Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Also, Hope makes them to suffer hunger and thirst in castles, cities and fortresses, when they have been assigned to valiantly guard and defend them as much as they were able, for if there were no hope a knight might not do his office.
Another quote from Ramon Lull, talking about hope. Without hope, what would keep us going from one day to the next?

I've been searching for a new job since sometime in December. Little by little my money was running out, and the job I had couldn't pay well enough for me to survive on -- and eventually couldn't pay at all. It got to the point where I was going to have to pay the rent with a credit card, which is not a road I want to go down. I've already got several thousand dollars on my cards, just to keep me and the cats fed and housed.

And I kept looking for a job. And Hope told me I'd find one, if I just kept looking; Hope kept me at my post. Every Monday I'd go to the USAJOBS site where Tim got his job, and fill out the long, involved applications for anything I thought I could do; every Wednesday I went to the Longmont newspaper's classified section for the employment special. And I sent out applications by mail and email and fax. As things got tighter I drove down Hover where all the strip malls are, and applied at every big-box retail store. And I got interviews, and most of the time I didn't hear anything afterwards, and the few times I did it was 'thank you for applying, we've decided to hire someone else and we wish you the best of luck in your job search'.

I appreciate the wishes of luck, but they weren't going to buy cat food. I could have given up, though the results would have been unpleasant. But Hope told me to keep trying.

And last week (after the second interview for the second job I'd applied to at one place) I finally got the call I'd been waiting for. 'Are you still interested in this job?' Why yes, yes I am!

I started last Wednesday. It's a warehouse job, the pay isn't great, I'm on my feet all day and well, the intellectual stimulation leaves something to be desired. But it's plenty enough to live on with a little bit left over for the credit cards, it'll get me in shape again, and I'm working with fabric. Employee discount starts in two months, and I'm narrowing down what I want to buy. The people are really nice and I'm already making friends I think I'll want to keep once I move on to another job.

Because no, this isn't what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I'm still not sure what I do want to do, but now I have the time to figure that out. I have Hope that I'll find the right thing, in time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Great Deeds

Therefore, you should know for certain that there is no one who can or should excuse himself from performing well according to his station, some in relation to arms, others in relation to the clerical vocation, others in relation to the affairs of the world. It therefore behooves each person to engage in the appropriate affairs and undertakings, for those who do well in them deserve to be esteemed and praised, each according to his status and according to what he does.

Hence no one should be dismayed at the thought of undertaking great deeds, for the above-mentioned men of standing tell us truly that those who have the will to achieve great worth are already on the way to great achievement. And they speak the truth, for because of their great desire to reach and attain that high honor, they do not care what sufferings they have to endure, but turn everything into great enjoyment.

Indeed, it is a fine thing to perform great deeds, for those who rise to great achievement cannot rightly grow tired or sated with it; so the more they achieve, the less they feel they have achieved; this stems from the delight they take in striving constantly to reach greater heights. And great good comes from performing these deeds, for the more one does, the less is one proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do. (Charny pp. 63-64)
I quoted part of this yesterday in my post on exercise; once I was finished writing it, I read further in Charny's A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry. I found the rest of the quote inspiring and decided to post it, then comment on it. But there's nothing I can find to say more profound than what Charny has already said on the matter.

Exercise as a chivalric act

Yesterday I went to my apartment complex's little gym and spent an hour making myself sweaty and sore. It was painful but lovely and in addition to doing just a little bit to get me in shape, it also got me thinking about the physical aspects of knighthood.

The chivalric writers spent a lot of time talking about chivalric acts. Ramon Lull speaks of the duty of a knight to defend his worldly lord:
The office of a knight is to maintain and defend the worldly lord, for a king who has no barons has no power to maintain righteousness in his men without aid and help. (Lull p. 29)

Likewise, Geoffroi de Charny writes of the simple virtue of doing things well:
Therefore, you should know for certain that there is no one who can or should excuse himself from performing well according to his station, some in relation to arms, others in relation to their clerical vocation, others in relation to the affairs of the world. (Charny p. 63)

None of them, however, really address physical exercise as a chivalric act. It's not, to their way of thinking: keeping one's body in condition to fight, or to labor in the fields, or to labor in the service of God is not a chivalric act, it's merely a part of chivalry. It's assumed.

Lull does say:
Knights out to take coursers to joust and to go to tourneys, hold an open table, to hunt harts, bears and other wild beasts, for in doing these things the knights exercise themselves to arms and thus maintain the order of knighthood. It is wickedness to love the customs to which a knight practices but to despise the order to which he belongs. (Lull p. 30)

But it's not a subject that the chivalric writers explore in any great depth.

Not directly, at least. Let's examine Charny's words again. In order to perform well in according to one's station, one's body should be in condition to be able to do so. This doesn't always mean keeping yourself in tip-top shape so you can climb a ladder to rescue a child from a burning building, or chase an armed robber down a dark alley and wrestle him to the ground. It also means staying strong enough to help unload a truck full of canned goods for a women's shelter. It means having the agility and endurance to spend a day building a house for a family in Louisiana. At the very least, it means having the ability to do your work well, to care for yourself so that others don't have to.

It's also an issue of respect. That body you have is the body the Maker (by whatever name(s) you may wish to use) gave you. Barring fairly serious scientific advancements it's the only one you're going to get. It behooves you, then, to do what you can to care for it.

For me at least, exercise can be a meditative thing as well. The discipline of the weights, the tug and stretch of muscles. Letting the bar down gently so the weights don't clink; pushing my breath out as I push the bar back up. The good pain of pushing myself past what I think I can lift; the sweat bursting out all over my skin and the sweet smell of it.

And the treadmill, which I used to hate, but have since fallen in love with. I'll still stroll around the block, still wander the woods but the treadmill lets me focus on the walking. I can't slow down to watch a bird or laugh at a prairie dog; all I can do is set one foot in front of the other, again and again and again until the rhythm of my feet is all there is in the world. The symphony of moving my body frees my mind and I float away, lost in deeper contemplation than I manage when I'm home, body folded into the proper meditation position but the monkey mind jumping and screeching.

It's not just about losing weight until your BMI matches whatever the mass media says it should be; it's about living your life in the good way. If you bring nothing else away from this posting, please, at the very least, take away the thought of getting outside and taking a walk.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Chivalry Today

I didn't come to this on my own. In addition to taking inspiration from the writings of such medieval luminaries as Raymon Lull and Geoffrey Charny, and from the actions of many of my compatriots in the Society for Creative Anachronism (and you know who you are), I've also found a lot to think about in Scott Farrell's Chivalry Today, a web site dedicated to the proposition that chivalry is not, nor should be, dead.

Scott's got a lot of good things to say, and he's saying them pretty loudly. He's got a long, long list of essays on how chivalry still applies; he's got a bunch of personal stories, sent in by various readers, telling him about people they've seen who live the tenets of chivalry. He's got resources for teachers who want to bring chivalry back into the classroom and he's got links to discussions of chivalry by everyone from Froissart to Jeanne d'Arc to Chretien de Troyes. He's been in Renaissance Magazine and Men Today Magazine and he'll gladly show up and give your group a seminar on chivalry, as long as you're pretty close to Southern California.

Scott's doing great work, and he's one of the things that inspired me to start this little blog (and the journey towards chivalry it's chronicling). I highly recommend giving his stuff a look.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Love Beyond the Grave

Okay, that title is probably a little on the overly-dramatic side, but the original story is really pretty cool.

Archaeologists working near Mantua, Italy (home of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) have found an unusual Neolithic double burial -- a man and a woman buried together, facing each other, embracing. There's no way to tell if they were husband and wife, father and daughter, starcrossed lovers, or just neighbors but given the way they were buried I rather doubt the latter.

I don't know that I have anything particularly deep and meaningful to say about this beyond 'awwwww' and 'really, people don't change' but perhaps it does link back to my previous post -- the virtues aren't just a modern thing; they're not even just a human thing. They're a condition of being.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Animals, fairness, and basic decency

Fingers still aching, but here's a short bit I found of interest; it's a book review in the December issue of Scientific American. The book is called Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal. In it, apparently, he posits (and demonstrates) the concept that morality, fairness and altruism -- doing the right thing -- are not merely human traits, but are in fact an evolutionary advantage. Do read the review; there are others available at amazon.com.

I've seen altruistic behaviour among animals, even those as 'low' on the evolutionary scale as rats. When I got Reinhart, he was a baby, hardly bigger than a mouse, and Siegfried was pretty big. They wrestled; it's part of rats' social behaviour, it's the way they play. Siegfried, of course, won. A lot. And when he won, he washed Reinhart, who HATED IT HATED IT.

But one day Reinhart won. Now, this isn't some heartwarming tale of the small guy growing up to beat the big guy. (That came later, when Reinhart actually got big.) No, this was a plain-and-simple case of Siegfried letting Reinhart win. I watched it; Siegfried fell right over and let Reinhart wash him. I read, a little later, that this isn't at all unusual among rats; the bigger rat will let the smaller one win every once in a while, even if he's just plain big and strong and wily enough that he'd always win if he wanted to. Because it's only fair.

For those (all, what, two of you) who read this, have you ever seen fair or altruistic behaviour among animals? Strong ones taking care of the weaker, one letting another have his fair share? I'm interested to see. I also look forward to reading the book itself; I'm sure I'll find it interesting.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ow, and ow.

I'd intended to try to update this blog every couple of days. I still intend to; and indeed I have a lot of ideas for what to write about. But I seem to have taken on a fairly large sewing project in not enough time, and my fingers hurt too much to type much.

See, I don't use sewing machines. I sew by hand. I'm better at it, I like the effect better, I enjoy doing it. It's sturdier and I have a lot better control of where the needle goes. It's a meditative thing for me, as knitting and crocheting is for others.

I don't object to other people using sewing machines by any means. But this particular project is something for my Tim, and I find that I'm willing to go to a lot of extra effort to make sure he's dressed in something nice - that is to say, at least in this context, something sewn by hand.

I suppose I could write something connecting this to the requirement that knights be willing to undergo pain and discomfort to do the right thing, and I might do that in the future, but right now? Ow. And ow.

And yet another tunic to go.