Turner Classic Movie channel is playing old Oscar-winning movies leading up to this year’s Academy Awards. I’ve been recording some of them to watch, and this weekend I watched “Goodbye Mr. Chips” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. I had never seen it and really enjoyed it. And I haven’t been able to get the theme song out of my head… I keep humming it and singing it over and over. Here’s a video showing the boys at the school where “Mr. Chips” teaches singing it in assembly, when Mr. Chip’s wife bursts forth enthusiastically to join them. And here are the lyrics:
Fill the World With Love
In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise.
At a moment in my life when the world is new.
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine,
At a moment in my life when the sky is blue.
And the blessing I shall ask shall remain unchanging.
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through
In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At a moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer.
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?
It’s not just the music that has captivated me; it’s the words. They reflect thoughts that have guided me for the past year or more as I put together the anthology, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, which releases on March 1. The essays in this collection reflect on the various stages of life—not only the “first and second halves” but all the in-betweens. Kind of like this song:
In the morning of my life… when the world is new, I ask God to help me be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love.
In the noontime of my life… I ask God for the same blessings.
And finally, in the evening of my life… I ask God if I have been those things—have I been brave and strong and true? Have I filled the world with love my whole life through? I think I may be somewhere between the noontime and the evening of my life. Maybe I’m in the afternoon?
This song from 1969—the year I graduated from high school—is a wonderful anthem for people of all ages and in all stages of life. If only we would all have it as our goal to fill the world with love. Or at least our marriages, families, neighbors, and communities.
I miss Will, MacKenzie, Charlie, Jim, Maggie, Sloan, Don and Neal! This weekend I finished binge-watching the HBO series (three seasons) “The Newsroom” on Amazon Prime Video (using Roku). This wasn’t my first time at binge-watching. A couple of years ago I did two posts about this activity:
The shows I have binge-watched so far include: House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black, Rectify, and recently Switched at Birth and The Newsroom.
So this morning I woke up thinking about how binge-watching a TV series is like reading a novel. When you watch a TV show as it comes out—one episode each week—you can sometimes lose momentum. Sure, you look forward to the next show, but 7 days later you might have lost some of the immediacy of the plot. You probably haven’t even thought about the characters since the last episode.
But when you watch three years’ worth in a few days (or even a week or two) it’s so much more like reading a good novel. That feeling that you can’t put it down. That you have to know what happens next. (Although this article says that binge-watching just might be changing out brains!)
Yesterday afternoon when I watched the finale of the final season of “The Newsroom,” I found myself sad to be saying goodbye to these characters I had come to care so much about. Will and MacKenzie got married and they’re having a baby! How will that affect MacKenzie’s new position as network president? Maggie and Jim are together but she’s interviewing for a field producer position in DC and Jim just got promoted at ACN in Atlanta! How will their long-distance relationship work out? And Charlie (Sam Waterston) died. For me he was the glue for the show, so maybe it helped to have him die as the series ended. But I have to admit that I cried.
I recently also binge-watched another series on Netflix, “Switched at Birth.” Not nearly as well written or acted as “The Newsroom,” but the story-line was unique and I was sucked in. Again, when it ended, I found myself wondering what would happen next for Bay, Daphne, Emmett, Toby, and their families? I was fascinated by the partly deaf cast and the ASL (American Sign Language), which I realized I was learning a bit as I watched each episode. I’m excited that they plan to air 10 new episodes beginning in January 2017 (ABC Family) but now I’m wondering if I’ll watch one each week, or wait until they’re over and binge-watch all 10 of them?
Now I find myself wondering also what I’m going to read next. Having just finished a wonderful (nonfiction) book, Dispatches From Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant, I also didn’t want it to end! I’m looking at three books next to my “reading chair” in my office and considering how well it will work to read all three at once: Robert Walker (a novel about a homeless man in Memphis)by Corey Mesler, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life (Pat Conroy); and A Charmed Life, the 1955 novel by Mary McCarthy, author of The Group. I’ve already read parts of the Conroy book, and I’m excited to see his wife, Cassandra King, who wrote the introduction, this Thursday night at the Thacker Mountain Radio Show at Off Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s the two novels that I might have to read one at a time. Here goes. Have a great week, everyone!
A few years ago I was inspired by my friend Corey Mesler (poet, author, and owner of Burke’s Books in Memphis) to do an “End of Year” list. Like Corey’s, my list included favorite books, movies, songs, etc. This year I’m going to do something a bit different. I call it my 2015 Travelogue. As I looked back through my calendar—and at lots of photos—I realize again how blessed I am to be able to travel at this stage in my life. Here’s the year’s trips in review:
March—Seagrove Beach, Florida; Jackson; Oxford, Mississippi
April—Atlanta; Oxford; Jackson
May—Jackson; Seagrove Beach; New York City; Los Gatos, California
July—Jackson; Gulfport, Mississippi
October—Jackson (twice); Denver
November—Seagrove Beach; Atlanta
December—Fairhope, Alabama; Jackson; Denver
That’s 25 trips in 12 months. Four were for literary events (two were my book signings; two were for friends), one for a music concert. One for a funeral, one for a wedding, and one for a birth. Two for my husband’s medical meetings. Three trips to visit children and grandchildren (Denver). Three trips to my favorite place on earth (Seagrove Beach). Eleven trips to see my mother in the nursing home. As I remember each of these today, I am thankful for the cycles of life they represent, and I look forward to more travels in 2016… including the last one on my bucket list: Paris! Hope the New Year brings wonderful adventures your way.
August 15 is the date that millions of people commemorate the death of two very different heroes—Elvis Presley and the Mother of God.
Tomorrow is the date of the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Orthodox Church.
On this same date thousands of people from all over the world come to Memphis—to Elvis’s home at Graceland—for a candlelight vigil for Elvis.
I’ve never been a big Elvis fan. We’ve lived in Memphis for 27 years and I’ve only been to Graceland twice—both times at the request of guests from out of town. And then six years ago I was schooled on Elvis by an English nun. I’ve grown to appreciate him as a musical and cultural icon, but I don’t venerate him. I don’t plan to attend any candlelight vigils for him.
Lots of people who aren’t Catholic or Orthodox have a problem with our veneration of the Mother of God. And yet I wonder how many of those same people don’t have a problem with the veneration of Elvis?
Oh, and for those of you who aren’t on Facebook: I now have 4 granddaughters! Isabelle Katherine Davis was born Wednesday afternoon, August 12! She’s beautiful and healthy, and I’m so thankful for her safe arrival. Mother and baby are both doing great! I’ll be in Denver until August 25 helping Beth, Kevin, Gabby and Izzy adjust to being a family of four. Also having a great time hanging out with my son, Jason, and his wife, See and daughters Grace and Anna. Heading to Anna’s 5th birthday party tomorrow. After all the extreme heat and humidity in Memphis, it’s such a treat to be enjoying this try, breezy, beautiful weather and the mountain sunsets. Enjoy a few photos!
I’ve been reading the book my husband gave me for Christmas this week. (It finally made its way up the queue.) The book is The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God by Jonathan Jackson. Five time Emmy-award-winning Jackson first caught my attention because he’s an actor—he plays Avery Barkley, an up and coming musician, on the TV show “Nashville.” Jackson began his career over twenty years ago on the soap opera General Hospital, and he’s been in many feature films, most notably The Deep End of the Ocean, Tuck Everlasting, and Insomnia (with Al Pacino). He’s also lead singer in the band Enation. He and and his wife and three children are active members of an Orthodox Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
When I learned that Jackson was Orthodox (like me) I was intrigued and immediately became a fan of “Nashville.” The Mystery of Art has only increased my respect for him as an artist—musician, actor and writer. He grapples with so many of the same things that fill my reflective hours. From the Introduction:
Is the life of the Christian antithetical or complementary to the vocation of an artist? Are they hostile to one another or deeply connected? The purpose of this book is to open a dialogue between the Christian Soul and the mystery of art.
About twenty years ago I was in what I’ve come to call my “radical convert” spiritual phase. For several years I cut myself off from “the world’s” culture—from television, movies, and secular literature and art. I had become convinced that these things were dangerous and counter to my purpose as an Orthodox Christian. But the artist inside was screaming to get out of the prison in which I had placed her. My only outlets for those desires were “Christian” art (I became an iconographer) and writing (I published our church newsletter and wrote and directed children’s Christmas plays.) The only music I listened to was liturgical—mostly the Byzantine and Slavonic music of my church.
Once I came out of that radical phase of my life I made several abrupt changes. I quit writing icons (I wrote about that here.) I began to listen to secular music. I dabbled in abstract art. And I began writing seriously. Over the next eight years I published a dozen or more essays—three of which appear in anthologies. I wrote four book-length manuscripts—one of which I’m now revising for publication. And I fell in love with the art of acting. Not for me (my last dramatic performance was in our high school’s production of Our Town back in 1967) but for the enjoyment of watching the artists bring the stories to life on television and in the movies. I appreciate the writing of those stories as much as the acting.
Jackson talks about the spiritual life throughout this wonderful book, making it clear from the beginning that “the true artist within must be the Holy Spirit.” He talks about the power of the artist to affect culture (as opposed to running away from it, as I did):
Politicians can write as many laws as they wish, but they will never change the heart of the culture. This belongs to the artists—and we do battle in the heart for the soul of society…. An artist is one of the caretakers of the spiritual health of humanity.
He explains that this power can be used for good or for evil:
Producing films in which pornography is depicted in a comedic manner or in which the systematic slaughter of innocent people is glorified changes the culture. The artist is placed within this cultural dynamic to bring about the return of the prodigal world to the beauty of life.
That’s a high calling. But one I’m listening to as I work on revisions to my novel. There are sections which the editor (and a couple of trusted early readers) felt are too graphic/explicit. I didn’t create those scenes (of sexual abuse) to distract the reader from the story, but evidently they do. As I revise them now I’m keeping in mind Jackson’s words:
The artist is not a prude or a fundamentalist—he is not afraid to show the depths of darkness or the honesty of life. But when he is called to portray the ugliness of humanity, he will not glorify it…. He will weep as he paints and tremble as he sings. The spiritual artist will pray for the life of the world as he portrays its desperate need for healing.
Wow. I know I’m quoting a lot here, but his words are inspiring me even as I type them:
When he creates, the artist seeks to transform the atmosphere. He seeks to affect the heart and infuse the mind with glimpses of beauty and darkness.
Glimpses of beauty and darkness. I can do that. I can chose to use my art to glorify God and His creation rather than glorifying sin and suffering. And although Jackson agrees with the common thinking that most artists are somewhat mad, he says that the artist has a choice:
Will he create for the glory of his small story or for the eternal glory of God? Will his art be an offering for his own ego—or for the life of the world?… Story is man’s participation in the brilliance of God.
I’m only half way through with this book, so this isn’t a full “book review,” and I’m sure I will discover more wisdom and inspiration in the second half. I’ll close today with one more nugget:
The artist must transcend, or he will die…. Everyone, whether in joy or sorrow, imagination or intellect, wisdom or naivety, holiness or nirvana, crucifixion or law, all must break through some shadow or wall, look beyond, above, or within… gaze past a visible horizon, an altar, or a trend, wound something, tear something, or mend… all must become something in the end…all must transcend.
I’m not sure what this says about the state of my mental health, but I decided to do this instead of my usual 2014 “End of Year” List—a list of my favorite TV shows. I’m sad that “Parenthood” only has four more episodes. I’ve seen every episode since the beginning. I only wish it had been out when I was raising kids. Anyway, here’s my list.
The Good Wife
Law & Order SVU
State of Affairs
How To Get Away With Murder
Halt and Catch Fire
I guess competition shows should be in their own category:
So You Think You Can Dance
I binge-watched all seasons of the following four shows this past year and loved all of them. Just finished “The Newsroom” this weekend, actually, and wish it wasn’t over! Of course it reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time, “Network News.” I wanted to be Holly Hunter. Wouldn’t it be a kick to direct a news show? (To direct anything.)
Orange is the New Black
House of Cards
Looking forward to my favorite shows returning this week after the long holiday break. And wishing for something to replace “The Newsroom.” Any suggestions?
6 days before Thanksgiving… a good time to start preparations. Especially if you’re expecting a crowd. For the first time in many years, we’ll have all our children and grandchildren together AT OUR HOUSE for Thanksgiving. I’m so excited, but with 9-10 people around for a week (and 12 on Thanksgiving day) I’m planning ahead. Like today. I just spent all morning making the dressing. And this is not just ANY dressing. It’s my Aunt Barbara Jo’s “Best Dressing Ever,” and it’s worth the labor. Here’s what you do: (this recipe makes two casserole pans, but I doubled it to make four)
Boil a hen or whole fryer with a white onion.
Boil 6 eggs and chop them up.
Mix the crumbled cornbread with 1 large bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing mix and the chopped eggs, green onions and celery, WYH. (I use a large plastic “bucket” like you’d use to serve wine or beer on ice.)
Add sage, salt and pepper to taste.
Add 6 raw eggs (beaten) and continue to mix, WYH.
Spread the mix into two casserole containers (I use disposable aluminum ones because we serve our plates from the kitchen) and pour the chicken broth from the pot over them.
Cover with aluminum foil and FREEZE.
On Thanksgiving day, add one can of chicken broth to each pan (because some drying out happens with freezing) and bake 45 minutes to one hour at 400 degrees. You can cook the dressing from a frozen state if you add another 30 minutes or so.
Since we’re having Honey Baked Ham rather than turkey, I’m using canned turkey gravy to serve with the dressing. It turns out to be more of a casserole than a side dish, with all that chicken in it.
Whew. Glad that’s done. Now I can look forward to playing with my granddaughters next week and not spending as much time in the kitchen. If you try the recipe (see photo) be sure and ADD THE PULLED CHICKEN, as I don’t think I put that part in the recipe, which was published in our church’s cookbook many years ago. Also, the recipe calls for 4 raw eggs but I use 6.
Enjoy your family and friends!
“Read Slowly to Benefit Your Brain and Cut Stress,” by Jeanne Whalen.
Evidently there’s a movement afoot to bring people “back” to reading the old-fashioned way—slowly, thoughtfully, and for the sheer pleasure of reading. Groups are springing up in various places where they gather for 30 minutes to an hour just to read. Whalen talks about how reading from computers and tablets has changed the way we read… we skim quickly, click on links and follow them, which distracts us from the material we are reading.
These are not book clubs. There is no discussion of the books being read. Physical books aren’t required by the members of these new reading groups—some folks read eBooks with the internet disconnected—but the point is to slow down and allow the stories to permeate your brain. That’s what “slow reading” is all about. According to Whalen:
Slow reading advocates seek a return to the focused reading habits of years gone by, before Google, smartphones and social media started fracturing our time and attention spans. Many of its advocates say they embraced the concept after realizing they couldn’t make it through a book anymore…. Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. Advocates recommend setting aside at least 30 to 45 minutes in a comfortable chair far from cellphones and computers.
This really isn’t different from what I’ve been doing recently. My “reading time” is separate from my computer time. It’s usually when I get in bed at night, or sometimes when I take a rest break during the day. That’s when I get out whatever book I’m reading and immerse myself in the story, usually for about 30 minutes, maybe an hour. I enjoy it, but I do find it takes a commitment to leave the world of quick entertainment (internet and TV) and get back to the book.
Does it matter what the reading material is during “slow reading” time? Whalen recommends literary fiction:
A study published last year in Science showed that reading literary fiction helps people understand others’ mental states and beliefs, a crucial skill in building relationships.
But I think those same benefits can also come from reading quality creative nonfiction, which uses scenes to tell true stories and share information with the reader. It’s not really so much about what we are reading, but how.
The chart below shows some tips and benefits of slowing down our reading process. If you’ve lost the joy of reading, you might try learning to read like a first grader!
One doesn’t usually consider movie stars to be mental health professionals. But when one’s screen idol writes two wonderfully candid books about so many universal issues (especially for women) I pay attention. Two years ago I did a short post here about Diane Keaton’s first memoir, Then Again. Keaton is still my favorite screen actress, and her writing reveals so much more than her acting. In Then Again, she wrote about serious issues (that we share) such as adoption, Alzheimer’s, eating disorders, depression, body image distortion and mother-daughter relationships. I couldn’t believe how much we had in common.
In her second memoir, Let’ Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, she keeps a lighter tone, addressing her insecurities about some surprising things—some of the things I love most about her—like her hair! She hates her hair. I tried to copy her hairstyle on and off for years. And I love hats, so I assumed she loved them, too, and she does. But she mainly wears them to hide her hair! Who knew?
A couple of years ago I started noticing my right eyelid was drooping. It has continued to fall, giving me a somewhat sad appearance. Of course I Googled it and talked with my eye doctor about it. It’s not bothering my eyesight, so I won’t have surgery on it, but I hate the way it looks. Well guess, what? Both of Keaton’s eyelids droop, which is another reason she wears glasses and hats! But at age 68, she hasn’t had any plastic surgery.
The book is wonderful. Here’s an excerpt from her chapter, “What Is Beauty?”
We all long to feel confident, look great, and do well. We all want to be remembered. Sometimes we’re lost. Sometimes we’re found. But one thing’s for sure: no matter how much control we have over our appearance, we’re all awkward, laughable, ugly, and beautiful at the same time.
I’m looking forward to seeing her new movie with Michael Douglas, “And So It Goes.” You know I’ll be looking at her hair, her hats, and her eyes the whole time. But I’ll mostly be thinking, “What a beautiful woman, actress and writer!”