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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dogs and Dogma

Recently,  I started reading a memoir by an atheist, one who used favorite old chestnuts to describe people of faith, "fairytales" and "mumbo jumbo" being the most popular cliche words. I assume "mumbo jumbo" is a veiled reference to the Latin Mass in Catholicism. Fairytales have been around for 2,000 years and so has Latin, the "mumbo jumbo" of Virgil, Ovid, and Seneca. What is not thousands of years old is the religion of irreligion, the kind spouted in this memoir. I thought I would be reading about a woman's life. Instead, I was reading about what fools the writer perceives those who believe in God and an afterlife to be. This memoirist states the emotions of humans and dogs are very alike, only our emotions are somewhat more refined. I hasten to add we also use the facilities and not a tree when it is time to relieve our bladder. I  did not finish reading the memoir, not because I am a Christian, but because the writer was boring in the way all proselytizing zealots - whether believers or non-believers - are always boring. Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." If a writer is dismissive and ridiculing toward those with whom she disagrees, I lose interest in her book.

When I think of atheists I know, I think of a member of a book club I participate in, who no matter what book is being discussed, always manages to work in a reference to the Inquisition in a way that suggests it happened last Wednesday. When he does, I think of the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch (you can watch this treasure on YouTube). I also recall a friend telling me she cringes every time she sneezes when someone says "God bless you." I remember what a bit of a bother my atheist friends are during the holiday season (note I did not say Christmas). To avoid offending them, I have to purchase secular stamps, and cards with bunnies in the woods or santas peeing in the snow. On the very great plus side, I think of another friend, a writer who is an atheist and whose writing is filled with wit and compassion. There is not an ounce of missionary zeal about anything in her work. It is just graceful, luscious writing. When I was young, sometime after the Spanish Inquisition, there was a great deal of hoopla about the threat of godless communism. Odd conversations took place about whether or not an American could enjoy the work of a communist artist. I felt then as I do now, I can, as a loyal American, only enjoy the work of talented artists.

I can't help wondering why zealous atheists are so obsessed with denouncing faith and those who possess it. Why is faith such an apparently enormous psychic enzyme in their lives and literature? There is a wonderful scene in a film by my favorite atheist and relentless nihilist, Woody Allen. Annie Hall and Alvy Singer are waiting on line to see a movie when someone near them expounds loudly about the work of Marshall McLuhan. Alvy is upset because the man is so pedantic and so wrong in what he is saying. Suddenly, McLuhan appears and tells the man "I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work!" Alvy turns to the audience and says "Boy, if life were only like this!" More than once when listening to the condescending talk of an unusually smug atheist, I have thought how awesome it would be if God would make a miraculous appearance and say, "Here I am."

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why No Dostoyevsky?

No matter how lush the production values and engaging the acting performances in PBS Masterpiece Theatre programs like "Wolf Hall" are, surely I can't be the only one thinking the Henry VIII and the Queen Elizabeth sagas have been done to death. I imagine too that I am not the only one wondering why those in charge of programming seem to feel that viewers are only interested in the history of England and the authors of England. PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service not Public British Shows. It is as if a sort of psychological TV imperialism exists. PBS is a broadcaster and a distributor so all of the program choices are not theirs, but who is deciding what Americans will watch and why are they almost always selecting English authors? Why no Dostoyevsky? Or Cervantes? Or Moliere? And, in this age of interconnectedness, why are there no Asian or African authors represented on Masterpiece Theatre? Admittedly, I never tire of Shakespeare but the suggestion that there is no viewership for the plays of Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Brecht, or Beckett and other great playwrights seems limiting and somewhat patronizing. It is as if those in charge of selecting programs for Masterpiece Theatre believe Americans have no interest in the literature and theater of countries and cultures other than England.

American novelists and playwrights are represented on the excellent PBS biography series American Masters and the PBS history series American Experience. "August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand," a documentary presented by American Masters and  "Eugene O'Neill: A Documentary Film," presented by American Experience are examples of that excellence. Biographies and excerpts from the works of great American authors are presented but rarely are adaptations of their novels or televised productions of their plays presented. America was and is still a nation of immigrants - immigrants from many countries, not just England. It would be lovely to see their work on PBS. The novels of Isaac Bashevis Singer come immediately to my mind.

The words "award-winning," "peerless," and "intelligent" are often attached to PBS programs because they belong there. Still, representation of the classics, both novels and plays, of great authors from countries other than England and America would be welcome. A new princess has just been born into England's royal family. Why not a new approach to world literature for Masterpiece Theatre? Why not put that much-married Henry to rest for a while and let other historical and literary figures onstage.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 30th Poem - Before Dark


“Home before dark,” our mother’s voice
trails after my brother and me like a kite tail
as we scamper to stickball.  Sundown
happens too soon so we run to the blue
house as if our lives depend on time.
After supper, in the hallway, I hear
“She’s got to stop following me around”
and imagine his pals poking fun at
a skinny kid sister tagging along.

Today, I can’t help it; I’m happy.
God knows why.
I’m holding on to heaven.
If I let go, what’s there?  Nothing
but memory and pain.
I confess I’ve been unfaithful
to my dreams and my stories,
leaving them alone and unwritten
in the distant shimmering house,
the house they burst forward from,
rushing and true.  I have to keep writing.
That’s how it is, before dark…

from Singing Magic by Barbara Alfaro
© Barbara Alfaro

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 29rh Poem - Transitioning


For Lucas who would not cry.
“The doctors call it transitioning,” your mother tells me.
“Some infants don’t cry when they come from the womb
to the room and he wouldn’t so he had to be put on oxygen.”
She kisses your forehead and pats your side.
Born early, six pounds now, and four weeks old,
your small form and calm eyes charm all in the budget
hair cuttery. People always say “Precious” when they
see an infant but damn, you really are adorable.
If one believes in paradise, it’s easy to imagine
angelic reluctance to your transition to a dark stroller
and fleece blue blanket crazy with windmills.
You, Lucas, in your striped pj’s and bib with polka dots,
you, Lucas, happy and gurgling, make my eyes glisten.

from Singing Magic by Barbara Alfaro
© Barbara Alfaro