Category Archives: Catholic

Alienating your Audience

Nightwish

I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.

 

 

 


In the service of . . .

I have had cause, recently, to question the focus of my writing.

Part of that, certainly, is that I have had no real success in the field, therefore anything I do is as a newcomer, really. A few small credits, in this world, don’t matter much at all. Large credits are a different matter, but I have none, so “starting over” isn’t going to be very difficult at this point. And, isn’t the absence of credits a sort of proof that my focus is off, somehow?

Another part is my growing cognitive dissonance with the science fiction and fantasy worldview. I love scifi and fantasy– I grew up watching superhero tv shows and watching my dad read science fiction books, for goodness’s sake. One of the first series of books that my dad gave me was Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I will always be a fan and a supporter of the field. My movie tickets, book purchases, and cable tv subscriptions all help to keep it going.

The general feeling one gets, however, is that it’s a field that carries a sort of anti-religious bias. One only has to look at Orson Scott Card (and his recent pariah-like status) to realize that faith, openly defended and forming the basis of one’s work, isn’t going to win you honor and glory. At best, it’s sort of tolerated. At worst, it’s openly scorned. Everyone seems much more comfortable defending a writer whose work borders on pedophilia and rape-apology than defending someone who supports traditional marriage. It’s a pretty screwy situation for an orthodox person to find themselves in.

And I am orthodox . . . I very boringly believe in and follow the traditional teachings of an ancient religion founded in the Bronze Age by barely-literate sheep-herders, modified somewhat by a man who was executed by the Romans for a crime which he didn’t commit, and further expanded upon by a bunch of celibate men who wear funny clothes. And I’m okay with that. I chose this life, chose this faith, and have walked away from both the faith of my forefathers and the agnostic and atheistic leanings of my childhood.

I chose it for love. Some may scorn it, but it’s mine. And something freely chosen, for love, is something that a person ought to integrate into their work . . . at least, as far as they are able.

So I find myself on the cusp of 40, wondering if I can somehow write BETTER if I write things that are more true. Things that are closer to my heart and closer to what we generally accept as reality. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t . . . but I feel the need to explore the idea, anyhow. I’ll never be a theologian, but perhaps I can find another niche.

It’s just a notion, right now, but it’s something I’m going to look into over the coming weeks. Wish me luck.

 


A Day late and a Dollar short

It’s been that kind of week.

Grieving is rough, especially since life doesn’t stop coming at you because you’re hurting. Bad news somehow seems more offensive when you’re mourning someone. It’s like, Really? Today? You have to to tell me that today? . . . You’re tempted to tell people (rudely) to wait their turn to bother you. Grief almost takes the sting out of bad news. Compared to losing someone, what else is significant, really? Biblical plagues, perhaps, Earth-changing news . . . losing someone else . . . but not much else registers.

It really has been like a plague of locusts, though, around here. A swarm of grasshoppers descended on our garden this week. The corn is a complete loss. You walk near it and there’s a deafening series of pops and snaps and cracks as the grasshoppers start jumping from one stalk to another. They’ve eaten the tops of the tomato plants completely off– like they’ve been trimmed with hedge clippers– and they leave tomatoes on the vine with half of them neatly chewed off, almost like they were sliced with a knife. The mammoth sunflowers are just gone, eaten to the ground.

It’s not all a loss. The okra is untouched. The fall squash and pumpkins we planted for the next harvest are both growing up, healthy and green. We had our first watermelon tonight, fresh from the garden. The baby ate slice after slice, until his belly was round and he couldn’t shove another bite in. He reminded me of the grasshoppers, relentlessly munching.

And life does go on, regardless of how I may be feeling. The Skylanders portal broke, so it had to be packed up and shipped back to Activision. Another story rejection came in my email. Two of my kids have birthdays next week, so I have to figure out what they’re getting (and how to find the money to pay for the stuff.) I took my teenage son to the DMV today, to get him a state id card. Didn’t happen– they wanted two pieces of proof that we’re living where we say we’re living, with MY name on them. Since all our utilities are in my husband’s name, we had to get him to sign an affidavit before they’d issue the card. We’ll have to take that back, with the proofs plus his own documentation, but at the end of it he SHOULD have his own identification. He’s going to be 14. It’s time for him to have a wallet, an ID card, and a little allowance to blow on gum and model cars.

Life is different, though. I haven’t become a saint (sadly) . . . but things have changed. The first thing I did, the day after Judy died, was go to Reconciliation at the nearest church. I know I don’t live my life always according to my beliefs. I know that I have been failing miserably at being charitable and loving. So I had to get that junk off of my conscience and start doing better.

And things have been better. Not like “OMG AMAZINGG LIFE IS WONDERFUL!!!” but definitely “I’m much less likely to be a total (obscenity deleted) to everyone I know, at least some of the time.” I can actually talk to my stepson again, which we hadn’t managed for a couple months. I’m trying to be honest and open with people instead of hiding my feelings behind a joke or a lie.

That’s the hard part: being who I really am, instead of hiding it. You can write whole memoirs, autobiographies, and ten-thousand-entry blogs without once giving someone an honest opinion.

And I’ve given up soda pops, cold turkey. I don’t want to be the next victim of a heart attack or a stroke. I need to get in better shape, and I need to do it now. So the Vanilla Coke is gone and I’m eating a lot less overall. If it extends my life even by just one day, it will be worth it.

Because I wouldn’t mind showing up a day late for my funeral, if I’m late for anything at all.


Bad times

This week has been dreadful. A dear friend of mine who has been an important part of my life for 14 years died suddenly yesterday. I’m staggered. Shocked. And very grieved.

And I can answer the question that I posed on Tuesday.

Yes, it’s possible to change. It has to be. Otherwise, what are we to do with these tragedies? Do we just continue in lockstep to our doom? Do we resist change even when the horror of death robs us of a beloved companion?

You can. But I won’t.

Even if I’m riddled with disease and doomed to die soon, I will live each of these days with the certain knowledge that I am choosing to live it in faith and hope and love. Those are the three virtues we’re called to practice. They’re each, in themselves, incredible challenges. But isn’t life an incredible challenge, anyway?

I spent today in bed, physically laid low by my grief. But the best tribute to my friend Judy would be to change the negative things in my life that are limiting me, holding me down, and dooming me to my own early death. I can fight my own disease processes. I can work to become healthier and stronger. And I can try to make sure that everyone in my life knows how important they are to me.


Maps

So I drew a map today. I am not a cartographer or even an artist– it looked like a first grader drew it. But I did manage to get the topography of this world down in a format that made slightly more sense than my mutterings and ramblings. Now, I have to finish this novel so I can toss this map aside and draw an entirely NEW map for the second book. Road trip!

Ahem. Today was a belated errand day, so we hit the library and the Taco Bell for snacks and then the grocery store, where we spent practically all our money to restock the cabinets a bit. At least we have food in the fridge and in the pantry. It was getting pretty barren in there this week.

The library was, as usual, playtime for the boys. They have a routine down– they hit the return slot and insist on returning the books without help, then they grab a drink at the water fountain, and then they race for the children’s section to play with the toys and puzzles. Books only feature in this routine when they’re forced to think about them. We ended up with quite a few books, though, since the Ninja has professed a sudden desire to learn about fish and caterpillars. I managed to game the system so that it would allow me to re-check the Season 3 discs of “Castle.” What can I say, I am an addict.

The boys have their own internal map of the errand route. It’s getting better every trip– I wouldn’t have gone to the Taco Bell except the Ninja spotted it and asked for a taco. I reward polite and thoughtful requests– except when I quash them– so I went with it. At least he didn’t ask for Panda Express. I think I’m going to boycott them now that they’ve changed the chow mein and it’s disgusting.

The map of your childhood is so different from the maps you form in your head once you drive, isn’t it? James McMurtry used that in a song, once, before he got all political and back when his songs were less self-conscious and more elegantly elegiac.

“I woke up in a strange world
I can aptly describe
It’s like the streets of a town where I lived
When I was too young to drive
It all looks so Familiar
But I can’t find my way
I must have got lost in the back yard
When I went out to play.”

I can remember the intricate details of my walk to school (a long walk that took us several blocks from home, and one I’d never send a seven year old down alone, myself.) I can remember the palm trees where my friend’s brothers pelted pigeons with rocks. The Catholic school we cut through even though we supposed it forbidden– the alien-ness of the Catholicism was frightening and there were undoubtedly evil nuns that would chase you down for crossing their grass. I can remember flowerbeds, the smell of the grocery store, the pictures of Herefords that hung in the butcher’s shop . . . but I can’t tell you the street names of the cross streets, and I’d sit for a long while with a blank sheet of paper if you asked me to remember the street routes from my great-grandmother’s house to the real estate office where my dad worked.

If we move, I expect that the kids will have that same lost-and-haunted feeling about the Texas towns they grew up in. It’s never the same when you go home again. It’s suddenly a strange place and you’re an alien, someone who drifted in off a map, exited on the wrong exit, and needs to get back on the freeway.

I feel more at home in the swamps of my fictional world, slogging through mud and watching the stars wheel through the night sky.


Sufficient unto the day

The evils of today have, so far, been pretty humdrum.

I overslept. The boys decided to have wrestling matches in my bedroom while I worked on my novel. Elsa put off working on her homework until the last minute. There were minor squabbles between the boys and their older sister, and at some point a large quantity of shampoo went spiralling down the bathtub drain.

It’s been No Big Deal, so far.

It’s days like this, funnily enough, that lead one away from God a lot faster than the Truly Terrible Days or the Frighteningly Horrific Days or even the Extra Amazing Days. On those days, you remember the fear and trembling that you’re supposed to be using to work out your salvation. Shock and awe work pretty well to remind us that we’re small players in the great big universal scene. Even if you’re not religious (as I wasn’t for the first 24 years of my life), those days humble you, wreck you, break you down to the smallness of a single unit. They’re the easy days for feeling like there’s something bigger than you, or for feeling like you’re a part of something bigger still.

Days like these, you feel like you’ve got them covered. You can handle it on your own. So there’s crumbs in the bed and everybody ate ice cream for dinner, so what? You’re still in charge. You’ve got the keys to the car and you’re the one in the driver’s seat.

It’s really easy to forget to be humble on days like these, because it’s really easy to forget that you’re in charge of exactly jack shit, so to speak.

Our control of life is pretty illusory. Its like the old saying . . . if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Even my best-laid plans, where I had every angle covered and all the supplies in store, always had something go wrong. Traffic, illness, other people . . . especially other people . . . none of those things respect my pretty plans or even my disaster preparedness contingencies.

We’re not supposed to worry about the future if you’re a Christian. Jesus makes it pretty clear– every day has enough worries in it for that day, so worry about today and let tomorrow take care of itself. Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. The hours you spend obsessing about the future are wasted hours– you can’t control it. Etc. If I had spent all the hours that I’ve spent worrying about submissions on writing new stories, I’d probably have had a lot more success by now. If I’d spent the hours that I spent worrying about my kids in actually doing things around the house, I’d live in a lot cleaner and nicer house. All my worrying has done is make me unhealthier (because cortisol is NOT our friend in excess) and waste a whole lot of time that I could have used to improve my life.

But on days like this, it’s so easy to forget. There’s enough money in the bank for groceries, the internet has so many interesting articles to read, and the kids are all healthy– there’s nothing really smacking me in the face saying “WAKE UP, STUPID! YOU’RE MADE OF DUST!”

The evils of the day are sufficient, though. God’s given me enough to worry about for today . . . so I can coast, right? No worries. I don’t have to obsess over all the fears I have for the future. I can just go over to the Dollar General and grab some ice cream and watch tv and I’m covered. As a friend of mine once said, Jesus has my back.

Sigh. Except he gave me these kids. I didn’t make them out of some amazing skill of my very own that I carved out of nothing. And he gave me this day– there’s no guarantee that I’ll have a tomorrow. And the complexity of the universe is way bigger than I can conceptualize. Once we get down to quarks and sub-atomic particles doing time travel and whatnot, I start to get really flipped out. Information overload. I’m living this amazing life, which isn’t amazing due to being rich or snorkeling with sharks or having incredible success, but amazing just because I can exist at all. Odds of existing in a universe that largely seems to be empty? Pretty small. Odds of existing in said universe and also having great kids and a novel that’s going reasonably well and a husband who hasn’t divorced my lazy self? Pretty freakin small. It’s amazing.

The evil of today seems to be my habit of forgetting that. The big evil of today is my inability to keep things in perspective and to start thinking that I’m somehow making the world spin along in a nice groove just by worrying about politics or religion or culture. My worries don’t DO anything except make me crazy. I gotta let em go.

Just have to ask for and hope that I’ve got enough grace and mojo and oomph to actually DO that.