“Bittersweet” (or douce-amère, sweetbitter in French) sums up the memories that are seeping into thought this morning. Ambivalent and a little sad, a little happy.
What triggered it was the following email: “I last wrote to you on 3/10/20, two years ago, to cancel the writing workshop, Write YOUR Story.” The rest of the letter explains hopes for recommencing the workshop but still…
Two years have disappeared, two years of isolation, anxiety, and collective worry. Two years is a lot when you are only 8 years old. It’s been two years while those kids whose story, which never even got a title and remains unfinished, have been growing up. [BTW: The spring 2020 group story was a reverse fairy tale, modeled on “Hans in Luck,” by the Brothers Grimm. Our protagonist: a 12-year-old girl who loves gardening. In keeping with the original genre, our heroine is given, and loses, money and treasures one after another. At the ending, she’d be left with nothing, or at least no material profit. I was so curious to know how they’d spin that, the nothingness.]
It is bittersweet, the memory of covid-19 and all who have died, who were sick, who remain devastated by memory or physical disability, that plague. Equally fragile are those who got better but who remain terrified by the memory of having a plague.
Yet look at the sweet hopefulness in the children’s faces seen here. If ever we needed a reason to keep going, it’s in these faces.
Look at those adorable girls who joined the class in 2015, seen above. They are teenagers now, adults. Yet I bet they’ll remember the warm feeling of fun we all shared, how fun it was to write and illustrate Nabiki and Ruby: An Outer Space Fairy Tale.
That creative energy has to be good for the planet!
May your activities this week, as we head into the notorious IDES OF MARCH, be creative and good for the planet too. Despite the horrors that have transpired on March 15 in years past, history does not need to repeat itself. We can do better. We must!
Trivia Quiz for Bleak House (part two)by Charles Dickens (1853)
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 2/20/22
A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.
1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the second half of Bleak House. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?
a. Mrs. Rouncewell is actually George’s mother.
b. Lady Dedlock is actually Esther’s mother.
c. The will found by Mr. Smallweed in Krook’s shop actually does provide a fortune for the Jarndyce wards.
d. Mrs. Jellyby’s efforts actually do help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.
2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is unresolved?
a. Why did Hortense kill the lawyer, Mr. Tulkinghorn?
b. How does Skimpole get away with sponging off of other people?
c. How did Jo get the dread virus and transmit it to Esther?
d. Whose footsteps are heard on the Ghost’s Walk at Chesney Wold?
e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another
Insider references: a clue to emotion. Several characters revert to stock phrases to express their feelings. Match the character to the phrase. The characters include: a. Mr. Bagnet; b. Mr. Jarndyce; c. Richard in the middle of the novel; d. Mr. Jellyby
3. “Never have a Mission, my dear child.”
4. “It’s rather jog-trotty and humdrum. But it’ll do as well as any thing else!”
5. “Discipline must be maintained.”
6. “An East wind is blowing.”
B. Social critique? Institutions and professions are skewered but reform is ridiculed too, and family is not necessarily a haven.
7. Which of the following social institutions is not condemned in Bleak House?
b. the law
c. charitable organizations (church, philanthropy)
d. Parliament and local governments
8. Family and broken homes. Who among the following is not an orphan, or missing one parent?
b. Allan Woodcourt
f. Caddy Jellyby
9. At the end, Mrs. Jellyby gives up her efforts in Africa to focus on an English concern that is portrayed as equally ludicrous. What is it?
a. women’s rights
b. the abolition of slavery
C. Oddities and Loose Ends
10. True or False? The heroine’s real name is not Esther Summerson, but Esther Hawdon. T / F
11. In a novel where much of the action takes place in the fog, the weirdest meteorological phenomenon actually comes from human sources. Which one of the following passages does not describe the death of Mr. Krook by spontaneous combustion?
a. “See how the soot’s falling. Confound the stuff, it won’t blow off—smears, like black fat!”
b. “Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.”
c. “’Don’t you observe,’ says Mr. Snagsby, pausing to sniff and taste the air a little, ‘don’t you observe, Mr. Weevle, that you’re—not to put too fine a point upon it—that you’re rather greasy here, sir?’”
d. “’What, in the Devil’s name is this?’ … A thick, yellow liquor defiles them, which is offensive to the touch and sight, and more offensive to the smell. A stagnant, sickening oil, with some natural repulsion in it that makes them both shudder.”
12. Why is Lady Dedlock startled to see Esther in church one day? Choose the correct reply.
a. Esther bears a striking resemblance to her, as much as a daughter might (but Lady D. thinks her own secret child died in infancy).
b. Lady D. mistakes Esther for Hortense, the French maid she has fired, and who has vowed to bring her down in revenge.
c. Lady D. is surprised because Esther, a prominent atheist, is not known to frequent places of worship.
13. True or False? At one point, Lord Leicester is described as “a magnificent freezer.” T/F
14. True or False? The last scene portrays the adult Esther on a moonlit porch with a loving husband who asks her, “Don’t you know that you are prettier than you ever were?” T/F
13. False. He is described as “a magnificent refrigerator”!
The sunny weather makes this a perfect day for a Quilt Show on my back porch! Today I’m unveiling the brand-new “Seattle Quilt” no. 4, which sports a green Seahawks T-shirt in its center, alongside “Seattle Quilt” no. 3 (with a navy blue Seahawk jersey) and “Seattle Quilt” no. 2, an homage to West Seattle. All three are available now!
*Proverb recounted in Neurodharma, by Rick Hanson.
Trivia Quiz on Bleak House (1853)by Charles Dickens
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 1/16/22
A. Bleak House Essentials I: Characters galore!
1. … and they have such funny names! Odd and humorous names abound in Dickens’s prose, and they provide a good laugh to readers. Which of the following is not a character in Bleak House?
a. An unwelcome cousin, Volumnia b. A wicked money-lender named Uriah Heep
c. Lord Boodle, the Duke of Foodle, and the Noodle, Sir Leicester
d. A nasty old man called Grandfather Smallweed e. A dirty boy named Peepy
2. … but they’re confusing. Which people are important? Bleak House is crammed with people of all sorts who bump shoulders in apparently accidental ways, on crowded city streets among other places. Yet some encounters are significant. Which one of the following encounters among characters is followed by a significant message or foreshadowing?
a. Miss Flite’s meeting with the three orphans outside Lincoln’s Inn
b. Lady Dedlock’s meeting with Lord Boodle at her home in town
c. Lady Jane’s meeting with the three orphans at Krook’s store
d. The visit to Mrs. Jellyby of some natives of Borrioboola-Gha
B. Bleak House Essentials II: The World of London
3. Compared to other London novels such as Mrs. Dalloway, there are few tourist locations named in Bleak House. Which one of the following places is named?
a. The Shard
b. The Victoria and Albert Museum
c. The Tate Modern
d. Temple Bar
e. The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
f. All of the above
C. Bleak House Essentials III: Fog
4. Many scenes take place in dark, shady neighborhoods or deep in a cold wintry fog. The fog often portends confusion, as if the characters are entering into a particularly disorganized, unruly, murky place. Which of the following places in Bleak House does not match that description?
a. The home of the Jellyby family
c. The Court of Chancery
d. Krook’s store
e. None of the above: they all match that description
5. The House Itself: Not so bleak! Which of the following does not describe Bleak House?
a. “delightfully irregular”
b. “a bountiful profusion of little halls and passages”
c. “It was the completest and most desirable bedroom ever seen—in the stern of the vessel; with a little window, and a little looking-glass, just the right height for me, framed with oyster shells.”
d. “shining out upon the star-light night; with its light, and warmth, and comfort”
6. Strange Pronouncements and Legacies. Some of the most vivid passages touch on the power of words to form a destiny or conjure up the past. Which of the following is not in the novel?
a. “It would have been far better, little Esther, that you had had no birthday; that you had never been born!”
b. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”
c. “Some melancholy influence is upon her; or why should so proud a lady close the doors, and sit alone upon the hearth so desolate?”
d. “Blest! If I can ever have seen her. Yet I know her! Has the picture been engraved, miss?”
e. “The only other lodger is a law-writer. The children in the lanes here, say he has sold himself to the devil.”
D. Style and Wisdom. Charles Dickens shows great talent for describing human frailties, yet the depth of the characters’ psychology may disappoint: people often resemble their exterior and names. Name the person associated with the following quotes, from this list: a. Mr. Snagsby; b. Esther Summerson; c. Harold Skimpole
7. “It sounds—somehow it sounds, like a small sum?”
8. “But so from rough outsides (I hope I have learnt) serene and gentle influences often proceed.”
9. “X appears: greasy, warm, herbaceous, and chewing.”
10. Maxims. Dickens famously describes Victorian attitudes in his works, and Bleak House abounds with maxims such as all of the following but one. Which one doesn’t fit?
a. “Of all the soul’s impressions, shame is the most conventional and the one most capable of being falsely applied.”
b. “Submission, self-denial, diligent work, are the preparations for a life.”
c. “There were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.”
d. “It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations.”
11. True or False? An earlier name for Mr. Jarndyce’s home is “The Peaks”. T / F
1. b. Readers of David Copperfield will find Uriah Heep there, but not in Bleak House.
5. c. This quote is also from David Copperfield.
6. b. That warning is from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
10. a. That comment is from Karolina Pavlova’s novel, A Double Life.
Respect quilt no. 14 is now done, and heading off soon to Atlanta, GA to celebrate a great American writer: Tayari Jones! In the joyful spirit of love and brotherhood, I am also offering a sale of 50% off all “Seattle” and “Respect” quilts now until Friday January 21, 2022, on etsy!
Right in time to ring out the bad old year and usher in a brighter future, is my new line of Seattle Quilts! They feature calm images–whales, sailboats, (and a sailboat gliding over a whale), seagulls, rolling waves, the cityscape at dawn– alongside bright fabrics celebrating some of Seattle’s many cultures–Mexican florals, Vietnamese tigers, African wax prints, Japanese cranes in flight–plus a UW symbol and adorable kittens–what more could you want? With vintage linens and denims, materials new, old, and hand-made, it projects an inclusive, energetic, upbeat feeling.
Add a back made of black cotton with dayglo dogs in all shades of the rainbow and you’ve got BOLD!
Boldly we go, into the new… let’s hope an early spring will push through the snow!
Couldn’t help adding a few of my favorite things–Honey Girl’s footsteps in the snow, a laptop with stickers from the best radio station in Seattle (or the world, maybe), and other stickers from beloved local shops run by real people (a family in one case) and a feminist art studio in Spain; Salty Dog : a children’s book given to us by my dad the sailor. The Salty Dog books are by Gloria and Ted Rand: a Seattle author/illustrator pair whose work is charming and never fails to grab kiddos. P.S. See the hilarious laughing crows on our shed, by Stroble Art of Puyallup, WA. Then there’s Hello Kitty, just because.
Nikolai Gogol, The Night Before Christmas (Russian, 1832)
Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory (American, 1956)
Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales (Welsh, 1950)
For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 12/19/21
Timelessness. Each story suggests the eternal essence of holiday magic, yet their styles capture that feeling in different ways. Match quote to author: a. Nikolai Gogol; b. Truman Capote; or c. Dylan Thomas
1. “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years…”
2. “It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year … announces: ‘It’s fruitcake weather!’”
3. “A clear winter night had come; the stars peeped out; the moon rose majestically in the sky to light good people and all the world so that all might enjoy singing.”
Delicious food! Each story details the treats that accompany the holidays. Match the special food to the author: a. Nikolai Gogol; b. Truman Capote; or c. Dylan Thomas
6. a beef bone, some Satsuma oranges, flapjacks, fried squirrel, and honey-in-the-comb
Seasonal sounds. Each story evokes sounds that signify winter and holidays. Match the special sound to the author: a. Nikolai Gogol; b. Truman Capote; or c. Dylan Thomas
7. “A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth…. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, an ecstasy of shrillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south.”
8. “The snow sparkled… Groups of lads and girls appeared with sacks. Songs rang out, and under almost every cottage window were crowds of carol-singers.”
9. “It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence.”
Maxims about life. Each story contains some lesson to be learned. Match the teaching to the author who mentions it: a. Nikolai Gogol; b. Truman Capote; or c. Dylan Thomas
10. “And when we stopped running … everything was good again and shone over the town.”
11. “Home is where my friend is.”
12. “Things are queerly arranged in our world! All who live in it are always trying to outdo and imitate one another.”
Hints of melancholy. Each story alludes to some mystery or sadness as well. Match the quote to the author: a. Nikolai Gogol; b. Truman Capote; or c. Dylan Thomas
13. “One, two, three, and we began to sing … round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. … And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice”
14. “Is it because my friend is shy with everyone except strangers that these strangers, and merest acquaintances, seem to us our truest friends? I think yes.”
15. “She is jeering at me. I am no more to her than an old rusty horseshoe.”
16. Snow! Circle the story which does not mention a snowy Christmas.
a. The Night Before Christmas b. A Christmas Memory c. A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Women’s work. Women are a force to be reckoned with in these stories, in vastly different ways.
17. Nikolai Gogol’s story pivots around the actions of certain women. Which is not in the story?
a. One woman beats her husband, then “sighing and groaning, waddled off to tell her old friends of her husband’s unmannerliness and the blows she had to put up with from him.”
b. A witch steals the stars out of the sky.
c. Oksana, the village beauty, is so full of caprices that most of her would-be suitors give up on her.
d. A poor woman receives a white wool shawl knitted by her sister one year.
18. Dylan Thomas describes all but one of the following women in his story. Which does not belong?
a. “Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens.”
b. One neighbor is condemned by his auntie because: “For all the husband’s faults, the wife is guilty.”
c. “Some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edges of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and saucers.”
d. After a few drinks of port, one aunt stands “in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush.”
19. Truman Capote’s tale is dominated by a female friend who is described as all but one of the following. Which attribute does not belong to her?
a. Superstitious, she spends the thirteenth of each month in bed.
b. She was not known to go to movies, eat in restaurants, wish anyone harm, or let a hungry dog go hungry.
c. She takes a long time getting dressed, and loves to preen before a looking-glass in admiration.
d. She was known to kill rattlesnakes, tame hummingbirds, tell ghost stories, and walk in the rain.
20. Beautiful styles! Which is not by Dylan Thomas? [hint: there are two correct answers.]
a. “Snow grew overnight on the roofs of houses like a pure and grandfather moss.”
b. “It seemed to him as though all the houses had fixed their innumerable fiery eyes upon him, watching.”
c. “The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves.”
d. “A message saying so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep searching the sky.”
17. d (That describes Capote’s friend)
18. b (That quote is from Pavlova, A Double Life)
19. c (That description applies to a character in Gogol’s story)
In “Self Reliance,” Emerson warns against trusting in false allies and those of weak will, saying, “Your goodness must have some edge to it–else it is none.”
I translate this into a motto for my business, Honey Girl Books and Gifts LLC: We specialize in cozy, with an edge... Each of my quilts and books celebrates a work of literature or a group of people to be honored. They are canonical and non-mainstream, funny and scary and pretty, sometimes angry and always alive with feeling. Some are linked to fund-raisers for good causes; all use recycled materials from Goodwill and other thrift shops. All of them are different and they are not for everyone.
But when my people find them, how happy they will be!
(Above see Seattle Quilt no. 1, inspired by Sabrina B., winner of the Win YOUR Quilt drawing of December 4, 2021 at West Seattle Grounds coffee shop.)
How lovely to see a new design come to life. Coming in spring 2022: The Seattle Quilt with rainbow back!
As dawn rises over this new day, I am filled with wonder and love for the bedrock of books. Books wise and curious, which draw me in every morning and sometimes allow for a marvelous coincidence to take place, a flame to flicker, as if the authors were hovering nearby, with smiles growing wide, because someone finally got it! This morning, the light of wisdom was sparked by an accidental discovery in Alan Watts (The Way of Zen) that led me back to a book I just finished rereading yesterday: the obscure, frightening, and yet comforting story called The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. (Hmmm. I suspect Gaiman’s story contains more wisdom than appears at first glance. To do: read it again some day!)
The passage from Alan Watts comes from his explanation of the intermediate stage in a student’s life as he (or she) pursues Zen Buddhist training: “The continued practice of za-zen now provides the student with a clear, unobstructed mind into which he can toss the koan like a pebble into a pool and simply watch to see what his mind does with it. As he concludes each koan, the roshi [master / teacher] usually requires that he present a verse from the Zenrin Kushu which expresses the point of the koan just solved. Other books are also used, and the late Sokei-an Sasaki, working in the United States, found that an admirable manual for this purpose was Alice in Wonderland.” (The Way of Zen, p. 167).
The passage from Neil Gaiman comes from the climactic scene where the seven-year-old hero is standing in a field as night falls, careful to remain inside a circle in the grass, as voices and shadowy figures taunt him. His friend, Lettie Hempstock, led him into that circle and instructed him to remain there no matter what happens. So he does. But it is so hard. Here are some key moments from the passage, and the coincidences I heard along the way. Do you hear them too?
I sat down with my back to the dead tree in the center of the fairy ring, and I closed my eyes, and I did not move. I remembered poems to distract myself, recited them silently under my breath, mouthing the words but making no sound. Fury said to a mouse that he met in the house let us both go to law I will prosecute you… I could say all the poem in one long breath, and I did, all the way to the inevitable end. I’ll be the judge I’ll be the jury said cunning old Fury I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death.* […] “You are hungry,” said the voice in the night, and it was no longer Lettie’s voice, not any longer. It might have been the voice inside my own head, but it was speaking aloud. “You are tired. Your family hates you. You have no friends. And Lettie Hempstock, I regret to tell you, is never coming back.” I wished I could have seen who was talking. If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier. “Nobody cares,” said the voice, so resigned, so practical. “Now, step out of the circle and come to us. One step is all it will take. Just put one foot across the threshold and we will make all the pain go away forever: the pain you feel now and the pain that is still to come. It will never happen.” It was not one voice, not any longer. It was two people talking in unison Or a hundred people. I could not tell. So many voices. “How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. … You can come out, and we will end it, cleanly, or you can die in there, of hunger and fear. And when you are dead your circle will mean nothing, and we will tear out your heart and take your soul for a keepsake.” “P’raps it will be like that,” I said, to the darkness and the shadows, “and p’raps it won’t. And p’raps if it is, it would have been like that anyway. I don’t care. I’m still going to wait here for Lettie Hempstock, and she’s going to come back to me.” There was silence. … I thought over what I’d said, and I knew that it was true. At that moment, for once in my childhood, I was not scared of the dark, and I was perfectly willing to die (as willing as any seven-year-old, certain of his immortality, can be) if I died waiting for Lettie. Because she was my friend. Time passed. … The moon rose higher. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness. I sang, under my breath, mouthing the words over and over. [“The Mouse’s Tale” from Alice in Wonderland morphs into a snippet of a song by Gilbert and Sullivan, from Iolanthe]:
You’re a regular wreck with a crick in your neck And no wonder you snore for your head’s on the floor And you’ve needles and pins from your sole to your shins And your flesh is a-creep for your left leg’s asleep And you’ve cramp in your toes and a fly on your nose You’ve got fluff in your lung and a feverish tongue And a thirst that’s intense and a general sense that you haven’t been sleeping in clover…
I sang it to myself, the whole song, all the way through, two or three times, and I was relieved that I remembered the words, even if I did not always understand them.
*** (from Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane [New York: HarperCollins, 2013], pp. 132-133, 138-140.
* “The Mouse’s Tale” in Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—chapter 3, “A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale”.
The lesson: “I was relieved that I remembered the words, even if I did not always understand them.”