Saturday, July 28, 2012

Compendium of Links #33

Hey, I’ve had a good couple weeks at work. Did I mention I got promoted? No? Well, I got promoted. That means a salary. And that, in turn, means I buy frivolous things more often. (Don’t worry; basically all my frivolous spending is done at Goodwill, so it’s about $5 frittered away.)

Apologies to the blogs I frequent. I can’t remember where I first saw most of these links…

Honor Code – an NYT op-ed writer reflects on how Shakespeare’s Henry V would fare in today’s American elementary school atmosphere:

First, Henry would withdraw. He’d decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he’d just disengage. In kindergarten, he’d wonder why he just couldn’t be good. By junior high, he’d lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.

An Unschooled Church – Barnabas Piper writing over at WORLD Magazine’s blog suggests churches shouldn’t always be pushing for the right answer – that in fact, congregations imitate the failure of educational institutions by squelching creativity that way.

How the Supreme Court keeps its rulings a secret. By threatening dire consequences, of course!

When Homosexuality Became a Man – A touching narrative of a man who ministered to other men struggling with homosexual temptation.

The curse of motivational speaking – You know, I never liked motivational speakers, either. But I would state other reasons in addition to this:

My chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end. Men and women are not made to see that the nature of SIN lies in the letter “I” in the middle of the word. Instead, motivational speaking feeds that same ego and points to God as the one who can spoil it to the point of intoxication. That is a lie! It is God alone who must be at the centre of our lives. Christianity demands a dying to self, a taking up of one’s cross, and a following after a suffering Saviour.

So is there a “gay cure” or is there not? I don’t think it really matters. Others seem to place more emphasis on the question and its elusive answer. The following from an NYT article:

In a phone interview Thursday from Orlando, Fla., where Exodus has its headquarters, Mr. Chambers amplified on the views that have stirred so much controversy. He said that virtually every “ex-gay” he has ever met still harbors homosexual cravings, himself included. Mr. Chambers, who left the gay life to marry and have two children, said that gay Christians like himself faced a lifelong spiritual struggle to avoid sin and should not be afraid to admit it.

Who was that strange Mrs. Moore that C.S. Lewis lived with for decades? My roomie provided me a link to an article explaining her.

Families should make a practical search for an affordable college. YES x 1,000,000,000.

Another blog pops up about living life as a single Christian. This gal’s in D.C. and is a writer of some sort. Sounds right up my alley!

And for your weekly (or kind-of-maybe-monthly) video: Another great oldie from What You Ought To Know. How to be happy!

The only way you can be happy is if you know what it’s like to be unhappy… profounder than it sounds.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life on my own #28: Neighbors and Friends

I have a bed! After living here three months, I finally got a bed!

Now, that’s not to say I’ve been sleeping on the floor the whole time. Only about three weeks of it. And only because the floor is comfy. Pretty sure the carpet acts as a mattress in its own right. It’s that long.

But most of the time, I slept on one of my couches. I should say, I slept on the couch that unfolds into a sofabed. I tried sleeping on it like a couch but it was a bit too narrow. And I’m too tall to fit between the couch armrests well.

So, most of my evenings have been spent in the living room on the sofabed. Which really wasn’t that bad. I hear horror stories about uncomfortable sofabeds, but mine’s practically a Cadillac of sofabeds – there’s a good measure of support underneath and the mattress itself is quite springy.

There was just one bad thing about it: It’s in the living room. That means I can hear every single thing that the upstairs tenant plays on his TV.

I once woke up to the smoke alarm’s intermittent “I need new batteries stat!” beep. Just as I was dropping back off to sleep (batteries left on the table, not in the smoke detector), the upstairs tenant walked into his apartment and plugged in a movie. All I heard clearly was a theme song and “Austin Powers.” Guess what indistinct noises kept me up for the following hour or so.

Now, I don’t blame him for putting on a movie at 3:30 a.m. He works second shift. But I could wish that the west wall weren’t so paper-thin that it fails to filter out the noise of said movie.

And the scene repeated itself occasionally. I’d vaguely hear the upstairs tenant unlock his deadbolt, hike up the stairs, and five minutes later plug in a movie or something.

“Or something” meant a recurring sound that I could only guess came from a TV show. A little while ago, I got the inkling that it might be this TV show:

Imagine hearing that in your sleep. “Na nanana na na na-na na.”

Thanks to YouTube’s search feature, I know that I was right. That electric guitar lick that has peppered my evenings is straight out of a 1990’s sitcom. And that 1990’s sitcom is exactly what’s playing overhead right now… at 6:58 p.m.

The electric guitar lick stopped disturbing my sleep after just a few days; and recently, if I woke up at all (for any reason, not just the click of the deadbolt unlatching), I drifted quickly back to sleep with the “na nanana na na na-na na” acting as a soundtrack to my dreams.

I started sleeping on the floor again about two weeks ago, so of course I moved out of the living room. Then, when my mattress arrived last Sunday, I folded up the sofabed for good. (Or, well, you know what I mean.)

So long, friendly sitcom theme music… or not. I may not hear it in my sleep anymore, but apparently 7:02 p.m. Friday is the perfect time to hear canned laughter in response to sometimes-funny jokes.

I can only assume my friendly neighbor is off work this evening.

(Funny thing. I don’t even know if he’s friendly. Never met the guy. However, I could write you a treatise on his television habits.)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Lewis on imprecations

I came across an excellent observation on imprecatory and abusive language from the prolific pen of C. S. Lewis:

…In the vocabulary of abuse and complaint we see things that once were words passing out of the realm of language (properly so called) and becoming the equivalents of inarticulate sounds…

The “swear-words”—damn for complaint and damn you for abuse—are a good example. Historically the whole Christian eschatology lies behind them. If no one had ever consigned his enemy to the eternal fires and believed that there were eternal fires to receive him, these ejaculations would never have existed. But inflation, the spontaneous hyperboles of ill temper, and the decay of religion have long since emptied them of that lurid content. Those who have no belief in damnation—and some who have—now damn inanimate objects which would on any view be ineligible for it…. It has ceased to be profane. It has also become very much less forceful….

So with abusive terms. No one would now call his schoolfellow or next door neighbor a swine unless someone had once used this word to make a real comparison between his enemy and a pig…. Villain, as we know, once really compared your enemy to a villein….

Thus all these words have come down in the world. None of them started by being merely abusive, few of them by being abusive at all. They once stimulated emotion by suggesting an image. They made the enemy odious or contemptible by asserting he was like somebody or something we already disliked or looked down on…. That was why they really hurt; because hurting was not the whole of what they did. They stimulated emotion because they also stimulated something else; imagination…. Now that they are nothing whatever but emotional stimulants, they are weak emotional stimulants. They make no particular accusation. They tell us nothing except that the speaker has lost his temper.

…An important principal thus emerges. In general, emotional words, to be effective, must not be solely emotional. What expresses or stimulates emotion directly, without the intervention of an image or concept, expresses or stimulates it feebly.

—“At the Fringe of Language,” Studies in Words (2nd ed.), C. S. Lewis, 1967

And I, in turn, expand this to apply it to my own writing (as you may have guessed from the additional emphasis I placed on Lewis’s quotation, the bold text). If I want to elicit emotion in any way, I must stimulate the imagination and let the imagination do the emotional hard work.

What I learned today #5: About acting

One of the things I covered today was a children’s theater workshop. Like, there were two five-year-olds in this class. Can you imagine getting a couple five-year-olds to actually do anything intelligent on stage?

Apparently it’s not impossible. And it can even be done without all that fidgeting and pulling at their shirts.

How, you ask? Simply this: You tell them to press their thumb and middle finger together on each hand (right thumb with right middle finger… we’re not playing itsy bitsy spider here) and pretend they’re pushing into the floor with their feet, like you would on sand.

That keeps their feet planted and their hands busy.

I had never heard of that technique before this morning. I wonder if it would work on busy Sunday Schoolers?

Monday, July 02, 2012

Fair week

Why is it that 4-H fair week always happens to be the hottest week of the year?

OK, maybe not always. But hyperbole is easier to use than precision. Who wants to say “often one of the weeks in which the sun shines more often than the rain falls and the temperature rises to the mid-90s like it does at least five times a summer”?

In the county where I was working last year, it certainly seemed like the hottest week of the summer, if not the decade. The sun beat down on the animal barns, baking the poor chickens and grilling the hogs.

I was never so glad I was not a hog. Those things can’t sweat! And for all that, they don’t even lose the awful smell of body odor.

But the 4-H’ers who have to stick it out under the hot sun to care for their animals? Kudos to them. (And to their longsuffering parents.) Although I was in 4-H, my home in the suburbs wasn’t allowed to play host to farm animals. No goats for me. So I had the enviable position of displaying sewing and cooking projects at the fair, but no animals. Mom was allergic to hay anyway, so it was like pulling teeth even to visit the animal barns.

Granted, we always tried to pick the coolest day of the fair to browse the various exhibits and barns. Weather forecasts are infallible, you know, so that one 88-degree day was usually what my family pegged for our annual meandering route around the fairgrounds. Never mind that it rained late the next afternoon, cooling the grounds to a comfortable 79 degrees.

But I took my first job after college in a different county from where I grew up. Surely the phenomenon was limited to my hometown’s fair. Right?

Wrong.

Take last year, for instance. If memory serves me right, the week before averaged a perfectly balmy 75 degrees. A little sun, a little cloud cover, and everyone was happy.

For fair week, the mercury boiled at a sweltering 95 degrees. Or so it felt. Are we talking about the actual temperature or that strange mixture of heat and humidity that TV meteorologists usually label “feels like”?

The 4-H’ers couldn’t even handle hogs in the Showman of Showmen contest, it was so hot. The two water vendors in the merchant’s barn filled cup after cup for thirsty fairgoers. And I’m pretty sure the flower arrangement display had more than its share of visitors just because it was in the coolest building on the grounds.

Unfortunately, kids don’t have the passion for flowers that dehydrated adults do.

So that’s what those mist tents are for. A friend of mine from Chicago informs me that that metropolis sets up mist tents around the city during heat waves. I picture those blue- or white-topped misters placed at every other street corner with lots of little children jumping up and down under them. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to have all over the city?

Alas, I don’t live in Chicago. So during fair week – invariably the hottest week of the year – I look for the mist tents on purpose. They’re roughly 80 percent of the reason I attend the fair in the first place.

The other 20 percent is a combination of the animals, the model railroad display, the merchants’ buildings and the food. But those mist tents. You can’t miss those.

They come around only once a year – just like the fair.

So even though the online almanac predicts the weather for fair week to be “sunny” and “hot,” take a quick trip up there. It’s worth every drop of sweat. (And I’m kidding about the mist tents. They're only, like, 70 percent of the reason.)

(P.S. Originally written at the request of my old editor, for some local content for her fair-themed supplement. I was happy to oblige.)