At a meeting with my investment club earlier this week (we are in the beginning stages and drafting our charter), I pointed out that if we didn't have a method for adding new members, eventually our group would die. Anything that is closed off to growth dies. It's called entropy.
Add that to the recent events in New York and it seems timely to write this post that I've been thinking about for a month or three now.
One of the reasons I often hear for keeping same-sex marriage extralegal (if you will), is that to allow same-sex couples to wed would damage "the sanctity of marriage."
The longer I live with this idea, the more difficultly I have accepting it.
Consider the following:
a) We as a society already don't treat marriage with much sanctity. Almost half of American marriages end in divorce. No matter the breakdown between legitimate divorces and lazy divorces, no matter who's at fault and who's a victim, the sheer number of divorces suggests we don't view marriage as terribly sacred.
b) Marriages are not only ending in divorce, but they're getting less common period. Fewer people are getting married. And they're getting married later.
So straight people aren't exactly doing the sanctity argument proud. So really the only question is how would letting them gays git hitched make things any worse?
The argument I used to hear all the time (and which I suspect is still in a lot of people's minds) is that gay people are in it for the sex and are incapable of settling down with one partner for long. Even assuming that's true, let's just remember the hetero track record (see above) before we start throwing stones. But (the argument continues) they don't take marriage "seriously"! Well, why should they? What's their motivation to take it "seriously"?
As it ends up, those arguments are problematic anyway as it's pretty clear gay people want to get married. They want to make the same till-death commitment that differing-sex couples want to make. So what would happen if they were allowed to? Here's one possibility:
Now we're about to get to the data that's the true impetus of this post in the first place.
Ultimately, I think what is meant by the word "sanctity" in the phrase "sanctity of marriage" is "seriousness" --- "seriousness of marriage". People want marriage to be treated as a serious thing. A big deal. And I completely agree with that desire. I have it myself. But I fear that limiting marriage to differing-sex couples is having the opposite effect.
Now keep in mind that all the evidence I'm about to present is anecdotal; nothing scientific at all with what I'm about to say.
At the high school I teach at, marriage has lost its seriousness among the student body. Now, granted, they're still kids and marriage is not something they're apt to be thinking about seriously anyway. And the casualness and ubiquity of declaring others one's husband or wife just struck me as an amusing piece of campus culture. But then I started picking up other undercurrents that make me think there's something rather important going on.
I should say that while among part of the Little Hill student body there is still some rabid homophobia, generally, the students here have left that behind. All sexualities are created equal (more-or-less). The idea that some people can marry who they want and others can't is patently absurd to them. Laughably hilarious. Like the way they chortle unbelieving at whites-only drinking fountains or how Athenians looked down on Corinthians. These biases are so far from their own understanding that they can't take them seriously. (I'm not joking. I observed a US History class once and when a photo like this went up, all the students, white and black and other, openly scoffed it and doubted its veracity, even though they were studying the Civil Right Movement; on the one hand, yay! progress!; on the other hand, srsly?)
Anyway, here's the thing. Because marriage as currently constituted makes about sense to these kids as not allowing a Corinthian to date your daughter, they just can't take marriage seriously. In other words, restricting marriage to those of differing sex is lessening the seriousness of marriage for the upcoming generation.
In other words, it is lessening the sanctity of marriage.
And here's the thing. If marriage is so all-fired important (and it is), then shouldn't we want its sanctity to grow? Shouldn't we want as many people to buy in to this society-bedrocking institution as possible? And isn't something that makes people dismiss marriage as a silly anachronism counterproductive?
Because I fear that will ultimately be the primary legacy of a long, drawn-out war against same-sex marriage.
Less marriage and less respect for marriage.
So if we want to preserve the sanctity of marriage, we need to fight this entropy. And what better way to do that than to get as many serious, committed people married as possible?
Either way of course we'll have unintended consequences. But the one's I'm seeing now are worrying.
What think ye?
This is the rough draft of my introduction. It's a thousand words, so I will feel absolutely okay about speaking as quickly as I can. I do feel a little weird about not saying Jesus once in the entire talk, but I think he will forgive me. If I accomplish my goal, it will work out.
I haven’t often been asked to speak in church about controversial Broadway musicals—mostly, I think, because I don’t really like most musicals. I mean—Wicked about bored me to tears. And so I hope Frank won’t mind.
I’m just kidding of course. The musical’s supposed to be entertaining and everyone knows the real Book of Mormon is boring, or, in the words of Mark Twain, chloroform in print. Or, to quote the New Yorker review of the musical, “The actual Book of Mormon, whose hieroglyphs Smith ‘translated’ while peering at peep stones in the bottom of his hat, lives up to Edmund Wilson’s estimation of it as ‘a farrago of balderdash.’”
But let me tell you something: you bring that attitude to me and I will slap you. And I can do it. Unlike when I’m teaching school, no one can fire me if I slap you here. Because here’s the thing: the Book of Mormon is not boring. If you find it boring, you’re reading it wrong. But don’t worry. I’m here to help.
First, let me say that we generally find what we’re looking for when we read a book. Edmund Wilson—the guy who called the Book of Mormon “a farrago of balderdash” also dismissed Tolkien as “juvenile trash” and Lovecraft as “hackwork.” He lacked the capacity to read work outside his established tastes. And most haters aren’t likely to have taken the book seriously on its own merits. If you think Mark Twain read even 10% of the Book of Mormon you are nuts.
So this is my thesis. While sure, yes, the Book of Mormon is the the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion and you’ll get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book, okay, that doesn’t do you any good at all if you don’t read it. Think of Parley P. Pratt. The first time he held the book in his hands, “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep. As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.”
So look. I don’t want to take away from that. From Moroni’s promise that when you read it God will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Nothing I say will be more important than that. You have to read, you have to pray, etc, but FIRST YOU MUST READ.
And I want to help make that happen.
First, you should know I’m not a big rereader. As I was preparing this talk, I realized this may be Harry Potter’s fault. I got so sick of trying to reread them in time for each new release that eventually I called it quits. And I’ve hardly reread anything since. Yet I keep working on the Book of Mormon. Mostly, sure, because it’s supposed to be good for me, but that reasoning hasn’t gotten me to read Proust yet. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be able to convince myself.
Yet—let’s face it—no matter how compelling a book, you can burn out on it. Especially if it’s a chore—at-least-one-chapter-a-night. That will never work.
Now join me in 1998. I’m off my mission, living in a Provo apartment. I’ve read the Book of Mormon at least half a dozen times by this point and kinda feel like I got it. You could give me any chapter in the Book of Mormon (Alma 12! Ether 6!) and I could tell you what it was about. Probably can’t do that anymore, but I sure could then.
Result being? I was in dire risk of getting bored.
Then I happened across an article about how Maori Saints read the Book of Mormon. And guess what? They read it completely differently than we do. They ignore those chapters and verses and read it for epic generations-spanning story. This idea was wild to me. I was taught to look at the verses as necessary and inspired breaks in the action. After all, when we read scriptures in Church, don’t we say read chapter x verse y and not worry so much about the surrounded verses or story? You bet we do.
Yet the chapters and verses as they exist in our current edition have nothing to do with the Golden Plates or the original translation. It’s just something Orson Pratt came up with in the 1870s. And, while I’m on the question of design, what’s the font? This font doesn’t look like fun at all. It looks . . . well, it doesn’t look “fun” anyway.
Anyway, so I tried to read the Book of Mormon Maori-style. As fast as I could so I wouldn’t get caught up on the chapters and verses. And you know what? It was a different experience.
Because unlike Parley P Pratt, we’ll never have the experience of coming to the Book of Mormon without ever having heard of it before. Whether you grew up with it or came to it later in life, you did not come to it without any bias. You can’t have that experience. You already think something about this book and the trick in enjoying reading it now is to somehow move beyond all we already know and come to it somehow fresh, somehow willing to experience something new.
For the rest of my talk, I’m going to share with you examples. I’ve got them all here and I’ll move through them until we run out of time. At which point I will stop. I don’t know what order I’ll go it and I don’t know how many I’ll get through. But through them all, I want you to remember that the Book of Mormon can absolutely be an enjoyable read.
Some addition reading for examples I plan to be using:
The Book of Mormon - Artifact or Artifice?
The Book of Mormon, Redux
Could Feminism Have Saved the Nephites?
Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide
The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition
And as long as I'm selling books in this svithe (generally something I NEVER do), here are two excellent novels I was thinking about using for examples of Card's ideas:
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel
And, in closing, you may also flit off to the last svithe posted.
I'm at a retreat right now with the English department. We're hashing out curriculum for next year and other equally exciting things. The nice thing is being three days in Point Reyes and getting paid for it. That is good. The bad thing is spending three days of my summer vacation without Lady Steed. That's a total bummer.
Yesterday was the summer solstice and just down the road from us is a nonadvertised but famous-among-NorCal-hippies solstice party at a commune with "Solstice" in its name. One of my fellow teachers is an annual attendee since the early days of the party. Back when you could park at the party. Not when you had to park a couple miles away and take a shuttle in.
Anyway, she was stoked that she could do both the retreat and the party and invited us to attend with her. I was happy because this meant I would get to stay alone at our house and get some editing done. Somehow I ended up going instead. Not sure how I decided to do that. I guess a lifetime of spoilsporting is finally catching up with me.
Anyway, we get there, park, cram into a van (total occupancy: 23 people), pass a cop who pointedly looks away, arrived at the party. Learn this thing costs twenty bucks. Well forget it. I don't pay to go to parties. For a number of reasons. 1. I don't like parties. 2. I don't like lots of people. 3. I don't do booze nor week. 4. I've never paid for a party in my life. 5. Twenty bucks? Are you kidding me? 6. I'm not fun and will not be having fun and I could be having fun more productively for free. 7. I could go on.
Anyway, because my fellow teacher is a longtime attendee or whatever, somehow I get in free. I first go to the drum circle which is a bunch of hippies and nearhippies surrounding a fire and listening to drums and guitar and digerridoo and singing about Mother Earth as the spirit strikes them. I like drums. This is okay. It's just another religion and I try to attend other religion's services now and then.
The three teachers I'm with find me at the drum circle. We leave and pass the Goddess of Pee (a special tent built over a trench for ladies to pee in) and go into the house where we take off our shoes and meet the guys who had just uploaded this video to Vimeo and submitted it to a film festival. As we were leaving the house, we discovered that the band had started playing (called, I believe, Hansoleia --- clearly a Mos Eisley Cantina houseband coverband). They were good and they were loud and I pretty much got the idea.
Then we passed by the food (mostly raw vegan, but also a venison stew) to the hot tub where people were trying to get stoned and drunk enough to take their clothes off. (This finally happened about ten minutes later, just as we were about to leave the area.) We hit the drum circle one more time then split with our guide and waited for a shuttle to take us back. While we waited we hung with the firemen who had come with their ambulance to check out some dude's chest pains.
Then I drove us back (yes: you had better believe *I* drove us back) so we could get enough sleep to get our final ten hours of work in tomorrow.
And that's pretty much the story.
And I have to say: parties are so boring. I just don't get the appear. Noise and crowds and this desperate need for fun. My favorite part? Coming back into our place with two other guys I like and talking about music and film and teaching for an hour or two. That's my idea of a party. People I like.
(Incidentally, Lady Steed attended just such a party this same night with people I like even more. Wish I could have been there.....)
I had never imagined buying glasses online before reading this New Yorker article. It seemed crazy. Crazy! Yet . . . . They were happy with 39dollarglasses.com and 39dollars? That's cheap. Crazy, hella, wildly, worth-the-risk cheap. So I decided to do it (though months passed before Little Lord Steed destroyed by scratchless glasses and forced my hand).
I stayed up late April 26, finally pressing order just after midnight into April 27. The receipt email came and I didn't bother looking too closely. Just archived it and went to bed. Which was a shame because when my glasses finally arrived (later than I expected, but that would only be a problem if I were blind without my specs; they shipped May 3), the second pair (the sunglasses, luckily), had the wrong prescription. I have no idea how this happened as I'm quite certain I only entered one prescription during the ordering process, but the initial email they sent me listed different prescriptions for the two pairs, so if I'd been a little more paranoid, I might have noticed before they mailed me my order. I refuse to accept blame for this of course (of course), but it's worth mentioning.
I received the lenses and wrote them back about the wrong pair promptly:
- Hello. First, thanks for the terrific shopping experience and the good-looking glasses that came in the mail yesterday and the handy little bags for keeping them in. Those I was not expecting.
I do have an issue I need help with though. The prescription on one of the two pairs (the sunglasses) is wrong --- makes things look like I'm underwater.
Can you help me get those fixed?
Having sent the sunglasses back, things began to get interesting. Here's our exchange (minus intros and outros):
- June 7 Thank you for choosing 39dollarglasses.com. Your order was inspected by our lab and has passed inspection. If you feel that the prescription was made in error, please advise. We can return the glasses to you with a Prescription Verification Form to take to your doctor to have inspected. If you would like to change your frames or your lens package, please advise us of your new selections. Please contact us on how you would like to proceed with your order. You can contact us at 800-672-6304 or through Live Chat Support or E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- June 7 You've got to be joking. You sent me two pairs of glasses. One pair works. I'm wearing it every day. The other pair made me feel like I was under water. So the problem is not the prescription (both glasses have the same precription), the problem is the lenses. Please check again.
- June 8 Thank you for contacting us. The prescription that is entered on your order from online order placement was correctly processed through our lab. We have noticed that the prescription on the second pair (Tivoli) is different then the prescription that you ordered on the first pair (Gramercy). Please advise if the prescriptions are supposed to be the same. If so, we can process a no cost remake and remake the glasses for you in to the correct prescription. Please advise.
- June 8 Thank you. They are meant to be the same. Since I only entered one prescription when making my order, I'm perplexed how the mixup happened and thank you for the correction.
- June 9 Thank you for choosing 39dollarglasses.com. We do apologize. We have noted your account. You should receive your new order number shortly for the remake of your order. Once the new order is placed, production will take about 4-6 business days for completion, pending final inspection.
But the same day I received that last email, I also received a new receipt email for the new order of the original glasses. And June 14 I received an email saying they had shipped. And I received them on June 16. Happy ending.
Mostly. It was, of course, fifty (50) days between placing the original order and getting the second pair of glasses, which seems an unconscionably long time. And they didn't, you know, offer to upgrade my lens package for the inconvenience.
But I've thought it over and decided I don't mind. After all, it was midnight. There's some room for reasonable doubt over whether or not the screwup was my fault. And, on top of that, they threw in some of the nicer hardshell cases I've ever received, a nice microfiber cloth for each pair (since I didn't send this back, I ended up with three of these), a nice keychain glasses screwdriver set (ditto here), and a bag for keeping the glasses in which I love (except that they are the most invisible beige color I've ever [not] seen --- I lose my glasses even more often than usual, now).
Plus, the two pairs of glasses, combined, cost me $70.95 (most glasses at the site are $39, but not all, including, as in my case, tinted-lens packages). Which is utterly unbeatable.
So in the end I am a satisfied customer. I've always wished I could afford to own several pairs of glasses.
It appears I may have finally arrived.
A frustrating disappointment from a beloved author. A glorious revelation from a writer I've only known by reputation. An okay book from a famous author. And a book I'm not going to talk about. Let's get started.
Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card, finished June 10
In the afterword, Card spends a lot of ink talking about how rushed this book was. Now granted, his rhetoric tries to emphasize that thanks to a lot of awesome people a book he could be proud of was the result of this rush job, but that seems like a distractor. This book was a rushjob and it shows.
In some respects, Ender in Exile is nothing more than an extended epilogue---a seeming attempt to tie up loose ends in Ender's Game and the Shadow series with some fun story mixed in for leaven.
But even worse than the tying-up of loose ends, Ender in Exile is guilty of the epiloguey crime of Making Sure the Stupid Audience Doesn't Miss All These Important Themes I the Author Wish to Teach Them. And that is just obnoxious.
This sin is mostly committed in a bunch of overlong letters (mostly prefacing chapters as we've seen in previous books) as one character or another gives us, the dense readership, lessons in the importance of monogamy, the roles of fathers and mothers, etc. Or, given how dense we are, the letters also provide the opportunity for characters to not only spell out philosophy, but also to sum up The Plot To This Point in case we haven't been able to connect the dots ourselves. This is infuriating.
Speaking of philosophy though, the book also lets various characters shoot wise phrases at us. This is something that drove me nuts about Shadow Puppets as well (easily the weakest of the other Shadow books --- and the first two had been unendingly brilliant!); that Card has apparently reached a point where his desire to preach overcomes his desire to tell his story makes me sad.
But of course this also fits in with an even larger philosophy that is treated bludgeoning clarity in Exile: Great Man Theory. If one takes this book as philosophical tract (and that's easier to do than to take it as a novel), then it is an episodic proof of the theory. History happens because some really smart people made it happen.
This is all but spelled out at the end of the penultimate chapter (reproduced here with spoiler-causing details removed:
- "How can I undo this?" . . .
- "You can't. . . . If you hadn't . . . somebody else would have. . . . It would have happened without you."
- "But it didn't happen without me . . . ."
And part of the book can be interpreted as comedic episodes which exist purely to let stupid people stand next to smart people thus demonstrating their stupidity. It gets tiresome, this parade of genius and the stupids they must outsmart.
And then there are the characters whose main purpose seems to be either to overexplain former books' loose ends or to provide future sequel opportunities.
When Card is doing his best work, he's one of the best writers in the English language.
And now I know he's capable of opening a book with clunky, emotionless, expository dialogue, and continuing to the end with mere moments of entertainment hidden within philosophical tract. It's rather depressing.
But fans should still read it. I haven't finished a book this quickly in a long time. Even though I was frustrated and disappointed throughout, I still had to keep reading. So there's that.
But if you're looking to read a Card book this year, I suggest revisiting Ender's Game. All the cool kids are doing it.
eleven days (although on the first day I read one page and the next six I read zero)
044) Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976 by E.B. White (edited by Rebecca M. Dale), finished June 7
This book is entering the rare collection of books Worthy for Permanent Inclusion on the Nightstand. A book made of bitesize pieces of joy and beauty and capable of being read over and over without becoming dull. This book can be read in sips (many of the selections are but a paragraph or two) or in great long draughts and enjoyed either way. This book makes an excellent friend and travel companion. Buy it.
Seriously. This books so filled with bon mots you'll be smacking strangers demanding they listen to this! because man alive but this White fellow knows his way around a sentence!
Don't deny yourself this experience.
long time --- maybe eight months?
043) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, finished May 31
Not at all difficult to see why this book was a big deal in 1969. A sexless alien society receives a representative from our sexist worlds. And while the underlying ideas are still striking, it's also true that many of the books details have not aged well. In just forty years we've moved farther from 1969 than Le Guin expected would happen in over twenty-five hundred years.
My other large complaint about the book is the way it cobbles together primary documents to tell its story. I've nothing against the technique itself (it's as old as the novel as an artform), but she uses Estraven's diary as a way to pass through long boring stretches and to provide us with some philosophy. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Her sin is in making the diary entries drag. They get, you see, boring. And that's not okay.
Other than that, the story's pretty good. It uses a lot of tropes that have become a bit tired (I'm guessing they weren't in 1969 as the novel won both the Hugo and the Nebula, but since there are rather obvious echoes of Asimov's Foundation books written in the '40s and '50s) so I have to recommend getting to the books early in your specfic reading career.
The real question to answer in this review though is will I read more books in the Hainish cycle?
I think I will. At least one more. And then I'll decide whether to read the rest.
under two weeks
042) Unnamed book by unnamed client (MS POLICY),
finished May 27
Previously in 2011 . . . . :
041) Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley, finished May 14
040) Scott Pilgrim Versus The Unverse by Bryan Lee O'Malley, finished May 14
039) Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together by Bryan Lee O'Malley, finished May 13
037) The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse, finished May 11
036) Scott Pilgrim Versus The World by Bryan Lee O'Malley
035) Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
034) The Complete Peanuts 1975-1976 by Charles M. Schulz, finished May 1
033) Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli finished approximately April 27
032) Golden Gate by Seth Vikram, finished April 20
031) Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope, finished April 18
030) The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, finished April 9
029) iZombie: Dead to the World by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, finished April 2
028) A Sense of Order and Other Stories by Jack Harrell, finished April 1
027) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, finished March 30
026) The Black Dogs by Ian McEwan, finished March 21
025) Stitches by David Small, finished March 20
024) Arkham Asylum: Madness by Sam Kieth, finished January 19 or 20
023) Hamlet by William Shakespeare, finished March 18
022) Red Rocket 7 by Mike Allred, finished March 10
021) Missile Mouse: Rescue on Tankium3 by Jake Parker, finished March 10
020) The Hotel Cat by Esther Averill, finished February 28
019) Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew, finished February 21
018) Redcoat by Kohl Glass (MS POLICY), finished February 18
017) Best American Comics 2010 edited by Neil Gaiman, finished February 12
016) Little Bee by Chris Cleave, finished February 10
015) Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, finished February 2
014) Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition Vol. I by Jeremy Bastian, finished January 31
013) Sweet Tooth: In Captivity by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
012) Sweet Tooth: Out of the Woods by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
011) Essex County: The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire, finished January 30
010) Essex County: Ghost Stories by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29
009) Essex County: Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire, finished January 29
008) Magdalene by Morah Jovan, finished January 27
007) Knightfall Part Two: Who Rules the Night by a slew of DC folk, finished January 23
006) Bayou by Jeremy Love, finished January 17
005) Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, finished January 10
004) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, finished January 6
003) The Mystery of the Dinosaur Graveyard by Mary Adrian, finished January 5
002) Batman - Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by John Wagner and Alan Grant and Simon Bisley, with lettering by the famous Todd Klein; finished January 4
001) Batman: Venom by Dennis O'Neil et al, finished January 2
Family Radio's website has undergone a major redesign since the Rapture came and went (it didn't use to be this ugly, actually). What stuck me most on this visit however (I haven't been since about May 19 when I listened to a lecture by Gunther von Harringa Sr while fiddling around online) was the Scripture of the Week:
- Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; [and] quicken thou me in thy way. (Psalm 119:37)
I've mentioned on Twitter and IRL that I actually rather like Family Radio, Harold Camping's show in particular (or did, that is, until it became All Rapture All the Time --- that I found tedious).
But in their defense, I did find some of there arguments about why no-man-knows-the-hour was not a final statement compelling. And obviously I accept the idea of God being free to tell us whatever the heck he wants. So I'm cautious about saying the lesson of May 21 is that these guys are nimrods. Yes, I suspect their vanity and self-importance let them move from the premise We Are Wiser than Other People and the wish I Want to See This Myself to wresting scripture, but let's not lose sight of the hope they brought to this endeavor.
Even people dismissed as cranks have positive things to teach us. Let's look for those things.
And let's try not to laugh. From the right vantage point, we all look a little ridiculous.
Note: I did not start this svithe intending to preach love and reconciliation where no such call is required. However, I tend to suspect that whatever place I end up in a svithe is the place I needed to travel to. If it's an inappropriate destination for you, I apologize. You can get a full refund at the ticket counter.
Besides the fact that she's a girl and makes a delightful form of folkpop, Katie Herzig has another little trick she pulls that makes her much most singalongable than the average bear.
She sometimes uses phrases we already know --- musically but more often lyrically --- to give us immediate buy-in.
From her best-known example "Forevermore", which borrows straight from an old nursery rhyme to the opening line of "How the West Was Won" to the string of known phrases in "I Will Follow": "One step forward two steps back / So funny I forgot to laugh". But none of this would work if the music didn't make familiar lines not merely familiar, but newly familiar and newly known and newly beloved.
Listen to a couple songs then get the album. See what I mean.
(Note: YouTube's blocked at work, so this first video's actually a Target ad. Sorry. And the second one's just squiggly lines. Sorry.)
I know I know I know. I've gotten terribly behind in my Dialogue-fiction reviews, so I'm just going to declare bankrupcy and start with the new issue edited by Steve Peck, BYU professor, Monsters and Mormons contributor, Dialogues's science editor and guest-editor of this issue themed on the environment.
The stories, however, seemed to have missed the theme memo. We can still talk about them though.
"The Birth of Tragedy" by Hugo Olaiz
This is one of the finest story openings I've read in a long time. A goodly number of characters brought to life in just four pages with depth and complexity and sincerity. And then the protagonist is brought to the crisis we knew must come, and then we are given some artsiness and a quotation from an obscure-to-the-layman German play first performed in 1800, and the story is over with not only no resolution but no climax even. We're cut off before The Good Stuff, plotwise.
Which isn't to say I didn't like it. As I said, this is a terrific bunch of characters (a boy raised both Episcopalian and Mormon, his crazy thespian aunt, his gay RM brother and his academic boyfriend, the surface-oriented bishop-in-waiting) interacting through fun-to-read dialogue and dressed up with the best sort of window dressing (food-based metaphors, fun!facts! on stage blood, useful German vocabulary, visionary episodes) --- all in four pages! So, in fact, I enjoyed the story very much.
I'm merely disappointed it decided to finish up with the most generic of capital-L literary sins: quitting before The Good Stuff.
But please: read the first paragraph:
- “Is Mormonism still part of your Weltanschauung?” Aunt Doris asks me every time she sees me. She knows that at 2:15 on Sunday afternoons I’m blessing the sacrament like any other Mormon priest, even though I can be found Sunday mornings at St. James Episcopal helping administer the chalice—“the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in life everlasting”—and sometimes I even help lay out the cups and saucers for coffee hour. When I drive from St. James to Sacramento Second Ward, it’s like reversing the wedding at Cana—the wine becomes water, the priestly robes turn into dark suits, and the emaciated body of Christ, which at St. James is a wafer, miraculously rises to the texture of Wonder Bread. “That’s the way our parents brought us up,” I tell Aunt Doris for the millionth time. Dad is Mormon and Mom is Episcopalian, so my brother Steve and I were born Mormon-Episcopalians. Five years ago, Steve decided he wanted to be only a Mormon, which Mom and Dad said was fine; but after his mission, he moved in with his boyfriend Ramón, and now he says he’s neither.
"American Trinity" by David G. Pace
I realized in the first sentence this was a Three Nephites story and all I can say is brilliant. We should tap into this stuff more often (and Dialogue did it well recently with Roger Terry's "Eternal Misfit"). One great thing about how Pace introduces the Three Nephites is his casualness. He feels no need to beat us over the head with it---just lets us figure it out on our own. (Well, almost, but when he does finally drop the phrase "Three Nephites", the syntax is such not to draw undue attention.)
I couldn't read this story without comparing it to a Johnny Townsend 3N story I recently read (review coming to Motley Vision . . . someday). Like that story, this one makes them humans with human issues and feelings, and not gods---which is sensible, if not how they exist in the popular imagination. Like that story, sometimes the dialogue gets clunky and inelegant. Which is a problem, because as well as the story started, it doesn't quite meet that promise as it progresses.
Here's the issue: The story wants to be two things at once. It wants to be a deeply personal story of an immortal man. And it wants to be a compact series of philosophical, literary, historical and theological arguments. And that's too much. Honestly, I wouldn't mind the arguments if they a) didn't require the stopping of action for long discussions and b) were as beautifully written as the story portions of this story. Because the story is gorgeously written.
Here's another first paragraph for you:
- The other two are more patient than I am. They bide their time. What’s worse, Jonas is always telling me that I am shirking my duty. I haven’t talked to him in over a century. Hundred and fifty years the last time I talked to Kumen. Even though I have returned tomy mission of wandering and ministering, both would insist I’ve lost the spirit of the assignment. I avoid them now. I was just coming out of the Empire Theatre in Old New York when I last talked to Jonas. Word must have gotten out. Like myself, Jonas was dressed as a patron in tuxedo and gloves. Courtly old Jonas. “I like the collapsible opera hat,” I told him. “Nice touch.”
Even though I have had negative things to say about both stories, my final impression of both stories is very, very favorable. I recommend both. Even the elements I did not care for I can readily recognize may be someone else's favorites. There is certainly room for disagreement here. And I hope you will.
The first prompt I gave to the art group I frequent was successful enough that they haven't needed another one since! (Yes, that is the appropriate way to interpret events.) Which means this one I brainstormed tonight won't be needed. So I give it to you. You need something to create around and this should work.
"Summertime" is the name of a number of great songs. Here are two of my favorite (recommendation --- just listen --- don't let the images define what you create):
Or, if none of those do it for you, here are some more.
I'm sure you've heard that I devote a goodly amount of my time to the Mormon arts community. I promote folks' work here and at Motley Vision and, newly, at Linescratchers (not to mention frequent tweets on the subject). And if you've paid really close attention, you'll know that I was once burned by another player in the community and so I try to be supertransparent so no one I work with will ever feel burned.
But guess what? I've failed. Now there's a young Mormon artist out there who hates me, who thinks I attempted to take advantage of him, that I mocked him, who thinks I'm pretty much a grade-A bastard. And while I'm used to being thought a grade-A bastard (I teach high school, after all), his final email has really been eating at me. And I think I've figured out why:
What if this interaction has damaged the community?
I don't want out failure to communicate to result in one more hater who thinks Mormons can't succeed in the arts. One more bloke who thinks the community is filled with amateurs and fools and, yes, grade-A bastards. What if this animosity drips into other realms and I end up meeting people (in my community!) who enter their first conversation with a sure and certain knowledge that Theric is a grade-A bastard?
I know that it's impossible to get through life without causing and receiving offense and I don't see much reason to let this bother me, but it is bothering me. It is. But I don't see any possible way for me to fix the breach. If he's decided I'm a snake, no apology will be taken seriously. Add to that the fact that I don't feel much guilt (I thought I was being helpful and forthright, no matter how he interpreted my intentions) and I don't see anyway to solve this problem. A couple more night's sleep and I won't think about it much anymore, and I hope the same is true of him. I don't feel animosity when I think of him or our exchanges. Just sadness.
I just feel sad.