Friday, October 25, 2013

Nana's Radio

Nana's radio is playing.

Technically, it's not the radio portion that's pouring out music. It's the cd player in it.

John Michael Talbot.

I bought the combination radio/cd player for her when she was living in an assisted living facility. The radio was a replica of those old-style radios from the 50s that sat on kitchen tables in Ozzie and Harriet homes. I thought she'd enjoy it. She listened to some oldies stations on it a few times, but as she gradually withdrew from conscious reality she stopped caring for music. When she died, I inherited it.

Now the radio sits to my left on top of a small bookcase in my office hermitage that used to be my middle daughter's bedroom.

Talbot. Audrey Assad. The Carolina Chocolate Drops. America. Seals and Crofts. Caedmon's Call. Garnet Rogers. My mood determines whose voice issues forth from my borrowed replica.

To the left of the radio-bearing bookcase a small mirror is hanging on the wall. It was my daughter's mirror. I looked in it the other day and as I studied my face I thought of her staring into it studying her face years ago.

She no longer lives at home. She hadn't slept in the room in nearly a decade. Over this past summer I gradually turned her room into my office hermitage. A small table to work on. Several bookcases full of my favorite novels, Chesterton, poetry, religious books, music books. I left up a few of pictures that she had put up on the wall, and a dream catcher. When I look at them, I think of her.

While cleaning out some boxes full of things that had belonged to my parents, I found a small Infant of Prague that I'd searched all over for for my mother. It was meant to be worn about her neck. It's still in the jewelry box; I think she never wore it. Every now and then I look at it and remember her. She loved the Infant of Prague.

I also found a small plastic viewer. When you look through it you can see a picture of my father from back when he was a successful insurance salesman. It looks like it was taken at one of the many conventions or conferences that he attended. He regularly won trips and awards for his prowess as a salesman.

There are more inherited things in this room. I don't feel that it's my room yet - even though I own the house. It's still my daughter's room.

For now.

But that radio and that Infant and that viewer and that dream catcher will always be theirs.

I'm just grateful they've let me share them.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Unintended Racism at Mass?

We had been away from our parish for a while - a nearby parish has an earlier Sunday Mass that fits better with my wife's schedule, and since I left the choir I haven't had the desire to attend the normal "choir" Mass. Awkward.

Besides, the parish has had liturgical dancers, so I've been avoiding them. And the last time I went to Mass there, I had been called and asked to pinch hit for a lector who couldn't make it. I then had to suffer through a lay person preaching.

Anyway, we went to the Saturday Mass this week. Everything went fine until the end of Mass when Father generally makes announcements. He also has a habit of telling jokes - on top of the announcements.

This week's joke involved two men wearing hoodies and sagging pants showing up at the Pearly Gates. Hoodies and sagging pants? Could that be taken as referring to a certain ethnic group? And the punch line involved them stealing the Pearly Gates.

Hoodies. Sagging pants. Stealing.

Come on Father. I know you did not mean it, but do you realize how that joke could be taken? Even if it wasn't racism, it is stereotyping.

I thought of saying something to him to prevent him repeating the joke, but wife was not feeling well and wanted to get out of there.

I probably still should have said something, but given that we've only seemed to butt heads lately, I didn't feel like approaching Father with what seemed like yet another complaint or criticism.

The music group I still belong to is scheduled to play next Sunday, but at a Mass with liturgical dancing. I won't play. And it's not scheduled to play again until January.

So at this rate I may not attend Mass at the parish again until Christmas.

Maybe Father will have a questionable joke about elves in store for us.

Pax et bonum

I hate grading

I love to teach. I love to interact with students. I love their ideas and energy and idealism. I love to see their faces light up when they suddenly understand something. I love to share my joy of literature and good writing with them.

I hate grading.

As a teacher, I have to grade. I have to be able to mark something on that report card. I have to give the students feedback that they can value or can understand, and grades are what our society has foisted on them.

Oh, I don't mind reading and correcting papers, making suggestions, helping the students to improve their writing or increase the depth of their understanding.

But putting a letter or number on an assignment is hard. I see the looks on their faces when they get a poor grade for something they really did try to do well. The pain. The defeat. The failure.

Part of it is my own personality. I like to make people happy. Intellectually I know it's all part of my codependent background (yech, psychology).

But I also genuinely like my students and I feel bad when they feel bad.

I try different strategies. I grade differently. I try to emphasize what is good in their work. I try to limit the negatives I point out.

But there are still grades that need to be assigned.

If I had the time and energy to sit down one-on-one with them and go through their work helping them, I'd love it. But with 109 students it can't be done.

So what this means is that on a Sunday morning (I went to Mass last night) I have some 44 student essays I want to avoid.

Essays waiting for grades.

And I've finished this blog post, so I need to get to those essays.

I hate grading.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Drones: Weapons of Terror

At men's group this morning, the video we were watching talked about the cross as not only an execution device, but also a device designed to inflict terror.

During our subsequent small group discussion, I made a point that, admittedly, offended one man. I linked the use of the cross as a weapon of terror to the use of drones. I pointed out that our drone strikes are meant not only to take out enemies, but also to put fear in their hearts that they could be hit any time, any where, without warning. I also observed that drones killed innocent people as well.

I know - there are arguments for the use of drones (the battle of Baghdad comes to mind, though I view that overall war as unjust) as a way to save lives in combat. While I don't like war, I acknowledge there are circumstances under which war can be just, and if drones prevent higher losses, then I can see their use.

But they are also being used to make surprise attacks on known or just alleged terrorists. The targeted people may be guilty, but they have never been tried or convicted. There are also those other people killed - some innocent, some guilty, but not of the crimes with which the targeted people are accused. Yes, in war sometimes the innocent are killed, but in a just war we seek to avoid that.

Even if the drones are efficient at taking out alleged enemies, they are also efficient at creating new enemies. They are increasing resentment toward the United States - as Noble-nominee Malala Yousafzai reportedly told President Obama last week: “I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people."

The fellow who took exception at the men's group contended that drones are better than crashing planes into buildings. Yes, they are killing fewer people and they are not targeting just civilians. But the people we are currently targeting aren't necessarily even the ones who were involved in the September 11 attacks 12 years ago. Again, not having the benefit of a trial, they have not been convicted of those crimes.

We are executing them without trial.

We are doing what terrorists do.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Haiku Apprentice

I heard in passing of a book called The Haiku Apprentice by Abigail Friedman. It sounded interesting, so I ordered a copy.

I'm glad I did. The book is subtitled Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan - specifically haiku, of course - and it is a wonderful, honest exploration of her exploration of haiku while serving as a diplomat in Japan. She began just as someone who had read haiku, but had never written any. She learns about the true nature of haiku, as opposed to the 5-7-5 Zen nature poetry "rules" enforced in most American schools.

It made me want to write more haiku!

I highly recommend it for anyone interested in haiku - or even in Japanese culture.

Pax et bonum

Alas, Poor Blog

I have a confession to make.

I have been unfaithful.

I have become distracted by those sirens, Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, they were so alluring, so quick and easy. They offered so many temptations - to waste time, to read endless drivel, to get caught up in pointless arguments where it was easy to say harsh, unkind, sarcastic things.

I should he known what would happen, given my own weaknesses.

But no, I strayed.

No more.

I have cut of contact with them.

I will remain faithful to this blog and the two group blogs to which I contribute. Now I will have more time to give them the devotion they deserve.

And if I want to chat, maybe I'll call them or go out for coffee with them.

Pax et bonum

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy, Happy, Happy

Amidst all the heavy duty reading and grading I've been doing, I took on some lighter fare.

Happy, Happy, Happy by Phil Robertson (with Mark Schlabach).

It's your basic I'm-suddenly-famous-so-I turned-out-a-book-to-make-money book.

That's not necessarily bad. Nor is the book bad.

Robertson is the bountifully bearded pater familias of the Duck Dynasty gang. In this "autobiography," he tells how he rose from poverty to playing college football, teaching, marrying young and fathering four sons, creating the Duck Commander company, and making a fortune. He worked hard. He earned the money. And with this book, the merchandising, the hit television show, he continues to make money.

He had his struggles with alcohol, and he's not afraid to discuss his failings. But he found faith and now is a devoutly religious man - something he's passed on to his children. He genuinely cares about his wife and family, and it's pretty clear they are all close. 

You come away from the book liking the guy.

And I liked the book. Great literature? No. But a quick, enjoyable, and informative read.

Plus ... I like the beard.

Pax et bonum

End of the book

just before dawn
saving the end of the book
for later

Pax et bonum