17 August 2008

The grace of frowning years

Indeed, "caring for [mother] through the frowning years and glorifying the gospel are the same thing."

John Ensor's "Magnifying the Gospel and End-of-Life Issues" evokes a complex set of responses in me: a desire to do this as much as possible for the elders in my life (those in this stage and those who will enter this stage later, by God's grace), a wish that we could have conversations like this one with my grandmother, and a hope that I will engage this Christ-centeredly with my children or other care-givers in my last days (should they come relatively slowly and difficultly, as seems most common). May God help us face our own frowning years and those of our loved ones with courage.

12 August 2008

Mamma Mia!

"It would be charity to call the plot contrived."

Uh huh. It's almost a poor imitation of a Shakespearian comedy. And a total loss if not for all its beautiful people.

Also, if not for mother-in-law's monstrous large DP and fourth-act seat dancing, plus sister-in-law's extra butter on her low-calorie "small." But that doesn't have anything to do with the movie. Except to say that if you plan on seeing it, please take fun people.

So Mamma Mia! does not offer a stellar plot. Nor stellar singing. And I mean "not stellar" generously. But my main problem with the movie is simply this: every character lives for self and his or her fleshly pleasures without any hint of self-control or order at any moment, and they are all rewarded for it.

I don't want to complain that the movie fails as art (as Ebert deftly noted, it does not aim to be good in that way). And I don't actually want to complain that the movie heralds debauchery, though it does. Instead, the movie unearthed in me some sadness. Sadness that many viewers might secretly (or not so secretly) long for their lives to have such freedom as these characters seem to have.

Maybe some of us wish our twenties were full of one-night stands, or wish that our moms were cool enough to headline our drunken bachelorette parties, or wish for such steamy moments on the beach with beautiful lovers, or wish that we could become rich off three divorces and then fill our lives with plastic surgery and younger men. I wish it went without saying that such a life would be wasted. Vanity.

But the real temptation of the movie is to wish for the philosophical and relative freedom in which these characters seem to dwell. Freedom to determine your own identity. Freedom to explore all that life has to offer. Freedom to drink yourself sick. Freedom to sleep with whomever you wish. Freedom to be cool in the eyes of others. Freedom to live in loyal relationship that holds the truth of self-loyalty rather than God-vows at its core. Freedom to prize family over everything else. Freedom to long for the unattainable and actually get it one day. Freedom to write your own story.

It's not the objects of those prepositions that are important: it's the noun. The movie does not claim that drunkenness or promiscuity are necessarily good but that the freedom to choose those if you wish is. That at any cost, one should have personal freedom to choose for oneself what she deems best.

On our own, we will express such freedom only for temporary hedonism because we cannot possibly see the virtue of present agony for later joy. Oddly, that does seem the unapologetic moral of the movie. The characters themselves would not balk at admitting it. Why not get pleasure now? Why not rule the self?

The fact that we weren't made to do so is sufficient reason for me. But the eventual outworkings of it are compelling as well. The self is too short-sighted to get even the best pleasure now. If you're smart enough or powerful enough, you could acquire for yourself the best pleasure you can see now. But there's a world unknown beyond it. It's impractical to depend on the self for the highest pleasure.

Even the movie shows us this. Donna has suffered these twenty years because she didn't have the self-discipline when she was young to actually work at relationship. She has made it fine and worked hard and raised a lovely daughter, but she has suffered loneliness and fatigue and, ironically, loss of pleasure. All this, at least in part, because she did not work at love but expected it to land in her lap. She chunked the "agony" (as it were) of living in community because she preferred rule of the self unto immediate pleasure insofar as she could see it.

In the postmodern way, she eventually gets her pleasure . . . the man after whom she has secretly pined all these years. That's hardly a spoiler: it's a romantic comedy, after all. But will it last? She will have to set aside herself to do so. She will have to prefer his good over her own, and he hers. Methinks there is a tragedy to follow.

07 August 2008

Salary search

Apparently, I need a new (and more lucrative) job.

The power of numbers

It's hard to blink past this bit:

"If only 7 percent of the 2 billion Christians in the world would care for a single orphan in distress, there would effectively be no more orphans. If everybody would be willing to simply do something to care for one of these precious treasures, I think we would be amazed by just how much we could change the world."

This from Steven Curtis Chapman, reflecting on the beauty of adoption through his and his wife's journey. About two months now after having lost their youngest to an automobile accident in their driveway, the family is appearing on various television shows this week to talk about their hope amid grief. I can hardly count how many blogs I read have linked to the "Good Morning America" interview posted on youtube.com.

The pater familias appears again tonight, this time on "Larry King Live," so I gather this piece on CNN.com introduces that interview. Watch for it, you who have cable; I'll look for it online afterwards. Maybe he'll repeat this call. It's a stunning number: if all those adopted by the Redeemer would care for but one. . . .

29 July 2008

Share the Road

There's a whole lot interesting about Motoko Rich's "Literacy Debate: R U Really Reading" in the New York Times. This first installment in a series on digital versus print explores the generational reading gaps in a family of four. The header photo says it all: dad reads the paper, mom curls up with a novel, kids glow in front of their Mac laptops. It's a Gnostic paradise, gathering for family togetherness time but each one engaging a separate activity. The children more distant still, they practice the subtle art of "social networking" and "interactive fiction" from the safe confines of a virtual reality.

And in this article, we read about young Nadia, the melancholy would-be poet, the product of her technological age.

I recognize the irony of my embedded complaint. I read the story online because we don't take any newspaper at the house. I'm logging my complaint about it online in my unkempt blog. But I spent the morning unpacking cherished books and reading from two others (not to mention children's books): real books with glue and binding and pages. Some of the unpacked books include ones self-published by Great-great-great-aunt Laura Crews, whose words aren't online for young Nadia to ever encounter, much less change.

Maybe I'm just an old Romantic who shares with my husband an affection for the smell and look and texture of books. Maybe I'm an elitist who still believes that old adage that to write well one must be a good and generous reader. (Apparently, one must now qualify this remark by saying that a writer must not only be a reader but a reader of books, including old ones.) If so, I hope to remain this kind of elitist Romantic for a very long time.

My own flaws on this front are too numerous to mention, though I must to continue: in short, I have not read nearly so many books as I own, nor do I read or write as much as I should. So it is not the high-standing achiever who laments Nadia's story; rather, it is the struggling imperfection in me that longs to be a better reader and writer and cannot stand to lower the standards.

"What about Nadia's story has got you so worried?" you ask. Two things:

1. She prefers online fiction because she can change it to suit her own interests and desires.
2. She wants to be a writer.

Regarding #1. Some might say that she's really getting into the story, interacting with it, so what's the problem? But whatever happened to the authorial craft? Whatever happened to catharsis? Whatever happened to reading as an experiment in something different from what you already know and want? I too have wanted to change stories I have read (haven't we all?) but I don't have the liberty to do so, and that's part of what lets fiction do its job. That is, fiction forces us into uncomfortable situations that we then must work through; we are the readers, not the writers.

For example, I would love to make Willoughby less of a lout, because there's something about him that I love too, but I don't have the liberty because Austen made him that complex lout, and there's a beauty in that for the reader: I have to deal with his complexity and not just change his narrative line to suit my interests. Sounds like real life.

Now, regarding #2. What about Nadia's desire to be a writer? Scratch that; she's already a published writer online, having authored a story with a misspelling in the title. Grammar fail.

Nadia would like to be an English major but "does not see a problem with reading few books. 'No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,' she said." Something in my gut hurts, and bad, every time I read that paragraph.

Please give me one good reason why someone who does not want to read books should major in English. Perhaps you would offer that such a person should major in English because she wants to write. Good: then she must also read . . . books. Want to be a poet? Read poetry books. New ones and old ones, very old ones. On my desk right now are several books of poetry, half by living poets and half by dead ones. There's also a tab open in my internet browser with another living writer's poem, linked to an audio recording. Just because you are a human being with emotions and an affection for language does not make you a poet. (Of course, having poetry books on your desk and a poem open in a tab does not necessarily make you a poet either.)

If English ever becomes a major without that kind of reading, I don't want to teach it anymore. And if writers ever quit reading books, I don't want to try to be a writer anymore.

Ms. Rich does a fine job in her article of responding to Nadia's comment that college entrance does not require reading books. After all, she may be right. But Ms. Rich writes, "The simplest argument for why children should read in their leisure time is that it makes them better readers." Statistics prove that's good for college entrance exams and future employment. The history of humankind proves it's also good for general life.

Last weekend, I attended a conference on classical education, where we chanted the glory of helping children think about ideas rather than merely learn how to test well. So maybe my conscience is particularly pricked toward the true, the good, the beautiful; since that conference, I have felt more keenly my love for books and ideas than for my Mac. True, I've spent more time today with online pages than printed and bound ones, but I still love them more, partly because they last, and I think every writer should.

18 July 2008


After long silence, I must report the following:

  1. We've moved, which is mostly the reason for the silence. Orange carpet is up, hardwoods are stained. Pictures, maybe, will follow.
  2. Next week, I'm attending the Circe Conference in Houston. Apparently, I'll be joining there geeks of the highest rhetorical order. I offer as evidence for this claim the fact that the Circe Institute recommends the following clip as humor:

  3. This fall, I've had a paper accepted at a regional Christianity and Literature conference, and I'm pumped about it. To increase the pump, yesterday I received an email informing me that I will present that paper in one of two panels entitled "Christianity and Eros," and they asked me to chair the other panel of the same title. Woot!

31 May 2008

Moore Saying More on Transracial Adoptions

Russell Moore adds comments to the recent debate about transracial adoption here. A provocative tidbit to whet your appetite:

Right now, there are untold numbers of children, many of them racial minorities, languishing in the foster care system in the United States. Would the social workers really have us believe that it is better for an African-American child to grow up bounced from home to home in this bureaucratic limbo than to be a child to parents whose skin is paler than his? Do they really believe that a white Russian child would do better to live in an orphanage until she is dismissed at eighteen to a life of suicide or homelessness than to grow up with loving African-American parents?

This approach loves the abstract notion of humanity more than actual humans. It neatly categorizes persons according to their racial lineages rather than according to their need for love, for acceptance, for families. Our love for neighbor means we ought to prioritize the need for families for the fatherless -- regardless of how they're skin colors or languages line up with one another.

But there's an even bigger issue here: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

29 May 2008

Dorothy Bode on NPR

Dorothy Bode, mom to a transracial family in Minneapolis, whose blog I follow, was interviewed yesterday by NPR. The main impetus for the interview seems to have been the release of an Adoption Institute study this week regarding the potential problems with race-blind adoptive processes in place since 1994. Just under 8 minutes, the interview is definitely worth a listen.

28 May 2008

Just Curb It

My giddiness over the curbside recycling program about to begin in Shreveport is slightly ridiculous, but I ain't proud. I can hardly wait to get our blue cart: it may arrive as early as next Monday. I can hardly wait to figure out a new use for our current in-house recycling bins. I can hardly wait to not separate our recyclables.

I can hardly wait for Micah to have more time to get my Saturday beignets, though I am slightly concerned that without the coincidental function of taking the recycling out, he won't have as much reason to go get said beignets.

And when I read this morning that one of the recyclable items one can place in one's blue bins is . . . glass bottles. Well, I about fell out of my chair. The local recycling joint won't take those (last I checked, anyway).

So let's all get ready to smile the first day we have a multicolored trash day, the brown and blue together at the curb. My oh my.

19 May 2008

An abstract

In case anyone is curious, here's the abstract I submitted last week for hopeful presentation at the southwest regional Christianity and Literature conference this October. The paper is already drafted (written originally for possible presentation at an earlier conference) but I'll revise it if the abstract is selected for this. Here goes.

Tell Me a Story: Redemptive History as the Overwhelming Narrative of Self and Sexuality

Human beings create community with narrative, and we do so because we were created in the image of a storyteller. We seek inspiration and self-exploration in various ecologies, but we finally resort to story for our own self definitions and group delineations, and those stories either resonate or conflict with the infinitely renewed nonlinear narrative of redemptive history God has been writing since before the foundations of the world. All our smallest narratives thus point us either toward or away from our creation and toward the communion we were designed to have with God himself. So we continually tell the story of how and why we came to be, especially regarding human sexuality.

In this paper, I suggest that we can only understand human sexuality when we order it according to God's overwhelming redemption story. Alice McDermott's Child of My Heart provides a good case study: the sexual fate of the novel's protagonist seems inevitable due to the wrong self-story she has adopted. Without any governing narrative of identity and purpose, without the order that God's redemptive narrative should provide her, Theresa loses herself in a false story of bodily autonomy that she, her parents, her neighbors, and her culture write easily and often about human sexuality. Theresa's wrong self-story, rooted in a wrong God-story, makes McDermott's novel a perfect example of the great stakes in the human narrative.

Indeed, we do violence to ourselves and to all human beings when we avoid or ignore our most essential story, the one that the sovereign God wrote us into and for, when we get the story about human sexuality wrong. Thus, writers of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and sermons must continue investigating deliberately and complexly the story of human sexuality, which is only ordered rightly by God's all-consuming redemptive narrative. After all, we humans will tell stories, so we might as well tell the right one: human sexuality and indeed human beings themselves depend on it.

12 May 2008

To do

50 ways

17 March 2008

Blessed are the Barren

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson published "Blessed are the Barren" in Christianity Today last December, and I have had the article open in a tab almost ever since. I have read the first paragraph countless times, remembered that the essay was eight pages long, and switched to another tab with the good intent of reading the entire essay when I had time. But then I would forget. Today, I remembered and had the time. So today I can hardly believe I waited this long to read it.

Wilson takes a her sweet time lamenting barrenness, which will rightly make those of us who have borne babies want to weep. And she writes with a tender harshness about the reality of adoption, really calling the Church to love it with tears, knowing that it always also means grief, or else. Finally, she concludes:

"And so the barren, and the adopted, and the adoptive, live in the middle of an apocalyptic blessing. It is an uneasy way to live before the end has come. There is always something of a reproach in it, to ourselves and to others. It constantly asks us whether we believe in the resurrection of the dead."

So please make the time and read this essay; don't open it in a tab and wait three months like I did. And live the apocalypse of adoption.

Tiger Roars

I'm disappointed that this story didn't mention how I creamed Tiger last week in the last match of the Tiger Challenge on his Wii golf game. Now we all know.

If only he'd had a sock


10 March 2008

Women in Christianity and Islam

Weekend before last, I served as co-leader of a discussion on "Women in Christianity and Islam" for a Christian-Muslim Relations program organized by the Christian Leadership Center at Centenary. What glorious fun. And it left me with much to think about regarding biblical womanhood, the grace of God through Jesus Christ, compassionate ministry, and real faithfulness. Maybe some other things too. But in an effort to at least post some bits about this, here are some lessons I learned from the experience:

1) Lesson: putting a face to those who don't love Jesus as the Redeemer is a blessed thing indeed. It was a true blessing for me personally to meet and dialogue with the Muslim convert who served as the other co-leader for our session (let's call her Asna). She is a learned woman and I look forward to developing a friendship with her.

2) Lesson: regarding womanhood and faith, I have more in common with Muslims than with most Christians. That is, as a complementarian Christian (one who believes that men and women are co-equal in creation and redemption but distinct in role), I have way more in common with Asna and Muslims like her at least regarding the roles of men and women than I do with egalitarian American Christians. Asna seemed intrigued to learn that the idea of gender distinction is in the Christian Bible too, and that at least I would say that the Biblical ethic is adamant that no sex or type of person has inherent second-class status to anyone else, that we are all equally depraved and then also, in Christ, equally redeemed.

3) Lesson: the issue of women and faith might serve as an entry point for interfaith ministry. My presentation just hinted at the distinctions between complementarian and egalitarian views in Christianity, and Asna's just hinted at the issues relevant to women and Islam. Both of us had lots more we could have said, and our "audience" engaged interestingly; I am hopeful that we might see more discussion on precisely this topic in the future.

For example, Asna was rather intrigued to hear that the Bible does talk about head coverings for women, that the idea of veiling as such is not completely foreign to the Christian Bible. She wants a copy of the notes I made for my talk so that she can check out the New Testament scriptures I noted; she is eager to share these with so-called Christians who stop her in Wal-Mart and think she's nuts for wearing full burkha. I chuckled at the idea of a veiled Muslim woman challenging the biblical illiteracy of so-called Christians in the grocery check-out line.

4) Lesson: genuine understanding is an important entry point for interfaith ministry. The whole program, though it featured interfaith prayer and a panel discussion where Muslims and Christians called one another brother, was no kumbayah session of inarticulate pluralistic doctrine. Now, to be sure, many of those present (though the crowd was very small in general) definitely thought that, but that was not the overt theme of things. Rather, the overt theme seemed to be respect for theological distinctions even if they are not reconcilable; the general call was one of peaceful dialogue, which I dare say we should all welcome.

5) Lesson: be a person of your book. The last imam to speak in the panel discussion called all of us there to be people of our books, earnestly living out what righteousness we read there. He repeated it often, the importance of our books. At our church, we take this for granted, that Christians determine to live in faithfulness to God's revelation in His Word, and maybe we forget that it's not an altogether common belief among so-called Christians in general.

In "our book" we Christians will hear the call to humble but urgent ministry, to radical acts of love, to passionate and thoughtful relationship . . . all through serious attention to the supremacy of Jesus over all things. But most of the "Christians" in attendance that day wouldn't have agreed with that last part. At my lunch table, two women actually dismissed the idea of original sin as not in the Bible at all "unless you read Genesis literally" but as a mere fiction of the Catholic church. I was so baffled that I could not compose a reply. Later, they were surprised to hear that I actually believed Jesus is the only way, truth, and life, and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. I'm still confused as to how someone could call herself a Christian and not believe that.

But the point here is that I think we may find in our local Muslim community people who are willing to dialogue about what God has actually said; the larger Christian community locally may not, ironically, be as interested in that. Oh the urgency of speaking compassionate truth to those around us who claim to be Christians as well!

6) Lesson: hanging around people who sincerely believe they must work hard to earn God's reward will sure highlight the preciousness of God's powerful grace through Jesus. The experience of being with these earnest Muslims made me recall with awe at so many points that Jesus died to make so many of the things they desire available to sinners like me completely and freely. He has set us free from bondage to sin! His Holy Spirit empowers us to walk in righteousness! I cannot begin to describe, then, the renewed joy in my own heart: our Jesus is indeed unique, precious, exalted, and good.

Perhaps more on observations from that day and beyond later. But for now, I have an assignment from one of my students to write a 10- to 15-line poem in trimeter. I have two lines:

Cheap bread and pickled fish:
a side dish, not a meal.

Now for eight more and something for them to say. . . .

09 March 2008

Broken legs, broken bulbs

Today, I visited Grandma without Noel, which means decreased joy (for her) but increased usefulness (for me). I arrived and was almost immediately put to work. Here's how it went:

Grandma: Jackie went to Wal-Marks for me this morning to get a bulb for my outside, you know I burn it all night ever night. Those heavy curtains in my room, they're just light enough to let the light in, so that's like a nightlight for me in the night. Been out three days, so I been pulling that floor lamp there into the kitchen and burning it all night, but it's not right. Your Daddy told me keep this package when he replaced the light last, five years ago or so, one of these new fancy bulbs, so I kept the package. Five-year warranty, he said. Now it burned out. But Jackie said they didn't have the same one: had one 13 watts, but not 15 watts like this one. And she didn't even ask if they were gone get some like this soon.

Me: Well.

Grandma: I use that light, now. Kids walk cross my backyard. Your Daddy tied up those gates tight with wire so the men have to get back there to read the meters have to jump over. They could open it but they don't want to. But I need that light, now. Jackie even went to Radio Shack but didn't find anything.

Me: Well, I bet they'll have it at Home Depot right up here. Let me go for you. I'll be back in 15 minutes.

Grandma: No, Jenny, you'll break your leg.

Me: Break my what? I don't think so.

Grandma: Now I just don't know what I'd do if you went up there for me and broke your leg. I'd never forgive myself is something happened to you and Noel.

Me: Noel's not even with me!

Grandma: Still, now, you've got to be careful.

Me: Okay, I'll be careful. I'm going, okay? [This is, in case anyone reading can't guess, an incredibly shortened version of this conversation: it was more like a programming loop.]

Grandma: Call me if you don't find the right one.

Me: Okay.

10 minutes later, I'm in Home Depot and find something similar but not the same, so I call:

Me: Hey.

Grandma: Hey.

Me: So there's a bulb here that I think is just right, but it's not exactly like the package. It uses 14 watts instead of 15 [of course, this is better, but that's beside the point] but it is like a 60 watt bulb, just like the one you have. It's not made by GE, but it's cheaper: Jackie said the GE one at Wal-Mart was $15 but this is only $5 [not necessarily a good thing to Grandma]. But they're otherwise the same.

Grandma: Just come back and let's call Wal-Mart to see if they're getting any in.

Me: I think this will be good, really. It's what I would buy if I needed a bulb.

Grandma: Okay. [Again, I'm truncating the loop for the sake of time here.]

Back at Grandma's . . .

Me: Let's put this bulb in, okay?

Grandma: Well, let's wait.

Me: I know this is important to you. Let me put the bulb in. Where are some scissors to cut the package?

Grandma: Those scissors won't cut that.

Me: Why not?

Grandma: I can't get them to cut anything.

Me: I'll try them. [They immediately and easily cut through the plastic.] Okay, let's put it up. Where's the step ladder? And the keys to the back door?

Grandma: I'll come out and hold the ladder.

Me: I think you should stay inside. Every time you come out here, you fall.

Grandma: I think I know when I'm going to fall.

Me: Whatever.

Grandma: Leave that bulb in here. If you drop it, it will take me forever to clean it up.

Me: I'm not going to drop it. I'm putting it in this chair here. It's fine. [I set up the step ladder underneath the light fixture on the back porch.]

Grandma: I'm going to hold onto the ladder for you.

Me: I don't actually think that's a great idea.

Grandma: Why not?

Me: Well, with all respect, your tremors kind of make the ladder a little shaky.

Grandma: I'll hold on with my good hand.

Me: Okay.

Climbing up, I realize this might not be so easy: the glass parts of this cubed light fixture don't come out by sliding, so the only way to replace the bulb is to take the entire fixture down. That means unscrewing the two flat-head screws and lowering the contraption carefully. But we finally get it down, bugs and all.

Grandma: Let me take that inside and clean it while you replace the bulb.

Me: No, I don't think you should touch this; you'll cut yourself.

Grandma: Jenny, I think I know what I can handle!

Me: Seriously, now, it's heavy and kind of sharp. You'll snag yourself with that paper-thin skin at every turn here.

Grandma: Well, you bring it in now and let's wash it.

Me: I'll just get a wet rag. [I go in for moist paper towels, come out and clean out the bugs and such that have collected in the fixture.]

Grandma: I didn't want to use paper towels. That's my last roll. Besides, that's not good enough. I clean that every time I take it down.

Me: Every five years?

Grandma: I keep a clean house, now.

Me: But this is an outside light. It goes outside, where the bugs are.

Grandma: Your Daddy cleaned that real well last time he changed the bulb. And that's how I always do it.

Me: Okay, let's take it inside. [I rinse it in the sink and it does look nicely clean afterwards.]

Grandma: I'll get a rag so we can really clean it out and dry it.

Me: But it's fine!

Grandma: Now this is the way your Daddy did it.

Me: But Daddy is obsessive-compulsive about stuff like this. That's not the way it has to be done.

Grandma: Well, I'm obsessive too. This is how we're going to do it.

Me: Okay. [So I take the rag and dry it. Grandma notices a few bits remaining in the crevices but I finally convince her it's just fine for an outside light. We take it back to replace it and I realize a problem: I've only got two hands, and I have to use one to hold the fixture in place while I use the other to position the screws and screw them in with the screwdriver. Hmm. I need a third hand. Long story short, I figure it out and the fixture is back. Yea!]

Grandma: Thank you, Jenny. Now let me pay you. [I groan but accept, with apology for having been disrespectful about the cleaning. She just chuckles; I think she actually appreciated the challenge.]

A few other issues later--namely, discussion of her taxes, search for Jerry's phone number, watering the plants with 4 gallons of water, and fixing the folding doors between her kitchen and living room--I'm off. Later, she calls me:

Me: Hello?

Grandma: uh, hello.

Me: Hey.


Me: Grandma?

Grandma: Oh, Jenny, hi.

Me: Hey. You okay?

Grandma: Well, yeah, except I'm sitting over here in the dark.

Me: What? Why are you in the dark?

Grandma: Well, that light out there is so dirty I can't see anything.

Me: Grandma, I told you I think it's fine! Now you seriously can't see?

Grandma: Oh, I'm just kidding. [She laughs.] Now did you get home without a broken leg?

28 February 2008

We got to get some of that re-form!

Bobby Jindal, the reformer. Bobby Jindal, the ethicist. Delivering an ultimatum to the Ruth's Chris Steak House and other legislative institutions in our fair state.

The New York Times followed his campaign closely, which I found interesting: just a state governor's campaign. No, a minority campaign (he is a Republican) in a corrupt little state where governors are more like princes. Jindal talked big and won the public like Huey Long on the back of open trucks, the gospel of fairness coming soon to a yard near you.

So it's no surprise that today the national paper showed Governor Jindal resting in his office while the legislature grumblingly okayed most of his ethics bills (save the one blasting retirement benefits to legislators convicted of state-related crimes, because we the people want to make sure Edwin Edwards and Representative Jefferson have a pillow to rest their heads on in their golden years). Adam Nossiter's story is a must-read, partly because it is informative but mostly because it is beautifully written. Clever, like a Cajun confessing he bought bad lobster traps.

26 February 2008


"Wonder Pets" in Portugese? How glorious has our world just gotten?

25 February 2008

Swimming lessons with Seeger

"But what about the kitty cats?" asks a little one.

Pointing to the picture of the people clinging to the rocks (see below), say, "These children asked a lot of questions, too—and look what happened to them!"

Then close with prayer: "God, please don’t cover the earth with water ever again. Some of us don’t know how to swim yet. Amen."

Ah, biblical teaching for children at its best. For more ludicrous game ideas and inspiring curriculum, see Rejected Sunday School Lessons: Totally Inappropriate Ideas for Working with Children. And please let's all chip in and get Rev. Segner a copy.

20 February 2008

I think I'm having visions; it's a world like this one but with awesome grammar.

The New York Times is officially neat-o. For all you semicolon lovers out there, here's an article for you: a story about a real-life punctuation hero.

You'll think it can't be, that this must be some fiction crafted by Lynne Truss or maybe a trusty follower; you'll think that follower could be me. But no, it's a real writer in a real city with a real writerly job doing writerly hero work; he knows a "pretentious anachronism" when he sees one, and he holds it up for all the train riders to learn.

So, a raised glass for Mr. Neches, please, and for all his winking friends.

14 February 2008

A poetry list

Here's a list inspired by Arthur Jackson from the poetry catalogued on my Library Thing library (I started to do just books, but that was too hard). I started a list of prose too, but that was also too hard; I need to divide by genre or else the list is off balance.

An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry edited by Elizabeth Bishop
The Bacchae of Euripides: A New Version by CK Williams
or (if drama is cheating)
Bertolt Brecht: Poems 1913-1956
by Bertolt Brecht
Collected Earlier Poems by Anthony Hecht and Complete Poems of John Donne
Desert Fathers, Uranium Daughters by Debora Greger
Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop
Four Quartets by TS Eliot
Glass, Irony, and God by Anne Carson
Homecoming: New and Collected Poems by Julia Alvarez
Looking for Trouble by Charles Simic
Mysticism for Beginners by Adam Zagajewski
New and Collected Poems by Richard Wilbur and The Nerve: Poems by Glyn Maxwell
The Odyssey by Homer
A Part of Speech by Joseph Brodsky and The Portable Milton by John Milton
Robert Browning's Poetry by Robert Browning
Second Space: New Poems by Czeslaw Milosz
The Urizen Books by William Blake
View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems by Wislawa Szymborska
The Whole Motion by James Dickey and WH Auden: Selected Poems by WH Auden
You Come Too: Favorite Poems for Readers of All Ages by Robert Frost

29 January 2008

In commas and other news

I'm in heaven: my Advanced Rhetoric, Grammar, and Composition class has attracted some geeks of first rank. And here's a story about how I know that.

Yesterday, we were discussing the glories of the short sentence: pithy rhythm-changing attention-grabber, etc. And we considered examples in Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: An Autobiographical Sketch," which, by the way, is a terrific essay. My gut felt all strung out after reading it again before class; every time I read it, in fact, I lose a little more gut. And that is very good. Not in a physical dieting way but in a metaphorical way.

Anyway, we were considering short sentences in Wright's essay, a portion of which I was reading aloud for the class. At one point, I interrupted myself, as I often do, to make some stylistic observation about the power of one particular short sentence and followed my comment with, "Amen?" meant more as an inside joke with myself than anything else.

But lo and behold, several members of the class responded with a resounding, "Amen!" which made me want to quit right there and just giggle. But then the hilarity of the moment would really have been lost; it would have only nerdy rather than nerdy funny. So we had to just leave it at that, the amen-ers among us amused, the non-amen-ers confused and/or possibly annoyed.

Isn't that a beautiful story?

This just in

I learned today from my grandmother that I am "just like one of the family."

Good to know.

27 January 2008

Recommended reading

Yeah, okay, so it's been awhile. I'm busy.

But right now, I'm not as busy. Sitting in Noel's room while he murmurs in his crib, wanting to nap but not napping, sliding his airplane book in and out of the slats. Opening a page, closing it back. Not sleeping.

At least he's content.

Me, I'm typing and reading. So you read too. Here's a good one: "The Widow's Might" by Miriam Neff in this month's Christianity Today.

And then let's honor widows among us with renewed compassion and wisdom.