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Weekend postmortem

Had a Viking gig this weekend. We participated in the Nordic Music Festival in Victoria, Minnesota, just north of the Twin Cities. Short drive, simple event. The weather was ideal, and everyone seemed pretty happy. I’d found one unsold copy of Viking Legacy, so I brought that (and sold it) and I brought a stock of West Oversea. My sales were not bad. I’d had an idea that this wasn’t a very good event for book sales, but I was pleased. Had some good conversations too. Iceland, the Kensington Rune Stone, the sagas. There were two food wagons, and one of them had hot mini-donuts. You can’t do much better than that.

Here’s our set-up. My Viking tent, with its lean-to annex, is on the left. My presentation has evolved over the years from nudging a place in among the others at a long table, to something like an “installation,” which involves a certain amount of labor to set up, tear down, and transport. Well, that’s what happens when you keep at it long enough. Thank goodness there’s people willing to help me with the work.

Nordic Music Festival 2018

Did some fighting too. Even better, two of the new guys joined me, and carried on after I was tuckered out.

Apres moi, le deluge

Counting down the last two days of my librarian career. I am not doing well, thanks for asking. Sleeping badly; fuzzy-headed at work, where I flounder to remember to tell people the things I need to tell them before I surrender my keys. Training my boss in the new library management system, which I haven’t yet had time to master myself. Trying – probably with little success – not to be a grump.

I feel a little like a man on death row – half terrified of the end, half wishing to get the bloody thing over already.

The interior turmoil has exterior manifestations – external to me. Stuff is being torn out. Stuff is being brought in. Half the things I’m teaching my boss may prove to be unnecessary, because they’ll be changing to other technology anyway. But I don’t know these things for sure, so I share my antique wisdom.

I’m still skeptical about the operational plan for the library. I may be less than ideal as a resource person to whom students may appeal to for help, but the new alternative seems to be nobody at all, most of the time. I find it hard to believe an absence is preferable to my presence. There will be assistants around in the afternoons, but that’s not when most of the students will be using the resources.

But, as I keep telling myself, it’s no longer my circus.

Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither. The readiness is all.

Dr. Norvald Yri, 1944-2018

Norvald Yri

I learned today of the death (on Sunday) of a man I’d worked with and respected greatly. Dr. Norvald Yri was a Norwegian missionary and Bible scholar. Born in 1944, he served on the mission field for many years, both in Ethiopia and in Tanzania, and served as secretary for an international mission organization. He took his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1975, and was the author of several books. One of them, Guds Ja, was a commentary on Romans 1 through 8. I translated it for him, but we never found an English publisher.

In recent years he had been a teacher at the Fjellhaug Bible School near Oslo. He also participated in a Bible translation project. He and several others were unhappy with the Norwegian Bible Society’s most recent translation, so they produced an alternative one, based on the King James version.

I corresponded with him by e-mail for many years, but only knew him personally for a short time when he was a visiting instructor at the seminary where I work. He and his wife were/are splendid people, and I think he will be hard to replace.

Hvil i fred (Rest in peace), Dr. Yri.

Man of leisure, about town

Monday was for translation work and my novel. Tuesday was just the novel. Today was the Sons of Norway International Convention, held in a hotel down in Bloomington, not far from the Mall of America. I was not a delegate, but a volunteer.

I wore my Viking clothes. Greeted people at the door. Sold books (I’m almost out of Viking Legacy, which is suffering a bottleneck at the source right now). Stood in the sun for about an hour, showing people what path to take to get to the light rail line, for an outing to the big new stadium.

I think I was in violation of the law when I did that, because I was wearing my Viking scramasax, which exceeds the legal length for a sharp blade. Though I’m not entirely sure whether I was on a public street or hotel property. However, the cops who drove by didn’t hassle me. No doubt it was due to my dangerous, intimidating appearance.

Tomorrow, back for more of the same.

Exhausting for an avoidant, but I shall persevere. What does not kill me makes me very, very tired.

A man of leisure

I’m taking a week off from work. Having lost my job, effective the end of the month, I have vacation time left I’ll never use. So I’m using some. This is also the week of the Sons of Norway convention, here in town (starts tomorrow). Although I’m president of my lodge, I successfully avoided becoming a delegate. I did agree, however, to help in greeting people (who wouldn’t want to be greeted by an avoidant curmudgeon?), and to make some chocolate chip cookies for the hospitality suite.

Yesterday I made the cookies. I’m pretty good at this; used to make them all the time. But it’s been a while now. I forgot one basic element of the procedure – you mix up the wet stuff in the big bowl, and then stir in the dry stuff from the smaller bowl. I got that backwards, with the result that I poured the wet stuff into the flour mixture and had to mix that up. It came out OK, but I judge these cookies a tad mealy.

But hey, I’m giving them away for free. And Norwegians are too polite to complain.

Also, I got a little boost yesterday. Heard from the movie translation company in Norway after months of radio silence. They threw me enough work to fill up the rest of the day.

Occasional freelance translation jobs won’t replace my library position. But it was an encouragement, and the timing couldn’t have been better, from the morale point of view.

Redundant

If you’re one of the multitudes who follow me on Facebook, you may have noticed my post last night in which I asked for prayer, over a personal matter I did not reveal.

This blog post is to explain my situation.

I lost my job yesterday (Monday). I wasn’t told to pack up my stuff and get out; my job ends at the end of the month, and I have the option of working four more months (half time), or two months (full time).

But my present job will no longer exist.

This is due to altered circumstances, circumstances that have changed radically in the roughly five years since I started graduate school. At that time our accrediting agency demanded that a school must have a full-time librarian with a master’s degree.

Since then, the market value of a degreed librarian has fallen pretty steeply. Today the agency only asks that there be a librarian with an MLS somewhere around the place, occasionally. The operation of the library is assumed to be largely automated. Books themselves have become secondary to electronic services, which are the domain of IT people.

Bottom line: A fair amount of money (I won’t say a lot) can be saved by cutting the position of Librarian. I’m not entirely sure how they plan to get the actual physical work done – accessioning and processing, etc. – after I’m gone. But it’s no longer my problem.

I have small hopes of finding another job in the library field. What happened to me is happening everywhere. The few jobs that remain in the field are probably too technical for me.

So if you know of any copywriting jobs, or any openings for Norwegian-to-English translators, or publishers looking for sophisticated Christian fantasy, or anything else I might be adequate at, please let me know.

And pray for me. Thanks.

Epic theology

Uhlfbert sword

Today is my birthday. I got more than 100 birthday greetings on Facebook, which is gratifying. At the restaurant where I eat most Tuesday evenings, I got a free hot fudge sundae. Now, of course, I’m exhausted by all the excess.

How did I spend my weekend?

Following up my radio triumph on Saturday afternoon, I decided to go to Wisconsin on Sunday – in spite of the ever present threat of Packers fans.

The town of Glenwood City, about an hour and a half northeast of here, hosts a small Renaissance Festival, “Ren in the Glen,” a little ahead of the Official, Authorized Minnesota Renaissance Festival starting later this month. Glenwood City’s is a smaller operation which (according to the old hands) resembles what our festival used to be like at the beginning, before it became Disneyland North.

A Facebook friend who’s a member of Folkvangr, a Viking reenactment group, invited me to visit their encampment there. And, contrary to my basic nature – perhaps suffering the lingering disorienting effects of four days in Iowa – I decided that wasn’t a bad way to spend the final day of my vacation.

It was a nice time, and the Folkvangr folks seemed to suffer from the delusion that I possessed a measure of prestige. One subject we discussed is a common one among reenactors – “What are the best and worst Viking movies?” This gave me the opportunity to trot out my old lecture on the differences between two Beowulf movies that came out around the same time, an Icelandic one starring Gerard Butler (which I loathed), and the animated one written by Neil Gaiman and starring Roy Winstone. I’ve written about it on this blog before. My view is that the problem with the Gaiman script is that it tries to transform a Germanic saga into a Greek tragedy. Greek tragic heroes die because of their tragic flaws, as Beowulf does in this film. But Germanic heroes don’t have tragic flaws. They’re always exemplary. They die just because they’re doomed. The point of a saga is not a moral one, but an existential one – we’re all doomed to die; our only control is over the courage with which we face it.

It occurred to me, thinking about it later, that there are theological implications. For a long time Christians have enjoyed Greek tragedies, understanding the idea of the tragic hero as a kind of metaphor for original sin. We die because we deserve to die; we chose badly. Whatever our other virtues, we’ve earned death.

But it seems to me a similar argument can be made for the saga. The saga hero is simply doomed from birth; a kind of original sin. The Norns spin out the thread of his life and cut it off arbitrarily. The hero’s virtues are also not enough to save him – not because of his choices, but because he has inherited the general doom of mankind.

In other words, the Greek tragedy is sort of Arminian. The saga is arguably Calvinist.

Now where else can you go to get that kind of insight?

Craft aftermath

In museum
Owen Christianson describes original melkerings to class members.

Home is the sailor, as the poem goes, and the hunter home from the hill. I got back to Blithering Heights after 8:00 p.m. last night, having driven over three hours, and just didn’t feel up to blogging. So here, now, is my report on my course at the Vesterheim Folk School in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah is a nice little town, located in a picturesque, hilly area of northeastern Iowa. The Vesterheim Norwegian immigration museum is one of the town’s economic and cultural mainstays, and the town was setting up for the annual Nordic Fest, which began today (I never planned to attend, being pretty sure I’d be played out after the class. I was more right than I knew.)

I’m very glad I took the four-day class. It was even more demanding than I expected – planing wood, especially, uses a lot of upper body strength (at least the way I do it. They tell me practiced woodworkers have economical methods that are far less taxing). Our class was called “Stave Vessels From the Past to the Present.” The teacher was Owen Christianson, who is a cryogenic engineer by day, but does historical wordworking in his spare time. He’s been studying the Viking Age recently, which made his instruction invaluable to me.

Our project was to produce a relatively simple stave vessel – what’s known as a melkering (milk ring). They were used to separate cream in old times, back to Viking times.

Owen provided us with short staves (12 each), pre-cut to save time. So the angles of the edges were no problem. He used bass wood (to make it easy), though the originals were usually pine. Our tasks were: Continue reading Craft aftermath

Further dispatch from Decorah

I didn’t expect to get an upper body workout when I signed up for this class in making a stave vessel. Turns out planing wood for several hours takes a lot out of you.

This morning went pretty well. I moved on to the part of the process I’d dreaded most – pegging the individual staves to one another. Turned out it was easier than I thought, and I kind of got into it. Even had moments of a heady sense of accomplishment. But once that was done, the next step was taking the vessel (think of a small wooden tub) apart and planing down the outsides of the staves, which we’d previously shaped on the inside. I was still working on that when the class day ended.

Tomorrow is the final day, and I’m about three steps behind all the others. The last step is decorating the completed vessel, which is not mandatory. I have a suspicion I won’t get to that one. I have a further suspicion the instructor will have to help me finish the thing.

Maybe I’ll get a participation trophy – senior division.

Dispatch from Decorah

Reporting from Decorah, Iowa, where I’m taking a class in stave vessel making at the Vesterheim (Museum) Folk School. My instructor is a gentleman I already knew slightly, having run into him at Høstfest in Minot a few years back.

It’s a disorienting experience, taking a craft class. I’m accustomed to working with my brain, for many reasons. I’m not comfortable making things. I don’t feel like what John Bunyan called “a man of his hands.” So I’m out of my element, which is probably good for me. I’m the most inexperienced of all the students (there are 6 of us), so I’m 2 or 3 steps behind the others. But the instructor says I’m actually on schedule — the others are just running ahead. Nonetheless, I’m gradually improving as I repeat various tasks. I’m reluctant to say that though, because I firmly believe that if I allow myself to think I’m getting better at something, the universe will punish my hubris.

Our teacher is a low-key, patient fellow, which is good. I’ve only cut myself twice, and only one of those required a bandage (not a big one). Manual work and standing most of the day are novelties in my life, and I’m pretty beat by the time I get home.

But I did work up the nerve to approach the museum bookstore people about selling Viking Legacy.

I’ll share pictures after I get home, when I can get my hands on my Photobucket password.

Staving off panic

Workbench
Photo credit: Philip Swinburn

I may or may not be posting intermittently next week. I decided to take a craft course at a certain institution in Iowa, whose name I guess I won’t mention, because I have a criticism to make about one of their practices.

The course is in making a stave vessel. A stave vessel is something like an old wooden bucket, with staves and bands like a barrel – though I won’t be making a bucket, but a traditional Norwegian vessel for separating cream from milk. Cooperage – the construction of watertight containers from staves, has always intrigued me. Knowing my aptitude for any kind of handwork, I’m sure I’ll be no good at all at it. But it might be something worth knowing about, for reenactment and novel writing purposes.

My complaint with the unnamed school is how long it took them to get me a list of the tools I’d need. I waited patiently, and it finally turned up by email on Sunday, too late to do any weekend shopping. But hey, I figured, I’ll go to the big hardware center and pick them up after work one night.

I went last night, and discovered that, thought they had a couple items I needed, your modern hardware center is a little light on cooperage tools. I’d have to try a specialty woodworking store in Minnetonka, they told me.

So tonight I drove out to Minnetonka after work. At that store I found one of the two items I needed. For the other, they told me, I’d need to go to a hobby store in Bloomington, on the far side of town from my home.

I guess I’ll see if I can pick it up on my way south, when I leave (on a date I’ll keep to myself).

My great fear is of showing up at the school without the proper tools, like a foolish virgin without the nightly minimum requirement of lamp oil.

Also that I’ll chop a finger off, of course.

Mr. Whicher’s hat

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

In the proud tradition of historical dilettantes everywhere, I shall devote this post to nitpicking a dramatic production.

I’ve watched a couple of English TV movies in a series entitled “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.” The original film, “The Murder at Road Hill House,” is based on a book by Kate Summerscale, describing a sensational murder inquiry in 1860. A young girl named Constance Kent was accused of the murder of her infant half-brother, on evidence presented by Inspector Jack Whicher, a respected Scotland Yard detective. The court found his evidence insufficient, but Miss Kent eventually confessed, years later, at the urging of her clergyman. She served a sentence in prison and then emigrated to Australia, devoting her final years to good works.

The series then parts company from history. In the subsequent movies, Mr Whicher has been discharged from the Force and investigates crimes as a “private inquiry agent.” In real life he continued as a police detective, and retired well-respected. He was an inspiration for Dickens’ Inspector Bucket and Wilkie Collins’ Sergeant Cuff, among others. Continue reading Mr. Whicher’s hat

Steps Toward Healing Wounds of Jim Crow

Social justice is an unwelcome term in some circles, calling to mind political opportunism and race baiting. Many other people use the term to describe what Christians should understand (and should have understood for centuries) as properly loving your neighbor. Author and professor Anthony Bradley says maybe we need to lay aside social justice in favor of transitional justice, the kind of measures taken in response a state that has ignored proper judicial measures for a long time.

In fairness, America did attempt to redress issues with voting, housing, employment, and the like. The blind fallacy, however, was the belief that we could change a few federal laws and move on. But we moved on without addressing the need to foster peace and reconciliation between whites and blacks, especially in the South and large urban areas. We moved on without dealing with the post-traumatic stress of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. We moved on without holding people and institutions accountable for massive amounts of person-to-person and structural injustice.

He offers seven principles for America to use in healing the wounds we still feel, urging us not to skip to the application before building the foundation. Here’s #2.

It is quite unbelievable that African Americans were not given formal opportunities to recount, on record, exactly what happened during Jim Crow. A truth commission would allow us to hear the truth about Jim Crow. We need to gather firsthand accounts while we still can. Without getting the truth on record, we run the risk of exaggerations of history on both sides. It would be safe to say, as a result, that the average American under the age of fifty cannot explain the details of what life was like for blacks during Jim Crow. Individual states still have opportunities to establish Jim Crow truth and reconciliation commissions.

And from #3.

Recognizing survivors of Jim Crow as suffering real harm, including economic harm, would have allowed us to contextualize both their trauma and struggles with agency in the years that followed. Instead, America largely chose a “let’s just move on and not talk about the past” approach with a few one-size-fits-all federal legal remedies, which ultimately failed to deliver much of what they promised by the time we reached the 1980s.

‘Samarkand’

What a useless post this is going to be.

I’m going to criticize a song you’ve almost certainly never heard. And when you watch the video, below, you won’t understand it, because it’s in Danish.

But I thought of it last night, during one of my ever-popular sieges of insomnia. I hadn’t heard it since I stopped playing my vinyl albums, back in the ‘90s. So I checked out the video. And the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. Because I think it’s a really pretty and sweet piece. But also wrongheaded and soul-killing.

The singer is Birgitta Grimstad, as well-known Danish folk singer. This number, adapted from a modern Swedish popular song, was a big hit for her in that country. What it describes, in brief, is how the singer wakes up on a beautiful morning to find herself alone in her bed. And she immediately understands that “it happened, what we talked about.” Her lover has moved on – he’s searching, metaphorically, for “Samarkand,” which apparently symbolizes some transcendent dream that won’t let him settle down.

Except that’s not exactly it. She says, “…and another will be what I can never be.” In other words, her lover is looking for a new – presumably better – lover. She is sad about it, and cries. But she’s very accepting and hopes he finds what he’s looking for “if you ever find your way to Samarkand.”

There it is, the ethic of the 1970s. “Love” means sex, and sex is temporary. Nobody is obligated to stay in a relationship if some better prospect shows up. I first heard this song on the “Prairie Home Companion” program, and I remember Garrison Keillor praising its “sweet reasonableness.” Well, from what we’ve now learned about Keillor, it’s no surprise he’d consider the song reasonable. The perfect lover is one who lets you go without complaining, when you get offered an upgrade.

So here I am again, railing against sins I never got the opportunity to commit. But I’ll say this – I suspect that a lot of the anger we see in radical feminism today springs from women who were expected to play this kind of submissive game back during the Sexual Revolution years.