I’ve been following my own advice and spending quite a bit of time watching fantasy movies and reading fantasy books. I should clarify here that I mean romance more than fantasy. All the normal bounds of the time space universe apply. Most recently, I watched the new Costner entry, “Let Him Go.”
These films and books fulfill their purpose just fine. However, as I fancy myself a serious blogger/writer type who could compete with those who perform on the world stage—if only I had the ambition—I often challenge myself to come up with my own take on the genre. What is my fantasy? I don’t mean, “What do I think would sell?” Or, “What do I perceive other people dream about?” No, I mean that I challenge myself to add my own fuel to the warm “good guys win” feeling that I enjoy as I see evil mother-effers reap it and good men be rewarded with beautiful, virtuous women.
Here’s the gospel truth. My fantasy centers on the children I’ve been charged by god with raising to become good men and good women.
The fiction begins with an argument. My character espouses wisdom, in a much too passionate volume. There may even be a hint of what psychologists call “contempt”. My children consistently reply with overly self-righteous bull honkey. Soon after, I kick them out of my house for crossing the line. (I haven’t resolved in which manner they cross it, whether they mindlessly repeat the slander of George Washington, Jesus, me, or one of my military buddies. But I imagine that they say something absolutely retarded and untrue and so they’ve got to go.)
Next, I imagine I resign completely from life. I become a veritable hermit.
Then the world burns.
As for me, I nimbly and deftly survive and do so in style. Eventually, others hear of an older man (they say he was a pilot, back before the Green Skies law) always staying one step ahead of the new troubles brought about by stupid young people. The Captain is suddenly whispered as if the title itself means hope.
Did you hear the latest about The Captain?
I heard The Captain has been planning something big for some time now. He’s got to be getting close.
All the while, in the hands of my children, the world burns.
But then the careful reader and viewer begin to notice new expressions on the faces of The Captain’s, by now, adult children—themselves leaders of the supposed revolution. The faces betray, finally, a wise hesitation. One might almost say the progeny appear, for the first time in their life, uncertain.
Skip to the end, and readers all rejoice as I, The Captain, am unable to outpace my children who are on their way to warn me—themselves being only one-step ahead of their pals who are coming to kill me. The reunion, made all the more compelling by the contrast between painfully slow scenes of family reconciliation and scenes of unabated, furious chase by the enemies, is only long enough for one phrase to pass.
“Father, you were right.”
Having uttered these noble words, they turn to find our mutual enemies have caught up to us. Despite our unified slaying of a significant number of them, they kill us all, saying, “Remember, orders are to kill The Captain and all of his diseased blood!”
Yup. It’s not family happiness that I dream about—that seems utterly hopeless in our current world. Instead, I long for vindication from the mouths of my children before I die.
Why do I always leap at the chance to read Peggy Noonan? Because she’s published by the Wall Street Journal. For my whole life that publication has been elevated as more valuable than all others. Simply put: it had better writing. But I would never pay for it. No way. It wasn’t that good. And I knew that if I did pay, then the guilty pleasure of sneaking in some articles at hotels or the gym locker room would have died.
But I’m tired these days. It’s still great writing. But reason matters to me too. And in Noonan’s Bogus Dispute op-ed of today she writes, “But it’s right to worry about the damage being done on the journey.” And later, “On top of all that, the outcome was moderate: for all the strife and stress of recent years, the split decision amounted to a reassertion of centrism.”
These two statements cannot be defended as reasoned conclusions. I’m not saying they are illogical. I’m talking about Reason, Locke style. Fear and worry have no place in a reasoned life. We are never right to worry. Never.
As for the second statement, it’s not only unreasoned, it is also false. Since when do polar opposites added together amount to centrism? Centrism amounts to centrism.
Noonan seems to think that conservatives can be abstracted up to a state-of-being similar to mere energy. And then she asks us to place that energy on one side of an equation where progressives are on the other side, similarly abstracted. Then, if anyone can even follow this mental gymnastic, she asks us to see that the result-announcing equal sign is the USA. (Or maybe the Flag.) Fortunately, she is wrong.
If Ms. Noonan wants us to ‘go abstract’, here’s how it would work. Conservatives abstract to, say, 70 million, and are added to progressives, -78 million, and the result as any fourth grader knows is not zero (or balance), but negative eight million (70,000,000 + -78,000,000 = -8,000,000). Or, concretely, a progressive President.
Life is not math, though. It is art. And the great thing, for optimists like me, is that even when there are less colors (freedom), art can still be beautiful. And that’s all that’s happened here. A few or perhaps even many colors are disappearing. So I, for one, look forward to the new restrictions, the new boundaries from which to make my masterpiece. But, then, I never did understand abstract art.
In three years of Seminary coursework, I never did find myself tasked with the Old Testament book of Judges much. Helping edit a friend’s chapter-a-day devotional emails, I recently have been prompted to read it. And I’ve not been disappointed. It’s like Braveheart, Gladiator, and 300 all rolled into one.
This post is my volley into the C-O-V-I-D-1-9 written commentary foray. Setting the scene a bit, I’d say it’s probably best to picture a large post-NFL game parking lot brawl (or better yet maybe COSTCO at the toilet paper aisle) and some mesomorph man annoyingly jumping in only for cheap shots and then hopping right back out again before some seasoned ignoramus can counter-attack.
Early in the book of Judges, an account begins which involves the rare-to-scripture female protagonist. This Deborah is a prophetess who encourages the military leader, Barak, to fight a war. She then warns him, or advises him, however, that the honor (consequent to winning) will be given to a woman. Skipping ahead in the story, we learn that the defeated, fleeing king, Sisera, thinks he has found safe keeping in the house of a friend–having accepted the invitation of the friend’s wife. Picking up the story there, the Bible records, “But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, ‘Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.”
That’s all interesting, fine, and dandy (reminded me of the antler-to-the-neck in Braveheart). But it’s just the setup. What I want us to focus on is Deborah’s (and Barak’s) celebratory song–or the last part at least. It goes:
Out of the window she looked and lamented,
The mother of Sisera through the lattice,
‘Why does his chariot delay in coming?
Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’
Her wise princesses would answer her,
Indeed she repeats her words to herself,
‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil?
A maiden, two maidens for every warrior;
To Sisera a spoil of dyed work,
A spoil of dyed work embroidered,
Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’
Mockery. Blatant, pure, and chilling mockery. Deborah goes two levels deep in her scoff. She doesn’t just mock the dead Sisera’s mother, but adds the consolation that she can imagine the “wise princesses” offering. Cold-blooded stuff.
Which brings us full-circle to the hysteria. Here’s our victory song:
You thought government was god of the universe–God in the flesh.
You thought the government could solve all problems.
You bet hearth and home on the government.
And now you’re buying *extra* toilet paper.
You don’t even know why!
And you have to explain it to your kids.
The look on your kids’ faces is judgement from your maker. They know you’re unhinged. They can’t do math. They can’t read. They wouldn’t know what critical thinking was if it hit them square in the jaw. But they know what too much toilet paper looks like.
H- said, wide-eyed and earnest, “I hope they buy some plungers too–if they’re going to be flushing all that down the pipes.”
I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading this delightful fantasy novel Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey. Oddly enough, Sunday has recently established itself as my day of reading fantasy, that is, my day of reading rest–given the amount of Bible reading I accomplish the other six days.
This afternoon, I couldn’t stop smiling as I read from this angelic gem. One particularly pause-causing line was the lead female’s (an adept/spy-who-specializes-in-serving-Naamah-by-satisfying-wealthy-and-powerful-patrons’-S&M-bedroom-proclivities) announcing, “By this time, I was suffering a tedium so deadly I would have gladly scrubbed the Marquise Belfours’ chamber pot, for the distraction of a scathing punishment at the end of it.” (Move over, Christian and Anastasia…)
At this juncture in the tale, the vixen is being protected by a smooth, sapient equivalent of the water held back by what we call the Hoover dam. His enemies pray the levee doesn’t break. And, if that doesn’t do it for ya, ladies, let’s just say that he knows his place.
And at that moment, the thought hit me: This is the perfect fantasy. In this fable, we have a woman being free to be completely enslaved to her wiles, as she is being protected by a man who is bound to exercise no restraint in the defense of the weak.
But today’s post is not merely marketing material. Today I want to begin to capture my thoughts on the blossoming peace in the Middle East. Today I want to finally write down how I am so happy that I will be able to tell my children what it was like to wake up after a night of waiting for a war that never began.
I had such mixed feelings that night. Iran–not elusively-defined terrorists but a real country–had attacked America. Every bone in my body was opposing itself as I read the news. Half of me wanted nothing but peace. “President Trump: Please just do whatever you need to make peace.” The other half wanted nothing but the end of the uncertainty inherent to this clash of civilizations that began long ago, but has been officially boiling over since 9/11. “President Trump: Put. Them. In. The. Ground. Sheol. The grave. Deep. Permanent. End it. Win. Please!”
Then the airliner was shot down. Huh? Could this be it? No way was that us. Plenty of chance it was Iranian incompetence.
Then morning came and with it a group of men declaring for the children-grown-older-in-power-positions-in-Iran that Iran, led by these incompetent imbeciles, was standing down.
What must that have felt like for the Iranians? And, unlike Canada’s inclusion of a turban-wearing man in their optic a few days later, we went with the truth. It was old, white men, though white-hat-less men, who, not just announced the fight was over, but, in the manner of the announcement itself, clarified that one backwards civilization in specific needs to just, “Stop before you hurt yourself!”
Who could have imagined it? In response to the pinpoint–and I mean precision on a level that is hard to imagine ever being produced with anything other than a scalpel held by a hand that was trained in its use for a decade–in response to the pinpoint killing of a small handful of men bent on orchestrating evil, in response to the pinpoint killing of a small handful of men by remote control aircraft half-way across the accurately mapped globe, in response to this, an Iranian version of a tween on the ground was so afraid (afraid of what? afraid of his own government’s response to him if he’s doesn’t shoot? afraid of America?) that he shoots a fire-and-forget 11 foot missile, itself built by another civilization, at an airliner! What?!
Peace. That’s what.
And manifested by who? The noisy and wily Squad? No. By the unapologetically fair-skinned President of the United States of America. Cowboy as all hell, but hat’s off.
I remember that you welcomed me home from work with a hug. It was a Saturday night. I had flown one call.
I was late the night before and that made you worry.
The roads were better tonight–the ice near entirely gone.
Your son popped out of what I can only guess was another not-quite-discernibly chosen hiding place. He had had on his favorite basketball jersey, baring his skinny arms, as this time there was no t-shirt underneath.
I’ve been gone for too many long day shifts, I thought.
I told him I wanted to talk school work before he took his shower and went to bed. Then I began to take off my boots.
You listened patiently as I explained to him the “in’s and out’s” of following instructions and the particular importance of neat work.
Before my lecture was finished, you got up from the table. You opened the freezer. At the table, I continued to instruct and correct.
You walked to the silverware drawer and returned with the ice cream scoop in hand. It was the second one I bought for you. Do you remember how embarrassed we both were when I couldn’t stop myself from noticing that you had absentmindedly placed the first one in the dishwasher after all? Whoever would make rules for cleaning an ice cream scoop?
I was still teaching the boy as you set the spoon down beside the two bowls and put the ice cream back.
What’s the rush, I thought?
But I didn’t ask. Instead I hoped to guess right. I hoped it was his long-awaited bedtime.
I hoped my hands would soon feel your soft skin and find themselves bumping clumsily into your own as you removed your soft clothes. I hoped my eyes would see in yours that you were waiting for me to take you to our bed. I hoped my ears would hear and feel your impatient and impassioned breath. I hoped my lips would feel your tongue respond to my own. I hoped my body would press eternally into yours. I hoped.
The idea of evaluating my father seems odd to me at this point of my life (and his). Instead, I want to create a subtle distinction between evaluating my father and sharing with you characteristics of my dream dad. I want to do this today because of the feelings Ad Astra evoked.
Ad Astra is Mr. James Gray’s new, and remarkable, film starring Mr. Brad Pitt.
Ad Astra is also the perfect vehicle to bring my dream dad to life because it makes bold decisions–just like my dream dad would stare into the immensity that faces every man and boldly step forward, world watching.
Scenes in Ad Astra which are unbelievable at face value are presented with such force and gravity that the viewer can only be intrigued to see where all this is going–in the same way that my dream dad would behave in a manner that would continually intrigue me.
Indeed, the movie does go places, too. We travel with Mr. Pitt to Neptune in hopes of finding my father. Der, I mean, Pitt’s father. In fact, we’re looking for Pitt’s father because of his mysterious behavior, both generally in his having desired to antisocially voyage so far from terra firma, and particularly by his recent actions as leader of the “Lima Project”. Likewise, my dream dad is definitely a visionary and thereby a leader of unmatched proportions.
Most importantly, all along the epic and beautifully rendered space journey, the story is one of fatherly encouragement and belief in the son’s ability to do better than himself.
One flashback, near the film’s too-soon conclusion (much like my dream dad’s ‘conclusion’ will forever occur too soon), includes a four or five word sentence that can only carry its tremendous meaning in the gravity-less environment of our fantastic imaginations. But those few words are all my dream dad would need to say to let me know I was finally respected as a man.
And my dream dad would definitely let me know when I had achieved that high goal.
For an Indian Guides event, when I was around five years old, my dad helped me build a pinewood derby-esque car with which to race other children’s entries. When we arrived at the “Y” we learned that our car was far outside of the weight limit. Next thing I knew, some man with a drill was using a very large drill bit to hollow out the bottom of the car.
My mom once took the silverware right out of my hands when I proved incapable of accomplishing the feat of cutting my chicken at dinner.
During a basketball game–B-League–my opponent turned around and handed me the ball, mistakenly. I said, “Thank you,” and proceeded to head toward our basket as fast as I could run.
The local go-kart track and arcade in my childhood town was called, “Malibu Grand Prix.” One time I pronounced “prix” “priks” as I begged my mom to take me there. She laughed at me for what seemed like forever and only when my tears ran dry did she tell me why. (Or that’s how I remember it.) Years later she still brings up the phonetic faux pas when her mood turns fiendish.
H- was attempting to mix the cookie dough ingredients together, standing on a chair. She was probably three years old. The butter was still pretty hard and that led to some of the dry ingredients flying out of the bowl and onto the counter. I decided to take over for a bit.
When on a childhood vacation on a working sheep ranch in Wyoming, I accompanied the man on an early morning hunt. As we summited the hill from which he hoped to achieve and maintain the advantage over costly coyotes and foxes, I did not stoop low with him. He turned and very quickly motioned for me to join him down low.
Same man, same vacation. We were shooting a bow-and-arrow. My younger brother was having his turn with the instrument. With the arrow half-cocked, he turned toward the man to better hear the instruction and the man ducked out of the path of the would-be projectile faster than I had previously suspected he could move.
I don’t remember the exact details or even the precise date of the event, but there, at least once, was a time when I watched someone do something very slowly. Rather than wait on their laziness and incompetence, I told them they could take a break and that I’d finish up.
There was a pizza party. Most people had had their fill. I asked everyone if they had any problem with me finishing the remaining slices as I raised the lid of the already half-open box.
I wrecked my car during a snowstorm. The tow company had it in their lot. I told them that I didn’t need it anymore and was just going to donate it to Colorado Public Radio as they were always advertising that unwanted cars were a great way to donate. The man beyond the glass promptly informed me that he took donations, too. That seemed easier and I really wasn’t that philanthropic. So I assented. Then, as my friend and I drove away, an opportunity for promptness presented itself to me and I vowed to think before acting from that moment forward.
To force myself to take a break from weather books and the Bible, I like to head to the bookstore and just pick a fantasy book. During this exercise I use one variable to make my selection–its cover.
The latest cover to jump from the shelf into my hands is Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart.
I want to draw attention to one particular element of fantasy that I hitherto had not thought of as fantasy–but should have. This element? The gray. The subtle.
The protagonist girl-child, an “Adept”, is learning the ways of the world from a renegade bachelor prince called Anafiel Delauney. Of this stud she strokes, “I have never known a mind more subtle than that of Anafiel Delauney.”
Right now the American conversation is binary. If you’re Greta, the world is black and white. If you’re Trump, it’s red and blue. There’s capitalist, there’s socialist. There’s rich, there’s not rich. Safe, assaulted. Tolerated…hated? No, that’s not right. Tolerated is squared up against accepted. Yep, that’s the ticket.
Does it have to be this way? Probably. How do I know? Because we fantasize about the gray. We escape to a world where subtle minds are cast as inescapably welcome. Or at least I do.
The drawstring on my gym shorts has never retracted all the way into the band, but it seems like it may if I’m not careful as I put them on.
My forehead has a skin irritation that I do not believe I can cure with the limited amount of time and skill that I possess this morning.
The one on my upper left arm is prime for attention and now healing.
Remembering that I felt my big toenail snag on the blankets last night, I leave my anklet socks on the kitchen table as I return to the bathroom.
After clipping, the metal file is put to work.
Donning my shirt first, I then pull on my socks. Next, my glasses. One more look in the mirror to make sure that the additional light didn’t reveal any embarrassing and correctable flaws.
Well, my forehead still has the acute pain, but I’m good.
And I’m failing as I try not to think about the shooting, and what, if anything, it means, but I’m good.
“Why are they holding candles?” H-asked, looking at the laptop open on the kitchen table.
“To make it look pretty,” I answered.
Accompanying the recorded images of faux-candlelight, a lady’s voice sang, “But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.”
“What do you think she means, H-?” I asked.
“Huh?” she asked, distractedly.
I began again. “The songwriter wrote, ‘But all I’ve ever learned from love/Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.’ I’m curious what you think that means. What did he learn?”
“Well,” she started, pausing thoughtfully, “it’s kinda hard to understand.”
I nodded to myself.
“It is, isn’t it?” I agreed. “I think he means that when someone tries to be mean even before you can be nice, the only thing that can stop them is love. But I may be wrong. That’s part of what makes it pretty like the candles.”
The voice continued, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”
“You know, Daddy, I was singing this in the shower,” she pointed out.
I shook my head in wonder. “I know. I heard. That’s why I put it on.”
“I only know the Hallelujah part, though. It’s in Shrek.”
The startling oven timer sounded to her left. She turned to look. Grabbing the oven mitt, I opened the oven. The cookies were done baking. Time for dessert.