Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Second Thursday Thirteen (with a Bit of a Caddie Woodlawn Theme)

I have a lot of great memes to catch up on, most importantly the poetry meme, for which I was tagged by Bikeprof. Not that the others aren’t important, but I’m going to be meeting him (lucky me! This means I’ll also be meeting Dorothy) for the first time next weekend, and well, to be blunt about it, I want him to like me. Ignoring a “tag” doesn’t seem like a very good way to accomplish this goal. However, before he tagged me, I promised a Thursday 13 of children’s classics to read in 2007 to accompany my Thursday 13 of adult classics, and it’s Thursday, and I’m sure everyone’s been waiting around with bated breath for this list, so the poetry meme will have to wait a tad bit longer. Here’s my list:

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
My aunt gave this book to me as a gift, but for some reason, I wasn’t interested in it as a kid. I never got past the first ten pages or so. I thought I’d see if I can at least make it to page 11 at this point in my life. Besides, it sounds like a really good book.

Diddie, Dumps and Tot by Louise Clarke Pyrnelle. A completely un-politically correct book (whose subtitle is Or Plantation Child Life). I remember my sisters enjoying it when we were young, but I don’t recall ever reading it myself. I’m very interested in it now from a historical point of view.

Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers
I read it when I was around the daughter’s age. Time to read it now that I’m around the mother’s age to see how my perspective has changed, don’t you think?

The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame. I’ve never read anything by Grahame other than The Wind in the Willows, and this one has the added bonus of being illustrated by Ernest Shepherd. How can one go wrong? (If you’ve read it, and are so inclined to do so, please don’t disillusion me before I get a chance to read it by telling me how wrong, actually, one can go.)

Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge
I’ve never read this one and don’t really know anything about it except that it involves some silver skates, and I love ice skating.

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I’ve been reading Doreen by Barbara Noble which is bringing this one to mind. I want to see if the connection is as strong as I think it is.

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes
I adored Estes when I was a kid and probably re-read this one dozens of times. I’m positive I had excellent taste back then (despite my inability to get through Caddie Woodlawn) and will enjoy it just as much this go-round.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O’Brien
I’ve never read this. I wasn’t a big fan of Newberry Medal winners (Caddie Woodlawn being a prime example) when I was young. I’m still not sure I am, so this will be a test. Anyone else experience this bias against the award? It always seemed to me the awards were very often given to books that didn’t really seem to understand children, but were, rather, ideas of what adults thought children should like with maybe a little too much moralizing to boot. Even those chosen that were written by my favorite authors tended to be ones by those authors I always considered different and not quite as good (I mean, Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright, who wrote all those far-better Melendy family books? Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw?) I’ve liked some, though (like A Wrinkle in Time, which almost made it onto this list), so we’ll see.

Stuart Little by E.B. White
Believe it or not, I’ve never read this one. When I was young, I couldn’t get through Charlotte’s Web, because my sister gleefully informed me when I was barely into it (still wobbly over the trauma of Wilbur’s near-death for the crime of being the runt of the litter), that Charlotte died, and that was it for me. I finally read it a few years ago, loved it, and now it’s high time for this one.

Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes
My introduction to professional theater was a performance of this in London when I was eight, I think. I've never read the book, though. It'll be a nice excuse for me to go back and re-read some of the Flashman books, which I loved when I read them a while back (and new ones have been published since then, to dismal reviews, of course) when I'm done.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
I wept over this while reading it at age 13 (I vividly remember doing so while lying on the living room couch in one of the homes where I frequently babysat. I can't believe I babysat at this age, but I began that "career" at age 12). I'm hoping it will have the same effect at this point in my life at some point when I'm feeling in need of a good cry. Also, I'm often recommending this book to friends of mine when they're looking for gifts for girls who are around age 13. I ought to make sure I still really think it's an appropriate gift.

Under the Lilacs by Louisa May Alcott
Because I’ve got to have one by her, and this is one I don’t remember reading more than once, even though I loved it.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I just grabbed all the Oz books, which I clearly remember helping me get through some horrible childhood bout with the flu, off my parents’ shelves when I was at their place for Thanksgiving. Good idea to start with the first one, and I know what I’ll be reading this winter when I get my yearly cold.

Anyone want to join me in reading thirteen children’s classics in 2007? If so, I’d love to hear what you’ll be reading.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fourth Thing You May Not Know about Me

Bob and I are hopelessly about ten years behind everyone else when it comes to watching movies, so we only just recently saw The Cider House Rules. In fairness, this one took a while, because he read and I re-read it for a book discussion group we were both in circa 1998. Putting a distance of nearly ten years between reading a book and seeing the movie can turn a horrible movie that didn’t come close to doing justice to the book into a terrific movie.

Neither Bob nor I has ever had any strong yearning to be a parent, but this movie reminded me why I’m so glad we don’t live anywhere near a Chinese or Romanian orphanage. I can just picture Bob volunteering to share vegetables from our garden and dragging me along to deliver them. We’d enter as a pair and exit as an instant family of fourteen. The children in the movie so hopefully trying to make themselves as presentable as possible every time a fancy car drives up the drive broke our hearts.

These soft hearts of ours are not limited to unwanted children. Rudolph's (of red-nosed fame) Island of Misfit Toys breaks our hearts, too. We’ve discovered that as children, we were both traumatized by such books as The Yearling. When we finally decided to adopt a dog, we had to turn to the classifieds. A trip to an animal shelter would have required the purchase of a farm.

So, you may very well wonder why we aren’t vegetarians. After all, when we saw Babe, we gave up eating bacon and ham for months. And I can promise you, one movie we won’t be seeing is Fast Food Nation.

Truth be told, we have no, good, rational reason for being omnivores, except that, on occasion, we really like a good hamburger; we’re no good at drawing lines; and we find it too difficult. I know, to some, saying I like a good hamburger is like saying I love a good baby’s foot, but I know myself well enough to admit if I’d been born and raised in a cannibalistic society, I’m sure I’d enjoy a good baby’s foot just as much as the other guy.

I also know saying it’s too difficult to be a vegetarian is a pathetic excuse, especially for someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, and who’s been known to spend whole days making such things as pesto ravioli. I mean, suppose someone stood up in a courtroom and said, “I’m sorry, Your Honor, but it was just too difficult not to kill my neighbor who liked to get up on Saturday mornings at 6:30 and rake and blow his leaves.”

I wish I could plead ignorance when it comes to the subject of vegetarianism, but I can’t. I edited an entire encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare. A different sort of person would have sworn off meat the minute she turned over the last page of the manuscript and laid down her colored pencil. I’ve often been described as being “different.” Must be in one of those callous sort of ways.

One of my lame arguments for eating meat is that animal species of all kinds have to kill in order to survive. And if some have to die in order for others to live, I’m not sure we should only be concerned with dying animals. What about the carrots that get yanked up out of their nice, cozy, dirt homes to be set on dinner plates long before they would have decayed naturally? Why should trees have to suffer the indecency of having apples and pears plucked from their branches? If we think it’s so horrible to raise chickens for the sole purpose of killing and eating them, why don’t we extend that sympathy to potatoes?

I have friends who would say, “Because vegetables can’t feel pain.” These are the same friends who will claim it’s “speciesist” to assume turtles don’t love their children just as much as humans do merely because turtles just lay a bunch of eggs and then desert them to fend for themselves. Well, it seems pretty “speciesist” to me to assume plants don’t feel pain just because they don’t have a nervous system. Tomato plants don’t have mouths for drinking water, but they still need water to live. But, then again, let me remind you that this argument is coming from a woman who was as appalled by the carnage of Christmas trees on a truck she passed headed South over the Thanksgiving holiday as she was by the truck full of baby cows.

Here’s another difficulty with my trying to become a vegetarian: I can’t do anything halfway. Therefore, I’d have to become a vegan. You realize, in this day and age, the only way truly to be a vegan is to move to a hut in the middle of the Amazon somewhere, living solely off the land, hoping you occasionally come across some sort of animal that’s died of natural causes to provide you with some clothing. Being a vegan in America would require massive amounts of research with every purchase, since every single company is quickly being gobbled up by one megalithic corporation that owns everything.

A true vegan can’t just walk into a store (even an independently-owned-and-run store, if she can find such a thing) and buy a pen. Sure, the pen may have been manufactured by the innocent-sounding Wet Ink, Co. However, Wet Ink is owned by Only Publisher Inc., which was just bought by Last Tractors Left Manufacturers, whose parent company is We Torture, Maim, and Kill Cows Brothers.

So, yes I eat meat. And, yes, I’m ashamed of the fact. However, as Bob recently noted, “Look, if we gave up red meat, you and I would be confronted with some new movie called Cluck: The Story of the Sad, Unwanted Chicken. Then we’d give up chicken and along would come Stalk: The Celery that Longed for Friends." Really, the most difficult thing for us is just to survive while feeling sorry for everything we eat. I'm amazed we manage to eat anything at all.

Meanwhile, I will note that we buy organic and humanely, sustainably-raised food. I draw the line at knowingly buying factory-farmed dead animals. Also, I have a burning question for the vegetarians: what about all those poor rabbits, moles, field mice, insects, etc. whose homes are destroyed and who die hideous deaths at the helm of farm equipment, just so humans can plant rows and rows of vegetables whose sole purpose for living is to provide us with food?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Meme

I have a lot I want to write about, and I still need to finish those things you may not know about me, but I'm discovering a few great memes that have been going around, so I've decided to do one of them today. Thank you to the person who created this fun one.

1. How old were you when you learned to read, and who taught you? I was an extremely boring child -- and have been a late bloomer all my life -- who was in first grade when I learned how to read. Thus, my first grade teacher, a man who made Hitler look like a gentle little bunny rabbit, taught me. I figure this is a testament to how eager I was to learn to read, because it’s amazing I managed to learn anything living in terror as I did.
2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what was the first one you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles you borrowed from the library? This is like asking me if I owned any underwear when I was a child. However, there’s one book I checked out of the library over and over again, which, for some odd reason, I never actually owned: Corduroy by Don Freeman.
3. What is the first book you bought with your own money? I don’t know. I do know that the most exciting thing on the planet was waiting for and receiving those brown packages from Scholastic Books, a most-wonderful experience, still probably better even than things like receiving my first kiss or getting my first promotion that’s replicated today by boxes from Amazon and Powells.
4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often? Absolutely. I re-read everything (ahhh, those glorious days when I hadn’t a clue there was so little time to read all the books in the world). I probably read The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright most often.
5. What's the first adult book that captured your interest, and how old were you when you read it? Lots of adult books captured my interest before this, but the one that really truly moved me away from children’s and young adult’s literature and into the world of contemporary adult literature was The World According to Garp by John Irving.
6. Are there children's books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? I can’t think of any. I’ve discovered lots of children’s books I love (like those by Alan Garner) that I didn’t know existed as a child, but I’m pretty sure I would have loved them then as well. As an adult, with the exception of authors who didn’t exist when I was a child like J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket, I’ve tended to re-read childhood favorites when I read children’s literature.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How to Survive the Loss of a Loved One

1. Rent the movie My Dog Skip, especially if you’re the sort who never seems to cry when it’s appropriate, and everyone keeps telling you how important it is for you to cry. You’d have to be the most callous person on earth not to cry enough to fill a reservoir while watching this film. Extraordinarily cathartic.

2. Read Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. This will be the only time you’ll ever be able to make it to the end of this well-conceived, but oh-so-poorly-executed novel. For some unknown reason, you’ll really want to make it to the end. And one of the greatest comforts you’ll experience during this time is the knowledge you could’ve taken the same idea and done it so much better.

3. If you don’t already have it, subscribe to caller i.d. During times like these, you really can’t be held responsible for the sorts of things you might say to someone calling to ask you to do a telephone survey about the hospitals in your area (I’m not kidding. Yes, SNL skits immediately came to mind when I received this call). If it’s an unknown caller, even on your business line (after all, if it’s a business line, you’ve got voice mail) DO NOT answer the phone.

4. Start making friends now with someone who will be willing to cook comfort food for you. If you’re someone who hates to cook, you’ve already done this. If you’re someone who loves to cook, you’ll be surprised how you lose your capacity even to make toast and spread some peanut butter on it.

5. Speaking of food, get yourself some Xanax, or some similar type of drug. You’re going to need it to control your urge to punch out every single person who keeps telling you how important it is to eat, since your appetite will have gone off to some deep, dark crawl space under the house where no one’s ever been and where none of these well-meaning people is ever likely to go to help retrieve him for you.

6. Surround yourself with as many people as possible who are willing to tell funny stories about your loved one. Avoid those who are nothing but doom and gloom. This is the most sane way to survive the whole ordeal.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Prodigal Sense of Humor

She has returned! Actually, she returned the other night, but I wasn’t completely convinced she was really here. I was busy doing dishes, a task I hate, thinking about all the miseries of the past week – dealing with doctors and hospitals, planning a funeral for a man who didn’t want one, dealing with a husband who’s too “strong” for his own good when I know perfectly well what’s going on inside him, trying to lose myself in work – when she crept up behind me.

I wasn’t sure who it was until she got me thinking along some very odd lines. Most of these thoughts centered around how all of this could be turned into some great comedic skits. Not right now. And certainly not representing my own family members. But some day, with characters I’d never met, I could maybe find myself rolling on the floor with laughter over the “too-strong husband and his desperately-wishing-he’d-let-go-and-let-her-be-the-strong-one wife.” Then, yesterday, when I found myself imagining even more comedic scenes and even emailing such thoughts to a friend, I realized she really, truly was back!

I, of course, ran to her and hugged and kissed her. I didn’t know where she’d been, but she just looked so bedraggled and forlorn. It was such a shame to see her looking like death – she’s usually the only one I can count on to always be so full of life.
I ordered the servants to bring her the best clothes, give her a ring for her finger (hell, give her the best diamond and emerald ring we could find).

I almost ordered the servants to produce a fatted calf. Then I remembered I don’t eat baby animals. Instead, I was inspired for the first time in days to turn on the stove where I cooked up her favorite comfort meal, a meal that’s ludicrous in how ridiculous it sounds in its simplicity, but how satisfying it can be at the right time: baked beans with chopped onion topped with fried egg. It was a meal worthy of someone who’d come home after a long and hard journey.

Of course Sense of Dread and Despair, her older sister, had been busy vacuuming and dusting and cleaning out closets. When D and D heard the laughter and smelled the baked beans, she demanded of the servants to know what was happening. When the servants explained her younger sister had come home, D and D threw herself on the bed and refused to come downstairs to join us in our celebration.

I had to go up and coax her to join us. She complained that for years she’d worked for me like a slave, that she’d toiled away at trying to consume my entire mind, that she’d always done everything I’d ever asked of her: helped me imagine worst-case scenarios, encouraged me to argue with others, made me feel worthless when I needed it. She pointed out that Humor has wasted my time on frivolous matters, caused me to take life less seriously, encouraged me to imagine episodes during life’s most tragic moments.

I replied, “Dear daughter, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours. But we should be glad and celebrate! Your sister was dead, but she is now alive. She was lost and has now been found.”

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Life, Interrupted

Bob's father died somewhat unexpectedly last night of a sudden-onset pneumonia. As I could have predicted, my sense of humor immediately took off on some sort of world tour. Don't worry. She will return; she always does; and when she does, I'll be back in the blogosphere. Temporarily, though, I will be taking a break from posting.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

As usual (I must have had my head buried in a book or something), I wasn’t paying attention in class. As a result, I'm not very clear on the assignment. I've come up with one of my own instead, which I think combines some five different challenges/memes/interesting ideas: a Thursday Thirteen List of Thirteen Classics to Read in 2007.

The first rule I gave myself when composing this list was stolen from one of the winter reading challenges, this rule being that I wasn’t allowed to use this list as an excuse to go on a shopping spree at Amazon. I had to choose books that Bob and I already have in our collection. The second rule I gave myself is one I don’t think anyone is doing yet, but I’m probably wrong. This rule was that the list was to be as representative of as many places around the world as I could make it while sticking to rule number one.

One of my biggest problems was trying to choose between adult classics and children’s classics (many of which I’d like to re-read, as I haven’t read them since I was twelve or so, and many which I’ve never read and would like to). I finally decided I’d have two lists: thirteen adult books and thirteen children’s books (the latter will stick to rule #1, but not rule #2. Our children’s book collection, although large for two adults who don’t have children, can’t compare to our adult book collection and just isn’t all that cosmopolitan). This Thursday I’m giving you the adult list. Next Thursday will be the children’s lists.

So, here’s what I’ve got on the adult list and why:

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, because this book practically meets criteria #2 all on its own: Trinidadian author of Hindu parents writing about an Indian living in a newly-independent African nation.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, because Bob talks about this one so much I really just need finally to read it. Besides, although I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s one of my favorite books (that term is reserved for such comfort reads as I Capture the Castle or those that get me rolling on the floor with laughter like Three Men in a Boat), Crime and Punishment is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read, and it took me forever to get around to reading it as well.

Bread and Wine by Ignacio Silano, because it’s extraordinarily pathetic how little I know about Italy and Italian literature. Of course, reading this book is just going to highlight my ignorance even more, but perhaps I’ll learn something along the way.

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, because back when Bob was also working in the publishing industry he picked up a beautiful Modern Library edition of this book. His father read it and raved about it. I’ve been wanting to read it ever since, but, somehow can’t quite seem ever to get around to it.

A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin, because you could accuse me of shamelessly picking a book by its cover if you could see this 3-volume set decorated with Chinese watercolors that Bob picked up in China years before he met me. However, I also read about this when I was reading Jung Chang’s Wild Swans this past summer and decided I really wanted to read it then.

Faust by Johann Wolfgang won Goethe, because not having read this is like not having read The Bible when it comes to reading and trying to discuss so much literature that’s been written since.

The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because I absolutely love One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera (one of the few adult books I’ve read more than twice in my life), but I’ve never read anything else by Garcia Marquez.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, because (as I’ve mentioned somewhere before), I’ve been meaning to read Le Miserables forever, but always find it too daunting. Thought I’d start with this shorter work and see if it inspires me further to tackle Le Miserables.

The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, because I started it years ago, and though I really liked it, for some reason, never got through it. I want fnally to get through it.

Lorna Doone by Richard D. Blackmoore, because there’s a funny (which may turn out not to be so funny once I’ve read it) story as to why we have this book, which I’ll write about at some other point.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, because doesn’t everyone read this in high school? I must have been absent that week or something…

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, because, yes, I do read cookbooks cover-to-cover, but this one has always seemed a little scary. I’ve been buoyed, however, by having read Julie and Julia in 2006. After all, she read and cooked her way through it. I’m just going to read it.

Now, if you don’t hear from me for weeks on end, it’s because I’ll be reading. To be a little more precise here, I’ll be reading about 7000 pages, and we haven’t even gotten to the children’s books (not to mention everything else I’ll be reading for my two book discussion groups and from my TBR list, which has grown – and keeps growing – at an exponential rate, thanks to all of you). And, although, at this point, I don’t plan to devote an entire post to each book, I will let you know from time-to-time how it’s going and what I think of my choices.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Third Thing You May Not Know About Me

Well, my past two posts have been on religion and politics. My father, when I was young, told me one should always avoid three topics of conversation when in mixed company: religion, politics, and sex. Then I’d eavesdrop on “grownup” conversations and discover these three topics almost always came up, especially when my father was contributing to the discussion. I thought about posting today on sex, just to complete the set, and I probably could do so, given that the third thing you may not know about me is that I don’t believe blonds have more fun. However, I came to the conclusion, as this post was writing itself in my head over the past two days, that it was really becoming something about sexism (sorry to disappoint all those of you who may have found me with a “blonds and sex” google trap – as The Hobgoblin would call it), but it isn’t even really that. All it really is is a bit of a rant, so excuse me for a moment, while this angelic, sweet, little, golden-haired girl shocks you by being rotten.

I’ve been a natural blond since the age of five or so. Before that, I had copper red hair, as all three of my siblings did when we were that age. Theirs all went darker and/or stayed red. I’m the only one who’s hair turned blond (although when my brother and one of my sisters spent time living in South Africa, they both came home with hair as blond as mine). I promise you, to be a little red-headed pre-schooler is great fun, much more fun than being a blond woman in our society. For some reason, American adults just seem to eat up red-headed babies. In the days before I became a blond, my life was full of people playing with me all the time, cuddling me, feeding me all kinds of good stuff, and giving me lots of attention. Then I turned blond, had to go to school, and it was all downhill from there.

I often wonder, which blonds have more fun? It must be the males, because the blond females I know don’t seem to be having it any more than anyone else. First of all, most natural blonds, except for those extraordinarily lucky dogs whose blond locks happen to be curly (can you tell I’m not one of those?), tend to have hair that never becomes full and lustrous (ever notice how all the models for shampoo meant to bolster “fine, limp” hair are all blond?), but rather, remains as baby fine as mine was when it was red. This means, when worn long, it looks like it consists of about two strands. When cut short, a woman looks like Sinead O’Connor back in the days when she was tearing up pictures of popes, with the exception that she could pull it off (I promise you, my head in a bald state is not a pretty thing).

I also happen to be blessed not only with fine, limp blond hair, but Nicole-Kidman-like skin (you know, the kind that burns if you just look out the window and say, “Oh, it looks like a sunny day today”), which looks really good when paired with red hair a la Kidman, but makes people think of evil albino killers in movies when paired with blond hair. I can promise you it isn’t fun having to spend a fortune on sunscreen (a substance that rivals gold in expense), and constantly having to apply it and reapply it all day long sort of takes some of the fun out of scuba diving vacations in the Caribbean.

And then there’s the whole “dumb blond” thing. Ever notice it’s almost always females who are dumb, ditzy blonds, rarely males? I have many, many “un-fun” moments being a blond female, especially when I do something like go to a car mechanic or ask for help at a hardware store (maybe this is why I’ve never understood the old joke of men never asking for directions. I must be one of the few females in the world who despises asking for directions and who has a husband who has no problem whatsoever doing so. Good thing, or we’d never get anywhere). I have absolutely no idea why the color of one’s hair should have anything to do with intelligence. When you take a look at all those Scandinavian countries from which the blond heads come, I’m quite sure you’d be hard-pressed to find many dumb people.

I have two strikes against me, actually, as far as people assuming I’m dumb. Not only am I blond, but I also happen to be Southern. It’s very interesting to me how Northeasterners will blather on about how extraordinarily prejudiced Southerners are, and yet, they have no problem also talking about how dumb Southerners are. Excuse me, but it seems pretty dumb to call people prejudiced and then to make prejudiced statements about them. You wouldn’t catch this blond doing that.

I can hear you asking, “Well, why don’t you just dye your hair?” Very simple answer: I’m someone who barely has the time and patience to comb my hair, let alone have to worry about touch-ups and hair appointments (talk about not having fun). And God forbid if I were to try doing it myself (which would probably result in some odd purple color that even a teenager wouldn’t be caught dead sporting).

Thus, you have it: somebody out there’s having much more fun than I am, and I resent it, because, even though I’m not supposed to be dumb or ditzy, all that fun is supposed to be mine.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

An Election-Day Interruption

Today, I'm interrupting my expansion on five things you may not know about me to give you a sixth:

6. I believe that if you're an American citizen, and you don't vote, you have absolutely no right to complain about what happens in this country.

Therefore, if you're not out there voting today, for whatever reason, that's fine, no problem. But if I run into you somewhere (on the street, on my blog, on your own blog) complaining in six months, I'm not going to be the least bit sympathetic.

Don't equate protest with apathy. This country wasn't founded by a bunch of people who decided to sit around at home and complain about the tyrannies of dictators. No. They protested. They uprooted themselves for change. They risked life and limb for change. All we ask of people today is to drive over to your nearest voting booth and to cast a few votes. And if, no matter how much you might think this country is going to hell in a handbucket, you don't happen to think you're extraordinarily lucky, then get out and go talk to some recent immigrants from Mexico or Cuba (find out why they're so willing to cross into this country illegally) . Or rent Hotel Rwanda and watch it. Or do a little research and find out about the terrors of the Taliban. Or go visit Ellis Island. It will give you a whole new perspective on our country. And if you're not registered to vote, then get out there and do so now, before the next election.

Meanwhile, I'll see the rest of you at the voting booth.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Second Thing You May Not Know about Me

Although I grew up believing in God (it’s nearly impossible to grow up in the American South and not to be affected by religion, sort of tantamount to growing up in China and never tasting rice), I went through a period in which I truly, truly had doubts about this belief. During that time, if you’d asked me, I probably would have said, “Well, I’m not sure I’m an atheist, but I don’t know. Maybe I’m an agnostic.” Then, sometime in my late twenties and early thirties, I decided there was just way too much in this world that people couldn’t explain, mysteries that filled me with wonder, things that helped me tap back into the joy of being a child and not caring that I didn’t know everything, accepting that not everything had an explanation that I had to know just yet. I’m sorry. Science is amazing, and I love it, but it can’t answer all the questions someone with an imagination like mine poses. I still want explanations to be there somewhere, though, and believing in a God who has them just makes sense to me. Believing in a God who has them, is a loving parental figure, and who will care for this child who needs guidance in a world she loves but can’t understand makes even more sense to me. Here are some other things I do and don’t believe pertaining to this.

I believe in:

1. the Trinity. After all, I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have many, many facets to his/her being. Why should God only have one? Although I don’t believe God has a gender, it’s hard for me truly to imagine a genderless being. God, as presented in The Bible, strikes me as more of a father figure than a mother figure. The Holy Spirit strikes me as being feminine, so I call God “he” and the Holy Spirit “she.”

2. trying to live life the way Christ taught us to live it. The first time I read The New Testament all the way through I was blown away by how much of what Jesus taught is what modern-day psychologists tout as the secret to good mental health. Think about it. Talk to a psychologist about the need to forgive in order to feel at peace, the need to simplify one’s life, how unhealthy worry is. If Freud had lived in 30 A.D. and had seen sinners casting stones at another sinner, he would have called it “reaction formation.” It’s the same thing, though.

3. God has a fabulous sense of humor, that he had lots of fun creating the world, and that, like a novelist, he’s constantly amazed by the things his creations choose to do – sometimes they make him laugh and sometimes they make him cry.

4. that if you look long and hard enough, you can find passages in The Bible (especially when taken out of context) to support any argument you want to make. That’s what makes it such a magical, but also extraordinarily dangerous, text.

5. love really does conquer all, which is why it’s at the core of all the major religions to which I’ve been exposed.

I don’t believe:

1. in a literal interpretation of The Bible. Although much of The Bible is historical (and is rich in historical detail), it’s history as told through the eyes of one population of people. As such, it’s flawed. The rest of it is myth and legend (or call it “fiction” if you want). But, then, I believe much more truth is found in fiction than in nonfiction, and how can I not love a God who speaks to us through fiction and metaphor? I will note a couple of the reasons I think The Bible is so very, very cool. If you read the first (for those of you unfamiliar with Genesis, there are actually two) creation story in Genesis close enough, keeping in mind that we have no idea how long a “day” could possibly have been before there were humans defining it, it lays out a very neat argument for the theory of evolution. And Jacob was experimenting with some pretty interesting early biotechnology when he was raising sheep.

2. God sweats the small stuff at all. He’s got way more important things to worry about than whether or not I swear up a storm or drink a glass of wine with dinner or if two women who love each other pledge to take care of each other for the rest of their lives and would like to have the same legal rights as a man and a woman who decide to do the same thing. However, I’m pretty sure he cries buckets over the fact that so many wars have been fought in his name; that we do so much to destroy his creation; that no matter what he does, we don’t seem to be able to live peacefully together; and that so many of us have so much and share it with so few.

3. this life is just a weigh station, a place to prove ourselves worthy or unworthy of some sort of reward in an afterlife. I definitely believe in an afterlife, but I’m not sure exactly what that means. One thing I’m pretty confident about, though, is that if I could learn to live life the way Christ taught us to live it, I’d be “self-actualized” and would find a peaceful heaven right here on earth.

4. Christianity is the one and only way to know God. It’s what works for me, and I’m fully-aware of the fact that 90% of the reason it works for me is probably because it’s the faith in which I was raised. Because I don’t believe it’s the only way, I absolutely, positively believe in the separation of Church and State. This does not mean I believe politics should be left out in the parking lot when one walks through the doors of a church. Jesus was nothing if he wasn’t political. Oh yes, and I’m pretty sure God isn’t too pleased with that little “In God We Trust” you’ll find on American money (money! The love of which is the root of all evil. Has anyone else ever seen the irony in that?).

5. God thinks in black and white. That’s why he sent Jesus to say, “Well, yes, I know I told you not to work on the Sabbath, but use some common sense here. If by not working on the Sabbath, you’re doing harm to others, then, by all means, work on the Sabbath.” (I don’t think he expected these creatures he created to take everything so literally.)

6. The words “progressive” and “Christian” are antithetical. If he wasn’t the most, Jesus was at least one of the most progressive people of his time, encouraging extraordinarily radical change.

I used to be, because I associate with so many intellectuals in my line of work, one of those people who never talked about her Christian beliefs. The word “Christian” has come to have such negative connotations among the intellectuals I seem to know. Then I read the book Stealing Jesus by Bruce Bawer (written by a homosexual Christian. Horrors!), and I found myself thinking “Dammit (God especially doesn’t sweat it when I swear on his behalf), I’m going to stop hiding the fact I attend a wonderful, inspiring church full of terrific people and that I believe in the teachings of Christ. Maybe it will prove to others we’re not all out to condemn anyone and everyone who doesn’t follow some very rigid set of black-and-white rules, people who know we have all the answers, and who completely lack humor and humility."

Then, Bob went to Union Theological Seminary in New York, home to the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Neibuhr, as well as, more recently, James Cone, Ann Ulanov, and Larry Rasmussen. These are all intellectual giants, who leave my tiny little brain spinning. I find myself thinking, “I should be proud to be amongst these sorts of believers.” And I am (although being very aware that “pride goeth before a fall”).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Thing You May Not Know About Me

(Just a note before I get started: I’m talking about true spelling errors, here, not typos, which are something completely different.)

Once a year, or so, the editorial department at my educational publishing company gets together for an extended (2-or-3-day) meeting. Most of us are telecommuters, so it’s a chance for us all to see each other and to do some brainstorming together, as well as just to have some fun. I don’t want to turn this into a piece in which I do nothing but rhapsodize about my co-workers (although I easily could), but I do want to point out that these are some of the smartest and most-talented people I’ve met in my life, people who care passionately about what goes on in the classroom and how and what kids are/are not learning, as well as how we can make the classroom a better place for them. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this extraordinary group.

Now, what I want you to take away from that paragraph as you continue reading this post are these key words: "editorial" (we’re all editors, not actuaries or engineers), "educational publishing" (materials for educators, people who teach things like writing and spelling), "smartest" (as in "most-intelligent" not "best-dressed"). I want you to remember these words, because now I’m going to talk about spelling, specifically the fact I purposefully failed a written spelling test in seventh grade, because I didn’t want to participate in the state spelling bee. I will eventually get to talking about spelling and my colleagues, and I want those words fresh in your mind when I do.

Back in those test-failing days of mine, getting up in front of an audience just to take a bow was a fate I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy (same year, I also turned down a nomination to run for student government for the same reason: having to give a campaign speech). Getting up and spelling words I couldn’t even pronounce? Well, let’s just say I would rather have spent the night sleeping on Elm Street than do that. I successfully failed that first test and then began to worry I might be singled out again, though, if I weren’t careful. Thus began a campaign to keep this from happening. I spent about a year purposely mispelling "difficult" words, mimicking my classmates and the ways they spelled. I’ve got to hand it to the brain. It’s a very effective learning tool. After a year of this, it had completely learned how to be a bad speller. And then, of course, we went and lived in England for a while, where everything is spelled differently, and, well, let’s just say "hopeless" is another good word to remember when it comes to spelling and me.

The trouble is, no matter how hard I’ve tried to train it back, my brain has never reverted to its previous "good-speller" state. By the time I was in college, I was more horrified by the fact I was such a poor speller compared to my classmates (I went to one of those highly-competitive schools where these sorts of petty things were really important to people) than I ever would have been by the thought of delivering a presentation to an audience, but it was too late. I’d messed around with it enough, and my brain was thinking, "Yeah, right. Turn me into a good speller again, and then in a couple of years, you’ll want me to go back to spelling recommend with two "c’s." Forget it. You had your chance back before the Broca’s Area was fully developed, and you blew it. I’m getting old. I’m too tired for all that work, especially since you’ve been systematically killing off so many of my cells while here."

Then, of course, I began working in publishing. I mean, "bad speller" isn’t exactly what springs to mind when someone thinks "editor." Does an author want an editor who can’t spell? Does an editor really want an author correcting her spelling? And, really, there is absolutely nothing more smug and annoying than a fellow editor (or worse, someone who’s not in the editorial department) editing your emails, which, believe it or not, some take great glee in doing. Thank God for spell check, but we all know (as one of my colleagues can attest, because she was once trying to tell us all there were pastries in the kitchen and to help ourselves, but she made one very unfortunate letter omission in the word "pastries"), it isn’t 100% reliable. Still, it’s helped me tremendously over the past ten years.

Flashback to last week (and pull out those key words now): we’re eating pizza and drinking wine the night before the first day of our meeting, and one of my colleagues announces that the ability to spell is just one of those gifts people are either born with or not, and it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. After all these years of being made to feel stupid, because I struggle with "i before e, or e before i," here was someone ("most-intelligent" not "best-dressed") announcing that the two had nothing to do with each other. Forward ahead to the next night, sitting around another dinner table with even more of my colleagues gathered, and the conversation turned to what a bad speller everyone is; this group (editors, not actuaries or engineers) all (materials for educators, people who teach things like writing and spelling) agreed that spelling isn’t so important. And you’ve never heard such a roaring endorsement for spell check (although not quite as highly from the colleague who made that unfortunate missing letter mistake).

Can you imagine? I managed to grow so much smarter in just two nights. Is it any wonder I’m so fond of my colleagues?