Exploring where life and story meet!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Character study

I've oft repined that I just can't find a modern book with which to fall in love.  Perhaps it is that our societal and cultural tastes and expectations have changed and I was just born in the wrong century.  It is quite interesting to read an old book or even to watch an older movie (try 50's, not 80's) and then compare it with more modern works.  Just look at our current theatrical fare: a romance movie now centers around a mere fling, a comedy is a senseless collection of raunchy jokes, an action movie is all action and no plot or character development.  We don't see a movie to think or to be moved but rather to be entertained.  The same goes for our books and our relationships.

There are some who find Jane Austen the dullest author on the planet, but I find her ideas of romance, characterization, and humor unrivaled by any modern heir.  There are no zombies, superheroes, explosions, or high speed chases.  People mostly just sit around and talk.  The same with Anne of Green Gables.  I found them both exceedingly dull as a child, but once I learned to listen and then to understand, they have become some of my favorites both in the literary and cinematic realm.  What do they have that modern works do not?  Heart.  Personality.  Wit.  Warmth.  Soul.  There's a cultural revolt against over processed foods, why then do we accept without question or critique the mass produced grist that passes for entertainment in this day and age?  A steady diet of junk will ruin your physical health.  What then does a steady diet of mediocre or rotten media do to your mind and soul?

The sad fact is, many of Jane Austen's characters have more depth than your average modern American.  I wish it were not so, but so it is.  We don't think, we don't reason, we don't empathize with others; we exist solely for our own pleasure and heaven help anyone or anything that gets in the way of what we want most at that particular moment, that thing most vital to our own happiness, which if we were truthful, never results in the joy we had at first anticipated.  We are trying to fill our vacant souls from the outside in, rather than trying to build them from the ground up and the inside out.  Character development and the pursuit of virtue are the last things on our to do list, which is why our society is a nervous wreck and no one is content in the least.  As a mother, people are always asking (especially other moms) if my son can count to such and such or if he's potty trained or if he can do whatever.  No one ever asks if he's polite, generous, gentle, listens, considers the feelings of others, etc.  These are not traits we encourage in our success driven, socially shallow society.  Perhaps he can't count as well as the next kid his own age and hasn't taught himself to read, but as a person, he's coming along splendidly, and that's an accomplishment that will bless him and all around him his entire life, and something he won't learn in any school.  I'll take Miss Austen's comedies of manner over zombies any day, and I think, as a society, we'd be the happy if we all did likewise.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Self esteem and other myths

Self-esteem was all the rage when I was in school, and I don't think it has lost any of its popularity amongst teachers, parents, coaches, and the political class.  But it is one of those things, like organic chemistry, that I just never 'got.'  Now I believe certain individuals are smart and talented enough to understand an actual science like o-chem, it is just a subject beyond me, whereas this self-esteem thing is beyond bafflement.  I remember sitting in class, we actually had an entire semester dedicated to the study of this perplexing enigma, staring out the window, and wondering how someone could drone on for literally hours upon the subject, even as a fourteen year old, with no social skills or wider cultural awareness, I knew it was all just a bunch of nice sounding gibberish.  It was a light, fluffy frosting on a cake, meticulously whipped, but after an hour, it just goes flat, tasteless, and makes the cake soggy.

Self-esteem is basically the art of feeling good about myself.  Umm, okay, so in other words, vanity?  The last thing any mortal living in the modern world needs right now is to be told yet again that they are the very center of the universe, and for no greater reason than that they exist.  Then I go to biology and they tell me I'm an accidental mass of randomly produced atoms that will eventually cease to exist, as will the entire planet, when the sun blows up?  So nothing really matters in the long run.  Isn't there a little contradiction there?  First period I am everything and second period I'm nothing?  Which is it?  No wonder modern teenagers are rather confused about 'life, the universe, and everything.'

I was one of those kids that probably could have benefited from self-esteem classes, if they actually had any foundation in reality.  I had been taught from the very beginning that I was horrible, loathsome, and worthless, then along comes the self-esteem fairy that says I am special and wonderful just because I know how to breath.  Well, fairy, where were you those hopeless nights I cried myself to sleep because my mother had just threatened to let me live in the street when I was neither a rebellious nor a disobedient child? It is just so much fluffy frosting and nothing more, the only problem is the cake is broken and hurting, but then, what does that matter, as I'm just going to disintegrate in a few decades anyway?  Is there no middle ground?  Nothing in between?  Something that corresponds to this reality in which we find ourselves, a reality of mingled joy and sorrow, love and pain, hope and despair?

This is not a new question, it has been asked by every mortal who has ever walked under sun and moon, as Tolkien might say, "childless lords sat in…high cold towers asking questions of the stars."  The ancient manuscript of Job puzzles over the reason for suffering and pain while Ecclesiastes tries to make sense of the meaning and purpose of life, both come to the strange conclusion that man is neither an accident nor an end unto himself, but that he was intentionally made yet not for his own enjoyment, but rather for the pleasure of his Maker.  We have value, not because some sappy textbook says we do, but because we were intentionally and wonderfully made, our lives have a plan and a meaning and a purpose, yet we did not make ourselves, so we cannot boast over anything of which we are possessed or in who or what we are.  And this is a freeing thought indeed: we are loved, not for who we are, but for Whose we are.  I don't need to pretend anymore, or wonder if I can be good enough, or wonder if there is even a point to any of it: there is and I'm not, but He is.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In Pursuit of Darcy

While scanning the frivolous, cute, and occasionally interesting minutia of the Pinterest-sphere, I ran across a rather interesting idea: only Elizabeth Bennet was able to catch Mr. Darcy.

For the last 200 years or so, women have been obsessed with this rich and silently mysterious man, though I have yet to hear one guy tell me he's pined after 'Lizzie' his entire life.  As far as I know, there are no spinoff books for guys or even t-shirts proclaiming their ideal of finding their very own Miss Bennet.  The argument is very one sided: nearly every woman wants a Darcy and most guys (who have not been guilted into a Jane Austen marathon) don't have a clue as to what all the fuss is about.  Yet this rabid pursuit of a real Mr. Darcy is rather pointless if the pursuer is no better than a Lydia or even a Mary Bennet.

Why did Elizabeth end up with such a prize gentlemen, even one that liked her against his own better judgment?  Because there was something there to like, but she isn't a fluffy, one-dimensional disney princess without faults or a personality.  She's very human, yet her integrity and virtue stand out and attract that otherwise indifferent gentleman.  Even then, society and your closest kin told you to marry for wealth and prestige, and you were thought a fool if you ever turned down such an offer, regardless of the qualifications of the suitor as a person.  We (at least the females amongst us) all want Darcy, but I think very few of we modern ladies are willing to be an Elizabeth, and thus have little hope of actually attracting our Darcy; there are far too many Lydias in this day and age, which is a good thing for the exceedingly numerous Wickams out there, but it is certainly a sad societal trend.

So how do you find a Darcy?  That I really cannot say, but what you can do is work on cultivating your own character, so that when Darcy happens to show up, he won't take one contemptuous look at you and walk immediately out of your life ere he's ever entered it.  Even if Darcy never happens by, character development is certainly not an exercise in futility, as it will certainly improve all aspects of your life and you will end a better person than you began.  Old fashioned?  Yes, but never out of style! Just like Jane Austen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Prodigal Nerd

I found a rather interesting article here, about nerd culture and its root cause: desire.  I have proudly donned the nerd (or preferably geek) hat in my day, and still profess a love of all things nerd, especially Star Wars and Tolkien related, and no I will not get into the latest movies within the confines of this blog post, sorry.  Strangely, I'd also put those of us with a Jane Austen fetish in this category (guilty!) too.  I suppose an obsession with any book/movie or whatever franchise is enough to qualify one for nerd-topia, but whatever your predilection, the one thing all nerds have a very strong desire for is acceptance and community.

The article above mentioned that many self-proclaimed nerds are victims of abuse, and one result of that is oftentimes they will seek belonging or healing or whatever, within the relative safety of nerd-dom, for while there is a healthy rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans, nerds in general are a rather accepting and non-judgmental lot, truly understanding one another as the cold, indifferent culture at large cannot.  I guess I am no different, for in chasing after all those idols of clay (or plastic), I was in fact chasing a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of worth, all which had been denied me during my abusive childhood.  Here was something I could cling to, a thing in which I could share and interact with others and talk about and feel a kinship with fellow idolaters.  The strange thing was, God was ever patient.  He was there, I felt Him, as I chased other ideals.  Whether it was an obsession with Star Trek or living for Taekwando, He let me chase these false gods, not only that I might grow and come to the place where I knew I needed something more than these manmade worlds, but also therein I learned something of interacting with my fellow men, for neither did I have any social skills when once I endeavored to leave home.

I threw my heart and soul after whatever took my fancy at that particular moment.  Mankind had failed me, perhaps fantasy would suffice.  It did not, I was still hungry and unfulfilled the moment the movie was over or all my nerdy friends went home.  I wanted fellowship that would never end, I wanted a community that would be there even when they were not, I wanted meaning and purpose rather than living for the next episode or book or movie.  That's when I realized being a nerd was just not enough.  Perhaps Peter would have used the term nerd or geek had they existed back then when he referred to Christ's followers as pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers, for that is what we are: people uneasy in our current reality (much like my fellow geeks) because we know it is not our true home.

He waited, and when I was ready, I came to Him, willingly, on His terms, as it must be.  He did not ask me to be perfect, but just to come as I was.  He did not fault my long and wandering journey, He simply smiled and welcomed me home.  I still indulge my nerdiness from time to time, but it has its proper place now: a pleasure to be enjoyed, not a god to be worshipped.  And that is as it should be.