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Advent

[Lat.,=coming], season of the Christian ecclesiastical year preceding Christmas, lasting in the West from the Sunday nearest Nov. 30 (St. Andrew’s Day) until Christmas Eve. In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditionally considered a season of penitence and fasting, to prepare for the holy day, and its liturgical color is purple. However, the Roman observance has always contained an element of joyful anticipation of Christmas, a feeling that prevails during this season in Western churches today. Originally Advent was seen as a time of preparation for the feast of Christ’s nativity. But during the Middle Ages this meaning was extended to include preparation for Christ’s second coming, as well as Christ’s present coming through grace.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2007 Columbia University Press.

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There’s a certain Slant of light
by Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —

I have a 102.5 fever, so I missed yesterday’s post. Here it is!

Once the holidays had started, Ron and Harry were having too good a time to think much about Flamel. They had the dormitory to themselves and the common room was far emptier than usual, so they were able to get the good armchairs by the fire. They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork — bread, English muffins, marshmallows — and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn’t work.

Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle. Ron’s set was very old and battered. Like everything else he owned, it had once belonged to someone else in his family — in this case, his grandfather. However, old chessmen weren’t a drawback at all. Ron knew them so well he never had trouble getting them to do what he wanted. Read the rest of this entry »

Six to Eight Black Men (excerpt)
by David Sedaris

(from Bill Stebbins’s Christmas Jokes Page)

“When do you open your Christmas presents?” is another good
conversation starter as it explains a lot about national character.
People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit
more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas
morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return
to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to
eating another big meal.  Gifts are generally reserved for
children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It’s nothing
I’d want for myself, but I suppose it’s fine for those who prefer
food and family to things of real value.
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In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rosetti

(from hymns and carols of Christmas)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

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the ancients believed that the earth was the back of an elephant that stood on a tortoise that swam in a bottomless sea. Of course, what held up the sea was another question. They did not know the answer.

The belief of the ancients was the result of imagination. It was a poetic and beautiful idea. Look at the way we see it today. Is that a dull idea? The world is a spinning ball, and people are held on it on all sides, some of them upside down. And we turn like a spit in front of a great fire. We whirl around the sun. That is more romantic, more exciting. And what holds us? The force of gravitation, which is not only a thing of the earth but is the thing that makes the earth round in the first place, holds the sun together and keeps us running around the sun in our perpetual attempt to stay away. This gravity holds its sway not only on the stars but between the stars; it holds them in the great galaxies for miles and miles in all directions.
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A Winter Wish
By Robert Hinckley Messinger
(from bartleby.com)

OLD wine to drink!
Ay, give the slippery juice
That drippeth from the grape thrown loose
Within the tun;
Plucked from beneath the cliff 5
Of sunny-sided Teneriffe,
And ripened ’neath the blink
Of India’s sun!
Peat whiskey hot,
Tempered with well-boiled water! 10
These make the long night shorter,—
Forgetting not
Good stout old English porter.
Old wood to burn!
Ay, bring the hill-side beech 15
From where the owlets meet and screech,
And ravens croak;
The crackling pine, and cedar sweet;
Bring too a clump of fragrant peat,
Dug ’neath the fern; 20
The knotted oak,
A fagot too, perhap,
Whose bright flame, dancing, winking,
Shall light us at our drinking;
While the oozing sap 25
Shall make sweet music to our thinking.
Old books to read!
Ay, bring those nodes of wit,
The brazen-clasped, the vellum writ,
Time-honored tomes! 30
The same my sire scanned before,
The same my grandsire thumbed o’er,
The same his sire from college bore,
The well-earned meed
Of Oxford’s domes: 35
Old Homer blind,
Old Horace, rake Anacreon, by
Old Tully, Plautus, Terence lie;
Mort Arthur’s olden minstrelsie,
Quaint Burton, quainter Spenser, ay! 40
And Gervase Markham’s venerie—
Nor leave behind
The holye Book by which we live and die.
Old friends to talk!
Ay, bring those chosen few, 45
The wise, the courtly, and the true,
So rarely found;
Him for my wine, him for my stud,
Him for my easel, distich, bud
In mountain walk! 50
Bring Walter good,
With soulful Fred, and learned Will,
And thee, my alter ego (dearer still
For every mood).
These add a bouquet to my wine! 55
These add a sparkle to my pine!
If these I tine,
Can books, or fire, or wine be good?

A long and wonderful day. Got the tree, got some lights up. More tomorrow.

To Violet, on the first week of Advent

I
While you sleep, at long last, in what is hopefully a warm room,
the searchlight of a roving mind swings around, time after time.
In the car
on the way home
your mom and I make up a Death Cab for Cutie song:
“Another cold night in Cleveland
in my brown corduroy jacket
I drove alone”
And this is that through which we move, my love.
A mountain range, a peak of which we each are fast approaching,
and as Poincaré before me, I fire light across the distance,
trying to tell you the time.
.
II
1999. Two-by-fours in the barn, ready to go,
I sat with a piece of scratch paper, trying to figure this out:
A regular pentagon contains a rectangle and a triangle;
three-sixty plus one-eighty is … five-forty, which means…
and I couldn’t figure it out then; a little bit of shame in front of my grandfather.
Now, though, a better version of me:
five-forty divided by five is one-oh-eight,
and so each of the five exterior triangles is isosceles
and the paired angles then have angles of…
one-eighty minus one-oh-eight is seventy-two
(which divided by two is thirty-six) and there are
five pairs of those angles, which means that
those angles take up five times seventy-two
is three-sixty degrees of the total interior, which
means the total amount in the points is five-forty
minus that three-sixty,
which is one-eighty,
which you divide by five,
so that each point in a regular star
should have thirty-six degrees.
.

III

Lay me in a bed with amber glow filling the room,
and place the sound of fun outside, ready to start playing
at the moment I am to awake, so that I can lie there
and bathe in vicarious jubilation.
Place me in the back-right of a blue Ram van, driven by
my father, and let us stop at Great Bend or Clarks Summit.
Let me know when we see “Deer Crossing” signs,
so I can count down from ten.
Put me back again in the passenger seat,
with my head in my hands, not yet on paper half the man
I couldn’t quite convince myself to convince them
I would come out to be.
Sit me in the dark, illuminated by punctual flashes,
with you on my lap, and your mother’s warmth behind us,
and the lights of the tree. We bathed in our own jubilation
and you in the middle of us all.
So this one I just wrote. Happy Advent!

[Edit – I totally wrote this yesterday but my computer’s power cable is dying, so I threw up my hands. So tonight, a two-fer.]

BC:AD
by U.A. Fanthorpe (born 1929)

(from Maggi Dawn’s excellent blog)

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

—–

I wonder if every devout atheist is seized by the urge, when writing something that even remotely, tangentially, or obliquely proclaims the divinity of Christ,–the urge to issue a disclaimer: “I don’t actually believe this stuff; it’s what somebody else said.”

It’s disappointing. I like to think I’m made of thicker stuff than that. But the urge is there.

I just read this poem. It’s wicked good, I think, not so much in that it elevates, but in that it strips the Christmas story down into its constituents parts in such a way that it really makes it clear what is so transcendant and amazing about the story. It’s the original Horatio Alger story, only more so. From rags to riches becomes from rags to divine power and the glory of God.

The title is also nice–as a Westerner, my Gregorian calendar is (at least in intention if not in historical precision) set up such that the birth of the baby Jesus is when the calendar stops being the sequence {-%∞

“The Ice of Boston” by The Dismemberment Plan

( Check it here: http://krucoff.com/2006/01/pop-open-3rd-bottle-of-bubbly.html)

Pop open a bottle of bubbly…yeah.
Here’s to another goddamn new year.
And outside, 2 million drunk Bostonians
Are getting ready to sing “Auld Lang Sine”…out of tune.
I sit there in my easy chair, looking at the clouds, orange with celebration
And I wonder if you’re out there.
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Pop open a third bottle of bubbly
Yeah, and I take that bottle of champagne
Go into the kitchen, stand in front of the kitchen window
And I take all my clothes off, take that bottle of champagne
And I pour it on my head, feel it cascade through my hair
And across my chest, and the phone rings.
And it’s my mother.
And she says “HI HONEY HOW’S BOSTON?”
And I stand there, all alone on New Year’s Eve
Buck naked, drenched in champagne, looking at a bunch of strangers
Uh, looking at them, looking at me, looking at them, and I say:
“Oh, I’m fine Mom—how’s Washington?”
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time, time, time, time, yeah…
So I guess the party line is I followed you up here.
Well, I don’t know about that.
Mainly because knowing about that would involve knowing some pathetic, ridiculous, and absolutely true things about myself that I’d rather not admit to right now.
Woke up at 3 A.M. with the radio on, that Gladys Knight and the Pips song on
About how she’d rather live in his world with him
Than live in her own world alone
And I lay there, head spinning, trying to fall asleep
And I thought to myself: “Oh, Gladys, girl, I love you but, oh—get a life!”
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time

—–

I don’t know that “Ice of Boston” is the best introduction to the D-plan if you’ve never heard them before. I think my favorite song would be “Back and Forth” (an explication of which (or an effusion of glee regarding) I also owe you, followed closely by “A Life of Possibilities.” That said, “The Ice of Boston” captures something for me.

I wonder how many people have spent New Year’s alone. I talked a little bit about solitude, and I think that winter and solitude are kind of linked–snow carries with it such silence, and everyone seeks shelter indoors, so there are times when you’re all alone.

I remember, in Baltimore (whoa–just had a moment of deja vu. have i written this before?) a time when…so, I need a little back story.

In Baltimore, for the last year and a half or so, Cheryl and I lived in an apartment in Mt. Washington, a really great little neighborhood that had a little businessy district type thing with a few restaurants and a pottery place and a psychic, and then a Light Rail stop, and then a fancier little place with a Whole Foods and a wine shop and some other stuff–a garden shop. Anyway. The closest thing to us was Mt. Washington Pizza, about a 2 minute walk or a 60 second sprint. The two nice things about which were that it also served Indian food (really common in Baltimore: Pizza/Indian food place. who knows?), including kickass Chicken Tikka Masala, and B. that you could order a pizza when the Simpsons started, head over when the second commercial came on and get back before the commercials were over.

So the memory is during one of those commercial breaks, heading out, walking down the steps, walking across the street, going inside, exchanging my cash for pizza, heading back out, walking back across the street, and going inside again. It must have been mid-to-late December. There was a thin layer of snow on the grass (it never really sticks to the streets that far South), and outside it was completely silent–as silent as I have ever heard it anywhere outside. In rural areas, there is honking of geese, which carries, and falling snow and cracking limbs, but there were no cars, and the snow muffled everything so much, and it was just my footsteps. I went inside the pizza place and it was filled with an amber incandescent glow tinted blue by a television set, and it was warm and loud and bright when I opened the door, and when I went back outside, I was warmer because I was carrying a pizza, but it was still silent.

That’s not what the Ice of Boston brings to me, though, although the silence is part of it. In the winter of 2000-2001 and the winter of 2001-2002, I stayed in the apartment of my grandparents’ barn. So my grandparents bought an old farmhouse when they decided not to move to a smaller, more manageable place like sane people in their early 50s. The barn of which has an attached “apartment”–kitchenette, bathroom w/shower stall and one big room. It has brown carpeting, a treadmill perennially covered with boxes and boxes of read romance novels, a refrigerator full of food that will get used shortly after nuclear winter sets in, and a shower stall perennially full of boxes and boxes of romance novels.

Two Christmas seasons I stayed in that room, chain smoking and watching 2 am infomercials for electroshock stomach tighteners. (reread that last sentence and really try to picture it) I’m not sure if I ever actually spent New Year’s Eve by myself, but I spent a lot (a LOT) of time by myself in that room, especially considering I spent a whole summer working at Hollywood Video, closing up shop, coming home with 2 movies, watching them both til like 5 in the morning, sleeping til noon and then doing it all over again.

In the cold of winter, smoking cigarettes under the electric blue of the barn light, with the orange glow of the cherry so shockingly contrasted, that’s what this song brings back to me. These are Christmas seasons that don’t often make it into postcards, but one of them was very formative for me. I was reading DFW’s Infinite Jest, and it was then that I realized how much I strive to be challenged by cool stuff. The book requires 2 bookmarks, one for where you’re reading and one for how far you are in the copious endnotes, as well as a dictionary on the side. It’s hard fun, and it was the first hard fun I’d had in a long time. It was the sort of thing that made you think “why the hell am I spending my time locked in this room? i need to go for a walk.”* At one point, i walked five miles at 10 pm to the nearest McDonalds, got a cup of coffee and took a piss, then turned around and walked the five miles back, just to kill some time. Didn’t see a single soul along the way, although a good half dozen cars passed. That much walking makes your butt hurt the next day. The Christmas lights were pretty though.

Previous time spent in the room bordered on madness, not gonna lie. Anyway, I raise a toast to all of you spending the holidays alone. It’s a different kind of life, one I miss in an odd sort of way. That said, I couldn’t be happier. Tree this weekend!

*I should note that DFW’s articulation of the philosophy of AA (and NA, by extension) is really very well-put and he obviously did a @$#%load of research and I only wish that he’d put a little more faith in it, personally-wise.