Category Archives: Life

Journal-ish entries about my journey through this world

It’s Hugo Award season!

Yay! One of my favorite seasons.

hugo_award_logoFor a couple years now, we’ve been reading the Hugo nominees and voting on the awards. I don’t have any illusions that my vote “matters” much more than my political vote matters here in South Carolina, but it’s fun to be part of the process (and Hugo nominees don’t flood my airwaves with horrific ads).

Overall – and I’ll start posting specific reviews of individual works shortly – this has been an excellent Hugo season. Granted, the past couple years were pretty rough when the various “Puppies” groups (Sad/Rabid) hijacked the nominations with their “slates” of primarily white/male/power fantasy/old school science fiction.  It’s not that their nominees disagreed with my worldview; it’s that their nominees were terrible.  Like, the writing quality was just appalling. If you want your fiction to resemble an alt-right paradise, knock yourself out. But don’t expect me to give you the time of day if you can’t construct sentences and plots above the level of a high schooler. (With apologies to high schoolers – some of mine wrote waaaay better than those guys.)

Happily, after the “E Pluribus Hugo” adjustment to how things get nominated and voted on for the Hugo Awards, this year’s slate of nominees has been really good. I loved 5 of the 6 novels, and all 6 were worthy of nomination. The short stories were solid; the “Related Works” category includes essays by Neil Gaiman and Ursula LeGuin for a refreshing change after a couple years of terrible crap from the Pepe-loving crowd. Next up, I’m reading novels, novelettes, and graphic novels. Might not get to the ancillary content, but that’s ok…. the bottom line is, if you want some good summer reading, check out the Hugo 2017 nominees!

*****

I’ll just treat this like a grab-bag of content, since it’s been a while since my last post.  Honestly, there’s a ton of great stuff to read, watch, and play right now, and it’s been hugely tempting for me to consume content rather than create it.

I wrapped up my play through of Mass Effect: Andromeda (my review stayed essentially the same) and need to play the last chapter of The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine DLC, which as a game add-on is better than most of the games I’ve played in the past couple years. (My review of Witcher 3 is here.) Thanks, CD Projekt Red, for ruining pretty much any game I’m going to play in the next decade with your ridiculously high-quality writing.

I’ve also returned to the siren song of the Steam Summer Sale to grab Stellaris (like Civilization, but in space, and different, sorta) and Firewatch (haven’t played it yet so no spoilers) and Undertale (which everybody says is amazing but I can’t figure out what the hell is happening in the first level and I just feel stupid).

141f21cc5a2b69d81f9835ce4bc33238ba5e070aNetflix released a little series called GLOW and it was a laugh and a half for sure. Yes, it really is based on a little-known 80s era women’s WWF show called “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” and yes it packs in all the 80s nostalgia you can handle. Because GenX is now in the driver’s seat when it comes to nostalgia-driven media and ad campaigns, and I can feel a whole lot of 80s/90s throwbacks in our near future. *tips hat*

Oh yeah, movies! Summer has been a bit dry, but I really enjoyed Baby Driver (as did everybody else, if the Tomatometer is to be believed) and looooved Wonder Woman. Check out this cool piece on Wonder Woman’s WWI setting by the folks at War Is Boring. I’m looking forward to the Valerian film and Dunkirk, for very different reasons.

Even music has been on point lately. I should probably write a separate post about seeing U2 in Chicago a couple weeks ago, playing Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary.  Absolutely worth the trip. Led me to look up 80s era U2 videos and gape at their baby faces. Apple Music led me to a couple neat albums in the past few weeks. Looks like their service is finally coming into its own with a good recommendation engine. *fingers crossed*

#u2thejoshuatree2017 #livemusic

A post shared by RameyLady (@lorojoro) on Jun 4, 2017 at 8:04pm PDT

The Backstory: Reborn for the 4th of July

My Backstory series offers stories about my upbringing and background. You can find the whole series under the category “Biography,” if you’re interested.

When I was a teenager, I watched Born on the Fourth of July when it finally showed on TV. I doubt my parents would have let me watch it if I’d asked them for permission, but they weren’t around at the time and I thought it was a war film, so I watched it. The story disturbed me deeply for a long time.

I gaped at the screen as the soldiers shot up a Vietnamese village in the haze of war (and bad decisions). I watched as Ron Kovic, the central character, fell apart after the war was over, screaming in rage at his disability and his broken life. We didn’t talk about PTSD in my household. My dad considered the Vietnam vets ‘soft’ – too fragile to handle war like his Korean buddies or World War II relatives had done.  I didn’t know how to process Kovic’s protest at the RNC – in my life, Republicans were good guys (though my parents’ relationship with the political parties was a lot more complicated than I realized). It was a provocative film that hit me when I wasn’t at all used to being provoked.

I was raised in a sheltered environment by parents with strongly conservative viewpoints on most issues. B4J challenges the American mythos surrounding war, military service, and veterans even as it plays into the stereotype of Vietnam vets as baby killers and mentally ill.

At the time I had no background or preparation for handling the ideas that I had encountered, whether it was the sex, the language, or the attack on the simplistic view of America as entirely good and right (always on the winning side, always the righteous side). And I didn’t feel like I could really talk to my parents about it, since some of what bothered me so deeply was the content that they would have banned me from seeing in the first place.

So it lodged deeply in my mind and I tried not to think about it, though the ideas would surface occasionally and create an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. It would be decades before I learned enough history to come to grips with how Vietnam altered  American consciousness of the late 20th century; how film is its own rhetorical form, demanding assessment and critique and a recognition of the storyteller’s own bias; and how Americans tell ourselves myths about our own heroism to bury our national guilt that we should be feeling about our own nation’s imperialism and oppression.

Kovic reminded me of one of my brothers’ friends, a man whose name I’ve since forgotten, who showed up at our house one day in a black T-shirt, aviator sunglasses, and a cowboy hat.  Visitors were rare, so this hard-drinking, hard-smoking man stood out. He was older than my brother by at least a decade or two, and nothing was ever quite right for him after his Vietnam service. My dad closed the door after they left and felt sorry for the guy, hoped he’d find his way eventually. The vet was dead (as I recall) a few months later, the victim of a collision with a semi that sheared off the top of his convertible.

My relationship with America grows complicated as I grow older. A nation is more than the sum of its citizens.  I now begin to understand those few places in the Gospels where Jesus talks about evaluating nations (dividing sheep from goats) as if that is a separate process from judging individuals.

I choke up at a booming fireworks display overtop “God Bless the USA” even as I tremble in anger at our callous destruction of Native peoples because our leaders believed God and political power were on the side of our “manifest destiny.” We like to paint ourselves as the hero in every picture, perhaps because America is barely a teenager in nation-years, and we’re too stubborn or arrogant to listen to the older nations around us.  My Italian grandfather fled one of those old nations to start anew in America a century ago, where he drank heavily and beat his wife and abused my dad who grew up in abject immigrant poverty. Yet here I am, a college graduate, thanks to the sacrifice of my parents.

With the upstart hubris of a Silicon Valley start-up whiz kid, America  blazed forward in the 20th century – and we’re unwilling to admit in the daylight that we might have gotten a head start over the rest of the developed world by not hosting two bloody and destructive world wars on our own soil, as if our own wisdom and not geographical realities had the most to do with it.

I’m proud of my nation and appalled, and those two feelings churn in my stomach – ever more so in 2017, this ridiculous, stupid year. Perhaps I’ll rewatch Born on the Fourth of July this holiday weekend to see if its effect stemmed from my adolescent naiveté or the power of its story. This time around, I know too much about the world to be shocked. I’ll just be sad.

Birthday

Enjoyed seeing several folks yesterday we haven’t seen in a while. Since my birthday is a federal holiday this year, I plan to keep celebrating all weekend. But this was a good start. 😉

 

 

Interesting read: The Radium Girls

Sat in a bookstore over the weekend and read a large portion of the book Radium Girls. These factory women went from being some of the highest paid workers in the 1910-20s to ravaged by radium poisoning from their work. Though the companies fought hard to deny it, a few remaining (dying) “radium girls” sued the companies and won – these were landmark cases in establishing workers’ rights to sue for occupational diseases.  The book is a rapid read and leans more toward entertainment-style writing rather than hard science, but Moore unpacks the women’s story well. Check it out next time you’re in a bookstore.

The Radium Girls were so contaminated that if you stood over their graves today with a Geiger counter, the radiation levels would still cause the needles to jump more than 80 years later. They were small-town girls from New Jersey who had been hired by a local factory to paint the clock faces of luminous dials.

Source: The Radium Girls and the Generation that brushed its Teeth with Radioactive Toothpaste

What’s a man to do with his epiphanies? — Chris White HQ

“Could it be that this all of this op-ed commentary about pop culture serves more to fill our empty places—those places deep within us that desire to make and say and express but are completely disengaged within the context of the kind of lives most of us live as consumers, not makers. Have we all become so obsessed with commentary and critique because actually making and creating is just too damn hard?”

Source: What’s a man to do with his epiphanies? — Chris White HQ

Idea for a course on “rhyming history”: lessons from the past to navigate today

History rhymesSupposedly Mark Twain said something like, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes,” and with that in mind, I was struck by the quality of book recommendations in this conversation I had with a Facebook friend today.

My friend, who does social media under the name “Theo Logos,” is a voracious reader – well outpacing anything I could hope for in my paltry Goodreads goals for the year – and our conversation this morning about Mark Twain’s disdain for Teddy Roosevelt turned into an outline for what would seem to be an incredible college course (or personal reading journey) through turn of the century American imperialism.

While Trump’s policy speeches have turned from American intervention abroad toward an inward focus on insular defense (buttressed by a jump in nationalistic rationale), I think Trump’s underlying view of the world remains about as imperialistic (might I say even jingoistic?) as anything Americans saw from their leaders in the late 1800s.

Few history courses teach high schoolers or college students about the horrors of the Philippine war – an assault by America against Philippine sovereignty justified by the US protecting its own interests. Yet that is one reason why Mark Twain looked upon his own age with horror.  American leaders (like Teddy Roosevelt) who occupy a nostalgic corner in my brain were the men who offended Twain the most because of their policies and aims.

As soon as we were old enough to walk by ourselves as a nation, the US has used its might (later buoyed by the decimation of Europe and parts of Asia in World War II) to further our agenda in the world.  Often this has resulted in geopolitical disaster. Consider the aftermath of the US overthrowing democratically elected governments in the 1950s and 1960s because we were afraid those nations would align themselves with the USSR. We installed fascists and dictators into places like Argentina, Chile, and Iran so that we could control them.  Usually, that ended poorly.  Sometimes it created a horrific mess leading to disasters like the rise of ISIS.  We need to learn from past mistakes, and studying the roots of American imperialism offers much.

Plus, looking at history through the eyes of literature and culture makes history come alive, and offers readers/students a sense of context for the biting satire that Twain and others produced during this rough and tumble age in American politics.

So I’d like to put this out here in case any history teachers want to take up the challenge to create a course about the way American imperialism rhymes with current political discourse about defense spending and immigration restrictions.  

We need to learn history’s lessons so we can stop repeating them, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Below the screenshots, I will link out to the books and articles mentioned here.

American Empire pt 1 American Empire pt 2 American Empire pt 3 American Empire pt 4

Essay: To the person sitting in darkness (Twain)

Short Story: The War Prayer (Twain)
YouTube: https://youtu.be/6BW0agONujg

Book: The True Flag; Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire, by Stephen Kinzer (Amazon)

Book: The Statesman and the Storyteller: John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism, by Mark Zwonitzer (Amazon)

Book: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, by Evan Thomas (Amazon)

Novel: Empire, by Gore Vidal (Amazon)
One way to understand the past is to embrace a well-written fictional retelling. Vidal’s incarnation of the Gilded Age brings home this age of excess.

And for more, you can visit Theo’s full shelf of books on American Imperialism at his Goodreads feed (Goodreads)

Approaching the “Can’t Even”

I’ve been largely silent for most of the past several months both here and in much of social media. One part of that reticence flows from my growing feeling that I don’t have anything to say that’s worth taking your time and attention to read. That’s a complex set of feelings and thoughts which I will not take time to unpack here.

But for the past 2 months or so, the pall of the 2016 election has hung over my mind and contributed to my unwillingness to write.

The last time I gave much of a damn about politics, it was 1988 and I was a middle schooler fascinated by the race between HW Bush and Dukakis. I wrote a fun ditty making fun of some of Dukakis’s positions and mailed it to Vice President Bush. Probably because I was a kid, his office nicely responded on official White House stationery to thank me for the letter, and I stored the signed letter in my photo album for safekeeping. I followed politics voraciously from 1987-1988, then dropped it. I’m not really sure if it was just adolescent ADD or a wise-beyond-my-years intuition that politics is primarily bullshit and power-mongering, two things I hate more than nearly anything else.

I grew up in a household of former Democrats who found themselves voting Republican due to social issues, where soft racism was de rigueur but not supported by an ideology of hate to give it root. The Gulf War was good, for it was a show of American might; Bill Clinton was a lying scoundrel. As I moved into college, where Republican policy was equivalent to God’s own morality, Bill Clinton advanced to the status of Anti-Christ and “God’s judgment on America.” I remember Dr Bob in chapel exhorting us on the eve of the 1996 election to beseech God to spare America from having to endure four more years of that heathen in charge. God apparently didn’t see fit to intervene, or maybe He too was bored to tears by Bob Dole and decided to just let things run their course. Either way, the economy prospered during Clinton’s second term, Clinton shocked everyone with brazen denial of oral sex in the Oval Office (I really hope they fumigate those rooms before the next President moves in, you know?), and America survived to endure the 2000 “hanging chad” election debacle. Regardless, I’d moved on.

I’ve spent my life in education, not politics, on purpose. I feel like i can get somewhere in education; maybe not in the realm of policy (who the hell thought this assessment-driven disaster was a good direction for public education?!) but at least in individual lives.

For years I’ve avoided the political news cycle other than to stay informed as a citizen. I’ve written the occasional email to my representatives, usually for local or state issues, and watched the national circus from the sidelines. If America were to follow Britain’s example and limit the campaign season to 3 months, I’d cry with joy. This circus is shameful, self-aggrandizing. It’s everything that’s the worst of America’s adolescent age.

But Trump? this is a new level of horror. To watch a boorish, rude, egocentric, power-hungry narcissist step into the office of President and thrash about with his base appeals to the lowest common denominator of American culture … I can’t even.

I literally. can’t. even.

How do we live in the era of “Can’t Even”? That’s been the thought simmering in the back of my mind these past several weeks. A friend on Facebook added me to his “Resist45” Facebook group for local community organization and resistance to destructive Trumpism. Other than standing on a corner with a sign, nobody there has brought forward a concrete plan for change, for taking those baby steps out of my comfortable house into my neighborhood to “work for change.”

But this posture of fear and disgust and indifference is ultimately a lack of faith on my part. I was thinking today, on this day when we celebrate the legacy of MLK Jr and his fearless pursuit of justice at a time when the prevailing culture had little stomach for it, that the people of God have usually lived in the Time Of Can’t Even. A remnant of godly Israelites wept by the shores of Babylon and sang David’s psalms with little hope of seeing their homeland again. The Romans, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Philistines all stomped through the land where the believers in Yahweh lived, and God’s counsel to them was never to despair. How dare I simmer in my own discontent?

Jesus came preaching that His Kingdom is not of this world. But understand: The heavenly reality of God’s rule does not absolve us from earthly work. Instead, it grounds us in a deeper foundation of Justice whose name is also Yahweh-Yireh, the God Who Provides. We serve El – Roi, the God Who Sees both Hagar, tormented and neglected by the man and woman who should have cared for her, as well as those whom we allow by our apathy to be eaten up by the powerful of this world in their pursuit of riches and glory.

There are no neutral decisions. Whether I get paper or plastic at BiLo affects the mountain of non-degradable trash sickening our planet. The choice forces me to consider the consequences of living in America’s “disposable” culture. I’m wasteful; I’m complacent. I buy more than I need. I buy clothes that could not be so cheap unless they were sewn in a sweatshop in Indonesia by people who’s lives are marked by misery and hunger and oppression.

And why am I even buying clothes? My closet is full, while my grandparents (and parents, when they were children) owned a mere handful of garments – so little that everything could fit in a “wardrobe” (if they owned one) with space for maybe 10 hangers and a few drawers. This consumption and capitalism of ours is foolishness, a chasing after wind. Go read Ecclesiastes. Even the king dies. What happens to everything he owns? A fool inherits it. It does him no good in Sheol, where he’s going.

I don’t know how I’m going to live in “Trump’s America.” The thought still turns my stomach, honestly. But to disengage, to indulge myself in the “can’t evens,” is faithless and cowardly.

A dear friend once commented that the Holy Spirit was challenging her on her addiction to peace, peace for herself at any cost. She was facing a difficult period with her sons and every day was a horrible battle of wills full of anger and fear and pain. In that context, no one could blame her for just trying to “keep the peace.” But that is where the Spirit pressed her. Doing what is best for others and for the Kingdom often requires sacrificing our peace, the longing we have to remain where things are comfortable and safe.

I do not know what it will look like for me to live in Trump’s America, but I’m confident that “loving my neighbor” will be more important than ever. And since “Grace always costs the giver,” I pray that I will have the courage to love. I invite you to challenge me, friends, to embody that sentiment in action, not mere words.

the-ultimate-measure-of-a-man