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.