Apparently I'm not writing a series for Advent, as the season is coming to its beautiful close. I'm alright with that. The not writing, I mean, not the end of the season. There's been a lot going on this month, and I haven't regretted any of my minutes. A couple weeks ago, several extended family members came into town to celebrate the life and honor the death of my grandfather. It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with cousins I haven't seen in well over a decade and uncles I care rather much for.

My Christmas will, as usual, span several days, beginning tomorrow with my sister and brother-in-law coming into town, and then on the 25th, flying to Arkansas to be with my brother in his brand new home. I'll be seeing old friends, handing out some presents, and generally just taking a breather from life-busy-life.

There are a lot of things I want to say as the year wraps, especially about Christmas and Jesus and the Holy Parents. I want to say some things about family, and work, and the need to pause. I want to talk about what I miss and what I look forward to.

But I think I will close the computer instead, and let my blog silence stretch a little longer. If you'd like to reach me, you probably know where to find me.


November 26

Tomorrow is the beginning of Advent, which may or may not be the beginning of a series of Advent-related posts on my blog. Even if I don't end up writing my way through these holy days, I've tagged all my past Advent posts so you can find them easily. Most of them are other people's writings, which makes them all the more worthwhile.

One good reason to get all your holiday shopping done on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday (this is a new one to me, but I like that the day also gets a name), is that you don't have to think of presents for the rest of the season. Here is where I shall make a subtle word distinction. It is good to get present shopping over with, but it is all the more good to make this a season of giving. I say that without the Hallmark cheesiness. I mean, rather than shopping frantically, it would be appropriate in these next weeks to think about generosity, about giving and receiving with a thankful heart, the way it ought to be done. Take a hiatus from the jewelry commercials and the sales racks, and consider how you can give of your time, attention, affirmation, and acts of service. These have little (or nothing) to do with your wallet, and everything to do the season.


Last Things

Less than an hour after my last post, my grandfather passed away. Any meditation on the words of C. S. Lewis seems a worthy occupation in a time of great weight, but I confess that I wish I'd been quoting something from A Grief Observed or The Great Divorce in my post - something with uncanny relevance. I like to look back and see uncanny relevancies, but there were none in the late morning of October 30th.

I learned a few things that day, and they were mostly very human things, universal in a molecular rather than a spiritual way. Looking back in a not-uncanny way, I feel I understand the incarnation much better than I did before. Death shows us what a body is, what it means to be embodied, what it means when these bodies are done with themselves, when they say "it is finished."

I have never been much bothered by death. I know that most people fear it, and that perhaps in some very ancient way, I fear it too, and that is why I jump at surprising noises and shake my head at bad drivers. But in the part of my brain that does more than simply react, I am bothered more by the absence of death than its presence. We go to great lengths, not just to avoid death for ourselves, but to avoid any reminders of it. Maybe this is just living in Los Angeles, but I'm pretty sure it's more widespread than that. I think this hurts us very deeply.

I miss my grandfather. What I miss most is caring for him. Not in some noble, Florence Nightingale kind of way, but in the way that caring for people who are older makes you forget yourself. It slows you down. It causes you to put everything else on an indefinite hold. In some ways, this is about priorities. But more than that, it's about seeing another person more than yourself. Sitting in the room with him during his last week, I felt I could watch my grandfather's determined breathing for hours without discomfort or distraction.

It is my hope that I have learned something from this, that two weeks later I would be more capable of recognizing the needs of others, more conscious of the life and spirit in those around me than I am in myself. But I think I am still much the same. It's a bit disappointing, but it's not very surprising. We are stubborn souls. I still hope, though, that underneath all my sameness some change is being wrought, day by day, word by word - a change I may not recognize myself, but which is acknowledged by the one who matters most. The other one who died. Who had a body, and blood. I can, perhaps, manage enough forgetfulness of self to let him manage the change, to leave it to him.


C.S. Lewis, from Experiment in Criticism

"The man who is contended to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee. . . .
"Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do."


Madeleine L'Engle, from Walking on Water

"But I was frightened, and I tried to heal my fear with stories, stories which gave me courage, stories which affirmed that ultimately love is stronger than hate. If love is stronger than hate, then war is not all there is. I wrote, and I illustrated my stories. At bedtime my mother told me more stories. And so story helped me to learn to live. Story was in no way an evasion of life, but a way of living life creatively instead of fearfully."


Flannery O'Connor, from "The Nature and Aim of Fiction"

"I am not, of course, as innocent as I look. I know well enough that very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a 'killing.' They are interested in being a writer, not in writing. They are interested in seeing their names at the top of something printed, it matters not what. And they seem to feel that this can be accomplished by learning certain things about working habits and about markets and about what subjects are currently acceptable.

". . . What interests the serious writer is not external habits but what Maritain calls, 'the habit of art'; and he explains that 'habit' in this sense means a certain quality or virtue of the mind. The scientist has the habit of science; the artist, the habit of art."


Office Space

Not to continually regurgitate my Pinterest finds onto the blog here, but I have been sorting through some of my collected office space ideas, and thought I'd share my favorites. If you want to take a look at the original sources, follow the link to the board, the board to the image, and the image to the link. Sounds like a circle, but it's really a spiral. Promise.


Speaking of Snow Whites, here are some photos from the upcoming film by Tarsem.


October 01: LA Billboards

So I was driving along in LA today, passing the Hollywood sign on the hill and offramps with names like "Melrose" and "Universal" and such, and I noticed several very interesting billboards advertising what looked like the same upcoming television series with two different titles.

On the one hand, there were these flashy images with the word ONCE (and yes, I wondered for a split second if it was some television version of the cult favorite featuring musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova). I was able to make out the small print, "upon a time," which certainly cleared up the otherwise incongruous imagery of the billboard.

Then there were those nearly identical adverts with the word GRIMM. I immediately (and illegally) punched both titles into my cell phone to look up when I got home. I don't usually have much hope for any series based on fairy tales, Arthurian legends, or Robin Hood, but with these two there are very significant indicators that suggest a turn in the tide. Once Upon a Time was created by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, most notable for their work on Lost. Grimm was created by David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf.

In other words, what we have here are two very different sorts of brilliant hitting the same subject in radically different tones. What with the variant takes on Snow White coming up next year (and it's worth it to mention that the same character plays a pivotal role in the first of these two shows), I think we have a theme for the season: Magic.


In a few days, I'll be running off to the desert to housesit for some friends. Housesitting is always an interesting opportunity to devote yourself to projects that would otherwise take a back-burner to normal life. I'm working on a list of things to do - manuscripts to proof, books to read, Buffy to watch, that sort of thing. If you have any suggestions, let me know. We'll see how I do.


You ask, I answer.

1. Favorite childhood book?
The Golden Book of Fairy Tales (still a favorite)
2. What are you reading right now?
Joseph and His Brothers, and 2012 manuscripts

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
None. Though I requested so many books at my old library growing up, that I memorized my 13-digit library card number years before I knew my social security number.

4. Bad book habit?
Using coffee table art books as food and drink trays or laptop desks in bed. Sorry, Impressionism.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Nothing. I know. The mighty have fallen...

6. Do you have an e-reader?
My iPhone does qualify as an e-reader. I have read a few paragraphs of free ebooks here and there, but that was about a year ago when it was a novelty. I have also used it for last minute Bible references, and on more than one occasion, have pulled up documents from my email. I am more likely to use my phone for emergency writing than reading. The notebook feature is cluttered with bizarre paragraphs from stories otherwise never written.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I prefer one book at a time, but we live in a broken world.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
Yes, but I don't believe the change was influenced by the blog at all.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
I'm gonna skip this one.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
I haven't read much this year apart from work. I think I've hit 27 work-related book reads since January, which is pretty awesome. My favorite non-work book is undoubtedly Divergent. It would probably be a favorite even if it wasn't one of only two options, the other being The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. And yes, read that book you should.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I am not sure what "out of my comfort zone" is. Horror, maybe? Romance? The Dummies Guide to Horoscopes? Short answer, I don't. Unless it's work related.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Literary fiction, teen fiction, science fiction and fantasy (more or less), Victorian, post-Victorian, pre-Victorian, 14th, 15th, and 16th century writing, stuff old enough that it's been translated from the Latin or Greek, epic poetry, poetry-poetry, spiritual philosophy (is that a recognized category?), and my blogroll.
13. Can you read on the bus?
I can read anywhere. Except in front of the television. Unless it's turned off.

14. Favorite place to read?
I can read anywhere. Except in front of the television. Unless it's turned off.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
I lend books. I know I will never see them again. I also borrow books. I still have them all.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Hell no.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
Hell yes.

18. Not even with text books?

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

20. What makes you love a book?

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? 
I do not recommend books because I like them. If I'm recommending something to you, it is because when I read it, I felt the book told me something about you. In some way, the book spoke your name. It was more yours than mine. 
(Either that, or you've been begging me for book recommendations. You know who you are.)

22. Favorite genre?
memoirs and spirituality writing (UPDATE: I have no idea why I wrote "memoirs" here, as I do not read memoirs, utterly ever. See "biography" below. Same thoughts apply. The real answer is that I do not have a favorite genre. Sorry.)

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
General literary fiction. Which is weird. You'd think it would be my go-to genre.

24. Favorite biography?
I am pretty sure the last biography I read was something about Beethoven in 7th grade. Unless that was just a general music history book... The only biographies I ever feel compelled to read are bios of Abraham Lincoln. Other biographies fill me with metaphoric yawn at the thought of them.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
No. I don't think so. Not that I recall.

26. Favorite cookbook?
Betty Crocker for the basics. The Olive and the Caper for awesome dinner parties of Greek wonder.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
I've been reading some Thomas Merton. Does that count as inspirational? What does this mean, exactly?

28. Favorite reading snack?
Tea and shortbread!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I started The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo before the hype. I didn't get past the first chapter. Then there was hype and I felt guilty for not having finished it. So in a sense, hype ruined my I-decided-not-to-read-this experience.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I despise D. H. Lawrence. Certain "critics" put him on essential reading lists, lists of classics, required course reading catalogs, etc. I despise such critics.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
I have become increasingly less inclined to give negative reviews on this blog since entering the book industry. Which is sort of a shame, since negative reviews are often way more fun than positive ones. Considering that attitude, I guess it's a good thing I don't do them anymore.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? 

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Greek was intimidating. So I guess the New Testament qualifies.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
These questions are intimidating. I am not nervous to begin any books I know of.

35. Favorite Poet?
Czeslaw Milosz. Still.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
None right now, but when I do check books out, it's usually a stack of about 7-12 titles.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
All the time.

38. Favorite fictional character?

39. Favorite fictional villain?

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Best book I brought on vacation was Wives and Daughters. It was so perfect for that trip. Most recently, I started Joseph and His Brothers when I went up to San Simeon with my mom. That was excellent. But the book I always bring on every vacation is my journal.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I don't know what this means.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
The one by D. H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers of Daughters of Ladies or whatever. I would burn that book without batting an eye. 
Also, American Gods. Though I wouldn't burn that one.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Other books.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
I am a faithful follower of all BBC Victorian adaptations. North and South (not the Civil War epic) was amazing. But Little Dorrit is possibly one of the best adaptations of utterly ever.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Those Twilight things.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
No idea.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Only non-fiction, and rarely.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Another book.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes. I used to re-organize my books by subject every year or so. Most of my books are now in boxes from lack of space, so I now organize them by color. My life is too visually cluttered not to make this absurd aesthetic concession on the bookshelves.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep them. You never know.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Should I mention D. H. Lawrence again? No? Okay, I successfully avoided the Da Vinci Code craze. I avoided Elizabeth Gilbert and The Last Lecture and The Shack. But the books I most viscerally avoid are Nicholas Sparks novels.

52. Name a book that made you angry. 
Graceling. Because it was a good book, but not very self-aware.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
I don't read books if I don't expect to like them. I have too many books I do expect to like waiting in the wings to waste my time on the off-chance that I'll be wrong.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
I can't remember...

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Like I'd tell you that.


Hardly Dauntless

Everyone who has read Divergent has loved it, and for good reason. (If you are one of the nonexistent who disagree, just keep quiet.) Usually when I finish the first book in a good series, I can't wait for the second. Divergent is the kind of good that makes you get to the end and want to read it again.

Most people in the Veronica Roth fandom are asking each other which faction they'd be in - or if they, too, are Divergent. This is an obvious question to arise from the book, as it explores a society split into four factions with essentially unique characteristics. But an equally obvious question would be about our fears.

In the novel, Tris joins a faction bent on overcoming their fears to become - as their faction's name claims - dauntless. At one point, Tris undergoes a test in which she has to face each one of her fears in order to overcome them. In comparison with her other Dauntless friend, she has surprisingly few fears to combat - though that doesn't make the ordeal any less harrowing. One character in particular is known for carrying the record for fewest fears in the entire faction. He is named for his record, and we trembling readers are unquestionably in awe of him. His name is Four.

I was thinking about Four this morning while I sat listening to a sermon about the Israelites and the Egyptians - that ancient narrative of the supreme God proving his faithfulness to a people so fearful he had to take them the long way through the desert just so they wouldn't see the warmongering Philistines and run back to their Egyptian slavery. I was thinking about Four and how he could name his fears on one hand. I was thinking about Tris and the test she took, and what it would be like to distill your fears into individual experiences, to face them head on, to know their names.

I doubt anyone's going to let a "name your fears" test go viral on Facebook in honor of Divergent. It's just as relevant a question as "what faction are you in," but a lot more personal. It's also harder to answer. It would take a great deal of self-awareness to be able to count your own fears, let alone the bravery it would require to face them all.

It's a testament to how good the book is that I'm still thinking about these things months after having read it. If you haven't yet, feel free to borrow my copy. Though be sure to return it. I'll be rereading it before long.


Eyeing November

November is a month and a half away, but I'm already thinking about National Novel Writing Month and whether or not I will participate. I am thinking that maybe this will be the year I do it. Not that I remotely have time, but the whole point is to make a goal regardless of your commitments and find the time in the cracks and crannies of the usual crazy world. It helps, of course, if you know what you want to write about beforehand, and there are some significant things you can do to help yourself prepare without officially jumping the gun.

For example, an outline, drafting character sketches, writing sample dialogues, reading similar works, collecting first and last names so you don't leave a bunch of these ___ scattered through the manuscript... that sort of thing. Figuring out the very mechanics of how you will write the thing (pen and paper? trusty laptop? occasional twitter posts?) may seem overly specific, but may be just the sort of initial decision-making that will set you up for success.

Though it's worth it to note that success is not necessarily the completion of a novel. It may be that the best preparation is deciding what you really want to take away from the project. A stronger grasp on grammar, the sensation of having completed something from start to finish, or the exploration of a certain subject to the exclusion of all else for thirty solid days. It could be any number of things. The choice is yours.


The other day as I was driving down the freeway, thinking about my perception of all the cars around me and the noise of their engines, I was struck by the similarity of light and sound in that they are both waves. Or rather, I was struck by their dissimilarity, because light and sound seem thoroughly disassociated from one another in our perception of them. And yet, atomically, or subatomically, they are these shivering waves coming at our senses. Bumping our neurons and sending the dendrites shuddering toward the brain.

It seemed like such a phenomenal revelation, this wave business. It took my mind in a hundred different directions all at once, and I found myself rattling off these wonders of nature and perception that were all somehow tangentially related to the fact of the sensory wave, from modern art to the temptation in the Garden of Eden.

It occurred to me that I was just as thrilled by these different ideas and their connections as I was by the fact of thinking of them at all. I had earlier, for a number of semi-legitimate reasons which I won't bother recounting, been thinking about things that thrill people, especially in relation to vampires. In the sense that vampires seem to require (at least in most traditional lore) rather extreme and inappropriate sources of pleasure, namely the whole blood-and-fang business. And in the sense that the vampire narrative represents the corruption of human desires. I imagined myself, at the vast edge of my wonder, standing next to meta-vampire as he laid claim to the epitome of human experience. I imagined myself looking askance at meta-vampire and saying quietly but superiorly, "I know something more. I know epiphany."


Eye candy

This is going to be one of those posts that reflects just how much I wish Pinterest had a blog feature. Not that that's remotely a good idea, as I wouldn't honestly be too interested in reading other Pinterest blogs, but... whatever. Here are some pictures for you:

From the Boca Raton Museum of Art exhibit "The Magic of Realism," by Robert Vickrey

You never know when you might need a flickr collage of ancient maps and such.

The Bucephalus living sculpture by Robert Cannon.

Just follow the link to the other "accidental mysteries" featured here.

Tapping into my inner melodrama for this one. I really do love it, and no less with the knowledge that it will probably grace the cover of a teen paranormal romance novel some day.

Found somewhere on the blog Blue Velvet Chair. Click through at your peril.

From a collection of incredible book paintings by Mike Stilkey.



Many of my college friends are in Chicago this week for a wedding, which makes me a little sad that I don't live there. I have been thinking about living in Chicago for the last few days, since I stumbled across the pictures for HGTV's upcoming giveaway.

I won't win this one either, but I am trying really hard to figure out if there's a way to affordably DIY the Frank Lloyd Wright Tree of Life lightboxes from the living area. Looking at the photos of the view out the apartment's window has brought a flood of memories (though some of the memories, I realize, are actually scenes from Divergent playing in my head, others are real).

Some of my most vivid memories of Chicago:

When we accidentally gave a drug dealer a ride home from the Jazz Festival.

When I got suckered into giving a guy $20 to help me walk my luggage to Ogilvie (a cab ride would have cost less than half as much).

When I changed for the opera in a McDonald's bathroom, leaving Jenny to carry my snow boots around the city.

When my sister Amanda visited and we wandered farther north in the city than I'd ever been before on foot with her friend Reed and we stopped to eat in a random little restaurant and I tried pumpkin ravioli for the first time and it was underwhelming.

oh, the days of black sweaters and red lipstick

My first trip into the city, with Jenny and Micah and Chaeli, to the Art Institute, where I had my first conversation with the latter and she asked each of us in an intent and deeply interested way, "What are your passions?"

The midnight study run to the 24 hour Starbucks where, during my reading for Art & Theology, I stumbled across a picture of Constantine and realized that my friend Brendon looked exactly like him. (The next day I approached Brendon and said "Guess who you look like?!" thinking how glad he would be to look like Constantine. He gave an epic scowl and said, "I know." Three minutes later, I realized he thought I was going to be the hundredth person to point out his resemblance to Conan O'Brien, which was also uncanny. I tried to apologize, but we haven't really spoken since...).

The first time I saw the water along the lake shore turn to ice from the parking lot of La Rabida Children's Hospital.

Photo from Steven S. Gearhart. More through the link.
The view of the city coming in on the Metra, an indelible sight. If any part of Chicago makes it into a novel of mine someday in the future, it will be that train ride.



I have been editing a lot lately. I have read and reread at least 23 manuscripts since the beginning of the year. Let me type that out for emphasis: twenty-three! And there are about four more left for the month of August, so I'm not slowing down any time soon (except to blog a bit, I guess).

I am learning a few things about editing as I go, the most important being that it is never a waste of time to read something again. There's a reason publishers object to digital books being priced lower than print books. They both cost exactly the same amount to make in terms of time and expertise - and since digital books have to be formatted in a number of different ways for various platforms, they arguable cost even more.

I am finding the ideal number of read-throughs for a manuscript, after all content is ironed out and sentences are looking more or less as they ought, is three. This is why there are copyeditors, line editors, and proofreaders, and why each of them have a slightly different function. Each reading is a different exercise, using a different muscle of the brain. Each reading strips a new layer of errors away from the text, until it's (hopefully) perfect.

This is also why conscientious readers have a difficult time with self-published material. It is so often lacking one - or all - of the aforementioned editorial layers. And quite honestly, a good book deserves nothing less than a thorough scrub before publication. Good readers deserve it, too. As do good writers. In short, it's good for everyone and everything.

If I'm honest, though I'm quite particular about things, these editing layers are not my strong suit. I am better with content, as most people who have undergone extensive creative writing seminars and workshops are. But the wonderful thing about these types of editing is that you can learn them. You can learn to identify a run-on sentence, especially one that seriously disturbs the language of a paragraph. You can learn to notice when quotation marks are missing, or facing the wrong direction, or not remotely necessary. These are technical things, of which some creativity but not much is required to master.

One of the most significant pieces of advice I would give an aspiring writer would be to learn these things for themselves. Because a publisher will do them for you (or should), but an acquisitions editor should not be turned off by the lack of them at that first step in the game.

More importantly, though, knowing the rules of grammar, punctuation, and even formatting - all those technical things - will really help your writing to begin with. It's rather like knowing the rules of etiquette. When you first learn them, they might feel unnatural and hindering. But as you grow familiar with them, you learn that they are tools by which human interaction, conversation, daily life, is made more simple. They become the frame for other things.

And any artist will tell you that the frame of a piece is (almost) as important as the piece itself.


Crystal Cove in Pictures

Blueberry Lemon Ricotta Pancakes at the Beachcomber

The view from our table

Beginning the walk

My mother, on the phone with my brother, bridging two coasts

A map of seaweed

Thanks to Instagram, without which, I can't take pictures worth salt. Considering my proximity to the sea, that's really not worth much at all.


Snow What?

The big movie news (at least in my odd world) is the dual releases of Snow White adaptations happening next year. Universal is shooting one with Kristen Stewart, and Relativity is releasing one with Lily Collins. Take a look at the promotional images:

Obviously the Kristen Stewart version looks cooler, but the problem with it is equally evident - they cast Kristen Stewart. The wicked stepmothers are also an interesting battle of the hotties, Julia Roberts for Relativity and Charlize Theron for Universal. The latter has a bigger budget, but the former (apart from not having casted an angsty mouthbreather in the lead role) has the greatest card in its favor: It's directed by my favorite film genius, Tarsem Singh.

Take a look at a few of the images from The Fall, one of my favorite films of all time. Seriously, if Snow White has any measure of this kind of aesthetic quality, Bella doesn't stand a chance:



Sometimes I write elaborate blog posts only to delete them moments before publishing. It's a good thing, both for you and for me. I was about to wax angry and uneloquent on all the fuss over Amy Winehouse when more tragic things have happened in the last twenty-four hours or so. But the fuss is understandable, and I have reminded myself to be sympathetic in all things. I will try.

The difference lies in our choices. Amy Winehouse is a tragedy, because she is the portrait of Dorian Gray. She is a reminder of what our choices mean, what they look like when they are worn on our skin. A reminder that we are all one ugly decision away from that kind of living hell. When we look at her and read the verse "for the wages of sin is death," we begin to wonder if it's talking about punishment - or inevitable consequences.

Norway is a different kind of tragedy. We are talking about a massacre of innocents. They're both tragedies, and I suppose the former is better suited to speckle my Facebook wall than the latter. Because the former might make me shake my head and sigh and maybe Google some headlines. But the later will make me shut myself in a quiet room and cry.

I knew this before I read the paper this morning. I was in Edinburgh when I read about the man who shot the Amish children, the little girls in their smocks and clean white bonnets, and I really did shut myself in the toilet and sob. I remembered the Amish children on the train from Chicago to Washington D.C. I remembered when the little boy handed his father a bunch of string, and the man coiled it playfully and thoughtlessly through his fingers for over an hour, delighting in that motion with the same simple childlike simplicity of the precious children around him. I remembered how I yearned to be like them, not in my dress or habits, but in my heart. I remembered them as I tried to keep my voice down so that my flatmates wouldn't wonder what was wrong. They would think it odd, because I hadn't lost anyone personally. Yes, odd. But so it is.

Now I think of Norway. I remember the first time I saw a picture of the fjords. I remember the language, and all the incomprehensible lilts and tilts it takes on the tongue. I think of it as an English speaking person, as Tolkien might once have done, viewing it with the awed distance of one who honors the presence of something more ancient and epic than my own patchwork bloodline has ever known. I think of the tongues who once spoke it, who will speak it no more.

I am sad tonight. Can you tell?


Taking Offense

I just read a post over at Publishers Weekly about a book group being vocally offended by a bookseller's reading suggestion. The bookseller, who is also the PW blogger, was baffled by their offense. Not just because they were so loud about their objections - which I might understand; after all, they should have known better than to keep reading if the material was offensive - but that they seemed reluctant to talk about the issue of sexuality.

When I was working on my graduate degree, some of my fellow students invited me to watch a widely acclaimed art house film that was laced with sexually explicit scenes. When it was over, I told them how awful I thought it was, how inappropriate, disturbing and unnecessary it seemed. In turn, they were offended that I hadn't been able to see past my puritanical hang-ups to see the artistic quality of the film.

I have remembered that post-movie conversation with them for years because it baffled me. I have still not been able to figure out why I was so quickly accused of being small-minded just because I believed that some kind of precious human intimacy had been violated on screen. Since when does a moral conviction imply intellectual inferiority? Does maturity mean you ought to relegate your personal convictions to a matter of conversational disagreement? Is it no longer politically correct to take offense? Why on earth is this?

There's a big difference between watching a scene of sexual experimentation or reading about a woman's sexual explorations, and having a conversation about it. I doubt these book group women were offended by the prospect of discussing the book as much as they were offended by the encouragement given to them to read something that they considered to have crossed 'the line'.

Now, they had every right to put the book down and express their opinion silently and graciously - or not at all - without reading another word. And I had every right to walk out of the film so many years ago, though I didn't. If I was small-minded about anything, it was that I cared too much for my friends' good opinion.

I agree that we seem hesitant, as the blogger suggests, to discuss dissenting ideas. I don't think sexuality is one of them. People have been arguing over sexual privacy and sexual freedom since the dawn of human intercourse (double meaning intended). What we continue to avoid addressing is that these two perspectives just don't live well together: those who say it's socially oppressive to take public offense over a personal conviction, and those who say that the more we relegate moral conviction to private opinion, the more we damage whatever it is that makes us human.

We seem to skirt around this distinction, focusing instead on either, a) the smallness of the minds of the conservative, or b) the audacious laxity of the liberal. (It doesn't help that these arguments somehow land themselves on two opposing sides of a political fence.)

If I believe that something is sacred, whether it be sexuality, the office of the church, the unborn, the creative urge of humanity, science, dolphins, whatever, am I not obligated to acknowledge that sanctity before the world? Have we forgotten that a belief and an opinion are two different things - and that if I believe something, I cannot believe it is true only for me, or it is only an opinion (or even an illusion)? And if something - like a moral code, perhaps - is true for everyone, and I find it being ignored or mocked or abused, shouldn't I say something? Wouldn't it be cowardly of me not to?

It certainly wouldn't be small-minded.

I suppose it would just be refreshing, after all, if the side in favor of moral license would just admit that they, too, are offended. But 'taking offense' has become their way of labeling something on our side. It's their way of taking our convictions and demeaning them to the state of a child's tantrum. Interesting wordplay. In the end, it makes real discussion - of the kind the aforementioned blogger is apparently hoping for - well...rather impossible. Not much can be done until we're all, at the very least, speaking the same language.


Summer Reading

I have a lot of wonderful things to read this summer. I'm really excited about it, actually. Even so, my whole summer reading list is pretty much work-related. There are a few books I have sitting on my shelves that I kind of wish I was reading as well (not instead).

I have been meaning to reread this since I first turned the last page.

All you need to read is the first page to know you should read the whole thing.

I freely admit, I want to read this for the cover alone.

It has been too long since I last read anything by O'Connor. She is required reading for life.
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