Introspection

There are those certain things in life that surprise you, amaze you, and you become lost in their beauty and significance, which brings you full circle to glorifying God.  Sometimes these are little things.

I seek quiet, when I can.   Lately I’ve been working 5-6 days a week, and am rarely home.  I have been trying to train myself to seek out the quiet moments, find them when I can.  Maybe on the short fifteen minute break I get, sitting in a quiet room, just enjoying the silence.

Two seconds count.  In less than a second a small insect disappeared in front of the red toad named Pimples (I didn’t name her).

“Do it again!” I said.  And it reminded me of when Chesterton talked about the repetition of things.  How the sun doesn’t rise every morning because it’s on a cycle, but because God is actively commanding the sun to, “do it again.”  We have become discontent with repetition, with the simple things like the rising of the sun, or the look of a daisy.  We desire something new because we have grown weary and tired of the things that used to amaze us.  “We have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we.”  It is from a great energy that a child is able to enjoy a trick performed in front of him a thousand times over.  We have lost something as we have grown.  When we weary of the little things, we pursue new things, and we are constantly on a running journey to discover something new, to be pleased in a different way.

But God isn’t like that, he’s not like us.  A truly murmured “Thank you,” for his gifts every day never fails to please him.  He never is tired of hearing our prayers, our prayers that are so repetitive in their essence, never tired of hearing our praises sung to him.  “Do it again,” he says.

I have tried to find little things that amaze me.  I have tried to shut out the loud, the busy, and to welcome the introspection and the quiet.  I’m not trying to isolate myself, I’m trying to discover the secret to living simply.

The toad’s pink tongue flashes out, and my mind isn’t fast enough to catch the movement, but the bug isn’t there in front of her any more.  Pimples doesn’t move.  She’s just there with her never turning gaze, her body sunk back comfortably on her haunches.   I love to hold her in the palm of my hand, and to look deep into her lazy eye, and to run my finger along the warts of her skin.  I know it sounds odd—maybe it sounds disgusting.  She amazes me.

I have seen a mountain, tall, its arm sloping down into the valley, clothed in a suffocating cloak of trees.  In Pennsylvania there are so many trees!  I want to see this mountain heave itself, breath… I almost expect the trees to suddenly fall off, and see a giant rise before my eyes, a giant that has slept for a long time.  The earth quivers and groans, and the mountains let some of their weight go.

I have also seen the mountains stretching down into the valleys, and the shadows of the clouds moving on their backs, dark, and deep.

I have been wakened by the single note of a bird calling clearly in the small hours of the morning.

I have felt a cold breeze in the morning, coming through the window, and moving over everything.  It says, “Rest,” and “Be still.”

And I know… I know that I am blessed.  How could I be anything but blessed?  I have been gifted with a capacity to know, feel, and appreciate these things that I have mentioned.  And I desire to return to the little things, and to marvel at the small things in life, to be small myself, small enough to stand in wonder of this beautiful thing called life.

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Lost Wit

This is an article I wrote for an online magazine for young ladies called Verita. I am honoured to be a regular writer for this magazine.  If you have a moment, take a look! Verita is a wonderful website with varied, good, and creative writers. Enjoy!

Wit is a lost word, a word that has no bearing on today’s society.  However, in the time of the Puritans, wit was regarded as a virtue, and if you had it, you would be respected and revered.  In Shakespeare’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice’s sour and fiery attitude are forgiven because her wit is so clever: “My, but she has a fine wit,” they usually say about her.  Also, in Shakespearian times, there were five wits, parallel to the five senses.  They were imagination, common sense, fantasy, estimation, and memory.  It is rare to find someone nowadays with an abundance of these five wits.  Speech begins with thought (or it should) and the realm of thought includes the five wits. What our society and culture needs first and foremost is a Reformation of Speech, or, like William Wilberforce pursued, the Reformation of Manners, which would include speech.

Not only do we speak carelessly and without thought, but we speak too much. Henry David Thoreau said: “The tragedy in human intercourse begins, not when there is a misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”  And I recently read in a book something about the “silence that is communion still.” Most assuredly, there is a time to speak, but also a time to keep silent.  Speech should come from a well-informed, or a questioning mind. I would venture to say that the main problem is that we are not pursuing wisdom; we are not wishing to be wise and acting accordingly.  We are more concerned with… well, with nothing.

Do we listen?

Do we think?

Do we ask questions?

If the answer is no, our desire is not to learn, but to gain a certain end.  You see this apparent in education, in the work force, the political systems, etc.  There are levels of achievement.  And everyone is studying their hardest to get to the next level, the higher level.  Think of the information—the history, literature, science, anything you learn—as a human body thrust across a chasm, serving its only purpose as a bridge, and pretend you stomp over that bridge, and perhaps some of Education’s ribs get broken. Education, work, politics, sports, etc. have become machines, and if we are involved in them, they simply transport us to the next level, and leave no lasting idea or impression on us.

So little occurs within us that we have become, let’s be honest, stupid.  We can’t begin to understand Beatrice’s wit, for example, which comes from a well-informed mind, much less speak it fluently.  How do we fix this? We must begin by controlling ourselves.

Think about the meaningless exclamations you utter every day.  Things like: “Crap!” “Darn!” “Shoot!” “Rats!” “Snap!” “Oh my gosh!” “Oh my goodness!” “Wow!” “Holy cow!” “Cool!” “Like, like, like, umm, like…” the list could go on and on.  These things have no importance, they are merely hand-me-down, worn out phrases that we use in place of a genuine expression of how we feel about something.  I am not speaking in ignorance when I say that sometimes they come from a feeling of having to speak. From the beginning of August a friend and I have been trying to refrain from exclaiming, and I realize when I’m refraining that I feel lost for words, and I wondered: “Do I even need to say anything? Maybe a smile will say more than anything.” Perhaps not everyone feels this way, though.

First things first, we need to cut out the exclamations.  They are meaningless and most of the time, insincere, especially with the youth in America.  Then we need to start systematically sorting through our thoughts, and if we have questions, ask them.  And if we have no questions, then listen, and really, truly, think ten times before we speak, but perhaps ten quick times or one slow time so we don’t lose the opportunity if it’s right. Next we need to exercise our imagination, our common sense, our fantasy, our estimation, and our memory.

  • Imagination – Imagination is the ability to draw up an image of something external that is not present to the senses.  Imagination allows us to picture something somebody tells us, without ever actually having seen it.
  • Common sense – Good sense and sound judgement in practical matters.  Pretty basic, isn’t it? But most people allow anger, fear, and other emotions to get in the way of their common sense; we do it more often than we know.
  • Fantasy – The ability to imagine things impossible or improbable.  Close to imagination, but a bit different.  In Cyrano de Bergerac, there is a passage where Cyrano sinks into a reverie about how he might grow soft in the evening, how he might fall in love, what he might see, how everything might seem. His ability to fantasize enables him to draw up images for the audience.
  • Estimation – Being able to value and calculate something, typically a person and their character.  This is truly a lost art.  We get too caught up in impressions, especially first impressions (and I am very guilty of this), to use our common sense and try to judge fairly and soundly.  However, at the same time, we fail to take the little signs of the impressions that may give a clue as to the real character of someone.
  • Memory – The faculty used to remember information. Sure we remember things.  All the unimportant, juicy facts.  What was that about education? It’s only a bridge, that, when crossed, is forgotten? No, education should be stored in the memory, ready for reference, ready for support, ready for ideas and structure of thought.  Memory can quickly draw up something learned long ago, and apply it.
And after that, I see how far our society has really digressed.
J.B. Priestly said, “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.”  Technology is a good example of this.  We use worn out phrases on the internet all the time (e.g. omg, lol, btw, brb, ttyl, np), we say unimportant things so often, that when something important does happen to us, it gets lost in the endless stream of people who are just like us: recording and saying meaningless things that are of no benefit to the people around them.  I have found that letter writing, even as opposed to emails and phone calls, regulates thoughts and ideas because it takes a longer time to write, and your mind has time to work through things.  I find my writing is much more coherent, much cleaner when I write with a pen.  But, truthfully, I don’t do it often enough.
Sometimes I believe we need to shut our eyes, for there is too much to see, and focus on what we have in our heads already.  We have so much information—if only we could shut our eyes, and live by faith, not by sight.  If we were so focused on living righteous and godly lives, I doubt we would have the time to talk and prattle and in doing so be unkind to others.  Say things that, no matter whether or not they’re overheard by anyone, will not hurt anyone. “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato.
Think more, listen more, speak less, and be care-taker of your speech.
Let’s start a reformation, shall we?

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.

What Changes The World

There is a rather large, bulging problem that is about to burst through our culture and overtake the world.  The problem has many aspects to it.  Humanism.  Marxism.  Darwinism. Pantheism. Atheism. Socialism.  The underlying issue is that people in societies around the world are drifting further and further away from truth.  It’s happening in our government, politics, literature, music, art.  Anything that defines our culture.  But the worst part of it is this.  Our culture is shaped by smart people who know what they want, and our culture is made up of people who are blindly following the smart people around, because they think the smart people are wise.

But there is a difference between being wise and being smart.  Wisdom is founded in truth; smartness is founded in how quickly our brain functions, how we size people up, our intuition.

Our presupposition is that truth is something external, something that’s not found inside ourselves.

Napoleon didn’t change the world.  He wanted to, but he only ended up changing France, really.   Darwin changed the world.  Marx changed the world. Voltaire changed the world.  Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, all these philosophers changed the world by their influencing thought.

Many of these philosophers had a problem.  They did not believe that truth was external.  They looked inside themselves for the answer.  It reminds me of when G.K. Chesterton talked about the Hindoo saints.  Their eyes were closed, looking inward.  The Christian saint’s eyes were opened wide, looking for truth without.

Now, I need to say something about Darwin here, because I listed him as one of the greatest influences.  You may say that he was looking for truth externally, because he was studying the natural world.  The thing about looking for truth internally is saying: “I will explain truth, what I think truth is.”  Which is what Darwin basically did with his ideas.  He used evidence to explain his ideas (granted he explained the evidence against his ideas.)  But the Christian saint who is looking with eyes wide open for truth externally is looking for something that is not explained by him, but is explained to him by the source of Truth

Changing the world does not begin with finding one good person and getting him into government.  It starts with making influences that will make better people.  It doesn’t start with a general who thinks he might be able to overrun the world and rule it.  That ends in chaos.

No, changing the world starts with our literature, our music, our art.  If you want to change the world by being a politician, that’s fine.  But do something that influences the young generation.  We need to be a generation producing books, music, art, philosophies, that point to ultimate truth, so the next generation can be better.

We can’t be the people blindly following the smart people around.  We have to be the smart people.  And even if you’re the follower, be a smart follower.  Be smart enough to resist the flow of culture.

But don’t be proud.  Pride is what makes us fall, pride is what leads us away from truth, down our own path.  Remember that life every is a struggle, a fight.  It has its moments of bliss and joy, but overall, we are struggling for what is right.  We are fighting the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fight never ceases, especially in this reformation of our culture.

We must go through some of the pain of learning.  I would like to say now that we’ve become pretty stupid people.  Here we have a wonderful brain and only use a small fraction of it.  The temptation is to use less and less of it.  But let’s take care of our bodies and our minds.  It’s not easy, it’s hard.  We don’t feel like doing these things.

But really, we live in an education driven society where no one learns anything.  Let’s change that, please.  Love learning, love studies, love the hard, laborious work.  It will do you good in the end.  It doesn’t matter who you are.  You don’t have to be a rich city kid who always got straight A’s in school.  You don’t have to be a grown up.  It starts now, with whoever you are, and however old you are.

But just remember something.  We can only know the extent of something to an extent.  Learning is a frustration.  It takes faith to learn, so if you have any, expect to use it.  We will never know the full extent of something.  But as long as these other smart people are shaping our culture, we have to be just as smart to counterbalance them.  We must be strong, confident, courageous, but we must be humble, accepting the fact that our bodies are finite, that our minds are limited, that we can’t know everything, or know everything about everything.

Just remember it starts with the books.  The latest song.  The newest painting in the art museum.  That’s where you start.  Be a painter, an architect, a writer, a musician and reform our culture.  That’s where it starts, with ideas.

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.

Turkish Rugs

I want to be a Turkish rug.

Because I am saying it now, it probably seems ridiculous to you.  After all, why would I want to be a rug? Even metaphorically speaking?

I often amuse myself by looking at questions in my science book before I read the material.  It amuses me because it shows me how reading one or two paragraphs can teach me so many things.  The phrase “I want to be  Turkish rug,” acts like the science question.  It makes no sense now, but after you read my post it will, and I hope you will want to be a Turkish rug with me.

I was reading about Edmond Dantes apartments in Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas.  It talked about the rugs, the tapestries, the paintings, the vases, and everything else.

“Of course,” was the first thought that came to my mind.  The description didn’t surprise or astonish me, because everything was relative.  It is not surprising that some of the best composers were German, because of Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann.  French silks, Egyptian cotton, Indian spices.  The best glass is, of course Venetian glass.  Dutch cabinets are quite common, and Arabian horses are said to be the fastest.  All well-plotted and planted gardens must be English.  If you wish to describe a richly woven tapestry or carpet, it will probably be Turkish. None of these things surprise or shock us—they are all in their element, especially when put together.  It is only right that they should go together.

Let us look at the reverse of the Count’s room.  The hovel.

A broken table, three-legged chairs with pieces of rotten wood replacing the missing support.  The floor is of dirt, pieces of soiled rags are stuffed in the cracks of the walls.  Rain drips from the roof, but there are no buckets to place under it.  The children are hardly dressed, the wife has greasy hair and filthy clothes.  The husband sits at the table, head in his hands.  A rat investigates a broken cupboard, but there is no food.  A piece of yellowed canvas stretched over a smashed window pane.  Rivulets stream under the door and gather into a puddle underneath the table.  The walls are stained, the ceiling is of rancid straw.

This is the way I imagined the poor man’s house in The Idiot.  I do not remember his name, but it was not surprising to me.  When his poor, ragged clothes were described, it was only right that he should live in a hovel.

But could you imagine the bright, rich, warm Turkish rug in this hovel?

Or could you imagine the dirt floor in the apartment of the Count?

Those two things are startling, when you think about it.  If I walked into the hovel, I would not gape in astonishment at the natural surroundings.  But if the Turkish rug were there, I would be puzzled, confused.  Likewise, the Count’s room would only surprise me if I saw that he had a dirt floor, or a thatched ceiling.

It’s because the Venetian glass and the Turkish rugs, the rat and the broken window are all relative.  When the glass and the rug are by themselves, they stand out.  When they are put together, they compliment each other.  It is the same with the rat and window, but in a more repulsive sense.  Yet, if the Venetian glass was set by a broken window, the thing becomes confusing, as does the rat on the Turkish carpet.

The latter combination does not fit, and does not belong.  It never will.

If this world were our hovel, then I would want to be the Turkish rug.  The bright, cheerful element that lifts the utter depression of the place, and shocks and surprises the onlooker at the same time.  But it is a good sort of surprise and curiosity.

“Where did this rug come from?” they would ask.

But I would never want to be the dirt floor in the count’s apartments.  I would want to replace the hovel with a mahogany table, French paintings, Venetian glass, Roman marble floors.  I would want to make it into the count’s apartments, but I would never want to be the stain on the beautiful.

Hitler was a stain on the beautiful.  He destroyed many of the carpets and smashed the Venetian glass, reducing the spectacular elements of the room to more like that of a hovel.

But I am determined to be a Turkish rug, and I want my friends to join me in this.  Be something outstanding, be as startling and shocking to the world as the rug in the hovel.  Remember that the world is watching you.  It will not be surprised if I revert to being the dirt floor—in fact, it might feel a little less uncomfortable if all things remain in their own elements.  “Leave Heaven to itself, and let the world be, though it is a hovel.”  But I cannot do that.  If the world is a hovel with all its proper elements, how can those who enter have any idea of a salvation from such a life?

So I want to be  Turkish rug, or the Venetian glass, or a German symphony, or an Indian spice.  Join me.

A Flame Burns

Dear Dreamers,

In my room I have a cupboard.   At any other times, my room appears to be very ordinary (excepting the fact that it’s in the attic.)  There are four bookcases, a desk, a dresser, a bed, a bedside table with stacks of books and journals and fountain pens.  I am a scholar at times, a student seeking to learn from the great thinkers of ages gone by.  But at night, when I open the cupboard, I am a dreamer.  Inside the cupboard there is a tea tray, a jug of water, five different kinds of tea, a teapot/cup, a little dish of sugar, a pitcher of milk, and a honey jar.  So when I take this out, and prepare my tea, I become a dreamer.  I don’t know what it is, but the idea of having an electric teapot and barely making a move to make tea was such a wonderful idea, that it goes right along with my reverie-filled life. My “third eye” is open tonight, and I am gazing an on old dream.

It all started when we went to buy me jeans for the first time in… Well, actually I can’t remember when I bought a pair of new jeans.  A few years ago I got a pair of Harley Davidson’s at the Thrift Store that have become one of my favorites, but most of my jeans were hand-me-downs, and never quite fit me right.  I have come to the conclusion today that it is impossible for me to find a pair of jeans that fit just right.  And for one simple reason: I don’t have the body type.  Let’s face it, I’m short and sturdy, solid.  I’ve described myself as a “big-boned Scottish lass” before.  (That was during the Scottish lass dream.)  And it’s hard to find pants that fit just the right way.

My sister brought me a pair to try on, after about seventeen pairs in the Levi Outlets store.  I put them on, and loved them right away.  They were PERFECT.  Chloe could tell I was 100% for them because I actually put on my low Western looking boots when I showed her and mom.  “These are just right!” I drooled.  Chloe replied, with a smirk, “Okay, so the men’s jeans fit you just fine.”

. . .

THESE ARE MEN’S JEANS?

Well, it didn’t matter.  They didn’t look like men’s jeans on ME, let’s just say. But it awakened that old dream: In spite of my books and being a writer and having my tea every night, I still want to be a cowgirl.  Really, really bad.  Hey! I may live in Cleveland, but I do have a pair of Justin boots. And I can ride horses.  And when I got the men’s Levi jeans, it just made that dream ten times more appealing.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t a kinda of feminist sort of “be a man!” feeling, it was simply a, “Wow, I forgot how awesome the world of the West is.” And then I had to put on a plaid shirt…

O, I’ve been so many things in my dreams.  I’ve been a gypsy, a Hindu Princess, a Siberian orphan, a simple English cottager, of course the Scottish girl roaming the highlands (well I actually was that in reality once) but the cowgirl…  I felt like such a country-girl tonight, and you know I definitely feel like a girl because I am using lots of italics tonight.  I love cows, I love horses, I love dogs, in short, I love animals, I love anything that lives and breathes and is warm.

So, I had cow-girl inspired tea.  I carried my tea tray to my bed, I hummed a tune, I even tried to light a match on my boot, which didn’t work because my boots weren’t real cowgirl boots.  I lit a candle, and even though it smells like fruit and sugar, it is faintly reminiscent of my brother Peter’s candle that he used to burn—the flavor was leather.  Whenever I went in his room it smelled like cowboy boots and saddles and belts.

So I’m sitting here, dreaming about that kind of a life.  There are the kind of dreams that you cannot pursue any further, but you still hold on to… And there are the kind of dreams that you act on, that you start building for.  Mine is the first kind of a dream.  In my mind I’m like Annie Oakley or “Little Sister” (I forget her name) in True Grit, or just Ruby Jean, riding her horse… which she falls off of a lot… and shooting her gun… which always misses… but going home and reading her books and having tea, and writing, and doing the dishes, and milking the cow.  And I have a dog named Berenice.  And there in the mountains there is even more room for my wild and free imagination.  As soon as I am a cowgirl, I will be dreaming of being a native of Hawaii with hibisicus in my hair.

But really, I think the love of the country, for animals, that smell of leather, the hard-working, farm oriented life has always been a part of me, somewhere.  And maybe someday it will be fulfilled—who knows?  You’re never too old to start working on a childhood dream.

I cannot leave off a post without something… So I’ll just say something a little dangerous.  It would not be exciting if it were not dangerous. Dream, and dream often.  I really truly mean it.  Don’t just read this and smile and say: “Aw, that’s cute; she’s seventeen and she still dreams.”  Or perhaps, “Wow, this girl needs to get a life,” (believe me, I have one!) or “Yeah, yeah, dreaming’s for babies and kids with fairies painted on their walls.” I wish I had a little shovel, because I would take it, and dig a little hole in your mind, and plant that seed of dreaming.

I read just the other day that it is only through reading things like fairy tales and fantasy that we can really begin to use our imagination, and it is only when we use our imagination that we begin to know ourselves.

It’s true.  Dream, and analyze your dreams.  You might be horrified at something awful and terrible—maybe that dream should bit the dust.  You might be shocked at something—maybe not because it’s bad; I would say that that dream needs a little looking into!  You might be delighted with something, you just can’t stop dreaming it!  It is not the dreamers who sit on the front porch all day watching the sky doing nothing.  We only do that first.  Then we “grasp time by the forelock,” as my grandpa would say, and see what we can do about creating a reality.

Sweet Dreams, Dreamers . . .

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. :)

In Which Mollie Tells A Story, And Chesterton Is Quoted, But Not Mentioned

They are the greatest of friends, Mollie and Lucie.  Their minds are like two pieces of flint: when they rub together, it produces a spark, and soon a wildfire.  This is how it happens, so often—their imaginations know no bounds.   In a walk down the street of their small town, they both see, at the same time, a doll in an antiques shop window.  It’s a porcelain doll with an old, old face that looks somehow young.  And she has clothes—old, raggedy clothes, but a clean petticoat.  Mollie and Lucie count their money, and go in and buy the porcelain doll together, because they know it has, in that one minute, meant something to both of them.  And in any of their imaginary romps, upon arriving at a paradox, they stop and say: “Let us consult the Doll.”  For it has no other name.  Other people see the doll and call it ugly, but not so Mollie and Lucie!  They d0 nothing to improve her looks, but love her as she is.

One day, a man comes to the small town were Lucie and Mollie live.  He has an old face, and it is distorted with all sorts of abuse and pain.  His smile is crooked, his teeth broken, and his legs wobble and shake underneath him as he walks.  He is despised wherever he goes for his age and ugliness.  And when Mollie and Lucie see him they don’t know what to do about him, because he looks at them with eyes that are so blue and penetrating that they cannot turn on their heels and walk away. He seems to ask them something.  And so they say to themselves: “Let us consult the Doll.”  They go to the Doll and look at her face for a long, long time, and suddenly Lucie cries: “That’s it!  He’s the doll! Or the doll is him, I’m not sure which—but I know that’s how it is!” and Mollie stares and laughs because she knows Lucie is right.  Rushing out to the street, they see the old man standing alone, and Lucie runs up to him, throwing her arms around his neck, smiling.  “Please come with us, home, to dinner, because I’ve just made an apple pie, and I need the very best of people to taste it and help me improve it.”  And Mollie insists herself, so he accepts and eats with them.  In the evening he sits by the fire, telling stories, his eyes deep and knowing, letting the beauty of his soul pour out on them, so that they feel everything and love him completely.  Lucie and Mollie return to the attic when he is gone.  They know why the doll looked so old, and yet so new.


It is because behind every seemingly old face, there is something eternal.  Something that never dies.

And that in order to love, one must first love the unlovable.

The End.

END NOTE: Mollie and Lucie are real people, real friends.  This was an impromptu story that Mollie told Lucie one night.