Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Behind the Curtain

Right now, my favorite author is Amy Lane.  I'm finishing up the Promises Series, and will review them as soon as I finish the last one.  It is not out in audiobook which means I can't listen to it to and from my way to work.  I actually have to find time to read it.  I love to read, but I rarely have time to stop and read (at least not something fun).  I've also started on the Johnnies Series.  I've just finished the first one and can't wait to read the next.  However, in between the Promises and Johnnies books, I read a sweet little Amy Lane book called Behind the Curtain.  The last time I'd written about Amy Lane, I'd mentioned that the ending to Locker Room drove me crazy because it kind of left you hanging, and someone sent me a note that Behind the Curtain contained some closure.  I fully admit, this was the main reason it made it to my next listen list.  I'd had it in my wish list for a while, but it had been on the back burner as I planned to read other things.  I need that closure though.  So I read it.  Here is the blurb for the book:
Dawson Barnes recognizes his world is very small and very charmed. Running his community college theater like a petty god, he and his best friend, Benji know they'll succeed as stage techs after graduation. His father adores him, Benji would die for him, and Dawson never doubted the safety net of his family, even when life hit him below the belt. 
But nothing prepared him for falling on Jared Emory's head. 
Aloof dance superstar Jared is a sweet, vulnerable man and Dawson's life suits him like a fitted ballet slipper. They forge a long-distance romance from their love of the theater and the magic of Denny's. At first it's perfect: Dawson gets periodic visits and nookie from a gorgeous man who “gets” him—and Jared gets respite from the ultra-competitive world of dancing that almost consumed him. 
That is until Jared shows up sick and desperate and Dawson finally sees the distance between them concealed painful things Jared kept inside. If he doesn’t grow up—and fast—his "superstar" might not survive his own weaknesses. That would be a shame, because the real, fragile Jared that Dawson sees behind the curtain is the person he can see spending his life with.
Amy Lane is known for her angst ridden books, and I have to admit, this one was low on the angst.  I don't believe I cried even once.  This is not a bad thing.  It was just a beautiful story.  Furthermore, as the advisor for my schools drama club (I knew nothing about theater before being given the task), I found the technical aspects of being behind the curtain and the emotional aspects of being in front of the curtain very intriguing.  I couldn't identify with either aspect because I've never acted, and my little hundred year old stage doesn't even have electricity (we use makeshift lights and extension cords, covering the lack of lights with on stage lamps and hiding the utility lights that we end up using).  We are low tech in the extreme.  But I think my little club does a fantastic job with what they have, and I do the best I can.  I've even written a play for them next semester.  But I've gotten off topic....

The book was heartwarming in many ways, and it had a little angst in there, just not much.  Take a virgin gay boy who is cute but awkward and goofy and put him together with an absolutely beautiful superstar ballet dancer, plus their friends, and you have a wonderful cast of characters.  Some you might not like at first until you get to know them, but by the end, you'll love them all and root for each one.

There was one other reason why I fell in love with this book.  I have a dear friend, who lives quite a ways away from me, who just graduated college in May and has been trying to find a job.  He has a boyfriend and finding a job may take him away from his boyfriend if he has to move for the job.  As much as it hurts, he and his boyfriend realize that for each of their careers, they may be separated for a little while.  It breaks my heart because they wonder if their relationship is strong enough to survive a long-distance relationship.  I firmly believe their love for each other is strong enough to pull them through.  Honestly, they were made for each other, and if don't want anything to pull them apart.  I told my friend that he had to read this book.  I don't want to give it away, but it does show that while there are ups and downs in long-distance relationships, love and faith can keep them together.  I hope when he does read this book, he will see that it can work.

You may think, "It's just a book, Joe.  It's not real life."  However, as my friend, who also loves to read Amy Lane, pointed out to me recently, Amy Lane is a master of understanding the human psyche and emotions.  Her understanding of human nature reminds me a lot of Shakespeare's understanding of human nature.  When I teach Shakespeare, I mention that one of the things that make him great is his mastery of the range of human emotions, the understanding of the human mind, and the nature of humanity.  However, I sometimes find Shakespeare's characters to be unreal, but I find Amy Lane's characters to be very real in many way.  Her characters are flawed, not as in a bad writer flawed kind of way, but in the way humans are flawed.  

Amy Lane is a master when it comes to writing and character development. I just absolutely love her.  I would love nothing more then to be able to just sit and talk with her for hours.  Maybe she could even teach me to knit. Knitting is often a therapeutic exercise for some of her characters, and reading it just makes me want to learn how.  I see how much it helps her characters be calm, and sometimes, I wish I could have that tranquility.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats

Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius Near the Graves of Shelley and Keats (1887)
By Thomas Hardy

Who, then, was Cestius, 
         And what is he to me? - 
Amid thick thoughts and memories multitudinous 
         One thought alone brings he. 

         I can recall no word 
         Of anything he did; 
For me he is a man who died and was interred 
         To leave a pyramid 

         Whose purpose was exprest 
         Not with its first design, 
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest 
         Two countrymen of mine. 

         Cestius in life, maybe, 
         Slew, breathed out threatening; 
I know not. This I know: in death all silently 
         He does a kindlier thing, 

         In beckoning pilgrim feet 
         With marble finger high 
To where, by shadowy wall and history-haunted street, 
         Those matchless singers lie . . . 

         --Say, then, he lived and died 
         That stones which bear his name 
Should mark, through Time, where two immortal Shades abide; 
         It is an ample fame. 

The Protestant Cemetery of Rome, now officially called the Cimitero acattolico ("Non-Catholic Cemetery") and often referred to as the Cimitero degli Inglesi ("Englishmen's Cemetery"), is located near Porta San Paolo alongside the Pyramid of Cestius, a small-scale Egyptian-style pyramid built in 30 BC as a tomb and later incorporated into the section of the Aurelian Walls that borders the cemetery. The presence of Mediterranean cypress, pomegranate, and other trees, and a grassy meadow suggests the more naturalistic landscape style of northern Europe, where cemeteries sometimes incorporate grass and other greenery. As the official name indicates, it is the final resting place of non-Catholics including but not exclusive to Protestants or British and Americans.  It contains the graves of many Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. It is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe, having started to be used around 1716.

The Cimitero Acattolico di Roma contains possibly the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. It is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, of many painters, sculptors and authors, a number of scholars, several diplomats, Goethe's only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism, to name only a few.

When you visit this cemetery in Rome, one of the first sites you see is the Pyramid of Cestius.  I have to admit, the Protestant cemeteries in Rome and Florence were two of the highlights of my research trip to Italy several years ago.  Not only are cemeteries a great source of research, but also the gravestones are often more than just markings for the dead, but works of art. One of those pieces of art is the Angel of Grief, an 1894 sculpture by William Wetmore Story which serves as the grave stone of the artist and his wife Emelyn Story. The grave is now used to describe multiple grave stones throughout the world erected in the style of the Story stone.

If you are ever in Rome, you really should visit the Cimitero Acattolico di Roma.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Secret Life of a Teacher

So where do we go, all the teachers, when the bell rings at 3 o'clock?  Students don't really think we go anywhere. Except home, maybe, to grade papers and plan lessons and think up pop quizzes.

And when students find out otherwise, it's a strange experience. Many people remember it vividly: the disorienting feeling of encountering your teacher in the grocery store, or in the line at McDonald's, talking and acting just like other grownups. A jarring reminder that teachers have lives outside the classroom.

But of course teachers go off and do all sorts of things: They write books and play music and run for office and start businesses. For some, a life outside the classroom is an economic necessity. In many states, more than 1 in 5 teachers has a second job.

I currently don't have a second job.  I used to teach adjunct at a local college, but because of cutbacks and changes in administration, I no longer teach there, though I'd very much like to be in the college classroom once again.

However, one thing my students don't know is that I do actually have a social life.  I sometimes go to the movies, I go shopping (when I have the money), and I write this blog.  Through this blog, I have friends all over the world, which is something hat would shock my students to no end.  I also read a lot, which is something my students expect of me.  Many though would be surprised to know that I cook nearly every night.  I love cooking and it's one of my hobbies, so is occasionally doing arts and crafts.

To be honest though, my life is often pretty boring.  School takes up a lot of my time.  Even when I'm not home, I really am sometimes grading papers, making quizzes, and preparing lesson plans for the week.  Being a teacher is not an easy job, and we have to find our own rewards for it.  More often then not, students don't see the work that goes into balancing a life and being a teacher that does their best to provide them with the best education possible.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."
John 3:16-21

John 3:16 is one of the most widely quoted verses from the Bible. It has also been called the "Gospel in a nutshell", because it is considered a summary of the central theme of traditional Christianity.  It is a central message in the Bible, but it's not the verse that I believe is central to the Bible.  Christianity cannot be summed up with one verse.  However, the verses around it does encapsulate the major message of Christ.  It's the context that makes the difference.

The story around the text is about Nicodemus who visits Jesus in the night.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. According to John, he showed favor to Jesus. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. In the context of John 3:16, Nicodemus visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings with him. The second time Nicodemus is mentioned is when he states the law concerning the arrest of Jesus, and the third is when he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the corpse of Jesus for burial.

In the first fifteen verses of John Chapter 3, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that you must be born again in the waters of baptism in order to see the kingdom of heaven.  After speaking of the necessity of a man being born again before he could "see the kingdom of God", Jesus spoke also of "heavenly things" and of salvation and the condemnation of those that do not believe in Jesus.

It is the later part of this exchange that I want to discuss today.  Jesus did not come to the world to condemn us but to save us, and by us, Jesus means all of humanity.  This includes LGBT people, though some Christians want to pick and choose, Jesus never turned anyone away from God.  If we believe and are born again, we will enter into the kingdom of Heaven.  We must follow Christ's example and be a light for the world.  If we do what is true and go to the light, then it will be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in God's name.

In a world broken by prejudice and hatred, Christians are called to embody the unconditional love of God for all. Jesus proclaimed this message to the world in his new commandment:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Jesus was not bound by the expectations of society, and through his ministry, he extended the love of God to many who had been deemed “unworthy.” Through Jesus’ own example and teachings, we are called into action.

But for those who ask, “What does God require of us?” We can look to the Book of Acts for the answer. Peter was given a vision to accept gentiles who were deemed unfit for the kingdom of God. But, God told him, “Do not call unclean what God has declared clean.” Paul talked to the leaders of Jerusalem to convince them that ministry amongst the gentiles was where God was leading him.  We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned. Some may call them the unclean, but God does not discriminate because we are all His children.  Jesus didn't say, for God so loved some of the world, He said for God so loved the world.  We are called to love our neighbor—not discriminate.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Moment of Zen: Kittens

Nothing brings joy to my day like my kittens.  Edith and Lucy are doing their best to fill the void left by the loss of HRH.  They are doing a fantastic job.  With kittens, you never know what they are going to do next,  or what new thing will fascinate them.  It's so much fun.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Today's post is about comparisons.  As men, we are often sizing each other up, but in this case, I wanted to compare political control of the states with it's effects on same-sex marriage recognition.

The above map shows party control of the state legislatures.  Those in Red represent that both houses of the state legislature are controlled by the Republican Party.  Those in Blue represent that both houses of the legislature are controlled by the Democratic Party.  The three states in Purple (Iowa, Kentucky, and New Hampshire) represent that one house of the legislature is controlled by Democrats while the other is controlled by Republicans.

The above map shows party control of the state governorship.  Those in Red represent that the governor is a member of the Republican Party.  Those in Blue represent that the governor is a member of the Democratic Party.  

The above map shows which states recognize and perform gay marriage.  All states whose legislature is currently controlled by the Denocratic Party have legalized gay marriage.  In most of the states that have Republican controlled state legislatures have had gay marriage made legal through the courts.  You will also notice that the political party of the governor does not correspond well with the map of states with same-sex marriage.

I decided to use the visual aids to help us visualize the politicalization of America.  JiEL commented yesterday that he'd like to see a map of the state-by-state political make-up of the United States.  He said, "I'm almost sure that the same states that are against equality of marriage rights and liberty rights are those same ones...."  I agreed that it would be interesting to compare the different maps.  I hope you'll find it interesting too.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Difficult Climb

Most people do not fully understand how an amendment can be proposed and ratified.  As someone who teaches history and government, it's part of my job to understand this process.  Article V of the Constitution lays out the processes by which constitutional amendments can be proposed and ratified.  It begins with the proposing of the amendment which can be done in one of two ways.  

In the first method which takes place in the U.S. Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the amendment by a two-thirds supermajority vote, a joint resolution amending the Constitution. Amendments so approved do not require the signature of the President of the United States and are sent directly to the states for ratification. The second method, which has never been used, requires two-thirds (or 34) of the state legislatures to ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments. 

Of these two processes, it is unlikely that a new Equal Rights Amendment as I outlined on Monday could pass by a supermajority of both houses of the current Congress.  The atmosphere is highly politicized with Republicans largely against equality for LGBT Americans and Democrats largely for LGBT equality.  With Democrats not holding a supermajority in both house, it is highly unlikely to be able to move through Congress.  

However, 34 states legislatures could call for a national convention.  The likelihood of this is fairly slim because it's never been done before, and the majority of state legislatures, roughly 60 percent are controlled by Republicans.  However, the majority of Americans, even if you go by state-by-state polls, favor same-sex marriage.  At least, two-thirds of the states have 50 percent or more of its citizens who favor same-sex marriage.  If the majority of citizens in favor of marriage equality in those 34 states became vocal enough, then state legislatures might be convinced to vote for a national convention for proposing amendments.  This is also a tricky prospect because it would depend on who the states sent to a national convention and whether or not they would even even choose to propose a new ERA.  The precedent set by the original Constitutional Convention would point to a national convention throwing out their mandate and proposing completely different amendments.

If a new ERA were proposed by a national convention, then it would move to the states for the ratification process.  Again, Article V recognizes two ways for this to be accomplished.  An amendment could be added to the Constitution if three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it.  States may also choose to call ratifying conventions in which three-fourths of the states approve it. This method has been used only once, to ratify the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition.

The fact is, I realize this is a dream.  Even with the 30 states that currently have same-sex marriage legalized, not all of those states would want to agree to a constitutional amendment for LGBT equality.  Some polls show that in 38 states, there is a majority or near majority of people who believe that same-sex marriages should be recognized.  The Pew Research poll which looked at regional support of same-sex marriage showed that only 34 states supported same-sex marriage, with basically the old Confederate states of the South, plus Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia being opposed to same-sex marriage.

Of the thousands of proposals that have been made to amend the Constitution, only 33 obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress. Of those 33, only 27 amendments (including the Bill of Rights) have been ratified. It's a long shot but with enough momentum and support behind it, it is a possibility.