A long, long time ago, in a world even my siblings don't remember,  my Girl Scout leader taught us this little song, always sung as a round: 

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver, and the other gold.

Since my time, additional words have been added, definitely not an improvement. I do hope today's Girl Scouts aren't learning it this way; the skin of my mind crawls just reading it. The original two lines are profound and pithy; the addition, simply ... well, here's a verse for you to judge:

Silver is precious, 
Gold is too.
I am precious,
And so are you.

Take that, Gollum.

Which brings me around to the point of this post.

Books are my friends. New books can be silver, but there's true gold in wonderful old books read again and again.

I haven't read The Hobbit since 2014, and I was shocked to discover that the last time I read The Lord of the Rings books was at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Incredible. My other Tolkien reading goes back to before I started keeping track! As part of my next edition (not yet established) of the 95 by 65 project, I'm including a Tolkien spree, beginning with The Hobbit.

That's where I found these words of wisdom from Gandalf, perfect for those of us who waste valuable sleeping hours fretting about the future.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 10, 2017 at 10:06 am | Edit
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altI Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think" to "I Am Enough" by Brené Brown (Gotham Books, 2007)

I have finally completed the current canon of major Brené Brown books for laymen—though I'm certain there will be more.  In keeping with the random pattern laid down by the books' availability at our library, my last book was her first.  I Thought It Was Just Me is the book that started it all (though it was her TED talk that made her famous). My other reviews are here: The Gifts of ImperfectionDaring Greatly, and Rising Strong.  It's probably best to read them in chronological order (I Thought It Was Just MeThe Gifts of ImperfectionDaring Greatly, Rising Strong), but from my own point of view, I'd prioritize them as The Gifts of ImperfectionDaring GreatlyI Thought It Was Just Me, then Rising Strong.

I heard somewhere that this book was originally entitled Women and Shame, and that pretty much covers it.  Later, Brown was to study the subject of shame and men, and conclude that the problems and strategies for combating them are the same, though the issues are different. Personally, I don't think the gender divide is as great as she makes it; I'm sure there's a continuum. I identify with some, but far from all, of the major shame issues for women—but also some but not all of the issues for men.

There's more to it, of course, but at its heart, I Thought It Was Just Me is an elaboration on the following truth: Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.

Here are some more quotations; as always the bold emphasis is my own.


  • Can you use shame or humiliation to change people or behavior?  Yes and no.  Yes, you can try.  In fact, if you really zero in on an exposed vulnerability, you could actually see a very swift behavior change.
  • Will the change last? No.
  • Will it hurt?  Yes, it's excruciating.
  • Will it do any damage?  Yes, it has the potential to scar both the person using shame and the person being shamed.
  • Is shame used very often as a way to try to change people?  Yes, every minute of every day.

Often, when we try to shame others or ourselves into changing a behavior, we do so without understanding the differences between shame and guilt.  This is important because guilt can often be a positive motivator of change, while shame typically leads to worse behavior or paralysis.... Guilt and shame are both emotions of self-evaluation; however, that is where the similarities end. ... Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviors.

When I talked to women about the possibility of shame having positive outcomes or serving as a guidepost for good behavior, they made it clear that shame is so overbearing and painful that, regardless of intent, it moved them away from being able to grow, change and respond in any kind of genuine or authentic way.  Guilt, on the other hand, was often a strong motivator for change.

Power-over is a dangerous form of power.  Dr. Robin Smith ... described one of the most insidious forms of power-over as working like this: "I will define who you are and then I'll make you believe that's your own definition."

When I talk about isolation I don't mean feeling lonely or alone.  Jean Baker Miller and Irene Stiver ... have beautifully captured the overwhelming nature of isolation.  They write, "We believe that the most terrifying and destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation.  This is not the same as being alone.  It is a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation.  In the extreme, psychological isolation can lead to a sense of hopelessness and desperation.  People will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness." ...

Shame can make us feel desperate.  Reactions to this desperate need to escape form isolation and fear can run the gamut from behavioral issues and acting out to depression, self-injury, eating disorders, addiction, violence and suicide.

Not to mention dangerous peer-dependency.

When we tell our stories, we change the world.  I know that sounds dramatic, but I believe it.  We'll never know how our stories might change someone's life.

Recently I was eating dinner with a friend.  We both had newborns at the time.  She stayed at home with her baby and her toddler, and I was getting ready to go back to work.  She was telling me the terrible sadness she felt about the fact that she and her husband were probably not going to have any more children.  She explained that even though having two young children was overwhelming at times, she had always wanted three or four and that she was really having a difficult time letting go of that vision of a family. ... My response to her was something like "Two is perfect. ... Plus, you could go back to work or graduate school or something." She looked kind of shocked by my reply and stumbled to find the right words.

I can see why her friend was shocked and at a loss for words.  Brown might has well have said, "You're sad because you're hungry and can't afford to buy food?  But you live on the beach—why not eat sand instead?"

At the doctoral level, if someone asked me a question that I couldn't answer, they'd either assume they had asked a bad question or that I was too smart or busy to concern myself with such foolish matters.  One of the perks of earning credentials is gaining permission to know nothing.  This privilege is rarely afforded to those who aren't protected by plaques, titles, certificates or initials strung behind their names.

In my experience, the most serious threat to objectivity is the very belief that "pure objectivity" and "value neutrality" exist. I have greater trust in those who question objectivity and who believe that people, values and experiences influence our research and practice—they are the ones who make the greatest effort to present their opinions in the appropriate context.

I think I've seen the movie Flashdance at least twenty times.  In the 1980's, I wanted to be just like Jennifer Beals's character, Alex. ... Nothing took the mystique out of my secret Flashdance fantasy like showing up to meet friends for dinner and realizing that all six of us had permed hair, headbands and ripped sweatshirts. ... We all wanted to be Alex.

That's an example of the cultural disconnect I often feel with Brown's books.  I can make a connection with many of her ideas, but the culture she takes for granted often leaves me feeling like a being from another planet.  Perhaps the fact that I've never seen Flashdance could be attributed to the age gap, but I can no more imagine my friends—at any stage of life—dressing up to imitate a movie character than I can imagine doing it myself (Hallowe'en excepted).

Interestingly, to be perceived as "trying too hard" was identified as an unwanted characteristic. ... We want perfection, but we don't want to look like we're working for it—we want it to just materialize somehow.

She's speaking of motherhood here, but I first noticed this among musicians, when I learned that "Wow, that's an incredibly difficult piece" is the worst thing you can say after a performance, no matter how much you mean it as a compliment.  The performer's job is to make it look easy.  If you're thinking about how hard it is, they've failed to make you hear the music.  That's true of other professions too: the perfect waiter is the one you hardly notice, the perfect event seems to have produced itself.  I don't believe this attitude is all bad:  we want people to hear the music, not the performer, and to enjoy the event without thinking about how much planning and effort went into it.  We certainly don't want our children going through life worrying about all the trouble they're causing us!  The problems come when we assume that because things look easy, they are easy.  Gratitude, appreciation, and respect are everything.

When we choose growth over perfection, we immediately increase our shame resilience. ... When we believe "we must be this" we ignore who or what we actually are, our capacity and our limitations.  We start from the image of perfection, and of course, from perfection there is nowhere to go but down. ... When our goal is growth and we say, "I'd like to improve this," we start from where and who we are.

In our culture, the fear and shame of being ordinary is very real.  In fact, many of the older women I interviewed spoke about looking back on their lives and grieving for the extraordinary things that would never come to pass.  We seem to measure the value of people's contributions (and sometimes thier entire lives) by their level of public recognition.

Nope.  Not me.  When I grieve, it is much more likely to be about the ordinary things that did not, or will not come to pass.  It never occurred to me to regret not being famous for my cookies, or not turning cookie-making into a successful business.  I save my regrets for lost opportunities to make cookies with my grandchildren.

It's not a good idea to back people into a corner.  Even making a valid point doesn't warrant using shame or intentionally putting someone on the spot in front of other people.

[Quoting one of her correspondents] My faith is a very important part of my life.  I want to feel free to talk about my spiritual beliefs just like people talk about their politics or their social beliefs.  But I can't.  If I even mention the word church, people get offended.  They look at me like I'm crazy and I'm trying to convert them.  I used to have a voice mail message at work that said, "Thanks for calling, have a blessed day." My boss made me erase it because it was "offensive." The people in my office use the "f-word" all day, but they try to make me feel like I'm the outcast because I say "blessed."

It is critical that we catch ourselves doing things well.  If we can acknowledge our strengths, they become tools that can help us meet our goals.

It doesn't take momentous events [to change the culture]—it takes critical mass.  If enough of us make small changes in our lives, we will see big changes.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 7, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Edit
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My 95 by 65 project is complete. The two and a half years have flown by, and suddenly I am an official senior citizen, with all the discount privileges thereof. (Along with the thrills and expense of being on Medicare, but that's another story.)  The details are in a companion post, 95 by 65 - The Tally. Here I want to ruminate about the purpose of my 95 by 65 project, and what it has accomplished.

I went into this adventure simply with the idea of focussing my efforts and providing some documentation for my accomplishments, though as time went on, the purpose of the project took on a more coherent form. The items on my list were chosen, some purposefully, some almost randomly, from a "to do before I die" list so overwhelming it would make me live forever if I had anything to say about it.

Then there were the activities I put on the list because I knew that they were things my husband wanted to do. That worked out better than I had imagined. As is true for many women I know, I had looked forward to my husband's retirement with mixed feelings. Sure, it would be great to have him happier and more available, but while retirement meant more time for him to attend to his own projects, it meant less time for me to work on mine. The 95 by 65 list turned out to be a great way to get us on the same page for a number of activities, which was a mental health boost for both of us.

Another very useful, unanticipated side effect was the project's value in establishing habits. True, this slowed down my progress through the list, because when I completed, for example, #59 Achieve 40,000 DuoLingo points, I did not stop doing DuoLingo lessons, thereby freeing up time to work on something else. I had established the habit. I hope to use this leverage more purposefully for next year's list.

Yes, there will be a next year's list, and my sister-in-law plans to join me again with one of her own. We both feel the need of a shorter time span than two and a half years, and have chosen July - June as the period. There's to much else that goes on near the end of the calendar year to want to go from January through December. Besides, I want to get going on the new list!  Not that the new list is complete yet, but I have enough to get started.

I'm convinced it was to my advantage to have the list. I learned a few things about making such goals, such as that "do something X times" allows for procrastination leading to failure (as with #52 Write at least 10 letters to political officeholders), but usually works well and is much less stressful than "do something every month," which leads to fear of missing a deadline and doesn't allow for working ahead.

I also learned that several of my goals were impossibly large, such as #92 Organize photos 2012-2016. Despite the huge amount of time I poured into the project, I managed to complete only one of those years (2015), though I did make some organizational progress on the others. And while all this was going on, we did enough travelling to add far more new photos to the processing pile than I had succeeded in removing. Of course, I did know at the outset that this would be a big project; it was foolish to lump all those years together in one goal, but I did so because I had run out of the "95."  I was only fooling myself.

When I began, I really thought I had a chance to reach all of my goals; certainly I didn't expect to be happy having accomplished just over half. But I am. It's nothing short of miraculous how the list helped me—helped both of us—focus. I accomplished many things that I know simply would never have been finished without the list (e.g. #57 Experience all 37 of Shakespeare's plays), and others that would have been hit-or-miss or procrastinated to death (e.g. #51 Write an encouraging note each month to someone other than family). Would we have still made our visit to The Gambia if it had not been on the list? I like to think so, but I also know how easy it would have been to let the months fly until the window of opportunity had passed.

Without this list, it would be too easy to focus on what I have not (yet) accomplished. Even with it, I'm painfully aware of projects (and whole areas of projects) that have been sorely neglected in the past two and a half years. But without the list, that's all I'd see; with it, I can say to myself, "but look at how much else I did."  What's more, several of the items inspired similar non-list accomplishments.

It's an experiment worth refining and repeating. Onward and upward!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 3, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Edit
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When I began my 95 by 65 project, my 65th birthday seemed distant, but the time has come. How did I do? I completed only 50 of the 95 goals, but to my surprise am quite pleased with that. It was an intense list!  Here's the breakdown.

I had divided my 95 goals into four sections, based on Steven Covey's "To Live, To Learn, To Love, To Leave a Legacy." 

To Live: completed 11/33, 33.3%

Item Date Completed Notes
Create the Leon Project 1/12/2015  
Create 95 by 65 list 1/24/2015  
Research and purchase food processor 1/30/2015  
Practice deliberate relaxation twice a day for a month 5/16/2015
Find a GPS distance tracker that works for me 11/11/2015
Walk/run the equivalent of home to Hillsboro 12/16/2015 Greatly exceeded; also "walked" from Hillsboro to Swtizerland; averaged 38 miles/week.
Get a working back porch sink 8/24/2016 Thank you, Porter!
Swim 5 miles / Brachiate 1 mile (cumulative) 9/12/2016 Exceeded: swim 10 miles, brachiate 2 miles
Design 5 Life Playground stations 4/1/2017 Pool Track, Pool/Braciation Ladder, Balance Board, Juggling Balls, Mini Trampoline, Exercise Ball
Create an herb garden 6/15/2017 I hope to expand this.
Develop a quick system for travel prep and packing 7/3/2017  
Create/tweak/finalize/codify 60 family recipes    
Develop and sustain a system for making bread regularly   Developed a new cookie recipe instead.
Develop and sustain a system for making yoghurt regularly    
Experiment with making kefir    
Finish Janet's birthday 2009 recipe book   Maybe by 2019?
Go through all recipe books, digitizing what looks good, getting rid of all but essentials/favorites    
Complete a biking challenge    
Develop a stretching plan and execute at least 3x/week for a month    
Execute 50 pushups nonstop on the higher bar at the park   An injury broke my steak, and I never got back to it.
Reach desired weight goal    
Run nonstop 3 times around the park trail then participate in a 5K race (any speed)   So close!  I made the three times around nonstop in May of 2016, but again an injury broke the momentum. It healed, but the momentum was broken and I'm just starting over now.
Declutter and organize phone   Ah, yes ... decluttering was definitely a casualty.
Declutter blog template files    
Declutter computer    
Declutter garage    
Declutter marked items in Janet's room    
Declutter my office    
Declutter our filing cabinets    
Declutter sewing supplies    
Recycle collected ink cartridges   Partially done
Set up identification system for files to grab in an emergency    
Create another goal-oriented project for when this one is complete   Working on this.

To Love: 22/23, 95.6%

Item Date Completed Notes
Join Twitter 2/9/2015  
Visit King Arthur Flour 2/12/2015  
Visit a state I've never been to 4/9/2015 Missouri
Try at least 5 new restaurants 4/10/2015 Greatly exceeded
Watch Unbroken 4/24/2015  
Visit Universal/IoA four times 5/15/2015  
Share at least 20 meals with others 8/13/2015 Greatly exceeded 
Watch NCIS LA from the beginning 10/23/2015  
Convert our Christmas card system to postal plus e-mail 12/5/2015  
Join Google+ 12/10/2015  
Visit a country I've never been to 1/15/2016 Belgium (airport), Senegal, The Gambia, Spain (airport), Mexico, Cuba
Visit either Costa Rica or the Gambia 1/15/2016 The Gambia
Attend 15 live performances (e.g. music, drama, lectures) 1/31/2016
Visit Venice 4/18/2016
Keep up a 10 posts/month blogging schedule for 20 months 8/17/2016 Exceeded: 30 months, often more than 10/month.
Visit our friends who live in Arizona 8/26/2016 Instead of our visiting Arizona, they came to Florida.
Refrain from negative speech for 1 day. Do this 30 times. 10/24/2016 This is a whole lot harder than it looks.
Visit with all immediate family members at least once per year 11/22/2016
Write at least 75 physical letters to children/grandchildren 1/13/2017
Send at least 4 care packages to each of our freshman/sophomore nephews 2/3/2017
Write at least 5 notes of encouragement to each nephew 4/6/2017 This did not turn out to be ask I had expected -- brief, friendly, USPS notes of encouragement. This generation has little use for physical letters, unless they have cookies attached. But there were so many other forms of communication --visits, e-mail, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook -- that I consider this goal met.
Write an encouraging note each month to someone other than family 6/5/2017  
Write at least 10 letters to political officeholders   I managed one....

To Learn: 13/17, 76.5%

Item Date Completed Notes
Read the Koran 4/14/2015  
Listen to all of Pimsleur German I (30 lessons) 5/30/2015  
Finish chronological Bible reading plan 7/29/2015
Achieve 40,000 DuoLingo points 11/3/2015 Exceeded: over 81,000 points.
Start and keep up with other daily Bible reading plan(s) 11/25/2015 Exceeded: completed six plans total.
Complete 100 Great Courses lectures 12/30/2015 Exceeded: over 300 
Make 30 museum visits 4/21/2016 Exceeded. but I stopped counting. 
Read The History of the Renaissance World 7/5/2016  
Read 130 books (new or old, print or audio, any level) 10/19/2016 Exceeded: 175
Complete George MacDonald reading plan (50 books, 14 completed in 2014) 10/24/2016  
Experience all 37 of Shakespeare's plays (attend, watch, and/or read) 10/25/2016  
Set and attain Khan Academy goal 6/3/2017 Complete Math Missions from Kindergarten through 8th grade, plus Algebra 1 (refreshing my own experience through 8th grade)This took longer than expected because Khan kept adding requirements.
Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves 6/7/2017  
Learn sufficient Javascript and/or jquery to know if it will work for creating my GTC website    
Set and attain BrainHQ goal   Instead of these three I concentrated on Peak and WordChums.
Set and attain Memrise goal    
Set and attain Sporcle goal    

To Leave a Legacy: 4/22, 18.2%

Item Date Completed Notes
Rocket boost genealogy work by end of January 2015 (40 hours of work in segments of 1 or more hours, over approximately 2 weeks) 2/1/2015  
Make 2 baby blankets 5/14/2015  
Rocket boost photo work (40 hours of work in segments of 1 or more hours, over approximately 2 weeks) 9/29/2015  
Convert WRL memorial PPT to video 6/9/2017  
Copy LPs to CDs    
Copy tapes to CDs   Partially done, thanks Porter!
Complete conversion of bits PPTs to videos    
Create 20 new GTC shows    
Create a form of GTC independent of YouTube and useable offline    
Create scent bits    
Make new family bits   Modified from "for Heather"--Janet needs them, too.
Print bit back labels for Heather    
Clean up, expand, and document the lines I currently have in my genealogy database    
Enter unentered genealogy data    
Publish revised editions of Honor Enough volumes 1-4    
Update Phoebe's Quilt and print in "final" form   I made a lot of progress, even though it's not complete.
Create one photo album with Picaboo   Since I tied this to Phoebe's Quilt, I made progress here, too.
Digitize photos    
Digitize slides    
Organize photos 2007-2011    
Organize photos 2012-2016   I completed 2015, and made some progress on other years.
Research and purchase scanner suitable for prints and slides    

I'm happy with the "To Love" and "To Learn" categories, and okay with "To Live" though it needs work. "To Leave a Legacy" was sorely neglected, and there are two clear reasons. First and foremost, this category is where most of my gargantuan personal projects ended up. Projects like "Organize photos 2012-2016" and "Clean up, expand, and document the lines I currently have in my genealogy database," each of which requires far more time than most of the other 95They are also complex, and require a lot more focussed and continuous thought—and decision-making—than, say, reading a book or inviting someone over for dinnerThis is the kind of work I do best when I can put on my Li'l Writer Guy persona:

He rather likes to imagine he’s seated in some academic cloister, inhaling the intoxicating scents of polished wood, leather, and books old and new. On the table before him are the paraphernalia of his profession: stacks of books, pads of paper, writing implements, bookmarks, his laptop computer. Lost in thought, he stares out the window, but he’s not seeing the cityscape. Now and then he rises, and paces between the table and the stacks. At the end of the day, he reluctantly packs up, puts on his coat, and steps into the outside world, blinking owlishly and realizing dimly that time has not stopped for others as it has for him.

It's a lovely way to make progress in one area, but it leaves the rest of life at risk of disintegrating around me. Clearly, I need to figure out how to divide these projects into tiny parcels, in addition to giving them higher priority for next year.

Still, as I said, I'm overall very pleased; that is, inspired to begin another such project immediately, with modifications based on experience. Further ruminations are in a companion post to this one: 95 by 65 - The Analysis.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 3, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Edit
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Some days I feel for Don Quixote. It may be just a windmill, but it looks like a giant to me.

Partner.

It was such a good word, and now I'm beginning to loathe it.

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(Definition from Merriam-Webster online.) To me, the word "partner" has always meant definition 2a: one associated with another, especially in action. That actually covers most of the other definitions as well. My daughter and I make up a team on WordChums; we are partners. If together we owned an ice cream shop, we'd be business partners. If we decided to rob a bank to finance that ice cream shop, we'd be partners in crime. It's a good, descriptive, practical word.

But lately I've been seeing it used as in the following two quotes from a book I read recently.

We need to understand how we can support and connect with our partners, sons, fathers, brothers, friends, and children....

Certainly women—mothers, sisters, partners, girlfriends, daughters—also shame men about their masculinity and power....

Do you see what's happening here? Mother/father, son/daughter, sister/brother are recognized as distinct entities, but husband/wife is gone. Even the inclusive "spouse" is gone, replaced by "partner," definition 2d, which is not at all the same thing.

Certainly my husband is my partner in that sense, as well as in the more general sense of 2a, and for that matter most of the other definitions. But "partner," in more recent usage, is far too broad a term, boiling down basically to "the person I'm having sex with on a regular basis."  The marriage relationship is so much more than that.  (I tried substituting "the person I love and am living with," but as that can include children and other family members, it's clearly not what is meant by this sense of "partner."  Sex seems to be the obvious distinction.)

Most pernicious, it seems to me, is that "partner" loses the ideals of exclusivity and permanence. Marriages may fail at either or both, but the intent and the ideal are there from the outset. Partnerships are generally formed for a limited, specific purpose, and with the understanding that they can and probably will be dissolved at some point. A nation's allies will change; dancers will "cut in," my daughter may decide to she wants to be on her aunt's team for the next WordChums game; maybe a business partnership will split into two or three different companies.

One term implies a lifelong, exclusive commitment—not only to a person but to that person's family and especially to any children of the union. The other implies that eventual dissolution is normal and even to be expected. They are not interchangeable.

That's a giant worth battling, even if the world sees only a windmill.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 9:28 am | Edit
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altIn the Blood: A Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery by Steve Robinson (Thomas & Mercer, 2014)

This was another find from my book-loving, book-giving sister-in-law, who also shares my love of genealogy. I am now hooked, and was delighted/dismayed to discover five more books in the series waiting to suck up my reading time. I immediately ordered the next two from our library.

In the Blood is not profound reading, there's a small amount of bad language, and a little too much violence for my taste. By now you know I'm quite sensitive to such things, especially since I read nearly everything with an eye toward its appropriateness for sharing with grandchildren. But in this I find it only a minor problem, easily outweighed by the enjoyment I found in the story. Apparently a little character-appropriate bad language in a novel doesn't bother me nearly as much as the same words in a serious, non-fiction book.

Would I be so anxious to read the remaining books in the series if it weren't for the genealogical angle? It's hard to say; although you don't need to know anything about genealogy to appreciate the mystery, it certainly made it more enjoyable for me. And having recently completed a Great Courses series on Mystery and Suspense Fiction, I know that In the Blood is much more my style than most of what's out there.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 30, 2017 at 5:37 am | Edit
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altHow I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown (Spiegel & Grau, 2010)

This book by a scientist—a Caltech scientist no less—was such a joy to read I took time to look for a ghostwriter. But I soon came to the conclusion that Mike Brown is just a good writer with the usual editorial assistance.

How I Killed Pluto is primarily the story of the discoveries and controversies that led to the loss of Pluto as our ninth planet—with just enough anecdotes from his personal life to keep it grounded. Brown is not the first person to have his life upended by a baby who arrived a few days before schedule, but the dominos that fell from that distraction rang 'round the world. Not that Brown has any regrets about paying more attention to his daughter than to writing a paper about his astronomical research.

Having been, for a number of years, the go-to computer person in a research lab, I am not burdened by the illusion that scientists are saints dedicated to the pursuit of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They are human beings and just as prone to pride, greed, and falsification as the rest of us poor sinners. If you retain any such illusions, How I Killed Pluto is a good antidote—yet without bitterness.

Mostly, however, How I Killed Pluto is a good, layman's guide to the rigors and beauties of astronomy, and the best explanation I've heard yet as to why Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Pluto was not so much demoted as returned to its rightful place. As I read, I kept thinking of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. Raised from infancy by Mother and Father Wolf, the child Mowgli considered himself to be a wolf, as did his wolf family. But as he grew, and as he discovered other beings with a much greater resemblance to himself, it became obvious to all that he was no longer the simple Mowgli of the Seeonee Wolf Pack. His heart was there, but he didn't really fit. (Please try to ignore the images in your mind of the Disney version of the story, and concentrate on what Kipling wrote.)

Similarly, as more and more objects were found that orbit our sun, inclucing Brown's own Eris (originally nicknamed Xena), the discovery that precipitated Pluto's fall, it became clear that Pluto, long considered to be the coldest, smallest, and most distant of our solar system's family of planets, is instead one of the largest of another whole species of celestial objects.

I can live with that.

Side note 1: I really miss the good old days of punctuation. No, I'm not—in this case—referring to the rampant abuse of the apostrophe, but to the days when profanity in publications, if it occurred at all, was modestly represented by a mostly random sequence of punctuation marks. I do not call it progress that authors of otherwise perfectly delightful books somehow think it better to be explicit in their swearing. Except for one word—one word!—How I Killed Pluto would be a perfect gift for our oldest grandchild. I understand that Brown wanted to describe in detail his girlfriend's stunned response to his proposal, but would it have killed him to have left it at, "You are such a &%$*#"?

Side note 2: Many of the books on our overflowing bookshelves came from my father's collection, which had been amassed through eight decades of reading. In his later years, his daughter-in-law was a prime contributor to his collection. Today, nothing proclaims my status as family matriarch more than that I am now the recipient of her bounty. She knew my father well, and she knows me also; her books are almost always fascinating. How I Killed Pluto is one of them.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I have only one quotation—and that has nothing to do with astronomy.

Diane and I often joke about parents who think that everything their children do is exceptional. Intellectually, we always understood that Lilah would likely be good at some things, not as good at other things. Exceptional is a pretty high bar. But reading ... books about early childhood and watching Lilah develop, I finally understood. She is exceptional, because early childhood development is about the most exceptional thing that takes place in the universe. Stars, planets, galaxies, quasars are all incredible and fascinating things, with behaviors and properties that we will be uncovering for years and years, but none of them is as thoroughly astounding as the development of thought, the development of language. Who would not believe that their child is exceptional? All children are, compared to the remainder of the silent universe around them.

Amen and amen!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 at 10:00 am | Edit
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Where did the month go?

This Ramadan I was going to join my Muslim friends for one day of their month-long fast. But suddenly the season is over—though I'm sure it did not feel sudden to those who were fasting.

This idea was not for spiritual reasons—I'm a Christian—but for awareness, and as a statement (to myself) of solidarity. To feel just a little bit of what it's like for our friends.

Having read stories from The Gambia in preparation for our visit there last year, I had been astonished at how difficult they find life during Ramadan fasting. After all, they get to eat a big meal before sunrise, and again after sundown. Skipping meals during the day is not fun, but hardly debilitating.

Then I remembered that few Gambians have the, um, caloric reserves that Americans do. I figured that must be the reason they find it hard to function well.

Well, that may be true—but then I discovered that there's more to Ramadan fasting than not eating.

There's not drinking.

I'm not talking about abstaining from alcohol, which observant Muslims do at all times. There's no drinking, period. No coffee, no tea, no soda, no water. Temperatures in the 90's and you can't drink. No wonder the soccer teams from the Christian tribes have a decided advantage during Ramadan.

In truth, I'm sure that's the reason I kept putting off my day of solidarity. I'm no stranger to fasting from food, but doing without water scares me. It probably would have been good to have had that tiny bit of identification with those whose lack of access to safe water makes this a year-round, not a day-long or even a month-long problem. But intimidation led to procrastination, and now the time is over. Maybe next year....

Anyway, my respect has gone 'way up for Muslims who keep Ramadan, fasting all day long for a month, year after year. Especially for those in hot climates, like the Gambia, where normal perspiration puts them at risk of serious dehydration. And for those living in the Far North in years when Ramadan occurs during the summer months. Could Mohammed have imagined that there would one day be Muslims living where the sun never sets?

It was not until I wrote this that I realized what a particular hardship Ramadan poses for Gambians: No ataya!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 8:41 am | Edit
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I opened up Facebook this morning to be greeted by the following "Suggested Post."

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Some of my readers will immediately recognize the "Castle in Arquenay" as Château de la Motte Henry, where 10 years ago we celebrated Janet's birthday. We chose that fairy tale castle not because Janet is a romantic and highly imaginative person, although she is, but because the château happens to be the home of some dear friends, whose daughter would later be the flower girl in Janet's wedding. They are the most amazing hosts, and the experience was sublime.

The wonderful thing, as Facebook so cheerily told me, is that you, too, can have the Château de la Motte Henry experience! Well, not the friends-and-family perks, but let me tell you, these people know how to host an experience for their paying guests as well! Don't let the price tag put you off—share the cost with friends; it's a huge place! (No, I don't get a commission; I just love sharing something so special.)

If nothing else, take the time to go to the booking site, browse, and dream. Check out the amenities, marvel at the photos. I quote from the overview:

*JUST LISTED AS ONE OF "THE TIMES' TOP 20 CHATEAUX IN FRANCE" FOR HOLIDAY RENTALS!* -- (If you are a group larger than 14, please inquire about additional space & rates.) Live a fairytale dream in this romantic 19th century castle with its own private lake, swimming pool & cinema. Your senses will be dazzled with stunning views, gentle sounds of birds and rippling water, and the rich scents of roses and lavender. You will luxuriate in the privacy of 29 secluded acres, but only travel 2 km to reach all amenities. Whether you are a family, corporate group, or reunion of friends, the château offers pampering, fun and relaxation in a sublime setting for groups both large and small.

The château is an historically listed property, once open to the public, and now privately owned and operated. Featuring a motte (mound) from the time of Henry II surrounded by a moat, spectacular parkland, ancient trees, a private spring-fed fishing lake, and a Renaissance-inspired swimming pool within a secluded walled rose garden, the château is a haven of peace and tranquillity.

Here one can bask in the glorious French countryside, or discover the riches of the surrounding areas of the Loire Valley, Brittany & Normandy from this central location. Children & adults alike will delight in visits to the famous Loire châteaux, Mont St. Michel, D-Day Beaches, the fabulous Puy de Fou theme park and Zoo de la Fleche, all within a 1.5 hour drive. Within 15 minutes drive, one can experience beautiful gardens, golf, riding, nature-activity parks, river cruises, museums, stately homes & more. Or, you may simply never wish to leave the grounds of your very own château...

The château offers extremely spacious bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms; reception rooms comfortably yet elegantly renovated in keeping with the romantic style; & wonderful facilities for self-catering, such as a recently renovated designer kitchen with granite and marble-mosaic finishes, as well as three outdoor BBQs.

Special amenities include: Nespresso Machine, Bathrobes, Slippers, Large Welcome Basket, Champagne Reception on Arrival, Toiletry Kits in Bathrooms

Here's another view, Janet's own picture from a decade ago. Can you imagine walking through the woods and suddenly seeing this through a break in the trees?

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Facebook is scarily good at surprising me with relevant ads, but this one was the most amazing yet.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 11:04 am | Edit
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altRising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution by Brené Brown (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

Once more, our library is making sure I read Brené Brown's books in the wrong order; my hold for Rising Strong, her most recent book, came through before I Thought It Was Just Me, one of her earliest. It was okay, though, because I've read enough by now to be more able to handle her style. (See Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection.)  As with the other books, her style gets in the way for me—I don't mean so much her writing itself, which is fine, as the way she chooses to express herself, e.g. redefining terms to mean something other than as they are commonly understood, too much "psychology-speak," too many references to pop culture (music and movies), and her habit of sprinkling her paragraphs with profanities (which I consider unprofessional as well as rude). That doesn't change the fact that she has some important insights, it just means I have to dig a little harder to understand them. One of the strengths of this book is the many examples and anecdotes that illustrate her ideas.

After inadequately summarizing Rising Strong as how we can learn to get up stronger and better after falling flat on our faces, I'll move right to the quotations. (Bold emphasis mine.)

Creativity embeds knowledge so that it can become practice. We move what we're learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past decade, it's that fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked. My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest. I'm not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer. You're feeling shame for forgetting your son's school play? Please—that's a first-world problem; there are people dying of starvation every minute. The opposite of scarcity is not abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough. Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone there is not less of these qualities to go around. There's more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn't benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who's going through a divorce.... Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.

You can't skip day two. ... Day two, or whatever that middle space is for your own process, is when you're "in the dark"—the door has closed behind you. You're too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light. ... What I think sucks the most about day two is ... it's a non-negotiable part of the process. Experience and success don't give you easy passage through the middle space of struggle. They only grant you a little grace, a grace that whispers, "This is part of the process. Stay the course." Experience doesn't create even a single spark of light in the darkness of the middle space. It only instills in you a little bit of faith in your ability to navigate the dark. The middle is messy, but it's also where the magic happens.

We have to have some level of knowledge or awareness before we can get curious. We aren't curious about something we are unaware of or know nothing about. ... Simply encouraging people to ask questions doesn't go very far toward stimulating curiosity. ... The good news is that a growing number of researchers believe that curiosity and knowledge-building grow together—the more we know, the more we want to know.

That's what I've been saying for years about early childhood education; education in general, in fact. Which is why I've never been sympathetic to those who insist that young children should not learn "dry facts."  For young children, facts are anything but dry—unless we make them so.

[Explaining her insight as to why she and her husband each found it easier to handle life with their children when the other was out of town.] When I'm on my own for a weekend with the kids, I clear the expectations deck. When Steve and I are both home, we set all kinds of wild expectations about getting stuff done. What we never do is make those expectations explicit. We just tend to blame each other for our disappointment when they're not realized.

We accept our dependence as babies, and ultimately, with varying levels of resistance, we accept help as we get to the end of our lives. But in the middle of our lives, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those who help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help.

It doesn't nullify her point, but babies don't happily accept dependence. They're fighting tooth and nail to "do it self" long before they can utter those words.  They can't help being born dependent, but the will to be dependent is learned. Lounged in a chair in front of the television or a video game:  "Mom, I'm hungry!" "Bring me a beer, honey!"

Most of us were too young and having too much fun to notice when we crossed the fine line into "behavior not becoming of a lady"—actions that call for a painful penalty. Now, as a woman and a mother of both a daughter and a son, I can tell you exactly when it happens. It happens on the day girls start spitting farther, shooting better, and completing more passes than the boys. When that day comes, we start to get the message—in subtle and not-so-subtle ways—that it's best that we start focusing on staying thin, minding our manners, and not being so smart or speaking out so much in class that we call attention to our intellect. This is a pivotal day for boys, too. ... Emotional stoicism and self-control are rewarded, and displays of emotion are punished. Vulnerability is now weakness. Anger becomes an acceptable substitute for fear, which is forbidden.

Fault-finding fools us into believing that someone is always to blame, hence, controlling the outcome is possible. But blame is as corrosive as it is unproductive.

Breaking down the attributes of trust into specific behaviors allows us to more clearly identify and address breaches of trust. I love the BRAVING checklist because it reminds me that trusting myself or other people is a vulnerable and courageous process. [I've shortened the explanations a little.]

  • Boundaries—You respect my boundaries and when you're not clear about what's okay and not okay, you ask.
  • Reliability—You do what you say you'll do.
  • Accountability—You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
  • Vault—You don't share information or experiences that are not yours to share.
  • Integrity—You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
  • Nonjudgement—I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
  • Generosity—You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

"No regrets" doesn't mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.

People learn how to treat us based on how they see us treating ourselves. ... If you don't put value on your work, no one is going to do that for you.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 6:37 am | Edit
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altDesigned to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease & Enjoy Lifelong Health by Joan Vernikos (Quill Driver Books, 2016)

You've heard it before: Sitting is the new smoking. Dr. Vernikos makes a convincing case for the rapid deterioration of both the body and the brain during as little as 30 minutes of sitting. As a health researcher with NASA, she observed that the bodies of astronauts "aged" ten times as fast in weightless conditions as at home on the earth. Then she observed the same results in people who sit for much of the day, i.e. all of us.

There are plenty of studies to back her up. The results are not always precise, because most of the data is from statistical analysis of studies that were not originally intended to be about sitting. But the pattern is clear enough, nonetheless.

I'll spare you the details; the writing is not the best, and tends to be repetitious. In a nutshell, however:

  • Gravity is our friend, no matter what you may think when you trip and fall flat on your face. Most of our bodily systems depend, one way or another, on motion in the presence of gravity to function correctly.
  • When we sit, we deprive our bodies of most of the beneficial effects of gravity.
  • Exercise is good, but it is not the answer to the problem of sitting. An hour of intense exercise at the gym does not counteract hours spent seated in front of a computer or watching television.
  • But there's really good news: what does counteract the problem of sitting is as simple as taking a break every 30 minutes to stand up, and sit down again. That's it. Of course, more movement is better. Frequency and variety are much more important than intensity. That said, if all you do is break up your sitting by standing briefly every half hour, you're doing your body and brain enormous good, even down to the biochemical level. If you're at the computer, you may want to set a timer—we all know how fast two hours can go without our knowledge. If you are watching commercial television, stand up during the commercials. Done.

If there is a word that defines the solution to our sitting woes, it is alternating—from sitting to standing, from standing to bending over to pick something off the floor, from squatting to jumping up, from stretching up to bending sideways, moving up every which way, kneeling down in prayer to touch your forehead on the ground and back upright again. Add frequent and variety to alternating and you have the keys to the solution.

From this persepctive, it's clearly healthier to be a sit-kneel-stand Episcopalian or a jump-dance-wave-your-arms Pentacostal than a sit-in-the-pew-for-an-hour Presbyterian. :)

And best of all to be a little child.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 7:53 am | Edit
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"She's a professional tambourine player," the choir director explained as he handed me that instrument to accompany our Palm Sunday music.

He was joking, of course, but I was serious in my response, "Actually, I'm a professional cymbal player."

If, that is, you call professional someone who gets paid for his work, and consider a free hamburger and can of soda to be qualifying compensation.

In church, we are known as mild-mannered, respectible singers: Porter is the tenor who leads the Psalm on most Sundays and is the choir's go-to guy for handyman jobs. I'm the alto with the over-ready tongue who tries to make sure that when the choir's not singing, we're laughing.

But there's another side to our musical lives, and it came to my attention recently that many of our fellow choir members have no idea what we morph into every July 4th. As requested, I'm now Revealing All.

It began back in 1993, when our then 13-year-old, trumpet-playing daughter read a column by Bob Morris in the Orlando Sentinel about an organization known as the World's Worst Marching Band, the official band of the (in)famous Queen Kumquat Sashay. When she proclaimed, "I want to join THAT," Porter immediately arranged to take her to one of their rehearsals to check it out. We were homeschoolers at the time, and eveyone knows that homeschoolers are weird and unsocialized and never go out.

Not really, but this truly was some of the weirdest and most wonderful socialization ever. The whole family became involved—and that IS typical of homeschoolers—despite the fact that our first impression of Maestro Tony "Stinky" Peugh was of him conducting the band with a cigarette protruding from each ear. You can read more about the band in this Sentinel article from 1993. Despite the name, most of the members were excellent, professional musicians—but they didn't discriminate against the rest of us.

It was so much fun. Not only did we march in the Sashay and many other local parades, but we also took road trips for Independence Day parades in Atlanta and Philadelphia. We played concerts for the newly-formed Fringe Festival, the Maitland Art Festival, at the Citrus Bowl, at several Disney events, even (in an absolute deluge) for the Santa Salutes the Soaps Parade—venues so eclectic I can't count or even remember them all now.

But as with so many good things, the World's Worst Marching Band eventually ran its course. Later, the intrepid Chaz Waldrip resurrected it, in the form of the ACME All-American Alumni Marching Band, which attempted to be a little more serious. It was still fun, but didn't last long. Finally, Richard Simonton, a band member from Geneva (Florida, not Switzerland), found a scheme that worked to keep us going. Richard is quiet, self-effacing, and brilliant. He's done a lot of good, real work in his time—don't look him up in Wikipedia, though; you'll get his much more famous father—but as far as we're concerned, the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band is his magnum opus.

The GGGAMB operates on a much more modest scale than the WWMB: We have ONE gig per year. On the morning of July the 4th, we meet for a short rehearsal, after which we march in Geneva's short Independence Day parade and then perform for their wonderful, small-town celebration. In 2015 I wrote a post about some of the joys of that once-a-year performance.

For those who would prefer a shorter version, I've edited a video taken of that year's concert by Rick Hughes of the Community Church of God. In it you can see the band in action, with my award-winning cymbal performance. Award-winning?  Hang in there till the end and you'll see what I mean.

The video also shows Porter in his even more important role as Gunga Dad, the man who keeps the band well hydrated. This is more of an act than a necessity in these days of ubiquitous water bottles, but in 1993, with the July sun melting the asphalt on Atlanta's Peachtree Street parade route, his tireless work gave us the distinction of being the only band in the parade not to have someone faint.

So there you have it. Our Secret Lives Revealed. Auditions are now open for this year's Independence Parade. That's "auditions" as in "let me know you're interested, and I'll slip your name to the right people.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Edit
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altDorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life by David Coomes (Lion Publishing, 1992)

I'm a long-time fan of the works of Dorothy Sayers, though I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that my reading has been almost—though not quite—exclusively of her detective fiction. That's a fault I'm working to correct, though sadly our library isn't of much help.

Coomes' book is a wonderful examination of the person behind the great mind and brilliant writer. I'd say it is a fair biography, doing Sayers justice, giving her due credit for her amazing accomplishments without whitewashing her character flaws or excusing her sins—of which she was very much aware.

Despite my respect for the author's work, I can't say the same for his proofreaders and editors. I know how easy it is to have read a manuscript so many times that you simply can't see the errors anymore, but I still wonder how everyone could have missed the amusing error that appears on every page of Chapter 6, in the title, 'The deadlines of principles.'  Having read Gaudy Night multiple times, and recently, I knew immediately that the title was a quote from that book, and that it was wrong. Even in the body of the chapter, where the passage in which the phrase appears is quoted in longer form, it is misquoted. The relevant sentence is, The young were always theoretical; only the middle-aged could realize the deadliness of principles. Not deadlines. Deadliness. Until now I had never noted the one-letter difference that changes the meaning so dramatically.

The mistake is repeated at least 16 times. That spell check failed to catch the error is understandable, since both are valid English words; that it slipped by all the humans is less so. But maybe they hadn't read Gaudy Night, where the deadliness of principles is not just a passing phrase, but central to the mystery, and to the book.

Much of the author's insight into the character of Sayers comes from her writings, especially her letters, and he quotes liberally. That is how it came to be that all the quotations below are Sayers' own words rather than Coomes'. As always the bold emphasis is mine.

I was [as a child] always readily able to distinguish between fact and fiction, and to thrill pleasantly with a purely literary horror...I dramatised myself, and have at all periods of my life continued to dramatise myself, into a great number of egotistical impersonations of a very common type, making myself the heroine (or more often the hero) of countless dramatic situations—but at all times with a perfect realisation that I was the creator, not the subject, of these fantasies.

"More often the hero"—that was true for me, as well. I believe it is the natural consequence of the sad fact that until recently nearly all the interesting roles in literature were taken by men.

For some reason, nearly all school murder stories are good ones—probably because it is so easy to believe that murder could be committed in such a place. I do not mean this statement to be funny or sarcastic; nobody who has not taught in a school can possibly realize the state of nervous tension and mutual irritation that can grow up among the members of the staff at the end of a trying term, or the utter spiritual misery that a bad head can inflict upon his or her subordinates.

I'm sure my teacher friends would agree.

I am still obstinately set upon [a certain producer for the play]. Very likely it is impossible. I do not care if it is. If the cursing of the barren fig-tree means anything, it means that one must do the impossible or perish, so it is useless to tell me it is not the time of figs.

I will not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword sleep in my hand till I have detected and avenged all mayhems and murders done upon the English language against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, his Crown, and dignity.

A woman after my own heart.

[On the popularity of detective novels] Life is often a hopeless muddle, to the meaning of which [people] can find no clue; and it is a great relief to get away from it for a time into a world where they can exercise their wits over a neat problem, in the assurance that there is only one answer, and that answer a satisfying one.

Artists who paint pictures of our Lord in the likeness of a dismal-looking, die-away person, with his hair parted in the middle, ought to be excommunicated for blasphemy. And so many good Christians behave as if a sense of humour were incompatible with religion; they are too easily shocked about the wrong things. When my play was acted at Canterbury, one old gentleman was terribly indignant at the notion that the builders of that beautiful Cathedral could have been otherwise than men of blameless lives.

Certainly that attitude is a problem even today, but the indignant gentleman may or may not have been real. Sayers—who had worked in an advertising agency—and her publishers knew very well the publicity value of controversy, and were not above fueling the flames with fake letters of complaint. Truly, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

To achieve a great and godly work one should always employ a good architect who lives an immoral life rather than a poor architect who lives a blameless life.

The real question is, why aren't there more good architects who live blameless lives?

I do not feel that the present generation of English people needs to be warned against the passionate pursuit of knowledge for its own sake: that is not our besetting sin. Looking with the eye of today upon that legendary figure of a man who bartered away his soul [Faust], I see in him the type of the impulsive reformer, over-sensitive to suffering, impatient of the facts, eager to set the world right by a sudden overthrow, in his own strength and regardless of the ineluctable nature of things.

Every great man has a woman behind him ... And every great woman has some man or other in front of her, tripping her up.

It's not enough to rouse up the Government to do this and that. You must rouse the people. You must make them understand that their salvation is in themselves and in each separate man and woman among them. If it's only a local committee or amateur theatricals or the avoiding being run over in the black-out, the important thing is each man's personal responsibility. They must not look to the State for guidance—they must learn to guide the State.

[What the press clearly shows] is an all-pervading carelessness about veracity, penetrating every column, creeping into the most trifling item of news, smudging and blurring the boundary lines between fact and fancy, creating a general atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust. He that is unfaithful in little is unfaithful also in much; if a common court case cannot be correctly reported, how are we to believe the reports of world-events?

Once again, plus ça change....

To read only one work of Charles Williams is to find oneself in the presence of a riddle—a riddle fascinating by its romantic colour, its strangeness, its hints of a rich and intricate unknown world just outside the barriers of consciousness; but to read all is to become a free citizen of that world and to find in it a penetrating and illuminating interpretation of the world we know.

Ah, so that's my problem. I read Williams' The Place of the Lion, but found myself in a state of utter confusion. I need to read more.

What we say we want to abolish is the artificial inequality of goods & social status; but I am not sure that this is being accompanied as it should be any recognition of a real hierarchy of merit. I seem to detect a general disposition to debunk the natural hierarchies of intellect, virtue & so forth, & substitute, as far as possible, an all-round mediocrity.

It is arguable that all very great works should be strictly protected from young persons; they should at any rate be spared the indignity of having their teeth and claws blunted for the satisfaction of examiners. It is the first shock that matters. Once that has been experienced, no amount of late familiarity will breed contempt; but to become familiar with a thing before one is able to experience it only too often means that one can never experience it at all. This much is certain; it is not age that hardens arteries of the mind; one can experience the same exaltation of first love at fifty as at fifteen—only it will take a greater work to excite it. There is, in fact, an optimum age for encountering every work of art; did we but know, in each man's case, what it was, we might plan our educational schemes accordingly. Since our way of life makes this impossible, we can only pray to be saved from murdering delight before it is born.

Since I know that Sayers thought highly of the capabilities of children, and that she herself began to learn Latin when she was six years old, I don't think she's arguing against early education. But her point, here, would no doubt be understood by J. R. R. Tolkien, who stated that his book, The Hobbit, should not be read by anyone under thirteen. I don't agree, but he's the author.  I think that Sayers, at any rate, is more opposed to the inoculation against great works that can come when they are dumbed down.  Elsewhere she wrote, when told that the play she had written for children would go right over their heads,

I don't think you need trouble yourselves too much about certain passages being "over the heads of the audience." They will be over the heads of the adults, and the adults will write and complain. Pay no attention. You are supposed to be playing to children—the only audience perhaps in the country whose minds are still open and sensitive to the spell of poetic speech ... The thing they react to and remember is not logical argument, but mystery and the queer drama of melodious words ... I know how you would react to those passages. It is my business to know. But it is also my business to know how my real audience will react, and yours to trust me to know it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, June 16, 2017 at 7:45 am | Edit
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This morning I found a good illustration for why it is important to look at the whole picture when trying to determine "what the Bible says."

As choir members, we've all cringed when a conductor addresses "singers and musicians," but did you know that it has Biblical imprimatur?

Your procession is seen, O God,
the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
the singers in front, the musicians last....

— Psalm 68:24-25, English Standard Version

The King James Version is kinder, saying, "The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 8:21 am | Edit
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Our church prides itself on its reputation as the most liberal church in our diocese.

That our diocese itself is somewhat of a traditional haven in an Episcopal Church that, frankly, has gone off the rails, is a major reason why we have not been driven to another denomination. The dismal state of the American Episcopal Church is not just my opinion, but that of most of the world's Anglicans. However, contrary to what happens in many denominations, the very structure of its services keeps it from going too far 'round the bend in any direction, and enables people of great diversity to worship freely together. I would hate to lose that.

Why, one might ask, do we not seek out a parish that is more in line with the diocese and less with the national leadership? After all, a church that was our home for many years, and which we still hold dear, is just that. It would be disingenuous not to mention that it is 45 minutes away, and our current church less than 10. But there's another, more important reason for being where we are:

We don't fit in.

I don't mean we feel unwelcome. Ours is a friendly church, and almost unmatched in the way children are respected in the service. A nicer bunch of people than our choir you'll not find anywhere. We share a lot in common. But there's no doubt that when it comes to many political, social, and theological issues, we are among a small minority.

One of the greatest dangers facing America today is that we don't know each other. We hang around, in both our real and our virtual lives, largely with people like ourselves. A community of empathetic people is important, even essential. That's the success of 12-step programs and other support groups formed around a particular need. We all need the encouragement of people who have been where we are and are going where we are going. We need a place to be at home, to be ourselves, to be fully accepted, to share inside jokes and to let down our defenses.

But too much of that can also lead to insularity and inbreeding. While we're not likely to forget that there are people who disagree with us, we're all too likely to forget that they are no less human than we are. You think that's crazy? Look at America today. We have become a nation of divisions that each think the others subhuman.

Is there a remedy? The best I can think of is to get out of our comfortable circles and work together with "the other" on something constructive. To find opportunities to meet together on common ground, to see each other as people with jobs and families, with trials and victories, as people who bring us meals when we are sick, and to whom we take meals in their need. People with whom we can learn that discussion is not war, difference is not division, and disagreement is not hatred.

Church, where we already have much common ground, and choir, where we have common work, are obvious places for us to find this interaction, at least at this stage of our lives. Is it frustrating at times, and lonely? Yes. But I've been there before, many times.

Who am I kidding? I've been there all my life. I've never fit in. I grew up a nerd, was the only girl in some of my classes and activities, always preferred classical to rock music, was considered an anomaly by my peers for refusing to lie to my parents, was a feminist until it became popular and then jumped ship, and developed decidedly unconventional attitudes towards birth, childrearing, and education—even in homeschooling I was philosophically an outsider among outsiders. So I'm accustomed to it.

And if I'm not going to fit in, our church is a great bunch of people not to fit in with.

Wait, that didn't come out at all the way I meant it.

They're a great bunch of people, and they don't mind if I don't fit in.

For now, this is where we should be. Will it always be so? Only God knows. As long as we are only swimming upstream and aren't fish out of water, I'm okay with that.

And hopeful for America.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Edit
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