Back Once Again To Ravens and Writing-Desks and Little Rituals…

We all have, I think, our own little habits or rituals. We mark private experiences with much of the same reverence and solemnity as great public ones, and only our nearest and dearest really ever notice. Some of these things are healthy, and some are not. Some are endearing, and some are thoroughly annoying. They are complex, these little ceremonies of the self, and they are intimately connected to who we are.

Like many US-ians and others who live in a world framed by so-called “Western” cultures (perhaps, in this case, better framed as “Industrial cultures of mostly European origin”), I grew up in (and still appear sometimes to dwell in) linear time. We appear move ever forward from creation to apocalypse, in a narrative progressing toward…well, something. Even though that’s what it looks like, however, lived experience seems often to be entirely cyclical, even for the most linear sort of mind. The time clock at work goes ’round and ’round. The seasons turn and turn again, whether we mean by this the natural seasons of the earth or sporting and television seasons. They may overlap each other and oppose each other and work in odd ways as they turn and return against and with each other.
Because I work at a university, I number among my seasonal cycles the eternal (golly, I hope so!) return of the First Day of School. It’s a strange sort of thing — it’s very much like spring, in the sense that it is a time full of beginnings and the excitement of new adventures, but it smells like late summer and turns soon to autumn. It’s like living in a sort of weirdly time-lapsed garden at the end of the world. I do enjoy it, though, even while I complain about all of the work required.
One of my little rituals — the one that, for me, makes the strange beginning/waning of the first weeks of school most wonderful — is reading a book. Every year, in the week before school starts, I read Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon. It’s not an easy book — Hand’s prose is intricate and elegant and sometimes a bit florid. It’s a linguistic hothouse full of bright orchids and exotic ferns and the unknown songs of dozens of weird, unnerving birds. The story winds its way through a centuries-long spiritual war made immediate and tragic through the lives of the main character, Sweeney Cassidy, and her first college friends. There are a number of events and ideas in it that are disturbing, and I imagine that quite a bit of what Hand goes on about is morally challenging (to put it mildly) for some readers.
I love it. I have loved it ever since I first read it, nearly 20 years ago. What makes me love it more is the fact that over those decades, I have come to find different things in it to love. It is never quite the same book every time I read it. Why? Because I am never quite the same person. When I first read it, I felt the beginning of Sweeney’s story most acutely, and didn’t really understand or like the end. I grew through the narrative, until I reached a point a few years ago when the closing third of the book just hit me, right where I lived. There was a time in between when I was made intensely uncomfortable by what I thought the gender politics of the book were. I’m still not entirely sure I’m comfortable with them now, but I am in a position in my life in which that discomfort itself is valuable to me and makes the book more interesting.
It’s almost time to start again. I am excited to see what it’s like this time!

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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2 Responses to Back Once Again To Ravens and Writing-Desks and Little Rituals…

  1. bob-f says:

    Thanks Laura. I've just discovered your blog and this post hits all the right notes just as my personal sense of time and ritual are being whipsawed every which way. Reading this was a good way to start my day.


  2. Glad to hear it, Bob! You're welcome!


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