Monday, December 19, 2011

The Politicization of Scholarship at NYU

James Franco is an actor whose performances I used to really enjoy.  Maybe not quite so much anymore, though.  I read today that his New York University professor, Jose Angel Santana, lost his job after he dared to give the celebrity a D grade.  (Apparently, there was a puzzling expectation that students would actually attend the class.)  Now, Dr. Santana is suing NYU over his termination.

This issue dovetails remarkably well with my last blog offering.  While no one is being accused of plagiarism, the expectation of a higher grade because of "who one is" smells like it came from the same malodorous source.  This politicization of scholarship is a dangerous thing indeed, because it cheapens the educational commodity itself, diminishing the objective value of the degree for all the students.

Just as many professors and administrators apparently look the other way when it comes to cheating and plagiarizing students, now there's a high profile example of university administration being more than willing to look the other way in order to retain their celebrity student--and his smug satisfaction.  One doesn't need "spidey senses" to get an unpleasant tingling sensation at this state of affairs. 

NYU, you must be so proud.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Plagiarism...and Ravens

As you've read here in past postings like "What I Learned From Meeting Brian Jacques," one thing that really bothers me is when authors fail to strive for honest originality, stealing instead from the hard work and creative genius of others.  (Brian Jacques being an author who was so concerned about originality that he avoided reading similar books to his masterful Redwall series.)  It makes no difference to me whether, or not, the original author is living or dead.  Whether a student or author, using the unattributed writings of others, is both a form of theft as well as a blatant lie.  Perhaps in times like these when moral relativism seems the moral compass of so many, we shouldn't be so surprised.
Still, I consider it important to make a sufficient stink about plagiarism when it raises its ugly end.  The most recent case-in-point is Lenore Hart's The Raven's Bride.  While Saint Martin's Press is defending its author from the charges concerning her novel on the life of Edgar Allan Poe and his young wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, the mounting evidence against Lenore Hart seems quite convincing indeed.  
Writers such as Jeremy Duns  have already done a great job documenting the plagiarism, so it's not my intention to rebuild the case they have already presented so convincingly.  (Interesting exchange here via Google cached content.)  I was a little dismayed earlier today, however, when I tried to add a comment to Saint Martin's Press' Facebook page.  It appears that my comment has been blocked, effectively preventing some users from reading it.  To the end of addressing this case of censorship, here are the thoughts I shared online earlier today.

Any writer is familiar with the disappointment and annoyance of finding a particular phrase of theirs to have been used many times before. When we google our own favorite turns of phrase, the results remind us of the inherent difficulties of stringing a few words together which are entirely new and original to the language--"moral entropy," for instance. There is never a question of plagiarism in our minds, since we were entirely unaware of the other uses of the phrase in question, but what Mr. Duns is highlighting is entirely different and goes straight to the heart of the author's integrity--as well as the publisher's. There is a world of difference between coincidental similarities in short passages or phrases--due to inherent mathematical limits concerning the order of words, conceptual similarities, as well as other limitations of the English language--and wholesale plagiarism of another author's content. Mr. Dunn has clearly demonstrated that too many "coincidences" exist for any reasonable person to believe that plagiarism has not taken place here. As a mainline publisher, you have a responsibility to your readers to do the right thing. In an age when everyone from authors to students seem to think nothing of plagiarism, it's time we all put down our collective foot on this issue, declaring "Enough!"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bring Tristan Home for Christmas!

In case you missed all the excitement, I hope you'll take a moment to check out my children's book, Tristan's Travels!  With the current special on priority shipping, it couldn't be a better time to bring this book home for Christmas.

What are they saying about Tristan's Travels?  Here is a short sampling of reviews and feedback...

"With a Disney-like quality of imagination, adventure, and insight, Karl Erickson weaves his allegory on friendship and faith in this delightful tale..."

Fr. Tim Mockaits

"It reminds me of the work of A.A. Milne in its delightfully simple humor, of Beatrix Potter in its simply delightful depiction of anthropomorphous beasts, of Kenneth Grahame in its debt to literary tradition..."

Joseph Pearce

"For anyone who has lived in Astoria, Oregon--for anyone who has watched animals read--for anyone who has or hasn't wanted an adventure, Karl Erickson's beautifully illustrated, lovingly written fable about the life and particularity of a seagull named Tristan is a worthwhile journey."

Sean Astin

"Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi and the writings of C.S. Lewis Erickson's narrative is one of pure delight. It's imaginative, action-packed adventure of faith and friendship will enchant readers of all ages."

Gail Welborn

"Tristan’s Travels weaves a theme of grace into a tale of animals trying to surmount an impossible distance to help someone they love. It is a tale that has deeper themes and Catholic undertones without shoving them down the reader’s throat. This is the sort of book I imagine myself — and my children — rereading many times, enjoying some new pearl and all the old laughs again each time."

Sarah Reinhard


Video Trailer

Tristan's Travels at Rafka Press  (discounted priority shipping currently available)*

* The customer will need to change the shipping method from Standard Domestic to Priority.  

After they “Add to cart” and
“Check out” and select
“Don’t have a PayPal account” (or they can “Check out with PayPal”) and
“Review and Continue”

Then they’ll be able to change the shipping method to Priority. 

Breaking Book News... for a sneak peek at the artwork for our upcoming book Toupee Mice, please visit my new author page on Facebook!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Etiquette at Mass Revisited

I remember attending a Free Methodist church service as a child where the "mother cat" in front of us repeatedly licked her hands and patted down her young son's hair.  This went on for a long time--and it really got distracting after the first 30 seconds, or so.  (One has to wonder if the child is a hairstylist now...)  

Earlier in the year I shared some thoughts on Etiquette at Mass, and now I would like to address one additional area.  Like the "mother cat" description above, church is not really the appropriate place to attend to one's personal grooming for an extended period of time.  After all, we're not there to learn about your hair.  These thoughts came to mind at a recent service where the teenage-girls sitting in front of us seemed to discover their respective heads-of-hair for the first time.  The fiddling, styling, and snickering lasted throughout the entire service.   Enough with the hair...please!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Visiting the Grotto

If you haven't visited the Grotto in northeast Portland, Oregon it is well worth your time this Advent Season--or anytime, for that matter.  After Thanksgiving, a magical transformation takes place throughout the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother.  While it's always a place of beauty, peace, and spiritual meaning, the 500,000 sparkling Christmas lights and more than a hundred choirs make this an event like none other.  For us, it doesn't feel like Christmas unless we've made this annual visit.  It reminds us of the simple joy and hope which are at the heart of the season.  I hope you can drop by.  

I put together a very short video of our Christmas visits over the past few years.  It gives you a little inkling of what it's like--minus the Ericksons and friends unless you have really good coffee.

A few of my other Grotto photos are shared below.  Hope you enjoy!

(Special thanks to the Franklin High School Concert Choir for the video's background music.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Donna Cora Gibson Interview

1.  In the interview featured on your website, you described yourself initially as a lukewarm Catholic.  What happened in your life to bring you to a deeper spiritual level?

Unfortunately, like so many of God’s children, we don’t come running to him until we are in desperate need.  I was living life my way and by my rules and made a complete mess of things.  My fiancĂ© “postponed” the wedding indefinitely,  I had no job and was looking at having no place to live.  My music contacts were dried up or ruined and I had no other skills.  I prayed for death, but when I woke up the next morning I had still died inside and decided that since I was still here, though “dead”, that I would live God’s way.  Though I knew the basics of the Faith, I still had to learn so much, like “how to live for God,” how to be friends with Him, what does He want? Etc.  You can’t love someone you don’t know, so I started reading my Bible (again) from the beginning, but this time didn’t quit.  I studied, prayed a lot (the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was important for me at the turn around point), went to regular prayer meetings and never missed Mass.  I also got very heavy into all those end times prophecies and the many apparitions of Our Lady.  While I don’t follow any of them anymore, they had an important impact on me as I got to finally consider that God was intimately involved in my life.  He was very close, not just some big entity “out there” somewhere.  He became like a friend.  I didn’t want to hurt my true friend ever again.

2.  Would you describe your experience as a second conversion, a conscious turning towards Christ?  (As a family of former Evangelical protestants who crossed the Tiber in 2005, this question is always of interest to me.)

Yes, because I remember when I was young thinking that being a Christian was the right thing to be.  I certainly always believed in God and just flowed in that “direction.”  Later, there was a conscious turning towards Christ because there was no flowing anymore.  There was a deliberate halting and a painful turning and changing and purging and active pursuit that definitely was “upstream.”

3.  You talk about a "death to self" in this renewed commitment to God.  What exactly do you mean by this?

Since I had messed up so royally doing things “my way,”   I just “quit being me” so to speak.  I completely died to my own will and was docile to whatever the Lord had planned for me.  I just knew I had to stay close to Him so I could know His direction.  I was content to be a secretary and never sing again if that’s what the Lord wanted.  I really didn’t care either way about it.

4.  How do you write your music?  Do ideas come to you throughout the day, or does it work best when you have time to quietly reflect?

Oh, you make songwriting sound so glamorous.  Like any other project in the world, it’s only 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.   If I’m going to write a song, I have to decide that “now I’m going to write a song.”  I have to block off the time first and foremost – a few undisturbed hours.  (Lately it’s been on a plane or a long car ride.)  I either have an overview of the project I am writing for, or I go looking for an idea.  If I’m setting an already written prayer or scripture to music, I start playing with melodies until I’m happy with it and can make the rest work.  I always do it in my head first, then I go to the piano to figure out what I’ve been “hearing.” If I get stumped, I leave it and do something else for a while, like a chore or shower, all the while playing with a melody.   Once I got something completely unrelated stuck in my head and decided to go with it for the song, taking it in a totally different direction, but hey, I finished it in an hour.   I usually finish them quickly, but sometimes they just get stuck forever.  I wrote the verse to “You Are Not Alone” six different times before I came up with the final one.  As soon as I “wrote” it, I knew that was it, but then I still had to hammer out the words again to make them fit the new melody.    I don’t even remember writing the chorus.  It just seemed to always be.  I had been singing it in the shower for 10 years already.  If I’m writing a song out of nothing, I write pages and pages of phrases, ideas, or related scriptures.  It’s called a “stream of consciousness.”  Then I look for the catchiest phrase and try making a hook out of it.  Sometime having to pick another and other times just reworking it over and over until it “sounds right.”

5.  Your music is loved by Catholics and Protestants alike.  Any thoughts on what gives your songs such crossover appeal?

God is so big.  There is so much to love about Him.  His love and truth permeate any barrier.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  It’s not me at all.  God just resonates in the hearts of all believers.  I just contribute a melody that draws the listener into the words.  One listener told me once, “You sing it the way I feel it.”  How cool is that?

6.  Your songs set prayers to music.  I recently discovered the profound beauty of ancient Catholic hymns.  Have you ever considered setting some of the classic Latin hymns to music again--e.g. Hymn at Matins in Passion-tide?

No, I’m a “pop” singer.  While I can sing and write any style of music, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.  It’s best to stick to one style and not confuse my audience as to what they can expect from the next album.  There are plenty of people doing classics and Latin and they do it very well.   Personally, I love that kind of music and when I go to Mass, that’s what I want to hear.   I even sing them to myself or as lullabies to my children.   I also don’t want to go the contemporary Christian route either for the same reasons.   There are far fewer people doing contemporary Catholic  music well.   I feel there is a need there and I’m filling the void.

7.  How does God speak to you though your music?

That depends entirely on the song.  If it’s scripture based, singing it allows for more time to internalize it, like a meditation.  The words are alive and God is present and speaking through it right in the moment, drawing you closer.  It’s easier to fly by it when you’re just reading it.  Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.”

Another aspect to the question could be “my doing music in general,” which mirrors by own spiritual life.   It’s never good enough.  My soul is not perfect either.  I have to keep trying to improve both and sometimes have to just let go and let God accept what I am and have to give, trusting that when offered in love and submission, it/I will be acceptable and can even be useful in my/it’s imperfect state in His omnipotent hand.  God writes straight with crooked lines.  He does it all.  I’m just the pencil.

8.  What does redemptive suffering mean to you?

Offering every aspect of my life, especially the difficult times, in union with the sufferings of Christ offered to the Father in atonement for the sins of all mankind.  St. Paul says, to “take joy in your sufferings, for in them we make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church.”  It’s the greatest gift God can give us.  We resemble His Son in this and the Father sits up and takes notice.  It’s very hard, but very cool to be another Christ.  Lord, grant us the grace…

9.  What's the biggest problem with Catholic music today?

My pastor once asked that I read the book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing.”  I wasn’t interested because I was very turned off by the title, but he insisted.  The book was right on the reason.   Music in Catholic churches today have strayed so far from the traditional hymns which have the same “verse” melody sung over and over, making it very easy for the average person in the pew to learn and participate in.   The current melodies are abrupt, dissonant, meandering and require a music degree to be able to sing, sight read, or play the piano.  For the most part, they leave no invitation to enter in to try to master the melody.  It’s a workout and a relief when it’s over.   To make matters worse, most churches will not pay people with the necessary skills to make this difficult music, or ANY music for that matter in many cases, listenable.   If no one with the ability steps forward to donate their time, then the whole congregation is made to suffer.  If professionals are hired, they are usually the only ones who can sing/play the music, turning what is supposed to be congregational singing into a solo performance.  Our family drives 40 minutes in each direction to attend Mass where the music is played by professionals who don’t perform but lead.  There are no solos, just a schola, chant, and traditional hymns that all know and love to sing loudly. 

10.  It seems that in letting your dream for music go in favor of devoting your time to your new family, God gave the dream back to you in a way you couldn't have imagined before.  Would you say this is this true?

Absolutely.  I had quit music and had no desire to ever sing again.  My father-in-law insisted that I do something and my husband encouraged me as well.  I didn’t even go looking for inspiration.  I feel I was commissioned to do what I do now.  Even pushed – by friends, priests and even Our Lady, but that’s another story.

11.  As a fellow Pacific Northwesterner, what unique challenges do you see as prevalent for believers in the soggy Northwest?

Well, I’m from the East Coast.  For the most part, everyone either goes to Church there or they did when they were little.  There are so many old and beautiful churches and shrines and places of pilgrimage.  It seems like God chases you there.  In the NW, there is far less tradition.  More rebellion, liberalism, unbelief, even more witchcraft.  I once heard a girl proclaim herself to a group as a pagan.  There is much more open opposition to Christianity here.  You have to be quick on your feet with an answer for the Faith, because you’ll be challenged straight out.  Conversely, there is an attitude of indifference.  Live and let be, so what, nothing matters anyway.  You’re a Christian, that’s nice, I’m a pagan, nice to meet you.  Then again, my experience here is very limited.  I live under a rock most of the time, staying mostly at home, homeschooling my four kids.

12.  What can you tell us about your latest project?

I just finished a CD of the Stations of the Cross.   I wrote a song for each of the 14 stations.  It’s called “The Way of the Cross.”  It’s very powerful.  It makes you cry, fills you with joy and just draws you so much closer to Jesus, causing you to feel most definitely the depth of His love for you personally.  I offer a free download of the first song/station on my website  At concerts, there will be videos showing behind me to enhance all the stations.