Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A glimpse behind the curtain

"I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never draw it quite aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realms beyond-only a glimpse-but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.” 
 ~L.M. Montgomery~

In the 'Wizard of Oz' we find only a doddering old pretender behind the curtain, a disappointment to all those who have come so far seeking his help and wisdom.  I never enjoyed watching the movie, though we watched it faithfully year in and year out when it aired annually on one of the three channels possessed of our ancient and primeval culture; it was rather a big deal back in the days before Netflix, TiVo, etc.  I'm not sure why we watched it, for it was ever the same story, though I always hoped, somehow, it would change, but it never did.  Perhaps that is the next technological advancement: movies that end as you determine, like one of those 'choose your own adventure' books.  It was all a dream, a sad, disappointing dream (and kind of scary for a little kid, ugh, those horrid monkeys!).  And a strange metaphor for modern life.

And then I had found this other curtain, a real one, much like Montgomery, though I couldn't put it into words at the time, or even yet say it as well as she.  People think life is so dull and tedious and ordinary, but that is only because they have not learned to see, to look for glimpses, hints, teasing glances of that other world, the one just beyond ours, the Real World, which as C.S. Lewis says in 'The Last Battle:'

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: 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.”

It is the Kingdom we are commanded to seek as 'little children,' it is the muse of all the poets and the heart of all the great stories.  It is the thing we look at but cannot see and hear of but do not understand.  It is foolishness and nonsense to the wise of this age; it is beneath the reason and notice of the learned and the great.  It whispers in the summer wind, dances with the stars and crescent moon of a June twilight, sparkles in the snow, taunts bluely from the ocean depths, laughs among the dewy violets, and quivers in each strain of the thrush's song; it is in that snatch of a song you can't get out of your head, in the meeting of old and dear friends, in the teary last goodbye of one beloved, the scent of something fresh baked in a home full of warm memory, and the possessive pride of the new mother in her firstborn.  It is everything good and wonderful, tender and sweet, young and new, old and beloved of which this world can boast.  The best literature and poems are replete with it; it fills our ageless songs and art.

Our scientists tell us our world, universe, our very reality are accidents, meaningless and void, purposeless and without direction.  Our doctors tell us all flesh is but dust, perhaps we can keep it from deteriorating quite so fast as might be its wont, but there is no stopping that grim and final reality.  Our psychologists tell us it is all in our heads and a pill can certainly fix it, not that it matters, once your neurons quit firing in a year or a century it will all come to naught.  But then a little bird warbles in a bush or bit of stray sunshine lights up the leaves like the canopy of some Elvin tent or the stars peep out of that mysterious blue sky and mocks them all.  For there is Joy in the world and Hope beyond it.  Forget all this modern nonsense about the finitude of mortal flesh and mind, rather seek the wisdom in the old tales, the map hidden amongst the joy and splendor of the natural world, the pointing finger of purpose and meaning and reason behind the veil of this world.

Away with your technology and science, your degrees and knowledge, the words of doctors, philosophers, gurus, and professors.  Be again a little child, innocent and ignorant to all but the world about you and the world of story, song, and rhyme.  Enjoy the sunshine, the whispering wind, the shy little flowers, birdsong, fairytales and nonsense songs; forget the wisdom of this age, forget yourself in the song of brook and star.  For there is something bigger, more wonderful, more amazing just beyond the curtain; will you peek behind it? 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Bluebird and the Automaton

'This ethereal bird haunts wide-open spaces: mountain meadows, high prairies, rangeland.'  
Ken Kaufman, 'Mountain Bluebird,' Birds of North America.

I don't know how many writers quote a bird manual (nor how many birding enthusiasts care much for literary pursuits) but this is the second time I've gone and done it.  I'm well versed in the technical and scientific writings, bland and dry as dirt, putting to sleep even the most well intentioned grad student or research assistant, but this particular scientist, I think has a poet's soul.  His birds are not dull entries on a page, but rather seem ready to fly off the paper and flit about the room; his love of the subject encourages we amateurs who otherwise might become discouraged in pursuit of such mythical beasties as the Bristle-thighed Curlew or the Pink-toed Albatross, each in its own right as fabulous and far fetched as the Chimera or Cerberus.  The original namers of the various plants, animals, and even diseases were not lacking in this native poetry and still they linger in our common parlance, it is only the cold mechanics of modern science that has bereft humanity of our ignorant follies, leaving us with mere technical names as lifeless and inspiring as a dusty painting of a bird in some forgotten museum corner.  The world was a more interesting place when it was flat, when legend was history and myths were real.

The Old Squaw is now the Long-tailed Sea Duck, Milk Fever is Periparturient Hypocalcemia, but happily they have yet to rechristen the Bleeding Heart.  I am not saying science is a bad thing, not in the least, but it is unfortunate that we pride ourselves so on being a 'scientific' or worse, a 'technological' age, so much so that our nomenclature now reflects this cold affectation; we lose something of our humanity when we depend so much on our science or technology to define ourselves and our society, it is a step towards becoming if not a robot, at least something less than human, perhaps something akin to the more traditional view of vampires: cold, heartless monsters that exist merely for their own satiety.  There is actually a movement amongst some of the elite to figure out a way to download their souls, consciousness, minds, or at least their memories into a technological medium in hopes of achieving immortality, but even if they are successful, the automaton will not be them, it will merely be a computer with their memories and they must still die, as is the lot of mortals.  I think the fairies abandoned England about the same time scientific and technological advances became a dominant cultural movement and a way of living rather than mere tools to improve the lives of men.  So too has our rich vocabulary been atrophying ever since.

But there are signs of hope, such as a birding manual with a little heart and human joy in it: a man who studies birds because he loves them and wants to share that love with others: real passion!  It is a nice and refreshing change from what one finds on social media, where everyone is certainly passionate about something, but instead of wanting to share that love with you, they'd rather shout, insult, and impugn you into loving IT too, which is strangely ineffective.  Maybe I'll just go watch some birds, plant some old fashioned flowers, or read an old book, at least they are translating Shakespeare into English...hmmm?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

After the party

The saddest thing in the world seems to be the empty room after the party.  Wedding, baby shower, graduation, retirement, 40th birthday, whatever you are celebrating, so much planning and eagerness and hope goes into the affair, that half an hour after the last guest has left, you are left feeling as if there is now a gigantic hole in your life.  We work ourselves up into such heights of expectation and excitement that the sudden drop afterwards is well nigh lethal.

As Anne Shirley once remarked,"when I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud.  But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts...it's like soaring through a sunset.  I think it almost pays for the thud."

Almost pays for the thud, almost, should we then not celebrate, that we might escape the gaping chasm of emptiness thereafter.  Some ascetics might certainly agree with that logic, but you can't live like that, man is too giddy a creature to live long in despair.  There must be some middle ground between 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die,' and walking through life as if the whole thing were naught but a funeral procession.  Perhaps the ancient church had it right with its combination of fasts and feast days, alternating celebration with contemplation, mourning and merriment, echoing the seasons of life that bring pain and joy alternatively.  Winter and Summer, Spring and Fall, birth and death, young and old...world without end.  But this world will end, that is what we must remember; both the good and the bad will one day come to an end.

No matter what worldview, religion, or ideology you cling to, the world will end.  The staunch materialist will die and the sun grow cold.  The pantheist may yearn for everything to become nothing or everything to become one thing.  The deist expects a day when the tale of the world will end and he must face the Author at last.  Or some variation thereof, but we all agree that the world as we know it, our lives in particular, cannot go on forever as we know them; they will either end permanently or be vastly changed.  The materialist can do naught but make the best of the days allotted to him, for the long years of eternity to him are cold and lonely indeed.  The pantheist, depending on his ideology, may cease to exist as the best alternative or hopes to join the epic dance of existence as something other than himself.  The deist must depend upon his God's mercy and grace for whatever is to come when the music stops at last.  None of those, save perhaps the last, sounds very inviting, intriguing, or welcome, and the last certainly depends upon the God, the materialist might be the happiest if He turns out to be capricious, weak, vengeful, or otherwise untrustworthy to we poor mortals.

Ash Wednesday has come and gone, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  Good Friday looms upon the horizon, the anniversary of when the world itself grew black with despair that God could die.  But then there is Easter, when God lived and death died.  And Advent, when we look forward to the coming of the God who was Man.  And Christmas, that mystery we still cannot fathom, even two millennia later, what does it mean that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us?  For now our Joy is tainted with Sorrow, the specter of the fasts looms over our feasts; our mortal flesh quakes to know that death creeps ever closer.  The party will end, be it our lives or our world, and what a mess and disappointment that shall be, unless there is some grander reality beyond this one.  This is but the groom's dinner: a paltry little gala the night before the wedding, a mere rehearsal for the 'big day.'

That is why Paul can call everything that has been thrown at him: hunger, cold, loneliness, frustration, shipwreck, stoning, threats of death, imprisonment, and worse, he calls it all 'light and momentary afflictions' and then has the gall to say that it is in fact gaining for us an 'eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.'  Either the guy is nuts or he knows something we do not, and my money is most definitely on the latter.  But it is very hard to wait.  We wait and wait for our earthly celebrations, they take forever to come but are over too soon, leaving us empty and tired and bored.  But not this Party.  Yes, we wait and wait, we've been waiting since Eve was promised one of her offspring would trod upon the serpent's head, but this is a party that won't ever end.  There will be no disappointment the day after, for there won't be a day after, it will just keep getting better and better, forever and ever.  And it won't be one of those horrid parties where you don't know anybody or you're tired or have a headache or the music is too loud or you ate too much and have a stomach ache or you have to go but would rather be anywhere else...it isn't even like the best party or celebration you've ever attended, in fact, it is so wonderful that 'no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man.'

And the best part is: everybody is invited.  Just remember to RSVP!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A couple thousand words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so my new photography website must be worth a couple blog posts at least.  It isn't much, just the result of playing with a new website design and hosting service I've discovered before I actually purchase a premium plan for an 'official website' I'm in charge of by default.