“You either live life—bruises, skinned knees and all—or you turn your back on it and start dying.” – Captain Christopher Pike
This line, from the pilot episode of Star Trek, pops up again in Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The line has some resonance for me, especially as I get older. It is tempting to tell myself I’m too old to learn new skills, but that’s not true. One skill I plan on honing: typing. A recent text chat with a longtime friend brought up the topic of typing, and since we were using text as a way of communicating, the message that came through loud and clear was that I suck at typing.
I never took typing in high school because there was never time for it in my schedule. Half of my school day was taken up with music classes (concert choir, jazz band, wind ensemble, etc.); I had to take both summer school and night school just to squeeze in my required history courses. Typing seemed like a class for students with no higher aspirations than secretarial work. How wrong I was!
These days, we spend a lot of time typing on computers and smartphones, and I wish I were better at it. The need for solid typing skills has never been made more apparent than in these past few weeks, when most communication cannot be done face-to-face, and we must rely on the written word more than ever.
Some time ago, I gave some advice on how to succeed in college. I would like to add to that list: Learn to type! It is a skill that will serve you well! I am taking this advice myself. There are plenty of online sites that will teach you to type, many of them free. I am currently using typing.com. I’m sure your local library also has books and tools to help you learn to type, so once they are open again you can take advantage of that resource.
Yes, even an old dog like me can learn new tricks!
“Get busy living or get busy dying.” – Andy Dufresne and “Red” Redding
One of Roger Ebert’s movie rules is that whenever two characters are talking and one of them quotes the Bible, the other will immediately respond with book, chapter and verse, as if everyone in the world had the Bible memorized. I’ve noticed this too, including in one of my favorite musicals, Guys & Dolls. Memorizing Bible passages is a neat parlor trick, and can make one appear intelligent, like people who randomly quote Shakespeare but never read his plays, but mere memorization does equal understanding.
Worse, memorizing quotes to support a pet belief or bias—prooftexting—weaponizes the Bible in a manner that is misleading and dangerous. You want support for slavery? It’s in there. You want some “proof” that homosexuality is a sin? It’s there. In short, if you need backup for just about any prejudice you may harbor, you can find it in the Bible if you look hard enough and don’t worry about the larger context.
It was only a few generations ago that slaveholders turned to the Bible to justify their inhumane “peculiar institution.” Abolitionists were hard-pressed to find any Biblical support for their cause. Now we look back at those slaveholders waving their Bibles and say, “How could those people be so wrong, so bigoted, so hateful?” Now Mike Pence and a whole band of anti-gay pastors are pounding their Bibles to justify their homophobia. The current trend among this crowd is to blame the COVID-19 pandemic on gays, claiming it is punishment from God, and using the Bible as “proof.” There will come a day—not soon enough—that the world will look back on these folks and say, “How could those people be so wrong, so bigoted, so hateful?”
“The portrayal of the Bible as a source of infallible truth does not arise from a reading of the Bible itself, but is a monstrous imposition upon it…Perhaps the greatest irony in the history of the Bible is that it itself has so often been treated as an idol, and venerated with a reverential attitude while its message is ignored.” (John J. Collins, Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism at Yale University, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 3rd edition, p. 393)
Here are two books I’m currently reading: The Common English Bible Study Bible (With Apocrypha) and The Big Book of Science Fiction. I realize this pairing of books lends itself to jokes, and I didn’t put them together this morning by accident. They highlight a problem that has baffled humankind for centuries, if not millennia. What we are taught to believe does not always mesh with what our minds tell us.
I was raised in a Christian environment, and like many other people, there came a point in my childhood when I noticed a divergence between what I heard in church and what I heard at school. I remember feeling a great sense of relief when our church pastor’s sermon one Sunday promised to resolve the disparity. He told a story about a student not unlike myself who had approached his own pastor with a science textbook and a Bible, demanding to know how to resolve the two. The pastor in the story said, “The Bible is God’s word; the textbook is man’s word. We use the Bible in church to learn about God’s world, and we use the textbook in school to learn about man’s world.”
I was not happy with this answer. It was cleverly said, but resolved nothing. The pastor’s response skirted around the question in an effort to please both sides, but did not do justice to either. I have no satisfactory solution, but I know that asking the questions and searching diligently with open minds for the answers is a worthwhile pursuit. So I will continue to study theology AND science.
Here are two websites that are good places to start:
Today is Easter. When I was a kid, Easter meant a fun search for candy eggs to start the day, extra special music at church, and usually a big lunch with extended family. Even if I didn’t get much out of the theology of the resurrection as a youngster, it was still a day of celebration.
But Easter 2020 finds the world in rough shape. There are no church services on account of coronavirus, except for some irresponsible and foolish congregations that think they are somehow immune to the disease. Family gatherings must be kept to a minimum. Restaurants are closed. Not to mention the many other crises currently affecting the planet. And to boot, it’s a dark, cold, rainy, ugly day weather-wise.
Oddly enough, I’ve been taking comfort in an unusual book: Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. It’s an account of the visions that came to a Middle Age anchoress in 1373. When she wrote about her experiences, she wrote in Middle English, but I’m reading in a Modern English translation (Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-964118-5). I’ve never wholly bought into the phenomenon of holy visions, and I can’t say whether the things Julian saw were the product of a fever, an overactive imagination, or actual visits from a holy being. But her writing is lovely and affecting. Maybe reading her words is the best way I can celebrate Easter this year.
I have plugged John and Hank Green’s excellent online education series of videos, Crash Course, previously. Most recently, I suggested it as one of several options for how to spend time productively during the current COVID-19 crisis. (https://barefootvoosk.com/2020/03/19/10/)
The newest Crash Course video was just released this morning, and it is an especially poignant and disturbing one: The Holocaust,Genocides, and Mass Murder of WWII: Crash Course European History #40
This might not seem like the best viewing material for a world in the midst of a global pandemic, but let’s not forget that the problems that existed just before we all went into quarantine still exist. Climate change still exists. The United States still faces challenges to democracy under the current administration. And hatred still exists in all its many forms: racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry, etc.
The Holocaust happened, and not all that long ago. There are still many people alive today who remember it. George Orwell’s allegory Animal Farm, which I also mentioned recently, shows just how quickly authoritarianism can take root, and just how easily hatred can erase equality. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It’s happened before. If we’re not careful, it can happen again.
Since I’ve been talking about science fiction, perhaps this would be a good time to mention one of my favorite authors: Kurt Vonnegut. One of the things that most appeals to me about his writing is the meta-ness of it. His novels sometimes contain generous helpings of autobiography, as in Slaughterhouse Five, and many of them are aware that they are novels, as with Breakfast of Champions. Then there is Kilgore Trout, the failed science fiction writer who pops up in many of Vonnegut’s books. We are given many samples of Trout’s writing, and Trout himself frequently appears within the story. His reality is multi-leveled; sometimes he is the author, and sometimes he is the innocent creation.
Time travel is also a frequent Vonnegut theme, and provides the central conceit for his last novel, Timequake. It’s no wonder time travel appeals to science fiction writers; it offers possibilities and paradoxes by the score! (Incidentally, that’s the second time in this blog post that I’ve use a semi-colon, which Vonnegut would have strongly opposed.) And here I can use time travel to tie Kurt Vonnegut to another writer whose work I admire: Harlan Ellison. Trekkies regard Ellison’s time travel episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” one of the best in all the Star Trek canon.
I am 55. Getting older is hard. Things hurt that never used to hurt. I have less energy than I used to. I also have less optimism about both my own prospects and the prospects for the world at large. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic with no clear end in sight. Here in the USA, we have a leader whose sense of obligation doesn’t extend past his own skin, and our elected officials don’t seem to have any interest in reigning him in, or really in doing anything other than continuing to amass more wealth and power for themselves. It’s hard not to feel helpless.
I intend to step into all of this bad news and try to come up with some ways to cheer myself up. With any luck, I’ll be able to help at both individual and global levels. It’s a tall order. That’s what I’ll be chronicling here.
To start with, during this time of closures, cancellations, and quarantines, there’s never been a better time to read. An organization I support and believe in is Library of America. According to their website, “Library of America, a nonprofit organization, champions our nation’s cultural heritage by publishing America’s greatest writing in authoritative new editions and providing resources for readers to explore this rich, living legacy.” Think of them as the good guys in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, making sure great writing is preserved in high quality books so that the history, knowledge, and learning preserved in them doesn’t disappear. You can buy directly from them, or make a donation to the cause (they are a non-profit) at their website. Even better: You can buy their books through your local bookstore, which accomplishes two good deeds at the same time!
Here’s a problem with blogging: I hate typing. Not only do I hate it; I suck at it. I can’t type three words in a row without having to correct a dozen typos. (Well, that’s probably a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.) And no matter how much I practice typing, no matter what methods or typing courses I attempt, I never get any better. So typing remains a frustrating enterprise. I’d much rather hand write everything, but that doesn’t help much when sooner or later whatever I write has to find its way onto the computer in order to find its way into the blogosphere.
I never took typing in high school. I had so many music classes during my day that there was simply never room for it in my schedule. I had to take both night school and summer school as it was in order to complete my American and World History requirements. When I graduated, I had WAY more credits than I needed, but typing was not one of them. And forget those rumors you may have heard about piano players being good typists; I can prove that one wrong!
My plans, as is the case with most people lately, have changed. My original intention with this blog was to narrate my attempts to find something positive about reaching age 55. Foremost in my search was to be a new job—something to replace my two part-time jobs. Well, thanks to COVID-19, both of those part-time jobs are now gone, along with two theatrical productions I was counting on for not only some extra income but also to scratch my itch to perform. You see, I play piano and low brass and was just wrapping up tech week, previews, and the first two performances of Singin’ In The Rain at the Des Moines Playhouse. Rehearsals had already begun on a production of Guys & Dolls at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). Both shows cancelled. Losing two jobs and two shows in less than two weeks hurts. A lot.
Okay, so this blog about me—Who cares? For starters, I do, and since I’m doing the writing here, my vote carries some weight! A less glib answer: I’ve been looking for a blog, vlog, website, chat group, etc. for others with whom I share some experiences and concerns. I am 55, married but with no kids, struggling financially, frequently feeling as if my ship has sailed and I missed it. My guess is that one or more of those situations resonates beyond only me. If so, maybe we can have a conversation about it!