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Archive for the ‘television’ Category

Monday morning catching up

First of all, I’m in Living Faith today – go here to check it out.

If you’ve landed here because you read that entry and want to know more about the trip – click here. It will take you to the pertinent blog entries.

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The boat on the day mentioned in the story in Living Faith. 

All of this just might prompt you to think…wait. Didn’t she say she was going to publish an e-book about that Guatemala trip?

Why yes, yes she did. And it’s still sitting there, three chapters in. The thing is, things keep popping up. So, for example, over the next two weeks I have three fairly large pieces of a bigger project due – the due dates are spread out over six different days, but I have to keep a steady pace of five chunks of it a day in order to keep up.

(Started this post  Sunday morning. Guess what happened….everyone ended up gone all afternoon…I finished every bit of this week’s material. Freedom!)

Plus this other ongoing project, not due until next January, but again, one I need to do in chunks right now or else I’ll be sitting there in December, regretting my life.

So, let’s catch up via my favorite – bullet points.

  • Still here, still overseeing the end of someone’s junior year in the brick and mortar Catholic high school, and homeschooling the 7th grader. Come back tomorrow for a post on Homeschooling the Last Few Weeks of Seventh Grade When the Kid is Going Back to School For Eighth Grade and No One Really Cares Any More.

 

  • There have been no – as in zero – out of town adventures lately, and there won’t be any for a few more weeks. There is just too much stuff every weekend, and we are reaching Peak Piano – and have tossed in jazz piano lessons and pipe organ. And when there’s not a piano thing, there’s an altar serving thing or something else.

 

  • But there are travels on the horizon. I’ve not yet committed to tickets, but we are indeed going to Japan this summer – probably in June. So I guess I’d better get on that, eh? (The thing is – ticket prices tend to stay steady for that route and don’t fluctuate at this point – so I’m in no hurry.)

 

  • Recent viewings:

Aside from the video game Fortnite, the majority of screen time around here over the past few weeks has been devoted to the four seasons of Jeeves and Wooster starring, of course, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. I had my 13 year old read a couple of the stories a while back, and thought he might enjoy a look at the series. Ra-ther!

It does get a bit repetitious: Bertie is attempting to flee the clutches of some female and one of his aunts, something must be stolen, and Jeeves fixes it all. But oh, my, at almost every step of the way it’s so beautifully done, with plenty of silly yet sharp satire of the useless English ruling class, and Laurie and Fry fully inhabit their roles and are just a joy to watch.

My older son said, “Mom, you’re kind of like Jeeves. When you talk, it’s like you’re agreeing with us, but underneath, you can tell you think we’re kind of dumb. And you solve everyone’s problems.”

Very good, sir.

One of our favorite elements of the show is how they used Laurie’s musical talents and have Bertie regularly tooling around at the piano (which he didn’t in the Wodehouse stories), usually singing popular novelty songs of the period, with Jeeves passing through the background rolling his eyes.  So now I have a 13-year old who’s got “Nagasaki” memorized (speaking of Japan) and thanks to Bertie Wooster, was introduced to “Minnie the Moocher” and has become fascinated with Cab Calloway.

This might be one of my favorites – it’s enjoyable as it is, but even more so if you’ve watched the entire episode, of which it’s the end – it’s sort of like one of the Lost endings that just gets you with music playing over an ensemble scene. Except this wraps up an episode centering on an African totem, mismatched couples and (of course) attempts to steal said African totem – but it’s still a nice moment.

The main theme to the show is also wonderful – quick, jazzy and interesting. I found a duet version that we’ve been playing around with.

Once I get the current batch of work done, I have some shows I want to try out. I did watch The Letdown it’s a 7-episode Australian show about new motherhood starring the quite wonderful Allison Bell, who also co-created it. I watched it because it features Celeste Barber  in a supporting role– the comedian who is famous right now for her #ChallengeAccepted Instagram account in which she, er, recreates the poses of models from the perspective of a real, non-model person. She’s hilarious – and currently on her first US tour. Anyway, she’s in it, so I tried it out – and enjoyed it quite a bit. (language alert, etc)  It’s darkish comedy – along the lines of Catastrophe, but it’s that edge that makes it real and relatable, and with enough unexpected turns to keep it interesting – the instigator of the lactation sit-in, it turns out (for example), wasn’t kicked out of the cafe because she was breastfeeding, but because she never bought anything and gorged on their free wi-fi. The next-to-the last episode which takes Audrey (the main character) on a weekend journey with her aging hippie mother to visit her horsewoman mother was a succinct, moving and true exploration of the complexities of motherhood: mothers making their choices so often in reaction to the way they were mothered end up simply on the very same road, despite themselves.

There’s even the slightest bit of a Catholic angle and as seems to be so often the case with these shows, even though the characters usually fancy themselves above and beyond religion and even though religious practice is just there and not presented as anything particularly true, what always ends up happening is that as the non-religious bump up against the religious, it’s the former that end up looking foolish and in a sort of denial, protesting far too much. Interesting.

Anyway, if you wouldn’t be offended by language and some frankness – check out The Letdown on Netflix.

Reads:

I’ve read several books over the past couple of weeks, but none have really stuck with me. I’m going to try to make this quick:

  • Anatomy of a Miracle started out promisingly and indeed offered a compelling narrative at first, and one that was – in terms of the Catholic stuff and regional quirks – accurate to the level of painstaking. But then the novel took a rather predictable turn that left me saying well of course that’s his issue  – bored and skimming the last few chapters.
  • The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Tom Rachman, who wrote a novel about expat journalists in Rome that I sort of liked. But I should have remembered that I didn’t like it that much and maybe thought twice about spending the hours I did reading this. It had a structure that was either intriguing or irritating – I can’t decide. Centered on a young woman coming to grips with a quite unusual childhood, I suppose I would conclude two things: first, the reason for the upbringing was not as compelling as we’re led to believe early on and secondly, the nature of certain relationships are withheld from us in a way that ultimately comes off as coy and manipulative. If this main character didn’t know who these people were and only gradually discovered it, that would be one thing – but she knows all along, and we’re only told halfway through the book – maybe further. Bah. That happens? You feel manipulated when the narrative eye is hers.
  • I liked Memento Park the most, and I’d recommend it. It’s also about an adult trying to understand his past, this time a C-list actor with Hungarian roots. He’s challenged in his self-understanding by news of a painting that, it’s said, his family has a claim to, a claim that is possibly traceable to the Nazi era. The novel is short, but complex, with a definite, if subtle spiritual subtext.

I’m back on non-fiction now, reading a book that would probably bore the heck out of you, but is right up my alley. It’s called An Empire Divided – 

Between 1880 and 1914, tens of thousands of men and women left France for distant religious missions, driven by the desire to spread the word of Jesus Christ, combat Satan, and convert the world’s pagans to Catholicism. But they were not the only ones with eyes fixed on foreign shores. Just as the Catholic missionary movement reached its apex, the young, staunchly secular Third Republic launched the most aggressive campaign of colonial expansion in French history. Missionaries and republicans abroad knew they had much to gain from working together, but their starkly different motivations regularly led them to view one another with resentment, distrust, and even fear. 

In An Empire Divided, J.P. Daughton tells the story of how troubled relations between Catholic missionaries and a host of republican critics shaped colonial policies, Catholic perspectives, and domestic French politics in the tumultuous decades before the First World War. With case studies on Indochina, Polynesia, and Madagascar, An Empire Divided–the first book to examine the role of religious missionaries in shaping French colonialism–challenges the long-held view that French colonizing and “civilizing” goals were shaped by a distinctly secular republican ideology built on Enlightenment ideals. By exploring the experiences of Catholic missionaries, one of the largest groups of French men and women working abroad, Daughton argues that colonial policies were regularly wrought in the fires of religious discord–discord that indigenous communities exploited in responding to colonial rule. 

After decades of conflict, Catholics and republicans in the empire ultimately buried many of their disagreements by embracing a notion of French civilization that awkwardly melded both Catholic and republican ideals. But their entente came at a price, with both sides compromising long-held and much-cherished traditions for the benefit of establishing and maintaining authority. Focusing on the much-neglected intersection of politics, religion, and imperialism, Daughton offers a new understanding of both the nature of French culture and politics at the fin de siecle, as well as the power of the colonial experience to reshape European’s most profound beliefs.

 

Why is that fascinating to me, and a book I pick up more eagerly than I do most novels? Well, because it’s history – and a chunk of history that’s new to me, and I’m always up for that. It’s also in the broader genre of Ah, you thought you had the general gist of things – like colonialism and Catholic mission? Well, let me tell you something….

More when I finish it.

Now to finish this and get ready to answer the phone to do a bit of radio – I’m about to be on the Sonrise Morning Show to talk about St. Catherine of Siena – this piece in particular. 

 

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— 1 —

Recent….reads:

“The Canterville Ghost” by Wilde. This was our easing-into-school read this week. I’d never read it, nor seen any of the adaptations, but I knew the basics of the tale: An American diplomat and his family knowingly move into a haunted English estate. The ghost attempts to haunt them, but the pragmatic, good-humored Americans are immune, giving Wilde ample opportunity for some amusing satirical, but entirely good-natured commentary on cultural differences.

The deeper point, I suppose, regards the American disdain of tradition and deep history. They don’t believe in the ghost, but once they accept his existence, they treat him with undaunted practicality – suggesting medications for whatever ails him – and derision, teasing and even torment from the younger family members.

But then, Wilde, as he is wont to do, turns the tables on us all by way of sentimental spirituality, as the family’s daughter, appropriately named Virginia, provides the mediation the ghost requires to find peace.

It’s short, a good read, and a good way to explore the uses of satire and cultural commentary, as well as a bit of light spirituality.

 

 — 2 —

I also read Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime in the same volume. It’s a mild satire on 19th century gothic literature, in which a palm reader tells a young man he’s destined to murder someone. The young man, who is engaged to be married, decides that if this is Fate, he will try to take care of this before his wedding so as not to ruin his marriage. Since this is Oscar Wilde, the descriptions can be delectable:

…at the end of the picture-gallery stood the Princess Sophia of Carlsruhe, a heavy Tartar-looking lady, with tiny black eyes and wonderful emeralds, talking bad French at the top of her voice, and laughing immoderately at everything that was said to her. It was certainly a wonderful medley of people. Gorgeous peeresses chatted affably to violent Radicals, popular preachers brushed coat-tails with eminent sceptics, a perfect bevy of bishops kept following a stout prima-donna from room to room, on the staircase stood several Royal Academicians, disguised as artists, and it was said that at one time the supper-room was absolutely crammed with geniuses.

Lord Arthur’s deeply misdirected sense of obligation is appropriately appalling and the consequences darkly comic, but I enjoyed The Canterville Ghost more.

Next up (for him) “The Lottery” – and then a new novel starting next week. (On his own, he’s reading Dune.) 

— 3 —

I am probably not supposed to read this, but I am trying my hand at A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker. Everyone says he gets the science all wrong, and wow, look at all those one-star reviews,  but as I am a fan of works that subvert conventional wisdom as well as those that set ideas in historical context, so once I saw it on the library shelf, it was impossible for me to resist.

 

–4–

Recently watched:

Not much, really, over the past week (sports and video games keeping control of the new television), but tonight I got up two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents for us – via the Internet Archive. On the big television, which still amazes me. Anyway, I looked up what fans say are the best of the series, and we watched a couple: “The Man from the South,” with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, and “Lamb to the Slaughter,” with Barbara bel Geddes.

Spoiler alert – well, not really, since it happens at the beginning of the episode – if you have seen the second, you know that the plot involves a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, and the subsequent investigation into the crime. I thought it was good, but I also thought it would have been better if we hadn’t know her weapon until the end – it seemed to me the crime could have been artfully glossed over, and it would only gradually dawn on us what was up as sweet blonde Barbara serves up a late supper to the cops.

–5 —

Recent writes:

Look back for posts on Homeschooling Fall 2017 report and a jaunt my son and I took up to north Alabama to see Sandhill Cranes.

As well as ongoing projects.

 

— 6 —

Oh, I guess I should add this to the “recent watches” – might as well knock this off here.

We finally got around to taking a look at Stranger Things – both seasons. I had been highly resistant, first because if you tell me something is a “must watch” and inundate me with think pieces on it – yeah I’m going to #resist. I might come around, but don’t save space for me on the bandwagon right away.

I was also resistant because it’s a Netflix series, and even though it does feature pre-teens and teens, it’s a Netflix series and I knew that while it wasn’t Thirteen Reasons level, I did know that the language was a little rough. But I read reviews and gathered opinions from people whom I trust, and finally, from my throne, offered my assent to the viewing.

My take?

Meh.

Well done on a superficial level – for the most part. (The second seasons is much weaker than the first) A decent introduction to “peak TV” for teens. But:

 

— 7 —

While at times, from moment to moment, I could get swept up in the suspense as a whole, it just didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t find the 80’s setting engaging – I don’t have a lick of nostalgia for the 80’s, and the series really had nothing to say about it except: Big hair, shoulder pads and Reagan yard signs.

I didn’t find it thematically resonant. Articles proclaimed it a super-Catholic show in a deep sense – why? Because characters were sensing signs of the supernatural through the material? Stretching it. Other articles honed in on kids solving Big Mysteries on their own and tying it into themes of broken families – except that, well, Kids Solving Big Mysteries On Their Own is as old as E. Nesbit and probably older – all great kid-centered adventures have the kids on their own – what fun would it be with adults around? Secondly, the “broken family” theme didn’t really factor into the theme as strongly or meaningfully as I had expected coming into it – especially since it really only factors into one of the children’s situations.

Beyond that, I had two problems with Stranger Things, one relatively minor and the other more fundamental. First – the kids cussing. I’m not on board with that, especially at the level they took it here, and I even found some of it unrealistic. Sure, preteens and teens will curse in their own conversations, but would a typical small-town 13-year old curse as part of a doorway conversation with one of his friend’s parents? That was just off, as was the level of cursing, especially in the second season. The second season, which was far weaker than the first, and really, from a story perspective, had little reason to exist  – and yeah, those kids swore a lot more in the second season than the first.

But more importantly – I’ll try to articulate this, although this type of criticism is not my forte. I feel something, but I’m not sure why I feel it or what an alternative would look like. So with that introduction…

The plot of both seasons of Stranger Things was about a malevolence that lurks beneath ordinary life. It took different forms in each season (which is something that didn’t make sense to me – what happened to the Upside Down – until that last shot of the season?) – but that was the driving element of the plot – this Stuff that was largely unseen, was in some way a negative image of what we live with every day, but for some reason, sometimes, seeks our destruction and must be contained.

Except – whatever this is has no actual relation to life as it’s lived. You can say – well, that’s because it’s been contained – but what I think was missing was any thematic connection between this hidden evil and human life and choices. There was this Bigger Thing – this Stranger Thing– but it was just a creepy destructive force which had no motivation except for a hunger-driven destruction, and that found no reflection or reference in the hungers or creepy destructive forces that we encounter in every day life or in the world at large.

It’s not that Stranger Things needed blatant metaphors telegraphed in lame fashion, but I guess what I am attempting to say is that I never had any sense that this malevolence or the efforts to contain or control it was a metaphor for anything, and that rendered it ultimately not very interesting.

That said, some of the acting was remarkable, particularly from Millie Bobby Brown, who played Eleven, the girl who’d been kept to develop her psychic powers, and Gaten Matarazzo, who is a natural and a delight.

I found Winona Ryder tiresome – well, of course her frantic aspect was perfectly understandable as she sought her lost son and became convinced he was trapped in, er, the electrical system. But All! The! Anxious! Shouting!

And can I say this? Will it get me into trouble? Probably, just for being stupid. But here’s the thing: the creators of Stranger Things are twin brothers, and I really felt that during this show. The whole thing felt like the expression of very insular world that was about that world and not much else.

And the second season….there was no reason for it. Especially if your name is Bob. Poor Bob.

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It did make for a good running joke during Christmas, though….

 

 

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— 1 —

Well, this is…unusual.

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It’s not the mere fact of snow. We’re not Texas, which got hit Thursday night. We do get snow here in Alabama and throughout the Southeast, just…not usually in early December. Our snow (and more treacherously, ice) comes in January and February.

But here it is:

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When my son brought home Rumors of Snow on Friday earlier in the week, we both scoffed. Even the forecast called for no more than 10% chance of precipitation today. Well, I guess we hit that 10%.

Early yesterday evening, the schools announced a two-hour delay, and across the land, prayers were sent up that this was only a warning shot, a placeholder for something bigger and greater to come.

And they got it.

Now, here’s my ritual warning to hardy Midwesterners and New Englanders: Don’t mock us. It may seem silly to cancel school for, um, an inch (maybe) of snow, but listen: we don’t have masses of snow-clearing equipment around here ready to send out and blanket the county. It’s hilly – mountainous even. An inch of snow in the early morning falling on Alabama hills and mountains, with only minimal salt or ploughs at the ready is not the same as an inch falling in on the flat, fully prepared land of northeastern Indiana.

Although I will say, there’s no ice with this – the roads are just wet. They could easily be driven. But it is supposed to snow much of the day so eh, why bother? It’s Friday….

Update:

 — 2 —

And it’s the Immaculate Conception! Time for this annual gift from me – and the Monkees – to you.

I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

— 3 —

It’s a good day to buy a .99 book on the Blessed Virgin, don’t you think?

— 4

You might recall that my 7th grade homeschooler and I are reading The Yearling. He’s got a couple of chapters to go, but I finished it last night and was just about as wrecked as I was when I read it in 7th grade and solemnly declared:

I repeat what I said a few weeks ago: if you’ve never read The Yearling – do. In a way it’s a young people’s book, but it did win the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is lush and some of the most powerful, evocative descriptive language you’ll find – and I’m a reader who normally – I admit – skips through landscape descriptions. I didn’t want to do that with Rawlings’. It’s a powerful, painful and true coming-of-age story.

As he reads his “school novel” – along with his leisure reading he’s always got going, I toss in some short stories and poetry a couple of times a week. This week he read “The Reticence of Lady Anne” by Saki and “The Death of a Government Clerk” by Chekov. He declared that he saw the twist of the first one coming well before the end, but was quite surprised by the second. The Chekov indeed gave us more to talk about. It’s short, amusing and ironic. The theme we dug into is: Okay, you’re worried and stressed out. But in your anxiety about that thing, are you missing the real thing that you should be worried about?

–5 —

Earlier this week, we took an afternoon at the Birmingham Museum of Art. You might have heard me rave about our local treasure before, but bear with me. It’s a very fine museum, with a solid collection that changes it up just often enough to stay fresh. There’s no admission charge, so if you’re a local you have no excuse not to visit regularly.

My son has been reading a lot about Japanese history, so we took time to revisit the very good Asian collection.

Take a look at this. Read the placard and enjoy the little rats fashioning the mallet. It’s a charming piece.

I’d seen this painting of St. Bernardino of Siena before, but never really stopped to study it. This time I did, and discovered that this was not simplistic hagiography. It’s something else – I’m not sure what – a commentary on the varied attitudes we bring to these moments? An observation of a scene? I don’t know if you can see it, but see what you can of the individuals gathered – they’re not all listening, in fact…most of them aren’t. I’m particularly taken with the boy hanging on the platform, and the friar slouched behind the preacher….taking a nap.

— 6 —

Watching: Tonight we finish Lost, and I am of two minds about it. I’m sorry that we’ll be done – this has really been one of the best things the three of us have done together, apart from traveling. I’ll be sorry to leave this Lost crew behind, once again. But…it will be just a bit of a relief to free up some brain space and not have 75% of the conversations around here start with…”So what is that other reality all about???”

Maybe I’ll read a book?

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I did watch all of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last week and I wouldn’t recommend it. I had watched the pilot in the spring, found it annoying and disappointing and predictable, but decided to give the series another chance.  Well, that was aggravating. Not quite at a hate-watch level, but more at the: I really want this to be better, so I’ll keep watching hoping that happens. It didn’t. Very pretty to look at with rich period detail, but generally superficial both in human terms and in relation to the culture it purported to present. I’ve never watched Image result for amazing mrs. maisela nanosecond of The Gilmore Girls, so I didn’t come to it as a fan of that show, but I was very open to the concept – upper-class 50’s Jewish housewife discovers a flair for stand-up comedy – but what emerges is not recognizably authentic in any way. I wasn’t watching people, I was watching a script being recited and cultural caricatures being embodied. Mad Men had its weaknesses, but the one thing it did right was the character of Peggy Olson, who began the series as a mousy, naive secretary, and ended it as a confident copy-writer, a transformation that was earned and authentic every step of the way. I wasn’t expecting that level of work here, but I was hoping for something a little closer than I got.

— 7 —

Bambinelli Sunday!

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I just noticed that The Loyola Kids Book of Saints is priced at $7.25 on Amazon at the moment. I don’t know how long that will be the case – but there it is, if you’re interested.

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Once there were two brothers….

How many tales have begun that way?

Today’s first reading does not begin with that exact phrase, but it could, for it’s the story of Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac, and the theft of his brother Esau’s birthright.

Once there were two brothers….

A few weeks ago, the third season of the FX series Fargo concluded. Fargo is a different kind of television series. It is “inspired by” the Coen brothers movie of that name, but takes from the film, not the exact plot, but rather setting, tone and general theme: The Fargosetting of the upper Midwest, the tone of black humor, and the general themes of randomness and of human beings using their free will for evil, but also in very stupid ways that always end in someone’s death.

Accident, serendipity and just the craziness of being in the wrong place at the wrong time play a huge role in this universe – as they do in life, in my opinion, which is why I am so strongly drawn to the series, I think.

That said, although I enjoyed the first season of the series, I never got around to watching the second – I think it coincided with a busy time of life, and then I never could catch up – but I did watch this recently concluded third season, and, in contrast to some viewers, who saw it as a definite downturn, I liked it a lot – and in ways thought it was stronger than the first season.

I’ll hasten to say that the seasons of this program are not intricately connected – the first and second were, but the third (I think) is a completely different story with different characters doing similar, but different things.

There’s too much going on for review in a single blog post – and you can certainly get that in other places. I suppose what I’ll do then, is just focus on what pulled me into this third season of Fargo. I won’t say, “And why you should watch it,” because people’s tastes vary so widely, I never assume that others will agree with my reading, listening or viewing preferences. And come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t watch it. There. Does that cover my bases?

Fargo was wild and arresting, but as with all wild and arresting creations out there these days, you have to be careful and ask: Is there a point to this, or is it just random visual flailing to get my attention and make me think there’s Something Serious going on here? That happens a lot – in my opinion, it happened in Twin Peaks (the original – didn’t watch the recent reboot or whatever) – and is pretty much the norm These Days, since the norm for quite a bit of artistic energy in the modern era is just about the startling superficial image, and not really about anything – since there’s no substantive Anything for anything to be about.

So with Fargo, I held my judgment until the end. I suspected it was about something real, but I couldn’t be sure if I was being taken for a ride or not until the end. And then the end came, and while it was the most deeply satisfying ending I could have envisioned, like the ending of The Sopranos – it fit. Fargo seemed to me about something real, after all.

And what was it?

It was about all those things I spoke of at the beginning, those matters which fascinate me so much – how we are in the place where we’re in at any given moment, not so much because of our deliberate choices (no matter how much we like to think that’s the reason), but because of chance, accidents and the good and evil that’s happened in the past.

But Fargo was also about the nature of truth – and how much of what surrounds us, and what we construct our lives around is just fable, myth and self-serving lies – but – BUT – truth does exist. There is a true story, and there are, indeed, still small voices in our midst, doggedly witnessing to that truth, usually at a great price.

Fargo begins and ends with interrogations of accused men by government officials.

(My discussion will be as spoiler-free as possible. So if I’m vague…that’s why.)

The first scene of the series us to East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A man has been hauled in for questioning. He protests his innocence and indeed maintains, with increasing panic, that he is not the man accused and there is no rational reason to suppose him to be.

Fargo

The government official, cool and calm in his assertions, constructs a narrative, and the narrative is that the man in front of him is guilty. He is imposing a new identity on this man, and this narrative that he is a criminal is now the “truth.” It is now a true story.

The series ends in another small room, decades and half a world away from the first scene. Another government official sits behind a desk facing another accused man. Truth again is the issue, but this time, the dynamic is different. The official and the accused face each other, each maintaining the truth of their stories. Identity is again at the core, but now the roles are reversed. The accused has assumed identities in order to avoid detection of his criminal activities, and the official is maintaining, calmly and coolly, that she knows the truth of who he really is. She knows the true story.

There is only the faintest direct connection between the two scenes – one figure common to both narrative strands – who is, by the way, not physically present in either one. But this character’s existence serves to reinforce that other important Fargo theme of the role of random human connection in the course of life.

In between the two scenes are ten episodes in which characters are seduced by greed, deluded, killed, in which they face the truth and construct more lies, and most of the time face the consequences of their actions as the universe – bizarre and mysterious, but ultimately just, it seems – doles them out.

For the reason the events in that last scene came to the point that they did are this, in part:

Decades ago, someone traveled to Los Angeles with literary and filmmaking stars in their eyes, was exploited and mistreated, and bearing the physical consequences of this mistreatment, decided to leave it all behind, including his identity, and change his name to one he saw on a toilet bowl.

And

Decades ago, two brothers (ah…here we are) watched their father die. One brother knew the real value of the inheritance and tricked his brother into letting him have what was most valuable, traded for what the younger brother thought he wanted and needed at the moment, but was of little value beyond that immediate moment.

And here we are in this moment – dealing with the fallout and making our own present-day choices, carrying that weight.

Given that this is a crime drama, of course the choices are heightened and expressive of the most deadly sins – primarily greed and pride – always pride – here. And you watch fargoalong, filled with dread as characters you know have a glimmer of good in them insist on making decisions that range from the stupid to the short-sighted to just evil.

Along the way, Fargo gives us gorgeous cinematography, memorable images and intriguing metaphors – bridge plays a huge role, and along the way we dip into Peter and the Wolf, and find ourselves in a mystical bowling alley – a la Big Lebowski, but different – and excellent acting. Ewen McGregor plays both brothers, and while some critiqued his accent at times, I thought he was fabulous – the greatest challenge being when McGregor must play the brother Ray pretending to be his brother Emmitt.

Fargo_-_Emmit_and_Ray_Stussy

The central character here, though, is really the villain – one mystery man V.M. Varga, played by David Thewlis, whom some of you might know from Harry Potter – he played Professor Lupin.

In Fargo, Varga is the man in charge of some sort of mysterious global entity that steps in to loan Emmit Stussy – the Parking Lot King of Minnesota – some money. The trouble begins when, seeking to repay the loan, Stussy discovers that he’s been had – that the money was not so much a loan as a buy-in to the company, and bit by bit, Varga and his people are taking control.

How sin begins: We open ourselves up to a bit of shadow, and find ourselves in its grasp.

Varga, played by Thewlis is mesmerizing and -yes – disgusting. The character is bulimic. He gorges himself with all manner of food, methodically and greedily, and then vomits it out. As a consequence, his teeth are rotting away – the work of stomach acid. Food is not nourishment here. It is something else, something to fill need both deep-seated and pressingly immediate, then to be vomited out.

FARGO -- Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX

Varga’s bulimia is echoed in his other actions, as he takes in more and more money, more and more property, and vomits it all out in the form of, first of all elaborate self-justifying tales of false history presented as fact, and secondly, human lives.

This character is, to me, an embodiment of the deadly sins, as he perverts what is good, ingests it, takes it all into himself, but for no purpose except for the consumption, discards it, spews out self-justifying lies, and ultimately rots away.

The villain in the first season of Fargo was named Malvo and was played by Billy Bob Thornton, who is always a pleasure to watch in anything, even when he’s playing a villain. Some critics prefer his villain to Varga, but to me, there’s no contest. Thornton was good, but there was an element of the plot and character that I found so unrealistic – even in the heightened, unrealistic world of Fargo – that I lost interest in him. (If you watched it – I’m talking about the dentist part). Varga was weird and lived on a level of exaggeration, to be sure, but there was, at times, fear in his eyes. He wasn’t invincible.

Which, lest you think this is all about the darkness, is the point. As is the case with every Fargo iteration, the beating heart of the series is a police officer – usually female – who is doggedly and patiently pursuing the truth and believes in justice. Here, she’s played by Carrie Coons (of HBO’s The Leftovers) and the character is certainly more than just a symbol of conscience. It’s her stepfather whose murder sets off another chain of events in the series, and although she is not onscreen as much as other characters, it’s clear she is subject to the same dynamics of the universe as they are: she is in the place she is in, both professionally and personally, because of weird, random things that happened in the past. What to make of it all? What’s the truth? And how do you live with it right now?

 

We like to think that life, as we’re living it, is the result of conscious choices that we and others have made.  We read history this way, don’t’ we? We know how the story ends, so we read it as a narrative with decisions and steps leading up to that ending.

But it’s not that way. The way it is, instead, is a way of missteps and accidents, and while I can know some of it, most of it I won’t know.  We do live in the midst of a narrative, but it’s not because there’s no True Narrative to be known – it’s because we’re too small, as God tells Job, to even begin to grasp it. But someday, we will. We cling to hope that we will, we try to find the True Story as we go, and try not to fabricate too many false narratives on the way.

That mystery and strangeness is at the heart of life, and it’s at the heart of the Scriptures – a messy narrative full of human weakness, a story of God working and ultimately victorious, not just through the saints and their great works, but even through the poor sinners  and their weaknesses, crimes and lies.

 “Are you really my son Esau?” 
“Certainly,” Jacob replied….

****

Note: I have a theory about the connection between the bowling alley and Nikki’s fate – but I’ll wait to discuss it in the comment section at some point. 

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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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How shall I say this?

I’m ….not upset that Donald Trump is being inaugurated as 45th president of the United States.

I’m a lot of things: bemused, still sort of incredulous, interested, entertained, wary…but…upset?

I’m sympathetic with those who are. Well, with some of those who are. Others I just want to swat away.

But I get it. I do. There are people who are deeply upset at this moment because they believe that his character is beyond poor and that his ascendancy empowers that kind of similar poor behavior and lousy attitudes. They are upset and feel the need to find each other and support each other because they think (I think) that if someone voted for Donald Trump that must mean that that same someone admires Trump as a person and thinks his personal character is worth emulating, and when you multiply that by the millions, that is an upsetting and distressing vision of the country you live in.

That doesn’t capture everything, but as I have listened and thought through this, that is what I’ve come to conclude. My instinct, though, upon running up against these views, as a person raised in an academic environment by two very tough people, is to wonder what the hell is wrong with people that they take things so personally and are so enmeshed in emotion and the feelz, and Good God, can these people just go to church or synagogue or something and find something transcendent to identify with…now?

Oh, sorry about that.

(Although many have objections to what they assume will be Trump policies, as well, that is not where the movement to #resist is rooted. It’s all in a reaction to his character. Which is, in a way, understandable, but in a way not, once you think through what politics and government are for. But I’ve talked about that before. Stop me before I repeat myself.)

So as I said, I get it. This odd, repulsive-to-you man is the president, you’re offended by him, afraid that his ascendancy signals that it’s okay to be a proud p…….-grabber, and of course, that is not okay. It’s terrible and it would be better if Donald Trump were not that way. Better for him, better for all of us.

Agreed.Now. Can I have a turn?

As per usual, what interests me about the current moment is how people are talking about it and how people are talking to each other.

As I have said before, and those who have been with my on the Internets for a long time know, I have really lessened the amount of issue-related blogging that I’ve done over the past few years. I have explained in the past why that is so, but perhaps it bears repeating.

First, I don’t have an adult in my house or close in my life who can balance out the insanity of engaging in issue-talk on the Internet, whether that be blogs or social media.  I just didn’t want to be deeply engaged in online discussion with people I really don’t know all day, and have no one to be there when I closed the computer who will say, “Don’t worry. You’re sane. This is real life, right here.”

That’s very important.

Secondly, it’s a time suck. We all know that.

Third – and this is right up there with #1 – I have not been able to manage jumping into the rhetorical flow that has taken over public conversation on political, social and church issues over the past decade. I long ago identified what I think the problem is, and discerned that I didn’t want to waste my time engage in “discussions” on that level.

And what is that level?

It is the level in which narrative and tribalism are the paradigm.  We don’t discuss issues on their own merit. We toss out labels and dare you to be associated with that label.

It’s a paradigm which dominates conversations, such as they are, about the Francis pontificate. If you don’t like a decision or question a statement (or lack thereof) you are a (deep breathe) Francis-hater/Trad/sedevacantist/doctrinaire/right-winger. And you probably hate poor people too.

Sad!

Way too much of the issue-related material that comes out of American bishops, either individually or as a group, is framed in terms of narrative instead of actual information and data. “We have to welcome migrants and refugees.”  Well, yes, but what does that mean? “Health care is a basic human right?” Well, okay, but what does that mean in terms of policy, economics and access, realistically speaking? Food and shelter are basic human rights, too. So?  Of course, we all know that “health care is a basic human right”  doesn’t mean that Catholic institutions lead the way in providing inexpensive and free medical care or pick up the total cost for health insurance for their employees any more than the bishop’s “concern” for economic issues means that Catholic institutions pay any employee and actual living wage beyond well-compensated hospital and university administrators. Nah.

Narrative. All narrative and virtue signaling. Because it’s easy, that’s why.

And it frames most political discourse, as well, on all sides. In a way, of course, there is absolutely new about this, since labeling and boxing up is quick and convenient and easier to sloganize.  Always has been.

But there is something about the rapidity of communication now that leads more and more people to fall into the trap and if anything is worth #resisting, that is.

Let me illustrate by offering a (totally) imaginative dialogue:

“I think Tom Price is an interesting  choice for HHS secretary. I’ve read what he said about – ”

“Ah….so you’re a Trumpkin. Sweet. Did you see what Trump tweeted last night about Twizzlers? I mean..how can you defend that??”

“Well, I’m not..I was talking about Tom Price for HHS. His ideas about the exchanges…”

“How can you justify having such an undisciplined poser as president? He’s going to tweet our way into war.. “

“Okay, yeah, I wish he would get off Twitter, but you know even that is interesting, because when it’s an effective way of going over the media gatekeepers and directly..”

“Yup. Fascist. I hope you and your other Trump fans are happy when he tries to sue the New York Times out of existence…”

“Wait. I’m not a “fan.” I don’t have to defend everything he is or does. I was just talking about this one area of policy.  I mean, I didn’t support him or even vote for him, but he is the president now and..”

“#NOTMYPRESIDENT!”

Look. If you can predict, right now, the night before the inauguration, that you are going to be deeply opposed to every single policy position that a Trump administration proposes, go ahead and #resist. I guess.

But as you do, try to make your opposition about the policy and based on data and your philosophical position not about the fact that IT’S TRUMP and my tribe is #RESIST and my other tribe is #NEVERTRUMP and my narrative is TRUMPLAND IS EVIL.

And, perhaps, acknowledge that those who are not suffering from the Sadz tonight, not posting statuses saying that they’re ready to bravely endure the next four years because they will always have Art, and who are  relieved that the Obama presidency is coming to an end and are even more relieved that we’re not going to see the Clintons up there on that dais tomorrow, not because we’re misogynists, but because they’re criminals…yes try – just try to acknowledge the fact – yes, the fact– that those of us who feel that way are not necessarily Trump “fans,” may not be able to watch him in action without cringing, may not have even voted for the guy, and are interested in issues, not because they promote a narrative or tribe or reflect well on Donald Trump, if they do,  but because they seem to us to be better for the country, and if a Trump administration is proposing something we agree with, we’ll agree with it, and if we disagree, we’ll do that too.

And it’s fine.

It’s perfectly tenable to hold the following positions. I’m saying that because I hold them, of course:

  • Barack Obama seems to be a good role model as a husband and a father.
  • Barak Obama’s presidency was marked by overreach, excess by the executive branch, authoritarianism, politicizing the mechanism of government, and a personality cult.
  • Donald Trump is one strange guy. Probably not a good personal role model. YMMV, but not in my house.
  • Donald Trump was not a candidate I supported at any point in the election of 2016.
  • I didn’t agree with some of Donald Trump’s expressed positions and found him politically inscrutable and incoherent.
  • My now-twelve year old spent a lot of the year before the election reading Bloom County and then much of the election year very puzzled.
  • I wasn’t upset when Donald Trump won the election.
  • I am not “proud” or “ashamed” that Donald Trump is the president. I’ve not been “proud” of a president, ever, in my  life. He’s the head of the executive branch, not my relative or an expression of my inner hopes and dreams.
  • Although I find Donald Trump strange and cringeworthy (I mean…why is his 35-year old son-in-law going to bring peace to the Middle East? Because he’s Jewish??)  I also am not quite sure of my judgment. I suspect there is an element of performance art happening here, partly as a method of staking out positions, but also partly as a way of causing distraction by shiny things and squirrels over there while real business is happening over here. When you observe his actions with that assumption, rather than simply assuming he is a narcissistic poser, things get interesting. I’m not saying I’m right. I’m just saying.
  • I am interested in the policy prescriptions that are in the wind regarding health care, education, immigration, and the size and role of government in general. I don’t know what Donald Trump actually thinks about any of this, but the direction that his administration is going in at this point interests me, and I find most of the conversations, as I have dipped into the confirmation hearings, well-grounded.
  • I was never worried about Trump being any kind of fascist or authoritarian or being able to bully his way through the presidency, except to the extent that he made use of mechanisms to that end created under the Bush and Obama administrations, the latter of whom perfected their use.  I was not bothered because, honestly, even though those might be his instincts, he would be limited by the fact that everyone seemed to hate him. The press hated him, Democrats hated him, a big chunk of Republicans hated him. (They  still do even as they glad-hand) That would hem him in, even though he seems unfazed by negative reactions and even energized by it. But balance of powers, checks and balances – especially from members of his own party? It would work.
  • But who knows? It’s all an enigma at this point (Thursday night). I’m not particularly nervous about undue and inappropriate influence in government because after 8 years of hibernation, the press is clearly well-rested and is on it. Even if it has to make stuff up more or less constantly, it’s on it. #brave
  • There should be constant fact-checking and digging and reporting and holding to account. There always should be. There should be during every presidency. Welcome back, guys.
  • It’s all pretty entertaining.

 

 

Someone wrote on Facebook to someone they knew that even though that other person had voted for Trump, they knew that they were better than that. They had to be.

Someone else I know (not me!) is taking tomorrow as a day of celebration – keeping the kids out of school, watching the inauguration together, and so on. Why? Is it because this family thinks of Trump as some sort of hero and DJT in particular as a role model for their kids? Or because they believe every word he has written or spoken is true? Not at all. It’s because they are a small business family whose business has been hammered by the costs associated with ACA and other regulation. Perhaps, with Trump, they have a chance, not just for themselves, but for the customers they serve and future employees.In their judgment, they didn’t have a chance with a Clinton presidency. They made a decision about policy, not about the meaning of life and masculinity.

Maybe they’ve been had. Maybe the price of trusting what you believe is a good cause to Donald Trump’s stewardship will be higher than they expect. But what was the alternative? Honestly?

Perhaps you can judge their support of Trump as a candidate for president as a mistake, but caricature it by saying that it must be racist and misogynist hero-worship, a moral  failure and a betrayal of all the women you know to boot is small-minded and lacks empathy.

And even more so to say that if, now that it’s done, if you don’t reflexively hate Trump and everything Trumpian, it must be that you  love him and have bought into the bombastic Messiah cult, and you will be called on to defend every word he utters and if you can’t or won’t, that proves….

….something. 

I was just watching Tucker Carlson – another change in my life – I haven’t watched any kind of television news for probably fifteen years, but I’m recording his show and watching much of it every night – and he was talking to Robert Reich, who served as Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary.

Carlson gave him two very Trumpian quotes about trade, and said, “Who said this?”

Of course, Robert Reich himself had said them. And Carlson proceeded to grill him on why, if he was, as he admitted, closer to Trump on trade issues than he was to Hilary Clinton, why hadn’t he supported him? Why couldn’t he support him now?

Reich averred that he wished Trump well and hoped that his policies resulted in better economic climate for middle class and poor Americans, and who knows, they might, and yes, he admitted, he had disagreed with Clinton on these matters, and had actually supported Bernie Sanders. He told of being at book signings in the Midwest last year and often running into people who were weighing their support between Trump and Sanders, which is not surprising to me at all. But, he said, Sanders was a progressive populist and in his view, Trump was an authoritarian populist, and that was scary. His public behavior reveals him to be vindictive and small-minded, and that worries Reich.

“But,” he said, “if he can get above that, great! Let’s hope for the best.”

Carlson’s answer:

“What if both are true? What if he’s vindictive and small-minded but he stops TPP? (chortles) I hope you’ll come back, we’re out of time – but meditate on that. “

And there you go. Meditate on that. We can keep grumbling or shouting our chosen narrative for the next four years, and trying to play gotcha with those we deem members of the enemy tribe, or we can be thinking adults and have conversations about real programs, policies, decisions on their merits, not based on who proposes them or what blog is for them and how they impact real people, call out wrongdoing and dishonesty, celebrate the good, grapple with ambiguity and unintended consequences, and admit limitations – first and foremost, our own.

This. Yes. 

People are perfectly capable of holding seemingly contradictory opinions about a person as a president and a person as an individual.

Also, Michael Brendan Dougherty

My hope is that entrusted with power, Trump follows his more dovish foreign policy instincts. The unipolar moment in world history was always going to end, and ending it without an aspiring or revanchist great power rising to dethrone the United States militarily is the best possible ending, just as the British Empire’s mostly peaceful transfer of power to Washington over two World Wars was the best possible outcome for that empire’s end.

I concede that it’s on foreign policy where my hope is clutching the thinnest reed. The last two presidents ran as peace candidates and each pursued wars of choice, in part because the president is given almost unconstrained latitude to do so. But perhaps Trump, being suspicious of experts, will ignore the universal advice of American apparatchiks who believe in the omnicompetence of the American military to salve every irritation across the globe.

Lastly, I hope Trump’s administration ends the cult of sophomoric wonks, ideologues, consultants, and even experienced politicians. Most Washington “experts” hold forth with confidence to prove to themselves the value of their expensive educations, even though they skipped most of the reading assignments. They crashed the economy, they wasted and marooned American military might across the Middle East, they balkanized the American nation, and paid each other handsomely for the tender service, while saying Trump could never win. If an impulsive, self-aggrandizing dolt ends this cult, it would be a fitting judgment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Busy week. Let’s get started.

First off, Publisher’s Weekly carried a brief notice about the book I’m working on with Loyola – the exciting completion of the Loyola Kids trilogy! Well, at least the third book I’ll have "amy welborn"written under that brand. It’s simple – a collection of Bible stories, but with an angle that I hope will make them particularly helpful to Catholic children, parents, families and catechists. When I wrote the Loyola Kids Book of Saints sixteen years ago, I never thought it would still be selling as well as it does – usually one of the top two or three titles in children’s religious biography on Amazon, and really still unique in approach.

My deadline for this manuscript is early February, so I’ll be working to get that done over the next few months as well as on some smaller projects.

— 2 —

The past week has been busy, with an odd recurring theme of organization and information – or really, a lack of it.

High Point climbing gym is one of my youngest son’s favorite places. It’s a huge gym in downtown Chattanooga, notable for the outdoor climbing wall.

They’re building a branch here in Birmingham, and last weekend, they had an open house for their still-under construction facility. So we started there – it looks good, although not as large as the Chattanooga place and sadly, no outdoor climbing wall. It’s also a bit far from our house on road that is often marked by horrendous traffic, but I told my son that if got up early on Saturday mornings to go, I’d take him once in a while. He was all in. What have I done?

— 3 —

After a brief stop back at home, I headed out and up the hill behind our neighborhood to the Altamont School, which was hosting a celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of Walker Percy’s birth. You’ll recall that he was born here in Birmingham, and it was from here that his mother moved the family after his father’s suicide. Percy attended a school that was the predecessor of Altamont, which explains the event. Unfortunately, it was barely advertised – I only knew about it because someone in my parish sent me an email saying, “Whenever I see something about Walker Percy, I think of you. Have you seen this?” No, I hadn’t. Neither had many other people, for the panel discussion part of the afternoon, which is what I attended, featured four people on stage and ten in the audience. Even with the Crimson Tide on the field at the time, that’s surprising. A few days later, I spoke with someone local who is a big Percy fan, well-connected into the local cultural scene and he was astounded that this event had occurred – he’d heard nothing about it.

Anyway, what I took away – besides marketing, people – was, first of all, how challenging it is for people to get a hold of Percy’s Catholicism, probably because hardly anyone understands Catholicism properly, not getting the fundamental point that a character who defines himself as a “Bad Catholic” is actually expressing a sort of ideal Catholicism. Secondly, I was struck again by the Percy Effect, best summarized on this occasion by the young academic on the panel who described his feeling upon first encountering Percy’s writings. “I was splayed open” – he said, and then filled with an urgent sense that Percy was onto something and that it was important, even essential, to follow and see where he led. The person I was talking to a few days later said that when he was in campus ministry he would often give The Last Gentlemen to students, and after reading three chapters, they would return to him wondering…was Walker Percy in my dorm room? How does he know?

Something I wrote about Percy for CWR a few months ago.

 — 4 —

Then it was back down the hill, fix dinner, and then my younger son and I headed out to the Alabama Theater to see Post Modern Jukebox. It was a good concert – even with a couple of dicey moments that I think went mostly over his head anyway. The talent level is amazing, which you know from watching the videos. Two of my favorites – Casey Abrams and Aubrey Logan– were both in the troupe for that performance, although a major, major disappointment was that Scot Bradlee himself was not. My 11-year old pianist son was quite let down by that – the pianist performing that night was excellent of course, but my son has really enjoyed Scott Bradlee’s stylings and style and was a little stunned that he wasn’t actually there – I wouldn’t say I was stunned, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that he wouldn’t be performing.

— 5 

Sunday morning – serve Mass at Casa Maria.

In the afternoon, we went to a big local state park – Oak Mountain State Park – for an advertised “reptile program.” Here’s what was advertised – come see reptiles from noon to three. Really not much more than that. We arrived at the interpretive center at 1:30 to an room empty but for refreshments. The program would be across the road in the other building, at would start at 2.

Which it did, to a full room, and with lots of interesting animals and expert educational offerings. But it was far more formal than advertised and did go on. So instead of the drop-in and see and chat about animals at your leisure during a time frame experience I thought we were getting, we sat in chairs for 90 minutes – including thirty minutes past the advertised ending time. Yes, snakes, lizards and tortoises are well worth our time – why do you think we were there? – but there was certainly a big difference between advertising and reality. Do people not even read their own copy and think about how it matches their plans?

amy_welborn5

6–

Back to school on Monday, and then Tuesday night, Birmingham – in the form of Rev. Peter Leithert’s Theopolis Institute – welcomed Joseph Bottum to town.

I had met Jody years ago at an informal event First Things organized for me on a visit to New York. He was here from his South Dakota home to speak on “The Novel as Protestant Art” –  the article upon which his talk is based is here. It was a good talk with interesting engagement from the audience. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed that kind of in-person adult intellectual engagement, and what made it even better was that Avondale Brewery, where it was held, is about two minutes from my house. Always a plus.

amy_welborn2

We won’t have that level of activity this weekend. What’s on tap? One kid gone Friday and much of Saturday at a robotics competition, the other serving a Saturday retreat Mass and having a make-up piano lesson (his teacher was on a short recital tour earlier in the week and had to reschedule). A family Halloween party Saturday night – almost forgot about that! – and then..it looks like Sunday is going to be what I hate most – Finish The Project Day – around here. One has an Archimedes project, the other on The Scarlet Letter.

"amy welborn"

Have a Happy Halloween, Slash.

— 7 —

Oh, I did do a bit of television watching, aside from Rectify. I have been poking around for a show to binge on – I missed the Stranger Things fad. By the time it had cycled through from New Hotness to Old and Almost Busted, I lost interest. But then I started hearing about this Australian show called Glitch just come to Netflix, so I thought I’d try it out.

And I did, and I watched the whole thing, sort of hating myself by hour four. Not exactly hating, but knowing by that point that this was going to be a Lost kind of experience in which an initial intriguing hook ends up taking you for a fairly contrived ride. And Lost was a lot better than Glitch.

The conceit is that several people have risen from the dead, crawling out of their graves in the cemetery in a small Australian town. Those first scenes are quite arresting, and a couple of the story lines are affecting, but the writing is formulaic and stiff, serious questions are glossed over and really, it all comes down to the fact that the reaction of a widower to his once dead, now-standing-in-front-of-him wife is not much more intense than if she had surprised him by arriving  home early from work. It’s clear by the end that this event has not been caused – as the devout Catholic among the resuscitated exclaims – by any miracle – but by pharmaceutical hijinks of one sort or another, and there’s a major twist at the end of the series that makes the, er, dead affect of one of the non-risen characters finally understandable – and so that’s where this first season ends. So yes, I kept watching for that dumb reason we all do – just to see what happens – but I’m not proud, especially in light of the intelligent, nuanced experience of Rectify a couple of nights later. I should have spent those six hours reading a book instead. Walker Percy, probably.

“Yes. Death is winning, life is losing.”
“Ah, you mean the wars and the crime and violence and so on?”
“Not only that. I mean the living too.”
“The living? Do you mean the living are dead?”
“Yes.”
“How can that be, Father? How can the living be dead?”
“I mean their souls, of course.”
“You mean their souls are dead,” says Max with the liveliest sympathy.
“Yes,” says Father Smith tonelessly. “I am surrounded by the corpses of souls. We live in a city of the dead.”

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

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