All posts by Lars Walker

Tourism by the book

Today’s post isn’t about Norway exactly. It’s about Norway and other places too.

I’ve traveled overseas several times, and I’ve always gone to Norway. Other countries I’ve visited have either been on the way or on the way back from Norway.

It’s not that there’s no other country I’d like to see. It’s just that my traveling money is limited (often nonexistent), and I have to prioritize.

But I must admit the list of countries I really want to see is fairly short.

Denmark, because it’s another ancestral country, and I haven’t been there yet.

The British Isles, because of all the books and movies and literature.

Israel, because of the Bible.

And… hmm. I wouldn’t turn down a free trip to a few other countries, but I won’t feel cheated at the end of my life if the list above covers my life’s tourism.

I’ve often wondered about my complete lack of interest in the exotic. I hear people saying, “Oh, I want to visit China and Indonesia and Brazil and all those far-off, unfamiliar places.”

And I don’t see it. Why, I wonder, am I only interested in my own culture and heritage, and nobody else’s?

The obvious answer, in our time, is that I must be a racist, but I think there’s more to it.

My interest in travel, I’ve realized, is almost entirely connected to my reading. I want to see the places where the stories happened. That’s why I couldn’t appreciate my one canoe trip to the North Woods with my brothers. There wasn’t any beloved story associated with it. (Also paddling and portaging is a lot of work,)

Visiting the American West, on the other hand, is something I want to do. Lots of stories there, historic and fictional.

My interest in seeing a place is directly proportional to the stories I’ve read that come from there. That’s why I’d like to see England, but France and Germany leave me cold (I know The Three Musketeers is French, but, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, it’s not a story in which the landscape plays much of a role).

I’m not saying this is the right way to look at travel, or that my approach is better in any way than yours.

I’m just saying that’s how it is with me.

And what am I blogging for, except to explain myself in exasperating detail?

My Norway box is full today

Lots of Norwegian stuff going on (for the six of us who look for that sort of thing).

Most prominently, the Norwegian Nobel Committee just announced they’ve nominated Al Gore for the Peace Prize.

Because of all the wars he’s stopped, I guess. Maybe world leaders watching An Inconvenient Truth fell asleep, and the shooting stopped while they snored.

Or something.

Yesterday a Norwegian cruise ship managed to run aground in Antarctica. This is extremely embarrassing for sailors from a maritime country. I note that the name of the captain is not listed. Because of that I choose to believe that the captain is probably a Portuguese. Or a Greek.

As far as I know, Norwegians don’t actually sail ships anymore. They just own them.

Alternatively, I blame Socialism.

It’s kind of handy, being a Norway-phile. When they do something good, I’ll tell you it’s because Norwegians are great.

When they do something embarrassing, I blame Socialism.

[By the way, Brother Baal got in a good one at our Christmas feast. We were eating lefse, a wonderful Norwegian bread-thing made of potatoes (at least most of the time in this country), kind of like a soft tortilla. Most people eat it with sugar, either brown or white. Brown is the tradition with us.

I noted (for the umpteenth time) that I like mine with strawberry jam. “And,” I pointed out, “I once got lefse with strawberry jam in Norway!”

“That’s because of Socialism,” said Baal.

*Zing*.]

On a somber note, Cousin Andreas is dead.

Cousin Andreas was a descendent of my great-grandfather’s sister, who took over the family farm with her husband. He lived in the house where my great-grandfather was born. He worked, if I remember correctly, as a heavy equipment operator (it’s even harder to make a living as a small farmer over there than it is here).

He had been, at one time, a world class competitive marksman.

He was also totally deaf, as is his widow. They met at a deaf school in Trondheim.

My most vivid memory of him comes from the visit he and his wife paid to America several years ago. It was the first time any Norwegian relative from that side of the family ever came over to the land of Indians and gangsters.

It fell to me, as the only Norwegian speaker in the family under 70, to be their tour guide. You won’t be surprised to know that I was pretty stressed over how I would shepherd a pair of deaf people around, relying on their lip-reading skills in Norwegian.

It proved in the event to be a delightful experience. Andreas and his wife were old travelers. They traveled all over the world, and refused to let the fact that they couldn’t hear in countries where they didn’t know the language slow them down. They charged enthusiastically into every situation, relying on the kindness of strangers, and if something went badly they didn’t beat themselves up over it.

In other words, they were the opposite of me. And that’s always bracing.

A special memory is from when we visited Brother Moloch and his family in Iowa. The first evening, Moloch’s wife (who is a splendid person) came into the living room with The Youngest Niece. They pulled chairs up directly in front of the sofa, facing Andreas and his wife. They raised their hands and began to communicate.

It was like a comedy episode. It was like a game of charades. It was a hoot. We were all laughing ourselves silly before we were done. The communication was bumpy, but extremely effective.

I hope to go back to Norway this summer, but I won’t get to see Cousin Andreas again.

I’m sad about that.

Well, that’s settled now

Thanks to Jared at the Thinklings for linking to yesterday’s post, and for flattering me. I can always use to be flattered.

Today was a little milder than yesterday, but it’ll clamp down on Friday. The predicted high temperature for Saturday is about 1° F. The good news is that I’ve found an excuse to wiggle out of the open-air ski event with the Viking Age Society. It’s my weekend on the church set-up team (we meet in a gymnasium, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before). And the scheduled time conflicts with the race.

The Lord’s Church always takes first place with me.

Especially when the alternative is freezing my Asgard off.

I had a blinding flash of insight today.

And we all know what that means.

It means I’ve probably overlooked something.

Nevertheless I shall present it for your comments, criticisms and incredulity.

My thesis: There is a substantial element of racism and chauvinism in the doctrine of Multiculturalism.

This is confusing, because I believe that one cause of Multiculturalism is a loss of faith in our own culture and traditions.

But looked at from another angle, I see an element of cultural arrogance too (not surprising in a philosophy so avidly embraced in France).

Here’s my question: Why would a nation assume that bringing in a massive population of foreigners would not radically alter its own treasured traditions and liberties?

It seems to me the only explanations are either cultural arrogance or plain racism.

To attempt the Multicultural experiment, a country has to figure that the new immigrants are either…

a) so culturally impoverished that they will gladly cast aside their own traditions in order to embrace those of their new home (“There are only two kinds of people in the world; us and those who wish to be us”), or…

b) so stupid that they will soak up their new environment like sponges, without any will to resist (“They’re just little brown people, after all. They’re really like children”).

A culture of thought at once filled with self-hatred and contemptuous of others sounds like a contradiction, but we see it constantly in individuals. The greatest bigots are often the most insecure and self-loathing people.

That’s my theory, what it is. And it’s mine.

On C. S. Lewis: Hooper vindicated?

The serious cold has returned to God’s Country. The high today was a notch over 10°F. I’ve seen worse cold. Far worse. But this is definitely, inarguably frigid.

On Saturday it’ll be even colder. And the Viking Age Society is scheduled to help with a city cross-country skiing event that day, manning bonfires and passing out (warm) refreshments.

I’m trying to figure out a way to weasel out of it.



There’s news on the C. S. Lewis front.
I wrote, over on the old blog site, about the late Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog’s accusations, repeated and embellished through several books, that Lewis’ secretary and literary executor, Walter Hooper, had forged documents, notably the unfinished novel The Dark Tower, and fraudulently published them as Lewis’ work.

I never put much stock in those charges, and it appears my instincts were right. The current issue of Christianity Today features an article called “Shedding Light On the Dark Tower” (not online, but here’s a discussion thread from the Into the Wardrobe site); by Harry Lee Poe. Poe describes a 2003 article in the Yale Review by scholar Alastair Fowler, a student of Lewis’. Fowler clearly recalls Lewis showing him some of his unfinished work, and he says he particularly remembers seeing The Dark Tower, with its disturbing scene about the man with the “stinger” in his head.

It would appear that Lindskoog was motivated to make her charges, in part, by the fact that the Dark Tower fragment just isn’t very good. She couldn’t accept that her hero might have produced something so inferior.

If that’s so, it’s evidence that she didn’t understand the creative process very well. Rare is the fiction writer who can produce saleable material on the first draft, and most who can aren’t the best in their genres. I often tell people, “The first thing is just to get your story down on paper. Don’t worry about the fact that it’s dreck. It’s supposed to be dreck. That’s what first drafts are for. Once the dreck is down in black and white, you can put your artistic mind to work, cutting, shaping, polishing and rearranging stuff.”

You can argue that a poor first draft by Lewis should never have been published at all (good luck with that!). But to complain that an early draft is substandard compared with his published work—that’s just starry-eyed.

Crossing Ann

As I set about my morning ablutions, I looked at the bathroom shelf and wondered, “Where did that fluffy blue wash cloth come from, the one that’s draping the deodorant and the extra bar of soap?”

On closer examination, I discovered it to be not a cloth, but a blanket of foam. My economy size can of shaving gel had spontaneously discharged, popping its cap and cascading blue froth all over the shelf.

I’ve been trying to decide all day whether this was a big deal. It was a large can, and I’d hoped to make it last a year or two. I use shaving cream very slowly, since I wear a beard and only scrape my neck and upper cheeks. So this can represented a lot of mileage lost.

On the other hand I bought it at Sam’s with two other cans of equal size, and I’ve got the other two left. I’ve occasionally wondered whether these might be the last of their kind I ever need to get. So I’ve still got a lot of the stuff remaining.

I’ll let you know what I decide in twenty years or so.

I got this link from Earthlink. It’s a Google Map utility that lets you find out the answer to that eternal question, “If I dug a hole from here straight through the earth, where would I come out on the other side?” Sadly, it’s not China, as I was always told, in my case. I come up in the Indian Ocean, somewhere west of Australia.

There was a bit of a flap today about the TV program “Crossing Jordan” dissing Ann Coulter last night. I happened to watch that episode, since “Crossing Jordan” is one of the small number of shows I haven’t turned off forever yet, due to left-wing political content (though I’m pretty sure it won’t be long now). In the scene under discussion, two characters, a man and a woman, were stranded inside a store (I think it was a store) during a riot in Boston. The woman, a new character, has already established herself as hostile and prickly. The man said to her, “Are you suffering from A.C.S.? Ann Coulter Syndrome, where the person draws power from their enemies’ rage?”

I saw (and heard) a blogger and a talk show host complain today that this was an inappropriate personal attack.

Although I’m crazy about Ann Coulter, I couldn’t get very upset about it. It’s perfectly in line with Ann’s preferred tone of discourse, and I suspect she’s rather pleased about the plug.

In fact, I’m sure she’s drawing power from it right now.

By the way, Ann, if you’re reading this—give me a call. Can’t find your number on my Rolodex.

The episode of “Crossing Jordan,” by the way, was an exercise in Hollywood predictability. A black child was killed by police, and the medical examiners testified that it appeared that the boy had fired at the cops first. Rioting broke out all over the city, and it fell to Jordan, the feisty, beautiful M.E., to discover the Truth that we all knew was coming—that the child was innocent, and the police had falsified evidence. There was a great opportunity here to actually do something original and avoid a cliché, but I expected conventional wisdom and I wasn’t disappointed.

Adventures in faith, by a non-adventurer

It’s been weeks (or days at least) since I’ve promoted Andrew Klavan. In this LA Times piece today he analyzes Hollywood’s problem with portraying the War on Terror, and as usual he’s dead on. H/T to Dave Lull for the link.

High drama at my house last night—not the kind that would make a John Woo movie, or even an Edward Albee drama, but the internal kind.

I paid my bills, and there was an insurance bill in there I’d been worrying about. Sure enough, when all was done and I looked at my checkbook balance, a metaphorical hand, cold as a pump handle in February, took hold of my heart. The balance was about the size of the check for a large party at a nice restaurant (not that I ever eat at nice restaurants).

I’ll get paid in a few days, so it wasn’t the end of the world, barring emergencies. But it scared me badly. I’m not a gambler, and I find myself in a game of economic Russian Roulette these days.

Many Christians don’t worry about such things, or claim they don’t. “Jesus promised us our daily bread,” they say. “He’ll always provide for our physical needs.”

I don’t read the Bible that way. Lots of better Christians than me have lost homes, family members and their very lives without Jesus doing anything about it. I think the error comes from mistaking Jesus’ point. I don’t believe He meant to say that we were guaranteed some kind of miraculous minimum wage. I think He meant that we have to orient our spirits to understand that all we really need is Him, and if He chooses to deny us any “necessity,” it’s because it’s not really a necessity. Only He is a necessity.

Which isn’t to deny that God generally provides most of us our daily bread. I know the stories about George Mueller. It’s just that sometimes He doesn’t provide physical needs, and it’s always His choice, for His purposes. We can’t manipulate Him, and we’ve got no right to complain if the decision isn’t one we like.

In other words, God has the right to take my house, and I have to live with that. Rejoice in it, even.

Then, just before bedtime, I picked up the mail I’d gotten that day, and forgotten to open. There was a reimbursement check from my health insurance flex account. I’d pretty much forgotten it was coming. It didn’t entirely solve my problem, but it certainly increased my comfort level.

Frankly that spooked me as much as the low balance had.

Bob and Tom today

What shall I say tonight, to follow yesterday’s hubris fest? Something self-deprecatory? That’s always a favorite, and I imagine I’ll get to it before I’m done, but instead, just to make a change, why don’t I deprecate somebody else? Somebody famous, somebody whose majestic literary legacy makes me look not only tiny, but invisible.

I’ll trash Robert Burns.

Mitch Berg at Shot in the Dark reminds us that today is Burns’ birthday. Scotsmen and their descendants around the world are toasting him today, no doubt, and good health to them.

But I don’t like Burns.

It’s not his poetry I object to, but his life. When I think of Burns I think of his womanizing, and that offends me. I unloaded on this subject through one of the characters in Blood and Judgment. That whole 19th Century Romantic movement was as famed for its flouting of traditional sexual mores as for its creative accomplishments.

You know what happened to a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock in those days? How many young women debauched by these scoundrels, do you think, ended up thrown out of their homes, walking the streets? I’m not defending that kind of draconian attitude toward “fallen women.” I’m affirming a more draconian attitude toward seducers.

Part of it’s plain jealousy, I have no doubt. I’ve always had a furious, repressed resentment against guys who have an easy way with women. I envy them deeply. I’ll not deny it.

And I know that C. S. Lewis would reprimand me for practicing “the personal heresy,” allowing judgments about a poet’s life to cloud my appreciation of his work, which is a thing whole unto itself.

Guilty on both counts.

But that doesn’t make me like Burns.

I close this section with the only Burns story I know, which isn’t helpful to my purpose in any way, but might soften the effects of my rant.

As the story goes, Burns was walking down the road one morning, when he met a pretty milkmaid.

“Good morning, lassy,” he said to her, tipping his hat.

“Good morning sir.” The girl smiled and continued on her way. Obviously she hadn’t recognized the poet.

“Do you know who I am, lassy?” he asked, turning.

“No sir.”

“I’m Robert Burns.”

“Oh,” said the girl. “I expect I’d better put doon my pails then.”

Commenter Michael suggested the other day, in response to my post about my medical test, that I might be “the Tom Bombadil of psychotropic drugs,” utterly unaffected by them.

That’s flattering, but laughable. If there’s a less Bombadillian character in the world than I, I don’t know who it is.

But it reminds me that in my recent re-reading of The Fellowship Of the Ring, I think I finally figured out a way to think about old Tom.

I’ve always had trouble figuring him out. I know that Tolkien didn’t write allegory, and so it’s always false to say of any of his characters, “This character symbolizes X.” His characters are rich and complex. They reflect qualities, and multiple qualities at that. They sometimes act in ways reminiscent of Christ or the Virgin Mary or others, but none of them is anybody but himself, consistently.

Still I find it helpful to see Tom Bombadil as a sort of Adam figure. Not the fallen Adam, but the unfallen, the First Patriarch who named the beasts and tended the Garden. Bombadil reminds me of the Green Lady in C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra, though he’s been tested and lacks her vulnerability. Bombadil, it seems to me, represents humanity as it was created to be—at one with nature but not beastly; highly sexual but chaste.

(By the way, I’m glad they skipped him in the Peter Jackson movie. He’s absolutely unfilmable, and the scenes in his house could only have been done as a sort of musical comedy number. I just can’t see it working).

I could well be wrong in my conclusions. Feel free to tell me why.

Slaves to fashion

I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet (for all you born after 1970, that’s a reference from the Bible).

But I think I have a gift for recognizing cultural trends a little faster than other people do. Or so I’m given to understand by fans of Wolf Time.

It seems easy to me. You just note three related points in contemporary thinking, lay a ruler against them and see where the extended line leads. Perhaps the trick is in recognizing which points, out of the thousands ranged around us, are related in a way that indicates a direction and a trend.

In any case, I’ve identified a trend (or think I have), followed it out, and I’m ready to make a prediction. I could be wrong. But I seriously expect to see this happen in my lifetime. If it hasn’t come true by the time I die, you can stand over my grave and say you told me so.

It seems to me that Taboo Depletion is becoming a serious problem for the cultural left. The problem is this—once you’ve defined “progress” and “art” as the continual demolition of traditional society, culture and social norms, what do you do when you’ve run out of taboos to flout? It was easy in the ‘60s. Make a movie with nudity. Write a novel about homosexuals. Instant, reflexive shock. People write angry letters. Mothers march with signs. The artist gains artistic cred, and the publicity’s good for business.

But it’s more difficult today. Actual sex acts between actors in a film? Done that. Novels about torture murder from the point of view of the murderer, sympathetically portrayed? Been there. What shocking thing can a performance artist do, that hasn’t been done by someone else already? Hard to think of anything. As Alexander is said to have wept because there were no more worlds to conquer (he didn’t, by the way. He wept because he wouldn’t live long enough to conquer them all), one imagines today’s young intellectual weeping because there are no more boundary lines to violate.

But I can think of one. And I see hints that it will soon take its place on the public stage.

I think we’ll soon see a movement to restore the institution of slavery.

First of all, the undeniable historical fact that Christians were largely responsible for the abolition of slavery is a constant irritation to leftists. They like to frame their narrative in terms that say, “Abolitionism was a liberal movement,” which is true, while covering over the fact that liberalism was, for the most part, a Christian evangelical impulse in those days.

It would give many of them much relief to be able to turn around and say, “You Christians abolished slavery, and it was an unforgivable act of cultural imperialism!”

“Cultural Imperialism” is a handy label. Any act of the Right, regardless of the idealism that might lie behind it, can be labeled “cultural imperialism.” Trying to spread democracy in places where it is not found yet? Cultural imperialism. Attempting to stop third world genocide? Cultural imperialism. Fighting international sex trafficking? Cultural imperialism. Defending freedom of speech or religion in Communist countries? Egregious C. I.!

So it’s only a short jump to a position that would say, “Well of course I’m personally opposed to slavery, but what right has America, a country where zoophiles still don’t enjoy full human rights, to try to impose its antislavery norms on countries with different, and equally valid, traditions?”

And once that’s accepted, why not legalize slavery in “multicultural” America?

Normal-looking deviants could be booked on Oprah, tearfully telling the stories of how they never found personal fulfillment until they entered into a satisfying slave/master relationship. Numerous Muslim clerics could be found to appear on the evening news to condemn American cultural arrogance. Movies would be made, which no one would attend, but they’d win Academy Awards and the moviemakers would be interviewed sympathetically in Time Magazine.

Sound ridiculous? Sure. Lots of things that sounded ridiculous when I was a kid are the law of the land today. And things move a lot faster now than they did back then.

Give it time. See if I’m wrong.

I hope I am.

Hey, have I told you about my test?

Is there anything more tedious and self-indulgent than a middle-aged man telling you all about a medical procedure he’s been through? And yet here I am, and at least some of you seem to expect a report. (More sensitive and tasteful souls are advised to stop reading here.)

I shall not name the procedure I went through yesterday. That low I will not descend. Many of you will guess. The rest of you are better off in ignorance.

The worst part of this particular procedure is preparing for it. It involves two days of eating low-fiber food, and then one day of what’s called a “clear liquid diet,” capped off by the liberal use of certain medicaments which have prompt and dramatic effects.

I had a lot of opportunity to read during that last preparation day. I fear that I will always hereafter associate the reading of The Fellowship of the Ring with… rather intense physical sensations.

The day of the test itself was pretty easy. They don’t allow you to drive yourself, due to the sedatives used. As a certified urban hermit, I was entitled to a cab ride to the clinic, and a shuttle ride back, paid for by the study (there was a bad moment at the front desk where the receptionist told me they didn’t provide rides—I should have been told that. Turned out it was a misunderstanding, and the study people had my ride scheduled. Right hand uninformed by the left hand, as it turned out).

I had to undress and put on a hospital gown and robe (we all know they design those things to deprive us of all human dignity, don’t we?). In the operating room they gave me intravenous drugs for pain control and relaxation. I was told that one effect was amnesia in regard to the test itself, and I was interested to find out what that would be like.

They did their thing, and it was a lot less unpleasant than the preparation had been. Also quickly over. I did not get amnesia. I remember the whole thing, what it felt like and what it looked like on the monitor.

Once again a psychotropic medication has failed to have the promised effect on me. I seem to have superhuman resistance to such things. I think I’ve mentioned that antidepressants do nothing for me at all (except for the side effects).

I should probably be a spy. I can see myself bound to a chair, like Jack Bauer, saying, “I’ll tell you nothing! Your puny sodium pentathol is powerless against me! Uh, what are you doing with those pliers…?”

But I must admit the Valium component did relax me. So much so that I actually made conversation with the shuttle driver on the way home. Or rather, he made conversation and I (uncharacteristically) went along with it. It still took an act of will for me to ask a couple questions, but I did it.

And I had the nicest afternoon nap I’ve had in years.

I could have made a blog post after all, but I’d been through a soul-searing ordeal, and the day was mine, mine, mine! Or at least what was left after the nap was mine. As long as I didn’t drive anywhere.

Worst post ever. Don’t even look at this.

This is appalling. I should just face my failure and give up on blogging now.

I’ve reached the bottom. The absolute sludge-in-the-Worcestershire-bottle of blogdom. I’m going to do a post about my health.

I’m sorry. So very sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future.

First of all, I probably won’t be posting on Monday. Nothing serious. I’ve agreed to participate in a long-term medical study, and it involves undergoing a certain test which I won’t specify, because you may be one of those who (like me) eat at the keyboard. But it involves being sedated, and I may not be up to posting.

If I do post, you’ll know it went better than I expected.

I also saw my doctor today, on an unrelated matter (getting a prescription changed for insurance purposes, if you have to know).

It’s always dangerous to see a doctor, needless to say. 90% of all people who die of lingering diseases have seen a doctor recently.

It’s especially dangerous to see a new doctor. I had to change horses because my previous Galen, a man who believed in doing as little as possible as long as the patient wasn’t actually in debilitating pain, has retired. The new fellow is more energetic, brimming with fresh ideas for improving my life.

He thinks I ought to be sleep tested, to see if I need one of those C-PAP machines.

I’ve lived in fear of those devices for most of my adult life. In my mind, C-PAPs are for old, fat men.

The fact that I am in fact an old, fat man is of no comfort to me. (Thank you so much for bringing it up.)

On the other hand, the doctor speaks seductive words about improved mood, lower cholesterol and a reduction in acid reflux.

I think I see a face mask and a plastic tube in my future. I’ll keep you posted.

No need to thank me.

Sincerity is overrated

I’ve started taking up my personal devotions more systematically lately (fortunately I started this just before I lost my meal ticket… er, renter, so I can’t accuse myself of doing it just to curry favor in Heaven. My mind does work this way. Really). I’ve switched from my old NIV Study Bible (great notes) to an English Standard Version Bible.

I like it. I’ve been reading Dynamic Equivalency Bibles for decades now, seduced by the argument that if you really want to convey the sense of the original you’ve pretty much got to rewrite everything. Moving back to a more literal translation, I get a pleasant sense of solidity. Nobody’s telling me what they think the text says. They trust me to be a grownup and be able to read books written for grownups.

My first Bible was King James, and then I got an RSV (the old one, before they went all PC and started fiddling with gender and stuff). The ESV is a direct descendent of the old RSV, and so far I’m pleased and comforted.

The following almost feels as if it’s connected, but I can’t think how.

When I was writing song lyrics in an obscure Christian singing group, there was one thing I never did (actually I never did lots of things, notably make time with girls, but that’s another story). I never claimed that “God wrote this song.”

I saw it way too many times. Some sweet, sincere kid with a guitar would say, “God wrote this song. It just came to me while I was laying in bed, and I got up and wrote it down in fifteen minutes. So I know it came from God.”

Then he/she would play the thing and it would be repetitious and clichéd, and you could always count on the word “strife” being employed in contexts where you’d never use “strife” if you didn’t have a desperate need for a rhyme for “life.”

And I wanted to scream at them, “Don’t you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying that God’s a lousy lyricist!”

I never did, though. I’m too kind-hearted. And cowardly.

I thought of that today when a book crossed my desk at work. It was a novel written by a man whose shoes I am not worthy to polish. He’s one of those unsung saints the newspapers and magazines will never profile, someone who’s given his life in sacrificial service to Christ and his neighbor, living from hand to mouth and enduring a fair amount of danger along the way.

He wrote a novel.

And it’s lousy.

I want to tell people (I’m telling a few right now) that the fact that you have something to say, and a story to tell, and spiritual insight, doesn’t make you a writer of fiction.

Sincerity won’t do it. I might be very sincere about wanting to build a church, to the glory of God. I might pray over every nail, and work with a heart full of devotion.

But that won’t make it a good church building.

Because I’m not a competent carpenter.

Writing fiction is a craft, just like carpentry. It has its own tools and skills, protocols and shortcuts. Regardless of how good your basic idea is, the nuts and bolts have to be properly tightened, the corners squared.

I’m not telling you to stay away from fiction if you’re not a “professional.” I’m not saying I belong to some priesthood which alone is privileged to touch the holy written word.

I’m just saying if you want to get into the guild, you’ve got to learn your craft. And that will take time and diligence.

Thoughts from a mule-headed protagonist

How am I today? Better, I think. A little better.

For one thing, the long-awaited third volume of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis finally arrived. Each volume has been longer than one before, and this one tallies in at 1,810 pages, including the index. It’s going on the shelf for now, but the next time I’m laid up with a multiple fracture of the leg, I’ll have my reading material ready.

I know it’s silly to look for divine signs in the day’s events, but on the way to work this morning I tried to fill up with gas at The Station That Usually Has the Lowest Price. I noted that the toll seemed to have gone up from yesterday, but I was there, and they’re usually the cheapest, so I assumed everybody else had jumped too, and I tried a fill-up. But the lock on my locking gas cap was frozen, and I didn’t have any spray to loosen it, so I drove off in a huff (actually I drove off in my Tracker, but you know what I mean).

This afternoon I stopped at Another Station That Sometimes Has the Lowest Price. Not only did my gas cap open (it was a little warmer today, so it probably melted in the sun), but the price was a full dime a gallon lower than my previous stop.

This undeserved bounty pleased me inordinately. I took it (for no rational or biblical reason) as a sign that God isn’t against me. Not completely, anyway.

Perspective is important, but it’s not my strong suit. There are probably people reading this entry who face the loss of loved ones, to disease or war. What are my problems compared to theirs? I’m sure they’d gladly have a mortgage foreclosed on them if it meant the restoration of their friend or family member.

And when I think it out, my situation isn’t so awful. I got notice in time so that I can still place an ad in the February issue of the Minnesota Christian Chronicle. That means it’s possible I could have a replacement sometime next month.

In storytelling, the dynamics of plot are always the same, whether it’s a literary story about an intellectual with writer’s block (unless it’s something experimental and self-indulgent), or a thriller about international counterterrorists and nuclear devices. The point of the story is always to change somebody. And the change always comes through pain and struggle.

You never read a story where somebody gets good advice, from a friend or from a book, and decides, “Hey, that’s right! I’m going to change the way I handle my life!” and everything is resolved right there.

The change always comes through conflict and hard times. I don’t think that’s only because it makes for a more interesting story.

I think it’s because it’s the way life is for real people.

God is trying to teach me something. So He’s doing what I’d do if I were writing my life—He’s making things hard for me.

Hope it works.

Aspirations and expirations

Blast.

My nice quiet renter is moving out, due to a personal crisis. There goes my economic security, until I can find another one.

Another opportunity to put my faith in God. He’s always taken care of me before. Why should I worry?

I hate living by faith, by the way.

Phil asked if I’d care to do the following meme. I’ll try it, but he’ll probably be sorry he asked.

0) What’s your name and website URL? (optional, of course)

My name is Lars, and… you’re here.

1) What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)

The job I have now. Working with books, pottering about with old Norwegian volumes, what could be better?

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)

Amateur theater, which I wish I had time for nowadays.



B. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)


Getting married.

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)

I’d love to play the guitar. Unfortunately, I know from experience that I have no (zero) talent for it.

B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)

I’d like to have taken one of C. S. Lewis’ literature classes. He’d probably have chewed me up and spit me out, though.

4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?

Lazy, depressed, self-absorbed.

B. Now list two more words you wish described you.

Happy and thoughtful.

5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)

I used to be passionate about the Body of Christ, spiritual adventuring and Norway/Vikings. Now I’m too bludgeoned to get excited about much of anything, except maybe live steel, and it’s the wrong season for that.

6) Write and answer one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)

Me ask a question? No, I don’t think so.

Who’s got the Remote?

The snow started last night and left about three inches behind. Nothing to compare to the kind of weather they’ve been getting further south and west, of course, but enough to turn the landscape into the sort of scene Walt Kelly said cartoonists loved—all that snow makes it very easy to draw. And, in classic fashion, the clouds rolled out to make way for clear skies and rapidly dropping temperatures. The high today was about 10 above, and tomorrow should be cut from the same climate.

I drove to work cautiously, tense with the secret fear that haunts my winter commute—that I’ll stop at a red light on an uphill grade and not be able to get traction to move again, listening to the horns of equally frustrated drivers behind me. All of them would be saying to themselves, “That idiot’s in an SUV! Why doesn’t he switch it into four wheel drive?” And I’d have no way of explaining that my 4WD doesn’t work, and it’s too expensive to fix.

But I made it in OK. I even got up the driveway at work, a stretch that’s stymied me more than once in the past. Fortunately our crack maintenance team had risen with the roosters and plowed it out.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d gotten stuck there, though. The head maintenance guy is the one who discovered my drive deficiency in the first place. It’s nice to work somewhere where they know your failings and accept you anyway.

By way of Mirabilis, here’s a story on how scientists have reconstructed the poet Dante’s face. He turns out to have been a little less formidable looking than we’d all thought.

I finished Stephen White’s mystery Remote Control last night. This isn’t a review, though I might mention that I found it kind of hard to follow, and thought the ending seemed a little contrived. I have a question about White’s books.

I’m quite sure (though I’m beginning to doubt myself) that I first heard of White in a column at National Review Online. Somebody wrote about mystery writers conservatives could enjoy, and I’m sure I wrote down the names of Jonathan Kellerman and Stephen White.

Kellerman didn’t disappoint. In spite of having a continuing homosexual character, the Alex Delaware mysteries have become steadily more anti-PC as time has gone by.

But I’ve read three White books so far, and I fail to discern any evidence of conservative views, either political or social.

Remote Control begins with the murder of a saintly abortionist by a fanatical pro-lifer. In the course of the book, association with Operation Rescue is just assumed to be a sign of utter moral turpitude.

Did I write down the wrong author name? Do the books get better later on?

Give me the benefit of your experience.

Personally, I’m against winter

Winter again.

I know. It’s been winter for months. But our snow cover is spotty, and temperatures have been teasing the freezing point for weeks—sometimes above, sometimes below. Weather as cold as that would have seemed awful back in October, but in January it’s not so bad.

Today the bottom dropped out. And by “the bottom dropped out,” I don’t actually mean record-breaking low temperatures. I just mean the playing field has moved south to zero-to-fifteen Farenheit territory, wind chills down below zero.

And it feels miserable.

Later, sometime in February, it won’t seem so bad either.

I don’t handle the cold well. I’m fairly sure I’ve told you that. When hardier souls are clapping their unmittened hands and saying, “Ah, this is good! This is bracing!” I’m trying to find another sweater, and calculating whether I can conserve more body heat by jamming my hands in my pockets or using them to cover my ears.

Cold induces physical pain in me, quickly following exposure. My ears hurt. My fingers hurt. My brother Moloch informs me (relentlessly) that it’s all psychological. It’s a failure of my character. If I had a better attitude, he says, I’d enjoy the cold as much as he does.

I’m not convinced. I think I know as much about bad attitudes as anyone, and although I spend enough time in Depressionville to qualify for resident status there, I’ve never been able to make a bad mood deliver actual, physical pain.

And where does Moloch get off talking about character, anyway? He lives in Iowa. It’s practically tropical down there.