Virginia Woolf Burns Night at the Sistrrrly Sepulchre

The nuns are readers, Readrrr. Avid, tireless, stay-up-all-night-by-the-holy-pillar-candle ravenous readers.

Most of them are not writers, however. Except for a few nuns I can count on my hand, one of whom is a very grim little nun. Readrrr, you are looking at her, on the elect trick page.

I am the only probationary writer-in-residence at the abbey, at any abbey, so it’s my responsibility to put into font as much of the on-comings and -goings of the nuns as possible. This is no easy feat. With the nuns: there are no easy feats, but I knew that coming in here. I fail daily at sitting at my writing desk, like I should, and for that: I apologize, Readrrr. I make no excuses but must mention that one might be inclined to accurately describe me as a busy bee. I say I’m buzzy running my mouth. I do have a number of formal occupations to which I adhere.

Foremost of those, I have the honor and privilege of being one of three directors of the Lake Child Little-novitiate Center (LCLC – the acronymic little ‘n’ is silent). We care for little novitiates. It’s a childcare center on Lake Child. I run the LCLC with Sistrrr Scout and Sistrrr Grin. Sistrrr Scout and Sistrrr Grin may not always be in agreement with one another on every (or, ahem, any) matter, and they certainly have different child-rearing styles, but they do agree that I, Sistrrr Grim, am a wonderful and integral part of the center. And neither of them would deny that I, in fact, gave birth to the center, but we can save that story for another dreary winter afternoon.

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Sistrrr Grim on Lavender Lake, smiling at Sistrrr Grin! She loves cheese!

One matter on which we are all in firm agreement (and this is the matter on which we are bonded for life): being directors of our childcare center is our most important and best job. Even more than trying to be nuns ourselves: the little nuns always come first among the three of us, I’m proud to say. Oh yes those two (hun-dred) little novitiates keep us on our toes and give us a run for our money. (Sistrrrr Grim is NOT director of finances at the center– thank the good Lord); but even amidst difficulties, we work together to give our kids our very best when it comes to their early higher education. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get a little nutty around here.

The Lake Child Little-novitiate Center is housed in the Lake Child Lavender Academy so that our youngsters can move right into their playful-yet-formal education from their early beginnings program. It should be noted that in addition to running the LCLC, we also run the LA (the Lav Acad).

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Our favorite perch on which to read Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse” aloud to one another and to the children.
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“She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! Is is enough!” (Woolf, ‘To the Lighthouse’)

Sistrrr Scout teaches science and math subjects and courses, except when we do the unit on “The Science of Shakespeare”– that unit is co-taught by S. Scout and S. Grin (I just watch and applaud), and it focuses phenomenologically on the loose and looser links between language and science. Sistrrr Scout also teaches all courses in industrial arts and anything related to technology, mechanics… and, well, anything practical or diagnostic. She is also the current sponsor of the center/academy (there is only one wealthy nun I know, and that is Sistrrr Scout– she runs a nearby military abbey after being transferred from the Sistrrrs of Mercy, which she could not manage.

Onto Sistrrr Grin: in addition to her full-time job as Head of Games at LCLC, she teaches LGBTQ+Nun literature courses with me and runs the Lavender Academy Nun Pride Center because that is her favorite subject: nun pride. She is very proud of how orthodox and conventional she is… oh, and her favorite phrase is “wink wink.” Independently, Sistrrr Grin also teaches courses in the art of French cooking (with holy wine), as well as baking and pastry classes. I teach all writing courses, and oversee the training of Grin because I was charged with being her teacher. I’m not keen on power imbalances, so I say we’re more like co-teachers. These days, Grin and Grim teach courses together. Every so often, though, I have to put Grin in her place and remind her who’s the boss (Readrrr, look up to the heavens!).

Sistrrrs Scout and Grin are each excellent writers in their favorite subject area– which is me, though neither admits it. Sistrrr Scout writes lovely newsletters for our family of nuns highlighting all of my … strengths … as a nun. S. Grin, stout slug that she is, writes about how hard it is to lose weight while sharing an abbey with me– she riffs on how delighted she is to be as stout and sluggish as she is.

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Sistrrr Grin never goes anywhere without baby wipes, a robot bath fizzy, and a Virginia Woolf novel.

Sistrrr Grin and I work together on a daily basis, mostly co-teaching a number of courses in the sisterrrly hu-manities, but it extends beyond that. For instance, we run the Lavender Child Library, which houses an enormous collection devoted to the works of and intersections between Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare, which we lovingly refer to as “Sistrrr Shakespeare Corner.” We also co-operate Shake on the Lake, an all-nun Shakespeare festival that takes place in the summer on Child Lake. In our spar time, because we have none to spare, we are Lavender Child Lawyers, taking care of all the nuns’ legal needs, which are many. And once a week, we run the Lavender Child Counseling Center (trust me, the nuns need more than one day a week of counseling services: we’re trying to expand!). If that weren’t enough, we volunteer at the local Lavender Child Penitentiary every month. We are very penitent, you see.

It is probably true that I should mention that the LCLC used to be run by Lutherans– in fact, Sistrrr Grin was once a Lake Child Lutheran Church deaconess- but the Catholics wiped out area Lutherans and took over, and well, Sistrrr Grin was the only surviving nun from The Great Lutheran Wipeout. That’s a silly joke I tell, Readrrr. Actually, how it went down was that the Lutherans kicked Sistrrr Grin out of their church for being too portly. I brought her into the Shabby Abbey with me under the cover of night, and she has been here at the Lav Acad, welcomed and thriving, ever since (don’t tell Father Danno… I’ve been keeping her in my room but nobody knows!).

It is with all of the above scheduling details that I make the point to you that if my calendar had a digestive system and a belly in which to house it and a mouth with which to feed it: it would be called ‘pleasantly plump’ — the way I like the calendar I share with Sistrrr Grin to be because she is hungry for an active holy life and I know how to keep her occupied, lazy gelatinous slug in a habit that she is!

If you’re like me, you have trouble keeping track of what day it is. But you’re probably not like me and you’re probably already well-aware that it is January 25. January, January. Oh, dear God, January.

January. This is the month of the year the nuns feel most anxious about. They have several sketchy superstitious reasons for this, starting with the fact that it beholds their very least favorite day of the year: Father Danno’s birthday (a disgrace to the tradition of celebrating birthdays itself, if you ask me!). The nuns don’t hide the fact that they hate this day. In fact, they do terrible things to let everyone, and especially F. Danno, know that they regret it.

Last year the nuns made F. Danno his favorite chocolate cake: the one he thinks Julia Child made only for him. Well, the nuns used my cauldron to carry out their plan. It was actually Sistrrr Bulldyke who led the brigade: she detests F. Danno with a great and powerful vengeance and she is well over six feet tall (the tallest nun in our convent!) so she felt well equipped in terms of any self-defense measures she might have to take post-cake-delivery service. We were so glad she volunteered to carry out the Sistrrr Act.

I won’t divulge all of the details in this post, but I will say that she marched a sizable chocolate cake over to F. Danno, where he sat –his tub of skunk lard, I mean his hideous, bristly Docker-veiled rump, smugly sunk into the couch– holding a high-priced beer in one hand and a crumby remote in the other. He grimaced (i.e., smiled) when S. BD. blocked his view of the football game, casting the shadow of a nun-giant upon him, and dropped his pre-ordered cake onto his greasy TV tray, shoving in a few candles between the ugly chunks of almonds that were thrust with hatred into the “frosting.” It looked like a rhinoceros had taken a killer crap; it was that beautiful! F. Danno’s nostrils expanded three sizes, and his buggery nose hairs were splayed for all the nuns to see, when the cake arrived.

The fool felt smitten that he had succeeded in forcing us to make a cake for him. In fact, he ate the entire cake in front of us, never once offering any of us a bite, never once complimenting our hard work. Instead, he forced us to listen to the sounds of his mouth licking the “rum-buttercream” cement off of the sides of his horse teeth. We did the best we could to bear it but Sistrrr Bulldyke was too close for comfort, and fell into gagging a few times. Perhaps that reflex was also induced because she knew what she had put in the cake. Readrrr, I would tell you, but I don’t want to do that to you. Suffice it to say, Sistrrr Bulldyke altered Julia Child’s chocolate cake recipe to fit the occasion. And by that, I mean she used carefully purveyed items from F. Danno’s own personal dumpster and outhouse (sometimes, he says, he just wants to “rough it like a man”).

F. Danno, much to our shock, never detected any of it. He said, when he finished, that it was the best cake he ever had, and he was perfectly content all night. No unusual trips to the bathroom– just his usual state of smug satisfaction. Sistrrr Bulldyke was not pleased; not at all, but I commended her for her brave and just efforts (what are Sistrrrs for!).

There are few exceptions to the Evils of January, but one of them is January 13: one of the nuns’ favorite days of the year because of the miracle birth of one of their little nuns.
Our young nun, Sistrrr January, redeemed and redefined the entire month for us when she was born, and for this we are eternally grateful.

There are also the happenings of late January, which are also redeeming. On this late date in January, in 1882, Virginia Woolf was born. I am hyper aware of her birth being on the cusp of the 20th Century because, as somewhat of a “Woolf Scholar” and as someone who has written about Woolf’s writing in scholarly and non-scholarly contexts, I have become and been made aware, at least marginally, of the impact of the change in century on Woolf’s writing. Yes, there are some who claim that the Victorian errrra actually ended! Preposterous, say the bustle-bottomed nuns! I’d say Queen Victoria left an impression(istic mark) on centuries to come, but I’ve always been a dissenter. Readrrr, do you really believe the end of the 19th century marked a departure from the Victorian era and entry into “modernism”? Purr-haps. But what silly titles we give such archaic things! Speaking of which, my master’s thesis (yes: nuns do write those sometimes), titled “Woolf’s Alternative Medicine: Narrative Consciousness as Social Treatment”, focuses on the way in which Woolf’s writing speaks against the clinical model of psychiatry/ psychology, encouraging a less label-obsessed and misogyny-driven approach to contemplating consciousness.

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This is me, at the 2014 International Conference on Virginia Woolf, where I presented my work to wonderful Woolf scholars. It was a memorable conference.

Anyway, Woolf. Woolf is important. In any context, Woolf is important. Elitism and highbrowism be what they may, Woolf is still important. As a woman. As a thinkrrr. As a readrrr. As a writrrr. And as a nun. Yes, Readrrr, the Shabby Abbey has a Sistrrr Woolf; she shares room and (head)board with a previously mentioned Sistrrr Sackville, and the two of them have at it day and night. They love to write letters to one another, but I have yet to get a hold of one of them. They keep their room locked tight, and their letters locked tighter.

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Although it is a special day at the Shabby Abbey, indeed, the nuns are not in any mood for celebration. They have strong feelings about the way in which Virginia Woolf’s birth should be acknowledged, and they become quite insistent on and somber about it. They feel that celebration-as-we-know-it would be uncouth and antithetical to the weight of the occasion. And so, unlike every other day at the abbey, in which the nuns find an excuse one way or another, to celebrate; on Virginia Woolf’s birthday, the nuns are contrary to themselves. They put away the frivolity of poverty. They put it away, they shut themselves up in their sepulchres, and, Readrrr, they read. (All day. No food – except for sushi and, later, haggis. With just a slant of light.)

Since I am a little different than the nuns and definitely (n)uncouth in my ways, given my probationary bent, I refuse to adopt this “we must behave as we imagine Woolf would have us behave in order to celebrate Woolf” nunsense. My way of celebrating Woolf is by writing. My way of celebrating Woolf is my mincing words with you, Readrrr.

I am a woman writing. I am a nun writing. A nun writing about women. A woman writing about nuns. A nun writing about women writing about nuns. And a nun-loving woman writing about how nuns commemorate the birth of Virginia Woolf.

Onto it, then. The Rites (or Rules) of Woolfian Commemoration

  1. Dine well. All day. No exceptions. Because, as Woolf herself intoned, one cannot think well, love well, sleep well unless one does this. What this means for the nuns: sushi night, but the sushi will have to be delivered, by me, to the nuns’ rooms, which brings me to number
  2. Inhabit a room of one’s own. All day. No exceptions. I refer to the nun cells on this day as The Sepulchres. And so: the nuns stay in their ‘sepulchres’ all day, honoring the pen and mind of Woolf by committing to
  3. Forgo “naps” for the day and commit to writing and reading. All day. No exceptions. Experiencing both anguish and laughter hourly.
  4. Take a solemn annual vow to never brag about what one has read. It is preferable never to mention what one has read unless one has a very specific purpose. If it is between denying that one has ever read anything and asserting one’s dominance by virtue of one’s reading list: always choose the former and play the humble illiterate. It is better to be mistaken as ignorant than to be, fully and in every way, an ass. It is a most loathsome practice to assert one’s position on the intellectual hierarchy by the unimpressive mentioning of titles and names of writers for the sake of social advancement within one’s Circle of Snobbery. If one is to discuss the practice of reading, one is to do so out of the earnest desire to discuss reading– and one is to never discuss pace unless to boast of being a slow reader for, according to These Rites, those who boast of “speed reading” reserve a special place in Lowbrow Hell.
  5. If possible, fixate on a sentence, a word, or a sound. Meditate and medicate on it for hours. All day, in fact. (No exceptions.)
  6. Stare in amazement into a luminous halo. All day. No exceptions.
  7. Tell the truth about yourself. All day. No exceptions.
  8. Unwind with a glass of language. All day. No exceptions.
  9. Review the essay “Kew Gardens.” Then examine a map of Kew Gardens. Plan a visit to Kew Gardens. Plan to kiss someone long and passionately in Kew Gardens. If you’re determined to marry, marry in Kew Gardens. All day. No exceptions.

The nuns adhere to this list with more seriousness than is probably warranted, especially when they get to number ten. There is just something about Kew Gardens and the nuns. An affinity, one might gather.

But maybe the nun-kew connection is just because the nuns are avid fans of Harry Potter– and J.K. Rowling has said that she might have come up with the name for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in passing, based on an encounter she had with a hogwort plant (one croton capitatus) that happened at Kew Gardens. Yes, it won’t surprise you to learn that every nun has her own wand (I started out with a Luna Lovegood wand, but I have many wands: including my Spock-007 wand, my Madeara wand, and my Kew King wand… a nun can never have enough wands), every nun belongs to a house (except for me: probationary nuns don’t get sorted), and every year the nuns plan a trip to “Wand World.” It does not exist yet, but they plan a trip there. The nuns are hoping that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will allow them to build and run their very own Wand World. That is all I can say at this point. I need to spy on the nuns more and research what the nuns do with their wands more closely before I can justify wandering into their wand territory.

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That is one RAD burning wand.

But back to Woolf, though with Kew involved, we know we haven’t strayed far: the nuns have spent their entire day shut up in their sepulchres, and have only now come out of their little closets. Which means, Dear Readrrr, that I must end this post and attend to them.

It is, I’ve not mentioned until now, Burns Night, at the Shabby Abbey.

The nuns have been revering Woolf all day and are now ready to light up the place with their haggis, their bagpipes, and their Open Mic Night with M.C. ‘Robert Burns’. Sistrrr Grin has volunteered to fulfill the Burns role this year, thank God, but I will be singing “A Red, Red Rose” with Sistrrr Melissa because we do it every night at supper and the nuns never seem to grow tired of it– tonight I’ll be singing it in the character of Lady Macbeth (Sistrrr Grin doesn’t know she’ll also be playing Macbeth tonight!)! So it’s off to Burns Supper, I go.

But first: I have to prepare supper. I’m in charge of the burner. Or, of preparing the haggis for the hags, essentially (shhh: do not tell them this; those hags still think being a hag is a bad thing!). They want their haggis before midnight so I need to get a move on. Wish me and the convent cauldron luck, Red Rad Read Readrrr.

A simple recipe for HAGGIS can be found here, Readrrr: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/haggis_66072. Readrrr, if you want a taste of Sistrrr Grim’s HAGGIS SHEEP GUT PUDDING recipe (it’s punchy!), you know what has to happen: hand over the liver: preferably of a rapist priest.

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Definitional clarifications for ‘Haggis’:

A Scottish dish consisting of a sheepish priest’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach.

Origin
late Middle English: probably from earlier hag ‘hack, hew,’ from Old Norse hǫggva .
Use over time for: haggis
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Burns Night, Readrrr. Give me your hand. I have a burning kiss to give you.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. andrewjsacks says:

    Language and Identity indeed! The inimitable Sistrrr Grim here demonstrates once again her MissManstry of The Word.

    Liked by 1 person

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