I am this season’s child
though I am dressed as spring:
The burning gold of fall is hid
beneath the flow’rs I bring.
While storms of thought are whirling,
and swirl within my mind,
All you see’s the cloudless blue
of clear sky in my eyes.
Dreams and nightmares flutter
like vibrant, falling leaves,
But I doubt you’d ever know
for the roses in my cheeks.
Though my hair’s bright as sunlit May
and my lips brim with laughter,
My birth was a November day
and I am Autumn’s Daughter.
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.
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.
“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.
The world is a mess. Whatever your political views, we can all agree that it’s a rough world out there. However, while the news is increasingly depressing, I found an unlikely hero to cheer me for a few hours: Winnie-the-Pooh.
Somehow I grew up reading everything in reach yet missed this classic! So I decided, “What’s more comforting than cuddling my Eeyore pillow pet and reading Winnie for the first time?”
It was a marvelous decision; not only are the stories delightful and humorous, but the characters can teach even us “knowledgeable” grown-ups a thing or two.
And then sweet, nervous little Piglet reminds us that it’s okay to ask for help and that we should always look out for the “Very Small Animals.”
Of course, we must mention Pooh. Continually called “brainless,” he still manages to come up with ideas to help those he loves. Perhaps caring for others is better than cleverness in the end.
As simple as these stories and characters may seem, they are all the more important in today’s overwhelming, grown-up world. As I’ve said before, good children’s books are for adults too, and this is certainly true of Winnie-the-Pooh. After all, adults need to be reminded of consideration, service, and friendship perhaps even more than children do.
The Solar Eclipse 2017 was the *literal* highlight of today; all anyone seems to be able to talk about are eclipse glasses, viewing parties, live streams, testimonials of why not to stare directly into the sun, apocalyptic premonitions, the stupidity of needing to be told not to stare into the sun, pinhole box tutorials, etc.
Although I did get in the spirit of the eclipse by making a rather shoddy pinhole box and baking “eclipse cookies,” it became, for me, an opportunity for theological and allegorical contemplation. As with most moments of intense thought, poetry happened. Please read (aloud if possible!) the following and share either this post or your thoughts.
In the beginning were made two lights:
The Greater gleam to rule the day,
The Lesser govern vassal night.
The First burns of his own pure pow’r,
The Second purposed to reflect,
Yet greedy, grabs a sunlit hour
And, doing so, her rule rejects.
She vain ascends from queenly throne
To tame and topple truer King,
Like we who take more than our own
But conquer only creeping things.
We watch below to cheer her course
For hers is our selfsame desire;
We both image a brighter source
Yet wish to usurp fueling fire.
The Lesser light in pride covers
The shine of right ruler at last.
But lunatic, our governor,
Can only fleeting shadows cast.
Yet we determine just as she
To place self ‘fore the Greater one
And forget in sad irony
That we glow solely by the sun!
Pure gold cannot be dimmed by her
Except to those on lowly earth.
She blots naught but her own silver
And rules as we but dark and dearth.
Though hidden to our sight below
The King yet unabated burns.
The moon cannot his rule o’erthrow
And to permitted path returns.
For when she did achieve her aim
False queen could barely extend night.
Just so, we find ourselves the same;
When seeking more, losing all light.
Soon scheming moon shall fall away
And eclipse turn coronation;
To crown the sun’s most radiant rays
That lumine ‘cross all creation.
Dystopian novels have been “in” for several years now. The Hunger Games and Divergent were the most popular reads of my high school days. Brave New World, 1984, and Anthem were on the AP reading lists. I continue to devour Ray Bradbury’s work.
However, we forget the purpose of dystopian fiction, which is to warn and protect us from creating such futures in reality. Dystopian fiction remains fiction only so long as we read and heed these books as warnings, not merely as disturbingly entertaining tales.
While we continue to be shocked by the dystopian stories we read, we are at the same time allowing ourselves to fall into them. By labelling them as “fiction” we are separating them from our reality and from our future. We feel terror and disgust as we read them, but can easily brush them aside as “mere stories” once we close the covers.
Ray Bradbury once said,
“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
As much as I’d like to say Bradbury is inerrant, I would like to alter this statement ever so slightly for the sake of clarity:
“You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop believing them.”
As soon as we assure ourselves that dystopian societies are just monsters created by authors, they lose their power to prevent us from growing into such societies. The moment we begin to read these books as fiction, when we stop believing that such horrors and degeneration might be possible, is the moment we begin to descend into dystopia ourselves.
If children were to read the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel as merely a story that could not possibly have any truth to it, the preserving concept of “stranger danger” loses its impact. We cannot read this story to children without explaining its moral and begging them to heed its lesson.
In the same way, adults cannot read dystopian novels simply as futuristic fairy tales; we cannot consume them only for their shock and entertainment value. Rather, just as we would hope that children learn caution from Hansel and Gretel, it is our duty as responsible readers to learn an even greater caution from stories such as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games.
It is of even greater importance now in 2017 than when these stories were originally penned, even if that was not long ago. We already have turned deaf ears to the warnings of these stories and are already reaping the consequences as we slip into dystopia.
Consider the following:
Remember the citizens of the Capitol in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? We were bothered by them for their selfishness, their vanity, their degenerate morality, and their obsession with entertainment. But are we equally concerned by such lifestyles in reality? Or do we shudder at them between pages and then act as they do in our own lives without even realizing?
In The Giver by Lois Lowery, another YA dystopian novel, babies who are not up to standards are “released.” I remember my friends and I crying over this chapter in elementary school. Yet now so many former young readers champion the killing of the pre-born because of detected health problems, special needs, or simply because the child is unwanted. How can we justly promote in reality the things of which we once read with sorrow?
Fahrenheit 451 is fairly explicit in its message (Bradbury makes no attempt at subtlety -bless him). Yet while we read of the death of literature, we retreat without a thought into cheap entertainment as soon as we finish the book. Worse, we ignore his clear warnings and are happy to glean our information through soundbites and social media blurbs rather than through thorough reading, considerate conversations, and serious thought. Are we, too, mindlessly “watching our stories” without discernment or contemplation?
Perhaps the most shocking dystopian novel I’ve read is Brave New World (Aldous Huxley). At least, it was shocking when I read it four years ago. Now, it feels rather ordinary. (Has the world really fallen so far in four years? Perhaps I am simply older and sorrowfully wiser.) As I read this book, I was horrified at the unrestrained sexuality of it; most characters sought only their own pleasure, cared nothing for relationships, and procreation was a thing of the distant past. But is this so far different from today? We find ourselves living in a generation that boldly protects promiscuity and demands consequence-free pleasure while conservative approaches to relationships are scorned as old-fashioned.
Ayn Rand’s Anthem centers on a character called “Equality 7-2521.” Everyone is equal, but, ironically, no one is free; every member of the society is equal to the extreme that none of them may differ from others. Today, are we perhaps striving for a dangerous equality like that of Anthem? We must certainly protect and value all people equally; however, Anthem warns against forcing equality of thought. Although we read this warning, do we follow it? The minute someone expresses an idea that we consider offensive, are we quick to aggressively silence him or her rather than admit that we all have the right to think freely?
I am not saying that everything in these dystopian novels will come true, but they are not nearly as far-fetched as they once seemed. Certainly I do not expect America to be divided into factions or our teenagers to be sent into battle against each other or for us to mate according to selection by governors. However, there are undeniable dangers to reading dystopian novels as fiction, just as there are dangers to ignoring the morals of fables and fairy tales.
We ought to read dystopian books as seriously as we read history books. It is said that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and so we diligently are set to studying history from the minute we enter school. We also are encouraged throughout our school days to read dystopian stories, but we must not be satisfied with reading them as mere fiction. Rather, we must read them with the discernment and diligence with which we study history. It is imperative that when we read dystopian books, we read with great awareness of their relation to reality so that we are not, like poor history students, doomed to live them.
Went to the children’s classics section in search of some light reading…now I am just wondering how many poor young Winnie-the-Pooh fans have been traumatized by Poe instead…
Still, “Welcome to your nightmares” is a daunting phrase to put on a book beside a beloved nursery classic.
Oh, how I love when shelving decisions go awry. Endless amusement!