Lady With A Weather Station

MY BEAUTIFUL COCOON

I suppose I should claim to have left the child in me behind. In truth, I cannot do so. While some my age feel like dancing, I often feel like napping.

A cold winter cuts deep with age. I dread walking out of doors on particularly cold days. My wife and I study weather signs and predictions assiduously – my wife much more than I.

But there is a flip side to the dread of cold air. I confess adoration of my cocoon – or my many cocoons. First and foremost is my lovely bed. In winter I wear a white cotton skull cap or, my current favorite, I loosely wrap my head in an empty pillowcase, lightly binding my ears and covering my forehead as if wearing an Egyptian headdress. My heavy gray wool blanket lies folded but tightly pressed against the left length of my body. My top sheet and blankets rest upon me, tucked tightly at the edges around my chest. A large fluffy pillow is wedged to the right of my head to keep it from moving, to give me the sensation of sleeping on my right side when in fact I am flat on my back, lying diagonally across a double bed that I built of yellow pine forty years ago. My head rests softly embedded in between two small down travel pillows put inside a cotton pillowcase. My jury-rigged pillow puts me very close to lying flat with no pillow at all; this aids nighttime breathing, protects my back, and prevents reflux from unsettling my nighttime wanders.

This is but one place where I spend a blissful eternity in imaginary adventure. There is my Walmart leather recliner, which is neither from Walmart nor made of true leather. There are numerous oddly shaped homemade pillows upholstered in faux leather fabric found at Walmart; a homemade foam-filled headrest extension, loosely fixed in the same material; and a full-length fake-leather-weave kitchen floor mat that supports my pliable body and keeps it from sliding around. All this is topped with a forest-green fleece throw blanket. Here, invariably, my eyes flutter in periodic submission during familiar or dull moments of nighttime movies.

My car seats, the firm gray cloth ones in my Honda Civic rather than the slick tan leather ones in my Accord, offer similar delight and comfort. The heat of my car is a blessing after a brisk walk to and from work.

All these places are my work stations – or rather my think stations. I would have few creative thoughts otherwise, except for the muted quiet afforded on my four-mile walks each morning, bundled up in so many layers that I look like a nomadic tribesman on the tundra.

All relates to the weather, the all-important condition that envelops each day and makes it different and uncertain. Knowledge of the weather connects science with practical and sensitive awareness of surroundings and change.

I offer a story related to the fundamentals of weather and its importance in our everyday lives. It is very brief but long enough. It is akin to a children’s tale about the culture of science and teaching, and the presence and palpable consequences of nature.

Please follow this trail to my reading room and sit warmly by the hearth.

Born Again

With some frequency, I have mentioned that I once returned to college many years after leaving it. I never deliberately dropped out: eventually, after more than four years of hard study there, I was excreted.

The first time I left, though, I was propelled from college. Something was happening to me which I did not understand. Friendships were dissolving, personalities were shape-shifting, my body was bloating, the world was gnawing. And it was spring. But more significantly, I had hit a wall. I enrolled in a course on Renaissance Europe at Memphis State University. I had taken four very good required survey history courses prior to this particular course but had mainly taken courses in business and psychology. More inclined toward the latter – and seeing the former, based in no small part on the other people pursuing it, as a misfit for my temperament, principles, and evolving interests – I sought out new study paths late in my junior year.

The readings for the Renaissance course were complex and overwhelming on many levels. Though my professor was a spellbinding storyteller, I felt lost in material that I could neither digest nor piece together. I was captivated by images and tales of men and women who made my own life seem under-lived and completely uninteresting; I encountered ideas that made those surrounding me and my time appear clearly insufficient. Yet, I felt the time speak to me – call to me. Having read and attended with all my ability, I went to my professor and told him of my decision to withdraw from school. I told him that I would risk all, even risk being drafted for duty in Vietnam, to see the world and find my place in it. This man, who seemed to hold the world in his large hands, his imposing stature, and his deep, authoritative voice – a true believer in the power and fundamental necessity of education – did not attempt to dissuade me. He was genuinely supportive of the reasoning upon which I based my move outward.

I will be honest. I left school in pursuit of craft. The very word loomed noble and superior to bland consumption. Emphatically, I did not leave for humanism. I never would have dreamed that humanism could, through the twisted witchcraft of modern-day religion, be cast in popular American culture as the most wicked scourge ever to plague mankind. I was humanism through and through. I did not need to pursue it. And there was nothing that could drive it from me. It was the grand gift that had seeped into my pores from the moment that I was born. It was the alpha and omega of my education. It was the beginning and sustenance of my values. And nothing solidified humanism’s hold on me like the benevolent Protestant upbringing in my household that surrounded me since birth. To me, Jesus was humanism writ large. He would not stand so pervasively and personally approachable without the ideals, contributions, and sacrifices of humanism, and humanism would not thrive without the model and teachings of Jesus.

Consistent with my practice of posting manuscripts related to the Middle Ages, I have attached essays pertaining to my exploration of the Renaissance.

The mighty figures and events of the Renaissance would mock our petty conceits. And we justly deride many of theirs. But we easily see ourselves among them. We find their assumptions familiar. Their excesses are recognizably human in our eyes.

The Renaissance in History
Lawyers and Statecraft
Michelangelo
Letter About Machiavelli’s The Prince
Review of Renaissance Letters

(Refer to the key offered in the previous post on dooms to view these learning journals. Read them or ignore them at will.)

Return To Dooms

It was 1988. I was entering my late thirties. And I returned to college as an undergraduate. I did not want to – I had to.

After dropping out of college at the end of 1971, I needed recurrent jolts of fresh ideas and new perspectives. The public library history section supplied both. It was history learned from self-directed reading. Sometimes the titles came from lists of recommended readings acquired from my earlier four years as an undergraduate.

Having discovered him in the 1970s in the musty history section of the main library on Peabody Avenue in Memphis, I claimed Frederic Maitland as mine. The subject and style of Maitland’s two-volume History of English Law before the Time of Edward I were magnetic. (I searched for over a decade for copies for myself and found them.) My pursuit of academic learning was occasionally rekindled by his likes, masters hidden in obscure out-of-print books.

I still hold Maitland in the highest regard. He did what I might have dreamed of doing in another life.

* * *

The rediscovery of the manuscript linked herein (below), for which these words are an introduction, has convinced me that if one is under forty and has a passion, one should go for it – personal responsibilities permitting. I can recall the mind that wrote this manuscript and I can even understand most of it now. But I am still thoroughly amazed … by the steep decline of my mental faculties over twenty-five years.

I am obliged to – I am overjoyed to – thank my wife (and to a much lesser extent our, at the time, young son) for letting me indulge my passion before it was too late; for letting me immerse myself in a world that had beckoned me for seventeen years; for letting me reconnect with an old professor and the Middle Ages and lose myself in imagination, pondering a world thought long dead. Only as I jogged a country road, early one gray morning in 1988, did I realize that the world of the Middle Ages was not dead at all but rather lived on in life in the present just beyond the deceptive veil of modernity. It was a life I had relentlessly sought out and found through reading with persistence, intensity, and seriousness. But it was not the reading alone that revealed the past to me, it was the thinking about the reading so as to capture it in a few pages of epistolary summary and commentary for my professor. I was blessed with the rarest tutorial-style learning experience, as if a student at Oxford or Cambridge in the sepia-tone years of intellectual ferment and high pretension. It was to be the last time my esteemed professor taught either of his two signature courses on old Europe. I was just in time to light my torch to guide my way down my evolutionary path.

I will not let my acknowledgement of my wife’s contribution to this effort rest condensed in one passing sentence. She worked full time as an elementary-school teacher. She traveled many miles to work every day and worked at night, on weekends, and during the summer for her charges and for her family. We had a young child in a private Catholic school; my work for the company that I owned was shriveling in an economic downturn that badly affected construction in Middle Tennessee. Never once did she express doubt or frown upon my enterprise and effort, even though the level of study in history in which I was engaged was hardly fit for any practical application – except maybe for a life of method and observation and thought and understanding and tolerance in a complex world – and maybe a new job. She believed in the power of education. She had faith that it was the thing to do for us. So once the decision was made, we plowed on despite the low income and the many, many hours of separation that comes when one is allowed to dive deep and swim slowly in the darkest underwater caves of history.

The countless individual monastic scribes of the Middle Ages are not known to us by name. They were not altogether practically necessary – except that they preserved and spread learning for centuries without benefit of the printing press or the Internet. But I have no doubt at all that they relished the work even when barely innovative and hardly noticed.

So my marvel now at this manuscript is not due to its style, its correctness, or its originality. Rather, I marvel that is was ever able to exist at all.

Click here to read it. [1] [NOTE: The key to this box, and all like it, is JerryMurley. Whether you do or don't get this clue, welcome to the mystical study of the Middle Ages.]

FOOTNOTE:

1. Notes and commentary on Frederic Maitland’s Domesday Book and Beyond by Jerry Murley in spring 1988.