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Archive for the ‘Better Call Saul’ Category

— 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.

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(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….)

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

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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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I have been hoping to be able to write about the show for weeks, but have been stymied by a few things. First, my brain is so crowded with other matters fighting to be written about, none of them victorious, hence Blog Stalemate.  Secondly, a writing project due in the next couple of weeks takes up whatever active brainwaves I can gather.  Third, by the second episode of this season, I had a clear sense that Better Call Saul is a novel, not a collection of short stories – not even thematically related short stories – and we don’t write reviews of novels until we’ve finished reading them, right?

But tonight’s episode got me thinking somewhat coherently, so here goes:

  • No, it’s not Breaking Bad, but as I wrote last season, it doesn’t suffer at all for it, and Gilligan and Gould have managed to create a fascinating, suspenseful show, all the greater of an achievement since we know that a good many of the characters we see onscreen are going to die in a few years and one of them is going to end up in witness protection managing a Cinnabon.  Doesn’t matter. Somehow, they’ve managed to create a world that engages us.
  • love the leisurely pace of this show. It’s leisurely in unspooling plotlines and leisurely in scene-building.  Scenes go on twice, three times as long as they would on other shows, even your other artsy prestige dramas. One of the things this pace does is give us a chance to see some sustained, excellent acting. Tonight I was particularly struck by Kim and Howard’s walk down the hall – him, absolutely stone faced until they hit the conference room when the he breaks out the smile for the clients, and her nervous glances. And the thing was, Howard’s stone-face wasn’t just generic non-reaction. Given the time the scene took, you had time to watch him and read the level of control he was attempting to exert over the situation through the impassivity.
  • Second was Kim’s scene with the opposing lawyer in the restaurant. Rhea Seahorn has had a lot of time reacting onscreen, and she’s fantastic at it – you get such a real sense of someone listening and processing what she’s being told.
  • What’s intrigued me the past two episodes is how little screentime Bob Odenkirk has had in the program named after his character.  The focus has all been on Kim and Mike, with a bit of Chuck. That’s another reason it’s a challenge to write about, but the basic takeaway is clear, even if the specifics aren’t yet – Jimmy McGill’s actions have consequences for other people’s lives, and here’s what they are.
  • Now, here’s the light that clicked for me tonight – I had been thinking this whole time that the way this was going to play out was “Jimmy gets fed up, something happens with Kim – she dies or just leaves his life – and he becomes Saul because bettercallsaulhe’s sad and disgusted. ” Tonight I thought…wait.  What if, instead it’s, “Kim and Jimmy have discovered this mutual passion for the scam, for manipulating others to get what they want – and get turned on, which is much the same thing…and go into the flamboyant personal injury law thing together. ”    And there’s your season 3, with the inevitable Thing-That-Takes-Kim-Away at the end of that.
  • Pretty interesting…..but after tonight, with Jimmy warbling his siren song Bali Ha’i, and Kim responding in a way, by initiating a scam, not for any gain, but just for the thrill of it, and her hesitation at the kind of dream job (albeit complicated) she’s been going through reams of post-it notes to find…the groundwork seems to being laid.
  • I’m less interested in the Mike story. It doesn’t drive me away, but it doesn’t fascinate me either, as much as I enjoy seeing the characters involved on his end (Tuco, Nacho, etc). I do confess that I’m a bit taken out of Mike’s story by the discontinuity related to his granddaughter’s age – that is, if she’s the age she is no on Saul, she’d be a teenager in Breaking Bad, when she’s the same age as she is in Saul. Call it the Bobby Draper Disease, I suppose.
  • Breaking Bad was about sin. If you want to understand Breaking Bad, read Genesis 1-11, which recounts the Original Sin, rooted in pride, and then how that sin impacts us as individuals, impacts family life, and eventually impacts the wider community. The central relationship of Breaking Bad was between Walter White and Jesse – a perversion of the teacher/mentor -student relationship at every turn, a callous turning of  the “Good Teacher saves the Wayward Student” motif.
  • Better Call Saul seems  to be about identity. Who are we, really? Is who we are innate? Can anyone ever really change? And what is it in life that prompts us turn that innate self for good or ill?
  • But I think I’ll have to read a few more chapters to be sure.

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Many new readers yesterday and today, so welcome.

Whenever I rouse myself to post something like this and get a pop in views,  also get a pop in Facebook friend requests – no offense, but don’t bother asking.  I don’t see Facebook as a means of interacting with everyone, just family, friends and colleagues, and even then in a minimal way. I am certainly not present on Facebook to argue or discuss.  If you want to follow this blog on FB, though, you can. 

I will be posting an exciting sequel that I’m calling “Barrier Methods”  at some point today, perhaps not even until this evening.  It’s a minefield, and I don’t want to fall into popesplaining myself.

  • Finishing off an insanely busy “home” school week, we attended a wonderful short performance of the Alabama Symphony – one of their “Coffee Concerts,” the pieces performed comprising half of the weekend’s evening program: Bach’s Ricecare, arranged by Webern, and Schubert’s Tragic Symphony. 
  • The conductor, Michael Morgan,  gave a very helpful 10-minute introduction, highlighting Webern’s particular approach to Bach and Schubert’s youth, and his positioning between Mozart and Beethoven.
  • I commented to my son that I was probably going to be the second youngest person there, and he the youngest. I wasn’t quite right -there was a scattering of other children and young people with parents as well. But also several retirement-home buses lined up outside.
  • Saturday was a piano competition thing, and then basketball. Not much the rest of the weekend. With one kid at a friend’s and the other sick-ish, there were no movies watched to report on.
  • I’m currently watching Fargo  the series, not the film. I’m midway through the first season, which is very good, building from apparently random grotesqueries and horrors to the slow but steady reveal of the persistence of goodness. And Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks, Martin Freeman…what a pleasure to watch such a cast, even if they are not having good days.
  • Better Call Saul continues tonight – hooray – and I’ll have a post up about that in the next couple of days as well. I started one last week, but then life got crazy.
  • Last week, I read Greene’s The Quiet American, which is one of the few Greene novels I had still not read.  I liked it quite a bit, although I couldn’t help but read it as allegory and as such, it felt a bit obvious.  But oh the writing. That not-quite-spare, but not-lush Greene way of description and characterization that is always just right. There is a 2 or 3 page scene in which Fowler is seeking a Mr. Chou and ends up in a ramshackle family dwelling, a scene that is a model of descriptive writing well worth study. I’m on it.
  • Researching a planning a summer trip I’m struck by two things: First, the genius of Booking.com is sending you into a panic that everyone else in the world is currently about to book the very last room in the B & B you’re looking at in the middle of nowhere.
  • The genius of AirBnB, on the other hand, is in exploiting the fashionable desire to connect with the individual rather than the corporation, to have uniquely curated experiences with interesting people off the tourist track and then making bank with it. I was looking something up regarding AirBnB policy and ended up on a property owner’s discussion board and learned that the way it works is that once a customer books with AirBnB they (as you know if you’ve done it) have to pay the whole cost up front, upon booking. But the property owner doesn’t get paid until check-in (which makes sense from a process point of view) – but which also means that the company has the customer’s money for perhaps months and is able to do some nice investing during that time. Of course. Because curated authenticity pays!
  • Hey, Happy Chair of St. Peter, guys! 

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Spoilers ahead. Don’t whine.

As I wrote before, I had some doubts about Better Call Saul, even though I trust Vince Gilligan’s creative vision. Since we know the destiny (up to a point) of the two major characters, the stakes, it seemed to me, were not that high – and stakes are what make compelling drama.  If we know what happens to Mike (death) and Saul (Cinnabon), what is going to keep us coming back to Better Call Saul aside from close calls and ridiculous courtroom analogies?

"amy welborn"Well, even though I do hope that the series ultimately takes us to the “present,” at this point, one episode from the end of this first season, I’m in, and the stakes have been driven in. Firmly, ingeniously and with a huge dose of agonizing heartbreak, which, if you’re driving in dramatic stakes, is the way to go.

The question has always been….where did Saul come from? How did Jimmy McGill become Saul? In Breaking Bad, Saul answers a question about his name with the glib assertion that criminals feel more confident with a Jewish lawyer representing them, but the genius of this new series is that it takes that claim for what it is: the justification of a choice that actually goes much, much deeper.

As the series has progressed, we might have been content in our assumptions that Jimmy became Saul as a way of either hiding from his past or simply taking on less-classy persona in order to distinguish himself from the firm that (sort of) set him on his way in the legal profession.  But you know what? That still wasn’t enough. Why does someone change his or her name? The name they were given as a member of a family? 

Well, with episode 7, aired last night, we get it – you do it when you want to separate yourself from precisely that – your family. 

And it all clicks, so beautifully and sadly into place.

Jimmy McGill, on the verge of actually doing good (in the legal context) in a big way, so anxious to please his older brother, so willing to help that same brother in his illness, eccentric, brash, but endlessly and even ingeniously creative, is slapped down, rejected and yes, betrayed by his own flesh and blood who doesn’t want him getting too close with his JD from the University of American Samoa and who, after years of getting him out of scrapes and trouble, can’t believe that any good can come out of any of this.

You’re not a real lawyer. 

People don’t change. 

One could argue that subsequent events prove Chuck right – that Slippin’ Jimmy is inevitably Saul Goodman.  But the point of view on human existence is just what was expressed in Breaking Bad  – our personal qualities can take is one direction or the other. We have a choice, and as much as the pressure is to make bad choices, we still, at every moment have the freedom to make that choice – and our treatment of others influences their choices as well.

(I long maintained that the most compelling thread of Breaking Bad was Walter White’s perverse master-student relationship with Jesse. His personal corruption in turn, corrupted Jesse – instead of finding this lost former student and saying, “Hey! Let me help you!” He said, “Help me do horrible things!” Original Sin.)

Despite this deep, wounding betrayal, we won’t see Jimmy McGill portrayed as a victim – and that’s what lends Gilligan’s work even more depth – he doesn’t do fated victims with no personal agency. Yes, he could still shake it off and obey his better instincts and pursue the, if not exactly noble path, the path that is not the one to being, as he will tell Walter White a few years down the road, a criminal lawyer rather than just a criminal lawyer  (echoing the important conversation Mike has with the proto-Walter White) – and I’m guessing, just from how this first season has gone, that even though the die has clearly been cast, this won’t be the last chance Jimmy has to run up against that choice.

"better call saul" spain

Seen in Alcala de Henares, Spain.

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