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Friday
Aug022013

Sensing Space

1

It was on the front page of the folded paper in my hand on a recent morning. The WSJ before me told in an apt brevity of comment that the last Indian telegraph office had just closed and tapped its final communique'. In a related scene, J. Morris paints with majesty the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Virctoria in the second volume of his Pax Brittania. The year was 1897 at the height of the British Empire and The celebrations reflected the great breadth and reach of the kingdom as all variety of her people were being represented on the streets of London. To mark the occasion the monarch sent her proclamation with something nearing magic around the world to all kinds of nooks and crannies of the empire by this same telegraph as on the front of the paper. This same message "From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them." would have taken months by ship, hoof, and foot at any other point in history. At that momentous occasion the queen and her people sensed their space and were reveling in it. Thus, the adventurers went on venturing, the emigrants went on emigrating, and the colonists went on colonizing.

2

It was noted by a close acquaintance around a recent dinner table, as he shed an entirely new light on the disposition of the humble apple tree. I had never considered, to my great loss, what decorum, what tact, what sensitivity the beloved apple tree holds within its branches and fruit! This aquaintance said the apple tree will produce fruit while not outgrowing an enclosed area, and, for this reason, it makes a wonderful houseplant. Rather than going about growing too large for the place, throwing its arms against the windows, and crashing into the ceiling, it senses its space with grace and reserve in establishing a correct proportionality. Like the servant with two talents, it gets to work within the confines (or blessings) into which it finds itself and bears fruit without overbearing the room!

3

It is in the exclamations of "Janet! Donkeys!" which Master Copperfield's aunt shouts with such spasticity:

"Janet had gone away to get the bath ready, when my aunt, to my great alarm, became in one moment rigid with indignation, and had hardly voice to cry out, 'Janet! Donkeys!'

Upon which, Janet came running up the stairs as if the house were in flames, darted out on a little piece of green in front, and warned off two saddle-donkeys, lady-ridden, that had presumed to set hoof upon it; while my aunt, rushing out of the house, seized the bridle of a third animal laden with a bestriding child, turned him, led him forth from those sacred precincts, and boxed the ears of the unlucky urchin in attendance who had dared to profane that hallowed ground.

To this hour I don't know whether my aunt had any lawful right of way over that patch of green; but she had settled it in her own mind that she had, and it was all the same to her. The one great outrage of her life, demanding to be constantly avenged, was the passage of a donkey over that immaculate spot. In whatever occupation she was engaged, however interesting to her the conversation in which she was taking part, a donkey turned the current of her ideas in a moment, and she was upon him straight. Jugs of water, and watering-pots, were kept in secret places ready to be“discharged on the offending boys; sticks were laid in ambush behind the door; sallies were made at all hours; and incessant war prevailed. Perhaps this was an agreeable excitement to the donkey-boys; or perhaps the more sagacious of the donkeys, understanding how the case stood, delighted with constitutional obstinacy in coming that way. I only know that there were three alarms before the bath was ready; and that on the occasion of the last and most desperate of all, I saw my aunt engage, single-handed, with a sandy-headed lad of fifteen, and bump his sandy head against her own gate, before he seemed to comprehend what was the matter. These interruptions were of the more ridiculous to me, because she was giving me broth out of a table-spoon at the time (having firmly persuaded herself that I was actually starving, and must receive nourishment at first in very small quantities), and, while my mouth was yet open to receive the spoon, she would put it back into the basin, cry 'Janet! Donkeys!' and go out to the assault.”

It is found here, as Dickens writes, in another aspect of the most common of spaces, in the necessity of borders and property lines. Borders have been noted more than once on this site (here and here), but they seem to keep cropping up. For, more than keeping one as in a prison yard, it is as with the precious small green patch in front of the cottage, an understanding of outside threats and a guarding with vigilence. For, our space may be small, but when we find it small we should remember the wolves just beyond the clearing (or donkeys as the case may be).

4

What is this "it"? Although stated variously above let me restate it directly as the sense of space. It is the understanding of our place. It is the understanding of the breadth of our kingdom (heavenly or earthly). It is the guarding of the entrustment we have been given (talents anywhere from one to five).

What then, one may ask, are the tools necessary to evaluate our space aright? My answer would not be the employment of either a telescope or even a microscope. No, I am firmly with F.W. Boreham in proposing a stethescope. The specific stethescope that, rather then listening to the health of the heart's muscle, magnifies the heart's hope of life that will go on when that beating stops. This, I would propose is where the boundary of your space lies. Venture, grow, and guard accordingly.

 

Phillip Tippin
In a grocery store and a lecture hall
Roeland Park, KS

Friday
Jul262013

Boat Race

     "Pleasures of the river: the long lines of punts idling foreshortened up the Cherwell, with their Carpaccio boatmen at the stern, and the slanting forest of their punt poles against the trees; . . . fishing in the dusk off the gravel bottom at Binsey, when the evening bream are biting, and the midges are whirring in the shrubbery behind; drifting through the mists on the morning after the ball, crumpled pink nylon and champagne bottles in the well of the boat; above all the long easy stroke of a racing eight, with the panting of its crew and the creaking of its sliding seats . . ."

      "The Boat Race is a straight contest, start to finish, but because the Thames at Oxford is both narrow and sinuous, a special kind of rowing race was long ago devised for the University. It began, we are told, when oarsmen who had pottered down to Sandford for an evening drink started for home at different times, and made a custom of trying to catch each other up: and it has developed into an elaborate system of competitive rowing, in which college crews start at equal intervals and try to bump the one in front— thus taking its place in the next race. A kind of ladder is formed, and the crew that bumps its way to the top of it, in a week of daily racing, becomes Head of the River, celebrates with a college binge, and chalks its insignia proudly on the quadrangle wall."

--James Morris, Oxford
Wednesday
Jul172013

Jayber Crow (A Blurb)

A good book is worth reading posthaste, and a terrible book is hardly worth mentioning. Therefore, why all the hem-hawing over lengthy reviews? For the purpose of keeping them short and to the point, we submit our blurbs:

 

 

 

 

"If life has a point—and I think it does—Wendell Berry and his book, Jayber Crow live beside it." -R. Eric Tippin

 

 

 

 

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Wednesday
Jul172013

The University (Part 2)

"At St. John’s [College] there is a picture of Charles I made up of minute quotations from the Psalms— phrases for his eyebrows, whole psalms for his moustache and beard. Charles himself, we are told in one of the silliest Oxford stories, so coveted this that he offered the Fellows of St. John’s any one wish in return: they dutifully handed it over, and then wished for it back again."

--Jan Morris, Oxford
Thursday
Jul042013

An Odd Catechism

      A week ago today, my wife an I found ourselves sitting on white folding chairs in a green clearing surrounded by wooded hills and ringed with leaved trees[1]. Four women in black pant suits were playing string quartet versions of modern pop hits (Viva la Viola, Call me Mozart  . . . etc) and in time a woman in a white dress glided in, bringing everyone  in the clearing to their feet. Yes, a wedding. We were sitting in a wedding. My wife was on my right and on my left was a man in his fifties or sixties holding his Kool-Aid stained grandson. From all I could observe he was a good grandpa. He played horse with his leg, smiled more than he frowned and kept his grandson from kicking the nice man next to him.

           Adult interaction with children in general has (as far as I know) always been very ritualized and repetitive. Nearly every children’s book is built on repetition, and Dickens’ work has a child-like whimsicality for that same reason. As for ritual, “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” “This Little Pig Went to Market,” “The Little Engine that Could,” and “Patty-Cake” are solemn and ancient sacraments of childhood, performed at short intervals and unquestioned by the countless generations that pass them on. Every time I went out our front door growing up, my mother would speak a benediction over me: “God bless you and make you a blessing.” Her mother had done the same to her. No doubt atheistic mothers repeat phrases like, “Be good. Don’t ask why!”

      No matter how iconoclastic, anti-liturgical and anti-sacramental our society becomes, those images, ballads, poems and ceremonies of childhood will endure unchallenged; for children are and will always be more old fashioned than adults. The irony is, adults perpetuate childhood ritualism, and venerate it and protect it like it is something precious while they (meaning some of them) simultaneously scoff at religion—the oldest institution of our society—and its ceremonial trappings for being antiquated, repetitious, inartistic and unhelpful to an enlightened, post-modern, multi-cultural, changing world.

           Well, as I said, this grandfather was doing his part to pass on these rituals and rules when, unexpectedly, he catechized his grandson in a novel way. He looked into his childish blue eyes and said:

            Q. “What color are your eyes?”

            A. “Pink”

            Q. How old are you?

            A. Six!

            Q. (more solemnly) How old are you?

            A. I two.

            Q. Are you happy?

            A. (sigh and smile) Yes.

         And that was that. I don’t know if this is a family catechism of great importance and ancient forethought or the creation of a moment, but I like it[2]. The first question assesses self-awareness, the second social standing (age being the arch-status symbol of childhood). The repetition of the second question is important, for it gives the questioned a second chance at honesty—It is tempting at any time of life to lie about your age. The third forces the questioned to step outside his or her own situation and asses it in the macro. The child did, and found himself happy. And finding himself happy seemed to make him happier still. He grinned and grinned. His grandfather grinned back and resumed the leg-a-horse routine. Then the wedding began its own rituals.

 

R. Eric Tippin
In The Living Room on 8th Street
July 4, 2013


[1] It’s more poetic if you pronounce “leaved” “Leave-ed.” Go ahead, read that sentence again. See, see!

[2] Incidentally, they seem like three of the best questions you could ask an extra-terrestrial, if you happened to encounter one. 

 

Image:
Der Böse Enkel - "Ο Κακός Εγγονός"
1884
Georgios Iakovidis (1853-1932)