Archive for the ‘Fulminating’ Category

Riding Herd on Time

February 1, 2016

tyranny-of-timeBack in the mythical age of young-adulthood, time was everywhere—on my hands, waiting to be killed, never flying unless I had a paper due.  Baby #1 slowed the clock even more: who knew a day could be so long?  That changed with my decision to start homeschooling.  All of a sudden there was never enough time, because it burned at both ends.  “Time is my enemy,” I remember saying savagely. But of course it isn’t the enemy; it just acts that way when you treat it that way.

It’s the great healer, and the ultimate killer.  It brings all things to pass, waits for no man, runs through the roughest day, and bears all its sons away. It’s essentially mysterious: “I know what it is, provided no one asks me” (says Augustine), but weighs heavily on a guilty soul.  “I wasted time, and now time doth waste me,” muses Richard II, the most introspective of Shakespeare’s kings.

And the impatient reader says, “Yeah, okay, lots of profound people have said profound things about time.  So get to the point: how do I find more of it?  Time is money.”

So, has this ever happened to you?  New Year’s Day, or the first day of school, you make a schedule and promise yourself you’ll stick to it.  Maybe it lasts as long as a week, but more often, by day three or four you chuck it.  Things take longer than you thought, or you just don’t feel like doing what the schedule says you must do, or it’s too hard or interruptions get in the way or it’s boring.

This has happened to me over and over, so this year I approached the issue from another angle.  Instead of trying to wrestle time to the grid, I sneaked up on it from behind. What do I accomplish, and what do I want to accomplish better?  Thinking through everything I do, I found these activities fall into four basic categories.  I gave them names: Janie/mom/grandma, Janie Cheaney, Janie B. Cheaney, and J.B. Cheaney.  I drew four columns on a piece of notebook paper, and headed each column with one of those names.


The first category is who I am as a person and family member.  About how much time in a week do I timespend just being a human?  Starting on the far right column, I wrote everything I could think of, plus time spent doing: number of hours sleeping, shopping, preparing food and eating it (and cleaning up afterwards), keeping the house from looking like a pigsty, even talking to my kids on the phone (since they don’t live anywhere close, the little scamps).  I wrote all this and more, added up the total and put that sum directly under the list, as well as on the far left side of the page.

Next, who I am in my community and church.  How many hours a week do I spend actually in church, and how much preparing Sunday school lessons or Bible studies?  How much in volunteer work and lunch with friends?  All of it went in the second column from the right, with the total number of hours underneath and also added to the running total on the left side.

My professional life splits in two, roughly divided between Christian writing and fiction writing (at this point, they’re not the same).  Janie B. Cheaney writes for World Magazine and blogs at; J. B. Cheaney writes fiction for kids and tries to market the same.  There’s a bit of overlap in these, indicated by the little arrows you may see between the two columns.  Both involve some marketing, blogging, Facebooking, and maybe (one of these days if I can ever figure it out) Twittering.  I also count reading time because Janie B. reviews books—nice work if you can get it, but it puts me to sleep sometimes.  Adding up my professional hours showed me two things: 1) I’m going to have to create an additional blog and Facebook page to accommodate them, and 2) I work an average of 45 hours a week.  After all these years, I can prove I’m a FULL-TIME PROFESSIONAL WRITER.  So don’t mess with me.

After adding up all these hours and subtracting them from 168 (the number of hours in a week), I came up with 29 hours and 45 minutes unaccounted for!  That’s more than a whole day!  I’m breathing easier already.

beattheclockThe purpose of all this is not—like scheduling—to see how much activity I can cram into a twenty-four span.  The purpose is to show Time what it’s dealing with (I’m serious, pal).  It also shows me what I can realistically expect from a day.  “Realistically” is key—if you have young children at home or if you let your Doberman make out your schedule, you’ll have to set aside at least six hours daily for Mr. Unexpected to drop by.  Otherwise, given something you might call a “normal day,” you can start assigning your various obligations to blocks of time.

“Blocks,” not linear increments.  Our days don’t flow minute-by-minute, but rather bump-by-bump: periods of single-tasking followed by periods of multi-tasking; times of relative calm interspersed with times of hectic activity. Figure out when you are most productive and/or when you are least likely to be interrupted.  If those hours are not the same, synchronize them if you can, and tackle your most challenging tasks for that block of the day.  Squirrel your less-demanding tasks into those blocks when you’re more available, and arrange the things you can do simultaneously (like listening to an audio book while mopping the floor, or practicing French while driving—though that sounds like it should be illegal).

Of course you will not find yourself automatically doing what your planner says.  Your planner doesn’t understand human nature, much less your individual slacker mentality.  That’s where discipline comes in.  It’s also where standard advice that you’ve heard a million times comes in: whatever requires the most concentration needs to occur when you are best able to focus (for me this is 6-8 a.m.).  Do not check your phone.  Do not check your email.  Do not peek at Facebook, even for one teeny-weeny second.  If you can only set aside one hour a day to work on your novel, whip your attitude into line and tell it you won’t tolerate any backtalk for this one hour.  Do your best to scale back interruptions and streamline routines.  Lay out your clothes and mix the ingredients for your breakfast smoothie in the blender the night before.  When you take a break, keep it to ten minutes or less.  Ride herd on those productive hours, and you can loosen up the reins for the rest.

Case in point: I can do all my serious writing between 6 and 11 a.m. with a half-hour break for breakfast and a quick check of the news–4 ½ hours.  Afternoons are for uploading, Facebooking, research, business and personal emails . . . and everything else.  I don’t have to fill each week with everything on my hour log—self-employed people get vacations too.  And I’m not always going to be as productive as I planned because stuff happens.  (Look on the bright side when it does, maybe you can write about it!)

There’s also this: My times are in his hands (Ps 31:15).  Anyone who’s ever tried to command the hours learns that she’s not the boss.  But at least I know the Boss, and I don’t have to feel destroyed every time the plan goes off the rails.  There’s a bigger plan at work.



One Sad Birthday

January 18, 2016

George Washington’s birthday is coming up next month–Feb. 22nd, in case you’ve forgotten in the birthday cakemashup that we call Presidents’ Day.  It’s probably with that date in mind that Scholastic timed its release of its new picture book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington,  for early this month, to give libraries time to purchase the book and feature it in their Presidents Day displays.  A Birthday Cake for George Washington features Hercules, Mt. Vernon head cook, and the long process of baking a special cake for a special occasion (recipe included).  But on the book’s way to market, something happened that the Scholastic publicity and school & library coordinators should have foreseen, especially considering what befell an earlier culinary picture book.

I wrote about that at A Fine Dessert, published a year ago, racked up an impressive list of raves and starred reviews before running aground on the reef of social conscience.  The story tracks the history of blackberry fool (a kind of cobbler) through the lives of four children living in four different centuries who enjoyed making the dessert with a mother or dad.  It’s a lovely little book with sunny illustrations and engaging text, but one of the children is a slave girl living on a South Carolina plantation. Most of the scenes of the little girl picking blackberries, whipping cream, and later licking the bowl with her mother show her smiling and apparently happy.

Did actual slaves ever smile?  Of course.  Did they ever experience moments of joy?  All humans do.  Did they ever take pride in their work?  Those who mastered a skill for which they received praise undoubtedly did.  Not because they were less than human but because they were fully human–the very thing that made chattel slavery so heinous was also the quality that allowed these people to experience life its complex, deep, and mystifying dimensions.  That included happiness and pride.

Anyway, the discontent was already there in the background when Scholastic released George Washington’s Birthday.  In its pages Washington’s slave cook Hercules is seen with his daughter, Delia, whipping up a scrumptious cake that pleases the master and his guests and wins numerous complements to the chef.  This makes him happy.  The author, NY Times food editor Ramen Gameshram, spent four years researching the topic, including original documents and primary sources from the Mt. Vernon archives, and says it is beyond dispute that Washington and his chef enjoyed a close relationship and respected each other.   I think this is probably true.  But it didn’t stop Hercules from escaping when he had the chance, an act that bewildered his master.  Though courageous, disciplined, inspiring, honorable, and indispensable, Washington was also as boneheaded as any in his generation about the morality of  African servitude.

Anyway, the press about A Birthday Cake for George Washington was so bad Scholastic announced just yesterday that it will no longer distribute the book, and will accept all returns.  This is the only picture book recall I can remember (though it’s not exactly a recall).  While praising the talents and good intentions of the author/illustrator team, the publisher reluctantly concludes that “without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn.”

Well, yeah.  I’m surprised the editorial department didn’t see that one coming.  I haven’t perused the book, so I don’t know if any context was provided in a historical note at the end–but historical notes in picture books for preschoolers don’t get read anyway.  The Amazon page is now up to 182 reviews with an average of 1 1/2 stars.  I doubt that every reviewer read the book much beyond the preview, and elsewhere on the web some of the comments are vicious.

Author Ramen Gameshram thoughtfully explained her rationale, and I largely agree with her.  For example, “the range of human emotion and behavior is vast, and there is room in between how the literary world depicted historical African American characters [i.e., as childish, simple souls] and how it does now.” Humans are vastly complicated, and can’t be reduced a “a condition,” however miserable and overwhelming.  Slavery does not define African Americans, then or now–to be defined by a single term or condition is to submit to slavery all over again.

And yet–it’s probably best, at this present time, to pull the book.  It would have been even better to hold off on publication altogether.  I’m sad about it; sad that we can’t talk about the actual historical record and the varieties of human experience, but it’s impossible now.  Maybe later; I do hope so.


Teacher’s Lounge: Six Ways to KILL the Love of Reading

February 27, 2015

Or, suppose they gave a common-core-aligned lesson plan and nobody came?

Here’s a tale of three sisters.  The first two don’t remember learning to read as a struggle, even though kill-readingtheir companions on the journey were the pasty-faced and bland Dick and Jane.  And Spot and Muff.  From See Spot run.  Run, run, run they made the leap to more exciting fare like Honey Bunch: Just a Little Girl (I loved it when she fell down in the coal cellar, though I had no idea what a coal cellar was).  They would just as soon curl up with a book as pedal their bikes madly around the neighborhood.  For the youngest sister, though, reading didn’t come easy.  She would get frustrated sounding out words (“What does a b sound like?” the middle sister would ask impatiently, when forced to listen to her practice.  “Bu-bu-bu, a, a, a, du-du-du . . .”).  Little sister was (is) a smart cookie and reads perfectly well now, but it was never her favorite thing to do.  Her house is crammed with everything except bookshelves.  She’s just not a reader.

Reading itself is not a “natural learning process” for most children; it has to be taught, and basic phonics is probably the best way to do it for most.  But the break-it-down-in-little-bitty-learning units doesn’t work for every child.  The “whole-language” approach to reading, which used to be called look-say and is probably called something else now, had one idea right: reading is an integrated process involving vision, brain circuits, emotion, and physical and mental readiness.  And it’s a mystery: how does anyone grasp this highly complex system of combining and recombining 26 symbols into the entire western canon?  It’s much more than just translating symbols: it’s also catching inferences and making connections and understanding figures of speech and gaining a sense of plot and character development, all of which comes with practice and can’t be front-loaded: readers will understand the subtleties of reading only after they’ve read.  A lot.

Surveys indicate that reading for pleasure is a declining activity, for lots of reasons.   but teachers and parents can help kill it off, if we’re not careful.  For instance, we can

1. Make everyone in the class read the same book.  As much as I love it when a school district buys copies of The Middle of Somewhere or Somebody on This Bus Is Going to be Famous for an entire class, I know that not every student is going to love reading it.  (Even though they’re both lots of fun!*) Book discussions are valuable, but only if the participants have some interest in the book.  A better way to generate book discussions is to allow free-range reading, as much as possible.  Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer, simply stocked her sixth-grade classroom with books to appeal to a broad range of reading tastes and levels, and tried to set aside an hour a day for the students to read whatever they liked.  (By the end of each school year, she claims, every one of her student had found lots to like.)  Their enthusiastic recommendations to other kids developed impromptu discussion groups on the fly.

2. Hand out work sheets at the end of every chapter.  Really?? Every chapter?  When the kids are dying to find out what’s behind the door or what happened after Danny accidentally ran into the principle with his go-cart?  The author wants them to turn the page.  The kids want to turn the page.  Let them turn the page.

3. Make the study of a book all about how the author writes the book, not what the book is actually about.  If a young reader makes it all the way to college (or senior year honors English), that’s the time to do literary analysis.   As mentioned above, analysis can’t be front-loaded: it’s too much to ask a young reader to write character sketches when they don’t have a firm grasp of “character,” or outline a plot while they’re still gaining a sense of plot.  It’s like grammar: you learn to use nouns and verbs fluently long before you know what they are.

4. Cut money for the library budget.  See #2 above.  Students will not learn how to pick up and browse a book if they have no books to pick up.

5. Cut classroom reading time in order to schedule a test.   And another test.  And another test.  I know, if the district mandates a certain number of tests, you don’t have much choice.  But maybe something else could be cut to allow for reading time.  We’ll never know how much education is caught rather than taught, and how much a student subliminally learns about reading (and much else) just by doing it.  This takes time.  For reading’s sake and for the child’s, do whatever you can to give them time.

6. Talk it up every chance you get.  Look, I’m a reader.  And even I get fed up with rhapsodies about being swept away by a story or “saved” by a book.  It happens, but not to everybody.  Overselling can make the non-reader feel like they’re seriously missing out if they don’t hop aboard the good ship There Is No Frigate Like a Book and let it carry them to worlds unknown.  For some kids, all you need to do is help them find a book or story (or subject, if they’re more inclined to nonfiction) that they enjoy.  Transcendence will come from some other source for them.  And that’s perfectly okay.


*Hey, don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what VOYA says: “Cheaney’s narrative style is dynamic and lively. She clearly has high expectations of her audience, creating a middle-grade reader with both substance and complexity that is also truly fun.”

Gaming the Book

September 8, 2010

Forget reading Dante–now you can be Dante! For the investment of a few dollars you, too, can descend into hell as a hunky Florentine hacking and scything your way through all Nine Circles to rescue Beatrice. Dante’s Inferno, brought to you by Visceral Games, will familiarize you with hell’s topography (you never know when that might come in handy) as well as plant some choice quotes in your brain, for Virgil will be your voice-over guide.

It sounds like fun. So does The Great Gatsby game, though more sedate. In this one, players progress from the rooms of Gatsby’s fabulous East Egg house and his terraced yard to Wilson’s garage, pointing and clicking and collecting enough points to decorate your own fabulous house while working through the plot. What, no kick-boxing or first-person shooting? Who hasn’t felt like knocking off Tom Buchanan, or at least knocking him in the head?

Classic literature is rich with gaming possibilities, I suppose: several years ago my son had an idea for a To Kill A Mockingbird, where the object is (if I remember correctly) to find Boo Radley or else make him come out of his house. The Middle of Somewhere (that’s my latest book) would work perfectly as a video game: as the player progresses through Kansas, he has to prevent Gee from killing himself in various ways. If Gee hits the pavement, then SPLAT!–it’s back to Partly, MO and starting all over again with the squirrel in the toilet.

As for Dante: imagine the scores of college sophomores who can now pass their world lit course by skimming The Inferno’s expanded table of contents and reaching level 9 of the game. Imagine the possibilities for Beowulf (already a game, I’ll bet), Canterbury Tales and Macbeth!

I really have nothing against a video game based on The Inferno, as long as no one confuses it with The Inferno. Games based on novels may not be that different from the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the eighties and I hear are making a comeback. We checked out a few of those from the library years ago, but their appeal faded quickly. CYOA is to literature as chicken nuggets are to coq au vin. What does bother me a bit is talk of “interactive” literature, which sounds like an electronic version of CYOA. Choosing between fleeing or fighting has no relevance in a universe that consists only of choice. In the real world (ahem), we make choices, but choices also make us. That’s one value of reading good fiction: seeing the consequences of a character’s choices, and how they affect other characters.

 Such decisions are not interchangeable. Good characters sink their roots into the narrative–to jerk them around rips up the story. Good characters have to be themselves–if the reader barges in and starts rearranging their lives, they start being something else. Like props. The eventual consequences for real life are dismal to contemplate.

A Modest Proposal

October 9, 2009

To tell the truth, I’m almost to my limit with the health care “debate,” but something stirred my interest the other day: a bill. From the doctor’s office. They said I owed almost $250 more than I already paid for a routine checkup.
So, after calling the office numerous times, we finally got it straightened out: the billing clerk didn’t realize that we are cash customers. Lacking health insurance, like, um, 47 million other Americans, we pay as we go for services rendered. Our status, understood at the main desk where I wrote the check, didn’t get back to the office where bills are processed. I paid $145 for the checkup and some blood work recommended by my OB/GYN, and thought that was that. But according to the bill, I owed an additional $243. Why? Because the billing clerk thought I had insurance. Once she understood that I didn’t, the $243 was struck from the record and I’m no longer a debtor.
But I’m thinking, why should having insurance more than double my bill? Fortunately, I had the answer: “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” an article in The Atlantic by David Goldhill. Below the catchy title is one of the clearest explanations of the current system I’ve ever read.
The essence of Goldhill’s argument is that, in the health care system as it’s evolved, patients are not customers. The insurance company or the US government is the customer, and are billed according to their deep pockets. It’s not that all doctors are rapacious, but simply that it costs money to shuffle papers in offices. That’s what insurance companies and Medicare do, basically: pay people to shuffle papers in offices, and some of that money sifts down to pay the actual bill.
So my modest proposal is this: why don’t those of us with moderate means pay for our own doctor visits and routine tests? That involves making decisions; for instance–in my latest visit, my doctor recommended a biopsy. I did some research and decided not to, and time, I believe, has proved that decision to be wise. The $145 I paid may seem a little steep, but I spend that much on two weeks’ worth of groceries or a month of gasoline. Why don’t we do health insurance like we do auto insurance, where you pay for your own oil changes and new tires, and let the insurance pay for the unexpected disaster?

It’ll never happen, though–it makes too much sense.

The Race Card/Canard

September 19, 2009

I grew up in Dallas, in the fifties and sixties.  Things were different then.  I recall black signs on city buses reading, “Please move to the rear.”  It didn’t take me long to realize that those signs were not for me.  I recall the N word used casually by neighborhood kids and classmates even though we understood, like Attitcus Finch, that the word was “common.”  I recall the evening news regularly leading with civil rights marches, water cannons, Bull Connor with his dogs.  And I don’t see those things now.

I know that racism still exists.  I know, and have known, some actual racists.  But I’m not one.  I realize there are some people who won’t buy this; they seem to know what’s in my heart by the color of my skin. So I won’t protest.  But there’s one thing I can do.

This is a picture of my family:

My Family 

It was taken last winter, on the occasion of my mother’s funeral.  Besides me, there’s my two children, my two sisters, one nephew, four neices, several great-neices and nephews, three in-laws, and one granddaughter (the little igrl at the lower left).  None of the young people are adopted; all are blood relatives.  I’m proud of this picture, and grateful for my family.  I’m not particularly virtuous or revolutionary–In fact, I’m pretty conservative.

And oh yes, I’m opposed to the health care plan President Obama is advocating.  I’d rather not question his motives or his intelligence or his background; I’m looking at the plan.  Illegal immigrants and “dealth panels” aside, I don’t see how layering another bureaucracy on top of an already-tottering bureaucratic structure will make health care more efficient and affordable.   Government does not tend to be efficient and affordable; that’s not the nature of the beast.  And the unimaginable burden of debt will crush all of our children, no matter their color. 

I share the President’s desire for affordable health care for all Americans.  But I believe there are better ways to meet that goal.

So I oppose the President’s policies, not his color.  I realize such protestations won’t satisfy Jimmy Carter, or Maureen Dowd, or Al Sharpton.  So I’ll just smile, and –oh yes: would you like to see a picture of my family?

Timmy Visits the Ministry of Health

August 28, 2009

So, last night I was reading a post on BigHollywood about a cool move from the administration. It seems that Patrick Courrielsche, filmmaker and arts consultant, was invited to join a conference call hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. During the call, about 75 filmmakers, artists, poets, promoters, “or just plain cool people” (according to the invite) were encouraged to use their talents to help create public awareness and enthusiasm for the Big Four Obama initiatives: health care, education, energy and environment. These cool people had played a part in getting Obama elected, and he wanted them to know he appreciated it and valued their contributions for the future.

Actually, I’m a little miffed I wasn’t invited. Don’t children’s book authors have a part to play? I couldn’t help recalling a picture book we used to read to our children when they were little: Timmy Goes to the Doctor. Just as that story was designed to reassure kids who might soon be facing a six-inch hypodermic needle, I think children’s authors could contribute some soothing medicine to the health care debate . . . .

      “Hi, Timmy!” said Nurse Molly, as a nervous little boy entered the sunny office of the Ministry of Public Health with his Mom. “I’m glad you came to see us today.”

      “Is it time for one of my shots?” Timmy asked.

      “No, no,” Nurse Molly laughed. “I have your file right here and you’re not scheduled for any shots today. Maybe later . . .” Her voice trailed off as she looked at Mother.

      But Mother was looking at all the puppy and kitty photos on the wall and didn’t seem to notice. “These are nice,” she said.

      “The committee–er, doctor, will see you in a moment, Timmy. Please have a seat,” said the nurse. While waiting, Timmy and his mother looked at the colorful storybooks in the office, like Your Life, Your Choice–For Kids! and Let’s Take a Number and Smoke And Die!

      Finally Nurse Connie opened a door and said, “Timmy?” Mother stood up.

      “No mothers,” said the nurse. “Just him.”

      “Oh,” said Mother, sitting down again. “Sorry.” Nurse Connie led Timmy down a long hallway and stopped beside the very last door. After one short knock, she swung open the door.

      “Hello, Timmy,” said a voice from inside. “Go in,” said Nurse Connie. Timmy walked into a big room with soft lights and nice music playing. Three people sat at a black table, two ladies and one man. All wore white jackets and had very kind faces.

      “Come and have a seat,” said the lady who was sitting in the middle. “Do you like chocolate chip cookies?”

      Timmy saw a plate of fat gooey cookies on the table beside an empty chair. This might not be so bad! Usually they just sat him down butt-naked on a slab and poked him over.

      He climbed into the chair and took a bite of cookie. It was still warm. He ate it all while the man and two ladies smiled at him. Then, swallowing, he asked, “Are you going to listen to my heart and look into my ears and stuff?”

      “No Timmy,” said the lady in the middle, “We’d like to talk to you about your life. You like to run and jump and ride your bike, don’t you?”

      “Uh . . . Yeah.” Timmy was getting a little nervous again but couldn’t say why.

      “It wouldn’t be much fun if you couldn’t do those things, would it?”

      “Uh . . . No.”

      The man said, “Let me show you something, Timmy.” He picked up a remote and clicked it toward a screen built in the wall. A picture of a sad-looking boy in a wheelchair filled the screen. He was watching a Little League game, holding an empty catcher’s mitt in his limp hands. “Do you like to play baseball?”

      “No,” Timmy said. “I like soccer, though.”

      Suddenly the picture changed and there was that same boy in the wheelchair holding a soccer ball in his lap, while a game went on in the background. “That boy looks pretty unhappy, doesn’t he?” asked the man.

      “Uh . . . I guess so.”

      The lady in the middle said, “We want to talk to you for a few minutes about–”

      Suddenly the door flew open and Nurse Connie hurried in with a file folder. She slammed it down in front of the middle lady, picked up the folder that was lying there, and hurried back out.

      The three grownups leaned together over the folder. “Well!” said the middle lady.

      “That was a close one!” said the man.

      The other lady didn’t say anything but she wasn’t smiling any more.

      “Well then,” said the man. “We don’t need this little chat after all. You can go. Don’t touch that other cookie!”

      Out in the waiting room, Mother and Nurse Molly were having a good laugh. “Just think!” Mother told Timmy. “They got your file mixed up with another Timmy, who has MD!”

      “It was an honest mistake,” said Nurse Molly. “Actuarial Unit 34,578,625 looks very much like Actuarial Unit 34,578,635.”

      “No harm done.” Mother opened her purse and took out her SecureHealth Card. “How much do we owe you?”

      “Oh, nothing today,” smiled Nurse Molly. “The bill will come due when Timmy is about twenty-three, and it’ll crush him. Have a nice day.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you’re opposed to the administration’s health care plan, you may think this is amusing. If you’re in favor, you probably won’t. If you’re like me, you’d be thinking, Isn’t there some place on this great, pulsing, wonderfully varied Internet where we can get away from politics??

Just one point, and I’m done. I posted this of my own volition; no one from the RNC invited me to a conference call and suggested I use my talents to fight the opposition’s health care plan. What does it say when the largest source of funding for the arts in the nation encourages artists to get on board for the President’s initiatives? Might artists who cooperate be looked upon with favor when the NEA is handing out funds in the future? Have artists ever been told by a government agency that “We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government” (actual quote from the conference call)? Is that what the NEA was established to do?

Final discussion question: When art is recruited for political purposes, should it still be called ‘art’?