Monday, January 8, 2018

I Survived the American Arctic...


I Survived the American Artic, and All I Got Was This Lousy Frostbite

            Living in a building from 1910 has its advantages. You get to experience what life was like about 108 years ago. That is also one of the disadvantages of living in such a house. It’s poorly insulated, lacks central heat, and seems to be a sponge for humidity. With ice on the windowpanes (indoors) and on the front living room wall (also indoors), I realized I may soon part ways with the swinging bachelor pad. For in truth, no swinging has taken place here. Jane Austen would be bored, and Austen Powers would be disappointed.

            You may ask yourself, “Just how cold was it?”

            Well, over this past week, we experienced in the Northeastern U.S., what I call Polar Vortex II: Ice Cold Boogaloo. This is a reference to the literal arctic temps we experienced about three years ago. It was then colder in Mars, Pennsylvania, than it was on the surface of the planet Mars. Or, at least, parts of Canada turned into the Great White North for real. This past week, we had a return to the polar regions. It was so cold, John Carpenter called, and asked if he could make a sequel to The Thing in my kitchen. I even had the Kurt Russell beard for a few days. It was an attempted to literally save my skin from the crackling cold.

            Other evidence of such temperatures involved the portrait of Jane Austen that hangs above my bed. I thought to myself, “It’s far too cold for a short-sleeved dress in this weather.” I felt I should have put a scarf around the frame. 
          
     I slept in my bathrobe, as it added extra warmth. I was able to imagine a Regency winter, and how a real fire place, versus the gas-powered one I have, would have kept this place warmer…albeit smokier.

            The next best thing was using three space heaters to try and evaporate the fine sheen of ice that formed on that front living room wall. It worked, but I will pay a heavy price for it. I saw the utility bill, and discovered it was the gross domestic product of Bhutan. Those monks and their extravagance!

            I felt the cold in my fingers as I read about Henry VIII, and his six wives. I wondered if Hampton Court would be cozy this time of year. Then I thought of all those layers His Majesty and his lovely brides had worn. Even with a scowl on his face, King Hal looked more robust than I felt. I wanted to feast to the sound of lutes, rackets, and bawdy maids on the dance floor. Such pleasures are not to be found on Ice Mountain. No, sir. Instead, I entertained myself by toggling between BBC 2, and 6. This was pretty close to what I had in mind.

            Wardrobe is a big thing in temperatures like this. I wore snow trousers, a parka, and my new Chelsea boots. I certainly hoped Chelsea didn’t mind. She’s a generous girl, and the loan of her footwear was no…small feat. After, an entire part of London is named for her. She must be a popular girl.

            I thought of how much colder it was here, than it was in London. -11 centigrade over here. 15 degrees centigrade is a heatwave. 15 degrees Fahrenheit is five degrees below freezing. On the last night of the deep freeze, the temperatures lowered to -5F. The mild weather we have now, in the 30’s feels like a defrosting by comparison.

            Not to sound like an old man, but the winters in my youth were snow-filled, but not as cold. Sure, we had the occasional six degree day. But it was rare that we had a week-long ice age, followed by autumnal temperatures. These past seven years, we’ve had mild Decembers, followed by snow in January, and then a quick warm up. If you think global warming is a myth, I’ll bet you my electric bill that it isn’t. You lose, you pay it. That’s a bet I’m willing to take.


Copyright Riley Joyce 2018
Imagine: public domain snowflakes. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Jane Meets World

Jane Meets World  




            It was on this day, in 1775, that the Reverend George Austen, and his wife Cassandra welcomed their second daughter into this world. She was nicknamed “Jenny” at first, but was baptized a day later as Jane.

            Social satirist, novelist, romantic, feminist icon whatever you call her, Jane Austen means so many things to so many people. There’s no one word that describes her, or her writing. From a small cradle in Hampshire came a literary giant. To paraphrase Northanger Abbey, “No one that saw Jane Austen as a child would know she’d grow up to become a heroine.” Indeed, no one in her family would know that, and yet she still is an inspiring figure. Her words flow like the rivers of the Avon and Thames; timeless, and ceaseless. Despite 2017 being the 200th anniversary of her passing, it feels as if she never left us. Every drop of ink has inspired us to think, to grow, and to love. She knew the contours of the human heart before psychology existed. I suspect that while theories of the psyche come and go, her words will remain.

            242 years have passed since her birth. It was a cold December evening when Jane entered this world. She gave to it a tremendous series of gifts; her novels. To read them is to know her. One can’t help but be taken away to a time and place not so distant, and not so unlike our own. Jane presented an entire world that would not only be satirized by her work, but in a strange way, preserved by it. I experienced that when I first read her. I knew nothing of the Regency when I was 17, and she opened my eyes to it. I have since learned that one could spend a life time studying her work, and still not know everything about her, or her time. That doesn’t stop me, or others from trying. If anything, it is more of an encouragement, rather than a deterrent. For that matter, the closest I’ve gotten to time travel was visiting Bath this past summer. I could imagine her on the pavement, as she walked down Milsom Street, on her way to a dance of course.  

What more can I say? Even today, when I read her work, I still hear it in her voice (of what I imagine her voice would sound like). At age 17 I imagined what it would have been like to have met her, and experienced such a reading. At age 38, as I stood at the foot of her grave, I came as close as I could to that experience. Part of me will always be there in Winchester Cathedral. But as for Jane, all one has to do is open one of her books, and she speaks to you through the centuries. I can’t think of many authors who come alive in that way. Nor, can I predict who will in the future

The happiest of birthdays to a woman who continues to inspire, and be ageless in my sight.  



Copyright, Riley Joyce 2017

Top photo: Wax figure of Jane, located at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. Photo by author. 

The middle engraving is a color version of the black and white portrait, based on the sketch made by Cassandra, seen above.  



            

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What's in Your Stocking?


What’s in Your Stocking?



            There were certain things I knew would be in my stocking every Christmas. So much so that I looked forward to them.

            I always knew there would be a Life Savers (Polos to my U.K. friends) Storybook. These aren’t books, but instead, a box of Life Savers that fold out like a book. Both sides of the book have a variety of flavored Life Savers. The famous five flavors would always be the first to go. The second would be the tropical fruit. Finally, the butter rum (butter scotch) would be devoured. There was also the Wint-o-Green, which, according to popular myth sparks when you bite it in the dark. I tried this once, and discovered that it actually does work! But you have to bite into a piece before the gets too dissolved in your mouth. I’m not sure how it works. Maybe some sort of static discharge of the ionization of mint polyhedron covalent bonds…or something. Chemistry was never my strong suit.

            There was always lip balm of some sort. It’d either have some Christmas theme to it; such as a snowman, Santa, or an elf printed on the tube. I never used one up entire. In fact, it wasn’t until I started using lip balm all year round that I discovered that feeling of using up an entire tube. It’s a sad day when you’re down to your last cherry-flavored smack of the lips. These days, it’s either Blistex, or mint. Though, I keep a tube of cherry, which I associate with the holidays. That’s what I’ve been using lately.


            There would also be an issue of Mad Magazine. Sadly, I don’t have any of my old issues of Mad, but I do have some modern ones. Usually, this would be holiday themed as well. Alfred E. Neumann dressed as the Easter bunny, as he tries to insert himself into a chimney comes to mind.



Truth be told, the more “mature” I get, the more I realize that Mad may have been right about the holidays. The jumble, the confusion, and the roller derby-like scramble to get a head start on Black Friday. That’s another subject entirely, one that pains me to no end. Black Friday is itself a needless shopping “holiday;” one in which the best deals are not found. It’s also become an excuse to cut short the Thanksgiving holiday of retail workers. I digress, but it’s a useful digression. Yes, Mad was right. We get the holiday blahs for a variety of reasons. If you work, or have worked in retail you’ll know what I mean.

My final Black Friday in retail was a bit of a damp squib. Still, that didn’t prevent me from posting Kenneth Branagh as Henry V, delivering the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Yes, these are the wounds I received on Black Friday. Those who fought with me…aren’t exactly my brothers. In mean, in retail it’s every many for himself. Sad, and yet true. I’m thankful I won’t go through that again.

The final item that would be in my stocking was Lego. This would either be a small Lego kit with either a medieval, or sci-fi theme. Combine the two, and you get space dragons from Antares! These are the popular packs that contain a figure or two, and a vehicle. I think the coolest one I ever received featured knight with a plumed helmet on horseback. He had a squire that traveled with him, and assisted in the rescuing of maidens, slaying of dragons, and pillaging of villages. They spent their weekends at the Castle Anthrax, with wicked Zoot!

The very Arthurian King's Oarsmen.
This was in my stocking one year. 



Which reminds me of the awesome Sherwood Forest Lego set I once received for Christmas. Robin Hood, and Arthurian legends to be just a few of the many tales of that time (both real, and imagined) that have always captivated me. I’ve always been a medieval, and Renaissance Tudor buff as well. Nowadays, I find myself visiting actual castles, abbeys, and cathedrals. Little did I know then that I’d trace the steps of pilgrims and nobles. I imagined such things as a child, but never dreamed I’d see them in real life. I guess some dreams do come true.



Another thing I always got, though given the night before, was pajamas. These usually had some pop culture theme to them. Whatever I was into at the time as a child; G.I. Joe, Captain Power, Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo. They were presented the night before, as last year’s pajamas were a bit ratty by December. These were made of polyester and cotton, and pilled like a druggist in Beverly Hills. But, they were well-loved, and well-worn. The Captain Power pajamas came with red trousers, that hung loose, and reminded me of the parachute pants worn by M.C. Hammer. Though, I imagined I was the titular fire-breathing Russian Karnov, of the classic (and bizarre) video game.

This Christmas, I searched for something more mature, and found it. Classic, light blue pajamas for men. I miss that my mother would still buy me novelty pajama pants, even after I’d long crossed the threshold. Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Cookie Monster, and the TMNT made revisits to my wardrobe around that time.  

This Christmas will be the second one without my mother. It means no stocking will be filled, but I think that was inevitable. I never believed in Santa, and always knew it was my parents behind it all. Still, the idea that at some point your parents won’t be there to give a Christmas gift does weigh on one. It adds a veneer of coldness to a holiday that can be both joyous, and sad. Joyous to children, and sad for adults. The sadness comes partly from nostalgia of all the things I once had, and no longer do. Another part wishes I could go back to some Christmases, but another part of me feels it’s be best if I don’t. Given how chaotic things were in my childhood, it’s probably best not to go back. One can only live in the present as time moves forward.  

Childhood is fleeting. That’s something that doesn’t register with you as a child. You discover it when you reach the age of twelve. That’s when you stop getting toys, and start getting books, CDs, and boring old clothes. You might still get an issue of Mad in your stocking, but gone are the elf-shaped lip balms. For that matter, so are the red Santa lollipops, with the white icing on them. Where did those go? Another holiday tradition down the tubes!  

I don’t want to be a child again. In fact, I feel a little bit sad for the people who never grow up. I feel like they’re the ones who are missing out on the world. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that stays young at heart. That part inspired me to put up the Christmas tree this year. It was a new tree that my mother and I bought off season last year. She never got to see it decorated, as she died in July of 2016. I see it now, and it’s not such a bad tree. All it needed, in the words of Linus, “Was a little love.”

When unboxing the ornaments, I cried a little. Some of them date back to when I was a child; like the little train with the year 1980 etched on the side. Or, the wooden “grandma and grandpa” ornaments, which you see below. But, what also got me was seeing ornaments that my mother felt partial to, such as the nutcracker (stop tittering at the back!) I saw the ones with cats, and felt a sense of loss there as well. I lost so much last year, that I wasn’t even sure I’d put the tree up. Instead, I put it up anyway, and am glad I did so. It adds a lot of cheer to a gloomy season, and place. My flat isn’t the worst building I’ve lived in, but it has its problems. Still, I’m in a better way than I was last Christmas.



What’s in your stocking this Christmas? Are there certain things you always expect? 


Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

To Raise the Temeraire



To Raise the Temeraire

            I remember the first time I saw The Fighting Temeraire by J.M.W. Turner. It was on the cover of an anthology of literature book. It was a collegiate tome that my father had acquired, when he took business classes at a local community college (In America, this is a two-year university level program). He wasn’t much of a reader, but he held onto that book. One night, when I was about seven or eight, he read Hemingway’s The Undefeated to me from that book. It was an odd choice, as my mother loved Hemingway, and my father knew practically nothing about him. However, that book was to become influential in other ways.

            It was the first place I’d read James Joyce, as it reprinted The Dead, the final story from Dubliners. It was also where I read H.G. Wells’ Country of the Blind, and were I was first exposed to the name Oscar Wilde. Reprinted in those pages was The Picture of Dorian Gray.

            I still have that book, along with its dog-eared pages, and faded cover; decorated with the image of The Fighting Temeraire.

            As a child, I used to imagine what that painting depicted. I had a thing about ships, like a lot of children do, even these days. I was too young to know what the Temeraire was, so I assumed that it was the name of the river, and not the vessel. So, in my imagination, I made up a story as to what the painting was about.

            I pictured a sultry afternoon on a river. A steamship was heading into rough waters, as it pulled a damaged vessel behind it. It was headed, I presumed down River Temeraire, into some kind of delta country—similar to New Orleans. Images of riverboat gamblers, gunslingers, and corset-clad “painted ladies” filled my imagination. I imagined those where the people on that boat.

            In time, I was to discover that the Temeraire was the name of the vessel being towed. I was to also discover the name of the river on which it sailed.

            As a teenager, when I began to really read classic lit, I also discovered the works of classic artists. Sir Joshua Reynolds, John William Waterhouse, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner were to become familiar to be. So much so that I can pretty much tell who’s who by looking at their paintings. Many of their works adorned the covers of paperback editions of works by our good lady, Jane Austen, and the venerable Anthony Trollope, or Boz himself; Charles Dickens. I began to associate certain artists with certain authors as well. Though sometimes the subject didn’t always match the text, either in terms of time period, or even subject matter. I can’t tell you how many copies of Frankenstein feature a mundane looking man, as opposed to The Creature, or Gothic castle ruins. There are even some cover paintings that contradict the fashions depicted in said novels. But, that’s another discussion, perhaps even a nitpicky one.

            As for the truth about The Fighting Temeraire, it came to me in the form of a podcast.

            I had listened to the In Our Time podcast from the BBC. In that episode, the painting, and its subject were both discussed. By that point, I was well into my thirties, and knew that Turner was British, and not some American that traveled to Cajun country. I had already been exposed to more of his work in my twenties as well, so his style was firmly established to me. I learned The Temeraire was an English vessel, not a river. I was also to learn that the river that was depicted in the painting was the venerable Thames. Yes, the city to the right of the painting is lovely old London.

            As for The Temeraire…it’s story was more extraordinary than the one I’d concocted.



            At the Battle of Trafalgar, the Temeraire came to the aid of Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory. While mortally wounded, Nelson continued to command his men, until finally succumbing to his wounds. He had been shot through the chest by a sniper, and with the bullet firmly lodged in his lungs, it was only a matter of time. It took Nelson approximate three hours to die. But in that time, he fought for every last second of life—not for himself, but for his crew.  

            As Nelson lay dying, a French vessel, the Redoutable prepared to board the Victory. Captain Eliab Harvey, of the Temeraire wasn’t having any of that, and ordered his crew to fire a broadside directly at this adversary’s deck. He then ordered the Temeraire to ram the Redoutable, which it did! Captain Harvey then ordered his crew to lash the Temeraire to the Redoutable, and then fire its broadsides at close range. They gave the French crew a constant lead-injected bombardment.

HMS Victory in Portsmouth. 


Then, French ship, the Fougueux came alongside the Temeraire. It fired at her, and did some damage. To which the hard-gambling, hard-fighting Captain Harvey did something unexpected. He ordered his crew to wait until the Fougueux was in range. Then, the opposite side of the Temeraire opened fire on her. He then gave the order to lash her side as well.

            Pause for a moment, and think about that.

            Captain Harvey, and his crew, were fighting two ships at once! Where are the statues of that man? Not to sound crude, but his cajones were so big, it’s take all the brass in Britain just to make one statue of him. In American terms, he was, “One tough son of a bitch.” I mean that with affection.

            The Temeraire took some serious damage, including a deck fire, as did the Redoutable. Both crews lobbed grenades at one another, and suffered mass casualties. Meanwhile, the Victory had martialed its crew, and was firing at the Redoutable. Eventually, the French vessel was reduced to driftwood, after it received a two-sided pummeling.

            The Fougueux crew was decimated by a small arms gun fight with the Temeraire crew. Which must have looked like High Noon on the high seas. This was followed by First Lieutenant Thomas Kennedy, who lead a boarding party to the Fougueux. The beleaguered French vessel had lost its captain, and was surrendered by its first mate.

            This was to be the only major battle the Temeraire ever saw. But, if it were to be the only one, it may as well by the ultimate one.

Though Nelson won the day, and scuttled Napoleon’s navy, he paid the ultimate price.  

Lord Nelson gave his life in service to crown and country. His sacrifice, in a war against a tyrant, is still remembered to this day. If it were not for the Temeraire, and her can-do crew, history may have told a different story. Appropriately enough, the name “temeraire” means, “reckless” in French.

Though she became a legend, The Temeraire was eventually put out to pasture, so to speak. She became a prison ship, and was eventually decommissioned. The image we see in Turner’s painting is the Temeraire being taken to the scrapyard. The Fighting Temeraire is a both a tribute, and a requiem. It mourns the loss of such a national treasure for England, but also crystalizes the final moments of a nation’s forsaken hero.

The last time she fired her guns was not in war, but in celebration, at the coronation of Queen Victoria. Under the command of her former First-Lieutenant, now Captain Kennedy, she was to make her final voyage.

The Temeraire was sold at auction, and then taken up the Thames to be dismantled at Rotherhithe. Her wood was used to make souvenirs, and furniture. Some of her timbers can still be seen in various places in the U.K. Not the least of which is a gong stand in Balmoral Castle. It was a wedding present to George V, on his marriage to Mary of Teck.

Last year, I saw the Thames in person for the first time. It did not disappoint. As I tried to photograph that beautiful river, I tried to recreate the famous Thames Television logo. I found that was not only impossible, but also unnecessary. Nothing artificial could compare to the majesty of the Thames. Even the name itself carries strength.


As it was late afternoon, I tried to imagine the Temeraire. As I stood on Westminster Bridge, and took in a summer breeze, I believe I may have seen it. I knew where I was, and what I could have seen in Turner’s day. Though almost two centuries had passed, I still looked over the same river that inspired Turner. I saw the same sky, minus the coal fumes, but on the horizon…could it be a steamer? That golden vessel behind it looked spectral. As the sun set, it became transparent.

When I look at the painting, I not only see the Temeraire, I feel it. I feel that breeze again. I feel the receding warmth of an orange sunset. The salt air of the North Sea is in my nostrils. Finally, in my hand is the glass I raise to the crew of that golden vessel, and to J.M.W. Turner for doing what no adversary could ever do, he captured The Temeraire.

Text Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Images: The Fighting Temeraire 
             The Battle of Trafalgar. 
Both by J.M.W. Turner. 


Photos of The Palace of Westminster, and The Thames, and HMS Victory copyright Riley Joyce 2016.



              

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Time to be Born...A Time to Cook...



…A Time to be Born…A Time to Cook

            It was on this day, one year ago, that my mother’s funeral happened. I read a eulogy that I’d written, and was the only one to do so.

            I won’t recount that event here, as I’ve written about it before. Instead, I’m thinking about the strange parallels between that event, and today. For example, it rained the night before my mother’s funeral. It rained heavily last night. The morning started out cold, and then the day heated up. It did so again today. As I waited for some sign to emerge, I found it toward the end of my work day.

            As I waited for public transport, I heard the growl of a motorcycle down the street. The stereo onboard that hog blasted one of Prince’s songs, Kiss. Mom would have liked that. If it had been Diamonds and Pearls (my mother’s favorite) I may have started to cry where I stood.

            Last night, I drank tea out of a paisley cup I’d bought for my mother. It was a birthday gift for from a year before her death. I bought it for her, but she never drank from it, as it may have been too pretty to use. I decided to keep it, and found it’s one of the most elegant things in my kitchen cabinets. Not that the flour, spices, and tea bags aren’t lovely. For that matter, there’s nothing more lovely than well-brewed tea.

            Except when you have a really strong mojito made from fresh ingredients by a clever barmaid in Bath…but that’s another story. After one of those, everything looked lovely.
            I had a flash back today, to the first time I had tea.

            My mother was in her ceramic studio , working on a piece, when I sat next to her in my bathrobe and slippers. I was about eight years old at the time. She let me have some of her tea, which had gone lukewarm, and was inundated with sugar. From then on, I became an addict. I can’t live a single day without tea; by the cup, or the pot, I can’t live without it. It sustains me. Any time I’ve had blood taken, I’ve wondered why it’s not dark-brown, and scented like Earl Grey.

            I could barely eat the night that my mother died. I scarcely ate anything until after her funeral. Partly because I blamed myself for her death. But also, because I just couldn’t think about anything else. Tea and pizza was all I had for three days. On the one-year anniversary of her death, I made a meal she would have approved of; mashed potatoes, and a bacon-wrapped steak. It was cooked the way my mother would have liked it, medium-rare. I even used the leftover fluid from the pan as gravy on the mashed spuds. My mother always reused things like that, rather than throw them away. She used that southern method of cooking, where bacon grease was used in lieu of cooking oil; especially when making pancakes. Not the healthiest way to cook, but it was always tasty. I must confess, I did that recently when making sausages. I reused the grease for French toast.

            I was always the cook. Mom was the baker.

            The most I’ve baked has been recently, with the Bath Buns being the first major challenge. They were made from scratch by me, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the passing away of Jane Austen. She was fond of them, so I thought I’d have a go. I was happy to report they turned out brilliantly. I think my mother would have enjoyed them as well. Though, knowing my mother, she would have wanted to pack my sugar into the mix. She worshiped the white gold from the Caribbean, and put it in everything; even her marinara sauce. I sometimes wonder if that’ll be a lost art; the recipe given from mother to child. I have a fair bit of her recipe cards, so who knows?

            I use her cookware when I’m in the kitchen. Those are the only real heirlooms I have of her. From the wooden spoon that was used to stir ice tea in summer, to the neon-bright colanders and cutting boards. It’s as if the kitchen is the one room that reminds me the most of her.

            What would her thoughts me on how I make cornbread? Or, how I use silicon pinch bowls when measuring out seasonings by eye? I think she’d be impressed that I try to cook almost every night. I think more so, she’d be pleased I kept her cookware after she died. I might be putting the plates aside in favor of something else (We’ve had them since 1987. They are a bit dated) but everything else is intact.

             The night of her funeral, I strung up Christmas lights, so the place wouldn’t look so gloomy. Now, I find myself nothing doing that. Instead, I have a bedroom window open, to let in cool air, and the sound of crickets. Their chirps mingle with the vocals from the BBC proms on the radio. A lilac candle (her favorite scent) burns on the dining room table.

            There were no viceroys today. No dreams about her from the night before. Instead, I woke up, went to work, and counted the hours until I’d get back to the flat. I felt tired today, but thoughts of her funeral were not prevalent. I had to focus on other things throughout the day.

            Who knows what I’ll dream tonight. Or, when I’ll see the viceroys again. I still see the cardinals, like the ones in our old garden. They give me comfort enough.

            Another year has passed, and many more to come.

            To quote Linus Van Pelt, “The world didn’t end, Charlie Brown.”
           
Above photograph taken by the author at No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath, England. I toured the museum there; located in the former architect's residence. The kitchen was the most astounding room. 

            
Text copyright Riley Joyce 2017 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

One Year and One After Life



One Year and One After Life
            July 26th marks one year since the death of my mother. It feels like it just happened ten minutes ago.

            I don’t have any big celebrations planned, or any sort of memorial. Truth be told, I’m so busy with living now that I haven’t had the chance to process it. So, instead, I’m going to concentrate on where I’m at now in life.

            I can’t believe I’m 38 years old. June 6th was my first birthday without my mother. It’s also the second time I flew back from England, and she wasn’t there to ask me, “How was it? Did you meet the Queen? Is Duchess Kate just as pretty in real life?”

            The answers would be, “Extraordinary. No, I haven’t. You know she is!”

            Well, I haven’t met the Duchess either, but I think it’s a safe bet that she is just as stunning in real life.

            She would also ask, “How was the weather? How was the tea? Did you have a long flight?”

            “It rained for a little bit, but not much. No humidity or heat. The tea was amazing, as always. It was about nine hours, not bad.”

            She would ask, “When does school start?”

            “The end of August.” I’d answer.

            “Are you working part-time, or full-time?”

            “Full-time.” I’d say.
           

            My relationship with my mother wasn’t perfect. That’s just how things were with her. She was a difficult person at times, but she was still my mother. There were times last year when I could feel sad about her, or angry at her. Sometimes, I still have painful memories of her. Other times, I have pleasant memories. There were times when she wasn’t there for me. Then, there were times when she was. She was a complicated woman; one that was neither saint, nor villain. She was someone who had a life that went too fast, and very turbulent. It was always turbulent. Sometimes my mother was at the center of that turbulence, and sometimes she wasn’t. As I learned before, few things are seldom black and white.

            Now, one year after her death, her empty chair still sits next to the door. I survived with the seas around me no less tame, but a little calmer. I’ve been through so much since her death. It seemed like everything that was happening just wouldn’t let up, but eventually, it did. I know that in the future things will become unsettled again, but I want it to be on my own terms, in my own time.

How the hell I’m going to pay for school on my own, and rent, is beyond me. Still, I’m so close to graduating, that I’m not stopping this time. If I do, then I’m stuck in a place where I don’t belong. I always assumed the key was to get educated, and move onto something better. I realize now that is part of it, but not all of it. There’s also making sure that one has a future ahead of them, and to ensure the security of that future. I’m working on that. It’s not easy.

            There is the idea of the soldier fighting an endless war; one that either ends with the hero’s death, or with life returning to a state of peace. There is no surrender. Nor, is turning back an option. One can only move forward, and continue to fight.

            If there’s anything that I know would give my mother some comfort…it would be in knowing that I’m still here after she is gone.  

Stained glass in Bath Abbey. Photo taken by me as well.
Top photo: stained glass in St. Patrick's chapel, Glastonbury. 

To read the story of my mother's passing: Click this link here: My Mother's Passing

           

            Text and photos: Copyright Riley Joyce 2017 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Saddest of Days--A Eulogy for Jane Austen



The Saddest of Days
A Eulogy for Jane Austen

            July 18th is the saddest of days for Janeites. Yet it is also a time of celebration. While we collectively mourn the loss of someone so great to us, we also celebrate her life. Indeed, it is a time of both long-delayed tears, and joy.

            As General Patton once said, about the casualties under his command, “It is foolish to mourn the dead. Instead, we should thank God that such men lived.”

            I half-agree with the esteemed general. It is not foolish to mourn the dead; whether recent, or in the past. Though I agree, we should be thankful that such a woman lived. The daughter of a humble clergyman changed the world. She had lead no battlefield victories. Nor, did she run for office. Instead, she fought against convention. In a time when there were few opportunities for women, she created her own career path. In that respect, she did fight a battle, and won. She became not only an inspiration to women, but to men as well. Two-hundred years after her passing, her legacy continues.

            It is a rare thing for a novelist to impact the whole of society. It is even more rare for that novelist to endure. The words that flowed from her pen are fresh on the lips and hearts of all her admirers. Though written by her hand in another time, they still hold power today. Not only do we see ourselves in her characters, we see universal truths. Jane’s work is a microcosm; not just of Regency England, but of all human thought, and emotion. She knew human nature when psychology hadn’t been dreamed of yet. Her observations, and her good use of them, have shown readers a greater insight into the human condition than any college textbook.

            As we mourn the loss of one who has touched our lives, we also celebrate.

            Two-hundred years have passed since Jane Austen walked the stones of Bath. Her well-used writing table stands in Chawton, as if its mistress is about to use it again. Though her pen may lay idle, we feel she is with us. All one has to do is read her books, and instantly one is in communion with her.

            Two-hundred years, and her visage will grace the ten-pound note. Lovely statues of her will be erected in Basingstoke, and Winchester Cathedral. Her life will be celebrated with readings, costume balls, and (naturally) specially brews teas and ales. In a great way, those that love her are giving back to her by honoring her memory.

            Though it was two-hundred years since she was laid to rest, she lives. Millions of people, in various languages, will open any one of her books on any given day. They will read the thoughts of a woman who has inspired, and will continue to inspire for many more centuries to come. The costume balls will continue. The readings will never cease. The pianoforte will fill the air with the sounds of her time. Many a match will be made. Many a broken heart will be mended by her words.

            Two-hundred years, and she is still with us.

I will close with words from that distinguished lady herself.


"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!"
― Jane Austen, Persuasion 


Text copyright Riley Joyce