New Year’s Eve

Tonight’s December thirty-first,

Something is about to burst.

images-1The clock is crouching, dark and small,

Like a time bomb in the hall.

Hark, It’s midnight, children dear,

Duck! Here comes another year!    

Ogden Nash

As the end of another year approaches, what happens to you?  Are you instilled with the remaining fervor of the holiday spirit? Are you complacent observing the folly of others making resolutions?  Are you depressed pondering things undone?  Charles Dickens offers an old tale, written in the nineteenth century and set in Italy – The Chimes.  If you are a fan of “The Christmas Carol,” you will note the similarity in tone, and enjoy the possibilities of the ending.

 The Chimes was one of five in a series of Dickens’ Christmas stories. Appropriate for New Year’s Eve, the moral of the story focuses on the choices we make and their consequences. Like “A Christmas Carol,” a ghost guides the way.

The story opens with the chiming of church bells. After Toby, a messenger, delivers a letter to Lord Bowley and and receives the response – to imprison the man mentioned in the letter, he accidentally bumps into a man carrying a little girl. An apologetic exchange follows, during which Toby discovers this to be the very man to be imprisoned. Toby invites the two home for the night, but he continues to be disillusioned.

He finds  his daughter, Meg, seated by the fire drying her eyes about her apparently aborted marriage plans. When reading his paper,  he comes across the account of a woman, driven from her home by poverty and misfortune, who has killed her child and herself.  He falls asleep convinced of “the inherent vileness of his class.”

The Goblins of the Chimes appear and spirit the sleeping man to the bell tower. His dream takes him on a journey to the future, revealing the dire consequences if he continues to believe there is no purpose for his life or the lives of those around him.  In the end,  Meg wakes Toby from the dream. It’s New Year’s Day. Neighbors enter with greetings and congratulations and a happy party ends the story.

You can read this short tale as you ponder your own resolutions, while waiting for the clock to chime twelve tonight.  Keep your spirits up… images

Dickens Online – The Chimes 

 

100 Years Is A Long Time to Last

December has the centenary anniversary of two of my favorite authors – Shirley Jackson and Penelope Fitzgerald.  Have you read The Lottery or The Blue Flower? If you have not, consider celebrating with a few of these authors’ good stories.

unknown-1A few years back I was so excited to hear a local book club had invited the author of The Lottery to speak; imagine how disappointed I was to discover it was a local author with a fictionalized memoir of buying a winning ticket in the sweepstakes.  Sadly, many in the audience had not read or heard of the famous author of horror and fantasy, Shirley Jackson.  When I read Jackson’s short story The Lottery as a young girl, her eerie Gothic world fascinated me, and I soon went on to read The Haunting of Hill House.  Her practice of writing one thousand words a day – more ambitious than Virginia Woolf’s goal of two hundred fifty – cemented her place in my list of writers to model.  December 14 is her 100th birthday.

unknown-2 Discovering Penelope Fitzgerald’s short novels accidentally opened a quiet escape for me.  I have her Man Booker Prize winning novel, Offshore, on my to-read list, but my two favorites of her writing are The Blue Flower and The Bookshop.  In her obituary for The Guardian, Harriet  Harvey-Wood wrote of her: “Throughout Fitzgerald’s novels, there are certain recurring themes, the most striking of which is the single-minded and blinkered innocent (usually male), whose tunnel vision causes disaster to those around. There is an example in almost every book, the most satisfying perhaps being Fritz von Hardenberg, Novalis in The Blue Flower.”  Perhaps because she found her voice later in life (writing The Blue Flower when she was 78), Fitzgerald represents an author to emulate. December 17 is her 100th birthday.

Addendum:

22trevor-obit-blog427 Today, a friend told me William Trevor died, and I looked for his obituary in the New York Times.  Although his birthday is in May, he deserves recognition.  I discovered Trevor when I read he was a favorite author of the revered British actress Maggie Smith, and I enjoyed his lyrical Irish flavor in The Story of Lucy Gault.  Have you read it?

 

On the Day After the Election…

Looking to literature to provide some inspiration on the election results in the United States, I looked to The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and poetry from Maya Angelou and Rudyard Kipling, but the one I settled on is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (living in Hawaii may have influenced my choice):

THE TIDE RISES, THE TIDE FALLS 

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

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A Whole Life

61zD-lZzJUL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_  Reading like a meditation on life, Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life chronicles the journey of Andreas Eggers, from the time he is delivered as a four year old orphan to the small mountain farm until his death at seventy-nine.  Although his life is ordinary, Eggers daily approach to enduring, one day at a time, is inspirational and heroic.  Translated from German, A Whole Life is a short book of less than one hundred sixty pages, yet Andreas Eggers’ quiet life resounds with a calm philosophy.

Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps,  a quiet man of very few words. When he falls in love with Marie, he lights her name at dusk across the mountain with bags of paraffin to ask her to marry him. After she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child,  a heart-broken Andreas leaves his valley and later joins the German Army to fight in WWII.  After many years as a prisoner in Russia, he returns to find that his remote village has been modernized.

As he reinvents himself, from cable car laborer to soldier to mountain tour guide, Andreas finds an appreciation for his simple and solitary life.  Although other people’s actions may confuse him, Andreas remains true to himself – always the calm, thoughtful, introspective man – with a limp from a childhood beating.

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him…but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment.  That’s the way it is…”

Through ordinary moments in the life of a man who ” thought slowly and walked slowly; yet every thought, every word and every step left a mark precisely where…such marks were supposed to be,”  Seethaler demonstrates how each life matters, and how – sometimes without realizing – we influence and are influenced by the examples of ourselves and others.

Although A Whole Life was published in 2014, I eagerly awaited the translation into English and its availability last month.  Pre-ordering the book to my iPhone, I let it rest there – until I was not in the mood to read anything.  The ideas of this short contemplative story seem to have jogged my reading inertia.  The character of Andreas Eggers is memorable and soothing in his simplicity.  We all do what we do to get through the days – some better, some worse, but mostly ordinary.

Big Sur – Fabric and Books

A quick trip to Big Sur brought me to Nepenthe, the former cabin owned by Orson Welles that was transformed into a cliffside gathering place for artists in the 1950s. The new owners were the parents of textile designer Kaffe Fassett, whose fabric I had just used at quilt camp. The connection was a pleasant surprise, and the adjacent shop housed more of Fassett’s unique designs as well as his biography.

The book section displayed books from famous writers who lived and wrote near Big Sur, including Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck. I discovered one of Steinbeck’s short stories – “The Flight” – in the collection “The Long Valley, and I felt a special connection as I read Steinbeck’s words while I looked out over the beautiful vista. If you can’t get there in person, Steinbeck’s words will transport you. “The Flight” begins with:

“Out fifteen miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow them into the sea…”

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