Archive for December, 2010


Scott Pilgrim’s Progress and Farewell to Marcel

Boy, do things really change from when y ou get an idea for a post, and when you have the opportunity to post.  I had planned on this posting to be a follow-up to my Christmas posting (sort of an Xmas II), but yesterday, one of our pugs, Marcel, took a turn for the worse and we’ll be heading to the vet in a few hours to put him to sleep.  Carla and I cried a lot last night, and will likely cry a bit throughout this holiday season as we remember our loyal defender, Marcel.

But Marcel’s day yesterday fits with the upbeat message I had intended after I finished watching the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And so I plan on doing a post on both.

First the film — if you haven’t seen the film, based on a graphic novel series, do yourself a favor.  It contains all the joy of movie-making and storytelling you’d hope for in an artistic endeavor.  One way to view the film is as life and love as video-game.  Video-games, as you likely know, are based on conflict — you, controlling some avatar who is the good guy, who is pitted in combat against some evil guy.  To that end, our hero, Scott Pilgrim, who has just fallen for a newcomer to town, Ramona Flowers, must face her 7 Evil Exes and defeat them to win the girl.  Each, after a video-game inspired battle, is vanquished and disappears, while point values for the victory flash on the screen.  To win final victory, Scott must overcome an evil version of himself, and he must rely on the help of a couple of his own exes, both of whom prove more generous and heroic than Ramona’s exes.  I don’t want to spoil the experience — go see the film and have a good time.  There is one scene, though, I’d like to comment on.  At some point in the film, Scott wonders what his future with Ramona could be — after all, she has these vengeful exes, which seems to indicate that any relationship with Ramona is likely to be short and end badly.  Scott, himself, has dumped some girlfriends, and so, like Ramona, has cut off relations with someone who cared and saw a future.  Despite that doubt, and the doubt seemed very real to me — doubt often has a power over me — they decide to embark on a relationship, taking and enjoying each day as it comes.  Here too the video-game (arcade game at any rate) world provides an analogy — when many of the games come to an end, there is a moment when you are invited to add more coins to continue.  The word “Continue?” comes onto the screen, and you have 10 seconds in which to pick up the game where you left off, rather than start anew.  In this world of sudden changes and shifts, where, at any moment we are asked whether we want to continue with the game, or reset it, I found it refreshing that Scott and Ramona decided to continue.  There is no guarantee of “happily ever after,” but if we try, there is a chance at happy (or fulfilling) now.  It is a moment of faith in ourselves, and in those around us, and in the universe, when we choose to invest more time and press “Continue.”  There’s something very Anglo-Saxon about all that, and it’s very satisfying. 

When I first envisioned this posting, I thought of Christmas, and what it, and the story of Christmas might mean to someone who doesn’t believe in a personal god, nor in Jesus Christ as a personal savior.  And I think that the story of Christ, and maybe even more, of Mary (Mary is very big in Catholic circles) — the 5 Joyful Mysteries ( one of the themes meditated on while saying the Rosary) are Mary’s moment — they are all Joyful and are connected to the joys of motherhood.  These joyful mysteries, though, are set against a background of great sorrow.  And some of them (“Annunciation” and “Finding Jesus in the Temple”) are filled with anxiety as well.  And yet, Mary said yes. 

That brings me to Marcel, our 11 or 12 year old pug who came into our lives about 8 years ago.  When we first got Marcel, he was supposed to be a foster pug — we would take care of him for a few months until a suitable home was found for him.  I remember working at the library the day that Carla was going to take him to the vet to be neutered.  Carla called after the procedure was over and announced that we were keeping Marcel.  It seems that when Carla was to hand him over to the assistants at the vet, Marcel reached out with both paws and hugged her head as if he would never let go.  She knew at that moment that Marcel would be spending the rest of his days with us.  I got the news soon after. 

From that day on, Marcel was definitely Carla’s dog, and often would go to her rather than for the food dish, or some treat.  He was as loyal a dog as I’ve seen, and fiercely so in Carla’s case.  In his own mind, I think he was also a brave big guy, often responding to dogs barking in a movie or TV show with his own challenge.  Of course, whenever there’d be a storm, and we’ve had some doozies over the years, Marcel would bark at the storm, often barking from a place on the chair safely behind Carla. 

For about a year or so, Marcel has had increasing difficulty with his back legs.  The likely cause was some form of arthritis.  Still, he was able to get around on his own, sometimes working himself up to a trot, depending mostly on his front legs to propel him.  And then this Saturday, Marcel was unable to mount the ramp which he would take to get into the house.  On level ground, he was fine.  Yesterday, while I had gone to the garage to sort some stuff out and put it away, I noticed he was in the yard moving about  as usual.  It was a beautiful day — very mild, and I think all the dogs were happy to be out for an extended playtime.  When I came back to the house to get dinner ready, I noticed that he had made it to the top of the ramp, where he was sitting, striking his best Lion King pose.  As he knew it was dinner time, he made it into the house and to his dish.  Following dinner, he went out with all the dogs and seemed to be at play, but when I went to get him, he was flat on the ground.  It appeared that all of his legs now failed him.  As the problem is likely neurological, Carla and I will likely be taking him to the vet today to be put to sleep. 

Between lots of tears and trading off at holding Marcel, I think back on our time together.  Though something of a cowardly lion, he was fierce in his devotion to Carla, and a good big brother to the other dogs.  He knew what he wanted in life — lots of contact with other dogs and with people, and he got that.  He was not a dog to complain, and, my guess is, he had a lot to complain about in the time before he came into our lives.  As a dog who did not receive loving care early in his life, he knew what he had these past 9 years, and carefully guarded it (if sometimes from the protective cover of mummy.   He didn’t complain, but played the game as best he could, bringing his own talents to the contest day after day. 

I think that will be one lesson I take away from my life with Marcel.  Given his name, Carla and I used to speak French to him, which he seemed to understand as well as he understood English.  So, now on our final day — one last time:  adieu, mon vieux, cher Marcel!


Morning Offering, Queer Pirate Jesus and Bouncing Boy…

Over the past few days I was thinking of the “Morning Offering,” a prayer which I was taught I should start each day with.  For those reading this who are not Catholic, here are the words:

O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.
I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart:
the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, the reunion of Christians;
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.

I had a sticker of this prayer affixed to the headboard of my bed when I was in grammar school.  I associate it (and used chewing gum) with that headboard and waking up each day when I was young.  Many of the particulars have fallen by the wayside for me over the years.  There is one line, though, which continues to stick with me, for myself and when I think of my students and my patrons at the Public Library.   It is the line which goes “I offer you my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day” — as long as I can remember, I interpreted this line more generally — and included “failings” or “flaws” as part of the offering.  I think one of the nuns who taught me said that this prayer meant that you were offering all of yourself, good and bad, to God.  It is a powerful statement — if we offer all of ourselves to God (the Universe, the Fellowship of Humanity), we are saying that we are not just offering our Dr. Jekyll side, but our Mr. Hyde side as well.  For me, personally, it has an added sense of going into the day with the person you are.  Parents often say that they were not ready for parenthood when they became parent, but they had to act as if they were.  I tell my students that though the authors of our text are classical scholars, and I have read quite a bit of classical material, they still have to make meaning with what they bring to the table.  It does them no good (nor the class) if they defer to some high muckety-muck.  They still have their voice to add to the choir, and the absence of their voice is a sad absence for them and others.  And I tell the older patrons who come to the library and are terrified about getting on a computer that some ability in this area is important in today’s world, and they are a part of that world, and not apart from that world.  So, they need to buck up and jump in. 

And this came rushing back to me yesterday when Rev. Thom Belote at Shawnee Mission UU Church spoke on Queer Pirate Jesus.  The overall point of the sermon is that there are schools of Christology that emphasize that Jesus stood with those who were the outsiders, and cut through the rules and regulations meant to keep us in line, to call us to living our lives.  Though I don’t recall him saying so — I got the sense from his sermon that he’d agree with the idea that we do a disservice to the spirit of Christ when we put up walls, and cast some outside those walls (the queer, the poor, those out of shape, and so on).  The hymn by the children’s choir also addressed misfits — Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and others.  In some ways, there is something potentially “Morning Offering” about UUism — we are called to bring ourselves and all our baggage to the table, and not set aside as unworthy for failure to meet some credal requirement.

And that brings me to Bouncing Boy, a particularly favorite superhero of mine.  Chuck Taine, of Earth, is a member of the Legion of Super Heroes in the 30th c. in the DC Universe.  Other heroes have great powers — there’s Lightning Lad (no explanation needed), Cosmic Boy (super-magnetism — but Cosmic Boy is a much cooler name), Supergirl and Superboy, et al.  Bouncing Boy’s power is that he can inflate himself and bounce around like a beach ball.  That’s it!  He got his power by mistaking some super-rubber formula for a bottle of soda pop (apparently Coke still exists in the 30th c., or at least their bottle is still in use).  So we got a poor shlub who’s somewhat lazy and out of shape, who gets a less than spectacular power by accident.  When he applies for membership in the Legion, the other members’ first reaction is one of disdain — what good is that power?  A technicality gets him in — at the time he joined, there were no members who could fly, and in fighting a villain whose power involved electricity, only Bouncing Boy could get off the ground, and therefore attack the high voltage menace with no ill effect.  Still, once in the group, he acts like he belongs (and he does belong) — that’s the attitude to take.  In fact, even when he loses his power (it seems to come and go), he is kept around as an honorary member, which suggests he has something else to offer. 

At any rate, it is Bouncing Boy’s great chutzpah and sense of belonging, coupled with a strong sense of that devotion evidenced in the “Morning Offering” that has me thinking and making me get off my lazy butt and do something with the day and do my part in spite of my doubts, or the doubts of others. 

One final note:  yesterday was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is, for many Latinos and Latinas, sort of a Valentine’s Day.  The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe was that she covered a hillside with roses in Mexico in the middle of winter.  But equally noteworthy is that she chose to appear to Juan Diego, a Spanish-speaking Indian.  Poor and outcast, not part of the learned and Euro-centered clergy or ruling class, it was him she chose.  He had no super power, and no influence, and yet, because the lady asked him, he became her advocate for a church in Guadalupe.  Because of the magic and because it is a story involving the outsider, this feast day means a lot to me, and so, it was in 1992 that I first signed the book at May Memorial Unitarian Society (ask me the story about its name) in Syracuse NY on Dec. 12.  If I was going to become a Unitarian, it seemed important that I do it on a Catholic Feast Day, with genuine feelings, and not ironically.  And I chose a day when the main human character was a humble guy, not some high-falutin’ saint.  And I chose a day associated with a miracle, but a romantic and loving one.  And, ideally, those are the feelings I aspire to as a UU.


My Christmas Note

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse Celebrate the Holidays

Recently Carla and I enjoyed breakfast with some friends from All Souls’ Church.  The waitress brought the order for one of the young boys in our party — pancakes with chocolate chips — the chips (6 in all) were arranged in the shape of a smile and eyes.  He bemoaned his relative lack of chips — admittedly, Chips Ahoy cookies have more chips than did this pancake.  Still, I pointed out, in proper magisterial tone, that 6 did count as a lot, at least according to the arithmetic book I recalled from 1st grade.  Following a discussion on whether the book used the term “a lot” or “several,” I had to confess that it probably said “several,” which the nun teaching the class explained as meaning “a lot” — the memory of it is hazy, but it certainly is one of my earliest memories of grammar school.  The book made the distinction between a couple (2), a few (3-5) and several <aka a lot> (6 or more).  When people would complain that they didn’t get a lot of gumballs, or pieces of chocolate, or some other delicacy, taking the cue from my Catholic school textbook (which couldn’t possibly be in error — it may even have had a “nihil obstat” and “imprimatur”), I would point out that they did, if you wanted to get technical, have a lot.  When I would hear the old Pepsi jingle, “Pepsi-Cola hits the spot, 12 full ounces, that’s a lot,” I would think — got that straight!  And if you take the “12 days of Christmas” (a lot of days), you can see that there are a couple of turtledoves, a few rings, hens and calling birds, while there are a lot of geese, swans, maids, ladies, lords, pipers and drummers.  Not only that, but when you reach the “a lot” level, things start happening.  The geese on up are all in the process of doing something (a-laying, a-swimming, a-milking, and so on).  I can’t say I fully understand what’s going on in this song — what’s with the lords a-leaping?  What are they hopping around for?  If they are resting, does that negate the song? 

So what has this all to do with this season, when a couple had a child, were visited by a few kings and a lot of shepherds?  In our current economic downturn, I think we may see only that we have a lot of problems, while we have only a few things for which to be grateful.  Here I must again invoke the authority of my grammar school arithmetic book — I’m sure that everyone reading this has a lot of problems (at least 6), but we also have a lot of friends (at least 6), and have a lot of stuff (at least 6 objects).  We’ll also be getting lots of cards, and a lot of gifts — we realize this, especially if we don’t confuse a ton (2000 lbs. according to the weight table in my arithmetic book) with a lot.  For this Christmas holiday, I’m planning on focusing on my lot of friends, and my lot of blessings, my lot of family members and my lot of pets, and I wish the same joy for you as you inventory all the blessings you have, and as you enjoy the several wonders of the season. 



P.S. Sorry about dropping imprimatur and nihil obstat into the blog — arithmetic books don’t require either, as they do not deal with matters of Catholic doctrine, but I really don’t know when else I’ll have the chance.


Feeling my seven side…

Lately, I’ve been feeling my seven side.  A word of explanation — in the Enneagram personality system, there are 9 basic types.  I am a type – 6, whose big issue is danger and fear.  Sixes always have their antennae up to sense possible danger spots.  It makes us great devil’s advocates, and great troubleshooters (though taken to its extreme, there is danger everywhere, and it’s tough to concentrate when the warning bell is always going off.  But, in addition, every type has a wing-type that further differentiates (so there are 6w5 — sixes with a 5 wing, and 6w7 — sixes with a 7 wing).  And I am a 6w7.  The Sevens (aka the “epicures”) are all about getting as much information from as many different sources as possible — it’s sensory overload.  It ties into the whole danger thing — you can ward off danger by being an expert in some area (5s do this) or by learning something from as many sources as you can (7s do this). 

I spend some of each day watching some TV — usually movies, though the past few days I’ve been watching kids TV shows from the 50s (and, for the most part, they were really bad).  Despite their terrible quality, I’ve been watching episodes of Pinky Lee, the Juvenile Jury, the Paul Winchell Show, Ding Dong School, and so forth.  You might ask, why watch these shows?  Iwould have to say, curiosity, pure and simple.  And when I was in 5th grade I had a History of TV shows, copiously illustrated.  I learned a lot about shows I’d never see, and, having a chance to see the shows was more than I could pass up. 

I’ve also been reading a lot.  I’m in two book clubs, and lead two other book clubs, and read classics for the Kansas City Public Library, so I can post a review of some great work of literature.  December’s review was of Gawain and the Green Knight, and I’m currently reading Dr. Zhivago for the next review.  All this reading is more than I’ve done in a long time.  And again, I have a mix of great classics, Beowulf, Gawain, Dr. Zhivago alongside the latest Mickey Spillane (Max Collins took an unfinished novel of Mickey Spillane and finished it and published it this past year). Again, it seems a strange mix of things, but so often I see something that intrigues me, and then I have to give it a look. 

Unfortunately, it can sometimes leave me frazzled, and without a clear sense of what I know and believe — in a sense, it’s like having a pile of papers be your only filing system.  I do that too, I’m afraid.  And there are times when I figure I need to read less, watch stuff less, but then I see something else that looks intriguing and I’m off again.  It does make for a nice conjunction of things, Descartes and Spillane, or Ding Dong School and Citizen Kane.  And sometimes it does lead to a sense of enlightenment — I live for enlightenment.  It does make me think, though, that I should be a bit more disciplined.  Maybe some day.