April, 2005

I just discovered that NPR has about a zillion RSS feeds available. Coooooooool.

In other cool news, I found the Online Parallel Bible via Elizabeth Bear (see a vast array of versions of the Great Commission, for example). Haven’t yet figured out how to read things in context and seeing only one verse at a time is frustrating but it’s still nifty to see all those versions all lined up like that.

As everyone under the sun has already mentioned, the Serenity trailer is out. It’s beautiful and a little scary. Beautiful because I love this world and this story and am so ready to be taken back into it, scary because the trailer was all about River, one of my least favorite characters. It totally chintzed on Zoe (probably my favorite character) and didn’t even show Book and Kaylee. I know that it’s just a trailer, but still, it makes me antsy. I don’t want to see Kung Fu River, I want to see the ship and Mal and the crew and…c’mon Joss, I’m really invested, please make it good.

Serenity is one of three movies that I’m seriously looking forward to this year, the other two are Mirrormask (also in September, yay!) and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (December release!). I’m going to see Star Wars on opening day, I’ve already got tickets, but I’m not excited at all about that. Stars in my eyes for Serenity, though. That will put me at six movies for the year (I’ve already seen House of Flying Daggers and The Incredibles). I think I saw seven or eight last year. In general, movies hold a lot less interest for me than they did in the past. My interest wanes steadily every year. On the other hand, though I see far fewer movies overall, I fully enjoy all of them, so I guess I’m better at picking what I want to see and passing on things that aren’t as good. I couldn’t even summon eagerness to go see Kung Fu Hustle, though I bet I would have enjoyed it. I sort of wanted to see Bride and Prejudice, but on the week that I could have gone I opted to do something else instead.

This morning I heard on NPR that there’s been a for real, true, verified sighting of an ivory billed woodpecker. This is like the holy grail of american bird species. It put the tiniest ray of sunshine in my day. It’s not because it somehow means we’re not decimating the planet with pointless consumer consumption, overpopulation and greed. It’s quite obvious that we are. But that one gorgeous native bird we thought wiped from the earth is still with us, at least today. It gives me hope. Our situation is dire, yes, but perhaps not irredeemable.

Research for YWGYSL has led me to this nifty little site showing a potential first Mars base.

My husband tells me I failed to mention here that I found my yoga mat. It was at the yoga center where I practice on Tuesdays, behind a curtain which serves as the lost and found. I had looked around for it on my own, but it wasn’t anywhere obvious or accessible. However when I asked my teacher about it she showed me where lost mats rest. I’m so happy to have it back that I washed it, according to my yoga teacher’s instructions, which are amazingly easy : put in washing machine on gentle cycle with exactly one drop of dish detergent. And one of these days, I keep thinking I might write a post about yoga.

I joined stlbloggers (and stuff like this is yet another reason why I love living in St. Louis), so if you’ve popped in from over there, welcome! Also welcome if you got here from my excessive peddling of this url at my writer’s group. I’ll have to quit saying nasty things about you guys from now on, I suppose.

Since this is a post of links, the following is a shopping list made easy, for my husband. The rest of you can stop here. He’ll need this handy linkified list for May 8, which is Mother’s Day. I could really use some yoga stuff, like a yoga ball, a yoga blanket or an eye pillow. For pure pampering luxury, guaranteed to put me in a good disposition, try some bath bombs, some of my tried and true magie noire, or if you think I should expand my scent repertoire, try a few exciting and intriguing samples from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (though this would not arrive on time, so you might want a backup gift to accompany this, and so you’re not overwhelmed, here’s a few suggestions). If you wish to cater to my undying love for chocolate, please remember Salvato’s Cioccolato. If that fails, try some headphones, Elizabeth Bear’s Hammered, or any of the gabillion things on my amazon wishlist. I’ve set you up for success and I look forward to your flying colors.

Tomorrow a book review. Maybe.

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27 Apr 2005, by

85th Dream Entry

Not from last night, from the night before.

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I was raised, as many of you already know, Southern Baptist. My parents are missionaries. My only brother and his family are missionaries. With me, the missionary thing didn’t stick. In case your background has not been quite like mine, let me make explicit the salient point of my upbringing in this environment : The Great Commission. I have had it drummed into me that I should go everywhere and talk to everyone about Jesus. And yet, I never do. Why not?

This is a tough question, one that I’m not sure I can fully answer, but that I have thought about a great deal. Let me cut away some of the clutter by ruling out some of the reasons that don’t apply. It isn’t because I’m no longer Christian, have ceased to believe in God, or don’t believe that there’s no salvation without Jesus. Ok, I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder about that last thing. But as a general tenet, I don’t really have a problem with it. It’s also not because I doubt that everyone should hear about Jesus and be able to make an informed choice about whether or not to follow Him. I’m all for followers of Christ. I’m not secretively hoarding the keys to Heaven, giggling to myself about the solution I refuse to offer to others. But I don’t see the sense in pushing Jesus on everyone I have an exchange with. There has to be an openness, a readiness, a prepared inquisitiveness there for the message to reach a person. I don’t know if I have the ability to recognize such an openness when I see it, either, but I do hope that should the opportunity present itself I would be both willing and able to speak my heart and my faith on this matter. I’m unlikely to say anything, though, unless someone asks me. I’m not going to volunteer my religious persuasion or my beliefs.

Reluctance to spread the good word, the joy of the gospel, the path to salvation is so completely counter to everything I was taught that it makes me think I’m probably not a very good Christian. Or at least, not a very good Evangelical. And yet, try as I might, I have a great deal of trouble justifying proselytizing on all kinds of levels. I can’t understand why any human being with a bible and basic literacy skills can’t figure it out on their own. Why have I got to be the middle man? Now I know there’s languages the bible isn’t translated into and places where there are no bibles and people who’ve never heard of the bible. I don’t live in one of those places. And there’s fewer and fewer of those places on the planet all the time, thanks to the many missionaries who have been out there in the last couple of thousand years. Those missonaries, by the way, are one of the many things that make me exceedingly queasy about the whole prospect of evangelizing. Too many of them wrecked cultures with their enthusiasm, not to mention the ones that hastened trips to the afterlife for people they mostly thought of as savages. Still, the hypocrisy and bad behavior of some, though it gives me pause, is not something that invalidates the cause as a whole. I have no problem with missionaries as such. If the Great Commission is the most important thing in the book, and many think so, then I understand their fervor completely. I get on well with my family and respect their work, which to the extent that I have observed is above reproach. Nonetheless, I don’t think my words can clarify what’s held within the covers of the good book. I do think I can lead by example but that requires no explanation. Any words I interject between a person and the bible are wasted words, as far as I’m concerned. It stands on its own. I’m not talking about discussing religious issues with people who follow Christianity, that’s a different thing. I’m also not talking about answering questions on the subject of Protestant dogma, religious practice and biblical theology to the minimal extent that my knowledge covers these subjects. I’m willing to correct misapprehensions if I think it’s worthwhile. No, I’m talking about standing in between a person and their firsthand experience of what I consider to be a holy book. It seems presumptious and well, distracting, to me.

I had a conversation a while back with an atheist friend of mine. He does a lot of railing, and on this particular day he was railing against Christians. It was his premise that the far right in this country has usurped Christianity, and that all the other Christians that don’t accept the tenets of the far right are collaborators by their silence. By not saying “This is not my Christianity” or “I’m a Christian but I don’t believe that” we are allowing ourselves to be co-opted for political gain. I was deeply troubled by his assertion. I didn’t think it to be true that there was no countervoice, and I certainly didn’t think it was my job to tell people that I’m a real Christian and the other guys are just fakers, hypocrites or deluded fools. That sort of judgment isn’t mine to make, and the scripture is quite clear about that. Anyway, it’s pretty self-evident who’s sowing what, so why isn’t the example of my daily life enough? Why is it incumbent upon me to scream louder than Christians who see things differently than I do? I’m not a screamer. I’m a pluralist, willing to let everyone who wants to have a shot at calling themselves Christian do so. I’m also busy with any number of beams in my own eye, thank you very much, and don’t really have time for the motes of others.

Still, it got me thinking. Here’s this guy whom I know doesn’t want to hear me tell him the first thing about God’s eternal love for him claiming I’m not doing the right thing if I’m not representin’ yo. (I do believe in an ironic God). Outside of my unshakeable belief in the separation of church and state, which makes the overt mixing of my religion and my politics repulsive to me, I am not interesting in proclaiming myself to be a Christian to the world because my relationship to God and my faith isn’t anyone else’s business. It’s private. It took a long while for me to understand that this was the first rung on the ladder of my reluctance. I was raised on Jesus as personal savior, one-on-one, God talks back, the Spirit is in me religion and that took root far more deeply in my psyche than the evangelizing aspect did. It’s my private God. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of God to go around, and He can be your private God too if you like, but the state of my soul and my faith is just between Him and me. You may see the effects of God’s work in me, but I’m not going to talk about it spontaneously any more than I’m going to regale the world with what color underwear I’m wearing or recite how much money is in my bank account. It’s just not anyone’s business but mine. The penny didn’t drop for me on this until I read the often brilliant slacktivist‘s piece on Rick Warren. He made a parenthetical joke about “Jesus as your privatized savior” (which was very, very funny) that made it all click for me. I’m so to the left socially, you can imagine my surprise to discover that I really am a capitalist pig when it comes to the capital of my soul. It’s mine, mine, mine and you can’t have it or touch it or see it.

Maybe I’m a woman with a bushel and a light. I don’t know. I’m trying to come to grips with it. Perhaps I need to look into being less individualistic. I doubt I’ll take up missions, but possibly I can move away from my position of extreme reticence. You have to admit, this is a start, isn’t it?

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I dreamed about Medievia last night. I’m not kidding.

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14 Apr 2005, by

83rd Dream Entry

It was midmorning before I realized that the thoughts in my head were natural outgrowths of what I had dreamed about. I have been having lots of dreams but struggling to remember them. Last night I did a long (for me) shoulder stand before going to bed which I think may have helped me recall what I dreamed about. I’m hoping to get to five minute shoulder stands, nightly, but I only lasted for about two and a half minutes before having to come down. Something to work toward. Also, it’ll be interesting to see whether it makes me remember more of my dreams consistently or whether that was just a coinkydink.

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13 Apr 2005, by

March Roundup

So it’s that time again, time to see how well I did with my resolutions during March.

  • Writing – The only major work I’ve done is on YWGYSL. I did a brainstorming exercise, wrote a couple of scenes with old characters and indulged myself with a small short story. March had 23 writing days but Sophia was off for 6 of them leaving 17. My word count total for the month was 14,092. That’s 935 words more than in February (13,157) and 431 words more than in January (13,661). It’s nonetheless a shortfall of 2,908 words. Total words for the year thus far is 40,910. That isn’t anywhere near as much as I’d like. Must do even better!
  • Blogging – I took a hit here, as I expected I would, when I determined not to spend so much time online. I managed to blog twice a week every week but the last one. One week was a three blog week. I’m ambivalent about counting this a failure because I was still reasonably faithful, I’d rather have the word count and the books read, and I think most of my posts were long and involved enough to compensate for being a little sporadic. There were a couple of posts I worked on for two or three days in snatches before publishing them. I’m still going to aim high and try to get three to five posts a week, but I’m not going to lie to you about this having slipped as a priority.
  • Reviewing – I took a different tack with this in March, reviewing a number of short stories from different online sources instead of a book or a printed anthology. I did this only twice during the month, but both times were rather lengthy and involved. I continued to get feedback from authors whose works I reviewed, which is most gratifying. In January and February I managed three reviews, so I’m going to try and do at least three in April, also.
  • Losing Weight – I have good news here as well. I lost another 2 pounds in March and am beginning to really feel the difference in the fit of my clothes. I have another 6 pounds that I consider must lose, and being almost halfway to the minimum goal (which was 10) before summer is making me very hopeful that I’ll have the must lose plus the hopeful 5 off before fatty fat season rolls around again. That would rock. I’m approaching this weight loss thing from several directions, and I think it’s working. Perhaps at some point I can get into more detail about that.
  • Walking Sergei – I did ok here. I walked him a total of ten times. At the beginning of the month I did very little but the last week I walked him four times, so there’s still hope. I was also out of town for several days, so it’s not as bad as it looks.
  • Exercising – I started attending a regular yoga class again. It has done me worlds of good. I’m still hoping to stick with the mini-yoga routine in the mornings, but I was erratic about it this month. When I started attending class I found that I was not nearly as limber and strong as I need to be and the mini-yoga was sometimes a little much after the soreness of a full session.
  • Learning a New Craft – The herb garden experiment proceeds. I have no clue what I’m doing but I’m merrily planting seeds and watching them germinate and wondering whether I’ll kill them before they are ready to go outside and also, how you put them outside and how you tell where a good place for them is and all that. A simple book on herb gardens would be nice, though I have no idea when I’d read it.
  • Simplifying my Life – I’m still working on this, but I do believe I’m making progress. The ramifications of living simply touch every aspect of what I do. It’s not just about breaking free of the consumerist mindset, although that is a large benefit. It’s about being organized, about feeling comfortable in my skin and with my things, about having routines and knowing that things can run smoothly, and about getting enough time back to do things I want to do like teaching Spanish at the Montessori school.
  • Submitting for Publication – Nothing yet. I’m still waiting to hear from Viable Paradise and right now I hope they don’t get back to me too quickly because I don’t want to be deflated in my momentum on YWGYSL when (if, I mean if!) they reject me. When I have three short stories written, I’ll send one out. Really. Just watch me.
  • Listening for the Voice of God – I think God wants me to speak up about what I believe in from time to time. I have no idea why he thinks this is a good idea, as speaking out invariably leads to trouble. Also, I love my church.

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12 Apr 2005, by

Happiness is….

Happiness is finding a three week old to-do list and realizing that not only have I completed all the mundane tasks on it, such as “fold clothes” and “order cartridge” but I have also completed “blog – putting toys away unprompted” even though I didn’t remember doing it.

I was thinking yesterday about how it is said that smell is the strongest sense memory, that it can take you back to places and moments like none of the other senses. I was thinking about this because yesterday, with the window opened, I heard the sound of tires splashing along wet pavement. It’s a very particular sound and no matter how often I hear it, it always takes me back to my childhood and to Buenos Aires. I was somewhat surprised, in fact, on looking out the window to see that it was not Peugeots, Citroens and the ubiquituous black and yellow taxis making that familiar sound.

Speaking of Argentina, today I’m hearing all sorts of polio stories because it’s the fifty year anniversary of Salk’s vaccine. I am the only American I know of my age who was vaccinated for polio, due to the historical oddity of a polio scare during the mid or possibly late seventies where I was growing up. My mom says that she doesn’t remember anyone actually getting it, just that there was a scare, and so the police would set up roadblocks and if you couldn’t produce proof of vaccination for your children, they gave it to them on the spot. It was the Sabin, so it wasn’t the big long needle most people who got it in the fifties remember. The whole situation seems to me, in retrospect, to be a very philip k dick/government intrusive/scary military dictatorship sort of thing to have lived through, but as with most of my memories of the time I do not recall thinking it anything but normal. I remember commercials on TV, PSA’s I suppose, about the importance of the Sabin vaccine. I have mixed feelings about the whole experience because on the one hand forcing vaccinations on people seems an untenable violation of individual will but on the other hand dealing with a public health problem in a sustained and systematic way like that is very likely to eliminate it. There’s probably a story in that somewhere.

Someone has made an offer on our house in Jackson which we have accepted. That doesn’t make it sold yet, and a lot of things can happen between now and the end of May when we expect to close, but hopefully this will all work out, and we won’t have the worry of an empty house in a faraway city that we’re making payments on but not really using any longer.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for : the tally of your votes for what I should blog about. All ballots were counted. International observers were present. You can check my math. Free and fair elections here at Anarkey’s Among Mad People. Just because we’re crazy doesn’t mean we can’t be fair, right?

  1. Scanned Gems from the Vaults – 3 votes
  2. Internal Images of the Self (in two parts) – 2 votes
  3. Random Thoughts on Parenting (with links and anecdotes) – 4 votes
  4. Stuff I’ve Noticed about Missouri – 5 votes
  5. On Being Unemployed – 5 votes
  6. Why I am Uncomfortable Drawing Attention to my Religiosity – 6 votes
  7. The Stages of Grief, and Why I Think I Might Be Broken – 6 votes
  8. Question of Fat – 3 votes
  9. Political Identity and Shifting Measures (or, what’s with the astrology question popping up at – 4 votes
  10. Extolling the Virtues of Sophia (yet again) – 3 votes
  11. Something Other than the Aforementioned Subjects (be specific as to what) – 2 votes for me going into more detail about Spanish lessons at Montessori school

So it looks like you people want me to be uncomfortable and emotionally honest. Tired of the book reviews, are you? That’s alright, it’s pretty much what I signed on for, as you know. I’m thrilled that so many of you expressed preferences. Thank you for your help. I’ll be writing a couple of posts in the next two weeks on the six vote topics (Religion and Grief) and then proceed from there. Because they’re tied, I’ll get to choose what goes first. Hah.

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I love Ray Bradbury. I had recently been thinking that it had been too long since I’d read over any of his stories. I remembered with fondness and nostalgia the wonder of discovery on reading The Illustrated Man, the aged before their time feel of the pages of my cheap copy of The Martian Chronicles, the thrill of seeing the thick eyebrowed author himself pull the page out of his typewriter at the beginning of the TV show I watched late night during my early college days. What a master of the short story form. It was quite a delight to discover that he is still writing and publishing. Unlike so many others of the authors I loved in my young adulthood, this one is not only still here, he is also still writing and I still love his stuff. Others have died, or ceased writing, or somehow lost their luster for me. So Bradbury has a special place in my heart, and it was with near reverence that I approached Cat’s Pajamas. I can’t say that it doesn’t seem weird in the extreme to be reviewing his work. I have honestly never thought about his work in that critical way before, and simply enjoyed it for its ability to whisk me away. This probably has as much to do with his gift as it does with the age at which I first encountered him.

What an extraordinary volume this is! It spans over fifty years of stories, starting from tales created in the late 1940s to pieces written as recently as 2004, all but two never before published. It also spans every possible genre, from fantasy to horror to romance to humor to tragedy. This book has included every possibility of the type of writer Bradbury might have exclusively been. To think that he was (and is) all of those incarnations in one iteration boggles the mind. It’s amazing to think that some of these stories sat mostly forgotten in his basement for decades before being given out to us an audience. I liked the order the stories have been placed in, which is not chronological. Each story has its date included beneath the title. Old and new stories abut, speaking to and of one another in a discourse that is layered, subtle and fascinating. For example, the last line of the story “The Island” (1952) is “Then, and only then, did she stop crying.” while the first line of the story that follows it, “Sometime Before Dawn” (1950), is “It was the crying late at night, perhaps, the hysteria and then the sobbing violently…”. The placement of the stories (for which, to be fair, I do not know if I can give Bradbury the credit as perhaps this was the work of his editor) is just as skillfully executed as the stories themselves.

There are some really strong, standout pieces in this collection: particularly the racially charged opener “Chrysalis” (1946-1947), the old school, apocalyptic “Sometime Before Dawn” (1950), the creepy “A Matter of Taste” (1952) and the unabashedly tender “Cat’s Pajamas” (2003). The volume is easy to read and compelling, with the vast majority of the stories included as courses of a banquet to be relished. This is still a master at work. However, during my progress throughout the book, I realized that I love old Bradbury far more than I love new Bradbury. The new stuff is not as good, and I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint why that is, though of course I shall try. There’s the failure of “Sixty-Six” (2003), for example, to make me feel any of the righteous anger which propel the characters inside it, though I’m certain I’m meant to be cheering for them. Or arriving at the end of “The John Wilkes Booth/Warner Brothers/MGM/NBC Funeral Train” (2003) and thinking “Zuh? Was that supposed to mean something to me?”. Or even realizing with a kind of disappointed jolt, when I read “Ole, Orozco! Siquieros, Si!”, that this premise had been done better by others. The primary thing I noticed, however, was the decline of his ear for dialogue. It’s as though he’s slowly become deaf to the cadences and subtleties of conversation. Maybe it’s an attempt at being more realistic, and maybe people talk in ways that are harsher, more boring and too blatant today. Whatever the reason, too many of his characters are reduced to saying “My God!” and “Bastards!”, sometimes several times a page. Maybe they always did this and I didn’t notice, but I don’t think so. The earlier stories included here have a lot less of those interjections than the later ones and while I have no essential gripe with an occasional interjection, it does seem kind of a cheap shot to keep using that (and not much else) as a telegraph for a character’s emotion. Even though it bothered me in most stories, even this objection is not an absolute rule, since one case where pages of single word interjections worked surprisingly well is the mischievious “All My Enemies Are Dead” (2003). To be fair, a good number of the later stories are just wonderful, such as the outrageously comical “Hail to The Chief” (2003-2004) and others that I’ve already mentioned.

I want to draw attention to one more tale that I find hard to categorize, but that I thought was superb, and that’s the simultaneously disappointed and hopeful “We’ll Just Act Natural” (1948-1949). Bradbury himself, in the introduction, describes the story as a sort of what-if about himself, an examination that’s none too charitable. The story has such a well-spring of conflicted emotions, and is written through a powerful lens of love, so that I found myself very moved by it, despite its simplicity, lack of robots or aliens, and its uncharacteristic zero ending. It puts me in mind of painters who work at still lifes, a set of simple objects, a mundane tableau which through careful work of a master’s stroke reveals a deeper truth than what it depicts.

Ultimately, my criticisms are little more than small quibbles, to be expected with such a broad and varied collection. It is well worth reading, especially to anyone who has enjoyed Bradbury in the past.

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