Showing posts with label autumn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label autumn. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Real Ghost Stories

This summer I was told a ghoulish story after dark in an old Civil War-era cemetery.  

A group of friends and I had spent the afternoon out in the country in our friend Neal's uncle's pasture in south central Nebraska shooting pistols, shot guns and scope-rifles.  This was a new experience for many of us city folks.  We'd climbed into the back of Neal's pick-up - some of us hanging on in the back - and he took us over hills and ruts and around grazing, jaded cows to the place where he'd set up targets.  We plugged our ears, shot at Diet Coke cans with a scope-rifle, hit clay pigeons with a shot gun and generally had a good time as the sun went down and the full moon showed its face.

Neal told us the pasture we were shooting in was not far from the site of an Indian battlefield.  It turned out to be the prelude to the night's next activity.  He took us over dirt roads and onto a path that meandered down through and behind a corn field.  At the end of this road was the Farmers' Valley Cemetery - complete with the Nebraska marker - tucked away out of sight. 

I took this photo as we left.  It was about 11 or midnight. 

Among the graves were Civil War veterans and their families, some of the first settlers of in that area, children who had died young in skirmishes with the Sioux.  It was the quintessential prairie graveyard, small and understated, rich in history.  We walked around with flashlights, looking for names of the veterans, amazed that the stones were still legible even after 150 years.  Then, as the night breeze picked up and got chilly, Neal told us a chilling tale.

He and his brothers had been staying in a cabin not far from where we were standing one night several years ago when they heard the sound of hammering and incantations. Needless to say, they lay in terror that night.  The next morning, one of the flat stone-slab graves had been broken into and the body removed.  Later on, a group of satanists were arrested in connection to the theft.  Neal told us with a deadly-serious expression that these satanists had planned to smoke the bones.  When we saw the grave, the stone shards were patched, but the evidence of their task remained.  A chill traveled down my spine.  Something rustled far off in the trees,  or perhaps in the corn field.  My spine tingled.  We all shivered. 

It was hard to tell with Neal's expression if he was kidding us, or if he'd invited friends along to scare the living daylights out of us.  We saw no ghouls, living or otherwise, but I know I felt something... some awareness of the past that hadn't been there before.  The dark deeds of others can mark a place in ineffable ways.

I kept thinking about the story of the theft of bones and how the real mysteries of this world are the living ones. 

In August, just weeks after the group of us had been there, an eighteen year old was arrested for vandalizing over 50 tombstones in Farmers' Valley.  He was charged with criminal mischief, and the local community rallied together in September to begin repairing the damage.  A Journal Star article conveys the sense of loss this act created; the cemetery is history, personal history, and it must be guarded and cared for and visited.  I am so glad I saw it when I did.

I've found the Farmers' Valley Cemetery on Rootsweb, which tells the story of Marion Littlefield's death in battle with the Sioux, the arrival of Scottish settlers to the area, and the hard lives that were lived out here.  This little slice of history is just south west of Henderson, Nebraska in Hamilton Co.  Oh, the stories this ground can tell.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 55: Guy Fawkes Day (j)

Today's phrase is...

Guy Fawkes Day
... or Bonfire Night

Yes, another Britishism.  If you've seen V for Vendetta, you'll have heard "remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder treason and plot..."  In 1605, Guy Fawkes was one of a group of anarchists arrested for a plot to assassinate James I of England for not promoting greater tolerance for Catholic practices in England.  He was caught guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder under the House of Lords.  James I had only been king of England for less than two years.  The plotters were arrested and later executed (hanged, drawn and quartered) for treason.  Effigies of Fawkes were burnt around this time, remembering the event-that-wasn't - a chilling anti-Catholic practice.  These days, effigies of celebrities and detested politicos are burnt instead. 

This is a very elementary explanation of the Gunpowder Plot.  (I've had a lot of interruptions this morning.) When I went to England and learned about the bonfires, I thought it was a fun post-Halloween autumn celebration.  Then, I learned about its cruel history in post-Reformation England and changed my mind. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 36: St. Luke's Summer (Jillian)

Today's word/phrase is...

Saint Luke's summer

According to Oxford Dictionaries, Saint Luke's summer (a British term) is a period of fine weather around the 18th of October, which is Saint Luke's feast day.  I honestly don't remember how I came across this phrase, but it fascinates me... an older version of what we'd call "Indian summer."  Especially in England and Europe where the days of the year were marked by saints' days and sundry feasts, this makes particular sense.  It puts a new spin on the word lukewarm, as well. 

It makes for an interesting metaphor - a little pocket of summer come to rest inside another season.  For the last several days we've had a glorious St. Luke's summer: the leaves are golden, red, orange and purple, beautiful autumn, and yet temperatures climbed into the 80s.  It was summer.  I tend to enjoy these bizarre weather-fronts: the odd January days that reach the 60s or 70s and melt a month's worth of snow; the chilly, blustery fronts in July when we suddenly wonder where the oven of summer has gone.  They're rogue summers and winters - visiting out of season but welcome guests nonetheless.  I don't think it's as significant as climate change, but weather-change and weather-mood. 

There is another version of Saint Luke's summer which is Saint Martin's summer, basically nice, warm weather around the 11th of November, the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 32: pomaceous (Jillian)

The word for Day 32 on our logophiliac journey is...

Something pomaceous (adjective) is of or relates to apples... or resembling a pome (an apple).   We've entered into a time of apples, all right.  The only apple I can really stand these days is a Jonathan, perhaps because they are sweet in a way I don't find disgusting like a Gala or a Braeburn.  Unfortunately, I've noticed, the worms like Jonathans, too.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 19: Michaelmas

Today's word is Michaelmas (noun, of course), the feast day of St. Michael, otherwise known as the Archangel Michael. 

I chose Michaelmas because I'd meant to write about it on September 29th and subsequently forgot.  Michaelmas is a milestone date in the medieval calendar: harvest-time, formerly a holy day of obligation, and recognized as the fall quarterly when accounts were settled between peasants and their overlords.  One of my favorite, oft-read books as a child was Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, depicting life from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl in England in1290 .  It's brilliant.  I still read it to this day actually, because it paints a vivid picture of the feast days, the uncertainty of life and the wonder that inhabited the world in those days.  Michaelmas was one such feature and showed the peasants "settling accounts" with (and trying to cheat) Catherine's father, and the entire community feasting and carousing.  Lammas (first of August, marking harvest) and Michaelmas marked the passing of time, the days before All Hallows and the coming on of winter, like our own Labor Day or even this rash of football Saturdays that spread across town.  (Even more appropriate as this football team's color is an unmistakable shade of red.)  I remember being absolutely fascinated with celebrations long-gone that sounded like Christmas.  That was before I understand what the "mass" implied and some of the mystery went out of it, but still... curiosity is and always has been fuel for me.

Michaelmas, I came to learn some years ago, is how Oxford and other British universities mark the beginning of the autumn term, called Michaelmas Term.  The first week of classes (called North Week) begins the first week of October.  The spring term is Hilary, the summer term is Trinity. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 16: Stymie

Today's word is:

Stymie is a verb of unknown origins which means to present an obstacle to or stand in the way of a goal.  According to Oxford Dictionaries, it was used in golf in the 19th century to describe a scenario on the turf where a ball obstructs the shot of another player.

I'm taking a break from calligraphy today.  My heart is not into dribbling ink haphazardly on parchment and pretending it looks pretty.  I'm thinking more about the word itself today rather than how it looks.  Just now I thought of a possible explanation for its origins.  Someone was playing golf, a ball went astray and the golfer whose brilliant shot was ruined shouted, "Sty me!" in lieu of stronger language.  Plausible?  Maybe just a little?

It's simple logistics.  A tree falls across the road, and there is no choice but to throw the car into reverse and go back, try for a different route.  The angles no longer line up the way they should.  There is an obstruction.  The path that we would have ordinarily taken is now inaccessible, even though by all means it was the right path, the main path, the one everybody else seems to be on.

My own obstacle isn't one tree branch in the road or a stray golf ball in my shot.  It's an amalgam of things that basically comes down to a truth that I've been trying to ignore for the last several years.  You may recall that I applied to MFA programs some years ago with no success.  A winter of rejections from eight schools plunged me into a non-creative funk - not quite a depression but unproductive nonetheless.  A few months later I somehow gathered myself and embarked on a novel, determined that this Thing was not going to stop me from writing, that I'd apply to a graduate program when I had the strength to do so. 

There is a cold fact about graduate programs these days.  Particularly humanities graduate programs.  I was told by a former professor and friend who did a little research and discovered (to paraphrase) that it is easier to get into the medical school at Johns Hopkins than it is to get into an MFA program.  If you look at university websites, most of them will be honest: they'd only accept 6-8 students per year, sometimes a few more depending on the program and how much money is available.  And in this economy, humanities and liberal arts programs have tight and tightening budgets.  So that's it.  Six students means three poets and three fiction writers.  Period.  Out of thousands of applicants.  Naturally, they choose the ones that stand out, who've shown ambition by getting stories published, who work in a field that uses their writing skills.  I am, decidedly, not a person who stands out, and being introverted and socially anxious, my only great ambition was/is to get my novel done.  Really, it was no wonder that I got eight of those "sorry but no" letters.  It's no one's fault.  Not even mine.  Definitely not their's.

The new plan was to apply this fall to an MA program at my alma mater.  Just the one program because I figured my status as an alum might improve my chances for admission.  I wanted an MFA, but an MA (Master of Arts as opposed to a more intense, more concentrated Master of Fine Arts) would at get me into fresh contact with instructors and other writers and open doors to teaching creative writing elsewhere.  I liked the idea of one day being able to help other writers develop and embrace their burgeoning skills.

But... I'm stymied.  I was told by an advisor this week that getting into this particular program is extremely difficult, perhaps more so than an MFA, and that the number of graduates accepted is very, very small.  In other words, he was warning me what I'd be getting into.  I am, basically, facing the same obstacle: my smallness, my place in life.  If I go ahead and apply, it would be the same story and the same gloomy winter all over again.

But... you say.  It could happen!  I'd like to believe that, friend.  But these things are standing in my way.  I can see them quite clearly.  Believe me, I'd love to get accepted into an MFA program. I'd love to meet new people and work feverishly on my writing in a collegiate setting.  And, of course, the idea of having a second degree to my name "Jillian, Bachelor and Master of Arts".  Who wouldn't?  Masters degrees catch people's attention, and somehow seem to imply that you take yourself serious.  But I am starting to see that I might have to be one of those writers who doesn't/can't teach or interact with writers in what I've percieved to be the "normal" way.  J.K. Rowling doesn't have an MFA.  (Does she?)  Stephen King might not either.  But look at their success.  Both of them write stories from their souls.  Mr. King could have "retired" decades ago, but he writes because he loves to, because it's a part of him.  One simply does not need an MFA or an MA to be successful.  An MFA helps, I've read.  Believe me I know it helps.  Unfortunately, the MFA store is closed to me, and I must make do with what I have.  So, then... am I a failure?  Or is taking the alternative (though by no means easier) route actually a way of letting go and moving on? 

What is clearer to me, as I turn away and look at my options, the alternate forks in the road, is that I am still writing.  I began and finished a novel since that devestating winter - in a period of fifteen months while working full time.  I am closer to getting it published than I ever would be to an MFA program... even though publishing in itself isn't very close.  If it doesn't get published, it prepares me nonetheless for the next time - to improve my writing, to learn to navigate a competitive market, to find a niche and start little projects that could lead to free-lance writing (scary and nebulous a prospect as it is), and publications in lit magazines.  Yes, I'd still have to be a receptionist by day earning less than I care to say, but at least I'd have a little money and health insurance. 

So will be a "master" on my own time, self-taught.  I am following Mr. King's advice - read a lot, write a lot.  In his book On Writing, he said something along the lines of learning how to write by marianting in language.  Since the summer began I've been devouring books right and left.  I am also doing what I would have thought impossible several years ago: dabbling in social media.  By this I don't just mean posting notifications about the blog on Facebook or pinning pretty pictures on Pinterest.  I'm perusing other blogs, reading articles, commenting on them, and trying to join conversations.  That's what I hope to do eventually with Twitter, although right now I feel like a very small person shouting things in a room full of very loud, very talkative people.  The more I delve into the online world, the more I learn about the industry and the trends and other people's struggles.  That is learning to me.  

Again, I'd love to have the privilege of sitting in a classroom and getting my work critiqued and shaped by more experienced writers, but that luxury is only open to a few, and I am, apparently, not one of them.  Instead of standing outside in the cold whimpering because I'm not with the other kids, I'm going to stay where I am and go back to what has been most healthy, joyful, educational and life-changing for me: writing and learning as I go.  That, my friends, is not failure.  It is not a surrender to lazy impulses or stubborn quirks. It's not the most obvious path.  It's not the prettiest or the easiest.  But I am calm, and ready, and more at peace about it than I have been in a long time.

By chance I was thinking about the theme song to Firefly.  I'll be a nerd and put a bit of it here:

Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free,
You can't take the sky from me

Take me out to the black,
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the seed,
You can't take the sky from me...

So there it is.  The perfect plan is gone (for now), or at least out of reach, but there is still writing.  I won't have a snazzy degree any time soon to put on resumes and query letters.  But I have what I need.  I am blessed with advisors and friends and a love of language.  Not all is lost.  So much has been found.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 10: Huggermugger

Today's word is...

Huggermugger is an adjective meaning: confused, disorderly, or secret and cladestine.  It is a word that came about in late Middle English, the 16th century.

I always thought this word was a funny one in the same baffling vein as harum-scarum (meaning chaos) or helter-skelter.  A kinder word for chaos or for mischief.  Or, in other words, what the cat is up to when we're away from home, and one comes back to find abandoned water glassed tipped over, newspapers askew and sweaters napped on.  Yes, dear kitty is the queen of all things huggermugger.


One of these days, I promise, my calligraphy will look nice.  *Sigh*

Today is the first day of Autumn.  Yes, the equinox is here, and I always get the uncanny feeling at these times of year that we are standing on the edge of a threshold, about to walk through into another reality.  Goodbye, Summer!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories That Still Haunt Me (Jillian)

Walking by my favorite local used-and-rare-books shop this week, I noticed a chillingly familiar title on display in the window. Timely, as All Hallows fast approacheth, the book is Scary Stories To Read In The Dark, one of three in a series by Alvin Schwartz, that I devoured as a fourth grader. These stories were read aloud in class around Halloween , and then my curiosity lead me to read them all. Though why, I can't hardly tell you... except that mine was the generation of Bonechillers (also gave me nightmares), Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. Scary Stories was by far the most frightening. And yet I did read them. And remember them. And can't forget them. Yes, I am haunted.

Among my chilling recollections of these stories are a creeping thing that rises out of the local graveyard (visible only by its glowing green eyes) to devour other bodies and attack a girl in the town, a man who eats his neighbor's liver, a ghost family, baby spiders emerging en masse from a girl's face, dead people in a church...

I'm pretty sure I had nightmares about these stories, especially the thing-with-the-green-eyes story because I lived two blocks away from a cemetery, and could see it from my bedroom window. What amazes me, especially looking on the particularly grotesque artwork (see above... althought believe me, the original image I included here was worse), is that I kept reading them. And that years later, I would get a chill down my spine when I catch a glimpse of those books in a shop window.

The power of scary words is long-lasting - it lies dormant until something awakens it, that fear of the unknown, or what should never be... or a current obsession with the X-Files. Whatever it is, I am easily ensnared by the power of words. I am the cat Curiosity didn't kill but definitely did tease.

I won't be reliving the horror of the Scary Stories, anytime soon, mind - though I wonder if they are actually as malign as I remember. I'm not willing to resurrect the bad dreams of yesteryear. Instead, I will listen to my Autumn Playlist, write about an English autumn, and become Dana Scully for one night of mayhem.


I heard JS Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D Minor this afternoon (the Stokowski arrangement for full orchestra), and had chills. It is such a masterpiece. It is odd how it's opening notes, duh-uh-uh-DUH-uh-nuh-nuh-uhhh, have become synonymous with Halloween, haunted houses, and a vampire playing an organ. The entirety of the piece is so transcendent and hardly sepulchral.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Autumn Playlist (Jillian)

In tempus autumnum venimus. Translation: we have come into the time of autumn.

With every season comes a sound. I cannot explain it, but there are certain songs and voices that I associate with the seasons - for no particular reason other than an ineffable resonance between my creative self and the world outside.

A few examples: I associate Strict Joy (of the Swell Season) with early December, as it was a comfort to me after a grueling season of preparing for the GRE exam; then there is Imogen Heap's Speak for Yourself, which I listened to frequently (and while on the internet) in the Winter of 2007-2008; there is also Capercaillie's Beautiful Wasteland, currently in residence in the CD player in my car, which is glorious Autumn to me; Spring knows no particular artist but a playlist Michelle made for me this last year entitled "A Year in Song" which brought me out of a winter state. Most recently, the Beatles has defined my summer, as well as Sia's We Are Born.

Autumn is gathering a longer playlist for me, as well, this year - oddly enough a melange of sounds from many seasons of listening:

* M'ionam - Capercaillie, Beautiful Wasteland
* The Blue Rampart - Capercaillie, Beautiful Wasteland
* Beautiful Wasteland - you get the idea
* Evangeline - Karen Matheson, The Dreaming Sea
* Dear Prudence - The Beatles, the White Album
* Across the Universe - The Beatles, Let it Be
* The Moon - The Swell Season
* Upward Over the Mountain - Iron & Wine
* Live and Let Die - Wings
* Life on Mars - David Bowie
* Levater - Yael Naim
* Go to the River - Yael Naim, She Was a Boy
* I Try Hard - Yael Naim, She Was a Boy
* A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
* The Scarlet Tide - Alison Krauss

The music helps - whether it be circulating images in my over-active imagination or getting through the day. Do you have a seasonal playlist? If not, I'd recommend it. It's probably already chosen itself for you.

Evangeline, Evangeline... angel of the morning is here...
and though the summer is over
and we're all a little colder
we'll get by...


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