A Word on Behalf of Beowulf

A few days ago I read a thread on Twitter that didn’t have to do with the president of the United States. It was about Beowulf.

I know the Beowulf is not on the top of most peoples’ minds. I know that he’s largely a cause of much pain and suffering in high school. He was for me, too. It wasn’t until I suddenly (really, it was sudden) became something of a medievalist that I began to revise my views on this amazing work of poetry. In 2002, on my way to a job interview in Cheyenne, WY, I found Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf at the Denver airport where I changed planes.

It was so captivating that I didn’t do much to prepare for my interview except get dressed up and show up on time.

I love Beowulf the character. He’s just wonderful, but I’m not a “modern” person. I don’t have the preconceived biases people are taught today and that I found on the Twitter thread.

You see, here’s the thing. Beowulf wasn’t written by a 20th century author. No one knows who wrote it or even why other than to entertain people. It’s a composite of mythic stories and historical events. It’s now believed to have been written in the 8th century. Some of the factual information in the story has been confirmed. But…

These people were not us — or were they? Could Beowulf be just another scary story about men vs. monsters along the lines of The Thing or Alien? But somehow — according to the long, disturbing thread on Twitter — it’s now being taught as White Males vs. The Poor, Suffering Other portrayed by the trolls, Grendel and his mother. For them Beowulf is not a hero; he’s a villain, and the poor monster, Grendel, is the true hero because he is the victim of hatred. In fact, I don’t see a lot of hatred in that story. The person who’s hired Beowulf — King Hrothgar — is angry because Grendel keeps breaking up parties in the mead hall and eating people. I’d be angry too. Beowulf takes on the job for pay.

In my opinion, if there’s any backstory involved, fitting with Medieval people would be a Biblical allegory — especially as this was the era in which the Scandinavians were converting to Christianity. But I like the hired killer vs. monster angle myself and I’m sticking with it. The story was never written as “Literature.” It was written for those long, cold, Scandinavian nights by the fire in the mead hall, when people were bored.

And, isn’t this beautiful and true:

…Men were drinking wine
at that rare feast; how could they know fate,
the grim shape of things to come…

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation p 87

A Wandering Minstrel, I…

Everything’s on sale today, even WordPress blogs. Once I went (with the Evil-X who was a shopaholic) to an electronics store in San Diego — Frye’s — on Black Friday, and the line around the store was 2 hours to get in. He was even ready to stand in line. What could be in there that was worth two hours of my life? 

I hate shopping, but like most people I get that little “high” from buying something I want. I mostly shop online. I got into that habit when I was working so much that going to stores was almost impossible. I learned that there are a lot of ordinary things that are cheaper that way (toilet paper?). 

Now I’m starting to research the Goliards, and that’s involved shopping for books that no one wants to read. I bought some.

Books like these are usually extremely expensive (my Amazon wishlist is full of books I want but will never be able to afford) or really cheap.

One of the interesting parts of research is that it usually starts with one book and that book has footnotes that lead to books that are more helpful. Right now I’m reading Helen Waddell’s  The Wandering Scholars. I like it (her) because she also rejects the term “Dark Ages,” and because of her clear passion for these wandering scholars (I also love them), but her writing presupposes knowledge I don’t have, AND she gushes. Her assumptions have made me reach and shown me what I need to learn, but the gushing… I don’t know. Still it’s not a history book; it’s an introduction to a time and place. Generally I like it — but what I like most are the occasional quotations from the poetry she’s writing about, poems mostly written in Medieval Latin, which, of course, I can’t read. Most of the medieval lyric poems I’ve read have been in medieval German which is bizarrely like Middle English. Actually, not all that bizarrely. Conveniently.

The Wandering Scholars relates some beautiful stories of these people, and one point has really hit home. Back in medieval times, if a person wanted a real education, he had to join a monastery. Lots of people joined monasteries for this reason (as well as others that had nothing to do with a monastic calling). Even with the grand teachers and the collections of books, monastery walls were confining. At a certain point, their minds heavily laden with the classics and the scripture, many of these scholars just needed out. They were called vagabonds, wanderers. Here’s a story:

Some are born wanderers; some have it thrust upon them; but the word vagus denotes often a mental quality…Ekkehard’s [ have no idea who that is, another rabbit hole for me] use of it is interesting.: he tells a story of a young monk of St. Gall, of a mind incorrigibly vagus, with whom discipline could do nothing and how, on a certain day, being forbidden to go beyond the monastery, he climbed in his restlessness the campanile — “O that I were where I (could) but see” — to look abroad, and missing his foot, crashed to the ground. (The Wandering Scholars)

This young monk dies, but not before he asks for his soul to be commended to the Virgins, because, he says, he is one. The attending doctor has masses said for the young scholar’s soul every year.

I was that restless person long ago. The rhythm of the wanderer’s life (as Helen Waddell writes) is that in youth, some need wide horizons and will sacrifice everything to have them. When they’re older many of the vagabond scholars settled down to monastic lives, sometimes of great severity. I’m not especially restless now. Most of the wide horizons I sought are now contained within me. 

Anyway, it’s fascinating, and I’m loving what I’m learning. Long ago, before I knew anything about the Middle Ages, I suspected this second world without knowing for sure it existed. When I wrote Martin of Gfenn I sensed, without knowing for sure, that there was an undercurrent of what we call “Humanism” beneath everything. It just seemed illogical that there wouldn’t have been. In the process of writing that book I found a wonderful book of German medieval lyric poetry that supported my idea very clearly and made me curious about who these people were. Then, finding the Codex Manesse, a beautiful book from the 13th/14th centuries that preserves — with illustrations! — the stories of the lives of these poets was pretty solid evidence.

I have a long journey ahead of me before I find my story. I think it is about Michele, Martin of Gfenn’s painting teacher, but I might be wrong. 

“Let no one in his travelling
Go against the wind,
Let him not, because he’s poor,
Look as though he sorrows.
Let him set before himself
Hope’s consolation, for
After sorrow comes,
Delight.”

Carmina Burana

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/23/rdp-friday-shop/

New Old Story

Back in my 20’s I wrote a “novel.” It was not a novel, it was thinly disguised autobiography, but as I had not yet encountered my story, it was all I had. And, there was the fact that stuff going on in my life at the time made no sense whatsoever and was better suited to fiction than reality.

So, I wrote it.

And now…

The Schneebelis Go To America is still in process. At the moment my query and synopsis are at my editor’s, and I’ve made one copy of it as a printed book so I can go through it in another format (often very helpful). I’m waiting for it to be printed and delivered.

So I’m back on the novel that’s not fiction.

It’s good. It’s a bildungsroman, a coming of age story. After so many years, it might as well BE fiction.

 

Lamont and Dude Discuss the Viability of a Scientific Explanation

“I dunno, Dude. I really thought that guy ‘got it’ you know? But maybe you’ve been right all along.”

“What?”

“About reincarnation.”

“Ah. Well, I dunno. I think the truth is pretty out there.”

“I’m inspired to explain it.”

“It’s your funeral. I gotta’ get ready to go to LA.”

“What if you sat down in your smilodon costume and explained it to all the people watching, you know? Instead of just acting like a humanoid smilodon?”

“That would go over real well. Lamont, let people have their misconceptions. It doesn’t change anything. Maybe a person needs to experience it a few times to really get it.”

“Who HASN’T experienced it a few times?”

“True, but how many people REALIZE it?”

“I think you might be right, Dude. It’s enough that sometimes some people have glimmerings.”

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Wordsworth “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

***

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/26/wednesday-rdp-inspire/

Beach Cookout

Lulubelle smirked. There was nothing special about this. It was just some weird barbecue.

“Have a hot-dog, honey.”

“You know I don’t like hot-dogs, potato salad, watermelon, or any of this stuff.”

“It’s a cookout at the beach, babe, not a five-star restaurant.”

“Whatev’.”

He knew something was wrong. Lulubelle had been somewhat lacking in enthusiasm for, uh, anything, for a month or more. He thought it was just a woman’s thing, but maybe she just didn’t like him anymore, and it had nothing to do with a beach picnic. “I hate love,” he thought.

“I’m not staying over,” he said when they reached her apartment.

“Why not?” Lulubelle looked at him bewildered. “I thought…”

“No. Not this time. I have some stuff to do and, you know, sometimes a guy needs time to himself.”

“You want to break up! I knew it! Look, I’m sorry I didn’t like the food at the picnic or your friends, or pretty much anything, but I don’t… That’s not fair!”

“Lulubelle, if you don’t like anything, then…” he stopped before he said too much. “I’ll call you later.” He leaned over and kissed her softly.

Lulubelle lugged her beach bag up the stairs to her one-bedroom apartment and unlocked the door. “You’re too picky,” her mother’s voice echoed in her head, “and too critical. Just because everyone doesn’t do things the way you do doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes you need to relax and enjoy something different. If you don’t learn how, you’re going to live in a very small world.” She was 7 at the time and had walked home from a friend’s birthday party because she didn’t want to eat yellow cake.

“Have I done that again?” She set down her bag.

She went into the shower to wash off the salt, sand, sweat, and disappointment. As the hot water streamed down her head and shoulders (clever product placement) the phone rang.

“Damn,” she thought, turning off the faucet, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel.

The phone rang. Why did she always leave it on the desk instead of bringing it with her into the bathroom? She hurried on wet feet — careful not to slip — and reached for the phone. “Unknown Caller.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/rdp-friday-smirk/

Progressive Party

Lucille arranged the smokey topaz necklace, bracelet, and rings on her body as if she were adorning a Christmas tree. “This is smokey topaz,” she said to her son’s girlfriend, Beth, a petite brunette she didn’t particularly like. Her beautiful boy could do better than that. After all, her husband was a full colonel. “It’s my favorite stone and the colonel always buys it for me on our anniversary.” Her dress — a two piece Duponi silk number handmade for her in Seoul, their last posting — matched exactly the smokey topaz ring on her right hand. “I had this made before we came back to the States,” she said. “Why be in Asia at all if you’re not going to have some silk dresses?” She reached back to be sure her French roll was perfectly smooth.

Downstairs the colonel had plunked a couple of ice cubes into a highball glass and was pouring a few fingers of Scotch over them. He swirled the glass around a few times and took a drink. “Here we go,” he thought.

She’d be down any minute. The house was brand new. She’d “absolutely LOVED” the stairs. “I can just SEE myself coming down the stairs in a beautiful cocktail dress, can’t you?”

Whatever he thought of his smokey topaz wife, he never said. “Loose lips sink ships,” that old war slogan, applied to marriage, too. And Roland? That insipid drip of snot that was their child and heir? Definitely his mother’s boy. The Colonel didn’t even know how to talk to him.

“Doll!” he called up the stairs. “Are you about ready? A progressive party means we progress!”

“You don’t need to be sarcastic,” she answered back. “I’m putting on my shoes. I’ll be down in a minute.” She slid her feet into black pumps.

The colonel took another drink from the highball glass. Whatever. He didn’t want to go anyway, but Lucille had to show off all that topaz. It was their first social event in the new community.

Beth, Roland and Lucille came down the stairs. The colonel set his drink on a coaster on the glass-topped coffee table and picked up his wife’s mink-collared cashmere coat from the chair. “You look beautiful, darling,” he said holding the coat.

“Thank you, love.” She reached behind her and patted his cheek. “I don’t know when we’ll be home. You kids be good.”

As they walked down their street, the colonel wondered whatever happened to a nice sit down dinner or good old potlucks like in his parents’ day. “This is it,” said his wife, looking at the invitation. “The Oberhausers. Appetizers.” An overdressed woman opened the door, invited them in.

“Come in, come in. Introduce yourselves to everybody — we’re all new here, you know, just like the neighborhood!” A portly older man reached out a hand to shake, “What’s your poison?”

For the next hour, they stood around the appetizer table. Decorated for Christmas, it was replete with the julienned carrots, celery and spinach dip, shrimp and cocktail sauce, mixed nuts, melba toast and cheese spread. They all made small talk with the same people with whom they’d make small talk at the next stop — entrée.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Roland had opened the back of his bass speaker and pulled out a bag of weed. He took out a few pinches and rolled it neatly into a joint.

“My dad has NO idea I brought this back from Korea,” he said, proudly, lighting it and taking a hit. “Here.” Roland hoped it would help Beth overcome her hesitancy. Perfect moment. Parents gone, plenty of weed, leopard print bedspread, him in little blue underwear. What could be sexier?

“I’m going home,” she said. “See you at school Monday.” She let herself out the front door and headed home through a neighborhood that had been open fields only a year before. She didn’t know much, but she knew she didn’t want to end up smokey topaz or anything like it. And Roland? He really did have little squinty-piggy eyes. Her brother was right.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/protected-julienne/

Lamont and Dude Discuss the Miss America Pageant

Hey Dude, listen to this: “The Miss America pageant will end its swimsuit competition. ‘We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance,’ the chairwoman said.” New York Times

“What Lamont?”

“No more swimsuits in the Miss America Pageant.”

“Rats.”

“Yeah. Probably replace it with a sitcom.”

“Why not?”

“Superficial. Female proportions are now considered superficial.”

“That’s bullshit. They’re not superficial. I remember back in the day — do you, Lamont? Our Neanderthal times?”

“I wasn’t there, Dude.”

“Oh right. Homosapien.”

“Through and through.”

“You think.”

“I know!”

“I didn’t mean to ruffle your feathers, Lamont. So what’s the thing with the bathing suits?”

“It’s not getting the ratings it once did, and it’s now considered misogynistic.”

“Ah. Back in the day…”

“We didn’t wear clothes back in the day, not us nor you low-browed, knuckle-draggers. The way I see it, the beauty contest is one way to illustrate how powerfully the homosapiens prevailed.”

“It’s not about that, Lamont. It’s about if a pack of dire wolves or smilodon is after your family can your wife pick up a couple of kids and run away. I think that’s the underlying motive behind the swimsuit competition. The winner should be the one most likely to survive.”

“I get your point, Dude, but that doesn’t explain that lumpy little Venus of whatever, you know?”

“Willendorf. And we don’t call her ‘Venus’ any more. Just ‘Woman of Willendorf’.”

“Whatever. That perpetually pregnant lump of rock used to justify modern obesity.”

“That was our dream, Lamont. You know, for a guy who remembers his oak tree days so well and can reminisce over his moments of bearness with such detail memories, you really seem to have blotted out a lot from your human iterations.”

“I didn’t like them much. What do you mean ‘that was our dream’?”

“Plenty to eat and no predators to run from.”

“I guess we’re there now.”

***

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

 

 

https://ginlemonade.com/2018/06/05/ragtag-daily-prompt-sitcom/

Not Happening

“It’s a lot to live up to.”

“What?”

“This moment. This dress. All these flowers. The cost. Why couldn’t we elope?”

“I thought you wanted this.”

“No, not especially. I’m not even sure about how I feel about marriage, let alone a big wedding.”

“NOW you tell me?”

“I’ve BEEN telling you, but you haven’t heard me and my mother? I feel like you two are in a conspiracy. This says ‘my mom’ all over it.” Tabitha looked at the white covered table laden with wedding gifts. The guest book. The other various wedding related objects that would have no use once the “big day” had passed.

“Do you want to call it off, Tabby?’

“How many times do I have to tell you I’m not Tabby? Tabby is a cat.”

Kent shrugged, but he had a sinking feeling — had had for some time.

“Kent, honey, in fact, I think we need…”

“…to talk, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Have at it.”

“Honestly, I don’t want to do this. I want to send back all these stupid presents, cancel the wedding, and go to Bhutan or some place. This is stupid.”

“Stupid.”

“Yeah, this retro-glamor-commercial bullshit. I don’t want it. I don’t want it at all.”

“Why didn’t you say sooner?”

“I’m saying now.”

“Yeah, but the invitations have been sent out.”

“Really? And how does that matter? It’s my life. And those three hundred people? They have better things to do than sit through some ceremony and then a reception where we do some dorky dance that someone puts on Youtube hoping it’ll go viral. It won’t. We’re not that good. It’ll just be embarrassing.”

“So you don’t want to marry me?”

“That’s a separate issue. I don’t want this stupid wedding. Thousands of dollars for what? Half of all marriages end in divorce. I think if people decide to marry with odds like that they ought to crawl away and do it secretly in case it doesn’t work out and maybe celebrate after 20 years.”

“Wow. I never knew you felt this way.”

“You never asked me.”

“All those dress fittings…”

“Good god, spare me the memory of that. Listen, I can’t do this, I won’t do this. You can tell my mom since you two are such good buddies.”

“That’s just cold.”

“No, it isn’t. You should care about what I want, what I believe in. It should matter to you.”

“Really? You’re a woman. This is your big day, your day to shine, be a princess, all of that. I have sisters. I know.”

“Maybe I’m not your sisters? Maybe we’re not all alike? Maybe I’d like to shine some other way? Maybe? I think this was a huge mistake.”

“Ah, so now you don’t want to marry me.”

“No, I don’t think I do. Here.” Tabby put the diamond ring on the table between them and stood up. “I’m not sure what I want, but I know I don’t want this,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/ceremony/

You’re Just a TV Show

“Don’t assume anything. Assuming makes an…”

“Don’t, please, don’t give me that incredibly tired and hackneyed spelling cliché OK? Anyway, I don’t agree. An assumption is just a theory. As long as we KNOW we’re not dealing with facts but something we simply believe might be true, we’re OK.”

“Whatever. You always make a mountain…”

“Stop it.”

“Do you want some more coffee?”

“No thanks. Gotta’ run. Big day at work.”

“Oh right. Your presentation is today.”

“Yeah.”

“No wonder you’re so testy.”

“Argh. See you later.”

Ted closed the front door behind him, got behind the wheel of the big-finned Chevy and drove to the train station. As he pulled into his parking space, he looked up and saw the train was arriving. “Dammit,” he muttered. “I might not make it.” He took the keys out of the ignition, buried them in the deep front pocket of his Brooks Brothers Suit and, taking his briefcase, ran for the train, reaching the platform just as the conductor yelled, “All aboard!”

He settled into a seat by the window and watched the fields and suburbs vanish into low-rent urban sprawl, small industry and automobile graveyards. “You’re just a TV drama,” said a voice apparently coming from the window. “Everything you think is real is just in the mind of a bunch of TV writers.”

“What?”

The images in the window flashed ever faster as the train got nearer the city.

“Watch when you get off the train,” said the voice. “See what happens.”

Ted shook his head, “I must have been dozing,” he thought. “Wow.”

The brakes of the train squealed, and the wheels grated against the tracks. Ted stood up to get his hat and briefcase from the rack above the seat, but there was nothing there. He looked around, wondering how he could have left them in the car. “I was late,” he thought. “I wish Esther didn’t even open her stupid mouth sometimes. I bet they’re in the car.”

When he turned around he was stunned. What was going on? People were — there were so many women most of them in trousers? Young people staring into dark rectangles apparently stuck to their palms. Why? What? “Excuse me,” he said, inadvertently bumping into an immensely fat teenager with plugs in his ears.

He carefully stepped down from the train car onto the platform. Huge panels with vivid advertising surrounded him. “How in hell?” he asked himself. Reaching the station, he headed inside, hoping to grab a taxi and get to the office and away from the weirdness, but even Grand Central Station was different, brighter, lighter, the smokey dinge he knew so well seemed to have been blasted away by one of Proctor and Gambles’ new bleach products. He fumbled in his jacket for a smoke and his lighter. Putting the cigarette in his mouth he shook open the engraved Ronson lighter Esther had given him for his birthday.

“No smoking, sir,” said a station attendant.

“What?”

“That’s right sir, no smoking.”

Ted put the cigarette into the attendant’s hand and headed toward the revolving doors. As he pushed the door away from him he noticed an elegantly dressed old man,  a cigarette butt hanging from his tired lips. As they passed, their eyes connected in an electric glance of recognition. The old man tipped his hat to Ted and nodded. A shiver ran down Ted’s spine. Ted shook his head. “What is going on this morning?”

Outside the station, Ted hailed a Checker Cab at the same moment as a slender woman in a leopard skin pillbox hat, pencil skirt and stiletto heels. “Would you share?” she asked, holding her long cigarette holder away from her red lips

“With pleasure. Where are you going?”

“Madison Avenue.”

***

In my recovery world I needed a compelling TV series to get me through the evenings. Someone suggested Mad Men. I’d started watching it some time ago but didn’t like the stereotypes and the tendency to make people from that era look stupid. I still don’t like those aspects, but I understand the stereotypes were a gate to allow entry for people who were not there. I would’ve been Don Draper’s daughter, more or less.

Watching it has been strange — but it’s a way to kill those hours before bed when the swelling has been worst. It’s also made me think about writing historical fiction. I keep imagining my characters showing up at my door saying, “OK, look, you got some stuff right, but seriously?” I think this especially with cigarettes — which the makers of Mad Men seem fascinated by. Yeah, back in the day, most adults smoked a lot, but I don’t think they would have focused their cameras on the ash trays. It was just how things were, something constantly in the background (not the foreground) of existence.

What was NOT in the background of their existence are Don Draper’s words, “We have everything, right?” In that I heard all the long dinner table diatribes of my childhood about growing up in the Depression and how lucky us kids were to have had everything.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/assumption/

Dating Advice from a Reliable Sources

“Absolutely. Gorgeous, but serious drama.”

“Maybe not. Maybe we’ll do great.”

“Life is short. You want to bring known complications into your life on ‘maybe’?”

“It’s just coffee.”

“Ha. Let’s see how that goes.”

“How do you know Juliette, anyway?”

“You really want an answer?”

“Well, yeah. Maybe you’re a legitimate source, you know, not just fake news.”

“Ha ha.”

“So how do you know her?”

“You know Lucretia?”

“Only by reputation. She’s the insane virago that made your life hell for three years, right? The one who totaled your classic 911 in a jealous rage? The one who called your poor house-bound mother an ‘antiquated relic who can’t die soon enough’? The one who set fire to your suits so you couldn’t go to work? The one who called the Humane Society alleging you kept her tied up in the backyard? The one who showed up at your office bare-breasted and challenged all the women to compete with her tits? That Lucretia?”

“‘Lucretia’ isn’t her real name.”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks buddy. Thanks. You want to go get a beer?”

“What about the coffee?”

“Like you said. Life is short.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/complication/