Valley Summers And Chicago Autumns

MURPHYOnce upon a time, there was a girl named Lizzy, who loved two baseball teams very much. The first team was in her own humble home town, bringing joy to all who lived there year after year (especially to Lizzy). One summer, a young ballplayer named Daniel Murphy traveled far from his native land to play on the other-side-of-the-mountain for Lizzy’s teams fiercest rival. All season long, Daniel Murphy punished his opponents with bat and glove. Under the sinister charge of Coach Cabbage-Head, the rivals finished their regular season at the top of the standings, and Daniel Murphy was crowned king among all the league’s players.

Even though Lizzy’s team suffered at the hands of the rivals (and especially Daniel Murphy), they were not afraid when it became clear who they would face in the postseason’s second round. Thus followed a battle most bitterly fought. And lo! On the bats of Frederick-The-Avenger and he-whose-name-was-Sweet,on the arms of a Bulldog and a little-engine-who-did, Lizzy’s team emerged victorious. In the decisive game, the player known as Daniel Murphy came near an achievement known as a “cycle”, falling short only by a home run. He accounted for one offensive out, that being recorded by the lowly (but not so lowly!) pitcher Rollins… David to Daniel’s Goliath. And Lizzy knew great gladness.

Many years later, in the golden height of autumn, Lizzy’s attention was fixed on the other team she loved. They played in a city to the far north, but they were none the less close to Lizzy’s heart. This year, they were fighting for an honor that had long (long, long, long) eluded them. Those whose undying devotion bound them to the team felt the feathers of hope brushing them, and there was much joy. And, though no force of heaven or earth has yet succeeded in destroying the devotion or the hope, soon the joy would disappear. And Lizzy’s heart grew sad with all the rest. But she saw the demise of the team-she-loved with different eyes than many of her fellows. For Lizzy recognized one of the foes who was responsible for the taking-of-the-joy.

The player called Daniel Murphy had long since flown from the rivals on the-other-side-of-the-mountain, aligning himself with the team-who-bows-to-the-apple, in the city that is famed for its sleeplessness. And Lizzy had reason to wish that the played called Daniel Murphy played for any other team in the world, and so did all who followed the team that she loved.

Few can know the sting that Lizzy felt as she watched the player called Daniel Murphy mortify her beloved. But out of the destruction, one memory shone pearl-like in Lizzy’s memories. She wondered whether the boys who played for the other-team-she-loved that summer long ago remembered. She wondered whether the lowly (but not so lowly!) pitcher Rollins cherished the recollection like she did. By the strength of his arm, the player called Daniel Murphy was once forced to take a seat. Such are the treasures that can never be taken from us.

The team Lizzy loved in that city to the north was destined to wait… again. But it was better this time. Lizzy was proud of the team. She had sweet memories that would warm her throughout the oncoming winter. And most important of all, the hope was stronger than ever.

Truth, Tear Jerkers, And Clyde Kilby

Many years ago, there was this phase in my life where it seemed like everyone I knew was reading Nicholas Sparks’ “A Walk To Remember”. And, oh! how they all adored it. And, oh! how they all cried. I remember the dramatic sighing and hands clasped together over hearts that were employed to emphasize these points.* I wasn’t all that interested in reading tear jerker romances at that point in time, but eventually I decided to pick the book up and read it anyway. When it was over, I sort of scratched my head, and turned it over in my hands, and flipped through the pages, wondering which part was supposed to have made me reach for the Kleenex.

Fast forward to the present. The same motivations that led me to “A Walk To Remember” inspired me to look into John Green’s mega-bestseller “The Fault In Our Stars”. Will this genuinely move me, I wondered, or is it just another sub-par bestseller that will make me question the literary tastes of the masses? I finished the book this week, and I can’t say that it was either one. There are things to be said for “The Fault In Our Stars”. I did not dislike it. It was earnest and thought provoking. It was well-written, and yeah… some bits are pretty brutal. There are a lot of worse things people could be reading. That said, I didn’t come much closer to tears than I did with “A Walk To Remember” (some things get me, and some don’t. I guess that terminal illnesses in combination with ill-fated romance falls into the latter category).

Finishing “The Fault In Our Stars”, I felt sad and ponderous. In a different way, I think, than most of the people who laud it probably did. It wasn’t exactly depressing. But it didn’t seem vaguely hopeful to me, either. I felt like these characters spend the entirety of the book (and their lives) grasping for truth, and in the end, come up empty.**

There was this guy names Clyde Kilby, a writer and professor, and he compiled this list of resolutions. It didn’t take me five seconds to read the last words of “The Fault In Our Stars” before thinking of it. I don’t intend to demean the many, many people who love John Green’s book (or even Mr. Green himself). But I like these ideas a lot better. They are truth to me, and they are beauty. I post them here, for my readers to consider and (hopefully) to embrace.

10 Resolutions For Mental Health

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

 

Simplicity, wonder, faith. This is how life should be, regardless of our circumstances. A lot of people will disagree. But that is why #10 above is my favorite. I feel just as Puddleglum does, in C.S. Lewis’s “The Silver Chair”:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.

 

Footnotes:

*If it sounds like I’m making fun here, I’m not. Or, if I am, I at least include myself with the rest. Get me going on certain George MacDonald novels, or Anne Of Green Gables and the like, and I’ll sigh with the best of them.
**I was continually reminded of this movie called “Third Star”. It made me sad and ponderous in the same way. But it is poignant, and features a top-notch Benedict Cumberbatch performance, and a hysterical appearance by Hugh Bonneville, so it’s not unworth watching.

Old Testament Prophets And “The Giving Tree”

GTI didn’t used to like reading the books of the prophets in the Old Testament. I still don’t, sometimes. But I have come to learn that they’re worth reading.

I didn’t used to like Shel Silverstein’s classic tale, “The Giving Tree”, either. As a kid, I never understood it. Then, not so very long ago, I happened to read the following anecdote on the blog of Donald Miller:

“What many people don’t know about that story [of The Giving Tree] is that Brennan Manning, who passed away on Friday of last week, and Shel Silverstein met when they were young and according to Manning, stayed in touch. Later, after Shel began to write and Manning became a priest, they had a conversation about God and God’s love. Manning asked Silverstein what he thought God’s love felt like. Silverstein thought about it for a while but had no answer. Much later, Silverstein got in touch with Manning and gave him a copy of The Giving Tree saying the book was his answer to Manning’s question.”

Needless to say, “The Giving Tree” makes a lot more sense to me, now. And thought of in this light, I can’t help thinking it has a lot in common with the book of Hosea. (Hosea is the book that changed my mind about OT prophets… it’s powerful good stuff.)

I’m hardly a scholar, so maybe this parallel is just the product my silly little mind losing another spring. But if you want to read Hosea 11, and imagine all the I’s were “the tree”, and all the you’s/Israels/etc., were “the boy”, it’s a very similar story. If you don’t want to do that, it’s worth reading anyway.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to him,
the farther he moved from me,
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
and burning incense to idols.
I myself taught Israel how to walk,
leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
that it was I who took care of him.
I led Israel along
with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
and I myself stooped to feed him.
“But since my people refuse to return to me,
they will return to Egypt
and will be forced to serve Assyria.
War will swirl through their cities;
their enemies will crash through their gates.
They will destroy them,
trapping them in their own evil plans.
For my people are determined to desert me.
They call me the Most High,
but they don’t truly honor me.
“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?
How can I let you go?
How can I destroy you like Admah
or demolish you like Zeboiim?
My heart is torn within me,
and my compassion overflows.
No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
I am the Holy One living among you,
and I will not come to destroy.
For someday the people will follow me.
I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
says the Lord.

God loves us like crazy. Perhaps we love Him, too. But our love is a pitiful thing in comparison. We take His for granted. We take his blessings and we squander them. We wander away from His loving care, as if there might be something better for us to discover in the world. He calls to us to come back. We stick our fingers in our ears. He calls louder. We act like we hear Him, nodding and smiling, but then we run off. He doesn’t forget about us. Meanwhile, we get lost, and confused, and grow stupid. He chases after us. We panic, and fall into a pit. He gets down on his hands and knees and helps us out.

… I could go on. But Hosea and Shel Silverstein made the point a lot better than I can do. Also, both writing and posting serious contemplations in the middle of the week after a long workday might be a decision I regret later. Forgive any gross errors of form or thought that might be owing to this, kind reader. I’m going to go do some more pondering now, and perhaps hug a tree. A lovely evening to you all.

 

 

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation (By Lizzy Kipps)

It was more of a stay-cation sort of thing, actually. And I didn’t do a whole heck of a lot.

This about sums it up:

-Got my eyes checked out and ordered new spectacles. With luck, I will be looking like a 1940’s-era librarian very soon.

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-Story revisions. And more story revisions. And yet more story revisions… This is what occupied about 75% of my time. Is it any wonder I’ve had no appetite for blogging?

-Tried to learn to pick on the ukelele. Made a video of it, to prove to the world (and possibly myself) that I’m OK with looking silly in front of people.

-Rediscovered an opera (?) called The Dark Forest. (It might not be an opera. I don’t know music anything, as the above video clearly illustrates). Spent rest of week singing, “Caaaaan you hear myyy heeeaaaart, caaaaan you feel myyy loooove / Iiii will beee with you, eeeven if I am goooone”.

-Gave the cat a bath. Fortunately, Zilla is a very good cat, who forgives and forgets quickly.

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-Read a wonderful collection of short stories, Tales From The Palace Of The Fairy King, by Daniel Z. Lieberman. Anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale (especially those in the style of George MacDonald) should definitely check this one out.

-Met a toad. At the ballpark, no less. We watched him eat his weight in junebugs.

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Just stay off the roads, Toady.

-Made a fool of myself with a baseball bat. Had fun doing it. No, there aren’t any pictures. I know I said I’m trying to be cool with looking silly in front of people, but a woman has her limits.

Words And More Words

I haven’t been able to get a post together to save my life these past few weeks. Half a dozen fragments of ’em are littering my hard drive, but (for whatever reason) it’s been a struggle to put anything together in a whole and cohesive manner. The content that follows isn’t much better, but it’s something. There are times when something just has to be enough, and I guess this is one of them.

I like words a lot. Curious, unusual, pretty words. They have soothing powers, like chamomile tea on a winter’s evening, or popping bubble wrap, or a good hug.  It’s not much of a wonder that I should turn to another list of words in this, my time of blogging discontent.  I did it once already, with The Fabulous Vocabulary Of Les Miserables.

This list is a lot shorter and less fantastic. Mostly because they were not taken from a work of fiction by Victor Hugo, but by a work of fiction by me. The work in its entirety is just over 70,000 words long at present, and these are my favorite individual selections from among them all. In short, they are my favorite words that I myself have been at leisure to use.

This feels like a really conceited sort of thing to share with the public, but I’m going to go ahead and try to ignore that. Y’all are welcome to ignore it, too. It’ll be better if we all just sit back and enjoy some nice, relaxing vocabulary.

 

1. Labyrinthine

adjectiveof, pertaining to, or resembling a labyrinth.

2. Pribbling

adjective- trivial and quarrelsome, as in, “Thou pribbling ill-breeding pigeon”. Modern dictionaries do not recognize this word, but if it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me.

3. Coppice

noun- a thicket or dense growth of small trees or bushes, esp one regularly trimmed back to stumps so that a continual supply of small poles and firewood is obtained

4. Ingenue

noun- the part of an artless, innocent, unworldly girl or young woman, especially as represented on the stage.

5. Tatterdemalion

adjective- ragged; unkempt or dilapidated.

6. Squishy

adjective- soft and yielding to the touch.

7. Fetching

adjective- attractively befitting.

8. Cadaverous

adjective- of or like a corpse, esp in being deathly pale; ghastly

9. Opalescent

adjective- having or emitting an iridescence like that of an opal

10. Gibberish

noun- rapid chatter like that of monkeys; incomprehensible talk; nonsense

11. Gawky

adjective- awkward; ungainly; clumsy.

12. Inscrutable

adjective- incapable of being seen through physically

13. Rumpus

noun- a noisy, confused, or disruptive commotion

14. Chuffy

adjective- churlish, surly

15. Impervious

adjective- not permitting penetration or passage; impenetrable: The coat is impervious to rain.

16. Perspicuous

adjective- clearly expressed or presented; lucid.

17. Countervail

verb- to act or avail against with equal power, force, or effect; counteract.

18. Serpentine

adjective- of, characteristic of, or resembling a serpent, as in form or movement.

19. Enclave

noun- any small, distinct area or group enclosed or isolated within a larger one

20. Fortnight

noun- the space of fourteen nights and days; two weeks.

If anyone can come up with a plot based on this list, please share it in the comments section. There is a 99.9% chance it will be better than the one I used, and a just-slightly-lower chance that I will steal it from you.

 

Easter Eggs

I do love a good Easter egg.

Not the plastic doo-dads you hide in the yard.

Not the hard boiled versions you steep in Paas.

The sort of Easter egg I am referring to is defined by the Urban Dictionary as  “A hidden item placed in a movie, television show, or otherwise visual media for close watchers.”
An Easter egg is, in short, a little goodie tucked in to something awesome to make it awesomer. It’s like biting into a delicious chocolate cookie and discovering that there’s peanut butter inside.

I was first introduced to the delights of Easter egging by the PC game Zoo Tycoon. Thinking back, the eggs and cheats in this game were probably the best part of it. For instance, if you looked for it when the date was December 25th, you could spot Santa and his reindeer flying over your zoo. Or, if you selected a zoo guest and renamed him/her “Alfred H”, suddenly swarms of birds would appear. All the guests would start screaming and flee the park. That was always my favorite.

EE zoo

Imagine my delight when I discovered that such goodies existed outside the world of virtual zoos. They were all over the place. I mean, images of Mario characters appear in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time!*

These days, you can find Easter eggs just about anywhere. Lets take the many films of Pixar as an example. Why? Because the movies tend to be fantastic, and the eggs (as far as I can tell) are endless. I mean, you can Google “Pixar Easter Eggs” and find dozens and dozens of unique results. Most of Pixar’s references are to other Pixar movies. Like the Pizza Planet delivery truck, which debuted in Toy Story in 1995 (Pixar’s premier effort) and appears in almost every subsequent movie they’ve put out. This is amusing, as are the myriad of other such winks and nods (the original Toy Story’s child-villain Sid making a cameo as a garbage-collector in Toy Story 3? Voiced by the same actor? Pure gold.) My absolute favorite Pixar egg, though, does not involve Pixar referencing Pixar. It’s Pixar referencing Studio Ghibli.

Studio Ghibli (for the uninformed) is the only film company that makes animated features to rival Pixar’s. From a serious, film-conoisseur-y stand point, Ghibli is the superior of the two, but I enjoy both. Anyway, one of Ghibli’s landmark films is “My Neighbor Totoro”. It is a charming picture, released circa 1988, that features a rather large, lovable, and fluffy creature called Totoro. Here he is in one of the movie’s iconic scenes:

EE totoro

You really just want to hug him, right? I know I do. And guess who else does?

why pixar is awesome

Yeah. Look familiar? Totoro makes more than one cameo appearance in Toy Story 3.
why pixar is awesome 3It just makes me happy.

Are you guys starting to see the delightfulness of Easter eggs yet? I hope I’m making my point. But I’m not finished yet. Because the thing that started me thinking about blogging my thoughts on these cryptic obscurities and all their glory was not a game, nor a film, nor a series. It was a novel.

SAM_9206I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, only yesterday and began going through withdrawal the instant the back cover closed with its sorrowful thump. At nearly 800 pages, it is a pretty sizable work. My copy is comparable in size to a dictionary, and I’ve been lugging it all around for a few weeks. It has been subject to many rave reviews, and I am bound to tell you that none of them are exaggerated. I didn’t think anything that was billed as an amalgamation of J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen could possibly live up to the expectations, but it did. It’s a brilliant book. I realized this in full somewhere in the middle, when an Easter egg popped up. I wasn’t expecting an Easter egg in a novel about 19th century English magicians, which just made it all the better.

The jewel comes in the form of Mrs. Maria Bullworth, a woman who is being scammed by the nefarious Mr. Drawlight. She has essentially been disowned by her family, and is living in seclusion with a tiresome aunt. Bent on revenge, she seeks the assistance of Mr. Strange in punishing her family. She provides him with a list of those she wishes to see suffer, and the methods by which this is best to be effected. It includes her father (who, though he provides for her financially, is responsible for her banishment), her estranged husband, her scoundrel of a former lover, and a cousin (who is about to marry a clergyman and live happily ever after).

At some point when I was reading all this, I started to get a distinct sensation that it was all terribly familiar. I don’t know what Susanna Clarke’s stance on Easter eggs is. But if all this is not taken straight from the pages of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, then I’ll be a lemur’s auntie. Maria Bullworth = Maria Rushworth. That tiresome aunt she’s confined with shows definite flavors of Aunt Norris. So I’m thinking it’s a safe bet that the father is Sir Thomas Bertram, and the husband is Mr. Rushworth of Sotherton. And, oh joy! That would make the fortunate cousin Fanny Price, and the clergyman fiancee Edmund Bertram. It would also suggest that Mr. Lascelles (the scoundrel lover, if you’re keeping score at home) is Henry Crawford, which for some reason just freaks me out.

Mansfield Park is not my favorite Jane Austen novel. In fact, it is probably my least favorite. But Jane Austen is Jane Austen. And this is by far one of the greatest Easter eggs I have ever encountered.

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Now I’m just afraid there might have been more that I missed. Guess I’ll just have to read it again sometime, right? 🙂

*I’m letting my geek flag fly today, guys. Let it be known that I rarely play video and/or computer games now that I am an adult. But let it further be known that I played the heck out of Ocarina of Time. As an adult, yes. And I will play the heck out of some Nintendo 64 Mario Part and/or Kart anytime or place someone challenges me to it.

 

 

Baby Sloths

I was not going to write about baby sloths today. I was going to say something about Civil War battle reenactments, because I went to one last week. Yes, and I even took photos, to prove it.

IMAG0330See?

 

BUT, as I really do not have many positive feelings for Civil War battle reenactments, it didn’t take much to turn my attentions elsewhere.

Anyone who ever read my previous blogging venture, The Fair Base Ballist, will know that I have a certain fondness for baby sloths. It all started a few years back, when I happened upon the following video:

Sigh. A little piece of my heart has been in Costa Rica ever since.

Although I am really not the sort of person to spend my time on YouTube watching cutesy videos of baby animals, baby sloths are my weakness. They’re like stuffed animals come to life. The cuteness is irresistible.

See?!

So, why bring up baby sloths today? I don’t think I need a reason, but I do have one. It is because of the video below, which appeared on my Facebook timeline as if by magic, saving us all from curmudgeonly musings on a certain bloodless Sunday afternoon kerfuffle. It announces the birth of a baby sloth at London Zoo (which was a complete surprise of the staff, apparently). This is the full scoop:

Ahh… spring, the miracle of new life, and baby sloths. Kickin’ and wrigglin’. These are the sorts of cheerful things one likes to dwell on heading into Memorial Day weekend. Have a good one, my friends, and I’ll see you soon.

P.S. There is nothing in this world as pointlessly amusing as photoshopped baby sloth photos. And although none appear in today’s post, do not be surprised if you should see some here in the future. It will happen when you least expect it, and probably for no decipherable reason.