Sunday, April 30, 2017

He Keeps Surprising Me

My son's communication device has afforded us many moments we might otherwise have missed.  "Alligator, frog, bug" means "I want to watch the Princess and the Frog."  "Pig, porcupine, elephant" is how he lets me know he'd prefer to watch "Sing."  Some movies require a more direct approach.  He'll fall down and say, "Oh no!" if I pick the wrong one, but a fist bump followed by a fa-la-la-la-la means "Big Hero 6."  Using this method, I can usually figure out what show he wishes to see.

This past week, let me say, my fifteen year old and I had a disagreement.  We both took ourselves to our rooms to calm down.  Paul took his communication device and punched in the words "Love Faith, love Mom, Paul Love, eat food, love Mom, Love Faith, Paul love."  (It happened just before dinner).  

I thought an older sibling imitating Paul, typed in the words, but the words worked for both of us.  The next day, I met with Paul's teacher to visit a site for his schooling next year.  She asked if we'd put any new words in his communication device. (I hadn't).  She informed me he'd punched in, "Paul sister Bonnie come home today."  Bonn wouldn't be home until Sunday but still, the sentence made me think, maybe he did write the other note too.  

Still, much of Paul's ability to communicate is dependent upon the rest of us thinking about what he's thinking and more importantly, why.  Last night, I took him to Faith's play. Her school put on "Once Upon A Mattress."  After the show, Paul clapped enthusiastically, and stood up and clapped and yelled when the King took a bow.  He even ran over to shake the King's hand. 

The next day, I puzzled over why he found the character of the King so appealing and it was so obvious, I wondered how I ever didn't see it.  The King in the play is mute until the end, and spends his time using sign and gestures which his musician and jester interpret. He identified with the King. 
Now I wish I'd taken a picture of Paul with the King, but it does give me an insight into how he sees himself, and probably how he sees me...I'm guessing I'm the jester. 

All of which leads to why it is that this family needs Paul, all of which leads to why I wanted to share all of this as a story.   Bill Nye, science guy recently spoke with a panel about population control and the need to penalize families who have more than whatever it is that now is considered reasonable via policy.  My son would be in that stack of the unreasonable number, and I object to the idea, much less the presumption entailed in that discussion, that some people are extra, that some people are unnecessary, and that some people should decide how many children other people should have.  I object to using force of law to hurt those who don't agree with such "enlightened" policies.  

We would never get to Paul in that world.  We would never get to most of my children, and my life, and my family's life would be poorer for it.  However, returning to only focusing on the one child we know will not be a world player as it were, Paul is the one society might come to think most easy to whittle out because of his condition. 

Let me say,  Paul has an extra chromosome. Paul himself, is not extra.  He is not part of the surplus population, and he is not a drain on society, he is a breath of fresh air.  He is a gift, designed to reveal to the rest of us, to remind the rest of us, about what is and is not important.  He makes sure everyone comes to the table to eat.  He always wants a bed time story and prayers, he always wants a bath and he always picks and gives me a flower if he sees them when we're walking to the bus.  He dances with abandon, he enjoys slapstick and adventure movies and musicals, and greets  his sisters and brothers as if he hasn't seen them since forever. 

If there's extra beyond the genetic replica of a chromosome in a person with Down Syndrome, it's the gift of being able to love easily and love well.  I would say to Bill Nye, and anyone else who views my son or anyone else with a permanent mental and physical disability as extra or unnecessary, the world has plenty of people who work, plenty of people who are very smart, but it needs every person it can find, willing to love easily and well. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017


On Thursday, I cleaned out a closet of leftover shoes and donated them.  When my six year old came home, she pretended to faint in front of the now empty space on the floor.  "I'm sorry Mom," she explained, "I have to fall down.  It's just so beautiful."

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Swan Song with Connecting the Dots

Mark Shea's program with Breadbox media is becoming a podcast only program, and as such, my Mondays have been freed up for my kids to ask me, "What's for dinner?" and "Can you drive me to the mall?" and "Can we watch a movie?" As such, while I'll still stop by to visit Mark on his show from time to time, it won't be a regular fixed gig.

For the past few months, I've been able to post a note on my door at five o'clock on Mondays "On Radio," and thus insured that no one bothered me for a full sixty minutes. 

 I'm thinking, I might not tell them just yet.  

Here's the most recent and last episode of Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea and Sherry Antonetti. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dial 144 for Misinformation

For Easter, I purchased a landline phone as a present for my husband. The kids saw me assemble the thing and place it on their father's desk. They gave the machine a wide birth, and the first time one of them had to answer it, one would have thought they picked up a poison adder.

"Hello?" My son said, his voice quaking as he held the cradle a foot from his ear. "I can't hear." His sister came by and overheard her dad's voice coming out of the mouth...piece. "Is that you DAD?" she shouted.

Empowered with new knowledge, my son began shouting at the phone as well. A second sister entered the room, attracted by the shouting. "Can I have a turn?" Their father tried to explain to anyone who might possibly hear him, "You don't have to scream. Just talk in your normal voice with the phone next to your ear and mouth."

The gaggle of children began telling their father about their day, "I'm going on a field trip!..I am too! NO You're NOT! YES I AM! I got an A. Did you pick up the X-box? CAN WE HAVE PIZZA FOR DINNER? "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" "PIZZA!" The chorus swelled.

From the phone I heard their dad comment, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Spousal code for me to interrupt the party line.
"Hello love."
"Hey Sher."
The kids filed out of the room during our brief conversation, for fear they might hear adult stuff like the word love.

"That was...loud."
"I don't think they know how to operate the retro phone."
"Why don't you test that theory. Tell them, I'm happy to get pizza if they call and order it."

I summoned the troops and gave them the conditions of the test. I also collected the smart phones from the two teenagers, and turned off the computer. I wrote down the number for the pizza place and left the room.

Twenty minutes later, I found the teens in the kitchen, boiling water for pasta.
After I learned why, I phoned my husband, "Just come straight home."
"They couldn't figure it out?"
"They could push the buttons."
"Then what was the problem?"
"They couldn't figure out how to hang up."

Imagine if I'd made them use the phone book.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Act Now and You Can Too!

This weekend, I lost over fifty pounds.

I did it without surgery, medication, diet or exercise.
In a matter of hours, I felt lighter, younger, more in control of my life.

What's more, it cost me nothing but the time I invested.

What did I do?

I cleaned out my son's closet.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Connecting the Dots

Every Monday, Mark Shea and I enjoy a good talk.  This past week, we shared Easter Sunday stories and delved into the great mystery that is The Shroud of Turin.

Surprised to Find

A piece I wrote Monday night, is up at the National Catholic Register today.  If you remember the piece I wrote at the beginning of Lent, May I Pray for you, this is the bookend to that one. It is why in part, I've continued the question on Facebook.  Admittedly, I also miss the experience of community I felt during Lent and so I am thinking, it might be good to continue.

Here's the piece:
 What does an Easter People look like?

and here's the question for today, "May I pray for you?"

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Lessons Learned?

My favorite Star Trek Series is Deep Space Nine.  One of the characters that made it such a joy to watch, was Mr. Garak.  As a former spy, now exiled on an alien space station with the Federation in power, he forms an unlikely friendship with the straight laced Doctor Bashir. 

One day, Dr. Bashir explains to him why no one trusts his advice or stories by telling the tale of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. 

Mr. Garak asks if the moral of the story is what Dr. Bashir claims it to be, "Be honest."  Dr. Bashir asks, "What do you think the moral is?"   He answers, "Never tell the same lie twice." 

So when my daughter asked me, "What is the moral of Disney's The Little Mermaid?"  I had to consider, what did I want the lesson to be? 

I asked my friends on the internet, and gathered their wisdom, so without further adieu, I present to you, the top ten lessons that should be learned from Disney's "A Little Mermaid."

10) Never trust anyone with a creepy familiar(s).  

9) Learn Sign Language.

8) If your first act of adulthood involves selling your soul, mutilating your body and renouncing all the collective wisdom of your family and people, you better hope everyone comes to your rescue because this is not a good decision on your part. 

7) Crustaceans make lousy "in loco parentis." 

6) If the guy can't figure out it's you without your want someone smarter. 

5) If the girl combs her hair with a want someone smarter. 

4) Catchy tunes can make people forget your lack of character,  (See Ursula, Dr. Facilier, and Gaston).  

3) If the dog likes a character, this is a good person, marry her. If the dog doesn't like a person, that person must be a villain in disguise, attack and kill.  

2) You can marry all you wish, but few survive parenthood in a Disney universe. King Triton is a single dad monarch, and Prince Eric, an orphan for some time.   Sebastian is a singleton, Flounder seems to have no family, and Ursula, seems to have some relationship with Triton, maybe an evil Aunt or Sister, but there are no complete families anywhere.  You've been warned. 

1) Always read the fine print. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

National Catholic Register Today

I have a piece on what we're supposed to be about over at the National Catholic Register, These are the Things Time was Made For. 

Of course, now I have to make sure tomorrow, I work out, write, read to my kids and pray, and that in doing these things, the other tasks of the day get taken care of in the process. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Who is the Crucifixion For?

As a child, I believed, and even as an adult, I have said in jest, "The fireworks on the 4th of July?  They're for me."  Why?  Because as a child, I thought them wonderful and why wouldn't we do something wonderful for my birthday?  Why wouldn't my birthday go beyond one day?  As an adult, it's fun because it means I always know, my family will have off when it's time to celebrate.  

However, the joke is a joke because it's not true. 

The Crucifixion however, it is for me.  It is true.  It was always for me, and I always needed this, just to have a shot at something better beyond this life.  The same is true for each of us. The Crucifixion is a gift, an outrageous gift of over the top love from God to each of us, a sign, symbol and reality of the lengths to which, God will go to win us back. 

There are many excellent reflections and exercises one can use on this Good Friday to honor that gift.  The easiest one I know, is to hold a crucifix in your hands.

Consider His feet.  His feet which the woman washed with her tears, dried with her hair and anointed with perfume, are now pierced all the way through with a nail which someone physically drove into him. and someone else held down so it could be done. 
Next, consider his hands, which he used to make clay to place on a blind man's eyes, and to break the loaves and fishes, which he used to touch a man's ears and say, "Be opened."  They are pinned to a cross.  I don't know about you, but when I consider the nails, I tend to hold my hands, to pull back, because the idea of it is almost too much. 

At the idea of an idea being too much, I consider the crown of thorns, which pierces all over, which he cannot remove, which digs into his skull.  There are a thousand splinters, an untold number of lashes, and all the bruises from the walk and the falls with the cross. These are just the physical agonies we inflicted.

Now we add the cowardice, the grief he felt from being alone, from knowing those He did this for (us, or if I'm doing this examination alone, me), would shout "Crucify him!" The ones he did this for, would play clever, asking, "What is truth?"  The ones he did this for, would say they did not know him, would run away, would betray him, would scatter, and at best, they would watch. 

It was at this point, I hit the snag of "why did Mary, Mother of God say nothing?" 

However, Mary knew her heart would be pierced.  She knew this was the means of salvation. She'd heard his teaching. She'd heard his prediction of having to suffer and die, of having to take up the cross.  She must have pondered it in her heart, and resolved to do God's will.  Suffering her son to die, this must have been the hardest act of obedience of her life, to watch the spectacle, to not go and gather the apostles, yell at them and get them to go back and at least witness with Jesus, to stay with Him, and watch him surrender his spirit.  I cannot imagine a harder task for anyone.  Her prayer must have been a constant fiat at this point, "Let it be done according to Your will." just to hold to being a person without sin.

As I pondered her at the foot of the cross more, when you're faced with the total gift of self offered on the Cross by God for each and all of us, all you ultimately can feel, is silent awe.  So I'm guessing there was some of that in Mary's heart as well, because she would have held all those who fled, all those who shouted, all those who begged for Barabbas and all those who crucified Him, in her heart as well.  "Love God with all your heart, soul and body, and your neighbor as yourself."  Mary had to somehow, be loving those around her as she loved her Son to endure seeing Him on the cross and taking Him down. 

Who is the crucifixion for? It's for each of us, because we've been every role in this drama of the Easter story except for two, and those are the two we are to emulate.  We've been weak like Peter, we've sold out like Judas, we've been envious like the Pharisees, we've been fired up and eager like the crowd, equivocating like Pilate, desirous of having proof, of being able to command God, like Herod, cruel like those who scourged Him, violent like those who nailed him, and scared like the apostles who ran off in every direction.  The more we dig, the more we can find to prove we need God to show us, He will love us even through this, even in spite of this.  "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."  His words of forgiveness even from a cross, to each of us, for the reasons we put Him there.

Have a Great Good Friday, knowing He held onto the nails, not the hurt, and asking each of us in our lives, in our sufferings great and small, to do the same and repeat the words of Mary, "Let it be done to me, according to Your Will," and of Jesus, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Connecting the Dots

I'm sorry I didn't get to this yesterday, it's been a busy week.  You'd think having Spring Break, I'd have more time to write.  Somehow, it seems there is less time.  I'm guessing that's how it always feels, you never have enough time to do everything you would will, and when your time is free, projects line up like jet fighters to take it away. 

All of which is a long prologue to a link to Monday's Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea. We talked about Palm Sunday.  Or as I call Connecting the Dots, Sherry's private public CCD experience where she pays attention, with a good friend as the teacher.

It's Holy Week, and I feel I'm crawling to the finish.  Somehow, my prayer has become ever more scattered as we've drawn closer.  I still take all the intentions to prayer, but my capacity to focus, to sit, and to pray seems to be less and less.  I suspect this is God's way to make sure I don't attribute any success in this Lenten journey to me, but rather consider myself to have been borne through it. Someone who wakes up from having been sick for a long time, cannot take credit for losing weight, even if they do, but reap the benefit.  I vote for that explanation of why I think my prayers have become more a tangled mess of intentions, and intentions about tangled messes.

However, I did hear one really solid podcast I also want to share. I've been following Fr. John Riccardo's Rerouting series, and the most recent one, hits hard.   Before you listen to it, take a calculator and figure out how many days you've been alive on this Earth.   For example, I calculated I've been alive exactly 18,546 days.   You can use this generator to do it for you. (I was off by two days when I checked it).  That's the easy part. 

Now, if you don't have a lot of time, but can give 8 minutes, listen to this podcast. 
The more in depth homily which proposes this project is here. It's fifteen minutes.  If you don't have time for either, or don't want to do a podcast or can't, the project is to write out all of your sins, from the beginning of your life until now.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show your sins to you.  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your flaws not as a form of condemnation, but as a revelation of how we required, each of us, the crucifixion, and to prepare us for the great goodness of Good Friday.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Wikipedia Roulette

The assignment was to look at ten random Wikipedia threads and link them together somehow. 

To begin with, what I learned....

I learned about a church called "Xc 'konk" (That's pronounced something like The Konk maybe but don't swear by it, it's Wikipedia) in Armenia which was 4/5ths of the way blown up in the 1920's.

Next, I discovered an artist named Gerand Van Deynum who painted still life in the style of Jan Davidsz. de Heem.  It would have been nice if they posted a picture he painted, rather than that of his inspiration's.  

A few more clicks on the randomizer and I met a philosopher Henryk Breit, murdered under mysterious circumstances. Wikipedia also claimed he belonged to the "Society of the Enthusiasts of the History of Lwów." It felt like the beginnings of a Dr. Who episode, except that was all she wrote. There wasn't any trace of his philosophy or what about the history of Lwow that made people so enthusiastic or likely to disappear for expressing such zeal for the hometown. 

  Wikipedia's random button introduced me to the village of Taqiabad, Kalat, population 585 in Iran. I wondered if they likewise had a "Society for the Enthusiasts of the History?" and if they don't, why not?
Next I found out about the wingspan of a Deroxena Conioleuca Moth; it's between 14 and 16 millimeters, or for those who don't do metric, just over half an inch. No mention of who did the measuring but you can bet, it wasn't an American educated before 1980.  

In my wanderings on the internet, I found myself becoming acquainted with a radio show before there was Angela Lansbury, Lois Lane or Nancy Drew, there was Kitty Keene Inc.  Only four episodes of her show survive. But why? Now there's a mystery. 

I skipped over a few countries whose names were even more impossible to pronounce than the ones I'd already discovered in this internet voyage, and the bio of a Matthew Collins, biologist, which felt too much like reading a write up for a Star Trek the New Generation Character. Here I was, skimming Wikipedia, and wanting to be dazzled, and irritated when I wasn't. It felt overindulgent, like my brain was insisting on too many toppings for a Sundae.

So I resolved to discipline myself. I would take the next offering; "The Lord of Opium," a sequel sci-fi novel by Nancy Farmer. However, I didn't find myself anymore compelled by the ongoing adventures of Matt Alacran than I did by the research of Collins, except this time, I spent more time on Collin's page and discovered his research focused on the persistence of proteins in ancient samples, modelling to explore the racemization of amino acids and thermal history to predict the survival of DNA and other molecules.[3] Using a combination of approaches (including immunology and protein mass spectrometry) his research detects and interprets protein remnants in archaeological and fossil remains. Hello Jurassic Park Reality? I had to rescind my indifference to the good professor if the possibility of owning a Good Dinosaur might be in the making.

Next I found Melissa Brown, Ophthalmologist and three time Republican Candidate for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania. That's all she wrote.

Having looked at all the words I had to write and rewrite to simply explain what I read over the course of ten minutes, I learned one more thing from the exercise.

That Wikipedia is full of names of people and places and things I can neither pronounce nor spell and that since I want to be in the collective data dump of history, I'd better get to work creating a book about the Opium Lord of the Radio Program about a Politician hiding in a church in Armenia, heading the Society for the Preservation of 1/2 inch moths, membership 585, whose secret plans for reintroducing dinosaurs onto the earth, are conveyed in still lifes hanging in the Hague. 

Also, I should just stay away from the Random Wikipedia button.

1000 Stories, 1000 Words, Even More Memories

My brain today announced, “Due to excessive lack of use, the management has declared it will no longer take requests from the general public to perform on demand.”  I offered to eat fish.  I offered to exercise.  I even suggested I’d do both in the same week. I’d read Joyce.  I’d finish a medium level Soduku and listen to Mozart. 

I sat down to write.  Nothing.  I tried looking in my book of prompts.  I solicited family for suggestions and went on the internet searching for inspiration.  Finally, I had time, I had a computer and I got this:

So you get what I always do when I can’t think of something to write, you get me complaining about my AWOL muse and why Sherry can’t think anymore. 

One reason is simple.  Writing served as a means of self-affirmation while a stay at home mom.  Now that I’m working, the need for affirmation is not as desperate, ergo, the motivation is less.  That’s pathetic and sad really, but it’s also not wrong (much as I might wish otherwise).   On the positive side of that argument, perhaps my ego isn’t as needy.   (Ha!).  I know writers write even when not inspired, even when tired, even when they can’t think of a blasted thing so I’m here, whiffing at my own softball pitches.

Another reason is maternal.  Teenagers, while as amusing and entertaining (and they are), don’t struggle from massive cute disconnects which can be easily exploited for humor purposes.  I don’t want to document adolescence the way I did toddlerhood, because the chaos of teenagerhood is more about figuring out how to help them grow up, and that requires time and space and preferably, not sardonic, sarcastic or even light humor remarks from Mom.  

There are more reasons.  Physically, I know I’ve been running on fumes, both physically and intellectually since around September.  Negotiations with the brain have indicated there isn’t enough caffeine in the universe to make up for the lack of consistent rest, ergo if I want the grey matter to work, I need to invest in more REM time.  Will work on it, especially during Spring Break.

Inspiration. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve told all the jokes I have, and there aren’t any stories that aren’t either repeats of what’s been done, or somehow not what they should be.   I don’t want to force laughter or force humor.  But writing is a lot like fishing, you have to be patient and some days, even if you do everything correctly, you get skunked.   I know. Write anyway. Fish anyway.  Fish until you have no bait left even if they aren’t biting.  Write until you’ve hit 1000 words, even if they don’t sing.

Writing is hard.  Comedy is hard.  Writing comedy is harder than both.   A person who fishes but gets skunked is still a fisherman.  Is a person who writes but comes up with nothing still a writer?  Yes, but like the fisherman, frustrated as all get out.   I don’t want to just write words.  I want to write stories.  I want to somehow evoke a mood (other than boy is Sherry irritated with herself and in need of a diet coke, chocolate bar and a good 3 mile walk, maybe a book, a glass of wine and an early night).  

Back in 2004, I began writing and it seemed, everything would just pour out.  As I look at those early attempts, I wince at my own creations.  They seemed beautiful then, the same way prom pictures and art work and poetry written in adolescence seem meaningful and lovely.   Maturity has a way of rubbing off the glow of those early pieces, because you can see what you could have done, what you should have done, but what those early pieces have that isn’t there now, is fire.  Fire that came from feeling semi-fearless, like I could write anything. 

Somewhere in thirteen years of writing, telling the stories of what happened became something I wouldn’t do, and with that, telling stories became harder.   I lost a piece I’d worked on, with only 356 words to show for it, and I can’t for the life of me remember a word, not even the concept. Discouraged, I wondered, is it gone?  Is it time to just stop.  But that’s always been my problem.  I stop just before things flower, just before things take off, I sabotage myself by not fighting through whatever it is.  So I’m here, banging on the typewriter, blathering about my writers block and hoping somehow to pull out of my head, the practiced habit of writing, to restart with the vigor of knowing, every day there are 1000 stories waiting to be told.  My writing coach holds no sympathy for writing block. "You have ten kids.  Write."

It's a true formula, so I made a timeline.

We ate bacon and bagels, hot cross buns and fresh tomatoes for breakfast and John and Rita served the seven o’clock.  Paul brought me a lily he plucked from the outside and I placed it on the mantle.

 Today my almost ten-year-old reenacted light saber battles with whiffle ball bats.  She and her sisters planned a birthday party and bribed their parents to host a slumber party by cleaning the basement. 

We planted tomatoes and went to a band concert.  My son demanded to quit band because he doesn’t like it.  I offered a bribe.  He agreed with the proviso, I not make him go to Summer Camp. I’m still deciding if I agree to these terms.  At the concert, I met a couple who used to go to Saint Martin’s, they talked about the charism of Fr. Dan, which I agree, is remarkable.  I thought about his gift to bring others to the faith and how he helped me in a hard time.  The kids scored an excellent and I watched and wondered why one conductor refused to smile.

The kids planted Gladiolas, wild flowers, and played with kites in the back yard.   Paul came to me with his communication device and punched in, “Alligator, bee, toad.”  Which meant “I want to watch The Princess and the Frog.”  He’s also typed in “Fish, Jelly, Turtle,” code for “Turn on Finding Nemo.”  That evening, we took Paul and John to see a Capitals Game and Paul held our hands and jumped up the stairs and across crosswalks in downtown DC.  He said “Hockey” and signed to a girl his size, “I like your shoes,” because she wore caps sneakers. We got him a jersey and he wore it to bed, he felt so pleased.  All of this in one day, when I thought, I could think of nothing, because I was thinking what can I write, as opposed to “what happened?”  There isn't always a line connecting everything other than one thing preceded another, but writing out the events of the day allows me to look for ways to connect the events.  What happened?  A lot of life which, if I hadn't written it down, might have been forgotten.

First rule of writing, write.  Second rule of writing, get out of your own way when you’re writing.  Third rule, finish strong. 

Paul's first game, Palm Sunday, and a band concert, it was a good day to remember.   Sitting down to finish this piece after the game, I thought, "They're all good days, even the bad ones." I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

Pray and Fast and Give Alms for Peace

The Syrian crisis is as complex as anything one might imagine.  Here are some of the key points from the past four years alone.  Suffice it to say, 250,000 individuals have died and 11 million have been displaced from their homes.  Every once in a while we get worked up over a picture, because a picture as the saying goes, is worth 1000 words.  Nikki Haley held up pictures asking how many children have to die before Russia cares? I'd change the word Russia to world.

Seeing people dying in a horrible quick fashion that is frightening, that makes us want to take action.

This sort of horror, like the picture of the boy washed up on the shore, like the picture of the boy in the back of the ambulance, somehow gets us more invested than say, this picture:
or this one: 

Which makes us want to change the channel because we can't wrap our heads around it and don't have a symbolic action we could do which would let us go back to not paying attention. 
So remember folks, you can kill with indifference, denial of humanitarian aid, bullets and bombs all you like, but if you do a chemical weapon drop, we'll send missles.  Please, go back to killing and oppressing your people in less emotionally gripping and disturbing ways.  To avoid further strikes, only oppress and kill in ways which are approved by other civilized nations.

I'm sorry if that sounds too sharp to some ears. I'll concede it might deter Assad from authorizing further flights from airbases he contols to drop chemicals on civilians who do not favor his regime, but it also might draw us into a high stakes conflict with Russia, since Russia suspended an agreement of military cooperation between the US and Russia, since Russia is an ally of the existing Syrian regime. Additionally, while surgical strikes provide symbolic relief, no one even pleased with the US response, believes this limited action will result in the regime having a change of heart.

While I hope the missles got the places that hold chemical weapons, no one should feel comfortable that the US sends drones or missles into countries where we have not declared war or been given sanction to act in a military fashion or that Russia has promised to bolster Syrian air defense systems and is sending a frigate to monitor Syria's port to the Mediteranean.  It has the feel of brinkmanship, and not "the art of the deal." Military action, like all other things we do, ought to be the result of reflective, deliberate policy and thoughtful examination.  This act, (in contrast with the talk up until last week), is reflexive and reactive.  I didn't like it with the past presidents, I still don't like it.  

So what do we do as we watch powers and principalities play out a game of live chess with real people?

If we remember, back when war with Syria seemed inevitable in 2013, Pope Francis asked the Church to pray and fast for peace.  Somehow, the U.S. need to go to war which seemed unavoidable, evaporated...overnight.

Perhaps it is time to make that request again, and this time, add alms giving in the form of each parish taking on a family. If the Pope asks our fellow Christians and Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters to each take on a family at each church, each mosque, each temple, we will be able to whittle that picture of endless despair down, and perhaps help prove there is another way to address "such relentless hate," by riding out to meet them.  Problems aren't intractable just because they're difficult to resolve. Problems remain intactable because people refuse to be moved or to move. What is required is embracing the cross.  Somehow, we have to know, if we are Catholic, everything always requires embracing the cross.   Somehow, we have to know, peace isn't the merely absence of conflict.  Anyone who ever had a silent fight knows how a house feels when two people aren't getting along.  On a global scale, we can't know peace when we wilfully ignore suffering so as to "get along."

What we keep forgetting, as individuals and whole peoples, is when we ignore a problem because it is hard, it gets bigger.  It's true with weight. It's true with debt.  It's true with education. It's true with politics.  It's true with everything that matters in life.  When we ignore problems because they are difficult, we eventually wind up ignoring people.    We need to take on this crisis we've ignored. 


We can eliminate the humanitarian crisis by helping one family at a time, via one community at a time.  Risk is always involved when we reach out to a stranger, to an other, whenever we offer love but to do otherwise, is indifference (which is the simplest path and what we've done as a world whenever we thought we could).  We've tried indifference. It has lead to where we are now, with millions searching for room in the inn of the world, pictures of the dead and the dying and stories of suffering, waste and pain with no respite.

Here's some links to ways we can get involved.
Seven Ways to Help Syrian Refugees.
Here's one more, which has some of the same information but is still worth reading as I'm pleased it's from a secular source: How to Help.

Petition your bishop, your pastor, and your friends to encourage everyone to do the same.  As we prepare for Holy Week, we ought to ramp up our prayers, fasting and alms giving, storming Heaven, asking for the peace the world cannot give.   If we show we are not living as this world would have us, but as the next, perhaps we can have better pictures and better stories to tell.

So Pray the Rosary for peace.
Fast as penance for all the pain we've created via neglect, indifference and not being willing to act,
and give alms, so they will know who we are.

It may seem unreasonable to pray for peace in such a wartorn and conflicted country. How could it possibly happen? That's okay. God loves unreasonably.  We can be unreasonable with God in our prayers, and God wants peace for these people, for all of us, even more than we do. It may seem crazy to give alms when there are so many in need. How could our little be sufficient?  That's okay. Give what you can. God will do the multiplying. He's done it before.   It may even seem scary to take on caring for people of a different faith, people we don't know, and to invite them into our lives. Again, that's okay. 

Love is always unreasonable, generous and courageous.  So be unreasonable, generous and courageous.  This week, this about to be Holy Week, be love.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Connecting the Dots with Mark Shea

So here's the link to our podcast on Monday. I hope you're having a great week. I'm going to be on Spring Break next week, so hopefully, you'll see more writing, less double postings hey, I have a link here kind of stuff.  

Hang in there, this is the week of Palm Sunday, and next week, we get Easter.  

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Writing Humor/The Theory Behind it

Why is comedy difficult?
Well in most writing, you have a story and it can go up and down and around and people don't necessarily have a specific emotional response they must have. Unlike a western or sci-go or historical fiction, humor is a genre of mood, not place or time or parameters of how reality is understood. In humor, there is an expectation, to be amused.
If we don't laugh, it's not funny. Pure and simple, that straight forward, and that daunting at the same time. People can write a sad story, and though you may not weep, you may feel sadness and thus consider the story emotionally to be a success, but if a joke draws indifference, it has failed. It is not a joke. It's just a bad line or a stupid line or a poor bit of writing poorly told.
There are so many ways for a joke to fail, it is the souflee of the writing world. When it works, it's light, it's fluffy, it's magnificient and you want everyone to enjoy it, but it can't last. The joke is a pleasure of the moment, and once the moment is gone, it can't fully come again except in someone else experiencing the pleasure of the moment. All jokes are essentially one night stands in the brain.
What does that mean? It means everything you write in Comedy, has to be something someone else never wrote. Every bit of humor has to be a joke no one else told. You can copy a style of delivery, or of writing, but people know the voice/stamp of comedy in a way they don't often in any other genre, such that the jokes will become stale even before their told if the voice of the writer and the humor being created don't match up.
So how do you write humor? The same way we write anything else. Start with the story.
1) Can you exhaggerate it? Make the stakes what they are not.
 "The fate of the universe depends upon me, and to a lesser extent, you." --Ace in Chicken Little
2) Can you diminish it? Make the consequences what they are not. "You are a sad, sick little man and you have my pity." --Buzz Lightyear.
3) Can you find an orange to compare to this apple? Associative connections are your friends. "If she weighs as much as a duck, she's made of wood..." --Monty Python's Holy Grail
4) Can you create an assertion that has no basis in reality and make it stick? "Donuts, is there nothing they can't do?" --Homer Simpson
5) Can you use logic to destroy all reasoning? Spock: "Your logic was impeccable, Captain. We are in grave danger.”
6) Can you play with language like legos? Puns, tropes, alliteration, assonance, oxymorons, hyperbole and metaphors are your friends.
"Marie Antoinette could have avoided that whole nasty business if she'd just issued an edict authorizing the distribution of food to the poor, but she couldn't. Because you can't have your cake and edict too." --Mr. Peabody.

7) Invert all your feelings on the matter. Ugate: "You despise me don't you?" Rick: "If I gave you any thought, I would."
Bonus if you can manage all seven in one piece.  Ultimately, the rules of humor follow one ultimate rule. Make 'em laugh.  Humor is a way of connecting the idiosyncratic to the universal and the universal to the individual  I don't have to be what the comedian is, to enjoy the stories the comedian tells.  Likewise, the humor reaches across ages.   
Consider whatever scenario you craft to be the diving board for the humor. Now, take a deep breath and dive deep.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Forced Practice

Yesterday, I tried to writes something funny. No dice. Nothing happened.  I just looked at the page. Today threatened to be the same way.  The rule about writers block is ignore it. Write anyway, even if it's just junk. So I'm writing.  Sometimes, life is like this, where everything seems so ordinary I can't find something to put onto the page that would somehow amuse, delight or reveal.

The rule of writing is open a vein, but even giving blood requires a 56 day lag time in between donations.   So I'm here trying to tap something, anything that might reveal why it is that my funny bone is awol.

It could be the pressure of work, which limits freetime.  Humor is work, but it does require time and reflection to create.  It could be the routine of life these days, which despite having ten kids, has a certain ordinariness which I feel I've already told all the stories.  We're into adolescence and middle school and high school and beyond. Those stories aren't mine to tell.  I've made a promise to them not to exploit their angst, only mine.

It could be, I'm tired and so the associative component of my brain is resting.  It could also be I'm out of practice.  I used to write three humor pieces a week.  These days, I maybe get one a week, with the other pages of the week being filled out by a published link or the podcast.

Fortunately, they keep growing.  So they keep creating new stories for me.   I started gathering the news of the day.  Paul today said, "Sheep" when we stopped at the farm. He's now using his communcation device to nag me to put on a movie.  Anna is wearing a red sparkly dress.
Regina is karate chopping her sister on the back, while John is gaming, Peter is running, and Rita is fixing a snack. Today is Faith's birthday and we're waiting for the meet to be over so we can get on to the serious business of celebrating. "There's nothing to do." one said.  "There's nothing to watch." another echoed.  "I'm hungry."  "It's too cold outside." "There's no one to play with." The chorus kept growing.  In short, they were bored.

Bored. Bored. Bored.  They begged me for something to do.

I suggested we play a game.

Now there is a debate about what to play.  For people who want something to do, they want it to be the right thing and have no idea how to get to it.

Sometimes, being the parent means being the diplomat, but today, it meant being the dictator.  As soon as I demanded everyone play, everyone found something to do that entertained them more deeply than before.   They drew.  They practiced their instruments, they shared apples and rode around on the garden cart taking turns.   No one needed any help coming up with something to do once I suggested something to do.   Paul came by, smakcking on an apple and gave me a pat on the shoulder.  I'm not sure but I think he meant, "Nice work Mom. You fixed it."

Now I sit at the table with three games no one wants to play and nothing to show for it. I have time.  I have a stupid blank page.  Theoretically, I should be writing something.  I'm still waiting for the writing muse to come play with me.

I know when I'll think of something...when everyone's home and we have something on the schedule.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!