Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Media Junkie Learns the Value of Moderation

Jenna’s given me some great topics to pull from for the next few weeks. Some relate well to what we have been discussing, but because I’m still on the high of at home internet, I’d really like to talk a bit about Silence and creativity. Not that my life is really silent, even without the computer. Luba likes to wait until something important is happening - something requiring silence - and only then discover the monsters that hover around our house. They’re always just out of sight, but she knows they’re there, waiting to kill us all if she stops barking. But the article isn’t talking about silence so much as it’s referring to peace. A peace that can actually be had in the midst of barking and birds and whatever other sounds fill your day, but can’t be had on Facebook, or on the phone, or in front of the television. It’s coversation, and the conversation hybrids that slip in through the media that break the silence. Maybe because our minds want to treat them like a real discussion, and who can create art in the middle of a conversation? Maybe because everything is in snapshots and sound-bites.

That’s not to say real silence, in which dogs don’t bark, sirens don’t scream, and radio’s don’t play the same political clip over and over again, isn’t necessary as well. I love the time spent in silence - real silence -and solitude, but often a bit of sound is helpful to creation, if it’s the right sound. My husband playing guitar or piano, rain on the roof, wind in the trees, the soft voices of strangers on a train. Pure silence isn’t essential to me, but media silence is, I think, essential to art itself, because it breaks up the flow of images and thoughts. It creates too broad a collection of tiny pictures in my mind, and none of them can grow. Like the seed sown among weeds in Christ’s tale, art is like faith, it’s chokes on distraction.
The question for a lot of us,though, is how to respond to this. Media is not an essential, I'm learning that very few things are essentials, but it is helpful. I know the blogging world has been a lovely, virtual coffeehouse for me, an opportunity to meet people whose thoughts inspire and challenge me, who pursuits are similar and whose guidence is valuable. Media connects us to each other, and if it is given it's place, and not allowed to overwhelm us, it can be an absolute blessing. I can easily get addicted to facebook, to pinterest, to blogger, to youtube, but fortunately, my life sets pre-existing boundaries. If I have a fully charged computer, with nothing attached to it, I have about two and a half hours of internet. If, like today, I'm charging my phone off the computer, I have less. I could spend the evening in the car, charging and surfing the net, if my husband wasn't such a fascinating person to spend time with, but my days are still limited. Two hours, and then I'm alone with my barking dog, chatting daughter, and squealing pigs, all much better suited to encouraging art than Facebook. How other's deal with media, I don't know, I was an addict before I went off the grid, not everyone as lacking in self discipline.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tattoos, Headscaves, and Long Halls

We attend mass at the Basilica in town. It’s a big, beautiful old gray-stone church. Light, open, and Eastery. The early morning mass is the Extraordinary form. I prefer our liturgy to the novus ordo, primarily because I can’t resist the over-abundant ritual, but also becuase, like Flannery O Connor,"I do not like the raw sound of the human voice in unison unless it is under the discipline of music." . Our priest is a dual-rite Byzantine , and that is another benefit to me, as I miss the Liturgy of John Chrysostom.

       One thing I love about old churches are the long aisles lined in stained glass. I like the sound of my shoes on the tile as I walk. I like the saints with their votives watching from the walls. Visually, the church raises me up, even when Yarrow is being decidedly unpious, or when I’m too tired or preoccupied to hear the words from the altar. Our mass community attracts me visually as well. I love watching them trickle in. The Large and Confusing Family in twos and threes, the Somber Family already at prayer, the exuberant family, the fashionable couple, the mournful couple, the man with the lawnmower tattoo just above his receding hairline. The variety is thrilling, and so is the common enthusiasm.

Most of the women wear headscarves, at least part of the time, and it delights me to not be an oddity, to seethe diversity of scarves come in. I covet some of them, and simply admire others. I like the mystery the scarf gives to the wearer. I love the whole drama of the liturgy, and my own part in it as well

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My siblings have been pressuring me to start an online bookclub. The plan is to read a short story or an essay every two weeks, and discuss. It is not limited to family only! Please join us, if only to break up a fight or offer a slightly less biased opinion. We’re setting it up at The Coffee Cup, so please come by!

The plan right now is to give all of the regular readers a chance to pick short stories or essays for us to read and discuss in two week intervals, with lots of time for the reading and discussing, as not everyon has unlimited reading time and easy access to a library - I know I don't. But it should be fun, I have to figure out what to start with by tomorrow, and I'm still undecided.

I have candles everywhere tonight. They make the house warmer. The stove is on, the laundry is done, and we have a votive in front of St. Joseph at the Church in town, burning merrily.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Challenging Beauty

There is a preying mantis climbing the rafters above my head. Yarrow is sweating her way through dreamland with a fat smile and a tight fist. I spent the morning coffee-free , baking muffins and picking flowers. We have a frost advisory for tonight. I don’t know how that will affect our sunflowers. I’m transferring poems for further editing, and making lists. I am not writing a discussion post. It isn’t in me today, not with the wind and the falling leaves and the autumn air. But Jenna’s response last week was fantastic, and I have to respond a bit:
“The idea that anyone's highest calling could be to Fix Other People And/Or Society isn't just a wrong notion; it's dangerous.”

You can happily call me a nerd, but I’d encourage anyone interesting in pursuing this idea to watch the movie Serenity, or better yet, the whole Firefly series and Serenity. It’s a great look into what the attempt to ‘Make people better’ creates.

“Artists have one first and foremost purpose: to create beauty.

Out of ugliness, beauty. Out of chaos, order. Out of confusion, meaning. Out of despair, hope.

Out of darkness—and here I don't refer so much to the darkness of ignorance as to the darkness of faithlessness, hopelessness, and lovelessness—the lighting of a single candle and the placing of a mirror behind it. The pulling back of dusty curtains to reveal, if nothing else, the light of the stars.”

And this, Jenna, is just beautiful. Lovely writing, lovely imagery, lovely message. It makes me smile and treat myself to another whole cup of coffee. We agree so completely here, that I don’t even want to move on the the little disagreement..The challenge of beauty. But I will, because to write a response requires a bit of thought, and thought requires another cup of coffee, and I might as well finish off my whole pot at this point anyway, right?

I don’t think it’s a complete disagreement. I do think there is a place for accessible art (and even for accessible non-art), and Jenna’s right when she says that the shallow end is a good place to begin, but sometimes we get too comfortable there. We hold tight to our happy Bouguereau peasants and never wonder what Cezanne was doing with all that color, or we become like the late Roman poets, just reforming old phrasing and old ideas into tired old imitations, while Augustine is making the whole world new. And really, it’s the not wondering that worries me, the lack of interest in exploring, in challenging ourselves. The deep end might be too deep for some, but with water wings and a little floaty inner-tube, we can all wander a little closer to the middle. And that, I think, is the natural challenge inherent in beauty, from the fully accessible to the dangerous, it leaves us with the desire for something good just out of reach.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Looking Forward

There is a lot I need to be doing. Autumn is a busy season for us. I have the stove on this morning, a long list of “Things to Do”, and a mug of hot tea sitting just out of Petka’s reach. I’ve already fed the animals, prepared for the code-enforcer’s visit by emphasizing the ‘shed’ aspects of the kitchen building, checked my e-mails, and said the angelus. There is so much more to do, but I like to guard my early mornings. They’re comfortable, slow.

I write best in autumn, in the snatches of time between harvest fairs, canning, winter preparations and long leafy strolls. I have a small stack of autumn poems already awaiting editing. Almost all my poems are autumn poems. But today, now that this lovely, slow early morning is ended, I won’t have much time to write, I have the code man, the road, the fence, and dinner to deal with. But night is the best for writing anyway, so I can’t complain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Artistic Distortions and Shock Value

Last week, in the comments Jenna wrote "So I saw something that made me fighting mad the other day, and thought it might inspire you blogalectically. It was a quote that went, roughly, "The highest calling of an artist is to challenge people's views and test the boundaries of society".

Like Jenna, my reaction is "No!"

No person's higest calling is merely to 'challenge people's views' or to 'test boundaries'. Those can be a part of an artist's calling, especially an artist who has been made very aware of some societal failing, but the artist's highest calling as an artist is the shaping of beauty and the conveying of truth.  I would add that the second is submissive to the first, and dependant on it. If he cannot make a thing of beauty in his art, he will be unable to share truth; if he succeeds in beauty, truth will be a part of the art, with or without his consent. 

Beauty and truth are challenging, for sure, to everybody's views in some way. I do believe that art must challenge us, in some way to grow. Art that is completely 'accessible' flounders a little in the shallow end of things, trading in it's ability to impact it's audience for the comforts of mass appeal. Society's boundaries should always be tested, but only in the pursuit of beauty.

Artist's have a tendency - I like to imagine it's common to everybody - to get wrapped up in the details. We like to paint ourselves as a sort of artistic ideal: the bohemian poet, the tortured intellectual, the drunk playwright, the distracted all of these little ideals lives the desire to "challenge people's views and test [society's] boundaries", but these ideals and desires are only a tiny part of the artistic calling. They can be an aspect of the whole-hearted pursuit of beauty, or they can be an idol, calling the artist away from his vocation, into certain failure. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time and Opportunity


This is what Yarrow does in her spare time..and being a baby, it’s all spare time! Isn’t that a fantastic thought.

I've been spending time on little poems recently, which is actually a distraction, I'm supposed to be writing for money. Real Simple Magazine has a contest - prize $3,000, for an essay on Regrets, but the contest ends on the 14th apparently, and I'm slow at finishing things..still, $3000 should be motivation enough. I don't mind competition though, if anyone is more likely to get an essay actually finished in time!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Value of Education - A response.

Jenna’s response, and Christie’s deliciously long response in the comment section give me a lot to respond to regarding College education. Both remind us of how very burdensome the cost of college has become. Thanks to scholarships, and generous family, my husband and I managed to get though with minimal debt, so I don’t always think of the actual cost of education. But it’s a looming weight to many students. Many students forget, until it’s too late, the mountain of debt waiting for them when they graduate. And often, going to college is a means to an end - we go to have the college experience, to get a degree, to land a job, to turn that job into a career and settle in for the long haul. College often becomes just another stepping stone on the path to Success, and success is required to pay off the debt. When I began as a Theology major, we were all given a lecture by the head of the department: “This degree will not get you a job,” a disappointing reality that led a few to re-evaluate their direction. One of the positive parts of a college writing program is that the majority of the students and professors understand that their degree is not in pursuit of a career so much as it’s in pursuit of knowledge, the lecture is unnecessary.
I tend to romanticize my college days. Days and nights spent immersed in study, pursuing wisdom, and discussing the intangibles late into the night. I went to school with no intention of using my degree in the traditional sense. I wanted to educated, but I wanted education for it’s own sake, as undisciplined as my own interests. In reality I spent much of college immersed in the petty dramas that immerse many students, discussing in-depth the confusing behavior of the man I loved (now my husband - still loved, and only slightly less confusing). I generally focus on the intellectual highlights when I look back, but the social life is a huge part of the true value of higher education. I met many of my dearest friends in College, I learned a lot about myself, and I began to develop my interests as an adult. All good and helpful things, and all fascilitated in some way by college life.

“Not everyone is suited to the format and demands of university, and as things stand, the debts generally incurred in the obtaining of a degree are terribly burdensome.”

Jenna is right, not everyone is suited. And I’ve seen some sad results when people are thrown into the college system without the desire or ability to do well there, but only the vague notion that they ought to be in school. But my own experience of schooling is not at all to the point of regretting at any level, my college experience. I know I would be nowhere near where I am in my writing and intellectual life -not to mention my personal life- without my time at school. I don’t even regret my time skipping from program to program, it’s a path to degree I would love to give anyone - a B.A. in Random Information Ending in Passionate Study. An ideal degree. My senior writing professor had more influence on my education than any teacher up to that point. Her advice, guidance, affirmation, and critique alone was worth the cost of the entire degree. 
Neither my husband, whose degree is in Anthropology, nor I use our degrees in any professional sense. But neither would trade the education, which formed us well for life. That said, I think Christie’s experience is common, in part because, in trying to make college accessible to everyone, schools often hire professors who are unable to teach and guide their students past a stage of competence and into creativity. This is especially problematic is programs that ought to be creative, like writing.
Attempting to send all Americans to college is unfair to everyone involved. The students, both those who want to be there and those who don't, and the professors. The assumption that higher education is necessary for success, especially in the creative sphere is frustrating and unhelpful, but understandable when we have a bias against self-education. It gives us a standard, at least to measure against, but as it becomes more and more common to read books and articles written by B.A.s, M.A.s and PH.ds that read like high-school essays, the importance of a College education may dwindle.
I realize I didn't really add much to the 'discussion' aspect, so if you have nothing much to add, feel free to boil it all down and just write on what you think the benefits or detriments a College writing program would be for you as a writer right now (as a more 'formed' writer). Do you think a program now would be more beneficial or more frustrating for you? Though I'm sure it would depend on the program...My writing professor would love you!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

3 Things

3 Habits I wish I had:
Correspondence: I long to be one of those people who write letters, real print letters, to friends all across the country. Thoughtful letters. Letters that belong in books after my death. I long to be one of those people who devote an hour in the morning, at least once a week to letter-writing. I am not that person. I try, sometimes, but it hasn’t worked out yet.

Walking: It seems so attractively ‘country’ to go for a walk before or after lunch - and not just to get the mail and back, but really ramble around for a while. I do this occasionally, but a regular walk to think and to enjoy the world would be a fantastic habit.

Journaling: I have about five journals. I write in them often, but I don’t have what I would consider a consistent journal. Each of mine begins well, flounders, is lost then found again, changes purpose, and finally is abandoned. I want to journal well, reflectively, consistently, and always with a very good pen. I would like to write in the morning about the dreams I had the night before and the plans I have for the day ahead. I would like to write in the evening about the day that was, and about the day to come. I don’t, in part because it’s hard to find a nice pen in the evening.

3 Habits I wish I didn’t have:

Procrastination: The primary reason I get very little done until the absolute last moment.

Justification: “Well, really, since I’m putting it off til tomorrow, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just run down to the store to check fact, I’m pretty sure there’s something I needed to check online..something…Oh, that recipe I wanted to save, that’s right, I might make it next month, I really should write it down today..” The foundation upon which all procrastination rests.

Spooking myself at night: If my husband is up, I’m fine, but if he’s sleeping, I suddenly remember every nighttime warning I’ve ever known: Don’t brush your hair before a mirror after dark, you’ll see the devil there. Don’t look in a mirror either, you’ll welcome him in. Don’t leave out milk our you’ll meet the dead, don’t go out between 12 and 3…It makes the night a bit creepy at times.

3 Habits I’m glad I have:

Tea in the afternoon: There is nothing better than sitting down with a hot cup of tea or coffee and a boursin & homegrown tomato sandwich..or just bread and butter, or even just the tea and a book, or a husband, or a greedy child, and relaxing.

Running: I just started, so I can’t say it’s a full-blown habit yet, but it’s an embryo-habit, and that’s something. I love the whole experience.

Coffee and writing in the morning: Either alone before everyone is up, or while Yarrow shoves fistfuls of oatmeal in her face, the morning routine is a blessing.

What about you? Habits you hope for, habits you hope to conquer, habits you cherish?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts on Clothes, Culture, and Impressions

I read an article recently that lamented our informality. People used to dress up to go out. To travel. To shop. People used to have a sense of the social importance of dress. I’m all for dressing well, for dressing with intention. When I’m not feeling inexcusably lazy, I like for my clothes to speak for me in a way. But I can understand the cultural laziness. The article mourns our lack of respect for the ability to dine out - to be waited upon; but when I go out, I’ve noticed a difference in the attitude of restaurants. We aren’t being waited upon so much as we are consuming, and the role of the consumer is not a respected one. The article “Modern Guide to Dressing Up” in the Catholic Register, made some good points about the trend toward casual dressing, and her focus was more on the “blase attitude toward our daily activities” that is “at the root of our modern blase attitudes about dress and manners,” but I think it’s important to look at another reason for dressing down in restaurants or airplanes, stores, and churches, the attitude of those serving - the waiters, stewards, shopkeepers, and even ministers is not one to inspire a feeling of formality or respect in us. In our consumer society, where the goal is to ‘process orders’ and increase profits, relationship between people is diminished, we are formed “to live lives of detachment” from the people around us. And so the waitress doesn’t wait on diners so much as she “takes care of table 25” and when the diners attempt a leisurely dinner, she may be encouraged to “move them along”. Because dining out isn’t an occasion, it’s a business, and diners aren’t people as much as they’re consumers.
We don’t always recognize the depersonalization of the experience consciously, but it affects us on some level, and we dress accordingly. Why bother pretending this is special? Why bother enjoying the experience when the restaurant makes it clear that you are just another number. Not all restaurants, not all shops, and certainly not all churches fall in to the sin of depersonalizing, but it’s common enough to alter our cultural experience. And it isn’t just the fault of restaurants and airlines, the trouble is everywhere. It isn’t so much a loss of gratitude, as the author of the article claims, it’s a loss of the awareness of being a person. A lost sense of self. Which might be one reason we eat out so often, we’re hungry for recognition and respect. We want to experience a moment when we are seen as real people, not just characters on television or numbers in a profit margin.

The discussion of a “blase attitude toward our daily lives” both fascinates and horrifies me. It’s something that I am trying to weed out of my own life. To view each day as whole within itself, a gift, a sacred space. A superstitious tendency to avoid planning too far in advance, lest my certainty in my own future tempt God to teach me otherwise is a part of my make up, but so is the habit of living the past, present, and future in a jumbled mess all at once. Neither is ideal for creating an attitude of contentment in the moment. I fall too easily into Rilke’s words; “desires are just memories from our future”, living both the long and the actualization at once, and so failing completely to work at attaining in the time at hand. At the same time, I am absorbed with the desire to ‘‘make each hour holy’’; so absorbed, in fact that I often fail to make anything of any hour. The present is pushed away for tomorrow. I wonder if this attitude is more common than I think. Perhaps we are all planning to make tomorrow holy, passing by the present in our minds in search of a moment when we are ready to truly being living.