Not that he should take it as a challenge…

… but Donald Trump may not be the biggest whackjob in DC.

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Saturday Potpourri: St. Patrick’s and Basketball Edition

I had meant to grade papers today, but the online system is down for maintenance until later today, and well, that’s when the Kentucky game starts, so, well…


I’ll cheerfully agree that Marvel has dominated the comic-book movie realm (And yes, the Spawn and I saw Black Panther, and thought it was a solid, entertaining movie, though a bit heavy-handed at times). And in my teens and twenties, I generally found the Marvel titles stronger than the competition’s as well. But most of my favorite characters over the years have come from DC. There are the Big Three, of course, but two of my all-time favorite comic characters have been career B-list members.

Specifically, I’ve always been a fan of the Phantom Stranger and the Spectre. It’s probably a reflection of my own metaphysical interests (and rather Lenten worldview), but there is just something about the two that pushes my “cool” button. Indeed, I’ve told the Spawn on occasion that if I were ever to do cosplay, I’d want to be the Stranger (but while my hair is now sufficiently white for the gig, I’d have to shave, so it’s not likely. Also, there’s the whole white, pupil-less eyes thing.)

So where I was going with this is that I was in Real City yesterday, and stopped by the local used media emporium before returning home. I swung by the graphic novel section, and ran across a collection of Spectre stories, from John Ostrander‘s run as writer back in the 90s. Ostrander studied theology and at one point, and his vision of the character as the incarnation of God’s wrath has some meat on it. In particular, the Spectre’s decision to annihilate nearly the entire population of Vlatava (a fictive Balkan country meant to remind the readers of breakup-era Yugoslavia) as irredeemable reminds us of how much we rely upon Grace. (Interestingly, a Heavenly Tribunal later essentially declares the act to be justifiable homicide, as the population was bent on destroying one another anyway, and even the few innocents were going to be slaughtered soon enough.) The Stranger makes an appearance, leading a team of supernatural characters in an attempt to prevent something similar from happening to the entire planet. It made for a lively, interesting read.

Anyway, I know that while both the Stranger and Spectre have had their own titles lately, neither have managed to sustain their audiences over the long haul. Still, I like them, and wouldn’t mind seeing them more frequently. Heck, they could even have the Stranger grow a beard.


As you might expect, I’ve been keeping track of the NCAA basketball tournament, and will continue to do so unless and until my beloved Kentucky Wildcats are eliminated, after which point I shall cease to care. In any case, I had a great time watching the Retrievers of the U of Maryland — Baltimore County vanquish the top-ranked squad from the U of Virginia last night, and apparently I had a lot of company. CBS reported this afternoon that as the game went on, so many people tried to access the University’s website that the server crashed. Prior to this, I believe the school was best known for its chess program, which offers scholarships.

It’s a feel-good story, and I wish the team well — at least until they face Kentucky.


Well, Mrs. M has made a container of Southwest-spiced hummus for me, so I think I’ll close this post off and nosh a bit. And as is my custom, I’ll do it with a bit of music. Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll go with Irish-American Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. I was introduced to the band by Chris Fletcher, a student in my Seven Deadly Sins class (which I’ll be reprising next year, it appears), and it wasn’t until later that I realized the lead vocalist, Dave King, had held the same post in Fastway, the post-Motorhead effort of Fast Eddie Clarke and UFO’s Pete Way. As for Chris, he’s now teaching FroshComp while working on a Masters at another school in South Carolina. I think he’s likely suffering enough. Without further ado, here’s “Seven Deadly Sins.”

See you soon!

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Lenten Devotional, 15 March 18

This is my second contribution to this year’s Lenten Devotional series from the college. You may find the other devotionals here.

Psalm 107 (KJV)

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
and gathered them out of the lands,
from the east, and from the west,
from the north, and from the south.

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way;
they found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted in them.
Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them out of their distresses.
And he led them forth by the right way,
that they might go to a city of habitation.

Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
For he satisfieth the longing soul,
and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

Daniel Boone is reputed to have said that he had never been lost, but he admitted that he had “once been a mite bewildered for three days.” None of us are Daniel Boones, and even in our era of online maps and GPS, it really isn’t that hard to miss our exit or get turned around. Life moves quickly, and we can lose our bearings.

God knows this, of course. And as Christ, God was even willing to become fully human, to be lost and afraid on a hill near Jerusalem. But God doesn’t want us to be lost or alone. He asks us to call to Him, so that He can lead us “by the right way”, to a place we can live. He still wants to guide us, even if we feel more lost each day. Will we call for him?

Heavenly Father, we know You know how lost we are and how lost we feel. Thank You for being willing to guide us, and for letting us have these weeks to focus on You and Your call, Your direction. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.

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Going Home and Coming Home: Spring Break Potpourri

It’s back to the classroom tomorrow, but it’s been a pleasant enough week, so here we go…


Wednesday morning I took command of Mrs. M’s vehicle (a/k/a “the good car”) and headed west (“the direction of change, the biggest direction of all.“) The skies were gray, and the occasional snowflake hit the windshield as I passed through Asheville. Moving through the Smokies, I passed a salt truck, and saw mountain-shaded patches of old snow along the way. A road crew was lopping branches from trees near the highway, and in the distance, other stands of trees were wrapped in Disney-grade glazes of snow. The flurries never quite got to a level where I needed to turn on the wipers, and once I got past Sevierville, they tapered off again.

I had lunch with the Mad Dog in Knoxville at a Krystal near his home. We chatted for about 45 minutes before he had to go pick up the Mad Pup at school, and I got back on my way, arriving in Nashville a bit over two hours later. I stayed at a budget motel — not the one from my last trip there, but one I’ve visited before — just off the Interstate, in the suburb where I spent much of my childhood and big chunks of my teenage summers. I sent pictures back to the Spawn and Mrs. M to prove that there were no visible bugs or dead junkies in the room, and as Mrs. M noted, we’ve stayed in worse places over the years.

I was a little amused to discover that the night I arrived, the hotel’s manager was headed to a concert. Specifically, she was going to the Volunteer Jam festival, a fest that I remember all the way back to my childhood, when I was 8 or nine (the festival began in 1974.) The series ran until 1996, and further concerts have occurred sporadically over the years. Wednesday night’s show was billed as a tribute to founder Charlie Daniels, and included a variety of country and Southern Rock performers, including whatever version of Lynyrd Skynyrd is on the road these days. While I’m not a big fan of the Southern Rock genre (probably because I grew up with it), I’m sure it was a good time — when I spoke to the manager the next morning, she certainly seemed to have had a lot of fun. Good.

I took a pass on the concert (not least because I hadn’t known about it to begin with), and instead drove a couple of miles to my aunt’s home. We caught up on the various goings-on in Middle Tennessee and Mondoville until the day’s drive caught up with me, and I used the Taco Bell gift card I got for Christmas to pay for the night’s supper.

On Thursday and Friday, I got to the cemetery about 9 each morning. Thursday was a raw day by local standards, cold and windy with the occasional snowflake. I had indulged my absent-minded professor’s prerogative by leaving my coat in Mondoville, but I had carried the heavy sweatshirt that I bought at Bouchercon in Toronto last October, and it more than sufficed.

One of the things I do on these visits is place flowers at the graves of the three generations of my family who are buried there (my grandparents, my parents, and my cousin Jeff). Since I normally only get to Nashville once or twice a year, the flowers from my previous visit are almost always gone  when I get there for the first time on a new visit. In fact, while my grandparents’ and Jeff’s markers had empty urns, a small arrangement of white flowers was at my parents’. I don’t know who left them there (or even if it was someone’s deliberate choice, rather than someone just putting a windblown bouquet in a vacant vase), but I appreciate it.

After a couple of hours, I drove back to the old neighborhood and met my long-time friend (and occasional commenter) Michael Dearing for lunch. Or perhaps brunch, since we ate at the local IHOP and we each had omelets. We talked about music and family and books, just as we’ve done now for 46 years or so — we met when I was in first grade. As a professional musician, Mike lives a few hours out of phase with the civilians, and so he typically has to take care of daily errands and such in the late afternoon, so he headed out and I went back to my aunt’s. From there, she and my uncle and I made it to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner before I went back to my base of operations for the night.

Friday was warmer, so I didn’t need the sweatshirt, but I wound up putting it on anyway. You see, I was walking around the family plot when I saw an unusual hand tool on a nearby marker. It looked like an Allen wrench with a pituitary issue, with a wooden handle, a six-inch stainless steel shaft, and a right-angle bend culminating in a flathead screwdriver tip. I think it’s likely used to affix name/date plates to the markers, and a worker had left it behind. I didn’t want to leave it there to wreak havoc on a mower or anything like that, so I decided to take it to the office of the funeral home at the center of the cemetery.

But as I was walking to the car to drive to the office (it’s a big cemetery), it occurred to me that the T-shirt I was wearing (pictured below), while a favorite of mine, might not be entirely appropriate in the lobby of the funeral home. So, the sweatshirt. More properly attired, I went in and gave the tool to the funeral director who greeted me. “Thanks for going out of your way to bring this,” he said.

“Well, I wouldn’t want someone getting hurt,” I said. And besides, who wouldn’t want the family neighborhood looking nice?

For lunch, I got together with Mike Dearing again, and we were joined by third musketeer Carl Groves, who was nice enough to spring for a meal for his impoverished muso and academic friends. The food and conversation were good, and we could likely have gone on well into the night. Alas, that wasn’t to be the case, but it was nice while it lasted.

Cheddars 9 Mar 18

L-R: Mike, Carl, and Mondo

I made a run to Hobby Lobby for some flowers, and then watched a little of the Kentucky-Georgia basketball game with my uncle before we went to the local Cracker Barrel for dinner.

Yesterday it was time to return to Mondoville, so I went to the cemetery once more, leaving lavender (My Mom’s favorite color and one of her favorite flowers) with my parents and grandparents, and red roses with Jeff. I didn’t take the white ones from my folks’ urn — I figured there was room for both. From there, it was the breakfast bar at the Shoney’s in Mt. Juliet, TN. There aren’t as many Shoney’s as there once were, and they’re a little thin on the ground in Mondoville (the nearest being on the far side of Real City), but I’ve always been a fan of their breakfast bar, so I couldn’t pass it up, and it was the best one I’d had since the last one.

The drive home was uneventful, save for a Krispy Kreme pickup for the Spawn and me (Mrs. M is made of sterner stuff), and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, the whole trip was peaceful. And while spending a couple of hours a day at a cemetery for a few days may not seem like the best spring break option to a lot of people, it felt right to me.


I’ve agreed to a couple of writing projects for the coming months, and will find out about another writing opportunity in the next week or two. I’ll keep you posted as more details emerge, and I’d like to remind you that I’ll be doing another reading in Durham, NC, on 3 May. I’d love to see you there!


I think it’s about time for dinner, so I’ll post a bit of music and call it a day. Not to be confused with the legendary Monks, Montreal’s Munks (formerly called Exit 4, and later contributing members to Freedom North [1969] and Graham County [1971]) put out a few singles in the mid-60s, including this fine one. This is from 1966 (of course), and it’s a nice bit of garage snarl.

See you soon!

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Lenten Devotional: 8 March 18

Members of the Newberry College community write devotionals during the seasons of Advent and Lent, and today is one of my turns to write. You may find the entire series at the Newberry College Facebook page.

Genesis 9:8-17 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10 and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. 11 And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15 and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17 And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.


If you lived in this part of the country a few years ago, you likely remember what we call the “thousand-year flood.” The rain damaged property, driving some people from their homes and making travel difficult. But we knew it wouldn’t last forever, and we did the best we could during and after that monstrous rain. And even during those difficult times, we could find moments of beauty and satisfaction as first responders, neighbors, and even strangers did what they could during the storm and the ensuing recovery.

In our text today, we recall the story of the rainbow, a mark of God’s promise that even though storms would still come, they would not destroy us. Later in the Bible, Jesus comes to us and shows that even death does not mean obliteration. And though we know that we move through storms and suffering, some of which we mark in Lent, we also know that they don’t mean we will be destroyed.

But the rainbow is also a challenge to us. When there are floods, both literal and metaphorical, we should do what we can to bring beauty and reminders of the mercy of God to the people around us. We see rainbows, yes – but we may be rainbows as well.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the rainbow, the reminder that even when life slips beyond our control, You love us and give us futures in you, through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please grant us the ability to be agents of Your mercy and kindness as well. In Christ’s Name we pray, amen.

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Saturday Afternoon Potpourri: Spring Break Edition

Yeah, there’s stuff to grade, but I have other plans for the weekend. For example, there’s a men’s lacrosse game in about 90 minutes, and with most of the students gone, I thought I might go show the flag. But in the meantime…


As the title indicates, the Spawn and I are on Spring Break this week. We’re planning on going to Real City to see Black Panther early in the week — likely Monday. Later on in the week, I’ll make a run to the city of my birth to visit family and friends. The downside to the week’s break is that it concludes with one of my least favorite days of the year: the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. (Conversely, the return to Standard Time is one of my favorite weekends each year.) This means that next week, my students will be even foggier than usual as their circadian rhythms adjust.

I’ve never particularly liked DST — even as a kid, I’d get frustrated when my bedtime would roll around while it was still sunny. It’s not as if I would be playing outside, mind you (I was much more likely reading or listening to music.) — it was the principle of the thing. I’ve grown no more fond of the time changes in the intervening decades. In fact, that was one of the highlights of the five years I spent in Indiana before moving to Mondoville — most of the state stayed on EST year-round. This led to its own weirdnesses, effectively putting us in the Eastern Time Zone for half the year and Central for the other half, but that only affected me when I would call my friends or family in other states and have to work out what time it was there. I didn’t have to screw up our sleep or class schedules, and since the Spawn was a toddler/preschooler back then, that counted for a lot.

Still, we are where we are, and even Indiana has used DST for more than a decade now. But I guarantee that if you ask me next Monday, I’ll say it’s spinach, and I’ll say the Hell with it.


As is my wont from time to time, I’ve been rummaging lately through my trusty 1951 edition of Modern American Poetry/Modern British Poetry (a single volume edition) edited by Louis Untermeyer, and apparently, umm… liberated from a base library in Augsburg, Germany around 1953, while my grandfather was stationed there with my dad and grandmother. I’ve talked before about the book’s significance in my life, and I still enjoy paging through it. I tend to spend more time in the American half of the book — I always have — but I’ve given my share of attention to the Brit half as well. (By the way, if you’re wondering, Untermeyer’s definition of “modern” began with Whitman in the U.S. and Hardy in Britain.)

And I was looking at the Brit section last night after dinner, when I noticed that the selection of Hopkins poems conspicuously omitted what has probably become his best known work, “Spring and Fall.” I also observed that Untermeyer didn’t really seem to have a handle on Hopkins’s own influences. In particular, he apparently seemed to miss what strikes me as a plain Anglo-Saxon influence on the work, although he comments about the “roughness” and alliterative qualities of the lines. Nobody catches everything, as I well know, but I just found those to be interesting quirks in the anthology.

A little later, I was looking at the Auden section and ran across a poem that I suddenly remembered as the poem that taught me how to write a villanelle when I was a teenager spending a summer in Nashville. In the anthology, it is simply identified as “Villanelle”, but it has since acquired the title “If I Could Tell You.” So let’s make a side trip to Poetry Corner this afternoon to hear from Mr. A:

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.
The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
Suppose all the lions get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.
And from there, I bounced back to Ernest Dowson, a man whose life was almost the embodiment of fin de siecle tortured artist decadence. He’s a minor poet (partly because he didn’t last long — he drank himself to death in 1900, at the age of 32), and he’s likely best known now because two of his phrases (“Days of Wine and Roses” and “Gone with the Wind”) were nicked for famous works by other writers. (Interestingly, he also is cited by the OED with the first use of soccer as a word for European football — although he spelled it socca.)
So I reread his poem “Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae”, which I’ve appreciated for many years — it’s the one that loaned Margaret Mitchell her title. As a matter of fact, when I applied to Ball State for admission to the Ph.D. program after a few years in the magazine business, I mentioned that “to cop a phrase from Ernest Dowson, I have been faithful to literature in my fashion.” I don’t know if that helped me get in, but I guess it didn’t hurt.
In turn, this led me to look up a bit about the poem, and I found out that the poem (simply retitled “Cynara”) had been set to music by the English composer Frederick Delius, and after giving it a listen, I decided that it was as good a way to conclude this installment as any. So here’s the late John Shirley-Quirk‘s performance of Delius’s take on Dowson’s poem.
See you soon!
Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | 2 Comments

QotD: Lionel-Hearted Edition

Lionel Shriver was once known for writing We Need to Talk About Kevin, a 2011 novel in which a mother recounts her experiences with her son, a psychopath and school shooter. The book is good enough that my colleague David Rachels makes it a regular part of his course on psychopaths in literary and popular culture.

However, it seems that these days Ms. Shriver is better known for offending against the zeitgeist. Per wiki:

As the 2016 keynote speaker at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, Shriver gave a controversial speech about cultural appropriation. Shriver had previously been criticized for her depiction of Latino and African-American characters in her book The Mandibles [published in 2016 — Prof. M], which was described by one critic as racist and by another as politically misguided. In her Brisbane speech, Shriver contested these criticisms, arguing that accusations of racism and cultural appropriation were tantamount to censorship and that all writers ought to be entitled to write from any perspective, race, gender or background that they choose. The full text of her speech was published in the British newspaper The Guardian.

What Wiki leaves out is that Ms. Shriver delivered her address while wearing a sombrero, a nod to a then-recent “dustup at Bowdoin College, in which a tequila-themed party involving miniature sombreros became a campus flashpoint.” This, of course, led to the usual umbrage.

ANNNyway, Ms. Shriver is at her game again, in an essay that appears in the March issue of Prospect. In turn, The Guardian has run an article on Shriver’s essay, where she calls on writers to have the courage to tell the stories they wish to tell, letting the shibboleths fall where they may. That article led me to her essay, and that’s where I found the QotD:

Fiction is under no obligation to reflect any particular reality, pursue social justice, or push a laudable political agenda.

Read the whole essay. And thank you, Ms. Shriver — long may you wave.

Posted in Culture, Literature | 2 Comments