Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sage advice from a modern philosopher

'To write one must first suffer,' 
~(or something like that), Garfield the Cat~

Yes, this week's inspirational quote comes from a fat, lazy, lasagna horking feline of the cartoon variety, but hey, one scavenges a muse where one must!  There's a reason this cartoon franchise has been popular for nearly four decades: he's a hilarious philosopher in animated fur, dare I say as witty and good-naturedly snarky as Miss Austen herself, though in a format far more suitable to modern minds (Heaven help us!).   However you feel about the source, I think this sagacious line drawing has an excellent point.  Have you ever read something by someone who has never actually struggled with anything in life?  I'm convinced those are the sorts of people that write modern children's books, a literary class so vapid I'd feel bad lining my mouse cage with most of it (that is not to say there are not excellent children's authors out there, but most of the stuff churned out by the educational presses is only palatable to the people who printed it, least of all to the kids who should be reading it).  There is a popular vocal artist in a music genre I've given up as hopeless in recent decades but I can never remember her name, I call her 'whiny teenager girl' and most people seem to know immediately to whom I'm referring, but at the beginning of her career, her greatest laments and struggles were those common to twelve year olds and she wrote scads of songs about them and it drove me up a wall.

There's nothing wrong with writing about what you know (indeed, a trait more people should exercise!) or writing music for a particular segment of society (twelve year olds for example) but when they play identical song after song after song and then repeat it over and over and over, so all you hear all day (if you work somewhere that plays only a certain radio station day in and day out) is whiny teenager girl lamenting her lovelorn anguish and how it isn't ever going to get any better at the ripe old age of thirteen, well, you understand where the term 'postal' might come from, even the most gentle and docile of temperaments must have their breaking point!  She had not (and happily so) suffered much at that age and her music shows it, but why someone chose to make her famous and play her songs everywhere for the rest of eternity is beyond me, unless those children's book producers have now invaded the music scene, disturbing thought indeed!  True art, of whatever form or format or genre, comes from the heart, and the more that heart has seen, loved, grieved, and suffered, the more moving is that art.  Albeit suffering does not equate with talent (or perhaps taste?) as Picasso obviously suffered greatly, and though famous and renowned, I still feel like most of his masterpieces were filched from a seven year old's art case, but that's just me, perhaps I have no eye for that sort of art any more than I have an ear for music made for teenie boppers.

I've observed this in my own case, when writing (for good or ill), I always feel like my muse waxes hottest when I'm struggling with something significant, either present or past.  And then there are those days that are bright and sunny and happy and I really can't write a coherent sentence, let alone a decent composition of any sort.  Is it that those who have suffered have a greater understanding of our humanity, mortality, and the greater things beyond, or is it that they are driven to create as an outlet for their grief?  Perhaps it is some combination of the two?  If only we could find someone to write a nice little thesis on this theory, but as doctoral theses are far from works of art, no matter your discipline, that might be disaster indeed!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Life IS the waiting

You've probably seen plenty of articles on 'life in the waiting,' no matter what stage, age, or lifestyle you currently inhabit.  Whether you're a Kindergartener who can't wait to be a 'big kid' or waiting for the letter confirming that you made it into the school of your choice or hoping to meet 'the one' or are stuck on an appropriately named adoption waitlist, the truth is we are all 'waitlisted' for most of, if not our entire lives.  We all have something we wait with anticipation (and a little dread) for, knowing that when it arrives life will begin or be full or happy or whatever at last.  When all our dreams come true, then life will be what it is meant to be...for about a day or a week or a month but then we find ourselves waiting once more.  After Prince Charming waltzes into our life, then we wait for the engagement ring and then the wedding and then the baby...notice a trend here?  But like silly children who just demolished an entire room filled with lavish presents, we look around and wonder what to open next.  We are never content with what we have, rather we long for the next big thing, and think that this time, somehow, that longing, that yearning, that restlessness will finally go away or be satisfied, but it never is.

We all have that thing we long for: a relationship, a child, a spouse, a nice house or awesome car, the dream job, retirement, grandkids...and there's nothing wrong with longing, with dreaming, with working hard to achieve our goals, it's what makes us human, we're designed to do just that.  But where we get in big trouble is in thinking when those goals are achieved, only then will life have arrived, only to look back and realize we spent our whole lives waiting for life to arrive.  Instead of waiting to live until the waiting is over, we need to learn to live in the waiting, enjoy life as it is no matter if IT ever arrives.  We must live in constant hope and contentment rather than in the shadow of despair and discontent otherwise we fail to live.

We finalize our second adoption in a week, the day after my 38th birthday, we began the paperwork for our first adoption just before my 30th birthday.  We've spent eight years trying to build our family, and much of that was spent waiting, and certainly not in patient hope but rather in anxious what-ifs and impatient whens, jumping every time the phone rang only to be disappointed when it wasn't the agency calling or moping around for weeks on end convinced it would never happen.  Before that it was 8 years of college and grad school and 7 years of indentured servitude to pay it off, always working working working for that day when all debt would be paid off and we'd be 'free.'  Before that it was working my tail off just to survive a broken family and brutal school life so I could have a future to look forward to.  And here I am, nearly 40, and wondering where my life went!  All those things are good and wonderful and worthwhile, it is not that, but perhaps if I had spent less time being anxious and worried about the future and rather just spent more time enjoying the NOW, I wouldn't look back and wonder how all those years passed me so swiftly by, especially when each day felt like an age as we languished on 'the list.'

So what is the take home message?  We are built to yearn, to hope, to long, to dream, it is the very essence of our humanity, it is not wrong or bad to do so, it is who and what we are.  Rather it is how we go about it that is the important thing, yes, make goals and plans, have dreams and dearest hopes, but don't make them the very stuff of life, look around and embrace what you have, who you are, what you can do NOW, rather than looking to the future and waiting for life to arrive, cause life is here, now, and you can't have this moment back again.  This isn't the 'fear of missing out,' rather it is living intentionally and gracefully in the moment, rather than waiting, waiting, waiting, for the perfect moment to arrive, because the only moment we'll ever have, that truly matters is right now.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A new New Hope?

I remember watching the re-release of the original Star Wars movie when it came back to theaters in the '90's (the first theatrical release in my lifetime) and wondering if I had missed something, as it was titled Episode IV: A New Hope, eventually the prequels came out and satisfied that question, but I nearly panicked at the time, thinking I had missed out on three other movies entirely.  I then went on to anticipate the prequels (silly, silly creature!) and read many of the books that fleshed out the series. While some were atrocious, some were (and are) still some of my favorite books, somehow I can't get over it, no matter how bad the prequels and them throwing all those books in the recycling bin as if they'd never been (Star Trek did it first though, and I understand why they needed a fresh slate, but it still feels like they murdered some dear friends and altered the time-space continuum and are just pretending nothing actually happened...).  I just can't get over this thing, maybe it is my geekiness, that undying spark of hope within me that continues to hope they can get this thing right, after 6 new movies, one of them has to get it right, to capture that je ne sais quoi of the beloved originals.  Some of the books managed to do it, but the newer films haven't.  At least until now.

I was in denial for two years, I really did not like Episode VII but kept it to myself lest I find myself stoned for heresy.  I remember coming out of the theater with some friends, who at the time, said it was great.  I was conflicted, there were parts I really liked, but overall, I had no opinion on the movie, which actually meant I didn't like it all but couldn't even admit it to myself.  Rogue One was better, I went in anticipating Hamlet in space and wasn't disappointed, and they did a great job, very nearly capturing that spark that makes Star Wars what it is, but it was too tragic to truly make the cut.  What is it that captivates us so with Star Wars?  Even when it churns out subpar fodder with hokey plots and nebulous technology and bad acting, why do we keep coming back?  The original had it right, it's Hope, it's that spark that refuses to die, the sputtering little flame that keeps the fire alive even though the world is nothing but darkness and smoldering coals, even when the whole universe is against you and wallowing in despair and thinks you are crazy, you refuse to give up even so.  This movie gets it right, finally!  And those same friends remarked after exiting this film that it was awesome and number seven 'sucked,' so my judgement hasn't quite abandoned me, at least in this matter.

There's all the humor you expect from Star Wars, which is good, as like Empire Strikes Back, this is a film fraught with peril, danger, sorrow, and darkness.  Some of the acting is great, some is horrid, as is typical of the franchise, you basically want to slap any male of the Skywalker lineage (again, typical) but the interplay between characters, the friendship and camaraderie is what we loved about the originals and it's back, we saw a glimpse of it in Rogue One but with a severely reduced lifespan, happily we should see a few more movies like this if they can maintain the momentum.  I still don't like the main villain, but now looking back, I guess all the Skywalker males have dealt with temper, whininess, and melodrama, so at least it's 'in character.'  Everyone likes to focus on the coolness of Darth Vader, forgetting he's prone to strangling people and force-throwing things when perturbed, and we won't even start on the prequel Anakin, ugh!  And if you ever wondered what Gollum would look like had he ever grown up, I guess that Snope guy would be it, double ugh!

There are the typical plot holes of course, not big enough to fly a Star Destroyer through like in Force Awakens but the Falcon could certainly make it through with room to spare.  Just like Force Awakens, there seems to be a mishmash of themes and nostalgia from the originals, not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, as creativity certainly shouldn't be lacking in this boundless universe, but at times I found myself thinking it was the battle of Hoth or maybe the flight to Cloud City, I thought an Ewok would jump out at one point, and there were certainly glimpses of the second Death Star battle in the mix, and I'm not sure who let in all the dewy eyed wildlife, but this is Disney so I guess I shouldn't be surprised if a singing mouse or an overly intelligent deer strays in occasionally, at least they don't talk!

But the very best part, the part that left me with goosebumps of anticipation wasn't a subplot or character or happening, but a feeling, something I hoped never to see in a modern film, as the heroes flew off from the scene of near devastation wondering what the future held, somewhere a little child looked up at the stars and smiled, I felt like that kid, he knew, somewhere, somehow, there was hope and a better future, and that one day he might be part of it too.  It left me feeling there was something we could do about injustice and evil and sorrow, instead of giving into despair or blaming somebody or something else or expecting life or the government or other people to give us whatever we think we want, rather it said bluntly that if we want things to change, it needs to begin with us.  We need to fight the fear, the selfishness, the despair, the greed whelming up in our own hearts and do what we know needs to be done, not wait for someone else to do it, not wait until we are perfect to start, but to begin now, small and fallible as we are, even if it's a small thing, unnoticed by the rest of the universe.  This movie struggled with that fine line between success and failure, light and darkness, life and death, triumph and despair, it didn't shy away from the deep questions that have no easy answers nor try to give trite concise answers to age old questions.  Life is messy, but it's beautiful even so and it is the hope of that beauty that makes it worth living, even through the chaos and pain: that's the heart of what makes Star Wars beloved despite or perhaps because of its many shortcomings.  And finally someone has remembered it!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Let your light so shine

I've noticed that the pictures of my kids have gotten phenomenally better since our son was a baby.  Was it the result of improved skill?  Not really, I've been taking pictures for over 20 years, four years isn't going to make that much of an improvement, me thinks.  Was it better equipment?  I did recently upgrade cameras, but I'm not sure it added all that much to the equation.  So what was the magic bullet then?  It all comes down to better light.  We used to live in a tiny apartment with windows that solely faced west overlooking a busy street and an industrial building, combine that with either extreme heat or super short days and we almost never had the blinds open or natural light invading our troglodyte's haven, thus my picture's from that ere are all dependent on artificial light of one form or another: yellowish tint, grainy or blurry, red eye...ugh!  We currently live in a house with lots of windows, meaning there is almost always a room with decent natural light anytime the sun is up, which makes this photographer very happy indeed.

I was sitting on the bed in our room the other day staring at one of those hook thingies that holds the curtains back, a rather innocuous item certainly, but as I sat there looking at it, I thought that it was particularly lovely at that moment, only because the early morning light had made it a most intriguing picture, usually it was a most unremarkable feature of the room.  And it is that particular type of light that makes landscape photographers most happy, those golden slanting rays just after dawn or before dusk that paint the whole world in wonder and loveliness, even the most mundane of items or scenes.

I wonder if there's a different sort of light, that's not really light at all, light is only the metaphor for this thing, this sense of wonder or awe or beauty or joy or peace, this inexplicable feeling, like a wind from Heaven carrying some delicious but unfathomable scent into this everyday, mundane world we call real life.  That sense of something greater, brighter, better just beyond the curtain of this world.  A star in a dark and hopeless night, a faint and far off song of hope in the midst of despair, a breath within the tomb, life amid the ashes of death.  It is like that golden, slanting light of evening, making everything beautiful and taking your breath away for a few glorious minutes.  It is the whisper of Eternity among the din of mortality; a very glimpse of the real amid a world of lies.

It makes our souls alive, it reminds us that we are more than intelligent apes or carnally driven beasts, more than flesh and blood and bone, a complex chemical entity, far more than the sum of our parts.  It's the rush of true love, the humbling awe of mountain or sea, the far off beauty of the stars, the wonderment of a new parent, the exhilaration of some long sought triumph, the warmth of old friends...and a million other fleeting but inexplicable sensations we spend our whole lives chasing, wishing the moment could last for eons, but it soon passes or grows cold and we are left with an even deeper sense of loneliness and emptiness than before.  For a fleeting moment we felt alive and the world suddenly seemed right and all was well.  For just a moment we had a glimpse of home but the train kept moving and left it quickly behind while our hearts yearned to gaze upon it indefinitely.

That's because it is Home we seek, feel, know, a true Home where our hearts will at last be whole, content, and full to bursting with every good thing.  But it is still a long way off, our journey will be long and often tedious, happily we can find little hints and reminders along the way, but still there will be many long and difficult nights, storms to be weathered, and interminable, dull stretches where the landscape never seems to change.  But we can be citizens of that strange country even now, very children of the King, bearers of that peculiar light into the darkest reaches of our world, but 'narrow is the gate and difficult is the way,' but it is the only way Home.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The search continues...

I thought I found a new favorite (and living!) author, but I'm afraid the excitement of the infatuation is merely the ephemeral thrill of a transient crush.  While I've been a huge Austen fan, I never strayed into the world of steam punk, unless accidentally by viewing the recent Sherlock Holmes remake films, but I strayed from the Austentine path (or shall we say branched out?) and found myself strangely captivated by the Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol books by Gail Carringer (albeit I only got through the second book in the Parasol books as the others were already checked out at the local library).  She is a talented author, able to paint an intriguing world and colorful characters while displaying an inordinate amount of often silly and always witty humor; there was much to attract and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but alas, it was not a relationship that could last, as it seems the books are far more interested in exploring the intricacies of the characters' 'indelicate' parts more than in exploring that phenomenal world or deepening our understanding of the intricate characters or fleshing out the numerous enticing plot points.

It is quite frustrating, I finally find an author with talent, ability, creativity, and a wonderful sense of humor who prefers instead to delve into things best left to the reader's imagination and trashy romance novels, letting the plot and characters languish while the reader must endure seemingly endless pages of an underclass collegian wet dream, ugh!  No wonder I prefer the company of the dead English authors: our modern world has corrupted even the most talented of living authors, much like our modern cinema which has become all impressive CGI, explosions, gore, and lurid romantic scenes, with nothing of substance or content.  Has the art of story completely collapsed into cotton candy: a cavity causing mass of airy nothing?

The ancients (those writing prior to World War I) were masters of the written word, and though sadly lacking in any commentary on lycanthropes, were still able to write a compelling story without the need of spicing things up or filling space with unnecessary carnal visions.  I suppose there is a reason Miss Austen always ended with the wedding!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Classic literature and the narcissist

If I were an English Major type person (I'm more the minor sort, that and Chemistry, ugh!) I would like to write my doctoral thesis (perhaps someone already has) on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and its presence in classic literature.  Jane Austen and the Brontes certainly had first hand experience with this sort of malady as their characters are prime examples: Jane Eyre's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lady Susan, the husband in 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,' Mrs. Ferars, Mrs, Norris, to name just those that come easily to mind.  Having grown up in such a household, I truly appreciate the incite these classical ladies have into the mindset.  I was also intrigued to find a modern sequel to 'Pride and Prejudice' delving into this issue directly, and not only mentioning it but also giving hope and healing to the victims and highlighting the nightmarish effects it can have on the lives of those so affected.  Most of these spin-off and sequels either lapse into sleazy romance novels or historical fiction or are so poorly written that they aren't worth reading, none of which are worthy of Miss Austen's heir, if such is mortally possible.  But Pemberly Manor by Kathryn Nelson might be just that!

Picking up cues and clues from Ms. Austen's various works, Ms. Nelson delves deeper into the mysterious past of Mr. Darcy and the possible reasoning behind his unique character and its effect on his marriage relationship while straying away from peeking in at the bedroom windows and the greater historical events of the day.  As a study of human character, this novel is dead on, much as Miss Austen herself so often was.  So if you are an Austen fan or have been effected by NPD personally, this is a most excellent read!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A startlingly pleasant discovery of the literary sort

I'm rather timid when it comes to getting into a serious relationship on short acquaintance, at this season of life, money and time are best not wasted on the frivolous or insipid; I'm reluctant to try new books as I have been disappointed times beyond count.  I have delved into several different series/genres hoping that this time it would be different only to have countless hours and the financial investment come to naught.  I've read dozens of books, lived vicariously in distant realms/galaxies/worlds, come to love certain characters as if they were real, only to have the story fizzle out or the entire scheme thrown bodily into the recycling bin as if it had never been.  So most of my literary time is spent on the old classics, familiar as a childhood haunt and as unchanging as the monotony of years and happily available in the public domain.  Then I remembered the local library, and what's even better, the advent of the ebook means I don't even have to leave the house or wait for the 1 physical copy to become available six months hence.  I can dip a toe in a book and if it appears to be a complete waste of time, I can just as daintily remove my toe and peruse the next selection.

My first attempt was 'Death Comes to Pemberly,' by P.D. James (warning, my affectation for old books hasn't come to an end, rather it has morphed into a curiosity of what the modern world makes of the old).  I've never read this particular author before, and while impressed with her writing skill, the book left me cold, flat, and indifferent to the drab characters, their fate, and the rather convoluted plot.  But instead of giving up in despair I tried again.  'Austenland' by Shannon Hale was a much better read and the first modern books I've loved since my former disappointments (much like the heroine of the novel).  It isn't deep or world-shaking or a classic, but it is a fun, lighthearted look at self-discovery and relationships in the complicated modern world.  It's an amusing romance in which the heroine ends just fine with the fact that she's not currently 'in a relationship.'

While modern feminism says women don't need men but society says you're nothing without a romantic interest, it was refreshing to find a book that says what we all feel deep down and hope is true: it is good and healthy to hope for a great relationship but the lack doesn't define your value or defer happiness, unless you let it.  This is a message we need today more than ever, as it is often assumed that being in a bad relationship must be worlds better than being single, whereas that is far from true.  A relationship for relationship's sake is ridiculous and putting life on hold until you have the much coveted 'relationship' is equally disastrous.  This book looks at that idea in an amusing and endearing manner and still manages to toss in a happy ending!  And it gives me hope that not all modern books are doomed to disappoint; I'll keep delving and let you know if I discover another diamond amid the chaff.