by Kim Addonizio
Thursday, July 31, 2008
by Kim Addonizio
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Digital photography has made a ton of people into amateur photographers and, I'm told, changed the nature of professional photography just as well. Count me among those who love to shoot. I always have.
Anyway, I'm often dumbfounded by what exactly it is that makes me say of a particular landscape, "Now that's beautiful." I assume that, were I trained as an artist, I'd know at least something of the answer to such a question, but I'm not and therefore I don't. I do know what I like, however--I can see it in a moment. What baffles me, for the most part, is why.
A couple days ago, I took a walk out into the New Mexico desert. The sky was full of drama, and the earth itself was famously red. Here and there, wild flowers festooned the place, but for the most part, what I saw was the desert's ordinary livery this time of year, I'm sure.
There's immense character in dead mesquite, of course, so I came up on this little scene right along the path, and I knew that somehow I'd like it--so I took a couple of pictures. I was right--I do. It's become my wallpaper. But for the life of me, I don't know why.
Let me guess. Symbolically, it offers some kind of combination of life and death. The sparse splashes of green in the left foreground contrast with the scraggly trunk and branches that dominate the scene. The thick clouds behind are somewhat fearful, but there's still enough blue back there to contrast.
More, there are interesting lines created by the dead bush. They seem to swirl outward toward every corner of the composition, and even though the shot itself has no peculiar heart, the swirling movement of the lines themselves create something that is oddly enough, a center or heart of its own.
Then again, the colors are incredible, although I may be saying that only because this Iowan is accustomed to a steady menu of emerald this time of year. That pumpkin orange ground is simply remarkable, the grays of the bush are almost silver, and you just can't help but love the dramatic tonal range of the sky as background.
Am I making sense?
Maybe I'm the only one who likes it. Maybe I like it because, like Georgia O'Keefe, one can't help but be taken with the peculiar light of the New Mexico high country, as well as the indiginous colors. Willa Cather knew it too, although she was a writer, not a painter. Read Death Comes to the Archbishop sometime, and her awe and near worship of the landscape is clearly evident. Maybe I'm just taken with the beauty of the shot because I'm taken with the beauty of the place.
No matter. This morning I'm thankful once again for beauty all around.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
One risks piling on, but then extremism in defense of compassion is no vice. I have never heard a word from the mouth of one Michael Savage. I wouldn't know where to find him, nor when, on the radio dial. I know that, as a conservative talk show host, in listenership he ranks third behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. And I know that recently he said some incredibly stupid, hurtful things about autism.
I confess not knowing much about autism either. We have friends--several couples--who have autistic kids, and I know there is controversy galore about autism's origins. But I know this--it's real. Autism is not, as Savage suggested, simply kids whose behavior is out of control. He's dead wrong, and if he was the moral voice he thinks he is, he'd admit it.
But I'm piling on.
What I do know of Michael Savage comes from my mother, who has, occasionally, let out some invective about contemporary politics or cultural values that is so far from true, so laden with fear, and so close to hate that I know it can't be her opinion. "Where on earth did you hear that, Mom?" I'll say, and, she'll reply, sheepishly, "Michael Savage."
Last night, before a movie, we sat through a series of five action-adventure film clips advertising upcoming attractions. Both of us were almost ready to leave the theater. Film leaders make MTV look like a funeral dirge. The challenge must be to include as many ear-splitting explosions as possible in a three-minute clip. No shot is on the screen for more than two seconds. No two lines of dialogue are connected, and the number of fireballs per ten second segment is astounding. I never felt so much a part of Huxley's Brave New World and "the feelies," media programming that mashes the mind into gruel in an endless succession of blasts meant to spin psyches into sensory overload.
For a moment, just for a moment, I felt a bit of the Nazi in me. For a moment, I felt some sympathy for Islamic terrorists because what they don't want, what they hate about American culture is really what Hollywood does to us, playing to our basest instincts in a single-minded effort simply to make money.
For the life of me, I don't understand why my mother and millions of others listen to Michael Savage, nor why so many really, really wealthy people invest millions in production companies that turn out mind-numbing action adventures that, in turn, make millions more by selling entertainment to a culture that sometimes seems little more than hormone-mad, eighth-grade boys. Why do we put up with it? I just don't know.
That's entertainment, I guess. And the really sad news is that it takes a ton more than 9/11 to get us to turn off the hate, the madness, and the violence.
What is the magic of hate-spewing talk radio anyway? Why do people pay to be entertained by garbage?
"Certain it is," Herman Melville wrote in a review of a novel of Nathaniel Hawthorne, "that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance."
Makes great sense to me.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Friday, July 25, 2008
I have a niece, cousin of the groom, who is presently trying to determine how on earth she's going to live with two similarly new editions. My sister says the babies are lovely and just a joy, but they tend to usurp almost everything else from my neice's life. Like her cousin, this niece of mine is neither no longer a kid. Both are well into their thirties.
And both were coached along significantly by fertility specialists. My mother was suddenly gifted with four beautiful new great-grandchildren with the significant help of medical science.
I say all of that because today, I just read, is the thirtieth birthday of Louise Brown, of Oldham, England, the world's first in vitro baby. Just a few years ago, Ms. Brown had a baby the old-fashioned way, which is to say that she's just about as normal as can be.
Today there are four new names on the Schaap family tree because of a procedure that I'm quite sure most of the good Christian folks of thirty years ago wondered greatly about, as some still do. But it's hard to argue with four babies, even if one of them bawled up a storm.
Here's my problem. I appreciate the fact that some good Christian folks shake their head at the inroads science can and does make into the otherwise ordinary progression of our lives. Cloning?--is it right? Designer babies?--is that what God wants us to do create? I appreciate well-meaning people who ask questions where others claim the only cause is progress.
But it's impossible to argue with that bawling sweetheart who wouldn't pose for family pictures. It's impossible to argue about the beauty of four gorgeous new human beings, bringing exaspiration--sure!--but sheer joy too, right now, into the lives of a niece and a nephew and their tired, loving spouses.
That science doesn't necessarily listen only to the most conservative religious voices in society is a good thing. Had Dr. Patrick Steptoe simply put away his glass thirty years ago, there would be no Louise Brown.
Life is more nuanced than some would have us believe. Lord, help us negotiate all the angles.
No matter. This morning, I'm thankful for four little babies.
(Here's hoping their parents are doing okay.)
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Maybe it's the CNN Specials on television lately, terribly interesting. Maybe it's because I'm now on a committee that studies the issues connected with it and advocates when necessary. Maybe it's because I've been in up to my eyeballs in the story of Native American boarding schools for so long or because two of my last writing projects involved minorities. I'm not sure why, but I'm deeply conscious of racism lately.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
It's not everyday I get to say I'm thankful for a new book with my name on the spine. My first was published almost thirty years ago now, something called Sign of a Promise, a collection of stories about Dutch Americans set throughout the upper Midwest. I'd determined that I would learn how to write fiction by reading ancient anecdotes from my own ethnic background, then writing them as short stories. I won on that all the way around--not only did I learn how to write, I published the workbook, as if I'd won the basketball game simply by taking layups.
Hasn't always been that easy. I've got two novels lying around this house that some publisher could buy, cheap, and a bunch of other projects that never really made it out of the blocks. But Sixty at Sixty is the latest manuscript to find its way between covers--and hopefully not the last.
Throughout those thirty years, I've written several devotional books, almost always for kids. One of the best sellers is Intermission, first published in 1985 and still selling a few now and then, a tour through the Bible written for 12-year-olds (or so). Sixty at Sixty is my very first devotional book for adults--old ones at that :).
For several years I wrote devotionals from the Psalms, as much for myself as anything. I took the style from Abraham Kuyper's Near Unto God, a book I revised substantially a few years ago. Kuyper often simply took a verse out of a chapter and took off, did a riff on the idea. I liked that. Besides, I'm no theologian or linguist. I'm just a guy who reads the psalms.
I quit when I'd accumulated somewhere around 365. The original idea was to use only those Psalms that had reference to wide open spaces. I'd been fascinated by this land on which I live, the emerald cusp of the Great Plains, as I still am; and I thought I'd write from this time and place specifically. Somewhat arbitrarily, I decided to go for two manuscript pages a piece, which is far, far longer than most meditations people actually read today.
When I finished, I had a volume akin to a telephone book. Who on earth would buy it? Nobody. I'll concede this much about my abilities: I've always been a better writer than businessman.
Along the line, I gave some of those meditations to our pastor, who said he enjoyed the ones about getting older (he's almost sixty himself). Honestly, I wasn't aware of that being a theme in the collection I'd been writing; but I wasn't surprised that it was. So Faith Alive Publications went after the idea I tried to sell them--sixty meditations from a guy who was sixty years old: "a boomer reads the psalms."
For me, reading meditations like these in a book is different than reading them on the screen in front of you. For the first time, really, it struck me that what I'd committed to paper was what I was going to have to live with now that they were all between covers. It struck me that I'd been far more "personal," in a way, than I'd ever been before. Scary, really.
Anyway, those meditations are no longer locked up in this computer. They're out there, suitably arrayed with what I think is an attractive cover. Looks like a book of poems, really, which may well be the kiss of death, poetry selling as poorly as it does. Regardless, I think the book looks good. I have no idea what readers will think. We'll see, I guess.
And--oh, yes--I've got to mention that the foreward is written by Eugene Peterson. There--that's worth the price of admission all by itself.
This morning I'm thankful to hold this thing in my hands, just as thankful as I was thirty years ago. It's still a great thrill.
Should you be interested, saith the huckster, you can find it here: http://shop5.gospelcom.net/epages/FaithAlive.storefront/4881caa3098dc89d271d45579e790718/Product/View/160510#full
Friday, July 18, 2008
We started out third in a group of three. To be honest, I was a little surprised my wife, who really hasn't spent any time at all in a canoe, was so open to the idea of taking on the Niobrara River, not that the Niobrara is so rough or challenging. But she was game, so off we went, totally unpracticed.
Once we were in the water, Barbara asked me what she had to do. I told her simply to be vigilant about dangerous-looking riffles that formed over rocks we'd just as soon not hit. I'm not sure she knew exactly what "dangerous-looking riffles" were. She was unsure of how to hold the paddle.
Maybe five minutes in the river, we were floating merrily along when I reached for my camera because I wanted to get it out of the case should I need it, which I would have, of course.
Anyway, when I was fussing with the camera (and not steering or even looking where we were going), the canoe decided to veer left and, in so doing, hit, sideways, a rock the size of Volkswagon. Neither of us would have made Lewis and Clark's team, of course, so the slam-bang movement was enough to make us both shift our weight, which is, of course, a deadly course of action in a canoe. In a spirit of togetherness, we leaned away from said rock, and when we did the blessed canoe rolled back toward the flow of the river and, in a second, dumped us, prefering river water, I guess. We both did belly rolls out and came up sputtering.
Not to worry here--the Niobrara is not deep, but it zips along rather effortlessly in spots (like the one where we capsized), so much so that getting one's footing was no simple task. Somehow--a curse, I'm sure--my sandal flipped back so that the front of my foot was no longer wrapped up, forcing me to walk like a loon might have on solid ground--which is to say with all the grace of a hippo. Meanwhile, my wife is simply trying to stand up.
My camera--I saw it--stayed afloat for a minute, along with everything else--an oar, a plastic bag with our drinking water, our plastic picnic cooler, and, of course, the camera bag. The river is pleasantly clean, so that floatilla would have made a rather comely still life, were I in the mood, which I wasn't, still sputtering as I was from the baptism. And, of course, I had no camera anyway.
Did I mention my hat was gone too? It was.
At this point, Barbara wasn't at all sure of the whole canoeing thing, and we were just five minutes into the trip. She's looking at me as if a divorce were a pleasant thought, and I'm thinking--no, not thinking, but simply reacting. With no measure of restraint or discretion, I thought I could turn into some Mike Fink River Super-Hero and single-handedly dump the water from a canoe that was itself nearly under water. With barely any footing, I gave the monster a heave, assuming some holy strength would miraculously infuse my aging body. No such holy strength arrived, however, and I pulled something sixty-years old in my back, some muscles I wasn't even sure I had. But I did, that particular muscle more than happy to let me know it was there.
"What are we going to do?" Barbara said, and I told her we needed to get the canoe to shore so we could flip it--me and some weightlifting team from on high.
By now, our goods were floating merrily down the river, sans camera which drowned rather quickly and hasn't been seen since, I'm sorry to report.
Like some testosterone king from the Corp of Discovery, I somehow got the canoe to shore, pulled it up and out of the water, and actually tipped out the water. I don't know how. Then, undeterred (that's a lie), two of us crawled back in and simply kept on going, even though we had only one oar. I have no idea how that one stayed behind or even whose it was.
Ain't we got fun.
Three hours later or so, we came out of the water, and nearly had to rent a wench to lift me out of the canoe, so wrenched was some obscure back muscle. I'm still suffering.
For the rest of the float, we stayed cool, of course, thoroughly drenched, the only blessing.
Some gracious floaters collected our gear and left it on a sandbar, where we picked it up ten minutes later, except for the camera, as I've said.
Here's the moral lesson (I'm sorry--I'm a Calvinist). At the very height of our angst, both of sputtering, me trying to lug a swamped canoe to the shore, our gear innocently floating away in Mother Nature (who is not a sweetheart, by the way, but immensely uncaring), a couple of canoers slowed down as they passed us and politely asked if we needed help.
Where on earth does a man get the arrogance to answer the way I did? What kind of macho silliness made me say, "Naaah, it's no big deal," as I continued to spit out river water? Insanely, I refused to look as incompetent and silly as I was.
And yet, I don't find it hard to believe I shrugged off their offer of help because, given the same circumstance, I'd be willing to bet I'd do it exactly the same again. "No big deal," I said, trying to clean and jerk a canoe that had to weigh a ton. "No, I can handle this," as if our being flipped was sheer comedy. Maybe it was. Maybe I am.
And so it went--just a day on the river.
Barbara says it's maybe the only one. "A person should go canoeing for the first time when he or she is sixteen, not sixty," she says.
Three days later, when I lie in bed I still can't turn over without shrieking. If Barbara would visit the doctor, her black-and-blueness would land me in jail as an abuser.
Was it fun? Yeah, in the rear-view mirror. Am I glad we did it? Sure--mostly we had a great time.
Would we do it again?
Stay tuned on that one.
I've gone almost a year now with this blog, and I'm quite sure if you look back at the 300 posts or so, you'll not find one that doesn't have a picture. Except this one.
I'm mad. And camera-less. And embarrassed, sort of. I can't think of a better time not to have shot of all of this comic opera.
And no, I can't think of why I should be thankful right now. Maybe that we're not dead?--okay. That I didn't break any bones?--sure. All right.
Besides, my back hurts.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
As always, it was a joy to be there, to watch magenta splash over the thick clouds, but the show was over quickly, the overcast spreading to the horizon. Three minutes, maybe, start to finish, and the camera and I simply weren't ready.
Even though this morning's catch creates no strain on the stringer, I'm still be thankful for having been there.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I'm not particularly surprised. It's not that, if you know how to write you can do anything; nor is it that people who can't write can't teach or learn. But when I read these latest study results--if you can write, you likely can do college--it makes perfect sense to me.
Writing requires thought, from word placement, to sentence structure, to paragraph construction. Writing requires ideas, but also rhetoric--how to shape those ideas into what it is you want to say. Writing isn't easy, and teaching writing--teaching good old freshman English--is, IMHO, the toughest job in any English department.
The college in which I teach will embark on a new core curriculum this year, a set of required courses that, for the first time, won't include "freshman English." If a kid enters the college with a 24 SAT or better, the writing requirement is waved. I should be happy: the toughest course to teach in our English curriculum has vanished.
But I think the change is resoundingly short-sighted. Students today do not write better than they did forty years ago--and for a ton of reasons.
Number me among those who are not surprised that writing ability is perhaps the best indicator of potential success in college. Number me among those who say that being able to write clearly is certainly among the foremost gifts of any education.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Friday, July 04, 2008
Thursday, July 03, 2008
And this, too, it's featured poem:
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.
Naomi Shihab Nye, from Fuel, BOA Editions, 1998.
Lord, help me not to be Dave Barry, but I wish I knew why I found a poem like this one as beautiful, as I do. Not everyone does, I'm sure. After all, it's depressing--pink petals fall, loneliness is real, shit happens; and all of that is true even if we roller skate fast enough to be champions. That is depressing.Then why do I like it? Probably because it somehow approximates what I think, what I see, what I feel. I could tell stories--we all could. Poetry is, Frost once said, a momentary stay against confusion. Here's Athanasius, talking about the Psalms, "the Psalter":
it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety of movements of the human soul. It is like apicture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given. Elsewhere in the Bible you real only that the Law commands this or that to be done, you listen to the Prophets to learn about the Saviour's coming or you turn to the historical books to learn the odings of the kings and holy me; but in the Psalms, besides all these things, you learn about yourself.It's the function of poetry, as it is of the Psalms, to show us to ourselves. It's the function of art to do that--stories too. It's the function of television to make money, as cinema. And there is a difference. "The Rider" speaks the truth.
And that's encouraging. That's hopeful. When I read "The Rider," I hear my own voice, feel my own heart, touch my own soul. So even though I'm well aware of the fact that, in this life, shit happens, I know this much at least--that I am not alone. That's good news.This morning, I'm thankful for thoughtful truth, on roller skates.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Sometime in April, when the temps begin to warm, his song is a joy. Really, it still is. But he sings it every day of the summer--every morning, very early. One can get too much of a blessing, after all. Always doing the right thing gets annoying, patriotism--Lord knows--has gotten good people into all kinds of problems, and even darling grandkids can drive you nuts. What I'm saying is, this robin's song is just as beautiful today as it was the morning the frost seeped out of the ground, but I wonder why he couldn't set his alarm back an hour or so.
Besides, I'm told (by experts) that the real motivation for his sweet singing is likely one of two, well, basic motivations: sex and greed. He's either bringing some lover close or keeping some upstart rival land baron away. Christians like me tend to think of a robin's song as some kind of feathery praise to the Maker. I'd be better off not knowing that this morning hymn likely arises from some horny old miser.
So now I'm mad--mad at my professor friend who told me that birds want sex and property just like the rest of us. I'd be far better off thinking this singer just outside our bedroom window is an oblate in the Order of Saint Robins, a repentent sinner who, for the remainder of his days, has pledged himself to opening every last morning of his life with praise to God.