The Mortal Storm

Monday, November 26, 2012
I'm a day late with this post, but, as you can imagine, it was a busy week. Thanksgiving was at my house and I'm working on revising my novel one more time based on copyedits I received last week. I'll write more about that in the future.

I love old movies, especially black and white movies. Before 3D and IMax and CGI and an unlimited budget for special effects, movies were about the story. It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to blow things up. It does, however, take something special to tell a good story.

The best thing to ever happen to television was Turner Classic Movies (TCM). When in doubt, I check out what's playing on TCM. (If it's not baseball season. If there's a Red Sox game, I'm probably not going to be watching a movie. But it's November and there are still a few weeks until pitchers and catchers.) This happened yesterday. Coming up was a movie named "The Mortal Storm." I almost went on to reruns of Pawn Stars or Storage Wars because it was a story based on Hitler's Germany. I avoid movies about Hitler and World War II and the Holocaust. The topic is just not my cup of tea. Well, except for Casablanca.

Then I saw that it starred James Stewart and Robert Young. I love Jimmy Stewart, especially this time of year. It's a Wonderful Life should be popping up on television any day now. Of course I knew Robert Young from Father Knows Best, but I haven't seen him in too many full-length feature films. It also starred Margaret Sullavan, probably best known for The Shop Around the Corner, also with James Stewart. So I decided to give it a chance.

What a wonderful movie!

This is an example of how a story can make a political point and still be a good story. The Mortal Storm was made to encourage the United States to get into the war. There were those in Hollywood who believed we should take a stand and used their art to show what life was like under the Third Reich. While most of the people were entranced by Hitler, the James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan characters were appalled by what was going on. Eventually they try to make their escape.

One of the things that impressed me was the frequency with which God was mentioned. In fact, a lot of the conflict in the movie was between those who believed in God and those in the not-God camp. It made me think about how society has changed. In 1940, the belief that those who believe in God are the good guys and those who don't are the bad guys was common. Today, belief in God is supposed to have nothing to do with good and evil. In fact, if you profess a belief in God, you're considered naive, uninformed, and, sometimes, the bad guy. We've become so enamored of freedom that we don't consider it a good thing to give up some of that freedom to a higher power.

Now, I believe in freedom of religion. I don't think we should force anyone to belong to a certain church or mosque. But I'm tired of feeling like I should be ashamed to be a Christian. It's not a bad thing. And, in 1940, people knew that.

The Produce Theory of Life

Sunday, November 18, 2012
Dean Wesley Smith often writes about what he calls the produce model of traditional publishing. He explains publishers work on the assumption that books, like produce, spoil after a certain period of time. This is due to the economics of print books. In traditional publishing, a "decision" (in quotes because it's mostly an educated guess) is made as to how many books the publisher expects a particular title to sell. It was cheaper to print them all at once than to go back multiple times for additional printings. However, it's also expensive to warehouse these books and, due to a legal decision, those books in the warehouse--the ones that aren't selling--are considered an asset and taxed accordingly. So it behooved a publisher to get those books out of the warehouse as quickly as possible. It was more economic to destroy unsold books than to leave them in the warehouse in case some reader wanted to buy one. Because of limited shelf space in book stores, a book has to prove itself in a matter of months or it will be replaced by a "fresher" book they hope will sell better.

The thing is, in the world of ebooks and Print On Demand (POD), the produce model is outdated. Ebooks take up very little space in a seller's inventory system and a POD book doesn't exist until a customer orders it. But traditional publishers still cling to the idea that a book only has three months to prove itself before it's tossed in the recycle bin.

As I eat my breakfast each morning, I read a devotional from The Word For You Today. This week was a series on setting boundaries. The devotionals in turn described rigid boundaries, permeable boundaries, and flexible boundaries. Knowing how to set boundaries is difficult for most people, some more than others. I've gone through periods in my life where my boundaries were much too permeable, where my desire to please others was so great that it left no room for me. I'm the kind of person who needs quiet time, personal space to offset the times when I have to be with people. Social occasions, even going to work every day where I need to interact with people, is exhausting to me. As a result, I learned to carve out time for me, to say no to those who would persist on not granting me that alone time. I set my boundaries and kept people out.

I've also been preoccupied with planning for retirement. An image that haunts me is me, pushing a shopping cart around the streets of Tucson, a bag lady, homeless, dirty, hungry, and alone. I've read financial pundits who seem to think you need a million dollars put aside to make sure you don't outlive your retirement money. Your house should be paid off, you should have no debt, but you should have lots of supplemental health insurance, long term care insurance, a burial plot or crypt for you ashes, and on and on and on. I don't have any of that and won't unless I buy a lottery ticket and win.

And then along came Hurricane Sandy and the devastation and misery left behind.

NJ after Hurricane Sandy
I thought of how I was worried about paying the mortgage on a house that's too big for me and then thought of the people whose homes had been destroyed in the storm. I thought of how I've been on a tight budget, procrastinating on buying a new pair of sneakers, not because I don't have the money now, but because I'm trying not to spend more than I earn. While people lived in the cold and dark without electricity for two weeks, ran out of food and gasoline, lost everything they owned.

I decided that I had to donate to the Red Cross to help. And I thought of how I'd been looking at life from the produce model. I keep thinking about the scarcity, rather than the abundance. Compared to so many who had lost so much, I am rich beyond measure. And I remembered how, when I made the big bucks back in Boston and New York, the more I gave away, the more I seemed to have.

I haven't felt that way recently. I also haven't been giving much away. It seems that, since I lost my job in Boston (and another one here in Arizona), I've been pulling back. Yes, my income has decreased each time and I'm worried about retirement, but, like I said, I have a lot more than many people in this country do. Have my boundaries become too rigid? Have I been living under the produce theory of life?

Border Between Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Mexico
Which started me thinking about illegal immigrants. It's a topic I've done a lot of thinking on since moving to Arizona. I've written before about the number of illegal border crossers who come through the Tucson Sector before. I've written about the drugs and the violence. It's all true. It is illegal for them to come here without the proper procedures. It's illegal for them to work on the farms and cleaning houses and all the other jobs they do. It isn't fair that they use our emergency rooms for medical care that we, the taxpayers, pay for.

But I don't think Jesus believed in the produce theory of life. After all, He fed 5,000 on a few loaves and fishes and there was plenty left over. So, as a Christian, shouldn't I try to do the same? What would happen if I started worrying less about obeying the letter of the law and more about welcoming those who have come here looking for a better life? What if I stopped being angry at the fact that they're sending money to relatives still in Mexico, taking it away from this country, and started rejoicing that they are helping other people, family, to feed and clothe themselves? Would a huge crime wave start if we stopped trying to keep people out and worked harder at letting them in?

I don't know. I'm still wrestling with this one. I just know that I've seen life in a different perspective this week and am trying it on for size.

Picture Credits: 
Vegetables: Image ID: 10042218 by  kratuanoiy via
Hurricane Sandy: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen
Mexican-American Border at Nogales: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde

Death of a Holiday

Sunday, November 11, 2012
Miriam-Webster defines "holiday" as:
a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically : a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event
We seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word. We also seem to have forgotten its derivation (holy day).
The national news carried a story this past week telling us that Walmart will be opening at 8 PM on Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday shopping season. This is two hours earlier than last year. "Holiday" in this case referring to Christmas shopping, but that wouldn't be politically correct. And Thanksgiving is a day that was set aside to thank God for our blessings. In one announcement, Walmart disregarded two holidays and the fact that these two days have anything to do with God.

It wasn't that long ago that malls started opening on New Year's Day so that football widows could spend a day shopping while their spouses were huddled around the television watching the endless games.

I remember when stores were closed on holidays. And, believe it or not, stores used to be closed on Sunday. You had to plan ahead to do your shopping. There was no running out to the store if you forgot to buy cranberry sauce or potato chips or beer, no picking up a blouse on sale or a bargain on a Blueray player at Best Buy.

I think we've lost something. All days are becoming alike. There's no difference between Sunday and Friday, no difference between December 15 and December 25. As I pointed out in another blog post, traditions and rituals exist for a reason. The enable us to be closer to "the other." We've become so secular that we're missing opportunities to connect with something greater than ourselves.

And I feel bad for those who are forced to work on what used to be holidays. On days that were set aside for family and friends they have to go to work and ring up sales. Even if they would prefer to spend the day with their families, they often have no choice.

I will admit to stopping at the grocery store or Office Max on my way home from church on Sunday on occasion. Sometimes the convenience is too tempting. But I refuse to shop on a holiday. I keep hoping that if no one shows up at Walmart on Thanksgiving, they'll stop opening the stores. My effort is probably futile, but it's one statement I can make.

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A Clash of Kings
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