Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Sherman Alexie

Years ago, I saw a movie I really enjoyed - Smoke Signals. It's the story of a young Native American man, Victor Joseph, and his friend, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, traveling to retrieve the ashes of Victor's father, and to come to terms with Victor's past and his troubled relationship with his father. It's sprinkled with humor, Thomas's story-telling, and glimpses into contemporary Native American life. It made me want to try some fry bread and to wonder what the truth is about John Wayne's teeth.

I knew it was written by Native American author Sherman Alexie, and at the bookstore I stumbled across his short story collection, The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight in Heaven; one of the stories in the collection became the basis for Smoke Signals, and Victor and Joseph are featured in a number of the stories.

The collection was his first, and I suspect he has grown as a writer since given the number of awards he's received. I have to read more of his later work to give a fair assessment of him as a writer.

As for the collection, it's enjoyable. It contains good writing, but I think it's uneven, and, to be honest, like a lot of fiction from the 80s and early 90s. What sets it apart from other works by equally - and maybe even more talented - writers is that it is from a Native American perspective.

The collection got me to thinking about that latter fact. Would Alexie be as acclaimed, would he have been as successful were he not Native American? Perhaps. Even in this early work Alexie is clearly talented. But as I noted, there were other writers who were equally as good, but did not have something to set them apart. One of the best writers I've ever met is a fellow who had the misfortune of being a middle class Irish Catholic lad from Syracuse (NY) who, in my opinion, was a better writer than Alexie was at the time this collection was published. The fellow was a great reporter, an amusing raconteur, and a talented songwriter. But he had nothing to make him stand out - he was just some middle class Irish Catholic Central New Yorker - so he continues to make a living as a journalist and singing and playing in various bar bands, winning local awards and some journalistic recognition, but not getting contracts for novels, national awards for short story collections, record and movie deals, and so on.

I thought of other talented writers who've gained recognition not just for their talent, but because they are Native American, Latina, feminist, Chinese, gay, geriatric, and so on, and they write from those perspectives. It's part of a trend to celebrate diversity (or to atone for past wrongs). Fifty years ago, many of these now-acclaimed writers may have just been working journalists or high school teachers who continued to write because they had to. Who knows if their works will be widely read 50 years from now.

This is not a criticism of Alexie. I will read more of his writing; this collection was good enough to keep my interest, and I want to see how he developed as a writer. And I do have a fondness for Native American spirituality and perceptions of the world.

Verdict: The collection is worth a read - or at the very least, worth sampling. It does contain some coarse language and mild discussion of sexuality that is, however, appropriate for the characters.

Oh, and see Smoke Signals if you get a chance - if for no other reason than to hear Victor and Thomas singing "John Wayne's Teeth."

But also read works by unfortunates who just happen to be regular Irish Catholic Central New Yorkers with no "diversity" to exploit.

It's tough being average.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Good Friday Stations of the Cross for Life

Once again, some 200 of us gathers for a prayer service, then a Stations of the Cross for Life procession to a site where abortions are performed.

We pray not only for the unborn victims of abortion, but also for the women, prisoners, those facing the death penalty, the victims of war, the elderly and sick who are increasingly facing the shadow of euthanasia, the economically disadvantaged, and more - all the life issues.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why a Franciscan?

St. Francis - whose name I share - has always been a hero to me.

When my faith wavered, G. K. Chesterton's biography of St. Francis was one of the books that saved me.

The focus on Christ, and on the Church, the Bible, and Tradition.

The order's devotion to Mary.

The gifts of Humility and Poverty.

The first Christmas Crèche.

The Stigmata.

Reaching out to the lepers.

The appreciation of the common man and woman, and of their spirituality.

Brothers and Sisters throughout all of creation.

The Wolf of Gubbio and the Sermon to the Birds.

The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

St. Francis's meeting with the Sultan of Egypt to seek peace.

Being a Troubadour for God.

Being a Fool for Christ.

Pax et bonum

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Wuthering Heights" not a reading highlight

Yes, I know, it's a literary classic. I know they made a highly regarded movie out of it back in 1939. I know that Cathy and Heathcliff are considered one of literature's great romantic couples.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte did not make it for me.

I just could not believe the characters. I thought the plot too contrived. I found nothing likable or romantic about the leads - both of whom I found to be cruel and selfish.

I only read it - and finished it - because it's part of the curriculum I inherited and I had to teach it.

Now mind you, there are other gothic-tinged romantic books I have read and enjoyed - Jane Eyre or Rebecca, for example. I thought they were well-written and I found the characters interesting.

Wuthering Heights does not belong with them. If I teach this course again - still up in the air - I plan to substitute another book - maybe Great Expectations.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Franciscan and Writing Focus for the Summer

As I wait to find out whether or not I have a job next year, I've already begun to think ahead to this summer and what I may/should accomplish.

First, the "may."

My department head is already talking as if I will be back, and if so my taking over some honors classes she currently teachers in anticipation of her retirement next year (and, I suspect, to get me with the higher functioning students with whom I tend to do well). If that does happen, I will have a lot of reading to do this summer in preparation. Some of the works for the course I haven't read in years - Jane Eyre, The Odyssey, The Merchant of Venice, for example. Plus we are turning the course into a pre-AP course, so the writing requirements will have to change.

As for "should" - two things.

No matter what happens with my job, I plan to get up several HubPages articles - I'd like to see 6-8 posted. That will involve a lot of research and writing. I look at that as just a start - creating a presence on the HubPages with the long-term goal of generating income down the road. I have a couple of ideas and have already started gathering notes and material, I just need  the time to get writing.

I also plan to do some Franciscan studies. As a Secular Franciscan, there is so much for me still to learn. I have several manuals - For Up to Now: Foundational Topics for Initial Formation (which replaced the manual used when I was in formation); Handbook for Franciscan Servant Leadership; and A Guide for Franciscan Youth/Young Adult Ministry. There are also a number Franciscan books sitting on my bookshelf.

At the very least, I want to read the first two manuals, plus some of the Franciscan books.

My vocation is to be a Franciscan - not a deacon, or a parish minister - and if I am going to be a good Franciscan I need to grow and learn. And though I have been balking, if I am called to leadership as others seem to be indicating I need to prepare for that. I'm currently on the Council, and I could see at the 2015 election being selected for an office - Formation, Vice Minister, or, God help me, Minister. I'd prefer to avoid all that, but I leave it in the hands of God and the fraternity.

In addition, I plan to prepare the music book for next year if, as it appears, I'll be leading the music for fraternity meetings. I've already started working on the book.

All this is on top regular writing - some poems and back to the novel.

A busy summer ahead - but first I have to get there ( some papers await grading today!), and I need to have my job situation settled. If I won't be returning to my current position I'll be doing some job-related scrambling.  

Pax et bonum

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fraternity joys

We had a fraternity meeting tonight with numbers down due to sickness, tiredness, and weather. But with songs, Stations of the Cross, prayers and adoration in the chapel, even with the smaller numbers it was nourishing.

I wonder about those Franciscans who don't have a local fraternity for shared prayer and community.

I feel blessed. 

Pax et bonum