Nicer Children If Possible

I love these lines from an Aline Kilmer poem:

When people inquire I always just state:

“I have four nice children and hope to have eight.

Though the first four are pretty and certain to please,

Who knows but the rest may be nicer than these?”

Even if they aren’t nicer, they will be my children, and I will love them better, I hope, than I have in the past.

Mormons Complain: “We’re Christians Too.”

A ticket agent says the movie States of Grace is “being advertised as a Christian film, but it’s really a Mormon film,” and Mormons are shocked, claiming to be Christians. Ted Olson, Christianity Today’s online managing editor, reports on other complaints Mormons have had in the news and concludes with this:

Even more [evangelicals] see Mormons as non-Christians—-or worse—-while seeing liberal Protestants as “bad Christians”—-though both groups equally deny classical Christian doctrine on revelation, the full divinity of Christ, the nature of man, and other key points.

With their strong family values, constant Jesus talk, and passion for evangelism, Mormons seem almost like evangelicals’ cultural twins. In some ways, they represent our ideal. Maybe that’s one reason why so many evangelicals are more comfortable with liberal Protestantism than with Mormonism. We like our differences stark, with red-and-blue color coding.

Is Ted being snarky here? I suggest the real difference b/w Mormons and liberals when evangelicals want to label them is a desire to avoid generalizations. Mormon doctrine is not Biblically sound, so a faithful Mormon can be safely label non-Christian, whereas Methodist or Episcopal doctrine may be sound despite what individual churches teach or what certain bishops say to reporters. You can’t broadbrush all Episcopals by calling them non-Christians. They aren’t, no matter how liberal their denomination appears to be. And you can’t call Mormons Christians no matter how much they talk about Jesus. They aren’t talking about the God/Man who words are recording in Scripture, and He never spoke to Joseph Smith either. [seen on Open Book]

Postal interlude

Walker wheeled his dolly through the Post Office door. A lady going out held the door for him, and he thanked her twice, embarrassed to have a door held for him by a woman.

It was a once-a-quarter chore, sending the returns back to the publisher. In order to have a variety of books to sell, the bookstore subscribed to a program by which the publisher sent them a couple cartons of overstocks, which would be displayed for three months, then returned. The bookstore paid for the invoice difference, if any. Not much this quarter. Precisely one book sold. Summer slump in a school bookstore.

He got in line and surveyed the dingy, cluttered service area. The building wasn’t very old, but the abrasion of bureaucracy had already erased any humanity the place had ever had. Walker missed the old-time Post Offices, temples of democracy with classical porticos and lots of brass. You felt like you were dealing with the majesty of the republic in those old places. You felt proud to be an American there. You scanned the wanted posters on the bulletin boards, inspired with civic zeal to ferret out wrongdoers for the good of the commonwealth.

He looked at the service windows to his left. Only two postal employees on duty, so it would be a wait. But she was on duty today. Maybe he’d luck out and be one of her customers. Maybe a Sublime Moment would happen, somehow….

Such a lovely woman. You didn’t expect to see a woman who looked like that working for the Post Office. He couldn’t guess her age. She might be in her thirties, she might be as old as fifty. Impossible to tell. With that bone structure, she’d be beautiful until the day she died. The kind of bone-deep beauty Katherine Hepburn had, though she didn’t look at all like Hepburn. A petite woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes. A kind of aquiline face, its planes clean and perfect. If she wore makeup, it wasn’t apparent.

And no wedding ring….

Helen gave the lady her receipt and looked to the next customer, saying, “Can I help you?” That customer, a guy with a beard, seemed to be woolgathering. The guy in line behind him nudged him, and he roused himself and wheeled two cartons on a dolly up to her window.

Great. Boxes to lift. Again.

Boxes of books. She knew it was books because she recognized the customer. Some sort of bookstore employee. He came in now and then, and he always wore a tie and a hat. Even on a summer day like this. Odd bird.

Too fat, but he had interesting salt-and-pepper hair, and his face looked younger than the hair indicated. She wondered what he was like. He was always polite and well-spoken. She glanced at his hand. No ring.

“All books. Media Mail,” he said.

They went through the rigmarole. As always, he didn’t want insurance or special services. He pulled out a business check and had it filled in except for the amount by the time she had a figure for him.

“If he asked me out, would I say yes?” she asked herself. “Might be interesting to find out what a guy who dresses like this is like. Probably a weirdo, though.”

“Any stamps?” she asked.

“In a separate transaction,” he said.

“Doesn’t charge his own stamps to his company,” she thought. “Minimally honest, at least. Better than my last boyfriend.”

She lifted the plastic display page. “We have these stamps,” she said.

“I’ll take a sheet of the Reagan stamps.”

She swore to herself. A bleeping Republican.

“Thank you,” she said when he paid her.

“Thank you,” he replied, wheeling his empty dolly away.

(The story above is true, except for the lies. It’s a fair description of my trip to the Post Office today, but I made up Helen’s [not her name] thoughts [certainly wrong].

Inventing scenarios like this is one of the things that make me a novelist.

Also one of the things that make me a total dork.)

Is One Writer Really Better than Another? Isn’t It All Personal Taste?

J. Mark Bertrand points out a couple podcasts he participated in during this summer’s Worldview Academy. (part 1, part 2)They are the two parts of an interesting discussion on why we should care about literature.

In the second part, I believe Mark makes a great point about the instincts of his students. Though they may question how someone can say one writer is better than another, they fully understand how someone can say one band is better than another. Personal taste does come into play a bit, but an experienced listener can make a good case that one band, even a band he doesn’t enjoy, is more skilled than another. The same with writers. There’s more to be said, but I’ll leave it there.

Substandard Spelling

The Chicago Tribune aulso got into th act, uezing simpler spelingz in th nuezpaeper for about 40 years, ending in 1975. Plae-riet George Bernard Shaw, hoo roet moest of his mateerial in shorthand, left muny in his wil for th development of a nue English alfabet. . . . But for aul th hi-proefiel and skolarly eforts, the iedeea of funy-luuking but simpler spelingz didn’t captivaet the masez then — or now.

From the article, “Push for Simpler Spelling Persists,” by AP Writer Darlene Superville. She says the idea of overhauling English spelling has not captured “th publix imajinaeshun.”

I Don’t Care If We Lose

Alan of Thinklings is talking about an article in which Peter Leithart argues that Modern Protestants can’t write. He says it has something to do with Zwingli. Maybe I’m in a mood tonight, but I find that I don’t care. I don’t care why we haven’t written well in the past. Some write now, and no light-weight, commercially successful novel from an evangelical author takes away from their artist effort. God will raise up artwork to glorify himself. I don’t care who complains about, heh, mere entertainment.

The Thinklings carry on part of the discussion in relation to movies.

On John McGahern

Erin O’Connor is talking about John McGahern:

There were many other things I should have been doing in my little garret in my remote, undisclosed Irish location, and morning tends to be my best time for getting things I should be doing done. But this novel was too terrible to be deferred. It needed to be dispatched with as much speed as several cups of strong milky tea could make me read. By “terrible” I should clarify that I don’t refer in any way to the quality of McGahern’s writing–quite the opposite. McGahern has an awesome ability to conjure up the minute but powerful tensions and pleasures of daily life in mid-twentieth century rural Ireland. His fiction is quiet and unassuming . . .

Atlanta Nights

I made my memorial to Jim Baen tonight. The family and staff had asked that in lieu of memorials, people purchase copies of the story collection, The World Turned Upside Down and give them either to young people or to libraries. I got my copy today, took it to my nearest branch library, inscribed it as given by Lars Walker in memory of Jim Baen (in the fashion of the Pharisee in the temple with the trumpet) and made the donation.

Speaking of Baen Books, my best author friend is Mike Williamson, author of Freehold, which is a very good science fiction book in the Robert E. Heinlein/Libertarian/Lots of Sex style. Mike told me recently about a book called Atlanta Nights, by “Travis Tea.”

There’s a story behind this book, and you can get the details by checking out the site. But the short version (as I understand it) is this—there’s a company called PublishAmerica (sort of a cross between a vanity publisher and a publish-on-demand house, I’m told) which is not popular with Science Fiction/Fantasy writers. Representatives of the company took a swipe at SF and Fantasy writers as a group, so a devious cabal of SF/F authors got together and decided to write the worst novel they could possibly come up with, to see how PublishAmerica would handle it.

As you’ve probably guessed, it was accepted for publication immediately.

Hilarious story, and a warning to all aspiring authors.

It’s your party, and I’ll hide if I want to

Just got an e-mail from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Kingsville, Maryland, informing me that my novel, Wolf Time, has been chosen as their Book of the Month (scroll down the page about three-quarters of the way). They state that I’m gaining “a bit of a cult following among Lutherans,” which is a surprise to me, but I won’t complain. I’m not entirely sure what it means to have a “cult following,” but my impression is that artists who’ve produced cult works generally live in their cars.

Anyway, thanks to the folks at St. Paul’s.

On Friday, while my brothers and I were working in my back yard, one of my neighbors came over and invited me to stop by for his birthday party, Monday evening.

I thanked him for the invitation, but didn’t figure I’d attend. My brothers, though, informed me that I was obligated to show up at least for a few minutes, in order not to offend the neighbor.

I really don’t get these social obligation rules. Never have. I’ve never been able to understand how anyone would be anything but relieved if I didn’t show up at their party.

Anyway, Monday evening rolled around, as Monday evenings are wont to do, and it found me genuinely terrified. I almost didn’t go at all, but I finally commended my soul to God, picked up the card and gift certificate I’d bought, and went over. I wished the neighbor a happy birthday, handed him the card, said I couldn’t stay, and rushed home as quickly as I could on shaking knees.

I suppose that wasn’t good enough. I suppose I took a year off my life and still offended my neighbor.

My advice to you all: Don’t develop Avoidant Personality Disorder. It doesn’t add much to your personal fulfillment.

…and live in that America

On June 30, 1891, my great-great-grandfather, Ole Olsen Kvalevaag, of Avaldsnes parish, Karmøy Island, Norway, wrote the following in a letter to his son, my great-grandfather, who’d emigrated to America and changed his name to John Walker (my translation):

I myself have been sick awhile, but now, thank God, I am better again; and it’s a good thing, because I haven’t had much of anyone to help me with the farm work this year…. I myself have plowed every furrow this year….

Ja, it is certainly hard to think that we, who have brought up so many as we have, are now alone in our old age. Ja, it is sorrowful to think of, that we should have two sons in America, and [they] go and work for day wages, with nothing of their own to hold on to, and will not be at home in their own home and country. Ja, it is amazing how a person can be, ja, I often wonder about it when I think of you, that you could forsake your dear home, and live in that America….

You, Jan, are scared to come home, you say, because you have to go to Madla [for military service], you say; ja, setting aside the fact that you have to, for you aren’t too good for that place, nor is anyone else; for as surely as you are, and want to be, a Christian, there is something the Lord has commanded, that we should submit to God and king. I ask you not to refuse this, for think how the Lord can lay upon you something that might be worse for you if you avoid this; for I can tell you that there are many who have been punished by God for it.

I don’t have John’s replies, but what I see in this letter (as well as the others in the collection) is the Declaration of Independence writ small (to an extent), in one family’s history. My great-grandfather resisted a lot of pressure and well-meaning warnings (not to mention guilt) in order to strike out on a new path in a new country. He left familiar things, and things that felt right, to try it the American way.

He ended up rich by the standards of his time and place, incidentally. The later letters make it clear that his father had borrowed money from him.

I’m grateful to be an American, grateful both to God and to my risk-taking ancestors.

Happy Fourth of July.

The Fourth

For Independence Day, Junk Yard Blog quotes from ancient Episcopalian wisdom, which may have little to do with modern church leadership.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will.

Blogger SeeDubya calls the modern Episcopal church the Shasta Cola of Anglicanism.

He also points to some good parodies of the NY Times and others, including this one on Powerlineblog.com which shows the Times blowing the cover on colonial plans to announce the attack of the British.

Who’s in control here?

Ever wonder what comedy was like before Christianity? Anthony Esolen has an intriguing meditation over at Mere Comments today.

Phil wonders, in a post below, why we read literature. I suspect it’s partly for the same reason a few of us miserable wretches produce literature. And that’s the main reason anyone does anything—a need to feel in control, or to feel vicariously that there is control and order somewhere.

The older I get (and I’m getting pretty old) the more I agree with the psychological theory that most of us do the things we do (wise or stupid or crazy) out of a desire to feel in control of some part of our worlds.

There are many ways to divide mankind into Two Kinds of People, but it seems to me one of those standard divisions is between the Men of Action and Creative Men (I know I’m supposed to say Persons nowadays, but being a brutal sexist is one of the ways I try to exercise control on my own part). Generally—there are exceptions, of course—people who do big things and impose their wills on others don’t produce art. And people who produce art aren’t movers and shakers in the world.

When I was a child, I learned early on that I didn’t have much power in my environment. I couldn’t make decisions and I was pretty much at everybody else’s mercy.

So I started playing with puppets. I loved puppets. They were like little people who’d do whatever I wanted them to do. Later I turned to drawing. Drawing was better than puppets, because the cast of characters I could play with was unlimited. Finally I started writing, and that was even better, because my drawing skills only went so far, while writing gave me a greater sense of mastery.

A greater sense of mastery. An arena where I could call the shots. Turn any old pile of ideas and conflicts into a coherent, rational whole.

Sounds kind of pathetic when I put it that way, but it seems to me all human endeavors are like that in one way or another. The politician tries to create or change the political order to make it conform to his own vision of A Really Good Society. The scientist tries to discover the hidden laws of the universe, and to manipulate them to achieve ends he approves of. The carpenter imposes a new level of order on lumber.

Lewis and Tolkien called this “subcreation.” Rather than seeing it as a pitiful attempt to impose order where there is none (as the postmodern critic might charge), they saw human creativity as one of God’s gifts, bestowed by Him along with His Image at Creation.

How you see it all depends on the biases you bring to your observations. And if you want to minimize it by explaining it away with psychological jargon, well, that’s another way of imposing order on the world, isn’t it?

Book Reviews, Creative Culture