We’re going out of town later this week, heading for Terre Haute, Indiana, to visit my sister and celebrate my birthday. Ordinarily we’d be looking to make a similar drive the end of October, to Indianapolis, to enjoy Magna cum Murder, a terrific mystery convention. But we’re not going this year. I don’t have a new novel to push, my muse is semi-comatose, and I don’t think I could enjoy the ambience.
But I’ll take the same pleasure in the drive. By the end of October, autumn is well-advanced in Minnesota (there’s been snow twice up near the border already), and as we head south, autumn retreats until by Indianapolis, everything is still pretty green. Then on the drive home, it comes on again. It’s like time travel. Mid-October in Terre Haute, my sister tells me, it’s still summer. So the effect will be nearly the same this year.
There’s a mystery short story in there somewhere. Maybe a kidnap victim can notice her surroundings and it’s a clue.
Somewhere inside me, there’s still a writer. I wish I could coax her out.
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, otherwise known as Michaelmas, came off without a hitch on Saturday. I roasted two geese and Ellen made calico beans and eighteen other guests each brought a dish to share, so there was plenty indeed. We prayed a serious militant prayer to St. Michael and sang a silly parody of Amazing Grace called Amazing Goose (how sweet the flesh . . . I’m saved from penury). Keeping the holiday promised that you will have sufficient funds for the next year, and so far (about thirty-five years!) it has worked for us.
Tomorrow I will spend the afternoon and early evening being instructed in the running of the voting polls in our precinct – I’m an election judge again this year. It’s not a really difficult job, but it’s going to be a very long day in November from six-thirty am to about nine pm, setting up the polls to the final count. This is going to be an important election, please remember to vote.
Work on Tying the Knot continues slowly – but it continues. Hurrah!
And the cat Java continues to teach me tricks. She will get in front of me and fall on her side, stretching herself fore and aft and looking meaningfully up at me. She wants me to tickle her tummy from between her legs forward up her chin and back again, then stroke along her back, neck to tail a couple of times. Amazing how an animal without speaking a word can make her needs so clear.
I will turn seventy-five the middle of this month. I’m not sure how it happened, I’ve always thought of myself somewhere in my late thirties, perhaps early forties. Seventy-five is old!
Well, not so fast. The rhinoceros has gone back to grazing, no longer incensed at my failing literature. Rats. But I’ll push on; this book has got to be written.
During coffee hour in church this past Sunday, an acquaintance gave me a collection of those thin booklets a visitor can buy at castles and cathedrals in England. (She knows I’m an anglophile.) These are old ones printed in the fifties and sixties. With them came a big road map of England, obviously used, probably from the same era. (I really need to have a long talk with her about a long tour she must have taken; I lived in England from 1966 to 1968, and while I did a lot of exploring, she went to places – Knole in Kent, for example – I missed.) I am looking forward to reading these booklets, which are very well written . The texts are so very English, eloquent, understated, educated – unmistakable. I am awash in nostalgia.
The builder of the building we live in made some serious errors and now the siding has got to be pulled off and the insulation replaced. They’ve been working their way around all summer and now are outside our third-floor apartment, playing country music on their radios and doing a lot of extremely noisy pounding and ripping. Today is the second day of work on our place. Our cat is very nervous about it, sneaking knees bent around corners, requiring frequent reassurance, seeking refuge on our laps while she stares, all eyes, at the blinds-drawn windows. She’s lying across my forearms as I type, purring.
That rhinoceros thing works! I haven’t gone back to re-read what I’ve written, but I’m several pages forward and find myself plotting the next scene and ready to write it. I’m going to have to buy a little model of a rhinoceros and keep it on my desk, if I can find room – my desk is a muddled mess.
I slept badly last night, my arthritis finding a new joint to complain about every time I shifted away from the current one. I finally got up a little after midnight and took a strong pain pill, read a chapter of Karen Penman’s The Sun in Splendor, and went back to bed, only to be blasted awake by the scream of a blue jay on the balcony. They’re loud birds and we had a window open and the bird was insistent: Hey, lady, where’s my peanut?!?
So I got up, pulled on a robe and went out on the balcony. No crows for a wonder, but the jay had only retreated into a nearby tree, still shouting, three squirrels were in the street and a larger number than usual sparrows waited – one even came cheekily onto the balcony. It was only six thirty, why were they so impatient? I tossed a fistful of peanuts into the street, and sat on the folding chair to watch as they were quickly scooped up, thinking dark thoughts. How did what I once thought was a happy, gracious favor become a right?
Too annoyed to go back to bed, time for tea.
I keep pulling up the “working” chapter of Tying the Knot (aka Goodbye Crewel World), tapping out a sentence or reworking a paragraph, staring at it for a few minutes, then closing the thing again. I read a recommendation from an author to think of stalled work as a rhinoceros. A rhino has one response to any stimulus: it instantly becomes enraged and charges, stamping and hooking, then once the object of its fury is destroyed or runs successfully away, it goes back to grazing. A piece of writing that refuses to step forward is to be thought of as the object of a rhino’s fury and the author is to sit down and write the damn thing, even badly, just champ away at it ferociously. Maybe that will work for me. I’ll try it later this morning.
Tomorrow or next day I will go to the Minnesota State Fairgrounds even though the Fair is over, because I need to pick up my entry in the needlework competition – I won a red ribbon, coming in second in the senior arena with my Christmas stocking.
It has a B on it because it’s a gift for my good friend Becky, who came to England with me a few years back. I got sick on the flight over and wound up in Leicester hospital. We went there for the reburial of King Richard III’s bones, found under a parking lot. Only I missed almost all of the ceremonies, and poor Becky, who is not a fan of medieval English history, stayed without complaint in Leicester and missed most of the other things we were scheduled to see, and was a great comfort to me. The stocking is the least I can do to thank her.
The closing of the Fair marks the end of summer in Minnesota. That was underlined yesterday when I was out on our balcony and saw that of the five trees across the street, three are turning gold already – not just here and there, but all over. It feels early for that marked a change, but I am further reminded that in the hat-wearing population, it’s after Labor Day, so straw hats are now put away until spring (white shoes, too). I’m not really complaining; I like autumn, I feel energized this time of year when the sun shrinks south and the thick, wet air cools, dries, and smells of apples. The Michaelmas goose is fattening, unaware of his fate: who eats goose at Michaelmas (September 29) will have enough money for the next year. I will stuff him with cloves of garlic, chopped apples, and onions, and invite my friends to share the promised blessing.
I finally – finally! – got to hear the music hand lettered on that fifteenth century Italian vellum. It’s just the chorus and part of a verse from an Antiphon, the one written for Maundy Thursday at the ceremony during which a bishop (or even the Pope) washed the feet of some poor men. I believe the King of England did it, too, because there are some coins given to the men whose feet were washed, and you can today buy a set of Maundy Money issued to mark the occasion.
But an even more amazing fact: the words and melody are still around! It is, in fact, number 606 in the Episcopal hymnal. In English, of course, but the melody, plaintive and sweet, is the same: Where charity and love exist, there also is God.
Lawrence Henry, very dear and long-time friend, came to St. George’s with his wife, Susan, and he played the melody on the piano while Ellen and I listened. And Susan found it in our hymnal. Ellen recorded his playing, and his remarks, and his replaying it while setting harmonies around it until I was dizzy with pleasure. God bless him.
You can find the melody on the Internet, search via Google or YouTube for Ubi Caritas.
Tomorrow I am giving a talk on my coin collection and my mystery novels – they couldn’t decide which subject they preferred, so I am doing both.