywhere, not least in the fact I am staring at a screen to type and share this, but the article is still pertinent, perhaps made more so by the irony.

Again, from aeon.

Ninnoc and the chip in the windshield


This film, linked above, is visually beautiful if the only things you look at are the images.  But if, like many of us, you look with your ears and your mind as well as with your eyes, you will see the beauty has two edges, maybe more, and the film is not beautiful in the way you might have thought it was.

This film is called Ninnoc and it was made by Dutch director/filmmaker Niki Padidar. 

In this film it is clear that Ninnoc, who is quite attractive, lovely, clever and creative, was bullied for being different.  She likens the effects of bullying to a chip in a windshield: it weakens the windshield and makes it easier for the glass, eventually, to break apart.

Why is she bullied?  Why is she unhappy?  I was completely struck by this film’s honesty and was quite torn between wanting to dismiss it as indulgent and embrace it as revealing of the human condition.  In the end, the human condition is in need of some indulgence, though I would call it not indulgence but attention or concern.  I was also struck by the idea that, if a person as smart, sensitive, creative and beautiful as Ninnoc is, can feel the way she does, and express such hard emotions, then there is no safety in physical beauty, intelligence, creativity or reflection alone. These traits must not be held up as safeguards against anxiety or vulnerability because they are in no way capable of fending off the relentless attacks mounted by jealousy and insecurity–so common among school-children but not at all limited to them or their age-range.

Ninnoc does reveal her delicacy and some of her less ‘appealing’ sides simply by allowing herself to be the subject of this film, but I would argue that unless we see Ninnoc as our friend, sister, daughter or neighbor, and therefore human and relatable, we only see the side she chooses to show us.

Caveat: I came across this film via aeon, and want to give them their due.  So, check out their site, donate if you feel so inclined, and don’t be afraid to explore the ‘other’, the ‘different’ and to stand up for it, too.

Adventure, Obscura-style

Screenshot-2018-3-20 interior cafe open windows - Google Search.png

Atlas Obscura.  What a great invention.  Whoever invented this concept website was seriously on the right track.  I’m an email subscriber to their daily newsletters and, while I don’t read EVERY article (or every newsletter), I skim and I find some pretty cool stuff.  I’ve found that, in reading these blog-articles once every few days I am less tempted to get into it on social media or throw myself down the dark pit of despiar dug by the nation’s leaders’ political antics.  So, hurrah for the Internet helping to save us from human stupidity!  It really does come down to a healthy dose of discernment and the ability to think critically about what one allows into one’s life.

And so when this Atlas Obscura exercise (article linked above) asked readers what tools, bits, bobs, mainstays and necessities accompany us on our daily adventures, it occurred to me that discernment in items is not all that different from discernment in websites and media posts: we have to choose, and whether we want to face that reality or not, the choice not to choose is, actually, a choice.  By scrolling-scrolling-scrolling we tend to dis-engage, mindlessly, numbly, half-heartedly hoping there will be something at the–bottom? end?–to save us from our boredom and inertia.  But, of course, there is no end to media scrolls, and there’s no  bottom to the mediocrity and apathy: it just keeps churning and regurgitating and we feel sicker and sicker as we go along, complicit.

But to choose!  What items would you throw into your rucksack?  And why a rucksack?  Maybe it’s a vintage Gucci or a kitschy beach bag from the LA airport.  Whatever, it’s yours and you ought to own it.  Own that choice!  What’s in that bag and why is it there?  What are your essentials?  What would you NOT bring?  What items just don’t make the cut?  Because, you know as well as I do that some just won’t. You gotta choose, and even if you think you made a bad choice, it’s better than endlessly scrolling, isn’t it?  Because, really, now you’re ready for an adventure.  Bag’s packed, let’s get going!

The article is linked to the photo above, and is also here. 🙂

Let there be lit

I read.  I collect books and I read.  I don’t read as often as I should nor as ravenously as I did when I was 11 but I can do, when I want to and when I tell the outside world to carry on without me.

I am an email subscriber to LitHub, the online literary magazine that promotes reading, thought, ideas, literature, all the good stuff.  I read it, if not daily, then sub-daily, weekly, and in great chunks.  I wish I read it regularly, in the mornings over coffee.  Do people do that?  Or is it a situation of my imagination?   I hope they do.  I hope that there is in the world someone wo reads LitHub over coffee every morning; to know that there is in this slightly-off-kilter world a place, even if it is just one desk in one home, where someone opens the laptop lid, takes the coffee cup in hand, and enjoys both, simultaneously, enriching soul and caffiene habit.

But today this article, entitled ‘The Truth of Ray Bradbury’s Prophetic Vision’ appeared in my FB LitHub news feed and struck me as something I ought to have read and ought to have known before now.  And so it is with so much: I feel I ought to have known it and then the shame of not knowing it and then ensues the not-very-subtle argument with myself about becoming a better person.  But what a hubristic approach to literature and learning.

This article intrigued me not because of its Science Fictional leanings (I confess I have never given William S. Burroughs his fair due) but because of what it says about reading.  As a teacher I promoted reading in every way I could, including the subversive ways, which included condoning Harry Potter at the Evangelical School and turning a blind eye when students underlined passages in school copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby.

I miss the classroom and what I miss most is the discussion and the critical learning brought on by critical mass: that series of moments in which no one knows what we’re talking about and then, suddenly, we all do.  It’s a wonderful thing and while it cannot be entirely planned, it can be sculpted, it can be drawn out when conditions are right.  It is akin to using one’s sail: it is impossible if there is no wind, but when a wind arises, do not expect the sail to do any of the work: it is the sailor’s job.  So the teacher’s when the students are alive (to the wind in their cognitive sails).

The line in the article of most rich significance, in my view, is this, the last one:

Why bother to ban books when people voluntarily ignore them? Books don’t have to be hunted to extinction. Books die as a result of our taking them for granted. As the world of books steadily shrinks publisher by publisher, shop by shop, library by library and reader by reader, the result is the same. Only here and there, powerless to resist the general momentum of society, do a few people remain who love literature enough to try somehow to preserve it. So perhaps Bradbury suggests, at the end of this dark fable, all is not lost. Not quite.

I want to believe that there are more than a few of us left, but I know enough about humanity and the difficulties of literature to believe there is a great readership out there–especially in America at this moment.

The article is pinned below, and I encourage you to peruse it, if only to buck the trends that say our reading habits are confied to social platforms and easy news.  And if you want to grab a cup of coffee, you just go right ahead.  LitHub away.



Sweetie Darling/Cheers, thanks a lot (part 1 (probably))


I don’t know, somewhere, in this blog is a post about how we discovered an Abbey called Downton.  It was about 6 1/2 or 7 years ago when the blog was new and I had nothing else to write about or put in it and also, we were living in remote Alaska where things like Internet and shops were unknown.  At that time I believe Internet was in existence in the village, actually, and we were pirating it from across the marshland or bay, probably, and pre-loading Netflix episodes of Lady Mary Crawley while we made dinner and looked at our fabulous view of Lake Iliamna.

But those days are past and we can neither recover nor fully remember them, and so we move on to greener or at least funnier (sic) pastures called Absolutely Fabulous and Gilmore girls (no ‘The’ and lower-case ‘g’ as per A Year in the Life–look it up).  This video, below, correctly expresses all the funny I have hoped to convey over the course of my life but, not being a comedienne, was unable to.  So I leave it to the professionals, like Jennifer Saunders and, in part 2 of this blog entry, Lauren Graham/Lorelai Gilmore.  I think Jennifer Saunders is simply hilarious and she is simply hilarious because she is all (or at least many) of the things I love in a person: humble, intelligent, kind-hearted, supportive of friends and realistic about family, interested in learning and interested in other people and not afraid to take what she’s been given (by God, from birth, etc.) and make what she can of it. She is also articulate and generous when it comes to compliments.

In this interview–all of which is worth stopping whatever you are supposed to be doing and watching–at around minute-marker 34, she gives an account of the time she (almost) misplaced their baby, going so far as to quetsion whether or not said baby had actually been born.  I am, as many of you know, no prude when it comes to parenting because I have never been an official parent (no matter what you say, step-parenting, albeit complex and rewarding, does not involve the same collection of sacrificial emotions as the other kind of parenting, and that is just the way it is).  So to laugh at what can only be a sleep-deprived moment in this woman’s life is to show solidarity as a human being, not a form of mockery of mothers.  But even so, Saunders doesn’t seem to leave any room for that sort of uppityness.

But if you’ve already begun watching this slightly saucy, very endorphin-inducing (through hearty side-splitting laughter) video, you may as well either just keep watching or, if you’re pressed for time, kick over to minute 40 and watch to the end.  Because unless you’re interested in all the French and Saunders skits, the Absolutely Fabulous stories and the Interesting Youth (not a comedy sketch title, just a period in the comedienne’s life), there’s really nothing here that can’t be summed in the last 6 minutes.  But who am I kidding?   Nobody needs to be reminded that life is tough, fashion prevails and we all need each other as much as each other needs us.

So, cheers, (and) thanks a lot.