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Archive for the ‘Better Call Saul’ Category

How about we just read some books?

I’ve knocked a couple over the past few days, two books of very different genres, but both absorbing in their own way.

And I’m telling you – settling into a book is far less anxiety-producing than settling into social media news opining for the evening. Or even for fifteen minutes. Even if it’s a book about death. Weird.

But try it. It doesn’t make you a bad citizen, I promise.

I have written about Dorothy Hughes before. She is known today to the extent she is known at all, for pulp/crime novels. I initially came across her work via the NYRB reprints line – they have published The Expendable Man, which I wrote about here – and still highly recommend. A while later, I read her most well-known book, In a Lonely Place, made into a movie with Humphrey Bogart, and which I wrote about here.

So, what do we have so far? In the first, a physician falsely accused of a crime. In the second, we’re in the narrative point of view (in the third person) of a probable serial killer. In the third Hughes I’ve read – Ride the Pink Horse, we’re in the head of a still different type of character: a small-time operator and borderline criminal who’s been a part of the circle of a corrupt Illinois senator and who’s trying to settle a score of sorts – or to simply get what he believe is owed him.

Ride-the-Pink-Horse-Back-Cover

What adds another level of interest and meaning to Ride the Pink Horse is the setting. Sailor – for that is his name – has followed the senator down to Santa Fe for the Fiesta that takes place over Labor Day weekend.  Fiesta provides a fascinating background to the story, a background that reflects a changing understanding of America, insight into the Southwest and, most importantly, a glimpse into a greater, even transcendent reality that pricks at Sailor’s conscience.

The Fiesta begins with the burning of a huge effigy of evil – Zozobra.

On the hill the outsiders played at Fiesta with their fancy Baile but Fiesta was here. In the brown faces and the white faces, the young and the old; capering together, forgetting defeat and despair, and the weariness of the long, heavy days which were to come before the feast time would come again. This was Fiesta. The last moments of the beautiful and the gay and the good; when evil, the destroyer, had been himself destroyed by flame. This was the richness of life for those who could destroy evil; who could for three days create a world without hatred and greed and prejudice, without malice and cruelty and rain to spoil the fun. It was not three days in which to remember that evil would after three days rise again; for the days of Fiesta there was no evil in this Fiesta world. And so they danced.

Sailor is an outsider to this world, and so it’s a convenient way for Hughes to explore the noir trope of alienation, particularly in that post-World War II era.

And standing there the unease came upon him again. The unease of an alien land, of darkness and silence, of strange tongues and a stranger people, of unfamiliar smells, even Ride-the-Pink-Horse-Dellthe cool-of-night smell unfamiliar. What sucked into his pores for that moment was panic although he could not have put a name to it. The panic of loneness; of himself the stranger although he was himself unchanged, the creeping loss of identity. It sucked into his pores and it oozed out again, clammy in the chill of night. He was shivering as he stood there and he moved sharply, towards the Plaza, towards identity.

For three days, Sailor lurks and waits. Because it’s Fiesta, there’s not a hotel room to be found, so he sleeps where he can. He encounters the Senator and his entourage, with increasing levels of threat and intensity as he demands what’s due him. He discovers another Chicagoan in town – a boyhood acquaintance now police detective, also keeping an eye on the Senator. He forms a friendship of sorts with the man who operates the  Tio Vivo – the children’s merry-go-round –  whom he nicknames (of course) “Pancho.” There is, by the way, a lot of what we’d call offensive ethnic-related language in this book, but it’s all from the brain of Sailor, who uses language like that because that’s the way his character thinks.

Anyway, Pancho is one of a few characters Sailor encounters who hints at a different way. Another is a teenage girl whom he could easily exploit, but doesn’t, and whom, for reasons mysterious to even himself, he tries to help. It’s her storyline that provides the hughes-ridepinktitle – a title which has nothing to do with the dame on the cover of the reissue. What these characters do is  show Sailor glimmers of life as it exists beyond greed and keeping score, either by the peace they’ve made with the limitations of their own lives:

‘Even with the gringo sonnama beetches,’ Pancho said cheerfully. ‘When I am young I do not understand how it is a man may love his enemies. But now I know better. I think they are poor peoples like I am. The gringo sonnama beetches don’t know no better. Poor peoples.’

….or the small acts of goodness they draw out of Sailor himself:

Sailor called to Pila. ‘Ride the pink one.’ He felt like a dope after saying it. What difference did it make to him what wooden horse an Indian kid rode? But the pink horse was the red bike in Field’s, the pink horse was the colored lights and the tink of music and the sweet, cold soda pop. The music cavorted. Pancho’s muscles bulged at the spindlass. Pila sat astride the pink horse, and Tio Vivo began its breath-taking whirl. Sailor leaned on the pickets. He didn’t know why giving her a ride had been important. Whether he’d wanted to play the big shot. Whether it was the kid and the bright new bike, the bum with his nose pressed against the window looking at the clean silver blonde beyond reach. Whether it was placating an old and nameless terror. Pila wasn’t stone now; she was a little girl, her stiff dark hair blowing behind her like the mane of the pink wooden horse.

Sailor was raised Catholic, by a pious mother and an alcoholic, abusing father. His mother spent her life praying – and how did it help her? In his view, it didn’t.

He hadn’t come here to pray; he’d come with a gun to keep his eye on a rat. He wasn’t going to be sucked in by holiness. He kept his mind and his backbone rigid when the golden censers swung the musk-scented smoke, when the organ and choir blazoned together the O Salutaris Hostia. He got on his knees only because everyone else did, because he didn’t want to be conspicuous…..Sailor slid over to the side pew. A pillar protected him from the eyes of those moving up the aisle. The old men and the little children. The rich and the poor. The alien and the native, the magnificent and the black shawls. The monks and the choir and the Sociedads, a slow-moving, silent procession to the open cathedral doors, out again into the night. Candles flickered like fireflies from all the vasty corners of the cathedral

Now and then, cultural commenters would worry about the appeal of antiheroes Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) and Walter White (Breaking Bad). What does it Say About Us? Well, what was most compelling to me -and I think to many – was not so much these characters’ dastardly deeds, but rather the possibility that they might turn around – both shows were full of such moments and opportunities, and decisions had to be made in those moments, decisions about whether to be really courageous or continue in your prideful, destructive, bastard ways.

Ride the Pink Horse has that same kind of vibe about it. Sailor didn’t have to be in the spot he’s in, and he still has a chance to move in another direction. Will he take it?

It’s a little repetitious – so not as strong as An Expendable Man, which is still my favorite Hughes so far. But it’s got a great setting, and in that pulp context, effectively examines the notion of conscience, creates a haunting spiritual landscape through which sinful strangers in a strange land choose one path – and not another –  and wow, the ending is just smashing. I gasped. I did.

Well, that took longer than I expected. I’ll wait until tomorrow to write about the other book I read this weekend – They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell, published eighty years ago about events set twenty years earlier than that, but astonishingly fresh and deeply insightful.

Ride-the-Pink-Horse-Movie-PosterBy the way, Ride the Pink Horse was also made into a film. It’s been released as a part of the Criterion Collection, so…I guess it’s good? But the plot is very different from the novel:

He plays a tough-talking former GI who comes to a small New Mexico town to shake down a gangster who killed his best friend; things quickly turn nasty. 

…but the discussion at the Criterion site intrigues me…so perhaps I’ll try to find it and give it a go.

 

 

 

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— 1 —

Travel plans:  In a few weeks, we will be heading to Guatemala – Mayan ruins and wildlife are the destinations, a guide’s services have been retained (more on my motivation for that when I write about the trip) but here’s a question for you – if anyone knows of any Catholic charitable causes in the areas of San Ignacio, Belize or Flores, Guatemala, could you let me know? If there are any small needs that we might be able to help meet, we would like the opportunity.

(We will be flying in and out of Belize City – a lot cheaper from here than Guatemala City, and closer to the sites we want to see.)

— 2 —

This evening, we went to a performance of Fiddler on the Roof by one of our local companies, the Red Mountain Theatre. I’m continually amazed at the high quality of local theater – it really was an outstanding production, in every way. The actor who portrayed Tevye was the same fellow who played the lead in another company’s excellent Music Man last year (or the year before? Can’t  remember.) and there was just the slightest tiny hint of Harold Hill every once in a while, but really – if I hadn’t known it was the same guy, I wouldn’t have known. If that makes sense.

Bonus: Michael’s piano teacher played the keyboard, which we didn’t know until we got there and looked at the program.

It was the first time I’ve ever seen Fiddler – really. I liked it, but I was struck by a couple of things.

IMG_20170622_192514First, the sanitization of history gives me rather a sick feeling. Hey, we’re friendly Tsarist forces here to warn you about the coming pogrom so you have time to escape to America.  It gave off a very mid-century, post-WWII America vibe in that regard.

Although I will say that the very last scene was effectively done with just the right balance of resignation, hope and grief – and made me regret, just a bit, my decision not to go to Ellis Island on our last NYC trip.

Secondly, is there an “great” American musical that has a strong second act? Because I can’t think of one. That pesky problem of plot machinations and resolution seems to bog everything down, including the music. What do you think?

— 3 —

Current Read: How did this one catch my eye? Well, one of the things I try to do is read academic journal articles in religious history. It’s random on my end – I don’t have a particular period or area of study I’m focused on. It’s more about general knowledge and curiosity. How were people different? How were they the same?

(Spoiler alert: They are mostly the same.)

So to that end, I poke and prod the Internet, trying to find journals I can access at no charge. For example, via JSTOR, you can “store” three articles at a time on your “shelf” – but must keep an article for two weeks at a time. It works.

It was there I ran across an article by Dr. Emily Michelson, which led me to her book, which I purchased. Amazingly, since I rarely purchase books, relying instead on, you know, the library.  I just was too lazy to go through the interlibrary loan process on this one, plus I suspected it might be a keeper – at least for a while.  I’ll write a full post when I’m finished, but know for now, it’s a fascinating look at post-Reformation preaching in Italy, carefully dismantling our stereotypes about what the “Counter-Reformation” was all about. History, as it gets filtered through secondary and tertiary sources, is taught to us in school and then finally filtered through culture, ends up being a set of bullet points acted out by stick figures reflecting the narrative’s ideology. What really happened is far more complex and, if ultimately unknowable except only to God, still much more interesting than the stick figures acting out our preferred narratives.

Her basic point: These preachers understood the challenges of the era. They saw and accepted the gaps and weaknesses in Catholic life and saw it as their mission, not simply to defend Catholic truth against Protestant de-formations, but to encourage reform of Catholic life at both the institutional and personal level. It was a pastoral program in which there was flexibility and diversity of views and approaches – not a monolithic, defensive fortress of apologetics.

More to come.

— 4 —

Listening:

It’s been pretty rainy this week (a relief from last summer’s drought, to be sure), so walking has been limited. The one time I got out, I listened to In Our Time’s recent episode on Christine de Pizan. 

Who?

That’s what I said. As I listened, my question changed:

Why hadn’t I ever heard of this woman before? 

Who was she? A 14th/15th century woman, born in Venice, moved to Paris with her family by her father, who took a position in the court of Charles V.  Married – happily and willingly – at 15, by the time she was 25, she was widowed, her father had died, as had the king, and she was left with three children and an elderly mother to support. What to do?

Write. 

Christine de Pisan was one of the first European women – if not the first – to make a living at her writing. She had been well-educated by her father and in the court, and took to writing poetry and other literary forms, including works that took misogynist interpretations of history to task. Her Book of the City of Ladies is no less than a medieval her-story, galloping through the past, correcting negative interpretations of women’s actions and celebrating what the culture defined as weakness as, rather, strength.

Look, I’m not expert on anything at all, including French medieval history, but I have done my share of study and women’s history has been an important part of the picture – beginning back in the late 1970’s when her-story was at the center of much of what I encountered in college and then in graduate school in the mid-80’s. I can’t recall ever hearing of this woman before.

Why?

The question is actually addressed in the broadcast, near the end, in which the scholars admit that she doesn’t quite fit the narrative – the secular feminist narrative, I’d add. She was not an absolute rebel against her own culture, and she didn’t reject religion.

(But neither did Hildegard of Bingen, and she’s celebrated, even by secular feminists….so I’m still a bit stuck.)

Anyway, here’s the link to the program – and – great – one more thing to read. 

— 5 —

Oh, wait – I forgot. Add this. I also listened to the episode on American Populists. If you have any interest at all in American history – and if you’re an engaged American citizen, you should – this is worth your time. It puts a great deal of post-Civil War history into a helpful context, explains many of the current fault-lines an offers thoughtful insight into the dynamics of political parties and pressure groups – particularly important in a time such as ours in which both political parties are becoming increasingly indifferent and irrelevant to ordinary citizen’s concerns.

— 6 —

Well, much more time for reading now that My Shows are over – Fargo and Better Call Saul both wrapped up their seasons this week, and I’ll have more to say about both soon.

I’m thinking I’m going to go back to the queue and tackle The Americans. I have friends who say it’s great. I’ll take a deep breath and plunge in.

 

— 7 —

Ah, wait. I posted this, then I realized that I only did six takes. Well, here’s seven. Done.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

 

Back from NYC Sunday night, and nowhere near as productive a week as I had hoped this week, especially with one kid in piano camp all day every day. I’m hopeless. Well, maybe not. I did get a sample for a book proposal done, and will send it off to the editor today for his perusal when he returns from vacation. But that’s about it. Sad!

— 2 —

We have some ch-ch-changes in store for the next school year, about which I’ll write more when August hits. Short version: we are returning to Homeschool Land with my youngest for 7th grade.  The situation is disappointing for him (it was basically his

"amy welborn"

Never cleaned it up…a good thing.

decision) because he wanted to like it, and it’s possible that in the future, things will refashion themselves and it might work out for him. It’s difficult to discuss – impossible to discuss without getting specific, which I don’t want to do and would be unfair. Who knows what will happen in the future? We don’t know – for right now, he’s looking forward to next year – Mom has promised  – promised – that except for math, it will be Unschooling all the way, plus he doesn’t have to get up so darn early, he’ll be able to maintain the friendships he forged during the year, he’ll have more time to work on his music and it will be quality time – not I’m-exhausted-from-school-and-I-have-to-squeeze-practice-in-before-homework time, and he gets to start off the school year in September with a photography class at the local Catholic homeschool co-op – a far better way to spend your Thursday mornings than parsing participial phrases.

— 3 —

I got a little frustrated with myself last night because it occurred to me I haven’t been reading many books over the past few weeks. I spent several minutes searching the house for Doctor Thorne, which I never did find, and can’t even recall the last time I saw. What? How did this happen?

Then I realized…television. After a desert time, over the past few weeks, good (to me) shows have been airing again – namely Better Call Saul and Fargo, and, at a far lesser level, Veep and Silicon Valley. Seriously – far lesser level. But BCS and Fargo have been absolutely intriguing this season (I watched season 1 of Fargo but not 2, btw), but since they are structured like novels, with an endgame in sight, I find it impossible and fruitless to try to write about them until the season finale has aired. It’s that way with Fargo in particular, which is either a pretentious collection of arresting images about truth, falsehood, 1960’s LA, Peter and the Wolf and Communist East Germany or something almost profound – but I’ll only know when I see how it all turns out this coming week.

— 4 —

That said, I was interested in something the AV Club guy wrote about Fargo (don’t read the original if you plan on watching and don’t want to be spoiled for a major plot event – I’ve chosen the excerpt so it doesn’t reveal it)

[Reference to a feud between two brothers….]  without understanding that the feud wasn’t a cut-and-dry case of extortion, it was just some cartoons poking other cartoons. I appreciate that this reveal was always in the cards, but the timing of everything means that not everything lands quite as it should.

Image result for fargo season 3What the writer is referring to is a conflict between brothers – he is saying that the feud didn’t seem to him to have depth as it played out because we didn’t know the specifics about the events causing it until this second-to-the-last episode.

But here’s the thing: What we did know was that the basics of the feud involved one brother trading something of value in a moment of weakness.

Does that sound familiar?

Yeah, it’s Jacob and Esau, blindingly obvious to me since we first met these two.

So this interests me. The feud had some resonance and more depth for me over the season because I understood it as an expression of another story I know very well. Perhaps the series creatives could do better in not assuming that familiarity and drawing themes out more explicitly, but it’s interesting to me that they don’t think they should have to, and what people are missing without that familiarity.

 

— 5 —

That said, and without seeing the last episode yet, I have hope that I won’t be disappointed in a series which has the Worst Bad Guy With the Grossest Teeth admitting:

The problem is not that there is evil in the world. The problem is that there is good. Because otherwise, who would care.

And it happens in an episode called “Aporia” – which forces me to look stuff up and get a little more knowledge in my brain. Always a good thing.

— 6 —

 

I was talking to someone who has another high-school age kid, and this kid is an athlete. The parent was telling me some things about the experience and it took me a second to process what he was telling me…I thought I didn’t understand…I thought he was kidding…but…

Every family is responsible for raising $2000 for the team, plus there’s a $300 fee for participating, plus we’re responsible for selling a certain number of ads for the programs….plus..

…there was some other fee, but I don’t remember what it was.

You know, there are a lot of aspects to American culture I look at and grumble, That’s what’s wrong with us today…but this? This expectation that for a high school sport for which a family already sacrifices much of its summer and free time during the school year….that family still has to raise/fork over $3000 or more??  Really?

Stop. Step away. 

— 7 —

My book sales are certainly seasonal – the saints books and Friendship With Jesus peak from Easter to early June, Bambinelli Sunday at Christmas (duh), and the Catholic Woman’s Book of Days around Mother’s Day and Christmas.

The Prove It books have a couple of bumps during the year as well – in the early summer when schools publish their textbook lists for the coming school year, and then August-September when more people (like me) are paying attention and finally getting with the program.

If that’s you – I have a few here for sale. Check it out!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

Oh, my word, this In Our Time podcast on Mary, Queen of Scots was fantastic. Fast-paced, but thorough (up until the end, when they ran out of time), typically fair-minded and balanced. If you have any interest in this period of history, do listen.

— 2 —

Earlier in the week I caught up with another earlier episode, this one on John Dalton. The content gibes nicely with last week’s commentary on the IOT episode on Roger Bacon. Dalton, like Bacon, was a devoutly religious man of science – in Dalton’s case, an observant Quaker until the day he died. It’s another very useful antidote to the current and very stupid conviction that Science and Religion are AT WAR.

One of the points in the broadcast that interested me the most was this:

Dalton was a Quaker and as a dissenter (like Unitarians, Methodists…Catholics) was prohibited from studying at Oxford or Cambridge (he could have studied at Scottish universities however).

At the same time, as the industrial revolution changed the social and cultural landscape of England, particularly the north, the rising classes began to shape new ways of discovering and sharing knowledge that were 1)outside the established educational structures of the south  and 2) reflective of their particular priorities: commerce, technology, industry, practical science and their hope for their children to be able to fit into traditional educational paradigms as well.

And so Dalton, both self-taught and the product of an alternative network of Quaker tutors and schools, lived, worked and researched.

(We remember him today for many things, but most commonly his contribution to atomic theory.)

One of the presenters made the very interesting point that if Dalton had come from a more privileged background, had been Anglican his path of study would have been far more traditional and circumscribed and not as amenable to outside-the-box thinking.

Of course this resonated with matters I often contemplate and prompts me to wonder, once again, why those who like to present themselves as progressive advocates of the individual tend to be such advocates of pedagogical groupthink and homogeneous mandatory educational programs?

— 3 —

It’s Friday! It’s the weekend!

But…is that a good thing? Is it a Catholic thing?

Hmmmm

Saturday-Sunday do not for a Christian constitute the end of the week, but the end-and-beginning. Most calendars reflect that too; Sunday appears at the head of the week.

Does it matter? Supremely so. How we mark time shapes everything that we do, for it is the context in which we do it. Time is the first “thing” God creates. In creating things outside of Himself, God introduces a before and an after, which means time has come into being.

— 4 —

Speaking of days of the week and holidays, how about this idea from England’s Labour Party?

A Labour government will seek to create four new UK-wide bank holidays on the patron saint’s day of each of the home nations, Jeremy Corbyn has announced. The Labour leader said the move would bring together England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while giving workers a well-deserved break.

The plan would mean public holidays on St David’s Day (1 March), St Patrick’s Day (17 March), St George’s Day (23 April) and St Andrew’s Day (30 November).

So interesting to see the stubborn persistence, in whatever form, of religious foundations…

— 5 —

A great concept from Matt Swain, now of the Coming Home Network!

 

— 6 —

Holding this space for a link to a piece that will be appearing on another website sometime later today….

Update:  Here it is – an excerpt from Praying with the Pivotal Players at Aleteia: “Catherine of Siena: Drunk on the Blood of Christ.”

— 7 —

Are you in need of gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, graduation? Mother’s Day? End-of-the-year teacher gift? Perhaps I can help….

(For children, mom, sister, friend, new Catholic….)

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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— 1 —

This year, we celebrated the Triduum at the Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House, the boys serving Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday – we chose Sunday rather than the Vigil this year, and it was good, I think, because they were the only servers. Father John Paul, MFVA celebrated all the liturgies, and it was as it always is: simplicity, depth, reverence. Music that was offered as praise, and since this was so, was beautiful but not ostentatious or self-referential.

As I was waiting for the boys after one of the liturgies, a young man was speaking to his friend nearby. He was explaining what he liked about the liturgies at the convent. “It’s not too much,” he was saying, “It just is.

It just is.

IMG_20170413_182500

(For some audio clips of some of the liturgies, go to my Instagram profile/page.)

— 2 —

Next year, though, I am thinking that I want to take off for the Triduum. I see all these newsfeed and Instagram photos of processions and pictures on the ground fashioned out of flower petals, and I want to go to there.  I might try to go to a place where the culture is still all in on Holy Week. Suggestions? Somewhere in Mexico or Central America? Preferably no more than one time zone away from me?

— 3 —

We have a new driver in the house. As I said on Facebook, four down, one to go.  It really is, in my mind, the worst thing about parenting. I hate guiding a new driver through all this, and it causes me more stress than almost anything.  Yeah, potty-training is hassle, but wet diapers don’t risk anyone’s life or limbs. Usually.

We still only have one vehicle, though, so drive time is limited. As it happens, the day before his driving test, a car popped up on the local neighborhood discussion board – a fellow who seemed legit was selling a decent car for a very decent price – under 2K.  I almost jumped at it. I even emailed him about it, but after letting it swim in my brain overnight, I told him I’d pass.  For you see, I have been making regular speeches on the theme of We Are Not Getting Another Vehicle Until At Least Late Summer if Not Later  with clear (I hope) subtexts of how the new driver needed to probably kick in some funds to offset insurance costs, which was intended to incentivize job-seeking.  In a way, life would be a lot easier with another car right now, but upon reflection, I decided my original instincts were correct. We need a little bit of time to sit with the pain of being-able-to-but-not-having-the-means-to-do-what-we-want. Waking up with a set of wheels to drive, even if they’re old and not-shiny a couple of days after you turn sixteen doesn’t contribute to that cause and just encourages taking-for-granted, which no house which harbors adolescents, even good-hearted ones – needs more of than it already has.

— 4 —

Recent listens:

In Our Time program on Rosa Luxembourg, a Polish-born socialist revolutionary thinker murdered by her fellow-travelers in a divided movement in Germany. The whole discussion was interesting, since I had never heard of her, but what really caught my attention was the post-show discussion in which loose ends are tied up and missed points are made.

During the entire program, the scholar guests, particularly the two female academics had been working hard to make the case that Luxemburg was very important and had an enormous impact on German leftism in the early part of the 20th century, all of this despite being a woman, and thereby being prohibited from expressing her views and promoting her agenda through running for office herself or even voting.

Her contributions were outlined and emphasized, her major themes delineated including, it was said, her pacifism.

Well, hang on, said the third scholar at the end. In the post-Great War German revolution, leftist forces employed devastating destructive violent acts that we might even say verged on terrorism. Luxembourg, he said, said and did nothing to discourage this direction and even held positions that contributed to the climate in which such violence was acceptable and innocents were victimized.

Oh, no, no, no said the other two scholars – she really didn’t have that much influence – whatever she might have said along those lines or any perceived approval in silence had no impact on the events that were unfolding at the time.

It’s such a familiar pattern. My marginalized hero/heroine contributed so much when the cause is beneficial to my point of view, but when it gets uncomfortable…eh. She was really just a repressed marginalized voice, you know. Not her fault.

— 5 —

On Books and Authors, I heard a short interview with British Muslim writer Ayisha Malek, the author of a couple of so-called Brigid Jones with hijabs. I was intrigued, especially after being in London and being one of the 2% of non-Muslims in Harrod’s one evening.

What interested me was her statement that as a teenager, she couldn’t identify with contemporary young adult literature or chick-lit, but she could identify very closely with Austen and other writers because, as she said, as an observant Muslim, her social life had more in common with Elizabeth Bennett’s and Isabel Archer’s than it did with Brigid Jones’.

Well, that’s intriguing, and a good point, I thought – I’d like to peek into the lives of those women I saw in their hijabs and niqabs, toting Luis Vuitton and Chanel bags. So I downloaded the free sample of the first few chapters of her novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged..  Meh. The writing was pedestrian and the humor obvious and forced. Which was too bad, because I was up for it.

— 6 –

Start the Week had a program on the Reformation which initially prompted mild but decidedly ragey feelings as I stomped around the park and listened to a litany of caricatures of pre-Reformation England from people who really should – and probably do- know better. But the arrow swung back in the direction of “approve” as the topic of women came up and both women on the program, one of whom was novelist Sarah Dunant – began to rather forcefully make the point that perhaps the Lutheran and Calvinist movements were not great for women. One of the male scholars argued that the Reformation helped women because it emphasized their role as keepers of the faith flame in the home, but one of the women responded, quite correctly that well, yes, then according to most of the Reformers, that was it, then, wasn’t it? Hmmm…someone else has made that point recently, I do believe!

— 7 —

Are you in need of gifts for First Communion, Confirmation, graduation? Mother’s Day? End-of-the-year teacher gift? Perhaps I can help….

(For children, mom, sister, friend, new Catholic….)

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This is sort of long, and offered, not because it’s fascinating, but because I known many parents are working over these same issues. Here’s how I got to the place where my conscience couldn’t say anything but “yes” to homeschooling at a particular moment in time. Others have different experiences: they never considered anything but homeschooling or the school options were all so very bad, they really had no choice. That’s not my experience – this is, and perhaps it will resonate with someone else’s dilemma.

And I really didn’t need to write this post. Not really. Because yesterday, in a comment, Sally Thomas said it all in the succinct way a poet does:

And largely what motivated us to stop going to school was the feeling that school was largely an annoying middleman that wanted to dictate our schedules for us.

 

But since, I started…..

At some point in the winter of 2012, I made a suggestion, asked a question, wondered aloud.

“What would you think,” I asked the first and fifth grader, “about homeschooling next year?”

They were horrified. Honestly, even though I’d been the one asking the question, so was I.

But there it was. The equation had become unbalanced. It had seemed to be for a while, but now the tilt was undeniable.

It wasn’t that something had to be done. Nothing had to happen. But as life and school kept happening the way it was, it seemed more and more clear to me that something should happen. It was becoming a conscience issue for me.

As I said yesterday, and have written before, I see this formal education thing as an agreement. A deal. It’s no different than any other aspect of life: a job, for example. The question is: what are you willing to put up with in order to receive the benefits? Hardly anyone adores their job a hundred percent, and many can barely stand it, but most of us do what we have to do in order to be support ourselves and our families and make some tiny contribution to …something.

Another way to put it is: How would you like your aggravation served today?

For there will always be aggravation, stress and frustration, today and every day. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about it, but sometimes you do. With the last two kids’ educations, I did have a choice, and that’s the way I had finally settled on working out the question.

How do I want my aggravation?

Do I choose to take it as I deal with an institution’s structures, rules and procedures – the folders, the particulars of supply lists and uniforms, the inadequacy of curricula – or…

…do I choose to take it in the form of having us all together most of the time, of planning, of teaching almost everything myself, of sorting out their learning, of being on 24-hour alert for resources and opportunities?

In other words, do I want to be annoyed about what others aren’t teaching them or do I want to be stressed about what I’m not teaching them? Do I want to be worried about what I feel they’re missing by being at school or do I want to be worried about what they’re missing by staying at home?

What had moved me to this point at which something I had never even considered in over twenty-five years of parenting was suddenly looming as a real possibility?

Mad Men Gifs

Long-term Dissatisfaction

Before I get going on this, let me make clarify what wasn’t an issue:

  • Concerns about instructional content that outright violated my principles.
  • Learning issues.
  • Concerns about social or cultural context.
  • A preternaturally  gifted kid who needed and wanted ten hours a day to develop his talent

None of that. Nothing odd was being pushed, neither boys experiences learning difficulties, we don’t have figure skaters or genius violinists, and we liked everyone and didn’t feel any need to be set apart. That, by the way, is not a part of my mental framework anyway. I simply mention it because homeschoolers are often accused of want to put kids in a cocoon. My issue was, as you’ll see, actually the opposite. I was concerned that school was narrowing their vision and experience, and I wanted to give them more, not less.

I suppose I should also mention that this was an elementary school issue for me at the time. The boys were in first and fifth grades, and I was not thinking about high school. The question was about the rest of elementary school.

Oh, and a word about other options. Public school isn’t an option , even given my own background – I have just really come to believe that the daily faith formation offered in Catholic elementary education is invaluable for a child. The only classical schools around here, sadly, are those offered by Reformed churches, so that’s not happening. A Catholic Montessori school would be great, too, but there’s none of that around here, either. The one local Catholic school that is not of the parish model, St. Rose Academy, is run by the Nashville Dominicans, might have been an option (and is indeed where my younger son will be going next year), but at the time, as you’ll see, it wasn’t so much which school, but school in general that was the problem, and I didn’t think that making the kids change schools and adapt to a new set of kids and teachers was really the answer to the question hovering over our days.

So, I’ll start with matters that had been festering for a while – the basics are in the previous post, but let me take it in a slightly different direction. Go grab a snack and settle in.

As is the case with many of you, I’m sure, I have never been impressed with contemporary pedagogical fads, movements and materials. So that was always there: A grudging acceptance of the reality of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator materials. Catholic schools that for the most part embraced secular curricula and made not attempt to integrate faith into the entire program. Catholic schools that, if they were not appealing to the lowest common and non-denominational denominator, were running in the opposite direction, anxiously pursuing “blue ribbon” status in order to appeal to upper-middle class striver parents.

Over the years, my kids had experienced many good teachers, but always in the midst of systems that seemed determined to undermine authentic Catholic education by emphasizing the priorities of the Secular Pedagogical Flavor of the Month. I remember once going into one of my kids’ Catholic elementary schools in which for a couple of weeks, they had been all about the rainforest. They had been reading about the rainforest, writing about it, and were super proud of the hallways bedecked as little rainforests in between cinder block walls. So much effort put into the rainforest in a school that could not be bothered to celebrate a single saints’ feast day in a memorable way. But hey, they were a Blue Ribbon School, right?

And then time went on, everyone got older, and my concerns and issues focused and got more specific, nagging me and not letting go.

First, I was just tired. Of all of it. I had been doing elementary education as a parent for twenty-five years. I confess, this did play a part  in the decision. Six different Catholic elementary schools, hundreds of weekly folders and envelopes, thousands of hours spent quizzing, checking planners, interpreting teacher and administrator instructions, running over spelling words, going over the water cycle, looking at one more unit on the rainforest, and oh don’t forget endless fundraisers, one after the other, coming at me in fat envelopes and bleak, empty order forms.

I was 51, my husband had been dead for three years, my parents were dead, my older children were moving on, as they should, and here I was, still checking those freaking weekly folders. Older than most of the teachers and other parents, I was over this routine, tired of their systems and rules and tired of being frustrated by and paying for lame curricula and well-meaning if superficial Catholicity.

Geez, I would think, we could do so much more at home, couldn’t we?

Which of course was then promptly answered.

So. Why don’t you?

Wait. What?

Listen. I was not opposed to homeschooling – for other people. In fact, I admired and stood in awe of homeschoolers.

I didn’t know many in real life, but it did seem to me that everyone I “knew” online professionally homeschooled. I mean – everyone.

So why not us? Well, a few reasons.

  • As I had raised the older kids, it never really occurred to me. It wasn’t a thing among anyone I knew in that stage, and I didn’t meet any serious homeschoolers until we moved to Indiana in 2001. I didn’t think it was crazy or weird, it’s just that it wasn’t a part of the lives of people I knew for a very long time.
  • I didn’t see the need. Up to that point, it seemed as if the balance was still holding. School was school, and while imperfect and not my ideal, it still left space for the rest of life.
  • Finally, even as the possibility seemed more possible, and my conscience spoke more and more insistently, there was just a simple, Are you kidding? I don’t…want to.
  • I’m an introvert. I get my energy from being alone. It takes me about three hours after everyone has gone to bed at night for me to recalibrate and feel like myself. What was going to happen if we were together? All day? Every day? Would I just….go insane?
  • Finally, I was skeptical about how healthy it would be for them to be with me all day. Not that we would be alone, stuck in the house or inactive, I knew. But still. I came from a rather intense , controverted family situation and knew that being homeschooled would have been disastrous for me. Basically, would my kids…go insane?

(Almost done. Be patient)

So there you have all the vague dissatisfaction, the fears, the suspicion that there was a better way, but inability to see the way there. It might have continued, but for some rather specific moments during that 2011-2012 period. Some of these things are going to strike you as silly, and perhaps they are, but taken all together, along with a zillion other small school-related aggravations piled up on a quarter of a century of the same, they were enough:

  • This actually begins a couple of years before, when my older son started at this school. As one would expect, he had spelling words. The first few weeks, he was a spelling ninja, and then his grades started to fall. He was missing more and more on the spelling tests, having assured me during the week that he didn’t need to study, no thanks. Finally, after he almost failed one test, I asked him what was going on. He admitted that he didn’t study the words. Okay, but didn’t he study in class? Doesn’t the teacher go over the words, break them apart and talk about them? Oh no, he said, that’s not the way it works. They give us the words on Monday, and we’re just supposed to study them at home. We never talk about the spelling words in class. And I thought…wait. I’m paying you so I can homeschool my kid in spelling? What?
  • The reading program was horrible. All the parents hated it. For all I know, the teachers hated it, too. I’ll just straight out say that it was Pearson’s Reading Street and it sucked: Boring stories written in flat prose, with, worst of all, impenetrable and ridiculously random comprehension questions. And I thought…we could be reading Treasure Island. Charlotte’s Web. Shakespeare. Poetry.
  • The “special” classes – that is, music, art, computer, foreign language and PE classes – that my children were experiencing were all unfortunately mediocre, rifled with discipline issues and makework. I thought…we could be going to concerts and plays, studying Latin, going on hikes, learning instruments, taking quality art lessons, music…

Mad Men - Peggy Skates, Roger Plays

  • I had various and more or less constant questions about matters of Catholicity and other issues of curriculum including Common Core, which was starting to rear its head with no one batting an eye about it.
  • For a couple of years, one of my son’s classes were quite small. As in, fewer than fifteen children, all capable and motivated, in a class. A perfect opportunity for lots of hands-on learning which did not happen. He’d say, “We talked about plants today.” I’d say, “What plants did you look at and examine?” He’d say, “None. We just looked at diagrams.” And I thought, plants..microscope, kitchen chemistry, botanical garden classes, science center classes, homeschool classes at the zoo….

  • And then finally, two relatively small incidents gave me the final push. First, my older son complained about being bored in class when he got his work done. I said, “You always take a book to read to school. Just read your book.” He said, “We’re not allowed to. If you get your work done early, you have to put your head on your desk and just wait for everyone else to be finished.”
  • A few weeks later, there was a big, school-wide event for which all students spent much time preparing. It was a good event. The theme of this even this particular year was related to Eric Carle. It was late April, as I recall, and I was going through homework with my fifth-grade son. I said, “Social Studies?” And he said, “Oh, we’re done with social studies for the next couple weeks, probably for the year. We’re going to be working on our projects for the program.” Oh, I thought, they’re going to be writing and peer editing and such. Nice!

    No, he said, they (fifth graders, remember) were going to need the time to CUT OUT TISSUE PAPER CIRCLES FOR THE ERIC CARLE PICTURES.

 

Image result for hungry caterpillar book

 

 

I was done. That was it. We were out. Nothing personal, but these were my last two kids that I would ever be given the opportunity to raise and form, and if I can give them more than this…I have to.

We have to change this up. And just maybe…we can. 

Rainbow Jimmy has arrived.

It was not about rushing them home, slamming the door, and shrinking their world, but about blowing it open, throwing out worksheets and textbooks, getting outside, getting dirty. I was privileged. I didn’t have to work at a job, I had no other family responsibilities, I was healthy and had the means..I had no excuses anymore. What was I doing, sending them off to well-intentioned mediocrity while I sat at home doing a bit of work that really didn’t even need to get done? I’d written over twenty books by then. Who cared if wrote more. I didn’t.

It might not be forever, but they were frustrated and felt as if their time was being wasted. They were hesitant mostly about leaving the social setting, but they would stay connected to all those kids through the parish, scouts, sports and other social outlets, so it wasn’t like they’d never see anyone again. In the end, by that spring, they were ready to try a new way of learning and daily life, that the initial horror gave way to openness to the possibility that this ride might not be too bad, after all. Right?

Right?

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Well, hello.

I have so many ideas and blog posts and such crawling around in my head, but no real quality time to think them over and then actually write them.

Time exists, but for this introvert, it’s not the right kind of time.

I think what has really screwed me up over the past couple of months is that I lost my high school carpool because of the other kid’s participation in both (very early) morning and afternoon athletic practices, and we’ve  not reconnected since it’s gone to afternoons only, so I don’t even know what’s happening there. Eh, only a few more weeks and new arrangements are already in the works for next year, so I can deal. But that eats up a couple of hours a day. The afternoons are okay because M and I are often out and about in the afternoons anyway, but the mornings..oy. I take the high schooler, and by the time I get back, I need to be thinking about the other one’s school –  which is not too taxing, since I know 97% of what I think will be happening and am always ready for him to just take the lead on what he wants to do for the day – but still. It’s brainspace.

So shall I put what’s on my mind  here and hold myself accountable? What needs to be written in the next few days?

(I also have two manuscripts to read – one another soon-to-be published book, and the other a YA historical novel by one of my older sons..plus two articles to write…)

  • Amoris Laetitia. It’s a challenge to write about, not only for the usual Pope Francis-related reasons (his thinking, writing and rationale are unclear, highly idiosyncratic and float free from most of 2000 years of Catholic tradition. That doesn’t say it’s opposed to that tradition, necessarily. It says he doesn’t bother with tying his arguments to it except in terms of the most general values. ) – but also because every day, one or two really interesting articles on the matter are published and I think…well I needn’t bother. But then I keep thinking and….

I also don’t want to produce another thousands-of-words declamation on the subject. For your sake. So I’m trying to hone in and really get to the point, and my point(s) pops up at a different place on the coordinate than what I have read elsewhere, so it might be worth saying.

  • School. We are chugging along. I haven’t had the opportunity to do the daily homeschool reports, but hope to offer you a few more before the school year ends. I think they might be helpful, not as guides – not at all – but as examples of what one family does. Maybe you’re not as crazy as you think.

 

  • Oh, here’s one anyway. This will be easy -except for the rabbit holes, which are the best part, and which I usually take notes about as we go along, but didn’t today, because we were on the road.

We began with the readings of the day, a short prayer, then cursive practice. No copywork or dictation, just a page of cursive practice. His handwriting is getting pretty good, and he just needs to work on speed. Then just a few pages of math review from Evan-Moor books – these 6th grade problems. (He’s in 5th grade, but he can handle most of it.)

Then we hit the road!

Not far. Just a bit south. First stop was the Hoover Library – the best branch library around here, always busy, good collection. We checked out some CD’s – the soundtrack to Gladiator, some Beethoven, and then a bunch of books about Italy, and some random new books – this one about Back to the Future, and then this, which looks interesting. For his casual reading, he’s flying through Stuart Gibbs, whom he finds amusing.

(He just came in and asked how long War and Peace is.  We looked it up. He says he might read it after he finishes his current books.  I’m thinking if he’s serious I’ll tell him that he can be done with school for the rest of the year. I mean…I don’t think he’s interested in the plot..I think it just exists in his consciousness as This Big Iconic Thing.)

Check out, hop back in the car, and keep going south, to a swamp. It’s this preserve, part of the University of Montevallo. A friend of mine had been there a few weeks ago with her kids and seen lots of animals. It’s a nice walk, and we enjoyed our conversation and our observations, but the only animals we saw were a skink, an anole, lots of bees and a few nice fat tadpoles. M was of course hoping for snakes and I beavers, but nope. Just tadpoles.

 

amy_welborn44

Isn’t this odd? I’d never seen so many woodpecker holes in such a pattern.

Lunch, drive back, listening to the Gladiator soundtrack, talking Roman history and music.

  • Better Call Saul. Coming right up.
  • Books.
  • Trip planning….let’s move that to another post, shall we?

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