Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The High School Motivational Speech Noone Asked Me to Make

Some people like to exhort kids with, "You can be anything you want to be." This is usually followed with something like, "You can be a doctor or a lawyer, you can even be president if you want". I don't disagree with the gist of this message, but I think it might be better to take the focus off jobs and instead tell kids, "You can be anyone you want to be." In other words, "The kind of person you become is entirely up to you." That is and always will be more fully true than saying you can have any kind of career you want--the five foot two inch, slightly built boy isn't likely to make it as a defensive lineman, for example, nor the 6'3" husky man as a professional jockey. But whatever jobs may or may not be open to you in your particular society, the individual is always and everywhere the one who decides the kind of person he will become, and I think it might be more important for kids to hear that than to hear that they can become a lawyer if they want. My message would be, "You can become the sort of person who keeps his promises, or you can become the sort of person who breaks his word. You can become a man who abandons his children or one who does his best by them. You can become a woman who builds up her family or one who tears it down. You can become someone who betrays his friends or someone who shows loyalty. You can become someone who gossips maliciously and backbites or you can become someone who doesn't. It's all up to you. You determine who you become with all the choices you make every day. If you've made some bad choices in the past, today you get another choice--you get to decide if you will become the sort of person who is humble enough to admit wrong, learn from your mistakes, and correct them where possible or if you will be the sort who refuses to do any of that. Your choices, always. Who you will be is up to you."

Sewing Quote

Or, Sylvia Plath as you've never seen her.

From Letters Home by Sylvia Plath, letter dated October 8, 1960:

I have a new and exciting hobby. You will laugh....I went downtown and bought three 2-yard lengths of material--one bright red Viyella (at $1.50 a yard), one bright blue linen, and one soft Wedgwood blue flannel with stylized white little flowers on it (both at about 50 cents a yard). I also bought a dress pattern and nightgown pattern (Simplicity). Yesterday I completely cut out and basted the little nightgown, in a one-year size. It is exquisite....I pinned the little nightgown together to see what it would be like, and it's a little fairytale thing....My next purchase that I'll save up for is a sewing machine! I don't know when anything has given me as much pleasure as putting together the flannel nighty for Frieda--the pieces are so little, they are very quickly done. If I practice a lot now, I'll probably be able to make most of her clothes when she goes to school. The London stores are full of marvelous fabrics... [all ellipses in original]

She goes on to say that she and her husband consider handcrafts "the most satisfying things in the world to do. I am awfully proud of making clothes for little Frieda."

Apparently the fad didn't die immediately. Nearly a year later she mentioned in a letter that she was going out to look for a second-hand sewing machine like the one she'd been borrowing.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Happy Easter

Christ is risen!

I hope everyone reading this has a happy Easter season.

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Little Round-up

Sometimes I wish I had a digital camera set up for easy posting of pictures to the blog. It's been good weather recently and everything is in bloom, but it's not too hot to walk in the daytime yet, so we've had some nice walks recently where we could actually see things other than streetlight-illuminated pavement. There are still lots of azaleas, both in full flower and in bud (they seemed to bloom late this year due to the cold winter), but there are also spiderwort here and there, though it is earlier than I usually see them. There are all sorts of weedy things: the little four-leaved flowers some other children and I used to call "wishing violets", but which are probably a form of bluet; henbit; wood sorrel (pink); and all sorts of other things, mostly yellow flowers, some white, a lesser amount of pink and lavendar. Best of all are the wild violets. I've seen several little patches of them on our recent walks. In addition to their beauty, they are unexpected and so easily overlooked that they seem more of a treat than the equally beautiful spiderwort I see every year in south Mississippi.

Last Sunday (Palm Sunday) Uncle Pookie and I took sandwiches to a little park and, as I said, everything is in bloom. The weather was wonderful and it was great seeing everything in bloom. We also saw our first snake of the year. It was a big one, and an ugly bastard, rough-looking and mottled brown; I think I saw a triangular head as I moved quickly backwards, but it was ugly regardless. We were surprised to see it, because it didn't seem that warm yet. We'd stopped on a little place where the road went over a large drainage ditch (there's often fish in there and we like to look at them) and the snake was sunning itself on a kind of metal pipe or support that stretched across the ditch. As we started walking away the snake flopped itself into the presumably cold water and we couldn't see it anymore. Nearby was a larger patch of wild violets than I'd yet seen and for just a moment it seemed a shame that they grow closer to the snake's home than to mine. Also that that snake, so ugly compared to, say, a little green garter snake, could crawl all over the beautiful violets. This is fanciful thinking of course, to call one bit of nature touching another unfair, because it is ugly and the other is beautiful.

Holy Thursday I actually made it to mass. I'm ashamed to say I've never been to Holy Thursday mass before; although it's not a holy day of obligation, it is still a holy day and I have often meant to go and somehow never made it. In the past I've sometimes had to resist the urge to refer to it as "foot-washin' Thursday". When I was growing up I would, rarely, hear my elders refer to "foot-washing Baptists"--fellow Baptists, perceived as perhaps a bit "backwoods" or old-fashioned, who practiced foot-washing in church. (For the record, I also heard my mother say to another relative that we should not put it down because her father, who was a respected preacher, believed in it as a potentially good thing, albeit something they did not practice.) In the Roman Catholic rite, the Holy Thursday readings all relate to the Last Supper and early in the priest emulates Jesus by washing the feet of a token number of male parishioners. My understanding of this is that it is symbolic not just of emulating Jesus in a rote way but of the Christian understanding of leadership--the one who would lead must serve; the one who would lead all must serve all. The ritual is actually rather beautiful at its heart.

Leaders humbling themselves before the people they have the privilege to serve? Reminding themselves they are servants? Some United States Congressmen might benefit from that.

Uncle Pookie and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon with a friend earlier this week. I wasn't thrilled about going because, although the trailer looked okay and there were some seriously cool promotional children's playsets for the movie in Wal-mart, I have a long-standing problem with de-monsterfying monsters, especially dragons. I like my dragons Western and dangerous and in need of slayers, not Eastern and personifying neutral forces in nature, let alone friendly and misunderstood. The "Which is cooler, Western dragons or Eastern dragons" thing is merely a matter of inidividual taste, but the rest is not. We do our children and our culture a disservice when we try to get rid of every monster out there and paint them as merely misunderstood. The world is dangerous and populated by monsters who can do more damage than dragons, who after all are easy to see coming. Children, like adults, need stories that say, yes, there are monsters, but monsters can be slain and sometimes that slayer can be a very ordinary person who reached within and summoned up the necessary bravery and faith and cunning and stamina to do what needed doing.

However How to Train Your Dragon won me over. The whole "the monsters aren't really monsters, just misunderstood" thing is dangerous territory and now old and tired territory, yes, but in the case of this particular movie's story, think of it as a pet-taming story and you're there. It's actually a pretty good animal-taming story. And if the "big, burly father misunderstanding his son" bit is also rather tired, at least Dad wasn't malicious or hopeless and there was a a lot of good animation and humor along the way. I liked the designs of the houses and such, the "nature" visuals were good too, some of the Vikings (especially the one Craig Ferguson voiced) were funny, and I like that the hero was a builder/engineer sort and that we saw him not get his design right the first time, but have to test and modify it. The Night Fury dragon was sometimes like an overgrown domestic cat--most delightfully when he's hiding and watching, and he can't help but give that slight butt wiggle cats sometimes can't contain when they're contemplating the joy of pouncing. The movie also has a great line near the beginning, which I expect to see in sig lines before long: "We're Vikings. We have stubborness issues." Uncle Pookie and I, who both probably have some Viking ancestry, really liked that line.

Should you shell out extra to see it in 3D? I'm not sure. I've been impressed with the quality of the new 3D in the movies I've seen it in previously, but I really only noticed the 3D effect once or twice in this movie (once was when ash was falling at the end). I'm not sure if that's because it wasn't that amazing this time or if this movie had enough story to keep the viewers focused on the story or overall experience rather than singling out special effects. By contrast, the first 3D movie I saw (the one with the giant girl) I oohed and ahhed over the 3D for a while then fell asleep right there in the theater.

A note for people who suffer from motion sickness: This is a safe movie, despite all the flying. I didn't get queasy at all. I only glanced away preventively once, for the briefest of moments, and it turned out not to be necessary.

Some Bits and Pieces to Think About

Last Wednesday I talked to my sister, who is a nurse, on the phone. We only had a short time to talk, but before we rang off, I asked her what the mood on the ground was re the health care "reform" Congress had thrust upon us the previous Sunday night. "People are freaking out," she said. She repeated it for emphasis. She said that everything she hears suggests old people will just "be hung out to dry" and that she has patients asking her worriedly if they will still be able to get health care. As to health care workers, which was what I was most curious about, she said they are very worried. She said some of the doctors she knows were saying they were going to stop taking Medicare patients and that a few of the older doctors were talking about taking early retirement. Everyone was worried about hospitals having to make cutbacks, and the nurses especially were worried about having their wages cut.

I've been meaning ever since to get her on the phone for a longer talk about this, but I haven't yet. For one thing, she's overworked at the moment, and I hate to risk disturbing her rest.

But I find myself thinking of another phone conversation or two we had back in 2008. A few days before Election Day and then again after the election we talked on the phone. My sister, who was then working in Miami, has never really been interested in politics, but with all the hoopla of that election we got on the subject. On the call before the election, she told me that there was a lot of opposition to Obama. I was very surprised and told her that didn't fit in with my expectations of Miami (rich Yankees retiring there, for example). "Oh, it's mostly just the Cubans," she said. "Ah, that would explain it," I said.

It was either that conversation or the one right after the election, where she asked me, "It's not true what they keep saying about Obama being a socialist, is it?" I replied with some mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy thing to the effect that no, he wasn't a socialist, certainly not officially, probably not at all, but he seemed to maybe have some ideas that were kind of socialist-leaning, as did a lot of people in his party today, but he's not actually a socialist really.

(Yeah, not my finest hour with regard to either concision or prescience. To my credit I could be a lot more concise on why I didn't want him to be President: Obama had zero executive experience, he was so pro-abortion he couldn't find it within himself to condemn partial birth abortion or to say that would-be abortions who were born alive should be given medical care, and I had no confidence at all that he got the need for national defense. He also seemed clearly to favor big government, and I feared the kind of appointees he might make to the Supreme Court. That was more than enough to make me vote for McCain, who I was far from thrilled with but who at least seemed to get the need for defense. But I could have gone on. Right or wrong, I did not believe Obama shared my love of America, nor did I think he would be a friend of our military personnel, nor did I think he was concerned about much else in this country other than his own career--admittedly a common enough trait among politicians. I couldn't decide if he was a True Believer in progressive ideology or if he espoused it as trendy things to help his career; I hoped for the latter, but worried it might be the former.)

Anyhoo, this week I happened to listen to the archived episode of EWTN Live from the same evening I was talking to my sister. Johnette Benkovic was the guest, and I only put it on for some background noise. She happened to read aloud some quotes that struck me and, as I'm rambling anyway I might as well share them:

"First we will take eastern Europe, then the masses of Asia. We will encircle the last bastion of capitalism, the United States of America. We will not need to fight; it will fall as a ripe fruit into our hands." (Lenin)
"We can not expect Americans to jump from capitalism to communism. But we can assist their elected leaders in giving Americans doses of socialism until they suddenly awake to find out they have communism." (Khrueschev)
"The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism but under the name of liberalism they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened." (Norman Thomas, whose name I did not recognize but whom she said was a former Socialist candidate for US president)

Those are the quotes as I heard them; if you want to listen to the episode yourself go to the Audio Library search page and type "ewtn live" into the series search box. I thought of my sister's Miami comment "Oh, it's mostly just the Cubans" when Benkovic said she'd read those quotes in a recent speech and had a Cuban woman come up to her afterward and say she was glad someone was telling the truth, that she'd come to America to escape and there was nowhere else for her to go.

You know, I've heard that back in the '50s American Catholics used to pray regularly for an end to communism. (I may be mixing this up a bit with the St. Michael prayer that used to be said at the end of mass for the Church and the world in general.) I don't think it would be a bad idea for Christians of all stripes to take this up again. I know socialism is not as bad as communism, but how well did Orthodox Christians fare in the Soviet Union? Is Christianity thriving in countries with more socialist leanings than the United States has heretofore had? At any rate, I have since 3/21 made a point of remembering to pray daily for the future of America. I urge everyone, but especially practicing Christians and Jews, to do the same.

This being the Bible Belt, I sometimes see bumperstickers or yard signs that say "God Bless America", but lately what I'd like to see is "God Have Mercy on America" or just plain "Pray for America".