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Posts Tagged ‘Evelyn Waugh’

— 1 —

Piano and fossils, oh my.

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Let’s report. Because there’s just too damn much else going on demanding reaction and commentary. Who the heck can keep up? It’s probably good in the long run. Keeps some of us off our high horses, minimizes the temptation to virtue-signal,  and refocuses us back where we can actually have an impact – on our own daily lives.

 — 2 —

Last Saturday, the older one had to work early and for most of the day. In the morning, the younger one and I headed over to Samford for a “Masquerade” recital where he played the Rach 3 in C# minor. The famous one, you know. His costume? We bought a pack of “hello my name is” stickers and he plastered his shirt with them – everyone from Spiro Agnew to Taylor Swift. Not sure what that was all about.

Anyway, he played well – you can see some video of it here. We’re done with the Rach for a while and he’s hitting the Beethoven Sonata 1, 4th movement hard right now. I think I mentioned before that he and I are having fun with Satie’s 3 Pieces in the Shape of a Pear. I’m playing around with Scarlatti K. 69. I find it almost heartrendingly beautiful. For example, listen to the part (if you won’t listen to the whole thing…) that begins around 0:40 in this recording. So simple, so profound.

— 3 —

Anyway, here are some photos from the fossil hunt – I posted one a few days ago. It was sponsored by a local group geared at getting kids and families outside – Michael’s been to a couple of their camps in the past. They have two fossil hunts a year at this site – the fossils are mostly plant based, and are quite fascinating to find – once you figure out how to look. The first step is to look for black blotches on rocks – it’s a sign of carbon detritus, and carbon = life.

Grasshopper: not a fossil. He was a hitchiker.

— 4

Here’s a find from the late-night homeschool “planning” sessions: History Bombs, which seems to be British. It’s mostly a pay site, but there are a few free videos, which are fun and, it seems, mostly accurate.

Speaking of accuracy, or the lack of it – if you are familiar with the world of educational videos, you’ve probably heard of Crash Course videos. I find them irritating and smug so I don’t use them, but a lot of people do – but just fyi, here’s a useful and brief critique of the Crash Course video on the “first Thanksgiving” – it’s a good reminder to be wary of most popular history…everything gets diluted down and mythology is uncritically passed on….

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Speaking of history, this week’s In Our Time was on the Congress of Vienna. Quite absorbing and clarifying. I was particularly taken with the presence, energy and wit of one scholar, Tim Blanning, whom I subsequently looked up and found to be the author of several interesting books, including this one, which I think I’ll check out of the library tomorrow and probably never finish, but you know…I’ll have tried.

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Good stuff from Andrew Ferguson. God, I hate everyone. Well, most people. Not you, though!

— 7 —

Currently reading:

Several short stories that my older son had to read for school – 19th century American realism. Crane, Chopin, London – you know the drill. I hadn’t read any of them, I’m ashamed to say, except for “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” I think my favorite was Crane’s “A Mystery of Heroism.”  Irony upon irony: the fellow who didn’t think for a moment he could be a hero actually did something heroic, but his motivations were anything but heroic anyway – rooted more in pride and fear of his fellows’ contempt than anything else. It says much about the muck and ambiguity of human conflict of all kinds.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the 12-year old. He read The Old Man and the Sea last week. (This is “school” reading – he has bunches of books and graphic novels he reads for pleasure on his own).

Officers and Gentlemen by Waugh – the second in the Men at Arms trilogy. As I mentioned previously, I had, for some reason, thought it would be battle or strategy focused, so I’d not been interested, but as I’ve discovered, it’s just Waugh – centered on eviscerating human folly and yearning, in just another setting. Favorite sentence:

Her features were regular as marble and her eyes wide and splendid and mad.

It’s part of a brilliant and insane chapter of a bizarre dinner at the home of a faded Scottish aristocrat on an pile of rock called the Isle of Mugg….you had to be there…

Other than that, life is writing – I’m on track to finish writing the book due on 12/15 by 11/1. Yup. Super proud of myself, although perhaps I won’t be once the editors read what I’ve produced and said, Er…um…. But it’s good that I obeyed my instinct to be uncharacteristically efficient, because another project has come my way that’s going to take a lot of time between now and the spring. Which is good!

Writing, watching Lost and homeschooling. That’s it right now….I do tend to post updates more frequently on Instagram, so do check me out there.

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Growing crystals in the homeschool.

And start doing your Christmas shopping, for pete’s sake! I don’t mind being bested by Jesus – that’s as it should be – but Martin Luther? Nope, nope, nope.

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Today is also the memorial of St. Helena (Helen), mother of Emperor Constantine and according to tradition, discoverer of the True Cross.

True Christian zeal motivated St. Helena. Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).

For a decidedly novel and novelistic take on Helena, check out Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena.  It was his favorite of all of his novels. Some people hate it, but I love it. When I was working as editor of the Loyola Classics series, the book was amazingly out of copyright in the US, so we were able to publish it with an introduction by George Weigel.  I see that the copyright issue has gone another way, it seems, so the book is now published as part of a series of Waugh novels by .  You helena waugh amy welborncan get copies of the Loyola edition here, and the current edition here. 

Some, as I said, hate it because, they say, it’s basically the type of characters you find in Vile Bodies and Handful of Dust  –  1920’s British upperclass twits – plopped down in the 4th century.  Well, that’s part of the reason I like it. It’s entertaining in that way.

But also – when you read deeper, you see that this novel is about the search for truth – the True Cross is a real thing, but it’s also a metaphor.  Helena’s life is a search for faith, and what she is seeking is something that is true and real. She is offered all sorts of different options that are interesting, intricate, sophisticated or satisfy her wants and desires, but none of them are real.  Except one. From Weigel’s introduction:

Waugh was not a proselytizer, and Helena is no more an exercise in conventional piety than Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, whose hero is an alcoholic priest. But Waugh was a committed Christian apologist, and his apologetic skills are amply displayed in Helena. Thus Helena was not only addressed to those Christians who were trying to figure out the meaning of their own discipleship; it was also intended as a full-bore confrontation with the false humanism that, for Waugh, was embodied by well-meaning but profoundly wrong-headed naturalistic-humanistic critics of the modern world like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

More specifically, Waugh wanted to suggest that an ancient pathogen was lurking inside the hollowness of modern humanisms: gnosticism, the ancient heresy that denies the importance or meaningfulness of the world. So, to adopt a neologism from contemporary critics, Helena is, “metafictionally,” an argument on behalf of Waugh’s contention that modern humanistic fallacies are variants on the old, gnostic temptations exemplified by helenathe Emperor Constantine and his world-historical hubris. And at the core of the gnostic temptation was, and is, the denial of the Christian doctrine of original sin – which is, in effect, a denial of some essential facts of life, including the facts of suffering and death. In Helena, the arrogantly ignorant Constantine puts it in precisely these terms to old Pope Sylvester, as the headstrong young conqueror heads off to his new capital on the Bosporus: “You can have your old Rome, Holy Father, with its Peter and Paul and its tunnels full of martyrs. We start with no unpleasant associations; in innocence, with Divine Wisdom and Peace.”

And what was the answer to the gnostic fallacy, which produced in Constantine’s time, as in ours, a kind of plastic, humanistic utopianism? For Helena, and for Waugh, it was what the aged Empress went to find: the “remorseless fact of the lump of wood to which Christ was nailed in agony,” as Waugh biographer Martin Stannard put it. This “remorseless lump of wood” reminds us of two very important things: it reminds us that we have been created, and it reminds us that we have been redeemed. Helena believed, and Waugh agreed, that without that lump of wood, without the historical reality it represented, Christianity was just another Mediterranean mystery religion, a variant on the Mithras cult or some other gnostic confection. With it – with this tangible expression of the incarnation and what theologians call the hypostatic union (the Son of God become man in Jesus of Nazareth) – a window was open to the supernatural, and the “real world” and its sufferings were put into proper perspective. For God had saved the world, not by fetching us out of our humanity (as the gnostics would have it), but by embracing our humanity in order to transform it through the mystery of the cross – the mystery of redemptive suffering, vindicated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

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Although set more than a millennium and a half ago, Helena is a bracing antidote to this contemporary gnosticism: this “bosh” and “rubbish,” as Waugh’s Helena would put it. From her childhood, Helena is determined to know whether things are real or unreal, true or false — including the claims of Christianity. For her, Christianity is not one idea in a world supermarket of religious ideas. Christianity is either the truth — the Son of God really became man, really died, and really was raised from the dead for the salvation of the world — or it’s more “bosh” and “rubbish.” The true cross of Helena’s search is not a magical talisman; it is the unavoidable physical fact that demonstrates the reality of what Christians propose, and about which others must decide.

One Waugh biographer suggests that the novelist’s later years were marked by an agonizing spiritual quest for compassion and contrition. As for many of us, the contrition likely came easier than the compassion. But it is difficult to read Helena without discerning in its author the capacity for a great compassion indeed – a compassion for the human struggle with the great questions that are raised in every life, in every age. Evelyn Waugh’s comic energy was once sprung from his pronounced power to hurt others, as a novel like Vile Bodies demonstrates. But in the mature Waugh, the Waugh who wrote Helena and thought it his finest achievement, the farce has been transformed into comedy, and the comedy has become, for all the chiaroscuro shadings, a divine comedy indeed.

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints….first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

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Add this to scenes I never expected to happen in my life:

Me saying to my HOMESCHOOLED son: “Hurry up and finish your work so we can go buy the MOUSE for your SNAKE to EAT.”

Just in case you’re around 30 years old and think that you know where life is going….

Speaking of learning and link-ups, Melanie Bettinelli is beginning one entitled “Guilt-Free Learning Notes” which I’ll be participating in – starting this Saturday. Should be fun.

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So Sunday we went to Whole Foods after Mass.  We were just getting milk and my lime sparkling water so Joseph stayed in the car and Michael and I ran in.

At one point, an older man walked down our aisle with his cart. I looked at him, he glanced at me, I nodded because in that instant I recognized him, without knowing why or how and the nod just happened. He nodded back.  Courteous-like, the way we do down here.  We moved on.

But it bugged me.  I don’t latch on to random people, imagining that I know them.  If my subconscious is joggled, it’s for real.  I I just couldn’t identify him, though.  I definitely felt that I *knew* him in some sense.  I went through the checklist of my rather limited local circles. Church(es)? No. School(s)? No.  Neighborhood(s)?  I don’t think so…but maybe….

And then it hit me.

He looked exactly like the actor who plays the Senator in that fantastic show Rectify. 

I mean – didn’t look like him.  Looked to be him.

Could it be?  I mean, I knew that one of the Rectify actors lives in the area – Clayne Crawford, who plays Teddy, Jr, but..this guy? I didn’t even know his name. As the seconds past, the less sure I was.

So we checked out, we went to the car, and I sat behind the wheel. I got the Ipad from Joseph and looked up the Senator.

And this article came up: “Vegas, Gray’s Anatomy star Michael O’Neill moves back to Alabama.”

In fact, the man whose character went on a murderous rampage in a memorable “Grey’s Anatomy” season finale is a family man, an actor and an Alabama native who recently moved back to the area.

Originally from Montgomery, the Auburn grad moved back to Alabama in November of last year to be closer to his father, who has since died. He also wanted to give his three teenage children a taste of his home.

More recently, some of you might recognize him from this summer’s CBS show, Extant. 

Yup. That was him. Amazing. So..what to do now? Go be a fangirl, not only of him, but mostly of Rectify?

Damn straight!

The boys were, of course, mortified and declined to go back in.  I casually strolled up and down the aisles of Whole Foods, not at all in a stalkerish fashion, no not me,  and there he was – chatting with  couple of other women.  I waited until they were finished, and approached.  He was so very nice, asking my name, expressing both surprise and gratitude that I watched Rectify. We talked about the pleasures of a well-done program committed to be realistic about the contemporary South, I mentioned the appeal of the spiritual themes, and just thanked him for his work. Very gracious fellow!

(And no…I didn’t ask for a photo…)

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My 9-year old is taking a boxing class with other homeschooled boys. He loves it.  I don’t know what it is about the coach/teacher who runs the class and the gym, but he has a gift for motivating.  The kid is wiped out by the end of the hour (a 9-year old? Taking shower in the middle of the day? Get out....) but also totally pumped and positive. It’s like magic.

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I reread Waugh’s Handful of Dust this week, just because I was not in the mood for Collins’ intricacies. I’ll get back in that groove this weekend.  Boy I had forgotten how dark that book is.  You know, people always rag on Miss O’Connor for being “dark” and grotesque, but honestly – read Wise Blood next to the early Waugh, and you can see what real darkness – that is without even a glimmer of grace – is.  Precise, knowing and hilarious, yes…but ever so depressing.

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Speaking of British things, do you know what I’ve never watched?  You guessed. Downton Abbey.  I don’t know why I’ve never been interested.  I think my deep loyalty to Upstairs, Downstairs has closed my mind to what I perceive as an uppity usurper.

And speaking of those old Masterpiece Theater series, what were your favorites? As a teen I gobbled them up, especially – in addition to U/D:

I, Claudius

The Pallisers 

Shoulder to Shoulder.

My parents were devotees, as I recall, of The Forsythe Saga and The First Churchills, but I was too young to care when they were into them and I only remember thinking that they looked beyond boring..  But I adored Derek Jacobi (Claudius), was captivated by the unwilling,but ultimately loving marriage of the Pallisers and probably a little in love with Donal McCann who played Phineas Finn.

Shoulder to Shoulder was a 6-part dramatization of the woman’s suffrage movement in Britain, and was a huge influence on me.  I think it helped situate my thinking about feminism in a historical context, giving my young self a sort of freedom from the secular feminist cant of the 70’s.  It’s a very powerful series and, oddly enough, is one of the few such series never released in recorded format.  Can’t find it anywhere.

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My daughter, who lives and works in Bavaria, has taken a short trip to Verona and environs this week.  You can see some of her pics from Verona here, and catch what she saw yesterday – 9/11 – in Venice yesterday here.  

Us? Well, we went to Oak Mountain! Go, us!

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That was actually a nice day – after the first half of the week full of lessons and classes (Because no socialization!) , we could finally get out after the hated cursive and not-quite-hated math was done.  A good hike, then a turn around Aldridge Gardens and then the library.  All the time with the steady soundtrack of detailed descriptions of Lord of the Rings Lego sets….

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I’ve continued my slow march through my books…..for adults (including RCIA)  here...for kids here…devotional and parish materials here.  Still to come, materials for teens and the four books Ann Engelhart and I have done together.

(And remember…today’s the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary...so how about that free Mary book?)

St. Francis’ feastday is coming soon!  Time to talk about Adventures in Assisi!

"amy welborn"

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