Hypergraffiti

Where I spray-paint my thoughts…


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To Wit: To Woo (Part Two)

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Last week I wrote about wooing – that process where you fall in love with someone who isn’t exactly repelled by you, doesn’t give you a definite “No,” but also doesn’t see the same future in the relationship you do – and you convince them, by your patient and faithful devotion, to fall in love with you too. It’s a process that has a long an honourable history in literature, folklore, mythology and pop culture.

But it’s also a process that has become somewhat suspect and tarnished by the fact that, so often, men have used “wooing” as an excuse to cover everything from stalking, to refusing to let a woman leave a relationship, right up to rape and murder (for the man who believes that if he can’t have her, no-one else should). 

I said in that last post that I was wooed and won, when I was young, and I still believe there’s a place, within a relationship of mutual respect where you truly view the other person as a person, for a little wooing. A little courtship. A little “winning her heart.” Not every guy who sets out to get the girl is, in my view, a boor who can’t take no for an answer. My husband certainly wasn’t. 

But what about the flip side – the woman who falls in love with a man who’s not as interested? Unrequited love can strike people of any gender (and of course I’m talking here within the paradigm of heterosexual relationships, but there’s lots of unrequited love going around in same-sex relationships too).

For most of my young life, during my high school and college years, I was the victim of a series of unrequited crushes, one-sided love affairs that the guys involved were probably completely unaware of. I was that “just one of the guys” girl, firmly friend-zoned long before that term was popularized.

Years later, when I was raising my own daughter and she played the Taylor Swift song “You Belong With Me” for me, I recognized the voice Taylor was channeling instantly. I was that girl – the happy-go-lucky, easygoing “just a friend” girl who passionately hoped that guy after guy would recognize he was REALLY meant to be with me, instead of with his popular, pretty girlfriend.

(PS — whatever you think of Taylor’s music and what she’s done with her career since those days, I still think this is just the cutest video. Despite the difficulty of making young Taylor look like a nerdy geek girl, this is still the nerdy geek girl’s fantasy for many young women. Certainly it was mine in high school).

Mythology and literature have glorified the man who pursues the woman of his dreams – whether he is in fact the perfect courtly knight, or just an ass who won’t take no for an answer. Mythology and literature have not been similar kind to girls like I was, or girls like Taylor sings about in that song (I somehow doubt Taylor herself was ever one of those girls, though you never know). 

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To Wit: To Woo (Part One)

It’s all getting mixed up in my mind, to tell you the truth: that pathetic guy playing the piano on a sidewalk in England and swearing not to stop until his ex took him back, along with scuzzy old Harvey Weinstein and hundreds of other scuzzy old (and young) guys who think that just because they want a woman, they’re somehow going to get her in the end, even if she says, clearly: No. This is not what I want.

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In the end, it’s what he wants that matters, and he’ll get it, whether that involves grabbing her by … whatever body part, I guess, and taking her by force, or persisting until he wears away her resistance she finally says yes … or playing the piano until she takes him back just to MAKE IT STOP.

Because that’s the cultural myth, isn’t it? Faint heart never won fair lady; right back to the days of courtly love and probably before that, you assume that her resistance is token, put on for the sake of propriety, but that of course she really wants you. Or she will want you eventually, especially if you give her no choice 

We no longer live in the Age of Courtly Love; we are starting, I hope, to live in the Age of Consent, the Age of No-Means-No, the age of recognizing that a woman is not a trophy to be won nor a reward for good behavior, but a human being who has her own opinions and desires, her own right to say Yes and No. It’s to be hoped that someday, in our daughters’ or granddaughters’ time, if the world and civilized society lasts, we will see an end to these stories. Someday we’ll have no more of these importunate men who think they can either cajole or force unwilling women into bed or into marriage or into the supply closet with them. May that day come quickly, amen.

But when it comes, will we also see the end of wooing?  

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Good Dog

When our kids, Chris and Emma, were five and three years old, my father in law, who could most charitably described as a little eccentric, showed up our house one fall afternoon with a puppy on a leash. A friend of his had a dog who had had puppies, he said, and they were all going to be put to sleep if they couldn’t find homes for them. He wondered if the kids would like a puppy.

We were going to try out the puppy for a week to see how he blended into our family, to see if Jason and I could cope with a puppy on top of two small kids.

We had a five-year-old and a three-year-old. HOW DO YOU THINK THIS STORY ENDED?

We got Max nearly by accident; we didn’t even get to pick his name. He came pre-loaded with the most common name for a male dog in Newfoundland. We tried him out for a week to see how we could handle dog ownership, and I was never sure we actually DID handle it all that well. Any personality flaws Max ever had, I blamed not on him but on us. He was a good dog; the goodest of good dogs. Except that sometimes he was a bad dog, because the people who were supposed to be training him were also trying to train to small human children, and teaching them to share and not to bite people seemed more important than training a puppy not to jump up on visitors.

Max’s enthusiasm for greeting people, and knocking drinks out of their hands or taking sandwiches off their plates, meant that sometimes he had to stay in his kennel when we had visitors over. He could not have been a better dog; he could have been better trained, for which I entirely blame his human owners, who were so distracted with their own litter of young.

The three pups in our litter, Chris and Emma and Max, grew up together, taking long family rambles where Chris and Emma were carefully trained by Max to throw tennis balls repeatedly so that he could run after them and bring them back. At the cabin in summer, Max’s happiest place, we could throw tennis balls into the water and he would happily jump in and swim to retrieve them. Jason taught him to swim by throwing him off the end of the dock, at which point Max discovered he could dog-paddle. Then Max taught Jason to take him for rides in the canoe, by jumping into the canoe and waiting for someone to get in and paddle him around.

Of the four of us, Jason wanted a dog least. Jason is not a dog person, which is no doubt attributable to that time his uncle’s Doberman bit him ON THE EYE when he was 12. But he knew how much the kids and I wanted a dog, especially this dog. Over the years, Jason developed a growing affection for Max in spite of Max being a dog. Max, for his part, returned this affection with a white-hot devotion that never wavered. He loved Jason like an eighth-grade girl loves the captain of the high school football team, following his every move with devoted eyes, literally dogging his steps, basking in the slightest sign of affection. If Jason tried to cross the room and Max threw himself in front of his feet so that Jason said, “Get outta the way, you foolish old thing!” in accents of affectionate frustration, Max’s tail would wag and his eyes shine with joy. You could practically hear him thinking: “Master spoke to me!! Master loves me!!”

I told Emma when she was about fifteen, “Don’t settle for just any man in your life. Wait for someone who looks at you like the dog looks at your father.”

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Also, twenty years ago…

I don’t mean to turn my blog into a memory-fest, but a lot of stuff happened in the summer and fall of 1997. I was, as you’ll recall, pregnant with my firstborn. The school I taught at closed down (I just blogged about that). Princess Diana died (I didn’t blog about that). Mother Teresa died (didn’t blog about that either). And then, on September 19, a far less attention-grabbing celebrity death: singer/songwriter Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident. He was 42 years old. 

I never got to see him in concert. I’ve never gotten over his death.

I know some folks with disagree with me, but I believe that people who say that “contemporary Christian music” is shallow, banal, and musically/lyrically/theologically vapid, either have not listened to Rich Mullins, or possibly have not listened to Rich Mullins enough. There is probably no-one except Jesus — not even C.S. Lewis or Anne Lamott — whose work has had a bigger influence on my faith than the songs of Rich Mullins. Sometimes his music was all that kept me hanging onto any kind of faith at all. 

When Rich made money from his music, he turned it over to his church. They paid him whatever the average salary was for a worker in the US that year, and gave the rest to charity. On his Wikipedia page you can find this fact coupled with one my favourite Rich Mullins quotes:

Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted.

He would have been 62 this year. It’s impossible to imagine the songs he would have written, the directions his faith and his art would have taken him. I think he probably would have drifted farther away than he already was from the centre of American Evangelical Christianity and probably be shocked and horrified by the political/cultural directions that branch of Christianity has taken in these last 20 years … but who’s to say? It’s only guesswork. We never know what could have been, only what was. What was, and are, are the songs.

Here are five of my favourite Rich Mullins songs (some are videos and some just audio), with my comments.

I think I probably first heard Rich Mullins sing either “First Family” or “Boy Like Me, Man Like You” because those were his early Christian radio hits. But when I bought my first Rich Mullins album (The World as Best as I Remember It, Volume One), the first lines of “Jacob and Two Women” jumped out at me as being completely unlike anything I’d heard in Christian music and most of what I’d heard in church. When you hear a guy sing “Jacob he loved Rachel, and Rachel she loved him, and Leah was just there for dramatic effect/ Well it’s right there in the Bible so it must not be a sin, but it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick” … well, you know you’re in the presence of a songwriter who is not playing around with a bunch of Christian cliches and putting on a holy face. This was real stuff.

Outside of his hardcore fans, Rich is known for writing the praise-and-worship anthems “Awesome God” and “Sing Your Praise to the Lord.” While I like those songs, I don’t like them as well as his more singer-songwritery stuff. If I want to hear Rich Mullins do a praise and worship song, something to make me lift my hands and go all Pentecostal, it’ll be “Sometimes by Step.” It’s a song about one of my favourite spiritual themes — how God leads us only one step at a time — we can’t ever see the whole way, and the only way to know where the path is going is just to step out and follow it.

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Twenty Years Ago ….

The late summer/early fall of 1997 was a strange and life-changing time for me, for a lot of reasons. I was pregnant with my first child, Chris, who was due to make an appearance in January of 1998. I was also changing jobs, as the job I’d been in for the last five years was coming to an end due to a catclysmic upheaval in the Newfoundland school system. In September 1997 I started teaching English at Beaconsfield Senior High, a position I would hold for only five months before going on the world’s longest maternity leave (in some senses, it still hasn’t ended).

Before that, I’d been teaching English at the St. John’s Seventh-day Adventist Academy — the same school I attended from Kindergarten through high school graduation in 1982; the school both my parents attended. Even some family members of my grandparents’ generation attended the school. To say I and my family had a lot of history with the St. John’s SDA Academy would be an understatement. The baby I was carrying in summer 1997 would not carry on the tradition; our school would no longer exist by the time he started Kindergarten in 2003.

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St. John’s SDA Academy, early 1940s. Both my parents are somewhere in this picture.

My fellow Seventh-day Adventists will know something about the history and the emotional weight (both good and bad, depending on your experiences) of Adventist education. But you can’t really know what our experience here in Newfoundland was like, because it wasn’t much like anything anywhere else in the world. Adventists have always been big believers in church-run, Christian education for their kids, and in almost every place (at least in North America) this has meant starting small private schools supported by tuition and by the generosity and hard work of the local church, where Adventist kids could get an education without having to rub shoulders with “The World” too much.

Our situation here in Newfoundland was different. At the time the early Adventists decided to start their own school in 1905, the Newfoundland government operated no public schools; almost all schools were run by churches. There were Roman Catholic schools and Anglican schools and Methodist schools and eventually schools run by smaller Christian groups — Salvation Army schools and Pentecostal schools and Seventh-day Adventist schools. Over the twentieth century, this evolved into a system where the government fully funded all these schools — paying for teachers’ salaries and other expenses of running a school system, and establishing a provincial curriculum and government exams for high school graduates — but left most of the day to day running of the schools to the churches. Churches could hire teachers, set their own religious ed curriculum, have whatever religiously-oriented extra-curricular activities they wanted such as chapels and worships, all without charging tuition. All schools were free and open to everyone.

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The Kids May or May Not Be All Right, and it May or May Not Be the Fault of Their Phones

It’s rare, in this polarized world of ours, that voices on the left and on the right sound off on the same side of an issue. Rare enough that when it happens, it’s probably worth paying attention.

I noticed just such a phenomenon on Facebook last week, when one of my more politically right-leaning friends shared a blog post by Professional Angry Christian Person Matt Walsh, while at the same time one of my more leftward-tilted friends shared an article from that generally progressive-ish magazine, The Atlantic. Both articles were ranting about the same thing: the use of smartphones by children and youth is not simply affecting, not merely changing, but literally destroying a generation. Today’s tweens and teens are weak, passive, immobile, unable to cope with the outside world – because they spend all their time on their phones.
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This wasn’t, it turned out, some rare confluence of independently-arrived-at opinions. Matt Walsh was responding directly to the Atlantic article, filtering author and psychologist Jean M. Twenge’s research and concerns through his own particular prisms. When we do find that rare agreement between people and parties who usually disagree – when Matt Walsh reads an article in The Atlantic and responds with agreement instead of venom – it’s either because the thing is so incontrovertibly true that it transcends our divisions, or because it agrees with some preconceived biases we hold (such as, Technology Is Evil or Everything Was Better in the Good Old Days).

On the surface of it, the agreement here seems to fall into the “incontrovertibly true” category. Kids today get smartphones at what seems to me ridiculously young ages (seriously, why would you put a $700 piece of electronics into the hands of the seven-year-old who just pulled off Barbie’s head??). They spend a lot of time on them, and this has changed both the kids and the culture. Our kids are having experiences online that those of us who grew up when there was no “online” cannot fully understand, and we don’t know what the consequences might be. We can see that change is happening quickly, and it scares us, regardless of whether we’re pre-programmed to think that change is usually a good thing or that change is the Devil’s calling card.

Probing a little more deeply into the original article, I began to question some of the panic it engendered. It starts, as such pieces always do, with an anecdote: Twenge talked to a 13-year-old girl and found that this young teenager is in the habit of going to the mall with her family, rather than hanging out there unsupervised with her friends; she’s more likely to spend time with her friends online than in real life. Twenge continues to pile anecdotal evidence alongside research, creating the impression that smartphone use has spawned a generation of children who spend all their time locked in their rooms staring at screens, unable to interact with the world outside in any meaningful way.

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