Are you biphasic?

You just might be and you don’t even know it.

But don’t worry, no one can tell just by looking at you.

Find out if you’re biphasic:
1. Do you take a nap during the day?
2. Do you sleep for awhile at night, wake up and do some things and then go back to bed?
3. Did you live at any time in human history before about 1925? (!)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are biphasic, meaning you sleep twice during a 24-hour period. In fact, from the dawn of mankind, until electricity became common (by 1925 half of American homes had it), many, if not most, people went to bed around dusk for their “First Sleep,” awakening around midnight. Then they might play a game, stoke the fire, meditate, do a few chores, have sex, or steal some fruit off a neighbor’s tree. After about an hour, they’d go back to bed for what was called “Second Sleep,” until the sun came up.

A Demon Tempting a Sleeping Monk

Of course, Medieval monks had to be biphasic, rising around 2:00 a.m. during winter for Matins (one of the divine offices as set by St. Benedict), after which they might or might not go back to sleep for a while longer. The above picture depicts a demon suggesting to an eleventh-century monk, Raoul Glaber, that he stay asleep, rather than dragging himself to pray the Psalms in the middle of the night. “I wonder why you are so eager,” the demon would say, “to jump so quickly out of bed, as soon as you’ve heard the signal, and to interrupt the sweet rest of sleep, while you could give yourself up to rest until the third signal.”

The wealthier the Medieval individual, though, the later they tended to go to bed and the more likely they were to take their sleep in more or less a single block, say, going to bed at midnight and awakening briefly early in the morning and then going back to sleep until the sun was fully up. In fact, it was something of a status symbol if one was able to sleep all night without waking up.

Interestingly, it was recommended that children sleep through the night, getting nine or ten solid, consecutive hours. I’m thinking that was more for the parents than the children.

Unfortunately, biphasic sleeping didn’t eliminate sleep disturbances like insomnia or sleep-walking. Nor did it quiet the neighbors’ barking dog. Furthermore, studies show that people who sleep for a single block of time live longer. Einstein slept ten or more hours a night, so I guess it also makes you smarter.

Sorry, sometimes I simply need that nap.

– Lisa Di Vita


Medieval Falconry

From the Codex Manesse

Falconry, or “hawking,” a method of hunting game wildly popular during the Middle Ages, probably originated about 4000 years ago, possibly in Persia. My single brush with the sport occurred in Riverside, CA. I took two sessions of what was supposed to be classes in the rudiments of animal training, and perhaps they were. I only know that in my experience, we mostly cleaned up animal poop. But I loved it anyway. I was around elephants, primates, big cats and exotic birds. In theory, our instructor, the head master, was a film animal trainer, known for having developed a unique, gentle way of getting the best from his animals. They must have missed him greatly when he was convicted of animal abuse!

Anyway, the high point of my animal “training,” (in-between poop runs), was the day we each took a turn donning a thick elk hide glove for an opportunity to have a Peregrine Falcon land on our arm. In my case, the dang glove ended somewhere near my shoulder, but nothing mattered the moment that very solid and primal bird landed and dug her talons into the leather, which I now was grateful covered most of my arm. And yes, I could feel the talons through the elk hide.

The raptor’s power was magical. Awe short-circuited my brain as I imagined this beautiful and deadly assassin taking out a duck mid-air with one slicing move.

Medieval falconry, or hawking, terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but rather erroneously, was more than just a sport. Much more, for a while. Certainly, it was an effective method of hunting and one that was highly regulated by class. But the sport reached the level of a fad, a craze, an obsession, sought after by rich and poor alike. Nuns, yes, nuns walked around with hawking birds on their arms. Given what these birds of prey eat, can you imagine how much Febreeze the nuns’ habits required?

In the trilogy I’m writing about Queen Margaret of Scotland, falconry is highlighted several times. One example I give of an avid falconer is Edward the Confessor, who is King of England when young Margaret and her family arrive from Hungary. He was known to go daily from Mass to the mews to pick up his hooded bird. As always, it’s good to be king.

A number of birds can be utilized for hunting, and each one has its unique skill set. Let me just say that the Peregrine Falcon flies very high in the sky, exceeding speeds of 200 miles per hour. She can dive during flight at 186 miles per hour. The Peregrine is not only the fastest bird on the planet, but the fastest animal. The Peregrine kills on impact with clenched talons.

Poor duck.

Now when you read about Edward the Confessor hunting in “As the Deer Yearns: Queen Margaret of Scotland, Book One” (coming soon), you’ll be better able to picture what it was like! You’re welcome.

Serendipity or Destiny? Here’s how I met Mary Philpott.

This will be the image on the cover of "As the Deer Yearns" Queen Margaret of Scotland. It is a tile created by the magical artist, Mary Philpott.
Courtesy of verdanttileco.com

This image, “Medieval Bestiary Deer: Deer in a Rowan Bower,” is a tile created by artist Mary Philpott. It will grace the cover of the first book in my trilogy about Queen Margaret of Scotland. I couldn’t be happier with this magical deer, or more amazed that I found it. Generally, the internet seems as destructive as it is interesting, but occasionally it connects people who would never meet but for electronic surfing. That’s how I found Mary. I don’t remember exactly what I clicked on that brought up her work, but what I saw made me stare at the screen in joy. It felt like destiny.

Garden of Poppies by Mary Philpott.

I clicked my way to Verdant Tile Co. (verdanttileco.com), Mary’s company, and discovered the extent of her talent. These hand pressed porcelain tiles are contemporary, yet feel historical. She’s got a Medieval soul, for sure. I’ve already chosen two other tiles for the 2nd and 3rd books in the trilogy, but you’ll have to wait a while to see them, (just for the suspense). Mary’s been most gracious and generous, and as it turns out, she has numerous facets to her art, personality and lifestyle. I had to share her with you, so here goes:

Mary Philpott lives out in the countryside in Uxbridge, Ontario, surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest, “part of which we are stewards of and maintain paths, keep bees and report to the government on wildlife.”

Mary attended the University of Guelph to study Art History and Archeology. Her goal was studio art, but she fell in love with history, especially the Medieval era. After studying Anthropological Archeology, she enrolled in Sheridan College School of Craft and Design for textile design. Once she discovered clay, she’d found her calling.

Mary Philpott is an internationally exhibited artist.
She is a Master member of the Roycraft Renaissance Artisans.

I asked her some questions about her work. Her palette is unabashedly rich, and she described much of her inspiration as from Provence, France.

Mary: “I think the clouds of Provence are found in the textiles of the region. They are that sunny, deep ochre type yellow that the sun shines through. My yellow is like that and (also) like the honey I find, and the green is that deep, rich emerald type green. The blue is also found in (Provence) textiles. The colours are also similar to the early 1900s Majolica ware found in France, Italy and Portugal.”

Fox and Hare, by Mary Philpott.
Courtesy of verdanttileco.com

More recently, Mary has discovered a love of sculptural ceramics, and I think her delightful forest animals vibrate with character! She says she’s always loved animals. I think she sees them in a unique way.

Says Mary, “Although I am Agnostic, I feel like there is an Earth Spirit who inhabits the trees and the animals that is very special, and holds so much meaning for me and for the world. In this way I find myself drawn to Celtic Mythology and the earth spirits like Cernunnos.”
(Cernunnos is a Celtic god associated with animals – Lisa)
Image courtesy of withinabrightwood.com.


Thank you, Mary, for letting me share the wonderfulness that is you!

Meet Margaret, Queen of Scotland

Here’s a drawing taken from a family tree, of Queen Margaret of Scotland. While she’s well-known in the UK, she’s lesser (or barely) known in the United States and elsewhere. Book One of my trilogy about her is nearly done. Born around 1046, she died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093, after a rather extraordinary life. More to come …

The Medieval Mind

XCF272271 White Hart, from ‘ The Wilton Diptych’ c.1395-99 (egg tempera on oak) (verso) by Master of the Wilton Diptych, (fl.c.1395-99); National Gallery, London, UK; (add.info.: White Hart was the personal badge of Richard II;); French, out of copyright

Calling all minds Medieval

I’ve spent the last 10 months researching an 11th-century historical work of fiction: a trilogy about Queen Margaret of Scotland. “Living” in the medieval world has grabbed me and I want to make contact with others who also love that time period. Here’s my request to you: I need to select an image for the cover of the first book, post-haste. I find the image above very appealing. Do you? There’s a white hart featured in book one, which is a reason I like it, even though it was painted way after Margaret died.

If you have other ideas for a cover, please comment. And include an image! At the moment, I’m not so interested in an image of a female, but it you think you have the perfect one, send it along.

Thank you! Let’s do this together!

Reality and poetry

Poetry was invented by someone who realized what the Impressionist painters knew: the literal sometimes doesn’t convey reality as well as a creatively presented impression of it. Poetry speaks directly to the heart, sometimes with beauty, sometimes with humor and sometimes with pain. But it always races through the brain right into the heart.

With Armistice Day still fresh in our memories, I offer this poem, written by award-winning poet, Christopher Addé, Manager of the General Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. Chris, who was raised near London, says, “As a boy I lived near a churchyard that had a number of WWI graves and I played on bomb sites leftover from WWII. Even so young you could not help but take it in.”

What resonated with me about this poem is the bond between the two soldiers. Ultimately, what we crave  is another human’s touch, to know we’re not alone.

English Country Churchyard

This English country churchyard
In whose quiet I now lie
Is far removed from where I fought
And lost my arm and eye
Twisted by the bullets as they spat
From every gun
I fell into a shell-hole
Where there lay a wounded Hun.

Two men, exhausted, hurt, and weak
With death to contemplate
Looked hard at one another
Yet without a trace of hate
Poor Hun had been a day or three
Laid in the stinking mire – 
A bullet lodged within his chest
From taking British fire.

He could not speak, no more could I,
Marooned in No-Mans land
We were each other’s equal
And he reached out for my hand
It was, as if, he’d clung to life
So not to pass alone
Then clasping tight he smiled and died
To leave me on my own.

I, with luck, was rescued
Living on for ten more years
Though my sleep at night was fitful
As I faced my wartime fears
At length my wounds proved fatal
And at thirty life was done
But as I slipped, I saw outstretched
The hand from that old Hun.

My battles now are different – 
Fighting briars that have grown
And the creeping lichen legions
That advance upon my stone
I did not have my children
Nor the chance to seek out fame
But this English country churchyard
Lets me keep alive my name.


– Christopher J S Addé

August, 2006

    

                                   

                                    

                                      

Magic in the Morning

The Dog and I love to walk in the early recesses before morning, when the sky is sea-chasm dark; when it’s neither morning nor day nor evening nor night, it just is – a fleeting moment in time to palate-cleanse the mind.

It would be sacrilege to turn on the porch light, although it would make the stairs easier to see, but it would rudely intrude on the remnants of darkness. By the time we return to the front door, the sun, which now rests behind the hill, will be casting a harbinger of pale blue sky upon our neighborhood, warning it of today’s onslaught of heat. No, we won’t shatter the remains of night’s magic. Instead the Dog and I walk cautiously down the steps and over to the sidewalk. I pat the bark of an old tree, thanking it for standing guard all night, for trees never sleep.

We’re out early to sniff the remnants of a quiet world; out before the gnats can begin circling my face, entranced by its fragrance, I like to believe. They’re tiny helicopters, silently and relentlessly whirring. All the swatting and shaking of my head fail to deter them. The only way to beat them is to walk before they file their flight plans.

Two coyotes pad silently by, lean and scruffy, and I have to remind the Dog that no, she doesn’t want to tangle with them.

A bird, serving as the street’s self-appointed alarm clock, begins to chirp, “It’s morning!” except that it’s not yet, not quite, so most of the other wildlife hits the snooze button for a few more minutes of rest. Sometimes the Dog hears a squirrel cracking its tiny knuckles and stretching its back, complaining “That’s the hardest tree branch I’ve ever slept on.” In less than half an hour, that squirrel will be scolding dogs from a high tree branch and scampering across utility wires, but for now, she’s too groggy to hold the Dog’s interest.

As the purple leaks from the sky, I high-five a low hanging tree branch, then stop to cup a rose in my hands, stoking its vanity by telling it how beautiful it is while stealing a whiff of its perfume to carry with me.

The Dog stops frequently to sniff, inhaling a universe I’m not equipped to know. She deposits last night’s dinner on someone’s lawn, but they’ll never see it because I’ve scooped it up before it digs too deeply into the blades of grass. The Dog baptizes worthy spots all along the way with drops of urine that she must deem holy, given the careful selection process she goes through before squatting.

By the time we turn the corner back onto our street, having completed our mile, the tabby cat is out sauntering, the parrots are rustling their feathers and warming up their voices for the raucous opera they’ll sing today, and the first annoying gnat materializes.

A bowl of granola awaits me. The sun is about to present herself, to claim the day. Thank you, Lord, for the trembling holiness of these moments before dawn.

Pure Poetry

The author of this poem is Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. I was captivated when I heard her read it and asked to share with you. Thank you for your permission, Natalie. It’s a beautiful work.

 

                                                                 Why I Write

 

I write
because the paper listens.

I write
because no matter what oceans of grief, and rage, and anxiety, and sorrow overflow my soul,
the paper is a sponge.
It receives my burden,
tucks it away,
and opens its arms for more.

I write
because I worry
that human ears are too busy,
hearts too full,
souls too consumed,
to have time for my small crises.
But the paper listens.

I write
because the paper listens
and is no worse for the wear.

I write because sometimes the paper speaks,
when the reader is ready and willing to hear.

I write
because the paper always listens.

Why do you read?

 

 

Natalie Russell
Assistant Curator of Literary Collections
Huntington Library

Write with Momentum, featuring an assist from Dr. John E. Crean, Jr.

 

(Above image: Late 12-century illustration from the “Lives of St. Cuthbert.”)

Watching a momentum swing is one of the most exciting things we witness in sports. Here’s the classic scenario: Team B is losing, struggling to close a widening scoring gap, until its star sinks an impossible half-court basket; or a utility player off the bench hits a home run; or the aging fútbol player stabs the back of the net with a showy bicycle kick. The fans go crazy; the rush of adrenaline on the court, the field, or the pitch is palpable. Inevitably, the commentator notes that momentum has swung from Team A to Team B, which is now racking up points. As Team B’s play synchronizes, serendipity follows. Shots that were bouncing off the rim earlier are now falling in, or the bottom of the lineup is hitting like Babe Ruth.

It’s like magic! Except that it’s not magic.

How, you may ask, how does team momentum relate to the decidedly solo craft of writing?

First, let’s deconstruct and expand the concept of momentum.

Consider Isaac Newton’s Law of Inertia: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Let’s rephrase that. “A writer who’s not writing tends to avoid writing and a writer who is writing tends to keep writing unless they get distracted by Facebook.” Am I wrong?

Inertia, or the lack of motion, and expanded in this case to include the craft of writing, arises when foibles like fear, (sometimes called writer’s block), discouragement, sloth (not to disparage an adorable animal), distractibility, an unclear vision, or a lack of passion about a subject numbs the writer.

The joy of writing resides inside momentum. Moment-um, the state of writing wholly in the moment, eliminates most distractions. I’m living proof that multi-tasking kills creativity and brings momentum to a screeching halt.

Discover that fear runs away from unblinking focus.

Discover your authentic self, trusting that who you are today is enough. Write what will replenish your soul. That’s your “zone.” Live there. Then, no “unbalanced force” can change your direction or push you into a coffin of discouragement.

Whenever you’re going about your day and not physically writing, allow your mind to mull over your project’s vision. Day dream about it. You may be surprised as the clarifications rise like cream. Once your purpose is clear and you love your subject, can passion be far behind? And passion fuels momentum’s train. Experience the joy of writing from deep inside your soul.

Last, but not least, if you’re sloth-ful, you may be as adorable as the animal, but you’re not a writer. Go directly to Facebook. Now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $100.

In truth, we are not alone as writers. We do have a team around us, intangible though much of it may be. If the tangible is what you need, fine. Join a writer’s group, write in the park while children play, or toss ideas around with a literary buddy. Whatever works for you.

But consider this: everything you’ve ever thought about, dreamed of, or experienced is infused in your heart. Your teammates are everyone you’ve ever met.

If you practice your craft consistently, with discipline, you too, will possess the ability to “play” above your everyday level. You will break out of a slump and create that spark, a great writing rebound, and create your own momentum. You can write, flying aloft on the wings of passion. Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity.


As I wrote the above, I became curious about how long time writers sustain their momentum, so I asked scholar and prolific academic author, Ph.D. and The Very Reverend John Crean, Jr., to share his process. He’s a man as kind-hearted as he is learned. I’m deeply grateful that research at the Huntington Library brought us together. His response follows:

My first book was my undergraduate thesis, a compilation of several hundred German proverbs often accompanied by their equivalents in other languages. Lisa’s line, “Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity” was absolutely true for me then as I began my career as a German professor. That passion continued to fuel my work throughout many more years of research, teaching and publication. I was absolutely “crazy” about anything to do with language or culture. In terms of what Lisa was saying, I feel that momentum fuels passion. I remember during one sabbatical leave finishing one manuscript and going right on to the next.

Momentum and passion are key elements for any successful writer. My Ph.D. dissertation director told me to be sure to pick a topic I was absolutely in love with. He told me that by the time I was finished, my love for it would have cooled considerably. He said if I picked something I was lukewarm about, at the end of the project I would hate it—that is if I ever finished it before just giving up.

Now having returned to writing after a hiatus of continual service in the Church, I am again passionate about my writing projects and feel the momentum and the passion in my bones. 

— John E. Crean, Ph.D. — frcrean@saintthomashollywood.org