Gutsy enough

This morning, while thinking about my own reactions to the various "changes and chances of this mortal life," a thought seeped in at the edges. A small, hopeful, liquid bit of light began to re-hydrate my forest and field.

Over and over, in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, there are two parallel commandments. God's people are repeatedly admonished to "fear not" and to "lay aside all malice and anger." And generally, these commands aren't handed down in times of peace and prosperity, if you know what I mean. Social justice isn't the occasion here. Great victories aren't the setting.

There are many religious traditions which will echo the same thought. Anger and fear are corrosive. They'll eat you alive, usually starting somewhere in the gut.

Today, though, a light begins to shine and spread a little on the fact that these two things - fear and anger - are not really two, but only one. One two-headed monster. One insidious creature, acting as a kind of parasite, propagating, multiplying, ready whenever the conditions are right to show one head or the other, and either head is deadly.

And one defense will be sufficient to slay the creature.

I think the defense is the strength of the light that radiates from a humble and devastatingly childlike trust. I think it's a stubborn, sometimes utterly bull-headed and unshakable insistence that "all is well, and all is well, and all manner of things shall be well," in the face of any temporary circumstances to the contrary. Because that's the truth of time. All circumstances are temporary. The circumstances can never tell us the Truth - not all of it, anyway. The most we can ever get from living in the Now is whatever Now has in it. We must, of course, live in the Now. It's the only place we can ever be. But we need to know that the Now isn't the All.

Why does such trust seem silly to us? Why does it seem weak or naive or insipid? This kind of trust in ultimate Good is, as far as I can see, the difference between "I have a dream" and the equal and opposite, same cause/different reaction, race domination rants. The sure and certain confidence in ultimate Good both opens the eyes of a Mother Teresa and strengthens her hands for the task of bringing this Good to life.

If you believe your circumstances are temporary, but you also believe "that there's some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and its worth fighting for," then you will (repeatedly, stubbornly, deliberately) lay aside the anger that blinds you and the fear that cripples you, and you will fight. You will fight every day of your life, but instead of battling the merely temporary, you will realize that your real battle is "not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Such a view saves the warrior from the bitterness of anger, which turns to hatred, and also from immobilizing fear. This kind of trust is no weeny. This sort of confidence is no child's play.

And today I wonder if sunspots or the phases of the moon or some other "energy of the universe" is encouraging us all to think this way. I've seen several quotations on other blogs just today - all pointing to the same thought pattern. Be not afraid, the whole of the universe seems to be saying. Be not afraid.

Here's one that really struck me.

(Be not afraid.)

(click on the picture to go to the rest of the article)

About the adoption of his children, Caviezel was frank about his feelings, saying the challenge "completely terrified" him at first. "Yes, you do feel fear, you do feel scared but you have no idea the blessings that you have coming to you if you just take a chance on faith."

and ...

Caviezel said, "When you live in holiness, when you really try to stop sinning, you become braver. You become more courageous, you become a man of your word. You become a man of conviction that you're not willing to sell out and you're really a true knight in shining armour."

(Be not afraid.)

Happiness in the midst of deepest sorrow is not silly. Calm in the face of chaos is not evidence either of blindness or naiveté. And the reason is the reality of ultimate Good. "Everything is temporary. That don't excuse nothin'." Most of all, it don't excuse taking the coward's way out. Instead of anger or fear, it's the gutsy thing to take up the shining courage of simple trust. That's how we kill the snake.


On the wire

"Life is on the wire.
The rest is just waiting."

Karl Wallenda


I live in a very personalized age.

I ordered checks last night. (Should've done it a couple of weeks ago. Why do I always put off this simple task until I'm down to about three checks left in the checkbook?) Ordering checks is a long and involved exercise in "personalizing." What do I want them to say? In what font? In what order? Personalize them with a logo of some sort? Matching cover? Personalized notes with that? (Fries? Coke? Cinna-sticks?)

Marketing in a "market driven" economy is all about an appeal to the person who wants to be unique in the universe - but not too unique. (What a silly thing to say! "too unique" - it is or it isn't the only one of its kind, right?)

What if it's not the right bit or bobble (or huge motor vehicle or sprawling McMansion) in the vast hierarchy of Conspicuous Consumption? What if other people do not perceive my object as an Object of Envy? (What if the other kids laugh at me?) We want the cool stuff, but apparently we want it personalized. It looks a lot like coloring in the pictures on your own Pee-Chee. You do, of course, have the Pee-Chee. Everyone has the Pee-Chee. Yours is scribbled on in your own way, though. It's all yours. It's unique. It's personalized.

Within this adolescent Please Please Call Me Cool Too culture, we seem to be looking for ways to personalize the right cool stuff even when we're in our forties - or fifties or sixties. That's evident. But I think we are doing something else too. I think we are also looking at our relationships from the wrong end of the binoculars - or is it the rear view mirror?(Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.) Our perspectives on our own lives become detached from the rest of the world when we get too personalized -- or ... perhaps it's not too personalized, but personalized outside of a context. We start to act as if the scribbling is the thing. So we scribble on everything and not just our Pee-Chees.

Instead of asking ourselves, "Who do I love?" (which is how we experience the Pee-Chee years), it might be quite revealing to ask ourselves, "Who loves me?" What happens when instead of saying, "What do I see?" or "What do I want?" or finding new ways to scribble on our own Pee-Chees (folders that are just like everyone else's when we first buy them), what happens if we ask, "What do other people see?" and "What do other people want?" ... What if we take into consideration the vistas and views of the people who are all around us?

Taking this wider view shows us our landscapes in a completely different perspective.

Whereas recognizing our own attachments can show us our own perceived values and tell us who we think we are, recognizing what sorts of people are attached to us - or what others see when they see us - requires us to get out of our own way for a moment. It gets us to stop covering the lens. To take off the lens cap or to get our thumbs out of the picture, and then to look around. This is a mirror that will show you yourself from the perspective outside your own accustomed place. It's a way to proof read one's own life.

Writers who want to be published have to do this, of course. One can always write the most meaningful, emotive, sincere, earnest pages in the world, but if it only means something to the writer, nobody's going to buy it (or even read it, unless you can coerce them into doing so). It has to communicate something to other people, and it has to be something other people can hear and understand. Publishable material has to have a place in the perspectives of other people. It's okay - helpful, even - if it's something folks haven't been aware of before, but it's not okay if it's just personalized scribble. Everybody's got a Pee-Chee. Scribbling on it doesn't make it interesting.

Here's another example. Have you ever watched Stacey and Clinton "from TLC's What Not To Wear" TV show? The hosts bring the makeover participant to New York for a few intensive days of learning to see self and clothes and personal image in a new way. One of the first things the style makeover duo does is to put the clueless person in front of a 360 degree mirror, in a favorite outfit, to explain and comment on the outfit and what the person thinks it looks like while she's standing there, wearing it - what the wearer thinks it says about her - the image it projects or the places she would wear it.

Then the hosts open the back of the box, and step in, and say things like, "Are you kidding me? You look like a disco ball!" Or, "what year do you think this is?" Or, "how old are you again?"

It's a very uncomfortable moment to be standing in, I'm sure. It's uncomfortable just to watch it happen to someone else. But it is also obvious that the perspective of the person in the disco ball dress, or clothing bought in the kid's department, is so limited that reality can't find a place on the horizon. What needs to happen here is the addition of incoming perspective. The attachments, viewpoint, experience, and feedback of other people don't mean that you don't dress in a way that shows your own personality - such additional information means that you show your personality as it really is, in a way other people will be able to understand. The wider perspective shows the individual her (or his) truest self, and then shows the person how to express it well.

Fashion and style may be less essential to life than other things, but it sure works as a metaphorical and actual example of how people work. Humans really cannot see themselves accurately. From inside the car, behind the lens, in a unique viewpoint, we cannot see what we ourselves are. We have to have each other. We have to have others we can trust.

I've been thinking about this lately - for a lot of reasons. I've been thinking about how important our families are to us when we choose a lifetime's partner. (Do you think you're in love? Do you think you could marry this person? Ask someone who really knows you and loves you - then you'll know the truth of your own perspective.)

Without the perspectives of other people - people we know love us and really know us, or really know about life - we end up believing ourselves fat when we are thin, or thin when we are fat. We marry people who reflect back to us a self we see, not a self who is really there. We put on clothing that doesn't suit us or tell the truth about us, and we take up careers that slowly kill us. We send troops into battle in places where older, wiser nations have realized outsiders cannot fix insider problems. We start cults that morph into untold cruelties. When we cut off the wider perspective, when we only ask ourselves, "What do I want?" and stop asking the question, "Who loves me?" we stop being fully human.



Ssshhh! Don't tell him, but I just found this card in the garbage.

One side has the address for the college he wants to go to.

And the other side has his note to himself regarding what he needed to do with it, so he wouldn't forget.

Today's his birthday. He's been to Clark (community college) to get his business done, and he's back home again. This is a proud moment in parenting. Even THIS kid - even Mr. WhenI'mgoodandready - learned somewhere along the line that when you really do want something done, you gotta go do it. Just for this, I'll go ahead and buy that nasty "birthday cake" flavored ice cream he wants. (blech!) Happy to do it for the would-be-college boy though, that's for sure. Happy 22nd, John. (And I bet I can get my degree before you do!)


Yesterday, we went to the ballet. Not "a ballet" - the ballet. It wasn't Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. It was a collection of small pieces that included the breath-stealing "Trey McIntyre's wickedly complex 'Just'" - these first two pictures are of Alison Roper and Artur Sultanov, two of the four dancers in the most amazing, precise, sculpted, demanding, and creative human movement I have ever seen in person. Thanks, Mario and Kim. The front row tickets made it possible for us to hear the breath and see the glistening sweat fly off the bodies of these dancers. The program quotes principle dancer Anne Mueller: "Trey's work requires a unique psychological commitment. He dreams up movements and positions that sometimes defy a classical dancer's concept of what is aesthetically beautiful. To successfully interpret these moments depends on a commitment to defy our usual sensibility. If you allow yourself to feel uncomfortable mentally while attempting these moments, this reads in your physicality and robs the phrase of its impact." (Alison Roper and Anne Mueller pictured here)
Yesterday afternoon, in a sold out house, no phrase was robbed of its impact.


What happens when a scientist starts feeling a human urge to Marry someone!

There is a new online Charles Darwin library of personal papers and notes. Understandably, most of the things have to do with his extraordinary scientific work - but here's what happens when the man feels some very ordinary impulses.Want to know what it says? Here you go:
This is the Question
Not Marry

Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be beloved & played with. — —better than a dog anyhow. — Home, & someone to take care of house — Charms of music & female chit-chat. — These things good for one's health. — Forced to visit & receive relations but terrible loss of time.

W My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. — No, no won't do. — Imagine living all one's day solitarily in smoky dirty London House. — Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps — Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro' St.

Marry — Marry — Marry Q.E.D.

No children, (no second life), no one to care for one in old age.— What is the use of working 'in' without sympathy from near & dear friends—who are near & dear friends to the old, except relatives

Freedom to go where one liked — choice of Society & little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs — Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. — to have the expense & anxiety of children — perhaps quarelling — Loss of time. — cannot read in the Evenings — fatness & idleness — Anxiety & responsibility — less money for books &c — if many children forced to gain one's bread. — (But then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool —

1 These notes record Darwin's speculations about the prospect of marriage and his future life and work. They were written before his engagement and marriage to his cousin Emma Wedgwood in January 1839. The note has been conjecturally dated to July 1838. Darwin's notes on marriage are transcribed and annotated in Correspondence vol. 2, appendix iv.


It being proved necessary to Marry
When? Soon or Late

The Governor says soon for otherwise bad if one has children — one's character is more flexible —one's feelings more lively & if one does not marry soon, one misses so much good pure happiness. —
But then if I married tomorrow: there would be an infinity of trouble & expense in getting & furnishing a house, —fighting about no Society —morning calls — awkwardness —loss of time every day. (without one's wife was an angel, & made one keep industrious). — Then how should I manage all my business if I were obliged to go every day walking with one’s my wife. — Eheu!! I never should know French, — or see the Continent — or go to America, or go up in a Balloon, or take solitary trip in Wales — poor slave. — you will be worse than a negro — And then horrid poverty, (without one's wife was better than an angel & had money) — Never mind my boy — Cheer up — One cannot live this solitary life, with groggy old age, friendless & cold, & childless staring one in ones face, already beginning to wrinkle. — Never mind, trust to chance —keep a sharp look out — There is many a happy slave —


Sorrow out of season

I know it's Eastertide for us in the west. On Sunday this week, it will be for the eastern Christians as well. I know Mary Magdelene's weeping for her Lord is meant for the context of the Passiontide season. But I found this picture today, and I'm worried about one of my kids, and the body of the woman in this painting (Dutch again! I seem to have a fixation) is a perfect picture of the pain I feel. There are times like this, times when I beg God again to "supply whatever is wanting in me through frailty or negligence," and I know that these times come and go. They do not always go happily. I know that too. And these times feel heavy. See her shoulders? The tilt of her head? That is a woman in sorrow, who is yet a woman in movement. She will move through it. I will move through it. She will shed tears. I will shed tears.

This is a passage from Pat Conroy's poetically fearless tribute to the connections between flawed parents and their equally flawed children, Beach Music. The adult brothers have just found out that their tortured (and torturing), luminous, baffling, aggravating, much-beloved mother has come out of a leukemia-induced coma.
Darkness came up on us and stars lit up one by one in the eastern sky. I thought about my own tears, the ones I had never cried over Shyla. In the days after her death I waited for them to come in floods, but none appeared. Her death dried me out and I found more desert land in my spirit than rain forest. My lack of tears worried, then frightened me.

So I began to study other men and was comforted to find I was not alone. I tried to come up with a theory that would explain my extreme stoicism in the face of my wife's suicide. Each explanation became an excuse, because Shyla Fox McCall deserved my tears if anyone on earth ever did. I could feel the tears within me, undiscovered and untouched in their inland sea. Those tears had been with me always. I thought that, at birth, American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.

"Have another beer, Tee," Dallas said. "It'll help."

"Don't need help, bro," Tee answered. "I'm crying because I'm happy."

"No," I said. "Because you can."


If you want to be a writer

If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. The consistency, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily reoccurrence.

You don't go to a well once but daily. You don't skip a child's breakfast or forget to wake up in the morning. Sleep comes to you each day, and so does the muse.

She comes softly and quietly, behind you left ear or in a corner of the next room. Her words are whispers, her ideas shifting renditions of possibilities that have not been resolved, though they have occurred and reoccurred a thousand times in your mind. She, or it, is a collection of memories not exactly your own.
Walter Mosley


Useful calculator

I might just love it because I found a Venn Diagram of it ... but I don't think that's it. Or, I might love it because it says I'll live as long as I've always said I'll live. But that's not it either. I love it because science has finally found cultural reality and the two have produced an extremely useful love child.

The Science Behind Blue Zones

For the past five years, I’ve been taking teams of scientists to five pockets around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. These are called the Blue Zones.

In Sardinia Italy, for example, we found a Bronze-Age mountain culture that has, proportionally, 20 times as many 100-year-olds as the United States does. Their secret: wine with staggering levels of antioxidants and a tradition of celebrating old age.

Last year, our team discovered a new Blue Zone in Northern Costa Rica where adults have the longest life expectancy in the world. Our scientists found eight factors that make this region one of the longest-lived in the world.

Our work has been funded by National Geographic and the National Institutes on Aging, and our findings have appeared on Good Morning America, Anderson Cooper 360 and the ABC Nightly News.


There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.

Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.

Victor Hugo


Grass movers

We have two kinds of grass movers here.

There is the mechanical kind (which bore evidence of new mud on its digging parts when I got home from work today, but I'm not sure why ...)

And we have the sort of grass mover than changes the grass into fertilizer pellets.

I've decided that their names are Whiffle (as in ball) and Puck (as in hockey) - due to the spectacular brain power contained in their cranial regions. The little one (the light brown one) can do a trick, though. He can bounce off the wall of the barn and flip around in a sort of four-legged Donald O'Connor move. He can also get his horns stuck in the fence. Repeatedly. Every day. Cute, but not too bright, these goats.

P.S. If you're vacuuming, don't open the front door to see what's going on out there. P.P.S. And then back to the barn - because they're just too stupid for anything else.


Not without her daughter ... or her seven other children either

This is the book Carolyn Jessop wrote about her escape from the polygamous cult of the Fundamentalist LDS. Click on the book, you'll go to the Amazon link.

Click here, and you'll go to a bookstore's hosting of her presentation, and the (halting and heart wrenching) reading of one of the chapters.

Until very recently it hadn't occurred to me to pray for "prisoners and captives" who hadn't done anything but be born into a cult. Here. In the USA. Carolyn Jessop is sixth generation. The FLDS has been around for over a hundred years, apparently. It's not made up. The news stories unfolding in Texas right now are real. I watched a lot of news video today. Let there be a lot more Carolyn Jessops in the weeks and months ahead.

Or something

I do hope I'm not betraying national secrets (or something) ... but am I the only one who wonders about the level of ... uh ... clarity (or something) in these directions for the infamous "Meals Ready to Eat" (or something)?

Story Corps has made me cry again

I'm completely blown away every week by listening to NPR's broadcasting of the national oral history project, Story Corps.

Since 2003, almost 30,000 everyday people have shared life stories with family and friends in our StoryBooths. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to share, and is preserved at the Library of Congress. Millions listen to our broadcasts on public radio and the web. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.

Everybody’s story matters. Every life counts. Help us reach out to record our history, hopes, and common humanity—and illuminate the true character of this nation.

Don't listen to any of these unless you've got some tissues handy, but if you're up for it, today's was wonderful.

Joe Buford tells his literacy tutor, Michelle Miller, about what it was like not knowing how to read.

Click on the picture of the man and his tutor, and listen to this one. Listen to a lot of them if you have time. You'll feel better about being a human being after you've spent some time with the stories of ordinary people. Ordinary people are beautiful.


I wish I had a sound track to post with this

The birds are singing and chirping and calling and singing and chirping and calling, and the sun is making its way across the floor of the field, and the deep, dark green of fir branches is slowly making way for the spring green of new foliage. Finally!

The above scene is the one I'll see someday from my front porch - when I get one - if I ever have one - I really really really want a front porch! And the brown horse is one of three horses using our field right now. She's not ours, but she looks good in the sun in the morning, don't you think?
And it's about time! The middle of April, here in the legendary "temperate zone" is too late for night temperatures at or near freezing. Enough arreddy!Go, lilacs! Go!


Mr. Happy, the VBS Clown

Honestly, truly, I think clowns are very creepy. I don't like anything with a mask on - it's lying. Treacherous. Deceitful. Masks hide people. I do not like masks, and I never have.

But even I was once a clown.

It's true. I spent the two-week Vacation Bible School days of one summer's June changing in and out of my costume, to become Mr. Happy. Why does a Vacation Bible School need a clown? It's supposed to be because the children love clowns. I don't really know any children who love anything with a mask on its face, but that was the working theory.

So, that year's curriculum included a clown called Mr. Happy. Who would do it? Who'd be brazen enough and fearless enough and careless enough about any lasting reputation to dress up in a clown's costume every day for Vacation Bible School? Did anyone have a costume already?

No. Nobody had a costume. But one family had a teenage daughter. And it was pretty obvious that this family would do anything, and they always worked the VBS ... well, it's a natural fit. The dad of the family was in charge of transportation (a job he absolutely loved because he could map the city, plot the routes for picking up the kids, send out the buses, and drive one of them himself), and recreation (which was playing games in the enormous parking lot). That was a man who never ran out of ideas. It rained during the recreation times one day - but that didn't stop him. He loaded the kids onto one of the buses, and took them on a parking lot tour - fully narrated and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone on the tour.

And the mom in that family had been doing VBS for so long that she was always in charge of one of the departments. It was going to be the 4th - 6th graders that year, if I remember rightly. Organizing the teachers, cutting out the endless pages of Bible characters and visual aids (and enlisting family members to help out) ... telling the stories up at the flannelgraph board to the whole department before everyone split up into smaller classes to work on their crafts for the day and their memory work Bible verses ... she was a whirlwind of organization and energy.

Ask their daughter to be the clown. She'll do it. Do you think she'd really do it?

I'm not sure about this part, but I think my mother approached me in private, at home, and very quietly. (Why was she so careful about it?) Would I like to do it? I believe my first answer was no. But then I realized that the senior members of the team have their responsibilities. So I said yes. And I put together a clown costume. And it was such a thoroughly good costume that nobody recognized me. I found all the pieces, including a really silly hat. And then I found a "voice" - a distinct voice, a never before heard by human ear, Mr. Happy voice.

Et voila! Mr. Happy, the VBS clown.

That was the summer I suddenly understood why people become professional actors. If you have a whole other person to inhabit, you are magically and completely freed from yourself! All learned inhibitions vanish in a puff of smoke - as instantly as the air exits a popped balloon.

When a lanky teenage girl, generally known for her somewhat serious view of the world, her embarrassingly large vocabulary, and her relentlessly earnest intensity puts on a silly hat and huge shoes, and then uses a different voice, she becomes unrecognizable to the people who have seen her grow up. These people who saw me every week, on Wednesday nights for Pioneer Girls, and twice on Sundays, really did not know who had showed up as Mr. Happy the VBS clown.

For the one behind the camera - or the mask - or the odd voice and mannerisms (where did those come from anyway?) - not only is there the freedom of utter anonymity, there is also a strange disconnection. It's a wall of glass - a one-way mirror like the one at that church's nursery, put into the wall so that the parents could see in without the children seeing the parents. (I've never thought before just this moment about how creeped out that makes me - on behalf of the children, I mean. I felt the creepiness of being watched without being able to see the watchers every time I worked in that nursery.) If you're inside a costume, you see what you otherwise would not see. Like Scrooge visiting his past, present, and future with the visiting spirits, I could see and hear the people I knew, but they did not know I was there. I wasn't there. Mr. Happy was there.

I wonder why I've suddenly recalled Mr. Happy. It's probably the chilly wet spring. There must be something about the weather that reminds me of those years. This would be the time when all the planning meetings were happening. I spent a lot of hours sitting at the dining room table or out in the middle of the living room floor, cutting things out during those teenage spring seasons. I helped host the meetings of the teachers who gathered at our house to talk about the lessons, bringing to the table the things from the kitchen that I'd helped prepare before they got there. And that one year, I also found and tried on various items for a clown costume. It must be the season, somehow, that reminded me about all of this.

And ... there seems to be something about that whole experience nagging at the back of my brain. I want to try to put it into words.

I think it's something about the mask. It's something about the modern ease of resort to "trickery or deceit" (St. John Chrysotom warned against this method of "evangelism" in the Christian church - so it must've always seemed like a good idea.)

Such methods hold a danger for the tricked, of course. There are many instances of the bait-and-switch method of getting members in modern American evangelicalism. There are Easter Extravaganzas, with door-knobs in the neighborhood getting ads hung on them during the weeks preceding the Big Event. The family and friends of the enthusiastic endure all the enticements during these campaigns. The idea is to bring the people in, then sneak up with the conversion message. In the parlance of the early 80's, it was, "find the point of convergence," so that you and your neighbor have feelings of camaraderie - then witness and win him to your side. The mentality makes me feel ill - I wish I could apologize to everyone who ever saw me get anywhere near it.

But there's another danger. It's dangerous for the clown. You gotta ask some questions of yourself if you're looking into a mirror in that outfit.

If I'm a clown, and the message is in my hands, spoken in my funny voice, what, exactly is this message? Is it real? Does it mean anything? Anything real? Anything necessary? Or ... is this message I'm bringing something I don't have to touch for myself - that nobody has to touch for real? Is it a mental trick - or a physical, spiritual, actual reality? Why didn't the presence of Mr. Happy, the VBS clown seem to trivialize things? Spending a couple of weeks as a Vacation Bible School mascot can make a girl wonder a few things.

But kids know the difference, I think. They seem to know what parts matter and what parts don't. They're willing to play their bit parts so that the adults will be placated, of course. So they laugh at the clown and learn the lessons that the clown brings with his daily appearance in their departments. (Of course they learned the lessons during the Mr. Happy summer - there was an instinctively excellent teacher behind that funny hat and bizarre voice!)

But those kids also knew what was important. One of the projects we did that year was to raise money to buy, and also to bring food, to fill a huge cooler to send to the missionaries. The missionary coolers were a smashing success that year. Of course, the idea was to bring foods that could be packed into the cooler and travel from America to places like the Philippines Argentina. Non-perishable food. That was the idea. That was specified on the first day's Take-home Sheet - with the permission slips and the memory verses. Across the days, the kids brought in their money offerings (their own, and whatever they could extort from their family and friends), and they brought food from their own cupboards, and they filled that cooler.

One little boy in particular, a kid in my mother's 4th-6th department, deeply understood and personally adopted the concept ... but he came every day on the VBS bus because his folks didn't have the money or leisure time to bring him somewhere during the weekdays.

And one day he brought his offering for the cooler. It was a partially-eaten half-gallon container of ice cream - apparently purloined from his family's freezer.

He stood there, trying not to cry, holding out the dripping cardboard, and wailed (quietly), "I didn't know it would turn into milk!"

When I first heard that story - at the dinner table that night, when the department head and the bus driver/recreation captain were comparing notes for the day - I heard the embarrassment they felt for the boy. And the sympathy. They could relate to him, I think. But what I did not hear was admiration.

Thinking back on it now, as I find myself looking around my house for things to cut out with the scissors and pile into nice neat piles of ready-to-assemble, I have a different understanding than I did then. Now, I think, perhaps, the kid whose ice cream turned to milk had a better grasp on his faith than Mr. Happy the VBS Clown ever thought of having - even if the child's grasp was a bit sticky and even though it dismayed him. At least he wasn't hiding behind a hat and a funny voice.


National Library Week

Well, who knew! Greer's done it again! This is National Library Week, and I didn't even know it. Thanks, Greer. In honor of the week, I'll go to work on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. (Okay, in honor of the week, and because I'm on the schedule to sub. But that counts, right?)

In the mid-1950s, research showed that Americans were spending less on books and more on radios, televisions and musical instruments. Concerned that Americans were reading less, the ALA and the American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit citizens organization called the National Book Committee in 1954. The committee's goals were ambitious. They ranged from "encouraging people to read in their increasing leisure time" to "improving incomes and health" and "developing strong and happy family life."

In 1957, the committee developed a plan for National Library Week based on the idea that once people were motivated to read, they would support and use libraries. With the cooperation of ALA and with help from the Advertising Council, the first National Library Week was observed in 1958 with the theme "Wake Up and Read!"

National Library Week was observed again in 1959, and the ALA Council voted to continue the annual celebration. When the National Book Committee disbanded in 1974, ALA assumed full sponsorship.


National Library Week is observed each year in April, generally the second full week.

2009 - April 12-18

2010 - April 4-10
2011 - April 10-16
2012 - April 8-14
2013 - April 14-20

For more information

Tips for organizing and promoting National Library Week are posted on The Campaign for America's Libraries' Web site at www.ala.org/@yourlibrary.

And here's a History of Libraries from History Magazine.

And a book from the "Timeline Library" all about Libraries.

"Obsessive," you say? Why whatever do you mean?

Hafta Tell Ya

I think I might not qualify as the wife and mom around here any more if I didn't tell you what I just found out from Greer over at her blog. Yep! It's this weekend. Saturday the 19th. (I'll be working at the not independent public library, but people who work in public libraries are all about the public airwaves and the non-commercial radio and the independent anybody creative.)

Folks who work here are professors
Don't replace all the knowers
with guessors
Keep'em open
they're the ears of the town
-Tom Waits

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, hundreds of independently owned music stores across the country will celebrate “Record Store Day.” Click on the logo at the top to find more info.

The Copenhagen Cycle Chic Manifesto

For fantastic pictures, and wallpaper for your computer that incorporates this Manifesto, visit Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

- I choose to cycle chic and, at every opportunity, I will choose Style over Speed.

- I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape.

- I am aware that my mere prescence in said urban landscape will inspire others without me being labelled as a 'bicycle activist'.

- I will ride with grace, elegance and dignity.

- I will choose a bicycle that reflects my personality and style.

- I will, however, regard my bicycle as transport and as a mere supplement to my own personal style. Allowing my bike to upstage me is unacceptable.

- I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle.

- I will accessorize in accordance with the standards of a bicycle culture and acquire, where possible, a chain guard, kickstand, skirt guard, fenders, bell and basket.

- I will respect the traffic laws.

- I will refrain from wearing and owning any form of 'cycle wear'. The only exception being a bicycle helmet - if I choose to exercise my freedom of personal choice and wear one.

Amen and Amen

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. Abraham Lincoln

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important. Martin Luther King, Jr.



You Are a Pistachio

You are funky, freaky, and a total character.
You're very different than anyone you know.

There's no way you're changing the way you are...
Which is good, because no one wants you to change.

Mystery solved

They were taking down the electric fence. In a dozen years, I've never seen it before!

Sun's out

No, actually. I don't know what they're doing. But the sun is shining and they're out there doing something. It appears to involve a wire wound onto this spool thingy. I've got no clue what it's all about.

Thoughts in a chain of them

Ever make a daisy chain? I used to. Until today, I've forgotten about them for decades. But I did used to love to sit in the grass wherever I found a bunch of these "weeds" and pull up the ones with nice fat stems. I could pierce them with my thumbnail, which, depending on the length of the chain, would become all stained with the green juice of the tiny flower stems as I threaded stem after stem and pulled them through to make the chain. The last one's the hardest - it has to be thick enough for a whole flower to pop through.

Today at a homeschooler's blog, I saw this quote from the novelist Flannery O'Connor:

The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.

I plucked that daisy. Now, that's a juicy one!
So juicy, in fact, that I began to look around for others. There is a delicious little column about O'Connor at Picador & More, called "Flannery's Peacocks." Apparently, the author's first fame came at the age of five, when she taught a chicken to walk backwards.

O’Connor always had a thing for domestic fowl of one sort or another. It began, apparently, at the age of five, when she gained a certain renown for owning a bantam hen who could walk either forwards and backwards; an accomplishment deemed unusual and extraordinary enough in the world of chickens to send a Pathe News photographer from New York to Savannah to capture it on film.

Another juicy one!

More quotes maybe? What sort of thing was she known to say?

When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God's business.

Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode.

Oh now, that's it.
Who is she? (was she?)

O'Connor described herself as a "pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex."

I love her. I know I've heard her name before, but why haven't I ever read her books? What did she write?

She was a deeply devout Catholic, living in the mostly-Protestant South. She collected books on Catholic theology and at times gave lectures on faith and literature, traveling quite far despite her frail health.

Oh. Well, that explains it. She wouldn't have been in the canon of literature I'd have been exposed to. Now, what did she write?

O'Connor completed over two dozen short stories and two novels while lupus ravaged her body.

(Wiki! Cut it out! Enough background. I love her, I tell you. What are the titles?! The chain of things is long enough. C'mon hand it over. This is all very juicy stuff, but I want titles!)

Thank you. THAT's juicy enough to pop the first flower through.