December 29, 2006

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I am waaay behind on my From the Stacks challenge books. AND I just realized that one of the books I thought I was reading for the challenge was not actually on my list. The list that I came up with, you know, myself. The list of 5 books. 5 whole books to remember. Couldn’t do it. Sad. And dumb.

So … I’m totally cheating and replacing The Eyre Affair with Geek Love, because I’m reading Geek Love and I can’t find The Eyre Affair anyway.

Plus, if you knew just how my head is about to explode from simultaneously trying to read the total opposites of Geek Love and Anne of Avonlea, you’d cut me some serious slack.

December 28, 2006

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Neighbor dude to me after I gave him a lovely gift-boxed bag of Beanhouse coffee — which I DO have to pay for — I don’t get it for free:

“Well … it’s about TIME.”

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I have proof of The Tortoise in the Drawer coming as soon as I get my sure-to-be-subpar photos developed.

So I have resorted to tortoise blogging.

December 27, 2006

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Oh, so much to tell … but it’s 11 p.m. here and we just got home after 7 1/2 hours on the !?#@?!! road.

But stay tuned.

So …. while I gather my thoughts here, a question:

What’s the most unfortunate thing you got for Christmas and what did you say when you opened it? Kindly include all facial expressions and physical gestures. I want details, peeps! šŸ˜‰

December 24, 2006

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A very blessed merry Christmas!

December 23, 2006

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To the dark dark middle of nowhere ….

Brother-in-law and his wife get the Clawing Tortoise Room.

WE get the, um, motor home in the driveway.

Let’s not speak about it now.

December 22, 2006

-image-it’s a wonderful life

Oh, the month is getting away from me!

You know, I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” the other night and I am always ripped apart by this scene between young George and Mr. Gower, only about 10 minutes into the movie. Mr. Gower has just received a telegram notifying him of his son’s death. George has seen the telegram, too, and that Mr. Gower has been drinking heavily. Gower gives George the task to deliver some medicine, but he’s so drunk and despairing, he doesn’t realize he put poison in the capsules instead of medicine. George knows, though, and runs to dad for advice on what to do. Dad, of course, is in the middle of a brouhaha with Mr. Potter and can’t help George, so George is left to decide for himself what to do with the poisoned pills. He doesn’t deliver them, but heads back to the drugstore — and Mr. Gower.

Every year when I watch this scene, I end up sobbing. The scene, to me, is raw and real and powerful and I love how neither actor — Robert Anderson as young George and H. B. Warner as Mr. Gower — holds back anything. I mean, that kid playing George looks about 12 or 13 to me. Such an awkward age. I’ve taught drama to that age group and most boys that age, even boys with interest in performing, just stumble about, self-conscious, unable to control their changing voices, their clumsy bodies, and uncomfortable with any raw emotion — other than rage. Rage they could do okay, in a “Look! I am SO raging!” kind of way.

But this beautiful kid — literally, physically beautiful kid — Robert Anderson — who I know from nothing else other than this movie — is completely unafraid to go there. He has to be terrified. He has to be beaten. He has to cry. He has to cower. He has to beg. And he has to come out on top, really. Win the moment because it’s life or death. All in this one short scene. And he does it. And you never for a moment think he’s a wuss — which is what my male students’ objection to playing a scene like this would have been. He’s a young man in this scene and he’s totally willing to be ripped apart for a cause bigger than himself. I just always find myself amazed by him in this scene — and the scenes previous, where he’s deflecting Violet’s flirtation — “Help me down, Georgie?” “HELP YA DOWN??” Hahahahaha. Like, he’s so not going there with her silliness. Are ya nuts, Violet? He seems to know what he is and what he’s not. At least at this point in the film. Even now, he won’t sell out his core or suffer fools and this young actor GETS that. In a totally unself-conscious way. He’s a hero of the best kind — a hero who doesn’t know he’s being a hero. Oh, and the moment when Gower realizes what he’s done and literally crushes George to him and George is still crying out about his ear, all afraid? Heartstopping. I love that. He’s still a terrified kid, trying to protect himself, and yet completely sacrificing himself, too. And that Mr. Gower has really smacked him around; there’s blood coming from George’s ear. It’s horrifying, the violence, the helplessness of George in that moment. All he has is his words, his pleas. Can he get through to Gower with just his words?

The scene is physically painful to watch, actually. Like you’re watching an actual beating of an actual kid by an actual hideous drunk. But that’s its brilliance; its greatness. No one holds back. Every year I think about what it must have been like to be Robert Anderson, a kid of that weird, awkward age thumbing through his script and finding THAT scene. A scene requiring that of him. A scene that says — without ever really saying it — “You have to basically be naked here. You must be okay with that. You must do it.” Wow. And he does it. I love that kid.

The scene is one of my favorites in the entire movie. Here’s the excerpt from the screenplay.

BACK TO DRUGSTORE

INT. BACK ROOM ā€“ GOWER’S DRUGSTORE ā€“ DAY

CLOSE SHOT

Gower talking on the telephone. George stands in the doorway.

GOWER (drunkenly)
Why, that medicine should have been there an hour ago. It’ll be over in five minutes, Mrs. Blaine.

He hangs up the phone and turns to George.

GOWER
Where’s Mrs. Blaine’s box of capsules?

He grabs George by the shirt and drags him into the back room.

GEORGE
Capsules …

GOWER (shaking him)
Did you hear what I said?

GEORGE
(frightened)
Yes, sir, I…

Gower starts hitting George about the head with his open hands. George tries to protect himself as best he can.

GOWER
What kind of tricks are you playing, anyway? Why didn’t you deliver them right away? Don’t you know that boy’s very sick?

GEORGE (in tears)
You’re hurting my sore ear.

INT. FRONT ROOM DRUGSTORE ā€“ DAY

CLOSE SHOT

Mary is still seated at the soda fountain. Each time she hears George being slapped, she winces.

INT. BACK ROOM DRUGSTORE ā€“ DAY

CLOSE SHOT ā€“ GEORGE AND GOWER

GOWER
You lazy loafer!

GEORGE (sobbing)
Mr. Gower, you don’t know what you’re doing. You put something
wrong in those capsules. I know you’re unhappy. You got that
telegram, and you’re upset. You put something bad in those capsules. It
wasn’t your fault, Mr. Gower . . .

George pulls the little box out of his pocket. Gower savagely
rips it away from him, breathing heavily, staring at the boy
venomously.


GEORGE

Just look and see what you did. Look at the bottle you took the
powder from. It’s poison! I tell you, it’s poison! I know you
feel bad . . . and .. .

George falters off, cupping his aching ear with a hand. Gower looks at the large brown bottle which has not been replaced on the shelf. He tears open the package, shakes the powder out of one of the capsules, cautiously tastes it, then abruptly throws the whole mess to the table and turns to look at George again. The boy is whimpering, hurt, frightened. Gower steps toward him.

GEORGE
Don’t hurt my sore ear again.

But this time Gower sweeps the boy to him in a hug and, sobbing
hoarsely, crushes the boy in his embrace. George is crying too.

GOWER
No . . . No . . . No. . .

GEORGE
Don’t hurt my ear again!

GOWER (sobbing)
Oh, George, George . . .

GEORGE
Mr. Gower, I won’t ever tell anyone. I know what you’re feeling.
I won’t ever tell a soul. Hope to die, I won’t.

GOWER
Oh, George.

-image-birth: the visited planet, last part

Last excerpt from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew, as we approach Christmas. I hope those of you who have read through these have felt that you’ve gotten something out of them, something new to think about through the holiday.

Anyway, last part here. I love this part; my heart feels bigger somehow when I read it.

There is one more view of Christmas I have never seen on a Christmas card, probably because no artist, not even William Blake, could do it justice. Revelation 12 pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of Christmas as it must have looked from somewhere far beyond Andromeda: Christmas from the angels’ viewpoint.

The account differs radically from the births stories in the Gospels. Revelation does not mention shepherds and an infanticidal king; rather, it pictures a dragon leading a ferocious struggle in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun and wearing a crown of twelve stars cries out in pain as she is about to give birth. Suddenly the enormous red dragon enters the picture, his tail sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky and flinging them to the earth. He crouches hungrily before the woman, anxious to devour her child the moment it is born. At the last second the infant is snatched away to safety, the woman flees into the desert, and all-out cosmic war begins.

Revelation is a strange book by any measure, and readers must understand its style to make sense of this extraordinary spectacle. In daily life two parallel histories occur simultaneously, one on earth and one in heaven. Revelation, however, views them together, allowing a quick look behind the scenes. On earth a baby was born, a king got wind of it, a chase ensued. In heaven the Great Invasion had begun, a daring raid by the ruler of the forces of good into the universe’s seat of evil.

John Milton expressed this point of view majestically in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, poems which make heaven and hell the central focus and earth a mere battleground for their clashes. The modern author J. B. Phillips also attempted such a point of view, on a much less epic scale, and last Christmas I turned to Phillips’s fantasy to try to escape my earthbound viewpoint.

In Phillips’s version, a senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars.

As the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had seen.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.

“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s special about that one?”

When I read Phillips’s fantasy, I thought of the pictures beamed back to earth from the Apollo astronauts, who described our planet as “whole and round and beautiful and small,” a blue-and-green-and-tan globe suspended in space. Jim Lovell, reflecting on the scene later, said, “It was just another body, really, about four times bigger than the moon. But it held all the hope and all the life and all the things that the crew of Apollo 8 knew and loved. It was the most beautiful thing there was to see in all the heavens.” That was the viewpoint of a human being.

To the little angel, though, earth did not seem so impressive. He listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean, was the renowned Visited Planet.

“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince … went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?”

The little angel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”

“I do, and I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”

The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.

It is almost beyond my comprehension too, and yet I accept that this notion is the key to understanding Christmas and is, in fact, the touchstone of my faith. As a Christian, I believe I live in parallel worlds. One world consists of hills and lakes and barns and politicians and shepherds watching their flocks by night. The other consists of angels and sinister forces and somewhere out there places called heaven and hell. One night in the cold, in the dark, among the wrinkled hills of Bethlehem, those two worlds came together at a dramatic point of intersection. God, who knows no before or after, entered time and space. God, who knows no boundaries took on the shocking confines of a baby’s skin, the ominous restraints of mortality.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” an apostle would later write; “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” But the few eyewitnesses on Christmas night saw none of that. They saw an infant struggling to work never-before-used lungs.

Could it be true, this Bethlehem story of a Creator descending to be born on one small planet? If so, it is a story like no other. Never again need we wonder whether what happens on this dirty little tennis ball of a planet matters to the rest of the universe. Little wonder a choir of angels broke out in spontaneous song, disturbing not only a few shepherds but the entire universe.

-image-birth: the visited planet, part 7

Continuing from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.

I think I’ll have only one more after this one.

Again, Iā€™m starting with a couple of sentences from the last excerpt to help give this one more of a context:

After reading the birth stories once more, I ask myself, If Jesus came to reveal God to us, then what do I learn about God from that first Christmas?

The word associations that come to mind as I ponder that question take me by surprise. Humble, approachable, underdog, courageous ā€” these hardly seem appropriate words to apply to deity.

Courageous. In 1993 I read a news report about a “Messiah sighting” in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. Twenty thousand Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews live in Crown Heights, and in 1993 many of them believed the Messiah was dwelling among them in the person of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Word of the Rabbi’s public appearance spread like a flash fire through the streets of Crown Heights, and Lubavitchers in their black coats and curly sideburns were soon dashing down the sidewalks toward the synagogue where the Rabbi customarily prayed. Those lucky enough to be connected to a network of beepers got a head start, sprinting toward the synagogue the instant they felt a slight vibration. They jammed by the hundreds into a main hall, elbowing each other and even climbing the pillars to create more room. The hall filled with an air of anticipation and frenzy normally found at a championship sporting event, not a religious service.

The Rabbi was ninety-one years old. He had suffered a stroke the year before and had not been able to speak since. When the curtain finally pulled back, those who had crowded into the synagogue saw a frail old man in a long beard who could do little but wave, tilt his head, and move his eyebrows. No one in the audience seemed to mind, though. “Long live our master, our teacher, and our rabbi, King, Messiah, forever and ever!” they sang in unison, over and over, building in volume until the Rabbi made a small delphic gesture with his hand and the curtain closed. They departed slowly, savoring the moment, in a state of ecstasy.

When I first read the news account, I nearly laughed out loud. Who are these people trying to kid — a nonagenarian mute Messiah in Brooklyn? And then it struck me: I was reacting to Rabbi Schneerson exactly as people in the first century had reacted to Jesus. A Messiah from Galilee? A carpenter’s kid, no less?

The scorn I felt as I read about the Rabbi and his fanatical followers gave me a clue to the responses Jesus faced throughout his life. His neighbors asked, “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” Other countrymen scoffed, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” His own family tried to put him away, believing he was out of his mind. The religious experts sought to kill him. As for the whipsaw commoners, one moment they judged him “demon-possessed and raving mad,” the next they forcibly tried to crown him king,

It took courage, I believe, for God to lay aside power and glory and to take a place among human beings who would greet him with the same mixture of haughtiness and skepticism that I felt when I first heard about Rabbi Schneerson of Brooklyn. It took courage to risk descent to a planet known for its clumsy violence, among a race known for rejecting its prophets. What more foolhardy thing could God have done?

The first night in Bethlehem required courage as well. How did God the Father feel that night, helpless as any human father, watching his Son emerge smeared with blood to face a harsh, cold world? Lines from two different Christmas carols play in my mind. One, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” seems to me a sanitized version of what took place in Bethlehem. I imagine Jesus cried like any other baby the night he entered the world, a world that would give him much reason to cry as an adult. The second, a line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” seems as profoundly true today as it did two thousand years ago: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

“Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator,” said G. K. Chesterton. The need for such courage began with Jesus’ first night on earth and did not end until his last.


(one) more to come …

-image-I love paper??

Sooo …. what did everybody do today? Some shopping? Some baking? Some tree trimming? Good for you.

Uhm, did anyone succumb to peer pressure and make a Christmas ornament in 10 minutes using only materials found at their place of work?

Anyone else besides me, that is?

People … I have gone around the bend. I am so far PAST the bend that the bend is a straight line to me now.

I have to take my ornament back to work, but — and this is just how big of a dork I am — I kidnapped it so I could scan it. So I present to you now my — I don’t know — Victorian Christmas caroler?? It’s not nearly as good as the Perrier bottle Christmas tree with bus-token-“tip” ornaments, but, ah, well. One does what one can.

Her head: a sample cup bottom
Her hair: scrunched-up straw wrapper
Her eyes: crescents cut from a Dixie cup
Her mouth: a singing coffee bean, of course
Her cape: a napkin
Her scarf: a colored straw wrapper
Her hat: cut from a pastry bag

caroler2.jpg

You know, maybe I’ll get some good rest over Christmas. The dark dark middle of nowhere is looking better all the time

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