Archive | October, 2014

Shadow Castle

27 Oct

I dreamt of gold and woke to sheets of it streaming off me.


We were waiting around the royal swimming pool for Queen Elizabeth to arrive to celebrate her royal birthday.  The hours passed slowly, and Her Royal Highness was yet to show.  Prince Phillip appeared from time to time to promise us she would be there soon, but most of the gathered royal-watchers were beginning to give up hope.  Disappointed and disillusioned, several moved to retrieve their coats, leave their presents on the royal table.  Desperate to prove them wrong—to ourselves as much as to our fellow partiers—my friend Mary Ann and I grasped hands and jumped fully clothed into the deep-end of the pool.  Instinctively we knew that if the water turned to gold when we resurfaced, the promises would be true.  We also knew it wasn’t Her Majesty we were waiting for, but Him.  As we ascended, sheets of gold streamed from us, head to toe.  Tears of joy mingled with the shimmering water; we shouted in our elation, our conviction, our blessed assurance.

Thus, my dream.  My dreams are vivid and unique, incessant and recurring.  People often wonder at their meaning, ponder their source.  Some would say I read too much.  Guilty as charged.  I always have.  From before I could read the words myself, books have been my drug of choice; since I have learned to read, I have mainstreamed words and stories like any self-respecting junkie.  And I horde my paraphernalia in rooms of shelves like used needles piled in every corner.

One of my favorite books when I first learned to read was Shadow Castle, a modern fairy tale by Marian Cockrell. I still have the worn Scholastic paperback somewhere, in spite of cat pee stains (and odor), testament to my dedication never to part with it:  throw it away or wish it on some unsuspecting book sale.  I loved fairy tales—The Blue Book, the Pink Book, Grimm’s, Anderson—and even those by authors whose names I can’t recall.  They were more than stories; they were possibilities.

More than anything, I wanted to be a fairy.  As a child, I haunted the bright green “fairy rings” in my grandparents’ pasture, hoping against hope of glimpsing an ethereal form, listening for the whirr of iridescent wings.  I dreamed of flying, escaping all manner of wicked pursuers, blending invisible with the friendly shadows.  I was beyond grateful for my blue-ringed green eyes and slightly pointy ears, acquiesced to being “corrie-fisted,” switching the pencil readily from my right hand to my left.  If only, if only…

Like Emily, I dwelt “in possibility, a fairer place than prose…”  And when the mortal man in Shadow Castle who had fallen in love with the fairy princess was obliged to exchange 100 years and a day in fairy land while his elfin love was sentenced to serve the same time on this side if they wanted to spend eternity together, I entered that banishment with him, just in case, clapping my hands as Peter commanded, lest some fairy’s light become extinguished.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales; if you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales,” that genius Albert Einstein supposedly opined.  As a child, I was a voracious reader, obsessed; as an adult, I am just as ravenous, addicted. As I have aged this side of paradise, I read more fairy tales, discovering Tir-na-Nog (Land of Forever Young) and W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory who, being Irish and intelligent, took the wee folk (nee, “The Shining Ones”) more seriously even than I have.  Like Yeats, older and wiser, I follow the light cast by the sacred mythology out of the darkness of the abyss.

Shadow Castle got its name from the shady silhouettes flickering on its walls, evidence of those just across the border of the Other World.  As the century-sentence drew to a close when the mortal and his fairy love would be reunited, the shadows became more restless, fluttering with impatient anticipation for the spell to be broken.  Little more than a shade, a wraith myself, I, too, pace behind these boundaries, waiting to be set free.  And now, the days grow shorter:  99, 100, 1…

Many have called it a myth, nothing more than a child’s fairy tale, this promise of the Rapture.  But wiser men, like Einstein and Yeats, have seen beneath the surface, into the abyss and beyond, to where the Truth lives, shining and forever young.  “The foolishness of God is wiser than men…”

I dream of gold and wake to sheets of it streaming off me.


–Rebecca Luttrell Briley


Thoroughbreds on US 62

16 Oct

If you come by the road that cuts through the horse farms

Stonewall, Chanteclaire, Vinegar Hill—

A running stitch of rock fences hemming raw edges

Spires and steeples on one side, brown stubble and stalk, the other—

On both sides:  bluegrass bluebloods, enduring as trees.

If you come as the crow flies over a quilt, shades of motherland green

Darby, Shadow Lane, Waterford Stud—

(those stitches, standing witness to Famine survival)

Acknowledge their stillness, patient as statues

Long-suffering sentinels, dark in the rain.

–Rebecca Luttrell Briley

16 October 2014

She Moved Through the Fairs

11 Oct

StJimages (3)Ever since I returned to Kentucky this past summer, I have had the delightful privilege of attending a craft fair or a class reunion of some kind or both nearly every weekend!  ‘Tis the season, I know, but this is such a plethora of wealth, I feel like a junkie stumbling upon someone’s secret stash!

When it comes to craft fairs and art festivals, I must confess I am a junkie.  It’s one of the few things for which I’ll get up early and drive really far—and that’s what I’ve been doing just about every Saturday for the past 2 months.  But I haven’t even had to go that far out of my way—most of the fairs have been practically in my back yard:  from Lexington to Louisville, Berea to Bardstown, I am truly living in the land of plenty.  And even if I didn’t, I would find a way to get to at least one of the fairs, no matter where I am living.

Bereaimages (3)

The St. James Art Festival is one of two of the largest air fairs in the nation, if not the largest.  It has expanded over the years from St. James and Belgravia Courts to include 3rd and 4th streets, as well, though the plum spots are still in the area around the picturesque fountain that lends its image to the festival’s logos.  My late husband introduced me to this jewel in his hometown’s crown when we were first dating; little did he know what a monster he was creating!  That first visit opened such a longing to live in Old Louisville that I eventually bought a house on Belgravia, primarily to be “at home” during the first weekend of October when the fair is always held.  It was fun having the artists literally on my doorstep and to provide an open house to friends who wanted to stop by for a visit when they were tired of shopping.  It was also great not to have to worry about parking and to get to come and go with my purchases over the three-day event.

Even when I moved to Europe, I found excuses for flying back to Louisville that first weekend of October (just like some plan their visits around the first weekend of May); luckily, my mom’s birthday is the same weekend, so I could usually convince bosses I had to be there for that auspicious occasion!  Much of the art in my house and office is evidence to the treasures one can acquire at this prestigious and sought-after event, and there are as many stories to go with the artifacts as there are object d’arts!  Suffice it to say, no matter how large the crowds, how foul the weather, how outrageous the prices, the St. James Art Fair will remain the top of my priority list as long as I can walk; even being confined to a wheelchair won’t stop me, either—already been there, done that!

But St. James wasn’t the first art festival I fell in love with; that would be the Berea Craft Fair, sponsored by the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, for whom I worked as a secretary during my short sojourn as a student at Berea College.  I’ll never forget former Executive Director Garry Barker or his predecessor Maggie Rafai and how they let me work at the fair years after I had left the college, just because I enjoyed it so much.  Set in the woods leading up to the Indian Fort Theatre, the KGAC’s standard is as high as that set by the juried St. James, but there is a different atmosphere.  Here, among the trees just turning colors the second weekend of October, potters and weavers, photographers and woodcarvers who likely got their start at Berea College (known for its “artsy-craftsy” flair) set up their wares; if not Bereans, they at least share a common regional spirit that is more obviously identifiable than any at the big city festival which draws contributors from all over the world. The clientele is decidedly different, too:  more seem to be there to support the artists than to support their shopping habit, to see than to be seen, if you will. The mist rising from the surrounding mountains, the aroma of wood smoke and wet leaves, the whine of a fiddle or  the twang of a dulcimer, the burn of the welcomed mug of hot cider—it’s a sensuous smorgasbord, unspoiled by an urban superficiality as throw-away as a Starbucks’ cup.  And, as I am one of the cross-overs, I feel I have earned the right to this slightly judgmental opinion that applies to each side of my own split personality.  😉

The above effusion over my two favorite fairs leaves little room for an enthusiastic review of the other enchanting fetes I unearthed just these past couple of months:  the Woodland Park event in Lexington was a hugely pleasing surprise, just as the little Midway Festival was a delightful discovery; the J-town Gaslight Festival and even the Nunnlea Art Show did not disappoint.  I have one left to encounter tomorrow—Bardstown—and I am already convinced it will live up to my expectations.  I am already looking forward, too, to the myriad Christmas craft fairs that dot my calendar from here to the new year, and those promised with the spring: the Franciscan Art Fair at my own college in the spring, as well as Cherokee Park, and whatever else pops up with the tulips.

There have been fun events offering a surfeit of shopping opportunities everywhere I’ve lived; even Oklahoma (which did not impress me much in so many ways) surprised me with the number of art fairs it supported.  I have enjoyed and loved them all.  But, like a wandering spouse who has returned to her first love and been received like the prodigal she is, there’s no place like home for the homemade, homespun, homegrown.  It’s in the blood, the DNA, the dirt still clinging to the roots uprooted and replanted.   It’s good to be home feathering the nest again.

Ain’t We Got Fun

6 Oct

dessert“Is everything supposed to be fun?”  I looked at Banu* to see if she was teasing; she was completely serious.  I had just said to her, “We have the whole day just to have fun!  What would you like to do?”  This was a rare occurrence, of course; there are few days where there is nothing planned or needs taking care of.  This was as rare as a day in June in October.  I asked what she meant.

“Maybe it’s a cultural thing,” she began.  I already knew where this was going before she started to explain.  “In Turkey, everything isn’t fun.  It’s not supposed to be.  Fun is what happens as a reward at the end of everything else.  You work hard–you expect to work hard–and then, maybe, you’ll get a treat.  In America, though, it seems like everything has to be fun from the beginning, or it won’t work.”

I knew what she meant.  We have fluffed up and dummied down everything so that everyone will be enticed to do whatever needs doing.  We give “rewards” just to get others to do what they are supposed to do in the first place.  We have even reduced the number of things that need to be done by having other people do them for us.  We are indulged, spoiled.  We have gotten flabby.

No where is this more evident than in our school systems.  Give a student a “C” for meeting the requirements (the definition of C-work…), and they scream bloody murder for their expected “A.”  No more is an “A” awarded only for “publishable work,” as I was told to maintain when teaching for the University of Kentucky at the beginning of my career.  Today’s teachers often inflate the grades just to cut down on the screaming–or the bloody murder.  Give the kids what they want, regardless of whether it’s good for them or they deserve it–just keep them pacified.  Let them eat cake.

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of Disney.  I admitted it before Banu could call it.  Much as we both love “Mary Poppins,” a “spoonful of sugar” may not always be the best way to take one’s medicine.  No wonder we are a society of diabetics.  Not all jobs are meant to be games, though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying one’s work and finding the fun where one can.

Banu’s beef with the “spoonful of sugar” method has grown out of her graduate work in American education (don’t get her started on her student-teaching experience), which has done little to convert her to our “progressive” way of doing everything.  And I’m glad:  I may sound predictably like the old fogey of a passing generation, complaining about the current kids’ music (that’s not music!), but she is young enough to be my daughter!   That she prefers my music testifies to our shared good taste.

It wasn’t always this way.  Even back in my own not-so-distant childhood, rewards were saved for special achievements.  Just completing chores—and we did have them—wasn’t enough to warrant a treat.  We were expected to do our work, to make the grade, to finish what we started.  Life was just as uncertain back then, I guess, but we weren’t allow to have dessert first—or have it in place of dinner.  My husband used to tell the story of being served the same cold spinach he refused at dinner for breakfast, then lunch, and then and only after he had managed to get it down was he allowed anything else to eat, let alone dessert. Today his parents would be hauled in for child abuse; then, they were respected for being firm. I hate to say, “back in the day”–it’s cliché now–but back in the day, we worked, we earned, and on the special occasion, we might be given something extra.  If we were lucky, not because we were entitled to it.  It wasn’t “barefoot in the snow 20 miles uphill” hyperbole; it just sounds like it now because such standards seem so archaic.

Beggars were not choosers.  You liked what you got, not necessarily the other way around, or you “lumped” it, as they say. I was teaching a class recently where I gave out fortune cookies for a writing assignment (even our object lessons have to be fun, sweet); a student crumpled his up and threw it in the trash.  “I don’t like fortune cookies,” he whined.  “Don’t you have some Oreos or something?”  “No,” I said evenly, trying to keep my temper in check, “and that’s too bad, because that’s your assignment, and now you either won’t have one, or you’ll have to fish yours out of the garbage and eat it anyway.”  Even then I was afraid he’d report me to my dean for not offering multiple choices for all eating and writing pleasures.

Tennessee Williams’ “work like a Turk” may apply best to Banu’s ethnicity (though I suspect Williams just appreciated the rhyme), but Americans used to be known for their work ethic.  Even today we aren’t the only ones who have fallen prey to easy way.  I think of a certain Nobel Peace Prize given before the recipient had done anything to earn it–just on the “promise” that he might.  I wonder if the Swedes are wiping egg off their faces as our government bombs the bits out of Syria.  Not that ISIS doesn’t deserve what it gets—and more:  it’s just funny, that’s all.  Funny, but not fun.

*Banu, my Turkish graduate student roommate whom I met while teaching in Cyprus