The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, author

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Soul's Secrets

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory. ~Shelley

Recently, a discussion board I frequent asked its members what sorts of music they had on their players. I looked over my Sandisk files and made a list, starting with what inspires me most.

World and ethnic: Milongas, taksims, kizombas, fados, cumbias, rumbas, reels. Klezmer, gitana, Griot, gidayu, sirtos, llanera. Gamelans, kotos, ouds, sitars. One of my most favorite songs is Baaba Maal's 'Lam Tooro,' that always makes me think of swaying camel-back on the Silk Road.

Baroque: Bach, Corelli, Couperin, Rameau, Purcell, Handel, Hayden, Lully, Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Telemann, Vivaldi. I'm wild about harpsichords.

Renaissance: Dowland, Frescobaldi, Machaut, Monteverdi, Gibbons, Praetorius, Gabrieli. I collect versions of Dowland's lute song "Can She Excuse My Wrongs."

Ambient: Air, Michael Hedges, Pierre Bensusan, Shadowfax, Enigma, Sasha and Digweed, Paco di Lucia, Ottmar Liebert, Strunz and Farah, Infected Mushroom, Jazzanova, Gotan Project, De Phazz.

Blues: King (Freddy, B. B., Albert), Musselwhite, Mayall, Clapton, Guy, Hammond, Hooker, Sumlin, Wells, Allison, Vaughn, Mahal, Mo'.

Jazz: Chet Baker, Charlie Mingus, Cal Tjader, Jack McDuff, Ponty, Corea, Metheny, Davis, Monk, Keith Jarrett when he isn't vocalizing.

Celtic: Altan, Lunasa, Celtic Nots, Liz Carroll, Natalie MacMaster, Slainte. I'm pretty picky with Celtic, and like it modal and traditional.

Classical and opera: Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Bartok, Dvorak, Satie, Debussy, Faure, de Falla, Tchaikosky, Schumann, Schubert, Puccini, Verdi; not much Mozart. I have a huge fondness for Beverly Sills and Joan Sutherland, and collect versions of favorite arias.

Bluegrass: Ranges from old (Bill Monroe, etc.) to new (String Cheese Incident, Bela Fleck). I collect versions of 'Salt Creek,' and my favorite so far is the guitar duet with Doc and Merle Watson.

Rock: Eighties alternative (stuff that never made it to the commercial airwaves, alas), Motown, Fifties classics, Sixties icons (Stones, Who, Hendrix, etc.), Seventies punk.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Art of Ending

As the old saying goes, "Great is the art of beginning, but still greater is the art of ending."

It's always good to know when to quit. In anticipation of winter, that clean, sere season, I'm paring down the superfluities in my life, striving for less junk in every form, and more time spent profitably; never getting too comfortable, and traveling as lightly as I can.

Still, as seriously as I take this life of mine--since we know not the day nor the hour when everything will fall apart forever--I never forget to have fun. At present I'm putting the finishing touches on a new short story, dedicated to Anne Braude who was more generally known as Talpianna, that wryly explores what happens after Happily Ever After. I'm sorry she won't be reading it.

CK

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pourvu!

Napoleon's mother wasn't an optimist. Whenever people congratulated Madame Mère on her imperial son's success, she would simply reply, with a slight shrug and a strong Corsican accent, "Pourvu que c'la doure!"--"As long as it lasts!"

My Kindle sales for the past few days have been in the three digits, and I'm delighted. This post commemorates my books' current status as bestsellers in the top 100 of the entire Fantasy category. Ranks change hour by hour, but shining moments are priceless. I thank everyone who's reading me.

Last week the Ryel Saga was included in Barnes and Noble's eBook catalog. I'm so glad I'm no longer sacrificing trees.

CK

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Safely Gathered In

The passage of time should have its celebrations. I took this picture at a local grocery last week:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where I Am

For a long time I've kept, in addition to my journal, a list entitled Where I Was, distilling the events of a given year into a paragraph per month. It's been very handy for keeping track of travels, happenings, home improvements, significant purchases, and prevailing moods. With that data, I could readily construct a graph spanning several decades, with many a rise and fall.

Lately the graph would show a marked upswing. Ever since my birthday--September 1, the start of my personal new year as I noted in an earlier post--my Kindle book sales have surprised me. In the last month, 130 people have bought my works on Amazon. Very soon, Barnes and Noble will be carrying the e-versions of my books via Smashwords, and I'll have the chance to see if it's really true that good things rise to the top.

More welcome news: although I've been out of the loop for a while, today I received an invitation to attend a fantasy con as a guest professional. It made me remember the wonderful times I had at Norwescon and WorldCon, and convinced me that it's time I got out more. Finally.

CK

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Price of Light

Among the many things that awe me, John Milton's writing is high up on the list, and his poem that inspires this blog's title came very much to mind today. The stranded despair of the opening quatrain grows ever more calm under the warming radiance of faith, and serene resignation magnifies the ending with its immortal, commisserate last line. Milton always makes me feel trivial, and I'm grateful for it.

In that spirit of thankfulness I shopped for groceries yesterday in the warm bright afternoon, wishing John could have joined me. This is my favorite time of year to linger around the produce. I love those odd little gourds that never quite look real, and the equally strange but kindly edible big squashes, and the regal hues of Indian corn, and best of all the pumpkins. Amid such reassuring defiant opulence death is stingless, relegated to the shelves of marshmallow ghosts and twinkly-eyed plastic skulls.

Today it's rainy, a perfect time to stand and wait, or sit and write; they're pretty much one and the same where I'm concerned. When words fail me I can always wander over to Mysoju or Crunchyroll or Dramafever and escape to my lastest passion, Korean multi-series epics. Recently I finished up the splendid Jumong, 80 episodes worth of battle, intrigue, preternaturally restrained passion (not a single smooch in the entire story, despite emotion aplenty), and enthralling acting, especially by Song Il Guk who delivers a channeled, demandingly physical performance as the legendary hero of the tale. Now I'm on to the totally opposite Jewel in the Palace, which concerns itself with the mercilessly imbroglio'd woman's world of the royal court c. 1500, and recounts the tribulations of Jang Geum, who became Korea's first female physician to the king. Since she started out as a kitchen-maid, there are lots of wonderful cooking scenes lovingly filmed; the poignant soundtrack sticks to the memory, the historical recreation is big-budget and meticulous, and the lead actress is simply perfect in her plain, demure, stubbornly principled way. Both series were huge hits in Korea and many places else, and I thank the Internet for the chance to see them subtitled in their entirety. Highly recommended.

CK

Monday, September 21, 2009

Twig By Twig

Tomorrow marks the autumnal equinox, officially the last day of summer. For the past many years I've viewed the event with regret either bitter or resigned, but this one's different. This winter I'll be warmed by memories of harvest and the promise of even greater growth to come.

Some time ago while writing in a forum I invented a character named Yin Qi, an imperial concubine called Autumn Grass by the other court ladies in mocking reference to her advanced age (she was thirty) and inferior rank (she was of very minor nobility, from the barbaric northern steppes). What inspired her creation was a picture by Shibata Zeshin, c. 1870:


The first time I ever saw this exquisite image, the original of which is worth a trip to New York where it lives, I instantly recalled Archibald MacLeish's riskily precious wish that

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind—


A poem should be motionless in time

As the moon climbs.


In a story I've submitted to a flash fiction journal, I describe the moon through a warrior's eyes, as a shield of gold dented from countless blows.

It is always best to fulfill old dreams before moving on to others, and to that end I'm working at joining my Ryel Saga into a single volume, with a new cover of my own design:




Then it's on to everything else, uncounted pages else. It doesn't matter, the passage of the equinoxes. I will move as the moon climbs.


CK

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Lady and the Mage

I enjoyed writing Last Laughter so much that I'm thinking of more short stories involving my as yet anonymous Countess and Cyril Dagleish Dacier, the Thaumaturge Royal. When I began the tale, I thought of it as typical standard fantasy set in a semi-medieval world, but by the end it felt (to me, anyway) decidedly Edwardian, hence the court mage's quaintly British name. I never thought I'd ever write anything steampunk, but there it is, with perhaps more to come. Last Laughter is now fully corrected and will be at Silver Blade for an entire quarter-year; I hope it garners lots of readers.

The Kindle and other digital versions of my novels are finding a wide audience, and I couldn't be happier, more optimistic, or more energized.

CK

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hot Off The Presses

I'm happy to announce the publication of my short story 'Last Laughter,' now appearing in the current issue of Silver Blade Fantasy Fiction. The entire site is very attractive, and my story has a terrifically scary/funny/witty cover, plus other illustrations.

There are a few corrections that will be made in the next day or so. A phrase in the first paragraph should read "Whenever his behavior became simply too appalling."

Another short story, 'The Kind Gods,' will hopefully be hitting print fairly soon. And I've finally gotten around to finding the right ending for another yarn that I've been fussing over for ages, 'The Heart's Desire.' The two couldn't be more different: one is a Vikingesque afterlife dilemma from a warrior's perspective, and the other's set in an all-too-near future involving a government scryer and her discovery of the ultimate secret language.

I'm having fun.

CK

Friday, August 28, 2009

Flowering Fortunes

In the Byzantine calendar, September 1 is the beginning of the new year. Since I was born on that date, I always (or at least since I became familiar with the Byzantine calendar) consider it my personal New Year's Day, promising another fresh start.

This could well be one of the best creative years I've had in a long time. Last week, the rights to my two novels reverted exclusively to me, and I've decided to make both books available solely as digital versions for the time being. No sooner did they appear on Mobipocket the other night than they began generating sales. Today, Smashwords (which carries my short story 'Regenerated') sent me an e-mail announcing their affiliation with Barnes and Noble, for which my books will apparently qualify. My short story 'Last Laughter,' to appear in a few days as part of the fall issue of Silver Blade, will be yet another birthday present.

I'm now working on combining Wysard and Lord Brother into a single volume as they were originally meant to be, including in the text all the passages that fell to the cutting-room floor because of page constraints in the paper versions. Many other projects are competing for my attention, though, and I'll try to give them all quality time.

Among those projects will be a story dedicated to a friend who recently passed away. Anne Braude, better known as Talpianna to the numerous acquaintance that cherished her, affected my life more than her gentle whimsical nature would have ever taken credit for, and I know I'm not the only one so privileged. Namaste, Anne.


CK

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Coming Soon...No, Really

One of the most macabre yet sincere compliments I've ever received came from a friend about half my age who read my books soon after their publication, and commented that the emotion they most evoked in him was sadness, because someday fairly soonish I'd be dead and he wouldn't be able to read any more of me. Charmed, I assured him that by the time the Reaper came to collect, I'd have a dazzling oeuvre of at least a dozen more tomes to swell my legacy.

Now it's a decade later and I'm tired of feeling guilty. Making Wysard and Lord Brother available for the Amazon Kindle has gained me many new readers and I'm very grateful, but only guys like Homer get away with just two books to their credit. Yes, there were reasons, some of them dire, for my lack of output, but that was then. I have four novel manuscripts in varying stages of completion, and they will be completed, but I was hankering for the sweet taste of some immediate recognition, so to that end I dusted off a short story that had been moldering in my skull for years, finished it, and sent it out into the world. 'Last Laughter,' a fable involving a wicked court jester and his comeuppance, will appear in Silver Blade Quarterly at the end of this month. It's a free read, and I welcome comments.

Lots more to come. Finally.

CK

Sunday, August 02, 2009

On Shining Brightly

This last month of summer makes me want to hold on to the heat and never let it go. The inevitability of another year's demise makes me restless and brooding, ironic in a time of harvest. The Zen way, which I admire, is to give one's full mind to the Now and to treat every action as a ritual; I've been trying very hard to be as conscious as I can of every moment, and in doing so I realize just how necessary reflection is to the health of the spirit.

When speaking of reflection, I don't mean the current hyperactive obsession to make oneself an object of dedicated perpetual scrutiny. There is nothing more limiting than self, and when it comes to the things of the mind, people desperately need to get out more. It's crucial for the betterment of the world, which is quite literally dying for a dose of sublimity. The worst of what we are is being exalted. Popular entertainment is mining our baseness and reaching rock bottom. Most of what purports to be uplifting is doing it for the dollar, and is cloying and condescending. It's bafflingly, appallingly childish, this joy in kicking over what was built with care, in smearing and scrawling, in the gleeful obsession with the low and the vulgar.

When a toddler tries to run out into the traffic, it's testing the gentle caring arms that will pull it back into an embrace that is meant to sustain as much as restrain. The current state of societal arrested development both annoys and disturbs me, but more babysitters isn't the answer. We need to be better parents to ourselves, and grow not only up, but outward. We need to quit stuffing our selves with junk and defacing our minds and bodies and deliberately putting ourselves in harm's way simply because there's no one there to stop us. Little children are precious beings full of promise; why should that be any less true all their lives?

CK

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Way Of The Sword

I'm ferrying over the last of my Amazon posts here like Robinson Crusoe, because I'd wanted to include the description of my butsudan now that I'm in the midst of watching Musashi, where those litte shrines feature frequently.

Having enjoyed the 2008 Japanese public television drama Atsuhime (described a few posts down), I moved on to Musashi last week, expecting the same gorgeous, decorous inaction. I couldn't have been more surprised...or thrilled. Musashi takes place in a man's world, where the way of the sword is exalted and all other considerations are deemed secondary, if not worthless.

Musashi, the story of Japan's legendary fighter, began as a nearly 1000-page novel written by Eiji Yoshikawa in 1935, and has gone on to sell 120 million copies and inspire 36 films. Watching the 50-hour televised version (2003) is like enjoying the novel as it had been conceived, in serial format.

I knew I wasn't in the Shogun's Ooku (women's quarters) any more when the story opened with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), and the young soldiers Musashi and his friend Matahachi struggled their way out of heaps of dead bodies steaming in the cold dawn. The action follows the novel with faithful attention, all the performances by the numerous cast are flawless, and the gritty realism, especially coming after Atsuhime's courtly decorum, is often startling. The lead is played by a rivetingly charismatic young Kabuki performer, and the rest of the cast make up a Who's Who of Japan's acting talent.

So far I'm at Episode 28 and have witnessed every kind of desperate peril and deadly combat, along with tender devotion, offhand lust, remorseless hatred, gnawing inner anguish and hilarious broad humor, all amid striking scenery, engagingly ramshackle towns, and those exquisite interiors, rustic, regal, or religious, that Japan is famed for. The plot teems with ronin, thieves, magicians, brigands, ninja, madmen, warrior monks and nobles. The women range from demure maidens to brazen harlots, vengeful hags to dauntless warrior-lasses. The swordplay's constant, vicious, and uncannily graceful.

But I'm enjoying Musashi most because the underlying theme is love, the kind that makes great sacrifices without regard to self, denying one's own happiness for a greater good. Miyamoto Musashi only gradually becomes a hero, owing his transcendence to the wise and gentle people he meets in his wanderings, who teach him that without beauty, life is meaningless, and that the creation of beauty is man's best employment; that the way of the sword is an empty, futile path. The final showdown looms, but I'm taking the story slowly, savoring a world that seems alien to the point of fantasy to my Western eyes, and yet so fundamentally, placelessly, timelessly human.

How I wish I could read the novel in the original! Ah well, perhaps next life.

The portal to all of Musashi's online episodes is here.

CK

Friday, June 12, 2009

Terry And The Bumrolls

I love costume. Not mere clothes, especially not the current mode best described as Goodwill Meets Frederick’s, but beautiful dress-up garments. The other night I watched Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief, and the gold lamé gown worn by Grace Kelly at the climactic ball, baring superb shoulders and trailing acres of glittering panniered skirts, had me palpitating far more than did the film’s famed rooftop chase.

Gorgeous dress is part of the historical periods I prefer, which explains my particular fondness for 1400 to 1700. Few clothes are more becoming to both genders than Van Dyck’s, but I’ll admit that late Elizabethan togs are the last word in bizarre. They distorted the body in freakishly perplexing ways, and getting into them was a major feat. William Harrison, writing in 1577, long before matters got totally out of hand, railed in Holinshed’s Chronicles:

“…then must we put it on, then must the long seames of our hose be set by a plumb-line, then we puffe, then we blow, and finallie sweat till we drop, that our clothes may stand upon us…In women also it is most to be lamented that they doo now farre exceed the lightnesse of our men …What should I saie of their doublets with pendant cod peeses on the brest full of jags and cuts, and sleeves of sundrie colours? Their galligascons to beare out their bums and make their attire to sit plum round (as they terme it) about them? Their fardingals, and diverslie coloured nether stocks of silke, ierdseie, and such like, whereby their bodies are rather deformed than commended?”

The 1570s were the heyday of the bumroll, a stuffed fabric ring worn under skirts to give the illusion of wider hips, and hence a smaller waist. I’d never really gotten up close and personal with a bumroll until 2002, when I attended WorldCon in San Jose. Among the con’s plethora of parties was a crush given in honor of Terry Pratchett by the Costumer’s Guild. (I call it a crush rather than a bash, because in consideration of Mr. Pratchett’s following among very young persons, there was no alcohol present save for the whacking big snifter of brandy that the guest of honor, dapper in a crimson velvet Edwardian smoking jacket, held in one hand as he greeted his guests.) The Guild’s membership was, as I recall, entirely female, and I inadvertently stepped on many a brocaded train as I mingled, sipped the innocent punch, admired the Discworld chess set that was to be auctioned off, and asked the costumed ladies about their garments, which were beautifully made and often exquisitely whimsical. The gown I recall most was an Elizabethan farthingale that combined two contrasting aloha-shirt fabrics, red and blue, worn with a choker necklace composed of a row of tiny plastic palm trees sewn onto a velvet band, jutting out fronds first. The young woman wearing this piquant confection was silvery blonde, slim, lovely and charming, and it was she who enlightened me as to why her skirts belled out with such angular symmetry, inspiring the title of these reflections.

Later on in the Virgin Queen's reign, for reasons not readily explicable, the simple bumroll evolved into a vast wheel big enough to break a cutpurse on, the bodice elongated into a point that makes today’s viewer wince to behold, sleeves swelled into blimp-like enormities, ruffs reared up behind the head like the back of a peacock chair, and, given the scant hygiene that prevailed, waking life must have been close to unbearable. Below is a portrait of Her Majesty rigged out in this bizarre and mercifully short-lived fashion. (Regarding WorldCon, I’d made Terry Pratchett’s acquaintance the day before the party, and a rum encounter it was; bittersweet to recall, now. I’ll write about it soon.)



CK

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unexpected Treasure

3:05 PM PDT, May 20, 2009

I was lucky this year. My pink Minuet peonies were fat spheres packed with promise, on the point of bursting into huge cabbagy bloom right as I was about to leave for a week-long jaunt to Florida, and I deeply regretted that I'd miss them at their peak; but fortunately the weather was unseasonably cold, and kept the flowers in stasis until I got back. Today they're in full perfection, and I have two of them in a vase here at my desk, where I can admire their Fragonard lushness and heavenly fragrance.

To the Chinese, the peony was queen of the garden, a sentiment I share. I can't grow roses because the deer eat the buds, but I add to my peony collection as much as I can. So far all I have are the bush varieties that flaunt their splendor far too briefly, but a friend recently told me that there's a tree version which yields longer-lasting flowers. I shall find, select, and plant straightway, to enjoy at next year's springtide. Mono no aware is an increasingly painful sensation as time passes, and All Now is becoming more and more my slogan.

CK

Friday, May 08, 2009

The TMI Age

7:17 PM PDT, May 8, 2009

I spent far too much time today ridding my computers of the obnoxiously ubiquitous New Folder virus, and now know more about regedit, msconfig and autorun than I ever expected or desired to. But that's the price one pays for having a second self--and the computer has become just that, prone to its own versions of all the frailties human flesh is heir to. I shrug, and cope. Read the Merck Manual, and you'll wonder that anyone's alive at all.

The Police had it righter than they could ever have wanted to know, back in pre-Internet 1981 with their all too prophetically titled album 'Ghost In The Machine' featuring the eerily apropos 'Too Much Information':

Too much information running through my brain
Too much information driving me insane

Overkill, overview
Over my dead body
Over me, over you
Over everybody


Never in mankind's bewildering history has communication become so rife. I'd call it a global group hug, but it often feels more like a desperate grasp. Look at me. Listen to me. Make me matter.

I'm on Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Blogger, discussion forums, this site, my site...the other day I was actually thinking of becoming one of Stephen Fry's nearly half-million Twitterfollowers, but fortunately the yearning passed. Time is very flexible, but even Silly Putty snaps.

And now I'm thinking of another Sting song, about the hundred million bottles washed up on the shore...all with a message in them. Did the castaway feel the need to read every single one?

Islanded,

CK

Who's also Kindled, and loves her books being digitized.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Love, Honor, and Inspiration

9:50 PM PDT, April 30, 2009

Before I get down to blogging about my topic, I’ll note that the Kindle editions of my books are now on sale, and will be priced at .99 each for the entire month of May. It's always a pleasure to acquire new readers, and that sensation will, I hope, be heightened when both volumes are available on Mobipocket in the near future. Established reviewers are invited to email me for complimentary pdfs of both Wysard and Lord Brother; the address is on my website at A Writing Life, along with links to synopses, first chapters, and media commentary.

Regarding my subject matter, inspiration comes from anywhere, and I can't specify my wysard Ryel Mirai's origins. I was an adolescent when I envisioned him, and I didn’t know his name; he had none. He was then as he is now: about 24, slender and tallish, heroic and kind, with long dark hair and features mingling classic Greece with Mongol steppes. I made him the protagonist of a Victorian-flavored short story and a whimsical narrative poem, both of which are still extant in some shelved box or other; eventually I’ll type them up as Word files.

I more or less forgot about my wizard after that, immersing myself in Tolkien and Eddison and Burroughs along with less fantastical classics. But not until college did I encounter John Dryden’s two-part play ‘The Conquest of Granada,’ written in 1672 when Charles II ruled Britain and Louis XIV France, and not much else in the world mattered. Its influence has stayed with me ever since. It was really and truly magical, and ensorceled me entirely. I recently re-read it, and even though I’m older and wiser and have been rigorously trained to recognize all its faults, I love it still, as I will always love that which is magnificent and brave.

Like all extremely serious things, ‘Conquest’ is easy to make fun of, and was hilariously lampooned in its day. The dialog is exclusively rhyming verse, the subject matter is entirely love and honor, and the characters are without exception noble even when behaving deplorably. Its plot deals with the power struggle between the ruling Spanish Moors and their Christian enemies in 1492, but the beating, bleeding heart of the story concerns the hopeless passion of the heroic warrior Almanzor for the beautiful Almahide, wife of King Boabdelin. There are striking lines in it, like Almanzor’s taunt to the king:

“No man has more contempt than I of breath,
But whence hast thou the right to give me death?
Obeyed as sovereign by thy subjects be,
But know, that I alone am king of me.
I am as free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.”

Despairing in her adoration of the bold hero, Almahide laments:

“How blessed was I before this fatal day,
When all I knew of love, was to obey!
'Twas life becalmed, without a gentle breath;
Though not so cold, yet motionless as death.
A heavy quiet state; but love, all strife,
All rapid, is the hurricane of life.”

King Boabdelin, cankered with jealousy, breaks into bitter distichs:

“Marriage, thou curse of love, and snare of life,
That first debased a mistress to a wife!
Love, like a scene, at distance should appear,
But marriage views the gross-daubed landscape near.
Love's nauseous cure! thou cloyest whom thou should'st please;
And, when thou cur'st, then thou art the disease.
When hearts are loose, thy chain our bodies ties;
Love couples friends, but marriage enemies.”

Granada with its gorgeous oriental court became Wysard’s Almancar, with some Renaissance Venice and Edo-era Yoshiwara and the Empire of Trebizond thrown in.

The play in its two parts can be found here. No one would think of performing it now, for excellent reasons; but it’s wonderful to envision a world in which people flocked to watch it, and to imagine being part of that rapt audience.

More to come about influences, inspirations and defining moments.

CK

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Milk Of Paradise

11:33 AM PDT, April 24, 2009

The official drink of the angels, I'm convinced, is St. Germain liqueur. It’s celestial in every way—from its graceful bottle that resembles a fin-de-siècle flacon, to the pale refined gold of its hue, to its exquisitely fresh, heady fragrance, to the mystery of its making which involves hand-picked Alpine elderflowers, to its divine flavor, at once tangy and sweet in perfect balance. Its only drawbacks are its expense and its rarity, but even those seem virtues.

The other night Hub and I shared our last precious drops of this nectar with a favorite couple, making a very heaven of the warm spring evening, candlelight, civilized music playing softly in the background, and a sense of everything being exactly as it should be, however briefly.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kitsune

5:45 PM PDT, April 20, 2009

My house surely must be blessed by the kami, since I've got a whole family of foxes living in the brush pile out back. The mother is slim and pensive, supervising her brood with mild vigilant care, her russet pelt vivid against the emerging green of the trees. The five little ones romp about adorably, wrestling and pouncing and tumbling. I look at them and can't help but think of the way I grew up; and then I turn my thoughts elsewhere.

April can indeed be the cruelest month, but for me it marks a time of needful endings and wished-for beginnings. The other night I was dancing with Hub at a benefit party teeming with Bright Young Things, feeling the combined bliss of Santana-tinged music and liberal Cuba Libres, when a girl came up to me and said, shouting over the racket, "You're the only one here who looks like they're having any #&@%ing FUN!"

That's just the way I want it, from here on out.

Cheers,

CK

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

La Princesse Lointaine

12:43 PM PDT, April 15, 2009

Life is often irksome, and at such times I take refuge in that which is pleasing and uplifting.

While in Kyoto last summer, I chanced, on a couple of rare occasions when I wasn’t embroiled in extreme sightseeing or sleeping the sleep of the exhausted, to watch a bit of television. One program in particular intrigued me: a historical drama featuring court ladies in splendid kimono, indulging in behavior dismally typical of people with too much time on their hands--gossiping, scheming, maligning, betraying. Among these craven weeds one woman stood out like a sweet, slender flower, taking no part in the pettiness, fulfilling a higher destiny.

There were, of course, no English subtitles. I knew the period was Tokugawa, but other than that I was lost. Once I returned home, I did some Internet sleuthing to find out just which program it was, and with only a little trouble learned I’d been watching Atsuhime (Princess Atsu), a multi-segment story set in the 1850s when Commodore Perry and his black ships were threatening a status quo unchanged for centuries. Just the other day, to my surprise and pleasure, I stumbled upon a site featuring English-subtitled videos of every episode. It’s heaven.

Atsuhime moves at a deliberate, almost dreamlike pace. So far I’m at Episode 11 and haven’t yet witnessed a single usually de rigeur multi-samurai katana battle, nor any overt exertion at all save for a great deal of carefully calibrated bowing. It’s wonderfully restful. The beauteous young princess is admirably wise and noble, and defies convention in various charming ways. Although she and her family exhibit no physical affection whatsoever, the bonds of the heart are clearly deep-rooted and unshakeable. This restraint is shown by everyone: deadly enemies never come to blows, and desperate lovers never touch. Honor, sacrifice, and loyalty are emphasized and exalted. The production values are quietly stunning, and the acting topnotch; the only off note, so to speak, is the Westernized musical score in a milieu demanding koto, shamisen, and hyoshigi.

Elegant, informative and pleasurable Atsuhime eminently is, in ways American television can never comprehend. Only when one stirs the inscrutable surface of the princess' world does one remember that this was a pivotal, terrible point in Japanese history, marking the end of the nation’s lofty seclusion and the wholesale influx of all that now makes the culture so uniquely strange—Shangri-La crossed with Bartertown.

CK

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Petals on a wet, black bough

2:56 PM PDT, April 11, 2009

Mildly seasonal as this post's title may seem, Ezra Pound's poem about faces packs all kinds of brooding angst in its two short lines and perfectly sums up my present mood. I admire Pound most because without his censoring pen like a refiner's fire, Eliot's The Waste Land would have ended up a negligible ditherfest. I often wish ol' Ez had worked his merciless mojo on Virginia Woolf's novels.

I never thought of myself as the Facebook type, but life can be either a luxury cruise or dinghy ordeal of self-discovery, depending on viewpoint. So far my profile page is an abject blank, but I'll add to it once I get over the social anxiety I never have in person.

And there's always the Delete feature. Would that all of life's events had one.

Writing is coming along wonderfully, given much recent inspiration.

CK

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dear Shadow


11:45 AM PDT, April 8, 2009

It came like a flash—and ended in flash fiction. By sheer accident I chanced to listen the other day to a song I’d never heard before by a group I’d never heard about, and in another moment I was writing a story. It’s been a very long time since I've done that.

“Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” is by Fleet Foxes, a Seattle-based band who debuted in 2008. Its lone-guitar, single-voice slow waltz, poignant chords, and evocative lyrics rife with ambiguity were simply ensorcelling, bardic, timeless. It took me about twenty minutes to write most of the story, and I thought up the ending last night.

Perhaps it’s the season, or a change of outlook that makes time inestimably precious, or good friends and fan mail, and/or just finally getting my chemical balance right, but to feel like creating again is like being saved from drowning.

Grateful thanks to everything, anything,

CK

Wanderers this morning came by
Where did they go
Graceful in the morning light
To banner fair
To follow you softly
In the cold mountain air

Through the forest
Down to your grave
Where the birds wait
And the tall grasses wave
They do not
know you anymore

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

In the town one morning I went
Staggering through premonitions of my death
I don't see anybody that dear to me

Dear shadow alive and well
How can the body die
You tell me everything
Anything true

Jesse
I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon
I don't know what I have done
I'm turning myself to a demon

CK

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Hounds of Spring

4:49 PM PDT, March 24, 2009

It never lasts long, this sweet first flowering time. Two days ago the redbud and crabapple trees around the deck were just beginning to bloom; now they’re at their height. From my window I can see their delicate hues, purple and rose, demurely defiant amid the gaunt trunks and branches of oaks and maples still leafless. The daffodils flaunted in their golden hosts weeks ago, and are now shriveling on their stalks. So temporary, and for that very reason so beloved, this fragile, fitful interval.

I can well understand why medieval people always went wild when Spring finally arrived. Even with my modern comforts, winter is a grim and shivering eternity that gets more arduous with each passing year, and this particular year was a bad 'un. My left tympanic cavity is still clogged from the crud that began afflicting me around Thanksgiving, and is only now making an all too leisurely retreat from my mortal clay. To finally feel warm, really and truly warm, is wondrous.

So with my one good ear, my two bad eyes and my cough-rough voice I’ve been reveling in Karl Orff’s Carmina Burana, singing along to the irresistibly upbeat ‘Tempus Est Iocundum.’ Orff’s mainly known for another song in the cycle, ‘O Fortuna,’ but its grim staccato howl that made perfect background music for the last several months has been bumped from my player, replaced by the pagan glee of youths and maidens giddy with the joy of shrugging off heavy itchy rank infested wool breeks and coathardies and frolicking about bare-limbed on the greensward.

Oh, oh, oh!
Totus floreo!


Texts and translations of the Carmina Burana can be found at http://www.tylatin.org/extras/index.html

Swinburne's breathtaking poem about spring's hounds is here:
http://www.bartleby.com/101/808.html


CK

Friday, March 13, 2009

Life, Exquisitely Examined

1:51 PM PDT, March 13, 2009

Like all good torturers, the malaise mentioned in an earlier post granted me a brief respite, during which I took a road trip to Chapel Hill, NC with my hub, who'd been invited to give a colloquium at UNC. I enjoyed every minute of it, my pleasure all the more enhanced by the blessing of complete, actual health. We drove through snowy skies and white-laden stretches of forest by late afternoon, the first real winter I’ve seen all year. Although we outran the weather on our way to town, when I awoke the next morning at UNC's lovely Carolina Inn and looked out the window, all the world was covered in ‘ermine too dear for an earl.’ I wandered about the near-deserted campus (classes were called off until noon) and took photos before the sun shone out and all the wonder melted away.

We met up with many old friends, and three days fled by in a delicious blur. Breakfast at the Inn on the morning of our departure capped the experience with a serendipitious chance encounter. I’d at once noticed the man across from me, whose unruly hair, visionary eyes and civil but strained forbearance with the over-attentive waitstaff presaged singularity. In British-accented tones just above a whisper, he eschewed the communal carafe in favor of a bespoke espresso, and specified fresh eggs made to order—perhaps a covert jab at the scrambled offerings of the buffet, which were pretty visibly heaped on my plate. Amused, I made some remark about the persistence of Southern hospitality, to which he replied with ironic resignation, and then surprised me by asking if Hub and I were with the orchestra. We soon discovered that we were conversing with the founder of the Arditti Quartet, which was visiting UNC for a concert and a master class. The group specializes in contemporary music of a rarefied, difficult, experimental nature, and is widely considered the best in the world at what it does. Hundreds of pieces have been commissioned by and composed for the AQ, most notoriously Karlheinz Stockhausen’s irresistibly weird Helikopter Quartett, which has to be seen to be thoroughly appreciated.

I like to define my life as 'Vissi d'arte,' but Irvine Arditti really, truly walks the walk. He formed the quartet in 1973 while barely in his twenties, three years before joining the London Symphony Orchestra, and is now the only original member. He and his group have recorded more than 160 cds. He lives perpetually on tour, never at rest. His skill as a violinist is breathtaking, as this John Cage piece will demonstrate.

Since I'm most at home with Scarlatti and Dowland, the conversation was as much an education as a pleasure, and all too brief. As he departed for morning rehearsals, Mr. Arditti noted that I’d find a lot of contemporary composers mentioned on his website, and gave both Hub’s and my hand a slight but cordial clasp. Since then I’ve been enjoying a new realm of music, and value the maestro's farewell gesture all the more. I hope to see the quartet in concert as soon as may be.

How I admire people who live big, dedicated, beautiful lives.

CK

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Free Rice and Fairy Princes

1:01 PM PST, February 28, 2009

Having not visited Free Rice for quite a while, I was delighted to find that it's expanded to include more subjects besides English vocabulary. Art, mathematics, geography and other languages have been added to its multiple-choice format, allowing me to feed the world even more lavishly as I bone up on my German and distinguish Cassatt from Caillebotte.

When that world is too much with me--and so often it is, lately--I take my spiffy new imperial-scarlet Dell Vostro for a spin, cyber-escaping to the pagan realms Wordsworth yearned for. What the mild retiring bard would have thought of Prince Nuada Silverlance I can only guess, but my own views are definite. (And yes, I know the prince is an elf, not a fairy, but the alliteration was piquant.)


CK

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To Airy Thinness Beat

6:42 PM PST, February 18, 2009

Donne was using gold as a metaphor for distance in his famous love poem that always struck me as the most unromantic effusion ever penned, but airy thinness perfectly describes my mood just now. I've got a cold I can't get over despite weeks of pills and hankies, a half-dozen writing projects that don't feel like being finished and are loafing slackerwise in the basement of my brain; and worst of all, my favorite pine tree where Swoop the Owl used to perch and stare at me as I pestered the muse is reduced to a shattered trunk, victim of last week's high winds. It bent as much as it could, luckless conifer, until it split utterly and its great boughs crashed all over the roof. Now that the branches are neatly chainsawed and piled on the ground, I'm surprised at just how very big a tree it was, and saddened by how much naked space it's left at my window.

Here's the tree with Swoop in it, taken in happier days:



















A few lower limbs survive. Maybe he'll come back. Maybe my cold will quit. Maybe that frowsy useless muse will struggle up out of her beanbag and get crackin'.

Hope's a beautiful, silly thing.

CK