Tuesday, December 01, 2009

My O-pinion

Oprah Winfrey had the temerity to announce the ending of her talk show in 2011 while this Oprah expert was otherwise engaged. It ain't over tomorrow, but The End Is Near. This is completely consistent with her style of doing things that are economically prudent and psychologically smart (she would say soul-smart); when you get the lesson, it's over. There are new worlds to conquer on cable; a lot of us can sympathize with the need for ongoing learning and new challenge. She sure doesn't need the money. She also has some time to cultivate a structure for succession that is not now in place. Ellen? Dr. Oz? Oprah already helps produce the latter's show. As the O-empire has grown, she has taken her hands off lots of things. The culture pundits say her influence will wane; I think it's morphing, going where the action is, with niche audiences and concerns.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Setting a place for a stranger

For the past three Thanksgivings we have hosted foreign students from the Illinois Institute of Technology who don't have any place convenient or special to go on the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It's always delightful to share experiences and lots of American food with our intrepid visitors so far from their comfort zones. Yesterday our guest was Long from Wuhan, China, who had never visited an American home before. Welcome to ours, which was clean, about the size he was used to, and filled with food and a lot of laughter that we sometimes had to explain to our guest. (We tried to explain what a pun was.) He wasn't used to turkey, and his mother had lost her job in China when she violated China's one-child policy and had his little brother. I've been a stranger myself in strange lands, and know that a lot can be learned over a plate of food.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Riding on the City of New Orleans

The trains do run on time these days, give or take 15 minutes, which is a lot better than most airlines can say about themselves. I took Amtrak's City of New Orleans from Chicago to the Big Easy for the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. What a trip. Big windows, legroom (a lot better than most airlines can say...), space and time to work, space to walk. Easy access: I walked into the New Orleans train station less than half and hour before my train left and was aboard the train 10 minutes later, no security lines, no overpriced remote parking, no quarter-mile walk to the departure gate.

Then there's the view (when I'm not working, of course): the weird big waterbirds of the Louisiana bayous, pelicans and egrets standing stock-still or flapping their big wings aloft. Knobby-kneed cypress forest that looks a little primeval to my Midwestern eye. Shack dwellings made of corrugated metal and tar-papered roofs, landscaped with old cars and really old dead appliances. Little towns, big cities: Memphis, Jackson.

Then there's the company: my dinner companion was a woman returning from her class reunion at Xavier University in New Orleans, the only historically black Catholic institution of higher ed in the western hemisphere. We talked about her growing up years in pre-civil rights Selma, Ala. In the morning I met a couple from Atlanta. She had come from England in the 1960s and her interest in religions had led her to try Sufi dervish dancing. He was a vertical caver with a keen interest in Robert E. Lee (who founded a journalism school, which this journalist did not know) who ran a county dial-a-ride program for old folks. I can't remember having these kinds of conversations on airplanes or in airports.

I love the scale and I love going this slowly; I'll get there when I get there, pretty much on time. Hooray for public transportation and the train and the tune the City of New Orleans, the folk song made famous by Arlo Guthrie, but written by a Chicago folksinger, the late great Steve Goodman. I actually did say to the scenery: Good morning America, how are you?

Friday, October 30, 2009

The sincerest form of flattery

is when someone else's book cover looks a whole lot like yours.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back to the '60s

This morning's Oprah Winfrey Show made the '60s look pretty innocent as well as pretty old. She remarked on how memorable the era's commercials were: "Cleans like a white tornado!" (Ajax, of course)This made me think of the huge role played by early television in forming Americans' material culture and giving them words and slogans to talk about it, or jingles to sing about it. This picture of the '60s made it look pretty innocent; not much on free speech, free love etc. It's the Mad Men version: nostalgia for nice suits. But keep my father's HA (Hair Arranger, green in a bottle), please.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The first anniversary of The Shack

(I rounded a little -- it has been on bestseller lists for 58 weeks) Although my contrarian streak often counsels me not to read Extremely Popular Books, it behooves a religion specialist, especially a religion books specialist, to know what this is about. My friends Jana Riess and Dave Nantais have led the way with their insights -- Jana's blog and Dave's article in America magazine. I was most struck by author William Paul Young's vision of the Trinity, which is not an easy doctrine for some monotheists (how can God be a three-in-one god?) His depiction of the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman who seemed to flit like a rainbow-colored bird is really no more odd or arbitrary than the time-honored bird imagery. What stays with me was his vision of the stars; it was positively Dante-esque, reminding me of the conclusion of the Paradiso, which invokes "the love that moves the sun and other stars." Not too shabby for someone who doesn't write that well.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Reports of the death of the book

appear to have been exaggerated, judging by the crowds at Printers Row Lit Fest yesterday. Even more gratifyingly, I sold nine books, gave away more (as an incentive), saw someone I haven't seen for years and had fascinating conversations about publishing, Oprah Winfrey (nope, didn't see her there) and life in general. People brought dogs of all sizes and tiny infants; rain only sprinkled while I was there. Books: low tech, portable, don't need batteries. Take one home today.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy birthday Will Shakespeare!

In Chicago it's officially Talk Like Shakespeare Day. Will is 445 today (more or less, the exact day not having been recorded). Last night at a laugh-out-loud performance of Twelfth Night at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre we had our cake and ate it too, as rappers gave us some tips for talking like Shakespeare, forsooth and fare thee well, cuz youth's a stuff will not endure, but Shakespeare has.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

True love and home grown

tomatoes. Neither can be bought, but both carefully cultivated. Being blessed enough to have the former, I began this year's crop of the latter today, on my birthday. Another year of Mrs. Benson, Old Flame, Peacevine cherry, Wayahead, Brandywine, Lillian. Every tomato name tells a story. Among the new ones I am trying this year is Wins All (photo, and seeds, from Totally Tomatoes), which got its name in a 1925 contest. Ponderosa Pink is a parent. Meantime, it's gray and raining on the frozen ground. Dream on.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What's an anchoress anyway?

Julian of Norwich was an anchoress. That means she lived alone in a little bitty room inside a church, living a life of prayer and meditation. She spoke to people through a little window into her room. The church was bombed in WWII, but the doorway to her cell was saved. It's believed she had a cat as a companion. For rat control.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Discipline and Lent

Giving up stuff sounds like a Drag, but being disciplined sounds Good. I'll be praying with Julian of Norwich during the season of Lent. I may be a Quaker, but the liturgical calendar was etched into me early in life thanks to 1950s-style Catholic spiritual formation. Today's thought from Julian has to do with growth in the spiritual life -- her quaint Middle English term is "forth spredying." God's love increases, as does ours for God as we grow spiritually. It spreads forth.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What is this man smiling about?

Disgraced evangelical leader Ted Haggard was on Oprah Wednesday smiling a lot (this picture from Oprah's website doesn't do him justice) to promote the HBO documentary about him. Haggard spoke about being a "heterosexual with issues." His biggest issue is dishonesty.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Keeping spirituality simple

Oprah had some pretty confident shows on spirituality in connection with her "best life" theme to open 2009 last week and this. How then shall we live? Rabbi Irwin Kula said it well and simply: Learn something every day; do something kind every day; be grateful. That boils down an awful lot of theology and commandments and makes a do-able to-do list.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One vote makes a difference

I attended the Aurora Township Democratic Party caucus last night at the request of two friends who needed my vote. Things were pretty crowded at the grass roots as four candidates vied to be slated as Democratic candidate for township supervisor. Also pretty chaotic. If you didn't know when to say yea or nay, too bad. The chairman wielded the gavel rather heavily and quickly. You voted on slips of paper by coloring in the box -- no chance of a hanging chad or electronic voting machine error. Well, almost no chance -- one vote was in dispute because of a question over the voter's eligibility. That in turn required a call to the election commission. What then turned out to be the margin of victory? One vote separated the second and third place finishers. It pays to bring a friend. Also a book. Democracy is time-consuming as well as chaotic at its roots.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Back on the wagon

I have fallen off several wagons, including exercising, blogging, working, watching Oprah. Could be worse, though. I could have gained 40 pounds, like O. Let's get back on the wagon, girl.