A Sunset Reflection 

I took this photo on a sunset run and added the words (surprise! They were not actually fabulous skywriting!) as I was doing some reading later. The exercise, combined with the wisdom of St. Hildegard, were a welcome relief to an emotional day. 

Sometimes on overcast days like today, we fail to remember the sun. Yet, by grace, it descends to us each evening, casting its warm glow over the earth and tempering the darkness with the promise of its brilliant return come dawn. 

What a marvelous image this is of the reality we know as Believers. (Plato has me on an image-reality thought trend.) As beautiful as sunsets are, they are a mere flicker of the splendor of the True Son who humbled Himself for us. Likewise, although we run in a darkened world, He has already risen with splendor beyond any sunrise…and, in Him, so shall we! We live in the purgatory between sunset and the sunrise, but our hope is more sure than the dawn. The race is not in vain, for the Lord gives us the wings to overcome; through His comfort, we can rest in the promise that joy comes not only in the morning, but through mourning. 

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Ray Bradbury: a reflection 

Yesterday was the birthday of renouned American author, Ray Bradbury. Three more years and we can celebrate his 100th birthday. But even in 2017, Bradbury’s birthday is special to me because his stories provided the kick-in-the-pants I needed to take my writing seriously. 

Before entering high school, my family and I made a trip to the bookstore. Barnes and Noble was having a sale on its classics (when is it not?) and I picked out two with ease. But when searching for a third (buy two get one), I was at a loss. 

“How about this one?” my mom asked, holding up the book I found least attractive. It was red with planets orbiting on it. Ew, Sci-fi.

“Um…” 

“It’s good!” she persisted. “When I was teaching English, I would read aloud a short story from this book every Friday!” 

Oh great, I was thinking. Science fiction and short stories. 

Poor little me. I was so fixated on reading thick Austen or Bronte novels in an effort to seem impressive that I felt I was above fanciful scribblings about space. 

The irony…now I cannot help writing such scribblings myself.

Not wanting to argue any longer and urged on my my brother, who was worried we would miss our movie, I surrendered. I purchased my selections and let the Ray Bradbury collection thud like a rocket into the bag, forcing its way between the indignant British classics. 

That night, after the movie, I lay awake. Perhaps the movie had not satisfied my desire for a good story. Perhaps I had just eaten too many candies during it. For whatever reason, though, I found myself flipping open the red tome. 

“Let’s see if you live up to your reviews,” I might have whispered into its crisp pages, which fell open with all the grace and crunch of snowflakes. 

Minutes later, I was buried in an avalanche of words that fell so beautifully from Bradbury’s mind to pen to page that I could not dig my way back out had Jane Austen herself called for me.

Hours later, I was several stories in and near tears with that delight that only true bookworms know- the inexplicable thrill of having found writing that transcends mere ink and paper, writing that is instead made of the same substance as dreams. 

I devoured The Illustrated Man and made dessert of The Golden Apples of the Sun. It was with great self-control that I rationed out The Martian Chronicles for a later year when I was in need of escape. 

And, as this diet of “words, words, words” digested, it fueled ideas. 

And soon, these ideas begged for a form. Or did they beget a form? (Alas, Plato…your philosophy is not wanted just now.) 

As my ideas grew on those of Bradbury, I sought advice on how to bring them from the abstract brainstorm into croncrete being. 

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” 

Bradbury’s words came to me (possibly via Pinterest) and away I flew.

I definitely did not write 52 stories. 

I definitely did not write more than a couple semi-decent ones.

But I was writing and that was enough.

(Not that I hadn’t been writing before. My memory boxes are stuffed full of the “newspapers” written in crayon and “manuscripts” typed on the family computer with my mom as my editor.)

But now something clicked within me and I could not seem to stop writing. This blog testifies to that; not every post gets likes, some poems are feeble in hindsight, and only a few stories turn out to be keepers. But just like Bradbury’s short stories, it is impossible to have a year’s worth of bad posts, right? 

Don’t answer that. 😉 

Back to Bradbury. He inspired me to write (especially speculative fiction) and continues to make me fall more and more in love with literature every time I read his writing. 

For instance, just a few days ago I finished reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and then watched the 1956 movie for which Bradbury wrote the screenplay. It was quite possibly the most flawless book-to-screen transition yet. Bradbury perfectly portrayed the central themes of MD in under two hours. (Whereas the book took…well, a long time, to read.) 

He also wrote Leviathan 99, which is dedicated to Melville and is essentially Moby Dick in space. This stunning novella portrays the same themes of MD in a completely different setting, yet does so with such mastery that I believe Melville would be proud. (Also, pro-tip: if you don’t have time to read MB, just read Leviathan 99.

Reading Leviathan 99, I was filled with the same joy and wonder that I felt when first reading “The Veldt,” the first story in The Illustrated Man. Reader, do your mind a favor and listen when your English teacher mother encourages you to purchase a Ray Bradbury collection.

Although Ray Bradbury is sadly no longer with us in body, we are still able to celebrate his legacy on his birthday. He has left his readers deeper in love with literature and filled with awe at the power of writing. 

He has, also, left us a little bit lost on Mars. 

Miss Darcy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman having read or seen Pride and Prejudice, must be in want of a Mr. Darcy.” – Jane Austen and Ryanne McLaren*

*Note: The above quote does not actually represent the entirety of this post, but I did think it rather apt in capturing the feelings of Austenites everywhere.

Rereading Pride and Prejudice is probably the most fun summer homework I have ever had. I find myself procrastinating my other work as I continue to become absorbed into Jane Austen’s Regency world of country lanes, stuffy dinner parties, heartfelt letters, and- of course- the universally-beloved romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

In beginning to read this book for the second (or is it third?) time, I was determined to figure out which leading lady I am the most like. My mother used to tell me to “put on my Jane face” whenever I needed to act sweet and politely charming. But, others have mentioned that my sass is more in line with Elizabeth. I hope that I have never been a Lydia or Kitty, though I fear I may occasionally be Mary.

But…the more I read, the more I come to realize that I am not completely like any of these characters. And, while most girls will argue that Elizabeth is their spirit animal, I am afraid that I am, instead, Mr. Darcy.

Granted, I am obviously not a “young man in possession of a good fortune,” but I cannot avoid acknowledging the incredible similarities I have discovered between Darcy’s character and my own.

First of all, according to internet searches, which we all know are always accurate, both Darcy and I are INTJ personalities, commonly considered to be the “architects” archetype. INTJs are characterized by planning, introversion, and analysis. Of course, the Meyers-Briggs indicator does not capture the whole of our natures, so I will continue to delve deeper, using Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth as my primary evidence.

  1. Rudeness and cluelessness:

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“I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men” (Austen 7-8).

I do not think that Darcy meant any overt meanness here, but was simply being blunt with his thoughts. If I had a nickel for every time I said something insensitive simply because I thought it obvious, I would be able to buy Pemberley. He was also clueless that the woman he slighted at first will become attractive to him within the next few chapters. I’ll admit this has happened to me too; upon meeting someone, I might not give him a second thought at first, even if he becomes important to me later.

2. Eye love intelligence: 

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“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes” (16).

Pardon the terrible pun, but Darcy comes to admire Elizabeth’s whole figure upon finding he admires the witty sparkle in her eyes. This is usually the first thing I see in a person too; a good-humored and intelligent expression in someone’s eyes is the most attractive thing to me and gives that entire person a handsomeness that cannot be matched.

3. Knowledge is power, but also love: 

 

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“He began to wish to know more of her” (16).

It might sound horrible, but people like Darcy and myself don’t care that much about learning about others unless we have a genuine affection for them. It goes right along with our detest of small talk. We don’t give two pence about someone’s thoughts on the weather,his/her favorite dinner course, or where he/she buys tea biscuits. Unless we care for this person deeply. In that case, we will not only want to know everything about him/her, but we will make a clear effort to ask and observe in order to gather information.

4. Falseness if futile: 

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“‘Nothing is more deceitful,’ said Darcy, ‘than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast'” (35).

When Miss Bingley copies and compliments everything Darcy does, he does not hide his annoyance, but expresses it in wise sayings she is sure to misinterpret but still allow him to speak his mind. He is aware of and despises all ploys of manipulation. Similarly, nothing bothers me more than falseness or deception and when I am aware of these manipulations, I speak my mind. And, though I usually believe I am correct, I also generally regret it.

5. Slow to form opinions, slow to discard them: 

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“My good opinion, once lost is lost forever” (43).

I agree with Elizabeth that this tendency is “a failing indeed,” but it is a failing I share with Darcy. Wickham wronged Mr. Darcy and deserved to lose his favor, but was it wrong of Darcy to renounce forgiveness? This is a fault of mine as well, for I am guilty of remaining cold toward people who have “lost my good opinion” for unreasonably long periods of time. But, I will add, the trust and friendship of such characters as Darcy and myself are not easily won, so it is understandable that breaks in these bonds are also not easily forgotten.

6. Desire is danger: 

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“He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention” (44).

This is an exaggeration, but I am right when I say that Darcy feared his attachment to Elizabeth. Feelings of any kind are discomfiting to natures such as his, for they not only contradict reason but are at risk of being found out by others. The fear of a person discovering where Darcy’s (or my own…) affections lie is all too real for him (and me.) We know from experience that secrets relating to the heart are best kept in complete privacy because it allows for protection of our own egos as well as make the likelihood of getting over such affections greater.

7. Reason > Romance: 

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“Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her…and though they were at one time left by themselves for half an hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her” (43).

As I said before, if Darcy could forget his admiration of Elizabeth, he would likely congratulate himself on avoiding ridiculousness. It is the first instinct of people such as him and me to try and adhere to reason rather than romance, especially when there is a risk of the romantic feelings not being returned.

8. A matter of company: 

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“We neither of us perform to strangers” (135).

Although this scene centered around a piano, Darcy is not talking about musical performance, but rather social interaction. He makes it clear that he does not do well in many common social situations. This is crazy relatable for me. Dentist appointments, customer service lines, and ice breaker activities are torture because they require me to chat lightly with people I don’t generally connect with. (And, in the case of the dentist, I have to chat with sharp objects prodding my gums, which I think must literally be a punishment from hell.) However, when we find a place or group in which we meet people with shared interests or natures, we perform our social duties admirably enough to be mistaken for extroverts!

9. The gift of time: 

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“More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble…unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy…on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her” (140).

Darcy has made it clear up until this point in the novel that he does not enjoy spending much time chatting or idling. However, this is exactly what he keeps doing! In talking and walking with Elizabeth, he is showing that he cares for her enough to make time with her a priority. This is perhaps the greatest gift he can give her at this moment and, in the same way, I express my love by making time for people I love greatly.

10. When all else fails, GET TO THE POINT! 

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“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (145).

Here is where Darcy and I differ; when Elizabeth fails to catch all of his hints, he straight up tells her “Hey, I like like you. Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I wish I were this bold. It would probably save me lots of overthinking. Maybe someday I’ll give it a shot… I do, however, share Darcy’s appreciation of straightforwardness and wish more people were like him in this way.

11. Service speaks: 

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“He had done all this for a girl whom he could neither regard nor esteem. Her heart did whisper, that he had done it for her” (248).

When his profession of love was not returned, Darcy continued to show determined care in his actions, taking on the shame of the Bennets and doing all he could to restore their propriety. It is such selfless service that speaks Darcy’s love the loudest. I only hope I serve those I care about, even if they do not always share my feelings, in the same quiet and generous manner. Let’s also take a moment to celebrate that his determination and patience prove totally worth it in the end! 🙂

So there you have it. Again, I am not the tragically romantic figure that Darcy is, nor am I so reserved and skeptical as he is. Still, while I may not be as much like our dear Mrs. Darcy as I had hoped, there is nothing wrong with being a sort of Miss Darcy, as long as I don’t go about earning a reputation of being “proud…above [my] company…and above being pleased” (6).

 

Works Cited
Austen, Jane, James Kinsley, and Fiona J. Stafford. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.

 

 

Literary Tourism

Don’t be a tourist. I don’t mean don’t travel; by all means, see the world and explore new places! But don’t be a tourist, defined as “a person who travels for pleasure, especially sight-seeing and staying in hotels.”

 

That doesn’t sound so bad, but can one really experience a place through simply seeing sights and staying in hotels? No! To truly travel, one cannot be a basic tourist; one must be an explorer, investigating unfamiliar places and actually living in them, even if just for a few days. In France, a tourist might see the Eiffel Tower, but an explorer bicycles around Paris in search of tiny bakeries and the perfect macarons. In London, a tourist will stay safe and dry inside the red double-decker buses, but an explorer would wander the rainy streets alongside the locals until breaking for a steaming cup of tea.

 

In the same way, a tourist visiting my home state of Arizona will pick up a postcard with a stereotypical desert scene (tumbleweeds, mountains, and a few saguaro cacti thrown in for good measure) but will not realize that there is so much more to this state. Sure, we have the Grand Canyon (all tourists know that) but as majestic as the desert and canyon are, Arizona has so much more to offer! We have haboobs (its not a naughty word, I promise; they are massive dust storms), the most colorful sunsets I’ve ever seen, cities full of attractions, and even snowy mountains! Just the other day I posted a video of myself throwing snow into the air on Instagram and a college friend of mine commented “I thought you lived in Arizona!” Well, I do, but to anyone who just looks at AZ from a tourist perspective, the snow and pine trees are inconsistent with the dusty and hot images portrayed in media and even on our license plates. However, Arizona is more than just “gila monsters and tarantulas”, as some Maine resident so eloquently put it and it is easy to discover this if one puts out the necessary effort as an explorer.

 

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Snow between the desert and the mountains… Arizona is full of surprises!

 

How does this relate to literature? Well, just as one cannot fully experience a place from a few cheap postcards and a couple bus rides past the most famous monuments, one cannot grasp the full significance of a novel from its labels and, I venture to say, its misconceptions.

 

Take Tolstoy’s self-proclaimed masterpiece Anna Karenina for example. On the cover of a film adaption of the book, it was described as “Tolstoy’s tragic story of star-crossed lovers.” NO. NO NO NO NO NO. THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY!!!

 

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Alternate Title: Gone with the Wind, Russian Edition

 

I’m not sure if the cover designer for this film adaption did not read the book or was just stupid, but either way, he completely missed the point. In zeroing in on the obvious story of the lust-affair (I refuse to recognize it as love) between Anna and Vronsky, the cover designer and potentially the reader/viewer is acting as a tourist, reducing a great work of literature to a mere soap opera, thus doing Tolstoy and him or herself a disservice in failing to grasp the more essential messages of the novel.

 

For instance, in gasping over the central scandal of A.K., the reader might miss the search for spiritual peace that serves as Levin’s motivation even more so than his desire for a family. Similarly, the conflict between the traditional Russian ways and the industrializing Western practices might be forgotten, erasing any true comprehension of the context of the novel within history and society. More concerning, however, is that in overlooking such essential themes, the reader forgoes the opportunity to make connections between these ideas and those within other works of literature and even within his or her own life. Questions raised by an analytical reading of the text such as “what is the role of desire?” and “is everything motivated by a sense of self-service?” cannot be answered if one is relying solely on the most basic understanding of plot. Certainly the deterioration of morality and the struggle of desires found directly within the affair between Anna and Vronsky is significant, but in mislabelling this as a romance or love between “star-crossed lovers”, the reader runs the risk of missing even these most obvious themes and becoming a literary tourist who is concerned only with the surface. This provides entertainment, just as looking at a postcard or snapping a selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower provides entertainment and perhaps even a sense of accomplishment, but ultimately it is not as rewarding as truly dedicating oneself to analyzing and drawing less obvious insights from the novel through literary exploration.

 

To be a literary explorer is to abandon the beaten path of skimming and summarizing, to delve into a book and search for underlying themes and hidden details. It means to live within the novel, making connections and pondering implications, rather than simply to take snapshots of quotes without understanding their context or characters without examining their motivations. Just as to have a more accurate and full knowledge of the world, one must act as an explorer rather than a tourist, to be a genuinely good reader, one must abandon the shallows of literary tourism and explore the greater depths of analysis.

 

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This is me in Salzburg, Austria. Tourists would never dare ride unicorns, but an explorer like myself would. 😉

 

To close, consider this: If you were to travel to London, what would you most remember: seeing Buckingham Palace or finding the yummiest meat pie in a hole-in-the-wall pub? Or in Paris, would you value seeing the Mona Lisa with thousands of other people in the Louvre or finding a piece of brilliant art for sale by a local? In Arizona, would you remember the scorching sun or the many different climates? In the same way, as a reader, when you finish a novel, will you remember only the most prominent story or will you choose to explore beyond what can be learned from SparkNotes summaries? Ultimately, it is your choice, but as both a traveler and bookworm, I can assure you that playing the explorer is always the most rewarding (and most exciting) role.

#WriterGoals by Homer, Odysseus, and Ryanne

Yes, my title is a hashtag. Sometimes I like to break the trend of ordinary prose. Sorry not sorry. Ironically, however, this post is based on writing standards set waaaaaaaay back in the days of Homer. In reading through The Odyssey for my university’s honors institute, I realized two things: First, listening to Chopin’s nocturnes whilst reading makes even the most boring of passages intensely moving. For real, I felt tears coming when Odysseus’ men were turned into pigs. Thanks, Chopin. Secondly, although Homer (whether of not you believe in him or think he was a group of poets or whatever new conspiracy is floating around in the literary community) does tend to be a bit- well- wordy in his accounts of first the Trojan War and then the homecoming journey of Odysseus, he is a master at his craft and the fact that philosophers and students alike have been studying his epics for thousands of years ought to be proof of that. Further evidence for this mastery is in his recognition of the key components of good writing/story-telling: truth, reason, and beauty.

He says in Book XI lines 363-369:

“‘Odysseus, we as we look upon you do not imagine

that you are a deceptive or thievish man, the sort that the black earth

breeds in great numbers, people who wander widely, making up

lying stories, from which no one could learn anything. You have

a grace upon your words, and there is sound sense within them,

and expertly, as a singer would do, you have told the story

of the dismal sorrows befallen yourself and all of the Argives.'”

In this instance, a king is praising the eloquence and clarity of Odysseus’ account of his journey, but more significantly, Homer is, through this character, identifying the essential components of writing worthy of enduring esteem. Such writing, first of all, must feature truth. When Odysseus concludes his tale, the first remark that the king makes is regarding the verity of Odysseus’ words; they are not fantasy, at least in the context of this epic, and thus deserving of serious consideration. But does all writing need to be true then in order to be great? The Harry Potter geek within me screams “NO!” in answer to this and, actually, the fangirl part of me is correct. C.S. Lewis believed strongly in fiction because of its seemingly paradoxical ability to convey truth. Take his most famous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance. In any given library, these would be shelved with other works of fiction and probably even among children’s fiction. However, it is impossible to read these wonderful books without coming away having learned from them lessons of sacrifice, morality, family, forgiveness, and, consequently, truth. Good fiction always centers on truth.  Whether this truth is found in the form of a universal theme such as what it means to be a man or even a real event such as the an ancient war, if you dig deep enough as a reader or write well enough as an author, some aspect of truth will always be found at the core of a truly great piece of literature.

Continuing on, the king praises the sensible nature of Odysseus’ words; he does not use more than necessary. Bored readers might argue that Homer is not exactly concise, but when one considers the vast amount of mythology, culture, character descriptions, interactions, geographical courses, and rituals that are woven together to create the intricate tapestry of this epic, it becomes a wonder that such a magnificent story could be consolidated into a mere twenty-four book poem. This often unappreciated conciseness is vital to truly great writing. Of course, as the saying goes, “even Homer nods”, and some passages, such as the listings of over 600 Achaian ships in The Iliad are arguably a bit much, but considering the wealth of information and the overall complexity, this is certainly excusable.

Finally, Odysseus’ (and Homer’s) words are revered as beautiful. Being originally poetry sung by roaming bards, it is probably a no-brainer that The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered among the most beautiful pieces of literature. In this passage, great writing is described as having “a grace” and being crafted “expertly, as a singer would do.” Both poetry and prose must have a flow, a grace like the one here described. In music performed by a singer, every note, every inflection of the voice, every tiny breathe and consonant must be purposefully employed in order to convey the message of the song. In the same manner, a great writer must choose his or her words with purpose; not a “jot or tittle” is thrown in carelessly in attempt to meet a word count or appear more intelligent to the ignorant reader, but rather, each phrase is composed like a line of music, thus appealing to the reader’s deepest sense of beauty. Of course, one might debate that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but regardless of personal opinions of individual readers, by combining intentionality with artistry, a level of universal beauty, such as that achieved by the enduring works of literature, can be achieved.

To summarize: Many truths. Very clear. Much beauty. (Sorry, breaking the flow of my prose again. At least it was not a hashtag this time.) This passage in The Odyssey was one of those passages that make me gasp “Ah-ha!” aloud in the middle of the library. It made me race to the nearest computer to jot down my thoughts and publish them to my blog in the unlikely case that one of my readers may find inspiration in them as I did. This passage made me take a step back and reevaluate myself as a writer, but it also gave me a renewed passion as it guided me toward the path of truly great writing, that which is truth-centered, focused, and beautiful.