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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal: Everyday Adventures at Mike and Donna's; ArtAsia with Diane; Reading Lewis' Letters 
31st-Jul-2007 12:07 am
Lewis
Mike and Donna bought a place last year, a Milwaukee Bungalow in the Riverwest neighbourhood, that needed lots of work done on it in order to convert it from duplex to the single-family home that they wanted. Now, when I think of "fixing up" a place I move into, I'm thinking painting and maybe some very basic wood surface work. Mike, like Dan, has instead taken to tearing down walls, building new rooms and the like. They've raised and leveled the first floor over the last year, and yesterday, in prelude to tearing down a wall for the new kitchen-dining space that's coming, Mike, Donna, Dan, and I put up a 12-foot beam that will support the second floor in lieu of the soon-to-be-absent wall. Mike and Dan, naturally, did the bulk of the heavy lifting, which is the type of thing I'm not supposed to do after my adventures with steroids, and Donna and I swapped off on watching the kids. But I did lend a third set of hands in getting the thing into the room and in figuring out how to turn it so that it actually could get into the position intended: no mean trick given that the beam was longer than the room itself. Mike's losing a lot of study time to the project, but he and Donna should walk away from their time in Milwaukee with a profit on their living expenses, and I can't knock that. We had a dinner together of yummy homemade waffles with bacon, an unending stream of chatter from Renée, and odd moments of sound and expression from Zeke and Owen (Amy being off in NYC and NJ with Anna).

Friday night was Gallery Night in the Third Ward, and it was way bigger than I expected. Just the thing for a fun night out, if you could stand the crowds. I wandered a bit, but made my way before too long down to Artasia where I was meeting Diane prior to us watching Before Sunrise, which I've wanted her to check out for quite awhile. In fact, this was the third time in two weeks we'd made plans to see it, but things kept coming up, like the tragic collapse of her friend Robin last week. It turned out that the third time wasn't the charm here, either, as I thought she was getting off work around 8pm and it turned out she was going more toward midnight. I hung around the incredibly crowded shop, and look at some gift ideas, while getting the full tour of the wares from Diane, as well as meeting some of her coworkers that I'd long heard of, but never met. In time, her brother Dan showed up and between those two, and a pair of customers that I got into a long conversation with over wine, the night ended up being a blast. After running a car-shuffling errand, it was really too late to try to get the flick in, and so we grabbed a late dinner at Ma Fischer's, which I thought just the right way to end the night, being my favourite dive in town. As usual, the soup tasted incredible (New England Clam Chowder) and the potatoes remained the most disgusting instant sort. As, always, we had some great conversation that left me with a lot to think about.

I'm finally finishing a draft of a specific chapter after two months of just raw, unorganized writing on the dissertation. Now I'm stripping away things that I can save for later chapters and just seeing what I need for the biographical essay on Francis Sullivan. It's interesting to see it coming together, like I'm stepping back from a wall I've been building stone by stone, and can now start to see more of the whole. I'm not doing lots of free reading these days, other than the basket of books, magazines and catalogues I keep in the bathroom. I knocked off David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day at Julie's recommendation, which I thought got better as it went along, more pure wit and less snarkiness. I've been working for months on The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, and will likely take many more months to complete the three-volume set, the third volume of which I've yet to pick up. I confess that I love reading people's mail. Whether the earlier Letters of C. S. Lewis the letters of Augustine, or the Complete Poems and Selected Letters of Michelangelo that Dad gave me for my birthday the other year, I find that I learn so much more about a thinker from this angle than I do by reading such masterpieces of self-consciousness as Augustine's The Confessions or Lewis' Surprised By Joy alone. This first volume, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 1: Family Letters, 1905-1931, is surprisingly painful at parts, to see the unedited tensions in his relationship with his father, and the dull shock of the decimated generation of young men that made it home from the World War I fields of France. But there's also the educational process going into the making of a great literary scholar and just the naked, sharp thinking and flair for illustration that would become his trademarks as an educator. In the back of my mind is lurking the Alan Jacobs essay that frey_at_last or amea did the great favour of pointing out to me, from First Things entitled "The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis" which does so well in pointing out the negative side of the "personality cult" that has evolved around Lewis in American evangelicalism. The unique factors of why Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings would appeal to this American audience are not going to be repeated in that way again, and the evangelical eyes that have kept looking for and announcing "the next C. S. Lewis" are doomed to disappointment, while in the meanwhile great theology and literature is being produced and could pass by relatively unnoticed since it didn't fulfill the expected form. The letters keep the reader focused instead on reality, with its triumphs and failures. I've been especially interested the last several days, hauling the book with me to the breakfast table and such, as I march through 1922 and a world so different, though still – astonishingly – in living memory....
Comments 
31st-Jul-2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Oh but Mike, don't forget that people perform and are to a certain extent self-conscious even in their rawest mail...

Speaking of mail, expect a brief email from me tonight.
7th-Aug-2007 09:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, I meant to comment on that: yes, I know that there's a self-consciousness in the mail, of varying sorts, depending on the recipient, but it's certainly a different sort of self-consciousness than you get in the art of autobiography. One might let ones guard down with a friend where you don't realize the letter will be included in a Collected Letters....
7th-Aug-2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
Ah, well, some people -- myself included, though I can also think of some more interesting examples -- always assume there's a Record of one sort or another.

But you are right, I think about differing "sorts" of self-consciousness... as Tim will tell you, I have almost all of them.
6th-Aug-2007 06:09 am (UTC)
I just received the third volume of his letters as a gift - I have a collection of his letters to Arthur Greeves, and love them for his youthful arrogance, so I thought I would have enjoyed the first volume most. But this one is truly awesome; and the index is superb! And at almost 1750 pages, I don't even know where to start.
7th-Aug-2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
Fantabulous! I know exactly what you mean by the "youthful arrogance:" there's a lot in those earlier ones especially where he could use a good swat. But 1750 pages?! I didn't think the volumes would grow!
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