Archive for July, 2011

I’ve been reading through a spate of biographies the last couple of days, and I have to tell you.

I am so glad to have my own life. Reading about other folks’ lives–the good parts as well as the bad–emphasises to me just how well-equipped I am for this particular life.

The biographies of rich people tell me about the pleasures of lots of money, but I tend to prefer to have lots of intensive time with my family and friends in my nice quiet space. All the money in the world would not recompense for being on an airplane 25 days a month and in meetings long past the fall of dark.

The biographies of famous movie and tv people convince me even more that I could really only stand two years of Junior High, and am not cut out for a lifetime of getting paid for it.

So yeah. My life has its particular–challenges? circumstances?–sure. But it’s also got so much wonderfulness it’d choke a pig. I am so overwhelmingly loved by husband, fur-kids, siblings. I have beautiful morning glories climbing the lattice next to my porch swing, entertwining with the honeysuckle. I have a Kindle with 800 books on it. I have an iPhone that takes great pictures of my kids and packs a near-endless supply of Meat Loaf and Jethro Tull.

So seriously. No bitching from me today.

Except about this one thing. (You know that a little bitchin’ about fiction is like candy to me, right? Hmmmm. Shame I can’t rename this blog to Bitchin’ ’bout Fiction. That’d be cool. But it’d pin me into a corner. Anyway)

Bitchin’ ’bout Fiction

Folks, let’s talk about the two most over-used story devices in the last five years and how sick I am of them. They are Time Travel and Alternate Universes. As much as I enjoy dabbling in the world of Quantum Physics, I have to say that fiction authors have just beat the flesh off these ponies, and are still trying to whack at the sun-calcified bones.

It bothers me because it’s just a way to tell a story and then un-tell it. I can think of a few instances where it has been done well. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban works, as does, oddly enough, the TV series Fringe.

But so many writers, especially in Sci Fi, are using these two devices to Retcon (provide retroactive continuity) themselves into stasis. This rant comes about because last night we finally finshed the last of Stargate SG-1, and I lost count trying to come up with the number of storylines where characters fall in love, marry, turn evil, die, whatever…only to have it be the “alternate universe” version or all be undone when some gizmo takes the crew through time. Ugh.

I know how hard it is to write an ending. I’ve been trying to do just that for a long time now. But an ending that says “forget all the time you invested in these characters, we’re putting everything back just as it ever was” is a jerk move.

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No, I’m not putting spoilers in this. Especially since my better half hasn’t even cracked the cover. (See Below)

I loved the book, and loved it very much. Most of the fanboys hate it, but what can you do? If I liked things most other people liked I’d be waiting in line for beer at concerts. Ugh.

The one problem I did have with the book, though, can be summed in three words.

Words Are Wind.

Honestly, George. My theory is that when everyone was picking on Martin–and those buttstripes can be mean people–for not finishing the book on their personal timetables one of Martin’s friends must have said this to him to buoy his spirits. And it stuck with him, becoming his new life motto and, by default, the new life model of EVERY FREAKING CHARACTER IN THIS BOOK.

It was fine when it was just Dany saying it, because everyone has a thing they say over and over. With me it’s “Stop leaving your hedgehogs on the stairs.” But by the end of the book, if I had been drinking one sip of Coke for every time a character–any character–says “words are wind” I would have made it through one of those giant tubs they hook up to the restaurant soda dispensers.

It’s funny in another context because I’m having a discussion about accurately portraying God in fiction. And over there I say that we learn about God the way we learn about wind–by how they both affect the things we can see. Like trees (wind) and lives (God). And of course we know how I’m always going on about how words are the true magic. (Thanks for quoting me in this last movie, Dumbledore.) So in a way I guess I agree that “Words Are Wind”. In a different way. Words are how we learn about things we cannot see. Ways to colour in the mystery.

Still and all, I did get awfully tired of reading about it. That and apparently every room in Essos and Westeros has a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

On another note, I’m still working on new e-Reader slang for reading.

Cracked the cover–“Opened the file” works, kind of. But it sounds very office-y. Quite unromantic.

Cracked the spine–I hate it when other people crack the spine on a new book. For Kindle books, I hate it when someone else reads before me and colours in the progress indicator. So I think I’m looking at “blacks the progress bar”. Not sure.

Dog-eared–Of course, Kindle “bookmarks” on the actual e-reader are little cartoon dog-ears. Of course they are. There is no way around it. On the reader apps for iPad and iPhone you get a little graphic that looks like a bookmark. But on the Kindle we are stuck with the same old ratty bent-over triangles. So I guess we can keep “dog-eared” in the parlance.

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I have a blog because the writing exercise is supposed to be good for me. Well, that’s why I’ve kept the blog active even though I seldom write directly about politics any longer.

This summer has been an odd slog for me. It’s the first time since my official diagnosis (which is now changing, again, we think) that I’ve wrestled with actual depression. There’s been moments of sadness, of course. Times when you think “I can’t believe I can’t open a soda bottle without a TOOL anymore” or “If I break another dish, I’ll just give up.”

But it hasn’t been until this summer that I’ve actually found myself wondering why on earth I should bother getting out of bed. I don’t want to belabour the point because I know from growing up with depressed people that depression can be contagious and is not fun to read about. But it’s been hard. Especially the week before last. The week I stopped blogging. Because really, if you want to read blog entries about how awful the world is there are other places you can go that aren’t so me-flavoured as this one.

I’m finally pulling back out of the despair. Thank you, dogs and colouring books. (I know it sounds silly but whenever I get depressed, playing with colours helps me. A lot.)

Of course I stop writing when I’m depressed. No offense to William Styron, but I hate reading the ramblings of depressed people. Just kick me in the emotional nuts and be done with it. Don’t drag it out over vast numbers of paragraphs.

But I’m writing this because I need to write something right now and don’t know what else to talk about. So I’m talking about not liking to talk about this. Weird. Oh well. I warned you.

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As a tween girl (only we weren’t called that in the early-80s–they just callled us “kids”) I watched reruns of “One Day At A Time” in syndication and I thought Valerie Bertinelli was the prettiest girl in the world. I wanted more than anything to look like her. All long dark hair and big eyes and sweet smile. She was also in one of my favourite made for TV movies in 1981–The Princess and the Cabbie. She was SO pretty!

So last week when I needed a brain break from George Martin I decided I’d read her “biography”Losing It.

It’s been thirty years since I first made her a mental role model of sorts, and I’m glad to have those decades under my belt. Because as I trudged through the book I found myself incredibly sad. Here’s a person who, at a healthy weight for middle-aged women of her frame size, thought she was fat. As I read her book, which is sadly subtitled “gaining my life back one pound at a time”, I was struck by the reality that even though she was a Teen Beat pinup, a beautiful young woman with a loving family and a successful career in a VERY competitive industry she always thought she was “fat” and “ugly”. There is a lot of talk about comparing herself physically to gaunt Mackenzie Phillips, a girl drugged and raped by her own father but still enviable because she’s SKINNY.

Yep. That’s the world we live in. Doesn’t matter that you’ve been high since you were eight. That your father considers you a preferable sex partner and that you have been at death’s door since you were twelve. You are a role model because you are a thin person. Never mind that you are thin in part because your parents would rather roll you a joint than cook you a hot meal.

It makes me so upset when I think about this book in retrospect, and even more so when I read the numerous Amazon reviews (heh. Amazon reviews by women who would find actual Amazons distasteful…) by women who say they bought the book for FREAKING GUIDANCE of all things. Not curiousity. Not a desire to learn. Guidance.

I am well past the age when I sought guidance from actressess and pop stars. But thankfully, right about the same time I started thinking how much I wanted to look like Valerie Bertinelli, I also heard a tune on the oldies radio station that jarred my world and burned into my senses. I missed the name of the song–it was buried in one of those blocks they would play–and spent weeks (pre-Internet) trying to track it down. When I finally found out what it was I looked in vain for the 45 and then waited by the radio for weeks with my tape recorder.*

It’s been one of my life anthems ever since. I wish someone had played it for all those other girls, the ones who think that they will be someone only if someone else says so.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself

God bless Rick Nelson.

*Stories like this are what drive home to me just how much of a boon the Internet and iTunes are in a way, but just how much of our hunter-gatherer instincts must go unfulfilled now. Because those hunts of my youth for songs and articles were a lot of what made me.

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This is not going to be a ponderous thing. Just a little note to say why I’m not writing furiously in my makebelieve world or in my real world.

My sister is here with my niece and nephew. Like me, her children are Fur Kids, so my home is running amok with Cousins who love to play with one another. We keep making plans to go someplace but then end up just watching the kids play. They are so funny.

I’ve been thinking lately about the many differences between parenting skin kids and parenting fur kids. One of my friends with skin kids said that she thinks God made a mistake not giving me skin kids since I’m such a teacher-y type. But I watch my friends and family who have them, and most folks are at the stage where their offspring are either going to college or just hitting puberty. There’s a lot of adjusting going on.

The nice thing about fur kids is that it’s sort of like having a baby who then grows into a six year old over the course of 18 months and just stops. You’re then left with a happy, playful six year old whose ability to sass back is very much limited….and if you’re lucky that six year old is with you for ten or twelve or fourteen more years. It’s a nice option for someone like me who loathes change in most of its forms.

Also, if you have a recalcitrant skin kid it’s bad form to give them pieces of candy or meat to get them to obey you. With a fur kid, on the other hand, Game ON! Much easier to bend these little eejits to your will. Sure I miss passing on what little bit of thought I have masquerading as ‘wisdom’. Dogs don’t care about things like “Live debt free”; “Only marry a true friend”; “Mean kids have their own unhappiness. Live in joy and the meanness of others ceases to hurt after a while”.

But just like mean kids, other sorrows disappear after awhile too. Joy leaves its mark and it’s easy to be happy with the good you do have and to stop mourning the good that passed you by.

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It’s been years since I waded back into the Harry-Is-A-Tool-of-Satan camp.

Of course, every book and film release I’ve lived through since 2000 has been accompanied by this grief the same way there is always a handful of people who get sick at concerts and sporting events. “We will barf on your good time!”

I read about a Catholic entertainer called Michael O’Brien who writes about the Roman Catholic objections to Potter I thought I’d surf over there to see if anything new was being said. And since I’d read none of his thoughts before it was ALL new to me.

Especially this part:

β€œIn one class, the students are taught to cut up mandrake roots, which are living human babies, for use in a potion. At the least this can cause a subconscious desensitization to abortion.”

Pause. Allow rage to subside slightly so I don’t use a bit of what my mother calls “barnyard language” or call a presumably nice man a goatweenie.

For those of you who haven’t read the books let me briefly clarify.
1. The mandrake roots are not “actual human babies”. JKRowling is using her sense of humour and goofing on the fact that people who used Mandrakes in fertility potions (including two Bible women who fought over them named Rachel and Leah) used them because they “resembled a man” ie. look like stick figure men made out of three stuck-together penises. When the kids deal with them in class it is only to re-pot the baby plants. Throughout the year references are made to the plants growing and their roots doing things people do. “The mandrakes threw a raucous party in Greenhouse three”. Professor Sprout (see, that’s Rowling’s humour again) says the mandrakes will be ready for use in potions when they are mature and “start trying to move into each other’s pots.” It’s a plant that mimics human behaviour in ways that add levity to an intense story about students being petrified.

2. Sprout cuts them herself as she didn’t trust anyone else with the delicate operation of potion making as so many lives depended on it.

So there you have it. In an effort to whip up anti-Potter frenzy we have religious people lying to strengthen their cases. Using hyperbole and glossing over things like “truth”, “humour” and “nuance” to get to the place where everyone in town hangs breathlessly on their every word about the evils of the presence of a pool table in your community Harry Potter.

Now, as religious people myself–“I are one,” as we say in Indiana–I am doubly offended. This sort of chicanery makes Christianity look WORSE than Harry Potter looks to any non-enthusiast.

I understand the real reasons for Christian objections to Harry Potter and outlined those at Mike Duran’s. There are many Christians who are sensitive to the seductivity of Paganism and choose to avoid anything that would even remind them of what they converted from. Fine by me. I choose to avoid things that lead to my temptations. I get it. But I don’t make up lies to make the things I’m avoiding seem worse than they are. That is Satanic behaviour.

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First off, allow me to apologise for being gone a week with nary a word. I was not in a place mentally that makes for good company. And as I explained to my husband on the very long drive home from the movies Saturday night, I always feel like if someone is going to give me the precious gift of their time, I owe it to them to respect that and not make them miserable. So I kept to myself, and that was certainly best.

It was a big week for my Geek Life. George R.R. Martin finally turned loose of Book 4B on Tuesday. I dove into that feet-first and loved every minute of it. Apparently, though, most people hate it. I’ve gotten more slings and arrows flung at my positive review on Amazon, and it makes me realise how hard it can be for a writer to have a successful book. Because this book is, more than any other of Martin’s, a writer’s book. A Maester’s book. It spends its time on lore, mythos, atmosphere. All the folks who wanted another Blackwater or Martin’s take on Pellenor Fields are disappointed, greatly. But I never go to Martin for the battles. I never go to anyone who didn’t fight in an actual war for written battles, truth be told. It seems, though, that most people did. So my already dim frame of mind was compounded by the countless “you’re an idiot” emails I received in wake of the good review. Oh well.

On to the bigger event, which, paradoxically, seemed like a side-note. The last Potter movie came out, and with it comes all of the talk about how this is The End Of Harry Potter. Opening wordpress this morning I see a front page article that says “The Final Harry Potter=The death of my childhood.” I am quizzical. Scratch that. I am sad. I know that the fandom is out there. By that I mean the subculture of people who found each other on LiveJournal, Leaky Cauldron, HPANA, and all the other little byways on the web. I’ve never been part of that, despite my deep love for the books. Oh, I’ve made friends from discussion fora on the subject, and friends from Real Life who are avid about the books. But those friendships haven’t centered around Potter, around the fandom around Potter, around who the coolest Big Name Fans are. (Yes, there are people famous for being fans. Society. The less said, the better.) So for me the last movie simply means that now all the boxed sets will be complete.

That’s the glory of being a reader. Good books don’t end when they stop. They stay in your head, and they are always there to go back to. Harry Potter has no more “ended” than have Heidi, Narnia or Lord of the Rings.

There’s a Bible verse about “Do not sorrow as those who have no hope” and I think the grief, the end feeling, is that these poor folks built so much of their world NOT around the stories themselves but around the HOPE, the anticipation of the next book, next movie. So what has ended is not _Harry_, but the long PR strain of new things to hope for. Clever Jo, putting Pottermore out there now.

And since this has gone over my 500 words, but I want to talk about the movie itself, those thoughts are being put after the jump. (more…)

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Over at another blog that I link to quite often these days, (Take a guess! Is it Aunt B. Or Mike Duran?? Pick one) there is a discussion as to how to use blog comments as breadcrumbs leading back to your own blog.

Now, to be honest, sometimes I don’t want people from one blog coming to this blog because I get nervous. How will the Christians handle my love for Harry Potter and my frequent use of the self-constructed epithet “crapweiler”? How will the Pagans, the Atheists, the Jews, the Muslims, handle my occasional forays into Jesus Is Just Alright With Me? And how will the feminists handle my traditional marriage with its traditional gender roles? I get nervous and then I realise that the point of this here space is transparancy and an opaque transparancy is a tautology. Okay, no it isn’t. But I once heard a famous person I dislike misuse the word “tautology” in just that way on a talk-show, so whenever I have the opportunity I poke fun at her by doing the same thing. Don’t use $3 words to try to look smart if you don’t know what they mean, Mrs. Shakespeare In Love.

Anyway. The discussion veered into the arena of how many blog entries go uncommented upon and how demoralising that is. Ooops. There’s nothing else to say but “it’s demoralising when people don’t leave comments.” If it weren’t for WordPress’ wholly unreliable stats page I would be left most days feeling as though my blog was only read by me and, occasionally, my husband.

Thankfully I have these encounters “IRL” as the kids who are too lazy to type out the letters ‘n eal ife’ say, where folks will come up to me and begin to talk about things I’ve said here as though they either paid attention all along or knew they were going to see me so they went back and studied up. Either way, I’m both flattered and slightly remoralised.

But I’m also creeped out. I can only imagine how it’ll feel to have a book published and then see all these strangers weigh in at Amazon. Yes, I know I have magical thinking occasionally, what with assuming it will a) get published and b) bought by people who will then c) take the time to review it. Eh. So what? If it weren’t for some degree of magical thinking I would be an atheist.

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It’s a watershed moment here at my house. Watershed era?

Stepping into the garage you’re greeted not by the sight of bicycles on stands and hanging from hooks in the ceiling but by a lot of nothingness. All of the Park tools which had been hung on the wall in such an orderly assembly have been taken down, and are periodically leaving here for their new Ebay-assigned owners.

After ten years, my beloved husband has taken down his cyclecraft shingle. Years of fixing bikes for friends, rebuilding them for charity, restoring them for folks in the church have ended. He’s keeping his own bikes and the tools he needs to maintain them, but the parade of bent rims, broken shifter cables and mudcaked derailleurs is no longer marching to our door.

I don’t know how I’ll tell the coming of spring, because heretofore it has always been heralded by the first tune-up call. Evenings from late February to November were often punctuated by “I’ve got a guy bringing a bike over.” But this spring that all has started to change. The friends who used to have him work on their bikes have moved to different parts of town and are no longer able to just swing by. The clients he’s been left with are petulant and rude, for the most part. (Seriously. Who says “I’ll be by when I’m done hanging out” and then wants to come pick up his bike at 11:30pm, then is too tired to do so they ask you to drop it off at their house?? Come on.) All of the free time Husband spent riding he spent instead on fixing bikes, more than once getting stiffed.

But here’s the cool part. The money he is making on eBay (considerably more than either of us expected) is getting him up and running on the hobby he’s dreamed of since childhood. Our garage, once home to velocipedes of all shapes and sizes, is now going to be a studio for creating stained glass artwork. I’m excited especially because I know our house will finally begin to look like my dream of having stained glass in every window. (At the heart of it I’m a three year old who loves shiny things. A three year old or a magpie.) I’ve settled for the one stained glass piece we bought for our 10th anniversary and several tiny crystal pendants. But now, thanks to the decline of cyclebuilding, the good people at Sam’s Stained Glass Accessories on Fatherland, and several enterprising souls from eBay, the dawn of a new day will break through our lovely window pieces.

Yes, I know that was a corny line. But still. My point stands. It’s exciting.

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I’m a bit over all this fretting about whether or not there is a Hell and who among is headed there, and how fast those folk are going.

First there was Rob Bell’s book about “Love Wins” which, surprisingly, wasn’t an ironic tome about Tennis. And now we have another book about the same topic, this one written by Francis Chan and called “Erasing Hell”.

As fun as it seems to be for some Christians to sit around and envision those who’ve mocked their faith in turns humiliated and writhing in torment, I do think we are focusing overmuch on things that don’t matter.

That’s right. I said it. Hell doesn’t matter.

OH, I see into your mind, those of you who read this and begin to stammer “but…but…” I see you saying that Hell most certainly does matter because that is what Jesus’ death is delivering us from and if we don’t get out there and convert the masses, their fiery ruin is on our heads. So Hell should damn well matter. Pun intended.

Here’s the thing. Hell is part of that larger infinity which is essentially beyond our comprehension. It exists in the same realms of thought as God, angels, demons, the fallen angel of light, death, resurrection and the rest of those mysteries. Concerning ourselves overmuch with the coming Hell and it’s theoretical population is not unlike a parlour game. It is something without an answer that we all contemplate to pass the time, to arrogantly peer into the mind of God and the mystery of eternity. To fantasize about the ruin of our enemies. To justify disbelieving in God. Hell is a coathook upon which intellectuals hang many things.

But Hell has no part in the conversation of Grace that I can tell.

Jesus himself talked about hell on several occasions. That is very true. I do not deny that Hell is out there.

What bothers me is our focus on Hell as both a conversion tool and a sort of stick Christians use to get back at everyone else. Maybe it’s because so much of the Christian culture eschews horror films and then has to focus on another outlet for transmuting their rage.

But we are given a clear set of marching orders:
1) Take up your cross daily.
This is the effort of developing a life-long discipline of following Christ. Christianity isn’t a one-and-done proposition, with the prayer of salvation excusing a life of debauch.

2) Love your neighbour as yourself
Love is the most important instruction Christ gave us. A friend of mind points out that the vast majority of folks don’t seem to understand what this love really is. That it is wholly transforming and wholly sacrificial. It is NOT a “what’s in it for me” sort of bargain. It’s a verb that takes your whole self and leaves you changed for the better in its wake.

3) Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
This is where I think a lot of us get frantic. God tells us to get disciples so we use the ways of the Old man–fear and hatred–to bully others into an acceptance of God. No matter how reluctant they are. No matter how hollow a conversion can be when based on a reaction. But picture instead Jesus as he calls the disciples. There are no “follow me or go to hell” conversations. Instead there is the certainty of Christ and the promise of a new life. Positive motivators.

I believe Hell exists because Christ spoke of it. Yet I also believe the demons flew into the pigs and then over the cliff. I don’t base my entire faith and worldview on suicidal demonic pigs and I don’t threaten non-believers with demonic possession as a conversion tool.

We’d do better to put less energy into the the attempt to answer the unanswerable and instead worry about those among us who are in a hell of their own; starving, sick, withered and broken. God can worry about all of our collective tomorrows. It’s time we spent today on Grace.

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