A Perfect Day

You arrive three minutes late, for no good reason. A lovely young mother motions you to sit in your usual space, back row, mid-hymn. “Come Unto Jesus” which makes you smile, remembering your husband saying, “As easy as Come Unto Jesus in Bb,” which it is. Such a solid, familiar key. A few announcements (two new babies, as we remember one just gone too soon), then a few releases and callings (stake Young Men.) You don’t know any of the new ones but trustingly raise your hand.

The Sacrament hymn “We’ll Sing All Hail to Jesus’ Name” is not the one where you weep at “the courage to accept His will.”  The young mother seems to know all they lyrics to all they hymns, which you find humbling, too. Her son is not yet one. Her daughter is incredibly special, quiet today, both in strollers, he now, her always. A young man with muscular dystrophy blesses the bread, the mic held near his mouth so we can hear. For that, you weep. The young deacons have white shirts, various ties, shoes and socks, but a great variation in heights and heads.

The room is quiet except for the noises—not squeals of delight—from the youngsters. The bread trays are carried to the front, and the boy who said the words that blessed the bread receives his morsel and struggles to bend his head to reach his mouth to his hand. Again, you weep at that. Another boy blesses the water. The visitor beside you asks, “Is it just water?” Yes. The young man who blessed the bread needs help with the tiny cup of water, just a bit to bring it to his lips. How could you not weep in humility?

A young woman rises, finally, to give her first talk. You could not have done this at her age, sixteen perhaps. You smile when she mentions an agreement to be brave, bargained for a Dungeons and Dragons meetup. You smile again when she ends in five minutes. Another hymn. Standing as requested, and to set a good example for the visitor, for “Our Savior’s Love” which ends with “our hearts rejoice.”

Two women, one talk. Your Spanish sisters, one petite, the other tall, both smiling with such grace as to amaze. The topic, tithing, delivered with stellar articulation in Spanish then read in English, with equal perfection. They smile in beauty. You are humbled yet again. A closing hymn “We Love Thy House, O God” which is so short (8 measures!) as to be perfect when the meeting is running long though this one is not—and done.

So why is this one so perfect, you ask? A difficult Saturday by contrast? They took your blood for someone’s need, no obvious loss to you. A vulnerable rain-induced sadness? Or a tangible depth of feeling for a sacrifice you cannot on this earth understand, an Atonement that covers all the grief and pain of an entire universe? Or something you don’t need to know in order to say. Agreed. Perhaps never again so good, but a memory here, for then.




Dune and Star Wars Are the Same Movie (or not)

Friday evening, my 16-year-old grandson and I went to Dune 2 (2024). Not in IMAX, but the sound system was good enough that there was a lot of seat shaking. Also lots of dagger/swordplay. Lots of sand. A very lot of sand. Intrigue. Deception. Mean/cruel people. Families. Always families.

Someone else suggested that the David Lynch Dune (1984) is not as bad as assumed while the assumer deems it one of the worst movies ever. Here is a trailer. The novels are dense and full of messianic symbolism, with powerful women/witches of whom the mother of the protagonist is one. Disobedience is an element throughout. For its time, though, the early movie was competing with Star Wars and doesn’t compare. Roger Ebert was prepared to like it but came away with this: “This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.” The review from 1984 is worth reading, if depressing, and gives one star.

Comparisons can be made with the new Dune. The star, Kyle MacLachlan, familiar from Twin Peaks, looks very much like Timothee Chalumet. Sting and Patrick Steward are in the older one, and other now-famous people. It’s not just that both are based on Frank Herbert’s original 1965 novel (instead of the many that have appeared since his continuation of that, plus a fan site). The novel is so specific in its visual portrayals that any interpretation would have to make them so. Execution is the essential element. See Ebert.

The question posed in the title is the connection between Star Wars and Dune. There are sites to help with this: Here short, Here longer and better, Herbert’s view (not based on actually viewing Stars here, one that disagrees with the premise and conclusion of similarities here, and a blog that defines similarities and differences. And a dozen million more. Regardless, the experience of seeing the two, albeit decades apart, and reading the novels as a very young adult allows for a narrow opinion: The themes are deeply similar, but the emotional appeals are quite different. The follow-up is simplistic: Seeing Dune twice would be more difficult than the George Lucas films. The former has not a shred of humor; the latter, good versus evil but with wit. Messiah figures aside, families and dynasties aside, fights aside (even though Dune’s are gorgeously choreographed), each film asks something completely different from its audience. The similarities, therefore, don’t matter.

Either way, watch more Akira Kurosawa, the inspiration for both. And see if you can get a teen to go with you to see anything. It’s great.

From the Source: “I am a part of all that I have met.”

Last weekend was the yearly college English teachers conference. I’ve reported on it when I’ve won a prize (poetry and Shakespeare, most recently) which I did not do this time. “Vaguely vain” serves as my alliteration for the day. When I told a non-college teacher friend my plans, she said she knew I’d have a lot of fun. We laughed a little, but then I realized she was kidding. How is it “fun” to sit around reading and listening to essays and—gasp—poetry? Let me tell you where we went other than our physical destination of Denton at Texas Woman’s University.

Jason Guajardo from Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi took us to his childhood backyard. His late grandfather had gifted him the desire of his heart one Christmas: an orange tree. He told us its history from planting to demise. We learned, too, about his special relationship with this man, all beautifully told. Of special interest was the attendance of his family—mother, siblings, grandmother, all there in a show of unity and pride for his first-ever scholarly presentation.

[I, too, read a prose poem about oranges. One colleague remarked that there is no idea without the thing. This poem by Wallace Stephens, “Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself,” is quite beautiful; his alliteration is “vast ventriloquism.” An accident? I think not.]

We then went into a mother’s heart. JennahRose English (yes, her real name) spoke about the death of her infant son in “The Autumn of My Grief.” Although her work was prose, the poetic beauty of the images she used brought us into the natural world of burnished sunlight and the slightest of breezes.

[I, too, wrote about loss. A friend loved my phrase “the courage to grieve” and suggested I explore it further. I’ve known him for decades, and it’s the first time he has heard me read. Here is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Epitaph” which includes the line “Beneath this sod/A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.”]

The title of Chuck Etheridge’s collection, “Poems About Family Life,” does not reflect the depth of connection a father has with his sons or the desire a grown son has to thank his father. He writes, “Eager to talk/With little to say” and that muttered “I love you” at the end of conversations. If you were there, we could have shared tears, in that quiet room. His conversation with his deceased abuela about his prolific use of cumin (apparently you can’t have too much; she disagreed) was written in both Spanish and English. I have foreign fluency envy, so I asked him to read only the Spanish, without interlinear. I wish you could have seen his animation.

[I, too, wrote about the love for a child. Some years ago, I posted “Contranyms” which is the term for a word that is its own opposite. Think “leave” as in forget and depart. Just last week in an obituary, I saw the title “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas is writing to his father who is on his deathbed.]

Chuck also took us to Mexico with his discussion of The Forgotten Village (1941) by John Steinbeck. It’s a staged documentary about a little town with contaminated well water, found here, 1:05:05 long, and narrated with no conversation. Moving and relevant.

Sally Henschel showed us stills from Louise by the Shore (2016), an animated French film about an old lady who missed her train back to the city and must live in the little town she had visited, finally in a tent with a dog named Pepper. She has dementia and cannot do much except be determined. I told Sally about Linoleum (2022), reviewed here.

A long-time colleague, Paul Benson, kept us right at home with “The Whoopee War: Dallas-Fort Worth’s Biggest Battle.” This history of the Texas Centennial and the rivalry between Dallas and Fort Worth. This 21-second clip of Amon Carter fuming about Dallas outbidding the rest of the state for the celebration is worth watching. “Where the West really began!” Paul told the story without notes. Yes, he wrote a paper, too, but he is a great storyteller. Some wild things going on involving some risqué matters. Not yet published, his account needs to be. This article pales in comparison.

Movies? We had Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and The Godfather (1972) trilogy. Narratives? We had Dame Ragnell (think Arthurian legend and Shrek) and Jane Austen (why to teach her novel Mansfield Park instead of Pride and Prejudice). That presenter had 7 (seven) daughters.

All wonderful. Some good sci-fi individual conversations. Good food. (On a side note—I had French fries 4 days in a row, twice free, so another story.) And a concluding speaker who explained AI to us (sort of).

That was my experience. However, there were 58 other presentations I couldn’t hear. That’s a huge number for a day and a half!

It was fun. But perhaps the most moving of all was a breakfast talk (7:30 Saturday) by Dr. Don Vann for two reasons. His former student, Moumin Quazi, introduced him professionally with background and area (Victorian literature) but added that this favorite professor had saved his life. I know I could say something similar about a few teachers, and I have heard others do the same. Dr. Vann is almost 90, he said, and when he asked Moumin to conduct his funeral, the reply was, “Sure, but I’m pretty busy this week.” When he was going off to Tech with nothing like a PhD, Dr. Vann changed his major from pre-med to English. His mother wept and said, “I hoped you’d amount to something.” Her attitude changed with his success, of course, and his books went right on her coffee table.

Dr. Vann’s presentation was the English teacher’s version of clickbait: “The Greatest Poem Ever Written.” Got me there. Chuck Etheridge guessed accurately: “Ulysses” by Tennyson. Dr. Vann read it and explained it and we were all back in the classroom, floating and aloft. Here a surprising reading of part: Helen Mirren to Stephen Colbert (their topic—things that make us cry. She is superb.) Here an odd combination of the Kennedys’ connection to the poem, though you’ll need to get through a bit of Debussy’s “Claire de lune” first. Lemn Sissay, poet of the London Olympics here. Visceral. Here nicely read quietly with the text (and an inexplicable sound of a crackling fire in the background).

Small talk (Chuck isn’t good at it) is not fun. Movies about the Mafia and dementia, poems about loss and oranges, families coming to hear their beloved? But you weren’t there, were you? It was all about love. So I can say, as does Tennyson, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Which is, finally, quite more than fun.