Tuesday, November 30, 2004

the artist at school

Those who have been following the artist's career will be pleased to know that on Monday night she attended her first-ever drop-in session at the Hoover Point Art Gallery, where she will be dropping in once a week for the next several weeks, after which we will enroll her in a regular art class at the gallery.

The teacher completely amazed me in ten minutes, not just with her knack for dealing with a 5-year-old respectfully, but also for her ability to revolutionize Evangeline's approach to drawing. To show her ability, Evangeline drew a picture of Mulan, who is her favorite Disney character right now because of the connection she has made between Mulan and her own namesake.

Well, the teacher dug out the wax color pencils and showed Evangeline a different approach to drawing, using lines put close together and deliberately, and had her draw a school of fish. After that, she had Evangeline draw water around the fish using washables, and using a mix of greens, blues and purples. Then -- this will be obvious to art people, but it was something new to me -- she had Evangeline dab the picture very lightly with the tip of a wet brush, and the washables turned to paint, creating a nice water effect.

The whole session took about an hour, but held Evangeline's rapt attention the entire time. As I said on my way out, the downside is that from now on, Evangeline's going to tell me that we have the wrong paper, the wrong pencils, that I'm not taping her paper to a cardboard backing, and so on.

But I'm pleased. I think she's genuinely gifted artistically, and I'm excited to give her the chance to pursue that gift and develop it before she ends up being a washed-up 40-year-old still living in our basement and surfing the Internet after she comes home from her job as an attendant at a place with the motto "Eat here and get gas."

wicked

My current read is "Wicked," the book the musical is based on. Simply incredible, though I think Maguire loses steam in a few places and Natasha found the ending dissatisfying. Probably the main appeal to his work is that he gives such a perverse rendering of "Wizard of Oz" that it can't help but appeal to any adult who remembers enjoying either the movie or Baum's book as a child. Elphaba (the wicked witch) is interesting and sympathetically portrayed although she is, ultimately, arguably as wicked as the title claims.

And we're also reading Evangeline "The Wizard of Oz," which is rather interesting because I had never read it growing up, and am reading Maguire's treatment at the same time, and am finding it colors my view of Dorothy's experiences. (The wizard is a total despot, for starters, as bad as Hitler or other fascists who sponsor genocide and abuse their power for personal gain. I actually told Evangeline that I think the wizard is an evil man, which she took as me being silly, which I suppose I was.)

I'm told that Frank Baum revealed in later books that the wizard had done some nasty things to the ruling family in order to come to power; if that's the case, Maguire plays it to the hilt. The wizard overthrows the Oz regent and either kills or imprisons the toddler Ozma before engaging in the wholesale destruction of one group of people after another. Real nasty SOB -- not "a bad wizard but a good man" as he described himself in the movie.

an odd interest

I recently and finally finished reading a book by Gina Kolata about the 1918 Flu (also called the "Spanish Flu"). Epidemiology long has been an interest of mine, so despite the dry-sounding topic, it's really quite fascinating. Odd choice of recreational reading? I think it was something that grew out of reading "The Canterbury Tales," actually. Craig Rustici, our Chaucer professor, explained that England in Chaucer's day was experiencing massive social upheaval owing to the new upward mobility experienced by laborers, whose skills suddenly were in demand, owing to the effects of bubonic plague.

In other words, a disease that made its way from China to Europe along trade routes was a major contributor to the end of the Dark Ages, along with more conventional means of social change such as shifting philosophies and wars.

So while my interest is definitely a layman's -- I can't begin to tell you the molecular biology at play in chickenpox, let alone in plague -- I can't help but find massive outbreaks of disease interesting because of their social consequences. In the case of the Spanish flu, it led to an entire generation overdosing themselves and their children on antibiotics, affected commerce and transit -- people avoided large crowds, where the risk of exposure to the killer flu was increased -- and also led to the Ford presidency imbroglio of vaccinating everyone to avoid a return of the Spanish flu, even though there was no scientific reason to fear such a return. (The specter was that powerful.)

Kolata's been reviled by those covering the newspaper industry and science reporting for her brias and inaccuracies in her reporting, and deservedly so, but she writes engagingly and captures the personalities of the people she's writing about in this book. I have another book of hers here about the events leading up to the cloned sheep Dolly, but haven't read it yet.

My current read is "Wicked," the book the musical is based on. Simply incredible, though I think Maguire loses steam in a few places and Natasha found the ending dissatisfying. Probably the main appeal to his work is that he gives such a perverse rendering of "Wizard of Oz" that it can't help but appeal to any adult who remembers enjoying either the movie or Baum's book as a child. Elphaba (the wicked witch) is interesting and sympathetically portrayed although she is, ultimately, arguably as wicked as the title claims.

And we're also reading Evangeline "The Wizard of Oz," which is rather interesting because I had never read it growing up, and am reading Maguire's treatment at the same time, and am finding it colors my view of Dorothy's experiences. (The wizard is a total despot, for starters, as bad as Hitler or other fascists who sponsor genocide and abuse their power for personal gain. I actually told Evangeline that I think the wizard is an evil man, which she took as me being silly, which I suppose I was.)

So far I recommend it.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

the boy next door

The Penn-Trafford Star has a much better write-up about what happened to Jeff Cole:
Last week, injured Army Spc. Jeff Cole, 20, of Level Green was honored by a personal visit from President George W. Bush.

"It was pretty cool," Cole says nonchalantly. "It was definitely something most people can't say they've ever done."

Neither is being thrown from a Humvee.
And can you believe, the boy met the president of the United States and didn't brag about it when he came home for Thanksgiving this past week? This was the first I heard of it.

(And it looks like I was right: Jeff was hurt in an attack, not in an accident.)

deck the halls

The girls and I set up our Christmas tree Friday while their mother was at work, and E even started decorating it. It now has a baby doll, various Kool Toyz pieces and red plastic monkeys hanging from its branches. For a while it had a Barbie up on top of the tree in place of the angel, but since Barbie fell off, we've settled for a balloon.

I'm inclined to let the girls handle the decorating entirely this year, and leave the traditional ornaments locked up.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

a kick in the gut

Last night, Evangeline and I were reading a bedtime Bible story about Bartimaeus receiving his sight. The question at the end of the story was about what the child most wanted, with an encouragement to ask Jesus for it because he delights in giving us the desire of our hearts.

What does Evangeline say? "All I want is to see Isaac just one more time." Ouch!

If anyone's free and wants a beer, come on over. I'm buying.

No new news on him. The last I heard, he was living with his father, grandmother, aunt and two cousins, so he has some sort of family structure and something approximating siblings, which will give him sorely needed social interaction.

He's talking -- thank God -- and attending a special preschool paid for by the state. He's behind in many areas, but he's making progress, which is what I wanted. He's also settled down quite a lot, owing in part to the discipline we instilled and to his ability to commuicate and interact with the world around him.

That's all I know. I've no way of getting in contact with them even if my reason wanted to, so as I told Niki, if Eowyn's prayer is to be answered, it will be by God and not by her father.

Monday, November 22, 2004

tired of liberalism being villified

Down in Florida, apparently a group of Democrats, unable to accept Kerry's defeat on Tuesday, apparently are being diagnosed with some sort of post-stress syndrome, and are getting some kind of therapy to help them cope. That's silly, I agree, but what's irritated me right now is one conservative friend who has taken this as proof that liberalism is a philosophy that attracts irresponsible people and encourage irresponsible behavior.

Maybe if they would stop recycling what conservatives say liberalism is about and consider what liberals say liberalism is about, we'd have a point of commonality.

Liberalism is a political/social philosophy of responsibility. Liberalism called for an end to segregation because it was oppressive toward blacks; it called for women's votes because the status quo had restricted their voce. Today it calls for a hand up for the poor and needy; it continues to call for a voice for blacks and other minorities; it calls for respect across the board to differing worldviews, political positions and so on.

By contrast, I suppose I could say that Republcanism encourages people to keep their money to themselves, that it rewards wealth and power by allowing people to aggregate greater amounts of wealth and power, and encourages a devil-may-care attitude toward others. I haven't, and I don't hold that that necessarily is the case, so why don't we all do everyone a favor and can the holier-than-thou crap, all right?

There are sore losers on the Democratic side, and sore winners on the GOP side. Why? Because *both* parties have a fair number of boneheads, bedwetters and self-righteous crybabies, to use the unneeded and uncalled-for inflammatory language I've been hearing.

Maybe some have forgotten, but during the Clinton years, there were any number of fine upstanding examples of the Right who said it was time for good Christians everywhere to question their allegiance to the American government (James Dobson, re: partial-birth abortion), who kept bumper stickers on their car that said "Pray for our president / May his days be few, may another take his place" and who acted like the nation had fallen off a spiritual precipice by electing Clinton. Four years ago, I knew a couple Bush-supporters who were practically paralyzed with dread at the thought that Gore might win and Bush lose.

So let's stop knocking one another's socio-political viewpoints as being for whiners, all right? I've had ENOUGH of the self-righteous aggrandizement of the Right, the GOP and Bush, I've had ENOUGH of the villification of the Left and the Democratic Party, and I've had ENOUGH of this whole sorry mess.

Friday, November 05, 2004

moral values

What bugs me is that the definition of "moral values" has become so narrow, and mainly seems to be related to sex. I'm a Democrat because of my moral values. While neither party is perfect, the Democrats seem to me to be more concerned with the moral issues that are most important to me: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the masses.

Republican approaches to these issues seem to be more concerned with making sure that no one is cheating the system than with making sure the needy actually get what they need. Democrats are more likely to be against the death penalty, and they are more likely to look for peaceful solutions to our international problems, as opposed to military solutions.

Unfortunately, the media don't seem to really want to analyze actual issues. It's much easier to say that Republicans are more likely to cast votes based on morals (implying that Democrats are less moral than Republicans) than actually take the time to look at what that means. I would say that almost all of us make our morals a major consideration when we vote, but we don't all base them on what the Republican Party and the media have managed to define as morality.
-- Rob Timmins

Thursday, November 04, 2004

abandoned by god

There are times in every believer's life when it seems like God has abandoned us. I went through one of those times after we lost Isaac. A friend of mine went through one when she was run out of a ministry and slandered by the heads of the ministry. Sometimes, God leads us into a dark place, with nightmares on all sides, gnashing their terrible teeth and ready to tear us limb from limb, and he leaves us there. Other times, he throws us headlong into the pit.

No, I don't think it's just a feeling that God has abandoned us. I think in a very real, though not absolute sense, he does abandon us at those moments, and that's why we feel such despondency and grief.

Let me explain.

In another year or so, Evangeline is going to learn to ride a bike. She doesn't know that yet, of course, and even if I told her, she wouldn't know what I mean by it. But sitting here, I know that in the spring, I'm going to screw some training wheels onto her bike, put it and her into the car, and drive up to the university one weekend to enjoy the parking lot with her.

Evageline will feel nervous at first, as she takes those first tentative and rickety spins on her bike. But she'll discover that although she rattles back and forth, she doesn't fall, and slowly her confidence will build. That's pretty much what it's like for us as we take our first steps of faith and begin to grow.

After a while, I'm going to take those training wheels off. Evangeline is going to fall down, her bike will drop, and she will scrape her elbows and knees and maybe even get a few cuts. It will hurt, and she will cry. I'm going to do this to her anyway, and after she falls I'm going to have her get back on the bike and try again.

Is Evangeline in any real danger? No, of course not. We're in a parking lot where there will be no cars moving about, she will have a helmet on, and I'm going to be with her the entire time. She won't be able to tell that, though, since I'll be behind her, and she's going to keep falling even though she never used to fall on her bike and even though her father is with her.

That's a small thing by comparison, but the Long Dark Night of the Soul is like that. God doesn't just remove a "feeling" that he's with us, he actively withdraws all the support he's provided for us before. What's left is a void that makes no sense to us because it contradicts our every previous experience with God.

When Evangeline has learned to ride her bike, she'll have a more mature understanding of herself, of me, and of her relationship to me. She'll see that while I love her and will do everything I can to keep her from harm, that does not mean I will do everything I can to keep her from pain. She'll also have developed new skills she wouldn't have had and be more of what I intend her to be (i.e., a self-sufficient, healthy and active little girl).

When God tosses us off a cliff or leads us into the abyss, he strips away all the comforts we've known before and lets us discover underlying realities we've only caught glimpses of before. Because of my experiences two years ago, my relationship with God is irrevocably altered. I have a much greater sense of his majesty, his glory, his transcendence -- and his utter self-abasement on the Cross. My understanding of God grew dramatically as a result of my experience. He's much bigger than I ever had imagined, and I am much smaller.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

in the wrong church

On Sunday I was pretty much told by my daughter's Sunday school teacher that I shouldn't bother coming to church if I'm going to vote for Kerry (that was the substance, not the text, of what she said).

I find that depressing in its own right. Are we as a church so blinded by politics and political leaders that we're willing to start dividing sheep from the goats based on something as inconsequential as a vote in the presidential election? That's horrible. I voted for Kerry, Greg voted for Bush; you're a Democrat and RBP is a Republican, but really, who gives a toss? When darkness falls and the Devil stirs, I know that I can count on all three of you equally.

Christina's big passion is abortion; mine are poverty and child abuse; others of us are impassioned over sexual sin, medical care, the growing acceptance of magick -- those differences don't matter to me. What matters to me is that we are one body, following one Lord, sharing one baptism.

If things get rough -- and very probably they will continue to do so in the years to come -- I know where I can turn for understanding, support and fellowship. It's not in a political party or presidential administration. It's in the catholic-small-C church of believers.

The divide we're seeing in our nation along political lines bothers me, and I probably should be praying about it more. To be honest, it deeply grieves me that the church has been party to that division by its growing alignment with the Republican Party and the way it has allowed the name of the church to be subverted for one side of the political game.