Thursday, December 28, 2006

nano redux

At the end of the novel-writing month in November, everyone who participated got an e-mail telling us to put it aside for a few weeks and then read it again and see if we thought it was worth more time and effort. So I haven't touched it since Nov. 29th. I pulled it out again this afternoon and read through about half of it. It was pretty dang disappointing.

I was so happy with the experience of doing it-- how charged/energized it made me feel -- that I had decided in (the absence of actually reading it) that it must be pretty good. But it's not. And it's not necessarily because it's badly written, although there are certainly a lot of parts that need work. It's more a fault of the way it's set up. The story is told through the journal entries of a 13 yr old girl named Sarah. And unfortunately, a very significant part of the plot has to do with when she is silent and when she isn't. So unless you're paying attention to the dates and noticing when she's silent, which I never do when I read a novel like this, it just doesn't work. I tried adding in journal entries from her friends during the spaces where she is silent, but that only partially solves the problem-- they convey the passage of time, but they're boring compared to Sarah's struggle to come to terms with her mother's death. What the heck can happen to them that will balance out the death of a parent? Nothing that I can think of without getting into absurd soap opera kind of stuff.

So I'm feeling bummed. But not entirely. It was still eye-opening for me to figure out that I can do this, and that even though it made me crazy at times, I liked doing it. And those are some pretty good things to know. I think I am going to work on it some more because it really isn't even finished, I just ran out of time at the end. But I don't think it is worth a major effort at rewriting and revising. ..................... darn it.

Monday, December 25, 2006

All done-- well except Christmas dinner with some friends tonight, but I only have to bring dessert, which is already done, so that's easy. We had a great Christmas this year, nothing too exciting but everyone is happy and it was a lot of fun. And we were only up until about 11 last night, a change from the years when we were up till 1 a.m. fixing all the Santa stuff.

The weather was spectacular yesterday, which is so unusual that everybody in town was outside just standing in the sun. We've had several weeks of "inversions" this year, which means it is sunny and gorgeous up on top of the mountains and foggy, gray and frozen down here where we actually live. (You can check this out sometime on Big Mountain webcams, not today, but sometimes from the summit cam you can see bright sunshine and a floor of clouds stretching out forever-- you'll note that we live UNDER those clouds....)

But anyway, yesterday it was gorgeous so we went out to the woods and cross-country skiied for a couple of hours. It was fabulous and even wore out our irritatingly energetic dog. I had to go grocery shopping, but other than that haven't been to a store since Thursday, which is a good thing because I hear it was wild.

We always have our neighbors over for Christmas breakfast around 11. I think I must have overdone the vodka in the bloody mary's (oops) because I'm ready for a nap.

Aunt BeaN

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas music

One of the best things about Christmas is the music. There are certain songs that just make me smile. For example-- the California Guitar Trio rendition of "Jingle Bells" and "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." And I love the Three Tenors and the Polar Express soundtrack. I have several compilations that have music from the 40s that are great, and of course there's Canadian Brass. But I think my favorite is Harry Connick Jr's first Christmas album,"When My Heart Finds Christmas." It has my all-time favorite Christmas song. I think of it as "Moms Everywhere Christmas Eve Song" because the words, with full gospel choir accompaniment, are something to the effect of "...and I pray on Christmas, he'll get me through another day..." It is so awesome, I listen to it several times a day when things get a little hectic, because it makes me dance around like a nut. I tried to figure out how to include a clip, but apparently you can't do that unless you go through the flash programming thing. They have it on amazon, though, even though the clip fades out right as he gets to my favorite line.

But Christmas this year, though stressful, is so much better than last year that I'm grateful for that alone. Last year at this time I was on a prophylactic migraine med that made me crazy (almost literally). I am grateful beyond belief that I'm not taking it anymore. Christmas this year has been a joy, just because it's the season, of course; but also by comparison. Sometimes it's the little things that make you happy.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night--

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I'm still plugging away at "The Life You Save May be Your Own." The part I'm reading now (about Flannery O'Connor) is much more interesting. Since it's two days before Christmas I (of course) have a ton of stuff to do today but I just read this last night and wanted to post it here. O'Connor wrote this in a letter to a student:

"I don't think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times. It's hard to believe always, but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not."

Nice to find a kindred spirit (even if she's been dead quite awhile).

It's snowing here, it looks more like a picture postcard out my window every minute. Just hear those sleigh bells jing-a-ling, ring-ting-ting-a-ling, too....

Aunty BeaN

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas always reminds me why I love Christianity, even though I'm not a very orthodox Christian anymore. It's been stretched out of shape by fundamentalists and literalists and big-money evangelists, but if you can get a fresh perspective on it every once in awhile, there's still so much there-- and Christmas is the best example, in my opinion. The story of God, the big guy with the infinite cosmic power, deciding to make his grand appearance on earth in the form of a baby (a BABY!!) is such a wonderfully bizarre concept that you just can't help but appreciate it. I'm not even talking about taking the story literally, it's the concept I love, even if you just read it as a myth.

In an age where we are being told on a daily basis that the answer to the world's problems is more military might, bigger armies, more guns, and so on, here is solution of the Christmas story: a tiny, helpless, vulnerable baby, born to an unwed mother from a poor, politically oppressed people. We've heard the story so many times that it's hard to remember how strange that is, how utterly confounding.

I can already hear somebody saying: but miraculous birth stories are a common historical occurence for that time period, and yes I do know that. but as the introductory story of the Christian scriptures, it makes for a thought-provoking start-- even if, maybe especially if, you don't take it literally. Even as a child, it was the most meaningful part of christianity to me, far more so than the crucifixion and resurrection.

...the world in solemn stillness lay / to hear the angels sing....

Aunt BeaN

Thursday, December 07, 2006

OK, so back to the topic at hand. A couple of months ago I downloaded a recording of Julia Sweeney on a radio program called This American Life. She was talking about her experiences with her own and her brother's cancer. I really enjoyed it, and made a fool out of myself cracking up while driving around alone in my car. So I decided I would download more of her stuff. So I found interviews with her on both Fresh Air and To The Best of Our Knowledge (all three of those are great public radio programs, check them out sometime). She was talking about her new one-woman show called "Letting Go of God" in which she describes her experience in first of all coming back to the Catholic church as an adult after something of an epiphany, and secondly her subsequent decision to leave the church because she just couldn't buy it. She now considers herself an atheist. She is, as always, very entertaining and very interesting and she brings up a lot of excellent points to think about. Both interviews are very good.

Recently I've been having yet another of my ongoing periods of questioning everything. I've had a few moments where I've stood at the brink of atheism and looked over the edge and thought about taking the plunge. I think there are people out there who are raised in a religious environment, as I was, who take this plunge easily-- they decide they can't do religion the way they were raised, walk out the door and never look back. But for me, it would be huge. It would be an entirely new way of looking at the world. Even though I left the religion of my youth some twenty years ago, I've never ceased to believe that there is something beyond our conscious selves that we can connect with. I'm not sure what it is (God, Nothing, collective subconscious, who knows). To believe that there is absolutely nothing beyond that which can be perceived with our five senses, would be an extremely different way of looking at things.

But on the other hand, I'm also fascinated by some of the implications. When she initially returned to the church, she did so because she had had a spiritual experience. In a really low moment in the middle of the night following a divorce and illness, she had a profound experience of the presence of what she thought was God-- a sense of light and warmth and connection with all of everything, and a definite sense that there was something/someone there that she had connected with. So she went back to the church she had been raised in (Catholic), and it was her experience of closely investigating Catholicism that led her to leave the church and seek explanations elsewhere. Where she eventually found answers that made sense to her was in science, which led her to become an atheist. So of course Terry Gross asked her, so now that you're an atheist, what do you make of that experience, that spiritual epiphany? And her response was that she now thinks of it as the random firing of neurons in the right front parietal lobe of her brain (or something like that, I may not have gotten the terms right).

Now I've heard this argument before and I don't get it. How does the fact that we now know which neurons fire during moments of profound spiritual experience prove that we're not having the spiritual experience??? That makes no sense. The fact that we know which neurons fire when we smell garlic doesn't mean the garlic isn't there. I'm not arguing with her decision to become an atheist, I'm arguing with her explanation of what happened when she had that moment. Every time I listen to an atheist talk about their beliefs, I get the same impression. They want to believe they're being totally rational and logical, but they have no explanation for spiritual experiences beyond the obvious: neurons firing. And I've had a number of what I consider to be spiritual experiences. So for me to ignore those and say, "Oh, it was just neurons firing," would be as irrational as it would be for someone who has never had a spiritual experience to take a leap of faith just because someone else says so. This isn't saying what I want to say, I may have to try it again later.

The interview from "To The Best of Our Knowledge" also had a couple of interviews with other people in the same program. And with both of the atheists interviewed, the inconsistency seemed the same. The part of their argument which is very valid isn't with spirituality, it's with religion, and with people who use religion as an excuse to not think. And I think that this is an excellent point and one which all of us who are believers should take very seriously. But it doesn't prove that spirituality doesn't exist. It doesn't even prove that God doesn't exist (which one of them acknowledges). I think there must be some middle ground somewhere, where you don't allow your faith to let you take shortcuts into muzzy-headed reasoning, but you also allow for the fact that there is an element of human experience that is spiritual. So that we work on figuring out what that means instead of just saying, "oh, it's random neurons firing."

So in short (ha! I gues this hasn't been short). OK, so in summary. These interviews are fascinating, I highly recommend listening to them. They made me think a lot. But in the end, they weren't particularly convincing to me in deciding the questions that I'm dealing with right now. I may still end up deciding that there is nothing out there. But neither of these atheists convinced me that their way of thinking is that much more reasonable than the way believers think.

I'm starting to think in circles here so I will stop. I'm sure there will be more on this topic because I've barely scratched the surface.

Oh, joy, you're thinking.

the goose is getting fat....

Aunt BeaN

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Intellectual Frontier

There are a lot of wonderful things about the place where I live, foremost among them being world-class scenery. Sometimes the view of the mountains to the east of here is enough for me to drive off the road. I've lived here for almost fifteen years now and it still captivates me.

What is severely lacking is intellectual stimulation. There are plenty of smart people and artist-types around, but still you have to go looking if you want to have a conversation about something other than skiing or hunting. That's an exaggeration, of course, but there's an element of truth, too.

If you have the kind of brain, as I do, that requires a certain amount of fodder to keep its continual chomping satisfied, you have to go out and find your own. Hence, the reading projects. And more recently, It is the most incredible, amazing treasure trove. I initially joined to get auidobooks that I would download to an iPod and then that would (supposedly) motivate me to get some exercise. The exercise part has only been somewhat successful, but in the meantime, I've turned into an junkie. It is unbelievable what you can find there.

I've discovered that I don't really like audiobooks, because I can't skim over the parts that are boring, and the narrator often reads far more slowly than I do. BUT, there are radio broadcasts on any topic you can imagine-- interviews, book reviews, radio journalism, you name it. Thousands of them. So I get to have the illusion that I am listening to cutting edge stuff, stuff that makes me think and question and figure things out, even though I live out in the middle of nowhere. It's fabulous. The reason why I say it's an illusion, though, is because often the interviews I'm listening to are two or three years old. So it's new stuff to me, but if you actually lived somewhere where people are intellectually involved, this would be old news.

But hey, it makes me happy.

So, just to prove that I do sometimes listen to my readers, I'm going to stop right there and not keep going on to a discussion of the interview I was just listening to ('scuse the dangling preposition). I do periodically try to keep my posts short but it just doesn't seem to work.

More later. Plus my son is about to get home from school with his buddy Keith and they will need something to eat.

Aunt BeaN

Monday, December 04, 2006

The three of you who read the original Aunt BeaN's blog will remember that I occasionally make up reading projects for myself. This time I'm reading a book called The Life You Save May Be Your Own, which is about Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, all 20th century Catholic writers who corresponded and considered themselves colleagues. Then the idea was to read a book(s) by each of them-- I have The Long LOneliness (Day), Seven Storey Mountain (Merton), The Moviegoer (Percy) and The Violent Bear it Away (O'Connor).

I was going to read The Life You Save first, but I'm having a hard time slogging through it. It's not exactly boring; let's just say it's interesting in a dull kind of way. Since the time that I usually pick it up is right before bed, I rarely get more than two pages done before I'm falling asleep. (That's not always the case with me-- for a good book, I'll read past midnight, no matter how tired I am.) And since it's quite a long book, that means I'm barely a quarter of the way through it, even though I've been working on it for a couple of months now. So now I'm just trying to get through the preliminary stuff-- their early lives, etc-- to get to the point where they started writing and then I think I will break off and read the other books. I've read a fair amount of Percy and O'Connor before, so I'm especially looking forward to those.

will keep you posted.

oh, I just crack myself up sometimes.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

I sit at a computer at work for probably at least 5 hours Mon-Fri. Then I spent the last month obsessively working on that dang novel. And managed to totally throw out my neck and shoulders, mainly by typing so much. I see a chiropractor who practices the sacral-occipital method, which is a way of helping your body adjust itself rather than just getting "cracked" (which I've also benefited from at times, but this is different). She spent my whole 30-minute appt this past week trying to undo the damage I'd done to my neck. So I was going to stay off the computer this week (except work, of course). It didn't go so well. First my daughter had an emergency regarding a project due on Friday--- and since I had been the one to tell her to do it the way she was doing it, I sort of had to come to the rescue. Which involved finding some shareware software, downloading it, installing, getting it to work, helping her figure out what she needed to do, etc-- that was Wed and Thurs night. Then yesterday we decided we needed to finish the online part of our Christmas shopping, so that was another two hours. So I shouldn't even be sitting here, and I don't really have anything to say even.

Well, I can report one thing. I tried to make hot spiced cider using a combination of apple juice and cranberry juice (leftover from Thanksgiving). Not a good idea. Now you know. Just use the apple juice.

Back in a few--