Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It's so easy

Ah, the ease with which one can fall out of shape.  Physical fitness, you eludeth me!  (I just made up eludeth.) (I think.)

When you're out of shape, it's so easy to be out of shape.

But!  And I can say this out of personal experience that once you work out for a while and see some gains that further motivate you then you can get into a real routine and you can actually think, "I can't believe I haven't always done this, it's so easy to do it."  And being in shape really truly does feel very good.

And now, after around eight months hiatus (and, therefore, after losing over a years worth of cardio and 12 weeks of consistent weightlifting gains) I try again.  Summer is a great time for it.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Greatest Event

A few years ago (4?) when I first heard our Pastor say that Easter was "the greatest event in human history" it struck me.  Well now that I think on it, its probable that he's been referring to Easter in that way since I've been going to that church (2001).  However, it was only three or four years ago I'd say that his saying this really stuck out to me.

I had never thought about it that way.  At the time I was a believer but wasn't that dedicated to God or to developing my faith.  But that assertion of his which he makes each Easter-time has resonated with me more and more every year.  It is true.  The events of Easter are our salvation and nothing better could happen to the human race than this.  Thank you God :)  Happy Easter everyone!

Monday, April 18, 2011

"Uncle Jack," or, Ageism - It's for real

The titular "Uncle Jack" is not my uncle.  I have no Uncle Jack, though I do have a few uncles.

I met Uncle Jack yesterday at a one year old's birthday party.  I was related to no one there but my wife and we were there because the mom is her friend from high school.

Long story short, Uncle Jack is around 92 and pretty awesome.  Incredibly sharp and astute and interesting.  However, long story short, he was not one of the people there that I was seeking out to introduce myself to and chat with. When one of the mother's friends seemed to have gotten cornered by Uncle Jack into a conversation, my wife and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing:  oh boy, poor thing, look at her stuck in that conversation.

When the two of them were temporarily parted during the serving of the meal we managed to get a word into her about it.  Essentially, oh jeez sorry, that stinks!  And she said:  Oh no, he's probably the most interesting person here!  Did you know...

And I was immediately impressed by this sub-30 year old who I'd just met that day.  Here she was bucking the unfortunate way most people are with the elderly (including, as we have seen, my wife and I in our attitude towards Uncle Jack).  He ended up sitting across from us during the meal and as he was still eating and my wife and most people were up and about again, I had the great pleasure to get into a conversation with him myself.  I won't go into the details of it, for the sake of length, but I'm very happy to have spoken with him.  And I don't say that in a patronizing, how-fortunate-it-was-for-him-for-me-to-allow-him-to-speak-to-me, but because it was a gratifying experience for myself.

Anyway, in conclusion the experience was one that has caused me to reflect further on something that I already knew: ageism is for real, and most people who abhor discrimination likely discriminate in some way against the elderly.  And that's a bad, bad thing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kierkegaard, you opresseth me no longer ...well sorta

I wish this post was announcing my completion of the book I wrote about here.  But alas, it isn't.  It's only an update on the situation.

Last Sunday, my wife again insisted that I take a break from it and read something I'll enjoy and come back to K.  She knew I wouldn't just give it up completely.  Then she said, why don't I start something else and read 10 pages of K each week and then I would finish it around when my summer started (I have a 9 month contract each year...!).  The thought intrigued me, she pressed, and then I finally agreed, diving into a short novel I've had my eye on.  Short, especially since I feel the need to catch back up to my normal book reading pace after months of Kierkegaardian oppression.  At least I've been listening to audiobooks and getting a reasonable amount of my own writing done in that time or else I would feel like a complete slacker.  Now, I just feel largely slackery.

Almost a week into this new plan, I'm already almost a third done with this book, short though it is.  And it's so marvelous - reading both fiction and something I'm enjoying.

Kierkegaard, I think you're a great and important philosopher, but I don't anticipate reading another one of your works for a long time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quotable Tuesday, IV

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Becket, from Worstward Ho

Dareisay: hopeful?  Perhaps: inspiring?  Heartening?  The sentiment here is quite out of line with our modern sentiments with just its acknowledgement of the prevalence of failure.  But it strikes out far beyond that with its implicit assertion that, beyond prevalent, failure is indeed the only possible result.  Only levels of failure, only failures of different qualitative value, but failure nonetheless. 

When I read this my mind turns, perhaps I should say "of course turns", to writing, to making art.  I venture to say that any creative writer who takes their work seriously shares the experience that they never, ultimately, are completely satisfied with their work.  Yes, they may be at times be satisfied and think that they have written something awesome.  Perhaps as they are writing it they are thinking how great it is.  But guaranteed, in 24 hours, or a couple of years, there will come a time when they re-read it and want to throw up a little bit in their mouth.  We see our flaws, our authorial tics, we are our harshest critic.  Even Pulitzer Prize winning bestselling authors likely look back at their oh-so-successful book and find at least parts of it that they feel have failed.

And this quote, to me represents all of that, represents that urge we have to continue in the face of daunting and repeated failure to do something we love, even if, ultimately, we're only failing better at it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thrift Stores

Whether it be Goodwill, St. Vincent dePaul, or one of the many for-profit resellers of used goods, thrift stores are fascinating (and fun) places.  My wife has found great shoes and purses at thrift stores, good expensive brands that are in like new condition.  I've found plenty of books.  We've found any number of little decorations for the house.  When you find a good thrift store you can find great stuff.

People of all situations seem to use thrift stores - for some it's an essential place to shop for essential clothing, for others it's a fun way to find deals, and hipsters love 'em because these stores seem so anti-establishment to them (and they can get cool t-shirts).  I've seen people in thrift stores that look like they're about to head to the opera.

A great slice of life, a great place to people watch, a great place to find deals.  If you don't go, you ought to!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quotable Tuesday, III

"Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work." - Chuck Close

This quote motivates me.  It inspires (haha) me to approach my fiction writing with a workmanlike attitude.  Because ultimately, any large artistic output requires sustained effort, and that "rest of us" needs to keep in mind that a painting, or a novel (as is my case), or whatever, is a long haul and we have to be in for said long haul.

I will disagree with this quote, at least a little because, well, hey, inspiration is great.  But it is also fleeting.  And when I read that quote I feel that he is referring to that momentary flash, maybe the initial germination of the story idea, to those first few lines or paragraphs that are written under that special magical feeling of inspiration.  And yes, someone working on a novel needs to remain interested in the idea, and that is a form of inspiration, but not the type that he's addressing in this quote.

Perhaps this quote resonates because it seems to directly combat the way I once worked and approached writing.  Before college and during college the vast majority of my writing came because some momentary light of inspiration, the muse of old perhaps, struck me.  I would write the line, the paragraph, or if I was feeling particularly frisky and caffeinated, maybe a whole few pages.  Most of my finished output took the form of vignettes or short shorts.  I considered a ten-double-space-paged story to be a herculean accomplishment.  Anyway, that mode of production is certainly amateurish to my mind (maybe because I was such a true amateur at the time?).  That mode of production is hardly a mode of production at all - my total ouput, both "finished" pieces and even just notes etc. is minuscule.

I think now of my wife, who might initially balk at this quote though I don't think she'll ultimately be against it.  She is a fiction writer of luscious, dense prose.  She tends to work very slowly, revising each line or paragraph over and over again.  She often speaks of her need to have in her mind the voice of the story, the particular and unique way in which the narrator/characters speak, the particular way the prose is flowing.  And she seems to need that for a story to reach its maximum.  If she loses it, she'll often not be able to finish  the story.  Would Chuck Close tell her to just get to work?  I don't think so... I think he might respect her process if he got to know it, respect it as I do.  She works hard at her writing and her process is a different sort of thing...  Well, now that I think about it, she's probably gonna hate this quote...:)

I'm not one who really feels comfortable prescribing things to others, or making grand sweeping statements.  So, to each his or her own on this, but:  I do think that through consistent work you can create your own inspiration, you can create the mental atmosphere, the feeling, that cradles your creative work and sustains you in those endeavors.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On questions of the faith

It should go without saying that I don't know everything.  In fact, I know very little.  As I've gotten older I've had the experience of learning just how little I know.  I think that opening the world up to students, showing them just how much there is to be known and how little they (even after graduating) know is one of the key fruits of higher education.

When it comes to religious questions, to questions about Christianity, and the Bible, etc, wow I don't know much.  And it was in the process of reading the Bible and ancillary texts, like With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray and A Short History of Christian Thought by Linwood Urban (both highly recommended) that I have come to see how little I know.

And yet, one might say, this admitted lack of knowledge might be a sign of lack of faith.  Some seem to want Christians to be able to answer every question posed to them about the Bible and the faith. And if one cannot answer all of those questions then it's to be taken as proof that either the questioned, or the faith, is foolish in some way.  I disagree.  I can't answer every question that might be posed to me; I cannot explain every apparent contradiction in the Bible.  But I have faith.  It is my hope that as this blog develops and more people read it that lively discussions will take place, and I don't see Christians disagreeing as necessarily a sign of discord.  Discussion and questioning that leads to a deeper understanding of the faith we already possess will only serve to strengthen our rational apprehension of that which is extra-rational.

For myself, I do my best to have the open and true faith of a child as I approach such questions as, for example, whether to understand the creation story as literal.  I try to approach such questions with a deep faith that says, I may not know the answer to this question but I know that God the Father is true, that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are true, that the three of them are one God.  Basically, I approach these difficult questions as someone who believes the deeper truth of God but who can't necessarily work out all of these details that so many are hung up on.  And I'm not trying to say, oh look at me, look at how awesome I am. I know I am infinitely far from perfect. I just wanted to share my outlook on this as a foundation for how I intend on approaching such questions in my blog in the future.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quotable Tuesday, II

"My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language." - Anton Chekhov

Ok, so here's the whole quote which is what I've always liked, but since I felt it violated the idea of my discussing the power and meaning of short quotes to throw that up initially, here it is:

Is it me, or does he look like Ed Norton here?
In my opinion it is not the writer's job to solve such problems as God, pessimism, etc; his job is merely to record who, under what conditions, said or thought what about God or pessimism. The artist is not meant to be a judge of his characters and what they say; his only job is to be an impartial witness. I heard two Russians in a muddled conversation about pessimism, a conversation that solved nothing; all I am bound to do is reproduce that conversation exactly as I heard it. Drawing conclusions is up to the jury, that is, the readers. My only job is to be talented, that is, to know how to distinguish important testimony from unimportant, to place my characters in the proper light and speak their language. — To Alexei Suvorin, May 30, 1888

Above quote was found here here - a great page with a bunch of Chekhov quotes on writing.  So much great stuff there, but this one wins the blog post since it is one that I saw long ago and that stuck out to me.  You know, there's no such thing as a free lunch.  (Oh, wait... that doesn't apply to this.)

I think Chekhov is the greatest short story writer ever and he is also one of my favorite writers.  So when he talks about craft, I sit up and listen.  Do I think that great literature can be created that violates what he is saying, absolutely.  There's probably a ton of it out there and I look to you literati to list some for me in the comments :)  So, I don't think that this is the only way to write, but it certainly seems like one way of considering craft that could take a person a long way.  Concerning oneself with the real people of the earth, representing them and their concerns honestly will take a writer very far.  The further I get from undergrad and adolescence the further I get from trickery or novelty in form and subject matter and the closer I get to a more honest and realistic (at least I hope...) depiction of representavive/significant events with realistic characters.  (well, to the best of my ability, etc, of course)

What do you all think of this quote?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Oh, Kierkegaard

While it is without a doubt not a long book, I have been reading Training in Christianity by Kierkegaard for way too long.  And I don't mean to dissuade anyone from reading it, because, and I mean it when I say this, I think that it's a good and worthwhile book... But!  I have been trudging through it for weeks upon weeks and I look longingly to our bookshelves at multiple other books I want to read next.  When I approach this book it's not without a sense of some dread because I know that just reading ten pages in one sitting is a feat and if I do I'm gonna feel like a champ.  Only intermittently have I had the urge with this book to sit down and dive in - and when I have, it hasn't been because it's so enjoyable, but because I... must... finish... it... soon!
And while he is making more than three points, it feels like he makes the three same points over and over in slightly different contexts.  And while I like the enthusiasm in his writing, I won't agree with anyone who says that he is a good writer.  Perhaps his style is necessary for his content, in fact I would say it almost definitely is - especially in his pseudonymous works, of which this is nominally one... but.. ahh!

Again, don't let me deter you from reading this book.  I have underlined a good bit in it.  It has made me think and reflect on important topics, it has revealed to me new and interesting ways of thinking about Jesus and Christianity and the church.  But please know, dear reader, that I will be very happy when I finally finish it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quotable Tuesday, I

Matthew 22:37-39

"And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

I thought that I would start off my "series" with what might be my favorite Bible quote.  There's something about it that has always struck me as a beautiful moment.  The simplicity of it.  The command sounds like something simple and reasonable.  And indeed, it seems that for someone of faith it would be only reasonable to love God with all of your everything.  But alas, (and yes, I just used alas) it's not so simple as all that.  And, I suppose, that is why it's a commandment, because it's something that even the truly faithful need to work towards, and maybe, no matter who you are, you will never truly achieve it.  Maybe some have, some can, I don't know.  But we have so many roadblocks to such a deep and true love of God.  Not the least of which is vanity.

Another aspect of this quote that I enjoy is the clear emphasis on love.  Especially the second part, that we must also love our neighbors as ourselves.  In another place, this is shown to subsume the other commandments, because if we did love our neighbors as ourselves the others would naturally fall into line.

Finally, going back to the first half of this quote, it calls to mind another part of the New Testament, John 14:21: "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him."  This, I believe, helps us to more deeply understand the above quote.  We are told here that we show our love of God through our actions and thoughts, by being in line with his desires for us, by holding his commandments.  His commandments, as seen above, can be boiled down into loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We seem to come in a circle, but I truly don't believe that it's a tautology.  I don't know if I can work it out more deeply here in this post (especially as I try to finish this within my deadline of Tuesday and I need to go to bed relatively soon, lol).  I might not be able to express it, but I understand the truth here, and it's not such an easy one either.  I hope that you've found this interesting, and that it sparks in you some beneficial thinking on the topic.

Quotable Tuesday, Preface

I have designs to do a post every Tuesday called "Quotable Tuesday."  What you're reading now is more just a preliminary ("What's past is prologue" a nice quote, right there - and while not especially applicable to this context, it's still nice!) and I hope to have the first honest-to-goodness post of the series up later today.

I'm doing this for two reasons.  I like the idea of having a regular "feature."  And I really like quotes, or rather, more precisely the stuff of quotes, the lines, phrases, statements that make for good quotes.  I often find myself drawn towards pithy, aphoristic writing, think Minima Moralia.  And most of my favorite moments in poetry are similar in that way.  And while my love of fiction extends beyond just quote-mining, I'm never unhappy to find a great phrase or line that can stand outside of its context.  I also enjoy reading writers talking about writing and often there are many good quotes to be had there.  And of course, the Bible lends itself marvelously to quotation.

So why quotes?  I think that there is great power to be had in the quote.  Often we find in a quote a crystallized form of something we felt (and maybe didn't even know we felt).  It is there said much more adeptly than we could have.  Also, too, the quote, the condensed nature of it, can often cause us to further reflect, perhaps work towards understanding it more deeply, and as such a springboard for good thought they are especially valuable.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Motorcycles in the distance, or, my wife's snoring

This post is mainly a reason to have that title, which I thoroughly enjoyed thinking up.  She's a chronic snoring denyer.  And while it's largely true that she doesn't snore, lately she's been a little noisy.

Last night she was so noisy I moved, after an hour of failing at mind over mattering the issue, to the bedroom across the hall.  Sweet dreams!... until a few hours later when she was so loud she woke me up.  And she sounded like motorcycles in the distance.  Oh boy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bad poetry

Over the past few days I've been judging some of the entries of our campus' writing contest.  A variety of genres were accepted, including poetry and essay writing.  It reminded me of a conviction I've held for a while, based on much experience: of all the bad writing out there, bad poetry is the worst.

I'm thinking this applies to all age ranges but I ask you to call to mind teenage and college age people... writing poems... about... pain... lonliness... unrequited love... requited love... sex... trees... parents... dreams...  oh my!

There's an interesting prevalance of rhyme in these types of poems...

One of the things that makes them bad is, well, the lack of art.  They're line-broken-excuses to be dramatic and effusively emotional.  They seem to mean so much to the author, like they're really feeling it and they think you will too.  Or maybe they don't care. In fact, it seems that they think their poems are of the utmost importance by virtue of their having created it.  Often a sense comes through the poems that they think that both they and their 'words' are THE STUFF.

In these amateur verses there's much of the expressing of meaning and emotion and scant little of the actual creating of meaning and emotion in the reader.  Which, finally, brings me to a conclusion: I love good poetry, it’s a marvelous art form.  On top of that I think that everyone should at least dabble in poetry: for themselves, to stretch their imaginations, to provide a place for them to reflect on their own emotions and identity.  I think if more people threw themselves into the writing of poetry the world might just be a proportionally better place... but don’t make me read it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh, learning

I work at a University.  In its library.  As I sit here, now, there are the sounds of my typing, the murmurs of the circulation employees, chuckles from students upstairs and other students mock shushing them, the occasional page being turned.  But mostly, of the odd ten or so students that I can see here with me on the first floor, there are intent eyes on laptop screens or textbooks or binders of notes.  All of these relatively young minds here LEARNING.  Working at accumulating knowledge.  Let's forget about motivations for a second, forget about how most are here so that they can get jobs, let us forget for a time that rare is the student who just loves knowledge for its own sake.  The kind of student we (likely mistakenly) picture filling so many ancient schools.

Let's forget about all of that and focus on that learning for a bit.  I've realized recently that I really love learning.  And I know that likely sounds corny.  When I tell my wife that I love it, I say it earnestly though with my tongue still a bit in cheek.  There is so much interesting stuff out there.  Browsing the shelves of a library, or even a bookstore can give that charged feeling, but, so can the internet.  Filled with vapid junk but filled too with magnificent and convenient and reliable interesting bits and chunks of knowledge.  The internet, Google, I mean it's just ridiculous how easy it has become to find all types of information.

I regret not being a more motivated college student.  At least, when it comes to the topics that interested me deeply both then and now, that is literature, history and philosophy.  I sometimes think that if I had just been a little more earnest, how much more could I know now?  Truth be told, I got pretty good grades, and graduated with a solid GPA and had no trouble getting into grad school.  Truth be told, I had an amazing blast in college and wouldn't want to change much.  If I had been a different person, I probably wouldn't be married to my wife now, who I met when I was a junior, in an upper-level lit course.  I would have been a different person, with a different personality, and so on.  But I do wish I could have tacked onto all of that a deeper level of scholarship in college when I had the luxury to be focused on just that and to be surrounded by intelligent peers, being taught by mostly lovely faculty.

But now I'm thirty, happy in my work, an aspiring novelist (that is, unpublished but working hard and hopeful), married and hoping to start a family soon.  I've been really trying over the last few years to be a better Christian, I read the Bible in its entirety and the New Testament two additional times and now (and am mostly successful) read at least a chapter per day.

This love of learning feels in a way to have come to life only recently.  Only over the last couple months have I thought of it in this way.  As I commute over an hour to work I listen to a lot of audiobooks, many of those being lectures or other non-fiction or philosophy or theology. Over the last couple years I've really gotten serious about the things I value and which also seem to truly hold some value.  Gotten serious about my writing, serious about God, serious about being a mature good husband and on and on.  Call it growing up, I guess.  Call it learning and the accretion of knowledge over time, perhaps.  Am I better person than I used to be?  I hope so.  I know too that I have a long way to go.  A really long way to go.  But I'm trying and I'm learning and with this blog I hope to share some things with all of you that you find interesting, and also, in doing so, to help you and me learn and grow.