I wish I were a Mongol warlord

Last night after a crucible-like evening of thrown food, chores, decisions made on empty stomachs, and children who live in alternate universes in which they are Heat Blast (who does not, it turns out, generally like to sit at the table and eat his dinner politely) my husband turned to me and said, “I wish I were a Mongol warlord. I bet they didn’t feel guilty all the time.”

Practicing his Mongol castle attack skills, in case
Practicing his Mongol castle attack skills, in case

I imagined him perched on his piebald horse, dripping in furs and beads with a menacing look. I looked at him, eating the split pea soup he’d made with a crusty loaf of whole wheat bread he’d made. “I bet that Mongol warlords don’t actually see their children very much,” I replied.

He glumly agreed with my analysis of the Warlord solution to parenting frustration problems, dipping his bread in his soup.

This morning on the way in, I was caught between my compulsive drive to listen to the news, and my great desire not to want to actually hear the news. Wrestling a heavy and recalcitrant 15 month old (almost) out of his carseat to drag him in to preschool to drop Grey off, I marveled at the complexity of my own life. There are so many moving parts and conflicting priorities.

On the average day my life is filled to the brim with problems minor and major. I wrestle with providing my children with all the things they need across a wide spectrum — from appropriate discipline to making sure that Thane has clean clothes at daycare. I work very intentionally to be a good partner to my husband. I try to eat well and exercise in order to keep my body in good enough condition to do the rest of the work. I have a smorgasboard of church tasks that I try to keep up with. In addition to that there’s my spiritual adventure – not the same, but related. Then we get to the fact people expect me to work a job and do complicated stuff and answer emails and write code. On top of that is managing my career, which isn’t at all the same thing as doing today’s work. And there’s handling the finances responsibly — have I gotten all my W2 forms yet? Can we afford to just order pizza tonight already? Do we need to rebalance our retirement portfolio? (Answer: yes, but I’m too lazy). And of course there are my responsibilities as a citizen, which range from being well informed (people tend to ask me questions, so it behooves me to have answers), to voting, to sending contributions of money and effort to wracked Haiti.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to be the harem-mate for a Mongol warlord? If not Mongol-centric, what other, simpler time might I have lived in?

I indulged the fantasy for a few minutes: maybe a Victorian lady, or Medieval peasant. I could’ve been an Anchoress.

You could argue that my degree in Medieval studies was completely self-indulgent. I rarely encounter a burning need to tackle middle English texts in my role as a software engineer. But one thing I learned about life as a Medieval scholar is that people are people, and the broad outlines of our lives have not generally changed.

Victorian ladies had wildly distorted body images, and had to work really hard to cripple themselves appropriately. They also navigated highly political lives with great opportunities for social humiliations. Medieval peasants woke with dawn, had complicated relationships with their finite communities, and had little recourse or opportunity for change and pretty much no privacy. And I really can’t imagine that being in the harem of a Mongol warlord was fun and games, even if you managed to produce some nice little male heirs. Most of all, in all those imaginary past roles, I would face a much greater risk of burying one or more of my children.

I was reading a summary biography of John Donne the other day (don’t ask). His wife bore him 12 children. Two of them were stillborn. Three of them died before they were 10. His long-pregnant wife died 5 days after birthing her final child. “In a state of despair, Donne noted that the death of a child would mean one less mouth to feed, but he could not afford the burial expenses.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_donne) He loved his children as deeply as I love mine. The poetry he wrote about them is breathtaking.

I bet Mongol Warlords don’t get to sing showtunes with their kids, either

I think I’m content to live in this busy age, when I have the most opportunity to choose the path of my own life, and when my children have the best chance of living to ripe old age of any generation ever in all history. So, after long consideration, I’ve decided that my plan of going back in time to become Mongols is right out, love. Sorry. Have you ever considered getting lost on a desert island?


So I’m reading “The Odyssey” at a pace best described as glacial. I’m on Book 5, where Odysseus has sex with a goddess but doesn’t really enjoy it.

Anyway, many of you will know that my degree is in Medieval studies. What I really studied was early music and literature. I read Chaucer and Song of Roland and Spencer and Milton and Shakespeare and Chretien de Troyes and pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. (OK, that’s not entirely true. I’ve had “Piers Plowman” sitting on my bookshelf since Jr. Year and I still can’t bring myself to read it.)

During this whole time I idly wondered how these brilliant writers of yore shared this vast and unified command of Greek mythology. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton … they all refer to the same pantheon and clearly expect their readers to be familiar as well. They didn’t have Bullfinches mythology. (Where did that come from anyway?) They didn’t have some Greek Bible laying out the theology. They had some Aristotle and his philosiphia… basically, I idly wondered for a long time about this but never bothered to think hard about it or, you know, look it up or ask someone.

I suspect you see where this is going.



I really should’ve known that.

What about you? What’s something that played an important role in an area where you are theoretically an expert, but you just never figured out some incredibly obvious connection? Have you ever had something like this crop up with you?

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

John Keats