Social Geometry and other stories

Google Plus! Add me to your circles, if you will. I might just talk to myself over there till everyone migrates in from Facebook and Twitter. The benefits:
  • it shares an account with your GMail address/Blogger blog/YouTube channel/anything else Google-based
  • the share function works kind of like retweeting, and for everything
  • you're not limited to 140 characters, although it's still better to keep it short
  • you can control what you share with which group of friends/family members/bosses and coworkers/etc.
  • (my favorite) theoretically, eventually you won't have to try and be clever on numerous social networks at once

The down side: Google might take over the world.

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Dear people who make hymnals for the Catholic Church, please reconsider the following lines: "One is the breath of the star and the rose", "When love explodes across the sky", "A gleaming cloth of white... the fabric of our lives", and "...who was rage against the night." And about half of the song that goes "We are harvest, we are hunger, we are question, we are creed..." I cannot sing these lyrics with a straight face. Thanks.

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Writers' link of the week: I really appreciated this piece by Mike Duran on 'The Myth of "Secular" Fiction'. Sample quote:
"A blanket condemnation of all myths -- especially myths that are so rich in spiritual allegory -- does not do justice to either myth or Christianity. Which is why on Mars Hill (Acts 17), rather than condemn the pagan poets, the apostle Paul quoted them, highlighting elements of their art which corroborated biblical truth."
Well said, good sir.

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Music of the week: The instrumentation to this is incredibly beautiful.

Gloria Video from Maralynn Rochat on Vimeo.

H/T Mr. Pond, who recommended them. Apparently some of them are his friends. :)

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Funny of the week: This year's Bulwer-Lytton awards. They're all brilliant, but I think the Dishonorable Mention is my favorite.

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Happy weekend, everyone!


Currently Reading: Crossroads of Twilight (The Wheel of Time, Book 10)

Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, #10)“Only...I’ve heard Grady and Neald talk about how it is, holding the One Power. They say they feel more alive. I’m too frightened to spit, in a battle, but I feel more alive than any time except when I’m holding Faile. I don’t think I could stand it if I came to feel that way about what I just did back there. I don’t think Faile would have me back if I came to that.”

Elyas snorted. “I don’t think you have that in you, boy. Listen, danger takes different men in different ways. Some are cold as clockwork, but you never struck me as the cold sort. When your heart starts pounding, it heats your blood. Stands to reason it heightens your senses, too. Makes you aware. Maybe you’ll die in a few minutes, maybe in a heartbeat, but you’re not dead now, and you know it from your teeth to your toenails. Just the way things are. Doesn’t mean you like it.”

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: As Rand cleanses saidin and sets out to make a truce with the Seanchan, Elayne continues to pursue her throne and discovers she is carrying Rand’s twins. Perrin comes across Darkhounds as he searches for Faile. Mat courts the Daughter of the Nine Moons, and Egwene puzzles out how to take the White Tower.

Notes: First, this novel ended on a cruel cliffhanger. I read spoilers on Wikipedia to keep myself from sacrificing this week to the next seven-hundred-page book.

Second, I managed to really enjoy this installment despite the fact that very little ground was gained toward any of the main plot threads. Aes Sedai and Asha’man dropped whatever they were holding all over the world to stare toward the massive beacon of the One Power as Rand and Nynaeve did their cleansing work. Elayne still isn’t queen; Egwene still hasn’t attacked the White Tower; Perrin has found the Shaido, but not Faile; Mat is still trying to get away from Seanchan rule....

Mat’s tale was hilarious in this novel. He’s such a womanizer that I’ve never been able to stand him, but Tuon appears to be just the person to shake him back into decency. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them attempt to set each other on their ears.

I’ve noted before that the depth of cultural worldbuilding is fantastic. At this point, I feel like I know the Aiel, the Atha’an Miere, and the Seanchan fairly well. The lot of them are strange and sometimes horrifying to the reader, much as they are to the Two Rivers folk, whose culture and morals are similar to those of nineteenth-century Western agricultural communities. But they’re also endlessly fascinating.

It’s been interesting to watch the young Two Rivers people make their way in a tougher world. Every one of them is harder, except possibly Nynaeve, whose ferocity has become more like petulance. Rand hardens himself to do what he thinks he must, and then tortures himself because women keep dying. Mat lives entirely for his own pleasure and safety until his few remaining shards of morality force him into stepping up and protecting someone who would die otherwise. Egwene is cool, calculating, and powerful, but has retained most of her conscience. Perrin has held onto his old ways better than any of the others, but he’s made Faile the start and finish of his existence and I get impatient with some of his thoughts.

It did feel very strange to get nothing of Rand until page 657, and then only a few pages. It was nice to see Loial return, though—he’s been gone for books and books.

How did people wait years for book eleven? I’ve had trouble waiting days.

Recommendation: Read it when you can plan on following it immediately with its sequel.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Tackle Tough Issues

Disclaimer: I tend to avoid books that get lauded for Dealing with Tough Issues, generally because—as noted yesterday—I prefer stories without agendas. To be fair, sometimes the agenda is in the marketing or even the reviews. Unfortunately, it annoys me there, too.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

So I simply haven't read most of the currently-popular issue books. But here's a list of well-told stories that provide beautiful and redemptive coverage of some of humanity's deepest difficulties.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee). I love it for its immense compassion toward the vulnerable, and it also shows a heartbreaking picture of human injustice.

2. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky). Here, there is hope and redemption for the murderer and the prostitute, and therefore all of us.

3. Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling). If this series doesn't make you consider your own heart and make you want to be braver, kinder, more loving in the face of weakness and need and death, I don't know what will.

4. Speaker for the Dead (Orson Scott Card). The man who unintentionally destroyed a race of sentient beings shows understanding to an abusive husband, an angry and faithless woman, a family of desperate children, and a species that murders its honored citizens. And he searches for a way to right his own wrong in the process. It's beautiful.

5. If You Love Me (Patricia M. St. John). Amid war, hatred, and loss, an Arab Christian girl finds healing through self-sacrifice, forgiveness, the love of a Muslim baby, and her murdered brother's best friend.

6. Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset). The consequences of Kristin's sexual wrongs as a teenager have a startling reach into her relationships and outlook as she ages, yet she still finds redemption.

7. Christy (Catherine Marshall). A seventeen-year-old city girl chooses a missionary life teaching in deep Appalachian poverty, and learns a very active form of faith and love.

8. Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis). Lewis lets his main character wrong others again and again through her all-too-powerful jealousy, controlling nature, and insecurity. All the while, of course, walking her toward grace.

9. That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis). While the world shudders under threat of cold totalitarianism, Ransom and Mark and Jane deal with gender roles, loveless marriage, the use of magic, and the various temptations of power.

10. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). All right, Hugo does soapbox way too much. But I'm letting him into this list for his exquisite pictures of justice and mercy.

What do you recommend?


In Search of Beauty

In response to Masha, Beauty is Not..., and Mr. Pond, the way down is up

Last week's challenge was to show what beauty is not, hopefully to grant us a better image of Beauty itself. After I pointed out that beauty is not innately evil, Masha carried the idea further:
"Beauty is never evil, and never banal. But it can be small, and it can be simple. It can be grand and it can be dark and terrifying. It is often unsettling in some way, like the angels who greet us with "Fear not" - it overwhelms us."
Mr. Pond hit the discussion with the rather shocking statement that "Beauty is not. Nor is it bounded" and then went on to explain:
"Empirically, there is nothing which can be recognised as beauty or the beautiful. We cannot say with scientific precision that this thing is certain and this other thing isn’t, any more than we can successfully, scientifically determine the precise nature that separates one work of art from another."
And as someone who, while appreciating science for what it can do, considers the spiritual and mysterious to be at least as important, I like both these concepts very much. Beauty is not simply especial prettiness; it can be terrible, strange, unsettling. It haunts, as John Eldredge would say. And like its creators, whether man or God, it cannot be easily boxed up by empirical observation and cold data.

So what are we to do with this concept of Beauty—that strange thing that makes us smile and weep and yearn and laugh and tremble and relax in turn? Beauty, which we cannot objectively quantify, but can recognize with all confidence? Beauty, which I find in Harry Potter, Masha finds in Hemingway, and Mr. Pond finds in grim old fairy tales, though we may occasionally look askance at each others' choices?

We've come a long way from defining art, where we began our blogalectic; here, we can circle back to it. We once debated the definition of art and what qualifies as such. And in hopes of progressing further toward mutual understanding, here's—not so much my arguments as my passion for granting the name art to Little Women along with Les Miserables.

1. Separation of Art proper from mere entertainment seems to make several grave mistakes. Exhibits:
  • It presumes passivity on the part of the audience. (I am never a passive receptor, not even when watching television.)
  • It strikes against the creative powers, which are the same whether forming penny dreadfuls or Nobel laureates.
  • It seems to place importance upon the beauty of the surface while generally ignoring that of the substance.
2. I want different things from art than the Gatekeepers of Greatness seem to desire. I don't want to find a liberal political agenda in a story any more than I want to find a conservative religious one. I want a story to wrap me up in faith, hope, love, virtue; I don't want it to strip me down to disillusionment and amoral existential despair. I want paintings and sculptures that hold meaning and images, not ones that are without form and void. I want art to ask questions without cutting off all possibility of answers.

That is where I find the Beautiful, the True and the Good. All of that matters more to me than elite awards or scholarly acceptance or even, to a certain extent, technical perfection. Life is too short and too painful to weight my longings further toward this world.

[Note my repeated use of the phrase seems to in the above claims. Perhaps I have misunderstood. If so, enlighten me.]


Too Many Endings and other stories

Some days were never meant for blogging. This was one, but I'm going to try anyway.

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For years, I've worked off and on at knitting this scarf. And I'm pretty sure that when I began it, this nice skein only had two ends.

Now there are, like, eight.
I can't say for sure, but I'm very tempted to blame a certain someone.

That is hardly the face of innocence.

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Ever wondered approximately how many words you know? Now you can find out. My score was above average, but not far enough to make me wish to post it. But I'll try and be humble: 30,100. Go forth and beat me.

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Writers' link of the week: Nathan Bransford's The Thing About Self-Promotion is that Self-Promotion Sucks (But You Have to Do It Anyway). Not really what I want to hear, but true.

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Music and funny together: My new favorite Weird Al song. I don't get a lot of forwards anymore, but oh, do I remember the days.

Hey, Weird Al, you missed your cue though... Why didn't you use Comic Sans font in your video? And make the text bright pink and purple, or maybe red and blue and an absolutely unreadable yellow? Seriously.

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Lou and I are going to be up all night giving out free coffee, so I'm going to go try and sleep. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Beauty

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast“You are the one who does not understand, Papa,” I said. “We are not asking that I be killed in your stead, but that I be allowed to save your life. It is an honourable Beast at least; I am not afraid.” Father stared at me, as if he saw the Beast reflected in my eyes. I said: “He cannot be so very bad if he loves roses so much.”

“But he is a Beast,” said Father helplessly.

I saw that he was weakening, and wishing only to comfort him I said, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Author: Robin McKinley

Synopsis: A wealthy man had three daughters: Grace, Hope, and Honour, nicknamed Beauty, though she did not consider herself so. When hard times destroy the family’s wealth—Grace’s fiancé, Robbie, disappearing with one of the ships—the father and sisters move into the mountains with Hope’s fiancé, Gervain. They mostly smile at the rumors of a monster and an enchanted castle in the forest near Ger’s home, until the father loses his way in the woods and meets the Beast... and thus begins the fairy tale.

Notes: I’ve been hearing about Robin McKinley for years now, and finally decided to get ahold of one of her books. As a fan of fairy tale retellings, I chose this one. Beauty convinced me that I need to read much more of McKinley’s work.

First, I just loved the writing. McKinley is a master of the antique elegance that naturally belongs to the fairy tale. Surprisingly, she pulls this off through first-person voice.

Second, I loved the characters. The Beast is mostly just grave and quiet—I would have taken more interest from him—but Beauty, Ger, Grace, the invisible housemaids Lydia and Bessie, and the horse Greatheart, are all strong and appealing personalities.

Third, I’ve read the Grimm version of this tale, and as far as I can recall, McKinley simply fills it out rather than taking it in odd or Disneyfied directions. I haven’t seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (I know, right?) but I’ve read its little book version to little kids, and this is not the same story.

The voice never slips, and the tale carries its loveliness through to the end.

Recommendation: This is a quiet, comforting sort of a story, one to read wrapped in a blanket with some steaming tea at hand.


Top Ten Tuesday: Required Reading for Teens

I have a streak of libertarianism that makes me dislike the idea of required reading in general. There are really only one or two books that I think absolutely ought to be read and taught in schools.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Beyond the first couple, there's a whole broad world of great reading material. I won't presume to be able to state the best, though I might be able to state what I'd have my own hypothetical kids read in high school. Here goes.

1. The Holy Bible. The idea of teaching Western civilization without this book is preposterous. And I hope it doesn't have to be said, but every young American, no matter their background, should learn Western civ.

2. Shakespeare. If there were a second absolutely necessary book, a solid contingent of Shakespeare's plays would be the one.

3. Bulfinch's Mythology. Less necessary than the above, but helpful nonetheless. I wish I'd read it in high school, as the business of life nowadays makes me keep forgetting that I haven't finished it.

After that, the list can broaden and even be tailored according to interest and focus. Some of the more obvious choices include To Kill a Mockingbird, several of Mark Twain's works, Austen and Dickens, some of Lewis' works, The Lord of the Rings, Tolstoy and/or Dostoevsky, possibly the Qu'ran (considering how hard Islam is trying to spread into the Western world), the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Dante, Chaucer....

Oh, yeah... I still haven't read Chaucer. Or Tolstoy. Hmm. Or much of the Qu'ran, for that matter.

Current works can be selected according to taste, situation and whatever happens to be going on in society at the time. Hence, my failing to list any of those. We'll see if any of today's bestsellers merit required reading status when I have teenagers. :)

I wrote this list in half an hour, so tell me: what have I missed?


The Virtue of Beauty

In response to Masha, The Beauty We See, and Mr. Pond, Mononoke Tachi dake

Last week, for the sake of lighter conversation, we discussed our own images of beauty. And I could sympathize with the lot, from Masha's 'scent of bread' to Mr. Pond's Princess Mononoke theme song. I never really listed mine, but if I had, the list might have included fog among the darkly spring-green hills, the feel of warm sun and cool water, 'The Forest Again', polyphony in a Gothic church, Psalm 139, the scent of lilac blossoms, a good sweet Riesling, bravery, compassion, Dante's Paradiso, peace lilies, chickadees, the human face, the Liturgy of the Hours, and innocence. Among other things.

Masha ends her piece with a lovely statement:
"I find [beauty] in these things because they touch something beyond themselves, and I love them for it."
In other words, if I understand correctly, she'd go along with the philosophers who counted the Beautiful as one of the transcendentals, along with the True and the Good. Well may she do so. I would.

Mr. Pond expounds upon that idea:
"Nor do I think—or can I think—that beauty is equated with happiness. Or with seriousness. Beauty can be heartbreakingly terrible. Beauty can be silly. Beauty is capricious and winsome, Beauty frustrates and eludes us and then rewards us with a sudden unexpected burst of laughter.

There was, I think, a deeper intent than the pragmatic when painters drew and poets sang of Beauty as a woman."
And later, describing the Mononoke theme,
"I don’t claim to understand it quite, but I don’t think beauty is ever quite understood."
Agreed, wholeheartedly. To a certain extent we can put beauty in strict scientific or mathematical terms; the eight notes of the scale may be beautiful sung in solfeggio, but not if they're all pounded at once on the piano. But the disciplines of logic will have a harder time explaining why we weep over Beethoven's ninth symphony. And if they succeed, I'm not sure I want to know about it.

Beauty is difficult to define or categorize because it is greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps, then, it might make for interesting discussion if we come at it from the side of mystery, and attempt to describe what beauty is not.

I'll begin simply by positing that beauty is not, in and of itself, wicked. Admittedly, wickedness loves to hide in the beautiful, as that's how it sells itself. And I love fantasy literature in part because it allows us to strip away that base marketing tactic and separate the evil from the beautiful, showing the former in all its horror and the latter in all its purity. Beauty, if I'm right, does not carry evil by nature.

And now I'll look forward to what Masha and Mr. Pond have to say.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 and... not a lot of other stories

This, more or less, has been the tale going around Harry Potter fandom of late:

Christian Caldeira wrote the song, of course, for the end of the books, not the movies. But it works for both to some extent... except that it doesn't for me. Much as I love the song and the generality of Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls' work, the era isn't ending for me in the way it will for many.

The movies never mattered that much to me, and I think the community has already done most of its changing. But I'll still have Potter friends. I'll still be the nerdy girl known by friends as a resource for all Potter details. Someone who understands the astounding, even life-changing power of the story, and always has a listening ear ready for those who have just discovered it for themselves. A musician who usually plays a song or two about the tale whenever the guitar comes out for a practice set. It's a part of my life, now, and I'll probably remind myself of Gryffindor House when I need courage for the rest of that life.

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So, the movie. I'd like to put up a decent review at The Hog's Head, if I can garner some writing time in the next day or so, but here's the mini-version with letter grades. Minor spoilers, if you've never read the final book.
  • Keeping Dumbledore's lines: B. They got "Of course it is all in your head..." but replaced "Of house-elves and children's tales..." with some mumbo-jumbo about words being powerful magic, which I should've liked as a writer, but was too angry with the change to accept.
  • Keeping Molly Weasley's classic line: A+. Very important.
  • Following the book instead of turning it into a special-effects battle fiasco: F. Just about killed the movie for me.
  • Neville: B. We all cheered every time he came onscreen, but I didn't like the way his great scenes were revised.
  • Snape's memories: A-. Beautiful, but I wish they'd left in more of that backstory instead of amping up the Harry-Voldemort battle.
  • Keeping the Christian symbolism: C. At least they mentioned "King's Cross", but how hard would it have been for Lily to put her arms out to the side as she took her blow?
  • The epilogue: A. I couldn't take my eyes off Ginny and Hermione. Dan Radcliffe said Harry's line to his son wrong, though, and as I was mouthing the words along with him, I was not pleased. Come on, Warner Brothers. It's been made into a Ministry of Magic song. Do your research.
  • Getting to see the movie at midnight, with a bunch of strangers who cheered and cried at all the right moments: priceless.

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All right, I hate to end a Friday post after having talked about nothing but Harry Potter, but seriously, my week has been too busy even for Twitter. Links? Unfortunately, I have to have actually read some things on the internet.

But I do wish all of you a happy weekend. :)


Currently Reading: Winter’s Heart (The Wheel of Time, book 9)

Winter's Heart (Wheel of Time, #9)Their heads swiveled toward the golden-haired woman as one, and the magpies fell blessedly silent. Silent, yet hardly accepting. Min could grind her teeth all she wanted, but Nynaeve’s sullen glower irritated Cadsuane. The girl had good material in her, but her training had been cut far too short. Her ability with Healing was little short of miraculous, her ability with almost anything else dismal. And she had not been put through the lessons that what must be endured, could be endured.

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: Rand, having survived the attack of the crazed Asha’man, sets out to cleanse the taint from saidin, the male half of the One Power. Nynaeve goes to help him, and Lan goes to protect Nynaeve. Elayne, Min and Aviendha unite to work things out with Rand. Mat meets the Daughter of the Nine Moons. Perrin searches for his own lost wife. And Cadsuane, still hoping to teach Rand laughter and tears, follows that quest from Cairhien to Far Madding to Shadar Logoth.

Notes: At various moments I don’t understand Min, or Elayne, or Aviendha, but as of book 9, I still cheer for Rand al’Thor. Despite the loss of his moral compass, despite his continual hardening, despite the immense number of deaths he can now credit to his name, some part of him remains redeemable.

He owes his hardening in part to his failure to recognize that the women who have died for him made that sacrifice of their own choice. I love that he hurts over the death of every woman, but that’s still the root of his problem.

Inside the redeemable part of Rand al’Thor is the impulse that made him respond as he did to Lan’s request when the pair of them were hanging from the roof. Also, the man got down on his knees beside Nynaeve and put everything he had into cleansing the taint from saidin. Bravo, Rand. You’re still a hero.

I also love Cadsuane. Rand does need to learn laughter and tears again, and he wouldn’t have survived this book without her. Besides, I like the way she thinks. The lesson that “what must be endured, could be endured” is not easy to learn, but I like to think her ideas stopped me complaining a time or two since the read.

This book read well, and felt like it pulled off more of a mystery aspect than usual. I can think of a number of reasons why I never figured out Dashiva’s true identity, and almost no reasons why I should have, but I still can’t believe I didn’t.

The three girls’ Warder bonding and Elayne’s subsequent seducing of Rand made for the closest Jordan has come to a sex scene, and the necessary awkwardness more than came through. I could have done without that. Birgitte’s reaction made me laugh in spite of myself, though. Birgitte is weird and incomprehensibly risqué, but sometimes, she’s just hilarious.

I loved Elayne and Aviendha’s becoming first-sisters, though. The Aiel are awful sometimes, but they’re still my favorite of the cultures.

Here in book 9, I love Egwene more than ever, too. Her cool strength amazes me. Robert Jordan does a great job with character progressions for the most part, and hers is among my favorites to watch.

And I still like Nynaeve, and love that she’s become—at her core, anyway—content. Lan’s growing on me, too.

Recommendation: Books 6 and 7 were a little hard on me, but I loved book 9. Reading on!


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Die to Meet

The name of this topic raises a question: do the authors need to be already dead?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

I'd say yes, limiting my list just for kicks, but I don't have time today to look up everybody I'm not sure about. Therefore, here are the top ten authors I'd love to meet, alive or gone on.

1. J.K. Rowling. I might actually drop dead—or at least unconscious—at the thought of meeting her in person. Of course, I'm the helpless sort of person who gets a little starstruck even meeting the mayor. I did once dream, though, that we had a lovely chat over lunch at my grandmother's house.

2. David the Psalmist. Anyone who can write poetry that's endlessly beautiful even in translation is a genius in my book. The charismatic, multi-talented shepherd-turned-king wrote some of my favorite pieces in existence.

3. Jane Austen. I think. It'd probably be a riot, hanging out with her, but unlike Mr. Darcy, I'm not confident that all my own failings are beyond being laughed at. But I'm sure she'd be courteous and use a pseudonym for the over-shy, childishly enthusiastic housewife in her next book.

4. Orson Scott Card. He can talk. I will listen.

5. Shannon Hale. Another potentially hilarious conversationalist, and she can autograph my copy of Princess Academy.

6. C.S. Lewis. I want to attend some of his lectures, especially anything on medieval thought and symbolism. Maybe I should finish The Discarded Image first.

7. St. Augustine. I've never yet finished reading the Confessions, but I'd just love to hear him preach or talk about love for God.

8. Elizabeth Goudge. I suspect I would have liked her.

9. Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). The stories about him are almost mythic, and oh, the man could write.

10. Madeleine L'Engle. I count her A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door as among my greatest influences in loving and writing science-fiction and fantasy.

Who would you meet? I'm curious.


Truth Beauty Freedom Love

In response to Masha, Towards Understanding, and Mr. Pond, Playing Poetics.

First, congratulations to Masha on the birth of her daughter, Yarrow! The baby's very cute. :)

Since Masha is in the middle of new motherhood, and Mr. Pond is busy with various projects, and I am all kinds of crazy right now with house-hunting and trying to submit my novel, et cetera, I'm going to set us up for a light week on the blogalectic. The three of us are in the process of searching for our areas of agreement and the points where we begin to diverge; today, I'll focus on the former.

We've tracked down one way we differ, which aims us in opposite directions even as we move toward the same goal. From Masha:
"Perhaps this is part of the reason we have so many disagreements, we see ourselves and respond to our own tendencies: [Jenna] is ever-needing to remind herself to accept and I am ever-needed to encourage myself to attempt."

Mr. Pond claimed to fall somewhere in the middle, and continued with an old memory—an interesting word picture that sort of describes our whole blogalectic thus far:
"Now I’m twenty years away on the day we decided that we wouldn’t stop the merry-go-round, just keep spinning to see how fast it would go, and then got in an argument about which way it should go, resulting in us all climbing on board and pushing in opposite directions until it wound up spinning unstoppably the wrong way. And I find myself seized with the overwhelming conviction that this glorious, terrifying, misguided moment is somehow the answer to everything."

And I have to smile, and remember why I feel such a solid artistic kinship with these two blog-friends, despite our philosophical variances. The three of us share a love for artistry founded in a love for what is truly good, and even if we come at it in different ways, all of us value the quest for mystery and wonder involved in a vocation to the making of beautiful things.

Masha and Mr. Pond and I have debated whether beauty must be a part of art. According to Masha's definitions, it must; according to mine, it only should. But we still think alike in many ways, as I cannot imagine attempting to create art without striving for beauty.

Perhaps we simply hold different images in our heads when we think of beauty. For example only: I see some truth in Edvard Munch's Scream, though only the half-truth of horror, but not much that I'd call beautiful. Whereas, Thomas Kinkade... nobody's ever given me a reason not to like his work, except that there's a heck of a lot of it, and it's popular and easily copied, and it's too often associated with greeting cards, which means everybody with any taste is supposed to hate it. But I still don't understand how he makes those little cottages glow.

But then, I like Disney movies, too. And the Backstreet Boys. And Little Women. Right alongside my Into Great Silence, and Mozart, and Austen. And now we're right back where we started.

The point is this: whenever I take up my pen to create, I put my best effort into making something beautiful and true and good. Which, for the three of us, means that even if our definitions overlap like a Venn diagram rather than uniting exactly, our goals have made us companions.


That Which is Random and other stories

Wow, Blogger... new dashboard! Totally new. I think I've found all the controls, though. Everything looks great. And very white.

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Scattered notes from the week: For the first time this year, Bellingham broke 75 degrees. Maia finally managed to get on top of the dresser in the bedroom. Lou solved a great mystery by discovering four little cat toys and the drain basket from the bathroom sink under that same dresser. And I've learned that if I read Wheel of Time just before going to sleep, I'm more likely to dream about it than not.

Now I'm looking at my to-do lists to find out what else I did, so clearly I'm as brainless as I feel.

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Writers' link of the week: Rachelle Gardner on why you're getting rejections.

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Music of the week: Meet HeyHiHello! I'm grateful to them and Meekakitty for creating my favorite song of the week, Wizard Love. But since half of you have already linked that off The Hog's Head, half of you don't care about a love song between a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, and the other half of you.... oh, never mind. I love this little song, Goodnight Moon, though.

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Funny of the week: Engrish never grows old. This one's hilarious.

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Happy weekend, everyone!


Currently Reading: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Castle, #1)In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Sophie Hatter was the eldest of three sisters. She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which might have given her some chance of success!

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Synopsis: When shy, pretty Sophie is turned into an old woman by a witch, she goes to seek her fortunes—and winds up taking a night’s rest at the moving castle of Wizard Howl. Before long, she’s bossing around the castle’s fire-demon and cleaning the messy place from top to bottom, much to the chagrin of the sloppy bachelor wizard and his nervous assistant. But Howl never seems to get around to kicking her out. Indeed, he begins to need her assistance in various adventures: finding the king’s brother, killing the witch who put the spell on Sophie, and straightening out his romantic life.

Notes: All right. First, I thought this book was hilarious.

Second, there are some people who will never read it comfortably, thanks to the presence and role of the fire-demon, who turns out to be an affable and not particularly evil creature named Calcifer. His name made me laugh. Even knowing that Ingary is not Earth, though, I could not quite get past the word demon, which as far as I know has no good construction even in myth.

Whatever the limits of one’s imagination, it’s hard not to thoroughly enjoy this book. The story had me at the opening paragraph, which is posted above. Like Sophie Hatter, I am the eldest of three sisters, and the eldest can never cut a break in fairy tales. Every firstborn child in the age of the Grimms must have grown up with a severe complex.

Sophie was a delight of a protagonist. I could sympathize with her early shy days, and the way she talked to her hats. She bore finding herself suddenly sixty years advanced with admirable philosophy, and no one but her ever stood a chance of straightening out Howl.

Howl made me laugh, though he’s not really the sort to make me swoon. I hear swooning is a common response.

Jones’ imagination is as comic and garish in Howl’s Moving Castle as it was in The Dark Lord of Derkholm. I’ve never been a big fan of garish, but at least it isn’t trite, and I do love good comedy.

Recommendation: It should certainly amuse eldest children with a grudge against fairy tales.


A Time to Strive, and a Time to Cease Striving

In response to Masha, Mediocrity: Meanness and Indifference, and Mr. Pond, mediocrity, n.

For proof that different words mean different things to different people, look no further than our last week's discussion. I defined the word mediocre as, basically, neither wonderful nor awful. Masha defined it more along the lines of the lukewarm being spat out of God's mouth:
"Mediocrity in my understanding is the failure of the person to be a person, to be an active participant in his own life. It is the pursuit of the "good enough" and not the Good.... Mediocrity fails to create Art because it is indifferent to Beauty, and uninterested in effort - it lacks not only talent but desire."

Faced with two such dissimilar sets of connotations, Mr. Pond did the only thing he could do: pulled out his authoritative old Oxford Dictionary and wrote a lighthearted piece about the time when mediocrity came from the Aristotelian mean, and was therefore something to strive for.
"But what happens when, if you’ll forgive the reductiveness of the analogy, we use a horizontal spectrum? And the goal is balance at the centre point.... If this is the case, then perhaps what we should be striving for is mediocrity, the aurea mediocritas. This becomes the third road, the middle way, ‘Where thou and I this night maun gae’. Are we, in fact, not mediocre enough?"
I do love etymology. It's fun.

The laws of probability dictate that if I push forward into the next topic on the list, we'll come up with more ways to interpret words differently. At Masha's suggestion, then, I'm taking a step back. We're going hunting for the ways in which we do agree, the beginning places that set us together as likeminded artists even while starting us in certain different philosophical directions.

Because I don't disagree with Masha that we ought to strive wholeheartedly for the Good, the True and the Beautiful, any more than I disagree with Mr. Pond that we should search for the elusive third road. (Though I've never liked the analogy of the intermediate point between two extremes; I believe in fusing the rightful passions from both ends of the spectrum. It's an exhausting way to live, but worth trying, I think.) Here's where I start: I don't know what it is to not strive.

I strive hard. I try long past the point of frustration; I try to that icy burning point where you know that a single step further will break you irreparably. Once in my life, I went past and learned the lesson. And while there are very bad mistakes that any aching, haunted human can repeat, there are some only a true fool makes more than once.

Which works out to this: when I hear that it's a bad thing to ever settle for being 'good enough', I have to back away from the searing idea and breathe before I can see any sense in the words. But in that moment, that intermediate point between killing oneself trying and giving up completely, I look up and find the answer—the transcendental secret I am confident both my artistic dialectic partners understand. It is grace.


Happy Independence Day!

Today being the Fourth, and Lou being off work, I'm taking a break from blogging. I'll try and have the usual Monday post up tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy your holiday. :)


In Search of Hours and other stories

JuNoWriMo wrapped up last night—for me, with two and a half hours of happy storytelling. I got a thousand words down in that time, which is pretty good for me. I am slow.

The final tally:

Week 1 hours: 10
Week 2 hours: 5.5
Week 3 hours: Vacation, but 45 minutes
Week 4 hours: 11
Extra day: 2 1/2 hours

Which leaves me just fifteen minutes shy of my goal (3 weeks of 10 hours, since I had vacation). Maybe I can make that up in July.

Congratulations to all my JuNoWriMo comrades, many of whom experienced a good deal of success themselves! And thanks again to Shallee MacArthur for hosting.

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As noted a couple of weeks ago, I'm kind of done with the big Wall Street Journal vs. Young Adult Fiction war. When @AndrewPeterson tweeted a link to a related piece by YA author Sara Zarr, then, I almost didn't read it. But I did, and I'm glad. She makes the point that drives me to YA and kid lit in the first place:
The fun-house mirrors in the most talked-about literary fiction show me that existential despair, marital misery, adultery, addiction, suburban malaise, and basic careless cruelty between people are inevitable and ubiquitous. That especially between midlife and death, life is one big flaming ball of self- and other-destruction that is temporarily escaped, here and there, via soulless sex and lots of cocktails.

Isn't that a hideous distortion, too?...We don't stop needing stories of hope and redemption and reconciliation and joy and beauty as adults.

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This week has been catch-up and the thrill of accomplishment. I finished a critique, cleared over 500 items from my Google Reader with two clicks so I could stop being afraid to open it, and got eleven hours in on JuNoWriMo. I feel so much better.

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Writers' link of the week: Fantasy fans and writers, come one, come all to Mythic Scribes! George sent me a link to one of their articles this week (thanks, George!), and before I knew it I was registered on the forums, posting my little heart away.

So much of the publishing industry information I read is focused on the mainstream sellers: contemporary, paranormal, crime fiction, urban fantasy, etc. Sci-fi and high fantasy are a different beast, and I'm more than excited to have found a community of these writers.

One reason to love them: they actually request that their users attempt to use proper grammar and spelling. :D

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Music of the week: I've linked a fair number of Mike Lombardo's friends; it's about time I linked the guy himself. Some of his stuff, especially his classic Hey Molly, reminds me of vintage John van Deusen, which I loved of course. This is off his new CD.

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Funny of the week: Want to match your cocktail to your favorite reading material? Forever Young Adult has done this for you. I got a kick out of the quiz.

Luckily for me, mead is actually available in Bellingham. Good stuff.

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Though JuNoWriMo has ended, I plan to keep up a goal of ten hours per week on novel-writing. With the intention of doubling that eventually. That's feasible in my life... it's just difficult.

What with a whole party of girls coming over tonight to help assemble a friend's wedding programs... if I want to write, I'd better get started.

Happy weekend!