Monday, April 11, 2016

Mr. Dog, St. Crispin's Day, and How I Found My Qiviut Scarf

Note to visitors:  This post describes the search for a misplaced object. I cite a passage from Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown –– renowned for her classic children's book, Goodnight Moon.  Mr. Dog features cozy, striking illustrations by Garth Williams, and our layout editor, Todd, has scanned in two of them. Meanwhile, copy editor, Cyril, wishes to assure Random House, Inc. that our use of quotation and illustrations complies with fair-use doctrine.

Three songs are included: "Am I Losing You," Coco Montoya (1995); "Missing You," Pine Hill Project (2015); "You Don't Know What You've Got," Ral Donner (1961).

Musk Ox
The return of winter this April week, a bit anyway, and I am looking for a scarf my wife knitted me years ago.  The scarf is made of qiviut, the soft, warm wool which comes from the densely fibred undercoat of the musk ox. ("Qiviut," or "qiviuq," is an Inuktitut word, and musk ox live mostly in Arctic Canada and Greenland.)

Looking first in the front closet, on the upper shelf, in the plastic basket that holds my hats and scarves, I can't find the scarf.  Over the years I've accumulated hats and scarves so I look carefully, but I'm not seeing it.

Qiviut Wool
I know it's somewhere.  I begin looking through my wife's plastic basket of hats and scarves, which sits next to mine on the upper shelf.  I don't find it there either, not that I expect to given the surety of our boundaries.  Her Basket, My Basket, that sort of thing: good fences do, in fact, make good neighbors.

I widen my search to other parts of the house. In a room I optimistically think of as my study, I notice my favorite childhood book, Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown.  Mr. Dog –– full name, Crispin's Crispian –– would have known exactly where his scarf was, because he lived an orderly life with each thing in its place:

        Crispin's Crispian was a conservative.  He liked
     everything at the right time ––
        dinner at dinner time,
        lunch at lunchtime,
        breakfast in time for breakfast,
        and sunrise at sunrise,
        and sunset at sunset.
        And at bedtime ––
     At bedtime, he liked everything in its own place ––
        the cup in the saucer,
        the chair under the table,
        the stars in the heavens,
        the moon in the sky,
        and himself in his own little bed.

     (Margaret Wise Brown, Mr. Dog: The Dog Who Belonged to Himself

     a Little Golden Book [1952], unnumbered page)

Mr. Dog in the morning
Mr. Dog would not have mislaid his scarf in the first place, but had he done so he'd have had a plan for its recovery.  Mind you, looking at his morning mien –– sleepy, disheveled –– we understand his need for orderly habits so as to pull himself together for the day.

But hold on, is Mr. Dog really a "conservative"?  Say it isn't so, Margaret Wise Brown.  I do cherish Mr. Dog, but "conservative" is an identifier I recoil from, even while I understand the need for order, routines, schedules, laws, the general preservation of what works to meet the day and live among others –– like sensible shoes, coherent sentences, not fondling supermarket fruits.

Returning from the butcher shop
After all, aside from childhood, weekends, holidays, downtimes, retirement, most of us must maintain a public face, must package ourselves each day to fit our world.  We ought not drift away in reverie when we're supposed to be paying attention.

Mr. Dog himself, when engaged in a task, is not half-conscious, nor wearing robe and slippers.  He dresses for the occasion.  True, his attire is spare but it suits his setting –– when in the kitchen, an apron; when out and about, a straw hat, red bow tie, and accessory pipe.

Thinking on this, I see how Margaret Wise Brown's definition of "conservative" makes sense and is one I can live with, indeed must live with if I am to successfully trim my mustache or go through airport security.  This is not the imbecilic conservatism of the 2016 Republican presidential follies.  It's more that sometimes we need to attend to our surround and to certain boundaries, whereas other times we can sink into that surround and shade boundaries.  Sometimes we focus so as to steer the ship, other times we drift away in our bunks.  How tightly packaged versus dreamy-associative we are depends very much on context and societal cues.

(See Nightscapes 1, an essay on how we see things and express ourselves –– an essay organized around Gregory Bateson's dialectic of rigor/imagination and its guises: conservative/liberal, rigid/elastic, literal/figurative, technical/aesthetic, logical/emotional, letter/spirit, orthodox/unorthodox, prosaic/poetic, adult/childlike, consensus reality/subjective reality, etc.  Too rigid an orientation yields the party line; say, the peremptory rejection by Congress of Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.  Too elastic an orientation yields a lack of core structure, witness Donald Trump's Gumby-like policy shifts. Ideally, we enjoy the flexibility of "binocular vision."  We blend familiar, codified ways of seeing –– our default settings –– with a receptivity to novel alternatives.)

   Am I Losing You: Coco Montoya

How might Crispin's Crispian manage retrieval of a vagrant scarf?  He'd conduct an orderly, observant search –– a "conservative" one –– more focused than willy-nilly.  And while I think I am doing that now, there is something I'm missing.  My orientation is off, it was probably off when first I misplaced the scarf.  Perhaps I was too casual when last putting it away –– on automatic pilot, like Crispin's Crispian in the morning.  No wonder I can't find it now, I wasn't paying attention to begin with.

Readers, before we resolve this suspense, I've a worthwhile historical digression.

Crispin's Crispian, an interesting name, isn't it?  It evokes Saint Crispin's Day, especially the Shakespearian reference to that day in Henry V –– when on Friday, October 25, 1415, the real Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt.  In Shakespeare's telling, "King Harry" gives a stirring speech before the battle, ending with:
     This story shall the good man teach his son,
     And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
     From this day to the ending of the world
     But we in it shall be remember'd,
     We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
     For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
     Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
     This day shall gentle his condition.
     And gentlemen in England now abed
     Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
     And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
     That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

     (Henry V: Act 4, Scene 3, ll. 56 - 67 [c. 1599], in William 
     Shakespeare: The Complete Works, Oxford University Press, 1991)

The speech is famous, and anchored in history:
  • There is a St. Crispin's Day, which honors Saints Crispin and Crispinian, brothers who were martyred in the third century.  Cobblers, possibly twins, they became after martyrdom the patron saints of shoe-makers and leather workers.  
  • There was a Battle of Agincourt, a pivotal battle midway during the Hundred Years War between England and France, and apparently won through successful use of the longbow by Anglo-Welsh archers.
  • King Henry V did give a pre-battle speech, which Shakespeare fictionally rendered and ennobled to great effect.  
What Margaret Wise Brown intended by giving Mr. Dog a name so redolent with history, we can't say.  Still, we can surmise one thing: Saints Crispin and Crispinian, Shakespeare's King Harry, Crispin's Crispian, all share qualities of faith, commitment and competence. Purposeful figures, they know they have jobs to do and procedures to follow, and they know that –– like Odysseus ––they must work past distractions, stay the course, reach Ithaca.

   Missing You: Pine Hill Project

With this in mind, and in this spirit, I redouble efforts to locate the scarf.  And I do this by retracing my steps afresh –– as if I were not retracing but actually taking first steps into an unknown land, exploring these rooms and closets for the first time, a stranger in my own home. My approach is binocular, a Batesonian blend of systematic and imaginative, traditional and novel.

And guess what?  I found it!

It was in the front closet, on the upper shelf, in the plastic basket where I keep my hats and scarves, the one next to my wife's basket of hats and scarves.

   You Don't Know What You've Got:
   Ral Donner

It was there all the time, of course. House fairies didn't hide the scarf and then return it.  I didn't even misplace it, I just didn't see it.  The good news, aside from my scarf's reappearance, is a feeling of achievement.  I reached my Ithaca, and did so without being martyred or going to war with France or living in a storybook with Mr. Dog –– although this last eventuality has its charms.

The better news is that I reconnected with more than a scarf.  It is a truism, but there is nothing like loss of something dear to spark awareness of its history and meaning.  "You don't know what you've got until you lose it," sang Ral Donner in 1961.  For the brief time that I couldn't find my qiviut, I appreciated it keenly, thought of its nature, valued its wifely origin.


Anne said...

Your story will put a smile on my face for the all day! I did not know Mr. Dog until I read you, but am now thinking of getting acquainted!

Kit said...

Hi Anne. Thanks for your comment ... and so nice to hear from you! I'd certainly recommend Mr. Dog –– it balances autonomy needs with affiliative needs, and pretty much tells us all we need to know. Glad you're smiling. Todd, Cyril and I smile whenever people leave comments.

Anonymous said...

this post is invaluable -- as always, kit, your way of focusing attention on the here and now by linking it so effortlessly and knowledgeably to the broader there and then leads to a keener appreciation -- in fact, a zest! -- for both. thank you. so charming and elegant and knowledgeable. best to you, and keep writing! -- nita

Kit said...

Thank you, Nita, for your comment. I'm blushing.

Unknown said...

Loved this post, Kit! As always, you surprise and inspire your readers. I'm lucky to be your cousin -- and your friend.


Kit said...

Thanks Cuz. The feeling is mutual.

Galen said...

Thanks once again, Kit. Loved it, also the music, and am glad you found it. Here's a poem I wrote a long time ago about a tennis racket and Mom.

Loss of Mother

I have lost things in my day.

Once a tennis racket disappeared
from the front porch
of an apartment house
in Providence.

It was a wooden Davis racket
given by a friend
who had moved away
and who has not written or called.

The search lasted all that day
for days and weeks
until we moved and I did not find it
while packing cartons.

Sometimes I still expect to see it
when I glance in the corner of a closet
or on a shelf
or behind a chair.

I do not accept that it is gone.

Kit said...

Thank you, Galen. The poem is perfect, and it made me think of something. Not a new idea but here it is: objects hold memories and parts of our selves and histories. And when we lose a special object and doggedly refuse to accept its loss, maybe that's not some failure in mourning but a good thing –– a testimony that a valued attachment existed, and a faith that reunion is possible, even if that reunion is still around some future corner, and even if it is never realized. I know one hears the argument we should accept a loss so that we can "move on," and I know that can be true. But I also think it can be a form of this-is-how-you-will-feel-better twaddle.

Comments are appreciated: