Archive for December, 2011

Equally Blessed?

Around the mid-1980’s a Chicago priest named Rev. Pat Lee started ministering to those impacted by AIDS or HIV.  At that point it was unclear what caused the virus.  Some believed the virus had mutated from being an opportunistic infection into being a virus like the common cold, spread through the air, and there was much fear about how to deal with the disease so priests who went ahead and were inclusive to the gay community were heros in their time.

Recently, however, a new issue has sparked debate.  The gay pride parade was slated to go past Mount Carmel Catholic church in Chicago, but the priest of that church protested, saying that people were not going to be able to go to church that Sunday.  A compromise was reached so that the church would not be affected.  What was not mentioned is that the Chicago marathon was allowed to go by that very church on a Sunday, and no mention was made as to the inconvenience to Mount Carmel.  In the midst of negotiations to move or reschedule the parade, Cardinal Francis George blatantly displayed his prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community, saying, “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan.”  I didn’t realize that the cardinal even knew such a hip word, morph, especially when his views of the LGBT community are so dated.  Cardinal George continued, “The rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan and the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation movement people–who is the enemy?  The Catholic church.”

The message is clear:  sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat.  Such inflammatory words are blatantly exclusive, not inclusive.  I have heard many times that God doesn’t make mistakes, even when it comes to gay individuals so I am confused by the cardinal’s comments.  I have heard that the official opinion of the Catholic church is that gay people must be treated with respect, compassion, and dignity.  Something is radically off here.

I myself did my undergrad degree in English at St. John’s University, a Catholic, Benedictine university.  Cardinal George makes me want to quit the Catholic church altogether.


Who Let Them Into the Garden?

The novel “In the Garden of Beasts” tackles a much written about topic and turns it on its head with a brand new angle.  Told from the vantage point of the Ambassador to Germany from the United States and his family during the late 1930’s, this book shows the subtle, sinister way in which Hitler and his henchmen inveigle their way into the hearts of their countrymen as well as how Hitler duped the world, pretending that he was not as ambitious and ruthless as he turned out to be.

Words fail me in trying to describe how brilliant “In the Garden of Beasts” is in conveying the scope and horror of the Third Reich in ruthlessly destroying everyone who opposed them in addition to the innocents killed in the Furor’s fury.

The subject is deftly handled by Erik Larson, author of “Devil in the White City.”  Score another triumph for the author, and I look forward to many other novels of creative nonfiction from Larson.


Leaping Into the New Year

I have read and reread a book by Julia Cameron called, “The Artist’s Way.”  It first called to me, assuring me that I too could be an artist rather than a shadow artist.  Shadow artists, according to Cameron, hover around those creative people who have the gumption and audacity to follow their own dreams.  Shadow artists subjugate their own dreams and ambitions in favor of a more staid existence.  The lesson implied is to be brave, be very brave.  And, as you discover your creative self, steer clear of those shadow artists, often well-meaning individuals who nevertheless tear down your resolve to follow your passions.

One adage that she explicitly taught:  “Leap and the net shall appear!”

This lesson was especially directed toward emerging writers, painters, dancers, and poets, but also applied to anyone else who wanted to live a more fulfilling existence.  Even politicians, clergy, professional baseball players, or social workers could benefit, according to Cameron, in living a life that matters.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it slightly differently:  “Always do what you’re afraid to do.”

Vaclav Havel started out as a playwright with modest ambitions stuck in communist Czechoslovakia.  His writings attracted the notice of communist officials, and he was imprisoned off-and-on for five years, then endured secret police surveillance for almost twenty years while his many plays and writings were supressed, withering away.  The things we take for granted, the freedom that guarantees us the ability to say virtually anything that comes into our little brains is not allowed in other countries.  As a fellow writier, I cannot imagine anything more tortuous than having my vocation denied to me with the promise, ney threat,  that no one would ever read my work or share my worldview, or even be interested in what I have to say.  Vaclav Havel could have emigrated, many other prominent Czechs in all sorts of careers did, but he chose to stay and “fight the good fight,” all the while facing the very real possibility of being assassinated.  

After all his trials and tribulations, he was elected as President of Czechoslovakia and served from 1989 until 1993 when his country broke apart, leaving him the leader of the newly formed Czech Republic, starting in 1993.  It is one of the very few times when a writer, an artist, has been elected as president of his country, and become a force to reckon with on the world stage.  His close friends included Lech Walesa who sufferred under communist rule in Poland for forty years.  Both Walesa and Havel acted prominently in ushering in a new era of openness and aided in the fall of the Iron Curtain.  Havel also often relied on the adivice of Nelson Mandela. 

On two different occassions Havel spoke about the wonder of his own life, saying, one time, “It’s interesting that I had an adventurous life, even though I am not an adventurer by nature.”  Another time, just as eloquently, he said, “I wonder if all that–the fact that a man as calm as myself had such an adventurous existence–is due to the fact that life is an incredible miracle.”

Not to be beaten down by the past, but to bear burdens lightly, like wearing a light linen shirt, would be a wonderful goal to reach for this new year.  Don’t be afraid to make yet another New Year’s resolution, taking a few moments before the close of 2011 to list steps which need to be taken to head for what you want out of your life.  Then, take the next step and make a gratitude list for all the things we may take for granted, but which help usher us into new adventures.  Embrace your destiny this year.  I will be rooting you on, all the while trying to convey my truths, my own unique vantage point and lens to view the world around me.

1 Corinthians 13:4

(First taught to me by a professor at St. John’s who believed in  me and assured me that love is the most important edict).

“Love is always patient; love is always kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never dies.”

Our Deal With God

My two dogs are very much a part of my life, so much so that even if I were to start dating again (which seems somewhat dubious given my schedule), the man I date would have to make room for my Akita and Beagle on the bed.  The Beagle is quite particular and insists upon sleeping under the covers at the foot of the bed.  My Akita is a bit more understanding and will generally start out on the bed but move to the floor after an hour or so.

Our deal with God is that we get permission to love our animals with all our hearts, knowing all the time, however, that they will only live just so long, about as long as an adolescent.  What a raw deal!  I love both my dogs, but I have to confess that my Akita is, to me, a once in a lifetime kind of dog.  Perhaps it’s also your experience that you’ve had an animal who is, strangely enough, a role model to you.  A dog or cat which makes you want to be a better person, to scale the walls and use our precious little time on earth to make sure that what we do has meaning.  Sometimes an animal comes along who is irreplaceable.  I truly believe that no other dog will come along to make me forget my Akita.  I just know that we have a special bond that I doubt I will ever feel again.  The heart mourns, the heart goes on, but I believe I will never feel as close to anyone or anything else like I do Kierka.  She teaches me to face everyday fearlessly, and look for the many small joys in life as well as celebrating the big events too. 

Her greatest trait is that she has kind eyes, very soulful, almost as though you could see her spirit.  When my sister lost her dog a ways back, she was talking with her priest who told her that only humans have souls, but in his opinion, dogs have spirits which linger after they are gone.  I’ve heard a quote somewhere a while back that said, “You are only dead when no one remembers you anymore.”  I hope my animals will always be remembered the way the rest of my family will hopefully also be remembered.

Holiday Hunger Pangs

I’ve been in Weight Watchers and have lost a significant amount of weight, but still, the holidays post a special dilemma to me as well as those of us determined to lose weight or at least maintain their weight throughout the holiday season.  All the cookie swaps, holiday movies with movie popcorn being a necessity, and home baked cakes and pies pose a special problem.  Even main dishes like turkey and side dishes like green bean casserole add up to unnecessary weight gain.  With some family members, it can seem insulting to refuse to even try their holiday creations, and they will keep demanding you try their dish or dessert until you are bamboozled into accepting “just a taste.”  Weight Watchers encourages members remain vigiliant against the onslaught of too many “bites, likes, tastes (BLTs),’ but they temper that advice by admitting if you really want to try something, go ahead and enjoy it, bearing in mind that those calories count.

I, however, know myself pretty well after being in Weight Watchers for almost three years, and I hardly have the strength to stop at just one bite, or even one piece.  If it comes into my home, generally it will be eaten.  Even vacation is incredibly challenging.  I’m like an alcoholic is with drinking:  one is too many, and a thousand is never enough.  Now that I am getting closer to my goal weight, people comment that surely I can now contain myself and my eating, but I am still a chronic overeater who needs to manage my will power the way someone with diabetes needs to be extra vigilant this holiday season.

Holiday hunger pangs strike early and often.  What I’m thinking is that people will eat way more than they need to around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, and can be shocked and surprised when they’ve gained five, ten, or even fifteen pounds.  People eat for all sorts of reasons:  happy reminiscenses, holiday stress, even depression.  The list can go on and on.  Pretty much any emotion can be blamed for having to adjust your belt two or three notches.

Just remember if you are also a chronic overeater, nothing tastes as good as thin feels.  Let hunger be your guide.  If you’re not hungry, eating is not the solution.  I plan to find ways to celebrate without overindulging, and I encourage you to do the same.

PS–if you happen to have a REALLY great recipe for chocolate pecan pie, send it my way.  

Holiday greetings to everyone,

Michael Anson

Hidden Strength

“Strength does not come from physical capacity.  It comes from an indomitable will”–Gandhi.

An actress named Marzieh Vafamehr made a movie in Iran titled, My Tehran For Sale, about the lack of artistic freedom in Iran and explores taboo subjects such as drug use.  The actress appeared in the film with a shaved head and didn’t wear a headscarf, and for her work in the film received a one year jail sentence and 90 lashes with a whip.  It is not unheard of for Iranians to be condemmed to death by stoning for those who violate the strict rules of the Koran.

The public may have forgotten that writer Salman Rushdie was condemned to death throuigh issue of a fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988 with a million dollar reward to anyone who would kill Rushdie.  The reward was doubled in 1997, and the Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was stabbed to death for his role in bringing the book to Japan.  Rushdie’s publisher in Norway barely survived an assassination attempt.  The fatwa can only be recsinded by the person who issues it, and Khomeini has since died, so technically it can never actually be declared null and void.

To be rigorously honest in artistic endeavors is an unspoken necessity for all writers and actors, painters, poets, and filmmakers.  We in the U.S. take artistic freedom for granted, and tend to ignore book banning, even when the book is part of the Harry Potter seriesBook banning even increases public interest in the book which may be the only bright spot in prejudice against the works of an author or artist.

It takes a special kind of inner strength to persevere in the face of opposition, but if Gandhi is able to topple the entire British government’s occupation of India through nonviolent protest, what more can we do in our writer’s lofts and artistic spaces to make sure our voices are heard and that they matter?  In my mind, to tell the truth is the only artistic mandate. 

As others have noted, fiction is a lie that tells the truth.  Sometimes made up worlds convey more truth than any work of nonfiction.  We must be strong in the face of adversity because, in the end, all we have is our own truth, our own unique vantage point on the world.  If we don’t tell our stories, who will?