In a Dead Poet’s Society

Television networks do a lot of re-runs this time of year, so I’ll do the same.

Two years ago, I had so much fun with my December post on the Novel Journey blog (now known as Novel Rocket), I’ve decided to share it with you all here.

Before we started doing the annual contest on that blog, most of my posts dealt with writing awards. But every once in awhile I’d “interview” classic authors, like John Bunyan or Charles Dickens. Other columnists did interviews of living authors, so why couldn’t I interview a dead one? Besides, it was a more interesting format than simply writing a report.

One year, for my Christmas post, I decided to interview Clement C. Moore, known as the author of the most famous — and parodied — Christmas poem of all time. The result, first published in the Novel Journey blog on December 14, 2009, is as follows…

 

Remembering the fun I had interviewing Charles Dickens last December, I thought I’d have a chat with Clement C. Moore, famous for giving us the beloved Christmas poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka The Night Before Christmas).

It was a tough interview. I found Mr. Moore unresponsive and hard to pin down. He answered questions in as few words as possible and offered nothing I didn’t ask directly. I tried to draw him out, but it was like talking to a dill pickle. (If you’ve ever tried this, you’ll know what I mean.)

I wasn’t happy with the post I wrote, but it was due in the morning, the hour was late, I was tired, and I didn’t want to start over with a new topic.

Yawning, I clicked “Publish Post,” comforting myself with the thought that no one reads this stuff anyway, and went to bed.

What happened next was rather surprising. I’ll let a guest blogger, the late Henry Livingston, Jr., tell the story in his own, distinctive style. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did when I found it on my computer, put there by means unknown.

 

A Visit From the Author of ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’

‘Twas twelve nights before Christmas, and all through the blog,
Not a reader was stirring; each slept like a log.
I’d crafted tomorrow’s entry with care,
Set it to post, then retired to my lair.

Then out of the darkness I heard a strange sound,
Flung open my eyes and in bed I turned ‘round
To find my computer in sleep mode no longer.
Its screen was aglow. My unease grew stronger.

A man’s voice began speaking, and then his face, too,
Wavering and pulsing, came into view
Like a Halloween video or fun house display.
The sight and the sound made me gasp in dismay.

“How dare you!” he cried, his face angry and blue.
“You’ve failed to give credit where credit is due!
I’m quite fed up. Sick of it! Had it, d’y’ hear?
I shall not sit by while my good name you smear!”

I sat up and yawned, trying to wake from the dream,
But the flickering image continued to scream.
“I’ll be silent no more! I must have my say!
Amend your post, woman, or you’ll rue the day!”

“Who are you?” I queried, wishfully thinking
It must be unreal. With blurry eyes blinking
I turned on the light by my bedside. But no,
The monitor still continued to glow.

The face glared most fiercely. I said, “You are rude
To be shouting at me in such a foul mood.
I demand to know, mister, what gives you the right
To take over my computer and give me a fright.”

“Your post to the masses,” he howled, agog,
“It’s in error. Untruthful. You can’t write a blog
Without checking the facts to make sure they are true.
Don’t propagate myth, like the liberals do.”

“Who are you?” Again I queried the spectre,
Who looked just a bit like Hannibal Lector.
He answered, “My name was once that of a popular poet,
Henry Livingston, Jr., though few now know it.

“I created that poem about which you’ve just written,
And with which the world’s been entirely smitten
Since first it was published with another man’s name —
Who made no objections, more is the shame.”

The fog in my brain drifted slowly away.
“Oh, I get it. You’re the guy who, some people say,
Wrote the poem that is largely responsible for framing modern society’s conception of Santa Claus, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children.”

“Quite artlessly put,” said he, “but yes,
That does rather sum it all up, I guess.
It was I who wrote it, not Clement C. Moore,
Though this has been seldom acknowledged before.”

“As I hear it,” I said, “there is evidence
That should be sufficient to build your defense.”
For the first time, he smiled. “Exactly what I
Would like you to say to your readers, and cry
Out for justice. I have been wronged.
For such an announcement I have sore longed.”

Now his eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

To speak any more he would not be persuaded,
But, dimming away as the monitor faded,
I heard him exclaim in words friendly, not terse:
Happy Christmas to all, and to all, fun verse!

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The Other Side of the Fence

I suppose you’ve probably already seen this video of the FedEx guy throwing a computer monitor over a fence.

No joke. The whole thing was captured on a security video, and it’s obvious he made no effort to try the gate or contact the resident. (The property owner said he was home the whole time. If the delivery man had rung the bell, he would have let him through and met him at the door.)

I, too, have had less-than-perfect experiences with deliveries. More than once, a driver has left packages sitting outside our detached garage — not the house — without leaving any notice that they were there. Once, in the rain. He could have just as easily pulled up in front of the house and left it on the front porch, like most do. I have no idea why he went to the garage, instead, and left the package there, to be discovered the next day.

On another occasion, I got a call from a stranger living several miles away to tell me that a package addressed to me was delivered to her. (My phone number was printed on the delivery label.) The person who received it lived on a different road than I, had a name nothing at all like mine, and the address was not similar in any respect other than the name of the state.

The item was something we were in a hurry for, so rather than insist that the delivery company pick it up and deliver it properly, I drove to the person’s house to get it. It was about a 12-mile round trip. In the snow. Funny thing is, these people lived in a rather secluded location at the end of a long driveway. Why in the world would the driver choose that place to leave my package? One of life’s mysteries.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all get tired, take shortcuts, and make dumb decisions. I’m guilty of all those myself. But there’s a line we shouldn’t cross — and clearly, throwing a computer monitor over a fence to save time goes several strides beyond that line.

Before I get all huffy, though, I like to see both sides of an issue.

Yes, the guy was negligent; yes, he betrayed both his employer’s and the customer’s trust; and yes, he should be fired, so someone more appreciative can have that job. However, from my conversations with employees of delivery companies as well as knowledge of how businesses are all too often run, I have no doubt the man was under a great deal of pressure. The drivers have a certain amount of time in which to complete their route, and it allows for no extenuating circumstances. They have tracking routines, safety routines, and an every-growing checklist of tasks and duties. They also presumably have lives outside of work, loading them with additional problems and responsibilities.

I can’t fathom what sort of discussion this driver had with himself that convinced him this was an acceptable way to save time. But it’s apparent he’d reached what he felt was the end of his rope, and if those rich folks behind that fancy fence didn’t like it, they could do something about it.

And so they did. And I doubt the driver found the resulting consequences worth the time savings.

So next time you’re frustrated, beware. Yes, life’s tough; that’s an indisputable fact. It’s often unfair; and maybe somebody really does have it in for you. But don’t give him a reason. Get a grip; take a deep breath, ring the bell, and wait for the gate to open. You don’t want to be remembered as the guy who threw the monitor over the fence.

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Tying Together Disparate Threads (Part 3)

Recently, three thoughts twined themselves together to make a rope to hang me with. This is the third and last installment of this convoluted series of posts about it. If you missed the others, here’s Part 1, and Part 2 is here. I hope that once all’s said and done, it will make sense to someone other than just me.

Thought #3

In the last post, I talked about my Bible reading of last Saturday morning. Moving on from Acts 7, I continued until I came to Chapter 9, verse 35. This tells of a time when Peter met a man who’d been bedridden for eight years. Perceiving that Jesus wanted to heal the man, Peter told him to get up, and the man rose from the bed, fully healed. Verse 35 says: And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.

The word “all” in this verse might be understood in a couple of ways: 1) every individual in this region got saved; or, more likely, 2) everyone heard about the healing – that is, people from every social, economic and religious stratum, or “all” people – and so many believed that the region became predominantly Christian.

True, the phrase “turned to the Lord” might not refer to actual conversion (although that’s what it means to my mind). It could just mean that everyone was talking and thinking about Jesus; they’d turned their attention and thoughts toward Him. In other words, whether or not an individual chose to believe, the Lord Jesus had captured everyone’s attention. All turned to the Lord.

Whatever the actual specifics of the situation, this verse describes the power of God changing the world, one life, one family, one community at a time. It’s a power so amazing that it’s hard to believe it could be true.

But it is true.

Thinking on these things, my mind went back to what I’d read in chapter 7. And this is what I wrote in my notebook to conclude the day’s study:

The same God is still at work today with the same power and for the same purpose — and I truly believe we can see the same results when we obey with the same faith and fervor as the disciples. Of course, we’ll also run into opposition from the same enemy, though he wears different faces. And it’s the fear of that holds us back. But if Peter could overcome his famous fear through the power of the Spirit, that same Spirit can do the same for us, if we’ll let Him. Like the Jews in Ch 7, we need to take a serious look at ourselves in the light of the Scriptures and determine how much we’re going to believe. What will we apply to our own lives? How many of our beliefs, habits and traditions are we willing to change when confronted with God’s truth?

Pondering this, I realized that there have been times — more than I care to admit — when I’ve had the opportunity to act in faith but allowed fear to stop me. I’ve felt the Spirit’s prompting to speak up or reach out, but failed to obey. That’s happened so often, in fact, that it’s become a habit. Like the religious Jews of Acts 7, I’ve grown comfortable in my safe little American Christianity that, for the most part, requires nothing of me.

And consequently, accomplishes nothing for Him.

That’s not the kind of faith the Lord gives me, but it’s all I’m willing to accept.

I wondered what might have happened in my world if I’d been more obedient in the past. The next time I’m faced with a situation where I have to decide, would I follow in faith or shrink back in fear, as usual? I told the Lord I didn’t want to continue the way I’d been going. I asked Him what I must do from here on out that I hadn’t been willing to do before.

Finally I got up, left my desk, and went into the kitchen to eat breakfast, mentally running through my list of errands as I went (which was easier than thinking about what I’d just been contemplating).

That’s when I saw the message board.

And I believe that says it all.

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Tying Together Disparate Threads (Part 2)

Recently, three thoughts twined themselves together to make a noose to hang me with, and I’ve undertaken to share them with you in three installments. This is the second.

Thought #2:

Since approximately 1995, I’ve read through the Bible at least once a year, usually twice. Each day I take note of things that stand out as I read, and I keep all these in notebooks. (I have a two-drawer file cabinet bulging with them.)

But as many times as I’ve read any given passage, almost every day I discover something I hadn’t seen before. This is such an awesome thing, I can’t describe it. I open my Bible every morning with a sense of excitement, wondering what God’s going to show me this time.

As it happened, this past Saturday morning – the day of the booksigning event at the Loudonville Library – I read from the book of Acts, chapters 6 through 9. I noted in Chapter 7 (click on the link to read it yourself if you want, for the context) that Stephen was a Jew preaching to Jews about Judaism.

He walked his listeners through a lot of Jewish history. As far as he and his audience were concerned, this wasn’t a recitation of dry facts; this was his history and his listeners’. He talked about who they were, where they came from, what they stood for. And they listened without objection.

But once he pointed out, beginning in verse 51, that their recent actions demonstrated that they were the bad guys in the story rather than the heroes, they went ballistic.

These were devout, religious people. Problem was, their faith was in their past, in their traditions. They believed in their religion — but not the Living God.

They agreed with the historical facts as Stephen related them, and they approved of his confirmation of them – it was in line with their own beliefs. What they didn’t like was his insistence that they apply the truth of the scriptures to their own lives.

And so the second thread to be braided into this thought-rope is a scratchy one: it’s easy to know the Bible and say we believe it, yet only believe it in theory, without it ever affecting our day-to-day lives. What’s scary is the fact that the people who are guilty of this are usually convinced that all four of their tires are in the right lane. You can’t persuade them otherwise.

Check back on Friday for the wrap-up to all this.

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Tying Together Disparate Threads (Part 1)

Recently, three thought threads braided themselves together to make a rope to hang me with. The whole thing was so interesting, I thought I’d share the experience. It’s going to be too long and convoluted to fit into one post, though, so I’ll break it down into bits. Please bear with me.

Thought Thread#1:

Back in the 1990s, we put up a dry-erase message board on our fridge.

Between the four kids coming and going and hubby and me working different shifts, communication sometimes proved difficult. This was an easy way to send one another messages – kind of like primitive texting. Whenever one of us would come home, we made it a point look at the message board to see what we needed to know.

Nowadays, with my and my husband’s memories springing more leaks every day, we use the board for leaving notes and reminders to ourselves. We’ve had to replace the message board a few times, and the refrigerator twice. But the board is still in frequent use.

Along with two other local authors, I had a book signing scheduled for Saturday afternoon, December 3 at the Loudonville, Ohio Public Library. Earlier in the week I remembered to get more books to sell and bookmarks to give away, but until late Friday, I’d forgotten about making sure I had small bills in case I needed to make change for people paying cash.

I planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday morning anyway, so I figured it would be easy enough to add a stop at the bank to my list of things to do while I was out. To make sure I didn’t forget, I wrote myself a message in large letters.

Okay, that’s the first thought. Look for the next post to see the second thought thread.

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