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I kept a list of everything I read during my sabbatical two years ago. It’s been on this blog as a separate page, and as part of some blog housekeeping, I’m converting it to a post.

 

Books read during study leave & sabbatical, 2016

Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje fiction (f)

Promoting Diversity and Social Justice: Educating People from Privileged Groups, Joan Goodman nonfiction (nf)

Christ for Unitarian Universalists, Scotty McLennan nf

Armada, Ernest Cline f

El Cuaderno de Maya, Isabel Allende f

Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York, Adam Gopnik nf

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot nf

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates nf

Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago (the Xenogenesis Trilogy), Octavia Butler f

The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke f

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Thorne f (play)

Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech f

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell nf

John Henry Days, Colson Whitehead f

My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen nf

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr f

The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler f

The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton f

The Great Train Robbery, Michael Crichton f

An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro f

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd f

 My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante f

Inkspell, Cornelia Funke f

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell nf

Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell nf

Persuasion, Jane Austen f

Malafrena, Ursula K. Le Guin f

The Wanderer, Sharon Creech f

Lock In, John Scalzi f

Orsinian Tales, Ursula K. Le Guin f

Unlocking the Air, Ursula K. Le Guin f

Family Sabbatical, Carol Ryrie Brink f

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Alexander McCall Smith f

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie f

 

 

plus numerous mysteries just for fun

and Emily Dickinson poems when I remembered.

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I don’t do too well without deadlines. I imposed one on myself for this series; I would write about every song before I went to see the show. But then it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it, and I just lost steam. It’s been over a year.

In the absence of deadlines, however, polite requests are very effective, and someone at church asked if I were going to get back to this. Even more influentially, he indicated that he’d read them all and they’d helped spur him to listen to the album. All right, then! Onwards to “Take a Break”!

When we see a driven, brilliant person who accomplishes more in his profession than seems possible for any mortal, we might wonder, what is he like at home?

It’s hard to pull him away from his desk, even for dinner. He has to be nagged into spending a few minutes with his son on the child’s birthday. It’s almost impossible to get him to go on vacation. “I will try to get away,” Hamilton tells Eliza. Yeah, right. Every workaholic has uttered these words, and every spouse, child or friend of one rolls their eyes when they hear them. He will try, but then he’ll discover that he has to write one more draft, talk to one more Congressman, add one more argument, recalculate one more set of figures . . . The work will always be there, there will always be more of it, and it will always loom in his mind as too important to put aside. His family can’t possibly compete.

But he does adore them, and this song shows that both sides of that tug-of-war have force. When he’s finally compelled by Eliza to come hear Philip (“He’s been practicing all day”), he hears not more piano, but a novice rap. Don’t you love it? So does Alexander–“Hey, our kid is pretty great!”–and it’s a sweet moment. It’s just a snapshot, but enough to show the love in the family.

The dialogue with the off-stage Angelica also sketches a complex relationship in a few strokes. When I finally read Ron Chernow’s biography (see? I wasn’t wasting those months of non-blogging), one of the questions on my mind was “Did Alexander really write a letter that began ‘My dearest, Angelica’?” It seemed like a small but significant piece of evidence on which one could build a case that they had an affair, at least an emotional one (they were separated by an ocean most of the time). But no; it appears to be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s invention. What does have a historical basis is that brother- and sister-in-law had a relationship that was close, intellectual, playful, and supportive. Chernow writes that their flirtatious banter raised eyebrows, though it might not have done had Alexander not already had a reputation as a ladies’ man.

We see all of those elements here. Close:

Eliza: Angelica!
Angelica: Eliza!
Hamilton, with audible longing: The Schuyler sisters.
Angelica: Alexander–
Hamilton: Hi.
Angelica: It’s good to see your face.

Intellectual: “You must get through to Jefferson,” she advises; “Sit down with him and compromise / Don’t stop ’til you agree” Hamilton takes his sophisticated work problems to her. Playful: They banter via Macbeth references, though Angelica is the opposite of Lady Macbeth. “If you take your time, you will make your mark,” she tries to reassure him, and when she teases, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place,” she isn’t urging him to be more ambitious, but to put down his work and be with his family. Supportive: “Your favorite older sister . . . reminds you / There’s someone in your corner all the way across the sea.”

The way the sisters’ voices weave in and out around Alexander’s protests, it seems as if they must be irresistible. But when they go away for a quiet lakeside summer, he stays behind. Bad move.

(Consider this backdated a week. I have been too tired from full days of museum-walking and street-exploring to do much blogging.)

In case Paris decides it needs a new slogan, I suggest “It lives up to the hype.” I loved Paris when I visited as a college student, and however it may have changed in the subsequent decades, its reputation as one of the world’s best cities, if not the best, is completely deserved.

Great food: check. Every grubby little place has excellent bread and delicious French onion soup. Even the tourist trap we reluctantly went to when we were famished and too near the Eiffel Tower for anything else was terrific. Boulangeries and patisseries are on just about every block, and we never ate anything at any of them that was less than delicious (French people must faint dead away when they taste what most U.S. bakers pass off as croissants).

I’m sure someone in Paris knows how to knock out a crappy meal, but we were fortunate enough not to order anything from that person’s kitchen. It really is a city of cooks who love and know food. We had precisely one disappointing meal, and that was only because it was billed as the best Chinese food in the city, which I doubt it really is. It was pretty good anyway, but we happily went back to French cuisine the next day.

Eiffel Tower: check. It’s the world’s most overviewed tourist attraction, and you know what? It’s still gorgeous. Each of us had seen it on her previous visit and put it low on the list of things to do this time around, but when we had gone all the way to the city’s museum of modern art to see a mural that turned out to be closed to view, and discovered we were half a mile from the tower, we couldn’t resist.

Also, you have to love a place where the street vendors are selling champagne to accompany your picnic. We did not buy any; for that matter, we didn’t picnic. But we walked up close.

Mona Lisa: Check. As I wrote last week, it’s hard to see it afresh, but it’s still a beautiful work of art. So are the Venus de Milo and the Nike (Winged Victory) of Samothrace, the other two items at the Louvre that are so requested that the museum just posts signs all over saying “This way.” Probably the guards got tired to giving people directions. My favorite of the three is the Nike, but none could be called a disappointment. The Louvre piece I would personally walk miles to see (actually, I think I did) is Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave.”

Beautiful city: check. Cobbled streets, graceful old buildings, spires rising here and there–it’s just lovely. Standing on a bridge at sunset watching the Seine wend through the city is even nicer than romantic movies lead one to expect. We even saw swans on the river once, though boats filled with tourists are far more common.

I have some thoughts on the shadow side of the city’s beauty in my next post.

 

We went to church last night, in a quiet spot amidst the glitz and noise of the New York theater district. Bruce Springsteen seems to have the same goals for a performance as I do for a worship service: remind people of what really matters and give them the spark and courage to act; add some beauty to the world, restore hope, and have fun together.

You set out to do that, but you don’t always bring it. He brought it last night, all right.

Catsitter is in place, redeye is behind me, and I’m in New York, where the public radio stations play classical music and the taxi drivers play the public radio stations. This one does, anyway. I’m grateful. I slept some on the plane, but my brain can’t take 1010 WINS even at the best of times. I normally enjoy chatting with taxi drivers, and I’d like to hear this one’s story–he came here from Russia, I think–but maybe a little more sleep before Brooklyn would be good.

Joy and Indigo are out of town for spring break, but I won’t follow them until Monday night, since I have an all-day training to go to on Monday. So I enjoyed a quiet morning at home alone today (Saturday), then went to the San Francisco March for Our Lives to end gun violence. When I joined the March, it extended as far as I could see in both directions. When I got to the Embarcadero I turned and walked back up Market Street a ways, and still the other marchers streamed by, no end in sight.

Seeing people’s signs was a highlight, as always. I counted three Hamilton quotes: “This is not a moment, it’s a movement,” “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” and “History has its eyes on you.” Several students’ signs noted the irony of their schools’ dress codes (especially for girls) being more restrictive than gun laws. There were many pleas to give teachers more resources to do their jobs instead of guns. I liked this one from a girl about Indigo’s age.

One man walked by with the sign “Arming teachers is like arming priests and rabbis.” I wasn’t sure what that meant (still am not) but I came up alongside him to tell him that I’m a minister, and although I know the chances are almost nil that anything would happen during a service, since the massacre in Sutherland Springs, I always keep my cell phone in the pulpit when I preach: charged, and on, and right where I can get at it. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t have to think about that kind of thing.” Yeah.

As is so often the case, the media exaggerates the role of white students and implies that few Parkland students or organizers are African-American, just as, when African-American teenagers have organized responses to violence in their communities they’ve been ignored (“no one addresses ‘black-on-black crime'”), and when they have peacefully protested violence by police, they’ve too often been portrayed not as promising leaders, but as thugs.

Not that the Parkland students have been consistently lionized; the NRA seems to be accusing them of loving the attention, and the media responses are mixed. Still, the dominant response has been admiring, supportive, and grateful–as it should be. Now if we could respond to the young leaders of Black Lives Matter and other, people-of-color-led anti-violence activism the same way . . .

For my part, since I’m so frustrated by the deceptive and self-deceptive narrative about how “good guys with guns” (whether teachers, armed guards, or individuals in their homes) are a viable solution to gun violence, the connection between the deaths of Stephon Clark and others at the hands of police, and that of my aunt at the hands of her (professional, middle-class, white) husband, is evident. Both are cases of those widely perceived as “the right people,” the “good guys,” becoming a deadly risk to those they are supposed to protect. That comes about when a “good guy” is laden with fear, uncontrolled anger, and an attitude of entitlement, but these are far more likely to be fatal when combined with guns.

So one side of my sandwich board memorialized my aunt,

and the other evoked, along with her name, the names of some African-American victims of the “good guy” myth.

Rest in peace, because we will not stop fighting the greed and injustice that killed you.

I’ve been mentally collecting common political misconceptions, some of which I’ve held myself. Some have been debunked repeatedly, such as the myth that Al Gore claimed credit for inventing the internet (he clearly didn’t), though even as one crumbles, another takes shape before our eyes, such as the claim that Sarah Palin said “I can see Russia from my house!” (It was Tina Fey, playing Palin on Saturday Night Live. Millions of us heard her say it on live television, and her tone was clearly satirical, not one of literally quoting her target, and yet people still say Palin said it.) But other, more substantive misconceptions keep cropping up, so herewith a few posts taking a close look at them.

Up today: the idea that federalism, and the Federalist Party of the early United States, advocate a loose confederation of states with a weak federal government. Federalism’s modern version, in this thinking, is “states’ rights.” In fact, the opposite is true: federalism argues for a strong central government and, while not discarding states’ jurisdiction over many functions of government, tilts towards empowering the federal government to supersede the states’.

I thought federalism equalled states’ rights for years, for the simple reason that the Federalist Society, the conservative legal organization, strongly advocates states’ rights and weak federal powers. And if one looks to the authors of the Federalist Papers, there are mixed messages; one was James Madison, a founding member of the Democratic-Republican (also known as the Republican) Party, which decisively took leave of the Federalist Party. However, during the writing of the Federalist Papers, Madison was a Federalist, or perhaps federalist is a better way to put it: he thought the Articles of Confederation were too weak (the Federalist Papers were written with the express object of getting the Constitution ratified to replace the Articles of Confederation) and that a stronger central government was needed to bind the states together.

The Federalist Society, according to Wikipedia, is primarily concerned with the concept of judicial restraint, which is outlined in Federalist Paper No. 78. That was indeed written by someone who remained a Federalist all his life, Alexander Hamilton. But in many (most?) of its stances, the Federalist Society sides not with Hamilton but with the later Madison, who parted from the principle of a strong central government, and in doing so, shed the name Federalist and began a new party–the first political party and the beginning of party factionalism in the United States.

I’m sure my understanding of these parties’ positions is far from complete, and probably anachronistic; who knows where Hamilton, Madison, and other early Federalists and Anti-Federalists would stand on the issues of 2018? But it’s undoubtedly true that the term “federalism” is repeatedly used to mean its opposite.

The Federalist website, for example, though not connected to The Federalist Society, shares its general worldview, and like it, is an inheritor not of the Federalists’ political philosophy, but their opponents’.

And just last week, the Washington Post used the term “federalism” to describe pushback by the nations’ governors against Trump’s teacher-arming plan (“Trump gets a seminar on federalism as governors push back on arming teachers,” February 27). “The session quickly became a seminar on federalism — and a reminder that states really remain the laboratories of democracy,” the author, James Hohman wrote, but that is far more a Democratic-Republican article of faith than a Federalist one.

Political philosophers, government majors, members of the Federalist Society, Ron Chernow, David McCullough (biographers of Federalists Hamilton and Adams, respectively): if you have light to shed on this issue, please do.

Next post: 3/5.

Answer: The number of days after InfoWars host Alex Jones published his “final statement” asserting that the killings at Sandy Hook were a hoax (11/18/16) that Donald Trump appeared on Jones’s show to praise his “amazing reputation” and promise him, “I will not let you down” (12/2/16).

My friend Dan Schatz teased me about my tiny little strike against procrastination, but darn it, it works. I have stuck with it and gradually added two other habits. One is taking something downstairs whenever I go, since most of our living space is upstairs and there’s always something: compost for the bin, a jacket to hang in the closet by the front door, books we’ve finished reading. I adopted this from the nurses’ rule, related by Ian McEwan in Atonement, of never walking down the ward empty-handed; there’s always something to dispose of or deliver.

The other is putting away my clothes and shoes, even my pajamas, whenever I change. I don’t always keep up 100%, but I haven’t had a great big accumulated pile of shed clothes to put away for a year or two now.

Next post: my version of bullet journaling. If I don’t watch out, this is going to turn into a Personal Organization blog, which would be a joke of cosmic proportions.

Colored pencil on paper, 18×22 cm (c) Amy Zucker Morgenstern 2018

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