Day by Day #60

I got my retainers today. To retain. I prefer calling them whistlers. To whistle.

I have been reading “That Hideous Strength” by C.S. Lewis. I don’t know what sort of genre it is, but I’ve been told it is fantasy or science fiction. Eh. I can see elements of both, but I get the impression that “That Hideous Strength” is the anxious outpouring of a confident mind. And the mind didn’t much care about genre, beyond making a bit of money.

After picking up “War And Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Much more time will be spent with Tolstoy.

Both are Christian, but have phenomenally different goals and convictions.

Tolstoy was a “Sermon on the Mount” sort-of Christian (i.e. he would be an ascetic), while C.S. Lewis was one of them worldly and academic Christians (i.e. he would appreciate an ascetic).

Their strengths in fiction lie in different places, too. From all my time spent with C.S. Lewis, he seems to be a man of the mind. He likes powerful concepts and forms and ideas. For him, fiction is merely a vehicle to transport powerful concepts that would be found in an essay if it was more appropriate.

His prose are at their best when they contain a profound idea that he is in love with. He makes you fall in love with the ideas he has collected. And you go away from his fiction thinking, “Wow, that is a lot to think about.”

It also means, he usually wears his beliefs on his sleeve.

Tolstoy, at least in War and Peace, is an absolute master of writing. I don’t even know how to describe to you how clean and crisp his prose are. He makes you see exactly what is going on. Every analogy works for his realism. There is not a hitch or chink in the armor, as far as I’ve gone. The glory of War And Peace is the structure, precision, and comfort in storytelling. It is labyrinthine, sure, but it is fun to explore. It feels big, but it does not feel daunting. He takes you through it, entirely confident and without any anxiety.

His themes cannot be summarized or found in any one paragraph, either. There are certain passages of Lewis that you can quote and say, “See? That’s what this is all about.”

I don’t prefer one over the other. Tolstoy’s prose are smoother and more consistent, but the ideas in Lewis’ mind are so vibrant and delicious! His prose tire me at times. But his books are cathartic. From the Space Trilogy to Narnia to Til We Have Faces – the tension in the narrative builds until it is released.

With Tolstoy, it seems that the tension does not build, but the narrative certainly does. It just gets bigger, but it doesn’t phase him.

Am I wrong? Who has finished War and Peace?

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Day by Day #59

I am not a very good person. But, that is not very interesting. None of us are very good. That is not okay. Usually when people get confessional, I hope and pray that their declaration of perversity is the beginning, not the end. Okay, so you are not a good person. Now what?

I finished a story recently called “Fly, Timmy, Fly!” I like it a lot. It’s about this boy who discovers that his parents are not what they seem to be.

Unfortunately, I started the story thinking that this was a very original thought. Then I remembered that it is not that original at all. What a shame.

The only original part in it is when he flies away in a spaceship listening to Fleetwood Mac. I like that part.

Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone wrote? I don’t like to put that obligation on the human race but I am tempted to. At the very least, keep a journal. Won’t you?

Teen angst is not that interesting, although I usually fall into it (and other various youthful traps). But if everyone kept a journal – whether it was online or they shared it – I’d imagine a lot of psychological patterns would be charted.

And if there was little similarity, it would be interesting to see all of the different conclusions people come to. Like, why do some people worry so much about grades and others don’t mind at all to get C’s? There is the mindset of wanting to get A’s. Then there is the mindset of not wanting to fail.

I don’t struggle with either. I struggle with something different. I am primarily interested in collecting new ideas and concepts. And when that is done, I feel like a success. But the problem for me is, the rest of the world sees that as only surface learning. Even though the ideas might entirely change how I think (some call it enlightenment), the teacher and the classmate don’t know it until the “work” has been done.

So there I am. And I have to do my work. I put the cart before the horse. If only I got the intellectual satisfaction of the ideas after my work is completed, that would be bliss.

Thanks for the weeds, Adam.

By the way, when are e-books going to have sound effects? And videos? And color? I wonder if there will ever be a day when there is a medium that engages all of our senses. That would be world-changing.

Of course, if you are the intellectual, you could say, “But wait! There already is that! It’s called the book!” Yeah, yeah, I know that books can transport you to other places. But describing smell and describing sound is not the same as smell and sound.

I would like to tentatively experiment with this. Maybe I will post a story, but also post an audio recording of homemade sound effects. Or, maybe I will read it out loud? It would be quite silly.

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Day by Day #58: Chloe

She is standing in the doorway shyly

With a smile and a finger at her cheek

I make my move cautiously towards her

She sees me but is afraid to speak

We are here alone, Adam and Eve

Everything is as it is meant to be

But something is wrong

She sees me blindly

What is flesh when it is turned to stone

 

She will never get anxious or disobey

She will never speak and betray

She will never get angry or wonder

She will never think and say no

 

I am just a man behind this gold

I woke up back home, flowers for my wife

And I want to stay home, but I want to dream

Why long when you are here, Chloe is alive in us

With both our eyes closed, next to me but gone

 

She will never get anxious or disobey

She will never speak and betray

She will never see you or wonder

She will never die and live

 

But I am just a man behind this gold

Why is your face made out of stone?

Dolce Far Niente - JWW

Day by Day #57: A Story That Could Have Included Unicorns

For the weakest, this is a story without any trouble, sharp edges, dirtiness, violence, acidity, danger, hate, and evil.

I considered putting unicorns into this story, with the addition of a pillow over their horn. But this wouldn’t do, because the characters would know that the pillow was preventing danger.

A butterfly wouldn’t do, because they are so delicate, that a harsh wind would blow them into the side of a brick building. And I need harsh winds, if the farmers are going to get any hearty storms for their fields.

After the unicorn and butterfly, I thought a rainbow might do. You know, as a backdrop.

But then I remembered that news story about the child who fell off the top of a cliff looking for the pot of gold.

When the unicorn, butterfly, and rainbow were out of the question, I could not think of anything more or less happy and sufficient to include than these three options. And since happiness and sufficiency are the farthest apart from any danger, I did not think a story was possible.

But then I thought about a romance. Granted, it is not an object for me to do with as I please. It’s an abstract concept. But starting from there, I made my way towards things that actually exist.

There was the woman and the man, I thought. And from there, obviously, children. But before I went any further – pets, then grandchildren – I recalled that the divorce rate is very high right now. And, if I am not mistaken, there is a direct correlation between divorce and love.

So, I figured that I would have to change my perception and eliminate any abstract concepts that hinder me. If, for a moment, I could assume that divorce is not evil or sharp, I might still have something in the material world to write about.

Besides, danger and hate are merely possibilities that do not have to exist. As long as there is not a material thing bearing the marks of the abstract, they do not exist. While divorce certainly comes from love, it does not always have to.

So, I thought, if I simply retain control of my characters and eliminate any negative possibilities, I could also keep the story edgeless and pointless. And this would be the best story, one whose meaning is found solely in the physical things that happen to objects. I then reflected on my unnecessary exclusion of the unicorn, butterfly, and rainbow. They could have happily existed, provided that I do not include anything that suggests the abstraction of morality.

Once upon a time, there was a man and woman. They loved each other very much. And their love was so pure that they bought a circular coffee table. From this perfect coffee table, there came a child who loved them very much. This child, who had no definable characteristics – except that they were perfect – grew up to have a perfect job. He was not a lawyer.

“Hello.” the loving woman said.

“Hello.” said the sweet man.

“I am here to love you.” she said.

“As am I.”

The child observed them, for that was his favorite activity. Nothing pleased him more than to see love in action. Love, of course, was something he did not need to understand, because it could not be. Love was the physical action of a man making an object with a woman.

“Let us love.” she said.

Just then, she got out the waffle iron and heated it up. The man, wanting to help, got the batter out of the cupboard.

“This is the batter for the waffle iron.” he said.

“Thank you sweet man. Here is the waffle iron for the batter.” she said.

They shared a laugh, because the batter and the waffle iron reminded them of their own relationship.

After pouring the batter into the waffle iron and waiting a few moments, they lifted the waffle out and exclaimed together, “And this is our sweet child!”

As they brought the waffle towards him, like the happiest funeral procession, the man tripped on the child’s pet.

The waffle flew in the air towards the child’s face and the woman merely stood there. The man went down quickly, his jaw first hitting the black and white tile floor.

When he propped himself up, his jaw hung loosely from his face, bloodless and joyful.

“Oh thank whoever,” the woman said, “you’re jaw has been set free from its previously delightful state! This is an equal joy as before!”

The man showed that he would have laughed by swinging his body back and forth, his jaw like a chandelier.

“Oh, and junior has already started eating.” she said.

When the waffle hit the child’s face, he immediately began to eat.

And everything was okay in this nameless household.

Day by Day #56: Under the Bridge

They met eight years ago in high school. After a failed weird two-year period where they were maybe more, they agreed to just be friends.

“Alright you too, what can I get you to drink? Or are you ready to order?” The waitress looked back and forth between them, her hands folded over her sash.

“Tell me,” he said, sitting back in his chair and folding his arms. “How many tables are you waiting right now?” He looked at her like he was going to call the police.

Her eyes fluttered. “Well,” the waitress politely said, “I, I am in charge of about five tables right now. Now, would you like to start with drinks or are you ready to order?”

“That’s interesting,” he said, “because you must have a phenomenal memory.” He leaned closer to her and brushed a leaning flower in his way with one finger. “Do you have a good memory? Because I noticed you don’t use a notebook. I don’t have a good memory, but I do observe things. Her?” He pointed to his friend across the table. “She has a great memory. She had to remind me it was her birthday today.” He pushed his back into the velvet cushion of the chair.

“Oh,” said the waitress, bewildered, “Well happy birthday! Can I get you anything to drink or eat?”

Her, his friend, stared blindly at him from over her tall menu. “I’m sorry,” she said to the waitress, finally coming to life, “he feels a little guilty that he forgot.” She winked at the waitress. “I will have a house salad with no dressing and, as for a drink, just water. Thanks.” She handed the waitress her menu, stretching her red lips.

“And you sir?”

“Oh, I’ll have the same thing as her – the water too – but can I get Caesar on that salad? Thank you so much.” The waitress walked off, the flowers in the vase shaking with each step.

He sighed and relaxed his back, folding his hands and looking at his friend through the flowers. He smiles at her. She looks out the wide window burning with light, her naked fingers playing with the edge of the tablecloth.

It was a birthday tradition to take her out for lunch ever since they agreed to just be friends.

“What’s wrong?” He finally says. “You seem upset. I know you. Talk to me.”

Her shy fingers disappear and she mutters, “Evidently, you’ve never known me.” Then she clears her throat and, with a little laugh, “I hate when you do this.”

He opens his mouth wide and gets a bewildered look on his face. She smells the bacon he ate for breakfast. “No, I hate when you do this.” He said. “Don’t get upset with me when you won’t tell me what’s bothering you.”

He closes his mouth and picks some velvet lint off his white dress shirt. “It’s not my fault you don’t say anything.”

As she looks out the window, he notices a tall dark-haired man come towards his table.

“Oh! Oh my God! It’s you! I saw you from across the restaurant and wanted to say hi, but wasn’t sure.” The dark-haired man was addressing her.

She turns her head to him and immediately lights up. “Oh my gosh! It’s so good to see you!” As she is about to get up to hug him, a woman comes up behind him with a big grin on her face. The woman slips her hand into his.

“This is, this is Ronald White,” she says deflated, falling back into her chair. She doesn’t know where to look.

“Oh. It’s good to meet you.” Her friend says, shaking Ronald’s hand from his chair.

“And this is Mrs. Ronald White!” Ronald says, grabbing his arm around her and then quickly pecking her lips.

The woman at the table glances at Mr. White’s dimples. The man at the table notices that the woman standing before him is taller than himself.

“Oh, Mrs. White,” he says with a smirk, “this is my old friend, Lisa. We grew up on the same street.”

“Hi Lisa.” She says faintly, delicately shaking her hand.

“Are you two…?” asks Ronald, pointing back and forth.

“Oh us?” Lisa’s friend says. “Oh no! We’re just really good friends. A month from now, we would have known each other for nine years. You know, today is her birthday.”

“Really? Well gee whiz, happy birthday!” Ronald says.

There is a pause.

“Well that’s really something. Anyway, me and the Mrs. are meeting some friends. It’s good to see you again!”

As he walks away, with his wife holding his hand, he slightly tilts himself and waves goodbye. His wife follows behind him with jolting pushy movements.

In Lisa’s imagination, they are taking a midnight walk underneath the bridge. He comes close to her, with one hand behind his back holding something.

“I need to ask you something that I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time.” He grabs her tightly around the waist, his body at hers.

In her mind, she gets excited, the question on her lips. I will, she whispers, I will. “What is it?” She asks with a fluttering heart. 

“Do you want to just be friends?” He says, squeezing more tightly around her waist.

She releases all the breath she held, and moves her gaze over the dirty pebbles. She wants to pick up all the pebbles with her fingers and shove them in his mouth, but his grip is too tight for her to move.

A fierce glow falls over his face and he reveals the stone he was holding. He raises his arm and in a quick motion smashes her face in with the rock.

In her mind, laying cold on the wet pebbles, she thought she had time to fight back.

“What’s wrong?” His voice is distant. “You have to tell me. Tell me.”

She can hardly hear him, staring out the window at the blinding river. The last words she heard were, “Here is your food.”

Day by Day #55: Nomad Souls

There are some people who cannot find a place. And here I was, thinking the world is one big house.

If you want to find people, go to coffee shops. There are plenty of people there. There are men in the middle of their life, collecting research for books they will never finish. There are high school girls who gossip about their stupid friends. There are grandmas meeting their first grandchild. There are dates where the girl does not stop talking and the guy cannot stay awake.

Some people go to coffee shops to be found. They want to be known, but they want it to happen organically. So they nestle in the corner with a book, hoping a stranger will ask them a question.

I don’t know, but I suspect she was one of these nomad souls. And she would have been one of those once-in-a-lifetime persons who infests the corners of my mind. But I met her again and now she is not a person I happened to meet. She is a friend.

Her name is Natalie. I was reading the Iliad at the local coffee shop and she said that Homer is not light reading. I said yeah.

Soon after that, we began talking about Marxism and how a revolution ought to be started – her leading it of course.

Another person joined and, three hours later, our conversation was over and I walked home in the cold. I thought about it. And I thought about where she might go.

A year later, I happen to go to Target. I go to a section of the store I know doesn’t have what I’m looking for. And then I hear this voice say, “Caleb!”

And I turn around and there is this person with a big hood, a large scarf, and a bulky coat. It was Natalie. And we talked like we were old friends.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as strangers. We are all either looking for each other or looking to be found. We’re distant relatives. And this perspective does not lead us towards holding hands and singing about peace.

You feeling that you are part of the family of man will not change the world. But, it will change you and might change whoever you extend yourself to. If any person you meet is strange, perhaps you have estranged yourself.

You are not the only person with beauty, truth, honesty, perspective, laughs, curiosity, deceit, conceit, and sadness. Every person you see has felt the same things as you and, maybe less so, thought the same things. We are made out of the same stuff, the same image. And no matter what, there are two things that you will always have in common.

One, you are going somewhere after death. Two, you came from the same place.

If you see someone who cannot find a place – who is looking to be found – show them where to rest. If you cannot show them where to rest, then listen to them. Let them have eyes to look into and words to think about. Remind these nomad souls that we are all living in one big house.

Look for the restless.

Hello, Natalie.

 

Day by Day #54: Laughing at Wretches

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” – C.S. Lewis

In California, we stopped at a McDonald’s to use the bathroom. There was only a one-use bathroom. As I was waiting and jumping, I saw an abnormally obese man sitting on two chairs. He had a walker and I couldn’t tell where his limbs started. His ankle covered his foot. He was drinking a 64-ounce soda and pushing his free hand around the pile of magazines and empty Big Mac boxes in front of him. His eyes were foggy glasses and I was afraid he was staring back.

Maybe I was assuming too much about him. Maybe he wasn’t lonely or angry. Maybe he had a lot of friends and liked who he was. Maybe you shouldn’t judge a person by how they look and what they eat. And what magazines they read in a public place.

But when the door finally unlocked, I ran in and was immediately overcome with depression. I had a pit in my stomach thinking about his existence. If he was content with himself, it was by deception, not by following any natural order.

Any question you have about why God does things can be answered if you just pick up a pen and write. To have the mind of a narrator is to have the mind of God. When Paul calls us to discern the will of God (Rom. 12:2), we are to study the story. A story makes no sense for the character who doesn’t know they are in a story. He won’t know that God has a problem with evil.

Writing can be done in the most direct way, or it can be done by accepting the role of character. If you are wanting to change, both produce the same virtue, which is contentedness. You could also call it peace, peace Christ promised to some of the lesser known characters, the lilies of the field.

There are some souls who refuse to be a character in His twisting plot, but also refuse to pick up the pen. And there is nothing funny about them. We can laugh at the idea of wretchedness, but as soon as we meet a living wretch it is a vice, not a virtue, to be able to laugh.

If I sat down and talked to him. If I had let him stare.

Wallpaper

Day by Day #53: Every Bodies Thick

If you really want to try that sort of thing

I’ll let you fall over me

If you really want to dive into that sea

I’ll let you rescue me

Because everybody here

Is thick

And God graciously set me

To perceive

That married men are falling over you

Their trying hard to let your gaze

Move them

But we’re different now

We’ve tried it all somehow

We’ve got this wooden boat

And now we’re moving down

But if God’s okay

We will not disobey

For what He’s given us

Is a miracle

If you really want to leave me now

Just call

When you’re back on your way

If you really want to open up my heart

Then take a knife

And stab it through me

The only way I’ll let you go away

Is if you promise to

Come back

The only way I’ll let you bring pain

Is if you swear to me

You’ll heal me

And now the anchor holds

Heaven will not move us

We’re sailing towards the sky

And we’re making lies

That all our loving days

Were not in a haze

We’re fully aware

That we’re changing

You never let me explain

The state of my heart

But now you have it

Everybody here

Is thick

And they can’t explain

What we’re doing

They scramble

For the perfect love

In the mud

But we got it

If you really want to run away

Take me with

Or I’ll follow

If you really want to burn this whole place down

Take my love

And set it on fire

If you really want to kill those who pull us down

Then take a knife

And stab me

I’ll set up myself for the sacrifice

They don’t understand

But I get them

I’m head over heels in love with you

Day by Day #52: Handel and The Wall

The difference between classical music and rock, is that classical composers actually knew what to say and how to say it. Rock is a frustrated and nervous thing, where people only stumble on brilliant speech. It’s not that it is not great, but that it is usually great by accident or chance stumbling on figures that our fathers had already thoroughly explored. So, the greatness of rock is explanation and innovation, but the success of this freedom is judged by their discovery of order.

The pursuit of classical music is control through skill and order. The pursuit of rock is the expulsion of all rules and order. Which is ironic, because the greatest pieces of rock are highly ordered and full of skill.

Progressive rock and song cycles are the spiritual successors to Handel’s Messiah and classical pieces. And the reasons they succeed are for largely the same reasons. If only the “artist” knew they are great, not because of their genius, but because they are just a part of the whole ordered universe. The only pieces in front of them to use for success and moving emotion are order and skill. This is why music really can objectively fail or succeed. You might be able to break rules, but you will fail to persuade.

Sometimes, rock succeeds in persuasion more than classical music ever could, because of the tools in front of it. There is precision and sensation in more great abundance, potentially. If only we knew what we were doing.

Day by Day #51: Your Career Future

I read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport yesterday. And I learned that you should not follow your passion. You should follow your skill.

If you are asking yourself what you should do with your life, do not go to your hobbies for answers. Go to your family and friends. Ask them, “What am I good at?” Whatever they say, take it to heart. Then, work at it. Work so hard, that you have something valuable and rare to offer. Enthusiasm is not special. It is special, however, to know where you stand and to work at getting better.

Perhaps more importantly, know your mission. Why do you want to be a master? Is it for glory or for the church? Your mission could be very specific. So, specify. Youth start at the mouth of a wide river. But, the wise retire in the small village at the end of the river. They end in a specific place and that is where there influence spreads.

You cannot change the world, but you can change the textile industry in the Midwest. Are you good?

And when you are good, that is when you are the most happy. Happiness is where purpose and skill collide. I don’t know.

Know your skills, then become so good that they cannot ignore you. And so good, you cannot help but smiling whenever you think about it.

If you like to write, do not plateau. Experiment, trim, edit, and innovate. Do not be afraid to fail – Lord knows how many times I have failed. Do not forget to read.

That is all I wanted to share for today.