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(This will be quick)

The show had quite a bit.  Style, 2/3 excellent acting, great humor and did I mention style?

The most powerful, pointed works of art reach both outward and inward.  A character is recognizable as both a symbol of some telling aspect of the world around him and as a human being.

The problem with Don Draper was that, in the end, he was all symbol, and not, as written, recognizable as a real human person.

What did he symbolize?

The modern man’s lack of identity and roots. His willingness to slip in and out of roles with no deep sense of who he is.  The resultant endless search and treatment of other people as non-persons as well.

The endless circle of materialism that we exploit and dig into as we search, search, search.

Interpersonal exploitation and exploiting what one learns in the exploitation so one can dream up ads for crap that no one needs but now thinks they do because they, too, are searching, dreaming, and yearning.

But Mad Men, unlike, say, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, ultimately, I think fails in this regard (while it succeeded in many other) for two reasons:

First, the absence of any real satirical edge.  I wrote about this before.  Mad Men gives us all these interesting people tossing about occasionally interesting ideas and recognizing certain truths in service of….ads for stuff. And if you look at advertising in the 1960’s, it’s mostly goofy and ridiculous and lame and doesn’t match the pseudo-elevated tone of the creative strivings of the characters.  There were flashes here and there, but the whole series would have been more honest if there had been at least one character who consistently grappled with the moral questions that arise from striving for wealth and using one’s gifts to produce awkward clips that  seek to manipulate consumers into buying things.

Secondly, as I began this post…Don Draper is ultimately not a real person.  And perhaps that is the point? Okay, but again, here’s where irony and satire comes in play.  If the ending had been satirical, I would have bought it with great enthusiasm.  And perhaps it was?  But…I don’t think so.  It’s presented as the completion of a circle of sorts in terms of Draper’s relationship with himself and advertising as an extension of himself.  Fine.  There’s a point to that that is consistent with the entire series.

But. It’s coy and unsatisfying as well because it doesn’t address the fact that Don Draper has failed as a human being. This failureis symbolized most powerfully and even ironically, in terms of the whole series, by the fact that cigarettes, where he made his mark, killed the woman who became his ex-wife because of his lies about his identity and his infidelity. That’s no secret, and yeah, Betty’s still smoking in that last shot, lung cancer or no.

It’s not unrecognized in the episode, either, that failure.  When he tries to give the same “You won’t believe how easy it is to walk away from your child” speech to Anna’s niece as he had given to Peggy, she rejects it out of hand, and in that, he is forced to confront the falsity of his entire life of walking away from his children.

And he does, breaking down into really nothing.

Then he meditates, cut to Coke.

Which, as I said, works on a certain level…when you have had a character development trajectory that has been dosed with a knowing satirical and ironic critical edge all along.  Yup, here we go, we’d be able to say.  One more con.  One more attempt to compensate for your moral failure by creating an advertisement that expresses what you should be bringing to your actual life, but aren’t.

But we haven’t had that edge, testing and teasing Don.  We’ve been immersed in Don’s endless agonizing and victimization of others as a serious human quest for identity and acceptance, and therefore, the resolution should be consistent with that path.

It wasn’t.  The bare facts of it could have been, but structurally, it didn’t work and wasn’t satisfying, not because we “need to know what happens” regarding Don and his kids, for example, just because we’re curious, but because that along with all of Don’s personal problems, was an issue. 

In the end, Weiner couldn’t create a character that held all of this in the right sort of tension, balancing truth about human life and choices with a knowing, ironic look at all we throw out there as a distraction and ultimately fruitless compensation.

But yeah, I’d watch The Campbells of Wichita.  In a heartbeat.

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That’s what it is, no matter what…40 days after Easter, right?

(Although in Italy, also, it’s celebrated on Sunday, so these homilies reflect that.)

Some reflections from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

2006, from a homily in Krakow:

Brothers and Sisters, today in Błonie Park in Kraków we hear once again this question from the Acts of the Apostles. This time it is directed to all of us: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” The answer to this question involves the fundamental truth about the life and destiny of every man and woman.

The question has to do with our attitude to two basic realities which shape every human life: earth and heaven. First, the earth: “Why do you stand?” – Why are you here on earth? Our answer is that we are here on earth because our Maker has put us here as the crowning work of his creation. Almighty God, in his ineffable plan of love, created the universe, bringing it forth from nothing. Then, at the completion of this work, he bestowed life on men and women, creating them in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). He gave them the dignity of being children of God and the gift of immortality. We know that man went astray, misused the gift of freedom and said “No” to God, thus condemning himself to a life marked by evil, sin, suffering and death. But we also know that God was not resigned to this situation, but entered directly into humanity’s history, which then became a history of salvation. “We stand” on the earth, we are rooted in the earth and we grow from it. Here we do good in the many areas of everyday life, in the material and spiritual realms, in our relationships with other people, in our efforts to build up the human community and in culture. Here too we experience the weariness of those who make their way towards a goal by long and winding paths, amid hesitations, tensions, uncertainties, in the conviction that the journey will one day come to an end. That is when the question arises: Is this all there is? Is this earth on which “we stand” our final destiny?

And so we need to turn to the second part of the biblical question: “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” We Salvador Dali, Ascensionhave read that, just as the Apostles were asking the Risen Lord about the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom, “He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And “they looked up to heaven as he went” (cf. Acts 1:9-10). They looked up to heaven because they looked to Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, raised up on high. We do not know whether at that precise moment they realized that a magnificent, infinite horizon was opening up before their eyes: the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage. Perhaps they only realized this at Pentecost, in the light of the Holy Spirit. But for us, at a distance of two thousand years, the meaning of that event is quite clear. Here on earth, we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning.

….I too, Benedict XVI, the Successor of Pope John Paul II, am asking you to look up from earth to heaven, to lift your eyes to the One to whom succeeding generations have looked for two thousand years, and in whom they have discovered life’s ultimate meaning. Strengthened by faith in God, devote yourselves fervently to consolidating his Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of goodness, justice, solidarity and mercy. I ask you to bear courageous witness to the Gospel before today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the suffering, the lost and abandoned, the desperate and those yearning for freedom, truth and peace. By doing good to your neighbour and showing your concern for the common good, you bear witness that God is love.

2009, at Monte Cassino:

In this perspective we understand why the Evangelist Luke says that after the Ascension the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy” (24: 52). Their joy stems from the fact that what had happened was not really a separation, the Lord’s permanent absence: on the contrary, they were then certain that the Crucified-Risen One was alive and that in him God’s gates, the gates of eternal life, had been opened to humanity for ever. In other words, his Ascension did not imply a temporary absence from the world but rather inaugurated the new, definitive and insuppressible form of his presence by virtue of his participation in the royal power of God. It was to be up to them, the disciples emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make his presence visible by their witness, preaching and missionary zeal. The Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension must also fill us with serenity and enthusiasm, just as it did the Apostles who set out again from the Mount of Olives “with great joy”. Like them, we too, accepting the invitation of the “two men in dazzling apparel”, must not stay gazing up at the sky, but, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit must go everywhere and proclaim the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection.

2005:

The human being finds room in God; through Christ, the human being was introduced into the very life of God. And since God embraces and sustains the entire cosmos, the Ascension of the Lord means that Christ has not departed from us, but that he is now, thanks to his being with the Father, close to each one of us for ever. Each one of us can be on intimate terms with him; each can call upon him. The Lord is always within hearing. We can inwardly draw away from him. We can live turning our backs on him. But he always waits for us and is always close to us.

(This 2005 homily is very interesting, for it was delivered very soon after his election, and contains good thoughts on the role of the papacy, particularly its limits.)

2010 Angelus:

The Lord draws the gaze of the Apostles our gaze toward Heaven to show how to travel the road of good during earthly life. Nevertheless, he remains within the framework of human history, he is near to each of us and guides our Christian journey: he is the companion of the those persecuted for the faith, he is in the heart of those who are marginalized, he is present in those whom the right to life is denied. We can hear, see and touch our Lord Jesus in the Church, especially through the word and the sacraments……

….Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Lord opening the way to Heaven, gives us a foretaste of divine life already on this earth. A 19th-century Russian author wrote in his spiritual testament: “Observe the stars more often. When you have a burden in your soul, look at the stars or the azure of the sky. When you feel sad, when they offend you… converse… with Heaven. Then your soul will find rest” 

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— 1 —

….a few days after.

The older brother was on an overnight school trip earlier in the week, so the ten-year old and I took the opportunity to go up to the 4th largest city in Tennesse to revisit the Aquarium (he’d been 2 or 3 years ago, but was ready for a return and his brother wouldn’t mind being excluded) and see the zoo, the children’s museum and whatever else we could fit into about 24 hours. (We couldn’t leave until after his piano lesson on Monday)

"amy welborn"

— 2 —

Having lived in Knoville during my teen and college years, I have random associations with Chattanooga:

  • One of my best friends from college was from Chattanooga and taught me all about the prep/boarding school/High Episcopal culture of the city.
  • When I was in high school in Knoxville, our newspaper staff attended a high school journalism convention in Knoxville.  Something I wrote won me an autographed paperback copy of a book by Barbara Walters.  No, I don’t still have it.
  • On that same trip,  some of the senior girls went out after curfew to some bar. (They may have even been 18, so it might have even been okay…remember that was the drinking age then. Wiser times.) One of the girls met a guy there – a guy in his twenties – and Chemistry Happened. She was giddy about it when she got back to the hotel room. We lowly, gawky sophomores and juniors were in awe.   They made plans.  He’d come up to Knoxville in a few weeks and they would go to the Dan Fogleburg concert together.

(And of course)

She waited and waited at the Civic Center…

He didn’t show up.

Longer than….

— 3 —

No such drama or awards this time.  Just animal-crazy kid-centered fun.

First thing about Chattanooga:  the city is a model of tourism development and marketing.  It’s the smallest of the Big Four cities in Tennessee, and probably has the least attention-grabbing cachet.  No blues/Elvis/Mississippi River, no country music capitol, no Smokey Mountains gateway. But it’s taken what it has – the natural attraction and history of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, as well as its location as the city through which a good chunk of the Florida-bound traffic must pass  – and built on it.

There’s a degree of artificiality about it, but at the same time, this downtown area of Chattanooga, on both sides of the river, is clearly also for residents, and it shows.

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— 4 —

We couldn’t leave until after the Monday piano lesson, but even so, since the Aquarium doesn’t close until 7:30, we had plenty of time to explore.

There are two wings, one devoted to oceans and one to rivers.  The latter is the original, appropriately themed, since it sits right on the lovely Tennessee River.   There is not a whole lot in the ocean wing, but there were penguins and some great rays.

The river wing is well designed:  you ride the escalator up to the top, then wind your way down on mezzanine ramps that branch out into exhibit halls on the sides.  My son’s favorite is the paddle fish – he says it looks prehistoric to him and it does.

I like the Tennessee Aquarium more than I do the Atlanta aquarium, which always seems like such a mob scene to me.  It’s expensive, but then all aquariums are – they are expensive to operate – but it’s worth it.

Then some walking:

The Bluff View area directly east of downtown is lovely, and here’s another great feature of Chattanooga planning:  public art.  It’s a priority for the city, and the placement of all of this statuary adds ongoing interest to an already eye-catching walk up and down hills and over a pedestrian bridge.

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The Walnut Street Bridge – threatened with demolition until a little over twenty years ago, the community joined together to restore and revive it as a pedestrian bridge.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

— 5 —

Tuesday morning, we took a ten-minute drive to the zoo.  It’s small, and half-priced with our Birmingham Zoo membership, I paid a little over seven bucks for us to get in.  It was us with scores of school groups, but most of the time we managed to stay ahead of them and enjoy the animals without too much ecstatic squealing in the background.

My ten-year old is a zoo afficianado, with one of the great regrets of his life being that he was only four when he went to the San Diego Zoo, and he doesn’t remember it.  His favorite so far is the New Orleans Zoo, but he approved of this one, too, comparing it in size and scope to the Montgomery Zoo and he’s right.

So, no big animals here, which is fine – the biggest cats were jaguars, and supposedly there were chimps but we never saw them.  The highlights for us were the Fennec foxes, which are new and very cute, and the sloth

I’ve seen sloths in zoos before (Birmingham has one), but I’ve never seen one do anything but sleep.  We had been through this exhibit once earlier, had some extra time, so we decided to go back to it once more before we left, and it was great that we did: the sloth, previously curled up and asleep was seriously on the move:

Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.

It was a good couple of hours and walking around, looking at animals, and listening to my ten-year old tell me all about them.

Then back to town, where we spent some time at the Children’s Discovery Museum.  I was unsure if it might be a little young for Michael, and he was right on the edge, and we wouldn’t return, but the music and art rooms were particularly good and provided him some interesting ways to spend his time.

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Then, this happened:

High Point Climbing

— 6 —

You can’t miss the High Point Climbing and Fitness.  The outdoor climbing walls loom high over the riverside area. We took a brief walk around Monday night, and I told Michael that yes, he could do it on Tuesday…and so he did.  For two hours. Indoors and out.  Arms sore at the end, heels blistered from the shoes, but very, very happy.

High Point Climbing and Fitness

High Point Climbing Gym

And he was pretty excited to learn that they are opening their second facility in 2016….in Birmingham.

And then back home to pick up brother at 11:30 pm at school from his trip.

We’ll go back to Chattanooga for a couple of days sometime this summer to do Lookout Mountain/Ruby Falls/Rock City (which my older son said was really kitschy and actually kind of weird) and Chickamagua.  My big goal of this summer, locally, is to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is just a little south of Chattanooga – it looks amazing.

— 7 —

Had a nice chat with Matt Swain on Thursday morning about the two B16 picture books, available here, of course:

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And for Mother’s Day:

days

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

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…not really great. Just a silence?

Yeah, no internet or landline for a week now.  I’ve been promised a fix tomorrow – just as I’ve been promised every day.  I’ll wait to unload on this matter until it is, actually restored.  I’m sitting in McDonald’s trying to answer some email, so I thought I would just check in.

This week in Living Faith:  

April 19, here.

And today’s – April 23. 

More later.  I hope.

And don’t forget!  Books!

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A few years back, I had whipped up a graphic using this, one of my favorite Benedict quotes, but I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of.  I did find this one, though, which isn’t super pretty, but seems to me especially appropriate for this, his 88th birthday.

"pope Benedict XVI"

Stay united to one another, help one another to live and to increase in faith and in Christian life to be daring witnesses of the Lord. Be united but not closed. Be humble but not fearful. Be simple but non ingenuous. Be thoughtful but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with all, but be yourselves.

-Meeting with young people in Genoa, 2008.

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My book club read George Saunders’ collection of short stories, The Tenth of December.  So good. He drills down deep into matters of human connection and purpose with a vision that in some stories evokes, in my mind, Walker Percy. At times, there are mysteries about what exactly is going on and what exactly this or that process or machine or war is all about, but all tenth-of-decemberthe better to help the reader be pulled into the world on the level of shared experience, rather than just curious observer.

A Goodreads reviewer took these stories to task for not having any heart, and, well, in my experience (and the experience of our group), the opposite was the case.

These stories are all about rescuing other human beings and what we have to overcome in order to acknowledge the  humanity of those needing rescue and our own reluctance to reach out, risk and sacrifice.

There is so much (well, some) chatter that abounds concerning..where is the faith in fiction? Where is the Catholic fiction? As much as I’m interested in both religion and fiction and as much affinity as I have for 20th-century Catholic-themed and sourced fiction, those conversations don’t interest me much.  I’m more interested in finding writers like Saunders (way after the rest of the world did, of course) and being engaged by the questions he poses in such arresting ways.

(Saunders, btw, was raised Catholic and is now Buddhist.)

If you want a taste of what Saunders is all about, these stories from that collection are available online for free:

Here is a blog post with links to several Saunders stories – three are in this collection: “The Tenth of December,” “Puppy,” “The Semplica-Girl Diaries.” (although with the last, the version in the book is longer than that which was published in The New Yorker.)  You can read “Victory Lap” here.  The story, “Home” is here. The last couple of paragraphs of “Home” are as deeply human and true as anything in contemporary fiction.

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I was poking around my archives looking for an account of some previous travel (which I will get to in a moment), when the timing of that trip struck me for a couple of reasons…

Gosh, it was ten years ago. Just about this time of year. 

And while we were on the trip, John Paul II was dying…and then he died.

That was ten years ago tomorrow (April 2)…is anyone remembering this? 

(I see that Pope Francis referred to the anniversary today.)

So weird, considering the impact of that moment and the subsequent consistory electing Cardinal Ratzinger.  Those weeks were quite memorable, for they were weeks in which the Catholic understanding of life and death, embodied in the lives of human beings and the ritual of the Church, was there for everyone to see, and it was all rather stirring, beautiful and hopeful.

So.

What I was looking for was anything I’d written about our visit, on that Arizona trip, to something called the Gallery of the Sun – the studio of late artist Ted De Grazia.  You probably don’t know his name, but if you have memories of popular art of the 1960’s, this might strike a chord:

"amy welborn"

No, not as well-known as the Keane’s Big Eyes, but still, part of the fabric of the era.

We didn’t have it as a destination – I think it was on the way to somewhere else. But we stopped in, and I was surprised by the heavy religious content of the art.  De Grazia claimed he was not a traditionally religious man, but the Gallery is dedicated to the great missionary of the Southwest, Fr. Kino,

DeGrazia was inspired by the memorable events in the life and times of Padre Kino, the heroic, historic and immortal priest-colonizer of the Southwestern desert. Since childhood, DeGrazia admired Padre Kino for his education, life of adventure and his respect for Native Americans. DeGrazia traveled to every Kino mission as he lovingly studied the life of his favorite Jesuit priest. The Mission in the Sun is dedicated to his memory.

What struck me with the most force during the visit was De Grazia’s Stations of the Cross.  They were painted, according to this article, for the Catholic Student Center at the University of Arizona in Tuscon (my mother’s alma mater…but painted several years after her attendance). I  purchased a little bound set of postcards at the time, and still use it.

"amy welborn"

Yes, it’s pop art of a sort, but some of the stations are, I think, rather powerful. This image is from the Gallery’s Pinterest board, which has representations of all the images, some notes on the inspiration and preliminary sketches:

"ted de grazia"

I think this is my favorite:

"ted de grazia"

Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us'; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

That said…ten years?

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