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.