Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Modern Dating Advice

For those of you who feel like there has not been a good book written on romantic relationships in the last 200 years, your wait may be over.  I ran across this article about two books of such advice, based on the works of the most knowledgeable Jane Austen.  Take a peek!  Maybe there is still hope for happily ever after!

Friday, January 25, 2013

All is calm, all is bright!

I do not enjoy the bitter cold anymore, probably because I no longer get school off when the extreme temperatures hit and all the things I must do outside are work and not for fun.  But one thing I do enjoy about this time of year is the silence and the brilliance, at least on those days when the sun actually shines!  But all of nature and some part of civilization is at rest for a time from the craziness that is life.  Not much is happening, for it is too cold to do much besides think.  To sit and think and ponder or to read or write, all for simple pleasure, is a rare thing in this madness we call modern life.  The advent of the light bulb and more especially television, did nothing to improve the intellectual lives of the common man.  The former increased the productive hours of the day that we might spend more hours working.  The latter devours our precious hours and leaves our brains frail and starved for use.  Whereas, a book demands active attention and makes us use that nameless blob of material that inhabits our skull.  Visual media does have its place and benefits, but we use it far too much as an excuse to avoid real conversation, active learning, and forming our own opinions.  A movie like Les Miserables can touch the soul in different ways than can the book of the same title, but most of what passes for entertainment in this age does little to inspire or teach us.  Instead of reaching for the remote tonight, perhaps reach for a good book.  Your brain will thank you!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The valley of the shadow...

“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”  Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien. 
This year has been a strange one, not without its own wonders and joys, but overwelmingly one that has not made alot of sense, at least when viewed close-up.  I always like this quote of Sam's, it reminds me that I cannot view life from three feet away; I must wait and see what happens in the rest of the story and only in that light will it make sense.   There have been times before where I wondered what on earth was going on, only to look back and realize how well things had turned out after all.  The only problem with life is that you cannot stay up all night and read to the last page as you can with a novel.  It must be lived one day at a time, but no matter how dark or sad or confusing, there is hope even if we cannot see it.  I hope that the shadow has passed, that the morning is coming, but I do not know that for sure, at least not yet.  But whether the day is dawning or I yet have to trudge through the depths of night, I have this hope, much like Sam.  Even if I do not understand, there is One who does.  After all, He is the one who wrote the story!
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Psalm 23: 4 (KJV).

Friday, January 11, 2013

The quest of the proverbial chicken

I posted awhile ago, an outline for a 'postmodern fairytale' in jest at the very idea.  Of late, I have been thinking that perhaps that is one of the great failures of our modern age: we are trying to live the fairytale without the plot.  What on earth does that mean?  Postmodernism basically asserts the truth that there are no truths; what is right for me is not necessarily right for you.  It is quite absurd to think that a theory that nullifies truth will assert itself as a truth.  But beyond this insurmountable paradox, it has become the leading theory of the age.  What is right and good is what is right and good for me at this moment and hopefully it does not offend anybody else.  In a world like this, there are no set rules or laws to govern the story.  There can be no coherence in the plot and thus the story can only end in confusion and frustration.  Rules, laws, morals, whatever you would call them, are not something we can arbitrarily do away with and still make sense of life.  You cannot have a sensible story without rules and neither can you lead a meaningful existence without them.  The very continuation of life depends on constant adherence to rules; if the universe or your body all of a sudden decided that it was no longer subject to the physical laws of reality, things would go very bad, very fast.  The same applies to our view of reality.  We are a civilization that does not know what it believes, why it believes, or how to live out those beliefs.  No wonder we have issues with finding meaning, purpose, and direction in life.  We have no map to guide our course!

The two greatest challenges in modern life to discovering what our own story is meant to be are busyness and loss of finitude in meaning.  We do not take time to think, to ponder, to consider in this day and age.  We stare at our screens and listen to our friends and inadvertently take in whatever is presented to us as true and right without any thought as to the true meaning of what is said.  Our 'values' are a mishmash of personal feelings and pop culture with no truth or meaning or sense in much of it; worse, we do not live out those things we claim to believe most deeply.  We simply act without thinking, doing whatever feels 'right' at the moment.  A true set of beliefs means we know what we believe, why we believe, and live what we believe.  A person who lives out their beliefs is truly a rare find in this modern age.  We are so busy and distracted that we have forgotten how to think, let alone what to think.  Words and ideas mean only what we think they should mean at that moment.  This is why the great stories are so important, they remind us of a time when there were such concepts as right and wrong, justice and truth, when a word or idea had a true and finite definition.  If we seriously delve into such works, perhaps we too may begin to see that there really are some truths in the universe that don't go away just because we ignore or forget about them.  Our lives, our civilization will never amount to anything until we understand who we are, why we are here, where we are going, and why we do what we do.  The Truth is out there, we just need to take the time to find it, understand it, embrace it, and live it out.  Then, and only then, can our own story begin to make sense.  Until then, we are nothing but the proverbial, headless chicken running futility about.

Most of the people of my acquaintance seem to be drifting through life, never sure exactly where they are going or why.  There is no direction, no passion, just confusion, futility, and frustration.  We do not like stories that do not make sense; infinitely worse is a life lived in such a state.  The only cure is a map, a guide that does not change, which lays out the boundaries, traps, paths, and features of this landscape we call life.  An adventurer that abandons his map is bound to get lost or fall into preventable disasters, is not life the same?  What makes us think we can forget the rule and yet understand and navigate this confusing reality?  We must rediscover Truth or we will never discover anything at all.  This is not a new phenomenon.  Man has had a guide, direct from the manufacturer, ever since the very Beginning when a cunning adversary once asked, "did God really say...?"  It is a thing as old as man, a thing as old as sin.  We are simply repeating that which all of our ancestors experienced for themselves.  We like to do things our own way, write our own rules.  But until we can create our own universe and arrange its physical laws to our own taste, perhaps it would be wise to consult the directions that came with the package if we hope to make sense of life.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Viewer discretion advised

I have read the book.  I have seen the musical.  I have seen another version of the film.  I tried not to look at the unenthusiastic reviews.  Finally, I have seen Les Miserables.  I should not have watched it...because I will be in withdrawal until it comes out on video!  This is one of those movies you either adore or hate, from the reviews I have read, most of the critics are in the second category!  Of course, I do not know why we read reviews, as if one man's opinion on something will have any bearing on my own.  I do not like wine therefore I should not write reviews of wine tasting; the same should apply here.  I thought this was one of the best movie experiences I have ever had, my husband was not allowed to go (not that he wanted to) because this just is not his sort of thing.  I have the same ambivalence towards the Super Bowl.

First off, I in no way claim to be an expert in anything musical, I just know what I like and what I do not.  I can only say that I enjoyed something or I did not, I can say nothing on its artistic accomplishments.  The solo by Fantine alone is worth the ticket price, but overall it was an amazing experience.  The women have amazing voices and were a joy to listen to.  Javert was not bad (not great, but not irritating); Jean Valjean was rather uninspiring.  He did a good job acting, but his voice left me flat.  It was a very scenic movie, the cinematography was beautiful.  There were several places where dialogue was added which should have been spoken rather than sung, but that is a small complaint when compared to the wonder that is this movie. 

I was disappointed to hear that it was not in the top three at the box office this weekend, but I suppose I should not be surprised.  After all, a strange western and a horror movie would certainly be of more interest to the 'average' movie-goer than what many would consider an emotionally overcharged presentation of a book no one has ever heard of.  The world would be a far more inspiring place if we hungered after films like Les Mis and forgot our obsession with 'just another horror flick.'  Maybe if Les Mis came out in 3-D?

It is not for everyone, sadly I fear the people who can still appreciate such a masterpiece are quickly disappearing from the earth!  It will make you cry, but it will also give you hope.  It is certainly filled with the miserable, but it does not end that way as most of the modern classics do.  The thing I loved most about this movie is that everywhere we are reminded that our hope comes not from this world but from beyond it.  It is not the Law but Grace, Mercy, and Love that give life meaning.  Javert has been a stalwart pursuer of Justice his entire life and cannot comprehend what it is to be the recipient of mercy at the hands of a criminal.  His entire view of the world comes crashing down around him and he must either accept this strange gift or deny it utterly.  He will not submit to this strange effrontery and does the only thing he can to escape it.  Jean Valjean has lived a life of misery and injustice and when offered this same mercy, falls to his knees in wonder and humble joy, vowing to be a better man whose life ends up touching so many.  The same grace is offered to us.  Will we plunge into utter darkness in outright refusal or will we fall to our knees in grateful acceptance, lighting a candle that will brighten the lives of all those we touch?
'For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.'
from the Finale, Les Miserables
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:2 (KJV).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Where has the story gone?

Perhaps the problem with modern society is that we have too much information and too few stories.  Everyone is rushing around in a blur and cramming their heads and moments full of the latest gossip, news, and trends, but rarely do we pause to consider what all this information means.  That is what separates us from computers and encyclopedias: the ability to understand and appreciate all that data.  I have never met a computer and doubt I shall ever meet a robot (no matter how many centuries I live) that appreciates a good story.  They can analyze it from every side, know it word for word in twenty seven languages but they will never understand what it means.  They can calculate what a math equation means but a story they will never comprehend.  Sometimes I wonder if we are losing that ability ourselves?  The movie theater is our modern storytelling medium of choice, but sadly they have lost the art (for the most part) of a good story.  It is all about graphics, action, violence, horror, bad comedy, or sensuality.  Plot and character are rarely found in modern films.  I found one example by shear luck.

It was back in the days of yore, just before the release of Return of the King, and back in my college days when I had time to go see a movie just for the trailers which makes absolutely no sense at all, but nonetheless true.  But we went to see Second Hand Lions, knowing nothing of the actual movie but hoping to see the trailer to the last installment of Lord of the Rings.  The theater did not show the trailer, but the movie turned out to be one of my all time favorites.  It is a movie with heart, plot, characters, and is just downright fun.  It is what a movie should be, but sadly it is a feat not oft repeated.  So if ever you are bored and not content with a book (gasp!), this might be a little movie worth watching.  It starts out as every good story does, with a lonely kid who has no purpose or meaning in life.  Over the course of the movie we learn just what it is that makes life worth living.  Love!  Is not that the heart of every good story?  It also involves airplanes, lions, annoying relatives, and sheiks, what could be better?

We all need a little story in our lives, otherwise we are little more than computers.  Watch a good movie, listen to great music, pick up an old book, try and figure out what exactly the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is all about, or maybe Dr. Seuss is more your style of poetry?  Whatever it is, get a little more story in your life.  More money, fame, or time will never make us happier but a good story just might!