A few thoughts on the Big Inevitability

OK. Good news first: my oldest brother Brad and his wife Cindy just found out from eldest daughter Erin and son-in-law Joel that sometime in October, they too will become grandparents. They are thrilled, as they should be and is most appropriate. It means one day, someday, they’ll have a little critter to come visit who may look something like this:

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And who can resist something who looks like that? Not you, certainly not me; that’s my grandson right there and let me tell you he is a blast. I worked with someone who became a grandmother in her mid-30’s, had four of them by the time I worked with her in her early forties, who said there was nothing better on this earth than being a grandparent. She was right. Quite right.

So I’m happy for them, and looking forward to adding “great-uncle” to my multiple hats, and look forward to meeting the star of future Butterfield Fishing Shows. As there is nothing better than being a grandparent, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing the future right before your eyes. It is the reward of age. The good Lord’s way of saying, “You’re not done yet. All those mistakes you made with your own? Here’s another chance. Good luck.”

It’s good to think of birth right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking an awful lot of death. My oldest cousin lost his wife unexpectedly a few weeks back. A high school friend lost his mother unexpectedly just a few days ago. While I’m not worried about either of them because both of them have the most fantastic support network of family and friends people can ask for, I’m still praying for them because both of them are in shock. They don’t have to say it. I know it. Neither of them are that old. My cousin’s wife wasn’t that old. My friend’s mother wasn’t that old. This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon. Yet it did. Tempus fugit, memento mori, but not yet, not now!

No. Sorry. It’s yet. It’s now. There is no way of knowing how much that hurts until you experience it. I’m not about to claim I know how they feel.

But here’s the reality I do have to face: This is going to happen more and more often to people I know, because that is the lesson of age. The great inevitability of life is on our way to death, people we love will die first and the older we get, the more this will happen until it finally happens to us. It’s no one’s fault. It’s not part of a divine plan. It’s just pure cold logic, frankly. Mathematics. The branch of such called probability. The older we get, the more people we know, that simple. The realization doesn’t really hit you until your late 40’s to early 50’s, though, because that’s when it starts happening more often. It’s no longer this rare event that occasionally disrupts your life. There’s a reason your grandparents read the obituaries in the morning paper every day.

So what can you do about it? Not much. Be supportive. Show in some way how much the lost soul was loved and the survivor still is. Give your heart and your shoulder. Pray. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This weekend is Palm Sunday. If you’re Christian, let this weekend and next remind you as well that death isn’t the end and this life is not all that we live for.

And hug those children and grandbabies while you can. 🙂

 

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Lenten thoughts while listening to a pleading cat

We have four cats in our humble home, as disparate a crew of felines as one can imagine: one shelter kitty picked out at a pet store to replace another who’d passed on, one adopted from a friend at work about a year later because he was just too cute for words, and two passed down from my late father-in-law after his wife became injured and could no longer care for them and him too.

You can see them right here if you want. They’re all young cats, they haven’t changed in appearance or personalities much, except the first one–Junebug–has picked up a fierce case of feline asthma. We squirt prednasone–think that’s how you spell it–down her throat every night so she can at least eat and breathe without passing out. But she still gags, and she’s learned how to strategically time the gagging to get us to pay attention to her. She also gets cut-up turkey slices just before her medicine. She seems willing to endure the medicine for the turkey slices.

OK, then–what hath that to do with Lent, my brothers and sisters? Well, I guess it touches on the right attitude to have towards suffering and reward, though in my kitty’s case she’s gotten it backwards. The reward comes first, then the punishment. Paraphrasing Fulton Sheen,  “Never forget that there are only two philosophies to rule your life: the one of the cross, which starts with the fast and ends with the feast; the other of Satan, which starts with the turkey and ends with the icky stuff shot down your throat.” Meaning to her, we’re Satan?  Wow, this is going to be a long Lent.

Seriously, though, the traditional way of looking at Lent–some in my chosen faith, Catholicism, would argue of looking at life–is as a time of suffering. A chosen purification from what is not necessary, to prepare for the gift of the Ultimate Necessity. I’m not here to argue pro or con on that. I’m just thinking about it because of what a visiting priest said at Mass during the homily today–that as the forty days in the desert of Jesus were His honeymoon with God, so we should think of Lent as the same between God and us.

Yes. Honeymoon. The very word he used. He took some time at the start to talk about the word as we’ve come to perceive it, tying in its similarities, generally calling it the period in which we “rejoice in each other’s mystery, learning in that mystery to reject the temptation of any thing or any one lesser.”

I suppose that’s fair. I’m not theologian enough to say, or say not. You can certainly think for yourself on that one, I’m sure.

But the bad boy in me couldn’t help but imagine some poor doof on one knee, ring with rock in hand, saying to his desired, “My love, will you reveal your mysteries to me, that we may suffer together for the rest of our lives?”

Hardly the kind of question to get an “Oh, YES! With all my heart!” kind of answer, huh?

Yet think about it:  Isn’t that exactly what marriage is?

And is that not a good thing?  If it weren’t, why stay together, why bear or adopt children, why raise children, why watch them marry and do the same, why do it if we know we’re both, we’re all, going to suffer?

Because “after the fast, there is the feast,” no?

Because after the blowup, there is the makeup; after the misunderstanding, better understanding; after the punishment, the pride, after the raising hell, the raising up.

Because we are not perfect and if we’re wise enough to learn from them our mistakes make us better, not worse, as individuals and as couples and as people.

And with that Junebug is crying and gagging for her medicine. Who am I to deny a fellow penitent? ‘Til next time, friends.

Why I’m not a million-selling author, and probably why you aren’t either

One of my Facebook buddies is a high school acquaintance who had, and still has, charisma oozing from his pores. These days he tends bar at a hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

He also posts some of the most delightfully wicked, yet occasionally profound, stuff I’ve ever read. The kind of stuff that on average picks up between 27 and 96 “likes,” most from women of assorted ages and appearances, with each time, unfailingly, someone posting “You should write a book!”

To my knowledge–with the full admission I haven’t done any research–he hasn’t done so. With the same caveats, I don’t think he blogs either. And yes, he could do so, and probably get, oh, 400 times the readership of my weak little effort at least.

I mean, come on, who else could refer to his home address as “the corner of Tragically Hip and Crackwhore?”  Not me. Not you. Him and only him. Such originality screams “Notice me, all, and fawn.”

So how come he hasn’t written a book?  Or blogged?  He’s got the skill set, he’s got the audience, he damn sure has the chutzpah, what’s stopping him?

Like I said, I haven’t asked. Irish heredity makes asking such questions dangerous for people like me. They tend to come out blunt and wrong and misinterpretable and bluntly, the older I get the less assholish I wish to appear.  Judgment Day and all that. Besides, having the skill set and the audience and the chutzpah to do so, I imagine he’d prefer to tell people that himself, in his own way.

So I’ll flip it back over to me.  Not that this makes me superior in ANY way, but I have written a book.  Two, in fact.  The older of the two, The Rain Song or Burke’s Siren, actually sold a copy in August.  First sale in, oh, forever. Made 59 cents in royalties. Whoo-hoo! Half a french fry for everyone!

The point is, I have done it, and frankly, in all objectivity, they’re not that bad. One kind soul called Blessed Are the Peace Frogs  “the best self-published novel I’ve yet to read.”  I don’t hear that much about RS/BS since it came out about four years ago, but considering the short time in which it was written–I had a free proof copy code with CreateSpace for winning NaNoWriMo that expired after six months and by golly I was going to use it–and, frankly, the weak sauce of the subject matter, it ain’t half-bad either. The nighttime burial scene especially has received praise.  You can click “Buy J.P.’s Books” above and see for yourself how good they are, of course. 😉

So, while they’re not the 21st Century’s answer to The Great Gatsby or For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are readable, enjoyable works, subjectively and objectively.  They don’t suck. I’m sure if I dug back into either one of them I’d find all kinds of things to improve, but they don’t suck.

So why haven’t they sold a million copies?  Hell, why haven’t they sold a hundred copies?  Combined?  After four years?  If they don’t suck?

Is it because, unlike my friend, I lack the skill set, the audience and the chutzpah? No on the first; I may not be him but I am me and that’s quite enough to get by.  Maybe on the second, though in all honesty it’s not that hard to get a big batch of FB friends.  And definitely no on the third.  Go through this blog on a cold rainy day, you’ll find chutzpah to burn.  Not like his, assuredly, but definitely my own.

What I lack is the hustle. 

See, at heart I’m an old idealistic English major. I write to write, and if it’s good, I should not have to beg, cajole, pressure, plead, schmooze, screw, blow, bribe or kiss ass to get it noticed. It should stand on its own.

In 21st Century America, if you want to actually make money as a writer, that is naive at best in spite of anything Amazon.com will tell you. Inevitably, it invites the rebuke from those who really do write for a living–those who are million-selling authors, or at least get a royalty check every month–that no, you are not an old, idealistic English major; you are simply lazy. Much too lazy.

But I know better than that.  I suspect my Facebook buddy does too. We have lives, and there’s more to living them than burning all our precious time “hustling” the very thing which is supposed to be a reflection of that time.

Having said that, I still wish the guy would write a book.

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Speaking of writing books, we are less than two months shy now of NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.  Learn more about it here.  Better yet, participate.  Get that book in you, out of you.  Good for your head, good for your heart, good for your soul, good for your mind.

All hail the great hot potato bomb of life!

Not much of an entry in this week’s blog post, friends.  Someone close to me just lobbed me a hot potato in the form of her unexpected loss of employment, and now I get to tell a close friend of hers all about once she gets out of work today.  Which will lead to a ton of questions I can’t answer, though I’ll try my best, I always do.  We always do. Right?

So I’m going to steer you towards a new entry in “Sheer Arrogance” this week.  It’s got it all: inflammatory title, popular TV show, and even a hot potato bomb of its own that broadsided me and hundreds of others at church this past weekend.

That’s what life is.  If anyone asks you “What is… life?” say “A hot potato bomb.”

If you really want to have some fun, add toppings.  Right now I’m thinking jalapenos, Tabasco and vinaigrette,  with scallions.  Mmm! Scallions!

Coping with “the fear you can hear”

A hundred years ago–okay, nearly forty, but it feels like a hundred–a cousin of mine turned me on to something that blew the lid off my sheltered life.  He’d caught on to the fact that on AM at night signals can “bounce” for hundreds of miles, and he’d pulled in stations from exotic places like Philadelphia that played wondrous, mind-expanding programs such as CBS Radio Mystery Theater.  Remember it?  Never heard of it?  Well, before reading any further, give yourself a taste.  Ladies and gentlemen, “The Bleeding Statue.”

History: Radio Mystery Theater ran from 1974 to 1982 as a successful revival of “old time” dramatic radio, in this case with a flair for the macabre.  It generally ran late at night on AM stations affiliated with CBS in major markets.  My luck, Indianapolis was not one of them.  It took my cousin from Wyoming, of all places, to tip me off to its very existence.  And I have to admit as soon as he went back home that summer of ’75 I lost all interest in it.  School was starting and none of my crowd cared about dorky things like radio drama.

Lately I’ve caught back up with it thanks to hundreds if not thousands of uploaded episodes on YouTube.  I’m almost 50, am I already an old man reliving the joys of his childhood?  A little, maybe.

But I’m also a writer, albeit a half-assed, terribly distracted one; and I find this show endlessly fascinating.

Not because of its writing per se.  When you’re talking a show that ran five nights a week for eight years, you’re talking hit-or-miss writing; it can’t be helped.  The example I linked above is one of the very best.  Even then, it’s noticeably cliched and hokey.  It sounds more like something you’d have heard in the ’40’s than in the ’70’s.

That, friend, is what fascinates me about it.  Its director, Himan Brown, came from that era of the ’40’s, the last gasp of radio-as-general-entertainment before television took root and took over.  As a result the show never really grasped its time all that well, even when it tried to.  You can especially hear it in the women characters on the show.  Even the “newlyweds” sound like grandmothers, in both what they say and how they say it;  in the world of Mystery Theatre there is no real feminism, only ladies.  It’s startling to me how jarring that is to my modern ear.

The lack of truly modern women–even for its time–on Radio Mystery Theater is just one of several things noticeable about how the show clashes with reality, and philosophically that may have well been its point.  Though some of its scripts certainly made the attempt, Radio Mystery Theater overall did not even try to update the radio drama for the audience of the 70’s, but to ride its wave of nostalgia instead.   I remember that very well, even though by my first taste of Radio Mystery Theater I’d barely cleared ten.  I remember my childhood as a horrible time for this country.  Kennedy was shot two months before I was born, his brother and Martin Luther King four years later.  We were in a  little war in a little country with a great big body count for no apparent good reason.  There was race rioting.  There were protesters gunned down in the streets.  There was a President behaving as if he would be king.  All in my first decade of life.

Is it any wonder back then people craved a simpler time, with simpler notions of simple decency, no matter where they stood on the politics of any of what was going on?

Is it any wonder right now, with the radical change we seem to be facing, a little nostalgia might appeal to an old (well, older) guy like me?

Let’s blog about the new Pope, why not?

Normally at work I can’t follow live streams.  I don’t know why.  I’ve always assumed that it was an HR-instructing-IT thing that we were at work to, uh, work, not watch live streams all day; ergo, no live streams, be productive, you’re welcome.

This week, though, one did work for me: the CNN feed of Vatican television just before the man who would be Pope Francis was introduced to the world.  If anyone from my employer’s HR department is reading this, I solemnly swear I did not watch the whole feed.  I merely listened to it, because I realize I am at work to work, not to watch live streams, even those of once-in-a-lifetime historical events.  I just watched the Pope step out on the balcony and speak and that’s it.  During a break.  Of course.

To my life-long-Catholic shame, it was the first time I’ve ever watched a Pope’s introduction live as it happened.  Before, I’ve always let CNN or the papers tell me what happened. The older I get, the more I realize what a foolish thing that is to do; so I watched this one live.

My first thought when the former Cardinal Bergoglio stepped out was WOW–if he were thinner, he would look remarkably like my grandfather.

My second thought when he stepped out was WOW–he looks scared to death.

Fortunately I stuck around and listened to him speak, and heard the translation of same, and caught myself becoming thrilled.

What can I say?  From all appearances so far, we’ve got a good one.

I mean in no way to hint that his predecessors weren’t “good ones.”  Only to say that this one will be a good one.  One that may bring many changes overdue and necessary to the Church.

Now let’s get “controversial”:  they won’t be the changes the mainstream media tell you incessantly that we want.  Humanae Vitae will not be revoked.  If that’s something you’d like to see, sorry; the Church must witness to the Truth as it believes our Savior taught it.

But our new Pope seems to have something in common with Henry David Thoreau, a three-word mantra if you will:  simplify, simplify, simplify.

Do not get caught out in the irrelevancies. I’m aware Thoreau was not Catholic, and I’m aware mantra is a Buddhist term.  So what?  The message is the same.

“How I wish,” Francis said to his first meeting with the media, “for a poor Church, and a Church for the poor!”

Who are the poor?  The impoverished?  In human terms, surely, and he surely refers to them in his wish for a “poor Church.”

But consider also this from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Who are the “poor in spirit?”  The humble.  The meek.  The gentle.  The simple.  From www.newadvent.org/cathen/02371a.htm:

The word poor seems to represent an Aramaic ‘ányâ (Hebrew ‘anî), bent down, afflicted, miserable, poor; while meek is rather a synonym from the same root, ‘ánwan (Hebrew ‘ánaw), bending oneself down, humble, meek, gentle. Some scholars would attach to the former word also the sense of humility; others think of “beggars before God” humbly acknowledging their need of Divine help. But the opposition of “rich” (Luke 6:24) points especially to the common and obvious meaning, which, however, ought not to be confined to economical need and distress, but may comprehend the whole of the painful condition of the poor: their low estate, their social dependence, their defenceless exposure to injustice from the rich and the mighty. Besides the Lord’s blessing, the promise of the heavenly kingdom is not bestowed on the actual external condition of such poverty. The blessed ones are the poor “in spirit“, who by their free will are ready to bear for God’s sake this painful and humble condition, even though at present they be actually rich and happy; while on the other hand, the really poor man may fall short of this poverty “in spirit“.

You’ll notice there’s lots of links in that.  Feel free to click on any of them for some fascinating reading.

What’s my point?  I’m beginning to believe the Catholic Church may have just chosen a Pope that will be one of its best, one necessary for our times, and one who will be very misunderstood, several times over.

All indications are that he is a simple, humble, spiritual man. Therefore those who would prefer things complicated, that they might profit from their own evil, will go after him with everything they have.

He needs your prayers, whether you’re Catholic or not.

And that will be enough proselytizing for today.

You’re welcome.

Suck it up, it’s almost Lent…

… already.  Good.  I like early Lenten seasons.  The earlier Lent is, the earlier it is over.  That’s my selfish secular side coming through, kids.  The bit of soul in me warring against that likes early Lenten seasons too, but for different reasons.  The earlier Lent is, the earlier incentive to expel the sugar-fueled gluttony the holidays bring that sticks around in spite of all good intentions, especially when January brings a plague like this one did.  If you can’t do it for yourself… if you can’t do it for your health… if you can’t do it even for vanity… perhaps, just maybe, you can do it… for GOD.  Maybe. 🙂

I’ve written a lot on this blog about Lent and God. It’s probably cost me some readers. I don’t care. It’s kind of important. As this entry from a couple of years ago spells out, belief or disbelief in God is the philosophical fundamental of human existence; everything you “are” as a human being hinges on whether or not you accept a higher power over yourself. That’s not nearly as deep as it sounds. We all ask ourselves “why” at some point; it’s the only answer that makes sense.

That’s the whole point of Lent, at least from the Catholic perspective. It’s a month and a half of looking into yourself for what’s there that’s getting in the way of your relationship with God, taking that, and ideally eliminating it–or at least putting it in its proper place. It’s why, though not required, many Catholics choose a symbolic thing to “give up” over Lent.  Soda pop.  Candy bars.

Or if you want to go deeper with it… your prejudices.

Now there’s a challenge: Stare down a hard truth for Lent. Face the other side of a long-held belief. Try to get why someone doesn’t think like you do.

Here’s a blog from an old high school acquaintance that’s pushing me to do just that.  Its subject is “spiritual surrealism,” or “spirrealism” for short.  Grossly oversimplified, it’s a take on the issues of modern religion through the eyes of two surrealist artists, one with an Orthodox background, one with a Catholic background.

Vonnegut likens artists to canaries in coal mines; SPIR well backs that up.  It is not pleasant reading.   I say that not to disparage it.  It is doing what art is to do. The more traditional you are in outlook, the more it jolts and shocks.  In fact, I’ve caught myself thinking while reading some entries, “Is he serious… or is this art?”  Is it his thoughts, or what the work displayed with the writing is to say?  After all, once his co-contributor to the site, upon being presented with criticism of what she said, responded “Did you like the art?”

So take that caveat with you as you visit and read, but for the sake of the Lenten exercise I have in mind, I will assume both contributors to the site are deadly serious.  And I will ask myself, why am thinking the things I am, feeling the emotions I am, while reading this.  I’ve already suggested some reading to them as well.  I may keep doing so, but I have no intention of critiquing their work.  That’s not the point of this exercise.  Lent is meant to be taken internally.  The point is to let their work critique me.

I doubt I write much more about Lent this year, so take that thought with you:  what we “give up” for Lent should be as much internal as external, if not more so.  IMHO.

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Finally, part seven of Reed’s Story is up.  If you haven’t read it in awhile, I’d strongly suggest re-reading parts one and two as well as part six before this one. If you haven’t read it at all, I’d strongly recommend reading parts one, two, three, four, five and six first. 😀  There’s a twist, see, and I’d hate for you to miss its full significance.  ‘Nuff said.  Criticism welcome at the email address in the link above, all I ask is you remember it’s a first draft.

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Finally, one more “proud grandpa” picture:

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Gotta say I love the “moonbeam phase” of early childhood.  Every smile this little guy makes is like a moonbeam straight into the soul.  Granted I’m not the one diaper-changing him or cleaning up his upchucks–though I have got to feed and burp him a couple of times–but I’ve got to think his parents feel the same moonbeams from him.  I hope so.  He’s showing signs already of being a rather cool character.