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Archive for February, 2011

There are many dichotomies that can define a person born in the latter half of the twentieth century. Beatles Vs. Stones; Ford Vs. Chevy; Coke Vs. Pepsi. Folks will say that the constellation of your preferences can be used to draw a picture of what you are and how you see the world. But the most often overlooked of these is the one that I think is the most reliable.

Are you a Washington or a Lincoln?

I grew up in a home where history was a key part of our present and the United States, its origins, leaders and wars were as openly discussed and debated as any other topic. I also grew up in Indiana and I think that had a big part to play in my becoming a Lincoln person. In fact, my love for Abraham Lincoln has been so oft-mentioned and discussed that its become a bit of a family joke. For crying out loud, I married a man who looked like Lincoln! On purpose! (*)

My secret shame–the flip side of the Lincoln coin–is that I’ve never really seen what the big fuss was over George Washington. Yes, he was the first president but by my reckoning that could have been anybody. The lot just fell to him. From what I read of his generalship he wasn’t necessarily a brilliant tactitician and in fact seemed to owe more to luck than to skill. Travelling to the homeplaces of both men in my childhood, it struck me also that Lincoln was the more gifted of the two when it came to both brains and heart.

So when Ron Chernow’s new biography of Washington came out and was roundly lauded I decided I’d spend the $20 to help repair my largely self-willed ignorance about the man. Part of me is glad that I have because it’s been a good education on several fronts.

  • My husband may look like Lincoln but he shares many facets of temperment with Washington.  He is stubborn, driven to prove himself through hard work and a master of his temper.    Husband’s relationship with his late father is eerily similar to Washington’s relationship with his mother.
  • Much of Washington’s success in life seems to be owing to a combination of ambition and what polite folks call “making connections”.  (Less polite among us will say “brown-nosing” or other rumpish terms.)
  • Washington owned slaves.

 

It’s that last bullet point that says so little and so much. I’ve always known that the Father Of Our Country was also an Exploiter Of Persons. But it was presented to me early and often that such was merely a regrettable necessity of the times and something that he “made up for later”.**
The Chernow biography is not for schoolchildren and in no way glosses over this aspect of Washington’s life. In detailing how this man was polite to everyone, charming to a fault and then would turn instantly to a slave and uncork it gives one of the best and most accurate images I can think of. How people treat those beneath them socially is the best barometer for their character. I’m convinced that this man who wrote to his property agents about slave purchases in the same tones he spoke of cattle acquisition was a callous and cruel soul. I’m troubled that he decided to rebel against England because nobody would give him a posh military commission and he owed his London brokers a lot of money yet he turned right around and enslaved human souls. I think he missed Jesus’ parable of the Forgiven Debtor.

To me it is no contest. Where Washington swanned about the Tidewater countryside, nattily dressed and aiming to charm the right folks Lincoln read and worked and read some more. Both men had a sort of drive, but Lincoln’s sprung as much from a heart full of compassion as a desire for a better station in life.

I’m sure that in the remaining pages of this biography I’ll find more about Washington I can warm to. But I’m not ever going to stop being a Lincoln girl.


* That is, I was attracted to him initially in part because of his resemblance to the 16th president. I doubt he had much of a say in the genes that gave him those looks.

**I haven’t gotten there yet but it sticks in my mind that he set some of his slaves free or something. If so it was after he died and enjoyed a life of leisure and wealth out of their unrewarded and forced effort.

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It’s a hot September, but the wind blowing through the concrete and steel makes the whole thing fairly manageable. My husband has a meeting in one of these buildings somewhere; I’ve got hours to kill. Hours to kill in Chicago–me and Al Capone. Chicago is one of those cities I always associate with killing. And museums.

I am not yet thirty, but I feel incalculably old; it’s as if I’ve been alive for centuries and just drifting like a piece of shipwreck loose from the bottom of Lake Michigan. I’m not yet entirely comfortable with my round softness because I’m still at the place of believing when society tells women like me that we aren’t right. So I’m on Weight Watchers and trying to add up the points of what I’m eating. That’s because I’m still young enough to not realise that a special brunch with the love of your life in the restaurant at The Palmer House in Chicago is a rare treasure made mundane by counting. The brunch ends and he goes to his meeting. I go upstairs and change into a swimsuit so that I can swim laps. Wherever I go on this earth I am always at home in a pool like I’m part mermaid or still a baby in utero.

I can’t stay in the pool forever and I promised everyone I wouldn’t stay in the room with a book like I did the last time we went to Bermuda. So I took a taxi to the library. The cabbie grins sideways at me when I tell him where I want to go. He asks me if I’m a teacher. He tells me “not many tourists go to the library” in the same way you’d say “English is the most popular language in the Midwest.” Two blocks away I glimpse it and am lost forever. The brick and bronze with the owls at the cornices…the main branch of the Chicago Public Library is the building I’d like to have my funeral in I think. I vow then and there to write a book that gets published, just so they will have a piece of me shelved inside. There have been stranger dreams.

I climb the marble steps with reverence and peer in at the stacks. I don’t dare go in, because if I get any closer to the books I might break out in a rash. To be this close to a book and not be able to take it home is a sharp poison. I wonder still at if I’ll ever become anything more than I am right now. I still want to be someone’s mother. I think I still want to be someone’s lawyer. But I’m not really sure how to get back to the hotel, and that comes first. I realised after the cab ride here that the hotel isn’t really that far and so I walk. I think to myself that I’ll always remember the way the sun hits the buildings today. I stop into a store that sells souveneirs and think about buying a Scottie Pippen jersey. Instead I go back to the hotel for a haircut, since that’s the easiest sort of change I can make to my rutted life. I let them hack off a year and a half of thick brown rope and joke with the man weilding the scissors that at least now I’ll weigh less at the next Weight Watchers meeting. I’m embarrassed, you see, to be sitting there in a real salon while I’m so fat.

When the meeting is over he sees me and does a small double-take. The wife with hair past her shoulders now has a short bob. I make him go back to the library with me so that he can see the owls. And then we walk along the river. He hates Chicago. To him it’s always a cold and windy town with bad traffic–an annoyance between home and Pillsbury College in Minnesota where his sister majored in Flute. We talk about whatever you talk about when you are in love and hopefully ambivalent about what comes next.

Then we see it, there shining in the street. It’s just a bar, I suppose. But it’s a Trader Vic’s. And I had just gotten my hair cut, and it was perfect. So we go there and have a Pina Colada.

I don’t know it that day but afterward it becomes clear that is the trip where I met my actual self and decided that she wasn’t normal but she was still pretty okay.

When I took him back to the library he bought me a t-shirt that said “I went to the Chicago Public Library and all I did was read.” I still wear the shirt, even though we all know now that it isn’t true at all.

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I have a reputation around these parts (i.e. Planet Earth) as somewhat of a contrarian. I know that it seems as though I leap to the chance to spoil everyone else’s good fun with Lady GaGa, fish tacos, Survivor, The Democratic and Republican Parties and whatever else it is that everyone is crazy about at the moment.

I didn’t always used to be this way. In fact, my apparent contrarianism is actually a reminder to myself that I serve no one if I claim to like something simply because everyone else does. It’s an effort to remind myself that I am no longer 9. In fact, from about ages 6 to 11 I was the biggest camp follower you could find. All the other girls like Barbies, and even though my parents thought they were a womanist’s worst nightmare and were also too busy buying clothes for four living children to outfit a 10-inch plastic sex toy in style, I still craved the inclusion a snazzy Barbie with wardrobe would buy me. I was mortified when my middle name wasn’t Marie (like everyone else) and crushed when I didn’t have a pair of Jordache jeans. Thanks to Rainn and Star Wars I grew out of that, but there are still times when I wish I fit in with everyone else.

That is no more obvious to my inner self than when the topic of Jane Austen comes up. My sister adores her, and has read everything Austen ever penned. Together we’ve sat through at least three movie versions of Pride & Prejudice and I’ve even watched Emma and Sense & Sensibility for her. Austen is beloved of so many people and I always kind of feel broken inside when I find myself cold to her charms.

Every now and again I revisit the Austenian well in hopes that some change in my life’s circumstance will have fixed me and helped me to love Jane and her writings. That’s why I decided three nights ago to download the LibroVox audio recording of Pride and Prejudice to listen to while I fell asleep. Now that it’s the middle of the fourth day I’m having to once again own up to the fact that I just can’t see what the big horking deal is about this book.

Leaving aside the fact that all LibroVox readers are volunteer and therefore the first three chapters were read by a man who had a speech impediment (he said “Mawage” the way the priest did in Princess Bride), I listened so carefully…hoping to find something to enjoy.

I swear to you it hasn’t changed since the last time. It’s still a bunch of people with no real problems and too much time on their hands getting all up in each other’s business. There are long chapters about how pretty this person or that person is or isn’t. About whether Pride is different from Vanity and how the ball went over the night before. He likes this one and she likes that one and no one likes him. It’s like high school got plunked down in the English Countryside.

I really do feel like a failure for not being able to tease out the shining nuggets that seem to draw everyone else to this silt.

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A few weeks ago the news came out that e-book purchases are outpacing hardcover sales for the first time ever.

I personally don’t think it was an accident that once that word got out all of a sudden e-book prices on highly publicised new releases were higher than the hardcover price. It was at that moment that I started refusing to buy any ebook priced in such a manner. I also started leaving polite comments to that effect (yes,they are actually polite) on the Amazon author pages. As a writer myself I figure they might like to know that their publishers’ decision is costing them a lot of birds from many bushes.

One of those books dropped $2.00 in price after the first week. That says to me that they might actually be listening.

But what cracks me up are the number of people critical of those of us who won’t “just pay the money and enjoy a really great read.” That’s what some woman who thinks a 40% price jump overnight is no big deal told me yesterday. That struck me, because it reminds me of all the times victims of things far more serious than price gouging are told to just lie back and enjoy it or to buy a pair of dark glasses, some heavy makeup and a couple of long-sleeved blouses.

No. I’m not crazy enough to be saying that an expensive book is the same as rape or domestic violence.

What I’m saying is that there seem to be a lot of folks who would rather give in than fight for justice because giving in is easier in the moment. It troubles me.

Granted, I probably look like a huge fool for whining about $5.00, but I can remember a lot of times when $5.00 was the difference between ramen noodles and scrambled eggs and toast for dinner all week.

I suppose that since I’m out of things to say on the original topic I should conclude this entry. But since I don’t want to start another entry I am going to fold the other thought I had into here. That is that I have since learned that people who self-publish on Amazon and set their book prices between $2 and $3 are in some cases making $50k a year on ebook sales alone. It makes me wonder if I’m nuts to not self-publish. Then I realize those books are probably porn. Man, there is a LOT of pornrotica for the Kindle.

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When I was a baby my parents once put orange soda in my bottle.  I know there was a reason–the doctor told them to–but I do blame this in part for the fact that I am addicted to soda.  Or “pop”.

We always called it “pop” in Indiana when I was growing up.  I started saying “soda” as a teenager because I think the word “pop” sounds ridiculous.  I am not a fan of onomontopaea as nouns.  (It’s also why I never would buy Meow Mix for a cat.)  I suppose I could stay partially true and use “sodapop” but that always sounds too New Englandy for me.  And makes me think of The Outsiders.

Pop was a treat when i was growing up.  It came in 16oz. glass bottles.  Most of our suppers were Water meals but there were three–pizza, tacos and lasagne–that were Pop Meals.   That meant the four of us kids could split two bottles of pop between us.  I often begged for one of those suppers not because I was such a fan of that food but because I craved Pop.    When I was in Jr. High I started being able to have a whole bottle to myself and was occasionally allowed to have a whole bottle as an after-school snack.

I think of this rigid attitude to soda drinking a lot now.   Every time we go to any restaurant I see small kids with big glasses of soda.  One time in the grocery store the bakery clerk told me* that he drinks an entire two litre bottle as a serving with his meals.

I’m not looking to blame the “obesity epidemic” on soda.  First, I don’t think there’s an epidemic, any more than we’d say there is an epidemic of Black or Asian people.   Second, I think the shift in agricultural / industrial economy to technological/service economy has more to do with this than anyone wants to admit.  Many of the folks who are fatter are the children or grandchildren of those who were farmers and factory workers.  We are the genetic children of those who kept trim by doing extraordinarily demanding physical labour day in and day out.  We learned to cook and eat from them, too.  So a lot of us enjoy the types of meals our grandparents used when they burned three and four times the amount of calories we do each day.  I think that’s one reason there’s such a class issue to weight.   It’s harder to use money, neighbourhood and education level as a shorthand for class.  But weight we still have.

I say all of this because I worry constantly that Soda Is The Next Cigarettes.  I’m afraid that if RA lets me live to 70 I won’t be able to order soda in a restaurant–or that if I do I’ll have to pay liquor prices.

Funnily enough, I hear that smoking is again trendy in the young.  I actually blame this in part on the wide ban on cigarettes.  By driving smoking largely underground, kids don’t see how actually gross it is.  They don’t get how tacky it looks and smells because they don’t have to walk by smoking sections in restaurants or through a smoky breakroom at work.   And since my generation largely stayed away from smoking this present generation of kids doesn’t see a lot of grisly lung cancer deaths the way we did.  To them smoking is a cool Mad Men thing to do.  So by making it go away, the Nanny State has made it popular again.   I hope that Nannystaters take this lesson to heart and leave me and my soda alone.

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You know, I have no idea for certain what kind of tree I would be, but after this winter I’m fairly certain that we’ve narrowed it down to “deciduous”.

All last spring and summer I was a fountain of writing goodness.  If not here on the blog, at least in the pages of MSWord.   I could sew words together fastly and furiously and make something happen.   Then something strange sort of broke inside me around the end of September.

Actually, it was the 18th of September which was both Yom Kippur and the wedding of an old friend.   Several things happened all at once that left me exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Then I spent the next three months rolling in a sort of emotional gravel.    I say none of this to complain, only to realise now that my Weeping Willow is budding and spring seems to be taking at least a valiant first try that I’ve been very much at sixes and sevens for the last season.

I don’t think I’d call it “depressed” because thanks to those drug commercials I now think of depression as a sort of thing where you sit about frowning all the time and crying constantly.  I’ve been depressed before and I know the gut-ache of it.  This wasn’t that; it was more of a sort of feeling like I simply couldn’t try.  Not that there was no bother to trying.  To me that’s the difference between existential illness and actual depression.  A fine line, but one that I think exists for the purposes of defining whether or not modern drugs are required.

Please forgive me.  I know that I have a no-delete policy for this blog, but honestly that last paragraph had to go.  It was just too goppy and not at all sensical.   Where I mean to be going with all of this is that I’ve noticed for the last week or so that I can slowly, haltingly, begin to write again.  I can sit down in front of the computer and have the words I type make a sort of emotional sense that was lacking through this last gray season.    I suppose that this might be where a blogger should say something along the lines of “…and so I’m recommitting to this blogging thing! Sorry I was gone so long!”   But I’m not going to do that because a) I’m not sorry I was gone because I spared all of you a lot of dull drivel and b) I’m no more or less committed to having a blog than I ever was.

I’ve never thought of my blog as a Business or a Brand or an Opportunity.  I’ve only ever thought of it as a huge blessing.  A chance that life has given me for me to use my gift to glorify God in some small way.  For I’ve come more and more to believe that God is glorified by any action that we do WELL.  In the way that a parent is proud when their child sings any song or draws any picture, so I think God is proud if we write well or draw well or build a building well.  The writing doesn’t have to be Christian, the picture doesn’t have to be of Christ or Mary and the building doesn’t have to be a church.

And so every time I sit down and use brain and keys to express a thought or feeling I have that in some small way connects to someone else I think I’ve done a good turn by whatever gifts I’ve been given.  I have to keep telling myself this in light of the fact that I so often don’t feel that I’m living up to whatever potential I’ve had in this lifetime.  I think that’s common for everyone, especially in this society.   Or perhaps not.  Either way it’s a feeling I do have.

I think I better conclude this now, since we’re  a good 200 words over my mental limit and I’m now just rambling idiotically.   But as to the original question I more and more think the answer should probably be Weeping Willow.  It’s both graceful and ungainly, large and messy but when you look at it from a distance it’s very pretty and there are many comfortable places to hide.  I hope to be like that.  Large, messy, beautiful, comfortable.   And budding.

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You. Yes, you. I’m talking to you.

We need to get a few things clear here. First off, I’m a Christian. And not one of those people who just says they’re a Christian when they mean “I went to Sunday School when I was a kid and I’m not Jewish or Atheist or anything else culturally outsider-y.” I mean I’m the kind of person who has a deep and moving spiritual life.

But I like to be one of those who uses words to preach the gospel only when necessary. Granted I’m not always a great walking testimony for the God Who Is There, but I am working on it.

Here’s the thing, though. Those status updates. The ones you think are a “really awesome witness to all my Facebook Fans”. They’re not. Let’s take a look, shall we?

  • Repost if you love Jesus

Those really long paragraphs about how you love Jesus and most people won’t re-post that because they are ashamed of loving Jesus but you did because you are this generation’s Corrie Ten Boom.  They don’t really tell people that you love Jesus as much as they tell people you are a bully about Jesus.

  • Random quotes of a theological nature with no exposition

Yes, I know that C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and G.K. Chesterton have said some really pithy things.   But THEY said them.  Not you.  Being able to copy and paste what they said does not automatically confer their wisdom upon you.  It does, however, make you look kind of pretentious.   It also makes you look so desperate to be on people’s newsfeed that if you can’t think of something original to say you’ll go to the Jesus Fortune Cookie well.

  • Stay away from these words

There are things which sound genuine.  Like you really have something to say.  But in Christianity there are also certain things that sound just the opposite.  They sound like you’re TRYING to sound genuine.   But they come off to your FB audience like you are the Thomas Kinkade of Status Updates.  All flowery and gloppy.   So if you feel the impulse to say “touched my heart/soul”, “Stirred me”, “Moving”,”spoke to me”; “My Faith” then either think of an HONEST way to express yourself or save it for a blog or a Bible study.

  • Remember your audience

Facebook may have replaced the blog as the go-to place for friends to see what their friends are up to.   But there’s a reason that most status updates are short and to the point.  People are on FB to see what’s up with you in two sentences or less.   Or they want you to send them a rare chicken for their farm.   Either way, they aren’t there for you to preach at them.   If you MUST preach (like I’m doing here), then write a blog entry and link to it.   If folks are interested in your preaching they can click through and read your deeper thoughts.  If they aren’t they can move down the list to get their chicken.

  • Not everyone works in the same place as you

If you draw a salary or wage directly from a faith-based organisation, great.  God’s plan for your life was to take that path and it seems to be working for you.   But those of us who get our money from secular sources are NOT less in touch with God.   They just are following God’s plan for THEIR lives.    So when your status updates include things like “I’m so glad my job allows me to bless people” it really comes off like you think that YOU are Jesus.   And that’s a turn off to everyone.

 

Facebook is a new form of town square and it helps to think of it that way.   It’s where many of us are intersecting with the greatest number of people, now that we aren’t going down to the market to haggle.   So if you aren’t sure how your Status Update is affecting your testimony, just try to imagine how it would come off if you were saying it to a friend over coffee or standing on the street corner with it written on a sign.   If you think your friend or the passing traffic might cringe, chances are your FB audience is cringing too.

 

 

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Post-Script:

Yeah, I get that maybe I’m contradicting myself a little bit.  After all, I am posting this link to Facebook.  (Thank you, WordPress, for the autopublicise feature.)

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