Thursday, July 30, 2015

Online Discourse

Quotation from Candace Cameron Bure, in Christianity Today:

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (ESV). This verse tells us we should only say what build others up. Sometimes it seems like we get this totally backward online—only speaking up when we have something negative to say.

Walk in Nature Therapy

Follow this link to reported research on the value of taking a walk in a quiet place.

Walk in the park therapy

I am a firm believer in walk therapy. Thirty to fifty minutes a day.  It is the main thing that keeps me sane and uplifted, keeps me from diabetes,  able to write (I do a lot of plotting and dialogue while walking), and from strangling my hyper pitbull who absolutely needs exercise every day. 

Film Noir Experience Over--Thanks to you TCM and Ball State

Just want to say I finished my summer class on film noir through TCM and Ball State University.  Kudos to all.  Amazing, impressive course design and content.  Thanks to Richard Edwards, the professor.  I learned so much.

Anyone coming to this blog will probably wonder if I am schizophrenic.  No, just interested in lots of different things but committed to a few very important ones.

Some thoughts on grief and grieving

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 states:  The Shulamite to Her Beloved Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised.

Perhaps S of S is only about sexual love (not romantic, because that wasn't "invented" until the Middle Ages).  It certainly gets provocative.  But this passage seems to me to also be about grief.  Love goes on after death; is that not the definition of grief?  We do not just "miss" a person from our daily routine, because we love and grieve for people who violate our daily routines and convenience, who do not make our lives "easy."  To put it on the level of "missing" is to say it's like a TV show that was cancelled or a team that moved out of town.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother's death, and I am taking some time off this week for reflection and writing and resting before the flurry of the new academic year.  I start, in a sense, the next phase of my life, since a year is all we need to grieve, right?  One year of magical thinking is enough, right?  (which is a great book by Joan Didion, despite her silence on spiritual issues).    I am being sarcastic because I read up on the five stages of grief yesterday.  

Those seems like a cliche now, something for people to use who are so embedded in the 21st century and its technologically connected isolation that they have lost track of the human experience of several centuries of Western civilization, which is grounded in the seasons of the Northern hemisphere and the mindset of Judeo-Christianism.   As such, I believe we have lost track of what real emotion feels like, that love is as strong as death and death is very strong.  We "move on."  To what?

I asked myself yesterday if I had gone through the five stages of grief and then asked myself why did it matter?  Why would I even need to ask myself that question, since I am not sure I buy the framework?  I am not Moses bargaining over the Israelites or Abraham bargaining over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  I am not in  a place, theologically, to bargain with God.  Was I angry my mother suffered?  Of course.  Suffering is so endemic we don't even know when we are.  It's like preachers saying American would be judged in the future; we don't know that we are already being judged.  I am perpetually angry about suffering.  I do not understand it, no matter how many C.S. Lewish quotes I read about whispers and trumpets.  Did I accept her death?  Yes, rather quickly.  I was there.  I lifted her lifeless hand.  It was a fact.  Was I depressed?  Of course.  Still am.  I still find myself staring at the walls and not wanting to get out of bed.  Did these happen in cycles?  Yes and no.  Sometimes in the same day.  I had so much to do to deal with her estate, most of it got postponed and that's probably why I am dealing with it now.

The emotions were more about the hospice and care experience than the actual death.  That is another topic:  caregiver guilt.  That has almost been a matter of spiritual warfare.

The framework has helped people but it is a temporary shelter rather than a strong building with an enduring foundation.  It helps people who are "surprised by grief," who find themselves experiencing feelings after a loved one's death that they didn't expect--but why?  Such a surprise is something people 100 years ago would have been mystified by.  They had better rituals.  They didn't cremate; there was a place--a grave with a headstone--to remember.  They took a year. They wore black for a reason rather than it made them look thinner.  

I remember a student in the '90s I had whose husband died suddenly.   She came to me about missing classes; she said people in her family were telling her to get over it and move on three weeks later.  At the same institution I had a student who broke down because she had had an abortion and was being told the same thing by the parents who had pressured her to get the abortion.  Such cruelty is unfathomable to me.  

Love is as strong as death.  Many waters cannot quench love. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Two Months in on Six-Month Smiles Braces

1. I have not had to take any analgesic in a couple of weeks despite having them tightened two days ago.
2.  The brackets have stayed put for over a week (they have come loose six times, quite annoying).
3.  I can eat somewhat more reasonably, except for the usual non-braces food.
4.  My overlapped upper front tooth is now almost flush with the tooth it overlapped.  Quite remarkable, and odd after so many years. 
5.  With the change of my teeth, I find I am having to talk differently.
6.  I still hate these things but now know they are working.  The bottoms are somewhat better but not as dramatic as the tops.

One-Year Anniversary

My mother died a year ago today, at about noon.  I won't put the particulars here.  We went to her grave and changed the flowers this morning.  Much has happened in the last  year; I am tired, and taking some time off.  I am somewhat unmotivated today and want to just waste time rather than be productive.  I am not even motivated to waste time at anything.

I read about the five stages of grief.  Of course they are not lock step phases, more like attributes, I think that follow one another.  I don't know that I ever felt denial, anger, or bargaining, perhaps because I knew her death was coming and it wasn't sudden, just sooner than I expected based on the hospice doctor's prediction.   also have a different perspective on life than many; I am global rather than "it's all about my world."  This does not make me less selfish--I can be very selfish--but I don't process events that way.

But I do go through the depression phases; despite finish a doctorate and doing several other professional and personal accomplishments, sometimes, like now, I just want to stare into the wall.  I want to hide under covers.  I have dull headaches that make me want to curl up.  I am tired and don't want to get up.  Since I work hard and get up five or six mornings a week and go out into the world, I am ambivalent about adventures.  I am not clinical depressed, just feeling malaise.  Facing another year of teaching is not exciting for me,  but this may pass.

We test drove a Corvette yesterday.  Today my husband test drove a BMW Z3, my dream car, without me.  I called him a dirty dog. 

Eternal Grace

From The Valley of Vision

Blessed Lord Jesus
No human mind could conceive or invent the gospel.  
Acting in eternal grace, though art both its messenger and its message,
lived out on earth through infinite compassion, 
applying thy life to insult, injury, death
that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed.

I Corinthians 1-2 are reflected in the first three lines.  The words "eternal grace" send me looking in the concordance.  While that construction isn't used, grace grants many eternal things and is linked to an eternal God.  Is grace itself eternal?  Will it have to end at some point, be no longer needed?  This is linear thinking; we conceive of eternity past and eternity future, when there is no such thing; it is all eternity present.

We evangelicals think only of the death of Christ saving us, not the life.  But there would be no efficacious death without a perfect, "infinitely compassionate" life that was sacrificed willingly.

I am taking a film noir course through TCM that is quite interesting from an intellectual and artistic standpoint, but film noir has little to offer us spiritually except a sardonic confirmation of sin and depravity.  The films featured this week are about violence and torture.  The filmmakers weren't allowed to show violence, only imply it, thankfully.  We don't get that today, and have become hardened to violence. It is as if my hangnail is equal to someone else's being beaten with a rubber hose.  As long as it isn't me, the violence is not real.

Christianity brings us faith to face (not an error) with real stone cold violence, its origins, its outcomes.  Is God honored in violence?  Was he pleased with it, happy with it?  I say no, even in the cross.  What kind of God would be honored in violence?  Some parts of the Bible would seem to say that, particular Is. 53:10:  Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

In this instance, God was pleased to allow suffering for a short time for an eternal blessing.  I believe the thing we are to see is that human sin and our violence to others, seen right now so much in the Middle East, is so bad, and its effect on God as the judge so deep, that only the death of His Son can pay for it.  

Some supporting verses:  
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,
7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Spiritual outlook on To Set a Watchman

As mentioned earlier, I visited Powell's Book Store in Portland last week.  The place was crawling with copies of the "new" Harper Lee novel.  I didn't buy one--I'll get around to reading it eventually, but not buying yet.  But this sounds like a good review.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/july/longing-for-watchman.html

Friday, July 24, 2015

In Portland, Oregon for a conference for college administrators (will leave it at that.)  Quite an investment from my college to send me to this, so I will soak it all in.

I took a walk around the city tonight, going to Powell's books.  It is a more organized version of a used book store we have in Chattanooga that is well known. 

This city is green (in the plant and ecological sense), pretty, well laid out, pedestrian friendly.  But there are a lot of young people here who look, well, lost in several senses.  Hipsters, too, as my son would say.  I can see why some people would want to move here, espeically since it was 73 today when it was probably 93 in Ringgold, GA!  It was nice to see a Christian youth group in the park (saw Bibles). 

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Let's not paint all Muslims as radical terrorists.  I wouldn't want all Christians  to be associated with Westboro Baptist."

At the risk of bringing up some ire here, let's not compare apples and oranges. I have seen this meme all over Facebook and it misses the point. Yes, Westboro is despicable and no one defends them. I really wish they would stop calling themselves Baptists. They say hateful things about gay people, but they don't behead them.  They haven't killed anyone, and the Supreme Court said they had a right to free speech.  I wish in this case they didn't, but they do.  I wish some bikers would scare the h- out of them at a funeral.  But they are a infinitesimal fraction of the church--something like 25 people, a cult, out of 2 billion Christians on the planet.  

The issues with radical Islam go much deeper. The Q'uran calls for death to non-Muslims. It is a religion that spread through conquering.  Radical Islam constitutes a much larger fraction of the Muslim population, more than 15%.  No one is saying the neighbor who goes to a mosque is a radical terrorist.  I know many hard-working and pleasant and yes patriotic Muslims.  Yes, I can imagine some are feeling some persecution because of these attacks.  BUT the attacks are growing, not diminishing. Something is wrong.  You can call for tolerance to law-abiding Muslims without making false analogies.

However, the Internet and social media have never been known as places for rational, logical, and fallacy-free discourse.  

We in Chattanooga have just gone through a trauma and if it could happen here, the buckle of the Bible belt, where else?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A little news because I don't put my life on Facebook

Colleagues and I recently "won" a $30,000 grant to create open resource materials for a basic speech class.  The grantor is the University System of GA.  Lots of work to do.

I got my husband to go with me to see a screening of Double Indemnity.  It was "touched up" and very clear, and we could enjoy it as it was meant to be seen.  I am quite a fan of film noir, and it's a pleasure to go somewhere with my husband.

The Trials of Being a Fiction Writer

With the publication of my fifth novel, I feel as if I can reflect on the trials of being a fiction writer.

First, go to youtube and check out videos on "things people say to writers."  One of them has the s-word in the title but it's pretty true to life.

First, people think that if your character says something, you believe that.  No, that is what the character thinks.  It's not what I think.  If I am going to create believable and interesting characters who drive the story, then they have to be different from me.

People think that they are in your books.  Little pieces of them probably are, but not a particular whole person.   My first character was a composite of four women I knew, but of course they thought it was them in totality.

It's hard to write believable characters if you are an evangelical Christian who goes to a Southern Baptist Church and teach Sunday School.  Your friends get scandalized if you use real language.

You cannot assume your friends will read your book, or at least that they will order it from Amazon.  Try to sell them cheap copies.

It doesn't pay to give away copies.  People don't appreciate what they don't pay for.

It's hard to get people to write reviews on Amazon or GoodReads.  I don't know why, it just is.  

It's a lonely life and you have to sacrifice time at other things; just don't sacrifice your loved ones.  

If you don't spend a lot of time (and I mean a lot) of time meeting and greeting and if you don't have time for that (and I don't), you won't sell many books unless you can find another method.

It's a discouraging life and you must do it because you have stories to get out of your head, good stories to tell.  What defines "good stories," well, is different for everyone. 

The Case for CreateSpace: Best bet for Self-Publishing

--> I am going out of a limb here and recommend CreateSpace by Amazon for anyone wanting to self-publish, whether it is a cookbook, family history, textbook, novel, or nonfiction. I am not getting paid for this endorsement (of course not!) but I am a pleased customer and found the process easy and doable (but I have better than average computer skills and far better than average writing skills--sorry, but it's true.  I can't play the piano, so that makes it even).
After failed attempts for about three years to find a suitable publisher for two of my novels, Bringing Abundance Back and The Unexpected Christmas Visitors, I decided to take the plunge and try CreateSpace.  At best it was an experiment, but as a friend says, I am not getting any younger, and for me, getting the books to the public is more important than the possibility of a contract with a publisher who may or may not help me very much (many small presses do very little for their writers, but that is another story).  

I had already published the Christmas novel (doesn't everyone have to write one of those?) on Kindle, again as an experiment and learning process, so making it available in a physical format was overdue.  I had tried to work with CreateSpace a while back, but was in the middle of doctoral work and let it slide; the files were as I had left them on the website, so I just had to pick up where I had left off.  However, I actually published the BAB first.  

The process was simple.  Amazon really does everything for you.  The best thing is to use the template in Word that they provide for download.  It is formatted, even with page numbers, and you just need to cut and paste the manuscript into it, and of course play with it some (yes, that can be tedious, but it's doable if you are remotely tech savvy).  
Amazon also provides the ISBN, the page for you on their online store (where you can create an author page), an edition in Kindle for download for $1.99, and copies at cost.  My almost 300-page novel costs less than $5.00 a copy.   Of course there is shipping and handling, so it comes to less than $6.00 a copy if I want to give away or sell myself.  Of course, it goes for more on Amazon because they have to make their cut.  I should also say that although mine has a very nice color cover that I designed with their template and two .jpg files, the interior does not have any graphics, so that might be more.

Now, you can get them to do it for you, and do editing, and those packages cost a bit.  I feel no need for their editing features because (a) I have friends who can proofread pretty well (doctorates in English); (b) I vetted it through my writers’ group; and (c) I’m a pretty decent, though not perfect, editor myself.  I also could figure out the technical stuff, which amounted to using the template and adjusting the lines and such for the pages to look right, uploading and editing the text and photos on the cover, and navigating their website.  I was able to choose a matte cover rather than a glossy cover for my books, which makes a great deal of difference to me in achieving the look I was going for. 

Because Amazon has to send the profits directly to your bank account and report taxes, you have to give them your Social Security and bank number; I created an alternate account for my writing.  Some people may not be comfortable giving your Social to Amazon, and I can understand that.  You can check your sales daily or hourly if you like on both the Kindle and the physical copy of the book.  You can get reviews and link to your blog and author page.  So I can’t see the downsides other than that you will only be able to sell on Amazon (not Barnes and Noble, Tower, CBD, etc.) and well, it is Amazon, the elephant in the room, and some people may just not like them, and I can understand that.  You, of course, can also order as many copies as you want to sell yourself, and it will be cheaper for you and your readers in the long run to do that.

There are many “self-publishing” houses out there that will willingly take your money.  I have not heard much good about them but I don’t want to get into trouble here, so I won’t name names.  I just am giving a testimonial of almost complete satisfaction with CreateSpace and want my fellow writers to know that. 

Serena, the Movie

The first book I ever read on my Kindle was Serena by Ron Rash.  I thought, and think, it is a masterpiece, and have written a review of it elsewhere.  I had heard there was a movie version of it, but it never came to theaters around here (we are not exactly New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, so one has to look carefully to find nonmainstream films). 

It is on NetFlix now, so I watched it.  I also read the reviews on IMDB.com, which I think one has to take with a grain of salt sometimes--some are very thoughtful and well informed, others are just rants, others are just cries for help.  The reviewers there give it 5.4 average, which is pretty low.

I think the film suffers from casting; editing out some important parts of the narrative (which is prodigious and fulsome and probably unfilmable in some ways); from directing that uses a lot of long, long takes of Jennifer Lawrence's face; and from misunderstanding Serena's character.  She is Lady MacBeth; she is  psychopathic.  She doesn't become a psychopath when she loses her baby; she was already one; she is a ravaging and rapacious character; she would never cry over her miscarriage, only take revenge on the doctor (not in the film).  Even the sexuality portrays her as recipient when she is initiator.  She is never weak in the book.  Jennifer Lawrence is just too vulnerable and sweet, although heroic.  She would never commit suicide because Pemberton is dead.  (I guess these are spoilers, but I don't really care.)

But the scenery was nice, even though I wish they had filmed in the real North Carolina mountains rather than the Czech Republic.  I am not sure a European director would really understand what the opening of the Smokey Mountain park actually meant socially, economically, culturally, and ecological to people of the region. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Harper Lee Revisited

This title has a double meaning.  I have not read more than the first chapter of To Set a Watchman, and probably won't for a while.  I have about 100 books ahead of it, but I'll read it before I watch the movie, promise. I also have to cowrite an open-resource, no-cost textbook for our basic communication course in the next four or five months, along with preparing to teach three classes, work full time as an administrator, try to market my latest novel, write my next one, and oh, yes, live.

However, back to the point.  In reading various comment boards and social media on the new release (hers, not mine--I would love to even get some negative press on mine, and it's much cheaper than hers!), I have been perplexed by the reactions to the way that Atticus is portrayed--as a segregationist, which is to most synonymous with racist.  I have even read posts that say "I was going to name my son Atticus--so glad I didn't!"  (Are you kidding me?  Would you name your child Huckleberry?)

First, let me remind the reader---Atticus was a fictional character.  Harper Lee had the right to do what she wanted with her characters, and she did.  (That doesn't mean the book is good or bad, or the choice good or bad, just that it's her book, and it was published, so, so be it.)  The disillusionment posters have expressed over a fictional character makes me think they need to get out and meet some real people.  I know, I know, I sound mean, but seriously.  I am more upset Jem is dead in this book than about Atticus' being a segregationist, because there is no surprise there for me. 

The second point is that Atticus, and probably the man it was based on, is a humanly drawn character, and to be a segregationist and still want justice for a falsely accused black man and to still want rule of law are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Yes, we see them so today, but someone in 1950s Alabama would not.  He still had to grow, as we all do.  This is in no way a defense of segregationists, who were as a whole either pretty clueless or pretty mean, but from the way I think the book is written, Atticus is conflicted, not an ideologue.  He is being faced with a South and an America he has not had to face before, and we are all likely to entrench ourselves when faced with change, especially in old age and especially when it seems to upset social order (as in recent SCOTUS decisions).

Now, none of this bears upon whether H. Lee wanted the book published after all, and how much it was edited (apparently not much, because I think the editors would have messed with Atticus).  I don't know.  I just believe a writer has a right to write.  No one has to like it--don't buy the book, don't read it. 

My novels

Sorry--I have to remind people I have written five novels.  If you live in my area, I can get them for you cheaper, for the most part.

I do have some serious questions about how many have actually been sold.  There are 10 available on Amazon of the latest, but only seven have sold.  I don't quite get that.

Traveling Through
Cross Road
Legacy

These three are a set and have some similar characters.  You can read Cross Road and Legacy without reading the first.  As my first, I have the strongest emotions about Traveling Through, both regrets and pride.

The Unexpected Christmas Visitors.

Bringing Abundance Back









Spin

It is very hard today to detect news from opinion, information from persuasion.  Perhaps it never was.

In the wake of the events in my city of Chattanooga, I am conscious of the spotlight, once again, on Islam.  No, all Muslim are not terrorists or anything close--that is not what is being said here, so don't misquote or "creatively misunderstand" as a colleague calls it, and as I call it "Tucker's Law"--"if someone can possibly find a way to misunderstand you, they will."

But I thought that two stories, and the reporting, by NPR, were interesting in the last two days.

This morning there was a story about how beautiful the Islamic call to prayer is, and how Americans living in the Middle East (both women, interestingly) became Muslim (or so claimed) because of the emotional effect it had on them.  HUMMMM.  Yes, look the other way, stupid people--don't look at what might have been done to radicalize this young man who lived in a town 20 miles from here.  What is causing these young men and women to go this way? is the more important question. 

Then there was the story about the Planned Parenthood doctor caught spilling the horrifying, unethical beans over pasta and wine about how she carefully harvests organs of the fetuses she aborts.  "But--these are used for research!" NPR protests.  Yeah.  Did the "donors" know they were donating?  Did they get any of the money?  How much did PP get?  We are supposed to believe they just charge for the transportation of the "tissue?"

At the same time, I am still numbed by what went on here.  Like my neighbors, I feel--if it could happen here, it can happen anywhere. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tragedy at Home

My town was rocked today by domestic terrorism.  It is hard to believe--almost impossible--that a jihadist has hit two military recruitment centers in Chattanooga.  We joke here that this is the buckle of the Bible belt, a town in a county with over 200 Baptist churches.  We are 800 or 900 miles from New York, 3000 miles from Los Angeles (although only about two hours from Atlanta).  But perhaps nowhere can we assume absolutely safety now. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Harper Lee's New Novel--Read First Chapter

http://www.wsj.com/articles/harper-lees-go-set-a-watchman-read-the-first-chapter-1436500861

Here it is.  Worth the read if for no other reason that it might save you paying the $25.00 the first edition hardbound might cost.  It's really hard to follow up TKAM.  Right now, I think it lacks that charm that made you want to keep reading TKAM.  I don't care about these people, yet.  And there is one sentence that will blow you away and upset you, and it comes out of nowhere.

I have heard the book was not really edited.  That is believable.  It reads like a young person's first attempt at a novel.  Man, I don't mean to be so critical.  I'm just going to wait before I get around to reading it.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Wondering

1.  I often get spikes at a specific time on my "hits."  I think they are related to my essay on the movie Twelve Angry Men.  If someone is using this in a class or something, I really wish they would tell me.  I can put it in my portfolio for promotion to full professor at my institution.

2.  How much time do I waste on Facebook?   Recently it has been nothing but rainbows, Christians decrying the end of the country and civilization, and posts about Confederate flags.  My viewpoints on these matters have been made clear before. But I was really angered last night by a so-called friend who posted a pseudo-scientific article about conservatives being less intelligent than liberals.  I almost defriended her on the spot.  What's next--sterilization for tea party members?  (ok, I'm being ridiculous and snarky, but progressives were the ones who had the sterilization campaigns in the 1920s against blacks and the poor.)  I think both groups are subject to mob mentality and don't think for themselves.  Anyone who takes a political "side" wholeheartedly without looking at particulars is not thinking.  But Facebook is not the place for political debate.  It always devolves into name-calling.

3.  Don't trust the media!  He who controls the media outlets controls our minds!  They tell us what to think by not focusing on what matters, only on their agenda!  My screed for the day.


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Olivia deHavilland - Happy birthday

I love old movies.  Today on NPR I heard that one of my favorite old movie stars, Olivia deHavilland, is 99!  One of the main stars of Gone with the Wind is still alive.  Amazing.  However, I liked her better in The Heiress (Washington Square) and some of her others.  Melanie in GWTW was just so sappy you wanted to slap her.  OH was only 23 when she made it!

How to Fight November

I realized a few years ago that when the time changed in the November it began a four-month battle for me. Well, I should say seven weeks, r...