All posts by Lars Walker

The agency of innocence

This poster from Despair.com embodies a vision I’m coming to embrace in my own life. In the spirit of that sentiment, I’ll discuss a question commenters Sherry and Kathleen Marie raised on my last post, which was (in essence), “How does a head case like you get an agent?”

The answer is, “Once, by luck. Probably never again.”



(I’m not going to name my agents, by the way. They’re good guys who agented part time and never made it to the top of the pile. They made some choices that probably weren’t optimal, but then so have I.)

I’ve sometimes referred to “my agent” in blog posts, but that was an abbreviation of convenience. In fact they were a two-man shop. I’ll call them Primus and Secundus. Primus was the senior partner, and I dealt with him mostly when I actually had book contracts. I dealt with Secundus when I was out in the cold, at the beginning and at the end.

I got acquainted with them (by correspondence; I’ve never actually met either man) back when I was writing short fantasy stories. They were editors for a certain prominent fantasy and science fiction magazine, and they immediately impressed me with their taste and good judgment (by buying the first short story I ever sent them).

After a couple fruitful years (in which I never managed to sell a story to anybody else) they announced they were resigning from the magazine and opening an agency. They asked me if I’d care to come on board, and I jumped at it, knowing that getting an agent in the first place is one of the biggest hurdles a prospective author faces.

Then followed about ten years of nothing. I dealt almost exclusively with Secundus during that period, and they sent my first manuscript, and then a second, off to one publisher after another. Each one bounced back, although I got some flattering rejections.

I noticed, as time passed, that the agency was… less than energetic. Very compatible with my own personal style, of course, but not what you really want in an agent. They’d send a book off to somebody, and a year and a half later I’d ask them whether they’d heard anything, and they’d say, “Oh yes, we’ll have to give them a call.” Then another year would pass before the final rejection came.

Finally Jim Baen of Baen Books took the bait, and I started dealing with Primus.

Four books later, Jim Baen invited me never to darken his transom again, and I was back with Secundus.

And the slow, measured rhythm of submissions resumed. And again I’d ask them after a year or two if they’d heard anything, and again I’d get the impression that they’d forgotten about me completely.

Then one day I e-mailed Primus (I forget why it was him and not Secundus), and got no response. When I e-mailed him again, he replied that I should contact Secundus.

And Secundus told me that a) Primus was in bad health, and b) they’d recently noticed that nobody was returning their calls or messages. They deduced from this fact that they were out of business.

But Secundus said that he’d been in contact with a woman from a major agency, and she was interested in hearing from me. So I carefully sent her an e-mail with my personal bibliography, along with sample chapters from an unpublished book as an attachment.

No response.

I’ve done some research on this agency, and I have my doubts. For one thing this agency proudly declares itself a pioneering feminist agency. It was begun for the express purpose of getting more women writers published.

This makes me wonder if, after all these years, Secundus has ever actually read one of my books. Maybe he thinks I’m a woman. It’s a little troubling when your own agent misunderstands you so fundamentally.

So here I am. I’ve asked a couple writer acquaintances for references, but the one contact I’ve gotten went into the hospital about the time I e-mailed him, and so nothing has happened to date.

As you’d expect, knowing me, my hopes aren’t high.

What I need to do is go to one of the agent sites (here and here) I shared a while back, buckle down and start sending out query letters.

Maybe when this bout of light-headedness (and heavy-bottomedness) is past.

Trust me–you don’t want to live in my world

Warning: All I’ve got to post t about is what I did today. Which, as faithful readers know, is a subject both dull and irritating.

I actually accomplished a small achievement. One of the burdens of my job, a job which I generally like very much, is the business of book returns. No matter how canny you try to be when ordering textbooks in fall and winter, you always end up with rows and rows of unsold books, staring back at you with a “You brought us out here for this?” expression on their spines. (Yes, books look at you with their spines. They’re books, for pete’s sake. If they have eyes at all, they have them all over, like the living beasts in Ezekiel.)

I hate doing book returns. It’s one of many activities which normal people accomplish without a second thought, but are like East German tax audits to me. I hate to call strangers on the phone, for one thing. And of all the things I could call them about, asking their permission give back something I asked them for in the first place is one of the worst. One of the numerous absolute rules in my shabby little interior world is that I should never ask for anything that might possibly be refused. Refusal—rejection—is intolerable. Refusal is judgment on my personal worth. There’s no possible reason anyone would ever turn me down on anything, except that they hold me in utter contempt.

Sometime last term, one of our instructors ordered five copies of a particular book, then changed his mind after it had been delivered. So (at great expense in emotional effort) I called the distribution company and faxed them the information the lady said she needed to provide a return document.

But when I’d done that, I got a fax back from her saying she had no record of that book in their stock lists.

This was in April. Since that time I’ve had the books sitting in a box in my office, and I’ve told myself every day, “I’ve got to call her back and find out what the hang-up is.”

Today, I called at last. The lady I’d dealt with was on vacation, but the lady I talked to said I needed to talk to another number (some sort of publisher/distributor division of labor). The lady I talked to at the new place took my information, then e-mailed me a .pdf of the return document I needed. I put the box of books in the mail this afternoon.

Success!

My reward? I get to do the same thing with a bunch of other books and publishers.

Headed home, I noticed that all the traffic lights were out in my neighborhood. I wondered if we were having a power outage.

We were. The problem, apparently, was some kind of fire or accident just down the street from me. The street where I’d planned to walk after work, taking advantage of the rare sunny afternoon in a rainy week.

And, of course, when the fire department barricades a street, I don’t go up it even on foot. Somebody might tell me I wasn’t allowed to come that way, and that would be a judgment on my personal worth (see above).

So I mowed my lawn. Which is just as good, and accomplishes something besides.

The moral? The moral? After a day like this you want morals from me? As my enemies have always maintained (when they’re not refusing me things), I’ve got no morals.

Speaking truth to D-Day

Today is the anniversary of the Normandy invasion in 1944.

I was all prepared to do a knee-jerk patriotic post, going on and on about the courage of our fighting forces.

But I’ve been reading lefty blogs and watching network television news lately, and the scales have fallen from my eyes (pardon me while I put the scales back in the bathroom, where they belong). I now see what a horrible crime our participation in World War II was. In fact, I’m at a loss to explain how the enlightened voices of our mainstream media can continue to cover up the horrific crimes of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and their henchmen. Where are the Cindy Sheehans, the Rosie O’Donnells, the John Murthas of the (so called) Greatest Generation? When will the truth be told?

Today, while archiving old books in the library, I found a small pamphlet tucked into one of them. It’s a contemptible piece of war propaganda published by the USO. I’ll show you a couple pages here; but it actually folds out to six pages, front and back.

Look at the front page:

USO1

The first thing that strikes the enlightened reader is the picture of the soldiers. I suppose the fact that one is a sailor, one a soldier and one a marine is supposed to suggest some sense of diversity. Ha! You call that diversity? They’re all white. They’re all male. None of them is visibly disabled. The fact that they’re hugging might suggest that they’re gay, which would be worth something, I suppose, but they’re probably just drunk, celebrating the massacre of innocent civilians somewhere.

You’d almost think that they thought in those days that an army existed for the purpose of fighting wars, rather than for providing educational opportunities to impoverished young people.

Barbarians!

Note also the second quotation under the picture. The word “Jap” is used openly. Do you need further evidence that this was a purely racist war, in which Roosevelt and his striped-pants buddies trumped up the flimsy excuse of a minor misunderstanding at Pearl Harbor, in order to prosecute a genocidal war against Asians, in order to steal their… whatever it was Japan had that they wanted to steal?

Note also that the soldiers are referred to as “men” fully three times, just on this page. No mention at all of the thousands of female soldiers who were fighting and dying all over Europe and the Pacific, whose story has been cruelly suppressed by the male hegemony, even unto this day!

But what really settles the matter is the back page:

USO2

Note the names of the two chairmen—Rockefeller and Bush (and yes, Prescott S. Bush was the father of George H. W. Bush, and grandfather of George W. Bush).

What further proof do you need that the whole war was a farce, started by liars purely for oil?

The only thing that’s missing is Halliburton.

But it goes without saying that the lack of any mention of Halliburton is the most definitive proof that the whole thing was their insidious plan.

Vanity, vanity, says the preacher

Phil sent me this link to a story about evidence (through chicken bone analysis, no less) that the Polynesians sailed to South America about a century before Columbus.

This, as Phil mentions in his note, still leaves them about 400 years behind Leif Eriksson.

But it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The Polynesians were truly phenomenal blue water sailors.

What particularly intrigued me was the idea that Thor Heyerdahl might have been right, but backwards. Although he proved with his Kon Tiki voyage that it was possible for South Americans to have populated the South Pacific islands, recent DNA studies have proved that Polynesians are not the descendents of Native Americans.

Apparently the voyage was made at least once, though. Only it was in the opposite direction than Heyerdahl theorized.

{INSERT NORWEGIAN JOKE HERE]

Speaking of Norwegians, I’ve been asked to give a short talk at a heritage-themed service at my home church later this month. In looking for information on one of the early pastors, I came on an old book called Fifty Years in America, by N. N. Rønning (long out of print. Don’t even bother looking for it on Amazon).

Rønning came to America from Norway in the 1880s, about the same time my own people arrived. He had a more intellectual bent than most immigrants, though, and eventually attended the University of Minnesota, ending up as a professional writer.

He gives character sketches in the book of some of his teachers at the U. of M., including Cyrus Northrop, the university president:

In an address delivered November 18, 1908, at Whitman College, Washington, [Northrop] said:

“I would not stay one day at a state university if I were hampered in the maintenance of Christianity, and were compelled to recognize agnosticism as being as good as Christianity. I said to the Regents of the University of Minnesota in my inaugural address that I must be free as a believer in Christianity, and daily service in chapel, with singing of hymns, reading of scriptures and prayer to God has gone on all these years, and hundreds of students daily attend these services, their attendance being entirely voluntary….”

In another address delivered at the commencement of the University of Wisconsin, June 21, 1893, he said: “I have a very genuine contempt for a class of men who are forever proclaiming the failure of Christianity, or the failure of education, or the failure of the human mind, or the failure of God, because everything is not yet perfect.”

Minnesotans today know Northrop’s name primarily from Northrop Memorial Auditorium, a stadium at the university that’s named in his honor. Here’s its web site. You’ll note that one of the first events listed on the schedule (if you’re reading this in the archive, sometime in the future, never mind—it will have changed by now) is an event called “Glitter and Be Gay.”

You know, some days I feel like the guy in Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 (NIV): “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

But I suppose that would make me like one of the men Northrop expressed contempt for in 1893.

Update: Phil tells me the original message came from reader Greg Smith, and he forwarded it to me. For the record.

Letting Lewis be interesting in my place

Pretty good weekend. My big project Saturday was to take a plane to the tops of a couple doors. The bedroom doors in my house haven’t closed properly since I’ve been here. I suspect it has to do with their being painted at some time in the past, while most of the woodwork in the place is original finish (and beautiful). I, being me, was willing to live with it, but my renter asked to get it fixed, and I could hardly deny the justice of that request. It was a little more work than I expected, and I never got his door completely right. I’ll have to take it off the hinges to do that. Maybe one day. For now, both doors will close and latch, which is a major improvement.

Sunday was a Viking occasion, at the annual Danish Day at Danebo Hall in Minneapolis. Because of weather we had to set up inside the building, which cramped our style a bit. Our combat was a scheduled portion of the program, so we only got one set of three fights in (it was just Ragnar and me, and I got one kill, which is as good as it gets for me). I sold a total of four books, two of them to members of our own group.

I also finished The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, another accomplishment not to be sneezed at, even in allergy season. Here’s a few more excerpts, which attentive readers will recognize as a pretty good sign that I’m in a vegetative mental state today:

From a letter to Joan Lancaster, Aug. 11, 1959:

I’m all for the Gauls myself and I hate all conquerors. But I never knew a woman who was not all for Caesar—just as they were in his life-time.

From a letter to Father Richard Ginder, Aug. 18, 1960:

I wonder do we blame T.V. and the Comics too much? Was not a certain sort of boy in a certain sort of home wasting his time just as badly in other ways before they were invented? It annoys me when parents who read nothing but the newspapers themselves—i.e. nothing but lies, libels, poppycock, propaganda, and pornography—complain of their children reading the Comics! Upon my soul I think the children’s diet is healthier than their parents’.

From a letter to Mrs. R. E. Herman, Oct. 10, 1960:

The queer thing is that this horror of the [mentally] deficient is quite modern. Our ancestors don’t seem to have felt it at all. On this, as on many other subjects, we have grown odiously and wickedly ‘refined’.

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, July 31, 1962:

Yes, it is strange that anyone should dislike cats. But cats themselves are the worst offenders in this respect. They very seldom seem to like one another.

That’s all for tonight. Now scroll down and watch the Sissel clip again.

Sissel song: “Marry Me”

I don’t usually post on weekends, but I just found a YouTube link to share. I’m about a light year behind everybody else on things like this, and I’ve only been exploring YouTube recently. I checked out The Divine Sissel, and found that this number is available.

It’s a country song, which isn’t her usual medium, but I think it’s a lot of fun, and it might help explain my enthusiasm for this really remarkable talent. Also check her rendition of the contemporary gospel number, “My Tribute.”

O frabjous day!

This has been a good day. I’ll say it openly, knowing it’s entirely contrary to my idiom, and throwing myself open completely to all kinds of joshing from commenters.

The air conditioning guy came today to do the warranty work. I had to take the afternoon off work to be here.

The first pleasant surprise was that, instead of just replacing the condenser (as I’m sure the woman on the phone said) he replaced the whole unit.

The second pleasant surprise was that he asked for no more than the regular deductible in payment. The woman on the phone had said there’d be extra charges for parts.

Oh, I expect the other shoe will drop in a couple days, and some kind of horrendous bill will hit me like a cosh to the back of the head, but for today life is good.

More snippets from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, July 7, 1955:

Don’t let anyone bully you into avoiding sentences with a preposition at the end! It’s an arbitrary rule that most great writers took no notice of. The Authorized Version and E. Burke thought a preposition a very good word to end with. So there!

From a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, Sept. 8, 1956:

…(that journalists can be saved is a doctrine, if not contrary to, yet certainly above, reason!).

From a letter to Martin Kilmer, Jan. 22, 1957

The (Narnia) books don’t tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end—in her own way.

From a letter to Clyde S. Kilby, Feb. 10, 1957:

The children (in Till We Have Faces) made mud pies not for symbolic purposes but because children do.

From a letter to Francis Warner, July 15, 1959:


So many people, when they begin ‘research’, lose all desire, and presently all power, of writing clear, sharp, and unambiguous English. Hold onto your finite transitive verb, your concrete nouns, and the muscles of language (but, through, for, because etc.).

A good weekend to all of you.

Lewis-ly translated

It isn’t every day I get a cartoon dedicated to me. Thanks, Phil.

Now try and get your comment utility fixed.

Haven’t live-blogged The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III, for a few days. I’m still at it. I’ve gotten through Lewis’ death, thinking dark thoughts of mortality, and now I’m in the resurrection land of the Supplement section, where Hooper prints some letters he left out of the earlier volumes, then decided he wanted to include after all. After this comes the “Great War” supplement, in which all Lewis’ letters to Owen Barfield, arguing about Theosophy, are gathered in one place.

Anyway, here are a few excerpts that interested and/or amused me:

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen, Oct. 3, 1953:

It is hard, when difficulties arise to know whether one is meant to overcome them or whether they are signs that one is on the wrong track.

From a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, Jan. 30, 1954:

The trouble with Thackeray, is that… all his ‘good’ people are not only simple, but simpletons. That is a subtle poison wh. comes in with the Renaissance: the Machiavellian (intelligent) villain presently producing the idiot hero. The Middle Ages didn’t make Herod clever and knew the devil was an ass. There is really an un-faith about Thackeray’s ethics…. No conception that the purification of the will… leads to the enlightenment of the intelligence.

From a letter to Katharine Farrer, Feb. 3, 1954:

The bearings of this are wide, as you’ll see if you reflect on the difference between drawing a nude and verbally describing it, or the impossibility of mentioning Cheko-Slovakia (is that how you spell it) at the apex of a lyric however deeply one may feel about that country.

From a letter to Chad Walsh, Dec. 3, 1955:

I’ve often thought that if I wrote a play I’d do it in verse but type it as prose. In the present state of the human ear no publisher, manager, actor, or audience wd. recognize it, not even if it was in heroic couplets or the metre of Hiawatha.

One thing that constantly exercises my limited powers of charity throughout these books is the fact that Lewis consistently spells “all right,” “alright.” I personally consider “alright” an atrocity against the English language. However, as one quickly learns in reading the letters, Lewis wasn’t a very good speller.

In relation to that, it’s often been said that Lewis had a photographic memory. Someone who knew him wrote somewhere (I can’t find it; I can never find the Lewis reference I want. No photographic memory here) that if you named a page number from any book Lewis had ever read, he could recite the contents of that page verbatim for you. This would seem to be an exaggeration. He uses many quotations in the letters, and the notes show that they’re only approximately correct, like his spelling. His memory was obviously phenomenal, but it wasn’t exact.

Follow my advice and you’ll go to the Dogs

I’m still beat tonight. Had another good night’s sleep, and my eye-bags have receded somewhat, like one of Sen. Gore’s icebergs, but I’m still shot from the weekend. I mowed the lawn after work, and now I’m about ready to collapse in a wrinkled, damp pile in a corner, like a college guy’s tee-shirt.

So I’ll redirect you to this post, composed by someone who calls himself “The Big Stink” (I assume it’s a he; rare is the woman who’d voluntarily assume a name like that) at an excellent Twin Cities blog called Freedom Dogs. I wish someone had told me these things at graduation. I wish I had the courage to put some of them into practice even today.

Back from the wars

I made it back from Iowa all right, thanks for asking. I came home physically beat, not only due to insomnia caused by sleeping in a strange bed (how strange I’ll explain further on), but because I’d slept badly all week leading up to the trip. So I figure I’m still about three nights in the red, even though I slept nine hours straight when I got back to my own mattress Sunday night (the first time I’ve slept that long at a stretch since… roughly 1995). I have massive swellings, like goggles (visible in my peripheral vision) around my eyes, making me resemble the British actor Michael Gambon even more than I usually do.

The weekend went fine. For those of you joining us for the first time, I made a six-hour trip to Elk Horn, Iowa for the Tivoli Danish Festival this past weekend. A Viking encampment has been part of the festivities for several years now, and I and a couple others from the Viking Age Society of the Sons of Norway joined a much larger group from Omaha in adding to the ambience by wearing our Viking outfits and whacking each other with blunt swords.

This year’s festival was more successful than last year’s. Saturday morning was rainy, but things cleared up and in the afternoon we had a creditable encampment going, and got some fighting in. In fact, I believe it may have been the largest Viking encampment they’ve ever assembled for that event. We were able to field two “armies” of eight men each for the group fights. That’s certainly the largest I’ve ever been involved in.

The good citizens of Elk Horn have allocated funds, (public and private, I believe) for the construction of a Viking house, next to the genuine Danish windmill they imported from the Old Country a few years back. Here’s how it looks right now:

Viking house

It’s not completed inside, and that makes this the embarrassing stage, since a lot of cheating has gone into the construction. When it’s done it ought to look authentic, but a truly authentic house, aside from being expensive and time-consuming to construct, has a short life expectancy (they rot). The Danes of Elk Horn want a house that’ll last a while, and so concrete footings and plastic moisture barriers and plywood are much in evidence now. Here’s the interior:

Interior

That’s Sam from Missouri, who brought his Viking boat again and set up a crucible to cast commemorate pewter coins, which he sold for the benefit of the house project. He’s working on the casting in the picture. I expect he wouldn’t be delighted to be featured on a Christian blog, but on the other hand he’ll probably never know.

On the tallish bench behind him, in the space between the upright posts, was where I made my bed, by permission of John, the project honcho. That’s how Vikings generally slept—on fixed benches along the walls of their houses (although I’ve always thought of the benches as somewhat lower than this). My inflatable mattress fit almost perfectly in the space, as it happened.

We had fireworks on Saturday night, and they were impressive. According to what I was told, the spectacle wasn’t orchestrated by professionals but by the local pharmacist, who does it as a hobby. Perhaps he benefited by having explosives stored up, since the fireworks were cancelled due to weather last year. In any case he did not fall prey to the mistake many pyrotechnicians make, of shooting up a fancy rocket that does something nobody’s seen before, and then pausing to give the audience time to appreciate it and applaud. That slows everything down. This guy didn’t spare himself. He kept it moving and had the bombs bursting in air pretty much constantly. I’ve seen far less impressive spectacles done by much larger towns, and I don’t recall being more impressed even at Disney World.

We got some good fighting in. I felt extremely diffident the first day, observing how much better our hosts were than we were (they practice pretty much every weekend; our practices and our demonstrations are generally the same things). Also a couple guys from Canada were there to demonstrate their somewhat different system, which permits much nastier blows (but uses anachronistic plate armor protection). The second day felt better, although I never overcame my deepest sin as a warrior—I forget my discipline when the armies engage and break out of the shield wall. This, if you know your Viking history, is a capital mistake that caused big defeats at Stamford Bridge and Hastings, among other battles.

I have a nasty purple bruise on my left shoulder, and my neck is sore from falling over backwards on top of another warrior with my torso on the ground but my head on his stomach. All that’s OK. I like going away a little hurt.

Thanks to the people of Elk Horn, and to the Skjaldborg group, for a memorable and successful long weekend.

Viking blood

Gave blood after work tonight. The venue was the VFW post in Golden Valley, where they’re broadminded enough to accept slightly-less-red blood from non-veterans like me. They also serve sloppy joes (although the sandwiches are smaller now than they used to be. On the other hand, they’re free).

They were busy tonight, so it took longer than I’m used to. Also my draining was delayed when a lady got poked wrong, and they had to summon all hands to apply pressure, cauterize, mop up blood spill, lie to the press, etc.

On the other hand, I got the cute young female tech. I gave her a piece of advice, as an old veteran blood donor—“Bear down with that Betadine swab. When you use pressure, it doesn’t tickle.”

She did not thank me. On the other hand, she didn’t allow me to bleed to death, so it all works out.

Something has been changed every time I give blood. This time they gave us brightly colored plastic balls to roll in our hands to promote blood flow, instead of the pieces of plastic tubing they used to use. I’m not sure if that’s an improvement or not. I’ll have to ponder the positives and negatives before I come to a final conclusion. By which time they’ll have switched to Beanie Babies or something.

No post from me tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’m driving down to Elk Horn, Iowa, again, for the Tivoli Festival. The Danes of Elk Horn have invested in building a genuine Viking house next to their landmark windmill, and I’ve been granted the privilege of sleeping in it.

Also I’ll get to bash and be bashed, which is usually good for my mental health.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ve probably guessed I could use some bashing.

I’ll give a full report when I get back. Assuming I do. Maybe pictures too.

It’s not raining wisdom

We’ve been having a dry spell, but that broke today, in the sense that Scotch Highland bulls break china in shops and politicians break promises not to raise taxes.

It had been cloudy for a couple days, but showers had been spotty. So today didn’t look like much of a change. As the day wore on, though, the sky darkened and lowered (that’s not “lowered” as in “got lower,” but “lowered” as in Longfellow’s “…when night is beginning to lower.” It rhymes with “flower”). The darker it got, the more you expected it to be raining when you checked out the window, and the more you were surprised that it wasn’t yet. Obviously a lot of potential energy was building up. You began to expect a plague of frogs or something.

Then the rain came all at once, gusting in on a billow of wind. It rained hard, and then it hailed for a while. The hail stopped but the rain went on.

My African library assistant seemed frightened by the whole thing. I’d had the idea that they get pretty severe weather back where he comes from, but it all seemed new to him.

Which doesn’t have anything at all to do with my subject for today’s post.

I was thinking about being young, and trying to be wise (I know I’m far removed from being young, but I can remember that far back. Also I’m remarkably immature. And I didn’t say “being wise.” I said “trying to be wise”).

I often wonder about the value of sharing wisdom with young people. We all try to do it. It seems a waste to go through all the hard learning experiences we’ve had, if we can’t pass that experience on to the young.

The problem, it seems to me, is that wisdom is a thing you can’t really share.

You heard your elders give you the same advice you want to pass on now, didn’t you, once long ago? Did it help?

Of course not. Because the maxims and bromides and proverbs and aphorisms never mean anything until you’ve bumped up against life and gotten some bruises. Touched a few hot stoves and gotten burned.

It’s only then—only after a few bruises and burns have been collected, that the sayings of your elders suddenly start to make sense.

When I was a kid I made a conscious effort to follow the advice I heard from old people. I did this because I was more cowardly than most people my age, and I wanted any excuse I could wangle to avoid taking risks.

And it didn’t work. I had the words right, but the music was wrong. Wisdom only operates, it seems, in those who are inclined to act foolishly in the first place. For the cautious and prudent, like me, the rules turn out to be kind of counterproductive.

The moral? Go ahead. Tell the kids not to play in the street.

But be prepared to see them get hit by cars anyway.

The consolation is that the survivors will probably listen.

Irony defined

I can’t find a reference in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. III right now, but in a couple of the letters Lewis expresses his deep dislike for the “modern” fashion of printing book titles sideways on book spines, so that you have to tilt your head to read them on the shelves.

He likes his titles printed so they’ll read horizontally, straight across.

The current volume of this series features a spine over 2 ½ inches wide. If they’d called the book The Collected and Edited Letters of the Immortal Clive Staples Lewis, Copiously Annotated and Furnished With Supplements Containing Previously Unknown Letters As Well As the Entire Body of the “Great War” Correspondence With His Friend Owen Barfield, they still could have almost fit that title in one line across such a massive spine.

But they print the title sideways, so you have to tilt your head to read it on the shelf.

“There’s glory for you,” as Humpty Dumpty would say. Even if you’re C. S. Lewis, world renowned and up on a pedestal only a little below St. Paul’s level in the eyes of many Christians, you still can’t get a publisher to print your covers the way you want them to.

It seems so simple when I explain it to me that way!

I continue live-blogging my reading of Vol. 3 of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.

Just went through the year (1960) when Lewis’ wife, Joy Davidman, dies. One of the most poignant things about this part of the book is the fact that Lewis keeps up his mountainous correspondence almost without a break.

It makes you wonder about the people who wrote to him (especially Mary Willis Shelburne, the “American Lady” of Letters to an American Lady, the quality of whose letters you can only guess based on his replies. But she apparently thought of him as her personal unpaid counselor, a man with nothing in the world to do but advise her on how to pay her bills and get along with her daughter). One thinks of that poor man, himself in bad health, who had for years considered his personal correspondence a sort of hairshirt that he bore for the love of Christ, pushing his arthritic hand across the paper just as he always had, even with his heart broken.

If I’d been in his place, I’m pretty sure I’d have said, “I deserve some personal freedom just now.” I’d have sent form letters to all but my real friends, and I’d have assumed that the real friends would understand a period of silence.

The first letter in the book after Joy’s funeral is one to a lady in Fairbanks, Alaska (not Mrs. Shelburne). She has asked about something Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain about God’s compassion. She apparently has some trouble reconciling the doctrine of God’s impassivity (the fact that he has no emotions in the human sense) with the biblical picture of God as being loving, angry, jealous, etc.

Lewis’ answer is somewhat philosophical, talking about how God is essentially a Mystery, whom we can never comprehend.

This is true. But I’m going to make so bold as to offer a (partial) explanation. Needless to say, if it’s true someone has doubtless said it before, and you’re free to tell me about it. If it’s original, I’m probably wrong.

But here’s how I see it.

We’re handicapped in thinking about God by the fact that we are singular beings who live in time, while He is a Trinitarian Being who dwells in eternity.

In other words, it seems to me, we can’t understand how someone can be unchanging and yet have emotions, because for us emotions always involve change.

But God is capable of being both loving and angry at the same time. (And when I say “at the same time, I’m obviously speaking from our point of view. From God’s point of view the statement is meaningless.) He has always been loving, and He has always been angry (at the perversion of His creation we call evil; in fact His anger is just a facet of His love). He doesn’t have to switch from one to another. It’s all eternally present with Him.

So now I’ve settled it for you.

You may thank me by buying my books.

I’ll even answer letters, in moderation.

American Pietist

It’s been an interesting week. Special thanks to everyone who commented (and so civilly) on my post about divorce. I learned some things I hadn’t known, which I’d like to list and examine, as an exercise in humility.

On the basis of my upbringing, and everything I’d heard in my own contacts within my church body, I’d gotten the impression that our official position is “No remarriage after divorce, for any reason.”

I should have known better. First of all, we’re (organizationally) a congregational church body. We try to keep our central mandates to an absolute minimum. Every congregation has the right to make its own decisions on such matters as whom they will marry, and this issue is no different. Some of our churches (and pastors) will marry divorced people, some won’t.

I also hadn’t known (though I think Dale told me before, and I should have) that the Lutheran tradition has held almost universally that remarriage is permitted for innocent parties. The tradition where I grew up, which held a view closer to the Catholic one, is not mainstream but fringe.

I looked some things up, and talked to a couple knowledgeable people, and nobody seems to know where the tradition I’m familiar with first entered the Lutheran stream. I suspect that it may have come with Pietism, which in its purest form insists that any matter that might possibly be considered sin is indeed sin, and must be rejected. That’s why we Pietists have our famous rules against drinking and dancing, rules not actually found in Scripture.

On the other hand, somebody told me he thought the Missouri Synod also had an anti-remarriage tradition, and the Missourians are far from being Pietists. Maybe someone who knows more about that can give me more information.

But the Pietist thing is thorny. I consider myself a Pietist, and I’m proud of it. It’s easy for us, today, to look down on the Pietists and condemn them as loveless rule-jockeys. And there’s plenty of justification for that.

But if you know history, there are reasons for what they did. My own people, the Norwegians, had a reputation you wouldn’t recognize when they first arrived on U.S. shores. They were considered drunken, brawling reprobates, and they deserved it.

I wrote about my great-grandfather John B. Johnson a while back. He was a colorful character, but he was also a genuine monster. When he was drunk, which was often, he was capable of anything. He came home one night (so the story goes), with a friend in tow. He loudly announced he had “sold” his daughter (my grandmother, then a little girl) to his friend for the night. My great-grandmother took a broom to the both of them, fortunately, and nothing came of that.

But are you surprised if she wanted to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and wipe out saloons?

In the Pietist revivals, hundreds, even thousands, knelt at the altar and received salvation, and then were expected to live a Pietist life. No drinking. No gambling. No dancing (which was likely to put you in situations where you’d be pressured to drink and gamble). Living like that tends to concentrate you, and it also saves money. It greatly assists your upward mobility. Is it any wonder that Pietist immigrant groups tended to assimilate faster and do better in America than other groups? As Wesley is supposed to have said about his converts, “I just can’t keep them poor!”

And yet, as Joe Carter notes in this post at Evangelical Oupost, it’s unquestionably hubristic to try to be “more ethical than Jesus.”

I’ve long felt that the proper rule is, “I will determine in my heart, relying on Scripture and good counsel, how I believe God wants me to live. But I will not try to impose on anyone else any rule not plainly taught in Scripture.”

Which makes me a wishy-washy Pietist, I guess.

Now I wonder if I should start asking out divorced women. I could open myself up to whole new worlds of rejection.

Ah, well. I’m too poor to date right now anyway.