A song of Roland

Imagine my surprise when I looked in my email and saw a word of the day for “roland”. I instantly knew where it came from, naturally. I’d just read the Song of Roland recently, and loved it. Fighting the Moorish pagans, splitting shields and heads with swords, long white flowing beards, that last desperate blast on the trumpet (far too late, of course) — how can you not love it? The Song of Roland proves that the French knew how to fight — at one time, anyway. Those long white flowing beards inspired me to try and grow a beard on vacation recently. I won’t be sharing a picture of the results, but suffice it to say mine was neither long, nor white, nor flowing. (More like patchy, and scratchy, and wife-and-child-repelling.) Mountjoy!  
  • Orlando's Column (Roland's Column)

    Orlando’s Column (Roland’s Column)

    with Anu Garg


    noun: Someone who is an equal match for another. Typically used in the expression “to give a Roland for an Oliver” meaning “to give as good as one gets” (tit for tat).
    After Roland, the legendary hero of the 11/12th century epic poem “Chanson de Roland” (Song of Roland). His tale was inspired by Charlemagne’s nephew and military leader. Oliver was friends with Roland and his equal. They fought each other but neither won. Earliest documented use: 1525. A related word is rounceval.
    “My little lord, who was surrounded by savage women, poor thing, had the immense satisfaction of giving a Roland for an Oliver to an especially obnoxious young twit.”
    Samara Al-Darraji; Eclipse; PublishAmerica; 2005.

Guilt Theater

It was a masterful piece of guilt theater, you have to admit

— I held out just long enough before I cracked;

I gave just the right weight to the confession,

spent just enough time on obfuscations and denials.


You threw in a few unexpected twists, but I handled them adroitly —

no stranger to this performance.


Next time it’s your turn.


Each of us is always performing,

whether we mean to or not.

We can’t help it.


Not acting is the worst acting of all.


Know your role, play it to the hilt,

or you may find there is no one behind the mask you wear.



The Well of Silence

Sometimes I want very much to descend

down the well of solitude

to splash soundlessly into the cool, dark waters of silence

to bathe myself in it, as one treading water at the bottom of a well

in the stone-damp, inviting dark

and wash the sweat and grit and sunburn from my soul

cleanse myself, far below the tiny dot of light at the mouth of the well

float there, serene, alone, undisturbed

until my anxieties, my doubts, my neverending second guesses,

dissolve and sink away,

down there,

in the well of silence,

where no one can find me or reach me.



Are you quieter when you walk sideways?
Do people hear you less?
Do you make less noise? 

Many's the time I've slipped sideways through people's society -- 
like slipping through their houses when
there was no house
in broad daylight
unseen, unknown, unheard

like a noiseless ghost whose story no one knows -- 
- or ever bothered to ask.


Call me maybe…

Of all the things to get stuck in my head…

I know this is a two year old song by now, but it’s still great. I ran across this the other day when looking for the clip of the Afghan Whigs on Jimmy Fallon, which apparently has been taken down — but I think that’s another story. I much prefer this version to the official music video, which actually kinda gets on my nerves. The official video buries the fun and the melodicism of the song, and Fallon and the Roots (how do you get the Roots to be your house band, anyway?) uncover it again here. The lyrics are simple and fun — not overdone, they perfectly capture the rush of a crush just starting out. The classroom instruments lend this version an innate innocence, sunniness, and optimism that fits perfectly with the song, and I guess you could say with first love itself. It just proves again that it’s not what you play, it’s how you play it. Who would have thought that little plastic instruments could produce such a magical sound? They sound like a marching band whose color guard is made up of unicorns with rainbows for tails doing backflips over the band, for crying out loud. Impossible not to smile when you hear this. Remember about eight years ago or so, when every pop song sounded like a marching band? Yeah, I liked that, because I’d been in a marching band in high school that was pretty awesome. Good memories brought back by that sound. Classroom instruments aren’t quite it, but they can be close, especially when played by someone who knows what they’re doing — and the Roots & Fallon do.

I don’t think I’d heard of Carly Rae Jepsen before this, or if I had, it hadn’t really registered. She’s Canadian, apparently, and did pretty well on a reality talent show up there, which is how she got her start. Not my type, but if I were in high school, maybe she would be. She looks like she’s having fun in the video, which is the important thing. I like how she tosses her shaggy hair back and forth, and how her voice soars above the ruckus of the toy instruments on the chorus. I also like how nobody is sure what’s going on right before they start — everybody is giving everybody else the side eye while Fallon fiddles with the backing click-track thinger. ?uestlove also sticks the kazoo back into his mouth backwards after the whistle break, which is kinda fun. Certainly not one of the greatest moments in Western art music, but hey, everybody needs something fun every now and then, right? Play as many times as you need to feel good — I think I’m on #45. (I lost track.) Anyway, enjoy the song.

I Think I Know…. (One Good Paragraph #6)

I’m rereading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and I’m getting more out of it this time around. I’m working on being more intentional about my writing, and I dig Rilke’s direction and guidance. Reading his letters is like talking with an older and wiser friend. The other day this paragraph jumped out at me:

There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge. [emphasis original]

I like this. It makes sense. I tend to want to be a serious person, and this feels fitting — like if something matters that much to me, I should make sure to build my life around it. Really, when I think about it, I’m already most of the way there to an answer. I always have a notebook (or two, or three…) with me at all times. I love words, I love language, and I know that’s where my gifts lie. I’m just now getting back to that, when I used to engage in it more often when I was younger. It’s been years since I wrote a story — at least since high school — but I realize that I’ve always written, in one way or another. Maybe now I’m not going to deny myself or put myself off anymore. Some things are too important to leave to the experts or the professionals, after all.

But what if I ask myself and I find out I don’t want to write?, someone might wonder. Rilke answers that too, later in the same letter:

It is possible that, even after your descent into your inner self and into your secret place of solitude, you might find that you must give up becoming a poet. As I have said, to feel that one could live without writing is enough indication that, in fact, one should not. Even then this process of turning inward, upon which I beg you to embark, will not have been in vain. Your life will no doubt from then on find its own paths. That they will be good ones and rich and expansive — that I wish for you more than I can say.

So there you have it. Ask yourself the question: Must I write — or paint, or sing, or whatever your art form is? Does this matter to me more than my life? Then go after it with everything you’ve got — and if not, keep looking until you find that one thing that lights your fire.

As for me, I’m fairly certain what the answer would be even before I ask the question — which in itself is the answer.