Thursday, March 17, 2016

G.K. Chesterton....Enough Said.

Credit: and Google Images
Not really. It's not really enough to just say G.K. Chesterton's name, though it should be, because everyone should know about his writing and everyone should read it (more than just his quotes on Goodreads and Pinterest) and everyone should be part of the American Chesterton Society.

Not really.
But actually, yes, everyone really should.

Who is G.K. Chesterton?

Chesterton was a journalist, novelist, and essayist during the early 20th century. He was a Catholic and much of his writing focuses on defending Christianity in general and Catholicism specifically. This brief explanation doesn't do the man justice.

To me, Chesterton is a wise man who has as much wonder and faith as a child, combined with the razor sharp intelligence of any author, intellectual, or philosopher I've ever read.

I'm afraid I'm "talking up the movie" though, and you will all have such high expectations about Chesterton that you will be a bit let down once you do finally read his work.

But no - what am I saying? Of course you won't be disappointed.

The thing is - this is a very difficult post for me to write because I don't know where to begin with Chesterton. I was first captivated by a lengthy quotation - I might say selection - from Chesterton's Orthodoxy which a friend quoted and posted on his blog. Orthodoxy was the first of Chesterton's works I read. I found it online and read most of it immediately, in a sort of frenzied inhalation, like I'd suddenly discovered oxygen.

Don't get me wrong, there are muddy parts in Orthodoxy that I struggled through and there are times when I read something written by Chesterton in which I am only mildly interested (and sometimes mildly disinterested in). But on the whole, I am startled by Chesterton, the way I might be startled by my own reflection when I walk into a room with a mirror in it - a room in which I did not expect to find a mirror, so I am startled to see myself reflected back at me.

This is what I experience when I read Chesterton: a familiar start of recognition.

My humble suggestion is that you begin reading Chesterton's work immediately.

Begin with Orthodoxy, if you like spirituality, religion, fairy tales, dragons, exceedingly wonderful things, wonder in general, romance, romanticism, nature, God, wit, insightful observations, and paradoxes.

If none of those things appeal to you I suggest the book In Defense of Sanity, which is a collection of Chesterton's essays. They cover a range of topics, including gargoyles, Charles Dickens, Father Christmas, chalk, drawing on the ceiling, writing, Christian mysticism, cheese, the importance of fiction, women's roles, etc...

I am certain you could find at least one essay to read which might interest you.

To close, I wish to let some of Chesterton's words speak for themselves. Here are some excellent quotes.

Also, I would be interested in purchasing Chesterton quote wallpaper - if you know where I might find this, let me know in the comments.

Quotes from G.K. Chesterton (thanks Goodreads for letting me copy and paste all of these!):

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” 

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” 

“People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.” 

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” 

“A dead thing goes with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” 

“We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” 

“We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man's terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.” 

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Blank Slate and Character Development

When I was in college, attending classes about literature and reading Pride and Prejudice because someone told me to (ah the life of an English major!), one of my professors introduced me to Locke's idea of tabula rasa.

On a side note, this professor was passionate about his job - and arrogant. He was a fairly attractive man in his early 40's - one of those men who are called distinguished and who all melt in my mind into one Ken-doll-esque image.

So picture a brown-haired, slightly older, professionally dressed Ken doll, talking to a room of 150 students about how he was leaving the University of Arizona for a school on the east coast because the U of A didn't appreciate or value his intellect enough.

He was more or less an ass.

But he did teach me about tabula rasa, a concept that I still find fascinating. Locke's idea was that we are born a blank slate; all of our ideas, prejudices, inclinations, etc... are formed from our experiences. In other words, we are not born predisposed toward anything; we are only a sum of our experiences.

It's a great big checkmark in favor of nurture on the nature vs. nurture debate.

Lately I've been reflecting on tabula rasa and how much our experiences shape our perception of everything.

Someone recently described the brain to me this way: "Our brains our constantly playing a game of Memory."

You know the game:
So when something happens, my brain grabs that giant cardboard card with the image on it and runs through my brain's filing cabinets, excitedly commenting that "I know I've seen this before - ah ha! Here it is."

The card my brain finds is from a past experience; possibly a past experience from a week ago, but probably a past experience from a year ago; a decade ago; two decades ago.

This would be fine if my brain were only coming up with matching images that were 100% relevant to the moment. But often they aren't.

Here is an example: If you were in a car accident -- a really severe one, where your car was totaled and you had to go to the ER in an ambulance -- as soon as you tried to get behind the wheel of a car again, you would probably freak out. Your brain would go into panic mode and match the image of this perfectly new steering wheel with the old one that got smashed and alarms would go off in your brain and body and you would probably suddenly feel unsafe.

Because your brain was just matching the current image with an old image. Even though the experience was different.

I'm sure God made us this way for a reason, however I wish I could just get a clean slate again, because so often I'm wrong and my perception isn't reality. I have to retrain my brain to check my perception not just internally, but externally.

It's like my brain has been infiltrated by a double agent who whispers lies and half-truths: "Avoid that person, they don't like you; don't do this, you aren't any good at that, remember?; don't say anything, you know what happens when you talk."

These are perhaps (perhaps) extreme examples, but it's true. In trying to protect me and work for me, my brain has (in some ways) become my enemy. I have to root out the double agent, pull the creepy flesh mask off my brain Mission-Impossible-style and reveal the mole for who she is - a deceiver.

That is the best I can do. Reveal the lies my brain keeps telling me. The only time we ever have a clean slate is the moment we are born. After that, the indelible impressions begin.

The cool, less depressing, view of tabula rosa is when it comes to crafting characters. When I write characters, I tend to write them like they are newborn baby puppets who will do and say whatever I want them to because they're mine (mwahahahaha). But that makes for very flat characters.

Instead, I want to think of characters as being born with a blank slate and ask myself: What impressions were made on them as babies? As children? As young adults (when every little thing is of the utmost importance - I don't jest, it truly is)? Then suddenly, they act and react not because I need them to, but because their slates are talking.

To these characters, the way they react is instinctual and real; it is true to them, however untrue (or crazy or weird or demented) it is to other characters.

And suddenly my flat characters are as round as balloons.


What trick do you use to make realistic, round characters?

Sunday, March 6, 2016


I found this picture on Pinterest:

Credit: Link from

And it makes me strong. When I am having a difficult day, I imagine that I look like this: Armor-clad, beautiful, scarred, but still strong, still fighting.

I read old stories with new vision now that I am older, seeing in them the struggle of putting one foot in front of the other. Frodo, for example. As a child, I was always disappointed that he couldn't get over his wounds from the war and the role he played in it. The others were all able to move on with their lives. But not Frodo. He still felt old twinges of pain in his chest from his Weathertop wound. He still struggled around the anniversary of that same wound. He was changed forever.

But that didn't happen all in a rush. It happened as he put one foot in front of the other on his way to Mordor. It happened when the Fellowship broke into pieces and his friends were snatched from him. It happened as his body began to fail him, yet onward he trudged until Sam had to carry him because he was too weak to go on.

So it is with warriors.

They don't become warriors in an instant; it happens over time, small event after small choice after tiny cut. But warriors are warriors because they keep going. They get up when others would simply die; they move their foot forward when their mind is screaming that they couldn't possibly take another step; they keep fighting in spite of the uneven odds.

This picture reminds me of the beauty in what warriors of all kinds lose - but also in what they gain.

Who is your favorite warrior (real or imaginary)?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sleeping at Last - Lyricist Spotlight

I love musicians who are poets at heart. Not that anything can really beat "Players wanna play play play play play and haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate," but sometimes I want something with a little more depth.

So this is the beginning of a series of posts where I will spotlight some of my favorite bands who write stunning lyrics.

Today, that band is Sleeping at Last.

I just discovered this band thanks to Pandora and found the CD Atlas: Year One on Amazon Music (free if you have Prime!). I've been listening to it almost non-stop since I downloaded it.

Their music is epic like a movie soundtrack - symphony-like and soothing. But I've really fallen in love with their lyrics. The lyrics are so quotable I want to print all of them out and decoupage my walls with them.

Here are some examples:
Credit: Pinterest

And another:


And one more:

Credit: Pinterest

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"One Conflict-Free Life Please. To Go."

The Storybook Cafe on Elm was all concrete, metal, and glass. There was a row of stools facing the window, lined with hipsters and their Macboooks, no doubt earning money through social media management and marketing.

The barista wore a red flannel shirt, a beard, and brown boots. How, I wondered, did this lumberjack end up in perpetually sunny, 70-degree Beachtown, California. I glanced at the menu.

"What can I get for you?"

I put the menu down. "I will have one conflict-free life. To go."

"That's not on the menu."

I frowned and glanced at the menu again. Then I winked at him casually.

"It is for me."

"It's not on the menu for anyone."

"That's not true. I know for a fact you just served it to Miss Knee-high Boots and Tunic over there." I gestured to a tall blonde, sipping from her cup dreamily, staring at her screen.

"What other customers ordered doesn't matter. And besides, that wasn't what she ordered. Because it's not on the menu."

"It should be. It would really help your sales."

"That's not exactly the point."

"You mean it's not your job to give the customer what they want?"

"We serve stories, Ma'm. Thus the name."

Hipsters. What bunch of smart-asses. I persisted: "But that's all I want. I don't want any of these other things: 8 ounces of sorrow with a joy rinse? Relationship conflict with a character boost? Who would want that? Sounds like you get a lot of what you don't want, for just a tiny bit of what you do want."

"I don't make the menu. I just serve it. If you need more time to decide, I will help the next guest while you consider." He gestured to the man behind me and I stepped aside, disgruntled.

I took a seat at a glass table.

All I wanted was to be happy and stress-free. I didn't see the problem. An old man sitting next to me wearing a scarf and dark-rimmed glasses interrupted my thoughts.

"Might I make a suggestion?"

I was suspicious, but eternally polite, as always - a trick I learned to reduce conflict on my own. "Certainly."

"If you want a conflict-free life, you can try next-door at Dissipation Brewery. But I must warn you, I spent a lot of time there in my younger days and the conflict-free life doesn't exist. It might last for awhile, but it always disappears. That's why I dreamed up this." He gestured to the cafe.

"How do you stay in business?" I asked bluntly.

"Because people only think they want a conflict-free life. What they really want is a meaningful life; they want strong character, quiet confidence, and trust in something beyond themselves. Even when they say they don't want those things, they do."

I sat there annoyed. I wished I could tell him to stop talking to me.

"The good stories always have conflict because without conflict, people would stay in stasis - forever at the beginning of their story, never changing, never growing, never reaching the promised land. Just stuck at the beginning of the story. What if Frodo had stayed in the Shire? What if Huck Finn had stayed with his father?"

"They would have avoided a lot of trouble?" I quipped.

He ignored me.

"What do you really want out of your story? I bet if you thought about it, you would discover that the conflict-free life is priced much higher than any human being can afford. That is why it is not on the menu. It costs your character, your empathy, your hopefulness, your dreams, the fulfilling of your needs, your spiritual life, your personal relationships, and cost upon cost until your life is bankrupt of worth." He stood and folded his paper, taking his cane as he did so.

"For dissipation, you can visit the place next door. To get your life started, stop protecting yourself. He who seeks to save his life will surely lose it."

I sat silently. I knew I should feel inspired. But I just felt nothing.

It may have been a few hours, or minutes, but when I looked up, the lumberjack stood in front of me with a frothy latte.

"The gentlemen you were speaking with earlier ordered this for you."

"What is it?" I looked at it suspiciously.

"He said not to tell you. But to say that it was good." Then he set it down and walked away.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Inciting Incident

You know how on the plot diagram for a story it begins with a flat line that is called this:


Then there is a tiny dot that is often labeled "inciting incident" and the line jumps up, like the person drawing it just got poked with needle. Like this:
(In this image, there is an arrow, not a dot. But it works the same way.)

After college and choosing a career, things in life really settle down. Or they did for me. Life begins to plod along like a reliable, lovable old pony. It isn't a bad thing. It's calming - the predictability, the comfortable familiarity. Settling down is delightful.

But then after all of my settling down and nesting and predicting -- I un-settled-down. The hubs and babe and I are about to make a big move - a physical move out of our state to a new state; a move into a tiny apartment; a move away from friends and towards family; a this changes everything move.

I feel like our move is an inciting incident. The problem is I don't know what comes next. I can't even imagine my life two weeks from now when we will presumably, if all goes according to our half-plan, be sitting amidst a myriad of boxes and trying to convince Melon that this is normal and she can indeed nap in this strange new place.

I have no idea what happens next. I have no idea how long we still stay in New State and where or when we will move on.

I feel like Anne, after she is (somewhat) forced to stay in Avonlea instead of go to college. She comments, "When I left Queen's my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don't know what lies around the bend..."

This is true for me. Here in Old State, my life was in stasis, the flat line of exposition; I could see the future stretched out before me with it's pleasures and pains; I knew who we would be spending our holidays with and how we would spend our leisure time, and where I would be working for the next decade or so.

Now there is a bend in the road. Or a jolt in the plot diagram.

It's pretty terrifying.

I sympathize with characters in novels now. As a reader, when the inciting incident occurs I snuggle deeper into my chair and think, "this is gonna be goooood!" because I trust that the author has a point, a purpose, a plan, a plot, a fitting resolution.

But when the story is about you - a la Stranger Than Fiction -- suddenly your palms start sweating and you're looking down the Road of Rising Action thinking, "Man I hope this works out."

While I wander down this road towards my inciting incident, I'd love to hear some tales of similar travels. Any inciting incidents in your life?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Book Review: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

Bringing Up Bebe is written by an American mother living in France. She is intrigued by the difference in behavior between French and American children (read: American kids throw their food and French kids don't) and begins investigating French parenting. This book is about her discoveries.

The last thing many moms want to do is read a dry, preachy parenting book during nap time. The few nuggets of wisdom aren't worth the horrible guilt, self-judgement, and overanalyzing. Also, I like to think that underneath the supermom exterior there is a real human being who might just want to read something that isn't about sippy cups and sleep training.

But I heartily recommend this book to all moms - and less heartily I recommend it to those who aren't moms, because it is that interesting and well written...though it may not be as funny for you. Unless you find power struggles with beings one quarter of your size amusing.

This book is far from preachy and - best of all - it is hilarious. Well-written, self-deprecating, honest, and anecdotal, I found myself wanting to read this book. I tore through it in about two days (usually reading while I was nursing).

My favorite thing about this book though is that it opened my eyes to how cultural our ideas of parenting are. Most of what I took for granted as some universal agreement about what a good mother looks like is actually unique to us Americans. It took a lot of pressure off of me to be this so-called perfect mother. Realizing that the perfect mother looks very, very different in other cultures revealed that maybe there isn't a perfect mother. Maybe all these things that I felt like I had to do (go on playdates; go to story time; breastfeed my child; stay at home; alternately work a billion hours and look like I do it with ease; prep my child for college at the age of one; never take care of myself - always the baby first!) were actually just cultural ideals that I could reject, not a solemn, ethical parenting code.

There may be some moments in the book where French parenting is a bit idealized. But I can't really blame the author for this when babies in France magically sleep through the night around 3 months for no reason that French parents can recall other than that the moms had to return to work and "the baby knew mom needed her sleep." Meanwhile, American parents are still sleep deprived several months after the baby is born and often past baby's first year.

Maybe somehow our parenting ideals are working against us? After reading this book, as well as All Joy and No Fun, I'm starting to think that may be the case. And while I have no intention of making any sweeping claims about the right way to parent (I really don't believe there is one right way), I do intend to go easy on myself and let myself parent the best I can, sans cultural commentary.