7 on sunday

  1. I finished Star Trek Voyager. I liked it well enough. I think it’s a solid science fiction show. I kind of liked it better before it became the 7 of 9 show, but she grew on me.
  2. I realized if I wanted to be a Star Trek completist (and who doesn’t want to be a Star Trek completist?), I would have to actually watch The Original Series. I have seen some of the better-known episodes (The Cage, City on the Edge of Forever, the Trouble with Tribbles, Mirror Mirror), but not the majority of them. So I’m on episode three and wondering if I can enjoy it as an artifact of its time with some solid science fiction stories, or if I’m going to have to give up the dream. (Will also need to watch The Animated Series, but I am somehow more intrigued by that one).
  3. Reluctant to let Voyager finish, I watched the series Sweet Magnolias on Netflix before I watched the last few Voyagers. I understand that this wouldn’t be everyone’s glass of sweet tea, but I liked it a lot. I appreciated how they gave different characters’ perspectives. One actually feels for the young, pregnant “home-wrecker,” and the “mean girl” is absolutely complicated. They also seem to get mainline church right. The church everyone attends is pastored by a young black woman who is everything a pastor should be. They come back to the church throughout the 10 episodes and in the final episode the pastor finds and talks to the boy everyone is looking for and she calls his mother. They don’t name a denomination that I noticed, but it felt Lutheran to me–though that seems odd in the south, I think of Baptist or Episcopalian–and a google search shows that the Lutherans have indeed claimed it (https://www.livinglutheran.org/2020/06/a-faithful-witness/). In the first episode the church scene shook me because everyone was gathered together and hugging one another and shaking the pastor’s hand on the way out. I reconciled myself to it, but it still made me wistful.
  4. We are continuing to record our worship services. My colleague is on vacation. I preached for today and will preach for next week. This is usually “hymn sing” week, but we couldn’t get anything together for that, so I preached and a retired pastor and I celebrated communion (standing at opposite ends of the table with 2 loaves and 2 cups). I’m not sure how I feel about “virtual” communion, but we had done it before and then skipped a month and people had asked for it. (Sunday Worship)
  5. During “Hymn Sing” week, we usually sing a couple of patriotic songs. I tried to figure out how to honor that this year. I couldn’t bring myself to use “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” this year, so I asked our music director to sing “Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory,” a hymn we usually eschew, and then I talked about it in the sermon. I have received one positive comment, but mostly I’m hearing silence. I have to admit that I am fond of the song (from my childhood) and I know there are people who miss it. There are also people who would be glad to never hear it again and are annoyed that it made it into the Glory to God hymnal (I believe it was not in the previous hymnal). And, in fact, I asked the music director to sing it from the hymnal as a visual statement. We’ll see if I get pushback from people who generally like me a lot. He finished the service with “This Is my Song.”
  6. We’ve had a “quiet” 4th of July weekend. Yesterday we made sausages and watched the 1996 Independence Day film and went outside to watch fireworks from our cul-de-sac. For a year when there were no official fireworks, there were plenty to see and hear. So it wasn’t really “quiet.” My son came out at 10:30 or so unable to sleep for the noise, so we watched an episode of Floor Is Lava as a mindless distraction. By the time it was over things had somewhat quieted down.
  7. I’m taking Equity 101 through a program for Community College instructors. It’s an online course, and it’s really reflective and thoughtful. I appreciate how it is organized. It’s helping me think through my own practices and the places I have been reluctant to engage, particularly in composition courses.

Enough for now. I hope everyone is staying sane as we find ourselves in month 4 of the Time of CoVid.

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quarantine update (mostly for me)

Yesterday was my 49th birthday. It was surprisingly busy. I got up early and wrote a sermon and then went to the church to record it (4 of us distancing in a sanctuary meant for something like 600). The others left, and I preached to our young adult videographer. He liked my message. I picked up lunch for Computerguy and me from a local Mexican place (kids were still asleep. It’s been strange times.) He took his lunch back into the office and got back to work. I sat at the table and ate alone. (This sounds sad. It really wasn’t.) The kids woke up eventually and offered me very sweet birthday wishes. The girl had drama class and we did piano lessons. Then the boy and I made ribs. The kids made a cake. When the ribs were finished I cooked steaks. We had dinner and the girl had to go off to a special evening class meeting. After her class was over, we had cake and I opened cards. I got lovely text messages and Facebook messages throughout the day, and my friend from Tennessee called as she always does. It was a good day, but it was an odd day. Everyone was busy with their own stuff. Sunday, Mother’s Day, was much more focused on me. A Tuesday is still a Tuesday.

My mom continues in assisted living. She has grown tired of not going out, not seeing us. We did take over a gift for Mother’s Day and saw her through a window, darkly. This is the hardest thing for me. Photos below: My kids and my mom on Monday. My brother and me and our mom many years ago.

Today is my last class day for the Spring semester. Given issues of accessibility for students and the nature of our emergency online instruction, I have tried to be super flexible. I’ve offered Zoom meetings every class time, but I have also offered written discussion boards and made them either/or. There is a small group of students who have shown up every class. There are a few other students who have floated between Zoom and discussion board classes. We had 3 presentations that needed to be done, and all of the involved students were able to make it to Zoom on those days. I recorded those presentations, and other students watched and commented. While I’ve really appreciated the involvement of my little group of Zoomers, I’ve been impressed with the students who have diligently shown up on the discussion boards as well.

For this one day, I am attempting to recreate my in-class final day of the semester. On the last day, I ask the students to choose one piece from the semester to read aloud to the class. I don’t ask them to explain themselves, just to read. If someone chooses the same piece as someone else, they are welcome to read the same piece. If it’s worth reading once, it’s worth reading as many times as it’s chosen. The students don’t tend to take me up on that. If someone else reads their piece, they choose a new one. Mostly, with 2000 pages of text, they don’t pick the same pieces. Many read poems, some read excerpts from novels or plays. It’s always fascinating to see what they choose. When they finish, I offer them the opportunity to comment on the pieces and, if they wish, to explain why they chose their piece. I am encouraging students to come join the Zoom, but I have also set up a discussion board with a record function for them to record themselves if they prefer. I’m also offering a place on the final exam to fulfill this requirement if they were not able to do it in another why. I’m trying to take all situations in account.

Some students have been sporadic, and I am concerned about them. At least one student is thriving in a way they weren’t before. They had trouble making it to class, but they are making it to every written discussion board. We have been told we will continue to be online in the fall. Knowing it ahead of time and not transitioning suddenly to online learning, I am wondering how to shape the course. I am not sure I can sustain a double class, and I’m not sure how the Zoom group will work when the students haven’t lived in to the routine of circle discussions every day in my class. I’m also finding a discussion board every class day + discussions for group activities + regular discussion boards we were already doing is way too much. If I teach it as a true online course, I would limit that considerably. However, it’s still not a true online course. It’s a face-to-face class being taught online in emergency circumstances. I’m not sure how to parse that, but I have a summer to work it out.

One aspect of this that is satisfying to me, my spouse is working from home in the same office and he is enjoying listening in on my classes.

The kids are doing okay. Their school is giving them work, but not overdoing it. They have Zoom meetings a couple times a week. Mostly they’re working on their own. The girl is managing her schoolwork herself, and we’re having her do online drama class some weeks. The Girl Scouts are trying to work on some online badges. The boy needs a little more parental supervision. A fun part of this is the book his class is reading is one that was given to me by a student many years ago, and we are enjoying reading it together. He’s also become very interested in cooking “from scratch.” So that’s been fun to watch and support and encourage.

I suppose that’s enough for now.

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reading challenge

At the beginning of this year, I challenged myself, for my study reading, to read only books I had already purchased on my Kindle App, but had never actually read or finished.

Click book for Howard Merritt’s website

I began with Carol Howard Merritt’s Healing Spiritual Wounds. I found it difficult to get through; it made me so sad. The amount of hurt inflicted in the name of Evangelical Christianity hurts my heart. While I’m trying, especially in these times, not to minimize anyone’s pain, especially my own, it made me grateful for my parents, and that I came out relatively unscathed. I appreciated Howard Merritt’s offering of herself and her own pain and healing. I appreciate knowing that healing is possible, even when the pain is great. I appreciated the stories and the suggestions. Had I read it 20 years sooner (long before it was written), it might have been a lifeline. As it is, I have done much of my own work and found a lot of healing in the last decade, and so it served as more of a reminder for myself and for others with whom I come in contact.

Once I finished that book, I added a layer to my challenge. I realized that I read almost exclusively books by women; therefore, I decided to try to make every other book a book by a male author.

Click book for the Center for Courage and Renewal website

Last year, my friend and colleague discovered that I had never read Parker Palmer (I’ve heard him interviewed on On Being and such, but never sat down and read him), so she sent me a Kindle copy of The Courage to Teach since I’m a teacher. I struggled through the first half of it. The copyright is 1998. I became a teacher in the humanities in Southern California in 1994. What seemed innovative and daring and contradictory to established norms to him seemed natural and obvious to me. It also felt a little condescending. By the time I got to the second half, I found myself much more interested. Maybe I just had to get used to his voice. Maybe I had to let him get through his defense of his thesis to the real meat of his experience. I highlighted a fair amount of stuff in the second half and have quoted from it in a sermon. There are definitely good bits, and it’s a worthwhile read. Even the first half is a good reminder of how some of education was and still is.

I had a similar experience with Borg, but I think I’ll save that for next time. Next post: Enuma Okoro Reluctant Pilgrim (a cheat. It was not on my Kindle. I bought it to read.) and Marcus Borg: The Heart of Christianity.

Posted in About Me, Books, Church, Teaching | 2 Comments

a record, for me, of these days

Spring Break was approaching. We had lots of plans. My mom was moving from Arizona into an assisted living residence near me. My uncle would bring a load of things on Saturday. We would take my kids out of school a day early before Spring Break and bring my mom over the following Friday. We could spend the intervening week preparing the room, and since the kids would be on Spring Break, we’d have lots of time to visit and hang out and help her get used to being in a new place.

3/11 We were hearing talk of virus and quarantine. On Wednesday, we talked in our worship committee about ways to gather safely, about how we would celebrate communion the next time we celebrated (not until April 5).

3/13 On Friday, we threw out all our carefully thought out plans and cancelled Sunday. Also on Friday, we got notification from the school that the students would not go back until after Spring break (that date keeps getting moved further into the future). And on Friday I learned that my community college students would get an extra week of Spring break as teachers prepared to move classes online.

3/14 On Saturday, my uncle came and we did move my mom’s furniture in. I borrowed a 15-year-old from church to help. The facility had just started quarantine procedure: they took our temps and we filled out a form. 15 probably shouldn’t have been allowed (officially no one under 18 was supposed to come in).

3/15 Everything moved so quickly that we didn’t have anything in place for Sunday. I wrote a note that was sent out, offering streaming services from other communities. It was an odd Sunday morning. My colleague and I met at the church, to be there in case anyone didn’t get word we were cancelling. My daughter spent Sunday night at her friend’s house to celebrate the friend’s 13th birthday. We didn’t fully understand what was going on.

3/16 On Monday, I started getting worried about being able to bring my mom from Arizona. I called my aunt who was with her and I called the assisted living facility, and we moved things up from Friday to Tuesday.

3/17 The kids and I didn’t go to Arizona but my aunt, my uncle, and their cousin drove my mom over. My aunt and I were allowed to go in and help her get settled. We saw my mom Tuesday and again Wednesday morning, they reluctantly let us go in. That was the last time I have seen my mom in person, but we’ve been FaceTiming and texting.

3/19 My spouse had been going in to work every day. On Thursday, he finally got his contract to work mostly from home. Out of their department of 25, they have 5 going in each day, staggered so no one shares offices. My spouse’s office day is Friday.

Since then, we’ve grown used to our quarantine life. The girl has watched a lot of TV and listened to a lot of podcasts. The boy has played a lot of FortNite. They’ve played MineCraft together and several games of monopoly. The girl has baked cupcakes. The boy has made hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies. They’ve both moved naturally to night owl hours, so I have the quiet of the morning to myself. My spouse comes in to our office here at 7:30 and emerges around 5 (coming out to grab breakfast and lunch). We are figuring out how to share the home office (mostly I’ve moved my stuff to the other room. That may change on Monday when I have a scheduled class time.) My spouse has picked up take out. We’ve each gone shopping, sparingly, carefully. We’ve had Zoom meetings, Circle and Session. It works better, I think, for the chit chat catching up meeting than for the trying-to-make-good-and-hard-decisions meeting, but we got through. I’ve been part of recording a couple of videos for worship. The first time we sat together in the chancel. The second time we stayed several feet away from one another. I’ve reluctantly restructured my class to online discussions. I will offer Zoom for students who wish to check in that way, but it’s too difficult (and privileged) to simply move what we once did in a circle in the classroom to squares on the computer screen.

We are privileged. We have devices and good internet. We tend to be homebodies anyway. The stores still have food (empty ramen shelves, empty TP/Paper towel/Napkin shelves). I had bought a pack of TP because we were running low a week or so before the hoarding began. My mom is safe and being well-cared-for even if this isn’t the ideal way we would have moved her. I have a robust Zoom account thanks to the college. I’m teaching just one 200-level class with students who are at the top of the CC game so to speak.

I feel a little odd even posting this. We are in this bubble right now as we continue to live in the poorest large city in the US. The church is working on keeping the food closet going without endangering 75-year-old volunteers. We’re trying to pay our childcare staff though the center is closed. We’re trying to keep faith with our community from our homes. I don’t know. It feels a little desperate and yet my little family is tucked away and glad. That might change when we start to do school of some sort, but my kids are old enough and I am me enough that we don’t have these pretty scheduled charts about how we’re moving through our days. For now, we’re pretty much playing it by ear and savoring this time alone together.

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st:ds9

I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was in high school and college over its first run. My friends were geeky sci-fi folks. We gathered and watched it faithfully. Deep Space 9 premiered January my last year of college. I’m sure we watched it that year, but I never followed up. I moved on. I lived with non sci-fi roommates. And it didn’t totally capture me. Also, I was intrigued by Babylon 5 which in one of those weird TV convergences was a space station based show that premiered the same time.

One of the things I liked about Babylon 5 was that it was not disdainful of religion. It allowed people to have faith and ritual, both humans and aliens alike. It didn’t try to show how all religion was primitive.

After Star Trek being peripheral to me for a long time, I have slowly eased back into it. I’ve tried showing my family Next Generation episodes with less than enthusiastic response, but I have been watching Discovery and really enjoying it. So listening to TV podcasts (ATV PodCast Pilot: ST:TNG vs. ST:DS9) and such made me intrigued regarding Deep Space Nine.

I had always kind of assumed I had more or less watched it, but as I began to actually watch it a few months back, I realized I never had. I think I’d watched just that first season and maybe 2 or 3 additional episodes along the way. I have a vague memory of trying to watch some in the final season and being completely lost (vague memories of Odo and a swamp or something). I gave up trying to finish it out.

This is such an intriguing complex show, that I really couldn’t just dip into it. Watching it from the beginning, I began to understand why it is the critically acclaimed one. It has character arcs and story arcs; people change and grow and big stories and small stories get told. One of the most fascinating things to me about the final season was how many one-off episodes there were. In the old days of TV, seasons had almost 30 episodes (and that was a short season) and so, in the middle of this story of war, there were some more or less standalone sci-fi episodes like holographic baseball and section 31 episodes, cult leaders and Ferengi culture episodes. They barely moved the greater story forward. I enjoyed them, but I also found myself getting impatient for the main story.

I had heard a lot about the show over the years Spoilers ahead–
(Worf joins the cast. Worf marries Dax. Dax dies. Sisko becomes The Emissary. Jake gets tall.)

Most of those details made sense, but I had no idea what it meant that Sisko became the emissary. It turns out, Deep Space Nine incorporates faith every bit as much as Babylon 5 did. The earthlings might not be religious, but it does not disdain Kira’s faith as a religious adherent. It shows both faithful and hypocritical faith leaders. It shows the discomfort the humanistic StarFleet has with ideas of faith and the way Sisko ends up embracing his role. It offers possibilities for what faith and religion mean. It’s really thoughtful with the way it handles this part of human existence. It is the first Star Trek series to be developed without the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself (Gene Roddenberry) who held humanist values very deeply and offered a hopeful and positive vision of the future, but seems to have had a post-religious world view. Grappling with the idea that even advanced civilizations hold on to mystery and faith was what appealed to me about Babylon 5, and, it turns out, one of the lovely elements of Deep Space 9.

A few other thoughts:

  • I kind of hated the Keiko becomes the teacher storyline. It felt regressive. I was glad when they ended it and let her be the botanist that she was.
  • Some of the Ferengi stories got tedious, but I liked what they did with Rom and Nog.
  • I thought having Deep Space 9 always remain a Bajoran station was brilliant. Having Star Fleet folks interacting with other people who were ongoing characters and relationships and not the alien-of-the-week allowed it to be really interesting.
  • I loved Dax. I loved Dax from those first few episodes I saw in 1993. I was waiting for them to kill Jadzia.
  • I always loved Worf, so it was fun to have him come in and I liked the continuation of the Klingon story from Next Gen.
  • I really got to love Kira as she developed through the series though I did not love her with Odo.
  • Julian and Miles’ friendship was pretty great.

I’m sure there is more to say, but I need to log off.

Live long and prosper (they kind of left the Vulcans out of DS9. They are back strongly in Discovery. I’ve watched 2 episodes of Picard but finished DS9 instead of watching the rest of that. I supposed it’s next, though I am also interested in dipping back into Babylon 5).

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seminal american girls part three: blair, jo, natalie, and tootie

I was eight when the show began and we were living in Missouri. I don’t think I knew about it then. We moved to Taiwan the next year, so I wouldn’t have heard about it for three years. In 1983, when we came back, I was 12, and somehow I knew that it existed and that it was my favorite show. Maybe I saw re-runs in California at my grandparents house. And then we moved to Nevada and got two channels: ABC and CBS, but not NBC.

When we moved to California in 1986, I finally got to see it, the last gasp of first-run episodes, but, more importantly, every weekday at 5 and 5:30, there were reruns on channel 11. Yes. I spent high school catching up on 7 years of The Facts of Life.

Okay, they might not really be seminal American girls for everyone, but for a certain age-span of Gen-X folks, we knew who they were. Even my spouse, 6 years older than I and a cishet male, offhandedly says, “Natalie was my favorite” (that might be one of my favorite things about him). When I was getting to know one of my good guy friends who is 7 years younger than I, we spent a 5 hour road trip talking about The Facts of Life and other 80s television. There is just something about it. Even though it isn’t “great” television, it went deeper than some of the sitcoms of its time. The friendship between Jo and Blair is rich and funny and poignant. Natalie and Tootie are more than just stereotypes. And they tackled difficult topics. Maybe too much so. It can sometimes feel like every episode is a “very special episode,” but they went there. And it’s not overly sexualized, something that disappointed me recently when I tried to watch the first season of Family Ties.

Also, The Facts of Life had George Clooney when he was a baby. He was so cute. (In the same era, he also played an EMT on a sitcom called E/R about an emergency room and starring Elliot Gould. The fact that this isn’t mentioned every time someone mentions ER the drama astounds me.)

As a raised-evangelical kid, there was also the added bonus that Lisa Whelchel was a committed Christian. We could look up to her. I even went to a concert once. Jo was my favorite, but I loved Blair, too. I’ve shared the DVDs of the first few seasons with my daughter. She got bored when Blair and Jo went to college, but she did enjoy them. She does not get my love for Blair. (Though we did watch the Lisa Whelchel Survivor season together. She got that.)

I have been trying to exercise and needed some extra podcasts. It occurred to me that someone might possibly be making a Facts of Life podcast, because that’s what people do in 2020. There are, in fact, two Facts of Life podcasts. So I have been listening to The Facts of Facts with Dominik (an expert) and Britt (a newbie) watching each episode and commenting on them. Britt, watching with a 20-teens eye, is pretty hard on the show. I have also been listening to Let’s Face the Facts where David invites a friend over each week to watch an episode with him and talk about it after. David and his friends tend to love the show and they are gentler about it. I have a preference for the gentler take (because I love this show with all my heart), but I enjoy both of them. While the Facts of Life is family friendly, neither podcast is.

I haven’t mentioned Mrs. Garrett, but she was the glue that held the show together. I was very disturbed when she left. Mrs. G. was the heart of the show. I liked it fine with Chloris Leachman, but it was a different show by then.

There was a moment in the 80s when shows about 4 women were a thing. The young women were The Facts of Life, the middle-aged ones were the Designing Women, and the older ones were, of course, The Golden Girls (who weren’t really very old). I have a theory that somewhere in our American subconscious lies Little Women and every time we gather 4 women together, they are a version of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (with the Beth character varying more than the others). In The Facts of Life it’s almost obvious: Blair/Meg (care about looks and fine things, domestic when it comes down to it), Jo/Jo (duh), Natalie/Beth (she is the sort of odd one out, though Nat is not shy and she doesn’t die), and Tootie/Amy (always sad about being younger and left out, draws attention to herself). In Designing Women it lines up as well: Julia is a Meg, Mary Jo is a Jo (and there’s that name again), Charlene is more Beth than any of the other Beths, and Suzanne is totally Amy. Golden Girls doesn’t work quite so well, but I offer Blanche as Meg, Dorothy as Jo, Rose as Beth, and Sophia as Amy (she has reverted from oldest to youngest).

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the good place and me

I don’t have a ton to say. Linda Holmes has a really nice wrap-up piece at npr.org. I’m just enjoying the end of a journey. I haven’t anticipated a finale this much since Lost, and this was more satisfying (I’m not bagging on the Lost finale. I actually liked it. But this was special.) So here are a few thoughts.

I heard about The Good Place from the beginning. People seemed to like this show where Kristin Bell finds herself in heaven but realizes she doesn’t belong there and has to try to hide it. I didn’t start watching it until the first season was on Netflix. I gave it a try in the background. I wasn’t so sure about it. I didn’t love the characters and the gimmicks didn’t always land for me. And then I got to episode 4 and it all clicked. It was soooo good. I was so intrigued. Here was a show discussing moral philosophy with super quirky and hilarious characters. And then I got to the season finale and I was floored.

I have enjoyed all the places it has gone, and all the character development it has done. It’s been an amazing show. I really appreciate Michael Schur’s basic optimism about the world and the idea that we can change and grow. I liked it with Andy and April on the first seasons of Parks & Rec (which I need to go back and finish; it got lost in the shuffle when I was watching almost no TV, but I think the kids will enjoy it now), and I appreciate it with all the characters on this show. This is an entire series about hope and redemption for even the most unlikely characters. It’s pretty amazing.

Last semester I was looking for something to watch for an essay for my students, and one of them suggested The Good Place. I don’t know if it was the right call or not, but we watched 4 episodes and students wrote about those 4 or about more if they had been watching it. It was fun to talk about as a class, though we did work hard not to spoil it, so there was a lot we couldn’t say.

A couple months ago, my daughter (12) and I were talking about it, and she was intrigued, and I’d been telling my spouse he should watch it for a long time (and he’d heard various things about it), so the three of us started watching it. And then my son (10) decided he wanted in on it and so we started over and he LOVED it. It’s his favorite show. Fortunately it’s limited in length and number of episodes, and we had some holidays, so we were able to get through the whole thing in time to watch the last couple episodes as they came out.

We let the kinds stay up last night and we watched the finale together. It was fun to share it with the family (and not watch it this morning alone). Nobody said much, but we thoroughly enjoyed all the call backs to old episodes (which we’ve seen in the last 6 weeks or so), and the spouse and I enjoyed the cameos and other cultural references.

The Good Place has been more than just a fun romp. It has been a thoughtful fun romp. Sharing it with my family and having them love it has been an added bonus, something that has brought us altogether in a way culture usually doesn’t (the girl barely puts up with Star Wars; the boy whines about things like Little Women, the spouse is really not into Harry Potter, etc.) It’s been A Good Place for us to visit together.

For the record, I surprised myself by not crying until the toasts at the end of the cast gathering after the episode. I cry at everything. This just felt good and right. It did not feel emotionally manipulative at all. As each character made their choice, I was touched, but I was not devastated. (Not that I couldn’t have cried. I cried at the season 3 finale. I just wasn’t in that state last night.)

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seminal (north) american girls part 2: anne shirley

I’ve been meaning to write this post about Anne, but on Thursday, my friend in England messaged me that she and her daughter has just finished watching Anne with an E and she and I had a conversation about why we loved it, so I had an added impetus to think about this.

Obvisouly, I’m using the continent not the country. Anne is purely Canadian.

The funny thing for me about Anne is that I never read the books as a kid. I didn’t even know about them (or I’m certain I would have read them). I read other Canadian books (Jean Little is more obscure, but I knew all her books). Somehow no one ever handed me Anne of Green Gables. Until… I was in my credential year after I’d graduated with my B.A. and the single women slightly older than I were obsessed with the Kevin Sullivan mini series. This was circa 1993/4, so the 1985 mini series was almost a decade old, but we had VHS! I watched it and was enchanted. These books were some of what brought me together with the women who became my very closest friends (including the one messaging me from England last week and the one who reads my blog).

And so, as a young adult, I read (devoured) all of the Anne of Green Gables books. I loved all of them. I read them and read them again. I have a special fondness for Anne of Windy Poplars (I had a nightmare class my first year teaching and Anne’s struggles with the Pringles were comforting in a solidarity kind of way) and Anne’s House of Dreams. I was waiting for my Professor Bhaer, not for my Gilbert Blythe (as much as I adore him), but I love the book nevertheless.

A couple years later, my mom and I took a pilgrimage to my idolized authors. We went to New York and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine where Madeleine L’Engle was librarian for many years and two of my favorite books of hers were set (The Young Unicorns and A Severed Wasp). We went from there to Concord, Massachusetts and Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott (my mom’s favorite of the places). Finally, we took a ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island and explored the haunts of L.M. Montgomery and Anne. We also got to see the long-running Anne of Green Gables musical in PEI. It is delightful. The trip was a magical adventure for me.

I watched the mini-series over and over. (I loved the first one, liked the second one, and have refused to watch the subsequent ones.)

I read the books with my daughter when she was old enough (probably barely old enough), but she has read them all and re-read some of them. I kind of love that I got to encounter something as special as these new as an adult, but I also love that my daughter has gotten to love them from the beginning.

In the last few years, there seems to have been a new interest in the Anne story. There has been a new PBS series of films starring Martin Sheen as Matthew and Sara Botsford as Marilla. They are fine, but unexciting. I love the actors (I came across the Canadian series E.N.T. starring Sara Botsford when I was in college, so I am super fond of her, and she actually has a minor role in The West Wing as Leo McGarry’s wife and then ex-wife), but somehow they don’t have the charm of the Kevin Sullivan film or the thoughtfulness of the Netflix series.

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That brings me to Anne with an E. It is so good. In some ways it reminds me of the Little House on the Prairie television series from the 70s and 80s. It takes the characters and ideas from the books and tells stories that fit our modern sensibilities. But it really does stay true to the spirit (soul) of the books. It is a beautiful series and takes its ideas of adaptation very seriously. Even when it goes off book, it finds ways to include moments from the books in the story-telling (e.g. Anne makes the liniment cake for the fair instead of for the Allens). It is achingly beautiful in the same way the books are. I have really enjoyed it. The third season is evidently its last, and I am okay with where it has ended. SPOILER ALERT: If we get to keep it like this, Gilbert and Anne get together but Matthew doesn’t have to die. It’s perfect.

As I said in my last post, I love Jo March. I always have. I am Jo March. I was waiting for my Professor Bhaer (and pretty much found him). I will always be Jo. As a kid I read Little Women et al over and over again. But as an adult, it is the Anne books I return to. Maybe she would have been my ideal if I had read her sooner. I don’t know. Maybe she just touches me in womanhood as Jo touched me in childhood. I don’t know. But it is Anne to whom I turn in the wee hours of the morning when I can’t sleep.

And as someone who has chosen and become intimately involved in the Presbyterian church as an adult (later than my first foray into Anne of Green Gables), I find myself fascinated with the theology expressed in the books, in the background in the first few, but much more foregrounded in the later ones. (Montgomery’s spouse was a Presbyterian Pastor.) There is a somewhat comical Presbyterian vs. Methodist theme in the later books, but they also discuss church union (which did happen in Canada) and ideas such as women ministers (which Methodists had at the time and Presbyterians didn’t, but Montgomery seemed to be on the side of yea). There are deep theological conversations that are quite beautiful.

So. I’m kind of sad I missed Anne as a child, but I am glad to have known her as I grew up with her in young adulthood and beyond. There are more adult Anne books than childhood. I love every version of her I have seen. She is memorable, but more than just memorable. There is a richness and vibrancy in her story that wears well.

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seminal american girls part 1 little women

I grew up on Little Women (and Good Wives (my copies were separate) and Little Men and Jo’s Boys and 8 Cousins and The Aunt Hill and Rose in Bloom, all the books I could find by Louisa May Alcott). I read them all, but the ones I read and re-read were the ones about Jo. I rarely argue with an author’s choices, and I never questioned that Jo was right to reject Laurie and that he and Amy were perfect for each other. I also loved Beth with my whole heart because Jo loved Beth, so I don’t understand the people who think Beth is meh. I read Little Women with my daughter and she loved it too. I think she read Little Men and gave Jo’s Boys a good try (she was younger than I was when I first read it, I’m sure).

[DVD] Little Women (1933) Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett *NEW
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I had seen the Katharine Hepburn version and the June Allyson one (sometime when they came on TV). In 1994 I was in exactly the right place for the Gillian Armstrong directed Little Women. I was a first-year teacher feeling a little alone in the world. Winona Ryder’s grown-up Jo drew me in, and I loved Gabriel Byrne’s Professor Bhaer. I also missed some of the things that were left out (of course!). It emphasized the transcendental connection and minimized the ideas of faith on which the novel is built. I thought it was an interesting choice and made sense in the mid-90s, but I wondered if there were room for both.

Little women (Dvd), Movies

I had always heard about the 1978 mini-series (when I would read about Susan Dey in her LA Law days), and so I found a DVD copy of it and my daughter and I watched it. It’s not good, but it was super fun to see this 1970s version with great television actresses and James T. Kirk as Professor Bhaer!?! We also watched the Masterpiece/BBC version that came out in 2018. It seems a little odd to have a BBC production of this seminal American story. It was fine, kind of unmemorable.

And that brings us to the current film. I have been super excited about this film. I watched the trailer, read the reviews. I knew the conceit of time periods. I may have done myself a disservice by suggesting we take my mother-in-law to it for her birthday. She countered by suggesting the Mr. Rogers movie and I expressed my concerns from the reviews I had read about that not being appropriate for the 10-year-old, so we did Little Women. So I had the burden of not just having chosen the movie, but chosen it over the one she really wanted to see. So I was concerned about how everyone else was doing during the movie (and there was a wholly legitimate issue with the theater and my FIL and we were too close and it was making him ill and he was loud about that and I probably should have just waited and taken my girl when we got home.)

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So, given that it wasn’t my best movie-going experience, I still liked the film a lot. As all the reviews I’ve seen have said, it is an excellent movie. It is imaginative and very well-made. It captures the spirit of the girls, gives us a lens into each of them (not just Jo). It includes lots of moments from the book even as it rearranges them into this different narrative style. Like Kristin, I wonder if I would have liked it more if I hadn’t heard all the hype. Unlike Kristin, I’m not sure what I think about knowing about the time jumps going in. I think I would like to have discovered that. I like to think I would have thought it was clever. I think it was a good storytelling device, letting past events illuminate present ones. I think it gives us a glimpse into the world of Louisa May Alcott that is hinted at in the books. I always like Jo and the Professor, so I’m not sure what I think of the ambiguous ending, but I also like the idea of having more models of “you don’t have to be half of a couple to be a whole person.” I can live with it. I continue to think that it is an excellent movie; I’m just not sure it is my Little Women. And if it gives people joy and a look at a book I love, it doesn’t have to be my Little Women.

Now I want to watch both the 1994 version and this one again. Either quietly by myself, or with just my daughter. Then I might be able to take it in a little more.

My last thought: I like the actors, and I think this may be the physically best Jo ever. She really isn’t traditionally beautiful in this film (and that’s one of my sticking points about a lot of films like Jane Eyre or A Wrinkle in Time) but I wondered about using 4 young women none of whom is American. (Emma Watson (Meg) was born in Paris to English parents and moved back to England at age 5 and is quite well known for an iconic role in a well-known series that famously hired no American actors because the characters are British; Soairse Ronan (Jo) was born in NY to Irish parents and moved back to Dublin at age 3; Eliza Scanlon (Beth) is Australian; and Florence Pugh (Amy) is British.) Are there no young American women who can play these 19th century roles? Are Americans too much “personalities?” Were there no unknown American actors or stage actors who could have carried this? The book is staunchly American. There’s a whole chapter about the Brits vs. the Americans and how the British Vaughns look down on Brooke and Meg, the American tudor and governess. I think actors should be able to play whatever parts they can, and I think they were excellent (and we are very fond of Emma Watson around here because Hermione is our favorite), but it still strikes me as an odd set of casting choices.

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decades

As people write about the decade, I have begun to think about it, too.

Each decade has been significant in my existence. My brother was born on the very last day of the 60s (a fact about which he is quite proud) and I was born a year and a half into the 70s. In the 70s, we were born in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We lived for 2 years in Japan. Then we settled in Missouri forever (forever lasted 4 whole years). In Missouri my parents were swept up in the Jesus Movement, were saved, and changed the trajectory of our lives.

In the 80s, we lived for 3 years in Taiwan, my parents teaching at a missionary school. We moved from there to 2 years in a teeny tiny town in Nevada (Jr. High for me). Then a year in Hawaii (9th grade) and on to California where I finished high school and began college in the fall of 1989 at the local UC. In Nevada we became baptists because it was the only “Christian” church in town.

In the 90s, I did college and became a teacher where I had gone to high school. I lived with roommates in college and different roommates after. At the end of the decade, I bought a cute little condo. I went to my parents little baptist church and then to a new church start, still Southern Baptist.

In the 2000s, I quit my life, moved across country, and went to graduate school. Then I met my spouse and moved back to California where I got married, gave birth to 2 children, and finished graduate school. I found a new home in the Presbyterian church (USA).

The 2010s are the first decade in my life where I haven’t moved. At all. Ever. Not even from one house to another in the same zip code. Every other decade I’ve moved at least twice, mostly much more than that, especially if one counts house moves and not just states/countries. I’ve had to learn how to stay instead of leave. My kids are 10 and 1/2 and almost 13, so the 2010s were about having small children, and then elementary school children, and finally tweens. I was re-finding myself. I began to work at the Presbyterian church. I taught a bit here and there. By the end of the decade I have found myself living into a dual calling as a pastor and a professor. I love both. They complement each other. I am grateful. It hasn’t been an easy time. The early years were lonely. The last two years have been full of sorrow. I am currently living out the difficulty of being in the sandwich generation. I am busier than is probably good for me. And yet. It’s been amazing. I am using gifts, and I am appreciated for the gifts I (my introverted bookish self) bring to the table.

I am curious what the 2020s will bring. It seems like it will be more of the same. I am, after all, in a very good place. However, given how each decade of my life has been so different, I have no idea what this one portends.

Cheers!

Selfie of me in a purple shirt with my gray hair.
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