Sunday, December 31, 2006

No One Will Comment on This Post

My wife and I went to a mini poetry salon tonight. That is, we got together with a few friends, drank some wine, dipped some crunchy edibles in dip and after we were suitably mellow read a few poems. The mellowness was such that only a few poems were read. I had planned to do a couple sections of T.S. Eliot's "Waste Land," and in my preparation I realized I have forgotten why this poem is a landmark, a watershed, a harbinger, just so damn important in 20th Century -- and thus modern -- poetry.

I'm ginning up a performance, but the poem is just so much diverting obscurity. It has some great lines: "April is the cruellest month," and it juxtaposes images (elaborate and mysterious) and dialogue (common and conversational) in a way that we have grown oh so familar with. But why is it wonderful? Was it that different, that striking, in its moment?

I suppose that 40 years ago in graduate school I was told why, but I never *knew* why, if you know what I mean. I could look it up on Wikipedia. That would be wrong for so many reasons.

No one who reads this blog will have anything to say on this topic. The wench is dead.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum I

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum I, originally uploaded by heather.

The current Asawa exhibit is at the De Young in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. But we
think this is almost certainly the entrance art at the Oakland Museum.

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum III

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum III, originally uploaded by heather.

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum II

Ruth Asawa, de Young Museum II, originally uploaded by heather.

I prevailed on my wife, Edith, to comment on the exhibit. She is wise in such matters.

Decades ago I walked by my first Ruth Asawa sculptures on my way to a job interview. They were there hanging in a dingy architectural office on Mission Street, San Francisco, California. The office belonged to Albert Lanier, her talented architect husband, who subsequently hired me to work for him. I learned well the nuts and bolts of architecture in his office. But as much as anything I remember from those days, I remember her sculptures. I thought were wonderful, even without any emphasis, a thing of beauty.

I asked a co-worker about the sculptures. “Albert’s wife, Ruth Asawa, is a famous sculptor,” he said. “But I don’t much like her work.”

I did. When my husband and I visited their home, her ethereal sculptures hung from the cathedral ceiling of their living room in profusion. (Outnumbered only by her progeny, I might add, which is pretty close to true.)

After I left Albert’s employee, my husband and I lost contact with Albert Lanier and Ruth Asawa. They live in San Francisco and its visual arts world, we in Oakland and the world of the written word. Still I remain enamored of Asawa’s artistic gifts and of the expression of her many talents, especially those talents expressed in woven wire. Asawa has worked with children helping to create San Francisco’s arts program for children and done numerous “art projects” with the community, yet as wonderful as those things are, it is the items, created solely by Asawa that I find most compelling.

This is my reaction to her recent museum retrospective:

As one enters the exhibit through a “Portmanesque” low portal into a voluminous space, Asawa’s geometric organic sculptures dangle from the ceiling above, demanding attention, collectively and individually. Asawa creates a shape, then repeats that shape to create another shape, and another. That is true of both her flat work and sculpture. Something simple is spun into complexity. Early in her career, Asawa’s work was collected by the Rockefellers and others of "taste and means." Then, the American aesthetic changed. Of course, her career may have remained glorious had she gone “East Coast," i.e., gone to New York, had she not been a woman, a wife and mother. Her work might have been more highly regarded if it were not seen as akin to basketry, a craft and not an art – so they say. The arbitrary separation of “high art” and craft” mystifies me. Any artistic creation is from some tradition, or the breaking of a tradition. Differentiating the expression of an artistic gift through “establishment high art” from the “menial” craft object, often an object created for utilitarian use, is arrogant and elitist. “ART” created by human beings is “ART,” whether the art of the gallery or the art of the functional. Perhaps it is harder to create “ART” out of the ordinary. Pottery, glass, objects that I hold in my hand, objects that can be viewed and touched, are for me art objects, objects that can be perceived with more than one sense. Asawa’s art -- there surrounding air, creating space, loop by loop, creating objects thread by thread -- if it’s an air basket so be it. It is a basket of beauty, a basket of imagination, a basket of high art, encompassing, but not. Her sculptures are a kind of ghost sculpture, delicately woven, enveloping space, creating form, designed by a mind able to create something out of nothing. And they play with the idea of something and nothing at the same time.

The sculptures themselves, the tree-like sculptures and the bulging/constricting/bulging sculptures seem to have their origins in the living world, and they reflect not just form of that world, but imply the lack of permanence of that world. Life forms appear and disappear, and Asawa’s forms capture the ethereal nature of life itself.

The de Young’s Asawa exhibit provides a space worthy of the art, somewhat better than her husband’s dingy offices. (Drawing on his newspaper and magazine days, my husband likes to say, “The dingier the office, the better the quality of the work produced there.") Let me also say this. Albert always supported his wife in her art, which not every husband of an artist-wife has the confidence to do.

Postscript: We think some, or perhaps all, of these photos were taken from a recent Asawa exhibit at the Oakland Museum. We do know that when we tried to take photos at the de Young, the guards jumped us.

May We Recommend a Superior Restaurant

Somebody dropped a dime or perhaps a contact lens and a crowd has gathered? No. It's 6:30 on a Thursday night, and all those folk are waiting for a table. I am led to believe this is typical.

Having dropped by the Ruth Asawa show at the DeYoung -- more about that later, or maybe not -- we made a special trip to Clement Street to confirm that Burma Superstar is a wonderful restaurant.

Confirmation accomplished. We had stumbled into it last year looking for a quick 5 o'clock meal and were startled at how good everything was. It still is.

We had a couple Burmese cocktails, the Mango Tango and a Lychee Mint Julep. We had the samusas (their spelling), the tea salad (which Eydie says actually has tea leaves in it), the lettuce cups and a chicken/shrimp rice casserole with caradamom and cinammon. There was also beer, as there so often is.

Everything was way better than average, and when it comes to San Francisco cuisine average is not a Gentlemen's C.

It cost about 60 bucks. A very good value, and cozy dining as well since the tables have about the thickness of a cell wall -- a human cell; not a dungeon -- between them.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Alaska, California (And, Yes. We are Back from FLA)

From the deck of the private bar. Can you say, "Gracious living"?

Brother Pat Daugherty and I had a bit of lunch on the water last week before I went east, and he afterwards showed me, within two miles of the Richmond Bridge, this amazing little harbor up a hill and down a pitted asphalt road the edges of which something seems to be nibbling away. Most directions you look across the hills or the water you see no sign of human habitation other than the little houseboat and marina community. Daugherty, who worked on the Alaska pipeline for god knows how many years -- Pat's an old-fashioned writer; no MFA, puking and mewling; he lived his life and learned what he learned -- and he says this ragged haven reminds him of the water towns he knew in Alaska.

There's a bar in this Bay Area Brigadoon, which is actually a private club and all the members have keys. Pat knows and is known here, but we bumped into an old timer he didn't know, who pulled out his key and opened up nonetheless. Just us and the cold. So we bought a modest number of Heinekens. Man who opened up was Tanker Tony, as in oil tankers. He'd spent half his life running up to Alaska and (I guess) back. Running up to Alaska, anyway, and taking the oil somewhere, and bringing fuel *to* Alaska before the oil.

Once he and Pat started talking about Alaska, our money changed. It was transformed, transmogrified. It was no good.

I would tell you where this place is, but then I would have to kill you.

Does Absence Make the Blog Grow Fonder ... Of?

Took the red eye out of SFO at 12:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve so that I could spend Christmas Day with my lady wife in Winter Haven, Florida, where she was tending her 95-1/2 year old mom so that the sister who regularly tends Jackie (Moms) Landrith could spend Xmas in Texas with *her* family.

When you have an aged P for whom you have some responsibility, life can become a game of musical walkers. I dumped my aged P with my younger sister and have never looked back. Well, that's a little melodramatic. Mother insisted that it was life in the trailer home in Georgia or no life at all, and finally my older sister and I got out of her way and let her move down to Tobacco Road.

But let's talk about Florida: The middle of winter, and it was still too hot to sleep. Scanned the AM dial and got nothing but preachers and right-wing talk show hosts, one of whom was ranting about Lenin and international communism. That game is over, baby. Send in today for your Osama Bin Laden kit.

Oh, there was one exception to the right-wing litany. I did hit some sort of morning talk show from (I think) Orlando that consisted of two first-name-only guys filling the air with talk about beauty contestants in some local bar making out, apparently sans underwear. Great, lunatics and vulgarians and nothing in between. The only NPR station played nothing but classical music, which in that particular context struck me as a cultural anesthetic.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Brother Silver Says Show Me the Cat on the Steps

This is the best we have. No photos of her ascents because I think when she was actually climbing them, we were afraid we would be "looking" at the moment she fell off, so we were active watchers. She did fall off near the end.

A Year Ago Popcorn Was Still Alive and This is What I Wrote

Popcorn's Stairway to Heaven or in this case the sofa

Old Popcorn, she of the 20 winters and the 19.5 years, has been mentioned and even pictured in these dispatches before. The constraints of time reduce us to bullet points:

* ancient
* crippled
* addled
* incontinent

To which you then say Death Death Death to the old kitty, convenience trumping sentiment.

Well, to heck with you. I concede if we had a son or daughter he or she would be some kind of over-indulged crack-sodden player of Loud Music, and we would deserve our long walk through the Valley of Pain. My God what fools these parents be.

But I digress.

Point is that stretching out this old cat's life is self-indulgent and over-indulgent, but it does not reach outside our household and mar the big world. We aren't breeding a Hitler here or a George Bush either.

But I digress.

What I am getting at is that since the poor crippled old cat can't jump up on the sofa anymore -- and even though she might die any minute and I waste valuable seconds to prod her even as I write -- I have just ordered her what they call Doggy Stairs, the three-step version, which are about a foot high and may or may not help her get on the sofa. Right now she staggers around the room with a perceptible list until I pick her up and put her on the sofa. Is this not an affront to her dignity?

Well, no. Return to the bullet points. She has got about as much dignity as Gerald Ford.

But I digress.

I ordered the Doggy Stairs rather than the Kitty Stairs because there is apparently a premium for ordering what seem to be the same stairs if you order them under the rubric of Kitty Stairs. This is like dry cleaners charging more for women's clothes and so on and so on.

Also, I ordered them through a website that says they only look at the orders once a week or so -- I kid you not -- so we are in a kind of race with death here. A more loving cat owner would have ordered the Kitty Stairs, delivery guaranteed by Christmas Day.

I'm stuck here for a kicker, but my 15 minutes are up.

I suppose I could say

but I digress.

Postscript: Those stairs weren't exactly the Gift of the Magi, but she did use them -- after some initial butt-nudging -- to get up to the couch and come down. She lived another three months. One morning we found her body twisted on the garage floor. I mean literally twisted, the way a cat would never lie.

She wasn't dead, but .... We took her to the vet for her final shot. She wasn't the best cat in the world, but apparently we couldn't get enough of her because we sure put in some work during the last year of her life keeping her alive.

Oliver just hit my lap on the bounce heading to the desktop. He'll walk over the keyboard in a minute, and I will censor him. He'll be 15 in six weeks.

The kitty stairs are still in the garage.

But I digress.

Friday, December 22, 2006

We Had a Little Earthquake about Five Minutes Ago

What do you do in the Bay Area when you feel a little shaker, nothing broken or knocked to the floor, just a sharp jerk that makes you think perhaps you shouldn't have come downstairs with so emphatic a step?

You turn on KCBS-AM. They say, "The switchboard is lighting up" and then they go to someone on the phone who will describe how it felt.

Which you already knew.

It's reassuring. But it's also the second Hayward fault mini-earthquake this week. We live two -- or is it three? -- miles from the Hayward fault. As they say, we have picked our poison.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Just Want a Mardi Gras Tree So Much

I read Pastor Kathy down there in Nawlins because:

1) Everyone should have a New Orleans blog friend. Attention must be paid.

2) She don't think I'm going to hell. Or if she does she's nice about.

3) "Holiday" tree advice. I'm too smart to ask if it's true.

We Poll; Therefore, We Are.

Say bye-bye to this poll, which was not a consequential poll. It is a dilemma one does not much like thinking about. Once the problem has arisen, there will be time enough to think about it.

But the original post and its comments are worth reading if you are a dog lover or merely a dog liker.

The burning question:

If you had a three-legged dog, which leg would you prefer to be missing?

Left rear 0%0
Right rear 40%2
Left front 40%2
Right front 20%1
5 votes total

You will be glad to know that I will be rotating in some new polls at the request of Brother Mackdoggy.

They will be even less consequential.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I Missed My Chance. Damn.

I let the deadline slip past. And I had a good one.

Not: The neighborhood is changing.

Not: I didn't know that was an Escher building.

Not: It really is a different world once you cross 89th.

Not: Hey, you lookin' at me. Yeah, you.


He found a loophole in the building code.

Sigh. The three top entries for the "giant woman" cartoon are up, and one of them was a caption I actually rejected. "Someday all this will be yours. But not her." I thought that was too obvious. On the other hand, they must have had ten thousand variations of that. They must have flipped a coin,

I Don't Understand

I don't particularly want to work until I'm 70, but that's not because I think I'll ever exhaust the mysteries -- part torment, part joy -- of teaching. Teaching is a variable enterprise. If something's not working, I change it. But if something is working, I'll change it, too, for many reasons: boredom, pleasure in improvisation, the philosophical conviction that for most things in writing and reporting there is no single way to achieve a good result.

This semester in one of my classes I was convinced I had done one of the worst jobs ever. I had talked too much, skipped over too many of the things experience had shown were proven exercises and teaching techniques. Man, I *murdered* the syllabus. It was in shreds. But a couple of students told me it was the best class they had ever had.

But, of course, a couple of other students simply disappeared.

It keeps you coming back, even when you are old and understand you will never see the end of it, never know how 50 years from now if the inconstant beat of your butterfly wing will have made a difference in the chaos of some student's life.

I do occasionally hear from one of my students from my first year or two at USF in the early '90s. No collect calls from jail yet. I think that's very promising, don't you?

Writing sometimes stirs an old memory, and so this does. I am glad that 15 years after I graduated from high school I looked up my old creative writing teacher Bertha Fisher and bragged about myself a little. We used to call her Grendel. She had gotten very old. Big smile now and all the scarier for the smile. She gave me tea. She was under the impression I was working for Atlantic Magazine, not Atlanta Magazine, and I did not correct her.

More memories: Thank you, Carl Colley. You told the class you painted houses during the summer to support your "hobby," which was teaching high school English. And oh god even at Whooping Jesus Bible College I did have some professors of English who gave me something. Evelyn van Til advised the literary magazine, and she had a kind of rebellious vibe. Maybe it was as faint as the beat of that butterfly's wing, but I felt it. And Herbert Lee told me that he never understood how you could justify the presence of the word "fuck" in "Catcher in the Rye" until I wrote a paper on the novel. (I'm sure I didn't spell it out. But it was before people talked about the "F-word" or the "N-word," so I don't recall exactly how I handled it.)

And Bob Cotner, you had a good effect, too, if only in leaving WJBC just as soon as you could. I don't recall why, but I was able to use my imagination. I remember I wrote you a long letter after graduation that you declined to answer. I'm a little more sympathetic to that behavior now. It was simply not a conversation you wanted to have.

Even then, I must have been a ferocious stylist ....

Postscript: Yes, once again my alma mater is Whooping Jesus Bible College. There are some conversations I don't want to have.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Those English Actors

Don't want to disrespect their American counterparts, but when I first saw "Band of Brothers" on HBO I was impressed by the quintessential Americanness of the actor who played Captain Winters. His name was Damian Lewis. He looked like a second banana from the old "Gunsmoke" series, so I wasn't surprised I hadn't seen his sitcom.

Then I saw his twin brother in a British mystery on PBS poncing around with a High Limey accent.
Separated at birth, obviously. Prime subjects for an I.Q. study. And if one were gay: research gold.

But it wasn't his brother. It was him.

Last night I stayed up rather too late watching "Topsy Turvy," the semi-musical about how Gilbert and Sullivan created the Mikado. Appreciation of the multi-level delight this movie brings is a reliable index of how gladly I will listen to your conversation for more than six minutes. (Not to worry. Rather like a donut, I am glazed with politeness so you may natter on.)

About halfway through the movie appeared a tall blond actor who with great pomposity played one of G&S's singer/actors, and who in that character sang a lovely Nanki-Poo. He looked familiar. In what fop role had I seen him on PBS? I Googled the cast list. His name is Kevin McKidd. He was in Trainspotting! He plays the tormented centurion on HBO's "Rome" series. He's lean, he's deadly.
In old Rome, he don't ever sing nor look like he wants to.

For all I know, just as many American actors are multi-faceted and could move just as smoothly between disparate roles. Some established U.S. movie and TV stars or even singers or even hiphopists do allow themselves to be embedded short-term in certain Broadway productions, where they managed to beguile some of the critics some of the time, mostly by just being themselves. If they remember all their lines and don't know down the furniture, points are given.

But in Britain these seamless talents move between roles so different in their demands -- and meet those demands so expertly -- that the actors cannot possibly be the same person, you would SWEAR.

Don't see that much of that over here, do we? Maybe at a certain point in an actor's career Attention Deficit Disorder is a good thing when it comes to picking roles.

Monday, December 18, 2006

And Now for Something Completely Obvious

Yes, I am slacking off, lowering the temperature here at Blog Central. I posted something week before last that attracted unprecedented attention to this blog, both in number of hits and comments. In a while, I will respond to those comments, once the email inviting those connected with my alma mater to come here and ask me to ....

I am not sure what some of those commenters are asking me to do. I am tempted to say that it is physically impossible, but that's an old joke. And no one was quite that coarse.

But I admit I would *love* to see that inflammatory email.

Anyway, once the effect of that email is dissipated, I will have more to say.

I could say some things right now, express some challenges, use some ripe vocabulary, turn this all into a pissing match, try to keep the angrier of my commenters coming back, try to up the rhetorical ante, pour more fuel on the fire.

But why would I do that?

What I am saying is that in week or two I will have something more to say. But for now: Christmas lights, old movies, outstanding photographs of cats as they become available.

Beware of the Blonde

"Double Indemnity" was on Turner Classic Movies yesterday, and I turned it on for a few minutes -- just for the classic scene with Barbara Stanwyck's anklet -- and stayed for the whole thing because on average every third scene is a classic scene.

The best is the last one. Fred McMurray with Barbara Stanwyck's bullet in him, tries for the elevator -- and Mexico and freedom. Edward G. Robinson doesn't try to stop him or help him either. "You won't make it to the elevator," Robinson says, and throughout the film Robinson knows all and sees all.

Except he didn't know that his friend, his protege, his substitute son, is a killer. (Or maybe he knows but refuses to know. You could make the case.)

But he knows McMurray won't make the elevator.

McMurray collapses. The cops are on the way. McMurray pulls out a cigarette, a symbolic last smoke, and Robinson strikes a match with his fingernail, the way McMurray has been lighting cigars for "Keyes" the entire movie, the conceit being that Robinson has no matches.

The TCM host said that Billy Wilder, the director, shot a gas chamber final scene but had the good sense not to use it. The tragedy is not McMurray's death. It's his betrayal of his friend.

A very good movie for the holiday season, don't you think?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's Over

And that's the viral nature of the internet. The fever rages. The fever dies.

Salman Rushdies Cat
This Week's Visits and Page Views
This Week's Visits and Page Viewsis Week's Visits

Move along, people. Nothing to see.

Postscript: I could say some more negative things about Taylor 40 years ago. It's not like I don't have more material. If the essay elicits this much support, imagine how the novel will do.

We Adjust to Our New Clientele: When Life Gives You Lemons....

Here's something interesting. A story in CJR daily on the presentation of Jesus on magazine covers. This is the time of year for that sort of thing. Here's the link to the whole article, but here are a couple grafs with good links to Time Magazine's trove:

From the dawn of the dot-com days, the December 16, 1996 cover: "Jesus Online: How the Internet is shaping our views of faith and religion," a story sprinkled with now-quaint references to the "World Wide Web," online "bulletin boards" and "AltaVista," a "powerful Internet search engine." The reporter wrote, excitedly: "Look for Christ on the Web and you'll find him -- some 146,000 times." (Compare that to the more than seven million hits you get when you Google Christ today).

From an era when many men looked like Jesus, the June 21, 1971 cover, featuring a psychedelic, lavender-faced cartoon Jesus and a report on "The Jesus Revolution" ("Jesus is alive and well and living in the radical spiritual fervor of a growing number of young Americans who have proclaimed an extraordinary religious revolution in his name....It is a startling development for a generation that has been constantly accused of tripping out or copping out with sex, drugs and violence...")

Interesting, but I think Borat would be a closer approximation.

Advice Rejected

I've been talking to my man Lowell Boileau, who really is the website/blog king of Detroit, Michigan, about what happens when controversy lifts its lively head in one's drowsy little corner of cyberspace. This was his advice:

If you want enemies try moderating a forum of with hundreds of active members 6K visitors a day flipping 60K web pages and creating hundreds of posts.

I even spawned my own ‘para-site’, a whole counter site dedicated to ridiculing DetroitYES, a Salon de Refuse created by trolls I have run off from DetroitYES. “Stupid DetroitYES post Du Jour” is their biggest and longest running thread and constitutes about half of their posts.

You must know by now that the web is far, far more about sociology than technology. We are in its infancy, somewhere between the conquest of fire and Cro Magnon man.

No place for a glass jaw “up in here” where dogs bark most fiercely from behind the fences of their monitors.

If you really want to break this open, express confusion and ask if any of them could offer you spiritual assistance.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

And the Twelfth Disciple was Judas

I'm not even going to bring it up to Top o' the Blog, but the 12th comment to my original post suggests Taylor has a viper in its bosom. Somebody's pissed. Or drinking on the clock.

Isn't Allison Nice? A 'Sad Old Man' Needs a Friend

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "I Went to a College You Never Heard Of":

Oh my goodness. If there is any example of Taylor students being assholes, this is it. Come on guys, surely you don't think badgering this man will change anyone's views of the school. I'm going to guess that it was students like this with considerably narrow views of the school that pushed the blogger to his current sentiment. I personally loved my time at Taylor, but I also recognize how it can be a lonely and frusterating place for people who don't fit the mold 100% of the time. And it is a pretty specific mold to fit. How incredibly "Taylor" is it for us to start a post in anger, and then feel so guilty about it that by the end of the paragraph we are appologizing for your experience and promising to pray for you! And name calling? Dusty, honestly, you should know better. -Allison


Glo and I separately tried to post comments to your grand exegesis of the Taylor educational experience, but we both were flagged as Unable to Post. (Blogger pulls crap like this sometimes.) I'm just glad I went to nondescript, noncontroversial Berkeley. For her part, Gloria was somewhat amused that "the big rack closed the sale" for the Christian institution. Go in peace. -- the Oboglos


And this website says I am "angelic."


Corwin enters the picture:

i KNOW you are a sad old man possessed by satan and
that is why you are so much fun at cocktail parties.

reflecting back upon my southern upbringing, i think
that you could start with say, converse college or any
other small insular school and turn this into a book
project. one bible thumper college a month. you'll be
a full professor by 2008.


Les, a former student, enters the picture:

Jesus H. Christ, what the hell kinda school did you go to? :O)
Well, I guess they have the right to comment, since you're entitled to
your opinion and they are to theirs. But this is why I'm so afraid of
crazy Christian fanatics.


i leave for a good old fashion, god-inspired, capitalist-feeding shopping session in union square and i log on to see more bile on your blog ... and the bile ain't coming from you!

i want to reply to some of these posts but i find myself reading them and having 4-5 SERIOUS problems with nearly each of the posts. it would take too damn long to cover it all. -- a friend in the city

I Am Become Legend: My Last Hundred 'Entry Pages'

Darwins Cat
Entry Pages Ranked by Visits

Entry Page
63 http://jmichaelrobertson.blogs...ollege-you-never-heard-of.html
1 http://jmichaelrobertson.blogs...jmichaelrobertson_archive.html
1 http://jmichaelrobertson.blogs...jmichaelrobertson_archive.html
1 http://jmichaelrobertson.blogs...2/taylor-university-virus.html
1 http://jmichaelrobertson.blogs...jmichaelrobertson_archive.html

I have not paid the big bucks to sitemaster, so I can only go back a hundred hits. But the trend is there, the marketing opportunity. So now I'm thinking, "I see a quality all-cotton product, and on the front it says: 'I went to the Michael Robertson blog to witness to him and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.' "

By the way, a friend asks why I don't just cut off comments down there at my first Taylor post, since that would probably put this little diversion to an end sooner rather than later. Well, if I understand the blogging ethic correctly, refusing to allow comment is the way of the coward. Many of my favorite political blogs -- I've read it at Daily Kos and Atrios, I'm pretty sure -- point out that most of the so-called lefty blogs believe you should encourage comment, and that it's the righty blogs who don't allow it because they are so irritated by disagreement. I don't know how true this is. I don't visit righty blogs all that often. But I agree with the principle. If you are going to put it out there on the net, then you should let people talk back. That's what gives the net its power: interactivity, which (one hopes) corrects misinformation and points out holes in information and flaws in logic.

The net is not just for speaking; it is also for listening.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

My Friend the Sports Columnist Envies Me


“Now this is more like it”, was a difficult read for me. My eyes watered. I might have shed a tear. Maybe two.

I have 20 years in writing for money. I thought I’d done a pretty good job in terms of enraging my readers. But, I must own, I have never received such a long-winded, sanctimonious, patronizing letter as the treasure your correspondent wrote.

I am shamed and diminished.

Kindly write this lad back. We may have a star here. We need more, much more. Big picture. His world. His loves. His hopes.

Start tonight.


"Hated on by the Youth"? Not for the First Time

Not an embarrassment like Mr. dewey decimal! Joe got a little bit of a style. Oh, he puts the knife in, but it tickles as much as it smarts. Good on you, Joe.

Joe has left a new comment on your post "Now, This is More Like It":

You tell him, Mr. Moeller. For the sake of full disclosure, it ought to be mentioned that the majority of Robert Moeller’s own Taylor-hatin’ was restricted to tirades and petitions based on reinstating free ESPN in dorm rooms. This, I believe, proves an important point: today, Taylor is place of social conscience, student initiative, and progressive, populist activism. The place is full of engaged students (pun!) who are passionate about their education as well as their faith, and wouldn’t be content to settle for some autocratic propaganda even if it was being spoon-fed to them. So maybe the architecture isn’t any better than the football team, it’s the faculty that really matters, and Taylor has some truly gifted professors that encourage critical and thoughtful discussions that aren’t bounded by political or theological presuppositions. It would be easy enough to hear that and concede, “well the place sure has changed,” but I don’t think it’s that simple. There are still bitter people at Taylor. There are still students who refuse to engage the community and join the debate, who would rather settle resentfully on the outskirts, console themselves by denouncing the rest, and wait to reflect on the missed opportunities and invisible rebellions of a closed mind until the pithy comebacks come forty years too late. There are plenty of people from a wide range of social, political, and theological backgrounds that have enjoyed their time at Taylor, used the opportunity to learn and grow, and have gone on to do all sorts of great things. Robbie Moeller, as you can see, has started his very own blog! What I mean to say is, your unfortunate experience at Taylor has as much to do with you as it does to do with Taylor. Of course by now you’re probably sick of getting hated on by the youth, so I’ll leave out the requisite heaping on of coals and prayers of exorcism (Andrea, sweetie, you just did comment on “how rude, insensitive, cruel, and ignorant…”) and move right into a more reconciliatory catching-up-to-speed. We still can’t smoke or drink. We can dance, but not very well. “Occasional hand-holding” was on a pretty steady rise throughout the 80’s and 90’s, peaked towards the end of the Clinton Administration, and has been quickly losing ground to “heavy petting.” Chapel is not required anymore, but it is strongly encouraged, along with communal prayer and generous alumni giving. There have been reports of “moral banditry” in local bars, though it was probably just to aid the stagnant local economy. Most references to “Whooping Jesus Bible College” have been removed from official stationary. The new letterhead reflects a more modest, calmly encouraging Risen Lord and Savior. So you can see, things are getting better every day. Judging from the response you’ve gotten, however, I think it’s safe to say that one thing hasn’t changed: there is, apparently, still not a whole lot to do in Upland.

And Now for Something Completely Different

A friend writes, wandering into the blog after a long absence -- it was always so quiet before; you could get a nice table -- only to encounter the crowd, the commotion:

Shit, I thought you went to Duke with Nixon.

This is a friend who tells me not to be so melancholy, so morose, so interested in my own navel. Hit 'em hard, he always says. Draw some blood. If you see a chance for the sucker punch, throw it. Dance like Ali: wink and stick the jab; wink and stick the jab.

Shall I? Nah.

And Something in Between Posts One and Two

Not furious but pretty angry.

Andrea has left a new comment on your post "I Went to a College You Never Heard Of":

Michael ~ I am struggling right now to produce a response that is appropriate yet worthwhile for your eyes to read. I am trying not to take to heart all the negative comments you wrote about Taylor yet I can't help you know why? Because ultimately you were speaking these harsh words about my Jesus. A 2005 graduate and fiance of a Taylor employee I can't help but say, as cliche as it may sound, Christ is everything to me. He is my reason to wake up in the morning, He is my reason to live with hope, and He is the only lasting relationship that I will ever have on this earth that will never disappoint me. It makes me hurt to hear that you don't seem to know Him like that. Because of your post, I view you as a stubborn and bitter man who lost out on an experience like no other. I wish you could have experienced Taylor in the way that - could I be so bold to say this? - God originally would have loved you to experience it. Because of Taylor, Christ has challenged me emotionally and mentally (who woulda thought??)Do I get mad at God? YES...Does it feel good to do what I want most of the time? YES...Do I struggle with really giving my life fully over to Christ every day? YES But, He still loves me. All this to say, I don't know you, I don't know what your convictions are or even if you have any and I am trying not to judge you but...I pray that Satan will no longer hide himself under your bitterness and negative attitude over a school that is "human" but really trying to live out Christ's purpose. By the way - right now it is taking all of Christ's strength inside me not to comment on how rude, insensitive, cruel, and ignorant it was of you to bring up the accident that occurred last year. You have no idea what you are talking about.

Posted by Andrea to Darwin's Cat Presents the 15-Minute Man at 6:11 PM

Here's a Sweeter One, More Forgiving, More Hopeful

Rachel has left a new comment on your post "I Went to a College You Never Heard Of":

I've never blogged before but I thought your entry was worth a response. My boyfriend and I also met and naturally clicked over the fact that we disliked Taylor and the "rules". We lived in sin and year later found ourselves empty and longing for more. There is a natural joy in those who know Christ and truly have experienced Him and that was something I lacked and eventually longed for. Fortunately my boyfriend and I came to know the Lord and His redeeming love and salvation during our sophomore year. We were then able to take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunities to come to know the Lord more fully - like the dreaded 3 mornings a week of chapel, small groups, and church/youth group, etc. I guess your blog left me feeling sad that you don't know or love the Lord and that you laugh at and mock the hope we have in something much bigger than us and our knowledge, degrees....All these earthly things will pass away whether you want them to or not. Life is short, Mr. Robertson, and I hope that in 40 years from my May 2006 graduation that I won't be stuck pondering my college decision and rather praising God for the amazing chance to come to KNOW Him in a way I never had before. I too will pray for your heart and that you can one day rest in the knowledge that you have laid down the things of this earth for the things of above. P.S. you don't need to worry, I know Laura is in heaven because I knew her heart and her desires were for Jesus above all else...crazy as that might sound to you. :)

Now, This is More Like It

A fellow alumnus writes:

I Don't Wanna Be Like This Mike-

Wow. You have managed to confuse, anger, sicken, and bore me all in the same blog. What a piece of garbage your post and/or blog turns out to be. You teach what for a living? Remind me so I can be sure to warn any and all of the horrors that await them at your institution.

Now, in regards to your criticism of the University I graduated from...I regret that your experience was that painful and unpleasant. But, like most who go to Taylor and come away from it with the demented perspective that you obviously have, you are the only one to blame. I attended Taylor my first semester of college and hated it. I left, went to junior college back home and worked for a year. I visited other schools I thought would give me a better education and better experience. I ended up back at Taylor and graduated in 2005 with a degree in Marketing. My only regret is leaving the first time.

What is education? Is it just the degree that hangs on your wall? Is it just a means to an end (a job)? For most, yes. Taylor offers a unique chance to study specific disciplines inside the context of a Biblical worldview. Your heart and ability to see the benefit of such an experience is blackened and clouded by your sin and apparent anger towards God. I say this not as an ad homnyn attack, but as an easily obtained assertion based on your writing.

What makes you so angry? What makes you feel that it is necessary to spew such hatred towards a school that has produced outstanding, Godly men and women for over a century? You had a bad time and felt isloated in your own personal misery; so what? Deal with it. No one forced you to go. You missed the chance God provided you to enjoy your college experience, regardless of the shortcomings (in your mind) that school had.

Now you condescendingly condemn Taylor even though you've done little more than "Google" your alma mater in 40 years. What a shame. I do not dislike or resent you and/or your comments. I feel bad that you've reached the point in your life where bitterness has burrowed so deep in your sinful heart that you cannot see the forest for the trees. God is love. Let go of your self-inflicted resentment towards Him. Let go of your disdain for a university that seeks to further His kingdom by training His people for a life "in, but not, of".

Let me assure you that I was no cheerleader for Taylor much of the time I was there. I complained often. I pointed out obvious flaws and easily correctible mistakes the administration and faculty made. Could I have obtained a better scholastic education had I gone to Wisconsin or Miami-Ohio? Of course! That is not the point. The point is God had me where he wanted me. Knowledge is more than books and petri dishes and cynical journalism professors who reject the God that made them. You, sir, like me, know the Truth. One of has decided to hide it in his heart and that is where you and I part company.

I'll be praying for you and if I've offended you or gone too far, then I apologize. Please, for all of us, before posting anything in the future...take a deep breath and think about a dewey meadow or something.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why? Why? Why?

Kwame Oboglo and his wife Zipporah ask, in essence, why in the heck did me and the kid go to Taylor in the first place? From what original state were we transformed into the sort of people who have spent the 40 years since pissing and moaning about it?

Last night I wrote a long convoluted confusing explanation. I know it confused me. I threw that explanation away. The answer is actually simple. I was a working class kid who knew nothing about college and who thought he would probably be a high-school teacher, since those were the college-educated folk to whom I was most exposed. We knew no doctors, no lawyers, no architects. We knew barbers, shoe salesmen, low-level office workers, milkmen. My dad was a locomotive engineer, an engine driver, for the Norfolk and Western railroad. Both my grandfathers and nine of my uncles worked for it at one time or another.

I knew one thing: I didn't want to work for the N&W. Any college was an acceptable alternative to that. First tier? Fourth tier? It never occurred to me to ask.

I was also a born-again Christian kid, so very much afraid of the world and its temptations -- and, of course, I was afraid of my own desires, which rooted up temptations like a French pig roots up truffles. I wanted to be someplace safe. I wanted to please my parents. I didn't want to end up like my uncle the drunkard or my uncle the drunkard *and* the whoremaster.

I feared thinking because I had no idea what I might actually think.

I didn't choose Taylor because my parents wanted me to. There were no arguments, no pressure. It never occurred to me that I would not go to a Christian school. Fundamentalist Christianity was our brand, and we were brand faithful. Any Fundamentalist school would have done for my parents, and there are more than you think. I wanted to go to Taylor. I knew about it because a full-figured girl in my church was going there, and she recommended it. We had such a small church, only about a hundred members, so there was a dearth of girls of a certain age, much less full-figured girls of a certain age.

I wasn't concerned about learning anything. I just wanted to meet a nice Christian girl who would say something like, "Bury your face between these, Monsieur piglet."

And then I would marry her.

Now, why did the kid go? Well, first thing she wasn't just a good Christian girl, she was the child of missionaries. Perhaps, she will come make a guest post at this blog someday, but she did tell me one thing. When it came to going to Taylor, she asked for a sign from God, and she got it.

So you might say she was recruited.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One or Two More Things about Taylor from an Old Friend. If This "Tempest" Gets Us Talking Again, It's Worth It

So an old pal writes:

It sounds like you have a buzz going, at Taylor at least.

Feel free to post my response but please leave my name off it, if you don’t mind. I prefer to let that sleeping dog lie. The web has a curious way of consuming one’s time if names get attached. If my reply had the effect of, say, ending the war in Iraq or ending world hunger if my name was attached I would say put it there in 72 pt. type.

I have learned to choose my battles and a forty year old [gasp] tempest in a teapot is not one I choose to fight.

Taylor still sends me their alumni-mining magazine. I’m sure you get it two [<-spelling intentional]. It is slick and well done, but the relentless bible-thumping back beat makes me feel like some Karl Rove wanabee is lurking in the background having figured out, through polling and focus groups, that placing that message somewhere on every page is the best formula for getting into my pocket book. Religion first, academics second is still the message. Gag me.

I will admit to being mildly pleased at Taylor’s getting good ratings in US News & WR. Even though the Taylor of our day most certainly would not have surfaced in such a rating system, we don’t have to suffer the embarrassment that we graduated from a college that was both an insufferable theocracy and later a failed academic institution.

It appears that we attended Taylor at its nadir, when a certifiably mad president [BJ Martin?] wept and cried out to lead TU out of the wilderness of Upland to a new Jerusalem in Fort Wayne before an aghast faculty and a confused or snickering student body. I still remember his dreamy architectural renderings of a modernist campus in Ft. Wayne, like some Hitler in his bunker during the battle of Berlin still tinkering with his designs for the new city.

Following the quiet putsch that shelved him, Taylor appeared to change course and over the decades recover and move in more positive directions. Since I lost touch with it, I knew little of this until it re-emerged in the 90’s with its retooled alumni fund raising programs. So I am not inclined to lay into present day Taylor without onsite inspection to make sure they don’t still possess the same weapons of mass ignorance we had to contend with.

In some ways, when I look back, I oddly feel that I thrived there through the spirit of resistance that I was compelled to undertake, from refusing to join group prayer ... to posting anti-war slogans in my windows at Morris Hall. My disagreements, theological and social, forced me to sharpen my intellect and knowledge base to be able to stand my ground in the frequent debates they [and my contentious nature] brought on. Fortunately I met brilliant types like you, who were driven and determined to gain knowledge and know the rest of the world in spite of the distractions and obstacles to the contrary, and outlaws who allowed me to enjoy the vices of youth made still sweeter by defiance.

Editor's Note: Any posts that refer to me as "brilliant" go to the front of the line. I'll settle for "evil genius."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Taylor Underground

Well, I never. A friend from whom I haven't heard in years somehow has taken the bait of my Taylor post and writes thus:

Some of those Taylor hits you are getting are probably from the Taylor Secret police who are monitoring your activities and are busy blocking your web address on the Taylor network. The rest of the hits were via a cracked underground network connection of dissidents. [just kidding, but one never knows].

When I was there we had an active underground. Recently I was reading some old memoirs I wrote during that time and ran across the code words we used in the underground – terms like ‘he is one of the boys’ and ‘dingers’ was used as codespeak for bars.

Our outlaw insurgency never went to chapel, unless there was something truly truly compelling and not the usual bible pablum. We smoked, drank, partied and brawled in Marion, Muncie and across the state line in Greenville, Ohio with its 3.2 beer dance halls. So I didn’t feel so deprived of a normal college existence as much as you seemed to. We also protested the Viet Nam war, scoffed at the diversion of educational resources to have a campus pastor and sought out anti-religious philosophical books and discussion.

I am willing to bet my left cajone that the noble opposition exists as vigorously today as then, except they have things like ganja, ecstasy and online porn to weather the boredom. In their secret world pictures of the legendary rebel J. Michael Robertson no doubt grace the walls of their garrets as his subversive blog posts are shot around, amid snickers, via their instant messengers and cracked alternet connections.

The Taylor University Virus

By which I mean my post earlier this week about my alma mater has gone viral in a modest way. That is, though this little blog is pretty much a boutique enterprise, with maybe a half dozen regular readers -- hello, Greg; hello, Peter; hello, David; hello, Bob and Gloria; hello, me -- it is popular with the search engines. I get a fair number of hits from people looking for snapjacks or Lili Marlene.

And thus it was that my screed about Taylor University, from which I graduated a little more than 40 years ago, was stumbled upon by someone with a Taylor connection, and the link has been passed around, apparently to a couple dozen current students and professors.

Sitemeter allows me to know this, telling me as it does of the town or city where my visitors live.

Upland, Indiana
, my friends. It's not just that Taylor is its only claim to fame. It's its only claim.

My little essay was not intended for that particular audience, though its members are certainly welcome here at Cat-15. My memories of Taylor are mixed. In certain moods, they are bleak and angry and bitter. But I met my wife there, and Sweet Sweet-Thing and I are still together and sometimes still "go for it" on consecutive days, if you know what I mean, and I think that you do.

Anyway, my post is getting some hits and even a comment from a current Taylor faculty member. If anyone else wishes to chime in, even to witness to me in a kindly way and thus heap coals of burning fire upon my head, you are certainly welcome. Perhaps, the old dungheap has changed, and the university is no longer a fully owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. I would prefer not to have to go on pretending that before Duke I was raised -- and, of course, home schooled -- by wolves.

Postscript: Brother Silver says play nice. Link to Taylor.

Also, he says Sarah and sometimes Sarah's mom drop by the old Cat-15 cracker barrel from time to time.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Steal This Post

I arrive at Daily Kos. I shove this under my coat and slip out the fire exit:

  • Political Insider points out that Barack Obama's political experience is the same as Abraham Lincoln's was when he was elected president.
And here's a weird thing. We put an Obama for President placard on the front of the house a good three months ago. Around Halloween someone stole it. Our neighborhood is predominantly black, so I don't even begin to know what this means.

Le Tree est Fini

Each ornament has its story, which we will tell at somewhat tedious length.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I Went to a College You Never Heard Of

I wondered what I wrote on this day six months ago, and this is it. At the time, it was liberating to write. And now it's filler while we continue to decorate our monster tree.

By the way, the old head refers to our alma mater.

Out Beyond the Village Border/Pointing in the Air/Stand Her Towers Seen Far Distant/When the Day is Fair

I got my undergraduate degree 40 years ago, and for 40 years I never saw the name of my alma mater in print, other than on my own resume.

And not always on that. Sometimes when asked to write down for one database or another where I got my BA I have put down Landrith College.

Landrith is my wife's maiden name.

In this blog I have always referred to my undergraduate school as Whooping Jesus Bible College, which gets at the nature of the place or at least my attitude toward it.

In truth, the name of my alma mater is Taylor University. It has at last -- and I would speculate probably never again -- been prominent in the national news. It is the place where those two girls went to school -- you know; those girls -- who were in the terrible automobile accident and whose identities were switched as their shattered bodies lay on the highway.

One set of friends and relatives buried a beloved child, sister, classmate etc. etc. Another set of etc. sat by the bedside of etc. as she lay in a coma, from which to the general joy she is even now emerging.

But everyone had it backwards. She who was alive is long dead. She who was dead had a kind of resurrection, once somebody bothered to check the dental records.

What a story. It's been all over the place. Lowell Boileau, netking of Detroit and my old Taylor roommate, says: Think made-for-TV movie. (Editor's note: Instead, it was the basis of the plot of a recent CSI: New York, a plot with a particularly nasty twist.)

But I think: Taylor Taylor Taylor. It lives in memory while things more recent have faded. From one source or another, I hear that it has acquired some new buildings. What a bright and grinning place it is now, I am told. As fundamentalist Christianity has lacquered its public face in the U.S. in recent years, so has Taylor.

But my god it was a dungheap 40 years ago. It was ugly and desolate and isolated. Think Indiana death trip. Most of the buildings were old, and the newer ones were shabby. Buildings don't matter, of course. Academically, it was.... First word that comes to mind is mediocre, though I'm tempted to say,"Occasionally it rose to mediocrity."

I try that on my wife, who is also a graduate.

"I hated it I hated it I hated it," she says. "But I had a few good teachers."

She recalls them. Dr. Jim Young who taught drama and who was publicly castigated for doing a production of Saroyan's "The Cave Dwellers" in which one of the characters used the word "damn" right there on stage. I think it was the Dean of Students who stood up and walked out of the performance when that word was uttered.

Dr. Young left to teach at the University of Wisconsin

Then, my wife remembered the biology teacher who said you could think evolution was correct and also be a Christian. Shortly thereafter, he left to teach at William and Mary.

None of my English professors were that memorable. I tend to recall all the faculty members who were failed missionaries, jumped-up high school teachers, guys with MA's who (I was convinced) couldn't manage a Ph.D. program , the religious enthusiasts who did have Ph.D.s and who came running back to the strait jacket. (You read their bios. They never taught anywhere else. They were it in to the finish.)

The strait jacket. We couldn't drink, smoke or dance. We were allowed "occasional hand holding." We were required to go to chapel three times a week. But those were the shadows on the wall. The narrowness that mattered was intellectual, and I still feel its constraints.

You see, a school can be small with meager facilities and marginal faculty, but it still can be a wonderful place for a bright young person if it encourages curiosity and the questioning of absolutes, if it sees the wonderful hope in the scientific method. Taylor said think all you want as long as you arrive at our predetermined conclusion.

The sad thing is that I chose to go to Taylor because on some level I understood that if I started to think about the details of my narrow Christian faith -- of its contradictions and its esoterica -- that faith would be in danger. I worked at my intellectual paralysis. I cultivated it as if it were a mushroom, down in the dark basement, fed on shit.

But I couldn't keep it up. Once distant from my family, against my will I began to think for myself, and my faith evaporated, leaving a thin bitter layer of resentment behind. I kept my mouth shut, of course, for I was a good boy such a good boy, as horrible as that is to admit now. I was a silent critic. Without having wished to rebel, at Taylor to my delight I became a rebel at minimum emotional and intellectual cost because the environment in which I existed was so narrow that the most modest transgressions -- not smoking or drinking but merely sitting in the car or standing in the bar with those who smoked and drank -- produced the most exhilarating sense of moral banditry.

Now, my wife was different. She has always had more courage than I, so she voiced her doubts and was criticized and isolated. (She also fell into one of those "mean girls" situations common enough, I suppose, but even worse when sanctimony is added.) She got in trouble and was always on the verge of expulsion for the hated "bad attitude." I kept my mouth shut, and no one knew I was there.

At this point the attentive reader arrives at a question. (I tell my reporting students that one must understand the questions that arise in the reader's mind. Ignore them and the reader does not know whether you are a rogue or a fool. Indeed, the reader may square the circle by deciding you are both.)

The attentive reader asks why I didn't transfer out and why she who would become my wife did not do the same . (We didn't hook up until her last semester. Our sexual awakening was not a factor in our remaining. Though as sexual awakenings go, I am of the opinion it was first rate.)

We didn't because we were afraid to. We are ashamed that we were afraid, that mediocrity suited us so well. Taylor was the devil we knew; out there somewhere lay the devil we didn't know, even though we didn't believe in the devil. Today, we are ashamed of Taylor for being what it was, and that makes our shame all the greater for hanging around because we were scared of the big world, of parental disapproval.

But that's not all, as they say in the late-night TV commercials. This is where you get into the paradoxical nature of our feelings about Taylor. My wife and I wonder if, in fact, had we gone to some first-class state school or to some highly ranked private college that -- as timid as we were as a result of our having been raised up under glass, as it were -- whether we might not have retreated further into sectarian narrowness, frightened by all the secular temptations, including the temptation to think.

Was it a good thing for us to go to such a bad school? We got together there, after all, our attraction sealed by our mutual loathing of the place, and all our friends who said we were an odd couple whose relationship had no future have gone through more marriages and more relationships than democracy in Iraq has had false starts.

So: I don't know. It's a puzzle. (We have a friend whose parents met in a Nazi concentration camp. There's a puzzle for her to chew on.) We hated how Taylor was then. I suspect we wouldn't much like how it is now, since it sounds as if it is now just a little dangerous, if you think right-wing religion is dangerous. One of my old Taylor friends says the school is now considered part of the "Christian Ivy League." Whoa. Conundrum. Oxymoron. I googled that description and came up empty. I googled Taylor's academic ranking and discovered that among "Midwestern Comprehensive Colleges," U.S. News rates it just below St. Mary's College and Calvin College but better than St. Norbert and Ohio Northern University.

(But, you ask, how does it compare to Landrith College.)

What does it all mean, Alfie? I have explored these memories to prepare an answer to a problem the recent stories about Taylor have presented me.

It is a simple question: If I had a child and lost that child in a way so doubly cruel -- having learned that the "saved" child is not yours and that your child has been buried in someone else's name -- would I prefer to think that this dear lost child no longer sees through a glass darkly but now face to face, the face that of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In other words, would I prefer the delusion to the pain?

No. No! Wrong question. It does not apply to our own childless circumstances.

The real question is what might I say to parents in that situation. I hope I would give them a big hug and shed tears, and if they said, "She's in heaven with Jesus now, isn't she?" I hope I would keep my mouth shut. But then, of course, later when as dear friends we talked knee-to-knee of those truths that only true friends share....

God, this is morbid and pointless. Suddenly I've conjured up a roomful of imaginary Christian friends telling me their babies are dead!? But then again Taylor was a place where I exercised my emotions, not my brain, and I think the deep insight gained during this ramble through memory is....

Life: a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel, an essay without an ending to those who blog.

And that's enough. If you blog.

Postscript: I am told that there has been a *mass emailing* of this link, which explains the number of hits and the number and the nature of the comments. It's not just Google at work. So far, some of the comments have been thoughtful and some foolish, rather more of the latter than the former I would say. But that's what I would say, isn't it? I read the comments with interest, but so far find nothing I have not heard before.

And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Working on the Damn Tree *and* Grading, So Here's a Christmas Classic from Last Year

My favorite Xmas movies, plus a comment from Bob Wieder.


And a Particular Christmas Blessing for Mrs. Santa's Sister

Three favorite Christmas movies now:

1) The Alistair Sim "A Christmas Carol" because Sim's face squirms with greed, then it squirms with fear, then it squirms with self-loathing, then it squirms with self-knowledge and then it squirms with pleasure and post-redemption shame. Grim Scrooges fail to convince post-redemption because they still seem too grim. Think George C. Scott. These stone Scrooges seem to have recovered from a case of indigestion. They don't have that sense of fluttery joy appropriate when one is saved from moral dessication. Sim is positively antic in his joy, a little bipolar even, the way we get when we forget our meds.

2) Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story," with the rasp of Darrin McGavin as the Old Man and the slightlier fruitier rasp of Jean Shepherd in the extensive voiceover. I love voiceover because I am not a person whose visual cortex is easily stimulated, and I would rather worry about what the words mean than what the pictures mean. "A Christmas Story" is word-work, a parable of probabilities. I mean when you get down to it Jesus probably isn't the Christ, and if you get a BB gun you probably won't shoot your eye out. Hmmm. That wasn't in the voiceover, so maybe my visual cortex is capable of stimulation after all.

3) But now a third favorite: "Bad Santa." What I like about Billy Bob Thornton in any role is that his physiognomy limits him to characters who are morally degenerate. Maybe they act on that degeneracy, maybe they fight ineffectually against it, maybe they have surpressed it for the moment. But they are bad people, and we better get used to it and figure out how that it figures in the plot. (The only exception to this is maybe "The Man Who Wasn't There," in which Thornton appears lobotomized, the only acting choice he had because when he does anything more than that, whatever he does expresses some form of degeneracy, either active or about to pop. And if that's not in the screenplay: too bad.)

Anyway, Thornton is just wonderful as a criminal department store Santa, filthy in word and deed. (Wounded past? Sure. But who believes it and who needs it? I mean, this is Billy Bob Thornton.)

Yes, he is redeemed at the very last minute because of Fat Blond Tiny Tim, who looks like an outtake from a Renaissance painting. But Thornton's redemption is expressed only in voiceover. That's rye-ut. We do not SEE the wiser and better man. We only hear him talk it up.

Because if we saw his face -- I mean, Thornton's mouth just hangs on the front of his face, as if his body is about to reject it -- we would know he was still a degenerate and Mrs. Santa's sister and Fat Blond Tiny Tim are in for it as soon as Thornton gets out of the hospital. (Shot down by the cops with a pink elephant in his outstretched hand because... But anyone who reads this blog has certainly seen the movie.)

Seeing Billy Bob Thornton's face struggling to express redemption would be a little heavy, even for a holiday movie. There's fantasy and there's fantasy.


"Scrooged": Bill Murray at his very most obnoxious, which is going some.
"The President's Analyst": because it is my favorite 60's flick and the final scene is at Christmas.
"Another Thin Man": Or maybe it was "After The Thin Man," but in any case it featured Jimmy Stewart as the twisted, vicious killer, and is thus the perfect cinematic antidote to the unbearably treacly "Wonderful Life."