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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fear and dread

Our text for today is a verse from Isaiah. I say it over to myself frequently, especially in recent days and weeks:

"Do not call conspiracy all that this people call conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD your God, him you shall regard as holy; let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."

I never used to understand the idea of "God-fearing." It seemed that fear was something very different from trust, and weren't we supposed to trust rather than fear God? But now, plagued by years of adult anxieties, I have a somewhat different idea.

We all have fear and dread; the question is, is it worth it? Do we direct it towards something like nuclear war (how twentieth century of me), which we cannot control and which may never happen? What a waste of worry that would be. (Thanks to my seventh-grade language arts teacher for pointing this out.)

One of the points of having a God is that "he" is big enough to be worth our fear and trust. Yes, of course I hear Richard Dawkins saying this is a delusion. I respect Dawkins, but as an evangelical preacher--which, for atheism, he is--not a practicing scientist. He hasn't done original research in years.

The point of this delusion, if that is what it is, is that it is insulated from time. The fear and dread are not linked to today's conspiracy theories or the woes of this particular generation. There is far more at stake in this universe of grace than that.

Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle
Sidney Godolphin

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In other words

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America last week. Reading (let alone listening to) MLK's sermons, sometimes called "speeches," is a reminder that others often say it better than I do. So, from the sublime to the ridiculous, here are a few others' words:

(MLK on his opposition to the war in Vietnam) "This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I'm speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men…?"

Lillian Hellman in her memoir, Scoundrel Time: "The traceries from what you were to what you became are always too raw and too simple."

Reading: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

"In my experience, the world's happiest man is a young professor building bookcases"

Finally, I suggest going to Opinionated Lesbian and scrolling down to February 28, 2005 11:03 AM
Shallow book reviewers

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why'd you come to Canada?

I am asked this question probably more often than any other, once people realize that I'm American. (Clarification: Although I now have Canadian as well as U.S. citizenship, I have a hard time thinking of myself or my writing as anything other than American. It's just where I'm coming from.)

The people who ask this are themselves Canadian, and I wonder if Americans would ask a version of this question. I can't imagine, back in the U.S., asking an immigrant "Why'd you come to America?" In the first place, it seems rude to me, but beyond that, Americans tend to assume that everyone would live in the USA if they could. While this is not true of lots of people, there's a kind of American confidence that takes for granted what a great country the U.S. is. And, while there are also huge problems there, I do miss that confidence.

To answer the question I go one of two ways, depending on how much I want to go into it with the particular person asking:

(Short answer) Because my partner lives here.
(Long answer) I would still live in the U.S. if Penelope (the "partner" referred to above) had an unrestricted right to live there with me (and if she wanted to). Unfortunately, one of the problems with the U.S. is that federal law (which governs immigration) does not recognize any relationship whatsoever existing between two women, although we have shared our lives for more than fourteen years. For the first half of those years, we did not share a home, or indeed even a country. She is British, and Britain is where we met. In those days, Britain was almost as unwilling to recognize a same-sex relationship as the U.S. still is. Other people have found other solutions, but ours was to find a country where 1) at least one of us could immigrate in her own right, and 2) the other, if necessary, could be recognized as the first one's partner so that we could end up in the same country together.

The country that met those criteria, at that time (2000), was Canada. We do not know if our relationship was taken into account when we immigrated, or if we simply both qualified.

I get very, very tired of people born in Canada, invariably white like me, making comments about "immigrants" when they clearly haven't the first idea what it takes to get into this country. I feel that I have more in common with others who have come to Canada in search of a better life than I do with these people. Just because we look alike and our first language is English, they spout this xenophobia. It reminds me of the things people say about gays when they aren't aware the person they're speaking to is gay.

Because people rarely know these things unless they've dealt with them personally, here are a few important facts:
1) Immigrating even to a relatively welcoming country like Canada is a long, hard, expensive process. Laws change all the time and then you have to start over. In fact, under current regulations, with the education and experience I had in 2000, I would probably not be allowed in myself.
2) Some of the United States, and some cities, have started to recognize same-sex relationships and even marriages. Unfortunately, this does not help anyone whose partner is not American. Immigration law is federal and the federal government is not particularly keen on either gays or immigrants right now.
3) A good organization working to change these laws is Immigration Equality.

Reading: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Monday, January 8, 2007

Conception and birth

No, this is not a comment on that highly politicized subject of when life begins. I am talking about an altogether different kind of giving birth--to a story. At this very earliest of stages, there is no story yet and no guarantee that there ever will be one. It is more like flirting in a bar. I'm there with a character or two, our eyes meet, and I wonder, Who are they? What is their story? Will I get to find out? And, on a long and possibly tortuous (and torturous) journey of meeting and dating, we just may get to the point of conceiving a new book.

Or not.

There may be a faster, better, more efficient way of getting through this process, but I can only trust that the way that's worked for me in the past will work again.

Reading: The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton
"Let me tell you, scholar, that Diogenes walked on a day, with his friend, to see a country fair; where he saw ribbons, and looking-glasses, and nut-crackers, and fiddles, and hobby-horses, and many other gimcracks; and, having observed them and all the other finnimbruns that make a complete country fair, he said to his friend, 'Lord, how many things are there in this world of which Diogenes hath no need?'"


Poets & Writers magazine

The mystery novelist Anne Perry reminds us to write not what we know, but what we care about. We can always find out what we don't know, but if we don't care, how can we make anyone else?

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A reading year

My main concerns, here as in life, are reading and writing. In that order, because readers make writers. This is true in two senses. First, writers are writing for readers. We may not get them but we all hope for them. I doubt anyone is satisfied doing it solely for him- or herself.

Second, I will bet that most, if not all, writers got into this habit because we love (or loved) to read. We loved a book that would take us somewhere, or make us forget how boring our life otherwise was, and we dream of doing this for some stranger. If you are a writer and have gotten out of the habit of reading, get back in! Call it "research" if you must--if your Protestant ethic is even more troubling than mine--but have a book on your bedside table. One that, unlike some presidents, you are actually reading.

Waging a rearguard struggle against forgetting all the other languages I've ever studied, I try to spend a few minutes each day reading biblical Hebrew. For years now, I've been laboring through the Psalms. The Psalms, of course, are poems, and poetry is notoriously difficult to translate; its forms are specific to the language it's written in (not that this isn't true of all literature). If you're familiar with any Psalms in English translation, for example, you may know that one of the structures of this poetry is parallel lines; for example:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

There are also acrostics and all sorts of other difficulties that are lost in translation. I manage about three verses a day.

Whereas a Psalm such as the twenty-third has sustained generations through experiences like trench warfare, a thriller or romance can be relied on to entertain us during tedious journeys or sleepless nights. I've (belatedly) discovered both in Radclyffe's Honor series. A writer can get away with a heck of a lot if, no matter what, the reader has to keep turning the pages. If I'm engrossed in the story, if I have to know what happens next or how the heroine and heroine are going to get together...The other end of the spectrum from poetry, as it were.

Like the sugar on raisin bran.