Thursday, March 22, 2007

Zorro vs. Raccoon Tamer--Is This a Duel?

Dear Zorro Fans,

Back by popular demand!

Do not try this at home!


Laws of Construction, a New Play by Anne GG, Dramatist Extraordinaire

Dearest Anne GG,

I have been thinking of you all week, for I know you are preparing for the big event, coming due after long months of preparation and labor. It is something special, and something that not all of us get to experience, quite, seeing that precious seed of an idea become implanted in your head, then form, gestate, reform, and become a complete whole.

This weekend it takes a new life and receives its own existence apart from you. You are still its mother, but you will be called on to separate yourself from it, in a way, and not return to it in the same way ever again. And you will say, “It is good,” and you will rest.

We are anxious to see your progeny, this play that has consumed your energy for a very long time. I will ask you to sign my playbill and I will cherish it as a memory in my heart.

With love and great pride,


Monday, March 19, 2007

What is the Summum Bonum? What is the Greatest Good in Life?

Dear Survey Takers,

On a piece of paper and in a scrawled, running off the paper, jerky handwriting that I recognize as my own. . . that writing, on scraps pulled from the floor of my car signifying something that must be written NOW, highway or no highway. . . I read this today.

"The summum bonum is the tonic to which we return, not just to find an elixer for health or happiness, but the tonic that is the tonal harmonic center of our existence, that tone where we find harmonic rest. It is our home.

"Certainly we can choose to leave this home. That choice is as human as opposable thumbs, but it is nonetheless our home."

So, that was my definition one day, while driving to work. What is your definition of the greatest good, the summum bonum of existence?


Sunday, March 11, 2007

What is The Tao, The Summum Bonum, or The Good?

Dear Clive Staples Lewis,

I didn’t cut my teeth on the tales of Narnia. My first visit was shortly before my own children met the lion, sailed with Caspian, and found themselves faced with the great dilemma of whether to set free the crazy man in the Silver Chair who called upon the name of Aslan.

I do dearly love those stories with the lion that is unashamedly dangerous. I love the talking animals and I love the children who are imperfectly courageous and kind but who have an unremitting sense that something important is going on. I love the Tertullian Spirit that the little Narnian visitors come to see, that “staying alive” is not the Sunum Bonum. They are faced with that ethical question that is so much our own, if not as obvious, “Must we live?” and answer in the negative.

You were a person of your time, and I won’t, here, discuss your mistaken conceptions about women and your female characters, though I may take them up sometime soon in an essay I have in my head entitled, “Why Did Lewis and Faulkner Discount Women?” Is that a little strong? Perhaps, for though you didn’t send Lucy or Susan to battle, you developed them as complete people and not as fools, true heroes of the story whose wisdom and intuition, and ACTION was every bit as integral to the salvation of Narnia as the sword play of the boys.

But I digress, for I am not reading the Narnia series right now. I am reading The Abolition of Man. I am intrigued by the Appendix entitled Illustrations of the Tao. In the book you defined the Tao as “a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.” We post-moderns are struggling with this issue. Not just, what is this Tao, but does it exist?

I explored this subject a little in the early days of my blog in a survey entitled “What is a Characteristic of a Good Person.” It was more than a blog entry, for I had spent a number of months asking that question to many people in my life, from my mother to a waitress in Washington D.C. One of the interesting things about this experience was that most people did have an answer and the answers that I received did fall, to a great degree, within the parameters that are listed in your Appendix on the Tao. I have another interesting factoid about my blog survey, which I have discovered since I applied an analytic to my blog.

I get hits from all over the place. I’m fascinated that people from Caloocan to Wheaton to Calgary come to visit. The one blog entry that is hit regularly from everywhere, week after week, is that entry about the characteristics of a good person. How fascinating, that in a world of sex, violence, and war, people remain curious about goodness. I too am curious. I want to know goodness. I want to be good, in fact, in the face of both evil and my own tendency toward evil.

You say, (A of M, pg. 73), “We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”

I remember a middle school history lesson on the importance of the Magna Carta. It was Ms. Ford who I remember, tiny in stature and generally rapid in her movements, stepping to a green chalk board, picking up a piece of chalk neatly poised in an aluminum holder, writing, The Magna Carta, and then briskly returning to the front of the desk, leaning back and looking at us intently. Ms. Ford was more precise than handsome Mr. D’Elia who taught English and wrote on a black board with dusty stubs of chalk, wrote, turned, licked his fingers, and asked our class to write articles for the school newspaper. Ms. Ford’s classes never got as far as World War II. Perhaps, she deliberately avoided reaching that point in more modern history, for she could not imagine teaching about the horrors of the holocaust and a world gone mad. But, oh, she could teach the Magna Carta.

Does Ms. Ford still teach the Tao of the Magna Carta, or has she been replaced by someone younger who aptly grapples with the ideas of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein.

And what would Tertullian say about a philosophy that teaches that there is no Tao, only (what would Nietzsche call it) custom? Is there no longer, and was there never, anything to die for? When, Tertullian called out, “must we live?” should the answer have been, “Yes, for there is nothing greater, nothing holier than life itself, your own life, selfishly hoarded and protected and with nothing else to grant it higher meaning.”

I'm not a philosopher, and I'm not sure that I understand either Nietzsche or Wittgenstein. I think I could confidently say that Wittgenstein would say that all this talk about Tao, and Good, and Ethics is just simile without reference, hence nonsense. He would say, "I must admit it is nonsense to say that they have absolute value." However, even Wittgenstein, ends where many of us without such philosophic wit, more simply begin, that we have "a tendency in the human mind which[we] personally cannot help respecting deeply and [we] would not for [our lives] ridicule it." (Last sentence of 1929 Lecture on Ethics.)

So C.S. I lean toward your thinking here and toward the advice of Puddleglum from The Silver Chair, who said, "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones." I wonder what other people think?

Betsy DeGeorge

Friday, March 09, 2007

Rotoscoped Raccoon

Dear Max Fleischer,

I just want to tell you that I never want to do another rotoscoping project in all my days. My hat is off to you if you liked doing it.

Yes, it took a gazillion frames and as many drawings to create this stupid little project. I think I don't have enough OC in me to allow for more than one rotoscope in my entire life!!!

With sincere respect,

Betsy DeGeorge

*Note: I swear this is the last raccoon video I will post for a while.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I Puritani Never Had It So Good

Dear Anna Netrebko,

I am blown away. Pick me up. I'm on the floor. I haven't felt this way since I sat in the peanut gallery of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, PA, and watched as a rotund man with a white hankie named Luciano Pavarotti sang me to ecstasy decades ago.

You voice is beyond fine. It is bel canto at it's best. It has been too long since a voice of this caliber has taken center stage. What is the official operatic term? Woo-woo? No, Brava!

I had heard some of the hype about you, but, I've heard hype before. And this is more than hype, it's glorious.

So, anyway, I saw I Puritani (thank you Metropolitan Opera and Public Television) and though I knew I was seeing (hearing) something I'd never forget, I wasn't totally ready for the mad scene. Beautiful on a bad day with an off-key overweight diva, you turned it into a gloria. And the acrobatics were unparalleled. I've seen divas who demanded 3 pillows for the final act of Boheme. You scoff at the fools.

I regretted that I had not popped a tape into the VCR. Silly me, depend upon YouTube. (Note: Even if you are not an opera buff, fast-forward this to 3:51 and watch Anna Netrebko sing part of this scene upside down.)

Lucky, lucky us, to have you singing.



Friday, March 02, 2007

Zorro--Million Dollar Baby?

Dear Zorro Fans,

It was a fight of sorts but with some provocation as you will see on the video that you are about to roll. Yes, Zorro had goosed Pompom the cat. It wasn’t really an act of aggression. It was more like a practical joke. (I’m thinking of getting Zorro a Whoopie Cushion for his birthday.)

But Pompom took it hard. He is a retiring sort of cat. Normally more scared than anything. But this had crossed his line and he stood up for himself, what can I say. I do think that it was a little unfair of Macatam to get involved. He had no particular offense to equalize. He just climbed on. The video isn’t so good at this point, so you can’t really see how many whacks Zorro was taking.

Z is patient, a peaceful spirit, and perhaps a coward, though I would not say this to his face. Still, I felt bad that Pompom couldn't take a little joke and that our hero, Zorro, took such a "whuppin'".


P.S. The stills in between the clips are there to give you a better look at the star of this series.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ash Wednesday by AnneGG

Dear AnneGG,

Thanks for letting me post this. I am awed by this work.


Ash Wednesday

Yesterday was Fat Tuesday. At work this afternoon, we all sat around eating leftover fastnachts instead of fasting. “Hey, how come lent is forty days long?” “I think because Jesus fasted forty days in the desert.” We Protestants aren’t big into lent. Fastnachts are like jelly doughnuts with no jelly, just thick clumps of dough deep fried in animal fat. You shall present as an offering by fire to the Lord the fat that covers the entrails . . . I’m thinking of giving up jelly doughnuts for lent.

If you are offering a goat, you shall bring it before the Lord and lay your hand on its head; it shall be slaughtered in the tent of meeting. While Alicia and I were walking today, we saw a dead deer beside the train tracks. At first we couldn’t tell what it was; the flesh was rotted away, leaving only hide and bone, and we could peer into its lungless ribcage. Alicia waited patiently with her back turned as I stared, both repelled and transfixed by the dead carcass. I went a step closer, sniffing the air on purpose for the rancid odor of decay. From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. As we walked back along the tracks, we saw some of its fur lying in clumps, and somebody’s old shoe, and a pair of railroad spikes. Alicia picked up the spikes and commented dryly that she didn’t like how the Old Testament had so many commandments that required slaughtering things. I nodded. I’m thinking of giving up meat for lent.

In fact, maybe I’ll start eating fish every Friday. If I were Catholic, I would attend mass today. I would kneel with the other contrite congregants at the altar, in the dim, smoky light filtering in through stained glass windows, the sickly-sweet odor of incense burning in my nostrils. A priest would daub a cross of ash onto my forehead and pronounce sacred words in muttered Latin: “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” On the same walk, Alicia and I discovered a dead skunk, not yet really rotting, but lying stiff on its back. Its legs stuck straight up into the air, and blood trickled from its mouth. For without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins. I wonder if animals go to hell.

Like Jesus in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell.” Hell, the burning lake of fire. Hell, separation from God. Hell, eternal death. Their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur . . . I’m thinking about giving up hell for lent. Hell is separation -- Ben and I are not on speaking terms these days. His last message is still saved on my answering machine, from the day before we ended it all: “I’m trying. But things always get so hard with us. If you want to play football, we’re meeting at four.” Too close, never close enough – isn’t that the human condition? This is the second death. I’m thinking of giving up breathing for lent.

“Hey, how come lent is forty days long?” “It used to be only a week, just the week of the Passion.” The red, saturated ribcage of a deer. A goat. A lamb. You shall bring it before the Lord, and it shall be slaughtered in the tent of meeting. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . . Alicia says when she hears the train’s whistle, she knows it is God saying, “I love you.” I wonder if, when the train made contact, that deer had the same thought as Jesus had when God turned his eyes away from the bloody suffering: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” Death is separation.

Every time they gather together, Catholics participate in the Eucharist. This is my body, broken for you. When the congregation takes the bread and wine, they say that it actually becomes the blood and body of Christ, and Christ becomes part of the participant. Part of their sinews and bones and connective tissue. Part of the force that sustains their life. This is my blood, poured out for the remission of sins. We Protestants don’t believe in transubstantiation. Anne Lamott writes about strewing her best friend’s ashes over the water near the Golden Gate Bridge, about how the ashes stuck to her clothes and hair and fingers. “I licked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed.” Anne Lamott must be Catholic.

During lent, a participant may either forgo something or take something up. (Jesus, for example, took up a cross and a pair of railroad spikes.) I’m thinking of taking up transubstantiation. For even we Protestants crave that kind of union with other people, with God. Too close, never close enough – Isn’t that the human condition? And if death is separation, then life is union. During his darkest days, Ben used to pick pieces of my long hair off of my clothes and eat them. “The closest to heaven I’ll ever be,” he’d say. But really he was just trying to thwart death.
O Jesus, you place on my forehead the sign of my sister Death: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” God help me, Ben, I miss you so much I can hardly breathe. I miss your smell, tiny particles of you snuffed into my body through my nostrils, becoming part of me just like the rotting stench of the deer. Like the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday, the body and blood, “that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish.”

Later, Alicia and I saw from a distance a pair of live deer, frolicking in the woods. “They look happy,” Alicia said. I nodded. I’m thinking of taking up immortality for lent.

Copyright 2001 Deborah Harbin All Rights Reserved