Galaxy Rabbit

Hi all! Sorry, I do not have an essay, book review, or rant for you today, as I usually do on Fridays. The school year is ending, the plants are growing, and my book, The Great Snake, is launching on Monday (which is also Memorial Day … and no, I didn’t do that on purpose).

Tomorrow, my friend Teal Veyre will be hosting a launch party for The Great Snake at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on her discord server, The Writer’s Block. If you wish to join The Writer’s Block (even just for the duration of the party), follow this link: https://discord.gg/Tq6Q2c8b

The “party” will be voice only, and you must bring your own snacks of course. You will have to endure ten minutes of me reading from The Great Snake, but if you can hang in there through that and the trivia game, there will be prizes.

In the meantime, please enjoy this painting by a talented young artist to whom I have given birth. It is called “Galaxy Rabbit,” and there is a whole series of galaxy rabbits planned. The rabbit is large enough to eat the planets that he is floating near.

My Boring Analysis of Encanto

I call this boring because I am one of those boring people who has to analyze every dam’ movie she watches. I mean it: I have to. My mind has not processed a movie until I’ve articulated to someone exactly what I think was going on in it. I don’t know why I am this way. I think it’s biological. I’m sorry if it drives you crazy. If it drives you crazy, don’t read this post.

But first, my new favorite YouTuber

Not too long ago, I discovered podcaster A.D. Robles. His videos are really enjoyable because they’re short and he has a masculine, streetwise, no-nonsense way of calling out what he calls “Big Eva” (short for evangelicalism) for compromise, heresy, firing on their own troops, etc.

A.D. is no-nonsense, that is, except when he puts on shades and tries to be “Smooth A.D.” He can never sustain it, though.

I happened to listen to A.D.’s reaction to Encanto before I saw the movie myself. It was fun to hear him notice how the movie handled Latin culture, as he is Puerto-Rican-American. Anyway, his video was primarily about how some Big Eva pastors or writers had, predictably, said that Bruno is a type of Christ. Consider: Bruno tells truths that people don’t want to hear, and he is ostracized for it. A.D.’s assessment of this theological point was summed up by the video’s title: “This Is So Stupid.” You cannot just call someone a Christ figure, he points out, just because they have one or two things in common with Christ. He’s not wrong. I’ve heard that people tried to draw parallels to Christ from Edward in Twilight, and if that’s not blasphemous I don’t know what is.

Anyway, go find A.D. on YouTube if you want to be entertained for a few minutes by his take on Encanto. But I finally watched it, and here is mine.

Family Relationships: A-

With A.D., I think Encanto was a pretty good movie. Where it really shone, of course, was the portrayal of the relationships in a family that is loving but also kind of dysfunctional (and aren’t they all?). It showed, for example, how people can get locked in to perceived roles in the family that aren’t 100% accurate. (Abuela blaming Mirabel for everything that goes wrong, and Mirabel even accepting this perception of herself for a while.) It showed how one sibling or cousin can think that the other has it all, but have no idea what they are secretly dealing with (as Mirabel finds out for both Isabel and Luisa). The symbolism of the house itself literally shaking and falling apart captured the emotional feel really well. I especially appreciated the scene at what was supposed to be Isabel’s engagement dinner. The tension, the anticipation that some family members were feeling, the desire of everyone to keep Abuela happy, and meanwhile a terrible secret was spreading like wildfire from one family member to another, and literally causing the floor to crack … if you have lived in a family, I guarantee you have sat through at least one dinner like that. I think this is what makes “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” such a perfect song. Just the phrase “we don’t talk about,” captures exactly what it’s like to be in a family.

Gospel Parallels: C

I am not quite as contemptuous as A.D. over the attempt to make a Christ figure out of Bruno. But actually, I think Bruno has more in common with John the Baptist. He speaks truths that people don’t like, yes, but he doesn’t see everything or have all the answers. He is in exile, just as John the Baptist lived out in the wilderness, and he even looks a little bit like him. But, most importantly, his role in the story is to point to the Chosen One, the one who is going to change everything.

And that one … is Mirabel. C’mon, guys, this is a Disney movie! If it has a Christ figure, odds are that person is going to be the teenaged female main character.

So, in this movie, Mirabel is Jesus. She is “despised and rejected.” Just as Jesus did, she seems ordinary … in fact, she is more ordinary than her family members. She takes the blame for the fact that the house is falling apart, when in fact it is falling apart because of the family’s collective sins and refusal to face the truth. She pursues the truth at all costs. She “ruins everything,” but ends up fixing it. In fact, you could even draw a parallel between the way Mirabel becomes the catalyst for the magical house being destroyed, only to be restored in a better form, and the way Jesus came to destroy the old Temple system and build a new and better “temple,” which was first His body, and then His church. “Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days. But the temple he had spoken of was His body.”

O.K., so Mirabel is a Christ figure. Why, then, the C minus? Because Mirabel is the Christ figure. In a Disney movie, the princess (or young female lead) is supposed to be the one the viewer identifies with. Therefore, in this movie, the message is “You are your own savior.” This is really brought out in the “moment of epiphany” scene, where Mirabel looks into the medallion inherited from her grandfather.

“What do you see?” they ask her.

And she answers, in a tone of wonder, “I see … me.

Voila! The answer is … herself! This is supposed to be a profound moment. Instead, it’s profoundly disappointing.

Mirabel, you see, is not divine. She does not see all, know all, or have the power to fix all. She spends the movie, in fact, looking for answers, for a solution. In so doing, she becomes the catalyst for the solution, and I would have been fine with that, but not with her being the solution herself.

If I had spent weeks looking for wisdom, for answers, for help, and all that my mystical search led me to was a mirror, I would be … well. Not filled with wonder. I’d be dismayed. Frightened, because I know that I’m not up to the task. I would realize that the mystical person who had “revealed” to me that I was the answer had led me astray. “Is that it?” I’d be angry.

Now, when you are young and don’t know yourself quite as well, you might not have this clear a reaction. You might feel flattered, but also have quiet, nagging doubts. Don’t listen to the flattery, please, and do listen to the quiet nagging doubts. Let them grow into a healthy realistic fear so that you can go on seeking Someone who is actually up to handling the situation, because believe me, you can’t. There really is a Savior, but don’t let Disney tell you that you’re it.

Ahem.

Pardon me, I didn’t mean to get so carried away. I guess it’s like I told you … it’s biological.

Quotes from a Book I Binged

The book is Before the Ruins, 2020, by Victoria Gosling.

It’s been a while since I binged a book, but I finished this one in just a few days. It is so well-written that it’s almost like unrhymed poetry. Almost every page has something quotable, even when the quotes are ones I disagree with, like the following …

I remember Peter’s father in the church telling the story of Jesus and Pilate, and jesting Pilate asking Jesus what the truth was but then not staying for an answer, and so we never got to find out, not any of us, not ever. I was so disappointed and on our way back to the vicarage, hell-bent on my share of the roast dinner — chicken, chicken, let it be chicken! — I pestered the vicar, “But why didn’t the disciples ask him instead? There he was on the cross, it’s not like he was going anywhere. Why didn’t they ask him?” With his hand on the gate, he turned. A watery smile. “Sometimes, Andy, I think you are the only one who is listening.” Which, of course, was no answer at all.

Nor was there anything in the Gospels that shed light on what Jesus would have said about [my abuser]. I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible Jesus meeting a truly wicked man.

Before the Ruins, p. 114

*pinches brow*

No, Jesus never met a truly wicked man … except the ones who hunted, slandered, gaslit, and betrayed Him. And then tortured Him to death. Except the majority of people he met. Except those.

He never said anything about child abusers … though there were certain passages about the sea and millstones and whitewashed graves and the fires of hell.

His disciples never asked Him “What is truth?” … except all those times they did, and He said “I am the truth,” and the time Philip said to Him, “Show us the Father,” and Jesus said, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father.”

It’s interesting, because a big theme of Before the Ruins is how difficult it is to really know people, even people you love very much. And how difficult it is to let people know you, even if you really want to.

When not on the subject of the Gospels, the book has a lot of insight and achingly evocative passages about childhood and growing up. Passages like that will break your heart. Passages like this one:

It made me aware of how dormant I was most of the time. How my life — my job, my screens — made it easy to be occupied every waking moment, hurrying, distracted, and equally, on some level almost entirely asleep, comforted by dreams of effortless transformation.

But I was not Cinderella. Instead, there was another story Peter and I had often found in the books of our childhood. It came in different disguises. It was the one about the traveler who arrives at an island, or a castle, or a secret door into the side of a mountain. There, welcomed, the traveler stays, perhaps against their instincts. Often they eat or drink — strange fruit, or wine from a goblet. There is always something they should be doing, an important task for them to fulfill, but they forget it, they are waylaid, and if they ever remember, their companions, if there are any, distract them with promises, or songs, or riddles to ponder.

Often the traveler sleeps, sometimes they dream, always they are nagged by the sense that there is something they are forgetting, something they must do. Their true love is waiting, or their aged parents. There is a sick child they must bring herbs to, a kingdom for them to inherit. But they do nothing; they are paralyzed. And when they wake, if they ever get away, once back in the world they find that centuries have passed, that they are too late, too late for everything, and that all that they loved, everything that truly mattered, is lost forever.

To sleep on? Or to wake? This was the question facing me. To sleep, or to wake and face the reckoning, to find out what had been lost.

Before the Ruins, p. 181

Dorothy Sayers on Sacrificing for your Work

To feel sacrifice consciously as self-sacrifice argues a failure in love. When a job is undertaken from necessity, or from a grim sense of disagreeable duty, the worker is self-consciously aware of the toils and pains he undergoes, and will say: “I have made such and such sacrifices for this.”

But when the job is a labor of love, the sacrifices will present themselves to the worker — strange as it may seem — in the guise of enjoyment.

Moralists, looking on at this, will always judge that the former kind of sacrifice is more admirable than the latter, because the moralist, whatever he may pretend, has far more respect for pride than for love.

I do not mean that there is no nobility in doing unpleasant things from a sense of duty, but only that there is more nobility in doing them gladly out of sheer love of the job. The Puritan thinks otherwise; he is inclined to say, “Of course, So-and-So works very hard and has given up a good deal for such-and-such a cause, but there’s no merit in that — he enjoys it.” The merit, of course, lies precisely in the enjoyment, and the nobility of So-and-So consists in the very fact that he is the kind of person to whom the doing of that piece of work is delightful.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, pp. 134 – 135

Bonus Book Excerpt

This excerpt is from my upcoming book, The Great Snake. If you don’t like spoilers, feel free to skip today’s post.

Background: Many years ago, shortly after Jai had gotten married, Jai’s mother died after giving birth to a baby girl, Klee. Jai took Klee and raised her as his own daughter. His wife, Amal, was jealous of the baby and never liked her. When Klee was a teenager, she ran away from home. The fallout from this blew up Jai’s marriage, and he is now camping out in an abandoned house that used to belong to his father, Endu. While there, he gets a visit from the tribal shaman, Ikash, his little brother.

As soon as he was strong enough to walk around and visit relatives, Ikash went to see his brother.

This required going to his father’s old house, because that was where Jai was staying. Ikash had been inside Endu’s house plenty of times during the four years since the founding of the village, but it had by no means become a second home to him. He had never felt he understood the inner workings of the family his father had built with young Dira, who was only a year older than Ikash himself. All he knew about their family was that it felt different. Different from the one he had grown up in. And so the house had never been exactly homelike.

But now, it was completely alien.

Endu’s house was a cavernous rectangle. The door, set in the middle, gave on to a great central hall. On either end of this were smaller rooms where the family slept. This time, when Ikash entered the central hall, he found it completely filled with the dark, fragrant bulk of drying wood planks. The planks were stacked in hollow boxes with aisles in between. They rose nearly to the ceiling and gave the place a completely different feel. One’s view was blocked, making the place seem even bigger.

His dog, Frost, was at his side. She scrabbled her toenails on the wooden floor and then began to sniff around, cautiously, as if in a new place. Ikash put a calming hand on her back and muttered a command to stay with him.

He called out for his brother.

Instead of echoing, the words seemed to be eaten by the stacked wood.

It was evening and Ikash had it on good authority that Jai was here, bedding down for the night. He must be in one of the side rooms. Ikash picked an aisle at random and began advancing towards the side of the house where Endu had usually slept. He almost felt as if he ought to have a weapon with him, as if he was stepping into an ambush. That, of course, was ridiculous.

He came into sight of the end of the aisle. There he could see the wall, and the door to Endu’s old bedroom. Jai was sitting with his back against the doorframe. He had a stone fire-basin on the floor in front of him, and he was warming his feet at the fire. His big skinny brown dog lay at his side. The fire cast a long shadow from Jai’s sharp nose and lit up a section of the wall around him.

A few steps from the end of the aisle, the firelight fell on Ikash and Frost. Jai squinted, said sharply, “Father? Is that you?” and scrambled to his feet.

“It’s me, brother.”

“Oh, God,” said Jai, visibly relieved. “Of course. It’s Ikash.” He invited his brother to sit down. Then he apologized for his mistake. “I thought for a second you were his ghost. You looked so much like him.”

“I don’t look like Father.”

“You do, though, now that you’ve gotten so skinny. I thought you might be his spirit.”

“I’m not, but thanks for the compliment.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have anything to offer you,” said Jai. “I don’t keep food in this house generally. I had supper at the central fire.”

“I thought that might be the case, and I brought something.”

Ikash had with him a small satchel containing cakes that his wife had made using cornmeal, cattail-root starch, and last year’s dried berries. He brought them out and shared them with his brother, his brother’s dog, and his own dog.

He noted with surprise that this brought tears to Jai’s eyes, but he didn’t say anything. He too had been brought to tears, once upon a time, by the simple fact of someone cooking something special for him.

They sat in silence for a long time. Ikash kept waiting for Jai to speak, but he didn’t. He seemed too preoccupied to wish his younger brother a good recovery, if indeed he was even aware that his brother had been sick.

At last the shaman said, “How do you like this house, brother?”

Jai had a small, narrow face topped with his father’s long almond-shaped eyes. He now turned the face toward his brother and those eyes gave out their trademark flat stare that might have been hostile or incredulous.

“No, of course I don’t like this house. This isn’t a house at all. It’s a goddam warehouse. I am living here because I can’t live in my own house any more. I am homeless. That’s how I like it.”

He snorted.

Ikash drew a breath, but his brother wasn’t finished.

“And I am living here because, as I think you know, I was kicked out of my own house by your wife’s sister and her goddam family. I’ve been replaced by my mother-in-law. That’s how things are going. And you know what the chief is like, you know the way he is about his daughters. I doubt he’d let me back into that house if I wanted to.”

“Do you want to?”

“Yes.” The syllable was bitter, but it nearly broke at the end.

“Tell me more,” said the shaman.

Jai spoke for several minutes about his wife. He was clearly angry with her, mostly for being so angry with him. He was also very lonely. Endu’s house was spooky and unhappy, a far worse place to sleep than sleeping outdoors during a hunt.

Ikash nodded. He had felt the menace as he was walking through the drying wood stacks. He did not wonder that his brother had expected to see a ghost. Jai had the dog with him, that was the saving grace, but even he didn’t want to live here forever.

Ikash said, “What if you were to reconcile with my wife’s older sister?”

Jai stopped dead in his ranting and his long dark eyes looked sideways.

“Is that even possible?”

“Perhaps,” said the shaman. He had not spoken with Amal and knew little about her mental state.

“She insists that I not blame her for our sister leaving. But I have to. She mistreated Klee horribly. I didn’t think it meant so much at the time – she never beat her – but I was wrong. Girls are more sensitive, brother. All it takes to drive them away is words. Now I can’t believe that I let Amal turn her against me. I wish I had put a stop to it at once.”

“How would you have done that, brother?”

“I … don’t know.”

Silence descended as both brothers slowly realized that if Jai had tried to put a stop to it, it would only have brought on this very situation several years earlier.

“I’ve been a terrible father,” said Jai.

“You are not finished being a father.”

“To Klee.”

“You gave her a home, kept her fed and clothed, kept her alive as she grew. Now she is grown and gone. Married. As she would have done in any case.”

“That is true, brother.”

“Do you remember when we were young and we wanted to get out and explore?”

Jai got a fierce, faraway look and said nothing. After a moment he said, “Are you saying that I haven’t failed her?”

“Perhaps not as completely as she thinks.”

“But she hates Amal and me.”

“But she is alive and whole.”

“You are right,” said Jai. “Let her hate us if it makes her happy. I am still her brother.”

“She hates me, too,” said Ikash helpfully.

“And you hate our father.”

“No, brother, I don’t.”

“Well, you think he is dangerous, and a bad man.”

“In many ways, he is.”

“He was a great father,” said Jai. “I still don’t know how his house got so sad and ghosty. I can’t understand it.” He shook his head silently for a few moments, and then said, “Brother … I feel as if …” And then with a very fierce look, “Do not mock me.”

“I won’t.”

“I feel as if,” said Jai, stroking the dog and not meeting his brother’s eye, “As if, were I to … truly let Klee go … I’d be failing our mother. Again.”

And Ikash took a sharp breath as if he had been stabbed, but did not reply.

This was too big a matter for words, so the two of them sat in silence a time.

“But she is grown,” said Jai then. “Not dead, but grown. Do you really think I can reconcile with my wife?”

“Maybe it is possible,” said the shaman carefully. “I think … I think it might be necessary that the two of you stop talking about Klee. I know that … I realize what that … means to you. But you may need to do it if you want to reconcile with your wife. Perhaps you can sort of … start over.”

Jai’s face softened. “Start over,” he murmured. “If she agrees to start over …, would you do some sort of ceremony for us?”

“I’d be honored.”

His intercession did not make all come right immediately. But Jai began to make overtures towards reconciling with Amal. In the early summer, Ikash did a reconciliation ceremony for his brother and sister-in-law that involved smoke and sacrifices. Everyone was as happy as if it were a wedding. At that time, it had been exactly a year since Klee found out the truth about her parentage.

Not long after this, the tribe performed on Endu’s house what might be described as an extreme form of spring cleaning. The seasoned wood was removed and re-stacked in a dry outdoor location, with a temporary cattail roof overhead to protect it from rains. The house itself was then dismantled. Some of the timber was salvaged, but most of it, the “ghosty” part, was burned. Ikash performed a purifying ceremony over the land where the house had been. The newly seasoned timber was then used to make a tribal meeting hall. The remnants of Endu’s house were used in a remodeling project that Jai and Amal were undertaking.

Knitted Baby Moccasins

I got this pattern from a book called Wee Garter Stitch. I found it in my then local library, and knew I would want to make this pattern again and again. With the way you can vary the color of the mocs and the kind of fabric you sew on the instep, it is just so versatile. The original pattern called for brown cotton yarn – which I use here – but it had the fringe being all one color. As you can see, in this iteration I decided to change it up.

First, you make the moccasin part. These are made by knitting a simple rectangle, adding a tongue, and sewing the whole thing together. They might be uncomfortable to walk on, but for a baby, they are basically just socks. The pattern suggests you sew the optional fabric onto the instep after the mocs are completed, but I have found that it’s easier to add the fabric before starting on the fringe.

Then, you pick up stitches around the open edge of the moc and start “making a loop” on every stitch every round or two. This pattern taught me the “make a loop” technique, which is pretty cool. It was at this point that I started switching out the colors, partly because I didn’t have enough yarn of just one color. I actually ran out of white cotton yard and had to sub in wool for the last few rounds on one moc.

You do that for a while, and, voila! it’s time to knit four rounds of rib and cast off. Then you cut the loops and even up the fringe.

I don’t actually know how easy or difficult these are to put on a baby, because I’ve never heard back from any of the moms I’ve given such mocs to. But I have a feeling that this time, I’m going to get lucky.

Here is another pair that I made with a different color scheme.

I stuff gift paper into them, to get them to hold their shape and stand up.