This heart was born feet runnin’

30 11 2010

I go to the gym to work out.

Radical concept, I know, but I remember how many people at the gym at the U of Minnesota apparently thought the weight machines and stationary bikes and stair steppers and treadmills were merely obstacles in their wanderings around the floor, saying ‘hi’ to friends, and checking themselves out in the mirrors.

There are people like that at the gym I go to now—you can find them most easily on the weekends—but as this gym is a pretty spartan and non-hip place, most of the folks are there for the same reason I am.

We’re all shapes and [adult] ages, and I’ve seen people with canes and wheelchairs maneuver themselves into the weight machines, so, again, this gym is serving its purpose as a place for people to get into or maintain shape.

All of this is a very long way of saying, Hey, I’m there to work out! Got it? Work. Out. That’s it.

Still. One of the benefits of hitting the gym is there are others there who are clearly much more dedicated to working out than oneself, and which results are apparent in these personages.

Great fucking shoulders, in other words. I have a weakness for, and thus pay attention to, well-sculpted shoulders. Yes, I have a general aesthetic appreciation for an athletic body, an appreciation tinged with the sadness that I am unlikely ever to manipulate my body into any category beyond the merely ‘fit’, but there is something about shoulders which gets me.

Yes, I am objectifying my fellow-gym-goers, gazing for perhaps a second or two too long at the gents doing pull-ups and otherwise taking note of the muscle-shirted men with the taut lines running up the forearms and over the biceps and rippling across broad backs. These men aren’t Mr. Universe, with muscle tumoring out of muscle, but regular guys with, jesus, beautiful, beautiful shoulders.

It’s so wrong. I’m there to work out, not to check out other people who are working out.

I mean, the treadmill should be enough to get my heart racing, shouldn’t it?





I’m gonna get it right this time

26 11 2010

I’m reconsidering.

Okay, so I’m always reconsidering pretty much everything, but this is a specific reconsideration: Whether to post novel-1 on Smashwords.

Part of it, I admit, is cold feet—what if nobody reads it? what if somebody reads it?—but part of it is wondering if this is the best way to send Unexpected People (soon-to-be-retitled) into the world.

You see, the editing worked: It’s better, now. A lot better.

It’s still not great, won’t set anyone’s hair on fire, but the stiltedness is (mostly) gone, the over-knowingness and, frankly, the Q&A aspect of so many of the conversations has for the most part been eliminated.

Here’s a bit from the first section:

From her crouch on the bed, Kit could both hear the squealing below and watch the neighbor lady getting into her car. She had a large bag and a bundle of papers; was she going to work on a Saturday? Bummer.
She was pretty, though, from what she could tell from the distance. Really tan, or maybe black; tough to tell from just the glimpse at her face; were those dreadlocks? Cool.
As the car crept backward down the driveway, Kit shifted her focus to the room. How many hours left? She didn’t have to be back on the ward until tomorrow night, so, what, 30 something hours left? Ten of those sleeping? A couple in the shower, dressing, her room. Twenty hours with her family. She sighed, then slid off the bed.
‘Well, I probably should shower, then,’ she mumbled to herself. A shower always made her feel stronger—not because that’s what normal people did, but because it helped her to gather herself to herself. Pieces of her flaked and chipped off every moment she was awake; taking off her old clothes then putting on new ones after she was clean was a kind of repair. It didn’t last, but those first moments out of the shower made her feel as whole as she could be.
She’d forgotten how humid the bathroom would get; the fans on the ward were much stronger. Still, Kit lingered, eyes closed, in the steamy room, waiting to propel herself into the day. You can do this. You can do this.

Janis heard the noise from the shower, and tried not to track how long it took before Kit showed up. Instead, she ransacked the cabinets for flour, sugar; did they have enough peanut butter? Check. Chocolate chips? Check.
She turned to Lindsay. ‘Chocolate chip bars or cookies?’
‘Cookies!’ Lindsay said immediately. She looked at Patrick, explaining, ‘You get more that way.’
He laughed. ‘It’s the same amount of dough, Linds, either way.’
She was unmoved. ‘But you get more cookies than bars.’
‘All right, all right,’ he relented. ‘You got me there.’

Kit lingered in her room, rummaging for her favorite socks. She didn’t have these on the ward—her parents did the packing—and wanted to make sure they were still around. The deep green didn’t quite match her purple hoodie, but she was satisfied with her outfit anyway. Low riders, moccasins, sweatshirt. It wasn’t like she’d be seeing anyone today, anyway.

The kitchen was so warm Janis cracked open a window.
‘Hey, did you meet the new neighbor?’
Janis looked puzzled. ‘New neighbor?’
Patrick flipped another cookie onto the board, then raised his eyebrows to Lindsay. ‘Pretty good, huh kid?’ She rolled her eyes back at him. ‘Yeah, the one with the Saab?’
Lindsay looked up from the cookie bowl. ‘That bug car? She’s nice.’
Janis’s frown deepened. ‘What, Saab, bug car?
‘Veronica,’ Patrick stated. ‘And she’s not nice, she’s fiiiiiiiine’ He waggled his brows at Lindsay, then flipped another cookie. This one hit the floor.
‘You dummy.’
He scooped the broken cookie into his mouth. ‘No worries,’ he gargled through hot cookie. ‘Five second rule.’ He swallowed. ‘Mmm.’
‘Gross.’

You get the idea: Kit is home from the hospital for the weekend, her mom Janis is trying to something normal and homey, and her older brother Patrick and younger sister Lindsay are enjoying the Kit-free kitchen.

The manuscript as a whole is dialogue-heavy, with only minimal place-setting. Over the course of the novel you get bits of description: the neighbor Veronica’s house is a one-story ranch, while the family’s house is two-story; Veronica has a cement back stoop and a small detached garage she never uses, while the other house has a nice wood deck, a usable garage with a basketball hoop, and a large yard with a wood swing and various berry bushes. I don’t give the town they live a name, but, in my own mind, at least, it’s in the Midwest—maybe Illinois or Indiana—and large enough to support at least a small college and with a diversified economy.

You also don’t get too much by way of physical description of the characters. Veronica is bi-racial, with long dreadlocks, in her late thirties; Janis is blonde, works out, in her mid-forties; her estranged husband Rick has a mustache, and later grows a beard; Patrick (19) is tall, Kit (16) has dark hair, and Lindsay (10-11) has long hair. That’s it.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with my reconsideration. I know the publishing business is in the pits and the whole agent-editor-book contract model is wobbling—against that, the self-pub route seems almost reasonable.

But there’s another option, as well, which is to go the small press route. I have to look into this further, to find out if manuscripts may be sent directly or if they still require agency representation, but I think this story would fit a small press well. That I have a second manuscript already in the can would, presumably, work in my favor.

So, much more research, a little more editing, and then: a decision.





Thanksgiving for every wrong move

25 11 2010

It’d take about 20 minutes before our dresses would be off.

My cousin A. and I, having been forced to wear something nice (and constricting) for Thanksgiving, would head into the den and whip off our dresses so that we could play—hard. While our mothers might have sighed over the sight of us scampering about in our slips and tights, at least they didn’t have to worry about stains and tears to the good clothes.

All of us kids would head upstairs, carefully closing the door behind us—the better to keep the adults at bay—before tiptoeing through our grandma’s bedroom to reach the closet door.

This was a great closet, mainly because it was less a closet than a long, dark, narrow passageway into the other bedroom. Who had a closet like this? It wasn’t a secret, but it felt like one.

The real treasure, however, was the attic, which we were of course and repeatedly warned against entering. Come on: you tell kids ‘don’t you go messing around in the attic’ enough times and of course that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It was dark and drafty and a little bit dangerous (all those nails poking through the rough wood) and had just the right ratio of stuff to space: a great play space.

There was an old Victrola in the attic, and while I don’t remember if this was Thanksgiving or not, one year my brother and A.’s brother somehow got that thing cranked up and going; we all fled as sound came out of it, giddy and afraid we broke it.

No, we did not dare tell the adults.

Another favorite was to grab a blanket and ride it down the (carpeted) stairs. The door ended right at the last step—no space or landing—so every time you bumped down the steps you’d slam into the door. This would the lead the adults to ask What are you kids doing up there?

Nothing!

You’re not sliding down the stairs, are you?

No!

At some point my dad and uncles would grab a couple of glass jugs and head over to the nearest bar for beer, although it seemed to take them quite awhile to go just the few blocks and back. But they’d always return, in good cheer and carrying the soon-to-be-emptied jugs.

Finally, it would be time to eat: Adults at the fancy cherrywood table lengthened just for this day, the kids either at a card table set up near there or in the den. The den was best: We had our own bowls of food, and could take as much or as little as we wanted, but, really, we could laugh and mess around and not have to worry about ‘behaving’ or ‘keeping it down’.

We’d all crash out for a bit in my grandma’s small front room, my aunts and uncles smoking and us kids waiting until the cherrywood table was made small again and the adults gave permission for us to take over the (much larger) dining room. The blanket came back into play, usually in some manner of us rolling ourselves in it and trying to chase one another around. If one of the adults was sufficiently, ah, loosened up, he or she would join us, and perhaps we could get them to slide down the stairs, too—only this time, with the door open.

T.v. would be watched—there was usually some holiday movie on—and pie eaten. Other cousins who had eaten elsewhere might stop by, either for pie or beer, and we’d hang out until the traditional holiday walk.

Honestly, I don’t remember if this is something we did for Thanksgiving or Christmas or both (I think at least Thanksgiving), but we’d all bundle up and head out into the south Sheboygan neighborhood, a knotted string along shovelled walks. When we’d hit the highway the adults would call us close, then we’d climb the stairs to the bridge over the lanes. We got a nice shot of the lights of the neighborhood, and we’d wave at the oncoming cars.

And then we’d spit.

No, we weren’t (well, we weren’t supposed to be) aiming at cars. It was just our thing: We’d spit off the bridge.

So happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And may you get the chance where you are to spit off a bridge.





Whisper words of wisdom

24 11 2010

Allow a moment of sympathy for the Roman Catholic Church.

No, really.

The old girl is over 1500* years old, and the world now is not the world of its founding or expansion—a tough spot for an institution based on both spreading the Word and upholding eternal truths.  Yes, the One True Church has had to deal with interlopers and usurpers—in particular that centuries-long unpleasantness sparked by a disgruntled monk—but always, always, she has held true.

(*Given the un- and dis-organization of early Christian communities, a conservative estimate seems best. Oh, and for the purposes of this post, ‘the Church’ is defined narrowly as the institution, not the laypeople.)

Truth—ay, there’s the rub. Or, perhaps, insert the requisite LOLcats image here: ‘The Truth: I haz it.’

Consider the view of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, newly elected preside of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

“You get the impression that the Holy See or the pope is like Congress and every once in a while says, ‘Oh, let’s change this law,’ ” he said. “We can’t.”

The key is to convince [would-be] parishioners of the Church’s position:

He said he was chagrined when he saw a long line of people last Sunday on Fifth Avenue. “I’m talking two blocks, a line of people waiting to get into …” he said, pausing for suspense. “Abercrombie and Fitch. And I thought, wow, there’s no line of people waiting to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition?”

Hence the dilemma: We have this great tradition. . . that many reject.

The whys of the rejection are likely numerous—people don’t think the traditions are great, don’t think they’re immutable, don’t believe the Church is the best or only repository of those traditions, etc.—but that people are able to reject them means that those trying to sell the eternal value of those traditions have to figure out how to persuade the rejectionists to change their minds.

A number of commenters on the Dolan piece note that this amounts to a view of ‘Change your mind so we don’t have to’—a reasonable take on the Church’s position.

But those same commenters are also missing the point: the Church does in fact hold the position that there are eternal truths, that it is the guardian of those truths, and that to compromise on those truths is to call into question the point of the Church itself. Granted, some of those commenters are doing just that, but others seem to think that the Church simply needs to ‘get with the times’ when in fact the Church thinks it’s the times which need to get with the Church.

This is Ross Douthat’s view, expressed in his usual fuzzy, befuddled, obedient manner:

Here the Church struggles and struggles, in ways that it doesn’t on other controversial issues, to make its teaching understood and its moral reasoning transparent. . . . Orthodox Catholics sometimes argue that the problem is simply that the teaching hasn’t been adequately explicated and defended, whether by bishops or priests or laypeople — and there’s truth to this. But the problem probably runs deeper than that: It isn’t just that the arguments for the teaching aren’t advanced vigorously and eloquently enough; it’s that the distinctions that the Church makes bump up against people’s moral intuitions more than they do on other fronts, and the Church’s arguments often take on a kind of hair-splitting quality that’s absent on other hot-button questions. (As in: The natural law permits me to rigorously chart my temperature and/or measure my cervical mucus every day in an effort to avoid conception, but it doesn’t permit me to use a condom? Really?)

So Douthat sees that even those who generally follow the Church’s teachings nonetheless squint at the reasoning behind the pronouncements on Truth—in this case, the anti-contraception Truth. Thus, should these same laypeople follow their own reason to the Truth?

Not exactly:

Now for a serious Catholic, the argument from tradition and authority is a real argument, not just the dodge that many people assume it to be. And the fact that the Church’s moral reasoning seems unpersuasive may just reflect the distorting impact of a contraceptive culture on the individual conscience.

Again: the problem, dear (un)believer is with you.

But what if the Church does try, however fitfully, to make practical sense of its moral stance in an im- or a-moral world, as with condom use in paid-for sex? You get it from all sides, from those of us skeptical of the morality of its stance to those who consider it an impermissible detour from the straight and narrow.

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and a moral theologian, urged the publisher not to publish the Pope’s book, Light of the World, arguing it would only create a ‘mess’. That a Vatican spokesman later clarified that the Pope’s comment related not just to male but also to female prostitutes, was almost unbelievable, given the implications regarding contraception:

Indeed, Dr. Haas, of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, could barely countenance Father Lombardi’s comments that broadened the debate to include women. “I don’t think it’s a clarification; it’s a muddying of the waters,” he said. “My opinion is that the pope purposely chose a male prostitute to avoid that particular debate.”

And if Benedict was in fact opening that debate? “I think the pope’s wrong,” Dr. Haas added.

Well.

The Church has to hold the line because, were any slack allowed, the meaning of the line would cease, as would that of the Church itself. Yet not to loosen the line means that people will flee, if only to save themselves from suffocation—and in so doing, to call into question the meaning of the line and that of the Church itself.

It is a true dilemma, and for that reason, I am sympathetic.

But—you knew I’d throw a ‘but’ in—the Church itself is the author of this dilemma. It set itself up as the One True Church, the path to salvation, the authority on all matters God, so much so that authority itself was reified. The point of the Church became the Church.

This is, of course, an ancient dilemma, one which runs through the history of not just Church but Christianity itself. Early dissenters (including Pelagians and some gnostics, among others) argued that God was carried within and thus no formal structure was necessary; a thousand or so years later protesters lay the Bible before the people and told them that was all they needed. (That those Protestants set up their own structures is another issue.) Sola fidelis, sola scriptura.

But the Church, the Church said No. The Church said We are the One True Faith. The Church said, in effect (if anachronistically): Who you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?

The Church, in other words, rested the faith on its authority, rather than its authority on faith. In doing so, the truth of the authority calcified into the Church’s Truth and, as such, could be neither compromised or countermanded. The Church is the repository of God’s Word, its guardian and keeper; to doubt this authority is to risk losing the keys to the Kingdom itself.

This risk has kept many inside, as, I hasten to add, have faith and love for the Church itself. But those on the outside, especially those faith-seekers on the outside, see the lines and the walls of the Church and wonder Where is God in all this?





A view from my window

23 11 2010

So Sullivan doesn’t allow pets, but what the hell, this is my blog:

Tricks looooves the birdies. . . .

Actually, his exact words are ‘no rainbows, children, or animals.’

I can understand the first two, but the last. . . ?





Wrap it up

21 11 2010

Pope Says Condoms to Stop AIDS May Be Acceptable

-headline in New York Times story on the pope recognizing that people are. . . people.

Well, some of us, perhaps:

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants,” the pope said.

That’s nice.

It’s a fine thing to recognize that the lives of gay men are worth saving. And Sullivan points out that by so recognizing the worth of said lives, the Pope introduces the possibility that gay men who have sex may act in a manner not completely outside of the moral sphere:

[O]nce you introduce a spectrum of moral choices for the homosexual, you have to discuss a morality for homosexuals. Previously, it was simply: whatever you do is so vile none of can be moral. Now, it appears to be: even in a sexual encounter between a prostitute and his john there is a spectrum of moral conduct.

Again, most excellent, not least because it allows for the possibility, however slim, that long-term gay male relationships may someday be recognized as morally licit.

Sullivan then goes on to note that this stance actually favors gay male relationships:

It’s okay for a gay prostitute to wear a condom because he was never going to procreate anyway. But for a poor straight couple in Africa, where the husband is HIV-positive and the wife HIV-negative, nothing must come in the way of being open to procreation … even if that means the infection of someone you love with a terminal disease.

It’s then you realize that the Vatican’s problem is not just homophobia. It’s heterophobia as well.

Dan Savage pushes the point a bit further:

So… condoms are okay when they’re being used to protect men who see male prostitutes. They’re not okay when they’re being used to protect a woman—a woman who might already have more kids than she can possibly feed—from an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.

Allow me to push this all the way over the edge: Is there any recognition of women, any sense that we might have any say at all in our own sexual or moral lives?

Okay, so this is just an excerpt from Il Papa’s forthcoming book—maybe he’s got a whole chapter about the intellect and worth of those of us who wear our generative bits (most decidedly not ‘junk’) on the inside—but I gotta be honest with you, I’m thinking: no.

‘Heterophobia’ might work for Sullivan, but I’m old school: I think I’ll stick with the more traditional ‘misogyny’.





I was so much younger then

16 11 2010

I need an image.

No, not for me—I have my lovely red cube—for my first novel.

I really slacked off on the editing, but it’s done, now. For the most part. One last walk-through. . . .

Anyway, I should be able to post it to Smashwords say, oh, around Thanksgiving, and I’d really like it to have a ‘cover’, and, given that the novel is neither abstract nor experimental, an abstract or experimental image wouldn’t work.

So a photo, or a drawing, something which has some relationship to the setting of the novel itself. I sketched something out, but, well, there’s a reason I work in words. Then I tried searching for images of what I’d want, thinking I could just pony up a licensing fee, but, eh.

Then I thought, Huh, I wonder if I’ve got something which could work in my photo bin. So, after hoisting Tricks and then Jasper out from the pile of photos, I dove into my past.

There are my nieces and nephew as babies. My sister with a perm. My brother with hair. And, jesus, that short-sleeved green shirt I still love? Apparently, I bought that in high school, as there’s a shot of me wearing it in the high school theatre makeup room. There’s K. and M. and me in our costumes from Mame, and, ho, there I am, in a bikini at the quarry.

No, I won’t be posting that one.

I just bought some film for my old Olympus, but, really, most of my shots these days are digital. Will it be the same, in ten or twenty or thirty years to flip through my computer (or online or whatever) archive and see shots of the kitties or my apartment or snow on the fire escape?

Maybe. It is the image, primarily, which pulls me back, and that’s what I’ll see. But I can also tell the different cameras I used in the film shots, the kind of film, the matte and glossy finish. And while I regularly delete bad images from my digital chip, I kept a lot of the old bad film shots—hey, I paid for those!

I’m not slagging the digital, and who knows, in twenty years digital may be old school.

But I’ll never be as young as I was on film.