Archive for August, 2009

I’m here in the midst of cornfields and Amish Country visiting family, researching my book and trying to out-will my health issues. I’ve kicked my 16yearold niece off her computer so that I could hide Mafia Wars updates on FB and decided to stay and write. If I don’t write I start to get twisty and mean. I feel like my soul gets constipated. I know that’s rude but I don’t know a more polite way of describing it.

Everyone is watching The Pirates of Penzance and I feel like I’m a kid again, watching musicals and wishing that I could find out more about Brian Boitano. Really it was a sad childhood. Oh, you know what movie sucks? That biographical thing about Gilbert and Sullivan where the one dude’s wife spends the whole movie crying about how she can’t have a baby. It was this movie that I thought would be happy and funny like the G&S Operettas and instead was like a trip through someone else’s pre-medicated clinical depression. I can’t think of the name of it.

It’s funny how much my niece by marriage reminds me of me in some ways. She loves musicals and London. She is not one to speak her choices outright, so therein we are no longer alike. And she can actually play a musical instrument unlike me who gave up on the piano after too many lessons with the tyrannical Mrs. Jarosz. When a woman spends the whole lesson staring at your face and then tells you your glasses are ugly it sort of makes you feel like music is not the craft for you.

The patter songs in G&S are funny, why? After awhile I sort of get like “okay, I know we all want this event to be over but you could at least slow down on the punch line, right?” I know Aaron Sorkin would wet himself at the thought of a Philistine not finding G&S the height of comedy. And I do really love much about G&S. But honestly. A little goes a long way. Like hot mustard.

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Yesterday several of the folks I follow on Twitter sent around a link to a website that I’ll not repeat here. The basic gist of it was that people all over the country upload photos they’ve taken of other customers at a well-known, oft-despised discount store. As you can imagine there are photos upon photos of overweight, underweight, malnourished and poorly maintained people. Each shot is accompanied by pithy, mocking text.

And I was disgusted.

Disgusted that people who are blessed with so much delight in mocking those who have less. Many of those who sent the link around are Christians. I wonder if God and Jesus are sitting up in heaven laughing at pictures of how badly we dress, how fat we are. Something tells me the answer is “no”.

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So I couldn’t sleep and decided to watch this documentary on my handy Netflix Instant. I’d heard a lot about it but avoided it because….well…we’ll get there.

I’m a Harry Potter fan. By that I mean that I’ve read the books score(s) of times, can answer pretty much any question about the literary canon and spent seven years discussing it with literature profs, MFA students, theology scholars, comparative religionists and other writers on the Yahoo Group Harry Potter for Grown Ups. I went to three book-release parties and have occasionally listened to some of the podcasts.

A few years ago–several years after I became a Potterfan, I might add–I started to notice there was a movement of fans coelescing on the web. They started at places like LiveJournal and some fansites and became more of a large mass of friends united in real life as well. That’s a good thing in a lot of ways, because for many people it seems that Harry Potter served them in the ways that Star Wars and Star Trek served me. Potter and ParaPotter culture paved the way for introverts, awkwaverts and other Species Geekus to find likeminded friends and running mates.

What bothers me a bit though is this: Members of the ParaPotter universe have this habit of looking down on those of us who don’t go to Wizard Rock concerts, fan meetups and LeakyCon as being less than legitimate in the fan world. That’s the main reason I had avoided seeing We Are Wizards. I don’t like that sort of hierarchy that has built up around the Harry Potter world. At two distinct points in the film, people mention their uberfan status. One woman–the chronically ill young lady who started PotterWar to fight with Warner Brothers over intellectual property–tells a salesman at the local Ferrari dealership that she had been a “major player in the Harry Potter fan community”. At another point author Melissa Anelli talks about how she as a fan now has fans of her own.

Now, I confess to listening to a few of Melissa’s podcasts, following her on Twitter and buying her book. (I haven’t read it yet. I’m saving it for coming down from my next readthrough of the books). But I do this not because I think of her as a better fan than I, but because she seems like an interesting person to discuss the books with. In short, I don’t view her as a person of whom I’d be a fan but as a person I could befriend under favourable circumstances. To be fair I don’t think Anelli was saying this as a good or bad thing, but merely commenting on its existence.

It kind of weirds me out a little bit that some people appear to be trying to turn what was once a gathering of like souls into a hierarchical society. I’d imagine there are one or two sociological papers in there somewhere. Perhaps it’s just me feeling left out when other fans write me off for not going to Leakycon. But I really don’t like seeing these excellent books turned into yet another tool for making outsiders feel more outside.

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I seem to have temporarily lost my ability to write passable post titles. Sorry.

Over the past few years I’ve found myself having a bit of a change of heart about this topic. But before I go into matters I need to clarify one specific thing. I have no respect for people who pride themselves in breaking the law “because everyone does it” or “because it’s a stupid law”. As I understand it, the philosophy of law allows for the consideration of intent when pondering the severity of violation. It’s the philosophy of Mens Rea or The Guilty Mind. And I look a lot more kindly on people who break the law to feed their family than I do on people who break the law because they want to be a horse’s ass about it. And yes, I have one or two specific immigration advocates in mind.

That being said…

I think our current immigration laws are anti-American, anti-JudeoChristian and anti-human. I think if you can get here and aren’t crazy or a violent criminal you deserve your shot at making a life for yourself. Plain and simple.

I’m having a harder and harder time at justifying a life under the abundance of this country while denying others a seat at the table. It doesn’t square with what I’ve been taught about the ideals upon which the United States was founded, the Civil War was fought and the way I should live as a follower of Christ.

1. For we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal

If indeed all men (and by this we mean all human beings) are created equal, how do we claim a right to arbitrarily decide that some folks, while being equal to us are not deserving of the life we enjoy? How can we allow the accident of birth to bar certain folk from being given the right to try to make it here? Granted we could follow this argument through to its extreme conclusion and declare that everyone gets a chance to go to Harvard, live in a 5000sq foot house and eat filet mignon every night. That’s simply not going to happen unless we convert to some as-yet-undiscovered form of uberwealthy communism. However, we can welcome people with open arms. That’s how many of us got here, descendents of those who came when the most harrowing part of the journey was the getting-here, not the being-here.

2. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

How does it establish Justice to say to people they cannot be here because they weren’t born here? Throughout our comparatively brief history, the United States has been repeatedly enriched by the immigrant populace. We owe in part our very freedom to the French who came here to fight England on our shore. We owe in part the continued survival of our way of government to the German and Irish who came here to fight the Civil War, to the Chinese immigrants who enlisted to fight in WWII, to the post-war German immigrants who led us to victory in the space race. Our greatest moments have always been borne out of the times when we’ve been most welcoming to those from other parts of the globe.

3. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Many of those honoured dead at Gettysburg were born on foreign shores, as I mentioned above. They fought and died for a lot of reasons–to earn citizenship, to earn money, to end slavery–but they gave their lives so that our way of life would continue. As I’ve pondered this over the past few years I can’t see how our current stance on immigration does anything other than dishonour their deaths by villifying their very presence on our soil.

I’m not putting any Bible verses in here because I despise the tactic of using religious arguments to fight a political battle. It’s like having a discussion with someone else where you speak only French and they speak only Esperanto. So I’m not going to try to use one of my native tongues to address people speaking a different language. I can only say this: As someone who does believe in the tenets of Christianity I believe I am to treat others as I myself would like to be treated. I myself do not like to be mocked, spat upon, underpaid, overworked, made to live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. I myself do not like to be treated like a criminal simply because I look different, sound different or come from a different place from everyone else. As a fat woman who moved to the South from Indiana I do have some experience in this, albeit not as severe as that suffered by illegal immigrants. I don’t like to be called “fatso” so I don’t call people “illegals”. I also believe as a Christian that I am supposed to treat with compassion those who are poor and hungry because in so doing I am honouring the person of Jesus Christ. I can’t square that with the way illegal immigrants are treated in this country.

Now, I’m a believer in following the law. Since I believe in all these things there is only one conclusion I can draw. The laws are stupidbad laws* and must be changed.

*Change made because laws are inanimate objects and therefore lack powers of cognition.

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It occurs to me that I’ve been writing a lot of entries on big political issues and little books. This gives me the pride of being able to say I’m faithful to my blog while still dancing around the bigger boulders in my life that I’d rather not address head on. I’m having a hard time lately with the fact that time goes by so quickly anymore and I want to grab experiences and store them forever, freezing time around the shinier moments.

I had a dream last night that a bunch of extended family had heard there was a treasure hidden in an old bed at an old family home we were getting ready to sell. They converged on the property and fought over who had the most right to the treasure. We didn’t know exactly what it was, and the speculation about the amount of money it was worth got more grandiose as the dream went on. Long story short, I was there when we finally got to ‘the treasure’ and it turned out to be nothing more than an old suitcase filled with mementos from my father’s childhood. The ‘treasure’ was memories. Everyone else was pissed that it wasn’t money; I was pleased with the mementos but (even in my dream) pissed that the punchline was ripped-off from that ‘One Tin Soldier’ song from ‘The Legend of Billy Jack’.

Man, I loved that song when I was in Jr. High. Now that I’m older it sounds a bit stale and hippie-naive.

Anyway, back to things. I’m bugged because I’m soon going to be separated from my dog for a week for some long drawn-out complicated reason and I don’t know that I’ll handle it well at all. I’m bugged because my grandma, who has always been one of my favourite people, is at the end of her life and all her dignity is gone. It hurts my heart to see a tough woman with a great sense of humour, who took in the needy and fed the town with crops from her garden during WWII and the 50s become a shell of a person who has to be carried from her bed to be fed, bathed and use the bathroom. She doesn’t ever know what day of the week it is anymore. She used to have a little quote torn from a religious magazine taped to her desk. It said “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” I can’t get that out of my head right now. I see where she is and I wonder if long life is truly a blessing. I stayed with her on the farm during summers in my childhood and she was responsible for a lot of my religious instruction. She always used to drive home the point that the Bible said “Honor thy father and mother so that your days may be long on this earth” (that’s a paraphrase). She took great care of her father, even though he was something of a handful. And now her days on this earth have been long–she’s in her 90s–but is this ignoble end something to yearn for? And then I think about how she got to see my cousin’s newly adopted baby and realise that it’s not all bad.

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I have this kind of snarky-sounding theory. I don’t mean it in a snarky way, though. I just know that while I’m a freak who reads entirely too many books there are other people out there who don’t read that many books at all. I know a lot of folks who do other things with their time like ride bikes, climb rocks, operate on babies’ hearts and cook gourmet food but don’t care for reading. They read a book every now and again if it intrigues them or if they want to keep up with watercooler conversation or have something to do in an airport besides eating fast food. But since Society has decided that Reading Books is somehow this extra-virtuous thing to do, instead of just another leisure activity, folks feel compelled to talk up the few books they do read with inordinate praise.

This is the only reason I can think of for the overwhelmingly positive feedback I’ve gotten on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I hadn’t cared to read it but finally gave in earlier in the week. Everywhere I went people were raving over the wonderfulness of this thing, praising it to the skies and giving it four- and five-star ratings. I figured, hey. What the heck. If the whole world loves it, it must be good.

It’s not good. But it’s the worst kind of not-good book out there. Once you make it past the really dry introductory section on financial shenanigans in Swedish Megabusiness (yawning yet?) the ‘real’ story grabs you and compells you to finish the book in record time. You will be compelled to keep reading through multiple scenes of torture porn and other grisly forms of violence. But then you will get to the end and want to throw the bloody thing across the room in anger. (Please note that this is a major drawback–and one not oft-mentioned–with the Kindle. $300 electronic devices don’t bear up as well to frustrated-reader tossings.)

I swear to you this book is the equivalent of White Castle burgers. You will wolf it down only to have your system regret it when it’s all over.

After I finished the thing I read several reviews I’d avoided beforehand so that I wouldn’t have the ending spoiled. (It’s a mystery of sorts.) Fully two-thirds of the rave reviews said something along the lines of “I don’t normally read that much” or “I’m not one who likes to read a lot of mysteries”. I can only conclude that these folks have had so little exposure to truly GOOD books that they don’t recognise the many ways in which this one…wasn’t. Again, there’s nothing wrong with not reading. Of course as a writer I wish people read more. It’s not a problem if they don’t. Unless they start telling me that subpar books are actually excellent.

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I was walking through the Tate Gallery on a rainy January afternoon, looking at art. I rounded a corner and was at once gutshot with a feeling not unlike falling in lust. There on the wall, larger than life was the most entrancing painting I have ever seen. Granted, I was just 18 years old and had not seen many real canvasses–my knowledge of art to that point came from books and the prints hanging in the Deck The Walls across the mall from my ice cream store. Some of my awe may be attributable to the fact that at five feet by six-and-a-half feet, the picture was more vast and consuming than than the snapshots and dorm posters which had filled my art needs to that point. But there was more than size behind my instant thrumming heart. 300px-JWW_TheLadyOfShallot_1888 The yearning and desperation in her face spoke to me in my own confusion. The rich quilt told of a foresaken opulence and the drifting boat talked to the part of my heart that didn’t know where I myself was headed. The reedy river reminded me at once of Moses in his basket, of the constant change and flow of all man toward entropy. A hundred years after Waterhouse painted it, that painting became my single favourite piece of artwork, despite the fact that it was illustrative of a Tennyson poem for which I had no small amount of dislike.

This past weekend I was reading a book where the poem itself was discussed and all of a sudden realised that poem I’d so loathed for its sing-songy rhythm and Arthurian romanticism was actually about me. The Lady of the poem was cursed to never leave her tower room and spent her days weaving a tapestry in which were depicted various scenes from Camelot as seen in the Lady’s mirror. How is that not exactly me right now, sentenced by disease to remain in my home and weaving a tapestry of story based on the things I’ve seen reflected in others? It’s eerie. Very eerie. In a way I feel like my claim on the painting was a glimpse in a crystal ball. Or, even worse, that I’ve had inside me some small recognition of what my life would hold and that bit of stuff drew me to that picture on that day.

The part of the poem I’ve not yet lived out is where the Lady falls in love with Lancelot and leaves her tower at last, floating down the river that seperates her from him but dying before reaching his shore. Seeing as I’m already in love and have all my life loathed the character of Lancelot I suppose I may avoid the tragic fate of the poem’s heroine. I hope. Then again “Lancelot” could be symbolic of something else. At any rate, it’s something to think about. I feel even more strongly about that painting than ever before.

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