Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A tale worth the hearing?

My favorite stories are full of people doing the hard thing, the right thing, of sticking to the right and the good and the true even when the road seems impossible and the personal cost staggering: Jane Eyre's flight into the night, Jean val Jean turning himself in to spare a man wrongly condemned in his place, Rebecca and Ivanhoe parting ways amidst a budding romance, Elizabeth Bennet spurning her presumptuous suitors, the astonishing conclusion to a 'Tale of Two Cities,' Sam and Frodo plodding hopelessly into Mordor, Luke Skywalker taking on the Empire, when God became man to pay a debt He did not owe...to quote Sam (from the movie):

"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 ending, 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 the didn't. They kept going, because they were holding onto something...

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr Frodo... And it's worth fighting for."

Society once held that there was such a thing as right and wrong, a standard of goodness and truth apart from any individual, cultural, or national preferences, opinions, or ideas.  Now everything is relative, based on individual inclinations, emotions, or whims at some particular moment, do what feels good or seems right to you and everybody will just get along fine...until my whims interfere with yours and then we have anarchy.  And though our cultural mood seems to say there is no truth or right or wrong, practically however this is ridiculous, imagine how you would feel if I just happen to help myself to your $100 you left sitting there, because obviously if it makes me happy I should do it, not that it makes you very happy, but hey, there is no wrong, right?  Right and wrong, moral truth, and virtue have not changed, merely our cultural observance of them.  Perhaps that is why all the stories have died.  I have yet to find a modern author that can captivate me like those who wrote the tales above.  And our modern storytelling venue, the movie, has not only fallen flat on its face but continues to sink into the murky depths of the fen it now occupies with each passing year: remakes, obscure comic book characters, sequels and prequels galore...not one good, memorable story in the bunch.  Why?

We do what's easy rather than what's right.  We must have things now (on credit) rather than saving and working and earning to own it later.  Our consumer mentality has infected not only our moral lives but our stories as well.  Sam's right, the tales worth telling and remembering are the ones where the characters stick it out through the good and bad, doing what they know is right rather than what's convenient or expedient.  Will our own tales be worth remembering someday?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'She is tolerable, I suppose...'

“She was nothing more than a mere good-tempered, civil and obliging Young Woman; as such we could scarcely dislike her -- she was only an Object of Contempt”  
~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

While Mr. Collins may be the master of 'flattering with delicacy,' Jane Austen is no stranger to the witty criticism or comeback.  Sadly, most of us are nowhere near so witty in our own attempts, though we seem to make up what we lack in quality with quantity, much like Miss Bates and her three dull things.  While in school and sports we must each have high self-esteem and everybody is special and perfect and a winner and nothing negative is ever said, and in the media and university and workplace we must be culturally sensitive and politically correct, afraid to speak anything that might be construed as negative or critical of any sensitive group, online and in person however, our tongues are very sharp indeed, or if not sharp, at least a deadly bludgeon with which we happily whack away at everything and everyone from retailers to fellow social media addicts to bloggers and journalists and politicians.  Just check the comment section on any blog or for a given product on any retailer or sites like yelp or your favorite social media site.  The 'mommy wars' are a great example, where one mother runs down another for her choice of feeding, diapering, work or not, or whatever, because the way the former does it is obviously the only way to do things and anyone who says otherwise is a child abuser (ouch!).

But what we are all missing, whether we are of the 'no input for fear of crushing self-esteem or being labeled a hate monger' crowd or the 'running down someone because you think you know better or are better' groupie is that none of it is effective.  There is a place for constructive criticism certainly, but this culture wide addiction to insult and negativity is destructive not only to our social fabric but to each and every individual heart, mind, and soul.  It is a canker that is quickly undermining our very value as people and the cohesiveness of our society as a whole.  What can we do to stop it?  How about noticing the good, the excellent, the wonderful for once.  Instead of 'straining at the gnat,' let's appreciate the soup!

My in-laws are a perfect example: they mean well, they certainly care deeply for their grandchildren and son, but they think the best way to 'help' is to criticize and advise at every turn, making us feel like they think we are stupid, horrible parents, when truly the best thing they can do for their grandkids is to support and encourage their parents.  It is the same with every aspect of society and every relationship.  My mother learned from her mother, and so forth back into the foggy mists of time, that the only way to raise a daughter is to constantly tell her what she does wrong.  I certainly learned what not to do, but I never figured out exactly what to do and I ended up hating myself for being such an idiot that could never do anything right, certainly not a healthy habit!

I ran across this little article on just this topic.  It is very strange to me that the world has been ending since first I opened my 'Weekly Reader' in elementary school, but the cause is always different and we have yet to witness the world's last night.  Back then it was a looming oil crisis (we would have completely depleted world petroleum supplies in 50 years, but 30 years later here we are in the midst of a surplus!) and the Ozone layer was being depleted and the Rainforest was being destroyed and acid rain was obliterating our temperate forests and frogs with supernumerary appendages were a certain harbinger of doom for the rest of us...then there was bird flu and SARS and Y2K and global warming...but we're still here.  I'm not saying there aren't real problems and threats and concerns in the world or that everything is perfect, far from it, but this chronic pessimism is, well, depressing!  I think we all need a good dose of G.K. Chesterton, most especially the media.  A good laugh is just what we need, and he'd be laughing at us certainly, if he could see the muddled pinnacle our modern pessimism has attained.  So remember, above all else, if you want to make the world a better place: laugh, smile, have a little fun, compliment somebody on something they did well or right, contemplate the good and the true and pass it on to others.  Bring a little sunshine to your own dark corner of the world; be a vector of Joy!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The beauty already there

We live in an age of fixers, especially since google makes it so easy to solve every problem in three easy steps with the contents of your sock drawer.  Men are notorious fixers when it comes to relationships, or so I've heard many ladies repine, they just want him to listen, not fix them then and there.  Women aren't much better, especially moms, we look on Pinterest to discover how to easily make our baby quit spitting up (let me know the secret when you find it!) and try to fix everything from grammatical errors to plumbing issues and get impatient when we can't magically resolve something.  I think it's a drug, we get a momentary high when something goes right and we want to feel it again, bring on the problems!  Except it doesn't work every time and then frustration and discouragement set in.  We want to know we are in control, we want to know we can handle everything and anything that comes our way.  And with more technology, information, and resources at our fingertips than any generation or society has ever before possessed, our desire to succeed only grows, and so too our frustration when things don't go right.

My family has gotten into a complaining rut.  We look only for problems and things that aren't going right and lose sight of the 95% of things that are good, right, true, and beautiful.  We can't see the person for the wart or enjoy the cake because it is slightly dry or we wanted chocolate not vanilla.  Pretty petty, but it can destroy happiness, contentment, and make life miserable.  We've lost our sense of fun, wonder, and adventure and feel overwhelmed and depressed.  It's time to take off our blinders, put aside our petty complaints, and look at this marvelous world anew.  Let us be thankful someone is in our life, warts and all, and enjoy their company.  Let us be happy to have food, let alone something so extravagant as dessert!  There are sunsets, music, books, food, forests, rivers, cats, clouds, smiles, old jokes...just waiting to be enjoyed.  But we must choose it.

The world surrounds us with negativity and despair (just watch the news or read something online); it falls into our lap without effort or thinking.  We must choose the good, the beautiful, the wonderful.  We must choose to enjoy things.  We must choose to have an attitude of mirth, joy, and contentment.  It isn't just a modern phenomenon, it's a problem as old as Eden, perfection and Paradise surround us and yet the serpent whispers doubt into a susceptible ear.  Will we let that wretched snake spoil our Joy or will we choose to trust that things are not as grim as he would have us believe?

Trust, it is so hard to do in this 'do it yourself' culture.  Especially when so many never learned it at home, having no one to take care of them and depend upon but themselves, we can't trust anyone but ourselves, but that way lies misery and despair.  There are some things we can't do alone.  Laughing at our own jokes sounds rather hollow.  Enjoying a movie alone night after night is rather sad.  We need community and society and companionship and we aren't likely to find it online.  We need real flesh and blood relationships, but that requires trust.  And work.  And the risk of getting hurt.  But it is the only way to live, all else is just existing.