A fictional lie

Hunter Baker has written a very generous review of The Year Of the Warrior, which he has double-posted at his Southern Appeal blog and at the American Spectator blog.

Woo hoo!

(That, for the uninitiated, was a Moment of Optimism. I have them once or twice a year. I’ll keep you posted if it happens again.)

I forget how old I was, or what grade I was in, in elementary school. I forget who the teacher was (though I could make a guess).

She assigned our class to write a short story about Conservation. (Conservation, children, is what we used to have before we had Environmentalism. It was abolished because of its association with Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican.)

I sat down and wrote an easy, boiler-plate, Department of Agriculture Information Office-style tale about a farm family that teaches its old-fashioned neighbor a lesson in Crop Rotation.

I opened it with a line something like this:

“Neighbor’s complaining about his fields eroding again,” said Dad as he came in for supper.

When I’d finished, the teacher looked it over.

“You have to change this dialogue,” she said. “It’s not proper English. You have to say ‘The neighbor’ or ‘Our neighbor.’”

“But this is how people talk!” I protested.

“This is an English class,” she replied. “We write properly in this class.”

I knew it was wrong. I knew that no farmer in this hemisphere ever walks into the kitchen and says, ‘The neighbor…’ or “Our neighbor…” He drops the article. That’s how farmers talk. I lived on a farm. I knew these things.

But I changed the dialogue, because I was a child under authority.

There are people who claim that fiction is a lie, and therefore Christians must not write it.

They are wrong. Fiction is not a lie. Fiction is a shared creative enterprise, in which a storyteller and a reader collaborate to build an imaginary world on terms mutually understood. There is no deception involved, and therefore no lie.

But what that teacher made me do that day was a lie.

A long way to go for Chinese takeout

The books are in the mail. Congratulations to the Children of Fortune.

(You did all read the small print, didn’t you? The part where you are now enrolled in the Lars Walker Perpetual Book Club, and obligated to buy a copy of one of my books every month for the rest of your natural lives? And since there are only three published, you’ll have to purchase the same three over and over? You understood that? Good.)

By way of Mirabilis, this fascinating story about a 3,000-year-old Celtic mummy found in a remote area of China.

Can you imagine what this man’s story was like? What his world was like?

There would be a great novel in that story. Hope someone writes it.

But it won’t be me. I’d have to give myself a whole new education in ancient Celtic and Chinese cultures. I’ve been studying the Vikings my whole life, and I still often wonder whether I’m qualified to write Viking novels.

Francis Collins Reviewed: Faith Under the Microscope

Writer Phillip Manning reviews Scientist Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God, in which he describes his journey from atheism to Christianity. Manning sums up Collins’ arguments with this:

The most [Collins] can offer is “that a belief in God is intensely plausible.” But plausible ideas are only starting points in science. Their validity must be established by rigorous testing. Collins may be as sure of his faith as he is of the map of the human genome, but the evidence he provides to support his beliefs do not meet scientific standards. He may have leapt across the chasm between science and religion, but his book does not show the rest of us the way.

I wonder if Manning accepts the premise that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. He doesn’t appear to accept it, because he wants the ideas of god and salvation proven by scientific methods. Perhaps that’s what Collins purports to do in his book. But it can’t be done. God is not made from the stuff in a petri dish.

God’s defense of himself does not appeal to science. In Romans, he says he is angry with men “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” They may claim to have no evidence of God, and he replies by saying they are willfully ignorant. Doesn’t follow Dale Carnegie’s advice, does it.

[by way of Critical Mass]

We dare to name names!

This is off the record, right? You’re not going to share this with anyone? I’ve got deniability here?

Because if this gets back to me, I’m toast.

But look at the slate of drawing winners. Examine it for a moment:

Roy Jacobsen. Blogger. The only other blogger I’ve ever met, as a matter of fact.

Michael Peterson. Blogger. (Not very prolific, I’ll grant you, but a blogger.) And a pastor of my own church body.

Omie. A Chattanooga resident. Who else lives in Chattanooga?

Coincidences? You make the call.

I insinuate, you decide.

Speaking of the drawing, I’d hoped to get the books in the mail today. I was going to take them to the post office near my workplace, after work.

Unfortunately I left them at home. Then I thought, “No prob. I’ll walk them over to the Robbinsdale post office, five minutes from my house, when I get home.”

I got there at 5:01. The place closes, I then learned, at 5:00.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

They’re going Media Mail, so it’ll take a few days.

The fact that I’m corrupt doesn’t mean I’m rich.

Memory Survey Says Turn Off TV, Pick Up Fiction

The Australian National Memory Test has taken in surveys from almost 30,000 Australians and concluded that watching too much TV and drinking too much drags down your mind, making it difficult to remember whatever it was you were trying to remember when you started, say, writing a sentence. On the other hand, people who read fiction, ate fish regularly, and worked crossword puzzles tended to have better memory.

Neuro-psychologist Nancy Pachana said, “TV can be a really passive activity, while reading is active, and any active activity is better.” So a little TV as part of an active day won’t harm your memory, and active TV viewing can be good for you.

Drawing Winners

The winners have been emailed and confirmed. Congratulations to Roy Jacobsen, Michael and Omie for being randomly selected in the drawing.

Remember this is the first of two contests for Lars Walker novels. The next one will be open to bloggers and require a certain kind of post. I’ll let you know soon.

Drawing Ends Today

I’ve almost fallen under the wagon this week with multiple stress sources, but as always the Lord is my shepherd. Some people talk about feeling the Lord is distant, that he’s left them at the train station and they don’t know when he will return. I think I understand the feeling, but I’ve never felt that way. When I feel distant from the Lord, I blame myself for leaving him. I am prone to wander; I am prone to leave the God I love.

If he ever left me, I would die.

But you and I don’t know one another well, if at all, so I’ll stop. The drawing for Lars’ books will close today at 11:00 a.m. That’s before noon, if you aren’t reading the time correctly. I will announce winners after they respond to their emails, so we may not know who wins today.

You young folks today don’t know what work is

If you were listening to Hugh Hewitt last night, you heard him and James Lileks broadcasting from the Minnesota State Fair in full Johnstown, Pennsylvania-telegraph-operator mode, sounding like the last survivors clicking away at their post as the mighty waters swept all away.

I was not there. I was at home in my basement office, working on my novel. But I can verify that it did indeed rain and storm quite hard. It got pretty dark and my electricity flickered once.

Not good baling weather.

I was thinking about baling on Monday, during my walk. Monday was a good baling day. I looked at the bright sun. I felt the heat. I thought, “This is baling weather.”

Let me explain to you about hay and straw.

Hay is what you bale at this time of the year. Or rather, what you used to bale. I don’t think farmers bale much anymore. They have new, arcane methods of putting forage up. I think they do it digitally now, since Dell Computer acquired International Harvester or something.

I still remember an old commercial for the Yellow Pages from back in the Sixties. It drove me nuts. It featured a stereotypical movie cowboy in a Roy Rogers costume singing to his horse. The final lines went, “…and the pages are yellow, like hay.”

No. No, they’re not.

Hay is not yellow. Hay is green. Hay is any grass (we used alfalfa) that you allow to grow tall, then cut and dry for storage over the winter, so you can feed it to the livestock. The bales are heavy, and they smell musty and organic, a little like scum on a pond.

Straw is yellow. There are various kinds of straw too, but we used oat straw. After the oats have been harvested, you cut down the stalks and bale them. They’re light to handle. You use straw for animal bedding. It is not eaten, unless the animals are really, really hungry.

Part of the confusion comes from “Away In a Manger,” I think. There’s that line that goes, “The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.” People sing that and think that sleeping on hay is normal. It’s not. Jesus was sleeping in a manger, a feed trough. Hay belongs there. Babies (usually) don’t.

Once hay has been cut, it’s raked into windrows in the field. If God wills, the hay will lie there and dry, giving you time to turn it over once with pitchforks, to expose both sides. If it rains at any point in this process, you can still use the hay but it won’t be as good, and it’s likely to rot or get moldy.

Then you take the baler out and bale it. Your baling equipment (ours anyway) begins (began) with a tractor pulling a baler, a long, low box on wheels with a conveyor thing on the front to scoop up the hay. The hay passed through the guts and got compressed and tied with twine. The bales were then extruded from the machine’s anus to one or two guys waiting on the wagon that followed. This job was generally mine and my brother Moloch’s, though our grandfather often came out to help.

The bales had to be stacked on the wagon. It was a flat wagon with no sides or front, but a tall back. The first level of bales would be laid down perpendicular to the length of the wagon. The next layer would go parallel (or vice versa. I forget). This was supposed to lock the bales, like staggering bricks in a wall. In fact, the bales always swayed, and the kid on top of the pile was never sure when the whole thing would tumble, sending him to the ground with a lot of heavy hay bales falling on top of him. But the stacker below had his own risks. When the hay was all stacked he would generally be left with about six inches of free space to stand on, as the whole assembly bumped back over farm lanes to the farmyard. It was an operation that would give an O.S.H.A. inspector nightmares, but we never complained. It was good enough for our parents and grandparents; who were we to be sissies?

People with big barns could generally just run their bales up a conveyor into the loft and dump them. Our barn was small. We didn’t use a conveyor but a contraption on a pulley called a “hay fork” (if I remember correctly, which I probably don’t). Eight bales at a time were clamped into the grip of the hay fork, then when the hay had been hoisted up into the barn, a trip rope would be pulled, releasing them. In theory. In fact, the fork either dropped the bales too soon or wouldn’t let them go at all a fair amount of the time.

At the end of the day’s baling, when all the hay was up in the loft, Moloch and I would climb up there and start stacking. Because of our lack of space, we had to organize all our hay in the loft, to get as much in as possible (what didn’t fit would get stacked in the farmyard under tarps, a less than ideal environment). It would be hot as a potter’s kiln up under that roof on a summer afternoon, hot not only from the air temperature but from the chemical action of the drying hay. It was the hardest, sweatiest work I’ve ever done in my life.

And that’s what I think of every year at this time.

An awning story to get you yawning

I had an odd feeling last night. I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of blogger who writes a lot about his feelings, but…

I guess I am.

Anyway, I was working on my Viking tent awning. I put together this non-historically-authentic, purely functional tent-awning thing to keep the sun off me when we’re doing encampments. I got the pattern off the internet. It’s a simple project, being built on a 9×12 painter’s drop cloth.

My first awning didn’t last long. I was pretty sure from the start that the fabric wouldn’t hold up to any kind of wind. It was thin stuff, like a 600-page novel written in six months. I wanted to reinforce the grommet locations, but I didn’t have any spare canvas. So I figured I’d make the first awning, then use it to patch the second once it had failed.

I’m not kidding you here. That’s how my brain works.

The fabric failed down in Bode, Iowa, and one of my vacation projects this week has been to whip up a new one. I bought the heaviest drop cloth I could find, and I used patches made from the old awning to reinforce the grommet locations, just as planned.

All that set-up exposition was provided to explain how I came to be watching “Criminal Minds” on TV last night, sewing away at a big piece of canvas with a large needle and heavy thread.

It came to me, all of a sudden, that this activity felt comfortable, familiar.

But I’ve never done it before in my life. Not on a big piece of cloth like the awning.

Then it occurred to me that I’m descended from hundreds of generations of Norwegian fishermen who spent a lot of time mending sails.

Genetic memory? (Possible.)

Incipient psychosis? (More likely.)

In any case, it was a strange enough feeling to blog about on a quiet, rainy August day.

A Land Fit For Criminals

Mike Johnson sent me the following link to a review by (the great) Theodore Dalrymple of the book A Land Fit For Criminals by David Fraser. It’s about the criminal justice system in Great Britain today.

He shows that liberal intellectuals and their bureaucratic allies have left no stone unturned to ensure that the law-abiding should be left as defenseless as possible against the predations of criminals, from the emasculation of the police to the devising of punishments that do not punish and the propagation of sophistry by experts to mislead and confuse the public about what is happening in society, confusion rendering the public helpless in the face of the experimentation perpetrated upon it.

My observation is that what happens in Europe generally works its way to America in time.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture