Friday, May 17, 2013

Enough time to write well, enough beauty to tell

A post over at Story Warren by James Witmer had me racking my brain for a GKC quote.  The quote was teasing me like a puppy in a pet store window.  Once I found it, I found it wasn't quite related to the post, but still rings true. It's a good dog but not what I was looking for.

The tendency of all that is printed and much that is spoken to-day is to be, in the only true sense, behind the times. It is because it is always in a hurry that it is always too late. Give an ordinary man a day to write an article, and he will remember the things he has really heard latest; and may even, in the last glory of the sunset, begin to think of what he thinks himself. Give him an hour to write it, and he will think of the nearest text-book on the topic, and make the best mosaic he may out of classical quotations and old authorities. Give him ten minutes to write it and he will run screaming for refuge to the old nursery where he learnt his stalest proverbs, or the old school where he learnt his stalest politics. The quicker goes the journalist the slower go his thoughts. The result is the newspaper of our time, which every day can be delivered earlier and earlier, and which, every day, is less worth delivering at all. The poor panting critic falls farther behind the motor-car of modern fact.

--GK Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils

Back to the Story Warren.  I enjoy the post for holding to the view that raising children is an art.  Investing in and building a future beauty.

Sometimes I forget my end goal of parenting (by "make" I mean target towards).

Make happy kids - they'll grow expecting the world to make them happy and will be sorely disappointed at not winning American Idol.
Make hardworking kids - they'll be either very industrious (cue Cats in the Cradle), or bitterly slothful.
Survive the challenge of kids - this is escapist and easy to fall into.  Some days it is a better option than other options though.
Make friends - while nice it will neglect discipline and building trust of experience.
Make perfect kids - this is what really hits hardest for me.  Parents end up being examples, and should be examples of how to be broken too.  Admit when I'm wrong; say sorry.  Be willing to let my kid's know if I'm worried, nervous, angry or happy.  Be real, and my children will know it's okay to be real. 

I need to love each one individually, for how special each is.  They are a piece of art and I am able to contribute.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy - heavy thoughts

Last night I finished the audiobook of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

This book is a hard read.  It is well told and heavy, ton of bricks heavy.  I don't know how to talk about it without offering spoilers so read on with that warning.  I knew the end and still hated the end that was coming, and was glad the book was over when it came.

The setting is that after some apocalyptic event a man and a boy (a never named father and son) are trekking to survive somewhere.  Wake up, scour for food, hide from bad guys.  I'm not sure "bad guys" is a good description, maybe feral humans.  They won't survive another northern winter and believe there might be something to be found at the ocean. They keep moving.  That is the constant struggle in the story.  It is something you are always aware of - like light in a cave or a snorkel underwater.  Food is needed.

Imagine this, all day and  everyday, without the candybar to bite into.  okay it doesn't really relate but it is a funny commercial.

I was hit pretty hard by "The Road".  I have a soft spot for father/son stories mostly for some struggles in how my own real life has unfolded and continues into the next round.  It wasn't that I was locked into identifying with the particular characters, it was that their battle and their bond was believable.  The whole story is somehow believable - that a culture with such a callous view about life and everything this side of it would be able to turn to cannibalism wasn't a leap for me.

For me, this book was most unsettling as the 7ish y/o boy is a view of innocence and hope.  His questions and his comments were spot on - not too mature, not too immature.  There was a touch of being naive but not unaware.  The father's singular focus on keeping the boy safe is true to form also.  It did make me think about the few things that are really important and how many negligible things hold my attention.

I was truly struck by two things:
1. The father apologizes often.  It's not that he always messes up.  The man apologizes for a world where a boy sees other people being eaten for food.  He apologizes for when the boy is held at knife point and then has to have brains washed out of his hair.  The apologies are for a world that isn't right.

2.  Their role switch.  Through 3/4 or more of the book the father is the guardian of the boy.  It's his job.  At the end it is the boy worrying about the father.  I think this is most profound for not taking the easy route of it being a "coming of age" event.  The boy isn't ready.  No boy that age should be caught in that situation.

One of the other linchpins in the story is the mantra to "carry the fire".  The father tells the boy that we "carry the fire".  At first it seems that it may have been some trite statement to give the boy hope or answer a tough question.  But it really is their mission.  "We don't eat people and never will."  "We are the good guys."  They carry the hope of humanity forward.  Not animals just looking to live and eating anything.  There are many lines they cross to survive, but they stay human rather than animal.  They do indeed carry the fire so far, and then the boy carries it further.

I read the book as it was the theme for an Andrew Peterson song - "Carry the Fire" off of his album Light for the Lost Boy

So would I recommend reading (or watching or listening to) "The Road"?  Maybe.  It is well told but you better be ready for a dark ride.  To a casual reader - no.

All really imaginative literature is only the contrast between
the weird curves of Nature and the straightness of the soul.
Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will
not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will
worship a thing only because it is ugly.  These must be chained
to the beautiful.  It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante,
to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell.
It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has
probably been made.

* * * *

Therefore I see no wrong in riding with the Nightmare to-night;
she whinnies to me from the rocking tree-tops and the roaring wind;
I will catch her and ride her through the awful air.
Woods and weeds are alike tugging at the roots in the rising tempest,
as if all wished to fly with us over the moon, like that wild,
amorous cow whose child was the Moon-Calf. We will rise to
that mad infinite where there is neither up nor down, the high
topsy-turveydom of the heavens.  I will ride on the Nightmare;
but she shall not ride on me.   
-GK Chesterton "The Nightmare"

Monday, May 6, 2013

And the judges give it a....

I've had a lot of travel recently.  It's really the climax of a busy travelling year so far while my employment has been relatively low in travel.  By my quick count it has been 27 days which puts me slightly over 30% travel on the year.

Last week I was taking a very familiar walk through the Charlotte airport and I was struck by a realization -  I am VERY good at judging people.  That isn't "good" in a sense of being "right" because it is completely wrong.  I have skills at judging people, and airports are like steroids for my judging muscles.

My eyes flit from traveller to traveller and I write a life story for them based upon their dress, their walk, their talk, or their confusion at the walls of information and graffiti of advertising.  I blatantly ignore that they are travelling for joys (weddings), sorrows (funerals), or have the same road weariness that I do.  I make a caricature of each person based on what jumps out to me from a one second glance.

I judge.

My realization was that I'm taking my instant label and applying it to their whole life.  I need to approach each person like they are having their worst day, and I can help.  They are parched in the desert of life and I can give them cool water.  That's what I would want.  That's who I want to be but my muscle memory runs deep and I have good reflexes.

All this reminds me of Jason Gray and the labels we throw onto other people and the labels we can choose to wear ourselves.