Rain Shadow

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

To live in a rain shadow would be to live where rain did not fall, like the leeward side of a hill.

Now and then I’ve heard friends mention a German word that dares to name what English-speakers have no word to describe (though I don’t doubt that we have all experienced it). That noun, “Shadenfreude,” combines “Shaden,” meaning “adversity,” and “Freude,” meaning joy; according to my old college mate, Stephen Bucher (on Facebook). The combination denotes the experience of joy inspired by the misfortunes of others.

I was discussing this with friends on Facebook, and my dear sister could not fathom such an emotion. Does it mean “Misery loves company?” she commented about “Shadenfreude.”

“No, it’s more like being happy for someone else’s misfortunes. A very nasty kind of thing,” my high school chum, Gaye Spetka had to spell it out again for my incredulous sibling. I’m not sure yet that my sis was receiving the signals.

I love my sister’s innocence. Growing up under the same roof as preacher’s kids, we had been taught the Greek word for “Agape” love, another word for which there is no English parallel. We had learned that that particular kind of love privileges the good of others above your own. This highest kind of love is the opposite of “Shadenfreude,” as it turns out, and it was the standard to follow, according to many a pulpiteer under whom my sisters and I sat.

Not a bad standard, I think, not at all, though I have to admit, “Shadenfreude” comes much more naturally to most of us. Confound our human nature. I am grateful for those nouns that articulate a better way.

You come away from a discussion and you feel strangely warmed. Brandishing ideas with friends and colleagues kindles the spirit, and this is what makes living a sacred experience. If you’re like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, you can’t stand too close to the fire.

When Tolkien started a reading club called the Coalbiters at Oxford University, he was fostering an incendiary fellowship. The word “coalbiter” claims roots in Iceland where it was used for those who stood so close to the fire in winter that they could bite the coal.   At the Coalbiters’ gatherings of Oxford, univeristy dons read and discussed Icelandic sagas with each other. This is where Tolkien and Lewis began to meet regularly, a friendship that would nurture the creation of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Perhaps another reason Tolkien chose this title for the club was that “coalbiter” also names a host of reluctant heroes in the Old Norse sagas, characters who have greatness thrust upon them. This genre of hero starts off weak, maybe even pathetic, then rises to perform great deeds. Perhaps as writer Peter Hallberg has noted, Tolkien’s Bilbo Baggins, Frodo and Sam were all coalbiters in their own right.

Students today flock to campuses seeking fellowship that will light their vision for a future. To all, I say, don’t be afraid. You can’t stand too close to the fire.

There is always some Herod in us
Caught up in what he decrees
Being threatened by the prophecy
Of a divine king being born
In his kingdom…

Always some trinity of wisdom,
Three sages, looking for the
Truth, who know that Herod’s
‘Scribes and priest hold the truth
They refuse to tell…

Always some Mary and Joseph
Moving inside us, the most
Unlikely couple to have the divine
Child who changes every life
Who touches Him…

And some manger, some unlooked
For spot to be the safest
And humblest birthplace
The divine born among
Cattle and sheep and donkeys
And two bewildered parents
With shepherds running to see if
The news the angels sang is true…

Always, all the time
This is happening in me, in you,
In everyone we know, in everyone
We see — this Herod claim
Of kingship, this divine child whose
Presence usurps all authority,
And the haunting sense we
Are in the story and must decide
What we are to do.

During PVCC’s 2010 graduation ceremony, I had the good fortune of sitting by college librarian John Chavez.

“Would you like to put together a journalism resource site?” he asked me. We agreed to team up for the project.

Three months later and raring to go live, we reviewed the site’s design.

Research and networking sites, videos and writing exercises are among the resources aggregated on this site. You will find PVCC’s Journalism Web page under “Research Guides” on the library home page. Check it out at http://paradisevalley.libguides.com/journalism .

For over 10 years, PVCC’s journalism classes have been using Bruce Itule and Douglas Anderson’s news writing text, “News Writing and Reporting for Today’s Media”  for its News Writing class. We moved from the fourth to the seventh edition with Itule and Douglas and might have gone farther had new editions kept coming a pace with industry’s changes .  But they have not.

After reviewing several texts in search of powerful voices, I have found The One. What does it have that I like?

• mastery of classic  journalism,
• realism about how the industry now struggles,
• a prophetic voice pointing the way to the future.

Not least of all, I like that it has a copyright date of 2010. The text is “Telling The Story” by the Missouri Group comprised of professors Brian Brooks, George Kennedy, Daryl Moen and Don Ranly of the University of Missouri at Columbia’s School of Journalism, long recognized as a leader in this field. I’m excited about revamping the News Writing course with the support of this new text.

This spring, Broadcast Writing offers students in PVCC’s Journalism Program a day on assignment at ABC15, alongside instructor and general assignment reporter,  Tim Vetscher. Returning from the experience, students have been bursting with tales from the news front.

Puma Press world news editor, Miguel Saucedo, told this.

This Monday, Feb. 8, Saucedo pitched a story idea in the ABC15 newsroom at the start of the day.  Saucedo had read in “The New York Times” that the Boy Scouts were recruiting Hispanic children across  the nation. He wondered what the scouts were doing in Arizona.

Forewarned by fellow student and news editor, Carmela Kelly, Saucedo had come to the conference table prepared.

As it happens on days when unexpected grace excites a blush, Monday was also the day in Phoenix when the Boy Scouts of America was celebrating its 100th anniversary at the Arizona State Capitol. Vetscher and Saucedo  were there, camera in hand, and the rest is broadcast history.