Archive for February, 2012

Episode Four

Twenty-three years ago I was in college and flat broke. It was my Sophomore year and my deal with my parents was that I’d cover books and spending money if they covered tuition. One of the things I didn’t learn in college was that my Sophomore course books would be quite a bit more expensive than my Freshman texts. I also didn’t count on money spending faster once we had cars (which were disallowed on campus for first-year students.) So I ran out of money after six weeks. Yes, the money that I thought would last all semester lasted exactly one-third of it. I had two options–ask my parents for more cash or get the only job on campus available to students who didn’t qualify for work-study. I went for option B and got a job in the dishroom cleaning up after meals eaten by a bunch of privileged kids at a Christian University. (A lot of food got thrown away or put into gruesome concoctions designed to torment the dishroom staff.) And most people who know me know how this story goes so we’ll fast-forward all the suspenseful details and just get to the part where I ended up falling in love with the mean guy who was my boss.

Twenty-one years ago we got married. Twenty-one years ago we came down to Nashville for grad school and a promised job. Neither thing went exactly as planned and we learned how to live by our wits–and three jobs a piece–in the middle of a recession.

Eighteen years ago we started talking about having babies.

Back then I was an avid cross-stitcher and had ex’d my way through Precious Moments, Priscilla’s Precious Bears and just about every other cutesick thing meant to hang in a nursery. After a few years and several “for the nursery” crafts we figured out there was quite possibly a problem. So I set aside the kids’ stuff and began working on a project called The Angel Of Hope.

"Angel Of Hope" by Lavender and Lace Designs

I stitched her for years, a sort of de facto rosary where I’d dream dreams about our future life and perfect brood as I pulled the thread across the slender bars of linen. Seven years ago, barren as the Sahara and aching with what was then a mysteriously never-ending case of the flu, I packed her away. I couldn’t throw her out,though, and I suppose that does say something about my faith surviving my hope.

For several weeks now I’ve been feeling the urge to return to my old hobby. This past weekend I unpacked my angel and inventoried all my DMC flosses, remembering how so many of them had been purchased to make something for the babies’ room. I had had so much hope back then.

It occurred to me last night while stitching her wing that maybe what I had all those years ago wasn’t really hope, but fantasy. A storybook vision of how things Ought To Be, brought to me by rumours and stories and television.

Now I sit here with the back door open, sun and fresh air lazily walking in with chirps of birds in their arms. I realise I’m soon to be forty-two years old. The answer to all things. I have a new hope now, and it doesn’t have feathers or perch in my soul or look through baby name books or tour model homes on the weekend. It’s just there. It tells me that good and bad are survivable and worthwhile. My stitches don’t have prayers in them anymore. My prayers don’t have hectoring at God in them anymore. Stitches are stitches, prayers are conversations and hope is the project I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away.

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Last night I gave up on the Oscar telecast and went to bed early to read. Why was an old novel plucked from the public domain more intriguing than I program I once insisted I be let out of the hospital early to see? I’ve turned that question over in my mind for years, and, judging from the bloated telecasts we’ve been seeing, so have the telecast’s creators.

All anyone has to do is look at last night’s program.

After years of hard and mostly thankless toiling, a person’s dream comes true. Last night that person was Spoiler Alert from the film Spoiler Alert. Overcome with emotion, she was helped to the stage where she trembled and fought tears as she tried desperately to find the words for this life experience. Unlike childbirth, weddings, funerals, job promotions and huge sales on designer name brand fashions, winning an Oscar is a truly
rare experience. It doesn’t happen to many people. The winning actress was still overcome with emotion and trying to express deep gratitude when the band played on. Christian Bale had to help her from the stage as she trembled and stepped gingerly away from the biggest moment in her career and perhaps her life.

There were a few more wins with aborted speeches scattered between movie montages, out of place skits, tired jokes and stilted banter. Then Cirque du Soleil was given a huge chunk of time for their schtick where people jumped over each other and twirled around on wires.

That right there is the problem.

We in the audience tune in for the Real. What is she wearing? Who is his date? What is it like to have every dream you ever dreamed turn sparklingly real at the opening of an envelope? That’s the best reality show in the world.

And they cut it off to show vaudeville shtick we could rent at Redbox.

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I have a confession to make. Actually, perhaps I ought to switch to Catholicism as it seems from all these blog entries that I have a lot of confessions piling up. Unfortunately I don’t think any of my unburdenings are the types to be bothering priests with and there really is no penance for them.

Today’s confession is that I have become exceedingly tired of Young Adult fiction.

As with all genres I firmly believe there is a place for it, and like most other genres I’ve unashamedly read my fill of YA from the time I was 9 until today. Sarah Dessen is one of a few authors whose new releases I’ll buy sight unseen, reviews unheeded. There is a refreshing simplicity to the language and plotting of novels in this genre that makes them perfect for hammocks, beaches, lunch breaks; perfect for all those times you want to immerse yourself in the world of the novel without being over your head in pages and adverbs.

Some of my best friends are Young Adult novels.

So what is this impasse we’ve come to, and why is it an impasse at all? Thanks to the overwhelming success of Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series we are at a place in the book business where the big sellers are uniformly coming from the YA genre. Not because these books are better, mind you. But they are better for the marketing departments of the big publishers. For a business that is struggling to stay afloat in a changing marketplace, these books are a godsend. The page counts are shorter, the buying market encompasses a wide swath of ages and as most of these books are part of a series they are a perpetual marketing machine. If I were in the marketing department I would beg for as many good YA titles on the frontlist as I could get.

I’m not in the marketing department. I’m in the buying department. As much fun as a YA book can be, I do read at times other than lunch and places other than hammocks and beaches. If Young Adult books are hearty appetizers, I’m at the place where I’d also really like to have something for the main course.

As a writer I’ve been making the acquaintance of more working writers as a way to find kindred spirits, and those working writers are opening my eyes to The Rules. You may have gathered as much, seeing as how I have been complaining about those rules of late. And it occurred to me the other day as I read through one of the random lists of rules that people are extrapolating rules for YA fiction to apply to all genres. That bothers me. We already live in a world where YA is the current King Baby. And now all books are to be remade to look more like a YA title:

1. Go light on the Adjectives and Adverbs
2. Avoid shifting points of view
3. Show, don’t tell

All of these rules make sense in the YA category where there is an economy of language, a moral message and easily relatable characters. But should they be hard and fast for books from which we expect a wider cast of relatable characters, a greater depth of language and a message that is more obscured by story?

Even more horrifying is the thought that readers who are on a steady diet of YA may lose their interest in adult fiction styles altogether. I’m really starting to worry as I watch The Hunger Games and Daughter of Smoke and Bone camp out at the top of the bestseller lists. I’m afraid that the world of adult fiction is receding from view.

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I try to stop by ereaderiq.com on a daily basis to stay on top of the Kindle ebook market. That site is my favourite of the bargain e-book ombudsmen because it allows you to track not only ALL free ebooks but new releases of mainstream paid titles, price-drops on all ebooks and titles that are arriving to the format. It’s one stop shopping.

Unfortunately the Free Ebook stop is becoming more and more like that shady rest area everyone is kind of afraid to use the bathroom at. When Amazon announced their program to make self-pubbed e-books easier to create and market it seems to have opened the floodgates. What I’m seeing now in the Free E-book market is scarily what blogs were like back in 2006-2007, when everyone read articles about Dooce and decided they’d Also Get Rich Writing Blogs. Fast forward to now and the articles are about Karen McQuestion, Amanda Hocking, J.A.Konrath and the other four or five people making real money from self-publishing. The e-books are following the outmoded blog advice and sticking to one subject of popular interest. So that means we’ve got a knee-deep slush pile of diet books, budgeting books, household tips–everything that used to be dumped on the blogosphere.

We’ve even got more than a few blogs-turned-into-books. I can think of only one example where I’ve enjoyed one of these–and that’s my friend Betsy Phillips’ excellent City Of Ghosts. The rest of it seems to be an excuse to have a book. Is that a bad thing, though? Part of me is thinking that maybe I’ll take my Christian posts from here and turn them into a sort of devotional ebook. Hmmm. Let me ponder that in my heart.

Yesterday was the moment when this whole theory of blogs turning into books finally coalesced in my mind. It was this book that did it for me.

Click to embiggen

The title intrigued me, as does anything with the words “born again”. As I tried to decipher the book’s description, which feels like it’s been run through a bad ‘nutcase-to-English’ translator program, I realised that I’ve seen this writing a thousand times before. It’s straight-up blogosphere raving, and I wonder how many of these e-books released over the next span of 18-24 months are going to be handing us glimpses into the dank farms of hatred and bitterness that lurk on the fringes.

I guess it’s a plus that with the e-books the ravings are in one place and don’t have a comment section.

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This started as a Facebook post, but I realised it needs a better, more permanent home. It needs to be archived in a place where people who have questions about where I stand can refer to it.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I also believe it’s wrong to force women to have instruments shoved into their vaginas.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that it is an end choice made after many other difficult choices and a better way to end it is to work to change the world so that those prior difficult choices (poverty, abuse) don’t happen.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that those who have them deserve the Love and Grace that was also shown to me.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that making it illegal will not make it disappear.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that hunger, foul water, unchecked and untreated disease are wrong too. It’s just as wrong to let a child starve to death or to deny medical treatment.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that men have a different understanding of the problem than do women. I don’t believe men should be excluded from the debate, nor do I believe their opinions trump the opinions of women.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I know there are many who do not. They have arrived at these opinions from many different directions and I will not shame Christ by refusing to show them Grace.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I know many women have had them. Some regret it, others don’t. I will not shame Christ by refusing to show them Grace.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that there are other problems that are more effectively solved through politics. I believe that political energies are best directed down those courses. Outlawing abortion will not stop poverty, joblessness, education gaps. Who we elect has to be about more than the fantasy of a leader decrying abortion.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that every person and every life has equal value and importance.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that the way we approach the issue has lasting repercussions on the Church and those of us who are Christians need to think long and hard about how our belief in Abortion affects our testimony.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I am still convinced that this country has the best chance of being a light of hope to the world and I’d like to see our energies directed to that as well.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I don’t believe the government is to be owned by one particular faith or sect or belief.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I do not think I am better than someone else.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that speaking without love is useless. And love does not keep a record of wrongs. So when I talk with people I don’t let their opinions about abortion stand in the way of our relationship.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong, I believe that it is a complicated personal question that often has other parameters those outside cannot and will never fully understand in this lifetime.

Even though I believe Abortion is wrong I believe that it affects not only the life ended but the life touched by the ending and as such I need to extend the same love and prayer and striving to the woman who finds herself facing the option as I do her unborn.

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It used to crack me up when I was younger that the world celebrated Presidents’ Day by having White sales. It seemed so funny–like we were saying that these were two really awesome white men and/or that we should stock up on sheets for a rally in their honour. “Celebrate Lincoln with bedsheets!” just seemed twistedly funny to me.

I was a weird kid.

Lincoln reading to his son

I have always loved Abraham Lincoln and been more than half in love with him since as far back as I can remember. I’m an Indiana girl and Lincoln featured prominently in my upbringing. We even had a bust of him in our “big bathroom” that we four children shared. Whether you were brushing your teeth, having a necessary evacuation or bathing, Abe was always there looking at you wisely. It was a small bust, though, so you never felt like he was looming. More like he was a shrunken head with some toothpaste drying on the hairline.

Until just a few years ago Lincoln National Life Insurance was based in Fort Wayne–my home town–and the Lincoln museum was there too. Every year had a field trip where we saw countless rare pictures and drawings, eyeglasses and pens and other artifacts of The Great man, the grisliest of which was perhaps the bloodied pillow from the house across from Ford’s Theatre, on loan from the Petersen house.

When I was 8 or 9 or something like that…maybe 10…we loaded up the family motorhome for one of our Educational Vacations. We toured Springfield and saw Lincoln’s house.

The Lincoln Home in Springfield, Il.

We toured New Salem with giant walkie talkies that spewed prerecorded information about the various rustic cabins and ended that day with a play about Lincoln in an outdoor theatre. I got very sick (what are the odds?!?) and lay in the camper that night having fever dreams, all starring Lincoln who was sometimes the Lincoln of the museum and sometimes the Lincoln of the bathroom and sometimes the Lincoln of the play. In those dreams we were married and I was Mary Todd and I’m sure there were giraffes drinking tea or other fever dream apparitions. But from that dream forward I’ve been ardent about Lincoln in a scary way.

It was harder to care about Washington. Much harder. Lincoln was Midwestern and poor and I understood him and the land that shaped him. Of course we went to Mount Vernon too. (If it’s historical, we went there.) What sticks in my mind about that trip was the kingly wealth of Washington’s home. And the slave quarters. Those slaves were such a deal breaker for me; I couldn’t worship Washington or Jefferson fully when visits to the estates of their lifetimes showed plainly the palatial splendor of their homes and the grubby outbuildings for the people they owned. As a child chills went down my spine seeing how unequal the division was. It was just so right there in your face and at that moment standing in front of a tiny building

Slave Quarters at Mount Vernon

for a slave family (which had more people than Washington’s family) the injustice of it made me sort of hate him. I softened a bit on trips to Valley Forge but it wasn’t until reading Chernow’s biography of Washington last year that I made any sort of peace with the man. I quite respect him and have reached a sort of detente with the slave thing. But it’ll always be there, and it will always colour my opinion.

Today is for both of them, the man who made the country and the man who had to oversee the great bloody dissection necessary to excise the country’s foulest tumor. My thanks to them both for answering the hard and merciless call to serve.

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I have a confession to make–one I’m quite embarrassed about.

For years I’ve not minded “swearing”. I’ve even used it as a method of pain control.

Actually, I am not fond of the various terms used to describe the use of Anglo-Saxonisms in modern speech. “Swearing” implies that you are making a religious statement, and the words I’ve used are definitely not that. Unless you worship poo. “Cursing” implies that you are either a fairy tale character or involved, like in “Swearing”, with religious words that instruct a deity to impart bad consequences on the direct object of your invective verb.

And “Cussing”–one of the top ten Words I Hate–just sounds like baby talk. “Mama, I got a boo-boo ouchie so I cussed.” Every time I hear someone say “cuss” I want to grab them by the lapels and insist that as an adult they speak like one. Granted, I have no idea why I’ve come to dislike the word Cuss so much, but I do. Maybe it’s because it shares a front half with another word I hate even more.

For lack of any other options, that leaves me with the term “Anglo-Saxonisms” to discuss the words I mean. My mother would call these terms “barnyard language” but whenever I hear that phrase I can only think Four legs good, two legs bad.

Some of my favourite shows–The Wire, Deadwood–are replete with Anglo-Saxonry and I can watch them for hours without batting an eye.

But lately I’ve noticed something happening–and here’s where the confession comes in.

My tolerance for this word usage is rapidly dropping. Last night while browsing a popular social medium I saw several examples of what most people consider to be The Worst of the usual suspects. I go to this particular site to relax and look at things that inspire me. Most of what ends up there are lovely pictures of gardens, artwork, President Lincoln. But a few friends add things that feature The Eff Word prominently. Now in years past that’s not been I word I’ve minded. It’s a piece of language like any other and in my view the only thing that gives it power are the people who give it power. I’ve generally felt–up til now–that if I didn’t treat it like a big deal it wasn’t going to be one.

Last night as I stumbled over it again and again it became like a bruise on an apple. Every instance where it was used it was meant as an assault. If someone were to say “look at this lovely effing car” I’d have no problem. But I think, now as I type this out and look at it with a morning’s eye I see what bothers me are the times when the person using it is making an assaulting statement. “You are so effing stupid.” “What the eff is your problem?”

I think I may start calling these “Hollow-Point”* words. Like the bullets, these words in this context are designed to give your strike maximum damage. And in reality they have no other point but to wound. Clearly if someone says you are effing stupid they don’t mean that your sexual knowledge is lacking. So the word itself has an empty point. It’s only there as an assault.

I think that’s why I’ve started to mind hollow point words more than I used to. In some contexts they are like little flecks of snot that escape from an uncovered sneeze, and exist only to foul the air and wound anyone within earshot. So its perhaps not so much the words I mind as the attitude that propels them into the air.

(Is anyone else as annoyed as I by the amount of quotes in this blog entry? It’s grammatically correct, but I feel like someone has sprinkled a rainstorm on my writing.)

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As I said in the comments of another post a few days ago, I’ve turned this buggy down a different road and am reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln. For those of you who didn’t know already, I’ve had a crush on Lincoln pretty much my entire life. Whenever I read about him I feel like Monica Lewinsky watching TV to see if Bill Clinton is wearing that special tie. It’s all stalker-y and weird. But I can’t help myself.

I’ve never read this book before, and I’ve read tons of books on Lincoln. This showed up in the Kindle store as being published in late 2011 and so I just figured I was reading a definitive new biography. A few GoodReads reviews later I discovered that this book was actually published in the early 1990s; what’s “New” about it is the paperback release and lower price, hence its availability in the Kindle Store. In other words, it’s from the Black Hole time.

In the Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers, he says that to be an expert in a topic one must have 10,000 hours (that’s 416 24-hour days, 1250 8 hour days, 3.5 years of 8 hour days) invested in it. I figure this makes me an expert on books, my marriage*, Harry Potter, knitting, writing, the Bible, the internet, cooking and talking with my sister on the phone. So, obviously that’s a list that a lot of people will consult me about for my valuable insights.

The trouble with my particular 10,000 hours when it comes to books, though, is that for about five years, from 1991 to 1996, I have a black hole in my life. Whenever something comes up in any topic relating to those years I have no clue. Those were the years I was first married and first moved to Nashville and it seems as though I was in a bubble of adjusting to several major life changes all at once. As far as my mind is concerned, the entire world was on hold.

And that’s why I haven’t read the Lincoln book until now. It’s odd, feeling like you missed part of the world’s turning.
Speaking of which, it comes to my attention that there will be two new movies this fall and winter about Abraham Lincoln. I’m prepared to be really annoyed with the world, and I’m going on record NOW as saying that I’ve thought Lincoln was full of sexy intrigue from the time I was like 6 or 7, if not earlier. Whenever movies come out people are always finding the supposedly unglamorous characters intriguing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I read someone on LiveJournal say that Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort was Teh Hawtness. And it’s going to happen with Lincoln. That makes me think I should ready myself for another black hole as I withdraw from the world to avoid it all.

*I’m not joking about this. If you think marriage is a passive exercise that doesn’t require daily involvement you really need to re-examine your ideas about marriage. Unless you aren’t married in which case I salute you for your strength of character and resolve in going it unpartnered.

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Okay, this is twice now, and I’m over it.

Back when we were talking about Occupy Nashville, some fellow left a comment here about how it’s okay to use deadly force on protestors because sometimes you have to give antibiotics preventatively.

Then today I was over at Pith to read Aunt B. and I made the mistake of going into the comments. Those comments always make me stabby, and today is no exception. There it is again. Perennial favourite Donna Locke, addressing the use of SWAT teams and deadly force to take down non-violent criminals (like music pirates) said:

Antibiotics are sometimes administered pre-emptively, before infection develops. Happy Valentine’s Day to the the SWAT teams. Thank you for putting your lives on the line for all of us.

If many libertarians had their way, we’d be living in utter chaos.

Just, uh, be sure you have the right address. #Not my house. ##Try the all-night band across the road. ###Please.

This? This right here is why I’m a libertarian. Because the greatest part about championing individual liberty is the realisation that it takes all kinds to make a world. Even anti-immigrant neo-conservative hatemongers have a place here. They are free to be that and I am free to be this and as long as everyone’s noses are okay, we’re all good.

This idea that other people are some form of bacteria or infection or grossness–reducing them to that and stealing their personhood in the process–is partisan politics at its worst. Because, honestly, some guy who steals music is doing something bad. But he’s still a mother’s son, a person’s lover. Perhaps a father. Perhaps a dog owner. Maybe he does nothing else all day but steal music and throw darts at pictures of George Washington. I don’t know and I really don’t care. He’s a person who has rights and if I don’t respect those rights how can I expect others to respect my rights? “She’s just an arthritic woman who makes no contribution to society. She doesn’t work or pay taxes. Let’s break down her door and run through her house with semiautomatic weapons and arrest her.” It could happen. Has happened in the past in other places.

The minute we start using dehumanising opponents is when we start admitting that facism is an attractive position as long as we’re on the side doing the bullying.*

*for the record, this is also why I won’t say “Illegals”.

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I want to talk about Harry Potter. (Shoot, I want to read Harry Potter. More on that in a minute)

Specifically, I want to talk about what the hidey-ho is going on with Pottermore. A site which was supposed to be live three months ago is still in Beta. I strongly suspect they’re trying to figure out the best way to monetize it and still keep the server load to a minimum, but they should have realised going into it that the books being as popular as they are would mean that the website would draw countless hits.

I was able to get into the site briefly through means I promised not to discuss. It was an interesting experience, but one I don’t necessarily think I’ll do that often. I don’t like to read at the computer, and as interesting as the twee illustrations were, it just wasn’t anything I think I’d go back to.

The Potter fandom is, meanwhile, being torn asunder by this. The world is still separated into Beta Testers and Those Who Do Not Have Passcodes Yet. I am so glad that I am not in the “Fandom”, because that world seems to have been increasingly defined by the Melissa Anelli Model: The bigger fan you are, the closer you get to JK Rowling and the Potter Inside Scoop. They’ve fallen into a sort of fan fiefdom, with Anelli as the Queen who Wrote the Book about the Books and her fellow Leaky Cauldron admins as the Dukes and Lords. Pottermore Beta Passcodes were the last chance a Fandom acolyte had to be One Of The Special People, and now there is simmering resentment for those with the treasured access.

Those elite few who do have entree into the system report that it is buggy, seldom actually up and running, crashing in the middle of a game or contest when it does manage to stay online for a few minutes. I honestly want to know in a world where Facebook can house millions of users, (many of whom are online all day playing the associated games) that Pottermore can’t figure out a way to work well enough to do what they said they would. Can’t they take a meeting with Zuckerberg and get a few pointers?

Me, I’m not caring about the potions exams, being sorted into a House* or reading McGonagall’s backstory. Okay, I care a little bit about the backstory. But what I really want–and pretty much everyone who knows me knows–are the ebooks. Book 4 and Beyond are lost to me now, and the ebooks are my shining hope. Unfortunately they are part and parcel of the Fully Functioning (and apparently mythical) Pottermore, and I have to wait for that business to get on the rails.

I have spent so much of my adulthood waiting on Harry Potter, and I’m starting to feel a little miffed. Now, of course I still love the books, love Rowling, love that whole world. And yes, as my sister and husband keep reminding me, I have the books all but memorised. Still and all, I don’t like it when people tease me and I feel that thus far Pottermore has been a gigantic tease.

My birthday is at the end of May. Here’s hoping I can get the ebooks by then.

*I don’t care what any computer says. I’m Ravenclaw, and that’s final. The Hat takes your choice into account, after all,and he and I agreed that I would be useless in any other house.

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