England Autumn: Plant Part I

Outside the basement window stands a plant. Small, alone, his fingers barely reach the cemented walls of the well, and he wonders at his significance. The sky is miserly. She gives her rain to him reluctantly, even though there's plenty for the ungrateful umbrellas.

And yet the plant has just enough to quench his thirst. Every day he continues to grow longer and stretch farther so that one day, he might touch the algae-stained walls. One day he will rise above his narrow cell and see other plants, he decides. On that day he will not be alone anymore, and he will jump and shout when the wind waves through his limbs.

But that day is not here yet. He still has growing to do. And even though he doesn't know it, the plant is making life beautiful for the people in the window. His young fingers, untouched by the dangerous elements above, paint fiery red streaks across the windowpane. The rain has kept people inside today, but he reminds them that it's autumn in England.



Rowling Admits to Christian Themes in Harry Potter

I've always loved Harry Potter. I remember the very first time I picked up the first book--probably because I was very reluctant. My fourth grade brother loved them and they were children's books, so I didn't think there was a good chance they'd hold my attention. Luckily for me my family happened to be on a two week camping trip to Alberta, Canada and the long car hours forced me to experience the joys of Harry Potter's wizarding world.

Despite all the negative responses Harry Potter has received from the Christian population, I read the books for what they were: a fantasy revolving around the hero's journey to overcome evil with good. It's a basic plot that reveals itself in most literature. As a Christian I appreciate these plots because they demonstrate that humanity seems to instinctly understand the story of our redemption, or at least to wish one for themselves. The hero's journey is always a story of sacrifice and redemption, which parallels our own redemption through Christ.

The last book in particular, The Deathly Hallows, made me wonder if Rowling deliberately included Christian themes throughout the series. I read an article in Christianity Today about an interview in which Rowling would only reveal that she did believe in God--she could say nothing more about her religious beliefs, she said, because that would reveal too much about the ending of hte 7th book. Well, now that the 7th book has been out, Rowling has admitted to Christianity being an inspiration for the books. She admits that she struggles with faith and belief in an afterlife, but clearly says that the Christian faith is a theme in Harry Potter.

Honestly, it doesn't make me love the books more or less, because whether or not she deliberately inserted the Christian storyline into her books, it was there for all to see. I think it's too obvious to miss, personally, and actually I wonder if it would mean more if she hadn't done it deliberately. But still, it's nice to know that millions of readers out there aren't corrupting their minds with trashy wizarding literature. Whew.

Click on the blog post title to link to the article about Rowling's interview.


London Reflections

Inefficiency is the key to productivity. That's what I've concluded after living in London one month.

1. SLOW FOOD. Londoners, like the French (see one of my first posts on the book French Women Don't Get Fat under the topic of "worship") believe in the concept of good, slow, quality-made food. There are hardly any fast food places in London, and those that exist come from America (McDonald's, KFC, and Subway). Food doesn't travel very far and is grown locally, so the taste is better, and there are hardly any preservatives in it. Now, an American might say that London's food scene does not cater to efficiency. But it definitely creates a more productive meal experience. Overall, it's more satisfying and nutritional.

2. PUBLIC TRANSPORT. It's amazing how much farther the mind is capable of roaming when given an extra 30 minutes (at least) waiting for buses and tubes. And if you have a long journey, you can read a book, talk to people on your "mobile" as they say, and basically devote more time to the luxury of contemplation. Efficient? Actually, aside from delayed trains and traffic, I'd say yes. But most Americans would probably argue that owning a car would be more efficient. But productive? Very. Not only does public transport do it's part in supporting our green efforts, but it's amazing what one thinks of when given time to think, and to basically do nothing.

3. BUSY CITY. London is a multi-cultural busy city. There's always something to do and see and experience, but to live in a city like this, you do need to sacrifice a sense of personal space. Londoners don't have a sense of the "right" way to walk on the sidewalk (since they drive on the left, you'd assume they'd walk on the left, but there's too many immigrants and tourists to make that a reality). So in London you spend a great deal of time bumping into strangers and smelling the shampoo of the person you're smashed into on the tube. Efficient? Again, probably not. Especially if you get impatient easily and want to get places quickly. But I've discovered that I have a greater sense of community and humanity as a result of the congestion.

4. And finally, VACATION! Most Londoners get 4-5 weeks paid vacation immediately after their start their job. Need I say more?


Wrap-Up Rule

when a reader comes to the last pages of a good book, they expect a satisfying "wrap-up" of events. similarly, a good film should tie up loose ends and avoid bringing in more problems, since the film will soon be over and any added conflict wouldn't resolve itself. the only reason this rule could possibly, maybe be broken is if there will be a sequel.

Ernest Hemingway did not abide by the Rule. and i am terribly disappointed.

i just finished Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and was thoroughly enjoying his recount of living in Paris in the 1920's as a young, impoverished writer. along the way we meet many well-known authors, such as Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. and we come to respect Hemingway as a writer with integrity. he's poor, and goes without eating meals so that his wife and son can eat. he remains true to his professionalism and beliefs and is on the cusp of writing his first novel and being recognized as a respectable author. and then he does the unthinkable (if you plan on reading this book and don't want the ending spoiled, stop reading now):

he has an affair.

on the second to last page of the novel he has an affair with a woman from Paris and continues having an affair after the book ends. it's such an anti-climatic, depressing way to end an otherwise very enjoyable book that i'm not sure i can say i like it. the book was written by Hemingway in his last days, and it's about his life at 25 years old. the only conclusion i can come to is that Hemingway viewed the book as the beginning of a sequence--the sequence of his life. which means his affair was most likely a gateway to a completely different life than the one he described in the book.

he talks about the affair bitterly. i wonder if that's where his final thoughts were.


Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

My nose has a terrific memory. In times of forgetfulness it is my unwritten travelogue, and Friday was no different. To get There, we took a tube to east London and stood next to someone who did not take personal hygiene seriously. We passed a modern museum and the stench of a dumpster. Finally we turned a corner to a fresh breeze blowing off the river, smelling of fish and industry and centuries of secrets. We had arrived.

I couldn’t help but stare at the freshly painted structure. The grass that was to be our shelter for the next three hours promised a truly authentic experience (with the exception of the modern fire retardant.) Wooden beams crisscrossed upward to form a certain solidarity that made it possible for me to pretend that the building was an original—that the famed house of entertainment had survived through thousands of generations.

We were lucky that day with warm weather. The first weekend of October could have brought rain or clouds or a thick wind. But today’s afternoon sun was friendly. It wound between people in the queue and roughed up their anticipation of the event. We couldn’t tell if many people had attended before, which was good. No matter if it was the first time or the tenth, it appeared that it was always worth coming back to. People laughed and the energy was high. Strangers smiled to strangers. An American next to me whistled a familiar hymn. A women in an apron sold programs, some people ate a quick sandwich, and one girl enjoyed a brownie (I made a mental note to buy one after the performance.) While we all took in the view across the river, we mostly kept our eyes fastened on the door that would soon be the gateway to our reason for being here.
And finally the queue started moving.

When we entered the sphere, I was immediately transported to seventeenth century England. I couldn’t help but think of the commoners that had experienced laughter and tears through the original players—the masters who were the first to interpret William’s bantering. I wondered what they wore, if they had shoes, and how often they were able to come to experience it. Did they come with their families? Did parents allow their children to come? How racy was the dialogue? How violent the fights? So many questions bounced around my head as I turned in circles to look at the open-aired space around me. The brightly painted rafters told the story of the sky. The forest hung on banners in front and informed me we would spend an afternoon in the woods. Above us were decks of chairs and benches, and for a few select few, rented cushions that promised a more comfortable stay. (But we had the cheapest and the better view.)

My husband and I set our bags on a slab of cement right outside “the wedge” where only 25 people were allowed in. Our view was close, but not so close so that we would leave with neck spasms. We snapped pictures while we could. We chatted with a woman who wore a maroon apron. She was pleasant to talk with, but it was more fun to see how quickly she became stern when she needed to manage the crowd. She was not a softie by any means. (But she did gladly offer to take our picture at the end.)

The people trickled in and eventually filled the entire space. Amid the crowd conversation, we suddenly heard minstrel music. Two musicians had emerged from behind a curtain, quieted the crowd, and began to set a mood reminiscent of the Renaissance. Soon after, we were enthralled in the story.

The hilarity began.


What is Good Writing?

I write about God. I don’t think it’s for the general public. Or is it? If what we write is truly good literature, anyone should be able to read it without thinking it's narrow minded and un-intellectual just because it involves faith. People like Madeleine L'Engle and Marilyn Robinson have bridged the gap and made it possible for the general public to read novels about the Christian faith. But how do they do it? What makes their writing good?

In the past two years or so I've visited Christian publishing editor's blogs (who work with CBA, which stands for Christian Booksellers Association) who discuss at length the pitfalls and bad writing they find in contemporary Christian literature. Today’s lit is often (not always) catchy and slightly trendy, but it would not stand the test of time. It resorts to clich├ęs and formulaic writing. Discussions like that scare me out of writing because I wonder if I write lazy lit. Do I write tedious prose? Cheap dialogue? Fuzzy, feel good narratives that don’t display the delicate intricacies of our faith in a meaningful and entertaining story? I’m tired of being paralyzed out of writing because I don’t know if it’s “good” or not. And what is good?

That's why I've started to create a specific, manageable list about what makes good writing. Eventually I want the list to be short and sweet, so that after I've written something I can measure it to my criteria. I've included it here so that you can all include your own guidelines if you have them. This is what I have so far (it's a little long):

“Good” Writing Guidelines

1. Write what you know
2. Inventory your passions
3. Consider if enough is at stake to make a story
4. Do not let the writing serve you; serve the writing
5. Big picture focus through small picture experiences (universal truths with real people/s/character’s stories)
6. Increase your reader’s imaginative grasp
7. Invent the form that will best serve your subject. The form is not the point. The idea, the question, the thing to know is
the point.
8. Show, don’t tell
9. Be precise
10. Define your terms
11. Don’t generalize
12. Avoid hyperbole
13. Don’t assume your reader agrees with a word you’re saying
14. Don’t cast the subject as a dichotomy
15. Personalize the issue
16. Use indirection
17. Explain/portray/show why the issue matters
18. Avoid sentimentality, aesthetic or psychic distance, and didacticism
19. Find harmony in chaos
20. Do not be self-conscious
21. Do not censor yourself
22. The writing will depend on what the writer learns
23. Examine what you write
24. Edit what you write


Save the Squirrels

"Since the 19th century, gray squirrels, an American import, have been overtaking Britain’s native red squirrels and claiming their territory. . ."

(Click on the blog title to read more about The American Invasion of England)


a shocking realization

today i came across a terribly troubling discovery: the english detest reeses peanut butter cups! as do the japanese, the french, the italians, the chinese, and any other nationals that have stayed with our landlords here on 70 Sedleigh Road. incredible! mr. kevin main popped down into our apartment the other day to offer us a giant 5 pound bag (in weight, not coinage) of reeses cups, saying he hasn't been able to get anyone else to eat them. something about the sweet and savoury combination. we also found out that the english aren't so fond of peanut butter and jelly (cue in the ditty "it's peanut butter jelly time! peanut butter jelly time!)

anywho, jonathan and i were happy to oblige his request and took the entire bag for ourselves. hopefully they'll last through the week.