Friday, February 27, 2015

Gratitude Journal #263

Today, I am grateful for Lent...even if we have to listen to fillet-of-fish sandwich advertisements until Easter. 

Today, I am grateful for the pretty snow we got last weekend. I am grateful that the kids have had a full week of school, with only one day of delayed start. I am grateful for blue skies, clear roads, and white lawns.

Today, I am grateful for Stephen Ministry, for the ready service of men and women with hearts full of compassion, mercy, and love who want to walk with others through their valleys.

Today, I am grateful for friends who know they can call me with their problems, even when their problems break my heart. What a privilege to have friends who trust me that much!

Today, I am grateful for my sister-in-law Angela, who is the best amateur travel agent EVER. Our vacation to Canada is going to be amazing!

Today, I am grateful for the humorous truth of this, especially during Lent, even if there are three errors in the caption. Self-control is often the hardest spiritual fruit to grow!

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What are you grateful for today?



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Literary Fiction Is Mostly Horrible

Studying literature for decades teaches a person two things:

1. REAL literature is often tragically depressing, sick with perversion and psychoses, and/or artistically bizarre. This is because REAL literature is written by authors who might possibly be depressed, mentally ill, and/or criminally quirky. You know...like Edgar Allan Poe.

2. FUN literature never, ever makes it onto comprehensive-exam book lists or standardized tests unless it is comedy written by Shakespeare or Aristophanes.

Thank you, God, for Shakespeare and Aristophanes.

I've already confessed on this blog that I got hooked on literature because of Chaucer's Wife of Bath. Her irreverence gave me the courage to read whatever I want to read...which might be literary fiction or pure pabulum depending on what my hormones tell me to read on any given day. Having liberated myself from the morose snobbery of literary pretentiousness, I read what I want to read and apologize to no one for doing so.

That's why I picked Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore for our book club. The review blurbs on the back cover include this gem from NPR: "One of the most thoughtful and fun reading experiences you're likely to have this year.... There's so much largehearted magic in this book."

Fun? Largehearted? Largehearted isn't even a word. This book makes NPR spout warm, fuzzy, unnecessary neologisms. Or perhaps whoever proofread the cover simply forgot the hyphen. Who cares? I loved this book. It's funny in a laugh-out-loud way (proper hyphens!) and (spoiler alert) everything wraps up tidily in the end. There aren't even any psycho antagonists who mess with your sleep patterns or tragic situations that leave you curled in the fetal position with a box of tissues and your thumb in your mouth. Yes, The Fault in our Stars, I'm talking to you.

These days, I prefer largehearted to fetally depressing. That didn't keep me from enjoying Me before You by Jojo Moyes, a complex slog through the world of dysfunctional families and assisted suicide. It's not exactly literary fiction, but Moyes makes her readers think about these issues far more deeply than your average Oprah pick and the ending, though sad, is also uplifting.

When my son Nick took a practice PARCC exam a few weeks ago because that's all kids do in school these days is take practice exams to prepare for the real exams because all that matters in education is standardized test scores, but don't get me started....

Where was I?

Oh, right. So when Nick took a practice PARCC exam in English, he had to read "The Masque of the Red Death" by Poe and answer questions about it. The story is just as cheery as the name sounds.

It is by Poe. What does Nick expect?

My son, who reads dark comic books with psychopathic criminals and plays first-person-shooter video games, ranted about schools making kids read sick, extremely well-written stories by crazy dead white guys.

"Why do they only make us read the horrible stories? Why can't we read the happy ones?" he exclaimed.

"I know!" I exclaimed right back because I am a cool mom who validates her son's feelings.

The ancient Greeks strove for balance between tragedy and comedy, but as literary studies became professionalized in the early 20th century, something happened to the idea of great literature being fun. Serious things can't be fun, right? Literary scholars began privileging tragedy over comedy, even though authors have written quite a lot of literary comedy in the past two-and-a-half millennia. Very few literary greats whom teachers assign today--Jane Austen and Shakespeare, for instance--get away with happily-ever-after endings. In the "serious" literary canon, the best way to get the wedding at the end is to have the mad woman in the attic burn to death and the hero blinded. Yay, Jane Eyre! You won!

I've read enough serious literature to know that the stories we tell often reflect our angst and hang-ups, and occasionally, we'll stumble across a character who shows us how to cope, or more accurately, how NOT to cope, or even more accurately, how we are simply not in control of our lives and sometimes the Red Death wins, Molly cheats on Leopold, and something rotten in the state of Denmark leads to poisoning, stabbing, and suicide no matter how we agonize over it.

In the end, I think that's the reason so much literary fiction is horrible, to use Nick's word. It shows us we're not in control. Boy, do we want to be in control! We want justice and goodness and fairness to win, but the truth is, sometimes they lose...spectacularly.

What really matters is how we pick up the pieces and move forward after the bloody climax. Sometimes, literary fiction ends too soon, and we're left with the tragedy and no lesson on how to go on afterward. But we do go on, and sometimes, we go on quite well.

Lately, some sad events have touched people I love, which leaves me wanting to read more comedy to find some sort of balance. If I'm in need of levity, I like to take refuge in comedy of either the sarcastic or romantic kind. Recently, I read Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper (romance) and Jen Mann's People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges (sarcasm). Neither qualifies as literary fiction and both are delightful escapes.

The ancient Greeks got it right. We are stuck with both comedy and tragedy. Real life wears both dramatic masks, and we need to deal with both as Fortune's wheel turns.

But as Nick learned from Poe, if the red mask comes after you in the form of a standardized-test bubble form, you're sort of screwed.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Gratitude Journal #262

Today, I am grateful for Special Olympics bowling because Jack sure loves it. The tournament was Saturday, and Jack had a wonderful time, even if he was disappointed in his finish. He said, "Next year, I will recapture my former glory!"

Jack is second from the right, front row.

Today, I am grateful for recapturing my former creativity...I made pretty things at my craft desk!

Today, I am grateful for Pastor Doug and his leadership of our Making Sense of the Bible class. This book, by United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton, is brilliant and insightful and making me feel much more informed on a number of issues in biblical reading. Plus, Hamilton writes really well, which I appreciate quite a lot.

Today, I am grateful for modern medicine and the good things it can do for friends and family who are hurting.

Today, I am grateful for the silly golden retriever who makes me laugh every single day.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gratitude Journal #261

Today, I am grateful it snowed on a Monday off from school...convenient, that.

Today, I am grateful for Jack's IEP team and for their genuine concern for Jack's education and success.

Today, I am grateful for my church and the sense of community it provides.

Today, I am grateful for Barnes and Noble.

Today, I am grateful for laughter, which really is the best medicine.

Source

Today, I'm grateful for donuts.

What are you grateful for today?


Friday, January 23, 2015

Goethe and Strangers in Parking Lots



"Each one sees what he carries in his heart." Goethe


One day last fall, I was walking to my car after buying absolutely nothing at a craft store. (Yay, me!) A woman in front of me locked her elderly car with a real key and walked toward the store, a bit unsteady in heels and overdressed for a morning of craft shopping.

Her body language caught my attention, even at a distance, and made me think of a beaten puppy...shoulders drawn up, back hunched, head down, trying to make herself smaller.

As she drew closer, I caught her eye and smiled. Her face lit up in a beautiful smile, her shoulders went down, and I realized she was extremely tall and thin. For a moment, just a moment, she made eye contact. Then, her eyes hit the pavement again, and she turtled down, putting up her defenses, withdrawing into her shell.

It broke my heart.

Each one sees what he carries in his heart. I've smiled at a lot of strangers in parking lots, especially since I began easing into mindfulness last summer. Sometimes, people don't see, sometimes they see and don't react, but mostly they smile back, comfortably, to another human, an equal.

This woman, however, couldn't comfortably accept a smile from a stranger in a parking lot. What sort of abuse, what sort of shame beats down a human being so completely? I have no idea and cannot imagine.

But her brilliant smile and its quick, absolute disappearance still haunt me.

I pray she finds love and peace and compassion and kindness...and that they change what she carries in her heart. I also pray my smile helped her, even in just a small way, even though I will never know.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why Imagination Is So Much Fun




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This reminds me of browsing a used book store in Madison with my sister-in-law Angela last September. The dusty smell of magic; the sense of discovering important, hidden, forgotten secrets; rounding a corner and seeing an ancient, giant book press and wanting to take it home....

For his imaginative adventures, my son Nick prefers the woods, where he can fight off lions and tigers and bears (oh, my!) with nothing more than a pocket knife and a wizard's staff.

Where do you have adventures of imagination? Don't you dare say you're too old for them. If your imagination has had too little exercise lately, warm it up and give it some love!