Clarity

One by one, the sharers in this mortal damage have born its burden out of the present world…At times perhaps I could wish them merely oblivious, and the whole groaning and travailing world at rest in their oblivion. But how can I deny that in my belief they are risen?

I imagine the dead waking, dazed, into a shadowless light in which they know themselves altogether for the first time. It is a light that is merciless until they can accept its mercy; by it they are at once condemned and redeemed. It is Hell until it is Heaven. Seeing themselves in that light, if they are willing, they see how far they have failed the only justice of loving one another; it punishes them by their own judgment. And yet, in suffering that light’s awful clarity, in seeing themselves within it, they see its forgiveness and its beauty, and are consoled. In it they are loved completely, even as they have been, and are so changed into what they could not have been but what, if they could have imagined it, they would have wished to be.

That light can come into this world only as love, and love can enter only by suffering. Not enough light has ever reached us here among the shadows, and yet I think it has never been entirely absent.

Remembering, I suppose, the best days of my childhood, I used to think I wanted most of all to be happy–by which I meant to be here and to be undistracted. If I were here and undistracted, I thought, I would be home.

But now I have been here a fair amount of time, and slowly I have learned that my true home is not just this place but is also that company of immortals with whom I have lived here day by day. I live in their love, and I know something of the cost. Sometimes in the darkness of my own shadow I know that I could not see at all were it not for this old injury of love and grief, this little flickering lamp that I have watched beside for all these years.

– Wendell Berry, A World Lost

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To Observe, Or Not

The walk from the car to the library seemed to take an eternity, and I felt Bedshaped, yes, just like the Keane song. My legs felt like I was dragging stone, and I kept coughing and coughing.  I felt like I was going to have a heart-attack when I was talking to the librarian, holding in the coughs that wanted to explode in my throat.

“What’s the name of the author?”

“Rosemary Sutcliff.”

Silence for the longest time, and I hemmed and tried to breathe as calmly as I could.  After eternity, she found the author, turned the screen to me to show me the only book they had.

It was fine.  As long as it was one I hadn’t read before, and it was.  I thanked her.  She got up and found it for me, and all I wanted to do was cough inconspicuously—impossible.  The librarian handed me “The Shining Company” and as it came into my hands I felt a sense of completion.  It’s the kind of feeling a reader gets when a book comes into her hands and she knows, immediately, that it will be worth the time she invests in it.

“Thank you,” I said, and the lady moved out of the way.  I snuck a quick little cough into my sleeve to tide me over till I could get outside.  Then I went straight to the Fiction section.

B…. B…. B…. B…. Why was the B section so long?  Why were there so many books by Steven Berry?  Then I skipped too far, had to trace with my fingers and my head flung back to see where Steven Berry ended and Wendell Berry began.  Only one book—but as long as it was one I hadn’t read.

I pulled Jayber Crow off the shelf and into my hands, and I held it there.  It didn’t matter that I was in a library, that these books were stamped by the libraries claiming possession—they were mine, they were for me only to discover in what would remain of the time between when they were unread and read.  I would give back the books, but they would still be mine.

We checked out of the library and by the side of the van I keeled over with my hands on my knees and coughed for a really long time.  Feeling much better, I drove home, and spent the rest of the day on the couch in the company of Rosemary Sutcliff and her magic of the 7th century.  She makes the men of history slow down, downsize, and think and feel like human beings, but she talks—oh, she talks like one of them, like people not from this time and place.  The next day I finished the book, and started Wendell Berry.  I leave in so little time, and am constantly aware that what I read in the next four months will most likely be assigned to me.  I have this great desire to read so much of what I love before I go so that it will still be with me in the months ahead.

Jayber Crow is the kind of book you settle into reading.  Not a long kind of settling, like War and Peace.  The kind of settling where you think, “I am going to enjoy this—a story—beautiful writing and thoughts.” And then you really do.  The story seems so simple, but it’s really a story crammed with a thousand stories, and I dare believe that most of them really happened, or at least were inspired by similar stories.  Wendell Berry tells the tale of Jayber Crow, who in the first chapter of the book takes note of all the people on the street of Port William that he, as a barber, sees and interacts with on a regular basis.  And I could almost picture Wendell Berry standing there in the shade of the barber’s shop, just watching, calling out hello to a friend, laughing at something funny.  He probably heard stories as a kid, probably saw crazy things happen on the main street and in the fields and the farms.  He is himself an old box bursting with every kind of story, with almost eighty years worth of living and a hundred stories for every day he lived. I know because I’m a writer.  You begin to write the moment something happens, the moment you hear a story and tuck it away in the corner of your mind.  The power of observation.

I had my eyes examined today.  Before the retina exam, the drops fresh in my eyes,  I kept blinking and opening them wide to try and see, and move the film I felt over my eyeballs.  I couldn’t see anything clearly.  While I was picking out my glasses I kept saying: “Oh, I like this pair! Isn’t this pair cute? Wait, I can’t see them actually… What’s that on the side? Excuse me, ma’am, could you tell me what that thing is on the side? Oh—a circle with a sparkly thing? Okay, thank you!” And it went on like that for fifteen minutes.  I kept getting up close to peer at something, only to discover that that was worse.  Then I would make my brother walk off about six feet with it and see if I could see it from there.  I suppose it was all rather funny, and it felt odd.  I just wanted to get home so I could read more Jayber Crow—more about the people of Port William.

“Your pupils look like Alex’s [our cat] after he’s come out of a dark closet,” from my ten year old brother Luther. I didn’t think of it at the time but I thought of it later, that Luther must have had to watch Alex’s eyes very closely to notice how his pupils changed.  I could just imagine him shutting the cat back into the closet, taking him out, shutting him in, taking him out, testing every time to make sure that the pupils really did get bigger than usually when he was in the closet.

“They really do look like Alex’s!” and, even later, I caught him peering up at me while I was slicing watermelon—trying to, anyways, considering I couldn’t see very well—and he said, “I like your pupils big.”

It never occurred to me how much I observed things until my vision was so blurred by the drops for the eye exam.  She had told me it would wear off in 2-6 hours, and it seemed like an eternity (again).  I stood in front of the sink, watermelon juice streaming down my chin, hands, and wrists, staring out the window at what I could see.  That wasn’t so bad.  But when I tried to look at the seeds of the watermelon? Blurry.  And I couldn’t imagine struggling so hard all the time with seeing clearly when the time came to observe. But it made me realize something very important.

As important as observation is, we can be too conscious of it, too aware of it.  We might observe something too closely, and then it will lose its originality and beauty.  We will miss the bigger picture.  And if we are too conscious of it, it will not present itself in the right light.  As a writer, if I am so concerned with a certain story—for the use of getting it into a novel or a poem—then I am cut off from all the people who are taking part in the story, whether it be my siblings or my friends.  It’s part of living.  We can’t always be just the observer.  It is when we listen and hearken to the stories told anywhere, when we respond with sorrow or laughter or disapproval that we can write about them because they have become real stories to us—real in the sense that they have meant something to us other than good meat for our books.

No. Don’t observe too carefully, or you will miss the entire picture.  At the same time, don’t be proud and think it all comes from the imagination, don’t think that it’s already known.  It’s all there, to be observed.  That is, the grass and the mountains and the blue-jay’s song in the dead of winter, when his streak of blue on the pine branch causes you to look up and wonder: “What was that?”  And the things your mother used to say to your father that you would laugh at, when your grandmother tells you what happened at her mother-in-law’s deathbed, and the pranks your siblings played on each other, the places you loved or the places she loved, smells that remind you of another time and place.

Perhaps there wasn’t much point to this post.  I am still young and enjoy the creative rant when I get a chance!

-RH

Pre-Moving Thoughts

God’s victory means our defeat, means our humiliation; it means God’s mocking anger at all human arrogance, being puffed up, trying to be important in our own right. It means reducing the world and its clamor to silence; it means the crossing through of all our ideas and plans, it means the Cross. The Cross above the World. It means that man, even the noblest, must, whether he likes it or not, fall in the dust and with him all the gods and idols and lords of this world. The Cross of Jesus Christ, that means the bitter scorn of God in all human depths, the rule of God over the whole world.
The people came to victorious Gideon; it is the final clamor and the final temptation: ‘rule thou over us!’ But Gideon does not forget his history or the history of his nation… ‘God shall rule over you, and you shall have no other Lord.’ At these words the altars of the gods and the idols are cast down, all worship of man is cast down, all apotheosis of man by himself, they are judged, condemned, crossed out, they are all crucified and flung down into the dust by him who alone is Lord. And beside us kneels Gideon, the man who has been brought to faith out of the midst of fears and doubts, kneels before the altar of the one God, and with us Gideon prays: ‘Lord on the Cross, be thou alone our Lord. Amen.’ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1933

I was sitting alone in Panera bread around 7:30 AM when I read this.  I had left the house an hour before to have study time.  In this tortuous storm of moving, I needed the quiet.  The morning air, the grogginess, even the cheap, bad tasting caramel latte. But it was all worth it.  This time was spent writing a letter to a dear friend, studying the Bible, and reading Bonhoeffer’s biography.  I knew I needed to wake up early this morning, even though it will be the first of two of the busiest days of this year.  Not to run away from what needed to be done, but to grab some time and in it, revert into peace and calm and good cheer.
I’ll be leaving the home I’ve lived in for ten years, and the area that I’ve lived my whole life in.  But strangely, I don’t feel nostalgic or anything.  I feel excited, eager, ready for a challenge and ready for an opportunity to embrace my challenge.  “But for those who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” – Malachi 4:2.  I feel like those fresh cows now, leaping with the vitality of life.  I was particularly encouraged by that passage of Bonhoeffer’s sermon up there.  To just be reminded: “It’s not about you.  Nothing is about you.  It’s all about God.  He is not only the reason everything is here, but the reason that everything is happening, and to him belongs the glory,” is not only convicting, but a great relief.  To keep things God-focused is hard at first, but after awhile, it becomes joy and relief.  To know that my sinful human self will not conquer.  It won’t conquer in the short run or in the long run.  I have given myself up to God once, but I do it again over and over, every day.  To say, Lord, lead us, guide us, be our God and our one Lord.   I have been encouraged to know that my strength is crushed, and that I must depend entirely upon God.  Even this knowledge strengthens me.
I will miss things about this house (mainly all the built in bookshelves) but it is amazing to me to see how at first I didn’t want to move, and now, because it is God’s will, he has brought my mind and my heart about face, and has confronted me, and graciously made me ready.

Another thing, before I close.  I was reading about Gideon today in Judges, and I noticed that when he’s getting ready to go down and defeat the Midianites & Amalekites, God commands him to go at once, but then says: “But if you are too afraid… go down to the camp tonight and listen to what they say.”  He knows Gideon’s weaknesses, and takes care of him.  He knows my weaknesses, and is compassionate and kind as he takes care of me and guides me.  He will do the same for you, if you trust in him.

Now, I tell myself, more than ever, seize the day!

P.S. If you haven’t noticed, please read the text below the header (Carpe Diem.)  It used to be a quote by C.S. Lewis— “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning”—but I changed it to something more fitting for the purpose of this blog.

2012: Forty Books (And Their Reason…)

While I love reading, I tend to be sporadic in my choices of books to read. Some are easier for me to read than others.  I may love reading history, but it takes me a longer amount of time to read a biography than it does to read a general work of fiction.  Because of this I often end up with a “currently reading” list of about twenty books.  Not only do I want to knock off some of these books I’ve been “currently reading” for about three years (i.e. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens) but I want to read books that have been on my “to read” list for ages.  One of my goals for 2012 was to fix this.  So I picked four categories, Philosophy/Theology/Inspirational (that’s a bit of a wide range), Fiction, Literature, and History.  Into these four categories I put ten books, and I will read one book from each category each week.  Not only will it balance my mind and the information I’m taking in, but the fact that I know: “This week I’m reading this book,” will help me to focus on that specific book.

My book choices were not necessarily random.  In the first category, I chose books that I’ve been meaning to read for awhile.Those might be a bit random. I also possess a great love for both C.S. Lewis and (especially) G.K. Chesterton.  The Puritans have been a heavy influence on my life, and A Practical View of Christianity by William Wilberforce I’ve been reading for two years now.  Every time I pick it up, I wonder why I don’t read it more consistently.  After two pages I know.  As beautiful as the writing of 18th century writers is, it can be a bit, just a bit, heavy at times.  But this book truly is wonderful. I can’t say how many things I have written down from it, and it’s inspired a few blog posts.

In the Fiction section are books whose style I would like to imitate (Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen) and for study on techniques (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.)

In literature I basically just picked one novel I hadn’t read from ten famous writers living before the 20th century. Each one of these authors, though, has been inspiring to me in different ways. Tolstoy is obvious. I love Russian literature. Anthony Trollope interests me, and while I’ve never read He Knew He Was Right, I know the story and the psychological part of it (something Trollope liked to toy with in Can You Forgive Her?) is intriguing, however frustrating.  I never read Wuthering Heights before, because I knew how it ended and it struck me as depressing.  Time to put that aside and enjoy the literature.

As far as history goes, I’m generally interested in WWII for different reasons.  Mein Kampf is something I’ve been reading for about a year now, but I’d really love to finish it up. Anne Frank I find to be an inspiring character in history, though she may not have known it.  I love history; I like to know people’s stories, why the do things, what caused them to get off on the wrong foot, or what inspired them to do the right thing.  To see the evolution of politics, the introduction of a new idea or concept for worldwide living, socialism, and the rush for it, and then its downfall, is amazing.  To be able to see how an entire country filled with millions can pick itself up and recover from a horrible war… it’s a gift to be able to learn these things.  But most of all I love stories of individual people.  The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Mary Bosanquet, has sat on the bookshelf in my parents living room for years.  I used to look at it when I was younger, turn it over in my hands.  The bold writing on the front—even that intimidating German name, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—awed me and I was, actually, scared.  How did he die? I kept asking myself. It said death right on the front.  I knew he died.  I found out later the reason, but it only intrigued me more. I always meant to read it, but it was only in October that I actually took it up to my room along with some other WWII books, and determined in my mind to start it. (But that didn’t happen till 2012…)

So far, I have found this this plan of mine, to read systematically and in an organized fashion, has worked.  I’ve only read Run (Ann Patchett), The Abolition of Man (C.S. Lewis), and The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Mary Bosanquet), but I find my appetite for always starting something new and not finishing a certain book has been curbed.  I think I can safely recommend it.

Philosophy/Theology/Inspirational

  1. The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton
  2. The Abolition of Man – C.S. Lewis
  3. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis – Michael Ward
  4. A Body of Divinity – Thomas Watson
  5. The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther
  6. A Practical View of Christianity – William Wilberforce
  7. One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp
  8. The Mystery of Providence – John Flavel
  9. Ezekiel (An Exposition) – William Greenhill (Let’s specify… only parts of it!)
  10. All Things For Good – Thomas Watson

Fiction

  1. Run – Ann Patchett
  2. Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
  3. The Summer of the Bear – Bella Pollen
  4. Possession – A.S. Byatt
  5. Gilead – Marilyn Robinson
  6. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  7. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  8. This Side of Paradise – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  9. The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
  10. Siddhartha – Herman Hesse

Literature

  1. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  3. Onegin – Pushkin
  4. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
  5. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  6. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  7. He Knew He Was Right – Anthony Trollope
  8. Rob Roy – Sir Walter Scott
  9. Vilette – Charlotte Brontë
  10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

History

  1. Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally
  2. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
  3. A Woman in Berlin – Anonymous
  4. The Long Walk – Sławomir Rawicz
  5. The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Mary Bosanquet
  6. Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler
  7. Le Morte d’Arthur – Sir Thomas Malory
  8. The Birth of Britain – Winston Churchill
  9. How Should We Then Live? – Francis Schaeffer
  10. Lark Rise to Candleford – Flora Thompson

2011 Favorite Books


Unfortunately, I didn’t do as much reading in 2011 as I hoped to do.  Or rather, I did a lot of reading, but only in the beginnings of books.  Hence, the list I have to put up are only the books that I finished completely.

Reading is a gift.  And when I say that, I don’t mean that it’s a talent.  It is a gift to be able to read the books we have access to.  It’s a gift to have access to them! I was thinking the other day, what if Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) came true? What if books were outlawed and people went around burning your house up if you had one? Would you really have the stamina to memorize the books you love, so that they never cease to be a part of you?  I like to think about this a lot.  A poem is much easier to memorize because you can quite easily follow the themes of the writer, the different patterns (especially in rhyming poems.) But books? If I were to memorize my favorite book? It would take five years to complete The Idiot (Fydor Dostoevsky).  So then I look on all those shelves of books, books holding stories, ideas, philosophies, saving grace, wars, policies, catharsis all in their strong straight arms, and I think: “This is all a gift.”  Please, appreciate this gift while you can.  Read books, but read the good books.  And I don’t mean the ones whose ideas agree with yours, or the ones that only have things you like in them.  I mean books that are well written.  Books that consciously present paradoxes, relevant in our cultures or past cultures, that are worthy of notice.  Books that tell the heart of the author.

I’m done talking about reading.  Here’s my top… well, I’m not sure how many there are yet, but my top favorite books from 2011.

Can You Forgive Her?

Save all the depressing elements of Anthony Trollope’s plots (especially He Knew He Was Right and The way We Live Now) I actually rather enjoyed this dusty, dry novel.  Can You Forgive Her? explores the mental confusion that can come from never really deciding on one thing or another (in this case, for the heroine Alice, a husband.)  In the midst of her going back and forth, telling one man yes and another no and then switching soon after, people are always trying to influence, are looking down on her, and controlling her.  The title was a bit deceiving.  I really thought it was going to be some Gothic novel like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) and the main character (a woman) runs around melodramatically ruining everybody else’s lives. But it wasn’t like that at all.  It deals much more with mental strain and confusion than anything else.  All in all, it was a pretty satisfying read.  I knew I had to schedule myself in order to get through it, so I forced myself to read two chapters every day and I finished it in a month and a half. (That schedule didn’t work with Don Quixote, but I would recommend something like it if you’re having trouble getting through a 19th century novel.)

 

Mere Christianity

Ah, C.S. Lewis.  I do love you.  Not much to say here about this book except that I love reading apologetic type things, especially from 20th century thinkers.  C.S. Lewis fascinates me.  Although I disagreed with some of the theological principles in Mere Christianity (only slightly disagreed) I would say that it remains, to me, one of the clearest cut pictures of the doctrine of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narcissus and Goldmund 

Please welcome Narcissus and Goldmund to the front.  By far, this was one of my favorite books this year.  I really liked this book simply for its comparison on the spiritual passions versus the physical passions, and what it meant for Narcissus (the more cynical, stern, ascetic man) and Goldmund (the beautiful, passionate, wandering man).

Besides being an excellent writer, Hermann Hesse is a great thinker.  I appreciate literature written by deep thinkers because I think they combine so much of their own personal mental thought process and struggle in their books. (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky… Hesse.)  It makes it so much more interesting to read a book when you know it’s written with the mind and soul of the author all through it’s pages.

 

 

Hannah Coulter 

Wendell Berry is an excellent writer.  He’s real. When you read him, you feel like he’s tangible, like he’s been sitting next to you the entire time, telling you the whole story. (Except for maybe Remembering, which had some different writing techniques that made it seem a bit abstract.)  Hannah Coulter tells her whole story in the first chapter.  You know everything.  Who dies, who lives.  But you keep reading on because there’s something so beautiful about the way she thinks, about the way she remembers things.  And you know, you just know, that there has to be something she hasn’t told.  Some little secret, something that redeems all her troubles.  It’s a story rich in real, genuine love, between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, etc.  Wendell Berry loves the idea of unity.  He writes about it everywhere.  Keeping the family together.  Being close knit even when the birds grow up and leave the nest.   If you enjoy his fiction, read his poetry.

 

Cyrano de Bergerac 

Well, I rather liked his nose.

I forced myself to read Cyrano de Bergerac in a moment when I thought I wasn’t appreciating tragic writing very much.  (Well, after all, I was studying Bolshevism, and Marxism, reading Mein Kampf and Macbeth at the time…) But Cyrano de Bergerac is a wonderful story.  I yelled at Roxanne quite a bit.  She annoyed me with her sentimentality. Yet, Cyrano was deceptive.  Even though he wrote letters to her in Christian’s name, it probably gave him some self-satisfaction.  And Christian.  If you love the woman, say so, and woo her for yourself. And if she can’t see beyond your inability to make up poetic lines, then maybe she isn’t worth it after all.  (How quickly she loved Cyrano at the end when she discovered it was him all along!) Roxanne was only in love with words, not an actual person.

And after that little rant, here we are.  I love plays. This year I read about ten or twelve plays.  It was a very interesting experience.

Much Ado About Nothing

Oh, if you ever wanted me to recite something all day long over and over again it would be this play.  Shakespeare was a genius.  In this particular play he presents the comparison of courtships, the comparison of deception and honesty, and so many other things.  It’s important to note about the title, that in Shakespeare’s day, the word “nothing” would have been “noting,” which meant eavesdropping.  Also, nothing, in its literal sense, refers to that which does not happen, but which might.  In other words, you have a circle and inside of it are all the things that did, do, or will happen.  But outside that circle are all the possibilities of what might have happened, in other words, Nothing.  Both possibilities are relevant to the play. My favorite line from this play?

“Shall these quips and sentences and paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled! When I said that I should die a bachelor, I did not think that I should live to be married.” – Benedick

 

A Room With  A View

This was such a delightful novel.  I read somewhere else that it has to do with the enchantment of Italy and how it can affect even the most sensible of people.  I think it’s very true. But I haven’t been to Italy so I would exactly know.  I think there are several odd things in this novel, but none the less, it’s wonderfully written and for once things really do end up right in the end.  E.M. Forester has such quirky characters. (These things I’m writing really aren’t intended to be in depth reviews… I’m just observing.)

 

 

 

The Great Gatsby 

I have nothing to say to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I admire him too much.

Things do not “end up right” in this book.  That’s no secret. I can’t imagine, though, a book plainer or truer to the drama of life than this.  And yet, you wouldn’t even say that the style is dramatic.  But it is.  In the midst of a fight between a husband and his wife who’s trying to leave him for another man (this is a big fight…) the narrator suddenly says: “I’ve just remembered it’s my birthday. I’m thirty.” And it’s funny, because I don’t find that strange.  I would probably say something like that too, if there was a fight like that going on.  But writers these days don’t think to make their characters go off on these weird trains of thought, and then, without relating what the train of thought is, have them say something they ended up at, just out of the blue. Somehow, it all makes sense.

 

 

Screwtape Letters

Oh, C.S. Lewis again.  I would read this book a hundred times over and again.  I’ve never seen the spiritual battle depicted so neatly and truthfully.  I knew it was true because I had experienced some of the exact things described in here.  Everyone should read it.  Twice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Can you believe it?  Once I get one book up there, I remember all the other books I’ve read.  I want to bring them all up, and talk about them all.  But I can’t.  These are just nine books from 2011 I thoroughly enjoyed.  Next post I’ll give my 2012 to read list.

Scotland | Journal Excerpts |

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote.  It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every other book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written.  It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth.  I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills.  It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hillside like the colors and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large, and too close to be seen.  – The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, Introduction

Stories—that is how a reader is able to look at and analyze his or her life.  It is how I cope with mine.  That all this—the gypsy man on the street with the accordion—it’s all part of something bigger.  That the slightest thought is not without meaning or consequence.  Material things spark the train of the immaterial—the train of thought, the stretching line of feeling, and even those material things, like the man who made music, that tangible things has been inspired by an immaterial feeling. These are intricate parts of a story.  Looking at my own life teaches me how to write a story.  Let’s start at a new, important period of my life.  Okay.  Going to Scotland for seven weeks.  So that is the beginning of my story.  That is where I begin. Later we find out why, what brought it about.  Throughout the story we learn what we don’t know in the beginning—how this trip affects my life when it’s done.  How I change.  And thinking of that makes me aware of everything around me.  The people I meet.  The strange coincidences that urge me to record them, for reasons of their own.

I wonder how many “red herrings” I will write down. Probably none, because whatever I write I feel called to write.  Whatever the object it has struck me in a singular and subjective way, and that in and of itself makes it interesting and important, at least to me.

When I come out of the town’s center and start down the hill—which will eventually lead me up another hill—towards home, I can see yet another hill, higher than all the rest.  The very top of it is green, and its slope is brown—long, deep, furrows of brown that the tractor has been making all day.  And there is a group of trees that I can see beyond the roofs of the houses.  Their branches are dark against the misty ground and the cloud-swollen sky.  It’s November.  I want to climb that hill, and I almost don’t care that there’s a fence on it, marking it as someone’s property.  I have a desire in me and an urge to climb.  I feel it when I stand on my chair every morning to look out the window towards the North and see jagged, low mountains.  This thought in particular has been with me ever since I got here, and yet I don’t know what significance it has.  Maybe it doesn’t hold any significance, except as a defining point of my personality. But that’s the exciting things.  I’m going to find out, sooner or later.  And maybe when I do I won’t care anymore, but maybe it will bring on something exciting.  That’s how it happens in stories.  One thing leads to another.  And those are the things we tell about, so that when you think about it, nothing that happens in life is without importance.  We all have about one huge plot, and ten thousand subplots. A lot goes on that we don’t even think about. And all of it is flowing into the throbbing, pulsing blood of history.

What I See

When people first read my blog, I wonder if they consider me a sentimentalist.  If so, just bear with me through this post.

My family is caught up in a whirlwind.  My father has been accepted for the position of a worship leader and music director at an EPC church in Pittsburgh, and we are trying to pack up and move.  At the same time, things are rapidly changing and progressing in my own life, which keeps me very busy with many projects.

But I wanted to talk a little about moving—oh, here comes the nostalgia and the weeping and tearing of hair and ripping of garments and the pouring of ash over the head, right?  Well the title of this post can be a bit deceiving.  It’s not what I do see, but what I don’t see.  And what I don’t see are my books.  They’re packed away snugly in square boxes. The old ones whose color rubs off are wrapped in paper towels because we don’t get the newspaper. But I can’t see them.  I packed them up, and I feel all empty and withered, and I half-expect when I reach out my hand to find all the bones well defined because they are skinny and wrinkly. That’s what happens when you have to say goodbye to your friends.  You get old and withered up. I won’t see them for more than two months, and I am used to seeing them every day, to having them at my beck and call.

Other relaxations are peculiar to certain times, places and stages of life, but the study of letters [books] is the nourishment of our youth, and the joy of our old age. They throw an additional splendor on prosperity, and are the resource and consolation of adversity; they delight at home, and are no embarrassment abroad; in short, they are company to us at night, our fellow travelers on a journey, and attendants in our rural recesses. – Cicero

If I have a little money, I buy books.  If there’s any left over, I buy food and clothing. – Erasmus

I am sad about packing my books away.  I feel a little frantic, and it’s funny, because the more books I pack, the more I buy to try and replace them.  But I always find myself thinking—where’s that one book?  Just when I think I’m ready to read Ernest Hemingway, I remember that, well, I can’t.   I am dull when I pack away my books.  And what does that show me about myself? That I am too dependent on them, perhaps?  Indeed. Apart from Christ, books are what define my personality, and help give me scope for who I am.  But then—isn’t that what they’re for?  Aren’t books are choicest companions, apart from actual human beings?  Aren’t the stories the things that inspire us, that spur us on, that strengthen our inner being? For me, yes. It’s taken awhile to realize that sometimes it’s good to pack away your books because then you don’t end up taking them for granted.  I have kept out a few treasures.  I’m leaving for Scotland tomorrow, and who goes anywhere without books? You didn’t think I packed them all, did you?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers
Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern
The Birth of Britain by Winston Churchill

And, of course, my Bible—if I can find it.

I have revolutionized my way of thinking, a little.  I used to have an aversion to change.  I used to sing with Keane “So little time Try to understand that I’m Trying to make a move just to stay in the game I try to stay awake and remember my name But everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same.”  But I am a bit done with that kind of thing.  I have decided to live each day by itself—to seize the day.  To find the truth of each day, to get to the root of it.  Digging in the dirt of life can be a pleasure to the gardener, who enjoys the warm earthiness on his hands—to others, a bore and a gross task.  My books are packed away, and the empty shelves point to the small pile left and seem to imply that these are what I have now.  This is what I can read.  This is what I have to enjoy—so, enjoy it.

Why I Don’t Like Jane Austen…

….and why I feel I can fully appreciate her again.

Her.meneutics: Why Men Should Read Jane Austen

What I have finally discovered I really disliked was the reception her novels get nowadays, and the way girls sigh over the heroes.

But.

Emma is a classic story, with so much character development and so much to learn about relationships.  The same goes with the rest of her novels.  It’s not about the romance or the sentimentality.  I feel secure in liking Austen again because I see now that there is an intelligence and moral excellence and irony that often gets lost in her ability to draw up a really attractive hero… but it’s not her fault, because we’re the ones who have lost these things.

I really want to read Persuasion again.

It’s A Crime Against The Character

Dear Writers,

Please do justice by the characters you create.  Let them be their own characters, not yours.  Let the things they do, the way the act, the thoughts they have, be in sync with their personalities, with their standards, in short, with their characters.  Let the developments be such as you would find in a persons of a specific character.  Write according to the laws of their characters.  The greatest injustice you can do to your own book or story is to make uncharacteristic type characters who do things that only help you reach your affirmed plot.  Change your plot to fit your characters, otherwise you’ll have a strained, forced ending.  We are not made with such personalities to do uncharacteristic things in order to fulfill the divine plan in this world, but rather, the divine plan is fulfilled simply by being who we are when we exercise our natural, God-given characters.  Don’t make them characters of many characters, but let them be their own characters with many characteristics.

My dear, dear friend Hayley posted a resolution on her blog, back when we were doing Fifty-Six Stories, and I just now remembered it and would like to share it with you.  If you are writing stories, even just for practice, this might be a good exercise.  Head in the clouds | According To…

Just remember all that.  We feel the justice in a sad ending like Othello or Romeo and Juliet or The Idiot or Narcissus and Goldmund, even, because we feel that the endings came about because the characters were perfectly characteristic.  Remember, “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” (G.K. Chesterton)  If you write a good novel where the characters are actually characteristic, then people will see your hero or heroine as something perfectly rational, and will thus aspire after the good characteristics.  But if they see how irrational your characters are, they will naturally think that you have a very poor view on the true state of humanity and how it acts.  Really, it’s a crime against the character.

Excerpts From My Antonia

I’ve been reading My Antonia today by Willa Cather.  I can’t tell where it’s going to go, but I thought I’d share a few beautiful passages.  There are lots more that I would like to share… the book has a beauty and charm all its own, it’s singular and unique.

 

I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin.  There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit.  I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines.  The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground.  There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave.  The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers.  Queer little red bugs came and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots.  I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened.  I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.  When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep. (My Antonia, chapter 2)

All those fall afternoons were the same, but I never got used to them. As far as we could see, the miles of copper-red grass were drenched in sunlight that was stronger and fiercer than at any other time of the day.  The blond cornfields were red-gold, the haystacks turned rosy and threw long shadows. The whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.  That hour always had the exultation of victory, of triumphant ending, like a hero’s death—heroes who died young and gloriously.  It was a sudden transfiguration, a lifting-up of day. (My Antonia, chapter 6)