Thursday, May 26, 2005

Isabel Paterson, Part 3: Variations on the Human Melody

Isabel Paterson

They are dusty and musty, brittle and yellowed, distinctive in the way that old books printed in the old way are, each one a work of art and a testament to the never-ending record of human experience. They are Isabel Paterson's novels, first editions all, books printed in years ranging from 1916 to 1934. When I picked up the first one that I got from the Inter-Library Loan system and turned the delicate pages to the first chapter, I cried. And though I wish, in my heart of hearts, that these books were currently in circulation and available in editions that can be used and loved in my usual manner of perusal, I would not exchange my having had this opportunity to read the first editions, with all the care and circumspection that accompanies these fragile volumes, for anything. Just holding a book that the authoress herself might have looked upon is a treat both rare and breath-taking. It is humbling to be a belated part of this wonderful writer's reading audience.

Isabel Paterson seems to have had an inherent ability to understand the broad spectrum of humanity and find redeeming or sympathetic traits in characters who commit reprehensible acts. She paints in shades of gray, while still acknowleding the black and whites of moral absolutes. In her books, you will not find portraits of pure evil (a la Ellsworth Toohey), just portraits of the evil that comes from stupidity or imperception or lust for power. Usually, when evil comes, it comes from an institution and the representatives thereof and is against individuals. The protagonists in the novels that I have finished so far, would be fine if it weren't for the forces of society bearing down upon them. Isabel Paterson believed in the beauty and simplicity of being left alone.

For lovers of liberty, the spectrum of beloved fiction usually runs the short gamut from three Ayn Rand novels to a select group of sci-fi writers, with a smattering of children's literature and Rose Wilder Lane novels thrown in for good measure. If you're not fond of robots, outer-space, and hypothetical futuristic worlds and you've outgrown Ayn, you spend your fictional reading time searching for glimmers and smidgeons of libertarianism in the writings of others, usually only finding disappointment. If, however, you are fortunate enough to utilize your library's inter-library loan system, you will find a rich and fulfilling world in Isabel Paterson's novels. They are not overtly political or philosophical, and that is part of the reason that they are such great reads.

In The Magpie's Nest, which was the first of her novels that I read, the conflicts are internal - within the heroine, Hope. There are no villains, merely frustrations and fools that stand between the young woman becoming and the woman to be. Originally, I had a difficult time liking Hope, but as she grew up, she grew on me. It is a tribute to Paterson's skill that she could make a character change and develop in a way that is consistent with the character's age. This is a novel of youthful optimism with a few awkward plot devices, but, overall, it held my attention from start to finish.

The next novel I read is tied for my favorite with The Golden Vanity. The Fourth Queen is a rollicking and exciting historical romance, set in Elizabethan England. It starts with a sea-battle that is so enthralling you can practically taste the salt-water and blood mingling in a hearty stew of human desperation and valor as you read. The protagonists, Jack and Kate, are so likable and fresh; I fell in love with them in an instant. As the figure of absolute authority, Queen Elizabeth could have been made an easy target for villainy, but Paterson paints her with a sympathetic brush. I could not put this book down - loved it!!

The Road of the Gods is a very unusual historical romance, as its setting is neither courtly nor mannerly nor picturesque. It is set in the woods of ancient Germany, right before the Roman conquest of Europe. The pagan tribes with their customs and rites are given the barest background for the modern reader, as Paterson was less concerned with teaching about a culture lost in the mists of antiquity than in portraying the always relevant struggle of individuals to shape their destiny within the confines of society. This book was also fascinating, though the lovers were considerably less sympathetic than those in The Fourth Queen.

The Golden Vanity is a great novel. It is a time capsule, written to span a ten-year period - from five years before the stock market crash of 1929 to about five years into the Great Depression. What is so remarkable about this novel is that it was written contemporarily to the time it covers, yet the authoress has her eyes wide open. Perspective like this can usually only come some years removed from the time in which the events took place, but Isabel Paterson's keen intelligence and sound rationality bring a certain degree of completeness and remove to this look at "current events." The Golden Vanity is the intertwined stories of four women -three cousins, one dowager - who all live in New York City in the 1920's and 1930's. They are all very different in their personalities and approaches to the business of living, making a living and finding happiness. The theme of the novel seems to be the absence of men. Where did the men go? The two men we learn the most of are so very weak - one is a glib but unstable playwright, the kind of man you would invite to every cocktail party but never trust with your heart - one is an affable, gullible heir who squanders his affections on an undeserving woman and his money on undeserving causes. One peripheral man is the strong, silent type - excellent in matters of business, but unable to connect meaningfully with the woman he desires. Another peripheral man is strong and bold and action-oriented, and he is a gangster. I got the impression, while reading this novel, that the authoress was a woman who was disappointed by men - that she stood ready and willing to admire, revere, honor the glories of masculinity, but that in her time, in that era, they had disappeared; and women had to be ready to pick up the pieces and carry on, whether they wanted to or not. That is probably the reason why, in her historical novels, she could create men of strength and valor that she simply found unbelievable as characters in her modern works.

I started reading The Singing Season, which was the first one written in her trilogy of historical romances, but the ILL books were due back before I could complete it (no renewals on ILLs - what's with that?). It was promising to be a wonderful read as well, so I am now gnashing my teeth and plotting to get a copy back from the library. I also had to return The Shadow Riders and Never Ask the End before I could read them. Now I've learned my lesson to request ILL books just one at a time.

One of the things that really struck me in her novels was the way she portrayed children. Isabel Paterson was one of nine children, and, while she never had children of her own, her friends said that she had a soft spot for children; that soft spot really comes through in her stories. Children play a part in all her stories, and they are never shown to be nuisances or burdens. Usually the children are very sweet and sympathetic, and they are often used as a way to illustrate the more gentle side of a character. This is very welcome to me, as I love children so much, and I am always troubled by the way in which they are absent or devalued in libertarian circles or novels. Isabel Paterson "saw in a child what she looked for, 'a pure intellectual being,' occupied in almost Wordsworthian fashion in the 'contemplation' of the universe." (The Woman and the Dynamo, 350) Plus, it is a little refreshing to see characters actually getting pregnant after having sex - the only character to whom this happens in an Ayn Rand novel that I can think of is Marisha from We the Living...and she has an abortion. Wait! Gaea and Prometheus are pregnant at the end of Anthem, but, I believe, that is the only Randian baby in over 2,300 pages of fiction.

Well, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on those missed novels again. It is nice to read some good fiction that is optimistic and exciting and not at all brow-beating. I've always liked a good story, and Isabel Paterson certainly knew how to tell one. I hope these come back into print someday...I wonder, who owns the rights to the manuscripts? That will be something to find out. I think that Isabel Paterson, Part 4 will be coming soon.

Peace to all!

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Serpent in the Garden, But No Innocence Lost

Sadie and I were outside in our backyard, and I was pulling some really big weeds, when I saw a olive and yellow striped tail wiggling away into the overgrowth. A garter snake! Sadie and I watched with interest and excitement as Nature brought a live show to our home. Sadie made certain to share her Wiggles/Crocodile Hunter-gained wisdom about snakes: You can look, but you'd better not touch!

After the snake got tired of entertaining us with his tongue-flicking ways, he slithered off into a gap in the stone wall that serves as a patio border. How cool! We also saw a beautiful ladybug outside, the reddest one I've ever seen. Being outside with kids is an experience steeped in wonder. I thank God for these magic times.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Semantic Antics: A Rant

The best part of Liberty magazine is the "Word Watch" column by Stephen D. Cox (faithful blog readers will immediately recognize this name as the author of the wonderful Isabel Paterson biography, The Woman and the Dynamo, but, never fear, this isn't an IMP post). In his column, Dr. Cox explores all of the vagaries of expression that have infiltrated this complex and dynamic English language. He's a complete semantics curmudgeon, with an uncanny ability to finger exactly all of the absurdities of linguistic contortion that assault our unsuspecting sensibilities daily in this media-saturated age. Needless to say, I love it all, even when his j'accuse pointer is fixed upon one of my own pet devices. It never hurts, when you strive for excellence and clarity in the use of language, whether on paper or in speaking, to have a nagging voice out there reminding you constantly that words do indeed mean things.

In this spirit, I would like to offer up some of my least-favorite phrases that have been done to death and yet still retain the ability not to mean anything at all in concrete reality. Here's some of what I hate and why:

1) "Bush's tax cuts only helped his rich friends." Hmmm...Bush's tax cuts helped and continue to help our family amazingly, but the last time we tried to get into a White House function, we were turned away at the door. My life as one of Bush's rich friends has certainly not resulted in boosting my social life one bit. Maybe the people who think that several hundreds of dollars in federal income tax savings doesn't represent a real difference in someone's life are too rich to know better; but, if so, why aren't they among Bush's rich friends?

2) "Abortion is about 'reproductive rights.'" Abortion has nothing to do with reproduction. Once you are pregnant, you have already done your part in reproducing. Now, all the reproduction that is going on is being done by your little baby, as he grows and grows. Abortion is about killing that little baby. The only ones whose "reproductive rights" can be violated after conception are the babies.

3) "Abortion just terminates a pregnancy." I hate this euphemism. Abortion kills a baby, and then the pregnancy is terminated. The pregnancy is supposed to terminate naturally at 9-10 months, with the baby putting an end to it by demanding to come out. Childbirth terminates pregnancy, abortion exterminates children. I like this quote I read in Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments from the Feminists for Life Debate Handbook: "Prolifers don't object to terminating pregnancies. Pregnancies are only supposed to last a short while. We favor terminating them at around nine months. The objection is to killing children." (70)

4) "Product of conception." Another disgusting pro-abortion euphemism to cloud the issue and shield the fragile consciences of aborting women. "Oh, dearie, it's not a's just a product of conception, a clump of cells." A product of human conception is a baby human. So, we are all "products of conception." You and I just happen to be big products of conception, well along our developmental paths, and able to run away from someone coming after us to rip off our limbs or inject us with saline. Those poor, murdered unborn babies weren't able to do that, but I bet they would have if they could have.

5) "A Woman's Sacred Right to Choose." No one ever finishes that statement, which would then be, "A woman's sacred right to choose to murder her baby." That's what we're talking about. Not choosing a dress or a husband or even to smoke pot - all of which are, I believe, legitimate choices that women make concerning their lives or their bodies. We're talking about a "choice" to kill another separate human being who is as innocent as innocent can be. I don't think there is anything "sacred" about that; in fact, it is utterly reprehensible.

6) "No-Fault Divorce." There is always fault in divorce. It may be heavily on one side or the other, or it might be pretty evenly divided between husband and wife, but there is always fault. Using terms like "no-fault" is destructive to marriage as an institution, because it implies that the union formed in this unique contract is rather casual and temporal. This bond that was pledged to last for all earthly time has disintegrated, but, hey, it's nobody's fault - these things just happen. Marriage is not something that "just happens" and neither is divorce. We need to start pointing fingers in divorce again.

7) "Irreconcilable Differences." The only difference that should have been irreconcilable was God's holiness to our sin. Jesus took care of that by His sacrifce. Now, there are no differences that are irreconcilable, especially for those of us who live under His grace. This is a euphemism to shield people's feelings and reputations. The father was a serial adulterer, but don't tell the kids or the rest of the family, it's just an "irreconcilable difference" from the way the mother sees the marital commitment. The mother is an alcoholic whom the father finds passed out drunk on the couch at the end of every day, but that is just an "irreconcilable difference." Start holding people responsible for their actions.

8) "Reality TV." There is nothing real about "reality TV." More and more, the situations on these shows seem contrived, and there are not even skilled writers on staff to cover up the implausibilities with well-written dialogue. Case in point, the season finale of "The Amazing Race 7." Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for Uchena and Joyce to win - they were by far the most likeable racers - but I am not so naive to believe that that airplane in Puerto Rico turned back to the gate without a little prodding from Phil and the good folks at CBS. Having one team way ahead would not have been "good television." Call it "unscripted TV" and be done with it!

So, there you have it - a few terms and phrases that bug the heck out of me. Feel free to add your own contributions to this irksome list in the "Comments" section, as the spirit moves you.

Peace to all,

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's My Blog and I'll Brag if I Want To...Sadie Pics

Jason just got a new digital camera (bringing us out of the 1 Mega Pixel Dark Ages of our old Olympus). It's a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W5 with a whopping 5.1 mega pixels, and he got the 1 GB memory stick to boot! So, you can expect that, with this newfound ability to record every action of our two-year-old's life with heretofore unknown clarity and quantity, Sadie pics will accost my dear blog readers with much greater frequency. I can't help it - I'm a mom and she is just so darn cute! To see any picture at 320 pixels, just click on it. Enjoy!

Key: Reading from left to right/top to bottom
1. Aaaaw yeeaaah...loving the juicebox.
2. I gotta deal with you two? I gotta knock heads with the cat?
3. Cooookie Muuuunch
4. Dad, just stop it!
5. Okay, here's a smile!
6. I love my Chrissy dog.
7. I'm eating here, crazy cameraman!
8. Hands on my hips, what is this here? This is my waist-bender, my mummer dear.
9. Smiling again for Dad.
10. I'm just da cutest little person ever!

Sadie's Hair Odyssey or The Kindest Cut of All

I just got this hair, and now you want to cut it off? !

Sadie gets the chair (in a good way)!

Styling genius extraordinaire, Ryan, prepares for the precision cut...
Sadie's First Haircut! Ryan and Sadie strike a pose.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day

When I was a child, observing duly the Hallmark favorites of Mother's Day and Father's Day, I remember often wondering aloud when it would be "Kid's Day." I mostly wanted a day wherein I would be brought breakfast in bed (a weakness for this rarely allowed luxury leads me still to order room service in hotels as often as Jason lets me get away with it). My parents would then laugh and tell me that,"Every day is 'Kid's Day'."

So, now it is my third Mother's Day as a mom, and Jason wanted to know what I would like to do to celebrate. I thought for a second and said, "You know, I don't want to do anything special, because, for me, every day is 'Mother's Day'." Jason made a face and said, "Come on..." Truly, though, I revel so much every day in the blessing of being a stay-at-home mama to my sweet Sadie and the wife of such a wonderful man. I don't ever feel like I need a special day to be honored - to me the honor is that God has given me these opportunities to share with Him a bit of the building of eternity. I just want to honor God on this day (and my mother-in-law and stepmom too, of course). There's a good reason why Mother's Day is on a Sunday - to help to remind us all whence the privilege of motherhood came.

Every day is Mother's Day. Every day, I get to wake up and go see my daughter who never fails to greet me with a big smile and a big hug. Every day, I get to watch her grow, to hear all of the amazing things that come out of her mouth from her vast imagination, to stroke her soft, downy head and kiss her smooth, round cheeks. Every day, I get to take my shoes off and dance with Sadie in the kitchen and chase her around the house and tickle her tiny toes. Every day, my husband comes home to me after working hard and says that he appreciates me - he appreciates me. With joy like this permeating every facet of my day-to-day existence, what need have I for some separate acknowledgment? That is the reason Jason and I have never celebrated Valentine's Day either - it's about living every day with love, respect, celebration, honor, and gratitude.

This is my seventh Mother's Day without my mom, and I do miss her so. I wish she could see Sadie and be the grandma that I know she would have been. I'm sure that I would have marveled at the softness and gentleness that she would have brought to the role, but which she always seemed so good at hiding when it came to being my "Mom." I bet that we would have grown closer in this wife-and-motherhood stage of my life, and I am so glad to have the hope that we will indeed meet again - and everything will at last be free and easy between us. Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom.

A public proclamation of "Happy Mother's Day" to the two moms now in my life - my wonderful mother-in-law, Sheri, and my stepmom of about eighteen years, Nancy. I love you! Thank you for being wonderful mom figures in my life.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Playing Catch-Up

Wow! I think that's the longest I've gone between blog postings since starting this baby back in January. I haven't had as much time to write as I'd like, because I've been spending so much time reading Isabel Paterson novels. They are all out of print, so I have to get them from the library, and the King County Library System doesn't own any of them, so I've had to get them from the Inter-Library Loan program. I requested about seven novels at once and they all came in in a timely manner (whoda thunk that a gov'ment operation could be so efficient?), and you can only check them out for three weeks (normally KCLS checks out for four weeks), and they are non-renewable. So you can see why I've been kept so busy.

But, I put this counter do-hickey on my blog late last week, and, earlier on Tuesday, the counter read at nineteen hits. Then, later in the evening, the counter read thirty-two hits. I don't think that I sneaked onto my blog thirteen times within a few hours, nor can I imagine that Jason and my dad combined could have added so much to the counter, so maybe I've had some visitors - which is a very exciting possibility! Another possibility, of course, is that Bravenet has programmed their counters to up a few numbers to aid the self-esteem of insecure, low-traffic bloggers. If the former is the case, which I certainly hope is true, then I thought I'd better put a little update on this site, so as not to discourage frequent visitors.

I'm in the middle of my fourth Isabel Paterson novel, The Golden Vanity. Her biographer, Stephen D. Cox, avers that this is the best of her novels. It is quite good, but I've enjoyed everything I've read of hers so far. I especially enjoyed the two I read of her historical fiction trilogy, The Fourth Queen and The Road of the Gods. Her breadth of historical knowledge and her ability to make bygone times and the characters therein so fresh and revelant is simply astonishing. The third in the trilogy, The Singing Season (which I believe was actually the first book in the series written, but the one that it took KCLS the longest to retrieve), is awaiting my perusal, and I can hardly wait. But, The Golden Vanity is due first, so I'll be lost in a world quite a bit more modern (1920s and 1930s America), but still removed from my own experience by years and sensibilities for a while yet.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote: I cannot live without books. I could not agree more. At least, I wouldn't want to live without books. I am so grateful that Sadie loves books as much as I. I am looking so forward to sharing my favorites with her, and having her share her new discoveries with me. I'll have to try to collect these out-of-print Paterson novels over the years, because I'm bursting to talk them over with someone, and probably no one alive today has read them all, other than Dr. Cox (and I cannot keep bugging that poor man - no matter how much I'd like to!). I'm thinking that they'll be a great homeschooling unit for when Sadie is about twelve or thirteen. Whoo-hoo!

Peace to all!