Monthly Archives: June 2012

Time is Scarce

But I will offer a quote which I have been mulling over from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy as well as some of my mullings.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world and enough of a Christian to die to it?”

Simultaneous fanatical pessimism and fanatical optimism… the words do not, in themselves, communicate what is intended, but Chesterton manages to redefine them enough for me, I think, to understand what he means. I’ve spent a lot of my life darting around people I know like a crazed sheepdog, nipping their heels when they move too far towards extremes of optimism and pessimism. I’ve done this partly because I am an insufferable “fixer” who has a hard time staying out of other people’s business (I am working on this), but I have also done it because I have experienced one side of that dangerous equation and witnessed the results of the other.

But for all this, I have long been aware that there is a good kind of balance and a bad kind. Before I read this passage of Chesteron’s, I did not have a good way to express what I mean.  He opened a new avenue of thought to me.

A bland medium breeds complacency,  resignation, and inaction. I do not want that kind of balance for myself or for others. I do not want to race around myself, or around my friends and family, nipping heels until the person is afraid to move. I want the balance that is stability, but that also propels us forward into action. I want the balance that burns, changes and grows.

When I was in Canada recently, a man walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls. He had one of those long poles used for balance. This strikes me as an apt metaphor in some ways. When I need to balance, I have two options. Either I can stand still or crawl. When I spread my arms out to their full length and try to walk I am not very stable and I am apt to fall.  A puff of wind or a slight miscalculation can send me reeling because I am trying to balance within reasonable limits. The long pole, projecting far beyond normal human reach, gives a person the ability to balance while walking forward. The pole is a balance between extremes. True balance, in this sense, is not an absence of extremes but a coexistence. This means that my entire life must be an epic balancing act which propels me forward, not static inaction in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

Maintaining opposing extremes within myself is akin to playing with fire (I love fire).  Extremes are dangerous, but then a lack of extremes is equally dangerous.  If I shift my grip too far towards one end of the pole, I will topple, just as I would lose my balance without the aid of the pole. Constant vigilance is needed. I pray to God to help me not slip to one extreme while leaving the other behind. That sort of thing happens all the time, and the results make my hair stand up. I know myself too well to doubt that I can easily slip, with disastrous consequences, and yet I feel that this seeming-paradox is the safest, most healthy course. Irony is ever with me and I am not blind to the irony of my belief that the safest place to be looks, from the outside, so dangerous.

Like all metaphors, this one only goes so far. As usual, I am left wondering how much questions like this can be communicated through words. The above makes sense to me in the same way balancing makes sense to me. At first it was instinctual, and only now am I coming to understand the forces at work. I know enough to say that I know very little. I hope, in time, to know more.


Gothic Galatea

Disclaimer:  I do not consider myself a poet.

While I love reading poetry and admire the craft of “language distilled,” my own efforts are conducted in a lazy manner. I use verse to vent and play, and I know enough true poets to recognize the difference between their work and my own. I thank my mother and my other Literature teachers and professors for educating me in the theory and forms of poetry, for showing me how to read on multiple levels and for steering me away from some of the worst pitfalls.

When I do write verse, its form is usually spur-of-the-moment. I love rhythm; I avoid rhymes.  I have, for assignments, written sonnets, haiku, and one horrible sestina that will never see the light of day (I would burn it, save that it reminds me of the consequences of literary disasters), but I have never felt the desire to write these for myself.  Every few years, however, rhymes seem to build up in me like water behind a dam and they must be released.

What follows is a rare, rhymed verse that I created the last time my rhyme-reservoir reached critical mass. I only write such gothic things when I am in a peculiarly merry mood. Who knows why? Anyway, the perfectionist in me knows that it is quite flawed. I nevertheless find it entertaining to read (it was entertaining to write, too) and I thought I would share. I like it best when I read it aloud.

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Heart of Stone
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One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.
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The night sky split with lighted bolt
And those too near, they heard her scream.
The moon looked on with faded gleam
To see the breaking of her dream
And how her body bent.
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Fell eyes of flame and empty coal,
Sharp claws, and hands of icy flesh,
Long hair that leaves and bones enmesh,
And heart that twists and cracks afresh,
Do all a monster make.
.
One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
For selfish love he formed her first.
No woman-flesh could satisfy
His critical, appraising eye,
So golem made, to make him sigh
With admiration true.
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He did not count her soul to be
As free as his, or anyone’s,
And jealousy in him, begun
When her love by another won,
Did take her from him far.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.
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And so he did her lover take
Unto the courts and thence to hang,
And heedless of the dirge she sang,
Dragged her back to prison’s clang
Of bars to keep her still.
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But little did her maker fear
The fury in her shattered heart.
Her prison she then rent apart
And unto him she did impart
Her rage and pain in full.
.
One sharp twist and the heart is broke.
Of stronger stuff had it been made
Then, mayhap, still intact it laid,
But no, the organ’s split and grayed
And all who know should fear.
.
His broken body then she left,
To roam the woods and forests wild.
For every woman, man, and child
Who finds her now, and is beguiled,
She is a certain death.
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Curséd is the man who brought this
Creature life and failed to see
That she, like all who would be free,
Never a soulless doll could be.
He doomed us to his fate.
.
For once this heart be shatteréd,
There’s naught to hold the fury back.
The mind, pain-raw, will turn to black
And ne’er again will offer pact
Of mercy, love, or peace.


Jack, how do you do that?

Jack Lewis, or “Clive Staples” if you want to be formal, has a habit of writing about ideas that I have turned over in my mind before. When he does this, he almost always presents me with a new slant to consider and sometimes even a completely new thought. I enjoy his nonfiction. I enjoy agreeing with him and arguing with him equally. 

Imagine my delight when the copy of Phantastes which I opened recently is introduced by Jack. I have read snippets of his thoughts on George MacDonald before, but this introduction was more comprehensive and more touching. It is uncommon outside academia (maybe it is uncommon within it as well) to have one of one’s favorite authors comment in any length on another of one’s favorite authors. And as usual, Jack’s words touched on my own thoughts regarding MacDonald, and expanded them.

I thought I would share.

“George MacDonald’s family (though hardly his father) were of course Calvinists. On the intellectual side his history is largely a history of escape from the theology in which he had been brought up. Stories of such emancipation are common in the Nineteenth Century; but George MacDonald’s story belongs to this familiar pattern only with a difference. In most such stories the emancipated person, not content with repudiating the doctrines, comes also to hate the persons of his forebears, and even the whole culture and  way of life with which they are associated. Thus books like The Way of All Flesh come to be written; and later generations, if they do not swallow the satire wholesale as history, at least excuse the author for a one-sidedness which a man in his circumstances could hardly have been expected to avoid.  Of such personal resentment I find no trace in MacDonald. It is not we who have to find extenuating circumstances for his point of view. On the contrary, it is he himself, in the very midst of his intellectual revolt, who forces us, whether we will or no, to see elements of real and perhaps irreplaceable worth in the thing from which he is revolting.
“All his life he continued to love the rock from which he had been hewn… His best characters are those which reveal how much real charity and spiritual wisdom can co-exist with the profession of a theology that seems to encourage neither. His own grandmother, a truly terrible old woman who had burnt his uncle’s fiddle as a Satanic snare, might have appeared to him as what is now (inaccurately) called ‘a mere sadist.’ Yet when something very like her is delineated in Robert Falconer and again in What’s Mine is Mine, we are compelled to look deeper – to see, inside the repellent crust something that we can whole-heartedly pity and even, with reservations, respect. In this way MacDonald illustrates, not the doubtful maxim that to know all is to forgive all, but the unshakeable truth that to forgive is to know. He who loves, sees.”

~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“The image of a great house seen principally from the library and always through the eyes of a stranger or a dependent (even Mr. Vane in Lilith never seems at home in the library which is called his) haunts his books to the end.”

~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“His lungs were diseased and his poverty was very great. Literal starvation was sometimes averted only by those last moment deliverances which agnostics attribute to chance and Christians to Providence. It is against this background of reiterated failure and incessant peril that some of his writing can be most profitably read. His resolute condemnations of anxiety come from one who has a right to speak; nor does their tone encourage the theory that they owe anything to the pathological wishful thinking – the spes phthisica – of the consumptive. None of the evidence suggests such a character. His peace of mind came not from building on the future, but resting in what he called ‘the holy Present.’ His resignation to poverty was at the opposite pole from that of the stoic. He appears to have been a sunny, playful man, deeply appreciative of all really beautiful and delicious things that money can buy, and no less deeply content to do without them. It is perhaps significant – it is certainly touching – that his chief recorded weakness was a Highland love of finery; and he was all his life hospitable as only the poor can be. “

~.~.~.~.~.~.~

“It must be more than thirty years ago that I bought – almost unwillingly, for I had looked at the volume on that bookstall and rejected it on a dozen previous occasions –  the Everyman edition of Phantastes.  A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a frontier. I had already been waist deep in Romanticism; and likely enough, at any moment, to flounder into its darker and more evil forms, slithering down the steep descent that leads from the love of strangeness to that of eccentricity and thence to that of perversity. Now Phantastes was romantic enough in all conscience; but there was a difference.  Nothing was at that time further from my thoughts than Christianity and I therefore had no notion what its difference really was. I was only aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool, morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptize (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later and with the help of many other books and men. But when the process was complete – by which, of course, I mean ‘when it had really begun’ – I found that I was still with MacDonald and that he had accompanied me all the way and that I was now at last ready to hear from him much that he could not have told me at that first meeting. But in a sense, what he was now telling me was the very same that he had told me from the beginning. There was no question of getting through to the kernel and throwing away the shell: no question of a gilded pill. The pill was gold all through. The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my ‘teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness. But now that I know, I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round – in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness,’ never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire – the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold.'”

~.~.~.~.~.~.~

There is much more to the essay as well. Lewis explores a theory of the nature and artistry of myth-making. It’s well-worth a read.


Packing lightly?

Book Meme 2012

Week 10: Books that I would bring if the world was going to be destroyed by aliens/cylons and we had to restart civilization as we know it. (ie: the basis of human knowledge and thought and civilization.)

Oh my.

The only way I can psych myself into answering this question is by assuming that everyone is going to bring books, and that what I am able to bring will only be the tip of the iceberg. Logically, I know that books are not a top priority for everyone packing for the apocalypse, but I this is speculative, so I can dream. Let us assume that everyone will bring the books they consider most fundamental to society. That takes a little pressure off. That said, I am still a librarian. This question is HARD!

I will categorize the books I take.  Some of these categories are dependent on the type of apocalypse we are facing. The cylon/alien world destruction assumes the loss of Earth (or the 12 colonies), but this is not the only way society might collapse. Thus my first category of books is dependent on their still being a world, but not a civilization.

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Survival:

Obviously one cannot rebuild society if one is dead. Therefore my primary concern with these books is surviving. If we are all on a handful of jump-capable space ships I might still have a hard time leaving these behind, but they would not be necessary, to my mind, for the rebirth of civilization.

Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart
There is a reason that this book is still available and still read by campers 106 years after its original publication. If I had to survive in the wild and on the move, this would be my manual of choice.

The Forager’s Harvest: a Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer
This is the best guide to wild foods I have found, and I thank my mother for giving it to me one Christmas!

I would also include a medical manual of some kind, but looking in my collection, I have none, and I am going to limit myself to my own collection because A: it is simpler and B: if I am going to stuff books in a backpack I need to actually have the books.

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General Knowledge:

Science Textbook:
I have to cheat a little for this one because my old textbooks, if we still have them, are in my parent’s attic. Also, they are quite heavy. I would have to look through them and decide which would be best, and I have not done so. But a science textbook would be high on my list of priorities. Even if I could just preserve the basic principles of scientific theory I would be glad. Observation, investigation and logical reasoning are, I believe, fundamental to the growth of society and I would not want to be without them.

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Religion:

The Holy Bible:
As one might expect, the sacred text of my faith would be the first book packed. Which copy is difficult to choose. If size was not an issue, my first choice would be my 4-in-one comparative copy, but it is very large. My small New International Version is my favorite sword, lightweight and easy to handle, but then again my old, ragged study NIV has served me very well. For the sake of argument, I will go with the smallest.

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
I am, by nature, a skeptic. I prod things, test them, reason them through, and I am leery of trusting too much. From what I can tell, Lewis was much the same kind of person. If I am to help rebuild civilization, I must start from what I know, and this book tends to speak to people such as me.

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesteton
This is a relatively new discovery for me, but my copy is compact, and enlightening.  I think I would pack it. I have some issues with Chesterton, and with Lewis as well, but where Mere Christianity appeals to my logical mind, Orthodoxy appeals to my abstract mind. The two together cover a lot of thought-territory.

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Mythology:

More than anything, human communities thrive on stories. Our myths help us to understand concepts that are otherwise difficult to express. They are, I believe, the nearest words can come to soul-to-soul communication. I cannot conceive the rebuilding of society without stories, and it would be best to carry some along to remind us how important they are. I will list the myths I would carry with me in order of importance. The most important are those supposedly designed for children because, in truth, they are the ones designed for everyone and often their essence is more fundamental than the complexities created for adults.

The Princess and the Goblin and the Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
Thankfully, I have a copy of this with the two books in one small paperback. These stories are true fairy-tales, filled with magic, danger, courage, friendship and beauty. Much of what I am I owe to these stories, and if I were to assist in reviving civilization, I would be reading them to children and adults alike.

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
These tales represent the heart of folklore in western civilization, both good and bad, and I would not be without them. I would have to take the stories one by one to talk about why, but the variety of stories contained herein offer a wealth of fodder for communication.

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Anyone who knows me well could have predicted this choice. I consider this a powerful myth dealing with the nature and the state of humanity. It is not a children’s story, but adults need stories as well, and I could not bear to allow this one to pass away.

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Oh Tolkien… why oh why? This author might break my backpack. Of all mythologies I have encountered, his is the one I would most desire to take with me. The problem is that I want to take it all, and that may prove the end of my backpack. My three thick paperbacks might be the lightest way to carry this book, but even so it is probably pushing the limit, but I could not bear to be without it, at least until I collapse under the weight. The themes of this book are the reason it comes before its companions. The relationships and struggles contained therein speak to their own value and their rightful place in the mythologies of Earth.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
My second Tolkien is chosen for its accessibility and the joy contained in its pages. This is another book born for all ages, which makes it versatile.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
And this is the hard mythology behind the mythology. Stories that are indicative of people’s struggles and the flow of the world can be found within this book for those who have the patience to read, and I assume that people struggling to remake themselves would find a need for and an interest in the tales of this kind. I know I would.

The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth by Ruth S. Noel
This one is small for all that it adds to the reading of the above three.

The Classic 100, edited by William Harmon
I cannot forget poetry. By this time my backpack is bursting and there is no room for food, but to lose all of this art… I cannot leave it! I will wedge this one in an outside pocket, a remnant of an art that may yet be revived. For the rest, I must trust my memory, as best I can.

That is 16 books if I include LOTR as three volumes. Heaven knows how many pounds!

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Books I would love to take, but can’t:

Gardner’s Art Through the Ages
This is a textbook on art history. I would love to drag it everywhere with me, but sadly it is also massive. I carried it for three semesters in college, and I can attest to its ability to slow a person down. Unless someone invents a Bag of Holding or an Undetectable Extension Charm, I am out of luck.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
I have this in a reasonably small form. I may get a lot of flack for not including it in my theoretical backpack, but this is why: while I have been fairly fluent in Shakespearean English from a young age, I know that the language is a barrier for many people. If I am intent on rebuilding civilization, I need that which is most accessible, else the chances are it will not survive past my life. Perhaps I am wrong, but would I risk it for valuable backpack slots? Alas, I would not.

There are hundreds of others. Such a wrench! May I never have to make this choice for real!

That… that is it! I did it! I made it all the way through a meme on time! …it will probably be a long time before I try this again, but I feel accomplished!

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


Need

It has been nearly a year since I created a mask.   I only realized this recently when the hunger to do so came on me suddenly.  There has been too much going on in life for me to stop and look around for the faces hidden about me.  My dusty supplies, and my clay which has mold on it (yuck!) make my hands itch to create.

I have taken steps.  My clay class begins this coming Monday.  By this time, for me, the class serves more as studio time than a normal class.  It makes me take a couple of hours in the evening to work, and it lets me join with other people to fill and fire the kilns.  I want to do other work as well, though.  The hardest question is, what do first? There are a few masks waiting to be finished, and they have my attention, but after that?

There are a myriad of shells in wait. Then again, I have done four shell masks already.

I have a few boxes of found-objects, from bones to keys. These things produce surprising results, and I have a mess of ideas.  I look over my work to date, and there are some things I want to try again.  There are things I think I could do better, or just differently.  I have never worked with leather or wood, and both are things I would like to try.

Deciding seems impossible, I may just have to flip a coin, or ten coins, or twenty… but the point is, it’s time to see faces again.

Then comes the harder question of what to do with these masks once I make them. Oy…


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