Friday, April 30, 2004
Even on the open book, open laptop test, I simply couldn't do all that work in the time allotted. My spreadsheets didn't balance. Good thing Fred gives partial credit for getting most of a problem right. Maybe I'll get a C on this; if I'm really lucky, a B.
Until my previous course, Intermediate Accounting III, I hadn't gotten less than an A for a course at University of Phoenix. Now it looks like I'll be A-less for two courses in a row. Rats.
It matters, because all this is a warm-up for taking a CPA exam next year. I have to learn this, or $20,000 worth of student loans will be for nothing. I was so good at this stuff in the early stages, but it's getting harder, and I'm getting slower at working it all out. I keep reassuring myself, Stewart Smalley style, that I'm good enough and smart enough. But my confidence isn't, shall we say, at an all-time high. Still, I have to keep going. It's a bit late to study for some other profession, even if there were something better suited to my talents, interests and personality. Accounting is a good profession for an introvert, and that's what I mostly am.
All I want to do, really, is finish the final edit on Heirs of Mavarin, and work on To Rule Mavarin for a while before revising Mages of Mavarin. But there's no money in that, especially if I don't submit anything anywhere. I haven't sent out a query in 18 months.
So this weekend I'll do a little Mavarin stuff, and start reading downloaded chapters for the tax accounting course. It's supposed to be an easy course, and the instructor is really good.
Maybe after that course, I'll feel less desperate about whether I'm really up to this accounting stuff.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
This whole thing has been distressing to me, especially this attackfrom a stranger who expects me to believe every word he writes, butdoes not provide his last name. Readers of this blog and the AOL sfwriters' boards are aware that I've agonized about the New Yorker article and my best response to it.
Well, I've updated the FAQ page. I acknowledged most of the points raised in the article, but not all of them, and I've done my best not to attack either L'Engle or her family. Still, I'm not comfortable about all this. I have no perspective at all. That explains why I'm wasting time at work writing this when I have so much work to do (I'm terribly behind!), and why I got virtually no studying done last night for my accounting final tomorrow night. I need to stop worrying about this and get on with my life!
This is much worse than obsessing about the Mavarin prequel.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
I've interviewed dozens of actors, writers, producers and other creative people over the years, mostly in connection with Doctor Who and Quantum Leap and, decades ago, Star Trek. Celebrity tends to accrue more to on-camera types than behind-the-scenes people, so it's the actors who turn up most at conventions and golf tournaments. The writers are more easily found in production offices or at home, and there are fewer opportunities to meet them unless they're named John Vornholt or Ed Bryant or David Gerrold. Consequently, most of my interviewees are actors. That's fine with me.
When I talk to an actor, the question I'm always driving at, usually without arriving, is this: what happens in the actor's mind at the moment of performance? When I do ask the question, I get a variety of answers.
Some actors claim that it's simply a matter of hitting their marks, saying their lines and not bumping into the scenery. But is that truly all they're doing? Is it as calculated and external as that, just a matter of saying the lines convincingly, without ever feeling them?
The next level goes along with the cliche, "once more with feeling." In this scenario, the actor uses his or her own feelings and experiences to inform the performance. It's a relational thing. The actor has not been through quite what the character is going through. The character is upset about the death of a sister, but the actor isn't upset about the character's sister. The actor remembers the death of a dog,or a mother, or a friend in high school. It's enough to put real feeling into the lines about the death of the sister, but they're not the character's feelings.
One level deeper, and one gets to "being out of your head," as Richard Herd puts it. This is the level of controlled madness, or, perhaps, loss of control. This is the edge of, I suppose, the Method, but I've never read An Actor Prepares, only a short story by Harlan Ellison ("All the Sounds of Fear," I think it's called). The actor actually slips into the personality of the character, and maybe, in some fashion, experiences what the character experiences, lives bits the character's fictional life.
I'm not sure whether that really happens, or whether it''s just another way an actor chooses to look at the process. It may be that the line-sayer and the method actor are doing pretty much the same thing, but perceive it differently. It could also be that the idea of an actor becoming the character, however temporarily and vicariously, is just my flawed interpretation of what Scott Bakula and Richard Herd and others have said.
I'm not an actor. I took an acting class at the age of five or six, and appeared on stage in Syracuse in1965 in one of my mom's musical revues. In school I played a skunk, was a narrator several times, and beat Dan Cheney as "Bobby Fischer" in a sketch that marked my last stage appearance ever. I have no feeling for acting, no drive for it. The closest I get to acting is when, like today, I get to read a passage to the congregation in church, especially if there's dialogue in it, or read a passage from my novels aloud to a friend.
What I am, aside from a bookkeeper and student and wife and all the other things I am, is a writer. My creative process that isn't the same as what an actor does, but in away it's similar. Like the actor who has an inkling of what it's like to be an alien or a member of the opposite sex or Lee Harvey Oswald by virtue of playing and embodying that role, I have an inkling how a tengrem thinks because I've written from a tengrem's point of view. It doesn't matter that there's no such thing as a tengrem. It doesn't matter that Rani and Del and Crel and Fayubi aren't real. It doesn't matter that Scott Bakula and Willie Garson probably don't really know what it was like to be Lee Harvey Oswald,and that nobody really knows what it's like to have two hearts and twelve regenerations. It's still an important and valuable thing,bringing these people to life, on stage or page, big screen or small.Knowing how Crel feels about power, how Fayubi feels about playing the fool, and even how Rani feels about rabbits, gives me a chance to experience and feel and, most of all, think about concepts and principles and emotions that I'd never come across while balancing credit card accounts against vendor payables--at least, not unless my mind is seriously wandering at that moment!
There's one more level, one more step in the process. That's when the reader or viewer reads the book or watches the performance. If the creative people have done their jobs well, the reader or audience will also have some inkling what it's like to serve on a starship, be shot in Philadelphia, escape from Castrovalva, or catch a rabbit and eat it raw. Whether the experience itself is a good or a bad one, the consumer of the entertainment will enjoy it, be shocked or inspired by it, learn from it, or all of the above. Some of those consumers will then create or embody fictional people of their own, and pass those real emotions and unreal experiences to further audiences.
Aha! I've been wondering how Shelly got pictures into her entries without those big ugly white boxes around them. Cool. I've now got the journal set to wrap the text around the big white boxes when I do use them, and now I know I can do the little clip art thing, too.
I also added the "not Rani" picture to the About Me box, and added Wil Wheaton, of all people, to the journal list.
As long as I'm using the book quote gif thingy, I'll go ahead and recommend the book I'm reading now, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I'm not fond of the title, but the book itself is excellent. (In case you've missed the minor hoopla about it, it's a British bestseller about punctuation--really!)
Saturday, April 24, 2004
...have all been written and uploaded. Each character page has a portrait by Sherlock, a brief introduction to the character, a brief quote by him or her, and either a fictional "journal entry," a book excerpt or both. The journal entries are the same ones posted here, and do not appear in the books themselves. Eventually I hope to have both an original entry and a book excerpt for each page.
While I was at it, I reordered the "next character profile" links to cover all eleven pictured characters with no orphans. (At least one page was accidentally "left out of the loop" before.)
A propos of my earlier musings about writers, privacy and family relationships, I made a link from the Rutana page to the Ruth Anne Johnson page, but not from my mom's page back directly to the Rutana page. People can just use the back function or go to the index page.
My mom, Ruth Anne Johnson, was a Renaissance Woman of sorts, a psychologist and singer and playwright and composer-lyricist and teacher and administrator and all-around overachiever. Her page doesn't really go into all that, or what she meant to me; and really, you probably wouldn't be interested in such details unless you knew her. What is on the page, the part that may be of interest to people who care about music and writing, is the lyric to one of her best songs. Take a peek sometime, if you feel like it! Perhaps one of these days, I'll post lyrics to Merry-Go-Round or The John Burp Marching Song. And if anyone has cheap-and-easy ideas for transcribing my mom's handwritten, faded sheet music from 1964-1972, please drop me a line. Mind you, there's a lot of it, so transcribing it all is probably not something you want to volunteer to do for me!
Friday, April 23, 2004
Why now? I have no time for this!
From The Memoirs of King Jor:
Chapter 12: My New Home
really a palace. I knew that as soon as I saw it. I never quite
forgot that bitter truth--almost, toward the end, but not quite.
less-than-palatial building before me was made of wood, probably oak,
not stone or brick. The single tower on top was short and boxy, and
tilted a little to the left. Worst of all, Calezundi had ordered some
tengremen to paint the whole thing an unnatural bright pink. I
could tell that tengremen had done the work, because several of them
had left tufts of blond and brown and black fur in the paint.
To be honest, I didn't really care that the fake castle in the middle of Gathmak was meant to mock me. The important thing was that it was a building, with walls and a roof and not so much getting wet if it rained. After many weeks on the back roads of Mâvarin, my hands tied together, the only full human in the company of tengremen, a roof and walls represented a definite improvement.
It was true
that I would still be a prisoner, but what of it? I had nowhere
else to go, not any more. My wife was dead. My children (so I
thought) were dead. My cousin Richi had died of a fever three years
before, and his sister, Bete, had married the king of Fãrnet at a time
when Mâvarin's order of succession had been less in doubt. Now
there was only me, and I no longer deserved to rule Mâvarin. Why
not stay here, I thought, and let Nishi Awer rule in my place? He
would do no worse than I at the job.
My captors laid a foot-wide wooden board across a sludgy green moat. I started across it alone. Strange eyes peered up at me from the moat. The eyes lay atop the head of a twenty-foot-long green monster I later came to know as Monte the alligator. I walked to the end of the board as steadily as possible, until I came to a wooden platform in front of an unpainted door with crooked hinges. I stepped off the board, and the tengremen pulled it away. (Years later, Canda and Cort built me a real drawbridge for my birthday. It wasn't terribly big or especially well-made, but it was better than the board.)
I opened the
door. It was rather dark inside, but I saw an armchair and a bed, and a
small bit of brown that was probably a rug. The chair was on a
little platform, like my old throne in Thâlemar, nowhere near as
nice-looking but, I hoped, more comfortable than the real seat of power.
Well, I guess I'm home, I thought, and went inside.
Monday, April 19, 2004
I'm getting a variety of responses on this, not all on this page. Some people have more sympathy for the kids than others. One correspondent pointed out that children of celebrities pretty much inevitably suffer, but it seems to me there would be a spectrum there, too. A really abusive, troubled or unloving parent is going to do more damage than a stable, nurturing one, regardless of fame. Still, I suppose the fishbowl component is a genuine problem.
I've had very little contact with the children and grands, just the occasional email (usually a listserve or form letter) from one of the grandchildren, who issues biannual health updates. My impression from that is that until now the family has been protective of L'Engle, disseminating slightly rose-colored news and gradually taking over the writers' correspondence (the fan mail part of it, anyway). That makes the New Yorker gripefest all the more shocking.
For the record, I don't have much sympathy for Christopher Milne, either.
My mom write a couple of award-winning one act plays while she lived in Florida in the 1980s. She told me outright that the characters were based on me and my best friend growing up, Joel R. One of the plays has the pair running away together and hitchhiking across the country. I think the other one may have to characters married to each other. Joel and I never did anything of the sort. I've never read the plays, and never really thought much about them. As far as I'm concerned, the characters in them are just that--characters. They are my Mom's perspective of two real people at a certain time in their lives, filtered through my mom's own attitudes and personality, experiencing events that are mostly imaginary. Why should it upset me that Brevard County theatergoers once saw an actress portray someone a little like me, doing things I may or may not ever have done? Granted, that character isn't a world-famous magical child from a major literary work read by generations of children and adults, but I'm not sure that would change my response substiantially. But who knows; maybe it would. If I ever come across those scripts in my mom's stuff and actually read them, I may have a clearer idea how L'Engle's progeny feel. Or not. I suppose if the character is depicted as cruelly betraying her mother, I'm not going to be happy about that--not because someone in Satellite Beach thinks Ruth Anne's daughter was mean to her, but because it would be a reflection of my mom's distorted perspective of my stormy relationship with her right after her divorce, which was very upsetting at the time.
I have to wonder whether the family trusted the New Yorker writer with candid remarks that were never intened for print. I also wonder, if L'Engle has read the article, what she thinks about it all. If she isn't bothered, maybe it's not such a terrible thing for the family to unburden themselves after all these years.
Friday, April 16, 2004
As many people know, Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite writers, probably my very favorite writer. I maintain an online bibliography to her work, although I'vee been very delinquent in updating it in recent years. Here's the link to the main page, which I just updated: http://hometown.aol.com/kfbofpql/LEngl.html.
Two recent bits of L'Engle-related news have caused quite a stir among her fans. The first is good news: after years of delay, the 3-hour adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will air on Monday, May 10th. I was beginning to worry that it wouldn't air during the writer's lifetime.
The other news is that there was a profile of Madeleine L'Engle in an early April issue of The New Yorker. Normally, I'd say this was a good thing, but the article was upsetting. L'Engle's children and grandchildren, who were interviewed extensively for the article, allege that L'Engle's nonfiction is too fictional, that her fiction is too real (and therefore an invasion of their privacy), that Hugh Franklin cheated on L'Engle, and that her son--well, never mind. Basically they resent appearing in her work, both under their own names and in the form of fictional characters with similar traits or experiences.
After reading the article, I have to say that my opinion of L'Engle is not much diminished, but I'm quite annoyed with her progeny--not for telling their version of the truth, but for their obvious resentment of these wonderful books.
Every writer is told to "write what you know!" Not all do so, but many,like L'Engle, take bits of their lives and the lives of loved ones, and twist and fictionalize them into something more interesting and dramatic. L'Engle has been doing this, and doing it extremely well, since the 1940s. There is nothing wrong with this, in my opinion.
What is wrong, it seems to me, is that now when L'Engle in her mid-80s and in less than perfect health, her relatives have decided to blurt to the national press their condemnation of the books that damaged their lives by invading their privacy. I can see that it would be difficult for them, but nobody's life is perfect. This article seems like a long-delayed betrayal on their part.
Monday, April 12, 2004
Still to come: one more religious entry to finish off my series of Lenten/Easter reflections and self-examination. Please understand, everyone, that these are not intended as a criticism of anyone else's religious, agnostic or atheist views. They are merely a sharing of my experience and information concerning Episcopal practices as I've observed them in recent years.
Also, I will be writing about an article in the current issue of The New Yorker about Madeleine L'Engle. To fans of this wonderful writer, the article is somewhat upsetting. I will offer some perspective on this as soon as I have a moment to do so. Meanwhile, I'm terribly behind on my schoolwork!
And finally, I have a rant in my head about all the pictures of Rani I've gotten poor Sherlock to do over the past several weeks. I will probably post about this on AOL and to the UrsaMajor email list rather than here. Stay tuned.
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Excerpt from Prince Talber’s Mâvarin Journal
(translated from the original Londran by Li Ramet)
At last I am on dry land, but it is a strange land I never expected to visit: Mâvarin. My people have all but forgotten there is such a place, but it is very real, and very different from home. Everything seems a bit primitive here. There is no outdoor lighting, there are no printed books except for woodcuts, and the clothes are rough by Londran standards. Also, there are mages here, doing their magic openly. Two of them, Fayubi and Rutana, rescued me from the ocean when I was still many miles from shore. Rutana has welcomed me into her home, and is teaching me Londran.
I thought for a moment when I met Rutana’s son, Li, that Londran and Mâvarinû were similar languages, but alas, this is not so. Still, I am determined to learn their language as quickly as possible. Only then will I be able to stand on my own in this new world--once my ankle heals, that is!
I have not seen the woman in my Teacher’s drawing yet.
Friday, April 9, 2004
(Note: read the entry below this one first!)
This year at the Altar of Repose I did pretty much what I always do on this occasion. Part of it I spent in prayer, of course. This consisted mostly of a rather self-absorbed monologue in which I attempted to make a conntection, intellectually and emotionally, with Jesus: who he is, why he did what he did, and what he wants now. The rest of the time I read a couple of psalms, two chapters of Acts and two of John, and the Maundy Thursday readings I'd missed in favor of a four hour class about the equity method and the purchase method of accounting for business combinations.
At the end, just before Father Smith and his daughter arrived for the next half hour slot, I found myself wondering: did I get anything out of this? Am I supposed to get anything out of this? Or am I supposed to be giving something to it? If the latter, did I manage to do so?
I don't know, but I tried.
Karen Funk Blocher
Good Friday, 2004
Some of the Eucharist consecrated on Thursday is set aside for Friday, which has no Eucharistic Prayer of its own. While it's there at the Altar of Repose, parishioners and clergy keep vigil in half hour shifts, usually two at a time, all night and all day. In effect, we are waiting up with Jesus on the anniversary of the Passion, staying awake as Peter, James and John did not.
All this takes place at St. Michael's, in an area between the last pew, the ushers' table and the church's heavy wooden doors. The Altar itself is an an alcove on the right. Behind it is a painting of Jesus, attended by angels as he suffers. In front of it are two large candles, which I long to straighten--they both list to the right. To the left is a bank of votive candles, which may be burned for 25 cents each. Accomodations for the faithful include a rickety kneeler with attached rail, a couple of folding chairs, and the usual books: the Book of Common Prayer, the Eucharistic Lectionary and the Hymnal, not that we would sing through this. Some years there are laminated printouts of suggested prayers. Not this year. We're on our own.
(to be continued)
Wednesday, April 7, 2004
NPR's All Things Considered aired a commentary yesterday by a sixth grade teacher named Daneil Ferri, objecting to the use of the expression "did good" by his students and by sportscasters, most particularly (allegedly) Bob Costas. Although it was a funny piece, Ferri missed an important point, prompting me to write the following email to NPR:
<<At the risk of being a goody-goody or a goody-two shoes, I must take
issue with Daniel Ferri's commentary aired April 6th,about the expression "did
good." His otherwise amusing story overlooked the possibility that erudite
sportscaster Bob Costas may have spoken correctly.
"Good is an adjective," Ferri insisted to his class, and to his listeners. It is, sometimes, but what if it isn't? Sometimes "good" is a noun meaning the quality (or quantity!) of goodness, as in, "the battle of Good and Evil," or "In the battle for correct grammar, James Thurber was a force for good," or even, "Bob Brenly's batting order du jour may do some good." Costas may have said something of the sort, and said it correctly. By the same token, people who try to save the world are correctly called "do-gooders," not "do-betters." Myself, I'd like to do some good, and do it well.
Karen Funk Blocher>>
I've accessed Musings from Mavarin from AOL for Mac OS 10, on the latest AOL for Windows, and via the Web (Netscape and IE). It's highly variable. Sometimes I have text controls, sometimes not. Sometimes I can paste prewritten text into this box, sometimes not. This seems to be true even comparing different instances using the same program and computer. Weird, huh? The other day I had to retype my Palm Sunday piece from scratch, and partly from memory, when the second entry ran too long.
Which reminds me, this entry is probably long enough.
Sunday, April 4, 2004
These days I act as crucifer about twice every six weeks, and read to the congregation about once every ten weeks. I never quite get it right, somehow. When reading, I go a little too fast, or lose my place and blurt out, "Wait a minute...," or stumble over a word. Carrying the crucifix on a long pole near the front of the procession, I walk a little too fast, or too close to the thurifer (incense-bearer), or let the candles (candle-bearers) get ahead of me, or knock into something, especially outside before and after Mass. Up in the sanctuary, I forget to go get the stand for the readings, or to put it back, or to retrieve the cross during the prayer over the catechumen, until Proscovia nudges me or gives me a look or says my name. So I don't do it perfectly, ever, but I get by. Afterward I eat high carb food at coffee hour, and go home and update the church website at http://smaa/mavarin/com/smaa.html, or more likely just the schedule page.
Why do I forget to do what I'm supposed to do? I'm thinking about what I believe, or the parts of the ritual others perform, or the pain in my knees as I kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. I'm trying to sing a hymn without the hymnal, because I never have one when I serve as crucifer. I'm wondering whether 98-year-old Eva's okay, because she didn't come to Mass, or she fainted, or she just stepped outside. I'm thinking about the readings, and the prayers, and the styles of the different priests and what they each have to say. I'm thinking about my novels, or my school work, or my stomach ache. So mind mind wanders, until Proscovia nudges me or my mind wanders back on its own.
It's not good enough. I know it's not good enough. I'm not attentive enough. I still don't know exactly what I believe. I don't do much to save the world or feed the hungry. I don't have faith the size of a mustard seed.
But at night I go to bed and pray my repetitive, idiosyncratic prayers, full of gimme and give us and not at all full of praise, because I'm not good at it and don't know how to say it sincerely. I think about Heaven, which I neither understand nor reject entirely. And I talk to God, as I've always done. He never really answers, but I know he's there. He's real. He's listening. There's no ecstatic revelation, just a feeling, the same one I've always had.
And, because of Him, it is enough after all.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, during which I hardly ever went to church, hardly ever looked at a Bible. In all those years of waiting for inspiration to hit, waiting to find out what I believed, I never really worked at it. I thought going to church and saying the creed would make me a hypocrite. I did, however, build a rather impressive collection of Madeleine L'Engle books, including a bunch of religious nonfiction. I've never read most of them, but I got the impression from what I did read that the Episcopal Church, a cathedral of which L'Engle attended, was worth a try. It seemed to have all the things I liked about the Catholic Church, and none of the stuff I didn't. That's an oversimplification, but it proved to be fairly accurate.
So I went to the church up the street from me, the one with a socially conscious sign out front. I've been going there ever since. It turns out that faith, for me, at least, is more a function of doing in public than of thinking in private. I was never going to find faith (much less prove anything to myself logically) by ignoring the subject most of the time, never going to church, never reading the Bible or any other books on the subject. I had to go to church, read the readings, listen to the sermons, think about the prayers, and maybe have a cup of ice tea in the Parish Center afterward. Once I started doing these things, I discovered that the Nicene Creed didn't bother me nearly as much at age 40 as it did when I was 20. I don't believe every word on a literal level, but I believe them on some level. And I learned that maybe there is a little spark inside me that says that God is there, God is real, even if I don't feel it every second, even if I don't understand, even if I don't know exactly what to believe.
(one more part to follow.)
When I was about six or seven years old, I used to hold my own little mass in what my family called the game room, the library-shelved, leftover furniture filled finished room next to the basement, in which my mom met with her patients in private practice. I would put a purple towel on my mom's desk, set up a statue of Mary that my godmother had given me, and read through the Weekly Missal, very fast. I didn't quite credit, at that age, that it didn't count unless there was a real priest present, and that only men were priests. In those days, no women served at Mass at St. Anne's in Manlius, New York. Acolytes were called altar boys, and even the readers were male deacons at least.
By the time I reached high school, some of the altar boys were girls, and there were lay readers, some of them women. I wasn't among them, although I still sat in a pew every Sunday. I was in my Jesus Person phase, illustrating a Jesus Christ Superstar album cover for art class with a somewhat graphic depiction of the crucifixion, singing songs from Godspell at Area All-State, going up to the front at the War Memorial when invited to do so by David Wilkerson protege Nicky Cruz, where some disciple wrote down "H.S" as the reason I came forward. Despite everything, though, I didn't get what I was looking for, a little spark of feeling in my soul that I knew for sure to be God, waving and calling out, "I'm here. I'm real."
I kept looking for that through college. I went to church at St. Patrick's across town to see Father Ed Van Auken, who once said, "Theology's not my bag." I attended get-togethers at Newman House where a priest whose name I've forgotten preached against the Pill I was taking. I had long discussions about God with a close friend who wanted to be among the first female Episcopal priests, but who was rejected. I agreed less and less with the Catholic Church and the Creed. I wasn't sure what I believed any more, in something, certainly, but not in "the resurrection of the body." Then I married an agnostic, soon to be an atheist, who liked to say, "one man's religion is another's belly laugh." That was the end of my churchgoing, except for the occasional Christmas, for many years to come. If I didn't believe it, why go to church to say it?
(to be continued)
Thursday, April 1, 2004
All 11 of Sherlock's illustrations of Mavarin characters are now on http://www.mavarin.com/. Character profile pages will follow soon. So far I've added one for Cathma and one for Fayubi.
In other news, I got a B in Intermediate Accounting III. That's the first course since I went back to school for which I didn't get an A. 12 As, one B. What's my GPA now?