The Healing Power of Dogs

I don’t always know what to do with all the media options available to us now.  It’s a contradiction, I know, because I have very recently complained to friends and to myself about the lack of good things on the internet.  I’m always skating very near the edge of the end of the internet, like Francis Fukuyama with much smaller stakes.

Then I find myself as wrong about communication as he was about history.  The cycle hums, the weekend comes, and these days are yours and mine, these happy, happy days.

I have OCD, so sometimes I get stuck in loops.  Sometimes I’m just loopy.  But what happens is this: I fall in love with WordPress or Twitter or Reddit for awhile.  I start again with poetry and prose.  By the time I go to bed I’m embarrassed by my enthusiasm.  There’s some kind of chemical remorse for having celebrated life.

Which is odd, because this is not how I live any other part of my life.  There are loops and loopiness, but never nagging guilt at having spent time on good things.  It’s tough for me to figure out, though I understand some of it.  A lot of it has to do with sometimes just not wanting to be bothered.  OCD is an anxiety disorder, and there are others, and if you have them, you know they love playing with each other.

This morning I was sick.  I had plans to write and work and clean, but my stomach felt in a mood to drive the balance of the action.  I laid down, and my German shepherd and my cousin’s beagle, whom I have adopted, laid on top of me and let me sleep for hours.  The sick part of feeling sick never, ever came.  The healing power of dogs.

Nothing against cats or their people.  My cat has done this, too.

Rested and busy (busy writing, busy reading, busy with the details of ministry and business and all the snow we’re having) I have today seen some great things on my WordPress feed, and so I share them.  One is a poem by Robert Okaji.  Another is this drawing by Luther Siler. He was sick today, too, but drew a fox, and it is awesome.

The healing power of (goats and cats and) dogs.

 

 

 

 

On Uses of Your Time

Before I became a pastor and a food trucker, I earned an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School and taught writing for a season at a college in the Bronx.  Before I did that, I went to Yale Divinity School and got my MDiv there.

I write a lot.  Every now and then, I submit old or new fiction or poetry to various literary journals.  I’ve been doing this long enough to have watched the submissions process change from mostly postal to various electronic formats to the now-standard service at Submittable.  I’ve watched the rise of submission fees, and I refuse to pay them. I try to spend more time writing than writing about writing.  I’ve had various plan Bs.

There are more journals now than ever.  They all say variations of the same thing.  Send us your best work.  We are picky.  We want to highlight emerging writers.   And we do, and they are, and they do.  At the same time, there seem to be more small presses than ever, which is a good thing.  There are also more writers than ever, and here I mean very talented ones.

It is always tempting to start a new journal, edited and curated by me, reflecting only my tastes.  It is always tempting to do that, until you realize that means your own work gets pushed further and further to the back.

The key, I think, is persistence.

That’s not a revelation.  It may be a reminder.

No matter your vocation, and I really mean this, no matter your vocation, you will be tempted to give up because you’ve tried so hard, so long, because life or people aren’t fair, because the meritocracy has failed, because you hold current tastes in contempt (too much or not enough), because you are too revolutionary or your politics too nuanced.

The key, I think, is perspective. Live your life, take care of your family.  Take care of yourself, and let people help.

The rest will come.  Or won’t.   It’s not up to you or your talent. In the end, it doesn’t matter.  There are millions of talented people, and you are probably one of them, whether I know your name or don’t.  Bless the people around you.  Be talented in that, and build that talent up in you and other people.

 

 

 

Deep Fried Mozzarella Sandwich; Huffington Post Shuts Down Submissions

I’m not going to lie.  This looks really good.  I’m not a doctor or dietician, but I’d also say probably not for anyone struggle with heart disease.

The Huffington Post believes it has done all it can to democratize the the internet via its contributor platform, which has now been shut down.  It’s funny that this email came when it did, given that I’ve been thinking about the proliferation of markets, many of which are niche, the popularity of submission fees (please), and the reality that so few very talented writers get through.

Here’s the email from HuffPost:

Dear HuffPost Contributors,

When HuffPost launched in 2005, it introduced a group blogging platform that revolutionized and democratized online commentary. It allowed teachers, parents and protesters to share space with celebrities, politicians and CEOs while trading ideas on the pressing issues of the day. Over the years, more than 100,000 contributors have posted on the site, with many of you posting from the start.

Today, with the proliferation of social media and self-publishing platforms across the web, people have many more opportunities to share their thoughts and opinions online. At the same time, the quantity and volume of noise means truly being heard is harder than ever. Those who are willing to shout the loudest often drown out new, more-deserving voices. The same has proven to be true on our own platform.

It is with this in mind that we have made the decision to close the contributors platform on our U.S. site. Going forward, when you log in to the portal at contributors.huffingtonpost.com, you’ll see that you are able to access your previous drafts and published posts — and unpublish those posts if you choose to do so — but you won’t be able to post anything new. We won’t be taking down or making any changes to previously published content ourselves.

We’ll still be publishing commentary on the site, we’ll just be doing it at much smaller scale, collaborating with writers to share smart, original ideas and making sure that we’re lifting up the voices that have been left out of the conversation in the past. We hope to keep hearing from many of you in the future, and more information about how to pitch us your ideas will be published on the site.

Thanks for being an integral part of the HuffPost community. Your bold, thoughtful contributions to HuffPost’s contributor platform have helped to make us what we are today, and we are so grateful and proud to have had you with us in this endeavor.

Sincerely,

The HuffPost Team

C.S. Lewis on Writing for Children and Writing In General: Fear of Childishness is Childish; Images Always Come First

As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of fantasy.

I tried to read Lewis’ Narnia books as a child. I tried to read L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time.  I found them tedious and boring.  The suspension of belief was too great.  The affectation too heavy and too heavy-handed.  Why does Tolkien insist on that awful dwarf saga so close to the beginning of The Hobbit?  I didn’t open that book again for close to 15 years.

With that said, I do think Lewis is a great writer, an important writer, a brilliant writer.  My ambivalence about Narnia notwithstanding, his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” is very good.  You can download it here.

I especially like this paragraph:

“Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But the on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development: When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

I have nothing against giants and dwarves.  I have nothing against Hobbits or Elves or whatever else.  But as a reader, I have little patience for world-building.  I find it very hard to care about a place that I know does not exist.  I don’t care about its physics or its metaphysics or any other contrivance.  I am conversant with the Harry Potter series largely because it at least pretends to take place in a world that actually matters.  And because I’m confounded by so many of the proclamations made by its adult fandom.  You guys know that Dumbledore is the actual worst, right?

I agree with Lewis that “the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown” up are, themselves, hallmarks of childhood.  I love the mythos of DC Comics. I love the mythos of 80’s and 90’s professional wrestling.  I love metanarratives about Goodness and justice.  But the Pevensies (and Lewis’ mid-century British) ask too much of me literarily.

With that said, I love the Narnia and Tolkien movies.  They don’t ask or expect me to spend time investing in literary and readerly affectations.  Neither does Star Trek.   As for Star Wars, the best of the series is Rogue One.  Precisely because it could take place in our universe, and has.

Perhaps I’m simply averse to cute writing, and so much of the work of world-building in fantasy seems cute and finally pointless to me.  All those pretend names and languages.  I know neither Gondor nor Gotham exist, but I also know that in another way, Gotham exists in a way Gondor never could.

When I say I don’t have time for world-building or cuteness, that’s not meant to suggest the kind of “serious adult”  vs. “childish” critique cited above.  It’s my preference and personality and predisposition.  Given the choice between My Side of the Mountain and Johnny Tremain or A Wrinkle In Time and The Fellowship of the Ring, I chose the former and read them cover-to-cover.  But I think Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Roddy Piper are just as important to the story of the stories we tell or read or love and why.

Lewis says: “According to Tolkien, the appeal of the fairy story lies in the fact that man there most fully exercises his function as a ‘subcreator’; not, as they love to say now, making a ‘comment upon life’ but making, so far as possible, a subordinate world of his own. Since, in Tolkien’s view, this is one of man’s proper functions, delight naturally arises whenever it is successfully performed. For Jung, fairy tale liberates Archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious, and when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself’.”

Clearly, I’m with Jung.

“I would venture to add to this my own theory,” Lewis says, “not indeed of the Kind as a whole, but of one feature in it: I mean, the presence of beings other than human which yet behave, in varying degrees, humanly: the giants and dwarfs and talking beasts. I believe these to be at least (for they may have many other sources of power and beauty) an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology, types of character, more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach. Consider Mr Badger in The Wind in the Willows—that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr Badger has ever afterwards, in its bones, a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which it could not get in any other way.”

I actually agree.  But while Lewis’ hieroglyphics are fantastic literary beasts serving as typological shorthand, mine are more immediate still.  The bridge of the Enterprise in primary colors, an S-shaped crest, the silhouette of caped crusader watching over a world not so different from mine.  Lewis himself describes his creative process as a sort of necessary affection:

“I have never exactly ‘made’ a story. With me the process is much more like bird-watching than like either talking or building. I see pictures. Some of these pictures have a common flavour, almost a common smell, which groups them together. Keep quiet and watch and they will begin joining themselves up. If you were very lucky (I have never been as lucky as all that) a whole set might join themselves so consistently that there you had a complete story: without doing anything yourself. But more often (in my experience always) there are gaps. Then at last you have to do some deliberate inventing, have to contrive reasons why these characters should be in these various places doing these various things. I have no idea whether this is the usual way or writing stories, still less whether it is the best. It is the only one I know: images always come first.”

 

 

Review: “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke

The StarThe Star by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted more from this story. More nuance. More suspense. More length, really. The ending comes much too soon. We need much more space and breath after the penultimate paragraph.

The story’s brevity also means we don’t come to the Jesuit’s crisis of faith as honestly as we ought.
In the end, he doesn’t stop believing in God….he’s simply unable to believe in God’s goodness. In another setting, on another world, in the debris of another supernova, he might just as well have kept believing in God’s goodness and stopped believing in God’s omnipotence. Either are perfectly logical solutions to the problems of evil and entropy. I would have liked to see him wrestle with that. I would have liked some more evidence of his prior dark nights of the soul, or some more filled-out allusions to that tradition.

Like I said, the ending comes far too soon. I’m shocked that this story, in this form, won a Hugo Award. I suppose it was considered groundbreaking in 1956. It feels to me like a missed opportunity.

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