Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/30/13: Eugene (Near) Perfection, "Fruitvale Station" Moved Me, Two Best Bitters at the Pour House

1.  This kind of day in Eugene nears perfection:  overcast morning, keeping the cool night air locked in through much of the morning and then sunshine in the afternoon, but not blistering heat. Then the evening cools down quickly with the help of intermittent breezes.  That cool air has moisture in it, great for the yard and garden. 

2.  Twenty-two year old Oscar Grant should never have been killed at Fruitvale Station by the panicked, point-blank gunfire into his back while prone of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer as New Year's Eve became New Year's Day, as 2008 became 2009.  So how did Oscar Grant's life lead to this moment of death?  To his fate? What past deeds could he never escape, despite his wobbly efforts and his unsure desire to start over again?  What do the twenty-four hours leading to his death show us about him as a flawed, loving, confused, helpful, and fun-loving father, son, lover, criminal, and friend?  To me, these were the questions the movie Fruitvale Station tackled in ways I experienced as original and heartbreaking, intimate and troubling.  I was "assigned" to see this movie by MB.  Tomorrow we'll talk about it over coffee. 

3.  I strolled over to the Pour House for a couple of pints of Best Bitter and Patsy was there! We talked. Lynn U. came in to check out this new business!  We talked. I sat at the end of the bar, drank my beers slowly, and had a great chat about beer and the Falling Sky approach to things when the server brought my second beer to me.  It was a pretty close to perfect way to relax, think more about Fruitvale Station, and bring my evening to a close. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/29/13: Cleaner Garage, Zinneas Survive, Hacker

1.  Cooler weather means more jobs done.  The garage looks about fifty times better after I cleared out a few things and swept it. 

2.  I'd been hesitant to transplant a couple of zinnea plants, but Christy walked me through what I needed to do, I followed her directions faithfully, and the zinneas survived.

3.  The Troxstar and I hacked our way around nine holes of par 3 golf at Fiddler's Green.  I hadn't played for several years and any hope I had that my bad habits might have gone away were dashed early and often.  For good players, muscle memory is an ally.  For me, it's my ruination on the golf course.  My muscles remember, and carry out, all the wrong things to do.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/28/13: Troxstar Church Walk, Tips from Christy, "Hard Eight" Ache

1.  The Troxstar stopped by and we ambled over to St. Mary's Episcopal Church for the 11:00 Eucharist and caught a bit of the excitement in the building roused by the 9:30 service and the baptism of Tiberius Fortuna. After the Eucharist, we strolled back to our respective homes and, in the course of the late morning, pretty much figured out solutions to all that seems to trouble the world. 

2.  Christy assured me with some expert gardening tips that if I do it when the air is cool, water them liberally, and give them a drink of fertilizer, I should be able to successfully transplant the two zinneas I want to move from the front of the house to the back.

3.  His face sags under the weight of weariness.  The bags under his watery eyes, the deep furrows across his forehead, the nicotine deepened voice, the restraint of his manner, walk, and gestures all suggest ghosts, a haunted man.  Philip Baker Hall as Sydney in the movie Hard Eight plays a man deeply divided within himself between a past that will not leave him alone and his longing to give the love of a father to a young man at the end of his rope sitting near the entrance of a diner and a casino waitress who supplements her income by hooking.  These roles are played by John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow.  I enjoyed this movie's seriousness, its many moods, the world it created, and the way these actors, along with Samuel L. Jackson, brought the aching of these characters to life. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/27/13: Old Friends and Mass at St. Jude's, Choo Chii at Ta Ra Rin, Chez Troxstar

1.  My mind was so fixed on memories of Ann Marie Prengaman as I prepared to go to the mass at St. Jude's in honor of her life and to gain assurance of her days in heaven, that I didn't think much about all the people I love so much who have retired from LCC and who would be there.  And there they were:  Dan, Ted, Adeline, Cherry, Barbara, Susan, Karen, and Ted.  Who might I be forgetting?  Anyway, I nearly burst inside with happiness to see these good friends.  I also enjoyed seeing Lynn and Linda and Pam and Kate and others, whom I see less frequently now that I've retired.  I may have decided it was time to retire from LCC the institution, but never from all the people I love such much and have known so long in my work there.

2.  I decided to have some solitude after the reception for Ann Marie and went to Ta Ra Rin and ordered the Choo Chii, white fish simmered in red curry paste with cabbage, bell peppers, carrots, and peas, given aromatic flavor with basil and a touch of Kaffir leaves. I'd never had this before, I ordered it hot, and it turned out to be a meal where the deeper I got into it the better and better it tasted. It made me very happy.

3.  I headed over to chez Troxstar and we split a growler of terrific Falling Sky bitter, added a bottle of Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale to the mix, watched people stroll to the fair and walk their dogs, listened to some Joe Jackson, the B-52s, and Nick Lowe on vinyl, and had a burger grilled over mesquite coals.  How is that for bringing a splendid day to a close? 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/26/13: Working Away, Amateur in the Kitchen, First Time at Falling Sky Deli

1.  Shovel out a dandelion here.  Pull grass out of a flower bed there.  Water.  Mow.  Sweep the sidewalks.  Hose them down. Keep at it.  Don't look at what's undone.  Be happy with what gets done. I'm not a pro.  The yard doesn't look professionally kept up.  It looks like an amateur enjoying himself is working away.

2.  Amateur alert!  I made a bean/rice/vegetable/cilantro soup/stew in an "I could never repeat this" way.  It's good.  It's kidney friendly.  It was fun to create.  It's an amateur's delight.

3.  It opened a little over a week ago and this evening I strolled over the new Falling Sky Deli for a couple pints of bitter (I can't remember Falling Sky's clever name for it).  This long, busy beer drinking room and deli is only two blocks away.  It's been since 1984 that I lived this close to a joint I wanted to go to.  The crowd was young, mellow crowd, knots of smart people talking about movies and food around the area and who's doing what and, of course, relationships.  I sat alone outside on the deck, listened to the city bus stop and go, savored my beer, and enjoyed being in the presence of so much earnest discussion and vibrant laughter. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/25/13: Deke Talk, Watching *The East*, Hong Kong Chow Mein

1.  I spent nearly an hour on the phone getting caught up with the Deke today:  questions, clarifications, news, definite plans, tentative plans, a few laughs.

2.  Does the phrase "political thriller" help you anticipate what a movie is going to be or help you decide whether to go?  It's funny.  I went to see The East today, and I later learned the movie is a  "political thriller".   Okay.  I guess in the publicity/review world, every movie needs a genre designation.  I experienced the movie as an investigation of the lead character's conscience and got so absorbed in her inner conflict that the "politics" themselves became less and less important to me.  I guess what I mean is that I wasn't pulling for the character to decide one way or another.  The intensity of her conflict and how she responded to it and worked it out, with ingenuity, courage, substantial feeling, and guile riveted my attention, not the politics of the anarchist collective, the corporations the anarchists monkey-wrenched, or the intelligence firm the woman worked for.  If this movie had a thesis or a message, I was indifferent to it.  The conflict of conscience, however, gripped me, dizzied me at times, and left me spent.  I had to will myself to get up and leave the theater after the credits had run.  Does that mean I experienced the movie as a thriller?

3.  I bought groceries this afternoon, but when I arrived home from the movie and my mind settled down, I decided I'd like to go over to Jade Palace for some Chow Fun -- but the cook had used up all the Chow Fun noodles.  So, I ordered the same House Special, but Hong Kong Chow Mein instead.  The vegetables, nice and crisp, but not raw, and the beef, chicken, and shrimp were cooked perfectly, the noodles were delicious, and I especially enjoyed the meaty broth left on the platter after I had eaten all the food. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/24/13: Milk Disappearing?, Elation and Heartbreak at the Bijou Metro, Thirty Minutes of Indulgence

1.  I neglected to buy a quart of milk for my morning coffee and hot cereal and, lo and behold, I enjoyed my French press coffee black and when I chopped up some apple and put it in the five grain cereal, it tasted great.  Might milk be another source of animal protein I will limit even more in service to my kidneys? 

2. Another matinee pleasure at the Bijou Metro!   I don't know the first time I fell in love with backup singers, but I know who I fell the most strongly in love with and who I still love the most:  Edna Holt and Lynn Mabry in the Talking Heads concert movie, Stop Making Sense.  When I saw that a documentary movie about backup singers, Twenty Feet from Stardom, was playing at the Bijou Metro, my first thought:  I sure hope it features Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt (or one of them).  It did!  And it featured at least ten other backup singers in a gorgeous and uplifting and heartbreaking movie about the singers who fill out and give vitality to many of the songs we love so much.  If you see this movie, go home and find a video of the Rolling Stones singing "Gimme Shelter" without Merry Clayton on backup vocals. You won't be able to forget that song with her on backup after you've seen Twenty Feet from Stardom.  This contrast drives this whole invigorating movie. 

3.  I don't have to eliminate animal protein from my diet, but eat meat and eat dairy products in moderation.  I took care of about a week's worth of moderation this evening when I went over to Whirled Pies and ate a ten inch personal pizza with salami, pepperoni, and sausage.  A couple of pints of Oakshires 'Merican Lager rounded out my thirty minutes of indulgence perfectly. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/23/13: The Dentist and the Future King, Lo Mein Stir Fry, On My Mind Today

1.  My cleaning at the dentist today went smoothly.  My mouth felt fresh afterward.  CNN was playing over head.  I'll always know right where I was when the future king of England made his first public appearance.

2.  I turned the rest of those vegetables I bought at the Farmers' Market into another stir fry, this time with tofu and lo mein noodles.  I stir fried the noodles in sesame oil and made them kind of greasy, just the way I like them.  I think they're called snap peas or something like that:  the ones I bought Saturday are sweet and crisp and combined with the red cabbage, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, and celery to make this a heavenly afternoon lunch and early evening dinner.

3.  On my mind today:  I spent over forty years being taught and then helping students develop what we call in the profession of teaching English, a critical vocabulary.  It's a vocabulary used in support of critical thinking.  There's nothing wrong with thinking critically.  I'm just tired of it.  I'm trying to write about the experience I've had all these years with books, poems, essays, movies, plays, stories, and other art, including photography, that a critical vocabulary doesn't account for.   It's the kind of experience I always hoped my students would have with Homer or Rumi or Shakespeare and all the other writers I assigned them to read.

I have always been much more interested in reading about the way a poem by Rumi triggered a memory of  a moment when Aimee Mann singing "One" from the Magnolia soundtrack was playing in the kitchen while a person was peeling and grating carrots for a green salad at the moment that that person's pet corgi looked at the person with longing for a rawhide chip and in that sweet corgi look of longing the person saw the same longing for union with the Divine and with love that Rumi portrays as living in all of us, and at that moment the person felt temporarily that all is in union with all.  What matters most to me is the experience with Rumi, not reading (or writing) an essay that supports a strong thesis by teasing out patterns of synecdoche in Rumi's poems about dogs and love.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/22/13: Movies On My Own Terms, Walk, Troxstar Pizza

1.  I am trying to write about my love for movies on my own terms, not in the ways I'm used to reading from reviewers or in ways I'm used to hearing friends and others talk about movies.  I enjoyed more riffing today on the many ways Take This Waltz moved me to remember and relive music and events in my life from over thirty years ago.

2.  I enjoyed taking a good walk to the pharmacy and leaving the car at home.

3.  The Troxstar has completed his latest SepticAid World Tour and so we went over to Whirled Pies for a couple of slices and some pints of Planktown's Bart's Best Bitter beer.  The beer was light and tasty.  The deep shade behind Whirled Pies was comfortable.  The conversation was real. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Not Reading Roger Ebert Saved Me From Denying Myself Pleasure

Jim wrote me a Facebook comment that he is reading Roger Ebert's autobiography, Life Itself, and Jim encouraged me to keep writing about my experiences with movies.

Over the years of listening to Roger Ebert on television and reading selected reviews of his, I often responded by thinking, "That's sure not what's important to me in a movie."

Coincidentally, I just watched Take This Waltz and Roger Ebert's review of the movie illustrates perfectly how Roger Ebert writes about things in movies that I'd never think of and that I don't care about.

First, he can't believe that these characters with their jobs would be living in the flats they live in in the neighborhood they do.

Second, he's snarky about the movie's coincidences regarding the way Margot and Daniel meet.

Third, because a "shameful woman" like Margot is played by Michelle Williams, whom Ebert describes as an "angelic presence", he remarks that the casting threatens to undermine the movie.  Ebert even takes pause to recast the movie for Sarah Polley, suggesting for a moment that Sarah Silverman and Michelle Williams switch roles. That way the less angelic Sarah Silverman would play the "shameful woman", Margot. 

For me, these three comments, and ones I read people make about movies that are like them, sound, to me, a lot smarter than they are.

When I go to movies, I am a believer:  I didn't think about the flats these characters lived in because I believed these were the places they rented.  Likewise, I believed that a man and a woman could be seated on a flight to Toronto in the same row and turn out to be, unbeknownst to each other, across the street neighbors.  I believe.

Can a sweet angelic likeable madly skilled actor like Michelle Williams play a character whose life feels unfulfilled and empty, embodies ennui, has longings, fears fear, loves her husband, betrays her husband, and is deeply divided within herself?   I thought her sweet angelic presence and the sympathy her goofiness roused in me made her self-division and betrayal all the more poignant.

I read Ebert's review after I saw the movie and it did nothing to enrich my experience with the film.  In fact, it cluttered my experience of the movie with stuff I just don't care about.  I've experienced this in Roger Ebert reviews before.  Sometimes I just don't understand why he brings certain stuff up, and, to be honest, this way of seeing a movie doesn't stop with Ebert.  I hear people I know do the same thing all the time.

It's why I try to stay as ignorant as I can about a movie before I see it. 

So, had I read Ebert's review first and said to myself, "You know.  Roger Ebert's right.  It's just too weird when I can't believe characters in a movie could live in the neighborhood the movie places them in and I just can't enjoy a movie with coincidences that set an examination of marriage, desire, ennui, longing, and betrayal into motion, and, man, if a shameful woman is going to be a character I like and find sweet, well, then I'm not watching it", what would I have missed?

Well, along with missing the experience of having my 25-30 year old self come knocking at the door of my mind, as I wrote about here (under #3), I would have missed out on being transported by the Buggles and Leonard Cohen and missed out on experiencing some of my happiest memories from thirty-two and seventeen years ago. 

You see, I almost never write or say whether I thought a movie was good or not.  It's hard for me to answer the question, "Did you like it?"

I experience things when I watch movies and while the movie is unfolding, I'm often of several minds, with a variety of experiences happening inside me at once.

Had I let Roger Ebert's review deter me from seeing this movie, I would have missed out on the dizzying ride Daniel and Margot took on the Scrambler while the movie's soundtrack played, "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles.  Part of my mind was tracking the song and how this amusement park ride was adding dizzying fun and thrills to Daniel and Margot's affair while the song commented on the state of their affair.  The Buggles sing what Daniel and Margot know: 
"In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone too far."

I beamed as one of my favorite pop songs ever suddenly became not just a song about one technology replacing another, but about a moment in life when two people cannot rewind, cannot go back.  They are the song's metaphor.  They are video now.

I was pounding my fist in the air to the disco beat of the Buggles and suddenly it was 1982 and I was newly single and I had my own apartment in Spokane and with some help from Mom and Dad I bought a Zenith color television and a Betamax at the Crescent in Northtown and had them delivered and I subscribed to Cox Cable and now I could watch MTV.  It's hard to recapture the way I loved MTV in 1982 and for about a year and half afterwards.

Of course, I wasn't tuned in on August 1, 1981 when MTV began its broadcast life with "Video Killed the Radio Star", but it was during that fall, in November, of 1982 when I came to love that song and while Daniel and Margot were riding the Scrambler, I was reliving what it was like to be 28 years old, sharing my MTV and cable television with students from Whitworth College, glued to MTV, hoping that the next video would be Phil Collins or "Come On, Eileen" or that Tom Petty had a new song or that we could dance and laugh to Men at Work.

I'm not a music expert.  A lot goes right by me.  I didn't know as I started watching Take This Waltz that the movie title was also a Leonard Cohen song.  Late in the movie, we are taken into Margot's passionate fantasies, and a fantasia, a montage unfolds showing Margot and Daniel having sex in exciting positions and with other lovers joining in.  The montage is accompanied by Leonard Cohen singing, "Take This Waltz" and while my mind was fixed on Margot's fantasies and her inherent longing that such fun and unbridled ecstasy would fill her inward emptiness, at the same time, my mind once again went back to 1982.

Once I set up my Betamax, I signed up at a video rental store on N. Division and the first movie I rented was McCabe and Mrs. Miller.  Hearing Leonard Cohen singing "Take This Waltz" took me back, not only to the elation of being able to watch movies in my own living room, but to the way Leonard Cohen's voice seemed to come out of a dark place beneath the Alaskan frontier as he sang "The Stranger Song" over the opening titles of McCabe and Mrs. Miller and then I remembered feeling similarly thrilled and haunted by him singing, "Sisters of Mercy" and "Winter Lady"during the movie. 

So there they were, together, Leonard Cohen and The Buggles, in my Spokane apartment and in Take This Waltz, together in my mind, bringing back memories of when the gap between my former wife and me had gone too far and we couldn't rewind, couldn't start over, and now I was filling the emptiness inside me with movies and MTV and students thrilled to be a part of impromptu living room film festivals and more Boy George.

Then, fourteen years later, here in Eugene, a girl friend and I discovered we both had a thing for McCabe and Mrs. Miller and one night we sat side by side and pulled the covers up to our shoulders, drank pinot noir and watched McCabe and Mrs. Miller and listened to Leonard Cohen and while the movie was bleak, seeing it together wasn't and Take This Waltz took me back to that quiet evening as well.

So, do I think Take This Waltz is a good movie?  Did I like it?

I dunno.

I sure enjoyed the experience I had watching it, although I would have slept better last night if my 25-30 year old self would have quit knocking.

The movie has lived with me all day today.

This is what happens when I watch movies.  When I write about movies, this is what I want to write about.
 
I guess Take This Waltz would have been a better movie for Roger Ebert if the characters had lived in a less leafy neighborhood. And if a less angelic presence had played Margot.

That just wasn't on my mind.





Three Beautiful Things 07/21/13: Stir Fry, "Stories We Tell" and Truth, "Take This Waltz" and the Knock at my Mind's Door

1.  I turned many of those farm fresh vegetables I bought at the Farmers' Market yesterday into a simple stir fry, a simple, very satisfying stir fry, and fixed some basmati rice to eat with the vegetables.  I topped the rice and vegetables with the Thai peanut sauce I bought a week ago and wondered again if I could figure out a way to make a peanut sauce on my own that would be as good -- maybe even better.

2.  I sure hope the Bijou Metro is downtown to stay.  Four small theaters.  Right now eleven movies are playing on those four screens, with viewing times beginning at 11:45 a.m. and ending at 10:45 p.m. The movies are almost all independent, foreign, and documentary.   It's a ten minute walk from home.  When the Bijou Metro opened, I had hoped I would get down there a lot and that's sure what's happening.  Early this afternoon I went to Sarah Polley's memoir documentary Stories We Tell.  How do we sort things out?  Arrive at how we decide to live with things?  Make our way in the world?  We tell stories and we listen to stories and we make stories our own and they become our way of believing what we think is true.  In Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley explores the complicated story of her mother by interviewing her mother's children, her father, her father, and about 8-10 other people who knew her mother.  Home movies and recreations of scenes from her mother's life appear in conjunction with the interviews and truths emerge, not the truth, but various truths as Sarah Polley elicits various stories from those she interviews.

We learn how different participants think truth can be known.  One man, in particular, thinks the real truth is his to tell.  We learn why he thinks this way.  Sarah Polley's mother died in 1990.  The stories, drawn from memory, are at least thirty years old; most are much older stories.  A central story emerges, ripe with contradictions, both of "fact" and of emotion.  In the end, the story being told is Sarah Polley's.  She shaped this documentary.  She decided on the sequence of the interviews.  We don't know what stories never made it to the final cut.  Her ingenuity in shaping this story gave me deep pleasure and I loved learning once again that so much of what we know, don't know, think we know, and will never know depends on who is telling the story, what we decide to listen to, and what details of those stories make the final cut. ::

3.  When I was, say 25-30 years old, or so, I loved to watch movies about characters 25-30 years old, or so, struggling with love and relationships and the questions about commitment, marriage, sex, divorce, dating again, and so on that really dominated my life back then.  As Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz got underway, these movies were suddenly back:  The Return of the Secaucus 7, Between the Lines, Chilly Scenes of Winter (a.k.a Head Over Heels), Baby It's You, Lianna, The Big Chill and others.  As the movie developed, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to being 25-30 years old. I wasn't sure I wanted to relive baby talk in my first marriage, the confusion of being attracted to other women, the disorientation of divorce, or relive my immaturity.  On the exterior, I never experienced exactly what happened in the story of Take This Waltz, but the interior of the movie unsettled me, especially as my 25-30 year old self came, throughout the movie, knocking at my mind's door, demanding to be remembered, taken seriously, maybe forgiven.  And so as I watched Take This Waltz, I relived episodes from my younger years,  my first wife's longing for and search for something better, the gaps that opened between her and me, her decision to move out, the emptiness of realizing that very little really in life works out as dreamed, the discovery that we are always, at some level, alone, and the feeling of dread as the Buggles sang "In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone too far"as Margot and Daniel dizzy themselves on the Scrambler, an amusement park ride that made me think of Richard and Linda Thompson's "Wall of Death":


Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
Let me ride on the Wall Of Death one more time
You can waste your time on the other rides
This is the nearest to being alive
Oh let me take my chances on the Wall Of Death

The movie reminded me how, at Tony's Club, in uptown Kellogg, moments after midnight in the first minutes of my thirtieth birthday, I turned to someone, took a long draw from my free birthday beer,  and said, "Am I ever happy to kiss the sweet ass of the twenties good-bye."  Of course, I didn't kiss the twenties good-bye.  They often come knocking.  Last night they came knocking while I watched this movie.  They continued to knock at my mind's door all through the night. They are still knocking this morning.




Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/20/13: Pictures Downtown, Old Song-New Style--Much Ado About Nothing, Private Eccentric Pleasure--Quartet

1.  I went to the market with my camera and continued to try to break out of my picture taking slump.  I had better success buying cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, cilantro, and sweet onions than I did taking pictures.  Tomorrow I'll go back out with my camera and, to put it in baseball terms, see if I can go from shooting underneath the Mendoza line (.200 or below) to maybe reaching at least Gene Alley levels (career .254 hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates). 

2.  I have a very emotional history with Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  It's hard to say when it began.  I know that I could not stop going to the Branagh/Thompson movie version in 1993.  I saw it five times in the first week it was in Eugene and later that summer drove to Portland just to see it again.  In 1994, the Tygres Heart Shakespeare Co. in Portland put on a thrilling, out of the heart of darkness into the heart of light, production set in the aftermath of WWI, with Hero played beautifully as deaf by a deaf actor.  I got to be in the cast of Much Ado About Nothing in 2006 at LCC and played the very grounded, loyal, unswayed, truth speaking, Antonio, a role I loved and relished.  I have probably seen Much Ado About Nothing twice, if not three times, maybe four, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

I went to see the current movie version of Much Ado About Nothing blissfully ignorant.  I'd see a few still photos from the production, but I'd seen no trailers, read no reviews, neither read nor heard any friends' comments on the movie; moreover, despite having several friends and scores of students press me to see Joss Whedon's television shows and movies, I never did.  This was my first Joss Whedon experience.  The movie's actors were all new to me.

The thrill began when I heard Leonato spoke his opening line, a mundane line, but a line that thrills me with hope and anticipation for what I'm about to experience:  "I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Arragon comes this night to Messina."

Suddenly, I am emotionally tied to my long love with this play, and at the same time, it's as if I've never seen it performed before and what starts to unfold on the screen is the only production of Much Ado About Nothing that has ever been produced.

I ached with pleasure throughout the entire movie, smiling broadly, tears running down my face at several points.  It was as if I were hearing a song I'd heard a million times before for the first time,  played by musicians I'd never heard before who made it so fresh, so new, so alive it really was as if I'd never heard it before.

The black and white pictures, one delicious shot after another, thrilled me. 

I even let myself forget that Antonio was in the play.  This production cut him (cut the character I played!) from the story.  I noted it, but it didn't bother me. 

I didn't want to leave the little screening room at the Bijou Metro.   I wanted to stay in this dimly lit room of magic and not have to face the bright July sun.  I gathered myself and went home, laughing inside, joyful, moved, with the words of Benedick repeating themselves:  "...for man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion." 

Yes, Christy and Carol and Lura and Dawn and all other family and friends who have told me I need to be more this way:  when I left the theater, I was giddy.  This is my conclusion.

3.  You'd think I'd be drained of all movie love after Much Ado About Nothing, but I wasn't.  When  Quartet played at the Bijou, I missed it and decided that while I was thinking of it, I'd better go right now to the David Minor and see it before it left there, too.

Am I ever glad I did.

I love going to movies and plays and reading books without a critical framework, without set standards as to what makes a movie or a play or a book good.

I try to let the movie or play or book set the standard and I give myself over to the story and the world it happens in and the characters.  (I do the same thing when I read student papers. Gasp.)

I have one word of advice for anyone who wants to enjoy movies, plays, and books:  "Believe."

That's all.  Don't suspend disbelief.  Don't get hung up on whether the movie is realistic, whether it could ever really happen.

Just believe.

It's why I never recommend movies.  I assume, from what I read and hear when friends and others comment on movies, that most people have a critical framework and have certain standards they want a movie to meet:  was the story believable?  could that have really happened? are things consistent? were the characters developed/realized?  did it end well (not necessarily happy, but well)?  was the movie too long?  And so on.

I can't recommend movies based on these criteria.

My experience with movies is private.  It might be eccentric.  I seek pleasure, in countless ways.

Movies are my private eccentric pleasure.

Quartet filled me with pleasure.  I've enjoyed learning on my Facebook page that it filled others with pleasure, too. 

One pleasure, in particular, moved me (this might be eccentric):  it was seeing Tom Courtenay.  He was in the neighborhood of seventy-five years old in the making of this movie, and there, in the proud, at times tortured, but eventually transformed face of his character, Reggie, I could see Norman, the title character in the The Dresser, a movie I love as fully as any I've ever seen, and I could even see the much younger Colin Smith, the character Tom Courtenay played in The Loneliness of  the Long Distance Runner

I realized that Tom Courtenay has been a long time resident in my memory and imagination.  He might be sharing a suite with John Hurt.  Hurt affects me in similar ways.

I loved the whole movie and enjoyed everything as it all unfolded and loved seeing a world populated by elderly characters, each with a story revolving around the way the fires of love, whether love of music or love another, do not diminish as people age. 


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Julie and Sam Say Screw Pneumonia


Three Beautiful Things 07/19/13: Rita Visit, Two Quick Stops, Zoe at Creswell Coffee and Wine

1.  I sat still and content while the Subaru hurled me down I-5 to Creswell and I spent several hours visiting with Rita.  My.  It was twenty years ago this summer that I met with Rita over at 5th Street Market and she had mapped out this interdisciplinary approach for students to earn their AAOT degree, had had two classrooms remodeled with her vision for learning in mind, and had conceived of ways for us to teach composition and philosophy together that, in many ways, turned my experience as a teacher upside down. 

2.  Rita and I made two quick stops in Creswell:  we went to the used clothes store Rita's friend Linda runs (was it called Got Clothes?) .  The clothes are in great shape and nothing costs more that five bucks.  Then we went to the Creswell Bakery.  Oh, my!  What a handsome spot!  What gorgeous breads and savories and sweet treats and I learned more about the splendid lunches and dinners available at the home of Heidi Tunnel's Catering Company.

3.  Our third stop was for lunch at Creswell Coffee and Wine over by the Bi-Mart in Creswell.  What a gem of a place this is.  I had a turkey pesto panini with chicken dumpling soup.  It was delicious and made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Zoe Sisson, my good friend and student of mine from years ago is the soup lady at Creswell Coffee and Wine and so not only did I get to eat a splendid lunch, I got to introduce Rita and Zoe and we managed to squeeze in a little conversation.




Friday, July 19, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/18/13: Slumpbuster, *Magnolia* = Pain, Relief for Charly

1.  I admit it.  I've been in a slump this summer when it comes to taking pictures.  Part of it has to do with the summer sunshine.  It's my least favorite condition to take pictures in.  This morning, however, a cloud cover lingered through the morning and I took pictures of some of my front yard flowers and then, in the sunshine, I went down to the U of O campus.  I didn't have much success there.  Not much was attracting my attention, but I did come away with three pictures I liked, in part, for their contrast to one another.




2.  I think you might say I'm having a private "It's About Time I Watched That" film festival.  I didn't realize Magnolia came out about fifteen years ago, so it's been for about fifteen years now that I've had friends tell me to see it and others show astonishment that I hadn't seen it.  I experienced a lot of pain watching this movie.  Much of the movie chronicles a day in the the painful lives of several characters and the movie tested my endurance.  I admired the movie making.  And I realize that various of the story lines came to hopeful resolution.  Those resolutions didn't do much to mitigate the pain I'd felt for nearly three hours to arrive at those resolutions.  That's not a criticism.  It's how I experienced the movie.  It was a workout.  I think any movie exploring spiritual plague is bound to test my threshold for pain.  Magnolia did that.

3.  I'll keep track of this on a day to day basis, but I think the level of medication I'm giving Charly for her arthritis was working later today.  She was moving around a bit more freely and gave fewer indications of being in pain. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/17/13: War Waste, Hip-Hop Raiders, Church Clean-up

1.  After all these years, I watched The Hurt Locker.   The movie works in all the ways I thought it would: its powerful realism, strong characters, and continual suspense.  For me, its strongest portrayal was of the waste of war.  Observing so much waste, of life, emotion, psychology, family life, ingenuity, buildings, materials, everything, was what made this movie very difficult for me to watch.

2.  Ice Cube directed a very interesting short documentary for the 30 for 30 series entitled, "Straight Outa L. A."   It examined the rise and decline of the Los Angeles Raiders and the team's tight connection with the rise of hip-hop music in Los Angeles.  It was an unsettling documentary, focusing a lot on ways of living and on the emergence of music light years distant from anything I know or really understand very well.

3.  I was back to the church this evening, not to cook, but just to clean up after another dinner for people interested in learning more about the parish hall and kitchen remodeling project.  The parish hall cleared out of diners, the cook left, and I enjoyed having the kitchen to myself to slowly and methodically run dishes though the dishwasher, put them away, and bleach counters.  It gave me time to lend a hand and to let my mind wander, to think over some things.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/16/13: Improvised Bean Soup, Outer Banks Fun, Chris and Martina

1.  I improvised.  The small red beans were cooked and I sauteed celery, onion, zucchini, broccoli, red cabbage, and mushrooms, and threw them in the pot of cooked beans, clean water, and carrots.  I seasoned it with this Greek seasoning stuff I have on hand and let it simmer for a while and it's really good.  I swear.  For me, the key to a pretty good soup is cabbage.  And maybe some carrots.  I love what the cabbage and carrots do to this improvised soup.

2.  I had a good talk with the Deke, who is having a great stay with her cousin and daughters and grandchildren and other family on the Outer Banks off North Carolina.  She sounds happy, especially with how much fun her daughters are having.  Today they went on a good sized boat and caught fish and returned them to the water.  The Deke stayed behind and watched the little kids.  It all sounds solidly good.

3.  I like watching documentaries made for the ESPN 30 for 30 series.  This evening I watched, Unmatched, a short film about the fierce rivalry and deep friendship that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova share.  It's a very impressive relationship.  I wish the film could have been longer with more extended passages of them playing tennis.  As it was, though, their stories were intriguing, their competitiveness fascinating, and their love and respect for each other touching and admirable.  In the course of my lifetime, they are two of my very favorite athletes. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/15/13: Corgis to the Vet, Bijou Movie Talk, Boddington's at the Bier Stein

1.  Okay.  I admit it.  It was stressful.  I'm anxious about the corgis somehow squirming out of their harnesses or some other crummy thing happening.  But, I got them to the vet, the technician helped me tighten up Maggie's harness (thank God) and I got them home and back in the house safely.  The corgis went into panting overdrive at the vet's, but all in all did pretty well.  I learned this and that and know what to look for.  The best news: the vet said, "These are obviously very happy dogs."  I replied, "Yes.  They are."

2.  I went to the Bijou Classic movie theater to see Much Ado About Nothing and the fella who works the ticket counter told me it wasn't showing.  The projector busted.  Then he told me it would be moving to the Bijou Metro on Friday.  That was good news.  No one was really around buying tickets or anything and we fell into a very satisfying conversation about movies, sparked by our shared enthusiasm for Angel's Share.  It was kind of fun listening to him, a young guy, a film enthusiast, and one of those film enthusiasts who makes his points using words like "fetishize" and "paternalistic" and the "Kitchen Sink School".   I don't want a steady diet of what sounded to me like academic film journal talk or graduate school seminar talk, but he was so sincere and enthused that I enjoyed it.

3.  So, that talk about about movies from Great Britain that tell stories about the working class reminded me that the Bier Stein had Boddington's on the nitro.  So, I thought, I'll go over and have a couple of pints and enjoy the busyness and good vibe at the Bier Stein.  And so I did. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/14/13: The Good Samaritan, The Movie "Hannah Arendt", Half Baked

1.  It was an intriguing perspective Rev. Betsy Tesi developed in her sermon on the story of the Good Samaritan:  what the story looks like from the victim's point of view, a victim who was stupid to be on the road to Jericho alone, who, no doubt, was embarrassed by his situation -- so much so that he might have been relieved when the priest and the Levite passed him by.  The story raises the question as to whether we are ready to allow ourselves to he helped.

2.  I go to movies primarily to be provoked, to think more fully and deeply about the things that matter in my life and in life itself.  Summertime is usually a crummy time for me to go to the movies, but thank goodness for the Bijou and the Bijou Metro in Eugene.  This afternoon I sat down with about a half a dozen other viewers in a theater that holds sixteen people and watched "Hannah Arendt" and my mind went into overdrive thinking about the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, and Arendt's famous insight into the banality of evil.  It's a more corporate (as opposed to individual) way of looking at evil that has made good sense to me for years, but it is so indicting of the evil we all are a part of as participants in any number of systems, systems which seem to relieve us of moral deliberation, systems which do our thinking for us.  It's unsettling.  We revere many of these systems and to be critical of them is often regarded as unAmerican.  Arendt's is a highly unpopular view.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie and the challenges Arendt confronted her readers with when Eichmann in Jerusalem was published in 1963 and the challenges her thinking confronted me with in 2013. 

3.  I'm slowly losing a bit more weight.  I've lost at least fifteen pounds since December 26, 2012, when my nephrologist recorded my weight at over 250 pounds.  I'm around, and often under, 235 now.  I want to keep moving in this direction and so it was with great deliberation that I resolved to go ahead and buy myself a pint of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked ice cream this evening.  I hadn't had ice cream for months and while the ice cream might compromise my efforts to lose weight, it made a hell of a contribution to my morale and my overall sense that life can be pretty tasty and refreshing at times. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/13/13: 1964 MLB All-Star Game, Love and Support, Kidney Friendly Bean Salad

1.  The Saturday NYT ran a very satisfying story on the 1964 MLB All-Star Game played in Shea Stadium.  Not only did it bring back the memory of seeing Johnny Callison rocket a three-run walk off home run off Dick "The Monster" Radatz to win it, the article, without saying so directly, told the story of the profound changes that have occurred in the last fifty years, not only in baseball, but in the All-Star game itself.

2.  It's not a beautiful thing that two of Everett's adult children are in serious condition in hospitals in Colville and Spokane; it's awful that that the partner of one of his grandchildren killed herself;  it's frightening that Julie (Kenyon) Taylor has such serious pneumonia and a secondary infection that she is on life support; it's unthinkable that a guy rammed a pool cue straight into the eye of Melody Willers' son, Sam (who is making steady recovery).  Here's what's beautiful:  the outpouring of prayers and kindness in support of this suffering.  It reminds me vividly of the outpouring Molly and our family experienced when Molly was burned in that camp stove accident nine years today.  And, it brings to mind, how our family rallied in support of Molly, not just with spiritual love, but, in Adrienne's case, the physical treatment and care of Molly's terrible wounds that was needed so she could be at home and begin to heal here.   The accident happened nine years ago today.

3. More salad making to nourish me when the temperatures are rising:  small red beans, corn, avocado,  olive oil, and lemon juice mixed together.  I forgot the cilantro.  I'll add it, if that bunch of cilantro in the ice box is still good.  It's a very simple and satisfying salad.  I might use up the bit of jasmine rice I have and cook it up, let it cool, and throw it in.  (It's also a very kidney healthy salad -- my kidneys are not well served by paleo which makes me think cavemen didn't live long enough for their kidneys to go into decline!)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/12/13: Food Prep, Making Biscuits at St. Mary's, Old Speckled Hen at the Bier Stein

1.  Usually in the morning I'm outside moving sprinklers around, getting lawn and flowers watered, but this morning I didn't do that and spent the morning mostly making food and doing a little bit of writing.  I am really happy with the farm fresh tomatoes I combined with farm fresh cucumbers and farm fresh Walla Onion and farm fresh basil and oil, vinegar, and pepper and also really happy with the rice salad I made with tomatoes, farm fresh cucumbers, kalamata olives, almonds, feta cheese, and a ton of farm fresh basil, finished with olive oil and lemon juice.

2.  I had a great time over at St. Mary's Episcopal church this afternoon helping Kathryn prepare biscuit dough for tomorrow's Saturday breakfast.  Kathryn even baked a sheet of biscuits and we took them downstairs and made some church staff, volunteers, and others who happened to be hanging out at the church very happy.  I can see why.  They are called angel biscuits and, well, hot and fresh they are heavenly.

3.  I ran a couple errands upon leaving St. Mary's and then I settle onto a stool at the elbow of the bar at the Bier Stein and savored some Old Speckled Hen on nitro.  For starters, it's a gorgeous beer coming off the tap, such a deep amber and the nitro gas makes the beer so alive.  As far as taste, it's almost perfect for me, a perfect balance of sweetness and hops, with all the perfection I enjoy in an Extra Special Bitter.  In addition, drinking an Old Speckled Hen always takes my mind back to Brooklyn and my visits to the Chip House, both in Park Slope and on Atlantic, enjoying fish and chips, and once, enjoying the company of Scott Shirk.  If Old Speckled Hen had no inebriating effect, I swear, I never would have left the Bier Stein late this afternoon.  But, alas, I kept it sane and did walk away! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/11/13: Perfect Look Flower Talk, Visit with the Doctor, Dinner for Eight

1.  I got my hair trimmed at Perfect Look today and I really lucked out:  the woman who cut my hair loves to grow flowers and we had a great talk about hostas, Shasta daisies, cone flowers, cosmos, butterfly bushes, and a host of other flowers.  So not only did she cut my hair exactly as I wanted it, our conversation was great.

2.  My kidney doctor is really good about taking straight with me about things as they stand now and what I might expect in the future.  We had a really good talk which I summarize, here.

3.  Fixing a dinner for eight at St. Mary's, serving it, clearing off the table, running the steamy dishwasher, and cleaning the surfaces in the kitchen this afternoon and evening was made about 900% more pleasant today than yesterday because it was a much cooler day outside.  I don't want to sit at a dinner and talk with people about the parish hall/kitchen remodel, but I sure enjoy making the food for those who do want to have this conversation with Father Bingham Powell.

Report on My Visit to the Doctor

Here's my report from seeing the kidney doctor (nephrologist) yesterday.  He really likes how I'm doing right now, all things considered.  Everything he and I talk about is within the framework of the fact that I have stage IV kidney disease.  Stage V is renal failure.   It's good news that my disease is progressing so slowly and, all things considered, my situation is pretty stable, also good news.  Now, while it's stable, it's not static.  I'm always getting a little worse.  The hope is that by keeping my blood pressure down (that's going great) and through my general care for my self (going really well) that we can keep the disease's progress moving slowly.

So, for now, things are about as good as they can be.  I feel great.  I have plenty of energy.  In the present, things look good.

For the first time yesterday, Dr Zachem said the words "inevitable kidney transplant".  Because of where my numbers are, he deliberated upon getting a hold of Oregon Health and Sciences Univ. to get the ball rolling on a transplant.  He decided to wait because of how slowly my disease is progressing, and we'll talk more in Jan. 2014 at my next checkup.

He promises to talk directly with me when the time for this conversation comes.  He knows I like it when our conversations are straight talk and he's good at it.

I'm a ways away from the stage of kidney disease when the transplant needs to happen, but it's a long process getting everything in place for it to happen.  I think it's safe to say that within the next ten years, I'll need a transplant. The transplant might (probably will?) need to come sooner.  It's  not predictable how much sooner than ten years it will happen; it's not predictable if my rundown kidneys will last another ten years. But, if the pattern continues that's been happening over the last 8-9 years, the transplant is a ways off.  As always,  I'll  take it appointment by appointment. 

When it comes to this disease I live with and talking with the doctors, I am always listening for alarm bells to go off.  None went off yesterday.  I'm still in good shape, right now,  given this disease. 

Dr. Zachem told me he'd never had a patient stay so stable for as long as I have been -- I've been seeing him for nearly nine years now -- and he's upbeat about things now and in the foreseeable future. 

I know that one day this disease will take more of my function away than I can live with and I know that to continue to live, I'll need someone else's kidney. 

I'm getting myself ready, especially inside myself, for when that day comes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/10/13: Mower Workout, Consciousness in Shakespeare, Church Cook

1.  I'm sticking with the push mower on the front yard.  The grass doesn't look like a golf course, but it's as close as I get to cross training.  When I got done, I should have asked the next door neighbor to toss the medicine ball back and forth with me.

2.  Sparky needed a sub in her Acting Shakespeare class today and I tried to illuminate the way Shakespeare examines the developing consciousness of his characters through his poetry, through the pictures the characters speak and through their preoccupations/obsessions.  We looked at Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Friar Laurence, and Sonnet 30 with the intent of seeing what, given their words, is at the root of these characters' ways of thinking, seeing the world, and behaving.

3.  Even though the kitchen was hot, I had fun cooking dinner for a small group of people who were meeting with Father Powell to discuss making contributions to the remodel of the parish hall and the kitchen.  I did food preparation and table setting before I subbed for Sparky and returned after the class to finish cooking the food and it all turned out really good.   I was happy to be able to do both of these things this afternoon -- and, I hope, succeed at both.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/09/13: Sweet Basil, Wishful Thinking, Fear and Trembling

1.  The heat of the day was still to come when I strolled to the Farmer's Market and to the Kiva to buy produce and couple other items.  At the market, I bought a big bunch of the sweetest smelling basil ever and later in the evening sliced some tomatoes, cucumbers, and Walla Walla onions, poured oil and vinegar over them and then added basil leaves from this sweet bunch.  Heavenly.

2.  Russell and I had an excellent lunch at Pure and I enjoyed hearing about his and his family's trip to Hawaii.  Right now, I wish for teleporting technology primarily for Russell to be able to make quick trips to Hawaii for family visits and food at Bob's barbeque, for the Deke to make a quick trip or two to Eugene so we can shoot the breeze at Billy Mac's, and then she can return to her daughters and grandchildren, and for me to make quick trips to Kellogg to check in on Mom and to see friends, especially in a few weeks when I'll be missing a couple of big get togethers I wish I could attend.  But, there is no teleporting. So I make the best of life as it is and don't indulge too much in wishes things to be otherwise.

3.  I wrote a remembrance, here,  this evening of retired, and now deceased, Whitworth professor, Lew Archer.  Lew's death has had me sorting out the way being a student and faculty member at Whitworth has moved me to "work out my salvation with fear and trembling" in very specific ways over the last nearly forty years since I first enrolled at Whitworth in 1974.  For me, that word "salvation" is synonyous with "meaning of life" and, more to the point, "meaning of one's own life".  The words "fear and trembling" express, to my way of thinking, the fact that undertaking such examination is so huge we tremble at undertaking it.  It's always bigger than any one of us is.  As my remembrance points out, Lew Archer, without ever saying so to me directly, assured me that living a Christian life and understanding the world existentially do not have to be incompatible, even though plenty of others at Whitworth, including good friends, tried to persuade me otherwise.  I was told it was illogical, and, to some, heretical to experience my life as a Christian this way.  I've never been able to argue otherwise.  When it comes to being Christian, I'm not big on logic or doctrinal arguments and if I'm told I'm practicing a heresy, I'm stunned into silence by the arrogance of the accuser.  I'll just leave it at that for now. 

Professor Lew Archer: May He Rest in Peace

I arrived at Whitworth College in the fall of 1974.  I'm happy to say that I was an absolutely motivated student.  I might have been the least jaded and the most open to ideas and intellectual possibilities that I've ever been in my entire life.  Every once in a while I still feel the rush of excitement about reading and ideas I did when I was 19/20 years old, but never with the same naive intensity. 

The frequent experience I had in the fall of 1974 of my head exploding reached a peak I had never known before when Wheaton College professor, Beatrice Batson, visited the college to give a series of Staley Lectures, a program designed to bring Christian intellectuals to college campuses (and maybe other locations, too....).

During her visit, Batson did something I'd never heard anyone do before:  she, as a Christian, articulated a vision of the world, of reality itself, from the perspective of existentialism and did so not to argue against this way of seeing things, as many Christians do, but as a framework of what the world is really like and that it is living in this world of uncertainty, emptiness, dread, and absurdity that makes living the Christian life so essential. 

I went to every talk she gave and every presentation she gave.  She unfolded the plight of King Lear to me in an existential way and explained how in the midst of the absurd world he roamed, he came to grips with his own emptiness and, by the end of his life, as he carries his hanged daughter Cordelia on to the stage, he had become fully human.  His tragedy was not only that he died, but that he died ripe, fully himself, "every inch a king"; had he died earlier, we would not have lost a King Lear we so deeply admired.  She saw King Lear as a parable of a character becoming fully and spiritually alive in an existential world that was without pattern, empty of inherent meaning, defined by its chaos.

At another presentation, she gave a close reading of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find".   In the world of O'Connor's story, all is grotesque because the world of the story is fallen, in need of redemption.  It's an existential world.  Grace enters this world in the Grandmother's last moments, when her head clears and she sees the Misfit as one of her own.  She shoots her.  Batson introduced to me an idea I'd never considered, never thought of:  the violent intrusion of grace.  In a world so blind to grace, so grotesquely oblivious to grace, Batson explained, O'Connor writes stories in which grace can only be experienced, metaphorically, in some violent, shocking, rudely awakening way.

The Beatrice Batson visit connected me to Professor Lew Archer when I attended a presentation she gave on C. S. Lewis.  My guess is that she reflected upon either the Chronicles of Narnia or The Space Trilogy.  In that small gathering in the South Warren Hall lounge, Beatrice Batson talked about Lewis' writings as myth and that we ought not to think of myths as lies or as ways of not telling the truth.  No, she explained, myths tell the deepest truths.  They are stories that explore the deepest and most common elements of all human life.  Myths help us sort out the patterns human life found as a means of showing us the way in a world that we might experience as formless, absurd, meaningless -- in short, as existential.

Some time, not long after Beatrice Batson left campus, the offerings for January term came out and to my astonishment, Lew Archer was giving a course in Mythology and Literature.

I could hardly wait.

It's funny.  Maybe it was because he was bald and maybe it was his beard, which may have been graying in January, 1975, but Lew Archer always seemed old to me, in an old wise man way.

I know now that when I walked into his Mythology and Literature course, that Lew Archer was thirty-nine years old.  My sense of him as older than he was got reinforced in the Mythology and Literature course.

We read Joseph Campbell's book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, a book of deep wisdom along with Campbell's encyclopedic knowledge of myths from countless cultures around the world.

I was riveted to the wisdom of Campbell and Lew Archer, as Lew Archer explained to us the idea of the monomythical hero's journey, the idea that cultures around the world, at different times in world history, none of whom had had contact with each other, told hero-centered stories that were organized around a common pattern of the hero leaving home, going out into the world and being initiated into the world's chaotic dangers, passing through an experience of deep darkness (I like when it's called the belly of the whale) and emerges again, stronger, learned, and returns home a fully individuated hero.  It's the passage from life to death to resurrection to renewed life or from autumn to winter to summer to spring.

To me, Lew Archer was a magus, blending the scholarship of Joseph Campbell with the psychological insights of Carl Jung in literature class at a Christian college, once again deepening my understanding that the life of a Christian and the life of a Christian academic was not devoted to sealing off Christianity from other ways of thinking, like existentialism or mythology, but I admired Lew Archer for illuminating the mythic, heroic story of Jesus.  Whether he taught us this or not, I was able to see that the pattern of the hero's journey illuminated the Jesus story and that it was an external story for my own inward life.

In other words, within myself, on a repeating basis, my life had gone through and would continue to go through initiations into the unknown, descents into darkness and the belly of the whale, many risings out of the darkness, and times of transformation.

Whether Lew Archer ever instructed me in this kind of thinking in his lectures, I can't remember.  I only know what happened and continues to happen as a result of taking this course.

A few months later, during spring semester, I took a four week course from Lew Archer in 20th century drama. The Mythology and Literature course had given me no indication that Lew Archer relished the theater of the absurd.  I was ecstatic.  My professor was an ordained minister, the Reverend Doctor Lewis Archer, and he loved the absurdist, surreal, existential plays of such writers as Stoppard, Beckett, Pinter, and others.

As I look back nearly forty years to that short course, I don't know if Lew Archer intended for me to learn what I did, but I like to think that he wanted us as literature students at a Christian college to confront the absurdist worlds of these plays because it's the world we live in.  The world is fragmented.  Often the connections between language and words and what they purport to speak on behalf of is, at best, tenuous, at worst not there.  Words like "freedom" are used in relation to acts of oppression and "heroism" for acts of butchery.  The absurdists portray the world as empty of inherent meaning and fragmented; time and language is spent on silliness, on received patterns of chatter that we repeat over and over again, rarely connecting with one another.

I like to think that Lew Archer took delight in putting these truths before us and that he was helping us in case the scales of delusion had blinded us into thinking that the world had some inherent meaning apart from how we give it meaning and that if our practice of Christianity was complicit in this delusion, that we needed to confront the existential nature of the world and what it means to be Christian in such a world.

Again, I don't know if Lew Archer ever lectured us about what I just said, but it's what I learned from his course that continues to be at the heart of my philosophical and spiritual life.  By studying those plays, I learned and continue to explore that my  life as a Christian and what I experience as grace and hope and renewal and awakening occurs in a world I find mostly absurd, fragmented, and empty of received or inherent meaning.  If I were to seal myself off from the absurdity and meaninglessness of the world and deny its existence through worship and citations from the Bible and prayer and fellowship, my life as a Christian would be a pretend life.  Lew Archer helped me keep it real.

I paid a lot of attention to Lew Archer when I was a student and even more when we worked together for the two years I served as a full-time temporary faculty member in the English Department at Whitworth.  I paid attention to his deep interest in the dark and existential novels of Russia and to his immersion in the fragmented and enigmatic world of the oceanic wilderness of Moby Dick.  I knew that Lew Archer felt affinity with the Old Testament prophets, prophets who spoke passionately about the brokenness of the world they lived in, who warned of the disconnection between the word and will of Yahweh and the people of Israel, who had keen insight into the existential nature of reality.  When Lew Archer came roaring into the Little Theater as a composite of Amos and Jeremiah, dressed in denim overalls, pointing and swinging a long staff and when he threw a clay pot on the floor and it exploded into a hundred fragments, he was dramatizing the fragmentation of the world, the absurdity of Israel's alienation from Yahweh, and it was one of the most vivid and unforgettable moments of teaching I ever witnessed.

Lastly, when I was a student and when I taught at Whitworth, Lew believed in me.  He believed in me as a student, a writer, and as a teacher.

He expressed his belief in me in a remarkable comment he wrote on my final project in Mythology and Literature, a comment that still sustains me.  When the faculty gave me a good-by party as my two year appointment ended, he said some of the most encouraging things a person has ever said to me.

I'm deeply indebted to Lew Archer for how he helped me think in ways that have lasted for nearly forty years and for helping me come to see how I could live as a Christian in an absurd world without having to deny its brokenness.

It is the gratitude that I and many others feel for Lew Archer's instruction and his goodness that will keep his spirit alive in many of us, even as his mortal self has departed from us. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/08/13: Mulch Mountain, Can I Make a Better Peanut Sauce?, Marmite/Melody's Son Improving

1.  I really like that dark garden mulch Rexius sells and a guy drove a Rexius truck into my driveway and dumped a small mountain of dark garden mulch and I worked a split shift late this morning and later on in the evening, putting a layer of mulch around the flowers in both the front and the back.  It was a good workout and very satisfying work. 

2.  I decided to try this Thai peanut sauce I saw at the store today and it's not spectacular, but it tasted pretty good over jasmine rice, tofu, red cabbage, mushrooms, and broccoli I stir fried for dinner.  I think I'd like to take a shot at making my own peanut sauce.  The sauce out of the bottle always has that sauce out of the bottle taste.  It's not dominant, but it's always present.

3.  Mel's son Sam was taken out of the NeuroIntensive Care Unit after over two weeks in critical condition.  Some might know Melody as Marmite Toasty.  Sam is far from recovered and the progress has been intermittent and slow, but this is a hopeful development.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/07/13: St. Mary's Mob Scene, Margarita Afternoon, New Plants Doing Great!

1.  I got to church a little early and hundreds of thousands of parishioners were still pouring out of the sanctuary after the 9:30 service having heard a youth choir from New York sing as part of the service.  I thought I'd arrived at the end of a sold out Ducks/Beaver football game.  It was fun to see such a mob looking so happy, even after a service that ran long!  Our 11:00 service was not a joyless affair; rather, it was what it always is:  low key.  I got to read from Isaiah again and I kept the great pleasure it gave me to myself and carried out my duties with appropriate attentiveness to the text and with balanced energy.

2.  After the 11:00 service ended, I came home and I don't know exactly why I decided to give in to a hankering I'd had for quite a while for some Mexican food and a couple of margaritas.  I took the sports section and the Sunday review sections of the New York Times and sat for over ninety minutes, sipping on a large and then a small margarita, eating warmed chips and salsa, enjoying Tacos al Carbon, and reading about topics as wide ranging as the Oakland A's and Oliver Sacks' reflections upon turning eighty years old.

3.   I was worried about some of of the new plantings I put in Saturday, as well as the transplanted fuchsia, but, they were doing great after their first twenty-four hours.  I'm going to believe this is a good sign. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/06/13: New Plantings, Charly Digs New Plantings, Airport Success

1.  I put in hostas and impatiens in the shady spot and I transplanted the fuchsia from the front to the back.  I hope it survives my efforts.  I fertilized all my flowers, old and new.  I can get so much more done when the weather is not scorching.  It was a good day to get this planting and feeding done.  I'm ready to have a big load of mulch delivered so I can better protect the flowers from heat and provide some defense against the weeds.

2.  Luckily, after I cleaned up after working off and on in the yard all day, I looked out the window to see how  the new flowers were doing and discovered that Charly had dug up two of my new plantings.  Oh, boy...I got right outside and put them back in the ground.  This gives me yet another thing to keep an eye on when the dogs go out back.

3.  I'm glad our airport is small.  Russell and Anne didn't have much trouble finding me parked near the main entrance.  Like a knucklehead, I had forgotten my phone, so I couldn't tell them where I was, but it all worked out. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/05/13: Short Visit, Ducks and Napalm Beach, D-12 Is a Rocket -- Man

1.  I drove up the McKenzie River to Delta Campground where I visited with Diane, Kelly, Mike, Derrick, and Cameron.  It had been several months since I'd seen Diane and I'd never talked with Kelly and Mike before.  I could only stay for a couple or three hours, but we got some really good talking in and enjoyed ourselves a ton.

2.  On my way to Delta Campground, I was suddenly overtaken my memories of early October 1981 when Peter, Mark, Lannie, Roger, Terry and I all got together for the Ducks/Huskies football game and we partied hard before, during, and after the game and I lived with my first wife on 19th and Moss and we guys all somehow staggered from Autzen Stadium to Rennie's Landing to 19th and Moss and I was really wound up and began to take my clothes off while dancing to "Jungleland" and my wife had made great chili and somehow we thought it would be a good idea to go downtown to a dance club called The Place near Broadway and Pearl and my wife had learned to dance to New Wave music and the New Wave band was named Napalm Beach and we danced and my wife left early with Peter, who was reasonably sober,  and she told him she was thinking about ending our marriage and then she told me a short time later that she wanted to divorce and I had no idea and that night I thought life was great because I was with my friends and the drinking was good and so were the laughs and I was going to be teaching WR 121 at the U of  O and the dancing was wild, but really it wasn't good and I was on the edge of having life as I knew it come apart.  I can't say why driving up the McKenzie River brought that day back except that Mark and Peter and I are going to get together for a sober day in Salem and Newport in September and maybe recently thinking of them got me thinking about that epic day in October of 1981 when I thought my life was going just great and I was blind to the fact that at home things were actually pretty bad.

3.  I drew upon Elton John and Bernie Taupin to write my response to learning that Dwight Howard is going to be a Houston Rocket:

Sources say Dwight Howard is a Rocket.
Man.
Does this mean a title for Houston?
I think it's gonna be a long long time.
Dwight's not the man they think he is at home.
He's a Rocket.
Man.
Burning out his fuse up here alone.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/04/13: Moving Soil, Party at Zoe's!, The Corgis and Explosions from 9-1

1.  I was an earthmover today.  I moved cart after cart of the soil I bought a few weeks ago into the area beneath the bathroom and my room and now things are ready for me to plant to the last bed of flowers and/or shrubs.  I also prepared a smaller bed over by the north fence, west of the gate.  It gets quite a bit of sun and I'd like it to be have a lot of color.  I'll be doing the buying and planting of flowers on Saturday. 

2.  Zoe, CJ, and Nicole invited me up to their house for a party and I got to meet some people I didn't know and sit around and talk and have some great food.  Among other great food, Zoe and CJ teamed up to make a cowboy steak that was out of this world.  It was a fun afternoon.

3.  Okay.  What we celebrate on the 4th of July is important to me, but I keep my thoughts to myself for reasons I don't really understand.   I really don't like, however, how we celebrate it.  I'm not into fireworks (on any occasion) or loud noise.  I came home from Zoe's family's party around 6:30 in anticipation of the first explosions starting around our neighborhood because the dogs needed to know they weren't alone amidst the the noise.  The noise started in earnest about 9:00 and continued until 1 a.m.  My plan worked.  Maggie, as expected, was unaffected, but wanted to be near me.  Charly wanted to be right by me, with physical contact when possible, and then she was fine.  I know there have been years when the fireworks made Charly shake, but she didn't shake on July 4, 2013.  Staying close to me kept her calm.  I slept intermittently, my dreams made weird by the the big bangs occurring near and far, but at least the handful of bangs that shook our house a little were few in number and burst in the air closer to 10 than to 1.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/03/13: Clearing the Way for Flowers, Tillich and Spinoza, Drinkin' from the Firkin

1.  Well, that area underneath the bathroom window and underneath my room's window is about 90% cleared of weeks and the calla lilies are out, with bulbs in a paper bag, and now it's a matter of finishing the weeding, putting the new soil in, and deciding what to plant in this spot that gets about three hours of afternoon sun, but is in the shade all morning and later in the afternoon and evening.

2.  Slowly, but not quite surely, I'm starting to understand the distinctions Paul Tillich draws between the Stoics and Spinoza.  His treatment of Nietzsche is next. It's a good workout, but like many good workouts, it is slow going. 

3.  I planned my reading and errands this afternoon to be done just before 5:00 so that I'd arrive at the Bier Stein just about the time they tapped the Firestone Walker firkin.  It had been advertised as a barrel of reserve porter, which I was happy about, but when the bartender poured my glass, it wasn't the color of porter at all.  Then I learned it was Double Barrel Ale, one of my very favorite Firestone Walker beers of all.  Well, it's one of my favorite beers period.  Ahhhh...what a pleasure to drink Firestone Walker DBA from the firkin.  If it didn't inebriate me, I would have stayed all night.  But, I stayed within my limits and enjoyed the rare opportunity to drink DBA from the firkin.  Not only was the beer outstanding, but who was at the bar, but fellow English teacher Tim Shaner.  Every time we run into each other at the Bier Stein we have great conversation and that was absolutely the case today. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/02/13: Walking for Vegetables, Lying Low, Homer's No-No

1.  I had a refreshing walk to the Farmer's Market and to the Kiva and picked up some good looking vegetables.  I ran into MB and we talked for a few minutes about our favorite subject: social and economic divisions in our midst and in the USA.  I've been doing more reading and she was just at a wedding where these divisions were not even subtle.

2.  I decided to lie low for the afternoon and just try not to get overheated in any way.  I read some more Tillich and nursed Charly whose hips were bothering her.  The heat sure quiets the corgis.  We enjoyed each other's lethargic company.

3.  I had a bite to eat and a bit to drink at Billy Mac's and got to see the last two or three innings of Homer Bailey's efficient no-hitter against, oh God, my very own San Francisco Giants, the slumping San Francisco Giants. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 07/01/13: Plodding in the Heat, Lo Mein Experiment, My Private Seminary

1.  I'm not one to enjoy temperatures in the mid-nineties, so I got some work done around the yard in the morning, but left a lot undone.  I'll keep plodding along.

2.  Lo Mein noodles, stir fried in sesame oil.  Green onion sauteed in sesame oil.  Red cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, and bok choy stir fried in walnut oil.  I mixed the fried stuff together.  Then I added cilantro, mixed it in.  I topped it with a chopped tomato. It was all an experiement and, for me, it worked.

3.  I hadn't paid much attention to Karen Armstrong for a long time and I listened to a twelve/fifteen minute interview she gave where she zeroed in on the Axial Age and the spiritual foundations that were developed during that time in Greece, Israel, India, and China.  I read some Tillich.  I listened to Frederick Buechner talk briefly about Tillich's reflections upon God as the Ground of Being.  My own private personal seminary is not as rigorous as an institutional seminary, but I do better with small helpings.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Three Beautiful Things 06/30/13: Fertilizer and Gratitude, Paul Tillich and Mining Coal, Kajagoogoo to Martin Luther

1.  I'm following Marty's suggestions and today was fertilizer day in the back yard.  As I broadcast the little pellets with one of those little broadcasting cart things, I suddenly remembered that I didn't note, as a beautiful thing, the other day that I ran into Marty at the nursery and she didn't remember me (I figured she wouldn't), but I took less than ten seconds to tell her that she had come to my house, given me advice, and that it was working out well.

2.  Maybe now that I'm retired, I'll do some of the reading independently that I've always wanted to do in a good teacher's classroom:  read 20th century theology.  I started Tillich's The Courage to Be and was struck by how much I enjoy theology over theory and how much, already, Tillich is helping me learn more about Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Stoicism, and other philosophical thought.  In my teaching, it was always the philosophical I most wanted to focus on, with the exception of giving courses, when I could, that included the study of work/working and exploring coal mining -- and, when I could, exploring the silver mining, too, but there's so much more that's been written about big coal.

3.  As the evening continued not to cool off, I relaxed with some music videos:  Duran Duran, "Hungry Like a Wolf"; Gary Numan, "Cars";  Flock of Seagulls, "I Ran"; Midnight Oil, "Beds are Burning"; somehow, I made a move from Midnight Oil to Kajagoogoo, "Too Shy" and then to its foil, Roxy Music, "Love is the Drug".   I liked the love thread, so I went to my fav, Robert Palmer and watched "Simply Irresistible", "Addicted to Love", and "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)".  Well, I thought, if I'm going to listent to "Addicted to Love", I can't pass up Tina Turner's version and if I'm going to listen to Tina Turner, I'd best go back to the Midnight Special and listen to Ike and Tina Turner sing "Proud Mary".  I ended my evening of things not cooling off listening to half of Brian Lamb's interview of Martin Marty as he discussed his biography of Martin Luther.