Romance or Tragedy?

30 01 2013

With difficulty, I managed to keep myself from gagging, choking and puking over the gushing responses of some of the women in my Shakespeare class. They seriously consider Romeo and Juliet an accurate depiction of true, deep, abiding love.

These are probably some of the same people that put Titanic at the top of the box office in 1997. Meeting someone and having sex with them a few days later isn’t true love.

When Titanic came out, one of the girls in the church Bible study group I directed repeatedly went to the theater and extolled the virtues of this as a true love story. I finally asked her what made it seem that way to her.

“He stopped her from killing herself.” That was her answer. Doesn’t general Christian charity compel us to keep another human being from physical harm?

In fact, it was Cameron’s masterful direction of the movie that stirred the heart strings. I found it incredibly depressing. Thousands of people died. Nice for the main character to use the tragedy as a start to a new life, but why was she so deserving?

Shakespeare introduces us to Romeo as he pines for Rosalind. A few scenes later, he’s wondering who the lovely girl at the ball is. They exchange brief lines and suddenly they’re smitten. What idiotic blather!

How many of you met someone and were immediately attracted to them? Dozens of hands go up, I see. How many of you got to know that person and within a month or less realized it was all physical attraction? Pretty much the same hands are raised here.

Who knows why we feel initial sparks of attraction to people? Some scientist, I’m sure, believes they have the answer. The point is: most of the time the initial attraction wanes. In a few rare instances, it might lead to abiding love.

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, not a romance. Here are two teenagers (Juliet was 13) that get married after talking to each other for less than an hour and then kill themselves in a fit of tragic loss a few weeks later.

I see melodrama. I see middle school fickleness. I see suicide being touted as a viable route to escape life’s seemingly insurmountable problems and losses. I don’t see true love that is united by death.

What do you see? If there are some Shakespeare aficionados out there, I want to hear from you. Make me believe this is romance.

 





Getting a Spiritual “Workout”

26 01 2013

New cross-trainers squeaking on the rubber mat, the woman with a mission – to get in shape – strides into the fitness club. She wanders into the cardio room, tries out the stepper and the elliptical trainer and moves through to the weight room, a hint of perspiration on her brow. A few dozen reps on every machine she knows how to operate later, she steps back out of the gym. High hopes for fitness prowess dashed on the rocks of ignorance, she drives away.

Compare that to the meeting I had with a personal trainer. She asked about my workout routine, my eating habits and what I wanted to accomplish. Purposefully, she walked to the “big boy” weight room, where bars and free weights dominated the floor and mirrors eclipse the walls. Methodically, she escorted me through each station to work every muscle pair, counting out the reps and weight. When I returned two days later for a solo workout, I walked through her circuit two times, covered in sweat, muscles shaking from exertion when the 40 minutes have passed.

Which of these sounds effective? Right – the plan designed by a physical trainer. I want to carry this metaphor right into your spiritual life, using Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Working your Core Muscles: Bible Study

Any physical trainer will tell you that you’re only as strong as your core muscles. Yes, those ignominious abdominals which expand over Christmas and never seem to deflate to their initial flatness once you’ve stretched them in pregnancy.

The same thing is true in your spiritual life. The Bible is where your strength comes from. In order to work out your spiritual abs, you have to open the Book, read it, meditate on it and apply it to your life.

Working your Back Muscles: Group Bible Study

This is a Superman

My physical trainer made sure I understood that if I wanted to strengthen my biceps, then I’d need to work the transverse muscles at the same time: the triceps. To get stronger, you have to work the complementary muscles to the same degree of fatigue.

Do some Superman extensions along with all those leg lifts, and you’ll see marked improvement in both abdominal and back strength.

The spiritual equivalent to a back workout is corporate Bible study. Believers need to study the Bible with other believers. Not only does this keep us from heading out into a heretical la-la land, it gives us a sounding board for questions. Listening to other interpretations of scripture and hearing anecdotes about the helpfulness of a specific verse or passage strengthens our spirit – at the core.

Upper Body Strength: Prayer – everywhere and all the time

“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) seems like an impossible task. Sort of like pushups for my weak, weighty self after many years abstaining from those Boot Camp favorites. Our upper body gets used. Did you lift a cup of coffee? Upper body strength required. What about opening your car door? Ditto on the upper body strength. If we have a weak upper body, our actions are limited.

The same can be said for our spiritual self if we aren’t praying. Get the picture of kneeling down, folding your hands, bowing your head and closing your eyes out of your head. You can talk to God with your eyes wide open – driving down the road. Believe me; it’s much safer than talking on your cell phone.

God is nearby. His Spirit is within us. We can whisper to Him at any point and He will hear. That’s what I think unceasing prayer looks like. We’re ready to talk to God at any moment, and we do it on a regular basis.

As in, “God, I have to work with this kid again. You know his sole goal in life it to irritate and exasperate me. Help me show him your love. Give me grace.” This is what I call my “Sixth Period Prayer.” When I pray it, God answers it and I don’t get frustrated with this student.

Cardio: Going and Witnessing
We all know that we can lift weights all day long, but if we want to improve our fitness, we have to do more than that. We have to elevate our heart rate. For me, that’s walking and running, kickboxing and aerobics.

Image from technorati.com

Translating that into our spiritual life looks like this – GO. Instead of sitting on the couch, we go out and tell others about what Jesus has done for us. We’re concerned about their eternal destinies and their earthly sorrows. We can be Jesus with “skin on” and demonstrate his love.

Full-Body Workouts: Living your faith

James is pretty clear that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) and we understand that if we want to get in shape, we’re going to have to work out. We can’t just watch the videos and expect results. We have to do the work.

Living for Christ is the same thing. Jesus saved us and now He expects us to “work out our own salvation.” Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus. Not sure what Jesus looks like. Open up the Bible to the Four Gospels and see faith in action.

Join a Team: Fellowship with other believers

“Working out by myself is just so boring.” I’ve heard this many times from people bemoaning their lack of commitment to an exercise program. The answer: play a team sport. I love basketball, volleyball and softball. I would join these teams and gladly sweat alongside them. I just burned 400 calories? No way! I was having too much fun.

Hanging out with our brothers and sisters in Christ should offer that same sort of boost for our spiritual life. Jesus never intended sharing the Gospel to be an individual event. The church was his way of ensuring that we would have a place to go to get the exhortation and edification we needed to make it through our spiritual work out.

Faith feeling a little weak? I just laid out the spiritual exercise program God intended to strengthen you and me.

 





Elements of an Essay

23 01 2013

Exhibit A - Death by Shakespeare

Exhibit A – Death by Shakespeare

My first essay for the Shakespeare class is due this weekend. Ho, hum. Couldn’t they come up with something more original?

If you’ve been in college for any length of time, you know that professors adore essays. Perhaps they’ve run out of reading material, so they assign an essay to while away their evening and weekend hours. Don’t they have a life? They sure know how to keep me from having one.

As much as professors love essays, students loathe them. I’m loath to admit it, but most of the time, I don’t mind writing an essay. I love to write. I’m pretty good at discerning facts and then synthesizing them and expounding on paper.

Sadly, writing about the first three plays I’ve read for my class this term ranks right up with going to the dentist for a filling. (I’m doing that today, by the way.) I have nothing positive to say about these plays.

As essays go, this one only has to be 800 to 1000 words. That’s a mere three pages. Since we’re required to cite two outside sources in the essay, it should be a simple matter to find enough to satisfy the requirements.

What Makes an Essay?

An essay needs four things: a thesis statement, supporting evidence, convincing argument and a satisfactory conclusion.

Wrapping all the important details into a neat package, the thesis statement is a thorough summation of the entire content of the essay. In a nutshell, my essay says…and that’s the thesis for the paper.

All the supporting evidence ties back to the thesis. Every example from the text being analyzed should support the stated thesis. It’s easy to pull things out of context, but if your professor knows the source, you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. Keep it in context.

Argue concisely and with clarity. Supporting statements from secondary sources written by experts are convincing arguments. Formulate your own analysis. Don’t just parrot what has already been published.

The best conclusions are those that tie up all the loose ends neatly. They never introduce new information. They refer back to any analogy used in the introduction. A satisfactory conclusion flows like water and reveals the strength of the thesis, like a beautiful bow on a professionally wrapped package.

Now, I guess I should get back to that essay on Cleopatra. Does anyone like this woman? She acts like a rich, spoiled queen and appears to have loyalty only to herself.





Empty and Full

19 01 2013

Silence. Unbroken now, as my nest returns to its empty state, the boys flown away to college once more.

I love the sound of silence. I am not one of those people whose mind functions at a higher capacity when there’s noise. In fact, I recall completing one of those crazy, forwarded questionnaires in the following way:

Q: What are you listening to right now?

A: The sound of silence

And I didn’t mean the song by Simon & Garfunkel. Although, I do appreciate the harmony in that song, I would just as soon listen to actual, God-ordained silence.

My home is empty, but my life is full.

I’ve got writing projects calling my name. I’ve obligated myself to post a weekly article on my church’s blog. I didn’t write anything over the holiday break (remember, I was taking an actual vacation from everything). I need to get ahead with my blog posts again.

My novel sits in cyberspace, awaiting the return of the woman who pours words into its very soul. In addition, I’ve got a play to write for my class this term. And I have not forgotten that I have some poems and a feature story that were ready to be sent out to publishers.

If only I had a secretary, she would get right on that [sigh].

My house may be empty, but my life is full.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What about you? What’s your favorite “sound”? What’s empty or full in your life right now?





Things I’ve done for the Last Time in my College Career

16 01 2013

If only it was the last time I paid tuition...

If only it was the last time I paid tuition…

Everyone loves new things. People everywhere exclaim over the excitement involved in the “firsts” of life:

  •   First kiss
  •   First date
  •   First child
  •   First job
  •   First house
  •   First car

And the list could go on indefinitely – depending on the scope of a person’s experience.
Today, I’d rather take a few moments to focus on some “lasts” in life. Aren’t there some of these that we could celebrate, as well?

  •  Last cigarette: I smoked for several years when I was in the army after I graduated from high school. It’s been over 20 years since I smoked my last cigarette.
  • Last car payment: My husband, Mr. Wonderful, has been infatuated with purchasing new automobiles since we bought our first Mazda Protégé shortly after our youngest son was born. In fact, last year at this time, we made our last payment on the 2007 Acura RDX he bought be – new – in September 2007. It felt good – for about a month; then he bought himself a new Mustang. Go figure.
  • Last college registration: Yesterday, I completed the last registration I will ever need for my undergraduate degree. Yes, it’s official, I have only four classes left to complete and I’m signed up for all of them. Even though I had to juggle the pre-planned schedule slightly, I felt 25 pounds lighter when the registration was accepted. Too bad I wasn’t any pounds lighter at all.
  • Last FAFSA: Sadly, I will have to complete this tool of torture two more times. After that, my youngest son will be on his own if he wants to keep attending college.

Do you agree that there are some “lasts” in life that should be celebrated? Or maybe there’s a special “first” I didn’t include on my short list above? I’d love to hear from you.





Good Reading

12 01 2013

As balm for my writing spirit and fodder for my creative muse, I read four books over my two-week break. One of them was assigned for my job – a book we will be teaching next month. I can hardly keep up with my book club reading list, but one of the titles I read came from there.

Thankfully, the other two books were purely for pleasure. Of course, no writer can read without ulterior motive. I read from the fantasy genre to expand my vision and generate ideas and enthusiasm for my work in progress.

The Grimm Legacy

The last book I read was The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman. This novel is one that my book club is reading. With a tag line like “Borrow the magic – if you dare,” I was ready to be hooked.The-Grimm-Legacy cover

A middle grade fantasy, this book offered a fun-filled adventure in a magical place located in New York City. A high school girl gets a job in a depository for all sorts of historical items. If places like this exist, I had no previous knowledge of them, so this was fascinating – almost like a fantasy world.

Objects from a magical collection are disappearing and Elizabeth determines to solve the mystery with the aid of her fellow pages. An atypical quest ensued and I rode along.

While Shulman’s approach to magic wasn’t completely original, the author distinguished herself from others by putting fairy tale items into a new location and with special powers usually reserved for – fairy tales.

The writing was concise and the voice strong. Characters resembled typical teenagers enough to gain my empathy. The plot moved along at a good pace and when I reached the two-thirds mark, I wanted to find out how it was resolved, so the story was a page-turner.

I recommend this book for sixth through ninth graders who know their fairy tales well enough to appreciate the allusions. Adult lovers of fairy tales, magic and a good story will also enjoy reading this book.

Dreamlander

I have been enamored with K.M. Weiland since downloading her free pamphlet on developing characters. That was months ago. I read her blog but had never read any of her books.

dreamlander-200When I read the book trailer for Dreamlander, I tried to resist. “Resistance is futile” sang my Kindle app. Amazon gladly sent the book to me after “one click.” The novel dawdled on my iPad for several weeks.

This is a fantasy story with an interesting twist – it’s all a dream. I know! How did the beginner’s ploy get published and read by many? Everyone lives two lives – the one they remember by day and the one they sometimes recall when they dream at night.

The protagonist has to save Dreamland. Crazily enough, he’s one of very few people who can remember both worlds and therefore can live full lives in both of them. Crazy, as in loony-bin insane, is what he thinks he is when he’s introduced to the idea. In fact, since he thinks it’s all a dream, he makes a life-altering decision in Dreamland. The rest of the story recounts his attempt at restoring the balance to both worlds.

In the back of my mind, I suspected the solution he worked toward wasn’t going to give him the desired outcome. I hoped he would get the happily ever after he dreamed about, but my worst fears came to pass.

I don’t want to spoil this story for anyone, but I must say that even though this book didn’t give me the ending I wanted, it gave me an ending that satisfied. Weiland effectively creates two worlds – Chicago from our world – and leaps between them seamlessly in a way I wouldn’t have predicted would work. But it does.

Her characters are compelling, realistic and relatable. They are just imperfect enough that the reader loves them and cheers for their success. If the reader is me, she cries for several chapters near the end when all hope seems lost.

I will read this book again at my leisure and make notes. How did Weiland make this story work? I’m going to dissect it until I figure out her secret.

If you’ve got a free weekend coming up: read. Read these two books and escape into the alternate reality of fantasy. Is it any wonder this is my favorite genre?





What’s up for Winter Term?

9 01 2013

Exhibit A - Murder by Shakespeare

Exhibit A – Murder by Shakespeare

Are you looking for a weapon? Perhaps you have a hard-headed relative that could use a good whack on the noggin. In that case, let me recommend The Complete Pelican Works of William Shakespeare.

Who knew several hundred sonnets and 38 plays could create such a monstrous tome? Bound with hard, red covers, my copy can certainly double as a weapon or a mallet for “Whac-A-Mole.

My other textbook caused the man who gave me a pedicure on Saturday to grin like a devil. Naked Playwriting: The Art, the Craft, and the Life Laid Bare is the textbook required for my other class this term. Any guesses on the names of these two courses?

Shakespeare

The dread course descends. As an English/literature major, I shouldn’t have such an aversion to The Bard. Actually, I have enjoyed every Shakespeare play I’ve watched. Reading it is a different thumbscrew altogether.

The professor delights in his Elizabethan Era torture devices. We’ll read eight plays before the term subsides. I’m looking forward to Hamlet because of the allusions to it in Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, which I read aloud to student a few years back. In that novel, Schmidt also alluded to the only chance for laughter we’ll get this term – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Nothing will compare to the yellow tights with flowers on the butt that Schmidt’s protagonist wore, I’m sure.

In addition to all this reading and the discussion boards that accompany it (we have three different forums for this first week), we are required to write two essays. Do I even know what they are about? No. The first one is due on January 27. We will get the specifics on it one week in advance of that.

Is there any doubt that my blood pressure has sky-rocketed? I need time to write and think and write some more and rewrite. A week is hardly enough time to muster a C paper.

The last week, while reading our lone comedy, we will be expected to answer several essay questions for our final examination.

I’m happy there won’t be a huge research paper this term. Do I actually know there won’t be? Having so few details inspires me to imagine the worst.

Play Writing Workshop

“You might be SNHU’s own Shakespeare,” my academic advisor told me when I registered for these two courses together in September.

That is a scary thought. As in “laugh out loud” absurd. I have no desire, or aspiration, to resemble Shakespeare in any aspect of my writing. Okay, it might be nice to be quoted 400 years from now, but I don’t want to write with such verbose complexity to earn that distinction.

Dawn rises on my final writing workshop. I haven’t been looking forward to it.

Surprisingly, I think that has changed after reading the introduction and the first chapter of the textbook. (No, I won’t be doing any naked play writing.)

The professor is extremely engaging, so that’s a positive sign. Of course, the fact that I have very short writing assignments each week adds delight. My major project is a 10-minute one-act play and all the other assignments build toward that.

The next two months might be looking up. I should be able to stay on top of writing this blog. I might even compel my creative muse to sprinkle some magic over my fantasy novel.

I couldn’t answer this question: what’s your favorite Shakespeare play? I’d love to be convinced to make your favorite – mine.








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