Rant – Creative Writing | not depicted but revealed

I don’t usually make a habit of posting my creative work.  I have tried, a few times, and 56 Stories (which most of you may remember) I keep public only because it was a “public exercise” so to speak.  One reason I feel very strongly about not posting any poetry/fiction or any of my personal ideas for those two genres in the way of inspiration is because I feel like both these things are a very private, very personal.  As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a type writer and bleed.”  Now who wants to see my blood all over the screen?

I thought so.

But I’m going to break out of this routine—not completely.  You’re not going to get any original work, I promise, but I did have an inspiring thought, which I am writing out here because I think people will find it interesting, perhaps.

I like to be organized in the way I lay out a poem (or at least I like to imagine that I’m organized).  I like to have a firm idea of the thought I want to convey, the atmosphere I want to create, the kind of language I want to use.  It all sounds very simple when you write it out like that, but thinking abstractly about how to use very concrete images… that’s a challenge.  It’s almost like you have all these concrete images, and then you look at them from an abstract viewpoint, but then come out of the abstract viewpoint with different images that relate to the first…. As I read in a review of a movie recently that something was… “not depicted but revealed.”  The hope of poetry isn’t to merely convey a feeling, or a thought, or to create an atmosphere—though I would say that all these are goals.  Something would only be depicted if you used the images you wanted to reveal, and there’s something dead about that.  Part of the wonder of poetry is its mystery.  “What… does he mean?” I think that the real hope is to reveal something, without saying: “This is what I want to reveal.”

My hope this Easter was to write a poem that talked about the atmosphere on Good Friday.  During Easter weekend I wonder how many people realize that after Jesus died… saints were raised from the dead, and walked, and lived, their tombs broken open because the earth was twisting and trembling and there was uncanny darkness and the ripping of the temple curtain and—God.  To me this is an amazing thought and my mind runs with it.  This was an astronomical point in history, it was a writhing, twisting point, and what was happening metaphysically became manifest in the physical world.  Not even the earth could calmly bear the crucified Lord.  And at that moment, that one moment, when he died, and there was blood and vinegar and darkness coming on, chinking of dice… and he cried out again in a loud voice and yielded up his spirit… yielded up his spirit… that was the moment, wasn’t it—when sins were forgiven and there was direct access to God, and we were atoned for.  It was the final sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice, something that humans hadn’t even considered on their own—that the Son of God would descend from heaven in the form of a man, and in that mystical wholeness of “fully God, fully man” put himself on the altar, and only He knew the depth of the matter, the importance, I think.

The fact about the saints rising and appearing to many in different cities is very interesting.  I haven’t explored it in depth, but it happened after Christ’s death—he didn’t have to be there to say something along the lines of, “Lazarus, Lazarus…”  The power of God was enough to raise the dead without Jesus even being there.  Even at the resurrection of Lazarus, there must have been an air of expectancy, a certain apprehension as Jesus stood in front of the tomb.  But imagine if you randomly saw people coming out of their graves—not in zombie fashion, but perfectly normal, in their grave clothes, on their way to appear to people.  People would have known that Christ had raised people from the dead before—but now that Christ was dead, even more people were coming alive—he may have been dead, but his power was not dead.

But I’m not ready to write this poem about the broken tombs and graves, and the terrifying thought of direct “access” to God, and the death of Christ, and his blood.  I’m not ready to write about how people wear pastels on Easter, and I’m not ready to contrast the happy behavior of today with the dread of the future when the Lord was crucified, and the terror-like joy of his resurrection.  It takes more than just lists of images, though those count too.  Yet this thought is so fresh poignant to me right now—I had to say something before Easter was over.

Happy Resurrection Day!

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

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.

The Way of Living

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen to the things around you
maybe the swelling rain
that makes you blink in the dark,
and inhale the wet air,

or maybe the expectation
that tells you something perfect will happen,
if you only believe.

Watch the flowers, and see how the honey-crisp
bee plots and sticks his feet on the petals,
probing further and further;
watch him gather the honey, and fly away,
watch the flowers grow till they droop to the earth.

Listen to the wind, in its circuit across the lake
catch with your eyes the flip of the water’s surface;
hold in your hand a slimy earth-worm, and feel it writhe
or, if it’s too gross for you, a moth, holding it cleverly
between the cages of your fingers,
delicate.

Think about the things that matter,
the robin chewing up food for its young,
the eternal beat of our steps on the earth,
or the poem that told you: “live.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What I Called Mine

My youth was what I called mine.  And more and more, I realize it never was.  As I grow older, I see it was only a part of me; something that defined me; but it never belonged to me, nor I to it.  It was something fleeting, something that gave me a glimpse of everything I would wish to be, and then threw me headlong into something like grief, and I saw it was gone. And suddenly I faced something much darker, and there were more shadows than before, but behind me was that bright light, and sometimes I looked over my shoulder at it, and reached out towards it.  But we never go back, because there is no going back. There is only forwards, and that’s the best we can do, just the next thing.

And O, I wish that I wasn’t quite so old.  Today in the store I saw an old friend of my family.  She worked at the hospital where I was born.  She asked me how old I was, and when I told her, she said: “Oh my, I never thought you would get that old.” “Well I certainly didn’t think I would either,” I said.  And we laughed, but my heart broke.

Even now my memory is fading, and with a kind of desperation I try to cling to something that loses itself, and I feel a dull kind of ache in place of it.

I’m still young, I’m still young.  There is still so much to learn, and ahead are years packed with new memories. But I am so hesitant to let go, so unwilling to part with something I always associated with truth and light and goodness and purity, so unwilling to walk steadily into the unknown.

Eyes wide open, full of images.  Ears filled with many sounds, and a heart so full I think it will break, mind open, thirsting for learning.  Soul reaching out with love, receiving love, binding itself to my Savior.  And from that perspective, I am blessed.  I might go mad, I might forget everything.  But how can I ever forget the essence of my life, the Redeemer of my soul? I can’t ever, and that is the important thing.  I am eternally bound.

Immortal

It was only croquet, last night.  A small game, and a simple thing, but we all laughed at each other, for none of us were really good at it.  My brother made funny shots; one made the ball jump over the wicket instead of through it.  He turned to me, and he smiled.  And my heart ached when I saw him smile, for I saw all his youth —right before me, I saw our youth and a million memories, and how quickly it was going.  I saw how happy we were, how young and inexperienced and naive, but happy because we knew the things we loved. Already, because I am noticing it, I am growing out of simplicity, into a complex future where there is less room for this funny, carefree life, where love will be challenged, and principles tested.  And I prayed then that our youth would last as long as possible, like a dream that you know will end.

And now, I see other things.  “I should have felt ‘the joy of grief'” as Keats would put it.  I see a beauty in the struggle, a deeper enjoyment than could have been experienced.  For our minds will expand and grow larger, able to adapt to the tribulations of living in this world.  There is a beauty, a joy, and an adventure in learning new things.  Leaving youth is saying goodbye to something you always knew and were used to.  And however much you might want it all to stay the same, it must change, and I at least cannot help but take delight in the things the future brings.

There is this conflict, this irony about our lives.  How we at once seek to be young and be grown up.  How we wish to die, yet wish to be immortal. How we wish to order our own lives, yet be free from constraint and responsibility.  There are smiles, laughs, a face that stays with you in your mind forever, an image that you never forget, even if it is disconnected from everything you know, like seeing the smile of someone you’ve never met, and will never see again.  This is the beauty of memory, that even in life, the rush of life, there comes a quiet moment and a thought, and the memory itself, and it seems like time stops as you relive the memory, and you think: “I will always remember this.”

 

Untitled

I think about people,

And the way they rush

I think about how they rush for the sake of rushing.

 

I think about foxes,

And how they dash through the woods,

Sneaky, daring, and scarlet red.

 

I think about the summer sun,

About the people it burns,

The people it warms,

And the cold dead who can’t feel it.

 

I think about the helpless dead

Who can do no more than they have done;

Who will never get a second chance.

 

They sing a strange song,

Silent like an autumn wind,

That makes its sound through the trees;

Their song lulls me when I sit

And consider the end.

 

The living become the dead.

The scarlet hair falls from the fox

Leaving his bare bones,

And God spins life on.

 

And there is no silence in the rush of life

We are forced out of grief

Forward into our lives,

 

And we cannot stop anything.

 

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.