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Archive for September, 2009

Goddess Grate

I still pray before eating when I sit at a table. When I eat in front of the tv I sometimes dive right into my food.

My life has changed so much in the last 39 years. I’m nowhere near what I thought I would be when I was younger but the person I am is far better than I could have hoped. By ‘better’ I mean ‘happier’ and ‘more contented’.

I grew up in a family where the meals were taken together at a table. You did not miss a meal unless you were so sick you couldn’t walk to the kitchen. Before every meal one of the four of us kids would be delegated to say that go-round’s blessing. By the time we were six or seven we were expected to come up with something unique to us. Until then the pray-er would be allowed to say grace using this sing-song prayer:

God is great
God is good
Let us thank Him
For this food. Amen

As liturgies go it’s a fine one. Theologically sound, it captures the Almighty’s omniscience and benevolence. It teaches us gratitude and cements the idea of God as the ultimate provider. But I’ve heard that prayer so many times, said so hurriedly before tacos and slowly before meatloaf that I don’t often think of the words anymore. Even back then as a child it became known as ‘the lazy prayer’, with my parents telling us we had to say “more than godisgreat”, because that was how the prayer was known in our house. All one word like that, run together.

This is the harvest time now. Yom Kippur and Samhain and Sukkot and all the other rituals whereby we remember that the mundane things like the food we eat are the steam left on this earth by the breath of something greater than us. We subsist day to day because of the share we take in things beyond our control. Even if you are atheist you at some point come to the realisation that weather and time are outside human ability and have great effect on what is there for our consuming. As a Christian I like very much the idea that I can freely talk with and meditate upon That Who Is Greater than the greatest forces of this earth. Storms and flood and fire can ruin us, but all those are less than this God who exists beyond all things.

An old friend in remission from cancer once wrote me a thing that only those who are ill for a long time can truly comprehend fully. That in these hard dark times there is something wonderful about the closer a person can grow toward the almighty. It’s true. In that way this sickness is a remarkable gift, a chance to spend time in conversation with the I Am. To move beyond the singsong rhyme of liturgy into a higher and closer walk.

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The Lost Symbol: A Review

A few days ago I decided to write my reactions to Dan Brown’s latest novel while I read the book. Those more detailed notes deal with my reactions to certain philosophies and plot points as I encountered them. It was my version of yelling back at the tv.

This much shorter review is my take on the book as a whole.

If you enjoy ‘Lost’ or fast-paced thrillers a la Jeffrey Deaver and Clive Cussler, chances are this book may be a nice way to kill an afternoon at the beach or a long layover in Cleveland. It’s got quite a few gotchas that move you through the story.

Once the story gets underway, that is.

Dan Brown’s books come in two parts. There’s the thriller element that puts an unlikely hero in a series of unlikelier breakneck situations, propelled from behind by powerful forces. Then there’s the Pop Philosophy 101 element drawing the hero and reader alike to progress through the esoteric symbology through to greater understanding. The book is at it’s best when it combines both elements in equal part. Unfortunately it is often unbearably uneven. Tedious explanations about Masonic ritual and lore weigh down the first quarter of the story. Later on the narrative suffers from overlong chase scenes which suffer from a lack of framing. (I call it the X-files Problem. If your audience has no idea how the building or ship or city is laid out, they can’t visualize or contextualise the progress of the heroes and villains.)

But there are plenty of pages to suck you into this world where intellect fuels the engine of desire. Those parts salvage the book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to relive the Dan Brown Experience.

Sadly the most striking lesson to take away from The Lost Symbol is that marketing is the current ruler in the publishing universe. I’ve read scores of books along the same speculative lines as Brown. They’re better-written and more fun to read. The only thing they lack is a multimillion dollar ad campaign.

So while I think this average book may be a fun way to pass the time I recommend you also try Umberto Eco, Charles Palliser, the non-sigma James Rollins, Neal Stephenson and Michael Gruber for starters.

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Shortcomings

I’m still doing my blogging via iPhone. It’s like sewing by hand. The stitches aren’t as precise and a previously simple task takes forever.

I can’t ‘more’ tag the last article and don’t like how much space it takes up. You’d think the WordPress For Iphone app would support HTML commands. There’s likely some reason beyond my ken that it doesn’t. But still. I remain dissatisfied.

Yes, I’m still slogging thru Brown. Even at 42% of the way thru the book I see his big twist as obviously as if he had sent me an email about it.

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My computer and I have both spent the last two weeks running more erratically, taking longer to get things done and enexplicably shutting down.

The computer went to MacAuthority. I went to Amazon and bought a book to pass the time until my next tune up at Vanderbilt Rheumatology of Cool Springs.

I figured–erroneously–that the latest Dan Brown page turner would be good for taking my mind off things. Seeing as how after a week with the book languishing on my Kindle I am STILL only 21% of the way thru…

I need a place to vent while I read this book. I can’t keep sending nm and bridgett and Aunt B snarky emails every 5 minutes and if I did this on Twitter I’d lose the seventeen followers I have left after that one time I tweeted about my nudity.

So I’m hunting and pecking away this blog entry on my trusty MacPacifier, the iPhone. Look for frequent updates.

1. I should start off by clarifying that brown’s book is basically a primer of stuff I’ve read literally HUNDREDS of scholarly books and papers about. So I’m coming at this the way my Dad would watch LA Law when I was a kid.

2. 13% We Meet Katherine Solomon & Are Introduced To Noetic Science

I wonder if Eckhardt Toile and that woman who wrote The Secret will sue for plaigarism. Because that’s all this stuff is. Then as I think about it it’s more like the Mood Slime business in Ghostbusters 2 where the bad thoughts of all the New Yorkers brought the demon back to life. At least Ramis & Co realised the humour in it. This business where Katherine Solomon’s ‘loving thoughts’ make water freeze into pretty, ordered crystals is ludicrously funny, but Brown treats it as the hope for mankind.

Come to think of it, this also owes a not small debt to L Ron Hubbard.

3. 21% Good Things Come In Small Packages

I’m a nosy person. If anyone gave me anything in a sealed package for safekeeping the FIRST thing I’d do is open it. This comes from growing up watching Miami Vice and Godfather II.

Also, I’m getting sick of reading about how well Dr. Robert Langdon has stayed in shape. Do men over 40 really spend this much time telling other men how good they look? Men over 40 who ARENT meeting in bathroom stalls at rest areas?!?

4. 29% Story Progresses Subserviently To Selectively Stupid

I was trying to just let this go, but I can’t. The Bad Guy goes by the psuedonym of Dr. Christopher Abaddon.

I don’t expect that to raise a single red flag for most people. But according to Brown, his heroes have had miles more classical education than I have. And even I can tell you that when I hear or read the name “Christopher Abaddon” it is like meeting a guy who calls himself Goody McEvilson.

“abaddon” was originally ‘the place of destruction’ and then later came to also be the name of the demon who guarded that place. So calling yourself ‘Mr Abaddon’ is like saying ‘Hi, I’m Hell’s chief demon.’

If I, a philosophy major and middle-class autodidact knows that, don’t you think a 33rd degree mason who has studied the Zohar in its entirety would catch on? And maybe not ask the dude in for tea?!

5. BOOBS

From the first minute I saw IIIX885 I yelled ‘Turn it upside down’. You see, I didn’t need any fancy nonsense about Runes and mixed symbology and the history of Arabic numbers.

Because when I was in third grade all the guys were typing ’58008′ in their Casio watches and turning them upside down to chase us girls on the playground and make us read it outloud.

It spells BOOBS.

6. 39% A Book On Mysticism Fails To Even Attempt To Understand Christian Mystic Teaching

What fundamentally yoinks me about Brown is his patronizing tone. In assuming the position of a revered Harvard prof as his alter ego, he repeatedly uses the device of remembered Freshman lectures to bring his audience up to speed. While I agree that many Christians are not taught about classical thought and semiotics and therefore are unknowing about things like the rites of other faiths, that’s no excuse for an author to talk down to his audience.

When Brown tries to talk about CHRISTIAN mystics, he flat out gets it wrong.

In one passage he mistakes the directive of Luke 17:20 (the Kingdom of God is within you) entirely. Brown interprets that to mean that mankind is God’s equal. He tgen goes a step further, claiming that Christiams who deny equality with God do so out of willful ignorance to the meaning of the text.

I am a Christian Mystic. I have completed the rites of initiation into this mystical religion. My mind has been opened to its great truths. Because of that I can tell you that this passage means that those who are saved by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus’ sacrifice are recepticles for The Holy Spirit. This spirit enables us to be both of this earth–walking and talking alongside everyone else–yet at the same time able to converse DIRECTLY with God. It enables us to see things as God sees them. It is what helps us to live holy and apart, to renounce sin and do as God would have us do. It is why we, naturally selfish and vain, are driven to give our lives to make the world a better place.

Having God’s kingdom dwell in you is an exquisite sadness that creates a feeling of alienation in this world. Having God’s kingdom dwell in you is a peace and goodness that defies logic.

It is a mystery. Only in being part of this mystery can you fully understand. And when you understand you know just how far short of the magnificent God we mankind truly are.

7. 51% Brown Enters My Wheelhouse

I assumed Albrect Durer would show up eventually. Sure enough, here he is. And so is the first mention of Christian Mysticism. Brown describes it as “a fusion of early Christianity, alchemy, astrology and science.”

That’s like describing a cheese as “a fusion of milk, humidity, bacteria and time. “

Any Christian Mystic–from St Paul to Julian of Norwich to TS Eliot to me–would tell you that those things are incomplete pieces of the larger truth, fully understood only at the unitive state. I talk often about how philosophy is the mother of all modern discipline and how the war between science and religion is the petty squabbling of siblings arguing over an inheritance they don’t understand. That is the essence of Christian Mysticism. And that is why Brown’s tossed off definition is so incomplete.

8. 56% No Drug Dealer Talks Like That

9. 57% You Just KNEW Aleistair Crowley would show up!

10. 66% LOTR

A secret only fire can tell…

Honestly, for as smart as Brown claims his characters are, they are always selectively stupid if it serves the plot.

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This is my insurance biography. I think the time has come to tell this tale. I warn you it’s long, but I think it’s important now that we’re at this stage of the Insurance story. The short version is that the Senate proposal now under discussion is planning on taxing my current insurance plan (i.e. my family and my husband’s employer) to pay for health care. I’m not happy about that. Read further and maybe you’ll understand.
(more…)

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Doorbells? Really?

I’ve written a cranky post about my health, and while it’s true that I do this blogging gig ‘for me, not for you’ as bloggers tend to retort when commenters get snifty, I do like to not make this a place that depresses people day after day.

So I decided to write a post about my favorite things–the stuff I’d smell in a cauldron of Amorentia. Of course I’d smell books, that unique scent of paper and ink and glue and plastic that lets you know you’ve got hold of a new story. I’d also smell a hot, buttery caramel so smoothly rich and salty sweet, with a tang of vanilla. Without a doubt I’d also smell the scent unique to my garage–raw wood, Simple Green cleaner, rubber, metal, bike lube all underlaid with the musk unique to my husband of nineteen years.

I used to sing My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music. I would sing that song all the time. To this day I have to say that I harbour one huge disagreement. “Doorbells” are not any of my favourite things. I suppose in the time that song was written, the sound of your doorbell ringing meant carollers or company or a special delivery. Nowadays, in spite of the whole “this is a no-soliciting community” thing, a ring at my doorbell is more likely to be someone from AT&T trying to sell me an upgrade or a kid from a disadvantaged neighbourhood trying to sell me magazines. So no, I’m no big fan of doorbells.

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I am awake.

This is a problem.

I am awake at 11:00am on a Wednesday.

This almost never happens, because I take my shot on Tuesday night, which means I sleep from 2 hours after I get the shot until Wednesday night at 5 when I try (and sometimes fail) to wake up for a couple hours to be polite to my husband before I sleep again until about 2:00 Thursday afternoon.

I am awake because the pain woke me up. If the pain is worse than the medication, it’s a bad pain. And I’m in this bad pain because of the rain. And I’m glad for the sake of all my trees and grasses and flowers and vines that we’ve at last got good drinks for them.

But seriously…my whole body feels like a throbbing bruise joined together by rusted nails. My long bones ache into the marrow. I hurt so badly that my pillow was soaked with tears when I woke up and there are half-moon cuts in the meat of my hands where the nails dug in during my unconscious hours.

This, my friends, is arthritis.

When I was a kid I’d see arthritis commercials and they’d be some old guy wincing while he held his hand and then taking Bayer and smiling while he threw a football to his tow-headed grandchild. I got from those commercials that arthritis was a minor nuisance, like hair that had grown a little too long in the back.

When the doctors told me I had arthritis I was annoyed because I didn’t think they diagnosed me right. Arthritis is a minor nuisance and this–this hurting too bad to wear clothes, literally–was not minor.

Then I read about it and found out that yes, indeed, this is a type of arthritis and it does behave this way and it is in many ways worse than cancer.

And today I can’t even sleep through it like usual.

Damn.

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Over the past few weeks I’ve hoovered up a lot of books. Many of them have been just awful, a few have been forgettable and a couple were wonderful. But they were all written in the last five years or so, and I was beginning to feel as though I needed a change.

So I flipped through my poorly-organised* Kindle home screen and settled on Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. I’m told this book is the size of a concrete block, but on the Kindle the only estimation of size is that it has more dots than any other book I’ve got. (On the Kindle home screen, the size of the book is summed up by the number of tiny dots under the title.)kindle-home-screen I’ve since been merrily reading through this wonderful book, even though the first couple of chapters were hard-going.

My husband is one of the countless people who loathe Dickens and Dickens’ endless prattling. But this weekend as I waded through two thousand words describing a small taxidermy shop in London I realised again just how much of Dickens’ talent was to create a movie before movies were invented. When his books came out there was no tv. There were no movies. Plays were staged but not always attended and often looked askance at as a morally suspect endeavor. Stories were the only reliable form of diversion and Dickens diverted better than anyone else. If he were alive today I suspect he would be someone like George Lucas or James Cameron or Sam Raimi who tried to control not only the story of his film but the visuals as well.

Fall is a good time for Charles Dickens to be re-explored, because Fall is the time when you gather your outdoor endeavors inward, when you settle down against the crispness of the day and look for entertainment by the fire. There is no better sort of entertainment than to pick up one of his deliciously satirical, colourful and adventuresome books for another try.

Only please don’t read Great Expectations which is the most annoying book I’ve ever laid eyes upon. Pip is a fool, Estella is a bitch and Miss Havisham is now a pop-culture cliche.

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*Seriously, Amazon. Fix this. The Home Screen is the biggest drawback and disappointment to me as a Kindle-lover. There is no deeper level of organisation available. The only way to see books displayed is alphabetical by author’s last name–and this isn’t always reliable as some books sourced from the public domain end up thrown in by author’s first or middle name. There are no folders and no way to sort the view. There’s also no cover-view on the home screen. This issue was better handled by the Kindle for iPhone app, which at least displays the cover alongside the title. As a book junkie looking at just titles on the home screen makes me feel like I’ve got a bunch of stripped books on hand. I know you’re not supposed to judge books by the cover but I enjoy cover art as a form of visual entertainment. Without seeing the cover I don’t feel completely consumed by the book.

As a person who routinely sets up spreadsheets to chart everything from weight to pain levels to movies I’ve seen, I’m an organisational freak who is very let down by the inability to organise the softwarebooks on my computerKindle.

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In case you were wondering, there’s rain coming. I know that because I’m made of pain today.

I’m getting quite worried about where we’re headed in America, what with all the fusses being made over things like health care and the fusses not being made over things like nutrition for the poor.

I had a very strange dream last night that involved being made to retake the SATs in a strange setting. We all had to sit in those tiny school chairs made for elementary students. I was pretzeled into a painful position and then forced to take the test at the same pace as everyone else, while the exam proctors read every question aloud. I told them I needed to work at my own pace because I was in too much pain to do the tests their way–one question every 10 minues, no moving or talking. One of the proctors insisted that they’d determined this method to be the most fair to all involved. I kept trying to explain that the one-size fits all solution was actually killing me and making me test worse but they didn’t believe me.

And you know what, I swear I’m not making this up–even though it sounds like one of those stories shady ministers pull off the internet and include in their sermons as illustrations while pretending that they either dreamed it or it really happened to them. (We had a pastor who did this. He once included a major plot from the movie Sandlot as the sermon illustration, telling the church that it had happened to him. I always thought building your sermon on a lie was a novel way to get the gospel across.)

Granted, the rest of my dream had more esoteric points to make, with me walking barefoot through a bank’s fountain and then escaping through the projects into the back door of a Baskin-Robbins during a robbery and then getting shot in the face.

Still, I’m left thinking about how things that seem like a good idea–working toward the lowest common denominator, dumbing processes down to the point of uselessness–are actually crippling society.

That said, I’m becoming fed up with the Tea Party folks. This weekend seemed to be a last straw for me in a lot of ways. Because while I believe in things like Revolution and the tree of liberty being watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants…I don’t think the current President is a tyrant and I don’t think many of those who call themselves ‘patriots’ are entirely clear on what that word actually means.

I have long considered myself a patriot, in that my allegience to America is not just to the land and government themselves but to the ideals upon which the government was founded. Liberty AND equality. For those reasons I take seemingly bizarre stands on social issues like the War on Drugs. Yet there are all these new folks calling themselves patriots and announcing that they are libertarians. But they still act like yellow dog Republicans and demand things no true libertarian would countenance. Prayer in schools is not a libertarian cause, my friends.

As a teenager I was an avid disciple of Francis Schaeffer, having read How Should We Then Live? many times. In many ways Schaeffer was the founder of what the rest of the world calls “The Religious Right”. His book made it okay to be a Christian and an intellectual; before Schaeffer many sectors of Evangelical Christianity prided themselves on worldly ignorance. His book reintroduced classical thought to the evangelical masses, and I read it young enough to take up philosophy and metaphysics in high school and college.

I became disenchanted with the politics of Schaeffer when his son Franky Schaeffer V spoke at a pro-life rally I attended. He was arrogant, rude and cruel when speaking about young women who had abortions. In his fervor to stir the blood he set aside basic tenets of Christianity to embrace a militaristic point of view. I understand Franky has taken his hot blood to the pro-choice side these days. I wonder if now he would like to go back to recordings of the speech he gave 26 years ago demanding that all ‘those’ people be tried as murderers. At that age I already knew one girl (not me) who had an abortion. She was torn up emotionally by her choice, and it was one of those no-win situations. While I didn’t then and still don’t like the idea of abortion I can’t ever see it as a black and white issue. I’ve cried with too many women, prayed with too many women. I also know how much grace I’ve been given.

I bring all of this up now because I need to explain why the Tea Party people are bothering me. It’s that same bloodlust fervor. That same naive staking of the high ground. That same disregard for the complexity of the human condition. That same willingness to compromise principles of the faith to obtain a temporal victory in the world of politics.

I think I’ve been pretty clear about not wanting government-funded health care or another single-payer solution. Yet I don’t want this America anymore, either. This America where the new God is hatred, the new hymnal is full of angry rhymes and the mission of liberty is misdirected.

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The trilling wire in the blood
sings below inveterate scars
appeasing long-forgotten wars

—TS Eliot: Burnt Norton, Stanza II Four Quartets

My father now jokes that he is the Bionic Parent. I jest back that it is a shame he didn’t have such powers when we were younger and he could have heard us getting into trouble from miles away.

They put a pacemaker in at 2:00 yesterday, going in from the right side because he is left-handed. The surgeon said he enjoyed it because it’s actually easier to go in from the right because of the way a heart sits in the chest. At last my dad’s left-handedness pays off, after a lifetime of getting ink smeared across the meat of his hand and having scissors pinch.

They gave him Versed and he apparently reacts like I do, with a torrent of words. That’s supposed to be an abnormal reaction, along with things like copious crying. But everyone I’ve ever talked to has reacted the same way. All of which gets buried by the memory that dies–another reason why they give Versed. You hurt but you’ll never remember it. Or so they say. I have a theory that your body keeps the pain in it and lets it out at other times.

His room was full of visitors, his blood brother and his heart’s sister and his brother’s wife all came up to chat. My brother answered the phone and told me I should find something better to do. “Go write on your blog,” he said. But I had already done that. I had also called gamefowl breeders by the dozens looking for the one who sold us our dog a decade ago in hopes they had another like him for sale today. So I sat on the phone and listened to all the happiness in room 264 of the Heart Insititute. Or Division. Or Campus. Or whatever fancy word they gave it to make it sound like this part of the hospital was reassuringly knowledgable in matters of the heart.

I called back later and everyone had left except my father who was reading a detective novel instead of bankruptcy cases as he had done all weekend. My father sounded better over the phone than he had in the last year. Less tired, more alert. He claimed that he could tell instantly upon waking that he was much better and that the surgery seemed to fix a problem he didn’t even realised he had.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice

–TS Eliot, Little Gidding, Stanza I Four Quartets

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