Exploring where life and story meet!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Of triteness and sorrow

In a story one can always anticipate a conflict or a plot twist of some sort, but in life, everyone's life is wonderful except for you, right?  Only cookbooks get by without some sort of a crisis, but in the world of fiction, biography, and history, there is always a crisis, so too every life has some hidden loss, fear, pain, injury, crisis, or stain.  Celebrities abuse drugs, get into legal trouble, or fall from grace when we all assume their lives, surrounded as they are by fame and money, must be perfect.  But there are no perfect lives in this imperfect world which is why each life is a story.  There is no story or life without crisis.  I used to hate the interminable stretch of time in 'Pride and Prejudice' after Lydia ran away while poor Jane and Elizabeth lingered on what seemed like forever in their misery and disgrace when they should have been happily married chapters ago, but then the book would be over and we would have none of the happy triumph of overcoming the greatest of odds!  But what misery, what despair do we suffer while our heroes linger in such unknowing?  Happily, in a novel or movie we can get to the end much quicker than do our 'heroes' in everyday life.  Some of us linger on for years in doubt, pain, worry, and fear without any hope of rescue or release.  Some will never know this side of death what all the misery and inevitable coping with it was for.  And loath are we to hear the words, 'it was meant to be,' or ,'it will all make sense one day,' or ,'there will be joy because of it,' or ,'it is just life,' or whatever your least favorite trite saying.

Suffering, pain, despair, do not make sense while we are in the midst of them and often not when we are past them.  Job never got a direct answer from God as to the purpose of his suffering, nor did his wife, but whereas the poor, bereaved lady ended in despair ('curse God and die'), Job patiently though miserably waited faithfully, certain that 'his redeemer lived,' and whatever betide, 'blessed be the Name of the Lord.'  Perhaps he suffered what he did to give encouragement and hope to us, the readers of his tale many long years since he is dust, though he never knew the benefit of his misery?  Whatever the reason or lack there of, we can hope as Job did, that despite our deepest angst and misery, there is a Redeemer, One who understands, One who has suffered and will stand by us in our own suffering.  It may not give immediate relief from the sorrow or meaning to the misery, but it gives comfort to the soul, a hope for a morning that will never fade nor the joy in it.  'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord!'

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blame it on the Muse

I just published a short work that apparently is some sort of political satire, yet I am neither political nor a satirist.  I am a hopeless romantic that likes to imagine fairies and unicorns really exist and that politicians don't, but when the Muse calls, a writer must answer.  I write fairy tales, not semi-humorous commentaries about modern life…at least I did.  Do other writers have this problem?  They want to sit down and write something and only discover that the end product is nothing like the result they had envisioned?  It is as if the story takes on a life of its own and will not let you go until you have fully given it birth.  I have heard of demon possession but literary possession?  But it is like that with my fairy stories too, I sit down to write and am as surprised as a first time reader at what happens next and where the story goes.  Maybe that is why nothing that I write makes sense?  Many sit down and plot out their entire book before they set word processor to paper; I just start writing.  Maybe this is like the old phrase, 'the very stones will cry out,' perhaps they just can't help themselves.  But you hear stories like this behind many of the great books, music, and poems of history; people who just felt this urge to write something down on the spur of the moment and the results are some of our greatest cultural accomplishments.  Think Handel's Messiah, which the man wrote in about three weeks, apparently accompanied (according to legend) by visions of all Heaven opened.  This is not to say that anything written on the spur of the moment and in such haphazard fashion must and will be wonderful and amazing, but it is curious how this seems to be such a common happenstance among artists of all genres.  It almost makes one believe in the existence of the Muses.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A perfect life?

Do you ever read a story (or look at somebody else's life) and wish you could merge it in with another story (or even your own life)?  Do you stare with envy at what others have or do, desire some movie plot to be your own, or think a certain fictional character has an ideal life?  If you are breathing, you have done this; if you are a book or movie fan, you have probably also idealized the world of fiction, and if you are on Facebook, it is unavoidable.  Yes, the lovely, the perfect, the wonderful happens to everyone (including people who don't really exist) else but never to us, except all your Facebook friends are drooling with envy over whatever ideal manifestation of 'the perfect life' you just posted therein.  For some reason, we are blind to our own blessings and to the imperfections, trials, and banes of everyone else when the truth is, every life (and story) is a mix of 'bane and blessing, pain and pleasure (by the cross are sanctified') or so goes the old hymn.  Every life has its sorrows, joys, loves, disappointments, tediums, and griefs.  This is what makes life interesting, it is what makes it livable.  We are in neither a state of perfect contentment and bliss nor in one of utter and hopeless despair.  There are seasons of joy and sorrow with tedious intervals between, yet we seem to think that everyone but us lives only in the season of Joy, untouched by sorrow or the mundanity of day to day life.

Of course the fictional hero must suffer grief and loss only to overcome it magnificently (or fail in the attempt) which is undoubtedly the plot of every book ever written, at least before this confused modern era; a good story teller leaves out the tedious stuff unless it is necessary to the plot (when was the last time you met a fictional heroine that ever took out the trash?).  So fiction is a poor substitute for real life; a fine compliment but not a replacement.  No one puts failure on Facebook and too many people put tedium up and we somehow mistake it for Joy (Bob made chicken Parmesan for lunch, I wish I could be like Bob, he undoubtedly has a great life because he can cook…my life sucks, but I have a cat!  I will show Bob and the world (evil laughter)!).  I don't care what your cat just did that was SOOO cute, does the world really need to know his every move?  Judging from the volume of cat videos on the internet, sadly the answer is yes.  I wonder if the Romans saw an exponential increase in amusing cat anecdotes among the bards and gossips of the day just before the collapse of the Empire?  Maybe part of the problem is that we are so determined to find meaning in everything that we have forgotten what true meaning is or perhaps we are so desperate to keep up with those around us that we turn everything into, 'an event.'

It seems like everyone we know is pregnant (why do babies only come in herds?) which of course has led a certain person who shall remain unnamed to wonder if another kid or three mightn't be nice which of course leads to thoughts like, 'why not me?' and 'what about us?'  I forget to celebrate the joy of our friends and family and only indulge my own self-pity which in turn leads to feelings of resentment and even sadness whenever the burgeoning new family member is mentioned, which is absolutely ridiculous because someone else's state of fecundity (or lack there of) has absolutely no bearing on my own, save perhaps as a reminder which then triggers the negative thoughts which are completely self-inflicted.  Rather, we should 'rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn,' regardless of our own circumstances; we are called to forget for a time our own petty worries and fears and focus on the wellbeing of those around us.  This self-forgetfulness, which is the essence of true humility, is a breath of fresh air from all the me-centric gobbledygook that passes for culture in the West; to tell the truth, I am not all that interesting so if I am the center of my universe, it is a rather small, tedious, and shabby place indeed!  But if there is Something much bigger than myself at the center and all other selves are simply little stars and comets flitting about this vast Personality, then it is a cosmos of boundless interest, meaning, and depth.  Feeling impotent, useless, and pathetic?

Quit staring at your feet and look to the heavens, or better yet, ask your neighbor, friend, or relative about their joys, sorrows, hopes, and fears.  Reconnect with humanity, remember another soul to find your own; forget that social media even exists and really get to know someone, not their stats or imaginary life.  Maybe they'll return the favor!  Your life is not more (or less) interesting than theirs or less (or more) meaningful.  Neither is God a respecter of persons; He loves you just as you are and asks you to do the same (for Him and your fellow man).  Quit trying to make yourself feel more important, significant, or loved (by others, yourself, and God) by pretending to be something you are not and don't make yourself miserable by drawing silly conclusion about the lives of others in comparison to your own.  You are 'fearfully and wonderfully made,' He cannot love you more and will not love you less; we are called to do the same with ourselves and our fellow men.  This is the 'truth that makes you free,' and the heart of that pithy saying, 'sing like no one is listening, love like you've never been hurt, and dance like no one is watching.'  Forget yourself and live!  Comparison is a poison that will rot the soul but compassion is the essence of life well lived.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The seven original plot lines of nonfiction?

"One of the seven original plots in the world,"murmured Father Cassidy.

I came across the above a while ago when rereading 'Emily of New Moon,' and found it rather amusing at the time, and upon further contemplation, the man may have a point.  After a very short google search I even came across this website which paraphrases a book that covers the same topic.  It is actually quite interesting that so many of the world's favorite stories can basically be boiled down to seven basic plot lines; yet how many different and varied stories have been contrived upon these same basic lines?  I suppose it is like life, each life is basically the same when you try to sum it up in one sentence or less: you are born, you live, you die.  But each life is so different and unpredictable that no two are exactly alike; there are as many different stories as there have been people.  It is not the 'plot line' that matters rather it is the unique details that set your plot line apart from all others.  From a distance we all look and act the same, but when you get close, we are each of us unique.  This is why we do not tire of stories though the plots are inevitably the same, each story has some unique twist, an unforgettable character, a lovely setting, a lyric writing style, whatever that sets it apart from all stories that have gone before and those yet to come.  This is why we keep on living though there have been so many lives before; our adventure has not yet been finished, there is something around the next bend or behind another tree.  We have this thing called hope and it drives us onward when really, there should be nothing else left in the world worth doing.  How many bad love poems have been written or sunsets has the world seen?  What is the point?  It is all the same, forever and anon!  Why keep going?

Go on we must for one cannot stop halfway through the story!  And life is the greatest story of all.  Yes, there are dull moment and sad moments but they are part of every story written under the sun (even if they leave out most of the tedious parts).  And unlike your favorite story that must inevitably end, this story we call life does not end with the last page, but rather gets even better.  C. S. Lewis puts it beautifully at the end of his 'Chronicles of Narnia,' "…now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."  I love the idea of a story that does not end!  Of course it would be the world's most frustrating novel (as it would never end) but I always feel some regret once the 'happily ever after' credits roll.  What happens next?  What does The End entail?  We need never say goodbye to the real characters we love though we must to our fictitious ones.  So remember, your life is not pointless nor are you anonymous and forgotten, rather you are the hero in an as yet unfinished story, and it is a story that will only get better and better, at least if you happen to know the Author.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Requisite reading for just about anybody

Do you ever feel like you know nothing about classic literature and the allusions therein to classic myths, fairy tales, legends, and folk heroes?  Want to read such material and claim the time as educational?  Check out Bulfinch's various volumes on Chivalry (think King Arthur, et al.), Mythology, Fables, and Charlemagne.  Great reading in and of themselves, but also a great introduction to the stories that have captivated the hearts and imaginations of countless generations and inspired many of our greatest poets and authors.  Discover what you never learned in school but will wish you had.  It is not too late to begin a 'classical education.'