Saturday, August 18, 2007
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
I've been in a slump for a couple of weeks now, coincident with if not caused by the persistent heat and drought of this summer. I was pretty high during and after FGC Gathering, and then the excitement with Lovely Wife's return from Europe and her mother's return and changed condition kept thing exciting. (Mother-in-law is doing fine, by the way; she's getting good care and is not in any immediate danger or unusual discomfort.) And three trips to the country -- two to northern Minnesota and one to Wisconsin -- were welcomed and unburdensome.
But now I'm drooping, like the tomatoes and coneflowers, and the Minnesota Twins. And I'm dry, with little energy to do anything.
Last wekend, when I was up north at friends' cabin on Birch Lake, near Babbitt, Minnesota, I picked up and began to re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
What a delight.
I've read Tom Sawyer probably a dozen or more times in my life since the first time at age 11 -- at least four times aloud, to each of the children -- but I've managed Huck Finn only three times as I can remember, and have never attempted to read it aloud.
For one thing, the dialect is more pervasive and difficult than in Tom Sawyer, and it cannot be scanned -- you miss most of the jokes and half of the story if you don't read carefully, for one thing. For another, despite the author's Notice warning "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot," Huck Finn is a more obviously piece of social criticism and moral philosophy than its companion, and as such it begs to be read for more than the outward story.
But a fast read or not, I'm greatly enjoying it. I'd forgotten many of the details, and most of the jokes, and when I run across a new one it feels like a discovered treasure. I also think that just reading about floating down the river on a raft, mostly at night, fits with my energy level at the moment.
Huck himself is an amazing character, a true stranger in a strange land, someone who has not and simply cannot seem to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick world. His famous battle with his conscience has helped me understand better the distinction Quakers make between the infallible guidance of the pure Inward Light (which is represented by Huck's pure and innocent nature) and the potentially erroneous guidance of conscience which is susceptible to social conditioning. The most famous scene occurs when Huck falsely tells two slave chasers that the man he has on his raft is white, and that he has the small pox, effectively deterring them from checking for themselves and implicating him once and for all in Jim's flight.
I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn't no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don't get started right when he's little, ain't got no show -- when the pinch comes there ain't nothing to back him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on -- spose you'd done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I. I'd feel bad -- I'd feel just the same way I do now. Well then, says I, what's the use of you learning to do right, when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn't answer that.
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Although it isn't keeping me out of this lazy funk, I am enjoying participating in a show called Hill of Zion. It is part of something called Manna Fest, which itself is a descendent of something called the Spiritual Fringe Festival, which was once part of the Minneapolis Fringe Festival, a 10-day long festival of dozens of small plays and shows held in several multiple venues around town. Fringe plays run the gamut in quality and subject matter and can be great fun or tremendous bore-fests, depending.
Manna Fest shows are all being held at Augsburg College, just a few blocks from here, and are all plays on religious or spiritual themes, serious and not. One, for example, is entitled Martin Luther -- The Musical; another, by my friend Elizabeth, is called Witnessing to a Murder, about her experience witnessing a woman be murdered years ago; another is entiteld Jesus at Guantanamo.
Hill of Zion has a narrator, two actors, and a square of about nine or ten Sacred Harp singers. The story line, if you can call it that, has a travelling spatula and kitchenware salesman stumbling drunkenly into the annual Hill of Zion singing in a chapel near a cemetary somewhere in Iowa. There, he meets an interrent singing teacher, and they engage in a dialog that is broken up every few minutes by the group singing a Sacred Harp song that has some bearing on the conversation. (For example, after the salesman tells the teacher that the caterwailing of the Sacred Harp singers is as good as a strong cup of black coffee in sobering him up, we sing Soar Away, with its lyrics, "I want a sober mind, and all-discerning eye. . . .) It is surprisingly coherent and subtle, given that the playwright is an amateur, but he got most of it just right, as do the actors.
There was some disagreement among some local singers as to whether it was OK to put on a performance like this, but enough of us agreed that it was a good way to expose others to the singing and possibly recruit new singers that it was OK. We have yet to have an audience that has equalled the number of performers, but we're having great fun, and I am enjoying seeing the two amateur actor-singers get into their roles, and in getting to know some singers better.
* * * *
Adding to the funk is the fact that the display in our 5 year-old iMac computer has gone out, and we are struggling to figure out whether to spend more than $600 to replace it, get a cheaper minotor to hook up to the otherwise servicable computer, or to get a new computer altogether. With today's announcement of the new iMac, there is considerable multi-generational lobbying for a new computer. Resistance is nominal with no visible cracks in the facade, but probably futile. We shall see.
Posted by Paul L at 8/08/2007
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Perhaps this is as good a way as any to let you all know that we are all OK and weren't hurt by the collapse of the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi last evening. (The last person in my office who we knew might have been on it just called; he passed over it five minutes before it fell.) We live less than two miles from the bridge, though, and often bike or drive under it on the River Road, especially when we go to Twins' games, so it is not an entirely remote or abstract thing to us. But last night we were eating dinner at 6:05 with some friends and learned about the collapse about an hour later when a friend of Youngest Daughter called. We were just a little startled because three of us are planning to drive to northern Minnesota today and would have been crossing the bridge this evening almost exactly 24 hours after it collapsed.
Almost certainly, the death toll will rise from the seven confirmed (five, says the newspaper) as divers are able to get under the collapsed roadway sitting in the river. The Mississippi has been very low because of the terrible drought -- barely at the nine foot minimum necessary for barge traffic -- and it is likely that the roadway deck that looks like it's floating on the river is in fact resting on the river-bottom on its trusses, and there are probably some cars trapped under there. The real miracle is that there weren't more deaths or serious injuries, considering how some people fell 40 or more feet.
The mood in the city is one of shock, as far as I can tell. A woman on the radio last night said she went immediatly in to "do"-mode and I think that captures it. Everyone just seemed to take up whatever task at hand needed to be done, from swimming out to help people out of their cars to redirecting traffic away from the rush hour snarl. I was most impressed at how many people, many of them U of M students, came out and helped people get out of their cars, out of the water. Eventually, the number of volunteers (supplemented by curious gawkers, I suppose) became a problem, interfering with the professional ambulance and other first responder work. We resisted the temptation to bike down because of this.
Photos from StarTribune
Posted by Paul L at 8/02/2007