Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Checking In: Politicization

I wrote recently about "the end of blogging" or blogging reconsidered, and I don't really want to be mouthing off here unnecessarily.  Like millions of others, I am heart sick about our siblings in Christ who were gunned down during prayer meeting; I am encouraged by the grace their families have shown.  I don't want to seem flippant or heretical and say God is glorified in their murders.  He was not glorified in their murders--He was and is glorified in the response to the murders and despite their murders.

Thankfully the villain was found quickly (leading a wag to ask why they couldn't catch the escaped prisoners in New York after all this time).  I think he wanted to be found.  He wasn't trying to hide, although he did get out of the state fast. 

Now, I would love for that redneck flag to go away, permanently.  I waver between despising it and rolling my eyes at it.  There are enough of them in this county, two not far from my house, and I won't patronize a place that has one.  (such as a local barbeque joint).  People who scream heritage don't really know the history of that flag, so it's all a fiction, anyway.  On the other hand, the meme "heritage or hate" is radically oversimplified.  How about just seeing that flag as a misconception about history that needs to put in the back closet of our collective memories.

On the other hand, I don't see the point of taking down statues or renaming buildings.  But that is up to individual states or institutions.  I did hear on the news that one of them had been vandalized.  Yeah, like people who are serious about racism vandalize.  That's like saying the looters in Ferguson were worried about justice.

What really concerns me is that this tragedy is being used to gin up controversy over all kinds of issues, to make points based on their deaths.  Those nine Emmanuel AME Church members deserve far, far better. 


Friday, June 19, 2015

Raymond Chandler on Mystery Writing

This link takes you to a witty, brilliant, totally on-point essay about mystery writing and the core of film noir.  It got the link from my MOOC on film noir by TCM.

http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html

I want to write mysteries and have a set up, a character, and some stories (three of them) but I would take to heart what he says.  Cozy mysteries, Murder She Baked (or Wrote), Hallmark Mysteries, etc. are fun escapism when one is tired and wants something to lull him or her to sleep, but definitely miss the whole point of the evil perpetrated.

Especially in the aftermath of the--what word suffices? cold-blooded murders only begins to describe what that demented young man, who is not from Charleston, did--I don't think murder is worthy of being written about in a cozy way. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflections on Film Noir


Having finished a doctorate, I guess I needed something to do (insert rueful smiley face), so I signed up for a MOOC on film noir, sponsored by Turner Classic Movies and co-sponsored by Ball State University in Indiana.

For those of you who don’t know, a MOOC is a massive, open online course.  These were all the rage two years ago and were supposed to transform higher education; so far, not so much, but for lifelong learners like me, they are great.  MOOCs are usually free, involve a learning management system (this one uses Canvas, which I have used before and like), can have some assessment (tests), may result in a certificate if one does all the work but usually no real college credit.  MIT and Stanford have a number of them.  The massive part refers to the fact that anyone can take the course so massive numbers enroll, although fewer finish.  This course involves four “DAILY DOSES” with links to short clips of movies, a discussion board prompt (assignment), and the weekly video lecures and readings, and a quiz if the student wants the certificate.  (I got 100% on the first one, so it’s not very hard.) 

This post is not so much about the MOOC although the experience is educational for me.   The problem with the MOOCs as a whole is making them profitable and making them credit-bearing.  Colleges have to accept them for credit first, and identity would have to be verified.  That also gets into the whole realm of accreditation.  If a college accepts it, the college has to justify that in terms of SACSCOC or one of its counterparts in another region. 

Well, you didn’t read this to a discussion of higher education policy, but because of the “fim noir” in the title. 

So far I have been led through discussions of The Human Beast (in French) M, (In German), Ministry of Fear, The Maltese Falcon, The Letter, Murder My Sweet, Mildred Pierce, and a couple of others.  We have also looked at the defining characteristics of noir but that lecture stopped short of saying “this is the definitive list. “  Noir can be seen as a style (the way it looks), a genre (the kind story it tell) or movement (what Hollywood did from 1940-late 1950s with crime dramas.  Noir was named such by French critics who gained access to American films of the WWII period (having been isolated from them for a while) and such critics noticed the difference in them from earlier films.  For one, the actors were willing to play ambiguous characters, neither all bad nor all good (gangsters or crusaders). 

The femme fatale idea of the film noir is definitely important, but “she” does not exist in all of them.  The women, in general, are willing (or if fatale—a woman living out her destiny as a negative influence on men—not just fatal as in causing death) to be as morally ambiguous as the males, and of course the prime examples are Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis in Double Indemnity and Jane Greer in Out of the Past. 

Film noir is quintessentially American, we are told, with inspirations from Germans. I think the German influence is underplayed.  When three of the main directors were German—Preminger, Lang, and Wilder—you have to see the connection. 

Yesterday, due to the heat and my fatigue from doing yard work in the heat, I watched M (and it took me a few tries because I kept falling asleep, not because of the film but because of my condition).  Absolutely fascinating.  Thanks to YouTube, I can watch it again when I like, and I really encourage anyone interested in the art of film who has not seen it (as opposed to movies for entertainment) to do so immediately. 

This is Fritz Lang’s masterpiece from 1931, and it is more like Fury (a later movie with Spencer Tracy) than Metropolis, although both are “large” movies about intimate ideas.  By that I mean M has a large cast and scope, like the other two, and like Fury, has a good bit of mob hysteria as a driving force.  Fury is a more standard Hollywood movie, though, in the way it is shot, but M stands out in its look and technique. 

I don’t know what it is called, but the lighting is flat, with shadows used only when it serves a purpose.  And there is almost no musical score, meaning there is a lot of quiet to help the viewer focus on the visuals.  Often we watch long shots of emptiness.   Odd camera angles (a later noir aspect) are used; children singing an eenie-minie-mo game about a serial killer are filmed from above, as are parents waiting outside a tomb-like school for their children to emerge for lunch.  And of course there is a bizarre shot of what can only be called a man’s crotch from the floor (he is a police officer). 

I don’t want to give away the plot, except to say it involves a city terrorized by—and I think terrorizing itself—over a serial killer who has abducted and killed (and I think we are to infer raped) eight little girls.  I couldn’t help thinking that the response of the city officials and eventually the criminals to try to catch the murderer is over-the-top, which I think is the point.   And then we could make parallels to 9/11.  How many of us have felt as if the terrorists have made us give up some of our freedoms by their heinous act? 

The movie deals with issues of justice, who is responsible for crime, and mental illness.  One could argue that the last couple of minutes are like a tacked on message.  I felt that way.  When a killer pleads that he is compelled to kill and he can’t help it, why should we believe him?  He is not a reliable witness.   That said, the film takes some twists that are logical and fascinating and it is quite suspenseful, not at all going the way one expects.  It blends police procedural with psychological thriller, and we know something horrible is going on but we don’t have to actually see it (so it’s in better taste than today’s films, which leave nothing to the imagination).  

On the message boards, there are always those people who whine about these “classics” saying they are not that good and that we should not be impressed with them just because they are classics.  That makes no sense to me.  These films are flawed but blazed a trail; they did something that had never been done before and made it work, made it memorable, and struck something deep in us.  The fact that some of the acting was more theatrical or the realism was not as precise as today seems to be their only argument.  As in the words of Newton, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, so we might as well get over ourselves and thinking we are the sum and substance of creativity and art today.  As Cicero said, people who do not study the past are condemned to be children forever.  People who do not value art of the past are children, preferring something at the Cineplex to a film that has been around 80 years and still stuns viewers. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Finally in Print: The Unexpected Christmas Visitors

I published this book as an ebook in March 2012, and have finally gotten it in print through CreateSpace.  All proceeds go to World Vision, so please don't see this as self-promotion to get me money.  I have to use the Internet for my marketing because as a full-time college administrator, I do not have a lot of time for meet and greets with the public, although I am scheduling a couple in July.

http://www.amazon.com/Unexpected-Christmas-Visitors-Barbara-Graham/dp/1475107471/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1434219797&sr=8-2&keywords=The+unexpected+christmas+visitors

Friday, June 12, 2015

Addendum to Blessings by Laura Story

I have been singing the words to that song a lot lately, but found myself bothered by the line

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You are near.

Outside of the poetic hyperbole, I would say that sleepless nights are due to anxiety, and anxiety is a sin, according to both Jesus and Paul.  If not a sin (my own hyperbole), anxiety is not desirable and not a show of faith. 

Dark nights of the soul are real and all saints have them (or most, again hyperbole), but three years of tossing and turning is a medical condition and a sign of deep distress.  There would be no place for this kind of fear if one is trusting God.  Pietistic religion, which I have had more than enough of in my life, is just the flipside of mysticism, where too much emphasis is placed on experience--of feeling God's presence instead of just accepting it, knowing it, believing it regardless of how one feels.
 



Blogging Reconsidered

I found this "blog post" on blogging interesting.

 http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/june/why-bloggers-are-calling-it-quits.html

While I am guilty of "blogging my opinion" I don't do it everyday, don't think I have something to say on everything, and don't think my opinions are priceless.  I try to share ideas and links that would build up rather than tear down, since I have a naturally curmudgeonly spirit about most things, especially the media.  I want to share faith and Christian knowledge, whatever that is.

But I know that the best kind of writing is writing that takes a while (like novels, and I've written five so I know the time it takes), a dissertation (two years), scholarly writing, and textbooks.  My next event, after putting an ebook novel into CreateSpace form, is to finish a relatively short study on leadership in Daniel, especially leadership by believers in secular spaces. I am also reading several books that are long and complicated (Great Expectations, for one).

The bigger question is what the 140-character world of discourse is doing to our brains.  Those of us who remember the world before tweets and blogs can remember the joy of long books.  Will the next generation never have that, or will they wise up and realize that neat, sweet, short tweets, status updates, and blogs have so little to do with life that is messy and complicated.

So my blogging is often offshoots of those longer projects. I doubt I will give up blogging because it helps me process and I do think it serves a purpose.  If nothing else, thousands of people have logged into one of my posts and I think are using it in papers!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bringing Abundance Back

Bringing Abundance Back

I am proud of this book and engaging in a social media blitz--Facebook, Twitter, email, and here--to get the word out.  I've actually sold some already!

The story behind this cover is kind of funny.  Although the book is set in the South, this picture was taken in northern Pennsylvania.  But the owner had lived in Chattanooga for a long time and is a wonderful gardener, so I think she brought a Southern vibe to her property.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Day 8 of Braces at 59 years old

I am starting to feel like I can get through the next six months.  Still not eating much, have little appetite due to annoyance of eating.  Wax really helps.  The teeth are loose, which is a good thing (hard to believe).  I probably will lay off these posts for a while.  If anyone my age is thinking about braces, be forewarned that they are more life-altering than you would imagine.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

It's Out: My Fifth Novel

I'm very proud of this one.  Please follow link.  It will be available in print and Kindle, all proceeds to go to World Vision, and I've kept the price down as much as I can.  And it's a fun read, humor and tears.

Bringing Abundance Back

Temptation Revisited--click bait

In the Odyssey, Odysseus (Ulysses) had his soldiers stop up their ears and tie him to the mast so that they would not succumb to the Sirens.

I consider click bait on Facebook and other sites to be the modern-day Sirens.  How much time I have wasted looking at:
Pinterest fails (which are funny)
Creepy pictures that are supposed to make me have nightmares and don't even bother me
Photos of twins who are two different races (apparently)
Celebrities who (fill in the blank--were in horrible movies, died too young, have ugly siblings)
People with deformities (what is this, the freak show at the circus?  These poor people are being exploited.)
Photoshopped nonsense
Historical oddities

The Internet has turned into Ripley's Believe It or Not, a feature that used to appear in the Sunday papers when I was a kid. 

So, my resolution from this moment is to --in the words of Taylor Swift--never, never, never, ever, ever, ever click on one of those again and use that time when I could be praying, writing, interacting with people, or cleaning my refrigerator.

Now if I can just stop watching the videos of dogs and cats people post.

Here's an even better idea.  Skip Facebook altogether.  

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Temptation Was Too Great

I have, like too many others, chosen to read about Bruce Jenner after feeling like I couldn't get out of it, since when I check my Yahoo mail the Vanity Fair cover shouted at me.  So I have read varying opinions this week.  They seem to be categorizable into the following:
1.  Rants or sarcasm or invective
2.  Calls for compassion
3.  Accolades for his choice
4.  Theological discussions about what he has done
5.  Psychological analyses of his action and transgenderism

Smarter people than I have written about it, so I'll refrain from saying more than that I find it sad that he was apparently so unhappy that this was his solution. Also sad for his children.  And I am angry about the media and the constant throwing of this in our faces.  According to one source, he sped up this "process" because he was pressured by the producers of his reality show.  If that is true, it casts a whole differently light on the subject.  Why a reality show?  Why did he allow himself to be pressured when this is all about choice?  Of course it, like a lot of things around this, might not be true.

Also, I have to say I am not buying those pictures.  Other than the fact he is slender, those photos are so photoshopped, etc. that all I can say is fake. He's 65, people!  In the photos he looks 25!  That's ludicrous!  No 65-year-old woman looks that good without lots and lots and lots of help.

I was reminded of the story, though, in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery, and Jesus' comment at the end (I don't accept the story as canonical, really, but it's there for a reason and the church fathers apparently did).  "He who is without sin cast the first stone."  I think that is taken out of context, but I do think it is a call for compassion.

Day 5 of Braces at 59 Years old

I didn't know chocolate pudding could taste so good (cooked Jello chocolate, that is).
I could swear there is a wire or two cutting into my cheek.
Ibuprofen really helps.
I am tired.
I have lost 5 lbs, but need to lose 25 more, so that's ok.
Thank goodness for Progresso Soup.
I have never brushed my teeth so much, but the electric tooth brush helps.
Actually it doesn't feel quite as bad on the gums as it did, but the pain (or the painkiller) is causing fatigue, and I have to work 45 hours in four days. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Day 4 of braces at 59 years old

I broke another bracket last night, called the dentist, it's not hurting me so I'll go in Monday. Made myself some chocolate pudding, might eat the whole bowl.  Had spaghetti tonight but chopped it up into little strands, no salad or bread, which is good.  Pain comes and goes, ibuprofen helps; if I am busy I don't notice it.  Sometimes the wires hit my cheeks--worst part. 

Friday, June 05, 2015

Day 3 of Braces at 59 years old

Back in February I made the decision to get Six-month smile braces, and they finally were "installed" Wednesday.  I have been miserable since.  Part of the reason is that they broke and I had to go back to the dentist to have them reapplied. 

If it's not the pain, it's the awareness of the metal and plastic up against my inner lips, it's the stickiness in my mouth, it's the time it takes to brush my teeth, it's the effort to talk, it's the fatigue from the pain and analgesic, and it's the hunger from not being able to eat.  It is a little better today than yesterday and I actually at some pasta today, but it wasn't without quite a bit of soreness.  Since I need to lose weight, that will be a blessing, but I fear exhaustion after a day of work.

I didn't realize how crooked my teeth were, either.  In December, before my 60th birthday, maybe I'll be happy with straight ones, which will be odd.

My husband said I'd probably get used to them, not because the pain went away, but because I didn't notice it as much.  And that causes me to wonder how much that is true of other things.   Perhaps the joy of heaven is that we will see how good life can be without any of the pain we have become unaware of, become numbed to. 

Touching Song, by Laura Storey

This song reached a part of me yesterday, so I will share the lyrics.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

So many "pop" Christian songs are fairly meaningless and so "me-focused" that one wonders what they have to do with the gospel, but this one goes beyond that genre. 

This is not our home. 

The Myth of Easy

Having recently finished leading a (small) book group with colleagues on Mindset by Carol Dweck, I have a few thoughts--well, more than a ...