Dare to See Beauty

I have often propounded – in writing and in conversation – the belief that art teaches us to see beauty. More, this is the main purpose of art.

I have talked, quoted, referenced, scribbled, and thought.

But I have not acted.

So this video felt like a punch in the stomach. This is a fashion photographer who saw photo of disabilities and physical differences in medical textbooks, and was horrified by the ugliness portrayed. He instinctively recognized that those photos, that strangeness, does not show respect for the human person. In fact, most photos of say, down syndrome, make the condition look terrifying.

And rather than just think about it, Rick Guidotti acted on it.

He frames his work in terms of “thinking outside the box” and “redefining beauty”, but his work is much, much more. His enthusiasm and love and recognition of beauty are infectious: he sees the beauty of human life so clearly that makes it visible to everyone in his photos. He is an artist.

I have always been under the impression that the fashion world makes the heart mind and soul small and closed. Silly prejudice. But Guidotti’s work made him better able to see the joy, life, and love that are the real components of beauty. He began with albinos, and since then has been photographing people with chromosome 18 syndrome, marfan syndrome, et al.

This video cannot be imbedded but please click here to go watch!

He closes with the challenge: “Dare to see beauty! Once you see it, it will overwhelm you!”

“People say I reveal the ‘inner-beauty’. Nonsense. There is no inner-beauty. There is just beauty. Dare to see it.”

Avoiding Caffeinated Squirrel Syndrome

Sometimes I wish that once I got an idea, I wouldn’t get another one until I’d dealt with or otherwise finished with the first.

I keep getting project ideas and they all seem worthy of pursuit (but, of course, only when I’m at home and in a time and place to Do Something with them).  And so I have a heap of projects that I count and recount but don’t work with, like a miser and his gold.

In preparation for Book Group Thing tonight (“Rangers, Wizards, Hobbits, and Lions: Finding Christ, Finding Ourselves”), I was pondering different ways of regarding Christ.  The translation of Dream of the Rood which I did for my Anglo-Saxon class – and which I pull out every Lent, to reflect on Christ as our conquering hero, saving us from sin – came to mind.  It occurred to me that I might work on some kind of text-driven artwork, some silhouette of Golgotha with Anglo-Saxon text twined around it:
Syllic wæs se sigebeam,   ond ic synnum fah,  forwunded mid wommum …
Gestah he on gealgan heanne, modig on manigra gesyhðe,   þa he wolde mancyn lysan…
Weop eal gesceaft,   cwiðdon cyninges fyll; Crist wæs on rode. 

And then I thought “It could be my banner picture for Lent.  And I could make another for Easter that says Christos Surrexit! or something.  That would be cool!  It’d really go with the plans I had with Michelle to create some Vasty Tomes of Excellence.”

Which would be lovely if I weren’t already trying to figure out how to fit in the crafting of said Vasty Tomes, choir practice, reading, writing, reading about writing and writing about reading, tax filing, car buying, trip taking, house cleaning, food cooking, and other gerunds.

I suppose learning to say no to myself just as I’d decline invitations to overmany social events is the thing to do.  How do you approach this?  How do you keep yourself from running after every potential project that comes into your head?

The lovely Em has already suggested the following approaches to Getting Stuff Done:
– Order them according to urgency and ease of completion; similar to the Focus Snowball of Resolutions Past;
– Hang them on a mirror/dashboard/other visible place
– Make a list of Necessary Life Tasks and another list of Fun Idea/Tasks; accomplish a thing from the first list before working on its respective liberal labour.  Alternating should make the tasks feel less servile in nature, but also prevent the lists from burgeoning into an Overwhelming Weight.

Have you a particular approach to pursuing or completing your aims?

Half-Review: Three Genres

Like last year, I made some resolutions on New Year’s Day.  In fact, I made one resolution months prior to January 1, so as to begin work on it early.  I planned to read one book per week: specifically, one of the 400-some I own but have not yet read.  Then, if said books were not worth keeping, I would hurl them away lest they needlessly burden my bookshelves.  Back in October, I made a lovely little list of the 52 books of 2013, so that I would not be set back by hair-pulling indecision each week.

Surely you’ve noticed my use of the past tense.

Not because I’ve abandoned the project, no; but I am rather far behind.  The third week of this year is drawing to a close, and I’m still on the first book of the year.*  I’m barely halfway through it, but that half prompted me to send Thalia a copy, so I figured that – in the name of trichobezoar prevention (this year’s watchword? I think so) – I would tell you about it.

Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama (Seventh Edition)

Perhaps you can understand why it’s taking longer than a week.  This 400-page volume was assigned as a text for a Three Genrescomposition class my sophomore year at Hillsdale – and I was, indeed, a Wise Fool, and neglected to read it at that point.  “Dr. Sundahl didn’t tell us what parts to read; he just told me to write How I Take Hold Of Things.  Whatever that means.”

More fool me.  Halfway through the first section, The Writing of Poetry, I kicked myself for failing to pick it up earlier.  What Stephen Minot has done, unlike every other poetry text I’ve met with, is combine definitions of poetic terms, exemplar poems, and verbal exercises with an examination of how poetry must be compressed, how it must approach a point indirectly, how it must utilize the sounds and shapes to give meaning flesh.  Also notable is his list of Pitfalls to Avoid.  Some readers find it annoying and restrictive, but I wish someone had told me much earlier in life to write poems without intrusive meter (still a problem for me, ha!), impenetrable obscurity (Davey of Davey’s Daily Poetry gently chided me for this once), or a heavy-handed recapitulation of Generally Accepted Truths.

Similarly, the section on stories describes the components thereof, as well as means to go about transforming experience into a narrative which will carry some weight or impact.  Minot is not without biases – one comment unfavorably comparing comic strips to Catcher in the Rye sat ill with me – but his is generally sound counsel, exhorting nascent authors to take care in their work and strive for subtlety.

We’ll see what insights the remainder of the book holds.  My copy is the 7th edition; an 8th and 9th edition have been released since, and the differences between them may not be simply cosmetic.  But the latest edition runs some $67.00, the 8th $5.00+, and the 7th a penny-plus-shipping.  It’s not exactly a cavern map of How to Write a Good Poem, or How to Write a Good Story.  But it is rather like being armed with a flashlight and a compass when setting out to write a poem or a story (or, presumably, a play) in itself.  Quality, we are assured, comes with experience and years of practice.

*In fairness, I did spend some four days zipping through The Hunger Games trilogy.  But they’re on loan and thus not part of The Lyst of Greate Doome.

Words, and Otherwords

I am doing some preliminary preparation for teaching a segment on poetry to my fifth graders.

The segment begins on Monday.

It will be a busy weekend.

But since my first goal is to teach them to enjoy poetry, I am scrambling to find a copy of Richard Wilbur’s Words Inside Words collection. Understandably – albeit sadly – no version is available online.

Instead, I did find a reading and animation of a few snippets, put forth by that eternally – entertaining TV station, PBS.

It is actually rather unnerving, but you can see what kind of fun things Wilbur did with words.  And poems.





Is your appetite whetted? For the sake of fostering Beauty and Truth, I give you . . . .

Richard Wilbur reading and commenting on “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World”!!!!!!


I pine.

I long.

My heart aches to find such expression of truth.

Letter to My Friends



Dear Friend,

You are precious, priceless, and deeply loved.

You have a heart more vast and luminous than the Grand Canyon, and nothing can alter that.

Unfortunately, having such an awe-inspiring heart makes it easier for people to kick cans or drop litter into it. A heart, by its very nature, will always be a target.

But that is because the people who do that are stupid and refuse to see, and so those people are to be pitied the more for missing out on YOU.

To put it more practically, being so beautifully sensitive means that you are also so painfully sensitive.

The openness to the world that we – having been blessed to be raised in loving, healthy, whole environments – have cultivated in ourselves, leaves us without the protection of cynicism, or even “disillusionment”. Instead, we must see life as it really is. (To paraphrase the Discworld witches, seeing what really is, is an altogether much harder gift curse.)

And that sucks.

Truly. Many of us seem to be struggling right now. I think it is something particular to this generation.

Yes, I know, generation upon generation have suffered, sacrificed, and died before us. But something seems different about this generation.

For one thing, as we come out of that Grand Era of baby boomers, technology, and “reason”, we as a group have been left looking for the “unreasonable”, the mysterious, and wonderful. (Also spelled, for clarification purposes, as “wonder-full”.)

This is my personal theory as to the prevalence of “New Age” isms. After so many years believing in NASA and other modern progresses, people were drawn to New Age thingies simply wanted to be able to see the sacred and beautiful in ordinary things. And actually have something considered sacred and beautiful. And mysterious and wonder-full and awe-full.

“New” Age? Pfft.

Christians have been believing – and acting upon! – that for the past two thousand years. Its called a Sacrament, people!

Which brings me back to original point; we, as young Christian adults, seem to have a strange malady these days.

It is a little bit like ennui, combined with homesickness and compounded by chronic job searching.

I suppose I must admit that it is likely other generations have felt this before. But pray, give me leave to wax hyperbolic about the trials and tribulations close to my heart!

Even Economists – those perilous number wizards- are insisting that this generation is having a ridiculously hard time finding jobs and paying off student loans and generally making ends meet for long enough that we can feel like adults.

And this intensifies just our original trouble.

Because the ennui-homesickness-loss feeling is by now a part of who we are, and it started a long time before most of us even began to look for real jobs. It seems to be part – to paraphrase one of my favorite books, The Blue Sword –  a feeling of not belonging, a strong desire to find a place where familiarity and wonder coincide. And part a fear of the discomfort and incongruity that such a place evokes.

Even those of our generation who are not Christian seem to be feeling it: this odd mix existential angst, immediate material insecurity, and the throbbing attraction of anything that promises it has a meaning.

It is our home, and not our home. This can give us moment of awe and love, of the discovery and home-coming at one time which Chesterton describes.

Which is not usually the most comfortable of positions.

And it offers very little in the way of practical happiness.

Whatever you are facing right now, remember that you are a child of God.

And that I think you are AWESOME.

And anyone who thinks differently is being blind.

Including you.

I will be insulted if you distrust my opinion that much!

(So will God, but I cannot put him on the same level as myself. That would be a stretch, even for an Egotist!)

In any case, beloved, breath deeply, eat healthy, sleep well, and live wonderfully.



P.S. Some more Chesterton for encouragement summation of our path.

The Men of the East may spell the stars
And times and triumphs mark,
But the Men marked with the Cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.

~ excerpt from the Ballad of the White Horse

This is the Time

It has been a quiet month for me, posting-wise.  This little Billy Joel parody is the reason why.  Well, part of it.

I sat in the flat in the humidest July
unable to stir myself, and God knows why
I haven’t put away the things I should have done
Unable to stand and face the rising sun

This is the time to be packing
or next week you’ll rue your slacking.
These are the days to fill boxes
With your books and files and sockses
This is the time,
But time is gonna fly
You’ve taken over nine or ten
Now hurry with the rest of them…

D’you know that before my roommate left the state
This task looming o’er me didn’t seem so great?
I can only look back on the month and shake my head
At the days that I squandered (could’ve packed instead)

This is the time to be packing
Grab some frames and plates for stacking
These are the days to cart off clothes
– take your scarves, you shouldn’t need those
Empty your desk
And empty all the drawers
The bloody thing still weighs enough
Without thirty-eight pounds of stuff…

I know it’s so easy to let your nights slip on by
Without even taking some papers away,
but the deadline of August is rapidly drawing nigh;
Better clean lest you give your deposit away.

And so there’s a fever now, with three days left,
to recapture the time of which you’re now bereft
Ah, but Dayton Drive’s waiting and your life is too
So stay with me, baby, I’ve got plans for you…

This is the time to be packing
Find the strength your will is lacking
These are the days to fill boxes
With your teacups, booze, and sockses
This is the time
The time of shifting change
Farewell to Elostirion
and greetings to the days to come.

The Lowering Elevator

I do not get along with elevators.

In fact, you might say that we have a depressing relationship.

I don’t use the darn things very often. I rarely am around them. And if I am unless I have to go higher than the Fifth Floor I prefer to use the stairs.

(Okay, maybe the Fourth Floor.)

But I work as a part-time Nanny/Housekeeper/Personal-Assistant, and the lady I work for lives in an apartment building that doesn’t have stairs.

Okay, there is one staircase. Placed so strangely that no ever uses it because it is so far away from everything.

So I must use an elevator at least twice a day.

We do not play well together.

It is not the elevators fault! I am sure of that. The fault is all mine

You see, I push buttons.

But not the right buttons. That would be far too simplistic of me.

It usually happens on my way out, when I am not even in a hurry. But for some reason, my fingers miss the large triangular button pointing down, and hit the large triangular button pointing up.

My brain – quicker, for some reason, than my fingers – realizes the mistake, and attempts to correct it by hitting the button again.

But my brain is silly, and too much in the habit of pushing Coffee Maker buttons and cell phone buttons. It fails to realize that Elevator buttons  do not turn off if pushed again. All it means is that the elevator has been called to go up twice. Or three times, if my fingers were particularly stubborn.

Why, oh why, do elevators not have a cancel button?

So the Elevator creaks its way to the floor where I am. It thinks that it is going further up.

I have two choices.

  1.  Get on, try to push the button for the floor below that I desire, watch the button refuse to cooperate because the elevator wants to go UP, wait for the door to close, reset, and reopen. So I try to order it to the floor that I want again. But because I pushed that button a second time, it still ignores my current demands and repeats the waiting, opening, closing, etc.
  2. Wait until the brainless automatic door flapping finishes, hit the downward facing triangle, watch the doors reopen for the second (or third) time, and enter the jaws of the machine.

I take one or other of the options, depending on the day, and then I am faced with a whole new array of buttons.

So I hit the button that I want.

You’d think it would be that simple, wouldn’t you?

But no. By this point I am flustered, frustrated, and I can’t remember which floor I am heading for.

So I hit the wrong button.

And the my brain does the same thing. Again. I hit the wrong button twice. Expecting the second hit to turn off the button.

Elevator, why can’t you just be a Coffee Maker? That would solve all my problems.

In fact, and Elevator-cum-Coffee-Maker might even solve World Peace!

Mel’s Book Meme: Ze Villianous Villain of Villainy

Terpsichore has given an excellent outline of  a “Villain”, and I find myself with really nothing to add.

Except, perhaps, to utter the injunction, “Oh villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this!”

Dogberry’s misspeaking aside, The Villain of my nightmares is not going anywhere near redemption.

He is a man, who presumably started life as a human, but choose evil so willingly and wholeheartedly that he can barely identified as such anymore. In fact, it is suspected that the devil has given him a third eye so as to better see and manipulate people.

He is:

Mr. Jackman,
from Russell Kirk’s Old House Of Fear

Kirk, better known for his philosophy, economics, and literary commentary, loved ghost tales. He discovered them during his sojourn at the University of St. Andrews, where he was surrounded by the ghostiness of the town. (St. A’s is known for being haunted.)

And Kirk’s taste for the sublime spooks came out in his fiction. He is, (as Lewis says of MacDonald,) perhaps not the best writer but he is a great teller of myth. All of his tales are chilling, but in a very good way.

Each is shot through a sense of the otherworldly, where the possibilities of meeting  a devil or meeting an angel walk side by side.

Each is told from a human standing: imperfect but trying, and oh, so very mortal.

And each highlights the dangers of Evil on the immortal soul. From the ghosts of thieves, to the possessing spirits of truly fiendish mobsters, Kirk’s stories create an intense interior repulsion from all things devilish.

The tales are told in such away that the reader is not sure what is happening, or if there is even something truly diabolical going on. But the little twists and turns that the plot takes slowly uncovers the supernatural working. Every story has surprised me in some way. But none laid a chilly finger on my spine the that my first Kirk story did.

This a Gothic Romance, written because Kirk simply wanted to see if he could write one.

Old House of Fear is narrated from the point of view of a prosaic American Lawyer, Mr. Logan, on a business trip to buy a castle. He gets stranded on the island off the coast of Scotland where this castle resides, with the dying owner, her beautiful niece, and Mr. Jackson. And Mr. Jackson’s henchmen. And Angus the shepherd.

But mostly Mr. Jackman. Mr. Edmund Jackman, who wants the castle, the niece, and the money. And can use evil powers to get it all.

Mr. Logan starts the story denying the possibility of any hocus-pocus. But as he becomes involved, he slowly becomes convinced of the actual, real, palpable existence of Evil. (And the fact that that wrinkle in Mr. Jackman’s forehead is really the lid for his third eye.)

There is terror, evil, a beautiful girl, midnight romps across a storm-tossed island, Scottish accents, and bottle dungeon.

(The bottle dungeon is modeled after the one in the Castle in St. Andrews!)

And the best part is, the Good wins! Mr. Jackman faces the eternal consequences of his choices. Logan gets the girl. And everything is resolved in a way that brings not only narrative and literary but spiritual satisfaction. For not being explicit Christian in any fashion, there is still an underlying system of belief. A portrayal of the Devils assumes the presence of the True God.

So the memory of Mr. Jackman remains to remind me that not only is Evil real, it is vanquishable.