Sunday, February 24, 2013

South Africa, here we come.

Three months from now, we will be in South Africa. The reality is sinking in.

South Africa has been on my "bucket list" since I first read The Power of One, probably back in 1992. I'm rereading this novel now because I'm teaching it in my Humanities Special Topics: The Culture and History of South Africa course. It's a long, dense novel, but it gives a sweeping sense of South African history from the turn of the 20th century (the Boer War) to Apartheid.  I've taught the novel in World Lit. and Film class, but this time, I've spent so much time trying to absorb South African history, that it all makes much more sense...and I can see more clearly how it's a historical novel, a political novel, and the story of one man's sense of self and inner strength, and a great criticsim of all racism and prejudice. Realizing that it's based on the author Bryce Courtenay's life is all that keeps the sweeping epic from being unbelievable.

There's a great moment on the first page of chapter 21, where Courtenay says the Nationalist Party won the election and came into power in 1948 because they promised that they'd bring back WHITE BREAD isntead of the healthier, more rustic whole wheat loaf which had been introduced during the war!
Apartheid ensued immediately. A short description follows:

"...for the invention of a new game where black South Africans voluntarily fell on their heads from the third story of police headquarters to the pavement below. It was curious that the whites, renowned for their sporting prowess, never learned how to play this game, and there isn't a single instance of a whilte South African becoming proficient at it. Nobody ever got their Sprinbok blazer for this new national game, even though a lot of very good heads played it with great courage."

"Morrie[the protagonist's best buddy], in a grim pun, said the election of the Nationalists to power was one of the crummiest moments in the history of any people."  (Courtenay 415).

On the other, more practical hand, I'm trying to keep all ducks in a row: the paperwork, the student questions, the planning, the budget (of which Scott is in charge, but I feel responsible for the SCC end of things), trying to be of help in fundraising, etc., etc.

Thursday, Caryn Lindsey, Director of International Programs at MSU came to class and led my students through the application process for their ISICs (International Student Identification Cards).  All of my students have passports. Two more things checked off the TO DO list.

Sout Africa, here we come.

Courtenay, Bryce. The Power of One. New York: Random House, 1989.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Medusa, Historical fiction, South Africa, and other thoughts

I revised my Medusa book for Capstone press. It's Medusa's side of the story--with my Greek mythology obsession, it was a FUN book to write. It's moving fairly quickly through the editorial process, but I still don't know when it will be out on the market. I really like how the story turned out.

I think it will be in 2013, which means, at least, that I have had a publication in 2009, 2011, 2012, and maybe 2013. That also means I gotta get CRANKING on revising Slider's Son so there's a chance it come come out by the end of 2014!!!  I've also got some tips that this is not such a bad time for historical fiction as the last few years. Don't know if that's true or not, but I want to go with that thought! I have a three-day weekend. Maybe I can dig in and get something done. I've written so little this year since school started. It's easy to get disheartened, but at least I have great classes and students.

I'm teaching The Power of One in my South Africa Humanities class. I have been wondering for several years why the author Bryce Courtenay moved to Australia for the rest of his life. I JUST found out, doing some research, that it's because while he was a teenager, he started a school for Africans. Blacks were NOT supposed to learn to read under Apartheid, and he was labeled a communist as a result, and exiled from his country at age 17. Holy smoke. No wonder I love this guy. He just died three months ago. I'm sad I didn't make a pilgrimage to go meet the man. -->

Back to the grindstone. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013 they exist?

To Much To DO.
I am having a blast teaching a class about South Africa, but I'm spending an awfully lot of time getting ready for it, along with a new class in Humanities: the Renaissance forward. I love both classes...the content is much fun and the groups of students I have are spectacular. But I'm not writing. I'm simply doing work.

I did dream a good story the other night. I got up and wrote it down before I forgot. I think it will be worth pursuing. I just need time. Time.

In the meantime, I'm thinking about heroes. How almost all heroes (probably all) have feet of clay.

How did this rumination start? Well, LanceArmstrong may have set it off. I'm not sure. I think I knew all along that he had to be doping. It's the lying that makes him less heroic in my opinion. That's another story, though. But his faults don't entirely negate the amazing feats he accomplished. They just make him a less-than-admirable human being becuase he lied. He still rode faster than anybody else, doping or not.

Here are people I've been teaching about: Martin Luther (We just did the Reformation aspect of the Renaissance last week). Did you know that he wrote scathingly about Jews and Muslims? Yeah, he stood up for people and for some sort of reasonable way to change religion, but he certainly wasn't perfect.

Gandhi: Who could be the more perfect hero, right? Gentle, passive resistance, civil disobedience to affect change. But did you know that Gandhi was an absolute adherent to the caste system in India? The caste system that treats the Untouchables as less worthy than dogs? He's not quite so perfect, either.

Hoppie Groenwald: he's fictional, but a powerful character in the book we're reading in my South Africa Class. Hoppie is the person who changes the protagonist (Peekay)'s life. Hoppie is kind and smart, and insightful. A good soul. But he's a product of his time and racist as all-get-out.

Think about it. John Edwards. Bill Clinton. John F. Kennedy. Michael Jordan. Every hero who outstretches human possibility and does great good or inspires greatness on this earth is still human. Somehow we lift people to hero status and then we expect them to be perfect. It's not possible. NOT Possible.
That was part of my problem back when I was a pastor's wife.

I believe that if you're passionate and capable of great good, you may also get in trouble for being too passionate. Passion and compassion are usually inextricably linked. That can lead to human problems.
It's the way of the world. But the rest of humanity who wants a hero doesn't easily tolerate fallibility in its heroes.
Think about that. Does ANYBODY qualify as a perfect human and a perfect hero?
Maybe we need to rethink what admiration means.