My computer is fixed my computer is fixed yay!
And on that happy note, here is chapter 1 of this terrible book I can’t believe you guys wanted me to read.
Mamma, I played your drinking game and I passed out.
Drinking Game (So far):
- The word “bitter” is used
- Every time I bang my head against the book in frustration
- Jenny and Carol behave in a way that is not age appropriate (99% of all SDA authors can not write believable children.)
So, wineglass in hand, for those of us who are still able to drink (everyone else gets to drink shots of espresso), let’s dive in.
“I am Jared, Citizen of the Universe, member of the celestial penmen.”
Right away, you can tell that this book is geared to an SDA audience, rather than be meant as a “share your faith” book. Seventh Day Adventists grow up with the concept of Recording Angels. “Celestial Penmen” makes sense to us, but would someone outside the cultural bubble know what we were talking about?
In any case, the author hopes you’ve read the back of the book, because Jared doesn’t even bother to explain that he’s an angel.
I’ve already discussed how stupid “citizen of the Universe” is, so, let’s move on.
At the moment, my gaze is riveted upon a corner… in New York. While I am waiting, I will tell you why this particular spot, on a tiny faraway planet, is so important to me.
This is clunky. In practice, I don’t have an issue with explaining the backstory as Jared waits for a
victim test subject, but the way it’s done is very clunky.
First, it breaks the 4th wall.
Second, “faraway planet?” Far away from what? You just said you were “a citizen of the Universe.” If someone said to me that they “were a citizen of the world,” I would assume they were a traveler with no particular home. Do you have a home? Where is it?
Of course, since we’ve read the back of the book, we know Jared’s an angel, and we know he’s from heaven. But wasn’t this the big Share your faith book of the *checks copyright date*1980s? If I was a non Adventist, I would be more than a little lost.
In any case, Jared next explains that:
It is the sober assignment of the Celestial Penmen to chronicle the activities of Planet Earth.
Ok, book. So we know what Celestial Penmen do. We still don’t know Jared’s an angel. We also have on idea why they would want to chronicle, specifically, the events on Earth. Why Earth? Why not one of the other inhabited planets in the Universe? (Yes, Adventists do believe there are other inhabited planets.)
An old man just rounded the corner. A shabby, soiled old man who long ago bruised the fragile, shimmering gift of life in grimy, careless hands. But the time is not yet. I am relieved.
Fuck you Jared. How do you know all this? Are you this man’s recording angel? No.
- He might not have done this to himself. Maybe he’s been abused all his life. Maybe he’s been in a fight recently. You don’t know his circumstances.
- Lots of humans make stupid mistakes with their lives. It doesn’t mean he’s a terrible, evil person.
- Yanno, maybe you could stand to learn something from this guy. I wish you had picked him. Really, if you wanted to study the effects of sin on human beings, someone who has wasted their life and made a mess of it would be a perfect specimen.
- Shabby, soiled, grimy old men are people too, dammit!
- He could possibly improve his life? You do not know. Maybe tomorrow he’ll take the first step toward… whatever it is he needs for his life to improve. Wouldn’t that be exciting for you to watch.
Jared goes from feeling relief that he won’t have to stalk the Grimy old person to thinking this:
We, the Celestial Penmen, have been amazed at the shortsightedness of humans. They buzz about as if the Earth were the center of the universe instead of just a speck in the cosmic dust.
This, folks, is the truest thing in the entire book. I watched Cosmos with Neil Degrasse Tyson recently, and our Universe is big. And us? We’re like…. Not even specks. Seriously, go watch the first episode of Cosmos, then read Psalm 8:4.
We get another paragraph talking about how The King (God) has spelled it (the plan of salvation) out very clearly in his book(The Bible.). Jared says that at first he didn’t really like humans that much. We were ungrateful, arrogant, bla bla bla. But he’s slowly grown to love us over the last 2,000 years, especially since He (Jesus) came to live with us. Somehow watching Jesus act like one of us gave Jared empathy for us, which is confusing but nevermind.
Anyway, Jared tells us that he is going to get on with his explanation. Good, because my eyes were starting to glaze over.
Jared’s been getting tired of transcribing wars and general events.
I have found myself with a persistent desire to concentrate upon individuals, though that is the direct assignment of the Recording Angels, a completely separate segment of the Celestial Penmen.
So, why didn’t you ask to be reassigned to be a Recording Angel?
At least Jared has finally used the word “angel,” so we know what he is. We still aren’t given a clear idea of what a Recording Angel is and what they do. An SDA audience wouldn’t need this explanation, most everyone else would.
Jared went to the King (God the Father) and asked for permission.
I made it clear that I did not desire to record the individual’s every thought and motive with the precise accuracy required for the judgement, but simply to compile a more general observation of one human’s reaction to the sin environment.
Blink. Blink. Blink. Um…. ok? First of all, Seventh Day Adventists are not of the opinion that angels cannot read thoughts**. How then, is a recording angel supposed to know those? Second, wouldn’t the “general observation of one human’s reaction to the sin environment” be pretty easy to gauge from reading a variety of case studies? Or also from, I dunno, the Celestial Penmen doing their job? Is there a need for this experiment?
It’s my headcanon that God is being particularly indulgent with Jared as a human parent would with a toddler. “Ok little one, you can follow the cat around making observations about its behavior. Meanwhile, I’m going to go check with the vet to see why little Fluffy’s been pooping outside the litterbox.”
In any case, the King gives his permission, obviously, and everyone who knows Jared is excited about it. Because no one’s thought of trying this before!
Jared’s Penmen coworkers know about his little plan, and have made some suggestions. Some have suggested a newborn baby, but the world’s about to end***, so there wouldn’t really be time for a baby to grow up enough to be interesting.
Jared considered looking for a child, but decides he doesn’t want any controls on his “experiment.”
First off, in a proper experiment, you do need control groups. I can see where you’d want to select people at random, but there should be more than one.
Second, What is Jared hoping to discover here? It’s been known for centuries how humans of all shapes, sizes, and cultures “react to the sin environment.” In order to make a meaningful discovery, wouldn’t he have to have non sinful beings (yes, SDAs believe these exist) as a control group?
This is a very poor experiment indeed.
In fact, I decided yesterday (You will note I am already using the time terminology on earth)
No, I thought “yesterday” meant, “yesterday in heaven, where there are no days because Heaven doesn’t orbit a star, and there isn’t any night up there anyway so there can’t possibly be days!”
I wonder, actually, if the editor is responsible for this. When writing for SDA websites, my work was edited to the point where it looked like I thought my audience was downright stupid. I still haven’t forgiven James for that one.
In any case, Jared has decided that he will be
stalking observing the first person to round this particular corner at 6pm.
Why this particular corner? I was hoping you wouldn’t ask, because we don’t get told.
Jared sees some dead leaves blowing in the wind and thinks about how scary it would be to live on a planet where everything dies eventually. It’s scary for me because I’m an Ex SDA who thought she’d never die. It’s not scary to the majority of the people who live here, because they’ve all accepted it.
….A small figure rounds the corner, her belted coat whipping in the wind. A young woman. Or maybe not so young. Thirtyish I’d say. Funny, I’d never thought of studying a woman. They seem rather complex creatures.
Bang! Bang! Bang! That was me banging my head against the book in frustration. (Drink!) This book is even written by a woman for Pete’s sake! Also, aren’t angels supposed to be sexless, neither male nor female? Jared is using male pronouns, so we’re going to assume he identifies as male, but I highly doubt all the angels identify that way. Does the author think that calling women “complex creatures” is a compliment? This author is a complex creature.
Figure out whether that is a compliment or not.
In any case, Jared decides to call her Sunlight, because….? I could see using a placeholder name until he figures out her real one, but she has a name. But that doesn’t matter because her
stalker Recording Angel Weird-not-really recording-angel-but-recording-anyway-angel isn’t using it.
I mean, let’s think about it for a moment. Imagine you get to heaven, finally, at the end of a long hard life. You’re meeting your grandpa for the very first time since they died a long time ago. Then an angel comes up to you and says, “Hi, I am neither your guardian angel nor your recording angel, but I’ve been following you for years. I named you “Sunlight,” and I’m so glad I actually get to meet you.
Am I seriously the only one who would be creeped out by this?
In any case, Jared follows Sunlight home, where she enters an apartment with the name “Meg Adams.”
So, her name is Meg, then.
She greets her two daughters, Jenny(age 10 “in two weeks”) and Carol(age 6),
Hang on, Meg left a 10 year old home alone, in charge of her younger sister, a 6 year old? Was this normal for 1980? By the time I got to be 12, in 2001, it was legal for me to be home alone for a few hours, but not if I was babysitting my brother. Were laws different then, or were they there, just largely ignored?
Meg calls the 10 year old, “Jennifer,” so Jared stars using the name “Jenny,” in his notes. If her mom called her Jennifer, that’s probably the name she prefers to be called by. Jared is not very good at this whole name thing. I’ll be using Jenny because I hate the name Jennifer and this is a fictional character anyway so who cares.****
Anyway, Jenny is making burgers for dinner. Meg tells her to be careful using the electric frying pan. Jenny tells Meg not let Carol eat Twinkies before supper. Meg says Jenny’s right, and Carol pouts about having to be bossed around by her older sister when their mother isn’t around.
Carol has a point. Whether or not this was normal for 1980, I still think this is negligent parenting.
Meg snaps at the kids to stop arguing:
That’s enough, you two. After hassling customers all day at the store, I can’t take your squabbling when I get home.
It’s not clear, from this sentence, whether the customers are hassling Meg, or if Meg is the one hassling the customers. It’s my headcanon that Meg is the one doing the hassling. Or at least, she will be once she converts to SDAism. (That’s not a spoiler. You all knew that was coming.)
They eat dinner, which Meg doesn’t finish. She goes to watch TV. Carol tells her that their father called to say he wouldn’t be visiting them on Saturday because he will be “out of town.”
Sunlight: don’t talk to me about your father. He hasn’t been here for weeks. Why does he bother to call with those phony excuses? Hey, Baby, don’t look like that. He’s not worth a single, tiny tear.
Wow, what a bitch. Look, this man may be an asshole, but he’s still their dad.
Eventually Meg sends the kids off to bed, then sits there alone smoking a cigarette.
I feel an anger as I watch her.
Yes Jared, me too
An anger at the Rebel, and what Earthlings have endured at his hands. I long to write across the sky the simple solution to their predicament.
Simple? Simple solution?
Do you have problems in your home? Do you sometimes feel “bitter, angry, and hurt?” Call 1-800-JESUS and he will solve all your problems for free and with no hassle. Don’t delay, call TODAY!
Look, Meg clearly has a lot of issues. These issues are not simple, and they do not have simple fixes.
Jesus isn’t gonna do shit.
How do I know this? From experience.
I also don’t like that Jared is blaming Satan here. Meg alone is responsible for Meg’s actions. Yes, Satan is the one who caused her to be in these circumstances. Does that give her an excuse to be a bitch to her child? No. Jared’s anger at “the rebel” here makes me very uncomfortable. It’s too close to “the devil made me do it.”
Here’s what Jared would write on the sky if he could:
(Which begs the question: why can’t he? What’s stopping him? Why doesn’t he try it anyway?)
Jesus Christ, Prince of the Universe, is yours, Planet Earth. Yours to heal your sickness, comfort your loneliness, and make you whole again. Lift up your heads. Laugh and dance and sing. Take the gift He’s(sic) bought for you at such cost, and give Him(sic) your love in return.
WHAT GOOD IS THAT GOING TO DO THEM?
But I know, even as I compose my celestial bulletin (i’s all dotted with stars) that men would barely lift their eyes to read, nor would they believe.
I’s dotted with stars? What are you, 5?
Also, I saw this written in the sky, I’d think, “Wonder how much that cost the church to write up there. Insert long list of all the good uses that money could have been put to here that I would complain about.”
Jared goes on to whine about humans having seen too many movies, mentioning specifically Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Black Hole.
Show of hands, former Adventists, how many of us have seen any of these movies? Put your hands down if you’ve seen Star Wars. How many hands are still up? Spoiler alert: mine isn’t.
I’m not sure how popular sky writing was in the late 1970s when this was being written, but I’m sure it existed. It’s not Star Wars that would cause me to disbelieve Jared’s “celestial bulletin.” It’s airplanes. Therefore, airplanes are an argument against the existence of god, and we should all stop using them. Logic!
Jared watches Meg stub out her cigarette and doze in her chair, then he looks out toward the Holy City to the throne, where he has a clear view of–
Hang on. Jared is watching Meg, and The Holy City is visible from her apartment window? Jared just said said this planet was a “faraway place.” How… what…. I….
You know what, nevermind.
Jared goes on for another 2 paragraphs about Jesus’ love and how much we need him, and we are his…. I don’t care.
So. By now I’m sure we’re all looking forward to watching Jared get to know Meg as he follows her around and we get to see what she is like. After a section break.
One week has passed
….She (Meg)works in cosmetics at Sibley’s downtown store, looking very chic and professional as do most of her fellow coworkers there…she gives each customer courteous attention, yet anger festers within. Her conversation with her fellow workers is witty and intelligent but often cynical.
Meg hassles the customers, but she gives them courteous attention in the process.
Anyway, “courteous, but with a festering anger” kind of sounds like the attitude of everyone I’ve ever known who works in retail, food service, or customer service. Sometimes, customers are just assholes, and you still have to be polite to them. Jared shouldn’t be surprised by this.
This is also terribly written because there is a whole lot of telling going on rather than showing. Why not have Jared observe a scene that shows Meg hassling the customers while giving courteous attention to them and being cynical and witty? Granted I have no idea how you’d write a scene where you hassled the customers while giving them “courteous attention,” but that’s the writer’s job, not mine.
She is shattered…as are many Earthlings, but she functions on the residues of that magnificent resiliency with which the Prince endowed man at the beginning.
What the fuck does this mean? No seriously I’ve read this sentence 5 times and have no idea what this means. Seriously, who talks like this?!
I’m adding another thing to the drinking game.
Drink every time the dialog is unrealistic.
No, don’t do this. You would all die.
Sometimes irritation tinges her love for her children, because she has to be both mother and father to them. She envies what she interprets as their carefree existence. They aren’t, of course, carefree. The bitterness (drink!) between their parents has washed over them until already [they]…. Have succumbed to a puzzled, painful existence of life.
Why does Meg have to be both mother and father to them? I get that their father isn’t around half the time, but they still have a father. It’s not like he died, and it’s not like he’s never there.
Also, Meg should know her children aren’t carefree. Earlier in the chapter, we basically saw Jenny step into the role of Carol’s 3rd parent.
Jared tells us that Carol is strong willed and stands her ground. Poor poor child. Once Meg converts, Carol is going to have the hardest time ever. Strong willed children in conservative christian families are the ones that suffer the most. Ask me how I know.
In any case, why aren’t we shown Carol standing her ground? Standing her ground in what context, exactly? Standing her ground against who or what? We don’t get to know, so I hope you weren’t curious.
Moving on, Jared wishes he could help Meg, and I wonder why he can’t. Like no, really, God has like, a bajillion angels, why aren’t they all helping us? Because that’s Earth Friend’s job, apparently. It took me an entire 5 minutes to puzzle out that “Earth Friend” is the Holy Spirit.
Worst name for him ever. Doesn’t the Bible call him Comforter? That word reminds me more of blankets than Holy things, and I never really found him all that comforting anyway, but it’s still miles and miles better than Earth Friend.
Earth Friend just conjures up image of an Earth Fairy who does special Earth flavored fairy magic. I think that’s going to be my headcanon: the Holy Spirit is actually an Earth Fairy.
Jared’s not too worried, because, in a city full of Christians, surely one of them would seek out Meg Adams.
Or, in that day and age, Meg Adams could get ahold of a bible and find out for herself. She could go to the religious section of her local library. She could find the encyclopedia, she could visit a church… even before the internet, it was very easy, in the USA, to find God.
Next thing we know, it’s Saturday night. Jared muses that we Earthlings have a thing about doing things on Saturday… hang on, isn’t the stereotype to do something Friday night? These characters are supposed to be heathens, why aren’t they all going out on Friday night? Saturday night traditions are for Adventists. We all count down the minutes till sundown, making sure to compare all the clocks in the house to find the fastest one, and then we do fun stuff.The rest of the world, or so I was told, does these things on Friday night.
Also, all Earthlings do things on Saturday night? I’m pretty every single culture on Earth does not do something special on Saturday night. Jared makes the mistake, here, of assuming all cultures are the same.
Meg and her friend, Michael, are “disco dancing.” This book is sooooo dated. Michael is Meg’s best friend, someone she has known since she was a kid. Jared refers to their dance as “almost hypnotic,” which makes me snort/giggle. Jared whines about how no one will ever find “The Prince” in this environment, then whines some more about the earth being “ablaze with its own destruction.”
Michael has taken Meg home early, which she objects to. She really likes dancing, because:
Because it’s fun, Michael.
No, sorry, that was a better book from a parallel universe.
Because when I’m dancing… I can forget. I don’t worry about the girls. I don’t think about Jim…I forget how afraid I am of all the years ahead. What if I get sick and can’t pay the rent? What if the girls become wild teenagers and I can’t handle them? What if…no one ever loves me? See why I like to dance, Michael?
Of course. She can’t just enjoy dancing because it’s fun. Dancing is of the devil, so of course she only does it as a coping mechanism. Why else would anyone dance, amiright?
Michael promises Meg he won’t let anything happen to her, and Meg sarcastically quips that he’s going to stay single all his life in case she stubs her toe.
I have no idea how she got from “Michael will help me if I ever need it” to “This requires Michael staying single.”
Michael says he’s here for now, and isn’t that enough?
No, Michael, it’s not. Because shit happens, and it doesn’t always happen when people who are willing to help us are around. But, since Michael doesn’t need to be single in order to help Meg, I have no idea where this conversation is coming from.
Michael tells Meg she needs her rest, and that that is he brought her home early. He tells her she’ll feel better in the morning.
There’s a section break, and Jared talks about Jim, Meg’s ex husband. This is just so painfully terrible, because all this could be shown so easily. Jared tells us that the children ran into his arms, and he made small talk with them. He tries to talk to Meg too, who is having absolutely none of it.
Afterwards, Meg cleans the house, crying the entire time.
Why? Why is she not happy that Jim has come for the kids? This not only gives her a break to clean the apartment uninterrupted (or take some me time, which she clearly needs) plus him spending time with them is, barring any abuse, a very good thing.
We jump forward in time to Jim bringing the kids back, after a canoe trip up the river. Jim’s new wife is waiting in the car, so, this was clearly a family outing.
Jim: Can’t we be friends, Meg, at least for the sake of the girls?
Sunlight: Your concern amazes me. You haven’t seen them in a month.
Jim: It’s not always easy. Marie often makes weekend plans into which the girls don’t fit
Sunlight: I’ll be she does
Jim: Other people get divorces and go on being friends, why are you being so difficult? I know the alimony’s not a lot, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. I didn’t set out to fall in love with someone else, it just happened. I’m sorry, Meg, I really am, I’ve told you that a hundred times
Sunlight: Please go, Jim. You can come for the kids at any time, but don’t ask me to listen to your theatrics afterward. And don’t keep Cinderella waiting. She might turn into a pumpkin, or whatever.
Jim(grinning:) I still like your wit, even when it’s sticking me in the back. Goodnight, Meg.
- Being friendly for the sake of the kids is not the same thing as being friends. I do not know any divorced couples who are still friends, but I could conceive of a couple being friendly towards each other for the sake of their children.
- Jim clearly needs to talk to Marie about the amount of romantic getaways they are having. He needs to spend more time with the children.
- Notice how Jim goes from talking about his relationship with the children to Meg and her relationship to him? Yeah, major deflecting going on.
- I didn’t mean to fall in love with her. It wasn’t my fault! My little head controlled me! I’m soooo sorry Meg!!111!!!!!11!!!1!!!!
Meg may have her faults, but she has every right to be angry with Jim. His “apology” here rings false. It is what I call a “nonpology.” He is “apologizing” for something he believes isn’t his fault. He is not accepting the responsibility for his actions, and he does not care one whit that Meg is deeply hurt by all this.
Good on Meg for not putting up with Jim’s bullshit. But that joke was seriously lame. If we’re meant to take this as an example of Meg’s wit, maybe it’s a good thing Jared didn’t show us earlier how “witty” she is.
The Prince came by just now, and asked me how I was getting along with my special project. When I told him, he…. said, “so, you call her Sunlight. That is good. Write your story well, Jared, and in the writing you will learn much.” Now what did He mean by that?
First off, Jesus did not just come down to Earth with no trumpets or fanfare. Is Jared watching through a portal in Heaven? But that can’t be right, because earlier we saw him on the street corner. Is Jared bouncing back and forth between Heaven and Earth?
Second, why is it good that Jared calls her “Sunlight?” CALL HER BY HER REAL NAME GODDAMMIT.
Third… how is Jared confused by anything Jesus said? That was not confusing, that was the most straightforward sentence I have ever heard a Jesus figure say.
This would’ve been the perfect place to end the chapter, but Jared talks for a bit about how much Jesus knows all the Earthlings intimately…. I don’t care. It’s boring, we’re skipping it.
*No, the angels don’t know that. The author does, which is the only reason I can think of for having Jared rule it out.
**SDA theology generally holds that Satan, who used to be an angel, cannot read minds, but God can.However, Satan has been studying us for roughly 6K years, so he can make pretty good guesses based on any little thing we do. I’m probably not the only Adventist child who desperately tried not to show what was inside me, for fear Satan would figure it out and use it against me. What if Satan figures out I took a second look at Rachel this morning in that tight skirt? Thought little Brutus more than once. I’d better pray about it, but not out loud, and I’d better not make any facial expression, or Satan will figure it out that way!
***It was my legal one for a long time, shut up.