Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September Beats: Frank O’Hara


Perhaps the best introduction to the poetry of Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) is what he himself had to say. In “Personism: A Manifesto,” O’Hara wrote, “I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.’”
 
That could easily be an O’Hara poem.

O’Hara was one of the lights of what was called the New York School, a group of writers, artists and musicians that included John Ashberry and often Allen Ginsberg. Several of them knew each other from college (like O’Hara and Ashberry). O’Hara crossed all three of the cultural groups represented – he was a poet, he had originally studied music, and was worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Rebuke to the Culture


Thirty years ago, we still had blue laws (Sunday closing laws) in Missouri. Just about everytjing except for convenience stories, drugstores, and sports/entertainment events were surrounded by empty parking lots on Sunday.

The blue laws disappeared in a statewide vote, driven largely by a combination of powerful commercial interests and individuals hungry to find extra time to do grocery shopping, clothes shopping, and other activities that strained two-income families.

We’ve already lost Thanksgiving and I suspect Christmas is not far beyond. Thanks to the reach of electronic communications technology, vacation time, and even weekends, should be called “work release” time rather than days off.

The idea of Sabbath – a day of the week devoted to worship and rest is already coming to be something quaint from another era.

It shouldn’t be. We probably need it more than ever. Even people who don’t believe in God need a day of rest.

A Sabbath, say Christopher Smith, John Pattison and Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, is “an obvious rebuke to the culture—and even a church culture!—that prides itself on its busyness, scorns leisure as laziness and boasts that we’ll sleep when we’re dead.”

That sounds like modern American work life to me.

I knew a CEO who once claimed he could run a $16 billion corporation with five MBAs. When he was asked what would happen when they dropped dead, he replied, “Find five more.”

The Slow Church authors point to Exodus 16 as the first mention of Sabbath in the Bible, although you can find the first reference to a day of rest in the first chapter of Genesis.

Even God rested.

The Exodus reference contains three lessons, they point out. The Israelites are wandering around the desert, grumbling over not having enough to eat, complaining about starving to death. God gives them manna six days a week, with a double portion on the sixth day because God said the seventh day was a day of rest, and holy to him.

They Israelites learn the lesson of enough, the lesson of redistribution, and the lesson of Sabbath faith and discipline.

That’s an arresting idea – the Sabbath takes faith and it takes discipline.

No wonder we voted it out of existence in Missouri.

For the past several Mondays, I’ve been posting a discussion of Slow Church. Today’s post is on the chapter entitled “Sabbath.” It’s worth the price of the whole book. Next week, the discussion will be on “Abundance.”


Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Peter and Barnabas


Even the lions faltered
even the lions failed
even the lions had
   their moments
   best forgotten
   especially by
   themselves
when the sun darkened
when the voices rose
when the desire
for  acceptance
chained and bound
the lions
I find this encouraging,
oddly.


Photograph by Lydia Woomer via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Sacrament of Pain


In August of 2013, I found myself spending a weekend with my mother in a retirement home, and all I can think about is poetry.

My mother had fallen and broken her hip. She had surgery; the surgery was successful. I had spent a long weekend with her when she was recovering in a nursing home (described in my post yesterday). She had eventually returned home.

She was required to use a walker. She hated it. It was awkward maneuvering around the house, she said, although her house, the house I grew up in, was not cluttered. She convinced herself she didn’t need it to walk from her bedroom to the kitchen. One afternoon, leaving the walker in her bedroom, she fell in the kitchen. Fortunately, she had no broken bones. Unfortunately, she couldn’t pull herself up.

The neighbor who checked on her twice a day had gone out of town. The backup neighbor wasn’t due to check on her until the next morning. My mother couldn’t pull herself to reach the telephone.

She spent the night on the floor.

She spent as total of 18 hours on the floor.

She’d hear the phone ring, but couldn’t answer it.

My sister-in-law called, a daily ritual. No answer. She called the neighbor. No answer but she left a message. Same thing with the backup neighbor. My sister-in-law got in the car and started the 90-minutes journey to my mother’s house. Halfway across the Lake Pontchartrain causeway bridge, she connected with the backup neighbor, who had been out grocery shopping. She said she’d check immediately. She did, and found my mother asleep on the floor.

We knew we had to do something. My mother was almost 90; she could no longer live alone. The cost of hiring a full-time caregiver would be horrendous. All of us, including my mother, knew what this meant: a retirement home,

She had lived in the house for 57 years.

Moving her was for her own good.

Moving her from her home would also be a sign to all of us that she was dying.
My mother holding Cameron, with my daughter-in-law Stephanie - June 2010

In May of 2013, my younger brother and I flew to New Orleans, charged with a task we weren’t looking forward to: breaking up my mother’s home, with her there to give us guidance on what to keep. For three days, we sorted papers, objects in her curio cabinets, clothes, photographs, some of our own personal things she had held on to, things belonging to our father. Over the years, my mother had been rather ruthless in culling through “stuff” she owned. It made our job easier, but there was still a lot of stuff.

A week or so later, she moved into the retirement home. She actually knew someone who lived there, and she seemed to have made friends rather quickly (she had a “circle” she ate lunch and dinner with regularly).  I spent a weekend with her that August, staying in the home’s guest apartment.

She had fractured her back, lifting the toilet tank cover one night to fix the tank stopper. She thought it was just like home, where the tank cover weighed only a few pounds. This one, specifically designed for retirement homes, weighed over 30 pounds. Her back fractured, and she had been in constant pain for several weeks, helped only by pain medicine. The home had to get someone to administer the pills – my mother would take them as soon as the pain started, and consequently was spending a lot of time sleeping.

I sat with her in her little apartment and with her for meals, and the pain was clearly debilitating. The only thing that seemed to help was me. I had experienced a ruptured disk in 2011. Ongoing pain, strong pain meds, eight months of physical therapy including traction – yes, I knew what my mother was experiencing.

Because of my own experience, my mother felt comfortable talking about the pain she was experiencing. She knew from the expressions on others’ faces that they wouldn’t understand, would get impatient, would believe she was only complaining because she didn’t have anything else to do. She knew that I understood. That kind of pain changes your personality. It narrows your horizons and confines you like a strait jacket.

Yes, I knew what she was going through. And we talked. I know it helped her. It helped me as well.

As I listened to her talk about the pain, and then gradually shift to talking about other things, and her own life stories, I began thinking about poetry, and how her life and her very self were like poems. We both knew that her time was short; she died six months later. But her life, and this time we were spending together, bonded by a common experience in pain, had become something of a poem, likely a poem I will never be able to write but one that wraps itself around my heart and has become part of me.

In Mortal Blessing: A Sacramental Farewell, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell quotes Catholic poet Denise Levertov:  “To write poetry is to labor in the transcendant.”

O’Donnell might call my experience with my mother the sacrament of pain, a sacrament we mutually shared, one that became part of both us.

Our last poem together.


Photograph: March 2013 – my younger brother and I in front of my mother’s house after her memorial service. It's the house we both grew up in.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Own “Mortal Blessing”


I’ve been reading Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s Mortal Blessing: A Sacramental Farewell, about the death of her mother and what she learned about family, the nature of the sacred, dying, and herself. During the 48 days of her mother’s final decline, small, commonplace things became sacramental.

Like O’Donnell’s mother, my own mother fell and broke her hip. She had surgery to repair, and although she was in her late 80s, the surgery was successful.

As she recuperated and started physical therapy at a nursing home, I flew to New Orleans and spent a long weekend visiting. And we talked, for hours each day. The talking didn’t seem to tire her. I’m not sure what prompted it, but it was important for her to tell me what she did, most of which I had never heard before.

O’Donnell might call this the sacrament of listening.

My mother had been a wartime bride (World War II) and like so many others had gotten divorced. Her first husband had been her childhood sweetheart and joined the army, fighting in Europe. In 1945, she and their not-quite-two-year-old son lived with his family in Gary, Indiana, and then with his sister in Chicago. When the war ended, her husband chose not to return home. He wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of a family. And so they were divorced in 1947. It was important for her to tell me he did pay $42 a month in child support; she repeated it several times.

She was dating my father when her former husband called her one day at work, asking her to reconsider and get remarried. After work that day, she said, she walked slowly to the streetcar stop to ride from downtown New Orleans to where she lived with my grandmother in the Ninth Ward. She stopped at St. Patrick’s Church on Camp Street (not far the present-day D-Day and World War II Museum). She was not Catholic, but she sat in a pew and prayed. And clarity came.

When she got home, she wrote her first husband a letter, telling him it wouldn’t work. As she prayed, she said, she realized she would never be able to trust him.

She married my father in 1950. I was born a year later.

Mother, May 2013
At first their marriage was happy, but once he started his own business, she saw very little of him, except late at night and an occasional Sunday. (The same went for me and my older brother; I didn’t really see much of my father until I was in junior high school.)

She said that there would be days when she would sit on our back breezeway and cry for sheer loneliness. She’d see me play in the backyard and knew my older brother was with friends in the neighborhood. No one would see her cry.

“I couldn’t believe how lonely I was,” she said, talking to me while she lay in her nursing home bed.

It was not an easy story to tell or hear. But I listened. And in those few hours my mother became a much more complex person than I had ever realized, with her own joys and sorrows, with her own stories of a life lived.

Sacraments work two ways, as O’Donnell explains in Mortal Blessings. They work for both the giver and the receiver, for the object of the sacrament and the participant.

That weekend in New Orleans, my mother was blessed by the sacrament of listening, and I was blessed by the sacrament of her story.


Tomorrow, I’ll complete this meditation.


Photograph: Interior of St. Patrick’s Church, New Orleans.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s “Mortal Blessings”


The most difficult writing assignment I’ve ever had occurred this year.

At the request of the family, I wrote my mother’s obituary.

I wrote it before she died. I edited the final details after her death.

Angelo Alaimo O’Donnell was asked to do the same for her mother.

In the last 48 days of her mother’s life, O’Donnell and her sisters gathered round their mother, Marion Salvi Alaimo. She had fallen and smashed her hip; whether she could survive the surgery required to repair it was questionable.

The gathering, as O’Donnell describes in Mortal Blessings: A Sacramental Farewell, becomes a kind of sacrament, just one of the many sacraments the family leads, participates in, and becomes part of in their mother’s final days. Sacraments, even those related to the death of an individual, gain their meaning in their communal celebration.

And while sacraments are an intrinsic part in the family’s Catholic faith, O’Donnell comes to understand that sacraments are not confined to officially defined ceremonies of the church. Sacraments can be found among the most commonplace of acts, events, and emotions.
Marion Salvi Alaimo

The sacrament of a haircut and manicure.

The sacraments of the cell phone and the wheelchair.

The sacraments of humor, honor and witness.

The sacraments of speech and memory.

The sacrament of distance.

Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
As a loved one is dying, the simplest of acts become sacraments, not only for the one dying but for the ones participating as well. Sacraments are communal acts, conferring meaning too all involved.

O’Donnell does not tell an idealized story. Dying and death sharpens and unveils, particularly if it occurs over a period of time. No life lived is perfect; O’Donnell doesn’t gloss over her mother’s failings, or her own. Mortal Blessings is not a memoir about her mother; it is a telling of the last days of a life, and what happens, what sacraments happen, when a family is drawn together around a dying person.

The writing of a book like Mortal Blessings is a sacrament, too.


Tomorrow, I’ll have the first of two personal meditations on Mortal Blessings.

Related:




Photograph of the Church of the Mount of the Beatitudes by Betty Krausova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Playing Poker with God


Ever wondered what a poker game with God would be like?

I’m not a poker player. I know the rules, but it’s been decades since I played poker. And I never played poker for money; I’m not widely known for having a poker face.

But I was reading The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, by John Lynch, Bruce McNichol and Bill Thrall, and they talk about the idea of playing poker with God.

My first thought was that he would know every card I held.

That’s because I’m looking at the poker game from my perspective.

The authors of Slow Church take another approach.

In effect, you are in a poker game with God. A very different kind of poker game.

“God has shown you all of His cards,” they write, “revealing breathtaking protection. He says, in essence, ‘What if I tell them who they are now? What if I take away any element of fear? What if I tell them I will always love them?’”

The poker game suddenly changes. It isn’t even a game any more.

What if I tell them I will always love them, no matter what they do, or think, or say? That they can’t lose me, even if they try?

Some of the early church believers heard that, and wondered if it meant that the more they sinned, the more God would love them. The Apostle Paul was quick to point out that they were wrong; they were looking at the question from the wrong end – their end.

Instead, what we should do is look at the question at from God’s perspective.

And God’s perspective is total.

A perspective of total love.

A perspective of total knowledge.

A perspective of total judgment.

A perspective of the price for judgment totally paid.

A perspective of total understanding.

He doesn’t play poker with a poker face.

And he knows that, ultimately, neither do we.

He loves us anyway.


Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Cure. To see more posts on this chapter, “Two Gods,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.


Photograph by Ariadne ariadnerb via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September Beats: Denise Levertov


In Beat Poets, published by Everyman’s Library, editor Carmela Ciuraru observes that “the Beats…were mostly men, and the work they produced was almost entirely male-focused…Beat writings were often ridiculously misogynistic.” She’s right.

But then there’s Denise Levertov (1923-1997).

I’m almost reluctant to include her in a discussion (and this series) on Beat poets. Her career in poetry transcended the Beat Generation, but then, so did Allen Ginsberg’s. She’s invariably included in collections of Beat poetry (as she is in Beat Poets), but her poetry is more controlled, more designed in a way, less the spontaneous stream of outbursts we associate with the male Beat poets.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry

Monday, September 22, 2014

Work is a Sacrament?


Last week, I asked the question, is work a curse? While there are moments, and sometimes it’s longer than “moments,” when work can seem like a curse, the fact is that it is not. Like everything else, work was affected by the fall, and as a result our experiences in the workplace fall far short of the ideal. But work itself was created by God; the first example of work recorded in the Bible was creation itself. Work is a good thing; what a fallen humanity does to it can warp and distort it.

In the past two decades, another discussion about faith and work has arisen – and that is our tendency to divide work into “greater and lesser” or “higher and lower” forms. The ministry and the work of missionaries is viewed as “higher” or “greater” kinds of work, while the work the rest of us do is “lower and lesser.” While it’s not as common a view as it was 20 years ago, it’s still fairly common.

It’s also not Biblical. And such a view leads to distortions of its own, such as compartmentalize what you do in the workplace from what you do in church on Sunday. In fact, what we do in our jobs every day – all jobs – is worship.

In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith, John Pattison, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove expand on this idea of work as worship. They call work sacramental.

When I think of sacraments, I think of two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are the two sacraments recognized by the Protestant church (including my specific denomination), because they are the two specifically established (or singled out) by Jesus.

But work?

It’s important to note that the Slow Church authors don’t specifically call work a sacrament. They do, however, refer to it as sacramental (and I would add just as worship is sacramental). They specifically quote Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker, saying that “seeing work as a consequence of the fall saps it of its sacramental value.”

Work is sacramental in that it is owned by God; everything in the world is God’s and belongs to God, including the work we do. And one of the things we are to be about is redeeming work from the fall, just as we are to be about redeeming culture from the fall, and redeeming humanity from the fall.

It is all part of the whole. Our Christian faith is a whole faith, because our God is a whole God. And he owns all of the whole.  

What can the church do to help us be about this sacramental activity called work? The Slow Church authors cite several things.

Help people recognize and prefer good work over bad work.

Explore the possibilities (and limitations) of work as worship.

Champion work-related justice.

Recognize the human resources within our congregations and leverage them in the reconciling work of the kingdom.


I’ve been discussing Slow Church here for the past several Mondays. This post is the second of two parts on work; next Monday we’ll take a look at the discussion on the Sabbath.


Painting: A Cotton Office in New Orleans, oil on canvas by Edgar Degas (1873); Musee de Beaux Arts, Pau, France.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Non-Lament


He appeared to me last
not saving the best
but saving the worst
he appeared to me last.

To meet him wasn’t
sufficient
to blind me was
necessary

He blinded me
so I could see,
I could not see
before the blindness.

My sight was imperfect.
Once you have seen,
all sight is imperfect.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sheila LaGrand’s Remembering for Ruth, Part 6: Police, Pizza, and Paparazzi


We’re approaching the conclusion of Sheila LaGrand’s Remembering for Ruth serialized novel, and the pace is quickening. 

The story so far: Paul and Margot Goodharte live in Calfornia, and are caring for Paul's mother, who suffers from Alzherimer's disease. Paul is a pastor; his black sheep brother Matthew shows up and seems to have had something of a black-sheep shedding experience. He becomes interested in next-door neighbor Sue, and the family has a coincidental meeting with Matthew's estranged daughter Amelia. The dog of former neighbors of the Goodhartes is left to them to care for, and Ruth becomes attached to him, naming him Zorro. The dog turns out to be a specially trained schutzhund, and obeys numerous commands -- in German. Amelia is invited to spend some time with the family, and when she arrives, she runs into immediate conflict with Matthew. And then the family discovers Ruth is missing. 

Part Six – Police, Pizza, and Paparazzi – focuses on the search for Ruth. The police are called in, Mrs. Delsey (the church busybody) gets involved and organizes the church’s youth group, and Matthew and Amelia set conflict aside while they search together for Matthew’s missing mother. The publicity-hungry mayor arrives, as does the news-hungry television news crew. The church busybody is only too happy to point the finger of blame at Margot Goodharte (author LaGrand has her do this effortlessly – drawing a picture of a church “type” we may all have experienced).

And then there’s the dog, Zorro – the dog sense something the people don’t. I kept wanting to shout, “Follow the dog! Follow the dog!” But you know how characters in a story are – they never listen to the reader.

I suspect LaGrand is enjoying writing the story. The basic premise – loving and caring for a patient with Alzheimer’s disease – is a serious one, but LaGrand keeps it from overpowering the characters and the plot. She uses occasional moments of laughter and even hilarity to leaven the seriousness. And she includes recipes of the foods mentioned in the story -- in this installment, they are pizza, crock pot oatmeal, and "Shredded Fiesta Chicken."

I’ll have to wait a few weeks to find out what happens to the church busybody. I have some suggestions, and know a place LaGrand can buy tar and feathers.


Photograph by RonMzr via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Business Books That Have Most Influenced Me


Over the years, I probably have read most of the self-help books that have taken the business world by storm. Speechwriters were almost required to do this, if for nothing else than finding a topical quote to use in an executive’s speech. In Search of Excellence. Who Moved My Cheese? The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The One Minute Manager. Reengineering the Corporation. Crucial Conversations. The Tipping Point. On Management. First, Break All the Rules. Made to Stick.

Many of these books had interesting ideas. However, the impact on me was nil, or close to nil.

But I did read books that changed my day-to-day work, transformed my work life, and made me think about work in a completely different way.

Most of them weren’t actually business books, however, or what we think of as business books. Many were about communication, which is no surprise because that’s the field I’ve worked in for my entire career. Some were academic works. Others weren’t.

Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (first published in 1964) is the source of the famous, almost clich├ęd statement “the medium is the message.” What that means is that the medium is as important as the message; some media are better for some kinds of communications than others. In this contemporary culture of the mania for “message points,” no one remembers what McLuhan said about the media themselves.

Eloquence in the Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking by Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1988) came at the mid-point of my speechwriting career. Jamieson’s focus was politics, and how the television sound bite had transformed political speech (and by extension, corporate speech). She did not see this as a good thing. She was right. Look at Washignton, D.C., where discourse has become all but impossible.

Poet David Whyte published two books that approximate “business books” – The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Corporate Soul in America (1994) and Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity (2001) that had an enormous impact on how I thought about work, and what I understood work to be. (I also like his poetry.)

Walter Ong was a Jesuit priest who taught at St. Louis University. In 1982, he published Orality and Literacy, which in a sense continued the discussion started by McLuhan but broadened it to what was happening in human communication generally. I didn’t read the book until the mid-1990s, in the throes of just having started a (revolutionary-at-the-time) email newsletter and the company’s first web site. Ong helped me understand why I seemed to intuitively grasp electronic communication – it’s closer to an oral culture than a print culture (words encouraging to a speechwriter).

The late Neil Postman wrote two books that served as serious warnings in the rush to all things electronic: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1987) and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1993). He wrote a number of other works as well (all of which I read) but these two provided the watch outs for embracing the internet and (later) social media.

More recently, and one closer to a traditional business book, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith published Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation and Earn Trust (2009). It shaped my entire approach at work to using social media. It still does.

Other books had an influence, but none like these eight. I still go back and read highlighted sections. And I remain surprised at how up-to-date they’ve remained.


Over at The High Calling, Jennifer Dukes-Lee is asking for what business books have influenced you the most. Check The High Calling to see what others are saying.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jill Paton Walsh’s “The Late Scholar”


From 1923 to 1937, Dorothy Sayers wrote a series of mystery novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, son of the Duke and Duchess of Denver. Lord Peter always seemed something of the quintessential English aristocrat, except one with a penchant for getting himself involved in murders and other nefarious situations.

Dorothy Sayers
Sayers was more than a mystery writer; she wrote plays, essays, literary criticism and poetry. She translated Dante’s Divine Comedy. And her writings on faith and Christianity so reflected Anglican  teaching that the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate in divinity (which she declined).

But it is for Lord Peter Wimsey that she’s best known today. The Lord Peter mysteries are still read, helped along over the years by television series. And there was one Lord Peter manuscript left unfinished by Sayers. In 1999, mystery and fiction writer Jill Paton Walsh stepped in and completed it, the title publishing as Thrones, Dominations in1999.

Walsh wrote two more Lord Peter stories (giving Lord Peter’s love interest and eventual wife Harriet Vane close to equal billing). A Presumption of Death was published in 2002, and The Attenbury Emeralds in 2011.

Now we have The Late Scholar. It is 1953, and Lord Peter discovers that he is the official “Visitor” at St. Severin’s College at Oxford, thanks to a generous donation made by an ancestor in the 1700s. And the Visitor is being asked to come to Oxford to break a college deadlock that has everything to do with tradition versus academic survival. The issue at hand is whether to sell an Anglo-Saxon copy of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, possibly annotated by King Alfred, so the college can buy a piece of land ripe for development, or hold on to what is the most prized possession of its library.

The vote by St. Severin’s fellows is split 50-50. The warden (head of college) who is supposed to break ties, had sided with keeping the manuscript, that is, until he disappeared. And then fellows start dying, in ways strongly suggestive of the plots of Harriet Vane’s murder mysteries. Threads are discovered leading to a savage five-year-old literary review in the Times Literary Supplement, a researcher’s suicide years before, and a beautiful and frightened woman living in an isolated house.

Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter (followed by Harriet) is on the scene, and the murders continue.

The Late Scholar is grand fun (fun in the sense of engaging murder mysteries). Walsh is faithful to the spirit of Sayers and her detective. No, it’s not exactly as Sayers might have written the story, but it’s close enough to be recognizable as a Lord Peter Wimsey story. And with deaths in organ lofts, attacks with ceremonial swords, and a murder via skylight, Walsh continues the Lord Peter Wimsey rather swashbuckling tradition of private detection.

Oh, and there’s Bunter, too, Lord Peter’s chauffeur, butler, cook and general factotum.

Yes, it’s great fun.


Photograph: A 1931 Daimler 4-seater; Lord Peter Wimsey owned a 1927 model (among others).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Day I Forgot to Wear My Mask


I was walking down the hall at the office. A person new to the department was walking toward me. As I passed her, I nodded and smiled and uttered the usual throwaway line. “How are you doing?” (The variation is, “How’s it going?”)

You don’t expect an answer. You’re being polite. But you’re not committing yourself to anything more than hearing a “Fine” in return. You have work to do, meetings to attend, people to talk to, all of the general busy-ness of contemporary work life.

“Do you really want to know?” she replied in an almost anguished voice.

She knew the politeness-in-the-hallway code. And something had prompted her to step out of it.

I stopped, and said what I didn’t really mean. “Yes. Are you okay?”

For the next 30 minutes (we moved to her office), a story poured out that seemed more like fiction than reality.

She came from a well-known and socially prominent local family. Her parents were always somewhere else, traveling. Her brother was in parts unknown. She was caring for an elderly aunt who alternated between lucidity and dementia, often in seconds. The aunt was terrified that someone would get control of her estate and have her committed to an institution, and for a very good reason: she herself had made a career out of doing exactly that – getting control of elderly people’s estates and then having them committed. To add to the mix, my new work colleague was being stalked by a distant relative, who himself was trying to get control of her aunt’s estate.

And all I had asked was how she was doing.

We became friends, and she became friends with my wife as well. We talked. We shared outside-of-work writing projects. We’d have dinner. It was only after we moved to a new town that our friendship gradually lessened. But our lives, and my life, was immeasurably enriched by that simple exchange in a workplace hallway.

None of us wore masks. My friend was feeling desperate. I decided to listen.

In The Cure: What if God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You, authors John Lynch, Bruce McNichol and Bill Thrall cite three categories mask-wearers fall into.

Those who try to convince others they’re doing “just fine.”

Those who are still searching for the next new technique to solve their issues and problems (and are the target audience of the self-help book publishing industry).

And those who wear the “pedigreed” masks – the postcard-perfect people who have everything together, no problems, no messy stuff in their lives.

The normal answer my work colleague should have made was “I’m fine, thank you” and walked on. But she didn’t. Her response caught me off-guard. I could have immediately donned a mask, probably the pedigreed mask. I could have listened politely and moved on.

But I didn’t. I could hear the desperation and even fear in her voice. So I listened.

And it changed my life.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Cure. To see more posts on this chapter, “Two Faces,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.


Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.