Monday, June 27, 2016

The Inconsistency of Men

Pope Francis keeps stirring up controversy. He was quoted by the BBC and a myriad of other sources saying that Catholics should apologize to gays, the poor, and anyone else they have maligned.


One of the main reasons I reject Catholicism is the simple fact that God doesn't change and I will always put what the Bible says above any other man, religious or otherwise. Yet, the Pope is supposed to be His vassal on Earth who speaks on His behalf. Francis has been hailed as the Pope of change, the one who will "reform" the church. People respect consistency, no matter what you believe, and the Facebook comments are showing not everyone believes him to be sincere. Comments like, "He's just saying that because church membership and donations have dropped," or, "Isn't this like a cop being forced to apologize to a speeder he ticketed even though it's still against the Highway Code?" and my favorite, "His apologies are in vogue. The internet is turning his flock into a generation of rational thinkers."

Let's all stop and laugh at that one for a second.

Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote, "...there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America." He goes on to say in the same book that even those who vote against measures in the legislature will abandon their position and join the majority if they are defeated. (Further reading here).

Since the Supreme Court decision and the Orlando shooting, I've read a lot of comments maligning Christianity. A lot. Religion in general is, it seems, viewed as a great evil. The bishop of the diocese in Florida said that religion was responsible for the climate of hate that gays have suffered (and the ACLU posted its ridiculous opinion blaming Christians for the shooting itself). He's right...and wrong. Ill-practiced religion has contributed to discrimination and hate, but there are also millions of Christians who have never waved picket signs or spat in people's faces, just like there are gays who've never berated me for "living in the Bronze Age." 

So, why are these men who supposedly believe in the Bible as the literal word of God taking the initiative and saying, "It's all our fault"? 

What I fear (and it may prove to be unfounded) is that they are establishing a mindset for their fellow believers: "In order to talk about this, you must first abandon any pretext that your faith is just and correct, as well as abandon your right to it. Apologize, because a bunch of people who came before you did some bad things."

Debates shouldn't have an initiation rite, and the only person you should have to defend before scrutiny is yourself.

Wouldn't it be a better use of energy if we just, I don't know, stuck to our beliefs and at the same time treated everyone as we wanted to be treated, living in peace with all men? (Matt. 7:12, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). Can we believe the other person is wrong on an issue without letting it polarize us so much?

Or is that possible in today's world of the accept-at-all-costs dogma?

I don't pretend to know.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Lost Weekend

My arm is going to be in a splint for five more weeks, only allowed out for exercises and cleaning. It seems they did a lot more work on me than I realized. They had to detach a section of my tricep and reattach it elsewhere, and that means I can't turn my wrist for any reason. One-handed typing for another month. I had taken a two week break from my new novel project while I recovered from the operation. Wish I had known my arm would be out for longer, I'd have resumed after a few days. Only twenty pages in, so I feel the need to catch up. I am squeaking out two or three pages a day, which is very low output for me.

Meanwhile, I've been reading an excellent book: Farther and Wilder, by Blake Bailey, the life and career of the American writer Charles Jackson.

Jackson's most notable work is his 1944 novel The Lost Weekend. Based almost entirely on his own life, it follows the story of Don Birnam, whose drunken shenanigans are reaching new lows (so much that he steals money to afford booze). It was an instant hit, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. No one had done a story about a drunk outside the realm of comedy. The publisher worried if people would respond to it. But the 1945 film adaptation starring Ray Milliard was also a huge hit. In one letter, Jackson told a friend that "I'm not good at make-believe." Meaning, he could not easily invent stories from thin air. All of his work was grounded in real life events. I have the opposite problem. I almost never use real life as the basis of a narrative. My life has had some excitement in it to be sure, but I'm not good (nor interested) in writing those long boring vignettes that so often appear in today's lit magazines. Maybe I just haven't tried hard enough.

But the biggest takeaway from the book thus far is how a writer can be his own worst enemy. I won't elaborate too much here, but Jackson had an ego and a spending problem. His family suffered negligence and were crushed under mountains of debt multiple times in his career.

Lesson? Don't get your priorities mixed up.

More next week, if I can manage it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Recent Reads

I've made it though quite a few books since Jan 1. Here are some I've read, both the good ones and not-so-good.

I'd heard the name Saul Bellow in discussion about Nobel Prize winners and how you should never ever compare your work to theirs in a query letter. Herzog about a middle-aged Jewish man who's just come out of a nasty second divorce. His sanity is questionable, but not completely gone. Fair enough premise. The writing, meanwhile, is dense. Herzog writes imaginary letters to people in order to stay stable. The text jumps from three different POVs: the narrator, Herzog in first person, and Herzog's letters. The second half of the novel isn't quite as littered with italic text as the first, but its not an easy book to read. Therefore, I honestly didn't enjoy it much.

From confusing to downright depressing! This book tells of a trouble Navajo girl in a women's prison and the male doctor who is charged with her care. Published in the 1970s, this book is about as anti-white as it gets. It's a dark story about a corrupt and broken justice system. It's written in the form of a long diary from said doctor. There are no chapter breaks, which really drives home the theme of loneliness and isolation. The book has a genuine feel of progress every time the two main characters connect, but it also has the WORST ENDING I've read in a long long time. I'll spare you the trouble. Hatter Fox gets run over by a bus, although she was expertly dodging traffic the day before. I don't always want a classic "happy" ending, but this just felt like a cop-out to me.

I love Michener's work, but who'd have thought he would write a short book? The MC is going to testify before Congress on his role in the Iran-Contra affair. His defense lawyer plans to use his family's "legacy" (Get it? Get it? See what he did there? The title is important!) to convince everyone that he's a patriot. Each member of the family plays an important role in America's critical moments: the Revolution, writing the Constitution, the Civil War, the women's suffrage movement, and civil rights. It was ok, I guess. The book doesn't have time for character development and it didn't catch me with a sense of the other epic sagas he's written, like Centennial. The story ends abruptly without telling us how the MC fairs on trial. Only Michener could have written this and then made money on it. A descent idea, but I think it's a little short and underdeveloped. 

Hands down, this is one of the best novels I've ever picked out from a used book store. Herman Wouk has been called the American Tolstoy, and I can see why after reading all 600 pages of MM. The story is about a young Jewish girl growing up in NYC in the 1930s with dreams of becoming an actress. While pursuing her studies and dating a number of boys, she enters the cutthroat world of Broadway. One Amazon reviewer said, "It's rare to find a book where the daily life of the MC is so well documented." Yes, well-documented and interesting! And no, there's hardly any mention of Hitler and WWII in the whole text.

A neat find at an antique store. Haven't finished it yet, but thus far, the stories are surprisingly inventive and entertaining.

A great collection with an even better introduction about the art of the short story and how the industry changed after 1968.

A neat thought experiment on how mankind might have started a relationship with canines. You'll enjoy the book so long as you keep that in mind. This is not an anthropologist story. Only problem I had is that the dog doesn't join with man until the very very end.

I saved this on for last, because it is probably my favorite on this entire list of books. Leopards tells the story of a writer who is desperate to succeed. He's got talent, but he's also a compulsive liar and a shameless thief. He seems unable to compose work unless he rips incidents out of real life or other people's work. The MC reinvents himself so many times, that by the end of the book, everything from the characters' names to the history of his circle of friends, has changed (but therein is the main conflict, the MC can only change so much). Only the barest threads remain to remind the reader who's who and what's what. The book breaks all of the rules about format, tense, pacing, and POV to show this and it works. This is an example of experimental fiction that hits the mark and show you just what can be done with a novel. It has lots of exotic locations, provocative thoughts, and there's typewriters! Lots of references to typewriters (though Remington gets the only brand-name mention).

That's all for now. I get out of the splint on Friday!

I'll never take my dominant hand for granted again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Playing Hurt

Operation? Psh. Like an injury is going to keep me from my passion.

The story must be told!

All I need is the right tool...

This is a lot harder than it looks, but at least I'm exercising the demon. This is the one time when I have to have an electric instead of a manual.

This is what we call "desperate measures."

Nine more days till I'm out of the sling....

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Biggest Chain Letter Ever!

It had over a dozen contributors. It took almost a year to complete. But at long last, it's HERE!

Notes scanned for time an convenience. Sorry to those who used colored ribbons!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Writing One-Handed

Recovering from arm surgery. Glad to have had it done, but that darned anesthesia always makes me sick as a dog. Can barely type this post. I'll be in a splint for the next two weeks, so writing may not happen quickly (if it happens at all). I'd like to avoid having to dictate to Courtney, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I'm fifteen pages into the new novel, and another short forming in my head.

This is going to be a long, awkward two weeks.

Selling a few machines to get a Remington Porto-Rite, so if anyone out there knows where I might find one, let me know!