>One of the little treasures I found at Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter recently was this little paperback from 1999 called The Southern Writers Quiz Book by Patti Carr Black. (Patti was the former director of the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History in Jackson, Mississippi. You can read about her and her publications here .)
So… I enjoyed the book on the beach in Gulf Shores so much I decided to share some of the quizzes on my blog from time to time, beginning with this one. Since we just drove through parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama before returning to Tennessee, I’m feeling the vibes of these writers and their hometowns.
1. Lillian Hellman
2. Ellen Glasgow
3. Elizabeth Roberts
4. Katherine Anne Porter
5. Flannery O’Connor
6. Eudora Welty
8. Kate Chopin
10. Thomas Wolfe
11. Marjoorie Rawlings
12. Richard Wright
13. William Styron
14. Joan Williams
15. Carson McCullers
16. Walker Percy
18. Shelby Foote
And speaking of Southern writers… one week from today I’ll be back in Oxford for the 2008 Yoknapatawpha Summers Writers Workshop . The faculty is shaping up wonderfully, including my favorite poet, Beth Ann Fennelly, Neal Walsh (last year’s critique moderator, a graduate of the Ole Miss MFA program, now at LSU), and others. You can still register (and send a writing sample) through Monday, June 2. This is the workshop (last year) that I met my friends Doug, Patti, Herman and Tom, and the five of us formed the Yoknapatawpha Writers Group. We’ve been meeting monthly since last August, critiquing each other’s work and having a great time together.
It’s almost June, so I thought I’d include something in this post about “beach reads.” We’ve already been to the beach, and I enjoyed Elizabeth Dewberry’s book, Break the Heart of Me, which I also got at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans. Actually I bought two of Dewberry’s books, which are novels based on aspects of her life. The other one is His Lovely Wife, which I haven’t started yet.
If you want some suggestions from authors, check out “Best Summer Books” in the June issue of Real Simple: “Ten beloved top-selling authors share their favorite lazy-summer day reads.” The books are sorted into categories: one-day reads, books for a long weekend, and books to savor all summer. Some of the authors who share their beach read suggestions are Augusten Burroughs, Jackie Collins, Elizabeth Gilbert and Jodi Picoult, so there’s a diverse offering.
So… happy summer reading!
And writing! Remember to register for the Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop HERE … by Monday!
Have a great weekend. And if you didn’t have a chance to comment on Tuesday’s blog—The End of Art?—just scroll down to the next post and spend a little time with it. I really appreciate the 160 people who visited the blog, and especially everyone’s comments.
>There’s a thought-provoking article in the June-July issue of First Things by Roger Kimball called “The End of Art.” You have to have a subscription to read it online, so if you’ve got one, sign in and click on the article, “The End of Art.” If not, I’ll try to quote enough of the article so you can get the thread of the post, and hopefully contribute! Please leave me a comment at the end, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a subject I’ve thought about a lot, since I’m an artist, an iconographer, a writer and sometimes, a (very mediocre) poet. And while I’m being those things, I’m an Orthodox Christian. Why don’t I call myself a “Christian writer” or “Christian artist”? Because not everything I write or paint is “religious.” This is a distinction that I think many Protestant Evangelicals don’t make. There is much in their realm that is considered “Christian art” or “Christian literature,” etc. And many of them do call themselves “Christian artists” or “Christian writers.” But like Madeleine L’Engle, I prefer to say that I am a Christian who is also an artist and a writer. Here’s why the distinction matters:
When I sit down to write an essay, or continue work on my memoir-in-progress, or paint a whimsical watercolor, I do not have as my purpose the goal of evangelizing or preaching. My goal is to do good work. It’s for the work to touch someone else’s heart, soul, emotions. To elicit a response, yes. But not to try to direct how that response might be. At the same time, the fact that I’m an Orthodox Christian infuses the work. It’s just who I am.
I tend to agree with W. H. Auden, as Kimball quoted him in “The End of Art,” saying, “There can no more be a ‘Christian’ art than there can be a Christian science or a Christian diet. There can only be a Christian spirit in which an artist, a scientist, works or does not work.”
But an architect who designs Orthodox Churches and monasteries, for example, can also design a residential home or a commercial business, and those designs would not be “Orthodox” or “Christian,” although they might be designed by an Orthodox Christian. Okay, maybe this is too much “back story” for the point I’m trying to make here, but I think it’s necessary as we move forward into Kimball’s essay. Near the beginning he says: “Traditionally, the goal of fine art was to make beautiful objects. The idea of beauty came with a lot of Platonic and Christian metaphysical baggage, some of it indifferent or even hostile to art. But art without beauty was, if not exactly a contradiction in terms, at least a description of failed art.” Kimball says that there’s still good art today, but it is “rarely touted at the Chelsea galleries, celebrated in the New York Times, or featured in the trendier precincts of the art world. The serious art of today tends to be a quiet affair, off to the side and out of the limelight.” Kimball goes into considerable detail about the affect of the Renaissance and Romanticism on art, and later about how man’s Promethean nature—his emergence as a second god, as someone whose goal is to create something from nothing—has affected art. “When human reason is made the measure of reality, beauty forfeits its ontological claim and becomes merely aesthetic—merely a matter of feeling.” Now we’re getting to the crux of the matter (in my opinion)… this business of evoking feeling. Dr. Andrew Louth, in his essay, “Orthodoxy and Art” (in Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World,) speaks to this issue: “So while iconography leads us into the communion of heaven, pornography destroys the communion designed by God for the human person as an icon of Christ, separates the image from the full personal reality of the person portrayed therein, and separates the sexual impulse from the essential aspect of communion for which it was created. Unsurprisingly, the end result of this is to damage pornography user’s ability to experience any level of communion. As one of the women interviewed by Pamela Paul (Pornified, New York, NY 2005) put it, “I don’t know any man who is into porn who has been able to be truly intimate.”
But I believe that iconography is specifically Orthodox art, just as traditional designs for Orthodox churches is Orthodox architecture, and the music used in our worship is Orthodox music.
So he begins with beauty. But quickly shows how art (in his opinion) has moved away from beauty as it has championed innovation in contemporary art with “a tired repetition of gestures inaugurated by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, creator of the first bottle-rack masterpiece and the first urinal fountain.”
He quotes Leo Tolstoy (from What is Art) as saying that “art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost.” And that was in the 1890s!
He doesn’t say what or where he thinks this serious art is, and I’d sure like to know. Instead he delves into concerns that art can “counterfeit beauty in lieu of revealing it.” Quoting Iris Murdoch: “Art is dangerous, chiefly because it apes the spiritual and subtly disguises and trivializes it.”
“The Orthodox are defensive about the aesthetic because they feel, quite rightly, that the whole realm of the aesthetic is something immensely seductive. There is a danger that their own appreciation of the importance of beauty will be drawn into a way of looking at things that is fundamentally at variance with Orthodoxy itself.”
“Without an allegiance to beauty, art degenerates into a caricature of itself; it is beauty that animates aesthetic experience, making it so seductive; but aesthetic experience itself degenerates into a kind of fetish or idol if it is held up as an end in itself….”
One doesn’t have to look far to see this in society today, with the profusion of pornography, which has done just that—made an idol of the image… or really, of a bad representation of the image. A few months ago, Andrew Williams, a student at Holy Cross Seminary, interviewed me for a practicum report he did for his Church History Class: “The importance of venerating the image: can iconography help defeat the power of pornography?” One interesting aspect of his report deals with the way pornography damages the image of God within each of us:
This might seem like a big rabbit trail in a blog post about the end of art, but I think Andrew’s thesis can be applied to other realms of what Kimball calls degenerate art… “art that has become a caricature of itself.” I think pornography is what happens when art degenerates to its lowest point. For those caught up in it, it truly is the end of art… and maybe the end of communion for that person, with God, with others, even with himself.
But an architect who designs Orthodox Churches and monasteries, for example, can also design a residential home or a commercial business, and those designs would not be “Orthodox” or “Christian,” although they might be designed by an Orthodox Christian.
Okay, maybe this is too much “back story” for the point I’m trying to make here, but I think it’s necessary as we move forward into Kimball’s essay. Near the beginning he says:
“Traditionally, the goal of fine art was to make beautiful objects. The idea of beauty came with a lot of Platonic and Christian metaphysical baggage, some of it indifferent or even hostile to art. But art without beauty was, if not exactly a contradiction in terms, at least a description of failed art.”
Kimball says that there’s still good art today, but it is “rarely touted at the Chelsea galleries, celebrated in the New York Times, or featured in the trendier precincts of the art world. The serious art of today tends to be a quiet affair, off to the side and out of the limelight.”
Kimball goes into considerable detail about the affect of the Renaissance and Romanticism on art, and later about how man’s Promethean nature—his emergence as a second god, as someone whose goal is to create something from nothing—has affected art.
“When human reason is made the measure of reality, beauty forfeits its ontological claim and becomes merely aesthetic—merely a matter of feeling.”
Now we’re getting to the crux of the matter (in my opinion)… this business of evoking feeling. Dr. Andrew Louth, in his essay, “Orthodoxy and Art” (in Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World,) speaks to this issue:
“So while iconography leads us into the communion of heaven, pornography destroys the communion designed by God for the human person as an icon of Christ, separates the image from the full personal reality of the person portrayed therein, and separates the sexual impulse from the essential aspect of communion for which it was created. Unsurprisingly, the end result of this is to damage pornography user’s ability to experience any level of communion. As one of the women interviewed by Pamela Paul (Pornified, New York, NY 2005) put it, “I don’t know any man who is into porn who has been able to be truly intimate.”
>If you’re not an Orthodox Christian, what I’m about to say might sound very strange. But every now and then, the liturgical calendar for the Orthodox Church deals out what could be considered a “triple threat”…. or maybe a “hat trick,” depending upon your personal ability to sustain three significant commemorations at one time. Kind of like keeping several balls in the air at once, without dropping any of them. A liturgical juggling act. That’s what we did today, on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman. Which is also the day we commemorate the Third Discovery of the Head of the Forerunner and Baptist John, and the day known as “Midfeast”—which marks the half-way point between Pascha and Pentecost.
I realized what we were in for at Great Vespers last night, when the hymns and verses introduced all three elements of the liturgical day, which, for Orthodox, begins at sunset the evening before. The choir added a few verses about John the Baptist that weren’t in our hand-outs, and omitted some that were… a sign that some last-minute juggling might be going on. See, if we were in a monastery, rather than a parish church, nothing would be left out. The services would just be longer, to include all the verses for every event and person being commemorated. For most of us lay people with varying degrees of spiritual ADD, that would be a “triple threat,” for sure! But for lovers of lengthy services or even sinners like me who on any given Sunday might have a hankering for this amazing poetry (yes)… it can, indeed, be a spiritual “hat trick.”
At Ninth Hour Saturday night, we sang:
In the middle of the Feast, O Saviour, fill my thirsting soul with the waters of godliness, as Thou didst cry to all: If anyone thirst let him come to me and drink! O Christ God, Fountain of our life, glory to Thee.
This theme of “thirst” was reiterated at Liturgy this morning, with this verse (among others) to Saint Photini, the “Woman at the Well,” or the Samaritan Woman:
When the compassionate Lord came to the well,
The Samaritan woman asked him, saying,
Give me the water of faith, O Giver of life
That I may take the water of baptism for delight and for salvation;
O Lord, glory to Thee.
I’ve been thirsty recently. Maybe because I’ve felt a little depressed, emotionally. And a little lonely, socially. Some of that is just a writer’s life, and I accept that. And some of it is kind of a spiritual “cycle” that I seem to move in, because of my immaturity, or maybe my love of the flesh, or both. I told a friend the other day that I was needing to seek Christ’s face, and not just reflections of Him in myself. So I went to my church on Friday and sat in the nave for a while to pray. Sure, you can seek Christ anywhere. But sometimes you can get a clearer view in Church. So I listened to the prayers (Sixth Hour Prayers were being prayed) and tried to join in with my heart and voice… and took deep breaths, wanting to smell the incense… to be reminded that our prayers arise in His sight as incense. And it was like a glass of cold water on a hot and thirsty day.
Now I’m stretching to find a segue here … feeling a need for symmetry… for my blog post to follow the hat trick theme throughout. So… I’ll throw three balls up in the air and see what happens: here goes: whoosh—liturgical and spiritual stuff…whoosh—New York Times articles… whoosh—poetry.
As I write these words, I’m thinking about an article I read in today’s New York Times Magazine by Emily Gould, called “Exposed.” It’s about her experiences as a blogger, and eventually her job as an editor at Gawker. I cringed as I read some of her words, because they reminded me of how I feel sometimes when I’m blogging:
I think most people who maintain blogs are doing it for some of the same reasons I do: they like the idea that there’s a place where a record of their existence is kept—a house with an always-open door where people who are looking for you can check on you…. Sometimes that house is messy, sometimes horrifyingly so. In real life, we wouldn’t invite any passing stranger into these situations, but the remve of the Internet makes it seem O.K. Of course some people have always been more naturally inclined toward oversharing than others. Technology just enables us to overshare on a different scale…. As nerdy and one-dimensional as my relationships with these people [onlne] were, they were important to me. They made me feel like a part of some kind of community, and that made the giant city I lived in seem smaller and more manageable.
Bingo. I feel that sense of community that she’s talking about. And also the part about having a record of your existence. But I also get the part about oversharing and I’m definitely guilty of that. Gould goes on to talk about what she calls the “will to blog”:
The will to blog is a complicated thing, somewhere between inspiration and compulsion. It can feel almost like a biological impulse. You see something, or an idea occurs to you, and you have to share it with the Internet as soon as possible. What I didn’t realize was that those ideas and that urgency—and the sense of self-importance that made me think anyone would be interested in hearing what went on in my head—could just disappear.
(She’s talking here about losing the “will to blog.”) I’m sure there’s a great deal of ego involved here (for me) in blogging. And instant gratification. And it’s not even as though I get lots of comments on my blog, because I don’t. (I get quite a few emails… like most of my readers aren’t interested in seeing their words on the world wide web.)
There was an article in the New York Times (the paper, not the magazine) today about Salman Rushdie and his new novel, The Enchantress of Florence. Interesting read, but it was the final paragraphs of the story that interested me most:
Regardless of whether he is writing about politics, Mr. Rushdie said he finds writing both scary (“Are you going to be able to sustain it all the way to the end?”) and exhilarating. “There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self,” he said. “To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.”
I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but that’s how I feel about writing. And blogging is a form of writing. And just because it feels good, of course that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. But until and if I find myself, like Emily Gould, “losing the will to blog,” I’ll stay at it. And I’ll continue to imagine that it matters to someone besides me.
So, catching the third ball before it falls… I’ll end with some poetry. Not mine, you’ll be glad to know! The other day I saw this book in a friend’s office and asked him about it. The book is called Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns. Turns out the friend isn’t so big on the book, which takes the words of thirty-seven mystics of the Church and turns them into poems. (My friend liked Cairns’ book about his pilgrimage to Mount Athos, Short Trip to the Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven.) But I loved Cairns’ poems. Hard to decide which to share, but I’ve decided on one based on the writing of Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-395)… because his mystical writings are some of my favorites. Especially his book The Life of Moses . So, here’s one of Cairns’ poems: (with apologies to Cairns because my blog won’t keep the formatting of the poem)
Soul’s Eternal Rapture
The soul that looks
Finally to God, conceives
A new, mouth-watering
desire for His
And tasting this, she
awakens to an ever
An ache never
to be fully satisfied.
By this sweet hurt,
She never ceases
To extend herself,
to touch those things
Beyond her reach
And ever beckoning.
By this she finds herself
From her present
circumstance to enter
More deeply the interior
And to find
there yet another
And thus, at every point
She learns that each
New splendor is to be
eclipsed by what will come—
Beautiful that draws, and calls,
and leads the beloved
To a beauty of her own.
At every point, each new splendor will be eclipsed by what will come. Am I reaching too high? This poem reminds me of the song, “The Drop and the Dream,” by Chris Delmhorst. Especially this verse:
It’s both our curse and our grace, here in this place
The ancients used to hallow places. They set aside groves and grottoes and mountains, and built temples and shrines and enclaves. Places mattered to them…. Here was a holy well, and there was an oracle. Here was an altar, and there was a tabernacle. The landscape of antiquity is dotted with these things, and it is natural that it should be. If the gods are there, and if their influence touches our realm, then memorable things are going to happen, and we men do well to mark off the precincts.
As an Orthodox Christian, I get this, on several levels. The “religious” precincts we mark off concern our temple, our place of worship. And within our temple, the nave, the place where the people gather to pray, is marked off from the sanctuary, where the altar is, by the iconostasis, and the royal doors. Only those who serve at the altar step across the line between the nave and the sanctuary. It is a sacred place.
But outside the temple, there also places that become sacred, but in a much less “religious” way. The places where certain events in our lives happened become special to us, like where we were born. Where we went to school. Where we had our first kiss. Where we were married. Special vacations and pilgrimages. Where we were when we heard certain life-changing news, like the death of President Kennedy. Or the destruction of the World Trade Centers. Or Hurricane Katrina.
So, as I traveled from New Orleans to Gulf Shores, Alabama, this past Sunday, I remembered places, events and people along the way. I remembered my honeymoon, thirty-eight years ago next month, at the Broadwater Beach Hotel in Biloxi, which had survived Hurricane Camille, but wouldn’t survive Katrina in 2005. Actually, the President Casino had opened on a riverboat dock at the Broadwater Marina in 1992. But on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore the barge from its moorings and washed it ashore 1/2 mile west of the Broadwater Resort Marina. It’s been rebuilt, as the President Casino Broadwater Resort. I’m sad that it’s a casino. The old Broadwater was so family-friendly and classy. It even had a lighted nine-hole par-three golf course you could play on at night.
Another memory: I was on the beach in Biloxi on August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina hit. I had taken my mom and my daughter to visit my son, Jason, who was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base. We went to dinner at the The Chimneys, right on U.S. 90 (right)… an antebellum home turned restaurant where we ate out in this sun room (left) with a view of the ocean. The Chimneys was destroyed by Katrina and I don’t know if the owners plan to rebuild or not, but it was sad driving down 90 and seeing the devastation, almost 3 years later.
So we kept driving east to Gulf Shores, which brought back memories of our 5th anniversary trip to the Grand Hotel in Point Clear (in 1975!) … and also my childhood memories of summers at Daphne, Alabama, on the Mobile Bay (1959-1967.) But more recent memories are the ones I started writing this blog about… just six months ago, when I took off to the beach alone. Because I was angry and wanted to get away. I wrote about that trip in my blog post of November 2 . So this time, I stayed at the same condo, with my husband and daughter. Beth gave me this awesome journal for Mother’s Day… she wrote some sweet words on the first two pages, and included some photos, and then gave me a tiny, traveling watercolor set to go with it! So… I wrote these two pages at the beach… the same place I began to let go of my anger six months ago. And as I walked along the ocean’s edge, I remembered the feeling of letting go. It’s something you have to keep doing over and over, the way you have to keep loving and forgiving over and over.
Gulf Shores doesn’t have the beautiful beach houses along the water that you see in Seagrove, but it’s quiet. Our condo was right next to a wildlife-protected area, so there were no buildings east of us at all. We read books, (well, Beth and I did… hubby worked on his lap top) and napped and went for walks and got lots of sun.
One day Beth ran into an old friend of ours from Jackson (Mississippi) at the WalMart, Sharon Meadows, so she joined us for dinner at the Original Oyster House one night. It’s on a little bayou… beautiful just before sunset.
The next night we went to Lulu’s (owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister) and enjoyed the atmosphere as much or more than the food. The band was a local group, Big Muddy. The lead singer had a great voice and played a mean harmonica.
The view of the bridge over the intercoastal canal was really pretty after dark.
The Dizzy Bean Coffee Shop provided us with lattes and wifi… and great atmosphere.
The weather was perfect and we’re thankful for this time to be together in such a beautiful setting. Yes, I think we hallowed it. We sure made some new memories. Our last night we went walking on the beach with flashlights and watched some little kids catching crabs with nets. There was this gorgeous moon, but it just didn’t show up well in photos. But here are a few my daughter took with her camera, including the one that explains why I always wear a hat at the beach! Yikes!
>Julia Cameron (The Artists’s Way) says we (creative people) need to schedule an “artist’s date” once a week. That’s when we take ourself out and do something creative… visit an art gallery, watch a sunset on water, or relax in a book store or coffee shop without a deadline. So Saturday, my fifth day in New Orleans, I went on an artist’s date. First I went to Cafe Du Monde for beignets. okay kind of gluttonous rather than artsy, but, waiting in line I met Hack Bartholonew, playing his horn (with a friend on banjo )and singing his heart out for Jesus… they let me join them for one song, and of course I bought their CD to help them rebuild their church, destroyed by Katrina. And ate all three beignets that came with my cafe au lait. yum.
My next stop was Faulkner House Books on Pirates Alley. (That’s is, at right, and the historic marker, left.) William Faulkner actually lived here for about six months in 1925 while writing his first novel, Soldier Pay, and now it’s a lovely book store with lots of first editions and signed books. The manager, Joanna, was delightful. I enjoyed meeting her and browsing for a while before purchasing several books, including:
In St. Bernard Parish, home to the Lower Ninth Ward, only 5 houses were livable after Katrina. 5. Houses. It was a densely populated, mostly lower-economic area.
>Tuesday we stopped in Jackson to take my mom to lunch (belated Mother’s Day)… and happily, my two nieces (my brother, Mike’s daughters) were able to join us. We went to AJ’s Seafood… really good food, by the way. Here’s Aubrey and Chelsea. Aubrey just graduated from law school on Saturday, and Chelsea (who just finished her freshman year at Mississippi State) celebrated her 19th birthday on Monday. So we had a big time altogether… three generation of Johnson women.
>When I was eight years old (1959) the U.S. created a pact with Vang Pao and the Hmong people after North Vietnam began carving the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the jungles of Laos to send its soldiers and spies southward. In the final days of the Eisenhower administration, the CIA began shipping weapons and military materials to the Hmong, the mountain tribe whose members were an isolated minority in Laos. Gen. Van Pao’s army grew to some 39,000 Hmong guerillas over the next eight years. This is a picture of him in 1961. Thousands of Hmong died throughout the 60s. This remains one of the least-known chapters in the story of the Vietnam War.
I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve been completely ignorant of all of this until this past year, when our son, Jason, began dating a Hmong woman in Denver. And now she’s my daughter-in-law. Her story will be a significant part of my grandchildren’s history some day, and I’m eager to understand it and share it with others.
You can read an in-depth story about this in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. (which also has an interesting story about what sports are doing to young women….)
I’m not well enough informed to figure out whether recent charges against 78-year-old Vang Pao, indicting him as a terrorist, which resulted in his imprisonment, and even house arrest following his release, have any legitimate foundation. The indictment charged that “Vang Pao led a conspiracy aimed at the overthrow of the existing government of Laos by violent means, including murder, assaults on both military and civil officials of Laos and destruction of building and property.” It might take a year or more before the case comes to trial… but meanwhile, Hmong people in the U.S. see this as an attack on them, and many are frightened.
A young Hmong musician is putting the story into rap music so the younger generation will learn about it and try to help their people who are still trapped in Laos. At one point on the video, he collaborates with his grandmother, who teaches him a form of Hmong oral poetry which he combines with his rap music. You can watch it here.
Reading all this and commenting on it makes the other things I was going to share today seem unimportant. But I’m leaving for New Orleans early tomorrow morning, and I did want to share something a little more upbeat before leaving. One of the agents I’ve queried about my memoir asked to see the full book proposal today (yes!) so I’m about to put it in the mail to her. She requested more sample chapters than I’m ready to send, so I plan to do lots of revising while I’m on my trip.
Why Non Sequitur? I looked up the definition and found two, that kind of explain it, together:
An inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence.
A statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it .
So, I tried to cut and paste the strip, but it’s so tiny, but if you click ON THE COMIC a larger version will appear, or you can CLICK HERE to see it full size on its web site.
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
I’ve heard that criminals copy the shows they see on television, and that people tend to become emboldened to pursue behaviors they might not have otherwise, when they read about them in a book. So, maybe those are negative aspects of life imitating art.
But for me, personally, good fiction, and good narrative nonfiction (like memoirs) both imitate and reveal life. They show people at their best and their worst, struggling with their beautiful, flawed humanity, to find meaning and purpose in life. And sometimes forgiveness and redemption.
Hopefully I’ll send some posts from New Orleans this week. I haven’t been there in about 25 years, so it will be a journey of discovery. One of my favorite blogs is “A Good Blog Is Hard to Find.” A recent post by Kimberly Willis Holt is called, “Escaping to the French Quarter.” Reading it got me in the mood for New Orleans! Kimberly has several published books–her first was My Louisiana Sky. I’ll be looking at that sky tomorrow afternoon, God willing.
I thought about it and said, “Hmmmm, well, it’s the second Sunday after Pascha, but I can’t remember who we commemorate.”
He smiled and said, “the Spice Girls.”
You can read a wonderful homily by Saint Gregory Palamas about the Myrrhbearing Women here.
Here’s my favorite part:
The Myrrhbearers are all those women who followed with the mother of the Lord, stayed with her during those hours of the salvific passion, and with pathos anointed him with myrrh. After Joseph and Nicodemos asked for and received the body of the Lord from Pilate, they took it down from the cross, wrapped it in a cloth with strong spices, placed it in a carved out tomb, and closed the door of the tomb with a large stone…. they went and bought spices and myrrh; for they did not yet clearly know that he is truly the perfume of life for those who approach him in faith, just as he is also the odor of death for those who remain unbelievers to the end. They did not yet clearly know that the odor of his clothes, the odor of his own body, is greater than all perfumes, that his name is like myrrh that is poured out to cover the world with his divine fragrance.
Wow. Jesus is “the perfume of life for those who approach him in faith.” And “the odor of his own body is greater than all perfumes, and his name is like myrrh that is poured out to cover the world with his divine fragrance.” Imagine what the world would smell like without Him.
We miss this earthiness in much of today’s funeral practices, with the body usually being prepared by a stranger, a professional mortician, rather than by “myrrhbearing women.” Ten years ago this summer, when my father died (July 9) at home, I was blessed to at least bathe him before they took him to the funeral home. And then when my Goddaughter, Mary Allison was killed in a car wreck (in September) the time I spent helping her mother comb her hair and apply her makeup before the funeral was a time of tender “anointing” in a sense.
I started thinking about these deaths yesterday, when my cousin Kathleen called to tell me that her father, my Great Uncle Oscar, had died. He was my grandfather’s brother. My father’s father’s brother. Uncle Oscar was 96 years old, and his brother, Papa Willis, died at half that age, at 48. I barely remember him. He died of a heart attack, probably with undiagnosed heart disease back then. Uncle Oscar was a sweet, dear man, who never smoked, drank or ate meat his entire life. Years after retiring from his “day job,” he worked outside in his garden and his mind was sharp. He lived in Star, Mississippi, hometown of Faith Hill .
I’ve lost a brother, an aunt, an uncle and a father to lung cancer caused by smoking. They were all between 58 and 68 years old. Uncle Oscar was 96. I think I said that already.
Forgive the digression from my post about the Myrrhbearing Women… but this smoking thing has been on my mind this week. Today I read an article in The New Yorker by David Sedaris called “Letting Go” … it’s his story of quitting smoking. It’s not at all preachy… mainly his reflections on smoking as a social phenomenon over the years, and how he was finally “finished with it.”
Made me also think about The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell… the book about social trends and how they become epidemics, like teen smoking. (fascinating book, by the way… you can read a good interview with Gladwell here.
So, yesterday he received this award at the VA Hospital here in Memphis where he works. It’s the 2008 Memphis Metropolitan Area Federal Employee of the Year award—specifically the Outstanding Scientific/Professional Employee Award. He got this beautiful plaque, so I made him pose for a picture when he came home from work with it.
Maybe he’ll live to be 96, like Uncle Oscar.
>Tuesday I watched Barbara Walters on Oprah, talking about her new book/memoir, Audition. Barbara says the title of the book comes from her sense that her entire life has been an audition. “As a child, I felt that I didn’t belong—I was auditioning. I kept going to different schools—I was auditioning. Most of my professional life, I’ve been auditioning,” she says. “I think for a lot of us, life is an audition.”
I remember telling someone, quite a few months ago, when they asked me if I felt that I had something to prove by my writing/publishing, that yes, I do feel that way. It was both sad and heartening to hear someone of Barbara Walters’ reputation say that she felt that she was always auditioning in her life… for acceptance. Her book is now on my “to buy” list.
With the plethora of memoirs on the market, a writer like me, with a memoir-in-progress, can either get discouraged and think, like the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” or choose to take encouragement from the popularity of the genre. One of the literary agents that I’ve queried recently replied to my email today, requesting to see the full book proposal, so here’s hoping he finds something original, something new, in what I have to say.
One of my Goddaughters, Katherine, gave me a Gillian Welch CD as a Pascha gift. I’m loving it. It’s called “Soul Journey.” My favorite song is called, “One Little Song.” You can listen to it here, or watch the video here.
The lyrics are yummy:
There’s gotta’ be a song let to sing
Two of my recent favorites are:
The Mistress’ Daughter by A.M. Homes and The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. You can read a great interview with Karr here. I’ve just finished this first volume and am about to begin her sequel, Cherry. Great stuff.
The Mistress’ Daughter is about an adopted woman’s journey to her past, and her efforts to heal her brokenness by embracing both her birth family and adopted family. The Liar’s Club is about Karr’s childhood in southern Texas… an often rough and tumble ride through lots of craziness, but also tenderness.
As I continue with first drafts of the next chapters of my book, it’s so enlightening to see the courage and the craft of these talented women. With Gillian Welch’s earthy tones playing in the background…. reminding me to find that “one little word that ain’t been abused a thousand times.”