"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Read A Book About Reading

A BOOK CLUB WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Painting by Vittorio Matteo Corcos (1859 - 1933)
Book by Stefan Bollmann (b 1958)
Foreward by Karen Joy Fowler (b 1950)

Thanks to my friend Katy B. for giving me this gorgeous and inspiring book. I read the foreword and introductory material months ago, just after Christmas, and since then have had the book on my coffee table, where I pick it up at random quiet moments and study the classic paintings (plus a few photographs) of reading women, beautifully explained by author / editor Stefan Bollmann. I was delighted to note the inclusion by Bollmann of a few prints that have appeared previously on my Book Blog (e.g., Young Woman with Book, by Alexander Deineka; Reading Girl by Franz Eybl; and Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard). Great minds!

by Alexander Deineka

Speaking of great minds, thanks to my friend Katie F. for suggesting earlier in the summer that I might enjoy reading The Jane Austen Book Club, which I promptly ordered and placed carefully atop my towering "to read" stack.

The connection was right in front of me, but I missed it until, by happy coincidence, Katie F. stopped by to visit, noticed and admired Women Who Read laying out in pride of place on my table, and then exclaimed "Foreword by Karen Joy Fowler -- she also wrote The Jane Austen Book Club! Have you read it yet? No, I hadn't, but I did so right away, then re-read Fowler's opening remarks about dangerous reading women, and typed up the following favorite passages from each:

Women Who Read Are Dangerous

"Centuries upon centuries . . . women have read on -- the unacceptable books as well as the acceptable, Gothic novels in the time of Austen, Harlequin romances, horror novels, space operas, mysteries, police procedurals, chick lit, biographies . . . Now they are joining book clubs . . ." (16, emphasis added).

by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

"One might wonder why artists so often choose a woman reading as the subject of a painting or photograph. . . . the image is an interestingly complicated one. . . . She might, while the book lasts, be a completely different person from the one we are seeing. . . . She might be having trouble concentrating, or she might be spellbound. She might be escaping from boredom into a frothy romantic comedy [by Jane Austen!] . . . she might be experiencing some transformation so profound that she will never be quite the same again. At the very moment we see her, the scales might be falling from her eyes" (13 - 14).

The Jane Austen Book Club

"Austen suggests that Udolpho is a dangerous book, because it makes people think life is an adventure . . . But that's not the kind of book that's really dangerous to people. . . . All the while it's Austen writing the really dangerous books . . . Books that people really do believe, even hundreds of years later. How virtue will be recognized and rewarded. How love will prevail. How life is a romance" (141).

by Franz Eybl

"There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author's back was turned to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face. If Sylvia were a character in a book, that's the kind she's want to be" (171).

Another timely connection: As I was pulling this post together, my good friend and reading buddy Cate sent me an excellent article:

"Why Books and Reading Are More Important Than Ever"

containing these inspiring words by Will Schwalbe
"I wrote that books remain one of the few defenses we have against narrowness, domination, and mind control. But only if we read them – and then only if we spring into action based on what we’ve learned and discovered. Books can’t do anything by themselves. They need us.

"Today we need to read more than ever. And we need to act now more than ever.

"If you are reading this essay, you aren’t reading a book. At least, not this very second. But you’re probably a book reader or you wouldn’t have found your way here or clicked on the shared link that brought these words to your attention. And there’s the rub. I’m writing a piece about the importance of books for an audience already sold on the concept. And it’s taking you (and me) away from them."


additional titles from Schwalbe:

Books for Living & The End of Your Life Book Club

I had to write straight back to Cate:

"I love this essay and it fits right in with the blog post that I'm working on right now: "Read A Book About Reading." No kidding -- that's the title that I gave it before reading this essay, in which he talks about the very same conundrum of reading an essay about reading! I'll add the link here as soon as I get done! Hey I've got writing to do! As Schwalbe commands us: 'Seriously. Go! I've got books to read. You do, too.' What a great conclusion!"

Dreams, 1896

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, September 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ BEAUTIFUL POEM FROM CHARLOTTE ERIKSSON ~
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ THIS MONTH ~ MORE FROM CATE ~
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sing A Song About Singing

A MELODY WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
The Musicians, 1979 ~ Ferdinand Botero

"No human would enjoy my singing --
only maybe an old house that can't be choosy."

~ Jessamyn West ~
The Friendly Persuasion (50)

No doubt, it's best for me to take Jessmyn West's advice and constrain my singing to old houses and locked cars with the windows up. However, I did earn an unexpected compliment awhile back, when I was singing along with an old favorite from Marie Osmond -- "Paper Roses." Gerry called in from the other room to say that my voice was sounding really good that day! He was obviously a little confused, but I was honored that he thought Marie Osmond was me.

I'm hoping that in my next lifetime, the gods remember to endow me with
the gift of music as described in these rousing tributes to the meledious, harmonious, songful muse:

Thank You World ~ The Statler Brothers ~ 1973
I want to thank you, world, for lettin' me belong
I'm just one fourth of one small group that sings your songs
I know that there are others who have served in bigger ways
All I can do is sing your music all my days

It makes me grateful just to know, to know that I can be
Unique and fill a spot beside the other three
Without a place here in this world, I know that I'd be lost
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause

I may not ever stand like Stonewall Jackson stood
But standin' on that stage to me is just as good
Now I may never be a heavy or a great
But you've given me the strength, the strength to pull my weight

Oh for the part I sing is truly part of me
and it does its part to lock the other parts in the key
and it does its part to pull, to pull that sweet applause
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause

Oh world, you've given me a place that I call mine
Though I've stepped out of it & I've gotten out of line
Sometimes I sing the music slightly out of key
and I know I make it harder for the other three

I've always done my part the very best I could
and it's done the other guys a world of good
You've let me sing your praises, world, and harped about your faults
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause

It makes me grateful just to know, to know that I can be
Unique and fill a spot beside the other three
Without a place here in this world, I know that I'd be lost
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause
Without a place here in this world, I know that I'd be lost
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause
Thank you, world, for lettin' me contribute to the cause


Lyrics
Written by Don S. Reid, Lew Dewitt
• Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group, Music Sales Corporation
[and this retrospective of their early years with Johnny Cash]

1979

I Write the Songs ~ Barry Manilow ~ 1975
I've been alive forever
And I wrote the very first song
I put the words and the melodies together
I am music and I write the songs
I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

My home lies deep within you
And I've got my own place in your soul
Now, when I look out through your eyes
I'm young again, even though I'm very old

I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

Oh my music makes you dance
And gives you spirit to take a chance
And I wrote some rock 'n' roll so you can move
Music fills your heart
Well, that's a real fine place to start
It's from me it's for you
It's from you, it's for me
It's a worldwide symphony

I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

I am music (music) and I write the songs


Lyrics
Written by Bruce Johnston
• Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

1991

Thank You For the Music ~ Abba ~ 1977
I'm nothing special, in fact I'm a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you've probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
Cause everyone listens when I start to sing
I'm so grateful and proud
All I want is to sing it out loud

So I say
Thank you for the music
, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk
She says I began to sing long before I could talk
But I've often wondered, how did it all start?
Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can?
Well, whoever it was, I'm a fan

So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me

I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair
I wanna sing it out to everybody
What a joy, what a life, what a chance!

So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me


Lyrics
Written by Benny Goran Bror Andersson, Bjoern K. Ulvaeus
• Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

Though I'm always inspired to sing along with the Statlers, Abba, and Barry Manilow, as they extol the great good fortune of their musical talent, I think a better message for me comes from the Carpenters: "Don't worry that it's not good enough / For anyone else to hear / Just sing, sing a song!"

"Sing" ~ Carpenters ~ 1973
Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things not bad
Sing of happy not sad.

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

Sing, sing a song
Let the world sing along
Sing of love there could be
Sing for you and for me.

Sing, sing a song
Make it simple to last
Your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.


Lyrics ~ Portuguese-American composer songwriter and pianist,
Joe Raposo (1937 - 1989)

Naturaleza con mandolin ~ 1998

DON'T MISS

More Botero on Artsy

Women at Music

Piano Paintings

*******************

AND MANY THANKS TO MY BROTHER BRUCE
for these additional connections:

"I Believe in Music"

Mac Davis

"Where words fail, music speaks."
Hans Christian Anderson

"Music expresses that which cannot be said,
but upon which it is impossible to remain silent."

Victor Hugo

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Berthold Auerbach

And the quote that most fits with our
online musicians in residence, Post Nuclear Trash:

"Can you imagine a world with no music? It would suck."
Harry Styles

Naturaleza muerta con Instrumentos Musicales ~ 1993

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, September 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Monday, August 14, 2017

None Forbidden, None Compelled

A STREET WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Liverpool Cathedrals ~ both on Hope Street ~ painted by Ken Storey
Left: Cathedral Church of the Risen Christ ~ Anglican
Right: Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King ~ Catholic


For starters, I would like to share some inspiring, inclusive words that I have been fortunate enough to hear spoken before communion a few times, inviting all -- not just some -- to the table. I am nearly moved to tears by such unexpected generosity of spirit:

"None forbidden, none compelled"

and

"All who seek the truth are welcome here."


These kindhearted and introspective invitations stand in stark contrast to the many excluding, forbidding messages that I have heard proclaimed at various churches over the long years. "None forbidden, none compelled," is so much more respectful than the typical agenda of restrictions and requirements. And how refreshing to welcome "All who seek the truth" rather than only those who tread the exact same path. I have taken these two pre - communion blessings as personal mantras -- along with my favorite "it's not supposed to be any way" -- and continually strive to internalize the inherent value they assign to individual integrity and personal quest.

As a follow up to my two preceding Fortnightlies ("Born Only Once" & "O Ya - Ya of Little Faith"), I offer this third installment in my unholy trinity of somewhat skeptical, somewhat irreverent, somewhat rambling religious reflections.

Ironically, many people here in the States assume that Gerry and I attend the Episcopal Church (being the Anglican Church of the USA) because Gerry is from England. Actually the opposite is true: Gerry didn't become Anglican until moving to America. In England, he was raised in the eight - ish per cent of the population who are British Catholics, with their long history of persecution, going back to Henry VIII. However, the Liverpool area, with lots of southern Irish immigrants over the years, is more Catholic than most other parts of England.

My religious background, as explained more fully in previous posts: raised in the Church of the Nazarene (fundamentalist Protestant), always felt like an outsider, like a goat instead of a sheep, hated the cruel judgmentalism and the wacky emotionalism, yet stuck with it all through college in an off and on kind of way, out of loyalty to my mother (e.g. my first marriage, a misstep of my confused, early youth, took place in the Church of the Nazarene). After that, I attended for one more semester in grad school but finally resolved not to do that anymore; tried a couple of academic Unitarian services on campus, in biking distance; and visited a big impersonal Methodist church once or twice because it was just a few blocks from my house and easy to walk to.

Next came Notre Dame during the Hesburgh years, where, not surprisingly, I met many Catholics, including Gerry (who had served as a Christian Brother in England and Liberia, from age 14 - 21). While at ND, I attended various masses with friends of mine around the campus from time to time (some fancy in the Basilica, others in dormitory lounges or at the Grotto). I never really felt that Catholicism was for me -- too exclusive and sexist and every bit as judgmental as the Nazarenes, but I liked the liturgical nature of the ceremony, which was new for me after all those years of touchy - feely protestantism.

When Gerry and I decided to marry, I was willing to join the Catholic church, despite my misgivings, just so that we could have a one - church family (my father had never gone with my mom and us kids to the Church of the Nazarene; he went on his own to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon off-shoot, in which he had been raised). I always felt that my parents had both been too stubborn on this issue, that one of them should have yielded to the other so that us kids could experience a unified version of religious family life. But then, for me -- not being a person of great faith -- personal faith is not the real issue, so I could easily set that aside (maybe my parents couldn't) in favor of the activity itself.

I recently read Hector Abad's memoir Oblivion, and was struck by his way of making peace with the various inconsistencies of his conflicted religious upbringing:
"There is no sense in feeling regret at something that depended so little on one's own will and so much on the circumstance of having been born at a particular historical moment, in a particular corner of the world, and into a particular home. . . . Ultimately, faith or the lack of it does not depend on our will, or on any mysterious grace received from on high but on those lessons we learn early on, one way or another, and which are almost impossible to unlearn" (83 - 84).
I can remember seeing all those Sunday school pictures of the ideal 1960's American family skipping up the sidewalk to the classic white church, mother and father wearing hats and holding hands, the kids--one boy, one girl, or maybe two of each, maybe an extra baby --cute as buttons, sometimes a puppy running along beside; and I'd think, "Why aren't we like that? What's wrong with our family?"
Something along these lines:


That saccharine little vision and, more importantly, the lack of its reality in my own childhood, is what informed my concept of why a married couple should go to the same church. That's why I was willing to do something as drastic and unpalatable to my politics as join the Catholic Church. But I was saved!

The Deus ex machina? The two Catholic priests Gerry and I talked to (one at Notre Dame, one at Purdue) were both very unsympathetic to our situation. First, we had already had our civil wedding in February 1989 before we approached the church to plan our religious ceremony for that September. The priests were cross that we had done this. And then, I had to tell about my divorce. They insisted that even though it had not been a Catholic wedding, it required a Catholic annulment (wait time, three years) and extensive counselling. I pointed out that I had just had three years of excellent counselling at a premier Catholic institution, didn't that count? No, it didn't count. How about if the counselor had been a nun? Nope. I started to cry, and the clueless priest said, "It seems that you still have unresolved issues." At that point, Gerry, my hero, stood up and said, "Our issue is with your lack of common decency." We sighed and went home. I knew then in my heart that becoming a Catholic was not for me and never would be. I had been willing, but they had just lost a convert.

However, it was not my place to tell Gerry whether or not he should leave Catholicism, after his long history with it. When, he said, "What do you think we should do?" I said, "Well, at Notre Dame, I knew a number of dissatisfied Catholics who had moved over to the Episcopal Church." So we decided to try St. John's, Lafayette, the following Sunday and immediately felt welcome. There were our neighbors from across street, who we did not know attended there! There was the couple from Gerry's work who often hosted the book group that we had recently joined -- we didn't know we'd see them there. As you can see, it seemed like a perfect fit, even before the fact. Then the Purdue Episcopal Campus Ministry advertised for an office administrator, so I took that job, and the Episcopal Church became the center of our life at Purdue (we sometimes attended the campus services, other times the more formal services at St. John's). We had a couple of months of pre-marital counselling with one of the Episcopal priests, who just happened to be a former Catholic priest! Gerry still likes to say that even though he changed church affiliation, he always knew he'd be married by a Catholic priest!

In preparation for marriage, Gerry and I completed some personality profile questionnaires to help us understand our relational issues, compatibility levels, and marital readiness. When I scored in the range of "Inordinately Realistic," I felt vindicated: at least I had learned something from my mistakes, and my counselling at Notre Dame had paid off. Peter, our ex-Catholic priest, said that women usually registered a much more romantic view of marriage, but I was even a notch above Gerry on the realism scale.

When we told my mom that we were both going to officially join the Episcopal Church, she said (in the good old spirit of Henry VIII), "Well now, isn't that the branch of the Catholic church that condones divorce?" And I said, "Well now, that's the branch we want." Ha. Still, she finally accepted that I was never going back to the Church of the Nazarene; and Gerry's parents, though they themselves are unquestioningly loyal Catholics, have been supportive of our decision.

Anyway, Reader, I married him. We joined The Episcopal Church, have been attending ever since, and have had the good fortune to regularly meet people with similar interests, values, and notions of humor. One semester, Gerry participated in a discussion group for current Episcopalians who had been raised on Catholicism, and everyone laughed at his suggestion that the group call itself "Catholics for Jesus." Ben and Sam were christened as Episcopalians and served their time as choristers. I love the literary liturgy, though I still find the patriarchal language very hard to cope with. I try to stay focused on the strengths but sometimes wonder if Christianity has been so badly poisoned by centuries of sexism that it can never be salvaged. Maybe we need to toss the whole thing out and start over again? There is plenty of room for change and it is certainly time.

Meanwhile, the spiritual quest of a lifetime continues, and surprising literary connections never cease to present themselves, decade after decade. Most recently were the thoughtful recollections of Hector Abad, as mentioned above; twenty years ago the novels of Rebecca Wells; thirty years ago the personal testimony of Langston Hughes; forty years ago the poetry Naomi Shihab -- in the following poem (and so many more) that you can find in the right - hand column on my Quotidian Blog:

SPIRITUAL JOURNEY

"Where are you on
your spiritual journey?"
you ask, your sharp eyes
thumbtacking the question
on my heart.

What can I say?
I am somewhere beyond "go"
I have not stopped.

Years have shown me
the idea of travelling
is a game we play with ourselves
to pretend we're not home.

Naomi Shihab Nye
(b 1952)
Palestinian / American Poet

******************

Another View of the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool

Also by Ken Storey
The Liverpool Merseyside Waterfront
(cathedrals to the right)

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, August 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Friday, July 28, 2017

O Ya - Ya of Little Faith

A LITTLE ALTAR
WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS

Good Lord didn't mean for us to hate ourself.
He made us to love ourself like He do, with wide open arms
.” (140)

Don't ever worry bout bein holy, babychild.
Just keep your eyes wide open except when you sleep.
Then let the Lord's mighty vision see you through the night
.” (144)

from
~ Little Altars Everywhere ~ Rebecca Wells ~
~ more on my book blog ~

"I have been missing the point. The point is not knowing
another person, or learning to love another person.
The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be?
What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves
and others into our hearts?
" (346)

from
~ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood ~ Rebecca Wells ~

************

It has been awhile since the "Ya - Ya Sisterhood" has come up in conversation, but it's been on my mind lately in connection with my recent thoughts on religious indoctrination. Even the titles -- Divine Secrets, Little Altars -- imply a spiritual inclination. I loved the vocabulary: ya-ya, ya-ya-no, gumbo ya-ya, tres ya-ya, petites ya-yas -- and my favorite angel-gals.

The plot, on the other hand, was rather far fetched for my taste. Could you really have the same four best friends for seventy years? Well maybe if your fathers were all incredibly rich and your husbands were all incredibly rich and you never had to move across the country or be even remotely concerned about making a living and could live an entire life devoted solely to personal relationships. I was straining to suspend my disbelief, but I guess that's why they call it fiction. Still I prefer for my fictional characters to be a bit more like moi, and I'm a Yankee girl raised in a humble home of modest means. So I had a few hurdles to cross and some eyes to roll before coming to a full appreciation of the divine secrets behind the antics.

For me, the most memorable line will always be when Sidda (age thirty - something) goes to visit her mother and "tried not to feel five years old. She tried to feel at least eleven" (336). Another shining moment -- as quoted above -- occurs when Sidda gives up the idea of ever really understanding her mother: "The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be?"

In fact, early in the novel, Sidda's mother suggests the tenderness of etiquette, "Forget love. Try good manners” (25). This ya - ya advice is similar to Kurt Vonnegut's observation that what the world needs now is "A little less love please, and a little more common decency". Or Ralph Waldo Emerson's reminder to "treat the men and women well: treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are."

I like Emerson's "angels unawares" message here, but even more I like the face value of it, that being human is enough, being human is everything. If the sum of humanity is greater than the individuals, then maybe that sum is god. Instead of loving god (whatever that means) how about just being nice to other people. When it comes to faith, god, and religion, the quest to know (even as also we are known) can be good; but maybe a better goal is to be tender and mannerly.

In a memorable episode of Thirtysomething (can't remember which season), Elliot chastises his mother-in-law Eleanor for hurting his wife Ellen's feelings. Eleanor responds that she has asked god's forgiveness. But Elliot persists, "What about asking Ellen's forgiveness? She's the person you hurt." Why can't Eleanor be more tender? Why is she holding back?

Around the same time (1997) that I was watching Thirtysomething and reading Divine Secrets and Little Altars, a dear friend -- one of my angel - gals -- was reading The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. She found it to be a very helpful way of looking at the heartache and frustration and occasional boredom of organized religion, and she wrote to explain some of Beattie's ideas:
She suggests acting "As If." Act as if you're happy and pretty soon you will be. Or act as if I have excellent self-esteem and pretty soon I will. That kind of thing. So if I act as if I believe in God, pretty soon I will? That could work! It's very important to me to start believing. I went to my counselor last night. Seems I have this core belief that "I am not enough." So I asked, "How do you get rid of those beliefs that you formed as a small child?" Of course, as adults, we can actively choose for tenderness as opposed to bitterness, but we can't always repair the damage done to us as children. I have a lot of work to do, and I really appreciate your thoughts and help on my issues.
In response, I shared with her the story of what had inspired me over the years and what had not. As a Nazarene kid (in the 1960s & 70s), I am definitely grateful for the singable hymns and the "fantastic grasp of scripture," which has served me well personally and professionally, as a teacher and writer. However, I never got the "strong sense of identity" or the "Nazzy street cred" that some adherents claim as their birthright (see, for example, Ryan Scott's blog post
"Nazarenes, Moralism, and _ru_p"). Instead, I felt constantly judged and criticized by my elders and my peers, perpetually weighed and found wanting. Always a goat, never a sheep.

As a child, my eyes were opened (and not in a good way) when I visited a Sunday school class for fourth grade girls. When one of the girls was excused for a few moments to run an errand, the teacher turned to the rest of us and said, "While she's out of the room, let's pray for her, because we know that she is not saved." What?! I hardly believed any of those cruel, heartless, irrational ideas from the time I was 8 or 9 years old. How do we know that she's not saved? My girlish heart was shocked then; and even now, half a century later, I remain highly suspicious of anyone who would pray for me behind my back. Don't do that!

I was exposed to numerous other severe dictates that totally backfired. Though I realized early on (by age 10) that it would never work for me, I stayed in the church, trying to remain in favor with my family, until age 26. With huge relief, I finally chose another path. I was committed to the insistence that religion has to make some kind of sense, and to finding a church where human intelligence is valued, rather than the hypocritical "please leave your brain at the door" attitude that I resented throughout my formative years. I knew that I would never want my children subjected to the criticism and judging and unnecessary shame of Protestant fundamentalism.

I also have to confess that I've never been much of prayer person, mostly because I don't know what that means. If I'm asking, who am I asking? If I'm praising, who am I praising? Yet I like doing things like reciting or singing or listening to certain prayers, poems, psalms, hymns because I like those words and I like the act of singing or choral reading or just hearing certain words or phrases. So it's not that if I act happy or uplifted I will become those things; it's just that for the duration (5 minutes) of hearing someone sing "Ave Maria" or for the duration (2 minutes) of reciting the Apostles' Creed, I feel convinced of meaning, grace, history, connection. I can easily believe that the world's most beautiful words, songs, and buildings have all been created to the "glory of God," even though I'm not entirely sure what that means. I'm not opposed to the idea that honoring god means honoring humanity, in manner of Rebecca Wells, Vonnegut, and Emerson.

My ya-ya sis replied:
I totally appreciate you sharing your thoughts on God. That really helped! What I understood you to be saying is that you have faith and you believe in God even though you're not what exactly God is or if God even exists? So it's kind of like a blind faith? And that if you pray to God that's your God? That just by doing the act (believing) it creates belief? Am I getting this? If I'm at all close, I think I know what you're saying, and I think that might work for me. I have trouble believing in anything supernatural (not concrete), but I guess if I just believe that something could exist, that is enough. Maybe?
One observation that I would add to our thoughts on God is that I'm not really trying to accomplish or grow into any kind of greater belief by the small ways in which I practice my "blind faith" (if that's the right term). It's not so much that "act creates belief" for me as it is that "act gives satisfaction" (however slight). So what I'm willing to do (and maybe this is my "faith") is go with that slight sense of satisfaction or fulfillment or participation as a worthwhile act in itself. For a specific example, let's say I take communion -- I have no belief in the body and blood and transubstantiation. In fact, I never even think about those things. But I do like participating in the ritual of having a tiny piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine with some other people that I know. I have no expectation that such an act will lead to or create any further belief; and as for the supernatural, I don't need body and blood; bread and wine is enough for me.

A little divinity, a lot of humanity. A little love, a lot of common decency. A little knowing, a lot of tenderness. A few divine secrets, a lot of little altars.

ANOTHER LITTLE ALTAR
"Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?"
Matthew 8:26, KJV

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS
FOR A CONTINUATION OF THIS DISCUSSION ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, August 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Friday, July 14, 2017

Born Only Once

CATHEDRAL WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
St. Andrew's Anglican Cathedral ~ Sydney, Australia

I have to completely agree with business writer Brett Nelson who wrote that the phrase "'Come To Jesus Moment' Is The Most Annoying Business Expression On Earth." I understand that the concept has some currency in the common parlance, with connotations of humor and threat; but if you were subjected to the real thing as a child and urged repeatedly to "come to Jesus," it is not even remotely funny, and the threatening aspect falls sickly flat.

American poet Langston Hughes -- also , social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri (not far from where I grew up) -- explains it much better than I ever could. For anyone who was not brought up in an evangelical tradition, Hughes provides a glimpse of the impact that fundamentalism can have on the heart of an impressionable innocent child, black or white. His description certainly rings true to my experience. I did not come across this essay until I was an adult, but it made me feel less lonely and bizarre about my religious upbringing in the Church of the Nazarene -- such a strange way to be raised, such a harsh thing to do to a kid or to an adult:

"Salvation" by Langston Hughes
I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved. It happened like this. There was a big revival at my Auntie Reed's church. Every night for weeks there had been much preaching, singing, praying, and shouting, and some very hardened sinners had been brought to Christ, and the membership of the church had grown by leaps and bounds. Then just before the revival ended, they held a special meeting for children, "to bring the young lambs to the fold." My aunt spoke of it for days ahead. That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners' bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus.

My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life! And God was with you from then on! She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her. I had heard a great many old people say the same thing and it seemed to me they ought to know. So I sat there calmly in the hot, crowded church, waiting for Jesus to come to me.

The preacher preached a wonderful rhythmical sermon, all moans and shouts and lonely cries and dire pictures of hell, and then he sang a song about the ninety and nine safe in the fold, but one little lamb was left out in the cold. Then he said: "Won't you come? Won't you come to Jesus? Young lambs, won't you come?" And he held out his arms to all us young sinners there on the mourners' bench. And the little girls cried. And some of them jumped up and went to Jesus right away. But most of us just sat there.

A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, old women with jet-black faces and braided hair, old men with work-gnarled hands. And the church sang a song about the lower lights are burning, some poor sinners to be saved. And the whole building rocked with prayer and song.

Still I kept waiting to see Jesus.

Finally all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was a rounder's son named Westley. Westley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons praying. It was very hot in the church, and getting late now. Finally Westley said to me in a whisper: "God damn! I'm tired o' sitting here. Let's get up and be saved." So he got up and was saved.

Then I was left all alone on the mourners' bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried, while prayers and song swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, in a mighty wail of moans and voices. And I kept waiting serenely for Jesus, waiting, waiting - but he didn't come. I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened.

I heard the songs and the minister saying: "Why don't you come? My dear child, why don't you come to Jesus? Jesus is waiting for you. He wants you. Why don't you come? Sister Reed, what is this child's name?"

"Langston," my aunt sobbed.

"Langston, why don't you come? Why don't you come and be saved? Oh, Lamb of God! Why don't you come?"

Now it was really getting late. I began to be ashamed of myself, holding everything up so long. I began to wonder what God thought about Westley, who certainly hadn't seen Jesus either, but who was now sitting proudly on the platform, swinging his knickerbockered legs and grinning down at me, surrounded by deacons and old women on their knees praying. God had not struck Westley dead for taking his name in vain or for lying in the temple. So I decided that maybe to save further trouble, I'd better lie, too, and say that Jesus had come, and get up and be saved.

So I got up.

Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting, as they saw me rise. Waves of rejoicing swept the place. Women leaped in the air. My aunt threw her arms around me. The minister took me by the hand and led me to the platform.

When things quieted down, in a hushed silence, punctuated by a few ecstatic "Amens," all the new young lambs were blessed in the name of God. Then joyous singing filled the room.

That night, for the first time in my life but one for I was a big boy twelve years old - I cried. I cried, in bed alone, and couldn't stop. I buried my head under the quilts, but my aunt heard me. She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn't bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn't seen Jesus, and that now I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me.
"First Confession," by Irish author Frank O'Connor is more often / more popularly anthologized:
"But the worst of all was when she showed us how to examine our conscience. Did we take the name of the Lord, our God, in vain? Did we honour our father and our mother? (I asked her did this include grandmothers and she said it did.) Did we love our neighbours as ourselves? Did we covet our neighbour's goods? (I thought of the way I felt about the penny that Nora got every Friday.) I decided that, between one thing and another, I must have broken the whole ten commandments, all on account of that old woman, and so far as I could see, so long as she remained in the house, I had no hope of ever doing anything else.

I was scared to death of confession
."
I have always preferred the Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967) essay because it captures the existential angst through the eyes of a child. O'Connor (1903 – 1966) manages to be more light - hearted and find some humor in the situation, but his narrative speaks less to my experience. I find it an interesting twist that the Irish Catholic writer is the one to describe the "hellfire & damnation" method of scaring children into religion (or, should that be scaring religion into children) rather than the Southern American writer. They both make the point that trying to force kids into some kind of mystical religious experience might make them more cynical rather than increasing their faith.

Like young Langston, I decided long ago that if I kept waiting around for a conversion experience or a personal relationship with God, I'd end up waiting forever. Maybe it's a literary thing, but over the years, I have decided to cast my lot with ritual and liturgy over abstract faith. I've never been able to latch onto the idea of a personal god / goddess who cares for me individually. I don't understand what people are talking about when they say "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Perhaps it is a matter of personality or nature, i.e., maybe it's "just my nature" to doubt or be unmoved by emotional appeals to the supernatural, while other people have a deep response to those methods. In the Church of the Nazarene, experiencing these emotions was the central act of faith, so I always felt really excluded -- a goat, not a sheep -- because I never felt the hand of god move or heard Jesus speaking to my heart. Again, I ask, what on earth do those phrases mean? I, for one, could never figure out.

Every time I re-read "Salvation," I am reminded that Hughes also said:

"Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true
."

And in a related thought, Czeslaw Milosz writes,

"We are born on earth only once
and we indulge in much mimicking and posing,
dimly aware of the truth, but with pen in hand
it is difficult to escape that awareness:
then, at least, one wants to keep one's self-respect."

So in a bid for self - respect and truth, I thought I'd go out a limb here -- although I'm not a minister of the Gospel, nor do I play one on TV -- and compile a few posts about religious experience, especially since it has been in the news a lot lately, though, sadly, not in a good way. For example:

1. "Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors
ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord."

-Andy Crouch‬

2. Mike Pence: The servile schemer who would be president"
by Richard North Patterson
American fiction writer, attorney and political commentator

"Trump, not Jesus, became Pence’s personal savior: Cravenly, Pence proclaimed Trump a model paterfamilias and man of deep faith. To cognoscenti, the reflexive alacrity with which Pence swathed Trump in pieties confirmed a surreal obliviousness to his own moral smallness. Even so, he swiftly elevated serial hypocrisy to unforeseen heights."

3. "Mike Pence and the rise of mediocrity"
by Richard North Patterson

"The effect is that of an unctuous church elder selling pyramid schemes to credulous parishioners, never doubting he is doing God’s work. Every self-serving self-deception reveals the depths of his shallowness, the breadth of his hypocrisy. His salvation is not ours."

4. "Trump Can't Reverse the Decline of White Christian America"
by Robert P. Jones

"Two-thirds of those who voted for the president felt his election was the "last chance to stop America's decline." But his victory won't arrest the cultural and demographic trends they opposed."

So according to Michele Bachman, Trump is "somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles." Heaven Help Us!

Wow! Talk about a deeply held belief: "In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office." Hypocrisy takes the day.

My friend Olynn responds: "He instead actually hastens a decline that is now real - but wasn't before."

5. "Mike Pence’s New God"
by William Saletan

"The Christian conservative was supposed to bring morality to Trump’s campaign. Instead he caved to Trump."

"Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past."

6. "Why people believe Trump's lies, fake news, and conspiracy theories"
by Linette Lopez

"Science writer and historian Michael Shermer believes that human beings are conditioned to believe, rather than disbelieve, things. . . . And so we believe. But more than that, in that belief we create patterns. That helps us structure our lives. It gives meaning to what could easily be random. It is from there that Shermer believes we develop things like superstition and conspiracy theories. They make sense of what is random."

7. Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah
by Kieryn Darkwater
Interesting discussion regarding Christianity, culture wars, and home schooling.

A Different Kind of Salvation:
A Fairy Piper by Richard MacDonald
"Forever piping songs forever new . . ." ~ John Keats
from "Ode On A Grecian Urn"

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS
FOR A CONTINUATION OF THIS DISCUSSION ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Yellow Wallpaper

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS . . . EERIE, CREEPY . . .

Pericles ~ Cicero

Medusa
Click to see animated panels.

When I saw this exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art ~ Sydney, Australia, passages from "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman began floating through my mind. Had Gary Carsley evoked / invoked Gilman intentionally or by coincidence? Either way, one glance at Carsley's "talking heads" brought Gilman's text to life. Re - reading the story, I felt almost convinced that the narrator was staring at the Carsley exhibit:
"The front pattern does move -- and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

Then in the very ' bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard.

And she is all the time trying to climb through. But nobody could climb through that pattern -- it strangles so; I think that is why it has so many heads.

They get through, and then the pattern strangles them off and turns them upside down, and makes their eyes white!

If those heads were covered or taken off it would not be half so bad."
(654)
Whether or not Carsley's exhibit explicitly mentions Gilman's story, I felt a subtle connection and knew that I had to share it with my friend Rebecca, who has studied Gilman extensively and is the one who urged me to study "The Yellow Wallpaper" more thoroughly years ago in graduate school.

As I was getting ready to share with Rebecca, the next coincidence came along. I turned to her facebook page and discovered that her most recent post contained a link to:
"Hysteria, Witches, and the Wandering Uterus:
A Brief History or, Why I Teach "The Yellow Wallpaper"

By Terri Kapsalis

Rarely does the phrase "wandering uterus" come into my conversation, but
-- another coincidence! -- here it was twice in two weeks. A couple of weeks ago, Gerry and I started watching a new series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, the very first episode of which contains a quasi-medical, half - joking reference to treating the "wandering womb." I remarked at the time whether "wandering womb" might be a pre - scientific term for "endometriosis"? As it turns out, yes, that is one important explanation.

Kapsalis suggests a few others:
"The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. 'Treatments,' including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place."
A google search will yield numerous insights into the disturbing tale of "The Yellow Wallpaper," and into the mind, life, and times of the author. Before checking out any of the others, read this one! Explaining the course she teaches ~ “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” ~ Kapsalis moves through history, literary criticism and fiction, medicine, mental health, gender issues, hate crimes, contemporary politics and economics, leaving no stone unturned -- even the weather plays a part:
"We know that the social toxins of living in a racist, misogynist, homophobic, and otherwise economically unjust society can literally make us sick, and that sickness is no less real than one brought on by polluted air or water. In actuality, both social and environmental toxins are inextricably intertwined as the very people subject to systemic social toxins (oppression, poverty) are usually the same folks impacted by the most extreme environmental toxins. And the people who point fingers and label others “hysterical” are the ones least directly impacted by said toxins."
Kapsalis concludes that "I teach 'The Yellow Wallpaper' because I believe it can save people," echoing Gilman herself, who wrote: "But the best result is this. . . . It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked."

As Gilman's distressed narrator explains from the outset, "The Yellow Wallpaper" is a ghost story, although her husband is always ready to offer a practical explanation that "spoils my ghostliness." After a few more paragraphs, it becomes clear that the reader is also bearing witness to a descent into madness. Isolated from the family, denied meaningful work, and banned from creative expression, the narrator spends hour after hour sequestered in the yellow - papered, prison - like room, growing increasingly obsessed with the confusing random movement of the design. She hopes for order to emerge from the chaos, but it never does. Instead, a phantom woman appears, at first within the intricate design, then at the windows, then beyond. The narrator feels connected to this wandering yet trapped figure because their plights are similar:
" . . . there is something strange about the house - I can feel it. I even said so to John one moonlight evening, but he said what I felt was a draught, and shut the window." (648)

“There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.” (652)

“It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.” (654)

“I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once. But, turn as fast as I can, I can only see out of one at one time. And though I always see her, she may be able to creep faster than I can turn! I have watched her sometimes away off in the open country, creeping as fast as a cloud shadow in a high wind.”
(655)
[Click for more quotations & to read the entire story]

Last week, another annoying, local coincidence reinforced the message of Gilman's story. Well in advance of garbage day, an ugly old yellow - patterned couch appeared out on the curb of our street, just a few houses down from us, a sorry sight for the neighbors to endure for several days. Truly, every time I biked past, it was driving me a little crazier than the time before! It seemed to embody the reason that Gilman chose yellow for the offending wallpaper!

Remember Hailstones and Halibut Bones, the enchanting childhood poetry collection in which each color "has a taste . . . a smell . . . a wonderful story to tell?" Yellow, for example, "is the color of the sun / The feeling of fun / The yolk of an egg . . . And a daffodil . . . sweet corn / Ripe oats . . . Summer squash and / Chinese silk . . ." (Mary O'Neill). If only Gilman's imprisoned heroine could lay hold of such nostalgic joy, but to her dismay, and ours, her reaction is the exact opposite:
"It is the strangest yellow, that wall-paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things. But there is something else about that paper – the smell! ... The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell." [654]


And for one last connection: in searching for material on Gilman and "The Yellow Wallpaper," I came across this collection, featuring a painting of Gilman herself, nursing her newborn:

Click for more about this book
and more about the cover painting:
"Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Breastfeeding her Baby Katharine"

How timely that my friend Brendan had recently spoken out against the latest misogynistic incident of breastfeeding hysteria, and I had posted this photo of what it looks like, more often than not, to breastfeed a baby in public:


SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, July 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com