A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Friday, December 20, 2013


Last year (as those of you who have been tolerating me for an extended period of time may recall) I felt that my annual holiday letter needed a fresh, untrammeled narrative form.  After giving the issue some deep literary thought, I penned the resultant work as a “Choose Your Own Adventure”. 
Having tapped that genre for all it was worth (about $1.49), this year I decided to switch things up again.  Thus, for 2013 In Review, we’re going with “epic poem”.
Hey!  Wait!  Where are you going? 
According to Wikipedia, the ten main characteristics of an epic are as follows:
1.       Begins in medias res.
2.       Features a vast setting, covering many nations, the world, or the universe. (Does a single passing reference to the Hubble Space Telescope count?).
3.       Begins with an invocation to a muse.
4.       Begins with a statement of the theme.
5.       Includes the use of epithets (e.g.“Foul Incubus”, “Lord of Javascript”, “He of the Monstrous Nether Regions”, etc.).
6.       Contains long lists, called an epic catalogue.
7.       Features long and formal speeches (not included in the CliffsNotes).
8.       Shows divine intervention in human affairs. (Blame Apollo; it’s totally his fault).
9.       Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization. (Would that be rampant consumerism, or adulation of vacuous celebrities?).
10.   Often features the tragic hero's descent into the underworld or hell.
Since all these requirements overlap nicely with what one ought to find in a holiday letter – I already get a lot of epic catalogues in the mail at this time of year -- I felt I was on the right track. However, my Muse was lacking.  Which classic epics could I call upon for inspiration? 
The Odyssey has some good elements to work with, offering verisimilitude in the form of an impossibly ancient dog – but the older of our own canines is characterized more by crotchetiness than enduring faithfulness.  And, while I undoubtedly feel some affinity for Polyphemus based on our shared monocularity, he’s not precisely the main character in Homer’s classic.  In fact, he comes off rather badly, what with his rude habit of eating his guests and all. 
What about the tale of Gilgamesh (king of Uruk) and his good buddy Enkidu (a wild man created by the gods to be Gilgamesh’s peer, and to distract him from oppressing the people of Uruk)?  That one works really well, inasmuch as my life is indeed a thinly veiled gay male love story full of odd power dynamics and endless drama.  (Lemme tell you, my “friend” and I often “journey to the Cedar Mountain” to “defeat Humbaba, its monstrous guardian.”)  In truth, the Epic of Gilgamesh is an awesome tale, and I do relate to all the perilous journeys and bonds of love and whatnot, but the ending is just too heart-breakingly Brokeback Mountain for me to embrace it entirely.
The Faerie Queen?  Oh., good lord, no.  And while Beowulf offers some gripping stanzas (“Hrothgar Moralizes”: XXVI; “Reminiscences (continued)”: XXXV), I find that once I’ve killed a terrible beast feared throughout the land, I hardly ever want to have to go back after all the feasting and kill its mother.
Ultimately, I realized I would have to, as they say, “draw upon a broad range of literary references”.  As for the iambic pentameter and ABAB rhyme scheme, those are most likely merely a side-effect of translation of my life from the original Mesopotamian. 
Ready?  Ready.

In which we find the Protagonist in media res in the underworld, which, let’s face it, is more of a Zamhareer, really, because it’s just stupidly dark and cold.

O Muse -- where are you, gods-forsaken Sun?
Help craft this tale of travels far and near,
Of petty strife, and battles lost and won,
And random crap that happened this past year.

For hark!  Protag’nist’s foot with beads impaled,
She finds no solace in the handiwork
Of two Young Acolytes. Her sanity assailed,
Her epic quest is Not To Be A Jerk.

In which Our Heroes travel to a land of mighty chasms

Twelve full-moons past, cold winter gripped their hearts
When forth Protag’nist went with Kinfolk Band,
And thus this tale of epic rambling starts
With journey to a fabled Canyon (Grand).

Chance strangers met did oftimes deem them fools
For braving precipice and frosty tent.
Small Hikers, fearless, tamed Voracious Mules
By sharing Tasty Grass where’er they went.

In which the Protagonist’s spouse does a prodigiously magnificent amount of snow biking while the Protagonist limits herself to only a slightly unreasonable amount

When icy dark portended slothful doom
Protag’nist’s Stalwart Comrade groomed his steed
By dripping chain-oil in the living-room
(The grease goes nicely with those star-shaped beads…)

He harkened hence, with Gu and Gummi Worms;
“Iditarod” the trail was named, by Lords of Ice.
Protag’nist praised his deeds, yet still confirms:
For her, a hundred-miler will suffice.

In which the Young Acolytes try to spell “elephant”, earn actual money, and produce lumpy clay objects

With fearlessness of duct tape, wood, and yarn
The Daughters of the Clan did hone their minds
Reading heavy tomes (“Pa built a barn!”)
And crafting Things of many useless kinds.

O Second Grade!  O wondrous new hijinks!
Your fourteen questions asked all in a row,
Your knock-knock jokes too subtle for a Sphinx,
And troweling sled-dog poop to make some dough.

In which Our Heroes travel to a land of wind, ice, geysers, and adorable equines

Forth once more, as fickle summer waned,
Protag’nist went with all her tribe, plus one --
The Fearsome Tom -- to country where it rained
And blew, but yet was Mighty Fun.

By bicycle the Ped’ling Pentad went
From geyser’s plume to coast to water chute.
Yea! Iceland could not slay the Mighty Tent!
And lo! The ponies were so very cute!

In which the Protagonist produces epic catalogues and formal speeches -- but probably not enough

Though online comments presaged flying fruit,
Protag’nist gave her talks on climate change,
And found the crowds remarkably astute.
The weather -- not the public -- was deranged.

Reports were written (Hark!  The passive tense!)
For use as ballast, steps, or booster seats.
Protag’nist strove to muster common sense,
Yet failed in sundry academic feats.

In which Our Heroes travel to many other lands replete with mud, snow, hot water, and eight-headed monsters

Their journeys not complete, Young Acolytes
Soon found among their youthful hardy peers
Brave Warrior Kids possessing of a might
Beyond the reach of stature or of years.

Thus reinforced, the Robust Group assailed
Divers trails and hot springs most sublime,
Despite the Fearsome Mud such quests entailed.
So many Acolytes, so little time.

In which the Fair Reader returns to the underworld, where several deities may be necessary to vanquish the cold and darkness and general squabbling

At last, bone-weary, so Protag’nist fell
Through storm of paper-snowflake snipped-up chaff
To sniping, griping, tinsel-scattered hell.
The Sirens coaxed, “Eat gingerbread, and laugh.”

O Sun -- Apollo, Helios, Sol, or Ra --
Invoke yourself with this full-spectrum light!
Drive back the Scrooge-like Grinchiness of “Bah,”
And let us hear the sleighbells in the night!

“Minerva raised her voice aloud, and made everyone pause… 'Cease this dreadful war, and settle the matter at once without further bloodshed.’  …Then Minerva assumed the form and voice of Mentor, and presently made a covenant of peace between the two contending parties”
The Oddyssey, Book XXIV (Homer, 800BCE)

Peace on Earth, a happy Saturnalia to all, and to all a good night.

[You’ll be glad to know that my goal for 2014 is to live the entire year in the form of a single haiku.]

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