Monday, December 31, 2007

Fun with the Fab Four


Much as my sister's crock pot was a "delayed action" gift (one I'd had for awhile but didn't use until recently) I just found another gift that I'd forgotten about somewhat: A large collection of Beatles CDs that my brother made for me. I've enjoyed the Beatles' music for as long as I can remember, and a couple of years ago, when my brother mentioned that his own daughter had discovered the Lads from Liverpool, he also mentioned he had a rather large stash of Beatles' tunes.

"Gee," I said, "I'd like to hear that."

"I'll make you copies," he said.

I thought no more about it until sometime later when a largish package showed up in the mail bearing a rather complete sampling of the works of Messrs. John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

"Gee," I said, "I'll have to listen to those."

But by then, my musical tastes had moved in other directions and I was preoccupied with other things, so all those classic tunes got shoved to the back of the CD collection, where they were—as things shoved toward the back of anything unfortunately tend to be—largely forgotten. However, as I was looking for some background music for my sister's visit this weekend, I stumbled upon this treasure trove of blasts from the past. I also remembered the cool little feature on iTunes that will generate playlists automatically and create "jewel case" sized inserts with a track listing and clip art of your choice. Thanks to the good people at iTunes, those humdrum little discs now have custom artwork for their cases, and it's easier for me to tell what songs are on each one.

It's groovy, man!

Crock Pot Capers

Here's what I had for lunch today. My sister and I made it Sunday afternoon in the crock pot she gave me several Christmases back. Tasty!



As I mentioned, my sister gave me the slow cooker several Christmases ago, but being fundamentally a bachelor, a lazy slug and a somewhat kitchen-phobic guy, I put off making anything and kept shoving it to the back of the closet. When Susan came to visit this weekend, we decided the time had come for a cooking class. We found a minestrone recipe from the Fix -It and Forget-It Cookbook (p. 68) that looked promising and set to work. My sister made stock from bouillon and chopped the onions, but I dumped in the other ingredients from cans, bags of frozen vegetables, and a box of spaghetti. I think we substituted garlic powder for garlic cloves and some pre-mixed Italian spices for the basil, oregano, and a bay leaf. How could I have missed this? Dump the ingredients in a pot and cook them for several hours until until they're done? Even I can do that! And it's a pleasure to have a meal that didn't come out of a cardboard box with Healthy Choice™ or Lean Cuisine™ on the side. Take that, evil corporate agribusiness military-industrial-food complex! Now where did I put that microwave cookbook?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pictures At An Exhibition

This is what happens when you give a guy a digital camera for Christmas.

He takes pictures of his brother's Christmas tree:




He takes pictures of a tree outside his apartment:



He takes pictures of his sister and her dog:



Expect more photo blogging in the future!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Price Is Right!

Dale Price of Dyspeptic Mutterings reports:

Louis George Price was born today at 1:58 pm. He is 7 pounds, 3 oz and is 20 inches long. Mom and baby are doing well.

America must need lerts, because The Boy 2.0™ is quite alert. He's also a shameless charmer. Photos to follow.


Huzzah! Woo hoo! Deo gratias! Unto us a child is born! (No, not THAT one!) Congratulations, Dale and Heather!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Molto Bene!

As somebody who's descended from Irish, Scots, and Germans, I was pleasantly surprised by this:

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.
You show the world what culture really is.


I've always secretly loved the Italians. They know how to live. I've often said that my soul is Celtic, but my taste buds are Italian. I've also said that God gave the Italians great food and the Celts great music, because if God gave the Celts great food and great music, the Celts would rule the world, and that would be unfair to everyone else :). Ciao, bella!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Searching for Dad, Finding a Career Direction


Recently I mentioned wanting to find out more about what my father did during World War II. I've submitted requests for Dad's service records to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis (so far I've come up empty), and nosed about on the internet trying to see what I could find. Earlier this spring, Ancestry.com, normally a pay-for-access site, announced they were making their military records databases available to search for free for a limited time. I searched and turned up an enlistment record for Dad, but without a serial number. A Google search for Dad's old unit, "U. S. Ninth Air Force in World War II" turned up the marvelously useful United States Army Air Forces in World War II site, where veterans, children and grandchildren of veterans, researchers, and military history buffs can ask questions and gather and share information. I cannot say enough good things about this site and the people who contribute to it! Within just a few days they had graciously and courteously answered many of my questions, provided information I didn't have, and pointed me in new directions for research, including a database of Army enlistment records (with serial numbers) administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, and useful Wikipedia pages on the history, organization, and nomenclature of the U. S. Air Force in general and the Ninth Air Force in particular. With the help of these fine people I learned that the predecessor of the present U. S. Air Force was the U. S. Army Air Forces (plural), and that there is a difference between the U. S. Army Air Forces and the U. S. Army Air Corps. I was most impressed when veterans answered my queries. Often they would sign their postings with their rank, their unit, and the dates of their service. I am in awe of these men: their courage, their sacrifice, their humility, and their willingness to share what they remember. I know what they tell me is accurate because they were there to see it--and my father was one of them.

All this exploration and discovery of what happened to my father (what I've dubbed "the Dad project") has made me realize that I might want to become what is variously called an information broker, an independent researcher, or an independent information professional. These are people who will plan and conduct searches for information (often highly specialized) in conventional and electronic sources, distill and package the information, and present the results of their search to the client for a fee. Many have library science degrees, as I do, but some don't. The largest professional association of information brokers is the Association of Independent information Professionals, which I've joined as a prospective (free) member. I'm working my way through a bibliography of articles about the profession and know I want to read more. I've ordered three books on the subject that are frequently cited in the literature and are considered essential reading for anyone thinking about the IB business.

This is a new and potentially exciting career direction for me. This is problem solving, investigation, detective work and creativity--the kind of work I wanted to do when I decided to become a librarian in the first place. I want to see where this path leads. I hope Dad would be proud of me for following it.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Well Said, Rich!



NOTE: This is an edited version of an earlier post.

For some time now I've been wanting to blog about Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio Summorum pontificum authorizing a wider use of the Latin form of the Mass as promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962 (Variously referred to as "the Traditional Latin Mass," the Tridentine Rite, and now by Pope Benedict, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite). Several blogs I keep an eye on, including Patrick Archbold's Summorum pontificum blog and Father Z.'s What Does The Prayer Really Say? have been tracking the reactions of various priests and bishops around the world (which range from "Sounds like a great idea!" to "Hell no! Not in my parish/diocese!")I'd been having trouble putting my own thoughts into words, however until I ran across this post from the estimable Rich Leonardi, in which he reacts to a Missouri pastor's concerted effort to badmouth the Traditional Latin Mass.

The pastor writes:

I think that Pope Benedict’s decree reviving the old Latin Mass was a step backwards in the implementation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, which were approved and promoted by Pope Paul VI. The Council never intended there to be two forms of the Roman rite simultaneously. Latin at Mass, yes, but the old rite stemming back to the 16th century, clearly no. To keep a group of objectors in the Church, Pope John Paul gave permission to have the old Mass on a very limited scale in 1984, despite the nearly unanimous opposition of the bishops throughout the world. Now, Pope Benedict has given permission to go over the heads of the bishops as long as a “stably existing” community requests the old Mass an the pastors can prevent a disruption in their communities. The Council clearly wanted to give such power to the bishops, but in this too the Council’s teaching is being reversed.



Rich responds:

The thing is, I don't pine for the extraordinary form. While I welcome Pope Benedict's call for its expanded use, my preference is for a reverently-celebrated ordinary form that is faithful to the G.I.R.M., Sacrosanctum Concilium, and various papal instructions, rare as that species of Mass is. But nasty, dishonest, and disrespectful "reflections" from would-be popes are making me curious about what I'm missing. In other words, if people like this hate the extraordinary form so much, it must have something going for it. And I'll wager I'm not the only one thinking this way.


Well said, Rich! It seems to me that if Catholics are serious about the Second Vatican Council's declaration that "the eucharistic sacrifice is the source and the summit of the whole of the Church's worship and of the Christian life," we ought to celebrate that eucharistic sacrifice with as much beauty and dignity and reverence as we can muster. My mother once complained that a church we used to attend reminded her of "a K-Mart with pews." As Catholics, we believe (or we ought to believe) that in the Mass Jesus Christ himself comes among us and offers us his very Body and Blood! Shouldn't that moment be just a little more special than a trip to K-Mart? Shouldn't that moment be sacred? Shouldn't that moment be holy? If the use of Latin, ad orientem worship, Gregorian chant, and polyphony help us to make the Mass more sacred and more holy, then I say BRING THEM ON!

I was born in 1963, smack dab in the middle of Vatican II, so I have no memory of of the Traditional Latin Mass or how things used to be "back in the good old days." This is not a nostalgia trip for me, and it shouldn't be for the rest of the Church either. Simply saying, "Gee, remember the old Latin Mass, wasn't it swell?" will not do. If advocates for the wider celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass are to have any success, they must convince Catholics my age and younger that the this form of the Mass still has something good and beautiful and worthwhile to give to the Church (and I firmly believe it does). I think perhaps one of the best ways to persuade people of the beauty and value of the extraordinary form is to let people hear the great music the Traditional Latin Mass inspired. I, for example, am gaining an appreciation of the Traditional Latin Mass, "through the back door" so to speak, because I've discovered polyphony and the musical form that preceded it, Gregorian chant. If music this good was inspired by and created for the Traditional Latin Mass, then, as Rich says, the extraordinary form must have something going for it. Hearing Tallis and Byrd and Palestrina and Victoria has made me realize just how shallow and cheesy much of the ersatz '60s and '70s "folk music" I grew up on really is. Younger Catholics are being cheated out of their precious musical and liturgical heritage by not even having the opportunity to hear and appreciate this glorious music.

As for me, away with the cardboard and the bubblegum! Give me a liturgy that is truly reverent and dignified and beautiful, one with uncompromising proclamation of the Word of God, sound preaching, and inspiring music that lifts my mind and heart to God and is truly "a promise and foretaste of the paschal feast of heaven" as one of the eucharistic prayers says.

Picture Credit: Traditional Latin Mass being celebrated at St. John Neumann parish, Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee.

A New Look

I hope you like the new motif around here. I just felt it was time for a change. Welcome to the new and (we hope) improved It's All Straw. All the same great taste with 50% fewer calories and 0 grams trans fat! And now leaves your breath minty fresh! :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Learning 2.0


When I was working as a librarian not so long ago, I discovered the Learning 2.0 website created by the staff of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) to help staff members familiarize themselves with emerging Web technologies such as blogging, podcasting, RSS feeds and social networking sites. The Learning 2.0 site is open to anybody and has inspired similar sites at libraries and other organizations around the world. It lists 23 short exercises users can do to learn about cool new web stuff. I wanted to check out this site in detail when I was working, but I never had time because there were always so !@#$%&* many books to catalog. Now I've got more time than I know what to do with, so . . .

Believe it or not, blogging is actually #3 on the list, creating a Flickr account is #5, and downloading audiobooks is #22, all of which I already know how to do, so for once in my life, I'm ahead of the curve! :). Some of the activities, such as registering a blog with the library, creating a Netlibrary.com account, and alas, receiving a free MP3 player for completing the exercises by a certain date, apply only to library staff members, but there are free equivalents that those not associated with the library can do, such as download audiobooks from free public sites such as LibriVox and Podiobooks. I'll be blogging as I complete the exercises and share my reactions to them. I always feel so much more alive when I learn something new. It should be fun!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Watching The War


I just finished watching the final installment of Ken Burns's mammoth documentary series The War about World War II. Public television stations in North and South Carolina have been running it almost continuously for several weeks now. I'd seen bits and pieces of it along the way, but didn't try to watch the whole thing for fear it might be too overwhelming. I think I was right. I choked up at several points during this last episode, thinking not only in general terms of the horrors the veterans and survivors of that war had to endure, but also in particular of my own parents who lived through that terrible, awesome time.

I especially thought of my Dad who was an Army Air Force pilot during those years. I wish I had another chance to thank him and tell him how proud I am of him for what he did for our country. It made me wish I had asked him in greater detail about what he did during those years. If I know Dad, he would have shrugged it off, insisted he didn't do anything special, and told a story about something funny that happened to him. Earlier this year I tried to obtain a copy of his service records from The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, but I quickly realized I didn't have enough information to locate his records because I didn't know his service number, his unit, or his precise dates of service. I also received a form letter from NPRC informing me that his records may have been lost in a fire there in 1973. I'll keep trying. I'd like to know what he did. It seems my brothers and sisters have different recollections of what he told them about his wartime service, even disagreeing about whether he went overseas. It doesn't matter. Even if it turns out he spent the war peeling potatoes at Fort Dix, I would still be proud of him.

I also thought of my Mom during the film. Katharine Phillips of Mobile, Alabama, one of the people that Burns chose to describe life on the home front, reminded me quite a bit of Mom and has several things in common with Dad. Ms. Phillips was born in Mobile; Dad was born in Birmingham. Both she and my Dad attended Auburn University. The film made me realize how much I still miss my parents and how much I have a new respect for them because of the remarkable experiences they lived through.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mars as You've Never Seen It Before!


How very, very, very, extraordinarily super-mega-cool! Mark Shea reports via his son Luke, who is a student in film school:

Pixar is working on an adaptation of...(drumroll please) JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS!!

WaaaaaaHOOOOO!!

I actually danced when I first read that. Danced. Like, all around the
room.

Tee hee hee!!

Joyously,

Luke the Totally Stoked


For those of you who don't have the foggiest idea what I'm talking about, Princess of Mars, Gods of Mars, and Warlord of Mars, all by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creator of Tarzan) form a trilogy about John Carter, a Civil War veteran who is mysteriously transported to Mars. There he finds beautiful, scantily clad Martian maidens (e. g., the image on the right), green bug-eyed monsters, airships, sword fights, lost cities, disembodied brains, and all kinds of cool stuff! I'd bet my bottom dollar these books were an inspiration for Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, which in turn were an inspiration for Star Wars. This is the granddaddy of all space operas, folks! POM is a pulp classic! The first five Mars books are available online as e-texts, and the first three are available as podcasts. Simply click on the links and do an author search for Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I'm delighted these fabulous adventure stories are finally being brought to the big screen. A few years ago I tried to turn POM into a screenplay myself but gave up after a couple of pages, having discovered that writing for the movies is harder than it looks. I'm sure the Pixar gang will do a much better job than I did. Huzzah!

Thanks to Tangor and friends at ERBlist.com for the use of the image and for the links to the online versions of the texts. ERBlist.com is the one-stop shop for all your Edgar Rice Burroughs needs.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wow!

I discovered this yesterday via Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings and via The Anchoress



A humble, modest cell phone salesman, a rather dumpy, ordinary-looking guy in a bad suit, enters a TV talent competition, reveals his extraordinary gift, and blows the judges away. Even Simon Cowell, the King of Putdowns and Snarky Comments, is visibly moved. There's something almost operatic in that storyline alone. But the best part is, the fairy tale continues right to the end:



If you watch the original video over on YouTube, notice the cheap shots and mean-spirited jibes some people felt compelled to make. If you ever needed proof that we live in a fallen world, just look at the jealousy and resentment that can come out when someone does something beautiful and extraordinary like this. I don't know beans about opera--never cared much for it, to be honest--and perhaps someone more familiar with the music than I could find fault with his technique, but it's obvious the man has tremendous talent that can only be improved with the right coaching and development. If you ask me, the guy deserves credit simply for having the brass to sing opera in front of a national TV audience in a culture where pop music is the dominant form. Here's to Paul Potts! I hope this is the start of great things for him!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Unemployment Update

Longtime readers of this blog (all three of you) may be aware that I lost my job back in early July, and blogging has been rather sparse since then. You may be asking how things are going. The short answer: not so good.

I've sent out some resumés for library jobs principally in the Charlotte, NC area, since I've got family there, and that's where I'd like to wind up. So far, I've gotten no invitations for an interview, although I did receive word that two of the positions I'd applied for had already been filled. One respondent said my qualifications appeared to be "stellar," which gave me some small encouragement.

In recent weeks, however, some health problems have flared up which may make it more difficult for me to work outside the home, especially if they persist. I already have a serious disability and some other health problems that make working more challenging than it would be otherwise. In view of that, after much prayer and deliberation, I've decided to apply for government disability benefits, at least as a temporary measure. I'm also mulling over the possibility of starting some type of small home-based business (freelance writing, copy editing, indexing, for example) to supplement what I might receive in benefits. There are provisions under the rules where I could work and earn a certain amount each month and still receive benefits. However, I've spoken with friends and family members who've run their own businesses, and both have advised me that working for yourself can be very stressful and demanding.

In short, there are no easy ways out of the current mess. Many, if not most, days I feel very depressed and discouraged, and I have to struggle to find the energy to get out of bed and keep going. Prayer helps a lot. I say the Rosary and the Tessera, the set of prayers associated with the Legion of Mary almost every day now, and I always feel better when I do. I am president of our praesidium, or local chapter of the Legion, and I wish I set a better example for our members.

Much has been made of the recent revelations that Mother Teresa suffered from years and even decades of spiritual darkness. She perceived absolutely no sign of God's presence in her own life and even wondered aloud if God was really there, yet urged those around her to seek and serve God. Some have said that this made her a hypocrite, but to me it just means she was human. Everything I've ever read about prayer cautions that there will be "dry times" when God seems to be absent or deaf to our prayers, but the same spiritual authorities (including Jesus himself in Lk. 18:1-7) urge us to keep praying and loving and serving God anyway. Somehow, I find it enormously comforting and encouraging that even someone as obviously holy as Mother Teresa went through such a profound period of spiritual darkness and dryness and yet remained faithful to what she knew God wanted her to do. The kind of darkness I'm going through now is nothing like what she experienced, but if Mother Teresa got through hers, I can get through mine. I'm in pretty good company.

Arrrr!


Ahoy there, mateys! From our old shipmate KT Cat we learn that today be Talk Like a Pirate Day, it be! Fer me readers in the UK and other places where they "labour" with "honour" and write "cheques," here be the link to the TLAPD UK site. Avast there, ye landlubber! What are ye waitin' for? Click on on one o' them links before Cap'n Tom sends ye to Davy Jones locker!

Fer those of ye wishin' t' indulge yer propensities for piratical parlance, here be a wee bit of instructional video from the Old Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy on how to talk like a pirate:



KT, I tip me three-cornered hat to ye, ye scurvy dog (er, cat). If 'tweren't for yer heads-up, I'd never have knowed it was Talk Like a Pirate Day! Me timbers are shiverin' at the very thought! There's only one thing I can think of to say and that's . . . Arrrr!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Jewish Alaskan Noir


This is the latest in an occasional series of reviews of audiobooks I've been listening to. Enjoy!

The Yiddish Policemen's Union
by Michael Chabon. Narrated by Peter Riegert (Recorded Books, 2007).

I was attracted to this book for two reasons: first, because I had read Chabon's earlier Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and thoroughly enjoyed it; and second, because this latest book promised to combine two genres, crime fiction and alternate history, in a way that sounded intriguing. However, on balance, I found the novel hampered by a relentlessly grim setting and mood, largely unappealing characters, and a plot that lurches from the unusual and experimental straight into the ridiculous.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is many things at once — perhaps too many — a tribute to the classic hardboiled detective fiction of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross McDonald; an exploration of Jewish identity; a satirical commentary on current events; and a foray into the alternate history genre, an attempt to create and sustain an imaginative world that could have been but never was.

The novel is based on a little-known piece of historical trivia: in early 1940, as the Nazis were sweeping across Europe, senior officials in the Roosevelt administration floated a proposal to make a portion of Alaska (then a U. S. territory but not a state) a haven for displaced and dispossessed Jewish refugees. In real life the proposal went nowhere, but Chabon's novel imagines how American and world history might have been different had the proposal been adopted. He also imagines what might have happened if the fledgling state of Israel had been overrun by Arab armies shortly after its birth in 1948, creating even more Jewish exiles in America's northernmost reaches.

Fast forward approximately 60 years to our own time. The city of Sitka, Alaska and environs have become a specially administered federal district and the home of a thriving Jewish subculture. Streets and public buildings are named for Jewish luminaries, and Yiddish, or a blend of German and Hebrew, is the language of ordinary conversation, even among non-Jewish residents. Inhabitants of the Sitka district speak "American" only when they want to say something particularly coarse or vulgar — which they do often. Whatever life the Jewish refugees and their descendants have made for themselves is in jeopardy, however, because as the novel opens, the Sitka district is only months away from "reversion" or being taken over by the State of Alaska. Will the Jews of Sitka be allowed to stay when the district reverts to Alaskan control, or will they become exiles once again? Many of the district's residents are anxiously pondering this question.

One man who is not pondering this problem is Detective Meyer Landsman of the Sitka Central Police, who has more immediate concerns. Both his personal life and career are on the skids. He drinks far too much; he's bitter and cynical about almost everything, especially religion; his wife, also a homicide detective, has left him; he has the highest number of unsolved, outstanding cases of any detective in the department; and he's living in a cheap flophouse hotel in a bad part of town. One night the hotel manager awakens Landsman from a drunken stupor to inform him that another guest, a heroin addict living under an assumed name, has been found dead, murdered execution style. Landsman and his partner and cousin, Detective Berko Shemmetts, begin their investigation but meet roadblocks at every turn.

An administrative fluke makes Landsman's estranged wife Bina his superior officer, and under a policy euphemistically called "effective resolution" she presses Landsman to either solve his outstanding cases or drop those which are considered low-priority and unsolvable — such as the case of Landsman's murdered hotel guest — before the district reverts to Alaskan control. Landsman refuses, on the simple grounds that he owes it to his neighbors to protect them from a murderer, showing his first flash of integrity and giving the reader the first and perhaps only reason to like him. Even after being officially removed from the case, Landsman persists with his own investigation, and the deeper he digs, the weirder and messier it gets.

In his youth, the dead man, the son of the local ultra-orthodox Rabbi, was renowned for his piety and intellect, a chess prodigy, a master of the intricacies of Jewish law, a boy blessed with extraordinary gifts of healing, and a man thought by some to be a mystical figure with the potential to be or become the long-awaited Messiah. That dream obviously went awry, however, and as Landsman strives to uncover the truth he follows a trail of long-buried family secrets, failed messianic hopes, and a bizarre plot by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians (with the tacit support of "the president of America") to destroy the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem, rebuild Solomon's temple, and reinstate the Levitical system of animal sacrifices in order to hasten the coming of the Messiah.

I found the introduction of this last element, the plot to rebuild the Temple, the least effective part of the novel, a fairly obvious swipe at George W. Bush and the alliances between conservative Evangelical Christians and conservative Republicans. I am no unalloyed admirer of President Bush, conservative Republicans, or conservative evangelicals, but the characters Chabon creates to represent his social, political, and religious villains, strike me as clumsy, heavy-handed caricatures, not real people. The federal agent in charge of the Temple plot, whom narrator Peter Riegert endows with an exaggerated Southern drawl is a cynical, smarmy slime ball named Cashdollar. Far more effective is Riegert's portrayal of the Rebbe, the dead man's father, more mafioso than religious leader, a kingpin figure in the tradition of Sidney Greenstreet's Fat Man from The Maltese Falcon, Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather, or Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars films — a figure all the more menacing for his massive size and his chilly veneer of politeness and decorum.

Other flaws I found in the novel were the almost unrelieved ugliness and bleakness of the world Chabon creates and the almost unrelieved ugliness and bleakness of the people who live in it. A certain amount of this is to be expected in hardboiled crime fiction, but a little bit of noir goes a long way, and Chabon really overdoes it. The author takes such pains, particularly early in the novel, to describe the bleakness and hopelessness of his imagined Sitka, and its grim, complicated history, that one wonders why anyone would choose to live there, even if it was a last chance refuge. Sixty years of living in this cold, barren outpost have made Sitka residents, Jews and non-Jews alike, bitter, cynical, and almost humorless, except for rare flashes of humor of the blackest kind.

Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, the heroes of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, have to endure hardships and heartaches too, but they have their youth, their fundamental optimism, their imaginations, and their art — even the "low art" of a comic book — to make that which is painful tolerable. Chabon denies the cast of The Yiddish Policemen's Union even these comforts. The characters are all long past the age of youthful idealism. Landsman long ago abandoned his religious faith and castigates both Judaism and Christianity as scams, delusions, and power games. His partner Berko is an observant Jew, but he also abandons his faith when he learns some ugly truths about his own past. Neither man has the storytelling or artistic ability of Joe Kavalier or Sammy Clay to create an alternate world in which to escape. Landsman does find a measure of redemption when he and Bina reconcile, but one wonders how long their love, supported by nothing else, will last. Chabon's Sitka is a cold, dark place in more ways than one — a place I don't care to visit again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Blogs, They Are A-Changin'

The Catholic blogosphere is changing.

Mark Shea announces that his Catholic and Enjoying It blog will be more or less on hiatus until after Labor Day; Rod Bennet's wonderful Tremendous Trifles blog seems to have disappeared completely, with his blogspot being taken over by someone called peteinoz; Amy Welborn has completely changed the name, location, and focus of her blog (She explains why here); and Kathy Shaidle has been struggling with some difficult and painful personal issues and, I think, has a lot of difficulty identifying herself as a Catholic right now. She's announced plans for a change of name and focus for her blog, as well.

I can understand why folks might feel a need for change. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" says the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 3:1). We do things for a time or a season, but then circumstances change, and we realize it's time to do something different. Goodness knows, my own life is going through enough changes of its own as I struggle with unemployment and figuring out what comes next. To be honest, from time to time lately I've thought of shutting this blog down, too. I've been rather preoccupied with personal issues and things I'm not comfortable sharing with the blog, as you can understand, and I doubt I have much to say about the Catholic Church that hasn't been said better by someone somewhere else. For the time being, however, I will keep this blog going as a channel of communication with the outside world.

Mary, help of Christians, pray for us!

Yeah, But I Can't Play The Banjo

You Are Kermit

Hi, ho! Lovable and friendly, you get along well with everyone you know.
You're a big thinker, and sometimes you over think life's problems.
Don't worry - everyone know's it's not easy being green.
Just remember, time's fun when you're having flies!

Knew That English Degree Would Come in Handy for Something!

Your Vocabulary Score: A+

Congratulations on your multifarious vocabulary!
You must be quite an erudite person.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Blessed Events in the Blogosphere

It's my happy privilege to report that the families of two bloggers I keep an eye on are welcoming new family members:

Rachel Swenson Balducci welcomed young master Henry Ephrem Balducci into her Testosterhome on July 16:



Meanwhile, blogger Louise, author of Purcell's Chicken Voluntary, welcomed her "fifth child and third son," young master Linus Benedict to the Land DownUnda on August 1:


Both mamas and babies are doing just fine, thanks. Congratulations ladies! Thanks be to God for these precious and beautiful new lives.

THIS JUST IN: Dale Price, of Dyspeptic Mutterings, reports that he and his wife Heather are expecting the arrival of young master Louis George Price into the world some time in December. Deo gratias! Seems as if babies, just like June, is bustin' out all over.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Women In Art Video



A very cool art video courtesy of YouTube and Mark Shea.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Good News, Bad News

First, the good news. I'm back from a week's vacation at Emerald Isle, NC, where I got plenty of surf, sun, and sand in my shoes. For the first time in about 30 years, I took a dip in the ocean, thanks to a special beach-friendly wheelchair—essentially a chaise lounge on big, oversized balloon tires. It brought back memories of my boyhood where I grew up just over the hill from South Carolina's beaches and was a good bit more mobile and energetic than I am now. All my siblings and their associated spouses, children, and dogs were also in attendance. "A good time was had by all," as the saying goes.

Now the bad news. The Friday before I left for vacation, my boss called me in to say the library was letting me go. I had been unhappy in the position for some time, and my performance had dwindled to a level that was unacceptable. It was my fault and no one else's. I had several opportunities to improve the situation, but I didn't. I have to take responsibility for that. I hope it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I'll take some time to reflect on mistakes I've made and lessons I've learned from this experience. My family has promised to do whatever they can to help me find new housing and a new job in the Charlotte, NC area, where a brother and sister of mine live. I'm truly blessed to have such a supportive family, but the principal responsibility for working my way out of this mess has to be mine. I have a series of short-term goals that I'll begin working on immediately in order to move toward long-term objectives. I'd appreciate your prayers.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful


Greetings from lovely Emerald Isle, NC where our clan has convened for a week of sand, sun, surf, and general goofin' off. Will be back next Saturday.

Ciao!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Second Season, Second Shift


Yay! Huzzah! Second Shift,one of my favorite dramatic podcasts, is back for its second season. Season One ended with a rip-roaring cliffhanger back in December, so I was delighted to see the Season Two opener appear in iTunes yesterday. Second Shift is a smart, well-crafted, character-driven fantasy adventure that succeeds at what might seem nearly impossible—creating a fantasy world with real depth and solidity to it that's truly original and not just a warmed-over, rehashed Tolkienesque universe.

Our story begins when three college students working in a Boston pizza joint find themselves mysteriously transported to another world, a universe of myth and magic, menace, and mystery, a world reminiscent of "Dungeons and Dragons" or Lord of the Rings. In the show's blog, series creator and producer Andrea Shubert explains that she first conceived of the Second Shift universe as the setting for a role-playing card game similar to "Magic: The Gathering."

All is not well in the village of Laundi when our heroes arrive. A powerful dark mage, Lord Orin, long believed to be dead, is in fact alive and on the move once again. His Legion is equipped with technology equal or superior to the magic available to the general population. Bands of zombie-like creatures called the Undying roam the countryside. At the end of Season One, the main characters fall into the hands of Lord Orin, but he's not what they expect. The three travelers from Boston have never encountered anything like this world before.

Katherine fancies herself the feminist and intellectual of the trio. She's always ready to show righteous indignation at some real or perceived injustice and spout standard leftist boilerplate about oppressed people being exploited or marginalized by the corrupt capitalist system. She wants to appear strong and independent, but in reality she has yet to learn about real courage, trust, and vulnerability, for she is terrified of being alone.

Mike is in many ways the opposite of Katherine. He's outwardly brash and arrogant, an aspiring NFL quarterback, and a firm believer that the free market can solve just about any problem. There's more to him than meets the eye, however, as his friend Shauna, the show's central character, soon learns.

Shauna, who believes herself the most ordinary of the three, in fact discovers she has extraordinary abilities with odi, or magic. She holds the key to returning the group to Boston and apparently has a vital role to play in the future of Laundi as well. She has to keep the peace between Mike and Katherine, learn the magic that can send them all home, and fend off the sinister Herald of Orin, a hideous figure with the body of a vulture and the face of an old woman, that haunts her dreams and tries to seduce her to evil.

Shauna, Mike, and Katherine are soon befriended by several inhabitants of Laundi who become their mirrors, their mentors, and their foils. Fesmer is young and naive, occasionally inclined to be rash and impulsive, but he is goodhearted and fun-loving. He knows something of "natural" or informal folk magic that's officially illegal in Laundi. Fesmer's friend Jareth is a bit older, a "task mage" or junior instructor in the "ritual" or legal form of the magical arts taught at the local university. Jareth can be pompous and overbearing at times, but he is brave and loyal. Arkahn, increasingly important as the story progresses, is a young woman with a troubled past and a dark secret. Zana, an older woman, was once a member of a kind of monastic order called the Seekers of Truth, but she is now a tavern keeper and becomes a kind of foster mother of the whole group.

The characters grow, develop, and reveal more of themselves with each episode, thanks in large part to top-notch scripts by principal writers Brandon Crose and Johnathan Tanzer. The writers and directors aren't afraid to let the episodes run over 30 minutes each, allowing the story and characters to develop in depth at a natural pace without feeling rushed. The young actors have grown into their roles as well. Julia Lunetta gives a consistently excellent performance as Arkahn.

The world these characters live in has real depth to it as well, with its own history, culture, mythology, music, and language.The language of Laundi feels like a real language with consistent grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. The wold of Laundi feels like a real world— a world you will want to visit again and again as you listen to Second Shift.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Victoria's Secret


HAH! Made you look!

No, this post isn't about sexy models cavorting about in skimpy underwear (Sorry). It's about Tom├ís Luis de Victoria, (1548-1611) Spanish priest and composer of polyphonic liturgical music. (There he is over on the right). I've previously blogged about my relatively recent discovery of polyphony, especially the music of Thomas Tallis. I had heard Victoria's name mentioned along with other composers of polyphonic music, such as Palestrina and Byrd, but I hadn't heard any of Victoria's music — so in that sense Victoria was a "secret" for me until I found this site. There you'll find a biography, PDF files with the scores of many of Victoria's works, and mp3 recordings of his compositions performed by amateur and professional choral groups from around the world. I've ordered a recording of Victoria's work from Amazon.com and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. I owe a huge hat tip to Father Ray Blake of St. Mary Magdalen Church, Brighton England for posting a link to this site. I found Father Ray's blog via Father Dwight Logenecker of Standing on My Head.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What Can Brown Do For You?


Father Brown, that is.

I recently finished listening to an audio podcast version of The Innocence of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton, available at LibriVox.org, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I wish that volunteer, non-professional reader Brian Roberg had read with a good bit more expression and verve, but the wit and wisdom of Chesterton's detective priest come shining through nevertheless.

For those who've never been introduced to the good padre, Father Brown is the Catholic Church's answer to Peter Falk's Lt. Columbo. The priest's perfectly ordinary appearance and perpetually distracted and disheveled manner cause both criminals and clients to habitually underestimate him. Even his last name is nondescript, and the reader or listener never learns his first one. Here's how Chesterton describes his appearance in the very first Father Brown story, "The Blue Cross:"

he had a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling; he had eyes as empty as the North Sea; he had several brown paper parcels, which he was quite incapable of collecting. . . . He had a large, shabby umbrella, which constantly fell on the floor. He did not seem to know which was the right end of his return ticket. He explained with a moon-calf simplicity to everybody in the carriage that he had to be careful, because he had something made of real silver “with blue stones” in one of his brown-paper parcels.
(The complete collection of all 51 Father Brown short stories in a very attractive HTML edition is available for online reading here or as a downloadable archive here).

This completely unremarkable exterior conceals a remarkable, razor-sharp intellect, however, that Father Brown always displays without boastfulness or braggadocio. "I could paraphrase any page in Aquinas once," he says in a moment of exasperation in his second story, "The Secret Garden," but at another time he modestly explains his detective skills by pointing out what he has learned hearing confessions:

"Oh, one gets to know, you know,” he added, rubbing his head again with the same sort of desperate apology. “We can’t help being priests. People come and tell us these things." . . . "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?"


In his debut story, Brown exposes the master criminal Flambeau by acting unreasonably in order to demonstrate the primacy of reason in a universe ruled by a loving and reasonable God:

. . . reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason. . . . Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’”


(As an aside, I believe the principle that "reason is always reasonable," was the real focus of Pope Benedict's Regensburg address, but that point got lost in all the "Pope slams Islam" headlines. If only the reporters would read Chesterton!)

Thanks to Father Brown's influence, Flambeau eventually gives up his life of crime and becomes a private detective, frequently Father Brown's partner in crime-solving. At the end of "The Invisible Man," Father Brown has a long private conversation with the postman-turned-murderer. Brown and Chesterton are often just as interested in the spiritual state of the criminal as they are the solution to the crime.

Father Brown weighs in on political matters as well as spiritual ones. Here's a classic exchange on socialism from "The Flying Stars:"

“I won’t have you talking like that,” cried the girl, who was in a curious glow. “You’ve only talked like that since you became a horrid what’s-his-name. You know what I mean. What do you call a man who wants to embrace the chimney-sweep?”

“A saint,” said Father Brown.

“I think,” said Sir Leopold, with a supercilious smile, “that Ruby means a Socialist.”

“A radical does not mean a man who lives on radishes,” remarked Crook, with some impatience; and a Conservative does not mean a man who preserves jam. Neither, I assure you, does a Socialist mean a man who desires a social evening with the chimney-sweep. A Socialist means a man who wants all the chimneys swept and all the chimney-sweeps paid for it.”

“But who won’t allow you,” put in the priest in a low voice, “to own your own soot."


These are mysteries in the classic sense. The solution to the puzzle is everything. What little violence there is often takes place before the story begins and is only described indirectly or after the fact. If you want gunfights and car chases, it's best to look elsewhere. If, however,you want keenly crafted conundrums enlivened by a sly sense of humor and a dash of moral and spiritual reflection, Father Brown just might be your man.

What can Brown do for you? Find out today.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Better Late Than Never


Mother's Day this year was a bit tough for me, as it was the first Mother's Day without Mom around. She passed away last June. Every time I saw a TV ad urging me to "Come to [fill in name of store] and get the perfect last-minute gift for Mom," I found myself saying to the TV, "I wish I could."

However, lest things become too bleak, I offer this, a post-Mother's Day post, courtesy of the awesome Aussie blogger Louise:

Why God made Mums -- BRILLIANT Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions!

Why did God make mothers?

1. She's the only one who knows where the sticky tape is.

2. Mostly to clean the house.

3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.

How did God make mothers?

1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.

2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring

3. God made my Mum just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.


What ingredients are mothers made of?

1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.

2. They had to get their start from men's bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.


Why did God give you your mother & not some other Mum?

1. We're related

2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people's mums like me.


What kind of little girl was your mum?

1. My mum has always been my mum and none of that other stuff.

2. I don't know because I wasn't there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.

3. They say she used to be nice.


What did mum need to know about dad before she married him?

1. His last name.

2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?

3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?


Why did your Mum marry your dad?

1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my Mum eats a lot.

2. She got too old to do anything else with him.

3. My grandma says that Mum didn't have her thinking cap on.


Who's the boss at your house?

1. Mum doesn't want to be boss, but she has to because dad's such a clot.

2. Mum. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.

3. I guess Mum is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.


What's the difference between mums & dads?

1. Mums work at work and work at home & dads just go to work at work.

2. Mums know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.

3. Dads are taller & stronger, but moms have all the real power 'cause that's who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friend's.

4. Mums have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.


What does your mum do in her spare time?

1. Mothers don't do spare time.

2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.


What would it take to make your mum perfect?

1. On the inside she's already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.

2. Diet. You know, her hair. I'd diet, maybe blue.


If you could change one thing about your Mum, what would it be?

1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I'd get rid of that.

2. I'd make my Mum smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it and not me.

3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.


Love you Mom! Miss You!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

We Are All Hokies Now


I felt compelled to say something about the dreadful events that have taken place at Virginia Tech over the last 24 hours. More than 30 people were shot to death in cold blood, apparently by a profoundly disturbed young man, a South Korean student at the school. I was a bit under the weather Monday, stayed home from work, and didn't turn on the TV until late in the afternoon. I was as shocked as anyone to learn what had happened. The immediate questions that come to mind in a case like this, of course, are how and why. How and why could one human being do such a terrible thing to so many others? Perhaps the most terrible thing of all is that the questions may have no discernible, comprehensible answer.

I can't and won't even begin to speculate about what this all means. I only know that I am shaken by it, even though I don't know anyone associated with Virginia Tech. But that doesn't matter. As one of the TV newsies observed this morning, we are all Hokies now.

The great Anglican priest and poet John Donne recognized long ago that all human beings are related because they are created by the same God in the image and likeness of God. All Christians are especially related because they are baptized into the body of Christ and share in his suffering, death and resurrection. Donne's words seem especially appropriate now:

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.


Hat Tips:

For the graphic, Instapundit.com via Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings.

For the text of John Donne's Meditation XVII, The Literature Network.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Truth Comes Out

You Are Bart Simpson

Very misunderstood, most people just dismiss you as "trouble."

Little do they know that you're wise and well accomplished beyond your years.

You will be remembered for: starring in your own TV show and saving the town from a comet

Your life philosophy: "I don't know why I did it, I don't know why I enjoyed it, and I don't know why I'll do it again!"

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogs Come, Blogs Go

I was dismayed to learn recently that the very popular and entertaining, yet thoroughly orthodox Catholic Ragemonkey blog is no more. The blog's authors, Father Shane Tharp and Father Stephen Hamilton have decided that their priestly ministries were too demanding to allow enough time for regular blog entries and that their priestly work should always be their first priority. Like many of their regular readers, I am saddened by their joint decision, but I understand it completely and respect and commend their dedication to serving the Body of Christ.

That's the bad news. The good news is, one of my favorite blogs is back, one of my other favorites has a new name, and I've recently found several wonderful new additions to the blogroll. After a protracted hiatus, Rod Bennett of Tremendous Trifles is back to blogging on a regular basis. He took a break from blogging to complete a screenplay for a Christian-themed science fiction film called The Christus Experiment (a project about which I am mightily curious, BTW). Rod has a fascinating way of reflecting on the ways in which Christian themes are or are not reflected in popular entertainment, especially science fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction. Lately, Rod has been serializing his own screenplay for a King Kong remake. Do check it out. Also, my pal Mark Mossa, S.J., has retitled his blog from "You Duped Me, Lord," to "And I Let Myself Be Duped."

In other news, the blogroll here at IAS has taken on a bit of an international flavor with the addition of auntie joanna writes by British blogger Joanna Bogle and Purcell's Chicken Voluntary by Australian blogger Louise. Both ladies write with style, wit, and uncommon common sense about the nonsense that goes on in our world when we try to ignore the truth of Christ. And as long as I'm writing about bloggers outside the good ol' U S of A, how could I forget the ever-trenchant Kathy Shaidle at Relapsed Catholic up in Toronto?

Over on this side of the pond, I've recently discovered Heirs in Hope by blogger Drusilla in which she reflects deeply on the mystery of suffering in the Christian life and the necessity of uniting our sufferings with those of Christ. I believe she has some long-term chronic health problems, as I do, so this is not a question of merely academic interest for either one of us.

Finally, I've discovered two Catholic podcasting blogs, Maria Lectrix hosted by blogger Maureen, and Pavel Reads, hosted by poet and blogger Pavel Chichikov. Maria Lectrix is an eclectic mix of readings from public domain texts ranging from poetry, history, mystery, fantasy, and science fiction, to Christian classics and the writings of the Church Fathers. For Pavel Reads, poet Pavel Chichikov reads his own poetry on sacred and secular subjects. Appropriately for Lent, he has offered a set of poems on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and is working his way through another cycle on the Stations of the Cross.

I myself promise to be a more faithful blogger in the future. Until next time, friends.

To Blog or Not to Blog: A Bleg


Top of the mornin' and a happy St. Patrick's Day to all three of my regular readers! I have a bleg (blog question--perhaps the word is derived from a combination of "blog" and "beg"?) for you. As may have noticed, this blog has been silent for some time. Things have been happening around here lately, but not the kinds of things I'm completely comfortable sharing with the entire blogosphere--important decisions about my future and such. It made me wonder if I should get out a notebook I sometimes use for a private journal and thrash out the issues in there. My question, or bleg, is this: Do you, my fellow bloggers, also keep a private journal for writing about stuff you would rather keep confidential? How much of yourself do you feel comfortable revealing on your blog? Do you only blog about public matters and keep the rest private, or do you let it all hang out? Just wondering.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Just A Writin' Fool


I pulled an all-nighter writing last night, and I don't regret it a bit. Well, OK, maybe a little—but only because I'm tired today. But I felt so alive last night, more than I have in months. Purely for entertainment purposes, I'm working on a story in which The Shadow meets Superman and am having a blast writing it. Obviously, with a theme like that, the story takes its inspiration from the pulp fiction, old radio, and classic comics of the 1930s and '40s that I love so much. The narrative device that allows the two heroes to cross over and interact in each other's worlds is so amazingly simple, I'm surprised nobody thought of it before. Can you guess what it is? I'm not telling. :-)

Yesterday I got inspired and added a scene that I think ramps up the action, rewrote some others, and started thinking about how the finished story might look once I put it up on my website. Astounding Adventures is an online archive for my fiction writing, modeled on and inspired by the old pulp magazines of the '30s and '40s. When will the story be finished? Only the Shadow knows. But I know I'm having fun, and I've come too far to quit now. Shadows of Steel is coming soon to a Web browser near you.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Insights

I want to apologize to my regular readers (all three of you) for not posting for a while. I'd rather not go into all the reasons why, but suffice it to say I was deeply depressed, feeling regretful over the past and fearful over the future—which left me feeling pretty much stuck and lousy in the present. I sent an e-mail to the incomparable Dawn Eden, thinking that she might have some insights into my situation. She writes perceptively about the problems of us thirtysomething and fortysomething Catholic single folk, and has frequently mentioned that her conversion to Christianity has helped her overcome depression. She asked some very simple questions, and in the course of praying over the situation, listening to the readings at Mass this morning, and responding to Dawn, I received some insights that may be helpful to others in similar situations. As I wrote to Dawn:

Last night as I was praying through the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Annunciation, (Lk. 1:26-38) I received an important insight. Mary had no idea how she could be the mother of the Son of God if she had never had relations with a man. Even once the angel explained it to her, I doubt she fully understood. Who could fully comprehend such a marvelous thing? She did not say, "What do I HAVE TO DO to make this happen?" She said, "You see before you the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word." She understood that it was not by her own effort that the awesome purposes of God would be worked out; but she trusted that GOD'S power and purposes would be accomplished THROUGH HER if she made herself a willing instrument. That is why she said later, "Henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For the Almighty has done great things for me." She trusted that if God had said a thing would be accomplished in her life, it would be accomplished—and it was—but in a way far different from and far greater than anyone expected.

All the readings at Mass today reinforced this theme. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter were all acutely aware of their sinfulness and their utter inadequacy to stand before God on their own merits. Yet God called them, prepared them, and purified them, and they accepted the call. It's also important to note that they had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of what would happen to them once they accepted the call, but they accepted it anyway,

For some time now, I've been struggling with feelings of failure and worthlessness, as if everything I tried to accomplish by my own efforts—my work life, my spiritual life, my personal relationships—has been a complete bust. I kept asking God, "What do I need to do?" as if God's purpose could be accomplished my effort alone. I kept asking him "Where do I need to go?" as if I needed a complete itinerary before I took a single step. I need to remember the huge difference between trying to do everything by my own effort and allowing myself to be an instrument of God's purposes. I also need to remember that I will never fully understand God's plans and purposes for me—and that's OK! We are all called to follow Christ, but we don't need a complete road map of every possible stop before we set out on the journey. All that matters is the ultimate destination—Heaven.

This new insight does not completely solve all my problems, but it does give me a valuable new perspective and a way forward out of the swamp. In a strange way, it confirms my growing conviction that I need to relocate. My family has wanted me to move to Charlotte, NC, where a brother and sister are living, ever since Dad died. I resisted, mostly out of refusal to let go of the past and fear of the future. In Charlotte, I will have more opportunities for a better job, better opportunities for rewarding relationships, better health care, better psychological care, and better opportunities for spiritual direction.



Here I asked Dawn to continue to pray for me and I make this request of all my readers as well: Please pray that God will grant me the courage to take the many steps necessary to make this big change. Truth be told, I hate change, but in this case I think big changes are needed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Smashing, Eh What?

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Milord Sir Lord Neil the Fiendish of Chalmondley St Peasoup
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


Hat Tip: Catholic Ragemonkey.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Panda-monium!


"Good evening Mr.and Mrs. Blogreader and all the ships at sea! Welcome to another thrilling episode of . . . It's All Straw!" (Cue dramatic organ music).

Two of my great pleasures in life are listening to classic old radio and surfing the Net. These two loves come together in a real doozy of a website that I found recently: Decoder Ring Theatre and its flagship podcast, The Red Panda Adventures, created by Gregg Taylor and a talented troupe of Toronto-based thespians. Obviously inspired by classic radio shows of yesteryear such as The Green Hornet and The Shadow, The Red Panda Adventures are witty and stylish revivals of the old costumed crime fighter melodramas. The Red Panda and his trusty sidekick and chauffeur Kit Baxter, also known as The Flying Squirrel, guard Depression-era Toronto against a host of mobsters, monsters, and malefactors by using everything from radio rings and static shoes to powers of hypnosis and the occasional sweet left hook. As written by the very talented Gregg Taylor, the shows are just sly enough not to be in deadly earnest and just serious enough not to slide into outright parody. The Red Panda rocks! New episodes are promised in March.

DRT's other regular offering at present is Black Jack Justice, a hardboiled private eye show in the tradition of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Shows like this were legion in the later years of old radio, the late 1940s and early 1950s. The very latest episode of Black Jack Justice, "The Purloined Format Caper" is in fact a tribute to the radio version of The Adventures of Sam Spade. In BJJ, Jack Justice, a World War II veteran and down at the heels gumshoe, and his partner, "Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective" prowl the mean streets, hearing the million stories in the naked city, hounded and occasionally helped by their nemesis, Lt. Sabian of Homicide. As with the Red Panda shows, BJJ is very well written with sharp, clever, banter between the male and female leads and plenty of two-fisted action. However, in keeping with their Hammett, Chandler, and film noir antecedents, the tone of the Jack Justice stories tends to be a good bit darker and less cheery than the Panda shows, but never completely grim or family unfriendly. This too is in keeping with the originals. The radio versions of Spade and Marlowe were considerably lightened up for the listening audience. New episodes of Black Jack Justice will be appearing on Saturdays over the next several weeks.

By the way, lest you think that a female private eye in the '50s is just some 21st century feminist revisionism, NBC radio did in fact run Candy Matson on its West Coast stations from 1949-1951. Candy was a lady shamus based in San Francisco. While not as hard hitting or hard drinking as her brethren, Candy could crack wise and crack cases with the best of 'em. I've found a couple of episodes of Candy Matson through the internet, and actress Natalie Masters (whose husband Monte was also the show's writer and producer) gave Candy a voice that was equal parts steel and sex appeal—a woman ahead of her time.

(Cue organ music). And so, blogreaders we come to the end of another thrilling episode of It's All Straw. Be with us next time, when you'll hear Niall say:

What the heck am I gonna write about now?