three dots … The blog of an elliptical human 2021-04-19T14:52:08+00:00 Alan Rempel <![CDATA[A Place for Everything]]> 2021-04-17T20:53:36+00:00 2021-04-17T20:53:36+00:00 Although subtitled A History of Alphabetical Order, this book is really about the history of how writing is organized: it has much more to say about the methods of organizing that alphabetical order has undergirded – and, respectively, that its predecessors in ordering things have undergirded – than about alphabetical order itself. These methods of organizing written language – indexes, catalogues, common-place books, tables of contents, encyclopedias, dictionaries, various pieces of specialized furniture, to name but a few – all depend upon the most basic kind of organizational technology: a way of ordering things. A Place for Everything pieces together the long and convoluted history of how alphabetical order gradually, and by fits and starts, rose to prominence among orderings.

For small numbers of items, chronological order or no particular order poses no problems; various forms of hierarchical ordering (e.g. first God, then angels, then humans, then animals, etc.) were also popular for a long time. But alphabetical order turned out to have a decisive advantage: to use it (whether to create an ordered list or to look something up in one), you only need to know the name of the item sought; its other attributes (e.g. date of joining the Académie Française) are irrelevant. Not everything or everyone has a date of joining the Académie, but most things that can be itemized have a name; moreover, you probably know the name, if nothing else, of whatever you want to look up. Thus alphabetical order could reign universally (in languages that have alphabets!).

Anyway—this is a fascinating book, the parts of which I found most fascinating I have barely mentioned.

<![CDATA[Email, email: electronic mail]]> 2021-04-16T20:25:56+00:00 2021-04-16T00:00:00+00:00 Computers are annoying; there are, however, some ways in which they make our lives easier, which most of us who benefit from them take for granted. One such way is this: when you send someone an email, you retain a copy of it—unlike paper mail, where you have to make copies of your outgoing correspondence yourself. Email applications also organize your correspondence by thread (not just newest message first), which is extremely convenient but would be a pain to do by hand.

I had this thought while reading A Place for Everything, which talks about how people and businesses organized their piles of correspondence during the period (roughly from the late 19th century until email) when there was both a lot of it and it was all on paper.

<![CDATA[Piranesi]]> 2021-04-14T14:46:40+00:00 2021-04-14T14:46:40+00:00 A beautiful book; a complete book; a book which lacks nothing. The main character, whose name the book bears as its title, has such love for his world, and finds himself to be at home in it and loved by it; it is very wonderful; ah, but strange things come to pass! I myself can add nothing to this review from The Guardian; see also a piece, also in The Guardian, about the author and how Piranesi came to be;—and see also the book's namesake, Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

<![CDATA[Ancillary Justice]]> 2021-04-10T11:49:44+00:00 2021-04-10T11:49:44+00:00 I enjoyed this book tremendously. The protagonist is a spaceship who is sentient—is conscious,—and has many human bodies through which she (who in fact is genderless) acts, speaks, interacts with her human crew, and each of which brings their own subtle colouration of personality. (In an interview, the author mentions that she became set on this idea when she realized that such a being could sing multi-part choral music by herself!) For most of the book, however, the protagonist is one particular human body who has been severed from the spaceship of which she is (was) a part, yet retaining the memories and sense of identity of the whole ship. This sounds confusing; it is somewhat, inevitably, but deftly handled, the writing highly engaging. (It is not the only instance in the book of confusing boundaries of identity.)

I also liked these two interviews with the author, one from her publisher (Ann Leckie on Ancillary Justice – Orbit Books – the one I mentioned above), and another from Locus Magazine (Ann Leckie: Silhouettes – Locus).

<![CDATA[Compline in tranquil air]]> 2021-03-09T14:37:37+00:00 2021-03-08T00:00:00+00:00 If one is singing Compline outdoors in the wintertime at night, it is a very wonderful thing if the air is completely tranquil, so that one's candle-flame hardly quavers, much less thinks of blowing out. I am very grateful on such occasions.

<![CDATA[On chickpeas]]> 2021-04-09T13:45:08+00:00 2021-03-04T00:00:00+00:00 Whenever I open up and rinse a can of chickpeas, I find myself idly picking one up and with two fingers swiftly slipping off its transparent skin—and then another—a satisfying sensation: soon I am engrossed in plucking off each of their slippery coats one by one. I know I have other things to do—chop sweet potatoes, for instance—my better judgement protests, but my hands are borne away, unheeding, until every last chickpea gleams pure kabuli-yellow, unrefracted by its natal cloak.

I am told that shorn chickpeas make the smoothest hummus. But I do not want the smoothest hummus; I want only to stand at the sink shelling chickpeas until the sun sets.

<![CDATA[On pumpkin seeds]]> 2021-03-07T01:40:13+00:00 2021-01-27T00:00:00+00:00 It makes me glad to hear pumpkin seeds pop as they toast in the oven.

<![CDATA[Clamanda]]> 2021-04-09T13:44:06+00:00 2020-12-18T00:00:00+00:00 As I was reading my book last night – namely the novel Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, – I came across a familiar-looking song, sung by the protagonist, Breq, to herself as she ventures off on a daring mission:

Oh, have you gone to the battlefield
Armored and well armed?
And shall dreadful events
Force you to drop your weapons?

It struck me immediately that this was a paraphrase – as though it had been translated into Breq's native tongue and back into English – of Clamanda, from the page 42 of the Sacred Harp:

Oh, have you ventured to the field
Well armed with helmet, sword, and shield?
And shall the world, with dread alarms,
Compel you now to ground your arms?

I was intrigued. Does Ann Leckie know of the Sacred Harp? It would not be surprising. Certainly she seems to be a lover of songs and choral music: her main character sings to herself continually and is fond of collecting songs from societies that she visits. Leckie also has a music degree from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

It turned my intuition was right! When I reached the end of the book, I found that it had a postscript that included an interview with Leckie. In it, Leckie reveals that she is a shape-note singing aficionado, and tells the reader that the song quoted above is indeed from the Sacred Harp, as I had suspected. She even gives a plug for shape note singing:

… I wish people felt freer to sing, and freer to enjoy people around them singing.

It's one of the things I love about shape note singing—there's no audition, no question of whether or not your voice is good enough, or whether anyone has talent. You love to sing? Come sing!

In the book, Breq is described as having not a very nice-sounding voice, and that, although others like it, some of those around her are annoyed by her constant humming. She doesn't mind.

Breq's love of songs is moreover an instance of one of Ancillary Justice's general strengths as a work of fiction: it depicts human societies of the far future as having the same degree and variety of cultural richness, in music as well as in other forms, as human societies have always had. I don't think you always see this done so well in science fiction or fantasy.

<![CDATA[Piranesi at night]]> 2021-04-14T14:47:30+00:00 2020-11-01T00:00:00+00:00 Last night I woke up at 2:30 am and could not return to sleep. After tossing around for an hour, I migrated to the living room, lit a candle, and finished reading my novel, Piranesi:—a beautiful book, I thought afterward, an almost perfect book. It was shorter than I typically expect a novel to be; I wanted to read more;—but what, I thought, could be added to it that would in no way make it less wonderful?—Nothing.

<![CDATA[On editing]]> 2021-03-09T14:29:55+00:00 2020-10-16T00:00:00+00:00 Semicolon—or m-dash?
—Why not both?

A nice thing about dashes, incidentally,——
is that they are are telescoping.

I once dropped my house-keys
between the boards of the front porch;———————
I rescued them with a bent coat-hanger.

<![CDATA[On oomancy]]> 2021-04-09T13:47:55+00:00 2020-09-09T00:00:00+00:00 Yesterday evening we had friends over to our apartment for our weekly oomancy session. As I was sweeping the floor in anticipation of their arrival, I reflected upon the first time I tried my hand at oomancy. Or perhaps, I muse, oomancy tried its hand at me: I had not intended to use the eggs for divination, but does it not in retrospect seem possible—even likely—that divination took place?

—Sorry: Oomancy is divination by means of eggs. Oo means ‘eggs’ (think ovo, but without the ‘v’), and mancy means ‘, divination by means of’. Put it together and you have ‘eggs, divination by means of’. I didn't know this either until about two weeks ago.

This particular morning was my assigned day to bring breakfast to share after the small religious service that took place in the Student Union Building early on Wednesday mornings, which I was accustomed to attend intermittently. I had decided to bring a variation on my family's traditional weekend breakfast: fresh blueberry muffins and medium-boiled eggs. Unfortunately, I insisted upon the being-fresh of the muffins at the expense of my presence at the service: that is, I baked them the morning of, rather than (as would have been sensible) the night before.

I arose too late; I measured too carefully; I spent too long whisking the eggs; the hour to leave for the service passed me by. I said to myself, “No matter! I shall move with haste and outstrip the passage of the minutes!” Of course the passage of the minutes was indifferent to my haste.

—You who are wise in egg-boiling will know that there is no way to test whether the eggs are done (without cracking the egg open and thereby destroying the integrity of the boiled-egg experience): the only way to cook them the way you want to is to time them exactly. You may also have the wisdom to know what I forgot: namely that a compulsive haste and a desire to bend the passage of time are inimical to exactitude.

In any case, I arrived at the SUB, shuffling in sheepishly to the room shortly after the service had ended, and set my out breakfast-cargo on the table. Upon seeing the eggs, my friend remarked that I had brought no implements with which to crack them: I, to whom, although sympathetic towards this point, it would never had occurred to bring utensils for that purpose, could think of no course of action but to demonstrate my family’s traditional method of egg-cracking, namely, knocking the egg firmly against the forehead:—and smashed the runny, undercooked egg all over my face.

For my friend's part, he told me, his mirth more than made up for the loss of the eggs. As for me, I was embarrassed and bemused, and ascribed to the episode no more significance than as a lesson to hallow the timing of boiling eggs. Now, though, I am inclined to wonder: what mystical meaning did this ovum wish to communicate to me? Does a spiritual residue of its yolk still reside upon my forehead? What might the science of oomancy have to say about this event? Will I ever see clearly its true signification?

<![CDATA[The trees]]> 2021-03-07T01:40:43+00:00 2019-11-21T00:00:00+00:00 This city is a strange place—so much of it is paved.

The trees here—it must be lonely for them, not being in a forest; stretching their roots out and finding soil compacted by cement, soil sparse of arboreal conversation.

<![CDATA[Holy Communion on Harry Lake]]> 2021-03-07T01:42:03+00:00 2019-10-27T00:00:00+00:00 At this year’s Fall Retreat at Mersey River Chalets, Holy Communion on the lake took place at 7:00 am, which was later than in the past – last year I think it was at 6:45. The temperature had dropped below zero overnight, so the grass and the leaves upon it were frosty, and there was a thin layer of ice on the lake, and mist drifting over it. It was quite beautiful.

I had printed leaflets containing the order of worship and the music for the service, including English Gradual set to plainchant and hymns. To illuminate these – for it was still dark outside (although already a little lighter than at 5:30 am, when I had my vigil slot) – we each had a beeswax taper. I was holding my taper and leaflet in the same hand, in order to keep my other hand in my pocket for warmth, switching hands every few minutes.

While we were singing the Nicene Creed, my friend Sophia, who was standing beside me, pointed out to me that my service leaflet was on fire. We both tried to blow it out, but to no avail – the fire just got bigger. As it was becoming apparent that my hand would soon get burned if I did not relinquish the paper, someone – it may have been Alison, who was standing on my other side – suggested, either by word or by gesture, I forget which, that I drop it on the ground and stomp the fire out. I did so, and the fire was rapidly extinguished.

<![CDATA[BCP]]> 2021-03-09T14:20:05+00:00 2019-09-27T00:00:00+00:00 I want to buy this Oxford UP edition of the Book of Common Prayer – it includes the 1549, 1552, and 1662 editions! plus introduction and endnotes and other nice ancillary bits – that I saw at Bookmark the other day. I don’t know if I even want to buy it that badly; – it introduces some novelty, it’s fun buying books, it’s a way to get out of the house, I like spending time in bookstores; I don’t know.

<![CDATA[My to-do list]]> 2021-03-07T01:43:10+00:00 2018-07-10T00:00:00+00:00 I have a secret to-do list. The problem with this to-do list is that it’s easy for me to forget what is on it. Because it’s not anywhere extant in writing—that’s how secret it is. If it were recorded anywhere outside my mind, it wouldn’t be so secret. Even if were perfectly hidden from the eyes of others, I would still know where it was and would be tempted to look at it. So it would be a secret from all others, but not from me. If it’s not written down, I can’t look at it, and so it can be a secret from me too—just to the extent that I don’t remember I have it. But this is the trouble, that in order to preserve its secrecy, I don’t often call it to mind—or, I sometimes call to mind individual items that happen to be on the list, but not often in the context of the list, and I very rarely think of the list as a whole. And the trouble is that because of this, I run the risk of forgetting its structure—and should I forget the structure of the list, even if I remember, individually and not necessarily at the same time, each of its items,—then the list is no longer. Because it exists only in my mind, you see—there’s nothing and no one else to testify to it.

<![CDATA[Purple sparks]]> 2021-03-07T01:43:01+00:00 2018-07-07T00:00:00+00:00 I used to be able to make purple sparks shoot from my fingertips. I just had to snap my fingers at just the right angle, with just the right force, when the humidity was just right, when my hair was tied up in a bun in just the right way …

It's been about a year and a half now since I've done it. The thought of the sparks has hardly crossed my mind—has avoided it, even—in the intervening time. It is a terrible thing: every so often, there is a day when I know that, should I snap my fingers with care, the sparks ought to come—and if they don't? I fear that; it would be a revelation to me that the sparks have left me. I think I’m afraid of finding out for certain that I’ve lost the sparks. So long as I forbid myself from attempting it, I am spared the force of this loss.

Logically speaking, even if I try and fail—and even if I fail under just the same circumstances under which I used to find success,—that need not mean that I’ve lost my purple sparks permanently. Perhaps there is some other necessary condition that I wasn’t aware of. Or perhaps the sparks will return in their own time. I don't know whether this logic will persuade me to courage.

<![CDATA[What do I have in my pockets?]]> 2021-03-07T01:42:51+00:00 2018-03-02T00:00:00+00:00 A beeswax taper—
A wrapper from a Hershey kiss—
A phone—
A pen—
A tissue—
A recording device (borrowed from a friend)—
A notebook—
A university ID card—
A debit card—
A house key—
Two dollars & eighty-five cents—
One of those cards you can peel off of a McDonald’s coffee cup where once you have seven stickers you get a free drink—
A cork—
A grocery receipt—
An ATM receipt—
Another pen—
An almond—
A pamphlet from a recent winter retreat—
A scrap of paper with a poem written on it (“Great Things Have Happened” by Alden Nolan), and—thank heavens!—
A tissue.

<![CDATA[Mersey River, after compline]]> 2021-03-07T01:41:44+00:00 2018-02-05T00:00:00+00:00 Two nights ago, after singing Compline across the lake, after everyone else had dispersed, drifted back either to the dining hall or to their own cabins: Nick Halley and I standing on the edge of the frozen lake, looking out and marveling, and resting alert and in awe, in the company of the wind and of the snow and of the trees and of each other. The clouds were moving swiftly across the sky—indistinct in the darkness, but as they passed within a certain radius of the moon their outlines were illuminated. The moon’s light ebbed and grew stronger as clouds came and went in front of it.

The river is marvellous: louder than the wind, unceasing roaring, a joyous clamour surging from the heart of the Kejimkujik forest. ‘Eternal praise, eternal praise!’—singing with all its might …

<![CDATA[At Duncan St and Chebucto Lane]]> 2021-03-07T01:41:33+00:00 2017-06-09T00:00:00+00:00 As I was walking down Duncan street last Sunday evening, I came across a tree that had a face: eyes, a nose, and a mouth affixed to its bark. I paused to admire it and take a picture—but at this point I was accosted by a couple of children who were hanging out in the yard of the house to my left. Fortunately, being accosted by children happens to number among my favourite hobbies. So we struck up a conversation. They asked me how old I was.—Twenty, I replied; they asked, as though it followed naturally,—Are you married?—No, I said.—Why not? they said. You’re twenty years old, you’re tall, you have long and luscious hair (perhaps they said ‘flowing’ instead of ‘luscious’, I don’t remember): what are you waiting for?—I told them that I felt I was in no particular hurry, that I have so many other things in my life occupying my attention, and that——Nonsense, they said. Here’s what you should do. The next girl you see, you go up to her and say, “Hello! My name is”–what’s your name, again?—Alan.—“Hello! My name is Alan! Do you want to get married?”—Wouldn’t that seem a bit abrupt? I said.—I guess so, said the one.—Hey! said the other, no, do this: The next girl you see, give her some flowers, and then she’ll like you and ask you to marry her!—I told them I liked this plan better.

<![CDATA[On skating]]> 2021-03-09T14:18:44+00:00 2017-02-19T00:00:00+00:00 While skating at the Oval this afternoon with a few friends, I felt compelled to offer an explanation for why I was alternating smooth skating with bouts of stumbling: “Sometimes I space out for a moment and I’m no longer in the zone! But I just take a moment to centre myself and it's all right.” My friend thought this remark expressed a truth about my essence. No doubt he was right, but I also think my skates were not laced tightly enough.

<![CDATA[The Parisian baguette]]> 2021-03-07T01:40:02+00:00 2016-12-15T00:00:00+00:00 I made a remark shortly after I came in the door—paraphrased from David Lebovitz (unfortunately I've lost the link)—about the state of the Parisian baguette: Emma is this moment recording it in her quote-book. I am flattered.

<![CDATA[In the Winnipeg International Airport]]> 2021-03-07T01:41:23+00:00 2016-01-10T00:00:00+00:00 I was pleasantly surprised to find the security area virtually deserted. The kindly woman standing in front of the queueing area touched the palms of my hands with a white hemisphere on the end of a wand and said (having just seen Paul hug me tight around in circles) how lovely it was to see such a close-knit family, and wished me a happy new year. I had to show my boarding pass five times total, three of those times in the security area. I was the only one in the x-ray line.

—The security staffperson: “No liquids, aerosols, gels, toiletries, toothpaste, shaving cream, water bottles?”—I: “No, those things are all in my checked bag. Well, an empty water bottle.”—”Wait – empty? Does it have any water in it?”—”No.”—”Okay, then.”

Now it’s ten after eleven and they’re saying the plane probably won’t arrive for fifteen minutes yet. Guess I’ll go for another walk or something. A television: the woman on the CBC news says “we’re so consumeristic, a lot of the things still have labels in them, the resale market shouldn’t be overlooked.”

I encounter a sign advertising a Chestnut Praline Latte at Starbucks. I have nothing to do, and am feeling suggestible; I shall go to the Starbucks and purchase a chestnut praline latte.—It tastes quite good – a lovely burnt-sugar flavour.