Now For One of Self’s: “The Lost Language”

This was published many years ago, in a magazine called Isotope.

Published in Utah and edited by a poet, Chris Cokinos.

It joined together two things: science writing and creative writing.

You would find, in the same issue, a play by a physicist, a nature essay, a poem by a mathematician. That sort of thing.

Self loved it.

Chris Cokinos, what are you doing now? Know that self considered Isotope a very noble experiment.

Here’s an excerpt from the story they published, which became the title of her third collection. It’s one of those hybrid things: part essay, part memoir, part myth, part short story.

The Lost Language

Filipinos once had an ancient written language. If I were to show you what the marks look like on a piece of paper, they would look like a series of waves. Or like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Like the eye of the Pharaoh I saw in my old high school history books.

The language was written on tree bark. Epics were probably written in this language, but I don’t know what they are. My ancestors are shadowy people. Shadows.

When I was a little girl, perhaps eight years old or so, my mother gave me a book of Philippine legends. The legends were mostly about beautiful maidens and enchanted animals. But the story I liked best was about Hari sa Bukid, which means King of the Mountain.

Hari is not a particularly kingly word to me. It begins with an explosion of breath, almost an exclamation. And the “ri” is soft, almost negligible. So that if you were to say this word out loud and quickly, it would sound like a Ha (pause)/ Ha(pause).

The legend, as far as I remember, went like this:

One day Hari called all his men together and said that he was going to a far-away land to visit friends. He commanded his people to be industrious and to plant the slopes of the mountain with tobacco, in case he was delayed on his return journey.

For years, the people faithfully fulfilled their vow to Hari and the slopes of the mountain were virtually flower gardens, full of beautifully cultivated tobacco plants. The tribe of Hari sa Bukid was happy and prosperous. Everyone tended his share of the land carefully. As more and more tobacco was produced, the fame of Hari sa Bukid’s tribe spread far and wide.

Eventually, however, the people grew lazy. They abandoned the care and cultivation of the fields. Their harvests diminished greatly and their business with other people was discredited because of the small quantity which they raised. Almost all the tobacco fields were abandoned.

With no tobacco providing them with income, the people were in dire need of the most basic goods and other necessities for the sustenance of their daily lives. One day, a strong earthquake shook the foundation of the earth. A volcano started spewing out fire and smoke.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Mary Beard on Edward Gibbon

Beginning a new book today: SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard

Beard begins by saying, in her Prologue:

  • “. . .  over the almost 250 years since Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his idiosyncratic historical experiment that began the modern study of Roman history in the English-speaking world . . . “

Self is quite tickled by the description of Gibbon as “idiosyncratic.” She just read Gibbon for the first time, here at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her biggest quibble with him was that he spent an inordinate amount of time on the spread of Christianity and while some of that history was good — especially the parts about monastic life —  most of it was really broad survey. And surveys are dull.

In contrast, another history she just finished reading, Francis Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe, was amazing. Amazing in every sense: as history, and as narrative.

The Guardian calls SPQR “vastly engaging.” We shall see if it manages to unseat Francis Parkman’s as self’s favorite history book in years.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Far Be It For Self To Say: #amstillreading REDEPLOYMENT

It is a beautiful, beautiful day in Annaghmakerrig.

Still reading Redeployment. Pretty good collection. Skip the following and you won’t miss much:

  • In Vietnam They Had Whores
  • Psychological Operations
  • War Stories

She knows Klay’s strength is in his utter brazen fearlessness. Showing how death really is. Let’s get real, this is death! This is what it’s like!

He even throws in some good, honest, American male fantasies (For another example of how sex/war/male fantasy go together, read Sebastian Barry’s shattering World War I novel A Long, Long Way) in the midst of the BOOM BOOM BOOM of warfare. Nightmarish, right? I’m dying; give me a woman!

Do not read In Vietnam They Had Whores because there is one pretty bad incident. If you persist in reading that story, you will know at once which incident self is referring to: the thing that happened in Vietnam.

You know, it’s a good thing Iraq had no whores for the Americans. Truly. Self is not kidding.

Self knows In Vietnam They Had Whores because they had whores in the Philippines, too. Which is the reason Clark and Olongapo becamse synonymous with, not just American bases, but honky-tonk: in other words, whorehouses.

In Thailand they also had/have whores. Self has walked around Patpong at night. She knows of what she speaks.

The second story self thinks worth skipping, Psychological Operations, has a female character, Zara, but she is a type. First of all, she’s a minority. In Amherst. (This is supposed to mean something? Yeah, the minority who is actually privileged! What a rare sighting!) Zara turns (strict) Muslim, changes her way of dress, accepts the narrator’s invitation to smoke a hookah, whatever! He does all the talking during the hookah scene — BORING! Of course, he just has to tell her a war story.

In War Stories there is mention of how easy it is for men telling war stories to get laid.

A character says: “I’m just fucking tired of chicks getting off on it.” (“It” being of course war stories.) You know, there is a simple solution to this problem: STOP TELLING WAR STORIES TO CHICKS. Just swap war stories with other men.

But swapping war stories with other men will not get you laid, which is a problem if you’re young, hetero, and lonely. Ergo, you will have to go back to telling war stories to chicks. Just sayin’. And pretty soon, you will find yourself stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

But there are worse things in life. Such as having to read some ex-Marine whining about how easy it is to get laid by telling war stories. Could you just. Get. Over. Yourself.

Next!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

p. 244, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

Self will admit she has an enduring fascination with ancient Rome (She’s just imparting that to dear blog readers because aside from the story collection Redeployment, by Phil Klay, the rest of her reading list is ALL ROME, ALL THE TIME: Rubicon, by Tom Holland; SPQR, by Mary Beard; Conspirata, by Robert Harris. And she has a long, long way yet to go in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

She read a biography of Cicero years and years ago (which was called, self thinks, Cicero) and she remembers in particular a section describing how triumphant Roman generals led post-victory processions throughout the capital. Standing just behind the general, in the same chariot, was a slave whose sole responsibility was to whisper into the general’s ear, over and over: Remember, thou art dust.

The minute self read that, her mouth dropped open. She was so in awe.

So far, the most interesting chapter in TDAFOTRE has been the chapter on the rise of monasticism. You would not believe what those monks would get up to! Especially when they were determined to abnegate themselves!

Now she’s into a chapter about Constantine building Constantinople. Very interesting descriptions of the Hellespont and the Bosporus. And then (Italics are mine):

  • As Constantine urged the progress of the work with the impatience of a lover, the walls, the porticoes, and the principal edifices were completed in a few years . . .

Oooh! Emperor Constantine had the impatience of a lover!

#Justimagine

Gibbon does not enter into any detail about Constantine as an actual lover, however, which in self’s mind is a serious omission. Unless the Emperor had no lovers, and dedicated himself exclusively to the cause of being a great Emperor. Which would be pretty sad, actually. For him personally. Not for posterity. Posterity is happy. Only eccentrics like self would bother themselves with wondering about the personal happiness of emperors.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

What the Writing Desk Looks Like Today, 20 March 2017

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Niall Leavy Brochure from a 2009 Exhibit Called “Inner Light”; copy of self’s book Mayor of the Roses: Stories, Miami University Press

Niall was here last year. Saw his work at Open Studio at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.

At the opposite end of the table, self’s book from Miami University Press (There’s another story collection that came after this one: The Lost Language. Self’s Dearest Mum gave copies to all her friends as a Christmas present, but painstakingly tore out all the stories she didn’t like, lol)

You will notice that today the writing table is square. That’s because there are two of them in her unit, and she switches back and forth between them, depending on her need for the scissors, lol

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide”: Sentence of the Day in THE DECLINE AND FALL

Self is still on Chapter VII (The Rise of Monasticism) of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There are some fantastic stories in this chapter. Alas, self has not the time to share them. Suffice it to say, Gibbon gives short shrift to monastic life in Gaul, Italy, Britain, Syria, etc and focuses almost exclusively on Egyptian monasteries (which makes self want to go to Egypt; but she wonders, anyway, if any of those ancient monasteries still exists)

Gibbon seems to feel great affinity for the Egyptian monk’s life of simple arduousness. Perhaps it reminded him of his own scholar’s life?

But, Gibbon being Gibbon, he cannot escape a chance to probe their state of mind. And this is how he describes it:

The repose which they had sought in the cloister was disturbed by tardy repentance, profane doubts, and guilty desires; and while they considered each natural impulse as an unpardonable sin, they perpetually trembled on the age of a flaming and bottomless abyss.

In the “sixth century, a hospital was founded at Jerusalem for a small portion of the austere penitents who were deprived of their senses.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

8 February 2017: Self Read at Sixth Engine, Washington DC

Self’s dystopian “First Causes” appears in the latest issue of Quarterly West.

Self very much enjoyed the reading for the launch of the issue because: 1) it was in Washington DC, and she got to see some old friends again; 2) she re-connected with a few people she hasn’t seen in years. Such as Letitia. Who was a student at Old Dominion University in Virginia when self read there for a literary festival (2007?) Now, Letitia is an Editor/Linguist/Poet (see business card below).

Self is tempted to ask Letitia if she’d like to help edit a collection of her speculative fiction she is getting ready to send out:

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The reading was co-hosted by two other literary magazines: 32 Poems and Smartish Pace.

And oh boy it was packed. To the point where the audience was all standing like a can of sardines.

A man threw copies of his poetry collection at the audience. “That is so cool!” a young man remarked. Since self was reading next, she was hard-pressed to think of something attention-getting.

She moved front, started babbling about how fan fiction got her there. And — received enthusiastic applause from somewhere on the right!

Forever grateful to the listeners, and of course to Quarterly West. Here’s a shot she took that night of the (very crowded) venue:

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The bar-restaurant Sixth Engine, downtown Washington DC, night of 8 February 2017

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Lake George, March 1757

The British and the French, who have been playing cat and mouse all winter, finally encounter each other in March, a few days after St. Patrick’s Day, on the shores of Lake George.

Captured spies put both forces on high alert.

. . .  during the night between the eighteenth and the nineteenth . . .  towards one in the morning, the British heard a sound of axes far down the lake, followed by the faint glow of a distant fire. The inference was plain, that an enemy was there, and that the necessity of warming himself had overcome his caution. Then all was still for some two hours, when, listening in the pitchy darkness, the watchers heard the footsteps of a great body of men approaching on the ice, which at the time was bare of snow. The garrison were at their posts, and all the cannon on the side towards the lake vomited grape and round-shot in the direction of the sound, which thereafter was heard no more.

Montcalm and Wolfe, by Francis Parkman, pp. 310 – 311

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

More of the Road Taken: London, March 2017

Today’s edition of The Road Taken is London.

Oh what a glorious morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping. Self enjoys looking out at the garden:

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Bedford Place, London

Last night, self attended Evensong at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The celebrant asked the congregation to pray for the United States, so that its leaders may have “consideration.” Afterwards, self headed toward Trafalgar Square:

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Sunday Evening, Trafalgar Square

A few days ago, self met up with old friends Dodo and Helene (who grew up in the Philippines with her). They took her to see the minster at Beverley. We got to the town just before twilight, and the old stone of Beverley Minster seemed to glow:

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Beverley Minster at Twilight

Travel lately has become extremely arduous, but it still gives self the purest joy.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Good Match 2: Vibrant Orange, 2 Philippine Seascapes

This week share a photo of a satisfying pairing from your own life.
— Ben Huberman, The Daily Post

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Orange Lydia Davis book cover + woven portfolio from the Philippines + crinkle potato chips = A Good Match (One copy is self’s; the other is her niece’s)

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Sea + Sky = Philippine Seascape, An Excellent Match

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Sea + Sky: Dumaguete, Island of Negros in the Central Philippines, a Breathtakingly Good Match

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