Archive for December, 2010

This post is directly related to the one beneath it. First you must understand that before I met my husband one of the men I wanted to marry was Howard Keel as he appeared in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. I love big men, large and strapping like trees. Howard was a big man with a bigger voice and giant smile.

Since the movie was already about thirty years old I figured I’d best give up on that dream and live in the now so I met and married my husband, occasionally stumbling across Howard in things like Fargo.

But now today as I’m listening to him cover “This Nearly Was Mine” I decided to see if there are other Howard Keel performances on iTunes. And of course there are. There’s the usual stuff–showtunes from all the great golden age films and musicals including the song I love to hate (“If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot).

But there, mixed in among the rest are two things so hideously horribly wrong as to make me wonder if I should be crying or crying harder. Or wetting my pants with laughter.

For some reason unknown to me, poor Howard decided to include on his 1996 album “The Great Songs” two covers of songs that are not only less than great but also patently ridiculous.

MacArthur Park and…yes…I’ve Never Been To Me.

So here’s this gorgeous voice booming out whinges about his cake being left in the rain
and running out of places with friendly faces because he had to be free. Since I’m not paying for these I’m not going to know more than 30 seconds’ worth of what’s happening in those abominations so I have no idea how he’s going to handle the lyric about the chick’s abortion in “Never been…” So far he’s changed “took the hand of a preacher man” to “stole a woman in Tennessee”. This makes me wonder what planet he is living on. Because if I were single and Howard came to Tennessee and wanted to make love in the sun I’d go with him willingly. But even though I am married (happily), I am no one’s property short of God’s and am therefore not something to be stolen like a lipstick from Woolworth’s. I mean, come ON!!!

Oh, Howard. Poor Howard.

Edited to add that yes, I know technically Howard is dead. But in Kathland such men live on. Howard, Robert Shaw, Rex Harrison and Abraham Lincoln are all still alive to play poker with me on Saturday nights.

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Every now and then I get a song in my head that I can’t let go, and I consume covers of it until I have a playlist chock-full of every singer in the world doing their interpretation of it. Past songs suffering this abuse at my hands include Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, Patrick Kavenagh’s Raglan Road, Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man and Harry Chapin’s Taxi.

Today’s victim? This Nearly Was Mine from South Pacific.

The only problem with this is that it seems that every person in the world who can kind of sing a little bit (Frank Sinatra, I’m looking at you, buddy) has covered this song. If I want every cover it’ll cost me something like $200. So right now it’s just me, Howard Keel and Bryn Tyrfel. Just to clarify–Howard and Bryn are singing out loud. I am only singing my mind.

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Last night as I lay in bed I started thinking about the twists and turns my life has taken over time. It occurred to me over Christmas that I only had thirty years until I was my parents’ age, and that I’d already been married for twenty. When I looked at thirty years as the length of one-and-a-half of my spans of married time it seemed instant. Not long at all. Then I got depressed as I wondered who I’d spend Christmas with when I was 70, since I had no children who would come visit me at that point. I actually spent about ten solid minutes thinking of how I would spend a theoretical holiday in thirty years. Then I got a grip and realised that God had thus far provided me with ample resources of love in my life and was surely not about to give up in the future. I decided to just let God surprise me.

But then last night as I was revisiting the idea of Time it occurred to me that the system of our temporally-bound lives is the perfect way to prepare us for death. We do not know for certain–there is no tangible proof of–what happens to us when we die. The issue has been up for debate as long as there have been people. I happen to be in the camp which believes that there is a next step into a consciousness unbound by temporal constraints. That “eternity” means we are no longer forced into a minute-by-minute deconstruction of our consciousness. But I don’t know that for certain of course. It’s merely an idea I play around with when I want some fun thinking.

Of course death is something that many people fear, largely because we don’t know what happens after, other than we are (may be) separated from those we have grown to know and love in this phase of existence. And that got me to further thinking that while I am indeed still technically “alive”, I’ve already experienced “death” millions* of times. Because the world as it exists for me in one second of time is left as soon as that second is over and is changed irreversibly, never to exist again. Three seconds ago I was arguing with myself over whether or not to pull up the iCalc program and figure out exactly how many seconds I had already lived and died. I opted not to. Now I can never go back and perform that task. That world and that option are dead to me.

As I think about it some more I am growing convinced that this part of existence, coupled with the tools of memory and recording via writing, photography, music and art, are the training wheels. Our consciousnesses and souls are learning how to process love and thought so that when we step into the next realm we are truly ready to experience Eternity, when all thoughts and feelings and relationships are part of who we are, irrevocably. And that to me means we will not be separated from those we love because that love is a part of us. In a timeless eternity, not governed by the crippling concept of End, all love just IS. There is no beginning and no end and therefore no separation.

So even though I may spend Christmas alone when I’m seventy, I don’t fear death.

*I’m guessing because I’m not in the mood to calculate the number of seconds I’ve been alive nor to further break that number down into theoretical quantum units of time.

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I was gonna write a long blog post about the top books I read this year.

Then I was gonna write a short post about how much I hate the abomination that is Stargate Universe.

Then I decided that I was going to install my new copy of Civ V. And that means that I’ll most likely just vanish off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again. Generations from now the archaelogists will uncover my bones, still bent in a seated position, fingers curled as if gripping a mouse. They will speculate about the rituals of worship and sacrifice which led to my demise and interring. My bones will show that I died of starvation, dehydration and lack of Vitamin D. But they will never tell the whole story, the harrowing tale of obsessive love and fiery devotion that the soul once imprisoned in the calcified cage held for a strategy game.

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Via Wally Campbell I have encountered yet another version of the whole “Jesus Was An Anchor Baby (In Yo’ FACE, Righty!)” meme. Sigh. These are always well-meaning, in that they want us to realise that we should treat people better and guide our lives with Christian principles if we claim to adhere to that faith. But they’re always so NASTY underneath. There’s this whole attitude of “I know Jesus better than you” and “Gotcha! You so bad!” This particular one I had to just sort of drill down a little bit because in trying to make his point, this dear brother of mine stretches some historical facts and massages a few others.

(By the way, if you already saw what I wrote on Wally’s Facebook status, you can just skip this next part, because it’s a repeat.)

1) In the days of the Roman Empire all of the areas encompassed by “Judaea” were ruled by the same ruler–Herod, with the imprimateur of Caeser Augustus. So going from Nazareth to Bethlehem was more akin to me going from Tennessee to Indiana to register for the census, since I was born there but live here. No one would call me an “illegal immigrant” to Indiana.

2) Were I to have a baby in Indiana, that baby wouldn’t be my “anchor baby”, because I’d be as free to choose to live in Indiana as I am to live in Tennessee, with or without issue.

3) Jesus wouldn’t have taken a carpentry job away from a legal Nazarene. Carpentry was a trade to which one would be apprenticed. It wasn’t working in a call centre. Granted, Joseph could have tendered another apprentice, perhaps, had he not had a stepson ready to enter service. But such event would be unlikely in a community as fertile as Judea. Especially since, as we will recall, all the boys of Jesus’ age were dead. There would actually be a SHORTAGE of young men to apprentice. So instead of “taking a job from a legal Nazarene” Jesus would be a boon to a seriously depressed economy suffering a huge labour shortage.

4) This whole “Y’Shua was An Anchor Baby, Oh Noes!” meme has been going around the Left/pro-immigration sites for a good long while now. I get really tired of the politicisation of the various lives and views of Jesus by both sides of any issue. It always sort of misses the points of both Christianity and exegesis. Christianity is about making over our lives in service to God and Grace. Exegesis is about critical interpretation of scripture to aid us in that transformation. At no point in either discipline is “Nyah-nyah-nyah” a relevant outcome.

Now, I’ve already written a long prooftext/essay on my reasons for become an Open Border type person. So please don’t start haranguing me with assaults on a belief-system you assume I hold. I want people to come here. I want to share hope and opportunity with anyone who wants to work for it. But I don’t think we need to abuse history and scripture to make that happen.

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I was over at one of my favourite homes-away-from-home on the web, and Aunt B. was talking about the difficulty of the writing process and how the issues she’s dredged up while writing a particular chapter of her novel are clashing with other issues in her real life.

Whenever anyone talks about writing professionally–and I’ve read hundreds of interviews and Being A Writer FAQs that address this–they always say something along the lines of how it isn’t as hard as digging ditches. Or something. Like factory work or road construction etc.

People seem to have this misconception that writing fiction is this easy bit of a lark where you sit around and just make stuff up. And as a person who has laboured over more than one novel in her lifetime, I promise you that novel writing is NOT easy. At least not if the novel you intend to produce is any good at all.

No, it isn’t digging ditches or filling potholes. Nor is it brain surgery or rocket science. But it is a practiced cruelty, a dragging of your own mind into places that are unpleasant, uncomfortable or sad. Imagine sitting down and describing the worst, most embarrassing, most uncomfortable, most intimate moments of your lifetime. Word by word, exposing the musty corners of your brain. And picture doing that for hours and hours and hours. Because that’s the emotionally exhausting experience of writing fiction.

Sure, you are making things up. But since you are not a deity, everything you create must start with something. Just as any cake starts as flour, sugar, eggs and butter, the story you tell about someone you’ve made up starts as things you’ve seen or experienced. You swap them around a bit, embellish with other things you’ve imagined. But the ingredients are all pieces of experience which live inside your head. Bugs you’ve seen become monsters. Arguments you’ve had become fights between characters. The exhiliration of falling in love–its own kind of exhausting wonder–you live through again as you have a character fall in love. The heartbreak of breaking up, of watching dogs and parents die. It all gets remade in the form of the story you tell.

And I promise you that after five years of doing this nearly full time, there are many many days that I would rather dig a ditch or fill a pothole.

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We’ll call it #532 even though I bet I’ve compiled such a list more times than that. But that sounds like a good number. Besides which, 5 is the sum of 3+2. So okay.

  1. Christmas albums with “new” songs on them.   Seriously, people.  The world likes about 35 standard hymns and seasonal songs.   Sing a bunch of those and you can’t go wrong.  But every Tom, Dick and Clay who puts out a Christmas album has to add a new or original song.  Usually it’s about how we should keep the Christmas spirit alive all year long.   But whereas the classics evoke warm feelings of the season and memories of happy holidays past, the new song always just sounds like nagging.   Third rate hackish nagging.
  2. People whose cities make no sense.   I’ve been playing a lot of city games lately, and I’m so tired of seeing people who put no roads or zones in their  cities and just have a bunch of buildings mashed together.  What is the point of a city game if not to create a livable city?  Seriously. Tell me.  Why do you play that and not some Tangram puzzle that just involves fitting shapes together?
  3. People who won’t use Google.  It’s a freakin’ household word.  It’s not hard to find.   If there is something you don’t know LOOK IT UP.   Is there some “look it up” bone that is broken in some people?   I’ve seen so many folks on Facebook and blog comments take the everlovin’ time to type out the equivalent of “I don’t understand what you’re talking about” when they could have just looked it up, educated themselves and avoided flaunting their ignorance –all in the same amount of time.   Granted, I’ve got a huge Bone for looking things up, so maybe I just don’t understand that fundamental lack of curiousity in other people.  But still.
  4. Jacket Blurbs about how this book is the next Harry Potter or Game Of Thrones.   Because it NEVER is.  Never.  Not once.  I read all the time.  And I promise you that these things you taunt me with are not delivering in the manner you promised.
  5. The free Christian books on Kindle that don’t tell you they’re Christian books.   They used to say the publisher or have “Faith Fiction”/”Inspirational Fiction” clearly marked.  Now you have to go digging to make sure that what you’re about to read is not going to proselytise.    Christians already know the message and non-Christians don’t want to be blindsided with it.   So you’re doing no one any favours.   Although let me say that I’m getting to be a practiced hand at discerning.  If a woman has to flee her troubles by moving back home only to fall in love with the handsome town doctor, chances are she also rediscovers Jesus.   (How many times can you write that same story, ladies?!?!)

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Over on Facebook I see I’ve got a status update from Samaritan’s Purse. (That name will come in handy in just a second…) The update begins like this:

URGENT: Christian doctors and nurses are urgently needed as the cholera outbreak in Haiti grows. **We will cover volunteer expenses, including airfare, for those who can serve during Christmas.

Now, I know full well that Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian missionary organisation. But is there something Christians are learning in Medical School that non-Christians don’t? Will the people dying of cholera really turn up their noses at an I.V. full of Ringer’s Lactate hung by a non-Christian nurse?

The way I see it is that perhaps there are more than a few non-Christian doctors and nurses out there who would be more than willing to help. And after all, wasn’t it one of the points of The Good Samaritan parable that help is help, in spite of the culture and faith of the one offering it??!?

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My mom used to take us to this lady in our church who ran a beauty salon out of her basement. Neither my mom nor I were much for the whole beauty regimen so it softened the blow somewhat to go to Ann’s for the haircuttings and perms of my childhood. Ann was always amused by the fact that I read so much and was forever recommending books to me in the roundabout way of asking my mother if I had read thus-and-so or this-n-that and then waxing rhapsodic about the book. It’s an odd feeling to overhear your likes and dislikes and potential. Or underhear, seeing as Ann was standing over me with scissors and talking to my mother, who was sitting across the room.

It was in that way that I found out at seven that Little Women was A Classic Book That Every Young Girl Should Read and that perhaps I was too young for it but I should try to read it when I got a little older. Thus was the gauntlet thrown down, and thus did I not two days later coerce a copy of Little Women out of my mom. (Such things are easy when you live in a house of books with a teacher mother. Classic literature is invariably lying in wait.) I read and loved the parts of it you’d expect–especially Jo. I went around demanding that people call me “Jo”–since my middle name was Joan, it was only fitting. It wasn’t as if it was as huge a stretch as wanting to be called “Marie”, as did most of my friends in honour of Marie Osmond. Their names had nothing in common with “Marie” at all, other than a few vowels.

I started keeping my first journal in honour of Jo as soon as I finished the book. In fact, the first entry is me prattling on about getting people to call me Jo and wanting to be a writer and taking a trip to Ypsilanti to visit my mother’s relatives. All of whom were going to be badgered to stop calling me “Kathy”. It was a long weekend for the poor Nafe cousins. I wanted to be Jo so badly that I started hanging out in the area under our basement stairs, pretending that it was my “garrett.” (Yes, I know i’ve blogged about this before.) I dreamed of being Jo and, by extension, Louisa May Alcott.

Since it’s the Christmas season I decided to reread Little Women over the weekend and lost myself in the familiar story. I love revisiting old favourite reads and finding passages I’d overlooked on other incursions. I love seeing old scenes with new eyes and bringing the wisdom of longer life to find new pictures between the lines. There is no greater treat than re-reading a beloved book. But I found myself growing curious. This is the first time I’ve read the book since coming out of the closet as a writer and I began to wonder how much of Alcott was in Jo. So I went straight from Aunt March Settles The Question to Wikipedia and then to other Googled nuggets of insight. Two hours later I discover that
–Louisa May Alcott’s father was a shiftless dreamer whose constant meandering through the fields of intellect left his family penniless.
–LMA wrote to keep the wolf from the door, seeing as her father couldn’t be counted on to support the children he’d made.
–LMA confessed her lifelong attraction to females, saying that “she’d fallen in love with countless beautiful girls but never with any man.”

Those were all interesting facts that made me stop envying her success as an author and start thanking God for the blessings in my life. * But then I came across two of the most interesting tidbits of all.

Did you know she hated writing Little Women? It wasn’t her kind of book at all and every second of it she felt was drudgery. She cranked it out to please her publisher. She had to because her father was broke again and had approached the publisher to see if they would buy something she wrote (what an incredible ass Bronson Alcott was!). The publisher didn’t like her adventure and purpleish romance so he asked for a “book for girls” and thus Little Women and its three sequels was born.

The other thing….she was sick most of her adult life. She wrote a lot about her illness (sound like anyone you know?) and complained constantly about rheumatism and crippling headaches (again…anyone we know?!?) She blamed the mercury-based drugs they gave her for typhoid in her early twenties, much as I blamed a mis-prescribed antibiotic for many of my troubles in MY early twenties. But now several doctors and other nosey parkers have gone through her writings and looked at old photographs and diagnosed the long-dead author as suffering from an autoimmune disease, most probably Lupus.

Yeah. No kidding. Here I am spending 33 years wanting to be like a woman and I find out that in many ways we are more alike than I would have ever guessed. Huh. Isn’t that odd? Now I suppose if I want to be a rich and famous author–and I’m not so sure anymore that I do–I only need write something I truly hate.

So everyone be on the lookout for my Russian Inspirational Slash Squick Fanfiction. It’ll be a blockbuster.

* Upon rereading this I realise it sounds like I view her theoretical Lesbianism as a sort of curse. I should be more clear by stating that if she was indeed a lesbian or bisexual, as this statement would seem to imply, she had yet another hard row to hoe. It isn’t easy being gay now, I can only imagine how uneasy it would have been a hundred and fifty years ago.

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Thick As A Brick

It’s Friday night and I’m at home in my basement looking out at the Christmas lights across the valley from my office.

Jethro Tull is lilting out the speakers in that weird flutey maze of sound they have. To me many of Tull’s songs sound a bit like Christmas music, oddly enough. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve also got a lot of James Galway Christmas music, courtesy of my flutist sister-in-law.

I’m glad that I’m alive now. I’m glad that I live in the same time as Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf and Ian Anderson and Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music and (for awhile at least) Freddie Mercury. Because no matter what bumps there are in my life, those bumps are easily sanded down with this sort of dramatically lyrical songstuff.

I hate to write about music and food. I’m never adequate to the task, never quite able to capture that bit of soft comfort and delight. It makes me feel like the worst of the world’s writers. But then I realise that it also means that I have an ineffable store of private treasure untainted by the air of exposure and that’s not so bad either.

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