Monday, April 14, 2014

Learning an Art (or, Learning AND Art?)

I'm still reading Anna Karenina, but now I am closer to 700 pages in. I just finished reading one of the two more poignant scenes to me so far. This scene, like the earlier one that struck me, is a vivid illustration of a philosophical idea Tolstoy apparently believes in and expresses through his characters and their conversations.
The earlier situation involved, through the evolution of more than one chapter/scene, the character Levin's development of his theory of how Russian agriculture might be improved. Through various interactions with people, witnessing of strangers' reactions to the work, and ideas clicking during conversation, Tolstoy outlines Levin's progression of thought on the subject. The more recent scene that moved me involves the inner workings of a natural-born artist (Mihailov) as compared with one who admires and studies and attempts through "technique" to, well, mimic, this unteachable instinct (Vronsky). Mihailov's creative process unfolds in the scene, from an attempt at a sketch, to a remembrance of a stranger's facial features, to the deep feeling of an emotion the artist was trying to convey. Then, when visitors come to admire his most recent painting, on which he has been working for three years, the artist agonizes over the expectation of their critiques as though the work were his child. Tolstoy writes from an obvious understanding of the artist's inner instinct (I noticed it because it not only describes how the creative one absorbs and "files away" things noticed for future paintings, but I have experienced the same kind of unintentional absorption of ideas for future writing. Tolstoy's description of it is perfect!)
After I read the scene, I was pondering the process and the author and the role of his knowledge and beliefs in his writing. It caused me to wonder, is one of the (primary?) objectives of writing fiction the goal of presenting a visual of one's personal philosophy/ies? I decided to root around and see what others thought of this question, which I found has of course been asked before: Can a writer use a novel to express philosophical views? (In my opinion, Tolstoy certainly seems to do exactly this, and to do it masterfully.)
In this New York Times article, James Ryerson points out the differences between the two disciplines: "Philosophy is written for the few; literature for the many. Philosophy is concerned with the general and abstract; literature with the specific and particular. Philosophy dispels illusions; literature creates them." He then summarizes that many answer the question at the beginning of this paragraph with no, including such novelists who have degrees in philosophy and seem to express it in their novels (like Iris Murdoch).
Others (like David Foster Wallace) answer yes. Still others (Rebecca Newberger Goldstein) admit to intentionally addressing philosophical issues in their novels. Of Goldstein, Ryerson writes, "Still, she says that part of her empathizes with Murdoch’s wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel at a safe remove from the philosopher’s search for hard truth." I agree; one's philosophical search for hard truth is, after all, fluid and progressively matures (similar to the theological idea of progressive sanctification). For this reason, I think a novel is perhaps a perfect medium for expressing one's philosophical process and leanings.
[Just for the fun of it and because it touches on an area of personal interest, I'll include here how Ryerson continued regarding Ms. Goldstein: "But she has become convinced over the years of what you might call the psychology of philosophy: that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who we are as individuals, and is as much a function of temperament as cognition. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don’t just understand a conceptual problem, she says: 'You feel the problem.'"]
However, in my philosophizing, I don't want to forget another undeniable and more important (?) aspect of creativity - that of the natural-born artist...the one who is unconsciously and unintentionally inspired with the idea and the creative ability (trainable, perhaps, but I wonder if it is truly teachable...?) to birth a classic work of fiction. What comes forth is beautiful and admired (even if posthumously) and studied by those who would learn "technique".... Like Tolstoy's artist Mihailov, I would guess the fiction-producing masters of old did not care to set down their words by a learned technique, but simply to express the thing that came to life inside them of its own accord.
But what about when a master endeavors to use technique, too? Take for example Picasso, who studied and perfected cubism in his art that was already original and masterful. I think perhaps Tolstoy exemplifies this quality in the writing of fiction embued with philosophy. I think I read one other (lesser known and much shorter!) of his novels quite a few years ago, but I've never read anything about the author himself. I will have to see what others have said about him (if anything) on this subject.
But what do you think (especially you writers)? Is one of your aims in writing fiction to express your philosophical views? Or is this just a consequence of the writing? Or...something else?

[P.S., if you do want to learn more about including philosophy in fiction, here is a handy-dandy guide I found that is pretty informative on the technique. ;)]

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kaleidoscope

I love symmetry and color and art. When I was a kid I was enthralled by kaleidoscopes. We even made them a couple of times, maybe in school or girl scouts or something...best project ever! As a teenager I listened a lot to dcTalk, who sang about racial harmony with the lyrics, "My God's design / We are a skin kaleidoscope." To me that said all that needed said: diversity = beauty.

One form of kaleidoscopic art that enthralls me as an adult is the mural mosaic. There are a few websites out there devoted to these, including muralmosaic.blogspot.com and muralmosaic.com. Here are a few of my favorites I found from a quick image search:




I even found a brief tutorial from Lewis Lavoie on how to make them:


I think it would be really cool to take all the photographs oneself of things relevant to the "big picture" and make one of these. I might just make it a long-term project!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

7QT: reJuvenations, Jams, and Jokes



---1---
Junk to Jewels!
Okay, well, not junk exactly. But definitely a refurbishment! Today I took a couple of barstools we had and turned them into some sleek little end tables for the little house we will be moving into next month. Trying to save space, and I think these do the trick!
 

In the process of drying (the color is grey, and I made my own chalk paint by mixing
2 parts paint, 1 part powdered/dry plaster of paris, and 1/2 part water).

Found some little "wood plugs" for 59 cents each at Sutherlands and painted them, too.
Dry(ish) paint
Had some molding adhesive lying around, and it is clear, so that's what I used to attach
both the plugs and the glass tops (below).
I had two glass tops lying around from a couple of old, cheap three-legged plywood stands that
I don't even have anymore (just threw the last one out last week because the flimsy legs were skewed and
it toppled over all the time).
Side view: Ta-da! :)

 
---2---
...I can't even think of a proper "J" title for this Take...except maybe "jeez!!" 
 
"Is that biscuits and gravy mixed in with the dogs' food?" you ask.
"Yes," I answer.
I didn't do it.
They are becoming so spoiled they rarely will eat their food without
table scraps mixed in.
I don't think I like this arrangement....
But I sure do love my dogs :).
---3---

Joy!
I had a phone interview last week for the graduate program I have been looking at for a couple of years now. I was accepted, and will be moving to Maryland, close to both DC and Baltimore, for school at the beginning of 2015! I'm going to work on my second master's degree, this one a Master of Thanatology. There are only two graduate degree programs in Thanatology in the country, one in Wisconsin (I think?) and this one in Maryland. I decided it was time I ventured out of the Midwest, so I'm very excited about this new opportunity! This second master's will only be half the credit hours of the degree I just finished, so I should be able to finish it in a couple of years, and with it raise my GPA for a better prospect at getting into the doctoral program I'm looking at in Berkeley. So...plans, plans, plans! And they are working out! Now to save money for the move.... O.o
 
For that I'm going to need another...
 

---4---
...Job! 
 
---5---
I looked in the thesaurus (online, of course) and could find no synonym for "graduation" starting with "J".
 
But. Speaking of degrees, I will be walking in this year's commencement exercises for the degree I earned in September. So...May 3rd. I always get extremely nervous about big events with lots of people, but I decided today that it is my degree, I worked long and hard and paid a whole lot financially and earned this degree, so I'm going to my graduation. I'm hoping it will be a really good experience. Besides, it's always good to face the things that seem daunting, right...? 
 
---6---
Jammed
It's the second week of the A to Z Challenge and I'm several days behind. I meant to stay with it, but if I'm going to finish I'll either have to write a few make-up posts over the next couple of days, or just pick up right now and keep going with a few missing. But I'm not quitting! I'm grateful for all the visitors who keep coming by and leaving comments. I'm doing my best to visit everyone back! 
 
---7---
Jokes
I don't know if anyone else will find this as funny as I find it, but I'm going to let you in on an inside joke at my house. Several weeks ago I posted a picture of me on Facebook when I woke up in the morning after a haircut and commented something about how I forgot how messy short hair gets after a night of sleep! My new-to-social-media mother commented with my first and middle name: "Melody Sharon!!"
 
My dog (my male dog) is named Albie. Well, now whenever Albie does something and we have to get onto him, Glenda exclaims, "Albie Sharon!!"
 
It makes me laugh every time. :)
 
For more jolly Quick Takes, visit Jennifer at Conversion Diary!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Familiarity

Familiarity breeds contempt. But you know...absence makes the heart grow fonder....

Sometimes I long for the unknown, the great adventure, the grass on the other side. And usually, once I get there, for a while I am on unfamiliar ground and have to get used to it, but eventually I find it's a good experience.

Lately I find myself still eager to press on into uncharted territory (like all the cliches I'm using here?!), but at the same time feeling a little disoriented at the quick departure from what has for so long been familiar and comfortable.

One day at a time, eh?

I guess I'm feeling like a missionary, or a foreign exchange student - everything about the culture initially seems different - the view, the language, the food, the customs, the dress.... But...well, don't you love a story that brings to light how two seemingly disparate things are really very much alike?

Like, for instance, I finished reading Dorothy Parker's Complete Stories last week. In one of the sketches, she compared a couple's "average" life in New York City, and a visit from their aunt from a small town who preferred her own way of living from day to day. Afterward the city couple visit their aunt in the small town and, though the stores have different names and the differences are keenly felt, what Parker so plainly describes is that the "average" daily life of a small-town inhabitant is exactly the same as that of a city-dweller. We all have flashes of excitement amidst the usual (and comfortable) routine.

So...in times when I get in a hurry to solidify some feeling of "normalcy," or worry that there is still so much to figure out and wonder if I will ever attain the routine of life that I hope to maintain for a while (you know, something about "settling down" or something), I try to remind myself to live in the present. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the future in fact looks pretty bright, if a little intimidating, and I just have to keep plodding along and I'll make it.

One of my priorities the last year or so has been to enjoy the plodding. Some days I'm more successful at that than others. But that's one of the reasons I enjoy participating in the A to Z Challenge (last year was my first year). I enjoy writing and, in particular, blogging, and interacting with other bloggers.

What are some of the things you do on purpose to enjoy the journey on the way to wherever you're headed?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Early

Though I would never call myself a morning person, per se, early morning is actually one of my favorite times of the day. Being a third shifter, I get to experience it more than I would if I worked normal daytime or evening hours, I'm sure! I love seeing a beautiful sunrise, and have noticed over the last couple of years that the various seasons can each yield their own kind of beautiful dawns! Whether it is a crisp, golden yellow, or a deep burnt orange or red...or even the transitioning of the blue before the sun adds color to the sky...whenever I look at the sky as it lightens I can't help but take pictures. I think it's fitting, too, that when I saw the ocean for the first time last May, I arrived on the beach just before dawn and got to see the sunrise. It was the stuff paintings are made of!

One of my favorite hours is the one just before the sun rises. I love the stillness, the coolness, the quiet. So many are still sleeping, but yet there is a twinge of hope in the atmosphere that in just a little while, movement and noise and life will invade the stillness and bring another day and all the opportunities it affords. I always find concentration easy during this hour. It brings me joy, whether I attempt to do something physical, or read, or enjoy a coffee, or just lie in bed and savor the last vestiges of the night's close darkness. These are moments of calm and peace.

I spent a few years commuting an hour each way to school two or three times a week. Some of my class began early in the morning, so I would watch the sunrise as I drove East, and many mornings the fields along the highway would cradle fog in their crevices, or frost on their surfaces. And then there were the first "warmer" days near the end of Spring, when even at that hour, I could enjoy rolling the windows down and breathing the envigorating morning air.

No, I have not often made it a point to arise early in order to enjoy my favorite part of the day. But it is one of the best things about being an extreme night owl!!

Allow me to share a few of my early morning moments with you:

Took a walk in the new snow after I got home from work one morning.

Leaving a work-site in the country one morning I saw this fog-covered pond.

South Padre Island sunrise, May 25, 2013.

Walking to my car when I got out of work one morning a few months ago.

Another angle in the sky the same morning as the picture above (it had just finished raining).

Driving home from work one day; I love how the sun just touches the topmost leaves of this very tall tree.

Frost on the trail of an early morning walk this past Fall.

An icy design on my windshield, you guessed it, when I got off work one morning a couple of months ago.
 
Have a beautiful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

7QT: Da-Da-Da-Da-Da-DDDDDD!

 
---1---

Dogs
My friend has a dog. I have a dog. 90% of the time, said dogs get along splendidly. They run and laugh and share inside jokes and sit around the campfire at night playing their guitars and singing songs about how they once asked their fourth grade teacher if she wore a wig. 95% of the time even. But that other 5%...?
 
Friend's dog gets jealous of my dog, or else my dog gets a little too rough while playing, and, long story short, friend's dog decides to eat my dog's face. And when they go at it, it is very difficult to break up the fight, and one of us (me) almost always comes away with a battle scar. This tends to make me mad irate at friend's dog and declare that something must be done to fix this situation!
 
Today my friend was the one who got caught in the flurry (or furry? hyuck hyuck) of teeth and claws, and at the end, my friend was the angrier of us.
 
I just thought that served as a really great illustration of how we fight more boldly for issues of justice that directly affect us than for those that don't.
 
(P.S., If anyone has any recommendations for strategies or resources for helping dogs with jealousy issues in new multi-pet families, or from playing aggressively, I would love to hear them!)
 
---2---

Doom and gloom
Many a dreary day I have spent these past three weeks wondering if I was going to die. I have been so sick. My immune system was down because of one particularly potent infection, so I ended up getting the flu (I think), an internal organ seriously altered through fever and medication, and strep throat in addition to the original infection. All at the same time!! Missed almost three weeks of work and tonight (Thursday) is my first night back since March 15! I am so glad to be counted among the living again.
 
---3---
 
Delirium-inspired creativity
While I was in bed with a fever, at one point I caught myself composing my own eulogy. Then I realized I was composing a poem about me composing my own eulogy. But then...Eureka! I got a great idea for a kids' book! Not a small children's book, but like an elementary-age thing, kind-of like Junie B. Jones. I want to share it with you guys, but I think I'll hold off on that. The idea is so good that if I discover it has not been done already, I probably will actually pursue writing it. I love it when good ideas come! It provided a little bit of a silver lining to being stuck in a bed for two weeks.
 
---4---
 
Darlings from Pompeii
Went to the cheap theater the other night and watched Pompeii. There were several other couples there. This one guy who looked maybe in his late 70s came in with a walker and made his way to a few rows in front of where we were sitting and sat down. A few minutes later he was joined by his hot chick (she was older, too, but looked to be in better physical condition), and sho' 'nuff, they started kissing right there at the movies! I waited until they weren't kissing anymore, because I didn't want to be completely disrespectful, but snapped this picture of them (still during the previews):
 
 
But honestly, doesn't everyone want a love like that?! It was very sweet. :) I leaned over to Glenda and said (remember, how I didn't want to be completely disrespectful, but only a little bit?), "This will probably be an emotional movie for them - they probably lost a lot of friends at Pompeii."
 
---5---
 
Down on the farm
I was feeling a little better this past Sunday (the strep was only barely beginning), so we decided to go out and enjoy some fresh air. We went out to a local lake and sat on the dock for a little while and let the dogs enjoy some freedom from the apartment, too. On the way out, we noticed a couple of tractors parked behind a building, and I have always wanted to do a photo shoot with farm and/or construction machinery, so we took our chance. Here I am behind the wheel of a John Deere:
  
 
---6---
 
Dealin' with the feelin's
While I was sick I had two country songs that kept playing over an over in my mind. I'll finish my Takes out this week with those. The first was because of a little bitterness I've been feeling over a couple of "friends" whom I have recently discovered do not seem to define "friendship" the way I do.
 




 
---7---
 
Drama ;)
And the other one was, I think, inspired by my melodramatic persuasion that I was at death's door...but counting the many blessings I'd had during my short sojourn on this old earth.
 

 
For more D-lightful Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Born That Way OR Commonality and Compassion

One of the items on my Life List for this year was to read at least one book every two weeks. I've been in school so long and had required reading that has left me with little space to read for general enjoyment, so I wanted to catch up a little on my game this year! This week I finished Dorothy Parker's Complete Stories and started Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I found it on some book list that had computed ask the most popular book lists and it said that, due to the number of lists that included this title and how far up on the rankings, it was the number one recommended book for a person to include on their list of works read. Well, numbers don't lie, so I'm reading it! And it has held my interest from the start.

I'm about a hundred twenty pages or so in, and one of the characters is on his way to visit a wayward brother he hasn't seen in a while, and considering all the misdeeds that brother has done, from benign drunkenness to beating young children, attempting to swindle money from another brother in court, and assaulting village elders, among many other things. And then the character, Levin, thinks the following:

"It was all horribly disgusting, yet to Levin it appeared not at all in the same disgusting light as it inevitably would to those who did not know Nikolay, did not know all his story, did not know his heart.

"Levin remembered that when Nikolay had been in the devout stage, the period of fasts and monks and church services, when he was seeking in religion a support and a curb for his passionate temperament, everyone, far from encouraging him, had jeered at him, and [Levin] too, with the others. They had teased him, called him Noah and Monk; and, when he had broken out [into all sorts of senseless debauchery], no one had helped him, but everyone had turned away from him with horror and disgust.

"Levin felt that, in spite of all the ugliness of his life, his brother Nikolay, in his soul, in the very depths of his soul, was no more in the wrong than the people who despised him. He was not to blame for having been born with his unbridled temperament and his somehow limited intelligence. But he had always wanted to be good. ..."

Now, I do believe in such a thing as moral responsibility for one's own actions, but I love this little except from Tolstoy's book, in that it considers what makes a person behave in a certain way. I'm sure you've all had discussions at some point or other about how some people respond to tragedy and injustice by becoming stronger/better, and some people seem to either develop a victim mentality or just respond in what we might consider a "negative" way.

I think at various times I have responded to my own trials in both manners. And, truth be told, there have been times when I have honestly wondered, "What is the point in even trying anymore?" I guess a lot of people would consider me weak. Or even bad. Who knows?

But that's one of the things that appeals to me about Jesus. He doesn't just look at my weaknesses; He knows their causes. And yeah, He encourages me to do and be better, and in encouragement we so often find strength to do what is encouraged. Thank God for his grace.

But let us remember, people respond to grace in different ways, too, whether receiving it freely or thinking, "What's the catch?" or rejecting it because of feelings of unworthiness. Can we not be more compassionate with people? I think Jesus is.

I am not sure whether, over the course of Tolstoy's book the characters will change, either for better or for worse, or whether forgiveness might be one of the themes of the book (as it has already been a subject of discussion between two of the main characters). But I think perhaps it is a theme of life in general, and maybe that is why it is so emphasized by the gospel. Life consists of constantly and fluidly learning to live with and love others despite, and in many cases, because of, their limitations and/or weaknesses.