Let Me Count the Ways

I am not certain I ever heard the name Harvey Weinstein before October 5, when The New York Times published its initial exposé of sexual-misconduct allegations and hush-money payoffs. Nor have I followed the increasing media firestorm with any interest though the story is impossible to avoid, even on my medium of choice, National Public Radio. I simply don’t care about  Harvey Weinstein or the women crawling out of the Hollywood woodwork with their stories in some cases over thirty years old, often detailing advances they rejected.

However, this tawdry story contains many elements that I do care about–and care about deeply. Let me count the ways. Continue reading

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Naming Evil

Fleeing the violence in Las Vegas, October 1, 2017/David Becker/Getty Images

I write today in the bloody wake of the most recent in an increasingly frequent series of mass killings–this time, the deaths of 58 country music fans at the hands of a gunman poised 32 floors above the concert venue with an arsenal of 23 weapons and a meticulous plan to wreak the most carnage in the least amount of time. As is their custom, the news media first headlined the numbers of deaths. When I awoke on Monday, the number killed was reported to be 20; by the time I left for work, it was over 50. As soon as that number rose above 49, with the ardor and precision of baseball statisticians, the sensation-mongers scurried to name this massacre the “deadliest shooting in modern US history”–with “since 1949” cleverly hidden in the fine print. And they printed top-ten lists and maps with clever computer graphics to illustrate the horror. Continue reading

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Something Old

I still have the tattered Golden Book of Nursery Tales (1948) and Mother Goose Book of Nursery Rhymes (1953) presented to me at birth. At a time in my life when preserving the past evidently mattered less to me, I removed the covers and added my own crayon and pen illustrations to those of Tibor Gergely, whose images are for me the definitive Mama Bear and Papa Bear, City Mouse and Country Mouse, Three Little Pigs and Big Bad Wolf. Continue reading

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Viewing the Eclipse with the Sororal Twins

I was ten years old when I made a pinhole projector from a shoebox for my first solar eclipse on July 20, 1963. It reached a mere 30% totality over Globe, Arizona, but I was a curious child, and seeing that moon shadow as it bit even a small piece out of the sun’s globe was exciting enough for me to remember more than five decades later. Sadly, I must have become too jaded to watch the handful of solar eclipses in the 54-year interval. Or maybe it was cloudy; I was living in North Carolina for most of them, after all. But when I learned well over a year ago about the August 21 total eclipse practically in my own back yard, I got the fever. I determined that I would get reservations for South Carolina far in advance and be able to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event in comfort and firsthand. Continue reading

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Charlottesville, Boston, Berkeley and the Desecration of the First Amendment

August 19, 2017
Speaking my mind today may be impolitic. However, because what I fear most is the silence following the premature death of the First Amendment, speak I must.

I am reminded of Paul’s recital of his unblemished pedigree: “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3: 5-6). I cannot claim so perfect a lineage. Mine is cobbled together, a denial of my birthright, a patchwork of personal choices in the quest to believe and do the right things. Continue reading

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Finding Community: Prayer, Love, Work, and the Liturgy

I must be clear that this all happened a week ago, July 30, eighth Sunday after Pentecost on the liturgical calendar–or kalendar, if we’re being precious–Year A, Track 2. Everything would have different had it not been this specific Sunday in this long green season of Ordinary Time.

Just before I left for church, I closed an email as follows: “Where do you worship now? I’m on my way to St. Michael’s as soon as I close. It’s hard to feel part of a community when no one knows my name.” For more than a year, that whimper of despair has become a common theme in my various forms of communication. I have been attending the same parish since February of 2012. I know the date because the church was close to Rex Hospital, in whose waiting rooms and bedside chairs I spent innumerable hours in the succeeding four years. As I left the altar after receiving the Holy Eucharist, I stopped at the healing station and asked for prayer on behalf of my husband, who was recovering from one in a long series of medical treatments. Combined with the magnificence of the stthe churchained glass, the organ, and the choir–and the spiritually and intellectually riveting sermon–this priestly laying on of hands led me to believe that I was home. Clearly, that was not the belief with which I set out last Sunday morning. Continue reading

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Erasing History: The 2017 Version

“In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on to the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square. That was the great turning point in the history of Bohemia. A fateful moment.

“Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close by him. It was snowing and cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. Bursting with solicitude, Clementis took off his fur hat and set it on Gottwald’s head.

“The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.

“Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history, and of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on that balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall. Nothing remains of Clementis but the fur hat on Gottwald’s head.”

                                                  —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgettingch. 1
*** Continue reading

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Truth, Lies, and Postmodern Possibilities: “Frantz” in Context

Seven years after the Armistice of 1918, Paris-born playwright Maurice Rostand published a three-act play, L’homme qui j’ai tué (The Man I Killed), about a Frenchman seeking forgiveness for killing a German soldier in the trenches of the Great War. Seven years later, Berlin-born Ernst Lubitsch directed an American film version of Rostand’s work, retitled Broken Lullaby to avoid spoiling the open secret of the story’s climax. And now, emerging from the long, century-old shadow of that war, Paris-born François Ozon renames the story yet again and retells it–mostly in German–from the perspective of the family of Frantz, the German pacifist soldier who was killed in Rostand’s titleAll these permutations result in Ozon’s 2017 Frantz, whose complexities take full advantage of the developments in film, in politics–and in philosophy–over the past one hundred years. Continue reading

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My Second-to-Last Conversation with My Father

March 16, 1981

Daddy and me | March 24, 1987

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I know the word penultimate. Yes, I have known since reading Strunk and White  that one word is always better than three, even when the three are hyphenated. But I received my inspiration for this post from a title I passed over fleetingly in the New Yorker daily feed, and I wanted to preserve the diction: “My Last Conversation and so on.” I actually went back and read it, and it was quite good. No, it was dazzling, in its straightforward and understated way.

I am not a journalist covering wars across the globe. And my father was even further from being a law professor. He was just a copper miner from Globe, Arizona (a crusher repairman and sometimes president of the local Steelworkers union), and I am just . . . well, I have been many small things, but mostly a teacher of writing and thinking. Nor was our second-to-last conversation dazzling in its understated but confusing and not-at-all-straightforward way. Continue reading

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Reading, Watching–and Smelling–World War I

More than a year ago, I decided to observe the centenary of World War I by using it as the theme of my English composition classes devoted to writing across the curriculum.  To that end, I have immersed myself in a wide assortment of novels and films about the conflict of 1914-1918, about which David Lloyd George quipped, “This war, like the next war, is a war to end war.” Each of these works has offered me new and profound insights into the atrocity and devastation of trench and tunnel warfare, mustard and phosgene gas, shell shock and disfigurement, loss of faith in the future–and in God. Continue reading

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