A Science Thriller by Amy Rogers

I met Dr. Amy Rogers at the Sacramento branch of the California Writer’s Club where she is Web Site Coordinator, and an author of science thrillers. What is a science thriller? Think of Frankenstein, Jurassic Park, and Contagion, coming soon to a theater near you. You can learn a lot more about the genre and read a number of reviews at Roger’s blog, http://www.sciencethrillers.com.

Dr. Amy Rogers

Dr. Rogers just published her debut thriller, Petroplague, in ebook format, with a paperback release due in November. She sent this synopsis:

UCLA graduate student, Christina Gonzalez, wanted to use biotechnology to free America from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Instead, an act of eco-terrorism unleashes her genetically-modified bacteria into the fuel supply of Los Angeles, turning gasoline into vinegar.

With the city paralyzed and slipping toward anarchy, Christina must find a way to rein in the microscopic monster she created. But not everyone wants to cure the petroplague – and some will do whatever it takes to spread it.

From the La Brea Tar Pits to university laboratories to the wilds of the Angeles National Forest, Christina and her cousin, River, struggle against enemies seen and unseen to stop the infection before it’s too late.

A former professor of microbiology, with a PHD from Washington University, Dr. Rogers has the background to make such a story plausible. In addition, Petroplague is one of two of her novels picked up by New York agents who were then unable to sell them. At this point, Rogers mentioned self-publishing, and her agent directed her to Diversion Books, which she says, “lies somewhere between self-publishing and a traditional Big Six contract. Diversion Books is loosely associated with a traditional literary agency – the first such publisher, though others have sprung up since.”

I plan to review Petroplague here, but you don’t have to wait for me. Click on the book cover photo above to go to the authors website, http://www.amyrogers.com, to view a trailer and read the first two chapters for free.

In addition, Amy has said she’ll be happy to write a guest post or answer interview questions here. So stop back soon, and visit Amy Rogers’ website and blog, for information on publishing, on scary microbes, and to check out what promises to be an exciting read!

Bird by Bird and Other Writing by Anne Lamott

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day…he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.  Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamont 

While hunting for something else, I came upon my copy old of, Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life,” 1994, by Anne Lamott.  Those who appreciate Natalie Goldberg’s reflections on writing will enjoy Lamott.

“I dropped out [of college] at nineteen to become a famous writer.  I moved back to San Francisco and became a famous Kelly Girl instead.  I was famous for my incompetence and weepiness.  I wept with boredom and disbelief.”

Two things strike you right away about Lamott on writing:  she is very funny and she is a firm believer in telling one’s own unique truth.  This is a theme she returns to again and again.  Lamott has been telling her truths since her first novel, Hard Laughter, 1980, a largely autobiographical portrait of her eccentric family as her father was dying of a brain tumor.

Getting published was something Lamott had dreamed of since she realized as a child, that her father, the writer, was neither “unemployed or mentally ill.”  When Hard Laughter was published, three years after her father’s death, Lamott realized that public success was not what nourished her:

“I believed, before I sold my first book, that publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience…this did not happen for me.  The months before a book comes out of the chute are, for most writers, right up there with the worst life has to offer.”

“I…try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be.  But writing is.  Writing has so much to give, so much to teach so many surprises.  That thing you had to force yourself to do – the actual act of writing – turns out to be the best part.  It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony.  The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” 

Lamott has taught writing at UC Davis and at various workshops.  Bird by Bird mirrors the advice and methods she gives her students.

Anne Lamott

I have not read all of her sections on the mechanics of writing.  Suffice to say that I find her introspective style better suited to illuminating the twists and turns of the process itself than conveying nuts and bolts information.  Like Goldberg, I think the essay is the medium where Lamott really shines, and in another parallel, her most recent writings on spirituality are what I value most.

In Travelling Mercies:  Some Thoughts on Faith, 2000, Lamott holds nothing back in describing how her alcoholic bottom led her to Christianity – the last place, as a life-long bohemian, that she wanted to be.

“I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone.  The feeling was so strong I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there…after a while, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus…and I was appalled.  I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends.  I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian…I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die.”

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squished my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.”

Travelling Mercies relates how Lamott, as a newly sober alcoholic and single mother who had never been to church, sets out to follow her truth where ever it may lead.  People raised as Christians may not have wrestled with all the questions Lamott has to face, beginning with how she’s supposed to find a church to nourish both her and her son.  It continues with all the issues we face in living day to day.  What do we make of the death of friends, of loss, of a son who doesn’t want to go to church, or announces, “I wish I had never been born?”  These and other questions about living her faith seven days a week have led Lamott to write two other books on spirituality, Plan B:  Further Thoughts on Faith, 2006, and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, 2007.  My wife is reading that one now, and I’ve flipped through the contents and may borrow it when she is done.

In a prophetic passage in Bird by Bird, Lamott laid out a credo for her writing students that she continues to follow:

“Truth seems to want expression.  Unacknowledged truth saps your energy and keeps you and your characters wired and delusional.  But when you open the closet door and let what was inside out, you can get a rush of liberation and even joy.  If we can believe in the Gnostic gospel of Thomas…Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth can destroy you.”

If you haven’t discovered Anne Lamott’s work, I suggest you sample her titles in a bookstore or on Amazon, and see what she has to offer.  Her unique take on the life around her can bring you up short and shift your perspective on where you are and what you are doing.

The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims

In a recent interview on NPR, author Michael Sims discussed a project “that got really out of hand.”  He set out to do a natural history of children’s talking animal stories but became so fascinated by Charlotte’s Web that he never got beyond it.

Sim’s study, The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, was published in June.  It’s interesting see what eccentricities and other facts Sims discovered about E.B. White.

White was quite a naturalist; on a farm in Maine, he studied spiders and raised pigs.  There really was a “Wilbur,” a pig that White was raising to slaughter in the fall, but it grew sick and died, despite all attempts to save it.  In his essay, “Death of a Pig,”  White recognized the irony of his sadness at the loss of an animal he had planned to kill, and his “sense of loss when the pig died, not as if he’d just lost some future bacon but as if he had lost…a fellow creature who was suffering in a suffering world.” 

Another time, while feeding the replacement Wilbur, White noticed a spider web with an egg sac.  The spider that wove the web disappeared, and White cut the egg sac down and carried it with him back to his apartment in New York.  He dropped it in a bureau drawer and forgot about it until the little spiders began to hatch.  According to Sims, White was delighted to watch them start to weave their webs in his room – that is, until the maid refused to work “in a spider refugee camp” and they had to go.

Sims explains that “eccentric” is a Greek word that originally meant, “off center.”  He goes on to say:

if ever there was a human being born off-center, it was E.B. White. He simply could not…follow in an established path if his life depended on it. And so he had his own quirky way. He was very fierce and funny hypochondriac. He liked to spend a lot of time alone. He loved working with animals, as much as possible. Even in New York City, even in writing for The New Yorker to begin with, he was off, you know, exploring what rats were doing in some alley.

Fans of E.B. White should enjoy listening to the interview or reading the transcript:  http://www.npr.org/2011/08/19/139790016/weaving-charlottes-web.  Of interest too, will be Michael Sims’s current project.  In keeping with his theme of “writing about how our imagination responds to nature in one way or another,” he is researching between the lines of Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden Pond to see how that great naturalist and philosopher filled up his days in ways we don’t yet know about.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: A Book Review

Lev Grossman’s, The Magicians, 2009, was highlighted in a recent NPR feature on “Books for the Hogwart’s Grad.” It is an adult fantasy that begins with a 17 year old boy and does something no YA novel I’ve recently come upon has done – it nails what being 17 is really like.

On his way to a preliminary interview for admission to Princeton, Quentin Coldwater reflects on his life:  I should be happy, Quentin thought.  I’m young and alive and healthy.  I have good friends.  I have two reasonably intact parents…I am a solid member of the middle-middle class.  My GPA is a number higher than most people even realize it is possible for a GPA to be.  But walking along Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn…Quentin knew he wasn’t happy.  Why not?  He had painstakingly assembled all the ingredients of happiness…But happiness, like a disobedient spirit, refused to come.  He couldn’t think what else to do.

In a passage that reminds me of my own adolescence, Quentin believes that “his real life, the life he should be living, had been mislaid through some clerical error by the cosmic bureaucracy.  This couldn’t be it.  It had been diverted somewhere else, to somebody else, and he had been issued this shitty substitute faux life instead.”

When he finds the interviewer dead of a cerebral hemorrhage, events catapult Quentin into “the life he should be living,” with dizzying speed.  Walking by himself in the rain after finding the dead man, Quentin is transported to the upstate New York campus of the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy.

Grossman clearly has chutzpah to write of a school of magic in a decade dominated by Harry Potter, but Brakebills has little to do with Hogwarts.  After a grueling entrance exam, Quentin begins his even more grueling, five year course of study with a small group of nerdy prodigies like himself.  He’s as slammed by as much work as any freshman at Harvard or MIT.  Magic becomes truly serious for Quentin when he casts a minor spell as a joke that sets off a chain reaction resulting in another student’s death.  Like people in the real world who make such mistakes in youth, he learns to live with the guilt and “move beyond,” but it never entirely goes away.

Quentin and a few other students begin to bond, most notably, Alice who becomes his lover.  Quentin, Alice, and most of their friends at Brakebills have been entranced since childhood by the magical world of Fillory, the creation of a 1930’s reclusive English author.

Stories of Fillory are woven throughout The Magicians, but grow in importance after Quentin and his friends graduate.  They move to Manhattan, and though Alice buries herself in serious magical research, Quentin and the others settle into serious dissipation:  “They had all the power in the world, and no work to do, and nobody to stop them.  They ran riot through the city.”  Happiness still eludes Quentin until he and the others discover Fillory is real and they find the means to go there.

The Magicians belongs to the adult “urban fantasy” sub-genre, and one of the characteristics of such books is a very realistic portrait of the gritty, day-to-day world we share, which makes the magic seem real when it appears.  The Brakebills graduates pass the bottle while discussing what supplies they should pack for their expedition:  how about parkas in case it’s cold?  Food of course, and trade goods – what would they be?  And weapons – handguns, and body armor, and battle magic, which they have to create for themselves, since it is forbidden

By this point in the narrative, every reader who knows Narnia, which Fillory consciously echoes, must be cringing at the thought of a bunch of armed and boozy, world-weary twenty-somethings storming the gates.  It turns out the explorers were wise to arm themselves, for Fillory is a gritty realm where strange creatures kill each other for no clear rhyme or reason.  When a human size praying mantis fires an arrow at Quentin, they realize this magic is not magical in the way the stories we loved as children are magical.

“This isn’t a story,” Alice says.  “This isn’t a story!  It’s just one fucking thing after another!”

Aside from a page-turning narrative, there is much to ponder in Grossman’s tale, and I find myself thinking of Woody Allen’s movies about movies, especially, The Purple Rose of Cairo, where a movie hero get loose in our world and is hopelessly unable to cope.  In The Magicians, characters from our world are equally out of their depths in a fictional story world.

Clinically speaking, our lives (apparently) are just one thing after another, but making stories is an instinct we all are born with.  From a two year old with stick figures, to the water cooler at work, to Jesus and Buddha, to writers of fiction, making stories is how we make sense of things.  Lev Grossman offers a fascinating reflection on making stories in the shape of a story that keeps us turning pages.


Lev Grossman, whose day job involves reviewing books for Time, published the second book of his trilogy The Magician King, this summer, which has moved to the head of my book queue.   Grossman is a lover, connoisseur, and advocate for the fantasy genre.  He strongly resists the notion that fantasy is “less than” other types of literature in any way.

Lev Grossman

The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: An Appreciation

It was a golden afternoon; the smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying - Illustration for The Wind in the Willows by Arthur Rackham, 1940

Kenneth Grahame was a turn of the century British author who was Secretary of the Bank of England “in his spare time” (according to A.A. Milne).  In 1908, Grahame published The Wind in the Willows, his third novel.  Unlike his first two books, The Wind in the Willows was not an immediate success, though its early supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote to the author in 1909, “I have read it and reread it, and have now come to accept the characters as old friends.”

Arthur Rackham was perhaps the best known artist of “the golden age of illustration,” from 1870-1930.  His illustrations for The Wind in the Willows were his last work, published posthumously in 1940, a year after Rackham died of cancer.

Shove that under your feet, he observed to the mole, as he passed it down into the boat - Arthur Rackham, 1940

I cannot think of a more auspicious partnership in the history of book illustration, though I am biased.  I’m writing about The Wind in the Willows because I stopped by a blog that asked, “What is your favorite book?”  This has been mine since my mother read it to me when I was four.  When she finished, I begged her to start it again.  I began school determined to learn to read as soon as I could so I would not have to wait on anyone else’s convenience to row up the river with Rat and Mole.

The badger's winter stores, which indeed were visible everywhere, took up half the room - Arthur Rackham, 1940

I called this post an appreciation rather than a book review, because my intent is not to be systematic. Besides, in his introduction, A.A. Milne warns us not to dare anything so foolish:

One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows.  The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters.  The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly.  The book is a test of character.  We can’t criticize it because it is criticizing us.

She arranged the shawl with a professional fold, and tied the strings of the rusty bonnet under his chin - Arthur Rackham, 1940

The magic of this volume lies in text as well as the illustrations.  This is story of friendship, of terror in the Wild Wood, of the ache of standing outside looking in on Christmas eve.  There is slapstick and comedy, and a battle against heavy odds to restore the natural order along the river bank, but the center of the story for me has always been Chapter 7, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.”

Otter’s son Portly has gone missing, and one mild summer evening, Rat and Mole row the backwaters trying to find him.  They catch the strains of a haunting tune:

“It’s gone!” sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again.  “So beautiful and strange and new!  Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it.  For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever.  No!  There it is again!”

The animals follow the sound and it leads them to a place where a great Awe falls upon them and they are granted a vision:  [Mole] raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible color, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper.”

The animals find the baby otter and the vision fades, leaving them in misery as they feel what they have lost, but then, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses, and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces, and with its soft touch came instant oblivious.  For this is the last best gift that the kindly demigod is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping:   the gift of forgetfulness.  Leset the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals.

The minister in the church I attended when I was young once said from the pulpit that “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” was the best theology he knew outside the Bible.

Together, Kenneth Grahame and Arthur Rackham preserved and shared a vision of an older, idyllic England of quiet lanes and riverbanks and launched it into a new century that needed such a dream, after one World War and on the eve of a second.  Last time I looked for a gift for a friend, a facsimile edition was available (from Modern Library I believe).

There are other nice editions like the one illustrated by Michael Hague and published in 1980, for there are more ways than one into this dream.

Wind in the Willows cover by Michael Hague, 1980

I guess you could say I’ve been dreaming along with the great British storytellers all my life – with Rat and Mole, with Pooh and Piglet; in Middle Earth and Narnia; with King Arthur and his knights; with Welsh wizards and Irish warriors and Tam Lin in Faerie; Harry Potter is simply the latest feast from the cornucopia I first encountered when I was four years old.

If you have not yet discovered the magic of The Wind in the Willows (and I don’t mean Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride @Disney) I suggest you give it a look as soon as can.  In my experience (as in Bilbo’s) there is no telling where the road will take you.

The wayfarer saluted with a gesture of courtesy that had something foreign about it - Arthur Rackham, 1940

How Much is Too Much?

I have to thank Ceinwenn for this topic.  He or she (I can’t be sure, since the link takes me to a password protected forum) commented on my previous post, Three Requirements of a Book Review (?).  Ceinwenn felt I had given away too much plot info in my review of  David Baldacci’s First Family.  It’s entirely possible.  Several comments mentioned avoiding spoilers, something I have not considered as much as I will now.

In my own defense, I would cite the similarities of a synopsis, which you use as a design and advertising tool with your own fiction, and the plot exposition section of a book review.  In a synopsis, you must reveal what happens; you can’t leave an agent or editor guessing.  In a book review you must not.  Got it.  Thanks.

But that wasn’t what I really wanted to talk about here.  Ceinwenn’s comment spun me off thinking of several recent things I’ve said about blogging, and specifically my discovery that the public act of blogging is far more stimulating than the private act of writing in a journal.  The public nature of blogging makes it challenging in terms of deciding how much self-revelation is right.

My wife has commented on my tendency to get too academic and boring, which is an easy path for me to take.  On the other hand, I remember a psych teacher who was Mr. Sensitive-Self-Revelation, and it wasn’t a pretty sight!  A remember a very calm and poised young woman walking out of the class, shaking her head and making barfing noises.

You get what I’m saying.  As a blogger I want to be real and I enjoy the same quality in others, but I’ve used the delete key on posts that went to far.  I might write about an embarrassing moment, especially if there is humor involved, but I’m probably not going to post my most mortifying-ever experience.  You know the one – you’re driving along and it comes to mind and you slink down in your seat in case the nearby drivers can read your mind.

Some topics rouse caution immediately, notably politics and religion.  Mary and I have a couple of long-term friends that are long-term because we learned early on to stay off these topics.  Here on this blog I circle both politics and religion, but I keep more of a distance than I would personally like to.  Still, because I really dislike door to door religion or candidate salespeople, I don’t want to risk using this space to invade anyone’s right to decide for themselves.  Fortunately, tonight I get to quote someone brilliant on a political topic.

I’m traveling.  As a matter of fact, I’m attending a two day intensive teaching session let by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher of international renown (forbidden topic #1).  I got back to my room and flipped on the news just in time to see the President’s message that a compromise is in the works. (forbidden topic #2).  Whew!  No one with their head screwed on right could wish to see our country in default, and yet, the whole situation is icky!  Have you ever gone for a swim in a lake or river that was too full of alge?  You come out feeling slimy.

It’s far to easy to blame someone else, but none of us are innocent in this mess.  We elected these clowns, most of whom are doing what they think we want them to do in order to get re-elected.  It cuts a lot deeper than that, and once I get home, I may quote from an article I found that has a lot to say about this dance of the public and the politicians.

Meanwhile, here is the brilliant comment I promised, from Walt Kelly, creator of the wonderful comic strip, “Pogo.”  This particular panel was printed in 1971, on the occasion of the first Earth Day, but its message took on a life of its own that goes beyond any single issue.  If we could learn one thing from this latest crisis, this would be my vote.  We, as a nation, will not be destroyed from without, goes the common wisdom, often repeated over the last decade – but clearly we can do it to ourselves.

The Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

In 1916, when they met, Alfred Stieglitz was 52, and an internationally known photographer whose avant-garde gallery in Manhattan made him one of the most influential men in early 20th century American art. Georgia O’Keeffe was 28, and an unknown schoolteacher from Texas.  Their professional and personal relationship spanned three decades and is documented in 25,000 pages of correspondence.  The first volume of these letters has just been published as, My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Volume I, 1915-1933, edited and annotated by Sarah Greenough.

Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, 1944

Sarah Greenough discussed this correspondence recently on NPR:  http://www.npr.org/2011/07/21/138467808/stieglitz-and-okeeffe-their-love-and-life-in-letters.  Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were prolific correspondents, sometimes writing two or three letters a day, up to 40 pages long.  These documents “track their relationship from acquaintances to admirers to lovers to man and wife to exasperated — but still together — long-marrieds.”   

The two began living together soon after O’Keeffe moved to New York.  They were married in 1924.  Greenough notes that tensions began to appear between them almost immediately, but the deciding moment in their relationship came in 1929, when O’Keeffe visited New Mexico and discovered the landscape of her soul.  Stieglitz had promoted her work in New York, but in New Mexico, O’Keeffe found the subjects and colors that made her famous.  You cannot really think of her living anywhere else, just as you cannot think of Stieglitz outside of New York.  The two maintained their relationship at a distance, struggling to grow as individuals and as a couple, until Stieglitz’s death in 1946.

"Ram's Head," by Georgia O'Keefe

More is generally known about O’Keeffe than Stieglitz, for her powerful canvases have a distinct 20th century feel, and her life has become emblematic for generations of women struggling to champion their own personal and creative gifts.

"Light Iris" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Stieglitz is not as important to contemporary artists, but his influence on early 20th century American art and especially modern photography cannot be overstated.  He was an early and ardent champion the idea of photography as an art.  Later 20th century masters of the medium – Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Minor White – all made the pilgrimage to New York to seek the “master’s blessing,” and those who won his approval never doubted themselves again.  In her NPR interview, Sarah Greenough notes that Stieglitz was “amazingly egotistical and narcissistic,” but he had the ability to establish “a deep communion with people.”

Stieglitz was also a “hinge” on which the transition to modern photography swung.  Prior to Stieglitz, most people made and saw photographs in terms of their literal subject matter.  Stieglitz used the medium of visible shapes to evoke states of awareness and feeling that move beyond the visible.  He named his efforts, “equivalents,” a term which Minor White later picked up, championed, and made known to subsequent generations of photographers.

No one before Stieglitz had made photographs as evocative of meaning beyond their literal subjects:

"New York Central Yard," by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O'Keeffe's Hands by Alfred Stieglitz

Equivalent, 1930, by Alfred Stieglitz

O’Keeffe and Stieglitz met almost 100 years ago, but their relationship seems utterly contemporary, laced as it was with tension between self-expression and commitment to the other.  Even so, their attitude might be summed up by what Minor White reported after his visit to Stieglitz’s gallery.  White wondered if he had what it took to become a serious photographer.

“Have you ever been in love?” Stieglitz asked.  White said he had.

“Then you can photograph,” was the reply.

The Government and the Marx Brothers

Where's the Seal?

Back in college, one of my professors gave me an idea I’ve never forgotten.  He spoke of myths that shape and inspire our national consciousness, and how they always relate to a past that is not only gone but may not even have happened.  It must have been back in the 70’s, because he referenced the gun-in-the-rack, survivalist twist on the rugged individualism that Bonanza brought into our living rooms once a week.

The Cartwright boys get the job done

I’ve been thinking of myths of politics lately for one simple reason.  In following the current debate in Washington on the debt ceiling, I’ve come to a conclusion I have never reached before, through good times or bad – until now.  Quite simply, I think we are fucked.

Perhaps not over this particular crisis, for I don’t think any politician who wants to get re-elected – all of them, in other words – wants to get stuck with the blame for a national default.  But I think this “debate” reveals how utterly disfunctional our system has become.  Handwringing over the gummint has probably always been a national pastime – I finally believe it is justified.  Still, I prefer laughter and even creative thinking to handwringing, so I have been mulling over what myths I believed about about our leaders in the past, and what might be a better fit now.

Back in the days when my favorite TV show was “Leave it to Beaver,” I watched  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with my parents: a rugged individualist from Montana takes on the system, and proves that right and integrity still can prevail.

Jimmie Stewart fights the good fight

Soon after I saw Mr. Smith, for a few brief years, we had Kennedy’s Camelot:  “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”   Fast forward six years and there was Kent State and with Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing, “Soldiers are gunning us down.”  It’s been a roller coaster ride since then with ups and downs, times of malaise and times of letting the good times roll, but all along, at least for me, there was the faith that we can make things better.  Our system may be flawed but it works.  There was always someone to believe in, someone like Senator Robert Byrd, a real-life Jimmie Stewart who carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket.

Sen. Robert Byrd, one of my heroes

Senator Byrd is gone now, and so is my faith that we can right ourselves in time to avoid driving off a cliff.  What kind of myth fits that?  I’ve been mulling it over for several weeks, and it came to me yesterday, thanks to Turner Classic Movies.  They aired my favorite Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, and there it was:  my latest take on the current state of our government:

Do you think there’s a kinder way to depict our current crop of elected “servants?”  If so, please let me know!