Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

My daughter and I just finished the entire series of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  It’s one of those series available at the library that you have to wait forever to get.  And no wonder!  It’s excellent.

For high school transcript purposes, we have to come up with various courses so my daughter and I decided to create a course called “The History of Science”. The Cosmos series kicked it off and was a better choice than either of us had imagined. The series covered a multitude of scientific topics along with their historic origins.

I can see why people who watched this series became atheists. Sagan has an obvious love of the earth and believes strongly that had science been allowed to continue without interruption from religion back in the Middle Ages, we’d have a much better world today.  He says that, through science, “We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

He’s got a point.  The Christian religion tends to be focused on that which is otherwordly rather than the world we inhabit.  Do the right thing and you get to go to heaven, wherever that is.  So why care about this world?  Now we have all of this technological capability thanks to science, but we still don’t have much regard for the Earth. Things are absolutely crazy!  We eat an apple, but are we eating an apple, or a notion of an apple?  And what does that notion of an apple do to us? Is genetically modifying our food a way for the Cosmos to know itself?  It seems to me it’s just the opposite!

Sagan’s main concern was nuclear war, because this show was filmed during the Cold War. But he was also very concerned about Global Warming.  What I think he wanted his series to do was to put people in awe of the world around them, and to recognize how unique life on our planet is. If we could just understand how amazing and irreplaceable humanity is, perhaps we wouldn’t be so hell bent on self-destruction.

I wonder, have things gotten better or worse since Cosmos was first filmed?  Most of us see ourselves as a global community, now.  But there are still a lot of bumper stickers on the road that say something along the lines of “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned”.  Original sin via St. Augustine is still built into the fabric of our understanding, be we religious or not.  And despite the consensus among scientists, the media and general public still resist the claims that the world is warming.  Or if they agree that it is warming, they excuse our bad habits and blame it on nature.

Anyway, excellent series.  My daughter really liked Carl Sagan and his approach to science.  The other night, she was having trouble sleeping and said she wanted to watch another episode of Cosmos!  (No – not because it would put her to sleep, but because she genuinely enjoyed the series.)  We both got a lot of out of it.

Lonesome Dove (1989)

We’ve been going through all of the old DVDs to try and figure out what we can sell back to Halfprice Books. Most are DVDs my kids liked when they were younger which they are no longer interested in. But  I also set aside about 8 or so that were movies I had purchased from Goodwill or garage sales which would cost more to rent than it would to purchase them. I hadn’t yet watched these, however, so wasn’t sure if they were worth keeping.

One of the movies I had picked up was Lonesome Dove which had been one of my all time favorite books. At one point in my life I had read almost all things Larry McMurtry, primarily because my father was constantly giving me books by him. I suppose his most well-known story of late is Brokeback Mountain.  I never read that story and didn’t particularly enjoy the movie. I almost always reject sprawling romantic epics be they heterosexual or homosexual. But I seriously have loved every other book and/or movie based pm McMurty tales: The Last Picture Show, All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers, Terms of Endearment, Desert Rose, TexasvilleAnything for Billy, The Evening Star….

I read Lonesome Dove while married to my first husband.  We were making our way across the central/eastern part of the U.S. with his brother in my teeny tiny little Nissan Pulsar. We started from South Texas, made our way up to see my aunt outside of Chicago, his grandmother in Cincinnatti Ohio, and his southern Italian grandparents in Pennsylvania.  Then we drove back down again by way of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and I don’t remember what else. But I do remember that I had finished Lonesome Dove by the time we reached Kentucky and I thought it was the best book I had ever read in my life at the time.

This weekend was the first I had watched the mini-series and if I remember correctly, it’s true to the book, although I don’t remember the ending being quite the same. I always thought of Woodrow as the ultimate pragmatist and Gus as the romantic, but in the end of the mini-series, Woodrow becomes a romantic which seems to me out of character for what I remember.  In the book, I’m fairly certain Woodrow remained a pragmatist. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed the book quite as much had he become a romantic in the end. Of course, it’s been many moons and several suns since I’ve read the book so maybe I don’t remember it correctly. But even when I was in highschool, I was far more appreciative of romance if it didn’t overstep its bounds (which I kind of think the mini series did – just ever so slightly).

I’ve decided I must keep this series, despite its romantic indiscretions. It makes me wonder if it isn’t about time I start reclaiming those parts of myself I’ve disowned over the years? I’ll have to think on that!

Anyway – very fun to rivisit such a fantastic novel which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986. Especially since the movie mostly stays true to the book and has such a fantastic cast: Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Rick Schroder, Angelica Huston, Chris Cooper (whom I remember from American Beauty).

American Teen (2008)

My daughter and I watched American Teen, tonight. I think I expected something much more horrifying – a glimpse into the world of teen drug use and dangerous sexuality or something like that.  But it was nothing like that, thank goodness! The subscript says, “Remember high school?  It’s gotten worse.” But I’m not so sure! It’s been 25 years since I graduated from high school, and this 2007/2008 portrayal of high school felt incredibly familiar!  All that teenage angst!

“American Teen” is set in small town America where politics are predominantly Red and almost everyone is a conservative Christian. It’s not particularly racially diverse although it is economically diverse.

The school I attended and the school my kids are attending are not “small town” America. I grew up in an affluent suburb of Dallas and my kids are growing up in a somewhat affluent suburb of Austin. Like Warsaw High, both are overwhelmingly Red, politically; and both are overwhelmingly conservative Christian. The racial demographics of my high school were probably quite similar to that of Warsaw’s. The school my kids attend is far more racially diverse, although not particularly economically diverse.

I’m not so sure the social cast system at Warsaw High existed in our high school. Neither of my kids think it exists at their schools, either. I don’t remember feeling like part of a particular social group. I was friends with all kinds of people.

Although, digging through those cobwebs…

We moved from Houston to Plano 6 weeks before the end of my junior year. I didn’t fit in at the high school in Houston at all! I hated it and dreaded every single day!!  I’d never smoked pot in my life but people called me a “jell brain” because I was shy and listened to Led Zeppelin. I was also called a “Brain” because I made good grades. I failed a test on purpose in Chemistry because I wanted get in good with some of the kids in my class. That high school definitely had a social cast system going on!

It’s funny – I spent the majority of  my high school years in Houston, but that’s not what comes to mind when I think about high school. I guess it’s one of those negative memories I was able to successfully push into the background because Plano was a much better fit for me.  I had an absolutely fantastic senior year, turbulent though it was!!

What worries me a bit is that every single kid in the documentary, except Hannah, ends up doing what their parents expected of them – and they seem happy about it!  Hannah didn’t have parents around to set an expectation for her so is pretty much able to go her own way.  (Her parents objections are extremely weak.)  It would be interesting to know how the lives of these kids turn out 15 years or so from now.

The concern I have is that I was one of those kids who did what was expected of her, too.  But by the time I was a senior in college, I really wished I had had the courage to do my own thing. I tried to set my own course my senior year of college by enrolling in a Masters program in Psychology.  I had gotten a decent paying full-time job that was willing to work around my class schedule and was able to pay for both school and my living expenses. But my plans were met with heavy resistance from my parents, in part because the degree would be delayed until I completed the Masters program (it was a combined program) and also because my parents were “old school”. Psychology was akin to mumbo jumbo and my momma didn’t raise a hippy!  (Well, she kinda did, but that’s beside the point.) I needed to do something practical.  So I backed down and followed through with what they expected of me.  I got my degree in Education. Then I got married. They weren’t happy with that, either, and refused to come to my college graduation or my wedding.

I was so disappointed in myself for not following through on my own goals that had I backed down from that marriage, I probably would have committed suicide.  I think marriage was my feeble attempt at controlling my own life and was probably one of the best things I ever did for myself, even though it was a crappy marriage. I’ve never forgiven myself for not following through with the Psychology degree, however.

I’ve been raising my kids very differently than how I was raised. I encourage them to follow what interests them.  But maybe this isn’t a good thing?  I don’t know. My son tells me that he feels a little unnerved because everyone around him is so sure of where it is they are headed. Their path has been laid out for them which definitely makes things easier.  But does that make them “better”?  Maybe we never really grow up until we finally set out on our own path?

I believe with every ounce of my being that things would have been better for me had I had the courage to venture out and made my own mistakes rather than allowing my parents to have so much influence. So, until someone can prove to me otherwise, I’m just going to keep raising my kids to follow their hearts and personal interests.

Both my daughter and I agree that my son, who will be a senior in high school next year,  is a male version of Hannah.    He’s a musical atheist who can’t stand the idea of living the suburban life when he grows up. He may stay in town, but that’s only because Austin has one of the best music scenes in the world. He’s not particularly interested in going to college but plans on going simply because if he can’t make it in the music scene, he wants to work in the music industry in some capacity.  What he really wants to do is go to London and get involved in the music scene there.

My daughter is only 13 and is still in middle school.  She was fascinated by all of the characters but didn’t relate to any of them.  She’s an extremely eclectic kid who does her own thing but also stays within the rules and regulations much better than does my son. Her dream right now is to go to college in California and study a hospitality related form of business. (She also has dreams of being a chef and opening her own restaurant.)  Unlike my son, she’d love to have a nice home in suburbia.

I got “American Teen” from our local library which prompted a discussion with the librarian who has a one year old child. I mentioned, “Ah!  So you’re just getting started!  Enjoy every stage – it goes really fast.  Both of my kids are teens now.”  He made some comment about how it must be difficult to raise teens and how all his friends say it was so much better when their kids were little.  I told him that hadn’t been my experience.  In a lot of ways, it’s way easier now that the kids are teens than when they were little because you can reason with them so much more easily. And it’s a lot of fun relating to them as teens. Each stage provides a new perspective. I remember crawling around on the carpet when my kids were one years old, trying to see things from their point of view back then!  It’s always interesting trying to see things from your kids point of view! It’s not always easy, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the entire parenthood ride so far.

My son turns 17 tomorrow and I can barely believe it.  These wonderful beings are our responsibility for such a short while!  It goes so fast!!  Enjoy them while you can!

30 Days (2005)

In my effort to get through all of our DVRd stuff before we relinquish the box, I finished watching every episode 30 Days hosted by Morgan Spurlock except for the episodes on Abortion and New Age.

The episode that most moved me was the one on Native Americans. Morgan Spurlock lives 30 days on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico and he has something like a spiritual transformation while he’s there. By the end, he’s very sad to leave because he realizes that we’ve lost something in our modern world that the Native Americans are still barely hanging on to. And their ways are fading fast because they can’t make a living on the reservation so they leave to find work elsewhere. It’s like a third world country on the reservation and casinos may help, but they aren’t necessarily the answer, either. We shoved these people onto reservations and then basically forgot about them. It’s horrific.

Another episode I thought was fascinating was the one about Living Off the Grid. I didn’t realize there were people out there living so self-sustainably. There is something very appealing to me about that. Also, the issue where Morgan Spurlock was in jail for 30 days was appalling. I think we seriously need to rethink our ideas about penitence.

Twin Peaks (1990)

My daughter and I finished all of the Twin Peaks episodes. It was really slow going there for a while and we had to force ourselves to get through several of the episodes because they were so silly.

I was totally into it the first 8 episodes or so, but got completely bored with it somewhere after the 15th. In fact, I could barely stand to watch it which is a good reminder of why I don’t watch television! The original concept is always far more interesting than the demand for subsequent seasons.

Possible SPOILER WARNING!! (But probably not).

ABC had required that David Lynch and Mark Frost create a closed ending and neither of them had intended to do that. Lynch said it saddened him greatly because the open ending was a sort of golden goose – but the television network got too nervous with it being left open. That must have been frustrating. Both Frost and Lynch got involved in other projects and left the series to other people. They tried to pull it back together at the end and did a pretty good job, I thought. But it didn’t air again. The idea of people confronting their shadow sides was just a little too out there in the 1990s, I suppose. Christian Nation though we are, I think most people still prefer the idea of evil being destroyed by good rather than accepted and embraced by it (and vice versa, of course).

It definitely had a strange ending, but it worked for me because I tend to lean toward a non-duality philosophy – what you see “out there” exists within as well or you wouldn’t be able to see it “out there”. It’s a matter of balance rather than one side winning out over the other.

Heimat (1984)

I have been watching Heimat for almost 6 weeks now and have finished at last. I guess it was made for television but it was also shown in cinemas. I can’t quite figure how that would have worked because the film, from start to finish, is 15 hours, 40 minutes and 10 seconds! That’s a long movie. In the 1980s, it was considered the longest film ever made.

Edgar Reitz said he had hit a low point in his life and career and was snowed in on an island with nothing to do but watch “Holocaust" which was an American made film on what had happened in Germany. He was greatly troubled by the American perspective so started taking notes about how he would want to present what happened to Germany from the German perspective.

There is actually very little in the film about the Holocaust. Reitz centers the film around a small village in the Hunsruck (which is where he grew up). The town is fictitious as are the people, but they are based on his experiences and memories.

There isn’t a good translation for Heimat in English. It means homeland, but the deeper meaning has melancholic overtones of not being able to go home again – wanting to go back to that place where you were happy in childhood and that being an impossibility. Heimat refers to the drama of the fact that we can never return to where it is we have been.

It’s a fascinating saga that centers on Maria who is born in 1900 and dies in the 1980s. The film focuses on different people in every episode (there are 11 in all), but only she and the narrator (who is viewed as the village simpleton) are the in the film the entire way through. The film begins with the village boys returning home from WWI and how this has altered their relationship to the village. It continues with technology becoming more and more sophisticated, showing what building a highway through Germany does to village life, all the way to the 1980s when big business is beginning to take over and many of the locals are “selling out” their heritage.

I’m not sure I had ever made these connections before, although I know they’d be different in the U.S. But I could kind of relate because my grandmother was born right at the turn of the century – she’d be a few years older than Maria. And I can remember how hard she worked – her way of life was so foreign to anything I was used to. (My mother has stories of she and her brother being in charge of churning butter.) A lot of my homeschooling friends may be living something similar – building their own homes, baking their own bread, canning their own food, raising egg laying chickens, educating their own children, I think there is a definite yearning to go back to something more simple even though it is much harder work.

Reitz said he wanted to stick to “hard facts” through fiction and to try not to let his intellectualism get in the way. I think for the most part, he probably succeeded. There were so many different characters represented and we were allowed to see through the perspective of each and to see how these perspectives sometimes clashed with one another.

I have watched film after film on the Holocaust because my husband’s father is a German Jew who left Hamburg, Germany just as the horrible Nuremberg Laws were taking affect. He says he remembers the Jewish stores being defaced but he left before things got too bad. His parents thankfully had the forsight to send him to relatives in the U.S. He was only 11 years old and he sailed here by himself. I can barely imagine it.

It was interesting to watch something about Germany that wasn’t focused exclusively on the plight of the Jews. The issue came up on several occasions, of course. The village had been the same for 100s of years until the turn of the century and there is definitely a narrow-mindedness among villagers. The first episode shows a “gypsy” being run out of town. The problems the Jews face comes up in several instances, but is never the focal point. The focal point is this little town of Schabbach and the changes it faces from 1919-1982. This film was Edgar Reitz’s attempt to understand his past.

God or the Girl

My husband and I have been watching the A&E series, God or the Girl (Season One). Fascinating series that doesn’t question the legitimacy of celibacy in the priesthood but simply chronicles what it is like to be faced with the decision.

I suppose I’m not particularly bothered by celibacy although it does seem a sort of silly discipline to be rigid about. There is no proof that Jesus was celibate and the Bible says that Peter and many of the other disciples were married. (Although it is likely they left their wives to follow Jesus – but this isn’t certain, and certainly presents a problem as far as family values goes, doesn’t it?)

The first known Roman Catholic proclamation that priests and clerics should be celibate was at the Council of Elvira in the 300s. But the discipline was not widely practiced. There were many priests who had multiple wives and concubines, and there were even some married Popes. It wasn’t until the 11th century that Pope Gregory VII claimed that priests couldn’t say mass if they were married.

The primary motivation for celibacy was economic. Legitimate children were the legal heirs of any property. By making priests celibate, any property the priests owned belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. There had also been a long standing law in Rome that had been created by Caesar Augustus that celibate men could not inherit property and this fit in well with the Levitican law that Levitican priests could not own property. (Which, of course, never exactly worked as written – there were all kinds of ways Levitican priests worked around the system to make money off of the lower classes who worked land that didn’t technically belong to the priests but in actuality, did.)

I believe there is value in celibacy for those who sincerely choose it for themselves although I am not at all convinced it necessarily makes for a better “man of God”.  I think it could be argued, in some cases, that it is more harmful. But honestly, the bigger issue for me than whether or not priests should marry is the fact that women can’t be priests. To me, that’s just plain evil.

But I do have to say, if I were Catholic, I wouldn’t mind Steve being my priest!