Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Writing on writing

There can be nothing more exciting than someone writing on the topic of writing, well maybe a geometry theorem, but that depends how you feel about math.  My question is, why do certain people 'have to write' when the mood strikes them?  Does this apply to people who collect squirrel figurines, square dance enthusiasts, and people who enjoy memorizing pi?  I was born this way, it is something of an addiction, does this apply to other preoccupations and obsessions or solely to writers?  But then there are times I actually have the time and intention of writing but nothing to write about.  It is only when I 'have to write,' that I can't find the time or chance to do so, then I get all nervous and shaky like someone going cold turkey after getting hooked on some addictive substance.  Do they have treatment programs for people like me?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Everything's okay, really!

We live in a world of superficial contradictions and metaphysical paradox.  Talk to anyone on the street or look at their social media sites and everything is great, fabulous, perfect, really!  Nobody else on the planet struggles with anything, ever, you are all alone and just plain weird.  Not so much.  Rather, we walk around pretending everything is great when we are barely hanging on, can hardly hold it together.  We want everyone else to think things are okay when we are secretly dying inside, anything to save face.  But it is okay to fall apart, to fail, to struggle, to ask 'why me?'  Why do we lie about our struggles and try to hide them, when it only increases our dismay and loneliness?  Because we don't want to appear weak, vulnerable, or uncool.  Our perception of how others perceive us is of far more value to us than our own well being: it is a selfish sort of martyrdom.

The good news is, we are not alone, everyone struggles with something, but few actually are bold enough to admit it, even to themselves.  We need not be ashamed, isolated, or despairing, for none are perfect nor have the perfect life, despite what they post on Facebook.  Struggle and sorrow are part of what it means to be human, at least in this current manifestation of reality; it is just part of life, so why not admit it and gain strength in the sharing?

But there is even more good news, nay great news!  Everyone struggles, sure, but how exactly does that help, besides to give you some modicum of comfort that you are not alone and it is normal?  It really doesn't, at least in a materialistic sense.  With that point of view, we might as well, 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.'  Our sorrow means nothing.  Our grief is moot.  Our struggles vain. So why even bother?  Because there is some innate part of us that knows life is not as it should be; we were not made to live in an imperfect, fallen world.  We assume there must be a 'happy ever after' and are dismayed that we have not yet found it, yet still live on in hopes that it lies round the next bend.  How can we have hope in a world so devoid of meaning?  Either the materialists are wrong or our deepest yearnings are.

If there were no light would we have eyes?  If there was no sound would we have ears?  So why then do we hope and yearn if there is nothing beyond this vale of tears?  Why do we expect perfection in an imperfect world?  That innate yearning in every soul hints at a world, a future that will be fulfilled.  A time when 'happily ever after' comes true.  This is not a pointless story, there is a plot and an Author and a happy ending.  Your struggles, griefs, and fears are not in vain, they are the birth pangs of something better, something greater; they are the stumbling steps upon a path that leads to a world that is truly our home.

As the old christmas hymn puts it, "and ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow, look now!  For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing: oh, rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing!"  And as another says, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."  It isn't just a story, it is The Story, it is your story.  Look a little deeper into 'the reason for the season,' and discover what life is all about; find your own happily ever after.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tis the Season

It is that time of year again, no not the season of shopping and stress, that modern holiday is not one I care to celebrate, rather Advent is upon us once more.  It is the season set aside by the early church in anticipation of the coming King; it is a season of eager joy, personal reflection, repentance, and thankfulness, both looking back at Christ's birth and forward to the Second Coming.  And sadly it has been overlooked, forgotten, and pushed aside by the hecticness that is the modern observance of the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas: namely stress, debt, and stuff, all the antithesis of the original meaning of the season.

I enjoy watching the movie, 'The Nativity Story,' this time of year, as they did a suburb job of capturing the gospel accounts of the events leading up to Christ's birth, if a little cheesy, but I love it for all of that.     They show a pregnant teenager's struggles in a society where such a condition outside of marriage is a capital offense.  We see Joseph, the usually overlooked fiancĂ©, heroically choosing to take Mary as his wife and this unborn child as his own, though it it is a scandal that will mark them the rest of their lives. We see a society in upheaval looking for a hero, a king, a conqueror, when it is a mere babe that has come to save the world from itself.  It is a tale full of beauty, joy, struggle, and hope and a reminder that often the thing least expected or wanted is actually the most important thing in the world, if only we had the ability to see it.

That is what advent is all about: seeing what the world otherwise cannot see.  We stop, we reflect, we are astonished anew, and hopefully come away refreshed and encouraged to go our way rejoicing, for the unthinkable has happened: God became flesh and dwelt among us!  That is the true meaning of the season and life itself, we will not find it rushing about madly to find 'the' gift or in a myriad of insipid parties, gatherings, and festivities.  This is a season of rejoicing and hope, there should be celebration and joy this time of year, but cramming our lives full of stuff and activities will not bring us joy.  Rather, it crept quietly into a stable two thousand years ago and merely waits for us to find it anew.

Of all the Christmas classics you might watch this year, 'The Nativity Story' is a beautiful reminder of what it is all about.  Charlie Brown tries valiantly but it ends as more an afterthought (that and I always find him a bit depressing for some reason).  'It's a Wonderful Life' is a charming story and well worth watching, but isn't quite the 'reason for the season.'  Rudolf isn't even close.  Frosty is cute, but again off course.  If you have the chance, sit down and watch it with your family and remember what the season is truly about.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Lazy Blogger Strikes Back II

I ran across this article the other day and thought it rather refreshing, especially with the holidays upon us.  We focus so much on the things we shouldn't do and the things we have to do, that often we forget that we are also commanded to rejoice, to celebrate, to have fun and enjoy the blessings around us, as if God has not filled the world with wonderful things He intends for us to enjoy.  Instead we focus so much on the aughts, the shoulds, the can'ts, that we take all the fun out of a life that should be full of joy, even in the midst of struggle and sorrow.  We are supposed to be ready to give a reason for the 'joy that is in us,' but if we do not present that joy to the world, who is going to know to ask when we are as gloomy and freaked out as the next guy?  This is not a license for debauchery, i.e., an 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,' mentality but rather an acknowledgement that 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof,' and as His children we can enjoy the bounty and blessing with which He has imbued creation.  We are told to focus on the beautiful, the wonderful, the good, and it is all around us, if only we have eyes to see rather than focusing on the things we do not have.  Definitely worth a read!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Effects of Exposure to Classic Literature on Young Readers and Their Future Reading and Writing Habits

This would make a fabulous thesis if one actually had the time, patience, and funding for such an endeavor, and if one could come up with an accepted list of 'classic literature.'  I had the requisite school reading of course, mostly things in the dystopian and modern lit. genre, all of which are hugely enjoyed by 8th graders and no doubt responsible for the continuing love of reading seen among the millennials.  I wanted to be an avid reader but lacked resources and direction.  We did have a decent library but I had no one to show me what was good and what wasn't.  Everything I read in class only deterred me from seeking out anything considered 'classic.'  So I was left to the endless shelves and random chance to select my next book, the result of which was predictable.  I did enjoy the Newberry Award nominees every year and found some decent reading therein.  But sadly, the main force that kept me reading was the summer program at the library every year.  I read to 'win' stuff (and because there wasn't all that much to do when it was 90 outside and the internet had not yet been invented).  You read so many pages and then received a piece of disposable plastic in the shape of various kid-friendly creatures or things, definitely worthwhile!  At least it eventually lead me to some books worth reading and taught me that reading for its own sake could be rather diverting.

What classic books did I pick up that influenced my development as both a reader and a writer?  Our library had a fine collection of Star Wars books, the Dragon Riders of Pern, and that lady that writes horse books (Marguerite Henry).  Classics all!  As with most young ladies, I thought I had a horse obsession which the latter satisfied, but soon I turned to dragons and interstellar drama (don't we all?).  There you have it, the beloved tomes that shaped my own taste for literature.  Perhaps I didn't learn all that much about social unrest or repression but I learned to use my imagination and developed an insatiable appetite for literature, good or otherwise.  I learned to love Story in any format and to decide for myself what was worth reading and what was not.  It was also in a book that I discovered that it is okay to believe in fairies, in fact life is much more interesting and colorful when you can see beyond the ubiquitous beige of suburban life to worlds beyond our own.

It was only in my twenties and even my thirties that I began to read things actually considered classics and found that things english teachers like might not be that bad.  I developed a taste for the works of dead Brits and expanded from there.  I do not cling to a genre or certain author so much as I look for a good story, strong plot, believable characters and world, and a talented writer.  I haven't revisited the favorites of my girlhood however, I still enjoy a couple of the old Star Wars books on rare occasions but as the series evolved and went places I didn't want to go I gave it up, and as there is a new movie in the works that will completely ignore what happened in the books, I figure there isn't much point anymore.  As to Pern, I loved the older books available to me at the library, but the newer ones have turned me off completely.  The whole point of the books has become to push a certain social agenda which only detracts from an otherwise interesting world.  It was like finding smut in Jane Austen sequels, it ruined the whole experience.  One does not read Jane Austen for the romantic interludes (described in minute detail!) and any author who seeks to emulate her would be wise to remember this.  Neither does one read the Pern books for the torrid love affairs, but sadly that became the focus and a die-hard fan went away disappointed, never to return.  And worse, I can't recommend them to my kids, though I was delighted when I discovered them for myself.

I suppose the whole point of this meandering essay is that whatever your kids read, assuming it is not detrimental to their emotional or spiritual wellbeing or their developing english skills, as long as they are reading something, there is hope one day they will develop a real taste for good literature.  I started with starships, dragons, and horses and ended with Austen and Shakespeare, there is hope!  Keep the flame of reading alive and one day they might surprise you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Detours...

"A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps."
 (Proverbs 16:9 nKJV)

We westerners like to think we have the final say in much of life: I am going to do such and such on such a day, and most of the time we can live happily within this delusion, but sometimes it all comes crashing down and we are left gaping in astonishment after the accident or disaster, and at other times it falls softly like snow, gently reminding us that we are mortal and fleeting as the dew of morning.  Whether we live a day or a hundred years, what is that but a breath?  We have no say in our day of birth and little in our death.  What then are the plans of men?  

What then should we do?  Huddle in dejected misery, staring wide-eyed and terrified at the heavens, wondering when it all shall end or what is the point at all?  'Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?'  Neither of these views is realistic, just check out your local college campus full of eager, hopeful young things ready to do their part to 'save the world,' with nary a thought of death, let alone how to finance their education; they truly live in the moment, not thinking of tomorrow and the sorrows or troubles it might bring but rather they go forth boldly with the immortality of youth, yet unjaded by time and sorrow; a vision of man in his forgotten innocence.  Men cannot flourish in the midst of despair nor in living only for the moment, rather we truly live when we learn to trust our lives and even our plans to the One who sees the big picture, knows all ends, and has bigger plans for us than we can even dare dream.  Ours is not a call to hopelessness nor debauchery but to Joy and Peace beyond the world's understanding, and in that is our hope.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Just Peachy!


“There is no safe investment.  To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.  I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.” 
~C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves~

I love C.S. Lewis, he can say amazing things with simple words and in only a few sentences; he also seems to be something of a prophet, speaking candidly to modern hearts and problems though he was a man of a far different era, or perhaps it is just that men never change and he speaks to problems common to humanity since the first morning of the world.  That is the more likely answer, he chose timeless topics rather than popular issues, much as the writer of Ecclesiastes did thus it still speaks to those of us who live at a distant place and time in a culture foreign as any alien civilization.  

I found this quote on the back of a compilation of some of Lewis' works and felt chills while reading it.  He could have been talking about me!  This was how I grew up, and I wonder how many others have as well and hardly even know it.  Some of my family still try and live this way and it is heartbreaking to watch.  Personally, I know we (my family) has been hurt so much in love that the only option seems to be burying your heart and pretending you don't have one, and then just keep so busy that you don't notice your emptiness and misery.  I am afraid this is a far reaching epidemic in western culture and not just a familial affliction peculiar to myself, I have no data to back up this supposition but just check your favorite social media site and observe a general sampling of what people put up: everyone is wonderful, happy, perfect, in an ideal relationship (or wonderfully independent), has awesome kids/pets/stuff/trips, and ever so many friends.  I wonder if Facebook might be a leading cause of depression among millennials?  But what is behind all the happy, perfect lives?  What is under that thin veneer of wonderfulness?  Are you the only person on the planet with problems, hurts, disappointments, sorrows, failures, and embarrassments?  Does anyone ever have a bad hair day any more?

On the outside our lives are perfect, on the inside we are falling apart.  But we can't tell any one, we can't appear weak or no one will like us.  But at what cost?  Our souls are shriveling that our selfies might smile.  We need to love and be loved, not that fickle, fleeting feeling of warmth or liking that is a distant echo of joy and modern society's only definition of the word, but rather the kind of love we only hear about at cheesy weddings with a recitation of, 'love is patient, love is kind…'  Have you read the entire list?  That kind of love is hard, but it is the only type worth having.  I've tried living without it and that is harder still.  Love hurts, but it hurts far more trying to pretend you don't need it, don't want it, and that everything is just peachy without it.  That is a short road to misery and loneliness, yeah life can get complicated and messy when we are real and vulnerable with others, but at least it is a life, rather than a mere existence.  It isn't really even an existence, it is a mortal version of Hell.  A little messy has to be better than that!