Everybody (Doesn’t) Know That

Cash Cab was a game show that first aired in 2005 and is now back on Bravo with its original host (in the US) Ben Bailey. Contestants enter what they assume is a regular taxi only to suddenly be sitting in the middle of flashing lights and music. They answer trivia questions for mney in ascending amounts until they arrive at their destination. If they get three wrong, they must get out. Two shout-outs are available—one to a random stranger on the New York City street and another to a person of their choice.

On one episode of Cash Cab, two youngish—maybe mid-30s—professional types were asked this question: “What Algonquin word means essentially a baby backpack?” The couple didn’t know. Rather than take a strike, they did a mobile shoutout to an equally professional guy in a nice camel-hair coat, repeated the question, and got this response: “Everyone knows that—papoose.”

He was wrong—not about the word but about everyone knowing the word. Obviously, since he was being asked. Probably he didn’t intend to be rude, though the woman mumbled something under her breath. And the couple didn’t win anything because they got three strikes, having only answered a couple of questions correctly.

Recently, my visiting family and my local family were introduced to a trivia board game called Eye Know, purchased at a thrift because of the packaging. (The box looks like an eye, complete with a lenticular iris and 2-inch long eyelashes. Irresistible.) Players ranged in age from 26 to older by a lot. Play uses two-sided cards. Twelve are placed face up with an image showing. Players roll a die to choose which category they must pick (colors suspiciously like Trivial Pursuit). Correct identification leads to a question about the image. Knowing both results in a won card, six to win.

It was fun and funny. One interesting phenomenon came to light: Different generations knew different things. Obviously, you might say. It’s more complicated than that: The older ones were surprised by what we would have considered “common knowledge” absent from the younger ones’ sphere.

The example: First, the image was a grasshopper. Easy enough. The question on the back was this: “What other insect is associated with the grasshopper in the familiar fable?” Our 20-something was clueless. “You know—from Aesop…The Ant and the Grasshopper.” No help. Never had heard of the fellow.

The ideas flowed naturally, at least from the older folks’ gallery. Wouldn’t it be great to share with the under-30s what they need to know but don’t know they don’t know? These are what we worked out:

  • Aesop’s Fables are used all the time, in that they are part of our vocabulary. People say “sour grapes” and have a general understanding of the meaning. “If you describe someone’s attitude as sour grapes, you mean that they say something is worthless or undesirable because they want it themselves but cannot have it.” The source is Aesop’s “The Fox and the Grapes.” Another common reference one hears regularly is “crying wolf,” based on
    The Shepherd and the Wolf.” In fact, the site is from the Library of Congress, and all the illustrations are lovely. That said, guess what? There are hundreds of fables! I don’t know them all, obviously.
  • Stories that are just stories, not fables. That doesn’t make a lot of sense perhaps. Aesop is ancient, but these are modern. The Little Red Hen in this version is from 1918. The earliest appearance of Donald Duck, in fact, is in this version called The Wise Little Hen from 1934 in which he and a pig refuse to help the hen because they have a tummy ache. She is planting corn and when her cornbread is ready, she gives them a bottle of castor oil instead. Even then Disney was changing details, but the premise is the same: If you help, you eat. If you don’t, you don’t.

Another is The Little Engine That Could with a written version in 1930. That the often-repeated refrain of “I think I can, I think I can” gets to “I thought I could, I thought I could” sounds onomatopoeia-cally like a steam engine is probably lost to the modern generation, but that can’t be helped. These stories are obvious lessons on work and attitude.

More obvious, however, are phrases like “down a rabbit hole,” heard commonly. It comes from Alice in Wonderland, in the first chapter which you can listen to and read in the link. Again, there are hundreds of such things, and I’ve chosen only three.

  • Mother Goose rhymes, fairy tales, the Greek and Roman myths, the Norse ones—the list is very much a short beginning which soon gets too long. Sometimes we hear just a part, like with Alice: “Birds of a feather flock together,/And so will pigs and swine./Rats and mice have their choice,/And so will I have mine.” How could anyone not know their fairy tales, with Disney princesses everywhere? It’s the unnamed adaptations that are relevant. Would the youngers recognize Working Girl (1983)or Pretty Woman (1990) as Cinderella stories? What about the relevance of the phrase “If the shoe fits…”? Myths are explanations, often, but the names of characters are everywhere. All the planets except Earth (which pretty much means just “ground”) are named for Greek and Roman gods unless you call Earth by its Greek name, Gaia.
  • Your mother’s phone number. Just kidding. I know people who don’t know their own without looking. The general message is that you might be lost if somethings aren’t written down.
  • Just to list a few others suggested: Shakespeare, the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, the Bill of Rights, dates and dates every American should know (thought these are technical opinions), causes of wars from the American Revolution onward), basic life skills like writing checks (maybe) or filing taxes (definitely), age-appropriate expectations. A friend in her late 60s recounted a nephew asking her to pick wild mustang grapes—standing up in a kayak holding a bucket. Not realistic. I once testified in court that a 12-month-old can’t be expected to potty train.

Time Out: Almost 1000 words on the youngers.

PART 2:

In the midst of our enthusiasm, it came to me how one-sided it was. And overwhelming. I asked our 20-something for a favor—what do you want us to know? Harder, but here’s a start.

The remote(s). Everything has them. Mostly the tv, but also the sound system, the ceiling fan, and so on.

The telephone. Everyone (almost) has one. Few of us know many of its features. I am just handed a new one occasionally, with everything transferred over thank you very much. I have no idea how to do any of that.

Google. Ah, you say, I know how to do that. Maybe. But there is more to it than most of us realize. Listen to what the young ones might say. They can get better answers quicker.

Etiquette. Oh no, you say. I definitely know that. The question is what kind of etiquette. The word itself just means how to behave. Once I was given someone’s phone with the photos up and started scrolling through others. The thought makes me quiver with embarrassment now. That younger schooled me in proper etiquette. “Don’t,” more or less. Applies lots of times.

So, part 2 is harder. I know there are songs and artists I should know. Taylor Swift’s new album The Tortured Poets Department has these lines: “You left your typewriter at my apartment/Straight from the tortured poets department/I think some things I never say/Like, who uses typewriters anyway?” As I look through the lyrics, I recognize Dylan Thomas but not Patti Smith or the Chelsea Hotel. What am I missing?

This blog is a beginning. It needs to be a book, I suppose. Of more interest in what you need to know is what I need to know. As someone put it recently, “The thing is, we old fogies can pick up things that weren’t addressed when we were in school if we so want, but the kids don’t even realize that there is something missing in their knowledge, Their entire cohort is missing it, so there are no casual references that would clue them into the gap and make them go searching for the knowledge.” True, but I think it goes both ways.

And for both, it’s the curiosity to figure out what I don’t even know I should know. Something like that. Contributions welcome…

Moon blots out Sun; Mary Ann learns Pickleball.

What an amazing few minutes were 1:40-1:45—give or take a few seconds—on Monday, April 8, 2024. By now you may have seen many photos or videos. At our location we had a rooster named Steve; he has a bad reputation for being a jerk.

Although it wasn’t nearly as amazing, I did learn how to play pickleball. We worked at it for an hour. I can barely move. Turns out, I’m pretty good. it didn’t hurt at the time. In the past, I did play ping pong, racquetball, and tennis. Must have helped.

Sometimes you do something because you said you would. Today’s blog is one of those.

photo credit: David Sprague

As Did Esther

I have lots of unfinished projects. Only the novel is likely to make money, and it’s not very likely. Below is the beginning of a short story, and I do know the ending. I’m interested in what people will think of the other “voices” here. Who are they? Good question. Dueling impulses in a writer’s brain or a technique for adding another layer of…?

Why now? We just passed the Jewish holiday of Purim, March 23-24, the remembrance of Esther’s bravery in approaching (uninvited—a no-no) the king (incidentally, also her husband) and saving her people. It’s a story with, well, lots of layers of meaning and, incidentally, the only book in the Bible in which God isn’t mentioned. Purim is a plural of pur, and means “lots” as in dice except the bad guy (Haman) was choosing the day the Jews would be killed. That story gets pretty brutal.

Also, there’s a line about refunds. One assumes for taxes, and today is April. If I were clever, I’d write an April Fool’s prank. Too bad.

“So, when you going to finish this, Mary Ann?”

Nice weather we’re having. I need to plant one more Japanese maple and clean the house from top to bottom. Later…

As Did Esther

She thought of all the people who had died for no reason and were buried with tears. Not that anyone dies without reason, of course, but the ones who died suddenly, unexpectedly, sadly. Phil had been dying so long, she’d had him dead and buried for years. Seemed like the rest of the world had too. If she heard anyone say “what a blessing” once more, she’d decided to slap that unwitting face.

The air was biting cold, and the old people were getting restless. They didn’t want to be coming back too soon but did want to get home to some nice hot chocolate. The funeral director had whispered to her that they needed to start right on time so these people could get inside. She smiled and said the required “Of course.”

Such a good customer/employee/patient she was. Not like Jack. The real one had been gone a long time anyway. This new thing that looked like him was crabby and asked “What’s for dinner?” every half hour. It was good she didn’t…, well, she stopped herself it was just good she didn’t. She smiled at the director again in what she knew must look brave and said “Please, go ahead.”

The preacher man Jack had wanted began with the 23rd Psalm. Such a short, sweet thing it was, she thought, read at every funeral in her family for the three generations she’d been hearing funerals. And then the passage from 1st Corinthians. She closed her eyes hoping to hear the angels speaking, but it was not to be. Instead, there was “the creaking of a rusty gate” instead of “angelic ecstasy” and love was “putting up with anything” and we were “squinting in a fog.”

It was the wrong one. She’d told him carefully, repeated it—King James, please, if you will. Nothing else sounds so regular, so measured, so beautiful. If it was the wrong one, all was lost. But he didn’t read it choosing instead to torture her. So much for caring clergy. “No,” she corrected herself. “It doesn’t matter. I can do the words in my mind. The real ones.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Wait a minute, wait one minute. I thought you said this was going to be funny. This woman is sick. All these deep dark thoughts. Are we going to find out she killed him? No The Little Foxes ending, OK?

                              She is giving me a lot of trouble. She can’t stop thinking about the past when I want her to get on with it. Sorry. Maybe there should be a reversal about now. What do you think?

                              Dude, what would work?

                              Well, I don’t know. A hawk almost landed in my backyard just now. I hope he’s okay. It’s hard to believe how big he was. Looked like he was falling almost. I mean, they stoop and maybe he didn’t stop. You just sit around and things drop out of the sky. Weird.

                              Maybe.I don’t know my predators very well. So we have this grieving widow whose grief is questionable anyway, and this bird settles in her yard? What about that? Sort of Poe-ish. Dude, can you imagine what people would read into that? Is it going to be a rescue effort?

                              Hey, you asked. It’s early. Want to go for breakfast?

                              Sure, why not. I need to check the bank once more to see how much the refund check is for sure.

                              It’s breakfast.

                              I know.

 

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.

 

The Chosen: Going From “What?” to “Oh!”

In Field of Dreams (1989), Ray takes the pen in his hand to sign over his beloved Iowa farm when his daughter falls from the bleachers. Doc Graham comes to save her, knowing that if he steps off that baseball diamond, his dreams of playing major league baseball will end. He does the right thing, of course, the choking girl lives, and he strides back into that magic cornfield appreciative of his opportunities.

But the most important thing that happens in that moment is the line from Ray’s brother-in-law Mark: “When did these baseball players get here?”

I’ve recently had a similar experience. If you read last week’s post, you will notice my topic is virtually identical. (I know—either it is or it isn’t, a la “literally.”) This one is different because I have known about my topic, The Chosen series, from the beginning. I just hadn’t watched it even after the recommendations of some, the deep insistence of many more.

My reasons seemed logical: I am very particular about images of the Savior. This recent painting by Salustiano Garcia Cruz, for example, has created controversy in Spain and around the world because it depicts a young and unnaturally handsome Jesus. (The link doesn’t show the whole image, which is a good choice, I think.) This link, in contrast, shows the oldest depictions, the last of which is a dark-haired, brown-eyed man who is rather plain. The scripture are clear on the topic: Isaiah 53:2 tells us that there is no comeliness or beauty. Somewhere along the way, pictures became very European, and quite white, discussed briefly here.

My second concern was the language. It was just too modern. They did not use the word “okay” in the first century (first known use 1839.) Or “weaponize” (1957). Not to go on too long, it was just more than I was willing to manage.

It’s not that I was not impressed entirely. I had watched scenes for a few years. For example, when the woman in the marketplace touches the hem of his garment, the event is much more active than I’d imagined. The crowd is pressing hard. There is no way He could have noticed her touch. Rather, it was the fact that power left Him to heal her because of her faith.

And I knew the data: Crowd-funded, wildly popular, authentic history, diverse casting, a SAG exemption to continue filming during the strike. Wikipedia doesn’t do a bad job. This article has more depth and external links to reviews plus explanations of various controversies. The writer, Ajo Romano, has this conclusion:

Therein lies the true power of The Chosen: Its depiction of Christ is pleasing enough to summon this kind of loyalty from fans. But despite the themes it engages with, its avoidance of politics is so deft that it never does the Christlike work of challenging its audience’s concepts of unconditional love, government oppression, and what it means to truly embrace the marginalized.

Still feeling too clinical in my assessment, I decided to go to the theater to see Season 4, Episodes 4-6. It was a 3.5 hour commitment. I was all alone in the place. I was deeply moved several times, to tears. In one (no spoilers), Jesus is watching olives being pressed for oil. There are tears in his eyes, and we can see He knows what is coming. This video connects the process to Gethsemane, a Hebrew word which means “a press of oils.”

So, I’ve apologized to the people to whom I said I was fine to admire it but not watch it. I’ve committed to seeing two episodes tomorrow, and the rest. It’s a personal decision, of course. I was already converted to Christianity (10 years old, in the car, “Christmas is real” experience). Now I can say there is more to know. It’s like going from being a “So what?” convert to a “Now I see!” one. Like all those baseball players who’ve been there all along.

Have you heard of…?

Among my blog themes, one has been all the things in plain sight that I haven’t seen before. This post includes this idea in its first paragraph, to do with wisterias. I wrote a poem about the 2022 (Winter Storm Uri, or Snowmageddon) in which I mention ruby-crowned kinglets. I’d never heard of them—must less seen one—until someone said they flock with chickadees. And there they were, not later, not occasionally. Immediately.

Flora and fauna. What I learned about recently is a sociological phenomenon in New Orleans: Mardi Gras Indians. The story is fascinating.

Since as early as about 1855, members of the African American community in inner-city New Orleans have paraded in their neighborhoods. The purpose is to honor the Native Americans who helped escaped enslaved people. Strictly speaking, it’s not that they were in plain sight because these early marchers didn’t feel they could be included in the mainstream parade.

The costumes cost thousands of dollars in materials alone, with months of design and construction. The beadwork is intricate and beautiful. Feathers abound. This includes a listing of the groups and some of the traditions. Here’s a short documentary about the making of the suit. And a long one. And a song “Iko Iko” associated with the culture.

A natural reaction to such an influx of information is to ask others if they know about a phenomenon. My first question met with a “Never heard of that” but my second was a “No, but that sounds like…” The Choctaw Nation had just ended the long and tragic trek to Oklahoma. In 1847, they gathered funds ($170, or $5000 today) to send to the town of Midleton, County Cork, Ireland, to offer assistance for those suffering in the famine. In 1995, the Irish president, Mary Robinson, came to Oklahoma to the Choctaw Nation, to say thank you. This is a sculpture called Kindred Spirits commemorating the gift.

Other visits followed, and in 2020, when the Navajo and Hopi were hit especially hard by COVID-19, the Irish sent money to them to assist and recall that Choctaw gift from over 150 years before.

Things we know: The concept of “pay it forward.” These phenomena are good representations of the practice, though I’d never heard of the phrase until the film Pay It Forward (2000), an early appearance for Haley Joel Osment, with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, James Caviezel, and Jon Bon Jovi. It’s not a great movie, but the opening scene is riveting. I can’t find it, but I remember someone having a wreck and someone handing her his car keys. And a teacher scene. Here Caviezel saves a woman by asking her to save him, because he owes someone a favor.

Perhaps you’ve heard of all these things. I know people who probably have. Share something with me that you’ll bet I don’t know. Thanks in advance…

Leaning Into Art: Langston Hughes

Recently, I worked on a PowerPoint for a humanities class where I was to be a sub (much easier in college than for 4th graders). The professor had introduced the class to the Harlem Renaissance the week before, so I decided to go further with Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred.”

A PP is a summary, and I won’t try to replicate anything I may have said. College or not, the students are not likely to remember anything other than the experience anyway. The good things about the PP below involve hearing Hughes and others read, plus some modern young slam poets. It was, in fact, students years ago who introduced me to the art and energy of slam.

The passion of slam continues the theme of the other works: motivation. The Matthew McConaughey graduation speech soars in spots, but in my opinion, it’s not art. See what you think…

The PowerPoint is very short, just 6 slides which include the intro page. Consider listening to the shorter works if nothing else.

ART.pptx

 

Zion: Becoming of One Mind and One Heart

Recently, the host of the Commentary podcast, John Podhoretz, burst out, “What does the Left want anyway?!” Because I thought I’d written a blog about the answer, I planned to send it along to him via email, as one does. Nothing. If there was something, I can’t find it and don’t know where else to look. This one on whether science fiction is liberal or conservative (yes) is good but doesn’t answer the question of why. This one is shorter and works on explaining Republicans to Democrats and vice versa. Ironically, it has “Friend” in the title, which can be a challenge for some.

My thinking for some time has been that the Left does know what it wants: a better, fairer, more equitable and more just world.One dear liberal recently responded to whatever it was I was saying, “I think we can do better!” I agree. It’s the “How?” that matters, R or L.

A short history of the term Right, for the culturally-minded: Although it’s tempting to say that the Right is called right because they are correct, that’s not based in fact. The terms left and right come from seating in the French Estates General with the random choice of those wanting to preserve the old ways on the right, the revolutionaries on the left. People know that, but it’s easy to forget; it is a basic explanation but—all things considered—the French Revolution was bloody. La Marseilles (short version) is rousing, but the lyrics are, well, graphic. The citizens are asked to grab their weapons. The enemy is slitting throats. The battlefield will be watered with impure blood. No liberté, égalité, fraternité à la the motto.

A quick switch to Beethoven, about whom I recently presented a paper for The MacMillan Institute alumni conference. The motto for this teacher academy is “Equity through Excellence” and the guiding quotation from Dr. Donald Cowan is “The spirit of learning is marked by JOY!” Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (1:21:22) has a finale which includes his setting of “An die freude” (“Ode to Joy”), a poem by Friedrich Schiller extolling the brotherhood of man. It’s even more rousing than the French anthem. The melody is found in over 400 hymnals. It’s the subject of many flash mobs, this one in Spain. The Muppets. Rousing is probably not the best word, but the music resonates all over the world. The documentary Following the Ninth (2014) takes us to Japan, Chile, Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These are the words of the first stanza, one translation:

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,

Daughter of Elysium,

We enter drunk with fire,

Heavenly One, your sanctuary!

Your magic binds again

What fashion strictly divides;

All men become brothers

Where thy gentle wing dwells.

The key phrase, of course, is “All men become brothers.” This highest of ideals may explain, ironically, why the wordless tune is the anthem of the European Union.

But there’s more. The secondary theme is nothing like the joy melody. In this verse, the rhythm is virtually nonexistent.

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.

Do you kneel before Him, oh millions?
Do you feel the Creator’s presence?
Seek Him beyond the stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.

It doesn’t say God, but in German is lieber Vater, which need not have the capitalized Father in English. Nevertheless, the message is clear: The “kiss” for all humankind must be sought in a higher power.

Next, Zion. These days we are more likely to hear the word in “Zionist.” That can be politicized but means one who longs for a Jewish state. (Also found in other faith traditions as well.) The Israeli national anthem is Hatikvah,” in which the text is concerned with the hope of a return to Zion. Psalm 137 begins with these words: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Jewish people had been deported to Babylon, and the psalm goes on to say they cannot sing there.

Rather than just another name for Jerusalem, or the Jewish people, Zion has other synonyms, per Merriam-Webster: “the ideal nation or society envisaged by Judaism, heaven, utopia.” Another way to think of it is “the pure in heart.” This talk discusses the origins of this concept that an ancient prophet named Enoch built a city named Zion “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” Utopia means “no place.” Zion, therefore, is its opposite. A real place, a real people, who are no longer on the Earth because God took the city to Himself.

Realizing that this could go on for quite a while, I will summarize. The joy that Beethoven idealized finds evidence in the word “Zion.” The concept of “being better” is important, indeed the goal for all. It seems the goal for the Left (equity and justice would result in no poverty). The government is not the answer, however.

From what Schiller envisions, and with the understanding that the world is a difficult and dark place, it is only possible to achieve Zion with a people of one mind. The result (no poverty, for example) is the goal. Achieving the ideal of unity in purpose and action may be impossible without divine guidance.

It is possible to conceive of something beyond God for that end, however. We must turn anciently for more. The Egyptian goddess of truth, justice, and harmony was named Maat. However, “Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that all Egyptian citizens were expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honor and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods.” This podcast discusses how the entire universe is based on these ideals, that the importance of rightness keeps the universe out of chaos.

The conclusion is that the ideal is right, the method of implementation is personal, and it would work. My political vision is that the government cannot make it work. Examples of its failures to do so abound. The War on Poverty, for example, was a catastrophe according to this Forbes article. A slightly left-leaning source, I’ll add. Let’s at some point discuss ways that we can become more of one mind. Maat’s symbol is the ostrich feather, by which she judges the goodness of our hearts. Perhaps we could start there.