Archive for March, 2010

Regular readers of my blog know that for the past month I’ve been trying to woodshed, to sit in silence and listen to my inner voice. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, here, I used to write poetry. I enjoyed writing even if no one else liked what I wrote. (But, if they did, that was an added bonus!) Some of the final drafts of my earlier work can be seen by clicking the Poetry tab above.

I started writing in high school and continued into adulthood and then stopped about nine years ago. At first I thought I was lacking inspiration, but in truth, the inspiration is all around me. Lack of listening to the One who inspires is what caused my extended writers block. I’ve found that listening has made me see again.

While this is not the first of my poems written during the silence, it is one that particularly moved me while writing it, and that surprised me. So, I decided to share it with my readers.

The Circle
(early draft)

First leaves of color bright
then blankets of snow
cover all,
next the seed planted long ago
springs forth
into the warming air.

As sun lifts higher,
and days grow longer,
birds and bees and butterflies
and lovers embrace
under sun shine
and canopy of green
and star shine…
and children play.

Life’s path goes on
as autumn grows nigh and
first leaves of color bright
and blankets of snow
cover all.

Creative Commons License
The Circle by Joyce Piwowarski Simkin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Yesterday I read a blog post by Matthew Warner entitled What’s Your Favorite Dystopian Novel? The post itself, referencing 1984, was aimed more closely at current events, especially the Health Care bill, and Mr. Warner’s dislike of government intrusion. He proposes that dystopian novels have much to teach us. Then he lists three novels: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I’ve read the first and the third. The second was sitting on my “To Read” pile. A commenter suggested that Brave New World was more appropriate to the times we are living in now. So, that got me to thinking that maybe I should move Brave New World to my “Reading Now” pile. And, that’s what I did. I left (temporarily) Mimi, Gusto, and their children on the cusp of their brave new adventure in inner space (for the uninitiated, this is from the novel Ghulf Genes by Arsen Darnay) to set off on a quest for Huxley’s Brave New World.

I’m not yet far into this troubling little book, however this did catch my eye. The director is talking to a student about why giving the children shocks to decondition their love of flowers is sound practice for the Community.

If children were made to scream at the sight of a rose, that was on the grounds of high economic policy. Not so very long ago (a century or thereabouts), Gammas, Deltas, even Epsilons, had been conditioned to like flowers—flowers in particular and wild nature in general. The idea was to make them want to go out into the country at every available opportunity, and so compel them to consume transport.

Primroses and landscapes…have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided…to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport….

We condition the masses to hate the country,…But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail some use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport.

Developing a consumer class. Isn’t that the aim of marketing departments everywhere? Even though the correlation is somewhat sketchy, the marketing of the newest technology, comes to mind. HD TVs. See the most life-like picture from your living room. Almost as good as being there in person. Soon there will be 3D TVs. Then I’ll be able to sit on my couch and really experience Nature, without actually leaving my living room. Experiencing real-life in 3D seems more fulfilling to me than experiencing it from any future 3D TV set I may own. But, then again, I was not conditioned from childhood to think otherwise.

But, I digress. As I was thinking about dystopian novels, I was wondering if there were any utopian novels? Plato’s Republic perhaps. Though, not really a novel. I’m sure I’ve read at least exerpts of that back in college. But, I don’t seem to recall reading any other utopian novels. So, let’s think positively. I’m putting the call out to my readers. What are some of your favorite utopian novels, and why?

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A while back I decided to go through a box of my parents’ stuff, keep what was important to me and throw out the rest. In this box I came across an envelope that contained a magazine, Marriage: The Magazine of Catholic Family Living, August 1965, and a book by the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Communion of Saints: Sanctity Through the Centuries, 1967. Since my parents were married in August 1965, I figured that the magazine was given to my parents by the priest during their marriage preparation. As for the book, I don’t know. Since it does have a list of “Popular Namesakes in Heaven,” and little blurbs about them, perhaps it was given to my parents by one of my father’s sisters when my parents found out they were expecting me. (My mother was Lutheran so I doubt anyone on her side would give her a Catholic book.)

Since I have an aversion to recycling reading material that I haven’t read, I thought that I’d put these pieces on my bookshelf with the intention of reading them when I got the chance. Recently I got that chance. As I was sitting waiting for some software to install, I decided to leaf through the Marriage magazine. I came across what I thought was going to be an interesting article, review really, of C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, but as I read more and more, I became interested less and less. So, I continued to leaf through. That’s when I ran across the article entitled: “Sign Here Sucker!” by John Tait. Now that’s an attention-getting title! (‘Course, the caveman picture on the opposite page helped draw my attention too.)

Caveman from Marriage magazine, August 1965

The subtitle to this article is “Many families are unaware of how much they are paying for purchases on credit.” Hmmm… this may have been written in the 1960s, but it’s quite relevant to those of us living in the 2010s.

The article starts out with a little story about a naive husband named Bob Green, who has a penchant for buying extravagant gifts. It’s two days before Christmas and he hasn’t yet bought a present for his wife. They’re overdrawn on their credit, so he doesn’t dare buy something else on credit. As he’s walking to his car he’s approached by a man selling watches. “Just pay me $20, take the watch, and return it to me tomorrow if you decide you don’t want it, I’ll be here…,” says the man. Thinking it was a good deal, Bob signed his name to what he thought was a receipt and went home. Needless to say, his wife was not pleased and sent him to get his money back. Well, any intelligent reader can see what’s coming next. Bob not only could not get his money back, but the “receipt” that he blindly signed was a contract agreeing to pay the con artist $250. The article goes on to say that even though you may not be as gullible as Bob, you can still end up signing contracts that will end up costing way more than you anticipate. The article offers information and advice about the pitfalls of consumer credit.

Although the article mentions outdated terms such as “revolving store credit” (interest charged by the month) and “passbook loans”, it does have some good advice for the 21st Century consumer. Having recently gotten my first credit card bill after the newly enacted credit card consumer protections took effect, I found this passage particularly interesting.

…Edward Gudeman, former under Secretary of Commerce, once declared that ‘Under the conditions applying to a modern installment credit system the idea of only six per cent credit charge, for instance, is a myth—and the public should be aware of it. Consumers should know the true cost of credit.’

In the last few years, different bills have been presented to Congress to provide a standard method of credit-labeling that would make price comparisons meaningful…. The customer could then see at a glance the precise cost of the credit he is buying.

Since this sort of accommodation is still largely in the potential phase, the best advice is to always shop around for the best deal, read every contract carefully before signing, and make full calculation of the credit charges.

The article goes on to say that “most experts agree that 20 per cent of your income [after taxes] should be the absolute limit” as to the amount of debt a family can handle.

Prudent advice that, like this magazine, had remained hidden for quite some time.

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You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
— C. S. Lewis

I ran across this quote recently and I feel that it describes me. I love to curl up with a book and read for the entire day. In fact, back when I was single and living in an apartment my neighbor used to tease me about it. When the weather was nice on the weekend, I’d spend nearly my entire day on my balcony reading. I’d be up there in the morning when my neighbor left his apartment and I’d be there in the evening when my neighbor returned. Maybe my neighbor felt that I was wasting my life by sitting up there all day with my nose buried in a book. My neighbors were more the get-drunk-and-party-all-night types rather than the sit-and-contemplate types. Loud TVs and loud music through paper-thin walls was the norm. It’s the reason I moved into my current home. To get some peace and quiet and to get some sleep. Though now it seems as though the loud music has invaded my neighborhood and consequently my quiet space. I’m sure all of my readers are familiar with neighbors who play loud music in their cars. In my neighborhood it’s not limited to cars. This winter, with all the windows and doors closed and with my neighbors’ windows and doors closed I could still hear the booming from my neighbors’ stereo (or TV or whatever, I’m not really sure). It seems as though one can’t go anywhere to get away from noise pollution. (This may be possible if one lived in a house out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s not an option for me.)

And, this brings me back to my subject. I’m currently reading a long book, Ghulf Genes by Arsen Darnay. It’s the first book in the Symphony in Ghulf Major trilogy. It’s not a cozy, that’s for sure. This book, at least for me, requires concentration. One pleasure of reading is to get so engrossed in the story that you feel a part of it. This is difficult to do when I hear a TV in the background or when I hear the thumping from someone’s stereo. When this happens, I can read the words on the page, but extracting meaning from them is nearly impossible.

Now, I can’t totally blame my neighbors’ stereo (or my husband’s TV habits) for the fact that I’ve only reached Chapter 5 after one and a half months. There’s another type of noise pollution that seems to invade. And, that’s the noise pollution of my mind. Many times when I’m reading my mind wanders. It should be wandering to places related to what I’m reading, trying to make sense of the story and the characters within. Unfortunately my mind tends to wander in a different direction: what needs doing today, what needs doing tomorrow, what needs doing next week….

While I can certainly get some noise-cancelling headphones to try to quiet the external noise pollution, the internal noise pollution is proving more difficult to quiet.


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World Day of Prayer

Religions are different roads converging upon the same point.

What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Today is the World Day of Prayer. It’s celebrated each year on the first Friday in March. It began in 1887. At that time, the lay women of the Presbyterian Church in the United States held a national day of prayer for immigrants and for reconciliation in the aftermath of slavery. In 1890, Baptist women joined the Presbyterian women to pray for foreign missions. Starting in 1941, the World Day of Prayer has been organized by Church Women United, an ecumenical Christian group of women dedicated to working for justice and peace. The World Day of Prayer is now held in more than 170 countries and regions of the world. (Source: Catherine Haven and Sr. Nancy Ayotte, IHM, The Little Black Book: Six-minute Meditations on the Passion of Mark, Diocese of Saginaw, 2009.)

So, in honor of the World Day of Prayer, I offer my readers the following prayer:

As you leave this place
may the Living Lord go with you;
May he go behind you, to encourage you,
beside you, to befriend you,
above you, to watch over you,
beneath you, to lift you from your sorrows,
within you, to give you the gifts of faith, hope, and love,
and always before you, to show you the way.

Benediction by Blair Monie

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In honor of National Grammar Day, today, Ragan.com had a grammar limerick contest. Anything having to do with grammar, punctuation, etc. was fair game. I penned something fairly quickly on my lunch hour yesterday and e-mailed it. The winner and the honorable mentions will be published tomorrow. I doubt that I’ll win, or even win honorable mention, but I thought it was cute so I decided share it with my readers. What do you think?

There once was a lonely comma
who was crying for his momma,
when here came a phrase
that comforted his malaise
and gave him purpose not trauma.

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