—– My Life

Some friends have commented, in other forums, of the inanity and downright narcissism of the status update “FML.” (For those of you who don’t speak internet acronym, F— My Life. I had to look up the definition myself the first time I encountered it.)

Generally these posts remark upon trivial annoyances, as in “The internet is down, FML” or “Stopped for every red light on the way to work, FML.”

Rarely is true human pathos addressed: Third miscarriage, FML. Cancer metastasized, FML.

Temperamentally, I’m not prone to gaudy emotionalism or crass expressions, so I was—not opposed—but generally disinterested in the phrase, although I do my own share of complaining. (I favor oblique references to Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.)

For the first time, today qualified as an FML morning:

A friend’s mother’s funeral on Saturday, which I attended, in the ice storm, with my low-grade fever; a visit with same friend on Sunday; and a phone call from another friend Sunday night informing us of the passing of this second friend’s cousin.

Death never comes at a convenient time.

I was drained. I was exhausted. A probably still a little bit sick.

Tonight, the first class of the Spring semester starts. I haven’t purchased my textbooks. I had anxiety dream about the class, Confessional Poetry: instead of a one-night-a-week 3-hour graduate class (reality), I dreamed I had an undergraduate-style Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule where Friday was an all day (10 hour!) Poetry Lab, akin to a Science Lab or Language Lab. (In dream logic, the fact that I work full-time was not a concern; the overwhelming incomprehension of an all-day Poetry Lab was stupefying.)

I had a 12 noon meeting with my boss. We have staffing problems, budget challenges. I hit ‘snooze’ twice, went back to bed, was late for work.

For the first time, I considered my own FML status update. I would comment, ironically, about my own whining.

When I came up with a better alternative:

Bless My Life.

Think about it. Deadline tomorrow: bless my life. Income Tax payment owed, bless my life.

All together, say it with me: “bless my life.”

 

 

(Trademark on this phrase will be forthcoming so I may profit on all sorts of lurid bracelets, trinkets, and bumper stickers. BML!)

 

 

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Let Freedom Ring from the Heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania

When I am Queen of the World and Chief Calendar-Maker, I will designate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Saint— for his commitment to, and promotion of, nonviolence. (In the Protestant tradition, all faithful believers are lowercase-s saints.)

In re-reading King’s “I have a Dream” speech recently, I was struck by how he draws upon Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to revision the words of our favored president. His speech was given at the Lincoln Memorial upon the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  In patterning his words upon Lincoln’s, King claims legitimacy with the author of the Emancipation Proclamation and positions himself as “heir” to Lincoln. By echoing the words of Lincoln, he subtly appeals to Lincoln’s authority. Lincoln challenged his audience to dedicate themselves to the “unfinished work” for which the soldiers fought and commit to “a new birth of freedom.” King challenges us to act now: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” King’s words remain equally true today.

Lincoln-Gettysburg Address

four score and seven years ago

now we are engaged in a great civil war

we have come to dedicate a portion of that field

but in a larger sense we cannot dedicate. . .

this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom

 

King-“I have a Dream”

five score years ago

one hundred years later the Negro still is not free

we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital

if America is to be a great nation, this [justice] must become true.

 

Shakespeare, the Declaration of Independence, the Holy Bible: echoes of all our revered texts are revealed throughout King’s speech.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  was like the prophet Isaiah, a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling for racial equality and justice. In the truest traditional of the saint, his is the exemplary life which inspires each of us to do better.

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Resources— Links

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change: http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/mlk-i-have-dream#

The Gettysburg Address: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=36&page=transcript

 

Thank you, Marion Oliver, for making us memorize The Gettysburg Address in eighth grade.

Folklore of Plants

I’m constantly on the lookout for a definitive guide to the folklore of plants, especially Celtic or fairy plants. Mostly I’ve found bits and pieces here and there: Lady Wilde, or some in Katharine Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies. Celtic Folklore Cooking, by Joanna Asala, features folklore interspersed with her recipes compatible with a modern kitchen (and American measurements). As an added feature, her recipes are indexed according to the corresponding Christian and Traditional holidays.

 But I’ve yet to a find an encompassing all-in-one sourcebook.

 In the meantime, my latest find is Trees for Life, a charity devoted to restoring the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands.   Check out their Mythology and Folklore of the Caledonian Forest webpage at www.treesforlife.org.uk/forest/mythfolk/index.html  Not just trees—other plants and animals of Caledonia are also featured.

 

Drop me a line if you have a resource to recommend.

 

Books mentioned:

Asala, Joanna. Celtic Folklore Cooking. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 2001.

Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies : Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. NY: Pantheon, 1976.

 Lady Wilde. Irish Cures, Mystic Charms, & Superstitions. (The version I have is selections reprinted in Irish Inspirations: Toasts, Wit & Blessings. Sterling Publications, 2009).

Twelfth Night: Celebrating Magicians

Starting with commercials after Labor Day and candy canes following Halloween, the build up to Christmas is so big, bigger, biggest, and then WHOOSH in one day it’s over.  Radio stations stop playing carols by midnight into December 26 (if not earlier), and by January 6, most of the neighbors have already put their trees out for recycle. I prefer the Twelve Days of Christmas: twelve days of feasting, culminating in Twelfth Night, Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day.

Who were the wise men?

Although tradition numbers them as three, and names them as Melchior, Caspar (Kaspar or Gaspar) and Balthazar, they aren’t actually named, or enumerated, in the Gospel of Matthew.

Strict literalist Protestants, among whom I was raised, discount anything which doesn’t appear in the Bible.

We know, at the very least, that they were “wise men” and they observed, and followed, a star to find the baby Jesus (Matthew 2: 2).  Astronomers, then, nearly everyone agrees.

(If you read my January 1 post, you know I love astronomers.)https://cynthiajunelong.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/happy-new-year/

The New Revised Standard Version translation has a footnote wherever the text lists ‘wise men’: or astrologers; Greek Magi.

                Why do Christians recklessly avoid the etymological meaning of “Magi”?

                Magi = magic = magician. You know: sorcerer, mage, witch.

 From the Oxford English Dictionary;  Wise Man:  “A man versed or skilled in hidden arts, as magic, witchcraft, and the like; a magician, wizard; specifically applied in Biblical versions and allusions to the three Oriental astrologers or Magi who came to worship the infant Jesus.”  The entry on Magus (singular of Magi):  “a member of the Persian priestly class. . . regarded  from Patristic times as a type of the anti-Christian exponent of magic arts.”

At the bare minimum, the word is associated with divination, and even Matthew tells us they were “warned in a dream” to go home another way (v. 12). Astronomy, astrology, alchemy:  the pseudo-sciences blended into one another carelessly.  We can’t know exactly what the gospel-writer meant, opponents may argue. It’s true that astronomy was not always a well-defined science.

                Throughout the rest of the chapter, Matthew tells us that “an angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to escape to Egypt (v. 13). Later on, the angel calls the all-clear, and reappears by dream to tell Joseph it’s okay to return (v. 19). Well-meaning Christians, nervous about spiritualism, have advised against dream divination. It’s a good thing Joseph and the Magi didn’t listen to them.

                Was it the angel of the Lord who appeared to the wise men in their dreams as well?

I have heard sermons expounding the Epiphany visitors, apparently kings in their own right (a detail also not mentioned by Matthew), who humbled themselves and knelt to the infant King of the Universe.

Consider:  apart from the shepherds (which Luke mentions, not Matthew)—and Mary, if you count the Magnificat— the first worshippers of Jesus were diviners, soothsayers, dream-interpreters. Magicians. Today we celebrate the sorcerer worshippers of Jesus.

Call them astrologers or astronomers if it makes you feel better.

 

“He was, in a quiet way, an observant Christian. They were rare among magicians.”

—Lev Grosman, The Magicians

(reviewed on January 2).

https://cynthiajunelong.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/book-review-the-magicians-by-lev-grossman/

 

Sources

Magus, noun. Oxford English Dictionary. Third edition March 2000. Online edition December 2011. Retreived fromhttp:// www.oed.com/view/Entry/112378  Accessed January 4, 2012.

 Wise man, noun. Oxford English Dictionary. Second edition 1989. Online edition December 2011. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/229506  Accessed January 4, 2012.

Cold till Doom!

With the first cold snap in the Northeast, many of us are whimpering like babies. The Midwest has seen a sizable snowstorm, and there has been record-breaking weather, including ferocious winds, throughout England and Northern Ireland. I offer, in honor of the weather, a traditional Irish poem:

 A Cold Night

–attributed to MacLesc of Finn’s household

Translated by Kuno Meyer

Cold till Doom!

The storm is greater than ever;

Each shining furrow is a river,

And a full lake each ford.

 

Big as a great sea is each angry lake,

Each keen thin company a host,

When big as the face of a shield each drop of rain,

Big as a white wether’s* skin each flake.

 

Big as a pit each puddle,

A standing-stone each level, a wood each moor;

No shelter finds the flocks of birds,

White snow reaches right up to the breech.

 

Swift frost has bound the roads

After a sharp struggle round Colt’s standing stone;

The storm has spread on all sides,

So that none say aught but “Cold!”

 *wether = a castrated male sheep

 Collected in:

O’Faolain, Sean. The Silver Branch: A Collection of the Best Old Irish Lyrics, Variously Translated. Freeport, NY: Books For Libraries/Viking Press (Granger Index Reprint Series), 1938, 1968.

 This work was originally published in Kuno Meyer’s 1903 Four Old-Irish Songs of Summer and Winter. Works published prior to 1923 are in the Public Domain. If you are the copyright holder and believe that I am in error, please contact me.

Contest Announcements!

Interested in Writing for Children?

 We have two Contests for you this month:

National Association of Elementary School Principals

National Children’s Book of the Year Award Contest

Sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals

Category: Picture Book or Chapter book

Deadline: January 16, 2012

More info and Application: http://www.naesp.org/second-annual-national-childrens-book-year-award-contest

 

 Highlights magazine is offering a contest for $1000 or tuition to their Conference.

Topic: “A funny story inspired by an unusual newspaper headline.”

Deadline: Must be postmarked by January 31, 2012.

More info: http://www.highlights.com/highlights-fiction-contest

Good luck!

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Grossman, Lev.  The Magicians. NY: Viking: 2009. (Reading Level: Adult)

Narnia meets Hogwarts slams head-on into hell.

Take some treasured childhood memories, a sincere and earnest belief in magic, and add more than a dollop of gritty realism. What Alan Moore’s The Watchmen did for superheroes, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians does for alternate-world juvenile fantasy.

Quentin Coldwater has all the self-conscious, oblivious nerdliness of Oscar Wao, with an obsession with the childhood books about the fictional Fillory, a Narnia-like series he never quite got over.  In a series of hair-whitening adventures he learns that even with magic, even in paradise, you can’t escape from yourself.

Witty, fun, and heart-wrenching. A book you can’t put down, and never want to end.

 A sequel, The Magician King, was published in 2011.