Thursday, December 28, 2006

Medicine for the Soul

I recently returned to classes at NEU and I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor of the three part "English Literature" series. This was my first real exposure to classic English Literature and I was a bit apprehensive about the class. I knew that we would cover, among other stories, "Beowulf", "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", and "Canterbury Tales" and I was plagued by the following thoughts:
  • Would I like it?
  • What could I get out of these stories?
  • Why is there air?
I shouldn't have worried. I loved this class.

"Beowulf" is one of the finest works that I have ever read, made even more so because of the ability to discuss the text with my peers. We discussed at length how a society that could refer to Grendel as "born of Adam's tribe" (an evidence of their Christianity) could still believe in dragons, evil spirits and things that go bump in the night. We discussed the importance of heroism in this age, the role of women in their society and the effect that "Beowulf" had on English society as a whole.

In the past 5 years I have expanded my reading list beyond Sci-Fi and Sword & Sorcery to include autobigraphies (Benjamin Franklin, for one), historical novels ("1491") classics ("To Kill a Mockingbird") and so much more. The world exists in books and the written word can " you from the limitations of your age, of your country, of your personal experiences; they give you access to all ages, to all countries, to all experience. They take you out of the rut of life in the town you live in and make you a citizen of the world. They offer you the companionship of the most interesting and influential men and women who have ever lived; they make it possible for you to travel without leaving home, and to have vacations without taking time from your work. They offer you—if you will only accept their gifts— friends, travel, the knowledge of life; they offer you education, the means of making your life what you want it to be." -from "The Harvard Classics"
Thanks to Lisa (Thanks, Hootie!) I was recently introduced to The Harvard Classics and The Shelf of Fiction which was selected by Charles W. Eliot, LLD. This is "The most comprehensive and well-researched anthology of all time (and) comprises both the 50-volume "5-foot shelf of books" and the the 20-volume Shelf of Fiction. Together they cover every major literary figure, philosopher, religion, folklore and historical subject through the twentieth century."
Eliot wrote in his introduction to the Harvard Classics, "In my opinion, a five-foot shelf would hold books enough to give a liberal education to any one who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading."
Harvard has put together the daily 15 minute schedule and has made the works accessible to everyone who seeks them out. I choose to seek them out. Therefore, I am making a New Year's Resolution and I am letting you all in on it.

I resolve to follow the 15 minute a day plan as outlined here. I will read these works each day and hopefully at the end of 2007 I will have a better understanding of the great minds who have stimulated and inspired mankind down through the ages. If even one session opens my mind to new thoughts and ideas then I will consider the excercise a success.

As I have witnessed first-hand, the experience of reading and understanding great prose is made that much richer when shared with like-minded individuals. Therefore, I invite any and all of you to join me on this literary quest. We can discuss the words that we have read as a group (or one on one) so that we may better understand what we have read and hopefully become more intelligent, ambitious, and persistent readers.

The world is at our fingertips; I choose to explore it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sacred Cows and Sharp Knives

Premiere Magazine has published a list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time.

Also, they allow for a rebuttal from another staff member, describing the films worth.
I am very curious to hear what you have to say about this list. Do you agree? Disagree? What film(s) would you add to this list and why?

If anyone plays along then I will chime in, too.
Sharpen your knives and lets carve up some sacred cows, people!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

To my faithful readers - all 3 of you.

During this holiday season, please remember to bring yourself some joy, too.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

NEU, Blogging and Me

Hi all,
I have been a bad blogger lately but it's not entirely my fault. My classes at NEU have really bogged me down this semester All of my creative writing was done for the classroom. So, while I have not been blogging, I have been writing and that's a good thing.
So, submitted for your review is a completed short story that I wrote for Creative Writing - Fiction entitled "Without Thinking".
Without Thinking
Frank Vance arrived at the train platform every day at 7:00. He always walked the length of the out door platform, beneath the conifer trees and past other commuters, and stood at the rear of the platform, just at the edge of the stand, so he could board the train quickly. From here Frank could clearly see the commuter footpath that led across the tracks from the small parking lot beyond to the train stop. Frank would always stand in the same position, removing his latest novel from beneath his arm, finding his bookmark and quickly immersing himself in his book. This was Frank’s quiet time, before the demands of the day were forced upon him.
It was a cool day today and without a wind break in place at this train stop he was forced to hunker down into his jacket a bit more. None of this mattered to Frank as he buried his nose in his book, Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson, happily reading page after page while he waited for the 7:10 train to arrive. Frank liked reading about faraway lands and the heroes that walked there.

After all, where were heroes in this day and age?

It wasn’t the dog’s barking that broke Frank’s attention from his book, but rather the shrieking, trembling young voice that followed after it.

Looking up from his book, Frank saw a dog – a brown mutt - dart across the train tracks. Frank had seen this dog before, usually in the hands of a young girl who had just begun walking him on her own. Frank’s own daughter, Nancy, had waved to this dog and the girl – what is her name? - many times from their front steps. It was this dog and this girl that made Nancy ask for a dog of her own.

What was the dog’s name again? Frank chided his memory. Something Disney...? Simba – that’s it. What’s Simba doing loose?

A quick blur out of the corner of his eye caught Frank’s attention. Frantically running after the dog was a young girl, with a leash and broken collar in her hands, yelling for him to stop. Tears mixed with her cries. Simba had already cleared the tracks just as the girl ran onto it.

Suddenly, the train horn roared to life, shattering the morning quiet and rattling the windows of the homes that sat too close to the tracks. It was a long, powerful blast that deafened those in the path of its sound waves and stopping the girl (Jamie, he recalled) on the tracks, frozen in place, with an expression of fear and confusion scrawled onto her features.

Frank yelled a warning. She couldn’t hear him. He could still see her face as the unrelenting train hurtled towards her, the agonizing, useless squeal of the brakes added to the chaotic cacophony of the moment. Adding her voice to the din, the girl screamed. Her scream was drowned out by the long blast of the train’s horn. Frank knew that the train – an express run - would never stop in time...

Instinctively, Frank gauged the short distance from the platform to the gravel and dirt below and, finally, to the girl.

The train was fast but...

I can make it.

Without thinking, Frank bolted from the platform.

Frank had been a hero once, in his youth.

During the week Frank was an honor student. A quiet, unassuming boy who knew what his future held for him – a quiet, steady job - even as his imagination begged to be released from his mathematical prison. On weekends, Frank had played Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. He was Taurus Firehair, the Ranger of the Black Forest, Hero of the Lands of Exeter; Lord Protector of the Frost Lands of Mir and member (in Good Standing) of the Royal Arcanum of MistGate – an honorary title only, as Taurus was not a spellcaster of any type, which was a requirement of membership in the Arcanum. However, saving the Arcanum magistrate’s daughter from a score of Sky-Demons during the War of the Black Roses does allow for certain perks.

Frank enjoyed his time in make-believe, and followed his passion through college. Even after his freshman year began he still engaged in adventures full of swashbuckling derring-do, adventures where Taurus Firehair could be counted on to ride forth on his mighty charger to protect the innocents and save the princess from any foe.

Then he met Marcia, and suddenly his world had a queen, and Frank was her willing vassal. She was all he needed.

His feet hit the gravel. He balanced himself and bolted forward towards the girl, still frozen on the tracks, the sound of the squealing brakes roaring around him.

Frank thought about Marcia. They had met in college, he an accounting major and she a liberal arts student. They had dated for four years until Frank was finally able to land a position at a firm in the city. They were married seven months later, in a large ceremony largely paid for by her parents, who had insisted on a Catholic service in exchange for their checkbook. Frank – a Protestant - didn’t care; it was only Marcia who mattered. They moved into a small apartment in the city, Frank walked twenty blocks to work each day while Marcia worked on her novel while taking odd jobs as a copy editor for college students. Finally, Frank was promoted to the next salary level and together with the money Marcia had squirreled away over the past seven years they were able to buy their small house on the outskirts of the city. A year later, their daughter was born.

One step, then another... Gravel scattered from beneath his shoes.

Frank thought about Nancy, their daughter. Frank had now loved two women in his lifetime, one was his wife; the other was his daughter. Nancy had brought new joy to Frank and Marcia. In her they saw the wonder of God and the miracle of children. He doted on her from the moment she was born, arriving in the delivery room with a teddy bear three times her size. Frank was up during the nightly feedings and bottles just as often as Marcia, never once complaining about the task. He changed diapers, warmed formula, washed dishes, changed clothes and rubbed his wife’s feet after a long day with the baby.

Frank took another racing step as the blasting horn screamed in his ears. He was steps away from the girl – and she wasn’t moving. Why isn’t she moving?

Frank thought about Nancy’s first birthday, the cake cutting and her first bite of cake, which ended up on her dress instead of in her mouth. Marcia hugged him as he filmed this debacle and they both laughed at their daughter, who gleefully shoved cake onto every spot on her head. Finally, the frosting acted as a mousse and her brown hair stood up on end. Frank snapped a picture of her at this moment, eyes twinkling with her mouth full of cake and her hair full of frosting. The picture still sits on his desk in his home office.
The train is moving fast.

He thought of the plans he and Marcia had discussed.

Too fast.


Cape Cod.

Too damn fast.

The dog that Nancy was going to receive next week from her grandparents as a gift for her eighth birthday.

He thought of Christmases and graduations. He thought of Nancy leaving home for college, a young woman with a life of her own.

I have to move faster.

His nieces and nephews.


So close...

Growing old.

Sitting with Marcia on their front porch in the autumn of their lives.
Reach! Reach!
Frank could hear the screams of the other commuters on the platform. Why are they yelling?

Frank leaped at the girl, arms extended, and her screams in his ears...
Oh, no.

The train towered over them.
Not fast enough.
No one would ever love him as much as Marcia and Nancy did.
I love you, too...

Frank wrapped his arms around Jamie protectively, to shield her from the impact.
Too late.
The train was faster, after all.