After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On suffering

There is nothing more important for a person to learn—and no lesson suffering is more suited to teach him—than his own nothingness. Suffering does not make us stronger, but neither does it sap our strength until we are ready to find convenient consolation in God. Rather, suffering reveals that we have been weak all along, that our strength is an illusion and our sense of permanence and invulnerability has always been a façade. Suffering shows us that we are powerless to secure what we are most eager to possess, that everything the world has given can be swept away in the blink of an eye.
—Timothy Dalrymple, in Hope for Hitchens?: Finding the Way in the Land of Malady at Patheos.

Monday, February 14, 2011


   I am an admirer of the triptych. A work of art (usually a painting, etching or bas relief sculpture), I appreciate it for its flexibility. It consists of  three separate works, presented as a whole. They may be unrelated to one another (although that is hard to do well), related in some thematic way (color, shape, size, subject), or even contiguous works (a panorama, or a progression of some sort).
   An example of the latter which recently wowed me was Monet's Water Lilies, which I saw at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. A panorama, it measures an astounding 6' 6 3/4" x 41' 10 3/8".
(click to enlarge).
 What is most moving about Monet's Water Lilies is this scale. Most paintings illustrate large objects (a landscape, a building) in a much smaller frame of reference. Here Monet has done the opposite: he has made a common pond much, much larger than life. Unlike real life, we must look up—and step back—to see it.
  I think this is true, too, of the triptych that is God. He is three distinct parts, but together He forms the panorama of grace. And we must look up—and step back—to even begin to grasp Him. However, it seems we cannot back up far enough. The canvas is infinite in all directions.
  And most impressive of all, He painted it himself.
—Wayne S.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Pat Conroy on Writing, Reading and Story

"Safety is a crime writers should never commit unless they are after tenure or praise. A novelist must wrestle with all mysteries and strangeness of life itself, and anyone who does not wish to accept that grand, bone-chilling commission should write book reviews, editorials, or health-insurance policies instead. The idea of a novel should stir your blood, and you should rise to it like a lion lifting up at the smell of impala. It should be instinctual, incurable, unanswerable, and a calling, not a choice."

"My mother promised that reading would make me smart, and I found myself recruited in Mom’s battle over her own lack of a higher education. She distributed books to me as though they were communion wafers or the tongues of fire that lit up the souls of the disciples with Pentecostal clairvoyance. Mom would point her finger to a wall of books and tell me she was showing me the way out of a shame that was unutterable. I took whatever book she put into my hand and made it part of me. I made it the life of me, the essence of my own tree of knowledge. With each book, I built a city out of what my heart loved, my soul yearned for, and my eyes desired."

"The most powerful words in English are 'tell me a story,' words that are intimately related to the complexity of history, the origins of language, the continuity of the species, the taproot of our humanity, our singularity, and art itself."
—from My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy

Sunday, February 06, 2011


You have 
wisdom and knowledge 
that is beyond 
our ability, 

insight and understanding 
beyond our grasp, 

love and mercy 
greater than our possibility 
of even refusing it. 

You see far
into a future 
that will outlast us all. 

So we cannot ask 
what You are doing. 

Nor would it do 
any good, really, 
to ask why, 
or what if... . 

All we can say, really... is 


Thursday, February 03, 2011

My Writing Bucket List

Writers of the world, if you’ve got a story, I want to hear it. I promise it will follow me to my last breath. My soul will dance with pleasure, and it’ll change the quality of all my waking hours. You will hearten me and brace me up for the hard days as they enter my life on the prowl. I reach for a story to save my own life. Always. It clears the way for me and makes me resistant to all the false promises signified by the ring of power. In every great story, I encounter a head-on collision with self and imagination. --Pat  Conroy, My Reading Life.

   Thanks, Pat. I will do my best. Although I don't think it will be a novel.
   That was (and still mostly is) always my wish. Much of that desire I do owe to Mr. Conroy, whose novels always inspire me, despite his being, in his own words, "showy with adjectives" and "overreliant on adverbs." Though I sometimes feel his lengthy and florid novels are death by a thousand paper cuts, it is nevertheless a sweet death. I can appreciate them all the more because I have been trying to write a novel for over six years. I have close to 80,000 words towards a story that is going nowhere currently, even in my mind. My characters are thoroughly unruly and disobedient, and the story arc has bent so tight I fear that like an overtorqued steel spring it may break and kill me.
   So, I have decided to look at other venues for writing. I have crafted a bucket list of writing goals I want to accomplish before I die (or my novel slays my ambition). My goal in each case is to have them published in some reputable (and perhaps even financially renumerative) fashion. Here they are:

   1. Write a short story. I do believe I can write a 5,000 to 10,000 word story that would be worth reading, although a shorter one would be harder. In fact, I like the notion of a story collection, where all the stories have a connection, probably implicit (five people who picked up a pack of hotel matches in 1968 Scottsdale, Arizona, for example).

   2. Publish a poem. It is true that "prose is words in their best order, poetry is the best words in the best order." While Eliot's The Wasteland doesn't bring to mind economy, it most certainly is. Of all the written arts, poetry comes closest to both painting and music, where in both you can be as realistic or as impressionist as you dare. Poetry slams sometimes have the same effect as strolling through a museum. Reading poetry aloud is just like listening to live music—there is joy in the silence between notes, and the decaying echo from the back wall. My poetry (two examples here and here) tends to be on the realistic side, but who knows? I would love to see my words in The Atlantic, or The New Yorker, but I must realistically think more towards regional poetry magazines and reviews.

   3.Publish an essay. I love researching. I love interviewing. I simply love observing. Put those three passions to pen and paper and I think an essay would probably be my best shot for my first publication. I have in mind a story from my home town about a supposedly true story of a grave that may, or may not, contain the person named on the tombstone. It's full of politics, family love and hillbilly justice.

   4. Write a song. In my late teens and early twenties I played guitar constantly, and wrote a few songs that I would perform at weddings or just for friends. I still remember a couple of them, and they were decent enough. And while I am becoming accustomed again to the guitar after a three decade estrangement, I think I could write a meaningful, appealing lyric and place it in a competent piece of music. My personal tastes lean towards singer-songwriters, like James Taylor and Jackson Browne, or contemporary songsmiths such as Pierce Pettis, Jason Mraz or Patty Griffin. I fear some of my production may even fall into the "country" category, but it's a hot market. I prefer the term "Americana," the songs of people and places and hopes and dreams. If I can ship off two or three songs a year to publishers, maybe one will find an ear.

   5. Write a screenplay. This fascinates me. And the only thing that encourages me in this venture is that I have seen many TV episodes and movies where I have been able to anticipate the next line, or the next scene, with uncanny accuracy. And there are times when I have obviously had an idea that I am sure would have worked better that what ended up in the script. I would probably feel most comfortable with drama; maybe some short morality tale, that ties up in the end with a few threads still loose.

   6. Write a novel. Again, it's a wish more than an obsession at present. I feel like the fellow who has sketched his dream home on the back of a napkin, and who knows how to use a hammer and a saw. The rest seems daunting to me.

   7. Write my obituary. I can almost assure myself that this might actually find itself published, if there are any local newspapers left.