Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Temping, Ties, Stories, Cash, the Pope, and Toland (not Poland)

So I'm temping, since Monday. Administrative assistant/babysitting slave. This woman makes more money in a year than I would in twelve lifetimes, and she can't keep track of her messages or her appointments. She clings to her Blackberry like it's a magic lantern. I've decided that my job is to not get stressed when she does, because she gets stressed over things that aren't stressful. But it's difficult not to let your blood pressure rise a bit when someone is freaking out.

Worst of all? I have to wear a disguise suit. I don't like to wear a suit, let alone a tie, unless someone dies. Maybe I can come up with a body by the end of the week.

On the writing, lots of submissions out. (Eleven; I just counted.) Other potentially exciting things possibly developing, perhaps. Hypothetically, at least. True excitement is far off. I don't think I can be any more vague than that.

I read Johnny Cash's autobio, Man in Black, which recounts his early career trajectory, his years of amphetamine addiction, his romance with June and struggle to get clean. The last two are intertwined in so many ways that I won't even start. In the end the book is a bit evangelical, but genuine. One of my favorite Cash songs is called "No Earthly Good," which contains the lyric:

If you're holdin' heaven then spread it around
There are hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded that you're no earthly good

This is the thing that impresses me about the man's belief; it wasn't about believing he was better than anyone, but rather about feeling that he was as bad as anyone else in the world (or worse), and yet that his god still loved and forgave him the same as everyone else. I don't really believe this, but it's an appealing idea, and if I were in a position to nominate someone for sainthood I'd put up Johnny Cash in a heartbeat.

Which I suppose brings us around to the Pope . . . as a lapsed Catholic, my feelings about the man are complicated and largely negative, but much of that has more to do with the office itself than it does the individual. Certainly less tolerant men (and Joan) have held the office, men who were more willing to avert their eyes from unpleasant truths. But John Paul II did that plenty of times, too, as has been pointed out all over the blogosphere.

What's odd is that it wasn't until his condition got really bad that the global reach of the Vatican suddenly hit me. Growing up with these things sort of demystifies them (although the candle ritual of the Easter vigil actually rocks my world), and I'd never thought about the fact that there may not be a larger and more strictly hierarchical organization in the world. I was imagining telephone trees spreading out from Vatican City, calls going out and coming in in a hundred different languages, messages being passed from the top tier of cardinals all the way down to parish priests in remote rural areas without phone lines or decent roads. I'd never thought about the Church in quite that way before.

I've been thinking about John Toland, who wrote many books about World Wars I and II and Korea. I first ran into him when I came across a copy of No Man's Land:1918, The Last Year of the Great War at a library sale. Toland's books are on-the-ground accounts of combat; he doesn't glorify war and he doesn't condemn it, although there are moments of heroism and horror both. He interviewed people who were there and took excerpts from memoirs, and while generals and heads of state are among those he reports on, the majority of his account is told by the fighting men on both sides (as well as civilians). Battle: the Story of the Bulge is another of his great books, an exhaustive account of the Ardennes offensive, and In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953 covers the entirety of the Korean Conflict. Tons of the sort of trivia that writers love, but more than that, it's a real account of the sort of thing that many of us will write about at one time or another without having experienced it. Toland has my highest recommendation.

'Kay, I'm suppose to be in class now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe, if you join in the freaking out, you can push her over the edge?

Though if you kill her, they'll have to find you a new assignment. So.

- Hannah

6:15 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Killing's not actually mentioned in the literature as a firable offense.


6:36 PM  

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