Friday, June 27, 2014

From Charles Dickens, John Grisham, and Others, difficult ease makes it work

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the  epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was....."' The rest of the quote adds up to one long paragraph whose lines may appear to be simple or easy writing, while being far from it. That's how classics come to be, making the difficult appear easy to the point of the obvious. Yet, it was Dickens who thought of writing it that one memorable way in a form to earn rapt attention. Millions of readers have remembered the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities because Charles Dickens opened his story with a distinctive form of balance, imbalance, variety and similarity.    

The feeling and passion of Dickens enter at the first line. Since he shows such passion, we immediately sense the importance of his subject. Every writer hopes to uncover the rare quality of that first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities or the words describing a character as "Bah humbug" describes Scrooge. The latter says so much more than could be said through many words. To find that elusive, perfectly fitting kind of expression is what every practicing writer wants. 

It's likely that you and I can tell within the first paragraph of any new read whether or not it is our kind of book. If the style or flow suits what we're looking for, we willingly spend time with it. In fiction I can go from John Grisham, C.J. Box, Mary Higgens Clark and others, to Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Patterson and others, knowing there will be either a good story or a good story plus mind-expanding writing. 

Mainly, I think that you and I love to find the style that reads smoothly yet not too simply. We want clarity along the lines. And if you're like me you want to be intrigued. The likes of Jane  Austen, Charles Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte lead the fiction expectations of English readers.

Our brains adjust to and forgive hiccups, especially in the case of translations into English. I willingly adjust to tiny errors in books by Qiu Xiaolong, a Chinese writer now living in the U.S. His stories include historical and sociological views of life in Shanghai. My eyes are opened so that I feel that I can almost touch the laundry that hangs high and low across narrow passage-ways. I bear with ubiquitous poetry lines and references far outside what I call familiar, because the writing flows toward its goal regardless of how much, along the way, I don't know where the author is taking his story and me along with it. 

This is all part of the intrigue of what minds and language can do in capable hands. We can be in familiar and foreign territory at emotional and other levels. From a still place we move with characters that seem alive and in our imaginations are living, acting, and reacting. And in Qiu Xiaolong's world, today's Chinese leaders issue new dictionaries of allowed and disallowed phrases. Listening to U.S. Conversations and arguments I relate to our version of the Chinese dictionary of approved/disapproved phrases. "PC" is here, too.

What words and style give reading meaning? You and I ultimately decide on the books we choose without wondering about others' approval. We know what we like, what we want to recommend, and the living authors whose next work we are eager to read. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

You Were Conceived. You Are Here

The threats to human life since the beginning have not changed. The list includes fatal forces since the time when Eve doubted God's honesty, Adam followed her lead, and death was added to the human story.

Ambition, jealousy, rebellion, and deception were among the early themes against the good life, beginning with Cain who killed his brother, introduced murder to the human record, and eliminated an early branch of the human tree.

After Noah and his family survived The Flood, as the story goes, diseases, natural disasters, jealousies, envying, hatred, wars, and threats of war led to more displacement and death. Yet, the human race survived.

New life was conceived under an array of settings and circumstances including formal marriage commitments, adulteries, or rapes. Conception occurred through lustful couplings between strangers, intimate moments along journeys headed in opposite directions. Some parted not knowing the other's name or hopes, and not caring.

The human race continued, each new life born along a broad spectrum of survival conditions. Some newborns had families; other were abandoned or left with only their mothers or grandmothers. Some grew up in gangs, others on the streets or in forests, as hard as that may be to imagine.

Some were rescued by ne'er do wells, as labled by communities, those men and women that shared their meager spoils. I have learned likely details from Pillars of the Earth and other historical stories. Some once knew wealth, others only knew poverty or other dire hardships.

The human race survived and shared these conditions everywhere. All of us arrived through such lines in a historic array of cultures and conditions. No one has a record of the far distant situations of the Who's Who of ancestry across the eons of human time.

And does it matter? Somehow, down the centuries it came down to our biological mothers and fathers and ultimately to mothers who gave birth to us. Most important to us personally is that they carried us, regardless of their situations, preferences, advantages or lack thereof, their moods and selfish or sacrificial decisions and actions. That's the way I see it.

For my beliefs, each person at every stage of heart-beating life is a living soul. Each mother is, thereby, blessed to have the chance to influence the future in the closest and most personal of ways. How new lives react has varied and will continue to do so.

Hope works against rebellion and despair. Life can get very messy, yet life throbs for breath and a future.

I love to read an array of biographies, and I notice how they affirm this view of history. Children born in hovels later have been honored by royalty. Children unwanted have contributed to others' well-being. Even children wounded by doctors' aborting instruments of death have survived. Life is conceived and born on the equal plane

Written on my birthday, 2014, and honoring life, yours and mine.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

We Have, as a Nation

I am doing pre-birthday reflection, where themes merge the past and now. 

As a child growing up, I felt free. It was not a perfect time, yet it was in many ways a safer time in which to grow. As a child born late to my parents, who had two teenagers already, I was unplanned. I join millennia of human beings in that regard. My unseen life was accepted, my birth welcomed. I was loved. 

My dad and mom influenced me to reach high. Dad did different jobs without the hindrances of laws to dampen or drown his personal initiatives and innovations. I think of that often today, because many men and women of the same temperament as my parents struggle against ever-increasing laws and penalties that put heavier loads on their shoulders.  

Now, regarding life, hosts of powerful leaders across this nation show, I believe, dishonor for their own life in their mother's womb. I think this because I see how they dishonor the lives of today's unborn persons. And,we have women who seek public monies to pay for their choices.
We have parents not keeping watch over their children's childhood.
We have elected officials ignoring the public good, for private gain.
Profanity and crudeness often go unnoticed or unchecked.
We should, some think, be silent about such things.

On the Other Hand

We have communities of hope. 
Many old and young people seek God.
We have youth that honor themselves with long-range views.
We have parents loving their children sacrificially.
We have teachers teaching with devotion to their calling. 
Many help the poor even under threats of penalty for faith and conscience. 

Yet, as a people we show signs of having allowed ourselves to waver and weaken through our own selfishness or forgetfulness. 

Our blessings come from God, I believe. Our nation needs forgiveness and restoration, and I believe that we need to resist the tide that divides common good.

I awoke this morning burdened by thoughts of these things. I hope that we will apply more knowledge and wisdom before we leap into more trouble. I pray we will work together to guard and preserve this God-established space.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Associates, in the Long Run

The two traveled home from a town on the coast, and they saw a young hitchhiker. They stopped, asked where he was going, and invited him into the car. They asked him who he knew in the town to which he was headed, and he told them. They recognized the last name, and mentioned the full name of someone they knew in that town by the same last name.

"That's my uncle," the young man said, adding, "Don't ever trust him." 

It turned out to be true, the hitch hiker's assessment. He did not know, however, that the couple that had given him a ride were in a business agreement with the uncle or that the uncle would later turn his back on promises made to ones he had called friends. 

We cannot always know the true character of associates,  business or otherwise. Often, we learn the hard way. Yet, we learn. The hardness helps us, however, in different ways. They even say it makes us stronger. At the time, we may not wish to be stronger, but free of betrayal.

The end of the story was that the ones that were misled did fine and walked away without rancor, wiser and better for it, in the long run. They remained true to themselves through many changes. There was forgiveness, eventually, in the woman's heart. Her husband never held grudges, but did get a business separation.The couple never wanted to hinder a possible turnaround within the heart of the former associate, although they moved on. 

My parents, good neighbors on the road, are in heaven now. Times have changed, and hitchhiking is, in many places, illegal. "It's more dangerous these days," people say. I think that all times have their own kinds of dangers. I am thankful that's not the end of the story. At least, that's what I think.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Cross of the Living Lord

I am thankful that my mother told me about "The Old Rugged Cross" being my paternal grandmother's favorite hymn. I remember how Grandmother patiently listened, prepared delicious food on a wood-powered stove, allowed my cousin and me to brush her hair and then try, awkwardly, to arrange it in a neat upsweep, which she preferred. Thankful for Dora Dickens Primm's life with John in a village called Broadway.

"The Old Rugged Cross
where the dearest and best 
for a world of lost sinners was slain...*

I am thankful for the scriptures that have survived the ages in the Bible, the library of sacred books: 

"And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me."
His broken body and His shed blood 
upon the Cross brought new life.

He hung dying above them, the darkness 
early falling, and one had stood guard for hours
waiting for Him to die. 

That one was heard to say,
"Surely this Man
was the Son of God."

*The hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross"