Monday, June 16, 2008

The Matter of Britain

As a point within my eternal studies that bounce randomly between a variety of sources, I have recently found myself re immersed in reading up about the historical and legendary King Arthur. I have recently picked up where I left off in Keith Baines' rendition of Le Morte d'Arthur in modern idiom. I am about halfway through. Before this I was copiously going between wikipedia and this site, trying to put together some idea of the known historical figures of the period. I was taking notes as I went, to try to codify the figures in my mind in some form, the way they related to each other and traveled through history, and come up with some kind of timeline of events that takes into account the various historical, semi-historical and legendary veins to the story. Heck, I even read some of Gilda's On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain. It's kind of tedious, and I really don't feel like I am enjoying reading a lot of these things, and kind of want to retreat back to doing something else, like rereading a William Gibson book or something (Pattern Recognition was looking so welcoming and inviting on my bookshelf today).

The fun of it, really, is the making up my own version of the story in my head, taking the ways others have told the story, refashioning it to the historical record, and seeing what grows out of it, trying to figure out how to work the more plainly legendary characters into the historical framework, making the more historical figures conform more closely the to the bare facts, watch them spring to life in my mind, then watching them shift in my mind as I stumble onto more facts, chortling when some stroke inspiration hits about how to connect certain dots together. It's all a lot of fun, thought a little aggravating, since everything is prone to change.

That's why I am reading a version of Le Morte d'Arthur right now. It's basically the earliest compendium of all the details of the various Arthur stories put in one place. Reading it gives a good overview of how all the different characters interact emotionally, as well as pointing out all the major legendary events one would not want to neglect in one's own telling, even if those events aren't the most important. I hadn't heard of the questing beast until I started reading this, but now I couldn't imagine how one could leave it out of their telling. It's pretty awesome. Likewise, I now can't see leaving characters like Palomides, Lamorak or Dynadan out, though they almost undoubtedly lack a historical precedent.

That said, the book is actually kind of boring. It's almost an endless stream of various knights jousting with each other. I can only get through by making unofficial rankings in my head. Oh, so and so unseated so and so, so he's better at jousting, but so and so is better at swordplay.... Right now, I think the unoffical ranking of knights in it is Lancelot, Tristam, Lamorak, Palomides, then maybe Gawain and Dynadan. I can't remember the rest, but most of them have died or not really interacted with these guys.

June 8, 1941-February 2, 2001

Today—well, yesterday now—is/was Father's Day. I don't really feel anything about it one way or another. I have, sporadically thought about dad, but not in any deep sense. I just didn't feel like it. Most of the news I have read about it is some remarks Obama made about absentee fathers, and whether it was a dogwhistle to evangelicals/social conservatives as well as a statement aimed at blacks (as they were said in a black church). All the summations I have read sound like things he already said in The Audacity of Hope, so I figure he just means them, and they probably stem from the fact that he grew up without a father, and he didn't like that. Hence, his thoughts on father's day are about absentee dads, though he probably wouldn't voice them if he thought they would be politically harmful, I guess (is anyone really gonna fault anybody for excoriating deadbeats?).

But I haven't actually read the remarks, because I don't really care that much. To me father's days is just a relatively empty day to mark the number of years since Raymond Raven left the world. It's been seven. It is a minor day, because for me, the day that I remember my father will always be February 2nd. Even though his birthday was earlier this month, on the 8th, and I remember that date so well, have internalized it so well into daily routine that I had completely sanded off it's features, so that it slipped right past me, and I didn't even notice until over a week later. In fact, the reason I am writing this right now, it's the guilt, mixed with grief coming up from that lapse, that has me thinking enough to want to write about it.

He would have been 67. God, that's so fucking old.

Elsewhere I read some blog thread talking riffing on the Obama speech, talking about masculinity, and it's changing definitions, and the standard stuff liberal types bring up and try to reason out when talking about father's and how they think of their fathers and how they want want to act as father's and how this all relates to the continuing progress of feminism. I suppose dad was fairly masculine, or macho, in his way. Mom and Dad seemed to conform pretty well to your "traditional" tropes of married couples. But there was nothing overbearing, harsh or judgmental about it. And he treated all of his kids as human beings, and didn't expect differing forms of behavior from us based on our sex. There was no, oh, you have to be polite, and you should be strong and tough, and don't show your emotion, or any of that kind of crap. And for that, I am thankful.

But it's so hard for me to care about these things. I can't really get bent out of shape these questions or concerns of cultural roles. Because, regardless of how those things affect others, the day is hollowed of significance for me. Because my father is not here, and that is all it means. It means that I might forget his birthday, and then find my self in the early morning staring off into space and feeling guilty about that, that no matter how much time passes, it still will come around every so often and settle in like a fog. And one not entirely unpleasant; sometimes, you just need to feel your parent.

So I raise a glass of rum, since i don't have any whiskey. Here's to Raymond Frederick Raven, 1941-2001. Rest peacefully father, and may we meet again in the land of eternal summer. Though hopefully not for many many seasons.

I love you.