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Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

 

"amy welborn"

— 1 —

Well, hello there.

We have stuck around home for Christmas. Rather than traveling, we have been doing grandson/nephew duty for the past few days, and are happy to do it and give his parents a break. Plus, I was still fantasizing that I could “get” “work” “done” during the time here. But, par for the course: hah. Very funny.

Which means you will not be seeing much of me over the next month, and if you do, scold me and send me packing back to the Word document where I belong. I’ll toss up entries about saints and such, but we’re in crunch time now, that time in which I must think ahead to the time in which I will *not* be in crunch time, and how wonderful that will be.

I checked this out from the library today, and I told them….mid February, when the book’s done and basketball is winding down…here we go….

 

— 2 —

Spend less time analyzing celebrity deaths online, thinking of how to sadly yet wittily condemn 2016 to oblivion or bitingly condemn those condemning 2016 to oblivion… and instead spend more time chatting with your actual neighbors, seeing how they’re doing, and swapping stories about life, face-to-face. Try it. It makes for far more sanity and a deeper perspective on what’s real. Probably better for your eyes and joints, too.

— 3—

Are you a Catholic? Then you, like most Catholics, probably had one question on your mind as December 26 dawned. And that question is:

So, when’s Ash Wednesday this year?

Well,since you asked.

"amy welborn"

(Feel free to swipe and share)

A little later, so a bit of reprieve, unlike this past year when it was February 10, when Super Serious Catholics – who observe Christmas til Candlemas – have barely brushed away the last of the pine needles.

So, yes. March 1. If you’re prepping for a parish or school, check out my Lenten devotional from Liguori, also available in Spanish.

(pdf sample here)

daybreaks-lent

Speaking of self-promotion, if you are a woman looking for a daily devotional for 2017, dayscheck out mine. It’s a perennial, which means that it’s not explicitly tied to 2017 moveable feast dates. But I did try to make the February-March entries Lent-ish, the April-May entries Easterish, and so on. Moreover, since most Catholic female-centric devotionals are directly pitched at women who are mothers, this might be a good choice for a woman who is not a mother, or to whom motherhood is not a defining anchor of her spirituality.  Check it out.

 

— 4 —

 

A couple of election-related pieces that echo points I’ve tried to make here.

One of my favorite bloggers, just-retired U of Wisconsin law prof Ann Althouse, writes in relation to an essay in Elle by a woman super-concerned about how to raise a son in “Trump’s America.”

Since President Trump will be out of office by the time your child is 8, I’d suggest not talking about any of that. Piazza frets about “explaining sensitivity and nonviolence” to the boy. I’d suggest demonstrating it, beginning by not going out of your way to express contempt for the President.

A child — boy or girl — lives with real people, and these people set the example that the child will copy. It’s not really very much about explanations and characters on television. How about not putting on the television and not talking about politics and sex in front of young children? Give them a real, comprehensible, simple, gentle environment that is on their level.

Piazza worries about explaining “the president’s picks for attorney general and CIA director voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.” Frankly, she shouldn’t try to explain that to anyone, since she doesn’t even understand it herself. Votes against the Violence Against Women Act were not votes for violence against women. If you don’t know why, at least have some modesty and restraint about your potential to confuse and unnecessarily rile other people.

Let children be children. And let adults who don’t want to understand law — including things like federalism — have some peace. Your hysteria is not helping….

Explanations are overrated. The power of the presidency is overblown. Find love and meaning where it really is.

It’s much simpler than you’re willing to say, perhaps because you have a career writing columns about feminism and politics. That’s nice for you, but be careful. It’s a brutal template, and you are having a baby.

And Kevin Williamson on the absurdity and fundamental wrongness of our imperial presidency and why for God’s sake do we have to have Obama’s America or Trump’s America or anyone in particular’s America , when, you know…it’s not supposed to be that way. 

The idea that a large, complex society enjoying English liberty could long endure without the guiding hand of a priest-king was, in 1776, radical. A few decades later, it became ordinary — Americans could not imagine living any other way. The republican manner of American presidents was pronounced: There is a famous story about President Lincoln’s supposedly receiving a European ambassador who was shocked to see him shining his own shoes. The diplomat said that in Europe, a man of Lincoln’s stature would never shine his own shoes. “Whose shoes would he shine?” Lincoln asked.

As American society grows less literate and the state of its moral education declines, the American people grow less able to engage their government as intellectually and morally prepared citizens. We are in the process — late in the process, I’m afraid — of reverting from citizens to subjects. Subjects are led by their emotions, mainly terror and greed. They need not be intellectually or morally engaged — their attitude toward government is a lot like that of Trump’s old pal Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.”

For more than two centuries, we Americans have been working to make government subject to us rather than the other way around, to make it our instrument rather than our master. But that requires a republican culture, which is necessarily a culture of responsibility. Citizenship, which means a great deal more than showing up at the polls every two years to pull a lever for Team R or Team D, is exhausting. On the other hand, monarchy is amusing, a splendid spectacle and a wonderful form of public theater.

But the price of admission is submission.

 

— 5 —.

I have a contribution to a “Best Books I read in 2016” article, but it hasn’t been posted yet. This is a place holder for that.  But I can tell you right now, without knowing who else contributed and what books they’ll discuss, mine will be the lowest brow. Guaranteed.

 

— 6—

Oh, can I come back to this point? A year does not “suck” or need to be prayed to  end or told to go home because celebrities died.

children-in-aleppo

Source

— 7 —

 

Have you seen this? Do you need a time-suck? Try this site, Radio Garden, in which you can just move your cursor and explore radio stations streaming from around the world. There have always been websites with lists of such stations (which I like because you can find stations by genre), but this is the first one that I’ve seen with this kind of framework. My quick conclusion: Everyone around the world is listening to really bad music at the same time! We are Family!

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

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have a piano that is new to us. It is, strangely enough, about the same age as the one we used to have, but it’s much better, and after some drama, it lives upstairs, rather than in the basement.

Having it upstairs means it gets played more often, including by me, which is one of the reasons I wanted it up instead of down and mostly out of sight. I thought that I might play it more, and that seemed to me to be a good thing, even though I didn’t know why. I have enough to do, I have interests and work. On paper, I don’t need to play the piano more, and it wasn’t a conscious burning desire, but nonetheless, it nudged and became a reason.

It’s been about three weeks, and in that time, I have realized something: I had forgotten how much I enjoy playing the piano.

 

— 2 —

 

I think what happened was that as decades passed and I got rusty, I checked “piano” off the list. That’s over. I was never very good anyway. My personality is not that of the perfectionist. When it seems good enough, I move on to something else, and combined with the fact that I lead life mostly on intuition and response, that means everything I do only goes so far until I decide something else is more worth my time.

For most of my adult life – well, since my 30’s, I guess – I’ve had a piano in the house, but it was that old Storey and Clark, it wasn’t fun to play, I was busy, and every time I did sit down, I fumbled on those unresponsive keys, it was a strain to see the music and reading glasses didn’t help, so yes, that’s what I figured. That’s over.

— 3 —

Here’s my piano history.

When I was in second grade, we lived in an apartment in Arlington, Virginia. My father was doing some sort of year-long commitment with the Department of the Interior. They rented a piano, and started me on group lessons at the public school. In 1967, long before electronic keyboards, group piano lessons in a public school meant a classroom full of children, each with a wood board painted like a keyboard in front of us. I don’t recall anything about it, except the recital, in which I played this, from this book.

photogrid_1477066028446.jpg

I don’t keep a lot of things, but music, I keep. But I didn’t know until I just now found it and opened it up that – gulp – almost fifty years later, I could read the kind words of congratulations from that first piano teacher right there.

The next year, we moved to Lawrence, Kansas. During third and fourth grade, we lived in an apartment, but moved into a house, where we were through seventh grade. At some point during that time, my parents convinced my paternal grandmother to buy a piano for me, and so that Storey and Clark entered our lives (used you can get one for a couple hundred bucks now – that’s why I didn’t even bother to put ours on Craigslist, and let the piano delivery guy take it away instead) and private lessons began.

There was a catch, though. The catch was that my parents were frugal and my mother didn’t drive, so when they looked for at teacher, they looked only as far as the KU music department, and a student who could drive to our house. I don’t remember much of anything about my teachers – I think I had a young woman one year and a man the next. I don’t think there were recitals (which was fine with me), just these music students showing up at our house to give me lessons.

 — 4 —

 

When eighth grade came around, we had moved again – to Knoxville. That first year, of course, we lived in an apartment, but then for high school, we settled into a house in an area called Holston Hills, in east Knoxville. It’s that kind of hilly neighborhood with no sidewalks, full of 1950’s ranches and some Tudors built on half-acres, set well back from the road. A few months after we moved, we figured out that the woman who lived across the road and two houses down taught piano out of her home. So I started. Again.

At the time, I intuited that it was an odd situation, but didn’t know how odd until later. She wasn’t the most rigorous teacher in the world, but she wasn’t terrible. She had me play Bach and such, but she also let me play things I wanted – like Summertime. I was never really comfortable in her home, and I reached a tipping point when, for a winter “recital,” she insisted I play a duet of Rudolph with her daughter at their Baptist church’s Christmas program. I didn’t like recitals anyway, I was a senior in high school playing Rudolph in the basement of the Macedonia Baptist Church, so I was done.

Oh, and why was it odd? As we learned a few years later, both the woman and her husband were serious alcoholics. They both ended being hospitalized, the kids did nothing with the house, the parents died from their alcoholism, and last time I was there – probably four years ago to see to the sale of my parents’ home – the house was in complete collapse and disrepair, overgrown, a notice of condemnation on the door.

— 5 

And that was it. Maybe five years of instruction all together, spread out over ten years?

Over the years, when passing the keyboard, I might sit down and pound out a few measures of Maple Leaf Rag or Alla Turca. I remember those. Probably about twenty years ago, I went through a stage when I thought I would try to get serious again, took out the Gershwin, and worked at it. Not too bad, but then we probably moved again and life took over again.

Now we have this new-old piano, it’s in the dining room, and since it cost a lot of money and it’s sitting there, I might as well play it, I think. So I do. And I’m not bad. And I’m getting better.

And as I said at the beginning, what has come back to me in a startling rush is how much I like it, and how much I actually don’t mind practicing. I don’t think I ever did, either. I don’t remember practicing being an agony. I say I’m not a perfectionist, and I’m not, but I do want to get it basically right, and for some reason, even though in most things I have the attention span of a gnat, when I play piano, I can play the same few measures over and over again and not tire of it.

Perhaps it’s just a new way to procrastinate and put off work. I think it’s going to be helpful in keeping mentally sharp as I age: my version of my father and his crossword puzzles, taken up with intense commitment in his 60’s. Who knows.

 

6–

I have goals, and they are the same goals I’ve had during every other return to the instrument. Right now, it’s The Maple Leaf Rag – the first page has been in my memory for forty years, but I never really went beyond that, and now I am, and I want to learn the whole thing. And then there’s the Gershwin.

Gershwin’s piano music – his variations on his songs, and his stand-alone pieces like the Preludes – have always been favorites of mine. As a teen, I played the William Bolcom recordings over and over, and tried my hand at several, but could never get beyond a certain point: too many accidentals, I felt my hands weren’t big enough. Again: not a perfectionist.

Somewhere along the way, my book went missing – I suspect it’s either in a sorority house in Williamsburg, Virginia or a resort in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. So I bought a new one, and am working hard. I started with Rialto Ripples, have almost got ‘S Wonderful down and really really want to conquer Prelude 1. I think I can do it.

So I play. I play during the day when the boys are gone, and I play in the evening, after Michael has his time. I enjoy it, but it’s also part of my determination for them to see me doing and reading real books and making real things instead of scrolling through one more damn screen. And it works. An adult doing this in a household is an invitation for interaction and community in a way that an adult staring at a screen is not. It might be a joke, right? The minute I get interested in doing something…there they are, all around me.  But I don’t mind. I sit down to play, and before I know it, one’s on the futon behind me, flipping through a magazine or drawing, and the other is standing at my side, leafing through music, wanting his turn again.

I also think it’s good for them to watch me take on something I’m not so great at, then work and improve. We lecture them all the time on how that’s what you have to do, but how often do they actual see us at this task, making mistakes, learning and growing and having to resist the temptation to give up?

— 7 —

My experience with piano explains why I am torn about children’s activities. On the one hand, I’m mostly against them. I am famous among my friends for asserting “I won’t be held hostage by my children’s activities,” by which I mean that there’s more to life than weekends at soccer fields allows many of us with children to experience. My kids do activities when they have an interest. My daughter was intensely involved with forensics and drama – but in high school. My youngest son has exhibited some musical talent and likes it, so I am investing in some pretty high level instruction for him. They know that if they are interested and serious, I’ll support them. But I do draw a line, and in the end, a weekend just hanging out, relaxing around home or taking a day trip is, I think, more valuable than most activities.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine posted an impassioned Facebook post after her family had spent a Saturday morning doing some really good volunteer work. She wondered why they didn’t do this kind of thing more? And then she answered her own question: because of sports, dance and homework projects that absorbed every second of their family’s free time and energy. Then she asked another question: what would the world be like if everyone made more time to help others instead of spending so much time watching 4 year olds play soccer?

But yet.

I only had five years of haphazard instruction, and..I’m not bad and I like it. I think I can get a lot better.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if my parents had seen my moderate level of talent and interest and made the effort to get me more consistent instruction – even as we moved about – at a higher level. Why didn’t they? They had their own problems which dominated the home, that’s true, and I would imagine that’s a big part of why as long as I didn’t present problems – and I didn’t – I was left to myself. Perhaps back in the 70’s people didn’t pursue Excellence in Extra-Curriculars as they do now. That’s certainly true. And it also never occurred to me to ask for something different, or even that there might be the possibility. Who knows. And who knows what would have happened if they had done anything different. I might have had intense music instruction, excelled, and then grown to hate it and never take it up again, even here in middle age, when I am hankering for it and appreciating it again.

We parents do what we can do with the information we have. I won’t say “we do our best,” because we don’t. We just do what we do. It’s what I have done, it’s what my parents did. So I’m not resentful. I just wonder.

And then I sit down to play.

"amy welborn"

 

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

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Earlier this week, I read the book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons, a former Newsweek tech writer and editor and now a writer on HBO’s and Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley. I picked it up from the “new books” section mostly because I have a like-hate relationship with Silicon Valley – I think it’s brilliant satire at times, but at other times it’s just stupid and too filthy for its own good.

I enjoyed Disrupted. It’s an entertaining and even enlightening evening read – a longish Atlantic article could have probably covered most of the same ground, and Lyons’ Disrupted by Dan Lyonsidealization of journalism is annoying but that’s fine, and the time I spent with the book was more entertaining and fruitful than a couple of hours furiously scanning furious political commentary online. Although almost as frustrating, considering the insanity Lyons is writing about.

Short version: Lyons was fired from Newsweek in his early 50’s – the story of so many journalists – and eventually landed at HubSpot, a company that sells marketing software to other companies – as a “marketing fellow,” a title which sounds kind of cool but actually, as he discovers is expressive of the shadows of this tech-based economy in which no one is really committed to anything or anyone and everyone is landing somewhere for just a bit, until the next thing.

The book is very funny, not only because Lyons is funny, but because the culture he describes is so deeply insane and he’s a 50-something thinking he might be able to fit in, just a little bit.  HubSpot’s workplace is culture is just what you expect: 20-somethings brought in to have meetings and stare at screens for not a lot of money, but hey – there’s a music room! And a candy wall! And Tequila Tuesday!

Moving past the employees – er, team members – Lyons takes a look at those behind all of this craziness, from the founders of start-ups who sometimes have an idea for a product or service, but just as often don’t – to the venture capitalists.  Lyons’ description of DreamForce – a huge networking/pep rally/afterhours orgy sponsored by Salesforce.com  in which literally tens of thousands of online marketers get together in San Francisco – is jaw-dropping.

The whole thing makes me depressed, in part because Benioff is a buffoon, a bullshit artist, and such an out-of-control egomaniac that it is painful to listen to him talk. He lives in Hawaii and signs his emails “Aloha.” He’s a Buddhist and hangs out with Zen monks from Japan, and he gave his golden retriever the title “chief love officer” at his company. He is the Ron Burgundy of tech…”have you transformed the way you innovate?’ was Benioff’s big line at the 2012 Dreamforce show. Note that you can switch the two buzzwords in the sentence and it still sounds good and still means nothing.

And Dreamforce continues with Huey Lewis and the News, Green Day, Alec Baldwin, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfels, CEO’s of Dropbox, Facebook and Yahoo, and the President of Haiti. It’s crazy.

If you’ve watched Silicon Valley, you’ll recognize some of the types and quirks, but I have to say – I think the world Lyons describes is even wackier than its fictional version.

Lyons’ critique is of an economy built on non-profitable entities selling intangibles – again, at a loss, most of the time – so that a few people can profit from this weird transfer of wealth going on. It’s of workplace cultures that are not only lame and distracting, but attract and sustain immaturity and are among the least diverse workplaces in the country. It’s about deception all around, about claiming, “no, we don’t send spam,” when actually, you facilitate sending millions of pieces of spam every day, it’s about calling aggressive selling “lead nurturing” and selling “lovable marking content.” That you’re not selling product, you’re leading a revolution…a movement.

It’s about this new thing, but it’s also about the old thing that has always characterize most workplaces, everywhere: Egomaniacs with tunnel vision exercising power over other human beings just because, whether those egomaniacs be CEO’s, department managers or the two blog editors twenty years your junior who have declared war against you – the turf being a blog run by a company that’s read by no one except a few hundred customers. Because that’s worth a war, definitely.

The stupid workplace trends that Lyons eviscerates are amusing to read about, but raise some serious points. First, what Lyons himself constantly points out – it’s almost like a shell game. Employees being given treats instead of more pay and greater job security. He tries to point this out to the employees three decades his junior: that instead of the treats they could actually be paid more..but they will have none of it. They prefer the candy.

The whole scene also made me think (of course) of (surprise!) church and faith and such.

The appeal of new management and marketing trends, bursting with buzzwords and exclamation points is strong for churches. Evangelical churches, with their emphasis on, well, evangelization, have always been particularly strongly tempted by American business culture, narrowing that line between evangelism and marketing to the point of invisibility. And because American Catholicism doesn’t trust or understand its own tradition of evangelization, and might even despise it, a few years after the evangelicals have pounced and wrung a trend dry, you can trust that the Catholics will be along to mop up the puddles and squeeze out what’s left in lameness that is no less lame for being two generations removed from the original and having schematized rosaries on the Awesome!
Engagement! Materials! with which they can hack  and blow UP this ministry. 

Not to speak of the management stuff, which too many Catholic school systems, in my experience, embrace. I mean…this was…familiar, even if the characters we encounter in the church world have a bit more years on them.

Try to imagine the calamity of that: Zack, age twenty-eight, with no management experience, gets training from Dave, a weekend rock guitarist, on how to apply a set of fundamentally unsound psychological principles as a way to manipulate the people who report to him.

And then, there is the question of the soul and what seeks to bind it and what it mean to be truly counter-cultural.

It is not a new story: in seeking security in this world, we find ourselves bound to entities that want to claim more than our labors, that set themselves up as idols demanding our highest loyalties. That might be the lord of the manor, the factory owner, the farmer, the office manager. That might be elements of a culture that don’t demand our labor but rather the fruits of that labor as they work hard to convince us that our wholeness and happiness depends on how well we fit.

It just seems to me that it’s the role of this Church of Jesus Christ to stand astride all of these idols, knock them over and quietly, constantly, faithfully point to the truth. Yes, this the world in which we live and work requires running and doing, and sometimes all of that is creative and interesting, but most of the time it’s not, and most of the time it just is. Work hard, give your best, make good things, no matter how small they are, and build each other up. But don’t be fooled. If this entity – this job, this organization, this culture – asks the world of you so it can save the world – remember that it can’t do that, you don’t have to and only God is God, and yeah, well, he’s…awesome.

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

 

It is the best time of the year in this part of the world. Daytime highs in the 80’s and low 90’s , evening temperatures in the 60’s. No mosquitoes – perhaps because it hasn’t rained in a month, it seems. I don’t mourn their absence. It makes sitting outside under that crescent moon, finding Venus and Saturn, the only way you want to spend your evening.

— 2 —

Our Charleston people have evacuated. They were going to come here, but they both work for companies with offices in another, inland city, so they’re going to be put up in that spot for the duration by the company, waiting with millions of others to return, dreading what they’ll find.

Returning from travel, that last mile or so before getting home always has my insides in knots. I dread pulling up to the house. What will greet me? Will we have been broken into? Will a tree be on my roof? A flood in the kitchen?

(Nothing like that has ever happened, by the way. And having good neighbors who would communicate with you if, well, a tree fell on your house, takes away the worry, if you’re rational about it. Which is not always easy to be.)

Anyway, imagine how that dread is multiplied by coming home after a hurricane has moved through.

 

— 3 —

 

We got a new piano. Finally. I had the slightest twinge of sentiment as the old one was loaded up and carted away..but really only a twinge of a twinge, if there is such a thing. It was not that I didn’t want to replace it. Of course I did. It was terrible, and my son, who is quite talented and promised that indeed, he is all in with the piano stuff – deserved something better to play. It was just that feeling of letting go of something that had been in my life for decades. My grandmother had given it to me probably around 1970, I imagine because my parents convinced her to fund it. It was a Storey and Clark spinet, which is not even made any more and which, experts agree, was not a good piano.

Honestly, why I had hauled that thing around the country for thirty years, I don’t even know. For what it cost to move it, I probably could have just bought a new/used piano at every stop, and sold it again when it was time to move on.

But now…we have a decent one. We also have it upstairs, and not in the basement. When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was just the path of least resistance to put the piano in the basement, which, because the house is built on a slope, is actually ground level. It just slipped right in.

In piano shopping, I had been apologizing for this, not that any of the salesmen were demanding explanations, much less apologies, but one did tell me that if there is no moisture problem, a basement is not the worst place for a piano. After moisture, temperature variation is the enemy of good piano health, and since the temperature in basements tends to be more consistent than other areas of a home..it can work.

But we just wanted the piano up out of the Lego Emporium and up where we spend most of our time. (Yes, I think Lego Days might be approaching twilight…can it be true?) I had explained the front door situation to the guy at the piano store and he assured me it would be fine. In retrospect, I see that I probably should have taken a photograph and shown him. For when the delivery men arrived, they took one look at the slope of those measly five steps and the angles up past them and said…Nope.

O…kay.

What aboimg_20161006_231003.jpgut the back patio? I had mentioned this to the piano salesmen and he said that no, since there was a large patch of yard that would have to be navigated, that wouldn’t work. The piano would have to be brought over a paved surface – it would sink in the ground.

The delivery guys said he was wrong. They had an all-terrain dolly that would do the job, no problem. But they didn’t have it with them, and would have to go get it. Which they did, and an hour later, there it was.

It’s so much better. My son is really enjoying it, and guess who else is playing again? Yeah, me. It’s such a better instrument, plus it’s upstairs…I’m back in business, and even re-ordered that book of Gershwin piano music that was waylaid either in Williamsburg or Germany – where ever my daughter took it that time she took it.

 — 4 —

Well, I couldn’t put it off any longer, so we have embarked on Orthodontic Adventure #4 for my family. It’s been a while – ten years, I guess. I was going to let #4 Kid take care of it on his own when he became an adult, since the issues seemed cosmetic to me, and not that serious. But then this summer, a couple of teeth started trying to come in…unsuccessfully…and it became clear that this wasn’t just cosmetic. And that I am not qualified to diagnose teeth.

But man, I hate orthodontic practices. I hate the buzz of profiteering cheerfulness, I hate the matching polo shirts, I hate the little fountains and beige tones.

So when I heard that an acquaintance of mine was a huge fan of the local university’s dental school clinic, which includes an orthodontic section, I was intrigued.

And, after two appointments, I’m a fan, too.

First, it’s about half the cost of private treatment. That cost must be paid up front, but I’m telling you – when I walked away from that desk, knowing that the next couple of years or so were paid for, from records to retainers..it was a great feeling.

Secondly, the whole process is very interesting. You have a resident assigned to you, and he or she works under a supervising orthodontist. In the initial assessment, the resident worked alone at first, and sketched out a treatment plan. Then the supervisor came in. He asked, “So what’s your treatment plan?” But then he stopped and continued, “No, don’t tell me. Let me look, then I’ll sketch out a plan, and we’ll compare.” Which is what they did, and it was fascinating to observe the teaching that was going on – and good for my son to see it to, to see that this is not magic, nor is it cut-and dried and always obvious. Medical treatment of any kind is not just a matter of matching items from different columns, and it’s good for him to observe that process.

— 5 

I read two novels over the past week. I enjoyed both as light reading that’s a little though-provoking.

I’ll begin with the one I enjoyed less – The Leftovers by Tom Perotta. Perotta is the author of Election and Little Children, both of which are very good and have been made into great movies. The Leftovers has been adapted by HBO as a series – two seasons have aired (I haven’t watched it.).

The novel is about the aftermath of a Rapture-like event,in which about 2% of the world’s population just…disappeared. There’s never any explanation given of the event, and since we enter the story three years after it occurred, we don’t see the characters wondering about it themselves – when we meet them, they are simply trying to cope, to deal, to move on.

So what the book is about is grief and loss. Really, that’s it. It’s about how human beings live with the reality of loss. What the characters of this novel live with in a very focused way is what all of us live with: this or that person was here one day, and then gone the next. What does that mean for my life? Do I dishoner that person by “moving on?” What about if I discover that person wasn’t who I thought he or she was? Where can I find meaning? How is respectful or even possible to live a “normal” life, knowing that people – including yourself – will someday be gone?

It was okay. The choice to not make the “why” or “where did they go” an issue is intended, I suppose, to put the emphasis on the responses of the leftovers. This makes a sort of sense, but the ultimate effect, I felt, was a flattening of the events of the book. It really was just about a bunch of people responding to the losses of loved ones in various ways, but because the peculiar circumstances are not an issue, there seems to be no reason why the loss couldn’t have been via a flu epidemic or chemical leak.

It was an interesting device to explore grief, but done in, I fear, by a kind of spiritual and intellectual reserve.

6–

Much- much –  better was the quirky novel Amp’d. I won’t say, “I recommend it,” because I don’t say that – people have different tastes, and recommending books usually gets the recommender in trouble from someone who imagines they will be getting one thing because they have an image in their mind of what kind of person they believe the recommender to be, but of course they actually have no idea, and the book is in fact quite different from what they expected, and possibly has swears and drugs in it, and maybe sex. Surprised and disappointed email to follow.

So. Don’t read this book.

It’s the story of a guy – Aaron – who has lost his arm in an car accident and returned to his father’s house to recuperate and figure out what to do with his life. It was funny – often hilarious, and just page after page of succinct, on-point observations. Making frequent appearances are a pet alligator, Cancer Boy and various lost and seeking friends and family members, as well as the fish Aaron is hired to count as part of a ..fish counting project. Also a presenter of short radio bits on scientific trivia, and the content of these bits is simply perfect. You can hear the voice as you read.

I think the best way to communicate what the book is about is to tell you that it begins and ends with lists. It begins with a list called “Things you can’t do with one arm” and ends with “Things I never did with two arms.” The second list is far more intriguing , and there’s the point, right there.

You know what? Everything is better with humor in it. Even life-affirming lessons. Especially life-affirming lessons.

— 7 —

Melanie Bettinelli recommends a children’s books…and it looks great!

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

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So…we watched all three seasons of Granite Flats. 

For those of you who don’t know, Granite Flats is a three-season television drama originally produced by BYUTV, yes LDS. A few months ago, Netflix added it to the queue, I read about it on some blogs and thought, “Huh. Why not?”

And so, the two boys were introduced to the joys and agonies of binge-watching.

Let me say, that if had been up to me, I would have watched a couple of episodes from the first season, checked in with the second season to see matters had improved, then jumped to season 3 to check in with some episodes featuring Christopher Lloyd and/or Parker Posey and then called it a day. (or night.) It wasn’t great.

But as it turned out, the boys got hooked, went berserk at the end of every cliff-hanger episode (which was…every episode), and so I’ve watched the whole durn thing.

More specifically:  Granite Flats  has been described by some as a cross between Mad Men (because it’s set in the early 1960’s) and The X-Files (because it involves espionage and a bit of the paranormal).  Perhaps “they” have a point, but I’m going to say very quickly and firmly right here and now that Granite Flats doesn’t have the quality of either. It’s not horrible, but it doesn’t have the subtlety of great television drama, either. On my scale, Breaking Bad is a 10, Mad Men is a 7, and Granite Flats comes out, therefore, as maybe a 2.5.

YMMV, but in my opinion, while the boys were intrigued (and this is the first show like this they’ve ever watched, btw) and enjoyed it, it didn’t live up to the promise of the premise, the theme, the literary allusions (Shakespeare and Whitman, mostly) or the retro gestalt. 

The gist:

Um, forget that.  It’s too complicated to give a gist.

There are 3 young teens.  One is the son of a widowed single mother VA nurse – widowed because her military husband died. (And you know what that means…..)  The other is the son of the Granite Flats police chief.  The girl is the native Korean adopted daughter of a physician and a chemist, both of whom work for the VA hospital.

These teens are drawn together by weird circumstances and are then inspired to investigate said weird circumstances. The weird circumstances lead to Bigger Things, which involve the CIA, the FBI, the KGB and a bit of the paranormal.

It can be fairly confusing at times.  I think my 14 year old could probably draw you a map of it all, but some parts of it left me befuddled.

As I am wont to do these days…bullet points:

  • If you are looking for a show to hook your kids on that’s pretty much absolutely “clean” – this would be a good candidate.  There’s some tense stuff about marriage here and there, but that’s real.
  • It’s a show produced by an LDS network, so I was watching it with an eye to that.  Religion of the generic Christian kind plays a role in the show, but I have to say, it’s a refreshingly natural role. There’s a young non-denominational Protestant pastor involved, so that give the script opportunities to quote Scripture. The general tone (and I will get back to this in a second) is oriented towards an understanding of life as being *for* something rather than for anything or nothing.  But beyond that, there’s some interesting conversations between the kids about faith.  Madeleine (the adopted girl) is being raised in an atheist home, and so the kids actually talk about that the first season in honest ways. The only almosts-explicitly LDS-type thing I noted was in one of the lasts episodes when a wife said to a husband something like “I’m going to be happy with you the rest of my life here in this world – and the next.”
  • One of the primary writers on the show (who is also the father of one of the child actors and husbands of one of the adult actors) is a very serious Buddhist. Here’s an interview with him. 
  • Speaking of which…the writing is okay.  It’s strongest in the the third season, when Plummer (from the previous bullet point) takes over most of the scripts. Before that, it’s mostly fairly pedestrian and lacking in subtlety.  (I watched episode 4 of Rectify last night after we finished up Granite Flats, and oh, the difference was so, so clear.). As is often the case, the climactic episodes contain the strongest writing.  I confess that the last episode of season 3 of Granite Flats, even though it contained some weirdness, was very strong .
  • Pulling together my last two bullet points, the last episode of the show was well-written and quite affecting, bringing out issues of truth, love and the mystery and worth of each human person in a rather moving way.  It made some of the previous lameness worth it.
  • I was impressed, though, by the nuance given to the theme of patriotism – this was probably the strongest thematic element, and dealt with very well. While the KGB and Soviet Communism are certainly treated as inimical to American values, the question of how America has actually lived up to American values is bandied about with a bit more honesty than I expected. A major character – an FBI operative – is African-American, and the racism he encounters in and out of the agency is a plot point. Even the issue of Americans belonging to the Communist party in an American context isn’t dealt with simplistically – the characters who are are given credible reasons for their membership, including skepticism about the American project from a character whose beloved was a Japanese-American interred in her own country during World War II.
  • The acting varies in quality. I do wonder why it’s such a challenge to find really excellent natural American child actors. That said, the strongest actors included a young person – Charlie Plummer (son of aforementioned writer), who played Tim. There are some sort-of well known names in the cast, including Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride, Christopher Lloyd and most winningly, Parker Posey, who blasts into the third season and grabs all the best lines.  It was fascinating to watch because it shows how a crazy, eccentric character can inspire strong writing.
  • Also…and this amused the boys when I finally put all this together – featured through all three seasons is David Naughton.  I knew that I should know the name and the face was vaguely familiar.  Today, I finally looked him up, and yes..it’s that David Naughton, and hey people, let’s all FEEL SUPER OLD.

naughton

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  • Finally: There’s a bit of controversy about the show right now – BYUTV had produced three seasons – the first two shown, with the third scheduled to be broadcast this fall.  Netflix picked up all three seasons this past spring and has them all streaming.  Not long after Netflix picked it up, BYUTV announced that it was cancelling the program. There’s a bit of a campaign going on to encourage BYUTV to produce at least a few more episodes to wrap up some lose threads (and the last episode of season three did end with a huge hanging plot point), and some of the actors are on board…so we’ll see….

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