Halloween Creatures

Monday, October 29, 2012

Here's a poem I wrote in keeping with the season.
Halloween Creatures

Wisp of smoke or waterless cloud,
No door can keep it out;
Straight from Hamlet or Macbeth;
A restless, wandering spirit.
See the track upon the ground
As Satan slithers by;
Listen when the rattle sounds,
Avoid the forked tongue.
Sonar guides it through the night,
Its wings spread like a cloak;
Bloody teeth and lapping tongue
Betray its source of food.
Robbed from a grave at midnight
To become an anatomy lesson;
Bones suspended from a hook
Resembling a hangman's noose.
Gloomy barn corner houses a web
Where sits a poisonous predator;
After sex it kills its mate,
Making itself a widow.
Which sinister creature takes the prize
For most creepy and terrifying?
Not ghost, rattlesnake, vampire bat,
Skeleton or black widow spider.
Without costume, make-up, or mask
To enhance or hide its features,
The scariest creature of all
Stares back from my mirror.

Backwards Priorities

Monday, October 22, 2012

Two weeks ago I wrote about taking responsibility for our children. In that blog post, I mentioned that a member of my writing group was forced to ask two boys to be quiet after the "responsible" adults ignored their antics. After I left, coffee house staff apparently admonished my friend for embarrassing the mother.


Embarrassing the mother by asking her to control two boys who raced around coffee house tables and yelled like banshees?

Embarrassing the mother by suggesting that she and her children be considerate of other customers?

Embarrassing the mother by saving the coffee house from a potential lawsuit if the boys had fallen or bumped into something and injured themselves or other patrons?

Embarrassing the mother by asking for a little common courtesy?

She should be embarrassed. So should the coffee house staff, who have their priorities backwards.

I don't feel sorry for either the mother or the staff, but I do feel sorry for the boys. Who is going to teach them to be responsible adults?

Apparently nobody.

Life of Pi

Monday, October 15, 2012

I don't normally write book reviews, but I just finished reading Life of Pi, and it was riveting.

Life of Pi would probably be classified as young adult fiction, but older adults will enjoy it, too. It contains very little sex or language, but it is not for the squeamish.

The story has two narrators. The first is the author, who describes how he came to know the grown-up Pi and learn his story. The main narrator, however, is Pi himself. Or, more accurately, Piscine Molitor Patel.

Pi's story starts when he is a young boy growing up in India, where his father owns a zoo. During the first part of the book, we become acquainted with Pi and his family. This section is also a course in zoology and a study of three religions: Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The religious thread makes for a fascinating philosophical discussion that holds our interest because of the way the three religions intersect in Pi's life. Although Pi doesn't resolve the issue the way the Bible does, it is a thought-provoking read that will make Christians reflect upon their faith.

The main part of the story begins when Pi's father decides to sell his zoo and move his family to Canada. Most of the animals have been sold to zoos in the United States, so Pi, his parents, and his older brother board a Japanese freighter that Pi's father has hired to transport them and the animals to North America.*

The freighter sinks in the middle of the ocean, and Pi ends up in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. The real adventure begins as Pi struggles to survive.

Canadian author Yann Martel is an artist with words. While reading the novel, I clearly saw the power of nature and experienced Pi's limited but often terrifying world.

The movie is coming on November 21. It has the potential for wonderful cinematography, but even the best cinematographer can't match the word pictures Martel paints in the pages of his novel.

I'll wait for the reviews before I decide whether to see the movie. From the trailer, it looks like the script may have added a love story, and that makes me wonder what else it changed. It wouldn't bother me if they eliminated the religious thread at the beginning of the story since that wouldn't translate well onto the screen. But if they changed the surprise ending, that would spoil everything. I'm not talking about the fact that Pi survives: we know that from the beginning. But the ending is one of the things that makes this a great story.

So don't wait for the movie. Read the book and discover the ending for yourself.

* The picture shows a car ferry that operates on Lake Michigan, and it is probably nothing like the cargo ship Pi and his parents left India on. But I don't have any tigers or ocean freighters among my photo library, so it's the best I could do without violating someone's copyright.

They're Your Responsibility

Monday, October 8, 2012

Your children are your responsibility.

I belong to a writers' critique group that meets at a coffee house on Saturday afternoons. We read our work to the group and then discuss how to improve our writing.

It's a family-friendly coffee shop, and we often see children there. It even has a bookshelf filled with books and puzzles and games to keep young visitors entertained. They do get a little rowdy sometimes, but their parents hush them and we go on reading.

Not this past Saturday.

Two women came in with three children in tow. While the women ordered their coffee, the two boys raced around and around the tables where we were meeting. They were faster and far noisier than two squirrels chasing each other around a tree. We couldn't hear our members read.

We waited for the women to say something. Nothing.

Or maybe one of the employees would speak up. No.

Finally one of our members stood up and politely but firmly told the boys they were being rude. He also asked the responsible adults to control the children. One of the women said something I couldn't hear, but I didn't get the impression that she was apologizing.

To the boys' credit, they immediately sat down and stopped making noise. I'm assuming they just didn't think about how their actions affected others until someone pointed it out.

But a stranger shouldn't have to be the one to bring it to their attention.

Yes, children do act like children. I'll even admit that I let mine get away with more than I should have. But I drew the line at letting them disrupt other people.

Because they were my responsibility.

The Changing of the Guard

Monday, October 1, 2012

Having a new choir director is different. Not better. Not worse. Just different.

David Brandt was directing the Senior Choir in 1979 when I got married and joined St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Dave was already a legend by then, but he served another 33 years before stepping down this summer.

He was replaced by Lydia Gallup, straight out of college with a music degree. Her approach to choir directing is very different.

When Dave was the director, we practiced approximately eight pieces in an hour. We sang through them, beginning to end, using the entire choir and the full accompaniment. Then we would go back and work on the problem areas. We sometimes did a piece a second time if we were floundering, but a section--soprano, alto, tenor, or bass--would go over its part separately only if it was having noticeable problems with a particular spot in the music.

Lydia concentrates on three or four pieces and doesn't plan to get all the way through the ones we won't sing for several weeks. She takes each part one at a time, then combines two of them, then the other two, and finally puts them all together. When she is doing two parts she mixes them up: instead of always doing soprano and alto together and tenor and bass together, it might be alto and tenor or soprano and tenor and so on.

Dave's method is good for people who read music. Lydia's is better for those who can't. And the Senior Choir has always had some of both. Dave's way worked because each section had good readers with strong voices for the poorer readers to follow. Lydia's works because even those of us who do read music can benefit by personalized (sectional) attention.

There have been other changes, too. Some members dropped out because the practice evening changed and they have conflicts. Others joined, or rejoined, because the change in day resolved their conflicts. The biggest change in composition came in the alto section. Two former sopranos have switched to alto to fill out the section. I'm one of them, and it's an adjustment. I sang alto in my younger days, but that was a long time ago.

Even so, the choir is doing fine.

There are also ways in which Lydia reminds me of a younger Dave. Liturgy-wise, she is a traditionalist who wants to reacquaint the congregation with chanting the Psalms and doing Matins. And both directors have the same passion for music and choir directing.

Still, things are different since the guard changed. Not better. Not worse. Just different.