Regarding Someone More Talented Than I’ll EVER Be…

I started this blog to showcase my own writing.

By modern standards, I’m pretty good…

By historical standards, I’m a hack.

Here is one of the greatest poems ever written, by one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Disney has made a tawdry mockery of his work, but for those of us who appreciate the finer things in life…

Well… WE get him!!!

L’Envoi – by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

What Happened Here…?!

Didja ever have one of those moments in which you look around, and suddenly feel like you’ve landed on an alien planet?

I went out to run a few errands today, and there was this fellow standing outside the grocery store. He had his hair tied into a bun (what?) and he was sucking on what appeared to be a laser pointer.

Weird, man!

And I gotta watch it when I’m out to dinner. If I order a beer to go with my steak, I have to be very careful as to which brand of brew I select. Simply asking ‘what do you have on draft?’ is likely to result in my being served a glass of malted pine cones. (I’m reasonably certain that ‘IPA’ means exactly what it sounds like: ‘I pee, eh?’)

And where did all the video stores go? There was nothing more fun than browsing the shelves for some weird old title, one that you would never have thought to watch if the video store didn’t happen to have it. And on that note, what happened to video game cartridges? And compact discs? I mean sure, I could listen to any music I want on a digital music service, but what if the service goes down?

What happened to the bookstores? Borders’ is long gone, and Barnes and Noble’s is hanging by a thread. Now I see people reading stuff on these over-sized phones, as though we don’t spend enough time looking at screens as it is.

I went to see Metallica a couple of years back, and I kinda felt like I was doing concert-going all wrong. Apparently you’re not supposed to actually enjoy the concert, see? What you’re supposed to do is spend the entire evening holding your cell-phone over your head. You’ll kinda miss out on jamming to the music, but the point is to have the video… which apparently, must be way more fun than the actual concert itself.

And what’s with this Face-Bollocks thing? Apparently, life events do not count until they are validated on social media. Now, I do agree that Mark Zucker-bot has improved political discourse. It’s very enlightening to read the lengthy threads of reasoned debate. They explore every possible facet of each issue too, those threads; they don’t end until someone gets called a ‘Nazi’, and that’s how you know that the issue du jour has been satisfactorily settled.

It’s nice how social media has made us all more connected. I enjoy walking through throngs of people, each one blissfully unaware of his neighbor’s existence as he stares fixated at his phone. I think Twitter, Instagram, etc. have all helped to create a more cohesive, cooperative society.

On that note, I’m also noticing an uptick in political activism. It’s heartening to see how many young people are engaging in the political battles that shape our social landscape. Blocking traffic and rioting are very, very effective means of persuasively communicating one’s viewpoint, and I expect those tactics to usher in a bright new Utopia any day now.

Media has changed, as well. When I was a kid, it was a royal pain having to sort out which news tidbits were commentary, and which ones were actual reporting. Now that objective reporting has been completely done away with, it’s much easier to digest the news.

There’ve been a lot of changes to the American legal system, too, which was admittedly never that great. Now you just stand trial on Twitter, which completely streamlines the process and totally negates the need for juries.

Yessir! This is the Brave New World, come to life at last!

If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under my bed… barricaded behind a pile of CD’s, books, and VHS tapes. I’ll be using my land-line phone to order pizza and soda. I figure I can last under there a while, too. The hipsters won’t be able to get at me because…

Well, everybody knows it’s rude to ‘vape’ indoors, right?

Don’t Call ME a ‘Human’!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!

Regarding a Truly Novel Novel…

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited…

– Dame Daphne du Maurier (from the opening chapter of Rebecca)

1992…

I was fourteen years old, on that balmy August afternoon. Even my rambunctious brothers were quiet, so stifling was the Southern heat. I had a poor family growing up, so the air conditioning policy was usually to turn on the window units only at night (so everyone could sleep); during the day, an open window and a fan was the best you got. Electricity doesn’t come cheap in major cities (with their over-strained power grids), and my hometown was no exception.

There were few distractions from the summer heat in my household. We didn’t have a TV, or video games; my mother was adamant that her children were not going to become couch potatoes. Thus we were all avid readers, and had a sizable home library compiled from thrift stores and yard sales.

But on that steamy, lethargic afternoon… Well, did you ever have the feeling that you’re already read it all? I rifled through all the books in my family’s possession, annoyed that not one of them arrested my attention.

So in my desperation, I turned to my mother. “Do we have anything new to read?” I asked, hoping she’d been to the library when I wasn’t looking.

Mom went to the basket in the corner of her room, and pulled out a ratty hardback. “Here,” she said. “You might like this one.”

I looked at the cover, raising an eyebrow as I read the title. “Rebecca?” I said. “The brilliant novel of an unforgettable wife? Who the heck is Daphne du More-whatever?”

(I was also thinking to myself, this looks like one of Mom’s romance novels…)

“Try it,” pressed Mom, as I eyed the painted image of a pretty blonde woman on the printed-canvas cover. “I dunno, there’s something… dark about it. I think you’d like it.”

Dark…? Okay, that kinda piqued my interest. Not that much, mind you, just enough to keep me from chucking the yellowing, faded book back into Mom’s basket.

So I retreated to my room, trying to ignore the humidity as I opened Rebecca to the opening line…

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.

I finished the book after midnight, still sweating but appreciating the dawning relief of air conditioning. I was truly sorry that I’d finished it; I wished fiercely that I could forget the story just so I could discover it all over again. In fact, so amazed was I that I read Rebecca again the next week.

I mentioned to a family friend how much I liked the novel, and she replied, ‘Oh yeah. I loved the Hitchcock movie when I was a little girl.’

There’s a MOVIE?! And it’s by Alfred Hitchcock?!

Well, that did it! Before my mother knew it, she’d been pestered into driving me to Blockbuster (remember them?) to get a VHS tape (remember those?) of Hitchcock’s film.

The movie was just as bewitching to me as the book had been. Sir Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders… They all gave superb performances, playing their roles in shades of gray against a backdrop of relentlessly surreal photography.

I have at least a dozen copies Daphne du Maurier’s classic today, including a first edition from the original 1938 printing. I always remember one of my favorite films, Serendipity, in which John Cusack purchases a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera whenever he finds one; that book was to him what Rebecca is to me. Whenever I stumble across an old edition, I buy it.

I’ve never read a tale quite like Rebecca, to be honest with you. The story is narrated in first person by a rich man’s young bride… who remains completely nameless through the entire narrative. Her rich husband, Max de Winter, is haunted by the memory of his late wife, the popular-yet-sinister Rebecca.

The narrative never follows Rebecca in a direct fashion; her story is told entirely second-hand through character dialogue. And yet she looms like some sort of phantasm over the story, dead but not forgotten, and strangely powerful.

The movie version of Rebecca is so old (1940) that it’s in black-and-white. I’d love to see it done today! I’m picturing Chloe Grace Moretz as the young bride (mainly because she’s a dead ringer for Joan Fontaine) and Ewan McGregor as Max de Winter. Only Anjelica Huston could ever play Rebecca’s hateful, creepy maid Mrs. Danvers. Rebecca’s cheeky, incestuous cousin Jack Favell should be played by none other than the smooth-talking, somewhat off-putting Tom Hiddleston. And I’m thinking maybe Ridley Scott for the director; his film Hannibal had a similar feel to what I’m envisioning for my fantasy Rebecca re-boot.

So lemme call Hollywood about that one. Does anyone have Ridley Scott’s number? Anyone…?

I read Rebecca once a year like clockwork, and always in the spring when the sun’s shining and the flowers are blooming. That’s how it should be read, I think; the genius of Rebecca is that it takes place in a gorgeous, sun-lit manor… and yet there’s unease in the very air despite the cheerful environment. The story is a rather odd dichotomy, but a memorable one.

Rebecca sold more than three million copies by 1965, and it has never gone out of print. It is readily available at any bookseller, and will almost certainly remain so.

So check it out!

Angels We Have Heard on High…

Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.

   2 Peter 2:11

            Angels are fascinating pop-culture icons.

            In storytelling, they can be frightening (Gabriel, in the film The Prophecy). They can be somber, and sad (Seth in City of Angels). They can be whimsical (Gabriel again, but this time in Constantine). They can even be sarcastic and a little belligerent (‘Cash Money’ in The Family Man).

            To the artist, of course, angels are the perfect, anthromorphic and mold-able subject. Their long, flowing robes and hair, their expansive feathered wings… They are much more fun to draw than demons. Demons, by contrast, have those drab ol’ bat wings, and they’re generally bald so that you can clearly see their horns. Quite boring, demons.

            But what are angels, really?

            Well, they are spiritual in nature. And they work for God. By virtue of this, I think, they are very beloved of those who cling to something I refer to as ‘Oprah spirituality’. While soccer-mom demagogue Oprah Winfrey is not solely responsible for this mentality, she is one of it major proponents.

            ‘Oprah spirituality’ gives one an illusionary peace of mind born of some vague, ephemeral belief in a ‘higher power’. It allows one to seize both false hope and vainglorious moral superiority, all the while conveniently ducking accountability and obedience to any one doctrine.

            God doesn’t honor Oprah Spirituality. Oprah does, but that doesn’t make her godly.

            But I digress…

            One thing that we know about angels is that they are usually really, really scary. The only exception to this may be Gabriel, whom Zechariah had the gall to question, and the Virgin Mary seemed to find comforting.

            They are also flagrantly zealous, too. On the occasions upon which God unleashed one to torment someone, He usually has to call him off rather vehemently. ‘ENOUGH!!! Withdraw your hand!’ I picture the hacking, slashing angel lowering his sword with a disappointment on his face, and reluctantly trudging off to find something else to do.

            A myth common to Christianity is that angels are led by ‘archangels’, angelic commanders of other angels. There were once three, said the legends – Michael, who leads the angels called as warriors, or killers, Gabriel the messenger, and Lucifer.

             However, Scripture only actually uses the word ‘archangel’ in reference to Michael. Elsewhere it uses the phrase ‘with the voice of the archangel’ – which may imply that there is only one, which would be Michael. However, it doesn’t say that there’s only one; it may just be referring to the archangel present in that particular situation.

            Gabriel is mentioned by name on several occasions. His first appearance (at least in which he is mentioned by name) comes in the Old Testament, when he explains – upon God’s order – a vision to the prophet Daniel. He also appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

            Of course, we know him best as the angel who spoke these legendary words:  “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

            Michael is mentioned less often, and in less detail. He ‘disputed with the Devil over the body of Moses’, whatever that may have entailed. He also led the battle against ‘the dragon’ during a ‘war in Heaven’, which could mean that he fought Lucifer when Lucifer rebelled against God. (However, I don’t know that. That passage is in the Book of Revelation, the greatest mystery of the Bible. Any man who says that he does know what Revelation is talking about is a liar. We all have a theory, but no one knows for sure. Even John, its author, didn’t try to make head nor tails of it. He just recorded what he was told to.)

            Then there’s Lucifer.

            Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of all time, wrote regarding Lucifer: ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners? All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.’

            I don’t know what that means, exactly. Was Lucifer just a Joe Schmoe angel? Or did he, since Isaiah refers to him as ‘Son of the Morning’, hold some sort of special favor with God? It would seem so, and perhaps Lucifer – much like a spoiled child – chose to rebel to gain even more than that with which he was already blessed. Or maybe I’m reading more into that passage than Isaiah really meant.

            Was Lucifer perhaps just a man, much like Adam in his Garden of Eden, and not an angel at all?  I wonder if he didn’t desire to be like an angel, coveting an ‘ascent into Heaven’ like Isaiah wrote. I wonder if his world wasn’t flooded with water like ours was in Genesis, which would explain why, ‘In the Beginning’, the Spirit moved across the face of the waters. I wonder if Lucifer’s world of eons past wasn’t just flat-out destroyed for his sin, for his leading even of angels astray, while Adam and his world were made with the foreknowledge of Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption – for Adam, after all, didn’t invent sin. He was just seduced by it.

            All theory. I don’t know. Nobody does.

            To further muddy the waters, the name ‘Lucifer’ does not appear in Isaiah’s writings. Jerome added the Italian name to the text in order to differentiate the ‘son of the morning’ (who was clearly an evil entity) from the ‘Son of Man’ (a name for Christ).

            One thing is for certain, Lucifer, son of the morning – whoever he was – is now dead and gone. His name was probably granted by God himself, and I am guessing that he probably rejected the moniker. We know him now as Satan, which is from the ancient Hebrew word for ‘adversary’. His first biblical appearance may have been in the Garden of Eden, when he tempted Eve into sin. Or not… perhaps the snake was just that, a snake, and he himself listened to Satan’s temptation.

            Satan is known by many names, much like Christ, whom he hates. Apollyon, Beelzebub, Belial, Lord of this World, Son of Perdition… But generally, we just call him ‘the Devil’.

            One thing that makes me unsure about whether Satan is a fallen angel or an ascended mortal is his manifested nature. He displays many characteristics unique to celestial beings, but yet he displays many weaknesses common to men.

            For instance, Satan is fairly omniscient. He, like God, knows the hearts of all men. That’s how he tempts us, whispering things in our innermost natures that appeal to our various unspoken depravities. His omnipresence is part of what makes him so dangerous.

            Yet for all his power, he seems flat-out shortsighted and more than a little stupid sometimes. For instance, unlike God, he cannot see the future. Nor is he bright enough, apparently, to see that God plays him like a fiddle. To wit: God clearly used Satan – and those he influenced – to facilitate the crucifixion of Christ, thereby bringing salvation to all who accept it. Yet Satan apparently had no clue that this may have been the case. He cheerfully watched the Messiah die, thinking in his childish vanity that he’d won his war with the Almighty.

            Satan’s influence is apparently limited; he had to ask God for explicit permission to torment Job. Also, even now, God allows Satan to torment those ‘dis-fellowshipped’ from His church to teach them a lesson, to help lead them away from sin and back to the fold – but He must allow it.

            For all I don’t know about Satan, though, I do know one thing: He is the alternative to God, just as good is the alternative to evil, and because we could have chosen him, we have the knowledge that we have instead chosen God. Free will, after all, is the divine characteristic by which we choose salvation. Of course, as the rock band Rush put it, ‘if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice’ – which is the unfortunate-if-passive decision that most of the world makes.

            However, while Satan – inasmuch as he represents the cause of Evil – is the opposite of God, he is not His equal. In regards to who and what he is, I agree with C. S. Lewis’ opinion: that Satan is not the equivalent to God, but instead a corrupted version of Michael – an angel (or some other created being) gone bad.

            Most theologians paint angels as ‘neutered’ beings, mere creatures of service with no real gender. I passionately disagree, although I have no solid ground whatsoever to base my assertion, save my own idle ponderings.

            In Genesis, Moses writes (regarding Adam and Eve) that ‘male and female he created them’. Most of us, I think, take for granted that this was the first time that the idea of gender – not the anatomical man and woman, but the roles associated therewith – occurred to God.

            While only God knows for sure, I disagree. I think the concept is as old as God himself, and inherently intrinsic to beings of any sort. God, for instance, portrays characteristics of both. While the strong, occasionally-vengeful God of the Old Testament is indisputably masculine (if not male, per se), Jesus said ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ Which to me, reveals a nurturing, loving side to God that could be interpreted as distinctly feminine.

            I think angels – while most likely not ‘anatomically correct’ – reflect their Creator’s nature, in regards to their assigned gender roles. But I think that angels, unlike God, were made in one ‘gender’ or the other, whereas God Himself reflects both sides of the spectrum.

            For instance, Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer (if indeed he was an angel) are indisputably male, as divinely-inspired Prophets and Apostles refer to them as ‘He’. However, Scripture also refers to angels whose job it is to guard and protect us – and it my firm belief that such beings are female, as this strikes me as the sacred duty of a nurturer, a mother of sorts. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel appeared and ‘strengthened him’. This also seems a motherly sort of thing to me.  

            On the other hand, we often see angels used as the agents of vengeance. This would, to me, seem a role fitting for a male. I just can’t see a woman – unless maybe it was Lizzie Borden – gleefully hacking her way through Egypt, doing in all the firstborn.

            But virtually all of these points are merely my pondering, pointless speculation, and I – like all men – must never forget this. Peripheral curiosities should never distract us from the most important facets of doctrine – lest we, like the Pharisees of days past – ‘strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel’.

            We aren’t told much about angels because angels matter not whit regarding our salvation. What is explained to us in great length, however, is God and Christ and the Holy Spirit.

            Angels are amusing to wonder about, to attempt to understand. But it’s okay if we don’t figure out one daggone thing that’s worth knowing about them.

            Where we absolutely cannot make such a mistake is in coming into an understanding of the God whom the angels serve. Pondering is just that, pondering…. But we should never ponder at the expense of learning!

            Even Gabriel himself, I am certain, would tell you that.