Day: 12/03/2012

Introducing Kaity Michelle’s Photography

Okay, she’s my granddaughter, but even so, ever since I gave her a camera when she was maybe 11? She’s been getting better and better until finally, I realized she needed a real camera and thus inherited my Canon, then got the next lens for the following Christmas. This is the first time she has “gone public” with her photography being rather shy … but she’s got a good eye. If she’s this good at 16 and keeps at it, she will be even better in years to come.

Of all the gifts I ever gave her, the cameras are the ones about which I am most pleased. Photography is something that as a hobby or more than a hobby becomes part of your life. You never outgrow it; you never get too old to enjoy it.

You will find Kaity Michelle’s Photography on Facebook. Please take a moment to go look.

Sometimes grand-parenthood is satisfying indeed. This is one of those times!!

We live in a nation of laws … even when it’s not easy or convenient.

Today I read a rant on Facebook by someone who still can’t accept the cruel reality that the election ended and his candidate lost. He declares that President Barack Obama is not his president, will never be his president. As if he gets to pick his own personal President, separate from the inconvenience of a legal election.

Flag

I feel obliged to point out that if you are an American citizen, the legally elected President of the United States is your President, whether you like him, voted for him — or not. If you are unhappy with the results of the election and you are a citizen of this nation, you have only two choices.

  1. Obey the laws of this country including accepting the duly elected President as your President and as your Commander-in-Chief.
  2. Abandon your identity as an American, renounce your citizenship, and move to another country if you can find one that will have you.

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There is no other choice until 2016 and there’s no guarantee that you’ll like the results of that election any better than you liked this one. Until then, Barack Obama is your president, my president, and the President of every other citizen of this country. You do not have a choice. This is a nation of laws which we follow even when it’s not convenient or easy. That is the price you pay for living in a democracy.

You cannot claim to be a patriot while simultaneously rejecting our system of government. I have lived through presidencies of men I thoroughly disliked, for whom I didn’t vote, and who I thought were harming our nation and myself, but I never had the temerity– or disrespect — to declare that the President wasn’t my President.

I believe in our system of government, laws, and justice system. It’s not perfect, but it’s way better than most. I don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t wrap myself in the flag. I just follow the laws, try to work within the system to effect change. I vote. I don’t trust people who make a big fuss about how patriotic they are. The more noise they make, the more I wonder what they are hiding.

I’m fed up with self-declared patriots who are not merely unpatriotic, but actually treasonous. If you don’t like our system of government, go somewhere you like better, but don’t tell me you’re a patriot. You’re not.

Living up to myself …

To say that I’m not competitive is untrue. I don’t compete much with other people, but I am forever in competition with myself. Even when I play games, I tend to be unconcerned with whether I win or lose, much more interested in if I’ve beaten my own best score, or my highest word score (Scrabble addicts unite!). When I write, aside from the endless typos that are the bane of my life and which seem to fall out of my fingers like rain on a spring day, I’m always trying to write that perfect sentence, to clarify a thought, to come up with a new way of approaching an old subject.

Scrabble

Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes not. Even though I try, I do fail. Not everything achieves a level that I consider acceptable. I don’t believe “trying your best” is enough. Where I come from, trying is assumed, expected, and automatic. Of course you try: it’s succeeding that counts. I know I’m not alone in this. This is an attitude that crosses class, religious, and ethnic borders. If you come from that kind of family, nothing less than your best effort is acceptable. No one gives you pats on the back for doing what’s expected. Even success is measured by degrees. Passing is nothing to be proud of (except, for me, in anything involving numbers where I was grateful for a D).

I didn’t get a lot of applause for my efforts in school, probably because I didn’t try hard. School — aside from math — was easy. I could get Bs or As on almost anything with very little effort and I could bullshit my way out of most of my classes, making a tiny bit of knowledge sound like a lot more. Until the day I met one special professor who saw through me and changed everything. For the first time, my excellent writing was unable to mask my underlying ignorance. He gave me the only double grade I ever received: D/A+ … the D for content, the A+ for style. I loved him. He saw me — all of me — and no one else had ever done that, not family, friends, or teachers.

He forced me to dig in and do the research, to not graze across the top, but delve into important underlying concepts. When I had an epiphany and handed in a final paper that consisted of 30 pages of free verse, I got an A on that because, he said, I obviously had “got it.” It was education turned upside down for me and those lessons changed my world.

I have never since been satisfied by glossing over the surface without looking underneath. I turn over rocks to see what crawls out because if you just look at the rocks, you never see the snakes and scorpions. If you look at the covers and don’t read the books, you don’t really know anything and sometimes, even that’s not enough. Sometimes nothing is enough, but at the very least, I understand that I have to make that effort to see the whole thing, top and bottom.

Vines and a wall - Marilyn Armstrong

This is one of those non news days. I’m disinclined to talk about my personal woes. It’s easier to deal with concepts and abstractions, with ideas than all the stuff that accompanies getting older without necessarily becoming wiser. As someone said long ago, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.”

So I’ll keep on keeping on, hoping to find things to talk about that are interesting to me and hopefully, to you. I don’t have a single focus. I can’t just do photography or movies or politics. I’ve always been interested in too many things. It’s a curse and a gift to see the world as a tapestry, connected by strands running every which way. Pull on one and others unravel, and you never know till you give it a tug, what will unravel. Beware of pulling loose strings. One tug and your sweater is just yarn.

The arts and science and politics and history and everything else are all one thing, all part of this big picture. Everything and everyone is connected, somehow. If only we could find those connections, perhaps we could start to fix things.

Have a great week!

Don’t forget to include a plot …

Last night, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – Restored Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray. I bought it a while ago and we’ve been planning to watch it, but we just hadn’t gotten around to it. Last night, we settled in and remembered why it’s such a great movie, such a wonderful story. It is close to the top of our favorite movie list for a bunch of reasons. The brilliant acting, the story. Gregory Peck in his defining role, a role he chose for himself because in many way, he was Atticus Finch.

This is one of those rare movies where the pieces fit, the story flows. It never hits a false note. It takes its time. It’s about justice and injustice, racism, the legal system. It’s also about family and love, relationships, coming of age and learning the world is a bigger, better and worse place than you imagined.

Front CoverCoincidentally, my granddaughter has been assigned by her high school’s freshman English teacher to read the book. She thinks it’s boring, and although I don’t agree with her, I understand that her world is very far removed from the world of Mockingbirdso far that she can’t relate to it. She’s coming into adulthood in a world where the President is black, where very white grandma is married to a brown man, her brother is engaged to a woman of color and moreover, no one thinks there’s anything odd about any of this.

She’s the generation in which everything has been instant. You don’t have to read to research. You just Google it. There’s no time for books that move slowly in a less hurried world. Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked as often as they drove, maybe more. Food grows as often in a garden, as a grocery. The world was segregated and sharply separated by class, religion, ethnicity. Compared to the world in Mockingbird, our sleepy little town is a metropolitan hub. KK cannot relate to that world and has no patience to discover it.

I understand why she feels the way she does, but I wish it were different.

At the same time, I’m involved in a project that requires I read 27 books that are considered among the best fiction of 2012. I’m not sure on what basis these choices are made, what the criteria are. The books are all fiction, but genres vary from historical mystery to science fiction, to feel-good Hallmark Channel romance. Most, however, are detailed descriptions of miserable people living wretched lives while treating each other badly. Out of 27 books, I have so far slogged my way through 20 of them. I’m becoming alarmed. If this is the best of American fiction, what’s the worst?

All the books in this group that would be considered “serious literature.” The stories don’t seem to contain any special meaning or any lessons. Nothing much happens except that everyone is unhappy and as the book goes on, they all become even unhappier.

The books are written well, if by “well” you mean good grammar and properly constructed sentences. They offer slices of lives we are glad we don’t live. They lack plots, action, or any reason I — or you — would want to read them. The authors appear to be trying to do what Harper Lee did … recreate a world, a time, a place. But Harper Lee also had a story to tell. Things happened, actual events occurred. There were bad people, but good people, too. The story includes ugliness, but also characters worthy of admiration. Atticus Finch is a great man, a fighter for truth and justice. The world is a better place because he is in it.to-kill-a-mockingbird2_9855

But these new authors don’t get it. They have forgotten a book is more than description. It needs to tell a story, to involve readers, to draw them in. If my granddaughter is finding To Kill A Mockingbird dull, it’s hard to imagine her enjoying any of these new books. They may describe a world she recognizes, but they are unlikely to lure her into wanting to partake of them.

It’s no wonder that the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and so on. We have lost touch with the entertainment function of serious literature. If a book makes us think, teaches us, provides moral guidance, delves into serious issues, it should also make us laugh and cry, take us out of our ordinary lives. The magic of any good book is that it lets us become part of other lives and see the world through their eyes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have my standards. I don’t read books that don’t meet them.

First and foremost, I want a story. I want a plot I can follow and I want something to happen. I don’t want to just hear what people are thinking. I want them to also do something. I want to meet characters who develop and grow. I can cope with bad guys, but I need heroes too. I am glad to learn, I’m glad to be enlightened, but I also want to be absorbed and entertained. Otherwise, it isn’t a novel: it’s a textbook or maybe a sermon.

I bet there are great authors out there writing terrific books who can’t get them published. For anyone who has tried to get a book published … or even read … you know what a battle it is. Manuscripts are submitted electronically and screened  by software looking for keywords. If you can’t write a proposal containing the right words, your manuscript will never be read by a human being. Using software to judge literature is probably why so many of these books are so dreadful. Human beings should judge literature, not computers. Computers don’t read books. People read books.

Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee … none of them would get their books read much less published today. Unless we want all our literature to consist of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries — if we want any other kind of literature worth reading — it’s time to take a few chances and publish books that people will enjoy. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I grew up reading all kinds of books. I miss books that take place on this planet, in this world, in my lifetime and don’t necessarily involve magic, time travel, cops, serial killers, courts, vampires, or terrorists. Surely there are stories about our world worth publishing.

Publish more interesting books and I bet we’ll have more interested readers.

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