I have heard writers say that there is no such thing as writing, that there is only rewriting. And a lighting man I know says, "For every vision, there is an equal and opposite revision".
I have been very busy – singing a wonderful concert in Connecticut with my sister, Babette, performing with JaLaLa gig at Birdland. Tomorrow I travel (much earlier in the morning than seems possible) to Washington, DC's Kennedy Center, where JaLala is part of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, and teaching a master for students of the Duke Ellington High School.
But once I'm back home (and after the predicted end of the world on Saturday), I expect I'll have fewer distractions. I'll brew up a pot of tea, and tell stories.
In the Harry Potter series, there is a scene in which Luna Lovegood tells Harry that she, too, can see the horse-like creatures that pull the Hogwarts carriage. The thestrals, which are invisible to most of the other students, can only be seen by those who have witnessed, and accepted, death. Harry, who in the earlier books thought the coach flew on its own, had watched powerlessly as Voldemort killed Cedric. Once he has accepted that death, he sees the beasts for the first time.
They are described as horses with wings. But they bear no resemblance to the creatures we see on tee shirts and the covers of notebooks marketed to young girls, horses which tend to resemble Arabians, with their refined features, flowing manes and tails, and lovely floating action.
Nothing can prettify a thestral. Dark-colored and skeletal, with the naked leathery wings of a bat, it is fanged and carnivorous. Unless it is running free, it must be fed, and to do that, you have to go deep into the woods, their preferred habitat. Of course, the woods are not safe, and neither is the thestral. But, though never docile, it is useful and clever, with an unerring sense of direction. This last quality is particularly helpful, because we must often walk where the path is not marked, and wrong turnings are all too easy to make. It's also vexing, because we're human, and we often can't hear where our wise souls want to go. I think this combination of helpful and vexing is an attribute of the divine, and so I have a great respect for thestrals, and for J. K. Rowling for capturing them in words. I am fascinated by her vision of a direction-finder that can serve anyone, but is only visible to those who have witnessed and accepted death.
All creatures great and small, living and mythological (not always a contradiction) embody some aspects of the divine. Everything bears the fingerprints of God. Though the appearance of these beasts seems frightening, one must look again. After all, who is it in scripture whose appearance is so terrifying that the first words heard are always "fear not!"? Hint: it's not Satan.
At the junction of dreaming, myth, and The Little Prince is this brilliant piece, Born Like an Artist, on the Jellyvampire blog. Here is a link to the work.
Thanks to Stephanie, reader of Paul Overton's Every Day is Awesome, for recommending it in her comment there.
Years ago, I fell under the spell of a man who spoke beautifully. It's not the only time I've done so. This may indicate a certain susceptibility men with language skills, and perhaps there is a clinical term for it. These gentlemen don't have to be living now, or ever; in fact, they can be fictional characters. One of my favorites, Lord Peter Wimsey, graces a series of detective novels written by Dorothy Sayers. These are the books I reread when I am sick in bed for a few days, as I never tire of Lord Peter's company. In this clip from one of the brilliant the BBC adaptations, with Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter, and Harriet Walter as writer Harriet Vane, we learn that "one wordsmith [is] worth three cyber-experts." Yea, verily.
But my current affair of the heart may be the biggest one ever. I know the news will devastate Sir Paul McCartney, but really, darling Paul, you must admit you've had your chances. I shall always feel great affection for you – in fact, I am doing a concert on your birthday, dedicated to you and your tunes. But you've been supplanted in my affection by a kinsman of yours, an rather older man, William Shakespeare. You must have felt it coming, yes? ever since you released that tune with the mandolin.
Here's Edward Petherbridge again, this time giving us Shakespeare's Sonnet 57 ("Being your slave, what should I do…").
I'm currently enjoying actor Harriet Walter's book, Other People's Shoes: Thoughts on Acting, in which she writes about her acting life. It is a very conversational book, and, as I read, I feel as though I am taking tea and chatting with a wise friend. In fact, sharing a cuppa with Ms. Walter is now one of my genie-lamp wishes.
In several passages, she mentions "sod's law", the British term for what we in America call "Murphy's Law", which states that anything that can go wrong will. I love words, so because I hope to keep increasing my working vocabulary until eons after the day I die, I did some research into origins.
"Sod" is a slang term that can be defined as a pitiable, awkward, or objectionable person. No one ventures an opinion about who the original "sod" might have been. But I'm voting for Adam, in the Bible, because his very name means dirt, or earth, which is also the non-slang meaning of sod. And, it could be said that he did act like a sod, too.
In any case, I found this passage, from British stage magician Nevile Maskelyne, writing in 1908. He doesn't name it, but he does describe sod's law:
It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.
Personally, I am not convinced that depravity lurks in inanimate things. Nor am I certain that there is any such thing as an inanimate anything. Rather, I suspect these entities are animate, but move so slowly that we can't pay attention long enough to be aware of their progress. In fact, we don't even live long enough to do so. It's all relative, isn't it? To a fly, we are ponderously slow; to a slug, we are a blur and a breeze.
Furthermore, I don't accept that such objects are necessarily depraved. In fact, I think they might be terrifically funny, and cracking jokes all the time, hoping we'll laugh. How else to explain the car keys that vanish and reappear? Or the cell phone one searches for frantically, while it is hiding in one's hand? Or my laptop, which changes the character palette for no reason – as it is doing this morning, insisting on returning to italics even after countless corrections, and arbitrarily switching to the Polish kezboard so that I find I am uging some verz odd spellings of words?
In truth, my computer's shenanigans do seem to be inching toward the doorway to Depravity, as Ms. Mac answers my "Why must you?" with "Because I can".
In any case (aauurrrgh!), I feel lukewarm about the expression "Murphy's Law". Why does Murphy get the credit? Actually, there is an answer to that question, and it's here.
But the older usage "sod's law" seems more democratic somehow, and more polite. No matter how our lives unfold, we all get an equal chance to take our turn being the sod.
James Taylor has always been so identified with the "singer-songwriter" genre (in which the singing is sometimes not as good as the writing) that not everyone notices that he is an extraordinary vocalist. But if you listen to any one of his many recordings, you will hear an exquisite combination of intelligence, wit, simplicity of style, honesty of expression, great intonation, impeccable time, and heart. Taylor has been singing in tune and serving the lyric for a long time now, and he gets better with every passing year. In my mind, he is one of the very best singers of my generation.
In this clip he talks about singing. Enjoy!
P.S. He and his then-wife Carly Simon attended a Transfer show in the early 70s, and dropped by our dressing rooms. It was like a visitation from the gods, not in a You're So Vain kind of way (they were both very sweet), but rather because they were both so much taller than us. Built on a more glorious scale, really. Makes me stand up very straight whenever I remember it.
I received a comment on one of my blog posts yesterday, which is not in and of itself unusual – and thank you all for that! But the post was one I wrote in September 2007, on the occasion of Madeleine L'Engle's death.
I was surprised.
Somehow, it had never occurred to me that something I wrote two and a half years ago would still be part of the conversation, even though I am never surprised when people tell me they love "Scotch and Soda", or "Je Voulais", which were recorded in the 1970s, for heaven's sake. I'm deeply grateful when that happens, but not surprised. So, apparently I've had a little trouble generalizing. I'd seen that writing is like singing in one way – both are conversations – but missed another. – the conversation is not bound by time. As one who relishes reading old books, I am feeling a little silly about that, and also very jazzed.
It thrills me that you read what I write, and that you care about the things I care about, whether it is the song of a bird or the way someone sings the national anthem, a passage of scripture or a cool blog, the chill of a winter night or the warmth in Elizabeth Taylor's eyes.
So, thank-you, D H-T, for your comment about Madeleine yesterday. Thank you all for your time and thoughtful attention. You might not know how much you mean to me, but I sure do.