Everything We Need

Banana Pancakes.  It’s a sweet song by Jack Johnson, and I like to listen to it while I do the dishes because sometimes it makes me happy.

I never really think much of songs like these.  To me they’re mindless.  I listen to them when I’m not really listening, not thinking about what they’re saying.  Sometimes I like to give my full attention to music, let myself feel it swell inside of me, abandon myself to it, and I listen to something deeper and richer.  But those times are not when I’m doing the dishes.  So I was thankful when, this time, in the midst of scrubbing and rinsing and humming along, I looked up, and became struck by a sudden thought.  I knew all the words to Banana Pancakes, but had never thought of them, and this line hit me.

“We’ve got everything we need right here

And everything we need is enough.”

I don’t care what it means in the context of the song, but I thought about what it means right now.  How often do we have everything we need, and actually consider it enough?

No, whatever we obtain is never enough.  As one millionaire said in response to the question, “How much money is enough?” “Just a little bit more.” Alway more, more, more, because our minds are never dead.  We are brimming with ideas.  We yearn and pine for things we want, and we get them.  And we weary of them, just as we weary of this world, our friends, and our lives.  And why? Because we have made everything worthless in an attempt to please ourselves.

There has always been satisfaction in contentment, but contentment isn’t an abandonment of dreams and aspirations.  But why does ambition always have the accompanying ideas of hardness, of money, of endless wealth?

Why must our dreams be so contained? So pent up as to deal only with this earth and what it can give us?  Why can’t we dream of what we can give other people?

If we dreamed of helping other people, if our ambition was not to obtain money, but to obtain ideas, to learn how to be gracious and compassionate, to learn how to serve people best with the talents we have been blessed with, then there is contentment in that, and there is satisfaction, because that is doing the right thing.  That is using ourselves as we were meant to be used, that is, not for ourselves but for the community we live in.

That is why we have everything we need, and that is why it is enough.  You have your talents within you.  You cannot wait to hone them to use them. Remember that life is a journey, and you learn along the way.  It is the blessed thing about growing older, is that if you try hard enough, you grow wiser.  Don’t think you have to go to school or on a missions trip or see the whole world to minister to it in the proper way.  Use what you have right now, inside of you, and let it flow out of you into the world to those you love.  Strive for perfect, settle for excellence, a friend told me.  That is what will bring you satisfaction, and contentment, even if you have to work harder for it than you’ve ever worked before.

This world is tiresome, but we can have joy in it.  These things, contentment and satisfaction, are what give us the joy to make it through the world.  People are wonderful things, you know.  They draw us away from ourselves, they challenge us, hurt us, love us, teach us, bear with us.  There are so many wonderful things about life that we miss when we draw the curtains of our soul, and put a wall between ourselves and the people around us.  But we must be self-sacrificial to have joy.

You could say that joy is an acquired taste. True joy is, anyway, because it’s not what most people desire once they see all it takes to attain it.  They would rather settle for something less that brings a more passionate happiness… that sadly ends too soon.  They know it ends soon, they do know it, but they continue wandering this tiresome world in search of a new pleasure, trying to fill up their souls, trying to find contentment and knowing all along it will never be real, but skeptical about how to make it real.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased. (C.S. Lewis)

Work for joy by being content and being satisfied.  Don’t try to minister to the whole world at once, but use your gifts to the best of your ability towards they people you come into contact with. Give yourself, your work, and your ambition to the community, give all of that and your soul to God.  Abandon yourself to anything but yourself.  Don’t look within, but without your own self. Live for God, and in doing so you will live for each other.  If you do this, everything you need will finally be enough.

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Favorite Things

I have favorite things, a lot of them, and sometimes I love to blurt them all out, so I’m going to right now.

1. Spring. The way it feels on my skin, and the shivers it sends through my body.  The tension between the wind that freezes and the sun that warms.  The heavy clouds that want to drop on the earth, and empty their burdens on my uncovered head.

2. Books. The way a book feels in my hand, the way my mind responds to it, the way my forehead creases into worry before I realize how anxious I must look to any passerby.  The way I get so immersed into it, as if the book was a culture in and of itself.

3. Colors. How the colors of my room remind me of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its snatches of beauty and color splattered here and there, the primroses on the sill of my window, a shelf filled with vintage collections from grandmothers, and old books.

4. Freedom. Personal freedom. How free my life is now that I’ve deactivated my facebook.  I feel more private, personal, and original, less busy, less of a nosey person. Really I’m just so happy, because now people have to ask me what’s going on.  They have to call me or come visit.  I love hearing your voices and getting your letters and seeing your faces much better than I like hearing about it all on the internet.

5. Guitar. Hearing my older brother play the guitar at night.  For six years he’s been out of the house.  Now he and his wife are staying with us a few months before moving to Scotland, and I realize how much I’ve missed hearing his fingers strum out the songs in his head.

6. Youth. The grace God has given me to realize the short time I have now, and the strength he’s given me to use my time wisely.

7. Forgetfulness. How often I don’t write on this blog, and how many times a day I say: “I should really write a blog post on that…”

8. Cemeteries.  Feeling myself living and breathing, and knowing that I will decay and rot, but someday, I will meet some of these souls in eternity, and my heart-beat quickens when I think of my approaching death, because it will bind me to my Saviour.  Another favorite thing is bound up in this: fighting the fight I was called to.  For though I look forward to death, I take joy in this life, in this battle, that is weary at times and painful, but I take joy in it because I do it for the sake of Christ, and he has given me a mind, a taste, a sense for the beautiful.

9. Flowers. Tulips and daffodils, and how, when I’m going to sleep, the spring breeze carries their scent from the vase where they stand to me, everything sweet and lovely about it.

10. Music.  The Water, sung by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling.  It’s so simple, almost melancholy, but it appeals to my mind.

11.  Silence.  How, when I close my eyes, everything is filled.  The soul-waves that bear me almost to the brink of the unbearable, that fill me with pain, joy, thankfulness, and love.

12. Love. True love, and you’ll probably get a post on it soon.  I am rather fed up with the world and how most people deal with love, because to my eyes it is sacred.  The ties between siblings, children and parents, husband and wife, friends, the love that binds them together is sacred.  Alright… more on that later… maybe tonight…

13. Fifty-Six Stories.  I am truly addicted to it.  I love writing my little story each night, I love how it’s become a natural part of me.  I love seeing my writing progress and regress and then progress again.  I love the critiques my friends give me.

14. Memories.  I have many, and they seem bitter sweet.  A smell of something will remind me of days when I was little and ran freely in the joy of youth.  I am still basking in youth, loving it, embracing it, meeting it full in the face, trying to capture every moment of it.

15. Dreaming.  Purposeful dreaming.  A sudden lull in the beat of every day life, where a dream comes, the excitement it brings, and the joy.  Another purpose, a new goal, something to pursue.

16. Problems.  I have had a lot of problems this year.  I’ve felt pretty messed up sometimes, but looking back, I see how they’ve strengthened me.  Even in the midst of them, I enjoyed in a rather odd way how low I was, how completely laid low, just because I knew that I would be raised up with new courage.

17. Learning.  Ideas, thoughts, philosophies, dreams, adventures.  I love these things with my heart, and I love talking about them with other people.  I’ll settle for reading, but I much prefer looking at the sky through the branches of a budding tree and talking about people’s ideas, and learning from wiser people.

18.  Fairytales.  The lost meanings, the misinterpreted beauty.  I love the originality, the sameness and yet variety.  I love folklore too.

19. Friends.  The good friends who inspire you, who help you along the road of life, encouraging, honing, giving all they can and accepting what you give.

20.  Family.  My mother, good and kind, wonderful and inspiring.  My daddy, strong and wise, who can answer any question I ask.  My brothers and sisters, dearly loved, with all their quirks and eccentricities, all their wildness, their different characters and personalities.

At the end of this list I find myself blessed, as always.  Almost burdened by so much goodness, so much joy that has been given to my soul.  Some people find me quiet, some find me loud.  I express myself in different ways, but I am a thinker.  I think when the joy is too much for me,  I laugh loud and sing when it is too much for me.  I am thankful and happy in the life God has placed before me, abandoned to the race in front of me, ready to fight His battle.

Of Primroses and Books

On this warm Spring day, my primroses are dying.

I killed them.

I really did, because I didn’t water them. And now I’m sitting calmly writing about it while their drooping leaves are draping themselves over the pots.

I should take care of my flowers.

I used to think  I would be a horrible gardener, because whenever I went outside I would most likely read and not attend to the earth.  At other times I think I would make a wonderful gardener, because I love feeling the dirt on my hands, and tending the flowers and herbs.

I admire people who garden.  When I’m gardening, I usually think: “I wonder how many pages of such and such a book I could have covered,” or, “I wonder how much I could have written in a blogpost or a story or an essay.”

I’m sitting here writing about all my faults, all the while neglecting a comparison essay on Darwin and Marx…

There’s been a thought in my mind that I’m sure has been there for my whole life, but has been experiencing micro-evolution, and has been growing with me.  It is the idea of a holistic life.  I do know how to cook, I know how to write, and I know how to play piano.  But I also know how to read, and that seems to send all the other things into the water.  I read when I’m supposed to write, I read when I should cook, and sometimes I grow impatient when I’m playing the piano so I go read instead.

As a writer, I have become convinced of the importance of “being accomplished” as the Jane Austen prigs would say.  I’m not saying that I have to know French, German and have “a general knowledge of all contemporary languages,” or that I have to play the piano incredibly well, or that I need to be able to paint screens and embroider cushions.

But I do believe in experience.  I believe that experiences form the most poignant stories.   That’s why true stories grip us.  When Gene-Stratton Porter writes about birds, insects, and nature in fiction you appreciate it all the more because she was, in fact, a naturalist.  The same goes for any author who describes the way a drawing or portrait is done, if he has a knowledge of art.

Beatrix Potter’s stories are charming because she wrote and illustrated them, and because she kept many of the animals she writes about as pets.  Arthur Ransome wrote and illustrated his own works as well.  And we mustn’t forget J.R.R. Tolkien, whose illustrations for the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings lend a whole new perspective into the work.  They are truly beautiful, and you know that this is exactly what he wanted things to look like.

Historical literature is a wonderful thing, let me tell you.  But what makes it so interesting?  That the writer has knowledge enough of history to know what he’s talking about in fiction that he knows how to write. (We’re talking about the good historical fiction here, yes? Yes.)

What I’m trying to say is that fiction is always more interesting when it’s not just a romance where people talk back and forth about how they can’t live without each other.  (By the way, I think that romance in literature is biblical and sometimes, depending on the context, necessary, but I think it needs to be well-mixed with other elements.)  Fiction is always more interesting when there’s a law intrigue (Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for example) or when there is an art theme (A Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevelier) or when there is historical background (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.)  But if you think about it, all these books have many, many other elements combined.  In order to have a variety of characters, there must be a variety of characteristics.

Imagination is a beautiful thing, but imagination also tends to go overboard. (I always tell myself that I can’t write stories about Switzerland until I go to Switzerland… but maybe that’s beside the point.)  Imagination tends to make things out to be more than they really are.  The problem with mine is that it tends to blow up a circumstance—one I’ve never been in— like a balloon, and then make the character respond as I would imagine they would respond, not taking the time to see the character as a real person with their own personality.

This is why the study of life is so important to those who are going to write.  I know I’ve said it before, but I like to say it again because it sounds nice and studious and thoughtful.  I would like to have a general knowledge of art and drawing and painting… Then I could draft my illustrations and have some other painter who’s good at the thing paint them.

It’s always nicer reading a book where the mother is cooking something and you know that the author knew how to cook because of the way he describes the food, lovingly, in a way, and thoughtfully.  He knows what he’s talking about.  I’m guessing Dickens didn’t cook because the way he approaches food is rather indifferent.

Chesterton is another matter.  If he didn’t know how to cook, he certainly was passionate about his food (see here Chesterton on Cheese) and that fact alone makes the meals described in his books more interesting to read about.

Then there is the aspect of music.  I love music.  I play piano, but not like I should.  Every day I sit down to play and I think: “Good heavens, I wonder why I’m so sloppy.” I shouldn’t be surprised when I never really practice.  I know enough about music, the history of music, genres, and composers to appreciate it in literature.  The First Violin, by Jesse Fothergill, is not very well known, and the romance is a bit sentimental  but I was able to appreciate the many musical aspects of it because I was introduced previously to Beethoven and Bruckner and others.

The thing of it is, people don’t appreciate books that were written by unintelligent and misinformed people.  Perhaps the majority of America love Stephanie Myer, but I have to wonder if she really knows what love is.  Awhile ago there was a rumor that J.K. Rowling was a witch.  If she was, then we know that Harry Potter was truly penned from the heart.

All this gets back to the idea of a holistic life.  It is not enough to imagine myself doing the gardening, or cooking a meal, or painting a picture.  It is not enough to simply read about them.  Even on a small scale, it is enough to experience.  This is because sight, sound, texture, smell, taste… these are all part of it.  I love the way the air tastes around the basil and oregano plants.  I love the way it feels to play Chopin passionately.  I love the way the paints swirl together while your mixing colors for a picture.  I love the way bread dough feels under my hands.  You cannot experience the feelings that come as natural consequences of these activities through reading.  You must do them.

Fifty-Six Stories

THIS EVENT STARTS ON MONDAY, 21st MARCH, 2011

Kent Nelson took only two English courses as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he was majoring in political science, but one of these was crucial to his eventual decision to make a career out of writing. In a class called “Daily Themes,” the students had to write 300-word stories every day for eight weeks, and it was this process, he noted in a 1992 interview, that taught him some crucial things about writing: “It gradually dawned on me that to write fiction you had to know everything. You had to listen to the way people talked, you had to observe how they acted, you had to study the environment. That was a powerful revelation to me. Twenty-four hours, a day you’re paying attention to everything you can pay attention to with the intention of learning from it. You have to train yourself.” – Literature and the Environment, a Reader on Nature and Culture by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O’Grady

I have challenged myself to this, and now I am resolved to do it.  Some of these little stories I write may be horrible, some might be good.  The point is not whether they are good, but whether this process is teaching me anything.  Of course I hope I shall be able to do it well, but the main thing is discipline, that’s what it is.  It’s training myself to be steady, to take everything I notice and turn it into a story.  Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Ransome, and countless others took in the food of their natural surroundings, the places they loved, and turned them into stories.

Another thing is important.  I must not write about things I know nothing of, or things I am not interested in.  I must not write merely to meet my challenge.  I must force myself to imagine, train myself to notice, discipline myself to love what should be loved.  That is what is at the root of this whole practice.

Fifty-Six Stories, one 300-word story every day for eight weeks.

Of course all writers should do this.  But I would also encourage non-writers to do this too.  Take time out of your day.  An hour, maybe, in the morning or in the evening, it doesn’t matter.  Think quietly for a few moments, and then take up your pen.  Make your plot minuscule, but your moral broad.

It does matter whether you are young or old, single or married, a student or a working person; this can apply to anyone.  It is three hundred words.  Some of you might have trouble.  Some of you might not.  The words might be stuck in your brain, or they might flow easily from your mind through your fingers, like a clear stroke of paint.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what your capabilities are.  You can train yourself.

I have a friend who challenged me to write 1,000 words a day for my novel.  When I complained to her she said: “Well, let’s do a detox.  What are you having trouble with?”  She made me dig down to the root of the issue, which was that I didn’t feel like writing, and the inspiration was dead.  But she told me to go on, and I did.

You must pursue it.  If you lie on your couch all day with a pen waiting for it to come, you will probably never get anything written.  Life must be studied in order for writing to be pursued, and both these things require thinking.

Remember that Kent Nelson did not begin as a writer, but he became one through practice and determination.

Click on the following link to read my eight weeks of stories.  Fifty-Six Stories

A Scholar’s Archive of Favorites

I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading.  I’ve finally stopped wondering if it would be possible for me: it just isn’t.  No matter what’s going on, no matter what I’m doing, there will always be a book.  I have not decided whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

Sometimes I am inspired to read fast, sometimes I am inspired to read slowly.  With the rates of different books, I find that the ones I read slowly get grouped together.  So, unfortunately, I have 18 currently reading books.  I decided to knock a few of them off the list, recently, so I’m working on it.

Last year I made a book of 100 books to read in 2010.  I only read 50 of them, but I think that 2009-2010 were the two best reading years of my life.  I discovered so many different worlds and writing styles and characters.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been heartbroken and was forced to play Chopin for days at a time in order to sympathize with myself.  But I also cannot tell you how many times my heart has been filled with joy at wonderful stories or deep-meaning themes.  It’s been an adventure.

So without further ado, here are my top 11 books of 2009-2010. :) They’re not listed in order of favorites… since it’s so hard to have a top favorite book.

The Royal Road to Romance – Richard Halliburton

I never found Geography to be so thrilling.  This book inspired me to look at maps more… Richard Halliburton uses his sense of romance and passion for the wild and “unheard of” to pen his tale of his first adventure.  The style is invigorating and colorful, the stories and myths he combines with the exotic places he visits are wonderful to read about.  He took forbidden pictures at Gibraltar, and then mailed copies to the officials saying he was sorry, but he wasn’t staying in one place so it was impossible to leave an address.  He always traveled first class with a third class train ticket.  He camped on the Cheops, and took a bath in the Nile.  He spent the night in the gardens of the Taj Mahal, he climbed the Matterhorn in winter—and Mount Fuji.  His fearless approach to travel and adventure make the book exciting to read.

An adventurer like Halliburton deserved no less than a heroic and dramatic death.  He thought of jumping off of Gibraltar rock and flying down into the sea where the moon flirted with the waves.  He thought of many drastic ends.  I suppose he was quite satisfied: he died at the age of 39 years (quite tragic, don’t you think?).  His grave is unmarked—his ship was lost in a storm, and no traces were ever found.  I think he would have been satisfied.

The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym used for Elizabeth Mackintosh, Scottish author.  The hero of most of her books is Alan Grant, a detective of the Scotland Yard.  After an accident, he is forced to lie in a hospital bed for a few months.  He memorized the ceiling and made up every kind of geometric figure he could.  He soon got bored.  When looking through pictures he found one of Richard III.  His detective’s eye, before he discovered who the person was, thought the man to be one whose life was burdened with grief.  He was astonished at discovering it to be the famous murderer of the two Princes in the tower.  He goes on an adventurous research trip in his hospital bed through all the different sources he can find, and finally comes up with a brilliant alternative.

I’m not quite certain whether the research done in the book is accurate or fictional, but certainly, several of the facts of the murder and the circumstances do not match up. Reading this brilliant little mystery made me realize that many of the stories in history cannot be taken for granted.  You cannot say that a myth is untrue and a story with facts is true, because sometimes it turns out to be quite the opposite.  The only thing you can do is look up all the books ever written on the subject, then decide your own opinion.

The Idiot – Fydor Dostoevsky

The Idiot… Where to begin? This is an incredible book.  There is no other word to describe it.  I was thrilled to the very last chapter, and then I was crushed.  It is the only novel where the good people don’t die, but it’s almost worse that way, if that makes any sense.  Now you’re not going to read it, I imagine, after such a dark report.

Prince Myshkin, aka, the Idiot, tells Lizeveta Prokofyevna Yepanchin and her three daughters a story that takes up three chapters out of the book.  They go back and forth between loving him to death and thinking him entirely weird.  But what the Prince relates, which takes you back in his past to the Swiss mountains and legalistic villagers, is wrought with quiet passion and beauty.  The first 200 pages barely cover 12 hours of one day.

The themes in this book are almost too deep to discover.  Everybody is almost too dramatic and passionate to be real, but it’s purposeful.  The intricate plot, the progression and digression of the characters, the streak of epilepsy, and the philosophical tone of the novel produces something that will change your thought-life forever.  It’s a haunting book.

The Great Gain of Godliness – Thomas Watson

Lately I have been appreciating more and more the writings of the Puritans and early church fathers.  An older man at church got me into Thomas Watson’s books—really, hidden treasures!  The Great Gain of Godliness is precise… it’s written by a passionate, godly man seeking to encourage Christians in the right way.  It’s the most humbling book I’ve ever known, as well.  It makes you want to run into the arms of Christ, yet cringe with shame before him at the same time.  For those who believe, it follows with a definite tone of hope.
The most amazing passage in this book was the chapter on thoughts.  I thought it strange how someone who lived 400 and some years ago could get inside my head so accurately, or gauge my thoughts so exactly.  He talks about how, in guarding against sinful thoughts, one must not only “not think of that….” we must look higher and set our minds on heavenly things.  It sounds simple enough, but when thoughts become truly tempting, thinking of the Kingdom of God and its righteousness is not an easy thing to do.  So this is a wonderful treasure to read.

William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity – Kevin Belmonte

William Wilberforce… a hero for humanity… the greatest man that ever lived… my hero.  If I ever get married, I want it to be to a man with the mindset like William Wilberforce.  I have never enjoyed a biography so much.  He was such a passionate man, he was such a humble man…. he was so magnanimous.  This book is filled with journal entries, excerpts from letters to him and letters he wrote, different opinions of different critics.  It is a well researched, well-written book by someone who loved Wilberforce and everything he stood for.  It is truly wonderful, and I have never stood more in awe of any person than I have of him.  Wracked by physical illness and pains, his purpose remained clear, and his determination strong: he lived and he finished what he set out to do.  His story is amazing, and if you have not read it, this is a wonderful place to start.

Wilberforce was loved by everyone who knew him, and his aim was to think the best of everyone—even when they spoke of him in harsh and bitter terms.  He always strove to seek out the best in them.  One thing I love best about him was that he read and studied the philosophies of different men for a few hours every morning.  His books were always underlined—he memorized passages of great books: but his most studied book was the Bible, no matter what.  Even though he was a great and wonderful man, and I am a girl, he inspires me to the -enth degree.

The Children of Hurin – J.R.R. Tolkien

This was a birthday present from a very good friend.  Unfortunately, said friend’s sister had read me the ending so I was a bit spoiled.  At any event, if you want to see the powerful hold that evil can have over a human being, this is the book to read.

I have never been so stunned as I was at the end of this book.  I remember lying on my bed just thinking, praying and hoping about my life, and my relationship with God.  I remember shaking my head and being shocked.  It was a terrible, but a good feeling at the same time.  I felt like Pandora, after beholding all the evil she had let loose, and then peering inside and seeing hope.  Not that I had leashed the evil….

Reading Tolkien is easy and hard at the same time.  He uses such interesting expressions and phrasings that sometimes it’s difficult to grasp his meaning. But this was a truly wonderful book, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a depressing read.

Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (Sequel) – Louisa May Alcott

I don’t know about you, but after the reviews on The Idiot and The Children of Hurin I’m ready for something lively and bright and cheerful.  Eight Cousins (and Rose in Bloom) is precisely that.  Alright, how could you not want to read a book about a small lonely girl with eight cousins who go around proclaiming their Scotch heritage?  Having four brothers I can appreciate the humor that goes on between the main character, Rose, and her eight boy cousins.  But like most fun stories, these have many growing up themes, or important lessons that one is learning all throughout life.  Rose is not portrayed as the perfect heroine: she’s just a young girl who’s growing up and learning her life lessons.

The characters have quite a range, from the timid but well-meaning and sometimes vain Rose, to the cheerful and honest servant Phebe, to the good-natured and sensible Archie, to the handsome charmer Charlie, to the grumpy bookworm Mac, to the bright-eyed, mischievous youngsters, and never to forget the good Uncle Charlie, always seeking to instill good principals and habits in all his nephews and his niece.

Shirley – Charlotte Bronte

If you want to learn lots of new words and lots of French phrases, this is the book for you!

Most pro-feminist people nowadays would say that Charlotte Bronte was all for women’s rights and “being equal” with men.  But it seems to me that this was more the journey of a girl finding something useful to do instead of sitting around reading or sewing all day.  She says: “I may have half a century of life before me.  How am I to spend it?” It is the travels of a young girl who first wishes to marry the man she loves and assist him in his work, and then realizes she will probably never be able to marry him, and then seeks to find a way to apply herself diligently and purposefully apart from the man she thought she couldn’t live without.

Don’t worry, I can promise happy endings for everybody.  But the journeys of this young girl, and a mill-owner struggling to survive during the Napoleonic war, and an independent heiress, and a quiet, steady schoolteacher are beautiful.  The character development is phenomenal. :)

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

This book was read aloud to me and some other people by my best friend’s father.  It was a year ago, and I’m still struggling with the themes.  John Steinbeck introduces the dark, questioning side of reality… his books are, needless to say, depressing.  I have heard different opinions on Of Mice and Men, but this is definitely a read again: not necessarily because the story is so good, but because the theme is so intense, and it leaves you wondering.  There is something so raw and morbidly beautiful about the way John Steinbeck writes.  It’s effective without being overbearing.  In fact, the style is almost so simple is complicated.  A lot of modern literature is like that, I suppose.

But anyways.  Why was it on my list of favorites?   Well, it appealed to my love for morbid, tragic literature; but even more than that, I have a weakness for deep books and themes, things that make me wonder and search to find answers. :)

How The Heather Looks – Joan Bodger

Have you ever wanted to get steeped in charming tales on a winter evening, after taking a hot shower and getting in warm clothes with a cup of tea or… wassail, while sitting by the fire listening to a winter gale?

Even if you’ve never had that interesting feeling, you should still read this book.  John and Joan Bodger took their children in 1956 to spend a summer in England.  They went on a scavenger hunt, really.  They didn’t want to see all the touristy places—they were on a mission to find the bank from The Wind in the Willows, or the farm where Jemima Puddleduck lived, or the land of Arthur, the country of Randolph Caldecott.  The two children, Ian and Lucy, provide a humorous side to the story, and you encounter all sorts of things on this adventure: gypsies, two boys riding backwards on a huge farm-horse, a Cornish festival, myths, legends, mysteries, stories, and obscure tales.  She talks about books long out of print—treasures of the past.  On a rainy afternoon they stop in a quaint English/Welsh village and, being hungry, buy some bread, cheese, and fresh tomatoes for their lunch, watching the villagers go to market.  It is filled with charming descriptions, jaunts and rambles, and haunting stories that will make you want to see this wonderful place called England.

Orthodoxy – G.K. Chesterton

Alright, I said I didn’t have a favorite.  But if you want something as deep as the see, as nice as a fairy tale, and as thrilling as the novel then this is the best book.  Look at his face! He was a genius!

Orthodoxy is packed full of thought.  You could read one sentence of it and write an entire book on the subject.  He deals philosophically (and yet un-philosophically) about maniacs, pessimists, optimists, love, Christianity, Agnostics… and these are only vague ideas of what he covers.  It is an adventure to read this book.

To see the journey of a deep thinker as he battles with thoughts and ideas of Christianity that have not even entered the head of a believer is wonderful.  His method of thinking, his wit and humor, his deep faith are all woven together cleverly with a colorful thread.  I love him best because he believed in fairy tales, and anything that had to do with the nursery.  He saw so much sense and reason inside the world of fancy, and so much to laugh at with the great determinists and philosophers of his era that it’s almost shocking to read.  But you are convinced to agree with him at last!  I would recommend this book to… well, everyone.

Alright! That’s it! :) Those are my top eleven. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and now if you haven’t read any of them, I hope that at some point you will enjoy reading them. :)

Anne of the Island: Reality versus Idealism

I finished Anne of the Island, jumped off the couch, stomped my way into the kitchen and exclaimed in a weird voice: “I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!”  And I do believe I won’t.  I always say that after I’m particularly affected by something in a book.

I love the themes that played out in this book.  Anne’s desire to go to school and finish her education, homesickness and last but not least, the battle between idealism and a true sense of reality.

Anne’s reality was very beautiful because… why? Oh, because it was Gilbert.  But she didn’t think so at first, because her ideals got in the way.  It happens to everyone, I’m pretty sure.  We create ideals for a work position, a marriage partner, a lifestyle etc.  However, when our ideals aren’t fulfilled, we’re left dissatisfied and empty, because there’s no joy left to embrace the beauty in the reality that we have.  Anne’s ideal man: tall, handsome, poetical, melancholy…. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Gilbert is tall, hardly melancholy, humorous, and appreciative of literature and poetry but not drowning in the romance of it.  He’s almost the complete opposite of Anne’s ideal.  He’s just a chum.

Sometimes that’s how I look at things.  I refuse to see the aspects I might benefit from in a friendship, in a job or in an education.  So here comes the catch.  Though there may be something I need, I don’t see it because of what I want, and what I think I need.  There is a God in the heavens, who knows me so well, knows me so much better than I know myself, that He also knows exactly what I need, in a job, in a friend, in school, in marriage, in every aspect and situation of life.  This is what Anne found out.  Royal Gardner was everything she ever wanted.

So, Anne rejects poor Gilbert, who hides his disappointment and strives to “get over her” (not happening) as best he can.  “Roy” shows up, and Anne falls head over heels for him.  But why, when Roy proposes, does Anne say no, when she had every intention of saying yes?  She realized at that critical moment that Roy wasn’t what she needed.  The horrible emptiness she felt after Gilbert “ceased to be a friend” nagged at her mind, but she was still confused.  The only thing she felt right about was refusing Roy, and she felt at peace about it.  She realized what she needed and wanted all along when that thing was about to be snatched out of her life forever.  I’d say this was impeccable timing, wouldn’t you?

But don’t go and throw idealism out the window.  Just because Anne realized she didn’t need her ideal doesn’t mean she should go and marry Charlie Sloane, for instance.  Don’t shoot low, just because you can’t obtain the perfection of your ideals.  Strive for the best, but don’t just settle on something.  Even in striving for the best, ideals might get in the way.  Ideals are things that are good and dangerous at the same time.  Don’t ignore them, but don’t build your life on them. It’s confusing, isn’t it? Someday I’ll devote a whole blog post on the subject.

Anne’s friend, Philippa Gordon, goes through much the same thing.  She had her ideals… a rich man, a good name, handsome.  She ended up marrying a man who loved every bit of her, who could see underneath her mask of frivolity into her inner soul and love it.  He was poor, a minister and she described him as ugly.  But she could see into his soul, and that made him beautiful to her.  All of the sudden, her ideals came crashing down as well.

A melancholy part enters about the middle of the book.  Anne’s childhood friend, Ruby Gillis, dies of consumption.  Terrified, she faces death with the idea that the next world will be totally different.  She feels scared, unprepared, and “different,” as though she wouldn’t fit in.  She spent the whole of her life doing absolutely nothing of importance, nothing that could be commended of her at her death.  After Ruby confides to Anne her fears regarding her fast approaching death, I came upon this interesting and all too true passage:

“Anne walked home very slowly in the moonlight. The evening had changed something for her. Life held a different meaning, a deeper purpose. On the surface it would go on just the same; but the deeps had been stirred. It must not be with her as with poor butterfly Ruby. When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different—something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had unfitted her. The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth.”

Do I say too much in these posts? I can never decide when to stop.

Just one more thing.

When Anne leaves for college, she crosses the same body of water in the same boat that carried her to Prince Edward Island when she was eleven or twelve.  She had first crossed it, expecting a change in her life for the better.  The old life, with its run-down families and asylums would be gone forever, and this would begin the next epoch of her life.  For seven or eight years, she had not stirred from the Island.  She had been contented with her life; her character had been honed; friends had been made.  Things had stayed the same.  But after she leaves for her first year of college, things start to change.  Not in routine, or lifestyle, but in experience, and wisdom, and feeling.  Avonlea felt different to her when she visited, almost as though she were a stranger.  And it’s true that places we live that we learn to love are just resting stops.  We move on, eventually, and though they still remain dear, we change, and we move on.  It’s a bit sad, but it’s a bit of life as well.

I hope I’m not boring you…

A shocking alternative

I’ve been thinking a lot about education, lately.  It’s not surprising, considering that at the end of the year, I’ve done about half the school I should’ve done.  Oh well? Yes. Oh well.  There were so many other things that got done.  For instance, there was a a young Christian couple with two boys (22 month old and a 5 week old) who moved in from Colorado on Sunday, but found that the house they were going to rent was uninhabitable. On Craigs List, they found another rental, coincidentally owned by good friends of ours.  Even more of a coincidence, my brother and his wife rent the other half of the house.  They had to move in on Monday, so our friends called us up to ask if we would be available to help.  We skipped school that day, but had a wonderful fellowship time meeting this new couple (and their babies!) and helping them move in.  Oh no, I didn’t mind skipping school for that.  I’ve always liked homeschooling for that reason—the flexible schedule.  But it always worried me, because in my mind, if I had to give up school for the day to cook, or do laundry, or help paint the house or go do something somewhere else, that was a lost day of school. A day that I would have to make up for later.  These days added up, and when I looked at my schedule, I saw that I would have to be doing school all through the summer in order to catch up.

At this point, I am going into hysterics.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love school.  I love to learn.  But I also love summer, and I love to take the time to drink in the beauty of the summer days… to draw, or write, or just think.  School would eat up those delicious parts of the day that I just want to enjoy.

Unfortunately, I have this mindset… Must finish Algebra by the end of the summer.  Must finish General Science by the end of the summer.  Must finish Churchill.  Must finish… finish… finish. Oh, that word is everywhere in my mind, and I feel a great need to pound it out.  What’s the point in finishing? So I can graduate? And do what? Go to college? Maybe. Maybe not.  Even if I didn’t, what does graduation mean—the end of education? Oh good heavens, HELP!

I found that I was stuck in the mindset of: “Must finish.”  Even if I had to take days off during the school year, I “must finish.”  I can just see a tall, dark principle, with “Must Finish” written across his face.  And I sigh, and say to myself: “Even if I have to do the summer… even if I have to rush…”

WAIT! STOP! What was that word? “Rush”?  Everything I say is basically opposed to the rush of life.  I’m not saying I wish everybody was lazy… but if I rush my learning, will I learn? If I don’t do the what I call eat, digest, regurgitate with my school (i.e. read, think about it, and write about it) in order to really know what I’ve learned, what will that signify? I may graduate… but in five years, will I forget all of these beautiful things I’m learning now, just because I was running in the Must Finish program?

Hmm.

Well, I turn to the wisest of creatures on earth, who commonly goes by the name of “Mother.”  Everyone has one, and each Mother tends to have a good deal of wisdom based on experience and knowledge.  They know best, because they’ve seen and observed.  We don’t listen to them, sometimes, because we think that we know better… but of course, we haven’t had the experience.  My Mother is one of those very wise, patient mothers.  She knew my failings.  And she gave me this quote.

“True education is a kind of never ending story—a matter of continual
beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

(Thank you, Mr. Tolkien, I am now transferring you to my sidebar.)

Alright, so I’ve heard this sort of thing before.  But it really hit me this time.  I’m talking about the impact… Like when you get hit in the head with a 90 MPH fastball and you think: “OH!”  I don’t have to rush it.  If I want, I can do math over the summer, just to keep it in my head so I don’t forget, and I could do a little science, but I don’t have to rush it… even if I did it three days a week, what then?  Well, that would be fine.  So what if I don’t graduate when I’m 18? Is it really that big of a deal?  The world might think: “She is so behind.  She has no motivation.”  Well, maybe that’s true, sometimes, but sometimes the world doesn’t really matter.   Maybe I won’t even graduate!  What if I just went on reading, and learning, and writing, and studying?  What if there was no end to it?  Maybe the constraints to have such and such a paper finished by a set time will be gone, but that doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t stop gathering and analyzing information, it doesn’t mean that I stop learning. I will need many fresh starts, and new beginnings… but I will always be learning.  And I’m not talking about life in general, I’m talking about an intellectual education.  That, my friends, should never stop.  Think, write, read, feel.  I’ve been told it’s good for you.

Oh, Tolkien was so right.  There is no need to rush.  In fact, there’s need to soak in, to steep and rest in the information… to digest it, and regurgitate it. (But in a pleasant manner.)

And mother was so right.  Mother usually is.