Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Archaic forms of entertainment

Reading fiction, especially 'novels' was once considered something of a scandalous preoccupation but now they are discovering that those who ingest fiction and digest it properly are perhaps more empathetic and understanding of other people, cultures, and situations than those who are unacquainted with the ancient fanaticism of reading.  Whether it is that broad minds read or that reading broadens minds is yet to be determined, but it is a rather interesting proposition, but what will come of this discovery if mankind forgets how to read?  In the ever quickening pace of modern society, the tedious work known as the novel may soon give place to more 'efficient' means of communication such as the tweet or the text.  But life is not lived on Facebook or rather it should not be, neither can a good story be told in 144 characters or less.  You can no more abbreviate a book than you can the soul, but that is just what we are trying to do and then wonder why life holds no meaning, purpose, interest, or joy.

Such virtues take patience, hope, and hard work to achieve just as reading a good book takes time and effort if it is to yield up its treasures.  Columbus dared to sail off the edge of the world and changed the course of history.  Men would not have electric light if persistence had not once been a virtue.  Alas, we have become a culture of 'seen that got the T-shirt, now what?'  We do not seek out the unknown frontiers, delve into the unsearched depths, 'dream the impossible dream.'  We can hardly manage to read the dreaded archaic tome in time for the English exam, let alone comprehending what it means.  No wonder the world seems to be hastening towards disaster and we all sit in the back happily yelling, "faster!"

But there are flickers of hope, the literary flame has not yet died out among the children of men.  Every so often a cumbersome and engrossing book comes out that draws the harried and disinterested masses into its wordy embrace.  We remember life exists outside the technosphere and for a few hours at least, some great, unsatisfied hunger within us is momentarily sated.  We are drawn into another world, another life, another crisis, a perspective outside our own.  And for a moment we are connected with the very essence of what it is to be human and it has nothing to do with how many 'likes' we have or the 'friends' we have never met.  For one wondrous moment, our soul is unflinchingly bared to the soul of the writer and we find ourselves understood and understanding as never had we dreamed it possible.  This is the power of literature, the power of the written word, the power to change a soul and the world.  And you thought all those summer reading programs at the local library were rather ridiculous!  Save the world, read a book!

Monday, July 22, 2013

A dying tongue?

I am certainly outdated, outmoded, obsolete, whatever the current word would be.  I am one of the marginal few who are not fluent in text lingo.  I can live quite happily without my phone and can go a week without 'surfing the net' and suffer no signs of withdrawal.  I am far more at home in the pages of a big, dusty book than in the virtual maze they call Facebook.  I am too verbose to 'tweet.'  Yes, I am a dinosaur or perhaps a mastodon...a creature forgotten in the mists of the past, a fossil of yore with no modern purpose.  And I am completely fine with that.  As the modern world is happy to forget me, so too am I happy to be forgot.  I have all the eons of history for company.  But alas, what will the modern world do without ancient vocabulary?  Invent more heretical text words I suppose.

I was listening to the radio (that ancient entertainment device) and heard a song with a lyric that went, 'lest I forget.'  Lest is one of those lovely, archaic words that I doubt will survive into the 2020's but which is quite useful and I think irreplaceable.  My husband mentioned something about being stodgy yesterday, and there too is another indispensable word!  I don't miss the dinosaurs but I will miss words such as this if they disappear from common parlance (there's another one!). 

The English language is quite frustrating in certain aspects such as 'love' which has 10,000 shades of meaning but only one term for them all, but it is also quite an interesting language in that there are 10,000 synonyms for say the word 'big.'  I love this paradoxical, amusing, confusing, and flexible tongue and can only hope the next generation learns to love it too ere I become an octogenarian and no one can understand me!  But I suppose we'll all have a universal translator or babel fish or some such by then.  They already have a device to translate the language of dogs into Japanese, but I think my dog is better than my Japanese...oh, well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On searching for unicorns

I embarked on a quest the other morning, hoping to find a certain finicky flower that is said to lurk hereabouts or at least perhaps to see a unicorn.  I did see a rather tall, lanky dog that in the mist at first appeared to be something mythical but turned out to have an all too mortal wolfhound for a grandmother to be something out of legend.  But I was questing and sometimes the whole point of a quest is the journey rather than the intended object of the adventure.  As that great sage G. K. Chesterton once spaketh, "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered."  Such perhaps is life.  Is it an exciting journey full of adventure and wonder or a dreary trudge from cradle to grave with no purpose, direction, or meaning?  I found plenty of wonder that misty morning though the renegade plant remained a thing found only in legend.  Neither did I see unicorns but the fairies were out in abundance.

The world was cloaked in dew and mystery with the morning sun peaking out at times to transform the whole world into a sparkling, glittering panorama.  There is more art in a dewy morning than in some of the most fabulous works wrought by men.  That is the essence of true art, it expresses the words behind the world which are not words at all but is rather, 'deep calling out to deep.'  Of course, if nothing is stirred within you, either it is not art or your world is too shallow.  I do not know how the stuff called 'modern art' was ever categorized as 'art!'  I see it and am perplexed, especially when there was a thinking, creative being behind its production.  But then, I have always presumed myself to be something of an anachronism, enjoying what has traditionally been called good art, music, and literature up until the turn of the nineteenth century when the 'modern era' began to change our definition of beauty.  But I have taste enough to enjoy a glorious morning, supposedly in pursuit of a rare plant but probably just an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the natural world for a bit.  And I enjoyed it immensely though I am starting to think unicorns more real than the silly plant!  I love these rare, childish moments of wonder when the whole 'sensible' world is stripped away, and for a moment, we see a glimpse of heaven in the light reflected from a drop of water clinging to a nameless weed.  Foolishness I suppose, but therein lies the wisdom of God!

Monday, July 8, 2013

I am robot?

I was amused some time ago to discover some of the leading atheists, secular humanists, etc. had become Calvinists.  They would probably not use that particular term but their reasoning amounted to the same thing: that there is no free will in the known universe.  We are all programmed through our genes or subatomic particles or what have you to do, think, and act exactly as we do from the moment after the Big Bang.  We have no conscious choice, we 'dance to the music of our genes' or so the saying goes.  You did not choose to wear that shirt today, the universe chose it for you at the exact moment when everything began.  Let alone such decisions as whom to marry, where to live, and whether or not you like broccoli (seriously mom, the universe won't let me like it!).  As with the ideas of the theistic calvinists, I find this concept hard to understand.  There is a huge difference between God knowing what we will do from the outset and Him making us do it.  We are not robots preprogrammed from the womb, but creatures capable of choice and therefore of love.  It is rather amusing that the hardcore atheists can come to the same conclusions as some branches of traditional theism!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stuff of earth?

I suppose, to most sensible, modern, scientific people I am rather nonsensical, fantastical, and perhaps a wee bit mad.  You see, I believe in fairies, unicorns, and dragons.  I believe the ancients when they say the forests teemed with beasts unknown and harbored pixie folk with strange ways and powers.  This is not to say that I think the biologists or paleontologists will one day discover a small breeding population of unicorns deep in the jungles of Ecuador or a lost tribe of elves somewhere in Asia, but that there is something that sparks such whimsy and wonder within each human soul and we each must give vent to it in one way or another, or we will go mad.  Every culture has myths, legends, and stories that hearken back to this ancient yearning, this tendency much ignored by modern folk which is still satisfied by our addiction to anime, comic books, movies, video games, and so forth.  The love of magic and story will never die until the whole race shall perish from the earth. 

I know there is something in the air this time of year that saps my objectivity and sensibility, whether it is the warmth or the teeming abundance of life after months under the glacier, I do not know for certain, but it always awakes some childish delight in merely being alive.  But there is also something MORE.  I understand how the fairy tales came to be, I know the stories are true.  The strangest part is, that I am a creature of science!  I spent eight years studying biology and the related sciences.  In theory, I know how all the pieces fit together and work and make life go, but I have not yet learned what makes life be.  What of joy, beauty, wonder, curiosity, music, the smell of roses, and childish laughter?  I cannot comprehend how a mere chemical mass operating according to physical laws can find value in any of it.  How does sunlight shining through basswood leaves quicken the soul and inspire the poets?  These must be something more than mere physical phenomenon.

It is the unseen things, the unmeasurable things, the economically pointless things, that make life worth the living.  The scientists think me mad, but few are the poets among them.  Some will call it religion or spirituality or the life force or creativity or the human spirit while some will call it nonsense, but in every nation, tribe, and tongue, there is a word for it.  It is that feeling that life is good and beautiful and worth living even when there is trial, sorrow, confusion, frustration, and hurt lurking all about us.  It is the hope beyond all despair that causes us to rise from the ashes and continue on.  It is the stars shining above Mordor and Sam Gamgee lifting his eyes amidst their perilous quest to say that there is beauty beyond the reach of all evil.  It is the cry from the cross, when evil felt itself fully triumphant that announced in agonized breath, "it is finished."  It is the thing in each of us that renders us 'pilgrims and sojourners' in this mortal sphere.

C. S. Lewis's Screwtape labeled us amphibians, creatures dwelling in both the spiritual and physical realms.  Modern man thinks himself merely a physical creature, much neglecting his spirit to the detriment of himself, his society, and all of humanity.  Beauty is the food of the soul, virtue is the exercise and preservation thereof.  Those little moments in life that quicken our spirits, give us a sense of innate wonder or joy, and remind us that we are spiritual creatures are little glimpses of Heaven, breathes from the very throne of God.  And science still cannot explain them, except perhaps as evolutionary 'mistakes.'  But just because we cannot measure it, it makes them no less true.