Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Great Lego Analogy

Having access to the Lego bucket of raw data, humans are compelled to make operating structures to interface the millions of bits into manageable chunks. Some choose to build houses to dwell in, others are lit with the wish to craft spaceships that will ferry them through the asteroid field of experience, where they might glean valuable minerals and alien organisms for further research. Others build to see how gravity works (philosophers), or purely under an experimental Geist (such as artists).

By this analogy, belief-systems are like meta-structures, or templates that people adopt and subsequently model their buildings upon. Each religion (or school), and each denomination (or discipline), possesses certain characteristics that appeal to distinct types of thinking, feeling, and action. And within each system there are those who wish to follow the template more or less exactly, and who distrust any deviation from those instructions (or interpretations thereof).

As well, those who exist outside such constructs sometimes see them as prisons, even as insulting to their intelligence, which finds fulfillment in the act of exploration and experiment. These persons see truth as always in flux, and frame the game as a contest of invention.

While this playmate is sitting crisscross applesauce in the rainbow pile, the others have taken their accepted models and started playing house or battlebots, until an accident or vigorous playmate breaks their construct, and back to the template they must go.

Returning to the pile for a missing piece, there they find the inventor/ investigator, who has already discovered a few novel combinations in the chaos of potentiality. Sadly, each of these are lying forgotten in a pile behind him, discarded by the hands already onto something else.

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More Writing Shop-talk (boring warning!)

Here are a few words that are on my rewriting “watch list”, which I try to minimize / synonymize in each successive draft:

  • Look
  • Just
  • That
  • So, very, really
  • Something
  • Said
  • Walk
  • Actually
  • Suddenly

These words (especially just) are used often in casual conversation, so they just tend to slip in when one is first ‘telling’ the story.

But writing, imho, should actually be a grade above the casual. Also, I’ve seen a lot of first drafts where writers use double modifiers on the subject, I.E.:

The stairwell sent him quick, dark echoes…

It’s a matter of taste, but I think that the second of the two modifiers should always be an uncommon word, or else the prose comes off as really, very predictable, or something.

Most importantly: while editing, concentrate on the tone and rhythm of the narrative itself, and let all the rules and such attend to it like servants.

If all we did as artists was follow rules, then this game would have long ago been over.

we are storytellers first, and writers by way of revision


“Being known is like a crumbling of my jurisdiction.”

I’m experimenting with merging music and fiction. This is the first in a series:

 

And for blogging points, I will include a new meme:


Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.


Deconstructing the Greatest Commandment

From Matthew 22:36-40

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Considering this over breakfast, my thoughts kept gravitating to the first part of the commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your heart and soul and mind.”

Well, what does that mean, to Love God? Paul famously writes (in I Corinthians, ch. 13):

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

But every single action on this list can only be applied to terrestrial matters. How do you be kind to God? How do you protect God? Christians tend to personify God in Jesus, in order, perhaps, to get a better handle on the concept, but practically, if there is a God, then there is no possible way a mere organism on a rock spinning listless at the edge of a galaxy can comprehend the frightful magnitude of such a—I can’t even call him a “being” without somehow reducing him.

We say God is Love, yet feel our skin crawl when we see one insect devour another. And others will rage at God for the great injustices of history—yet each night they find peace and obliteration—even if only for an hour of sleep.

As humans I believe we are incredibly limited. Furthermore, we seek to limit everything we come into contact with in order to comprehend it. The walls, tables and chairs around me right now are composed of organized energy—but were I to comprehend everything as knots and loops of atoms, I would be of very little use to other people.

God needs context—not for his sake, but for ours. God the word is thought to come from “Khoda”, meaning the one invoked. Allah and YHVH are both conjectured to be echoics of the act of breathing.

To get down to it: To love God a man has to love everything around him, everything he comes into contact with, he must show no prejudice at all, but be all-accepting, perfectly beneficent, entirely sympathetic, and free of any judgment. And the heart works against this, and the mind works against this too, by design they limit man’s perception of reality into a “me” and a “you”, into a “this” and a “that”, into “want” and “diswant”—

So I guess J.C. was using hyperbole again, shattering the constructs of the religious by saying: “Perhaps you have learned to love yourself by following the rules you inherited—but have you learned to love you wife—have you learned to love your neighbor—have you learned to love your country—have you learned to love the world? Tell me, you who banter about laws, and speak of the Creator as if you can know his will—how big is your heart—is it large enough to step from your containing commandments and meet reality uninhibited? How open can you be?


The Problem with The Problem of Evil

I have informally studied human nature through my exposure to 2–5 year olds over the last decade. There is this odd phenomenon that occurs right when a child is about to become potty trained: they invariably become little shits, or pricks, or assholes (I use these terms deliberately, because it became obvious to me that they are explicitly related to the lower functions). The defiant child will give you this knowing look as they intentionally violate some line or rule—screaming at nap, pulling someone’s hair with impunity—throwing a fit exactly when it’s most inconvenient for you. Even the sweet child contracts a spark of rebelliousness during this period, and I think it is directly related to self control: they are filled with joy that they have power—something they had ignorantly assumed, but now can exercise by choice.

Now, I was raised in the James Dobson “dare to discipline” days. So I got a sound spanking when it was reported, by mom to dad, that I has been overly defiant. My parents were by no means abusive or all that hard line, but my dad had a BIG issue with what he called “the rebellious nature of man.” This attitude toward Sin, while correct in a literally Biblical sense, had the effect of planting in me a fear of authority (I recall, in highschool, seeing a “Question Authority” sticker and growing physically nauseous). I also grew to distrust of my own self direction, and this lead to an overreaction on my part once I reached adulthood. I had to break every rule with vicious aptitude, to test what was in me, through my own experience. In a word, it made me very, very angry, for a spell, and I wound up derailing my progress as a human for a few years, as what I wound up breaking wasn’t The Law, but my own person, which I subsequently had to rebuild.

Now, I am a theist—and a monotheist at that. I believe there is an up and a down, and there is significant pressure on us to fall, and we need inner guidance to travel upward. (Furthermore, I can’t imagine that hell and heaven are binary states—life is plotted on a spectrum, from lowest slug to highest heavenly sphere, so how could the spiritual realm be either “Godly” or “Hellish”?) That being said—the biblical language regarding sin, evil and rebellion was written at an early stage of society’s development. And just as a child sees things—or, rather, gravitates towards the Allegorical and the Cartoonish, biblical language paints the world in thick lines and with primary colors. But once we mature, there is a need to view shades of grey, and subtler distinctions between courses of action, and the question arises: what is the intent behind an action?

For a rebellious child, a large part of their difficult or deplorable behavior has to do with exerting their sense of power—and in that instant, it is wise of the adult to be unemotional when countering and redirecting them. When I have responded in anger to such displays, that anger has stuck with me, and makes me feel bad. But there have been instances when using my own dominance—physical or audible—quickly, severely, and without spite—have seemed appropriate, especially when violence is occurring.

There are many more issues to suss out here, about human and subhuman nature, but I wanted to highlight this point: such charged words as damnation and hell need to be translated into more grownup language. Subtlety and an appreciation of hyperbole and irony, context and culture must be employed in this day and age, if this issue is to be made useful for us who live complex and multifaceted lives.


“Faith, not religion, is the enemy.”

—opined the atheist. To which I replied:

Faith is unavoidable, for everyone is forced at points to posit unsubstantiated claims, even if only as stopgaps to gloss the transit from A to B. Now, being unable to modify these assumptions (or beliefs), that is a sign of mental or emotional calcification, which is caused by laziness, stubbornness, or in response to a perceived threat (for obstinacy is a form of armor).

I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but to discount the human capacity to have faith in what is not immediately graspable overlooks the role this capacity has in how we develop our lives, both personally and in the historic context.

Only experience can verify faith or knowledge. This hurdle seems to mock theists and atheists without particular prejudice.