Friday, February 4, 2011

This and That

A great way to wake up each day, as a writer, is to use the computer. I remember Julia Cameron saying something about doing e-mail as a limbering-up exercise in her fine book, The Right to Write. For me, the blog serves this purpose--but then becomes even more than an warm-up exercise. It becomes a place to test ideas and(Montaigne having reminded us that essayer in French means to test and question) to write mini-essays that might one day be expanded. Or prompt responses from readers.

But today I have several unrelated short items, more factual and philosophical. Maybe they will do more than stimulate my own little gray cells.

1. My wife Lynn has been reading a biography of Lincoln, who, I was glad to learn, had trouble with spelling most of his life. This makes me more sympathetic to writers who make errors. He consistently used it's (which means it is) when he meant the possessive its (the government issued its latest report). So when I encountered a website last week and found the author consistently referring to the Obamas as "the Obama's," I reminded myself to calm down, stop being so pedantic, and know that bright people make simple errors. Of course, when friends send us Christmas cards addressed to "the Schiffhorst's," I at first want to return them to the sender with a red edit; but I try to smile instead. The same occurs as I'm driving and see a sign: "Orange's for sale." No! It's just a plural! I have graded papers too long, edited too many articles to take this lightly.

2. My interest in Henry VIII led me to see the 1933 classic by Alexander Korda,
The Private Life of Henry VIII, with Charles Laughton as the big, boisterous, belching glutton who throws turkey legs over his shoulder. The Tudor tyrant has become a comic figure in a movie that makes wife no. 4, Anne of Cleves, into a comedienne resembling Fanny Brice. There is no mention of church-state relations, the major issue of the time! Still, Laughton is worth seeing. Few subsequent actors look the part quite as well. And these 1930s movies are usually wonderful as period pieces.

3. A more recent film with Viggo Mortenson, "Good," was absorbing but puzzling. I don't understand the title--or why so many reviewers praised the acting. The main character became a passive tool of the Nazi machine in Germany and gradually realized the horror around him. The title and the conclusion left me scratching my head. I guess I wanted to see a major transformation in him, a clearer sense of conscience.

4. The story of Etty Hillesum, who remains a Holocaust victim and writer largely unknown, might make a good film--in the right hands since her story is intimate and interior. I did an article on her ten years ago since I was fascinated by her diary references to silence in "An Interrupted Life." Her final words, tossed out the window of a train as she went off to join her family at Auschwitz, always stay with me: "We left the camp singing."

5. Each day I click on The Hunger Site ( This one-second free click generates a cup of food for the world's hungry (since the site's sponsors donate according to the website's hits). It may not be much for me to do, but it seems like an act of mindfulness, a prayerful awareness of the greater community. If everyone I know took a second a day to click here, it would make a difference.

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