Friday, May 24, 2019

The Spiritual Life of TV Characters

In the past few weeks, we've occasionally watched reruns of M*A*S*H; we've watched about 8 episodes.  I have been struck by the religious themes in the show that I didn't notice when I first watched those re-runs and originals years ago in the early 80's.

I watch the shows in a haphazard fashion, so it's hard for me to support this theory:  Father Mulcahy becomes a more major character as the show progresses, and therefore, more of the shows have a spiritual undercurrent.  The first few seasons of the show had a much more coarse tone, with much more unlikable characters.  I much prefer the later episodes.

This week, we watched the episode where the unit finds an abandoned baby and has to decide what to do.  They wrestle with several unattractive choices.  Father Mulcahy has a connection with a local monastery, and in the end, that choice seems best for the baby.  I liked the nod to ecumenism, and I know that in other episodes, Father Mulcahy works on a variety of projects with the local religious communities in Korea.

My favorite episode of the last few weeks was the Christmas episode that ends with the whole cast singing "Dona Nobis Pacem"; you can watch it here.  Father Mulcahy talks about singing it every night before sleep--it's a great practice.  I wish I could remember to sing/hum it every time I feel anxious.

I love that the show deals with the doubts that even the most religious people can have.  I love that it doesn't see these doubts as something that needs to be wrapped up in the 22 minute story arc of an episode.  It's a very realistic depiction of life, both the life of faith and the life of doubt.

I also like the depiction of the community that the medical unit has developed.  There's an acceptance of the priest that is part a feature of the forced nature of the community, part a feature of the time period of the Korean war, and partly because of the characters themselves.  Father Mulcahy is likable, after all.  He could have been a very different kind of priest.

I like that the community supports him, even as they aren't going to make lifestyle changes to make him happy.  I like that the priest doesn't reject the members of the community who behave in ways that might offend him.  I like that the priest offers a prayerful presence.

As I watch these shows, I'm struck again and again by how masterful they are:  great storytelling, marvelous character development, wonderful dialogue, skilled acting, and amazing TV.  I remember watching the movie years after I fell in love with the later episodes of the TV show, and I was so disappointed.  The TV show is much better.

As I watch the reruns and then switch to TV being created now, the twenty-first century shows (the ones created for network channels) seem much flatter.  The characters could use more of everything, and one of the things I most crave is more of a depiction of inner life.  I'm not demanding that the shows explore the spiritual lives of characters.  Surely these TV characters must have some yearnings.  I'm struck by how seldom we see characters with a thirst for social justice or a craving for a creative life or a spark of seeing the Divine in some aspect of modern life.


Happily, we're in a time period where all sorts of filmed narrative is available to us.  But often, I want the older material that's stood the test of time.  Happily, M*A*S*H is still widely available.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Of Bucket Lists and Monasteries

This morning, I was thinking about retreat centers on the west coast of the U.S. and how going there seems a bit more doable, since my trip to Portland.  I thought about what I'd do this summer if I won the lottery and didn't have to work:  I'd go spend time at the Grunewald Guild and while I was in the neighborhood (i.e., the state of Washington), I'd head to Holden Village.

I was thinking about ecotourism and the kind of tourism where people go to do good deeds.  I thought about my kind of tourism, going to retreat centers and cathedrals and places of spiritual intentional living.  I felt a brief moment of sorrow thinking about how I'd love to go to Iona with my mom--but Iona is so isolated that it might not be a good idea.  She has some medical issues with her heart which don't usually affect her ability to live her normal life, but traveling to a place that's far from good medical care might not be wise. 

Is Iona far from good medical care?

I lay in bed, thinking, note to self:  do that international travel before old age makes it impossible.  My work responsibilities make a long trip across oceans/time zones less easy, and when I am older without work responsibilities, old age might interfere.

Or maybe I'll be that feisty old lady who inspires everyone to live their best life.

And then I realized that my bucket list at this point consists mainly of trips to monasteries and retreat centers.  I suspect when I am that feisty old lady, I may make time for the occasional trip to an international city that has an interesting art retrospective or food festival.  But if I never get around to seeing Rome, I may not be sad.

If I don't get to see Iona, I will be sad.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Poetry Wednesday: "Salty Soup"

While the rest of the nation discusses ever more draconian abortion bills that seem to be zooming through various statehouses, I am still thinking of climate change.  I am concerned about these bills, to be sure, but I suspect that the Supreme Court will not overturn Roe v. Wade.

I think that climate change will shortly command all of our attention, in a way that a cancer diagnosis makes the other daily problems fade.  I'm not sure what I'm expecting first, but the weather report last week of higher daytime temperatures at the Arctic than here in South Florida did grab my attention.

I'm also thinking of some of my friends' Facebook pictures of beautiful beaches and lovely trips in boats.  One day, we'll tell our children about the times when we didn't fear the sea.

I've written about this idea numerous times.  Here's one of my favorite poems that I've written about this idea:

Salty Soup 

Once upon a time, before 
the sea became so enswamped 
with jellyfish, we swam 
in water so clear you could see 
the sandy floor and the salty 
shores beyond the horizon. 

We swam with fish that meant 
us no harm, fish striped 
with jewel-true colors. We swam 
with tanks on our backs 
and an assortment of bulky 
equipment which weighed 
us down on land but helped 
us stay submerged 
in the marine cosmos. 

A strange homecoming, 
even though we couldn’t stay 
without our heavy encapsulations. 
We felt our fluids expand beneath our skin. 
We sank like stones, 
our exhalations bubbling to the surface. 

Once we swam, I tell you, we did. 
We could live by the coast, harvest 
the oceans’ riches, venture 
forth on boats. Once we did not fear 
the sea. Once we swam in such peace 
that we longed to return to the salty 
soup from which we evolved.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Lure of Chapbook Creation

This morning I began my day as I usually do, by scrolling through Facebook.  I saw a call for chapbooks and wondered if I should pull something together. 

I thought about the poems that I hope will become a larger book, the Jesus in the world poems mixed with poems that are inspired by the liturgical calendar and perhaps some feast day poems.  But then I felt irritated--why would I make a chapbook out of them?  They're ready for their book-length debut.  If I make a chapbook that gets published, I'm setting myself up for similar problems that I've had with my current book-length collection--how much material from previously published chapbooks to include?

I won't say too much about that problem here--in the future, you can read the article that I wrote about it, because that article has been accepted for publication in a book called Demystifying the Manuscript.  That acceptance made me very happy.

But back to my chapbook ponderings.  As I was thinking about all the poems I've written, I realized that a different chunk of poems would hold together very nicely.  Since the 2016 election, I've been writing a series of poems with an apocalyptic tone.  I think they'd work well together.

Later today, I'll take a look at those poems and see how many I have.  I want to enter the Two Sylvias Press chapbook contest, so I have until May 31.  It's good to have a focus.

Perhaps I should say that it's good to have a new focus.  I've had a goal to look through my poetry notebooks to make sure that I don't have other poems that need to be included in the Jesus in the world manuscript.  Truthfully, I haven't been doing that.  I'm giving myself a break because I have travel planned in June, and I may find some time to do some writing, revising, and typing then.

Yesterday I was feeling that familiar "squeezed" feeling--and my head was literally feeling squeezed too because my headache returned.  The few people who read this blog daily may have realized that my last blog posts have been shorter; it's a pretty squeezed time when I don't even have time to blog in the deep manner that pleases me.

Part of me thinks, why add one more project?  Won't that make me feel more squeezed?  On the contrary, this morning, I'm feeling inspired.  Much of the work--the creating and the typing--has been done.  It's a chapbook, so it's a 17-24 page focus that I can maintain.  Plus the due date of May 31 gives the project some immediacy.  These days, if a project has a due date a few months out, or an indefinate due date, it's easy to lose the focus as other items come screaming for attention.

I am happy to feel this spark, this "I can do this!" jolt.  I have been feeling dreary, like I've been leading a joy-starved life.  That feeling is cyclical, but I am so ready for it to leave.  At least this morning, my headache has receded.  It's very hard to feel joy when I'm feeling an ache in all of my sinuses and skull.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Loving a Kitchen in Hurricane Country

When people see my kitchen, or when they hear that the kitchen is finally finished, they often say, "Don't you just love it?"  I usually just say, "Yes"--because who has time to hear the whole truth?  The simple version of the whole truth--it's complicated.

Yesterday we had a family gathering:  my spouse's brother and his wife came up from Homestead, and the daughter of their sister came over with her significant other.  We grilled a big fillet of salmon, and I had made a pot of Mexican beans in case anyone was vegan.  I also had made a quiche for breakfast, which I put out.  It was all very tasty--and I haven't even described dessert or the experiments with pina coladas.

As I loaded the dishwasher for the final time last night, I thought about how this new kitchen makes entertaining a larger group easier--the refrigerator makes all the ice we need, while the dishwasher makes the clean up easier.  But do I love the kitchen?

Yes, in some ways, significant ways.  But in other ways, I look at it and remember the frustrations, the delays, the endless discussions over various choices and the searching for the perfect elements that made the renovations seem endless.

And there's also that dread, with hurricane season just around the corner, that we might just have to do it all over again.  But I remember the renovation of 2003, in a different house, that survived the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

I think of all the friends I've had through the years who have come through a house renovation triggered by hurricane losses, and how many of them have left because they just couldn't face the thought of doing it all over again.  When future scholars explore the issue of migration and immigration, I wonder if that root cause will be evident?

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fever Dreams

I am not quite back to normal yet, but I'm feeling a bit better.  It's been a strange few days of feeling off--a headache that doesn't respond to meds, sinus pressure resulting in a face that hurts, and lots of sleeping.

Despite my feeling off, we did get a bit done yesterday, mainly in the form of errands.  We also got our automatic pool vacuum cleaner repaired.  I had planned to do more, of course.  I have always planned to do more.

Today I am in charge at church, and then this afternoon, we have a South Florida family gathering:  my spouse's brother, his wife, and his sister's grown daughter.  In short, once again, I don't have much writing time.

But let me record a dream from my fevered sleep last night:  I was walking around a campus and saying, "I didn't realize we had a Lutheran college down here."  It looked like a more modernized version of my undergraduate Lutheran School, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina.  People told me about the exciting programs happening there--and then I realized it was a Missouri Synod school, which means it would be a lot more conservative than my Lutheran ELCA tradition.  I woke up as I was puzzling what to do.  In my dream, I was talking to my Admissions-colleague-in-real-life saying, "It's really not as bad as it might be."

Hmm.  This dream could have so many meanings.

But now, I must get ready for church.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

To sleep, perchance . . .

Last night, instead of going to an after-work happy hour, I came home and tucked myself into bed.  Last night, while a dear friend's daughter took part in law school graduation activities, I slept.  While Facebook friends went to concerts, I slept.  I watched no news shows while I slept.  My spouse came home from his Friday evening teaching class, and still I slept.  I often wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, but last night, I slept.  I slept about 12 hours when it was all done.

I had no firm plans to go to any of these events, so it's not like I let anyone down.  But it's strange nonetheless.  I usually function on 6-8 hours of sleep, and last night I got double that.  I had felt off all day--with a headache that aspirin didn't touch.  I still have the headache.  I also have lots of drainage and my sinuses ache.  I have some sinus medication that I'll take later this morning when I'm done running errands .  It's got a message about drowsiness and driving.  I suspect I would be fine, but why take chances.

I had thought about running those errands last night, but I wanted to take it easy.  I thought I'd take a nap and wake up when my spouse came back from teaching, but I didn't.  It's strange to feel rested but still kind of off (headache, slight dizziness, face ache, lots of gunkiness in my throat).

Let me see if I can hook up the printer to this laptop, which will be new to the printer.  Let me print the coupons I need.  Let me run my errands so that I can get started on getting rid of this sinus pain and pressure.