Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing with Drive

My fiendish plan worked! As I said in my previous post, I've been thinking lately about doing some writing, both dusting off some old unfinished projects, and starting on some new stuff. Both of these projects would require some library research, so I got the bright idea to upload what I had written to Google Drive (Google's online word processing app) so that whether I was at home or at the library, I would have access to all my files without the aid of a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other portable device that I can't afford right now. This morning on a visit to the nearest branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library, I logged into Google Drive, found one of my unfinished stories, and made a small addition. When I got home and checked my computer, there was the addition, ready and waiting. I've spent the last few minutes rereading what I've written so far and tinkering with it. It's a strange feeling; it's been years since I worked on this story, but in another sense, it feels as if I've never been away. Can I keep this going? I hope so.

Monday, January 06, 2014

2014: Looking Ahead

In my previous post, I looked back over the major events of my life in 2013. Now I'd like to look ahead a bit and think about what I'd like to accomplish in the New Year 2014. It's been frequently noted (indeed, I'm sure most of us can see it in our own lives) that most "New Year's Resolutions" fail miserably. As my Facebook friend and fellow blogger William "Billy" Newton observes, based on statistical evidence, human beings tend to make grand, noble-sounding plans to "lose weight," "get in shape," "get organized," or "be a better person," but usually give up in a short time because our goals aren't specific and measurable enough. If your goal isn't specific enough to be measured, how will you know when you've reached it? If you don't know when you've reached your goal, what will motivate you to keep pressing on until you've achieved it?

I myself am notorious for making grand plans, announcing a course of action, and then failing to follow through, usually when I realize it's going to take more work than I figured to reach my goal. Yet at the same time I've been thinking about how the New Year does gives us an opportunity to take stock, start over again with a clean slate, and maybe, just maybe, do things a little differently, and a little better than we did in the past. I'm especially conscious of this, having recently relocated to a new city and a new and better living situation than I've had for many years. I'd like to set out some goals (I hesitate to call them "resolutions" because somehow that seems more formal, grand, and ominous) that I'd like to achieve in the new year. In setting them down here, I realize I'm committing myself to something. I may look back on this post in a year and realize I've failed miserably and embarrassed myself, but on the other hand, writing these goals down and posting them in public may just shame me into keeping them. Here goes.

I have three broad areas of interest in my life right now: broadening and deepening my Catholic faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ; resuming and continuing my genealogical and family history research; and resuming and continuing my creative writing. I have specific goals I'd like to achieve in each of these areas.

As far as my Catholic faith is concerned, I would like to continue attending the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass) and learn more about the spirituality behind it until I am as comfortable and familiar with the Traditional or Extraordinary Form as I am with the vernacular or Ordinary Form. I would like to go through the entire calendar year (from this past June when I started to going to EF Masses until next June) and through the entire liturgical year (from Advent to Advent) with the Extraordinary Form. I've said on Facebook that somebody needs to write The Extraordinary Form for Dummies or something like it, and lately, I've even begun to entertain the preposterous idea that I could be that somebody. I would know when the book would reach its intended audience of dummies because I would be the Chief Dummy. I'm not a theologian, liturgist, priest, or religious; I'm just a poor, dumb schmuck in the pews, trying to get to heaven like everybody else. If the book made sense and was helpful to me, maybe it would make sense and be helpful to other people. I've begun making notes and doing preliminary research. I will aim to have a first draft ready by this time next year.

I would also like to learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but this may be too ambitious if I am also writing and doing research. I purchased a breviary and The Divine Office for Dodos by Madeline Pecora Nugent, a guide for learning the Divine Office, by several years ago, but found both the learning process and the guidebook more difficult than expected. Nugent tries so hard to make her writing style cheerful and encouraging that it actually backfires and comes across as annoyingly chirpy and a bit condescending, cheering the reader on as if he is a slightly dimwitted child. Daria Sockey's book, The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours, has been recommended to me, and I'd like to try it. I will purchase the book this week and see how far I can get with praying the Hours by this time next year.

As far as my genealogical research is concerned, my research has been stalled for over a year and I'd really like to change that. I've been able to establish that my great-great grandfather James E. Leslie (1823-1875) was born in Iredell County, NC,  moved to Lowndes County, AL some time before 1850, set up a blacksmith business, and served in a Confederate cavalry regiment as a blacksmith during the Civil War. However, I don't know where in Iredell County he was born, who his parents were, and when or why he moved to Alabama. I sent e-mail and made a phone call to the Genealogical Society of Iredell County but received no reply whatsoever. I will make contact with the GSIC by the end of this month, and if that fails, I will see what I can find through other channels including the Iredell County Courthouse and the North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

Finally, as far as my creative writing goes, I have no fewer than three unfinished superhero origin stories (which sometimes feel like three versions of the same story) on my hard drive waiting to be completed. My interest in the superhero concept has waxed and waned periodically over the years since I first discovered the HeroMachine website and software, but I'm still intrigued by these characters I've created with it, and it's always bothered me that I haven't yet been able to finish their stories. Maybe this is the year. I will have a completed draft of at least one origin story ready by this time next year.

Friday, January 03, 2014

2013 In Review

Happy New Year!

It's high time to bring this blog up to date, and I thought one way to do that might be to take a brief look back at the year just past and speculate a bit about the year to come. For me personally, 2013 was a year of invasions, abdications, relocations, infections, and explorations.

The year got off to a rough start with a home invasion in mid-January that turned my life upside down for quite a while. Until that time, my principal occupation had been researching my genealogy and family history, but dealing with the invasion and its aftermath largely brought that to a halt. After my family and I got over the initial shock of the event, we decided it was time for me to move to a safer location, and my brother and sister in the Charlotte area quickly set to work finding a new place for me to live. They found the condominium where I now live remarkably quickly, and February and the early part of March were largely devoted to my packing up and preparing to move. During that preparation phase, the world received the stunning news that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to abdicate and step down from the Chair of Peter, a thing not seen in several hundred years. It seemed change was in the air for the whole Catholic Church, not just for me.

I arrived in Charlotte in early March and immediately got to work lining up the medical and social support services I knew I would need: doctors, home nursing care, medical supplies, attendant services, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security disability benefits, and transportation services. There were, of course, some bureaucratic tangles, but on the whole, the process went remarkably well. One afternoon in March, as I was in the bathroom taking a break from filling out forms and making phone calls, my brother called to tell me that Pope Francis had just been elected.  It seems the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, is still trying to figure out what to make of this unconventional Pope, the first from the Americas, who seems to be a reformist and a man with a gift for saying and doing the unexpected and surprising thing.

Ironically, just as the Catholic Church and the world at large seemed to embrace this pope who is developing a reputation as a progressive and a reformer, it seemed my own personal practice of the Catholic faith moved in a more conservative and traditional direction. Ever since I had arrived in Charlotte, I'd been seeking a church home; I had visited a couple of parishes in the Charlotte area, but neither of them felt quite right. One of my Facebook friends in Charlotte recommended her parish, which is very tradition-friendly. I've blogged before about how much I've come to love sacred polyphonic music, and when I saw that my friend's parish regularly celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (aka the Tridentine Mass or the Traditional Latin Mass), I thought this might be an excellent opportunity to hear some of the music I had come to love in its proper context, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I started attending the Extraordinary Form masses in June, and to be perfectly honest, found them baffling at first. My fellow Mass-goers, however, explained that the Extraordinary Form does take a bit of getting used to and urged me to keep coming. I have kept coming to the EF Mass, and with each liturgy I attend, the rite becomes a little more familiar and a little more comfortable. I consider it part of my continuing education as a Catholic.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to Mass or anywhere else for much of the month of July, as I came down with a nasty infection that kept me sidelined for over a month. Eventually, however, I did get well, and aside from some occasional trouble with sciatica or a pinched nerve, I've been able to avoid any major medical catastrophes since then. May it remain so, at least for a while, for awhile, please God!

In mid-November, I received a letter from the solicitor's (prosecutor's) office back in South Carolina that the police had made an arrest in my home invasion case, and the solicitor was preparing to bring the case to trial. I wrote a detailed letter back describing my recollections of the crime and its effect on me. I also spoke by phone with someone in the solicitor's office who told me that the defendant in this case is facing other outstanding charges, and in all likelihood will "plead out" or plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to avoid doing time for a greater one. The defendant in my case is being charged with armed robbery, and the case is likely to come before a judge sometime in February. I'll post more information as it becomes available. I've heard crime victims on TV news shows talk about the need for "closure," and for the first time in my life I understand what they mean. With the perpetrator of my crime behind bars and preparing to face the justice he deserves, I feel as if I can truly begin to close this chapter in my life and move on to whatever comes next.

December and my first Christmas in Charlotte were quiet and low-key but peaceful and happier than my Christmas celebrations have been for some years now. Like many adults who are getting older, I feel a twinge of nostalgia and melancholy as I recall all those long-ago childhood Christmases with their mix of feverish anticipation, excitement, and delight. I miss my parents, who worked so hard to make Christmas special for my brothers, sisters, and me. As my sister observed, Christmas just doesn't seem quite as much fun without them around. Yet this year, we were able to get almost everyone together (on New Year's Eve, if not Christmas Day) and we were truly happy to be together. For that moment we were all content with the present and unafraid of the future. Whatever hardships may come, I pray we will face them together because we are a family and we love each other. I feel extraordinarily blessed to be here at this time in this place. Deo gratias! Thanks Be to God!