Just a quick post in appreciation of the month off of school I just had. Glory to God who gives us rest!
Yesterday I finished reading Amor Towles’ marvelous novel entitled A Gentleman in Moscow. It is the sort of book one reads languidly over several cups of tea and a scone, but which then prompts one to jump up and be polite, punctual, and engagingly philosophical in all meetings one might have that day.
In many ways, I would characterize this novel as the grown-up’s A Little Princess. There, one is kind and cheerful despite one’s circumstances; here, one masters one’s circumstances with cheerfulness and civility. Both take place in a limited geographical location, yet our gentleman has traveled more and is generally more cosmopolitan, so the world is naturally larger and more interesting.
Towles’ mastery of characterization is so thorough that even the clocks in the hotel become a vibrant part of Rostov’s interaction with the world. The hotel is, of course, a major character, and one which grows, changes, and gets older just as Rostov does. The areas in the hotel become characters, from the Boyarsky (my favorite) to the attic (my other favorite). Somehow the Hotel Metropol becomes the universe, just as much as it remains the still small point from which the entirety of the world is experienced.
And this world is experienced through the eyes of His Excellency, Count Alexander Rostov, Former Person and erstwhile resident of Idlehour. If he had a business card, it would say, “circumstances met & challenges faced with excellency and good humor.” He is a lovely man who would be a delightful acquaintance in real life.
Now, I’m not going to talk about the thing that happens at the end of Book 1, or the thing that happens at The End, so you’re just going to have to read it and find out.
I am the kind of person who is prone to small, fiddly projects, like knitting a sweater in fingering weight yarn or translating Ovid because I don’t trust other people’s translation of the Metamorphoses. Because of this, I frequently get stuck in the middle of doing fine fiddly things that require concentration and more time than I feel these projects should rightly demand of me.
Because of this, I am often left with the question – is it actually worth doing these fine things, and especially is it worth doing these fine things well?
But more fundamentally, is it worth doing fine things at all? And is it worth doing things that take so much time?
Then yesterday, as I was journaling, I began to think about the slowness of things. The slowness of translations, the slowness of healing, and the slowness of struggle.
Fine things, hard things, are often slow, like working on a translation. In a translation, half an hour can yield this:
And she represents the earth struck by her spearMetamorphoses 6.80-81, translation mine
Bringing forth a blossom of olive white with fruit
Is all this debate about the interpretation of a participle or whether or not this should be taken as a dependent clause or a prepositional phrase worth it? Perhaps.
Fine things like healing are often slow. I have been out of the hospital for not even two months, and I expect myself to be better and to do better, especially since my injuries are not visible on my body. Yet today, the feast of the Forerunner, was the first day in months I was able to make it through an entire Liturgy without leaving.
Is this, the process of putting myself back together with more exterior supports than I thought possible, worth it? Of course it is.
Fine things, difficult things, are often so slow they go at the pace of a snail, like the Christian struggle. Here, I hope I remember to say my prayers, and there, I hate that I forget. But slowly, the days that do build up, and they are the ones that change me.
Is this struggle for Christ worth it? Without any question at all.
These fiddly fine projects are slow, and moreover, they are not strictly necessary to my personhood. So why do I have questions about their value?
So this is the value of doing fine things well: each stitch, each word, gives me an opportunity to take one measured step at a time, to not rush the process, and to glorify Christ with every breath. This is what I need above all, and maybe by writing it down, I won’t forget.
As the turn of the decade approaches and the light of a new year begins to dawn, it is again time to set ambitious goals for all areas of my life, most importantly reading. (But also knitting. We can never forget knitting.) Thus, without further ado and in no particular order whatsoever, here is my 2020 To Be Read list.
1. Ovid’s Metamorphoses translated by Charles Martin. My thesis is on Book 6 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so I think it might behoove me to read the whole thing. I read part of Book 6 from this translation in Barnes & Noble, and it reflected my translation choices and style, so it has become the necessary volume to acquire. Category: none, or a complete book of poetry by one author.
2. Euripides’ Alcestis. The story of Alcestis has always bothered me, and I have taken to writing poems about it, yet I have not officially read the text. This is, of course, a problem with a very easy remedy. Category: ancient Greek drama.
3. Any novel by Virginia Woolf. Category: an intimidating book, a classic book by a female author. I’m still torn between books, because all of hers are considered classics, and as much as I originally wrote Mrs. Dalloway on my TBR, I also really want to read To the Lighthouse because Ursula Le Guin spoke so highly of it.
4. Killing Commendatore – Haruki Murakami. Category: a foreign (non-western) book.
5. Eden’s Outcasts – John Matteson. A biography of one of my favorite writers of all time, the incomparable Louisa May Alcott. I went to the Orchard House in Salem, MA, last year, and I picked up a copy there. Also it won the 2008 Pulitzer for Biography. Category: biography or memoir.
6. Homer: Understanding Classics – Jonathan Burgess. A book by one of my favorite classicists of all time (after Dr. Nagy of course) and a gift from my academic advisor. This book apparently has a chapter on applying literary critical theories to the classics, which I desperately need to read. Category: a book of essays, a “guilty pleasure” book.
7. The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern. This one came out this past November, and I had pre-ordered a copy since I loved Morgenstern’s first novel so very much.. Hopefully I will read this with a small group of literarily-minded friends, but I will read it either way. Category: a contemporary novel.
8. Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila, or The Little Way by St. Therese of Lisieux. Most likely I will read Interior Castle because I own a copy, but I believe the school library has The Little Way, so it could be the same difference. Category: a devotional work.
9. The Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. A retelling of the Arthurian legends in the most idyllic rather epic poetry of the only semi-Romantic I can actually stand, Tennyson. Category: a complete volume of poetry by a single author, reread a book you read in high school.
10. Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Apparently this is one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote, making it the Shakespearean equivalent of Euripides’ Bacchae. Clearly, anything vaguely Euripidean is worth reading. Category: a Shakespeare play.
11. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie. Category: a classic detective novel, a classic book by a female author.
12. A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. Quite a famous book, recommended by a good friend whose recommendations never fail me. I will admit, I am about halfway through it even though it is just barely January 1, but I am loving it. Category: a historical fiction novel.
13. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut. Category: an “out of your comfort zone” book, a satire.
14. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours – Helen Oyeyemi. Recommended in one of John Green’s videos. Category: a collection of short stories.
15. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi. Category: a foreign (non-Western) book, a memoir or biography, a book about books.
16. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Category: a classic children’s book.
17. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Trenton. A modern mystery, apparently inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It will be fun to compare them. Category: a contemporary novel.
18. Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout. I have been seeing this on the bookstagram, and it also won a 2008 Pulitzer, this one for Fiction. I have been attempting to read more Pulitzer-prize-winning novels, so this one fits the bill most excellently.
19. Rumpole of the Bailey – John Mortimer. This one was recommended by my academic advisor, and since her taste tends towards the excellent, here we are.
20. Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang. Also recommended in a video by John Green. This collection of short stories is sci-fi, and it has been a while since I read any sci-fi, and it’s about time to remedy that. Category: a collection of short stories.
And because I am really quite daring, I decided to include five alternates, because if 20 isn’t already unrealistic for this final-semester-soon-to-start-real-life-college-senior, then 25 certainly is. (And let’s not forget all the reading I will have to do for school….) It is totally doable. I think.
1. Philology – James Turner. A Christmas present from my parents, this book is a monograph about the impact of philology on the modern humanist academic sciences. I am very excited to read it, however dense it may be (and however long it may take me).
2. Words of the Heart – Gerondissa Makrina Vassopolou. This has her life and 64 (!) of her homilies. I have read sections of this, and it is so helpful and her words are so direct and sweet, and I really need to read more spiritual books.
3. Idiot Psalms by Scott Cairn. Another Christmas present, and one I am very much looking forward to.
4. Life of the Virgin – St. Maximos the Confessor. I want to keep working through this one, since it is a bit dense, but so beautiful.
5. Virgil’s Aeneid. Because if I graduate as a classics major and have not read the entirety of this book in translation, something will have gone horribly, horribly wrong.
If you have gotten this far and read through all of that, bless you and your angelic patience with my ramblings.
What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2020?
It’s finally snowing here in Boston, and I am so happy for it! We are coming off of two consecutive snow days after a week off, so I have been luxuriating in the hygge (and, sadly, the procrastination…)
In that vein, I had a lot of goals for the month of November that got fairly well interrupted by a week and a half hospital stay. Fortunately now that’s starting to be sorted out, and now that I finally have more energy and I have the ability to focus focus (two great things that go great together, when one isn’t distracted by a snow day)! The healing is a process of patience and self-forgiveness, and learning how to read the rhythms of my body better.
This means my projects for this month have taken on more special dimensions because they have seen me through the before and after of the hospital visit.
My knitting project for the last month has been what I have dubbed “the Christmas sweater,” since my goal is to have it to wear on Christmas Day. It is the pattern Whitehorse by Caitlin Hunter, knitted in Tanis Fiber Arts’ Metropolis colorway in DK. I started it thinking I could participate in and finish it for TFA’s Metropolis knit-a-long on Ravelry, but because of my stay in the hospital, this didn’t happen. I’m a bit sad about not being eligible for prizes, but it is my special speckly squishy bobbly beauty of a sweater (yoke), and it saw me through the psych ward, so it’s ok. It still means a lot.
While the psych ward was not great for my knitting, it was good for my reading! So I kept the momentum up and started St. Maximos the Confessor’s Life of the Virgin (translated by Stephen Shoemaker) for the Advent Fast. Apparently it used to be read in monastic communities year round, so I read the section appointed for the Entrance to the Theotokos into the Temple. It is very beautiful but also drips Byzantine rhetoric, which I am quite enjoying.
I am also reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Craft of Writing, which, although about fiction writing, is proving useful to my thesis as well. Good writing is good writing, after all.
Finally, I caved and bought myself a copy of the classics textile material culture-ist’s bible, Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean. It is truly the most marvelous book I have ever read, and I have been learning a great deal about the possibilities of tapestry weave being used in Rome or the surrounding areas from 43 BC-17 AD (in other words, Ovid’s lifespan). Of course, I’m saving my ideas and conclusions for my thesis, but I am terribly excited, and I cannot wait to read my own writing.
Joy is such a wonderful thing, and these monthly check-ins really remind me of what a joy it is to have things that I love that I can share with others. If you want, but only if you want, write something in the comments that brings joy to your life, so we can all see and share in each others’ joy!
(As usual on the first Wednesday of the month, I’m linking up with Ginny’s Yarn Along. Head on over to her page to find other beautiful people who blog about wonderful things!)
Wherefore go I with downcast face whilst mine enemy afflicteth me?Psalm 42/43:2, HTM
I am an Orthodox Christian, and I have a mental illness.
Essentially, I was recently diagnosed with a type of mental illness called Bipolar II, a mood disorder on the bipolar spectrum which is no less severe than Bipolar I but only differs in its reality. The easiest way to explain it is that in Bipolar II the highs aren’t as high (hypomania rather than mania) but the lows are lower (and perhaps last longer). (For more thorough explanations as well as one of my primary sources in explaining Bipolar II, please visit Dr. Jim Phelps’ website, https://psycheducation.org/, where he talks about symptoms, treatment processes, and the like.)
(Note: this post might sound a little detached compared to my usual writing style, but it is difficult for me to write about what happened without sounding detached. It is still new, so it still feels a little like a dream. In any case, please bear with me.)
I had been struggling with the possibility of my having a mental illness for a long time. Originally my spiritual father thought I had some kind of clinical depression, but then I was not seeking treatment for it because some days (sometimes for consecutive days) I would feel great and even on top of the world. Of course, this was actually another symptom of my mental illness, but the cycles messed with me, and so when I was depressed I was too lonely or too scared to seek treatment, and on days I felt on top of the world I felt I didn’t need to seek treatment.
During this time I felt like an emotional yo-yo, at the whim of feelings and thoughts I didn’t understand and didn’t want to experience; one of my dear friends said that in interacting with me I felt like a roller coaster on fire headed for a brick wall. Eventually this finally resulted with me being in what psychiatrists call a bipolar mixed state, where I was experiencing both symptoms of hypomania (extra energy, irritability, racing thoughts, inability to concentrate, not sleeping enough) alongside symptoms of depression (listlessness, lack of interest in my life, things I normally love not bringing me joy, general apathy, and sadness).
As you can imagine, this state was terrible. It finally got to a point where the emotions were all too much, and I had a day where I had three rounds of crying and not calming down because I simply could not handle basic stresses in my life. At this point, my spiritual father was of course deeply concerned about me, and he thought I needed go to the hospital so they could start treatment, since I was unable to calm down in the moment and I had also not been seeking treatment.
So, I went to the ER, and then was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. I spent a week and a half there, and it was so necessary and so lovely to be able to rest my mind, begin treatment, and start to heal.
Now I am back in my regular life, and I have been for about half a week. I am no longer a roller coaster on fire headed for a brick wall; instead, I am balanced and centered. I have been moving more slowly, prioritizing peace and calmness, and taking a little more time to notice the sunshine on my plants. Life is not going back to normal, but a new normal is here, and it is better than ever before.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will give thanks unto Him; He is the salvation of my countenance, and my God.Psalm 42/43:5, HTM
Here we are in October yet again… It is one of my favorite months, and many of my close friends (and my godmother!) have birthdays this month. However, it is also a month of gloominess and usually means that seasonal affective disorder makes my depression worse, so I have to be extra careful about what music I listen to, what books I read, how much exercise I get, and so on.
This month I am actually finally going to finish Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I have been “reading” it for months now, which simply means that I have been stuck at page 396 for months.
The other two books I am reading, 100 Poems by Seamus Heaney (an anthology with short poems and selections of longer works) and Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, were both given to me as gifts by two of my professors after I was chosen to win the Humanities Paper Prize for two distinctions, an essay and a set of poems. They also gave me another book, Homer by Jonathan Burgess (who I am a great fan of), but I can only read so much at one time! I’m very excited about the Seamus Heaney book because he is one of my favorite poets, and currently my favorite poem of his is either “Postscript” (linked in the sidebar) or “St. Kevin and the Blackbird.” Women’s Work is about exactly what the title says, but with a specific focus on cloth production in very early human history. Of course, I am utterly fascinated by this topic, as I have decided to write my undergraduate thesis on weaving in ancient Greece.
My current project for this month, which I have been working on since the end of last semester, is this cross-stitch which is based on traditional Mediterranean motifs. I got it from Avlea, run by Khouria Krista West. She has all kinds of beautiful designs and patterns, and I want to get one of the Paschal-colored ones eventually.
I brought this project with me on an OCF retreat this last weekend, and everyone loved it, which was really wonderful. I think it is so amazing that people my age are actually so respectful of handcrafts and can find so much beauty and value in them and the time it takes to make them. Also, it was my first below-freezing weekend since the summer started, leaving me with a renewed appreciation for the glory and goodness that is wool.
One last thing I want to share: I submitted some of my poetry for possible publication! I am very excited about this, and of course God only knows what will happen, but even if the poems don’t get printed, I tried something new and I grew a little.
Glory to God for all things!
(I am joining up with Ginny’s Yarn Along here in this beautiful month of October.)
Here I am
Hunched over at the end of another new day
(the needle snap it hurt me)
(the joy too much for me to bear)
(woe, woe, woe is me,
how dare they come to me?)
After another after another after another
I can’t handle more than three a day.
It’s rosemary for you,
This week I started having scheduled work again after having two weeks off. This was not particularly difficult in terms of the type of work I have to do (I work in a small bookstore), but simultaneously it was spectacularly difficult because I lost a large degree of creative control over my time during the day.
As irritating as this was, I suppose it’s a nice reintroduction into the world of prioritization and scheduling. In my last Sunday post, I wrote about how many obligations I’m going to have, and realistically the only way I am at all going to get through is prioritization, scheduling, and most of all the grace of God.
I think the biggest thing I’m going to have to remember is to slow down and remember God. In his book Becoming a Healing Presence, Dr. Albert Rossi talks about stillness and silence being a form of prayer. He is, of course, harkening back to Elijah’s finding of God not in the thunder, earthquake, or wind, but in the still quiet breeze. Interestingly, we Orthodox actually just read this 5 days ago as the third Old Testament reading for the Vespers of Transfiguration.
I suppose, then, that the only way I can transfigure my time into something positive and God-serving is to find the stillness and the silence and allow it to permeate throughout my day. More accurately, find God in the stillness and the silence and allow Him to permeate my life.
I suppose that’s what Dr. Rossi was really saying and it just took me a while to understand, but then, this is a life-long process, and I am just a beginner.
After I left the monastery about 3 years ago (how on earth has it only been 3 years?), I decided it would probably be a good idea to start working on some kind of a hope chest. I figured that since I would probably someday get married, a hope chest would be a nice tangible manifestation of that dream and hope (and give me something useful to do instead of staring at boys). So far I have a baby blanket, 2 half-finished baby sweaters, and a big pile of yarn.
Which brings us to my most recent knitting project: my second-ever baby blanket which will hopefully be for one of my future children.
I’m using the Fly Away blanket pattern from TinCanKnits, which I also used for the last blanket. It’s a really lovely pattern, and I think my seams on this blanket are better than the last one, so that makes me happy.
The color scheme and design are based on and inspired by Tanis of Tanis Fiber Art‘s beautiful star blanket pattern (here’s the original star; and the idea for me to knit another blanket was totally inspired by her blanket knit-along that she hosts every summer in her Ravelry group).
So here’s to another blanket filled with faith, hope, and love, and the dream of a future family.
(Joining up on this first Wednesday in August with Ginny’s yarn along)