Sunday, July 23, 2017

Short story in-the-works

Threading together some of the things I've written for the creative writing class I'm in. Behold something unfinished - still gotta write a couple of pages more, but I **think** this will keep its form (more or less).


It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. Her phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. Erica ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. The father of the family next door was teaching his son how to play basketball in the dwindling light, giving muted pep-talks. Somewhere, a ukulele was being gently strummed. All around, the world brimmed with lazy contentment. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on a tv episode to watch marionette figures create whimsical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

The next morning, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every living thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

He was saying something about God being love.

She prayed: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

"Say the word," she begged the implacable plaster face.

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

She strode along, a silent fury of frustration amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of laughing children, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one advised her, smugly, she thought. She drew her keys from her purse and glared at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such precision obliteration, they assumed: perhaps she’d found the universe cruel and the words empty and void. The more attuned felt the billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk, and then disappearing into their lives.

Erica wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was odious. These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who had no dirt about them. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from their mouths like vomit from a third-story apartment. They didn't have to deal with the stench or the clean-up, and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. 

Standing up, she noticed with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left verdant plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death followed by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

Erica continued walking, her destination a few blocks ahead. Abruptly tripping on the lip of a sidewalk that was edged up by the ambitious roots of a nearby redwood, she fell onto her knees, stiffening her wrists against all reason, and felt the shock of compression run up her arms, the grit of ground stinging into her palms. Gingerly getting up and shaking her arms loose of the trauma, she figured it must be karmic retribution for what she’d just done, and mentally apologized to the owner of the car for destroying their property though she retained the right to judge based off a single declaratory sticker. How dare they?

A homeless man with grey matted hair and a ripe scent, sitting cross-legged by a boutique store-front, asked with aloof concern:
"You ok, miss?"
"I will be, thanks."

She could feel him sizing her up, using the estimative powers shared by higher-animals, gauging whether to ask and, if so, with what words and pathos. He settled simply with: 

"Spare some change?" 
His voice lacked conviction and she felt stung by his doubt. Reaching into her purse, she yanked her wallet from its dusky interior and pulled out a $20 bill. Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped it into the makeshift-bucket he was holding out, limping briskly past so as not to seem to want or care for his thanks. Indeed, she didn't want or care for them as charity for her was not a performance art and she felt uncomfortable receiving thanks. Who was she to be thanked? It was a drop in the bucket, a temporary stay against the pressing indignities of life, a shifting bit of nothing.
"THANKS, LADY!" she heard from behind.

She didn’t respond.

Stopping in front of a cheerful looking café with potted plants and a small outdoor patio, she double-checked the name in the text message: Baladin’s Café. Yes, this was it. Pushing open the door, her eyes traveled around the bustling yellow room, decorated with nondescript paintings, until they rested on a group of friends in moods of full weekend gaiety. Sara’s deeply brown eyes met hers; she grinned and waved Erica over, indicating a seat that had been saved for her. Of course, it had to be the seat abutting the busy narrow aisle.  Of course.

A chorus of good mornings exchanged, Erica settled in and edged gingerly into the flow of the conversations around her. Jennifer, who’d organized the ladies bruncheon, was telling others about her next trip to Italy: how she’d rented a little villa in Santa Marinella, a beach-town a short train ride away from Rome. She was passing around her phone to show pictures of the villa and Erica looked at it ravenously. The exterior was  orange. Not the bright neon American orange so intense that it hurts the eyes, but muted, almost anemic, with white trim. It bordered a piazza dotted with fan palms and had a view of the azure ocean. It held the promise of idyllic afternoons spent on beaches or eating  frutti di mare.“Very pretty,” she commented and passed the phone to Sara before picking up a menu and scanning it to find something that her stomach could keep down.

“We’ll be spending about one week there before heading north. We always make a point to stop in Verona for a couple weeks. Pietro has family there - so many cousins! I’m just worried that one day we might have to return the favor...”

Imagine, thought Erica to herself, Jennifer a host to a horde of her husband’s Italian cousins seeping through their sterile apartment doors with loud effusive due baci greetings, Moka pots, and motorino mentalities. She’d met some Italians once. They were almost too large for life and held court in the small bar they’d happened to find themselves in because they’d misjudged the distance from LA to San Francisco and had to stop overnight in this town. One had kissed her in the stairwell as she was leaving, holding her close in the dim light and letting her go breathless.   

“Are you ladies ready to order?” an officious waiter interjected, scattering her thoughts. The café was a hot-spot and these ladies took up a four-top.  

“Yes, I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.” “The french toast.” “Biscuits and gravy for me, too.”

The waiter was now staring at Erica. “I’ll have the oatmeal with the fruit bowl, please.” She hoped it wouldn’t cause her to run to the toilet with bowels spasming in angry protest as Satan’s tic tacs danced around her innards.

“Thank you, ladies.” He snapped closed his little pad and industriously moved to put their order in.

“Oooh, you’re so good, Erica,” said Jennifer, covertly glancing to see if her manicure had chipped.

“You don’t exercise but you never seem put on even a bit of weight. How do you do it?” asked Sara, enviously.

Erica felt a wave of bile whelming up her throat, but laughed deprecatingly instead. “Some people just win the genetic lottery.”

Later the next day, Erica was on a plasticy chair. “Do you want a blanket? Or some juice?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

She pressed the button on her chair, reclining to look up at the drab ceiling. Her temporary roommate, a large defeated-looking woman, was having her IV line set. The nurse had to plunge into the veins several times before striking gold and threading the plastic tubing into the ruby blood. The woman did not even protest or make a sign that the needle digging around in her flesh was somehow an uncouth violation.  

The nurse pushed a few buttons on the machine and saline began to drip from the bag and into the body. “They’re mixing up the meds now. We’ll bring it out when it’s ready. Let me know if you need anything.” She drew off the plastic gloves and tossed them casually into a biohazard bin before pushing the stool away and standing up to enter a few more details into the computer.

Erica’s eyes followed the nurse as her capable body tended to others: stolid, secure, healthy.

When her sister had given birth, Erica had gone to visit in the hospital. Her nephew, hopelessly ugly and squished, had been passed into her arms. She’d looked down into his sleeping face and found her arms trembling under the load of 8lb 5oz. Possible worlds, but not hers.

Some people in the clinic were cheery and outgoing. They told you all about their disease, what they were on, and how it affected them. Others preferred silence as they suffered. One wry old man had looked up as she entered the room and said: “Welcome to purgatory. May your stay be short.” 

She didn't know how to take that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vital Signs

The past few weeks have been utterly i-n-s-a-n-e in terms of IRL stuff going on - not so much happening-to-me as much as what's been going on around and affecting how much energy I have to expend on writing versus drooling over a keyboard and mindlessly absorbing transient internet images before curling up to sleep.

But a couple'a things are in the chute.

They're a'comin'. 


Friday, June 30, 2017

Connect the Dots LA LA-LA LA

Got a ticket to Connecticut to see a ye olde housemate from Rome who moved back to the States.

When I hear the word "Connecticut," I invariably think of this, even though I am well aware it's not pronounced "Connect-i-cut":

Sketchy Character

Some days the shadows creep in early, when body and soul feel tender and exposed, human interactions become a chore to slog through, and self-doubt wraps its dark arms softly round and watches every move with coalfire eyes. It's not a feeling of self-being-worthless, but of not being-not-additive: leave, and no one notices that you've slipped away.

Chatting with a friend, she said "I'm the sort of person people mentally put aside."After a pause, without demur, her friend added: "...and you don't even try to shove back in."

She admired the minds and words and hearts of those around her - to the degree that it seemed as if "one jot or one tittle" more would be superfluous and ruin the wonderful symmetry of their language, interrupt the ceaseless flow of humor, unbalance the wisdom that sprang forth from their towering souls. If she stretched out a hand and found no tentative answering fingers, hers would drop, and she would step away to watch and smile and yearn to join from a distance. She did not trust herself to match heights.


It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. The phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. She ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on the tv and watched marionette figures creating fantastical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

At Mass, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

" becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life's worth or lack thereof,"* the priest quoted.

"Lord, I am not worthy," she prayed. "Say the word," she begged the implacable face.

"...those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men."*

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

* Deus Caritas Est

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Another bit of fiction-writing

She walked along, a silent fury amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of children-laughing, hearing shrieking, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one winked smugly at her. She drew her keys from her purse and scowled at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such limited destruction, they assumed. The more attuned felt the rocking billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a brief slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk and then disappearing into their lives.

These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who lazily spoke nasally: mouth-breathers without dirt. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from them like vomit from a third-story apartment. The producers did not have to deal with the stench or the clean-up and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. That is, until the next swell swallowed them.

She wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was intolerable.

Standing up, she noted with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death topped up by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.


I have no idea as to how to gauge the worth my own fictive writing and have had no training. If it's crap, HAH! Time off purgatory 4 u if you read it! If it's got some actual potential, that's fine by me. If it doesn't, that's fine by me. People in real life (as opposed to the people I know only online) tell me I should try to write, and my nature is to be obliging, so THERE YOU GO.

And this bit on fiction books is worth watching:

Monday, June 26, 2017

On Camping

Camping is one of those things that I like a lot in *theory*. Sitting around the campfire telling spoooky stories, toasting marshmallows for s'mores, singing songs. Idyllic laughter and warm crackling sparks that shoot up into the air, creating a double-starred sky of orange and white pinpricks!

The reality is usually more like: being eaten alive by mosquitoes, frolicking through poison oak, and
finding out in the morning that the raccoons decided to be helpful and make off with the dishes you cleaned the night before because they still *smell* like food. Hunting through the woods for that sierra cup - classic morning camping game.

I keep remembering the first part and forgetting the second part.

When I was a teen, I helped the Missionaries of Charity run a free summer camp for inner-city kids whose parents had to work but could not afford to arrange for childcare. My family first became acquainted with the Missionaries when my Mum, driving a 15-seater van, spotted two of them walking down University Avenue in Berkeley. She yanked the wheel and screeched up next to them before rolling down the passenger-side window and shouting out "HEY, SISTAHS! YOU WANNA RIDE?"

They were a bit dubious until she directed one of the kids to pop open the side-door which revealed a sea of grubby kid faces in the back, in various states of dress. They decided at that moment that we were both (a) Catholic and (b) must be very poor because LOOK AT OUR CLOTHES AND FACES AND THAT CRANKY DIRTY BABY! They wheedled out our address and, to our surprise, started showing up at our house once a month with a huge box full of baby formula and miscellaneous other food.

My mother finally convinced them that we Really Weren't That Poor, and sent some of us kids to volunteer at the soup kitchen they had in SF (perhaps to drive home the point).  When the call for volunteers for their summer program went out, my brother and I signed up. It was eye-opening. Young children were both cognizant and casual about the darker side of things but the Missionaries of Charity gave them a respite: they planned a number of ridiculously corny/cheesy games, made the sacraments and prayer part of the daily activities, and arranged a field trip out to see the redwoods nearby.

Some of these kids' parents didn't have a car, and certainly might have trouble affording to spend both time and money bringing their children out and about. Probably the schools they went to arranged field trips but I, being homeschooled, have no idea as to whether there are trips to redwoods/if these trips cost the parents money.

I clearly remember one kid, in particular, taking off his shoes and jumping into a cool stream and shouting with laughter because of how clear and clean and beautiful everything was. He'd never been to the redwoods before. The two-hour hot/cramped van ride was forgotten in an instant and the ugliness of the city and some of the realities they dealt with on a daily basis were, for a brief moment, remote.

Hope those kids are doing ok. God bless the Missionaries of Charity and the good work they do.

Pics from camping in the redwoods - reminded me of the field trip with the MoCs.

Majestic is as majestic does.

Little stick looks like it's trynna help a fallen log bro keep up.

Fallen tree.

Owl. Or is it!?

What is that bear off to hunt? Humans?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leave 'em wanting more

"There were mysteries, but only the devil had secrets."
-Alice Thomas Ellis

One of the things I find attractive about Catholicism is that it resists always giving clear-cut simplistic answers and, at some point, when you get down into nitty gritty bits about free will, human acts, and Divine Providence, we simply have to shrug and say "welp, it's a mystery!" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Or else you can give yourself a headache à la Augustine who had to have God/an angel come and tell him "staaaahp it."

Recently, on Twitter, I got into a discussion about the nature of prayer:
- Whether God causes us to cause Him to effect things
- Whether God is immovable and we cannot cause Him to effect things in any sense

The tension with the second point (which I held and still hold but will be reading up on - there's an essay recommended to me as being pleasingly-Thomist -- I don't identify as a Thomist, tho. Just like Tommy Boy and it shows.) hinges on two things:
- Human acts correlate with effects BUT 
- These effects are not caused by Human acts 

If human acts do not cause these effects, what is the value of these human acts? There are ways to answer that question without robbing the human act of value - but I realized as I was going through this topic, that, in some sense, it didn't matter to me, practically speaking. Not that it doesn't matter in se, or that there is no right answer, or that there aren't implications depending on how you answer, but that whichever one it turns out to be will not affect how or whether I pray because it is so remote from my day-to-day life and the answer contains no proximate directive. And I'd hazard that few people would think the matter worth even a teeny crusade, though it might be worth a heated discussion at some Irish pub where you hurl friendly invectives at each other before going home while thinking the other person a bit stupid but nonetheless good-hearted.

But this sort of question about prayer is different from other sorts of questions:
- Whether it is permissible to use the death penalty in the US 
- Whether abortion is permissible or no
- Whether euthanasia is permissible or no 

And this sort of question about prayer is also different from these sets of questions:
- Whether there is a god / one or many gods 
- Whether Christ is God 
- Whether the Eucharist is Christ's Body and Blood

Answers to these questions have a direct bearing on human action and entail certain precepts: how we are to vote, how we are to worship, how we are to live. They are also, in a way, a bit easier to answer.

But it is a relief to admit that some realities are not easily boxed in, that there are questions which do not resolve easily, and that, sometimes, there is no satisfying answer, and that that's ok. There are mysteries. If it were otherwise, the world might not be as delightful.* 

As a child, I preferred shadows and hiddenness to the bright sun and exposed areas. If there is a dark secluded nook, what might be there? Maybe I could hide and there be found. Part of the joy comes in the seeking, part in the finding, part in being found.

It won't always be so in this way. In beatitude (should we reach it), we will contemplate the visage of God and be secure in Him, so there's some earthly aspect to the seeking that won't be present in heaven. What exactly heaven will be like, I dunno. God being infinite and human beings being finite there might still be a seeking of some kind but we will never thirst or feel an agonizing distance.

As we are, it is a mercy to have God hold some things from our human understanding. We are not held accountable for vastness of Divine Providence, there is sacred ground where we fear to tread but long to go, and we hand back to God our freely given trust and faith and He, in turn, gives us the gift of His infinite mystery.
...God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. -Benedict XVI
The world is better for that Mystery.

*My words about delight come from a studied reflection, not a naive or flippant belief that all is faeries, puppies, and kittens. If y'all want background on where I come from, see here. Being bitter and angry is no fun.

More DnD Writing

Because I've been pressed for time, haven't done much writing this week. So here's throwin' at ya some more from my DnD homebrew!

I'm unsure if this out-of-context DnD makes much sense, but it's a sampling of fictive writing. What's below is only about half of what I'd written up for the town - the rest being either utilitarian (oh, look, a healing temple - how intriguing! -- though I have been building on the theme of Pelor having a brother Pyrite and there being a religious divide on who to worship) or reveals hidden bits of the story. There's the off-chance that a player might read this blog, so keeping some interesting parts excised.


The City of Blithedale
The city of Blithedale is immense. High stone walls and ramparts surround the city on both sides of the river. Arched bridges span the river at several points and cobblestone roads thread throughout. You arrive around 5pm, and the sun is slanting golden against the houses - cramped together in some places, but with a few buildings of clearly higher estate.  This city once housed some major military forces. Artillery still stands on the city walls. People are hustling, getting back from their jobs and going home. The streets are filled with an open-air market that wends its way back and forth. Carpet-sellers, food booths, butchers, vegetables, jewelry stands, clothing wares, antiques, and all other manners of goods are displayed and haggled over. A couple of chickens run by your feet and a few children. [Kids are attempting to pickpocket - any rogues with passive perception of 10+ in the party notice.]


The Smithy is run by a dwarf called Oiltank Stain the Stinky Train. She’s not at work at the moment, but someone is using the forge to make iron daggers...lots and lots of daggers. He does not pay you any mind at all but is humming under his breath (Skyrim theme song).

[If asked, he comes from the town of Clavering. His name is Shovelhands and he came to Blithedale because he wanted to go to the Stabbawhay forest and hunt some orcs.]

Oiltank Stain has a forge, an anvil, sharpening stone, hammers, etc. Sells typical goods. Recently, people have been asking for more weapons - stockpiling them.

General Billage, head of this town’s garrison, came by earlier this week to get a bunch of weapons sharpened/armor cleaned/etc. Oiltank shrugs and says maybe it’s got something to do with the House of Wisdom -- strange things have been happening there, but, to be sure, SHE never sticks her nose into the supernatural.


Gillygate Inn
Gillygate inn is run by a very sullen looking innkeeper called Krea. She is snapping at all the servers, arguing with her guests, and generally being unpleasant. She’s a dwarf wearing a plain brown skirt, a hip holster with a billy-club, and her brawny arms are bulging under her shirt and stylish crop jacket. She is wearing ridiculously large hoop earrings that are half as big as her face. 

She’s angry because her bae was sent off to the House of Wisdom and has not returned.


Lady Farfalee's House
The Lady Farfalee’s house sits in the more affluent neighborhood. Clearly, this member of the council has a rather garish taste. The building is painted turquoise, the door red, the guards have multiple useless feathers stuck in their functional helmets. Lady Farfalee is known for being incredibly chic, holding parties with exotic foodstuffs, and inviting all the rich citizens or celebrities in town to dine.


Lord Omnium’s Home

[If they approach during the day.]
You approach Lord Omnium’s home and two guards stop you.
“Lord Omnium is not seeing any visitors this evening,” the guard says politely. “If you would like to leave your name, perhaps you may be able to call tomorrow.”


[If they approach during the night.]
You approach late at night and the guards let you in without even a question. Lord Omnium stands at his door and ushers you into his manor. There is a wide hall with doors leading off to various rooms, and a large staircase that leads to a higher level. Portraits of Lord Omnium’s ancestors hang across the wall and a few portraits of Lord Omnium and his wife Peronnell and son Sadon, King Potentate, and other members of the counsel (Lady Creatine, Lord Jarin, Lady Farfalee, and Lord Zalvador). The decor is understated, and elegant. Lord Omnium leads you up the wide staircase to the second level where it branches into two halls.

At the top of the staircase there is a portrait, taken many years ago, of the royal family: King Potentate, Queen Esme, and their children Merek the Brave and Thea the Wise. Lord Omnium pauses for a moment as he looks at the portrait and sighs [See tragic backstory of Merek the Brave.] before leading you down the hall and into a study room. Books line the walls - mostly, it seems, books on agronomy, accounting, and other things of that nature. There is a table with wines and liquors on it. He gestures towards it and said “please, help yourselves - you must be weary from your travels.”

[Players drive the interaction here - Lord Omnium asks them to investigate the House of Wisdom where strange things have been happening.]


Bookbinder Alley 
Blithedale was a center of learning before the great war broke out. Remnants of its past are still found in Bookbinder Alley where scholars used to go for their books and supplies before heading to the House of Wisdom for studies. The streets in this neighborhood are extremely narrow. No cart or horse could pass through these streets. Shop awnings stretch over the street and a few bookbinder shops are still open, with lanterns lit above their doors. One, in particular stands out: a shoppe called The Shambles. Through the hectagonal window-panes, you notice an old man hunched over a desk, his beard is overflowing and full, his clothes are all black (so that ink-stains don’t show), and he is mixing up a batch of something. Close to hand is a glass of red liquid that he sips from, from time to time, and occasionally consults a small pocket-watch as his ink pen makes scratching noises against the stretched sheep’s hide. There’s a cat that keeps trying to sit on the sheep’s hide and the owner absentmindedly pushes it off.

Friday, June 16, 2017


A priest-friend of mine (Hi Fr ---! I think you are still reading this?) shared an excerpt from a sermon of St. Anthony of Padua, a couple days ago, and highlighted this sentence: Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak.

There's usually a disconnect between actions and words, We say things that sound deliciously seraphic and, in the abstract, are keen on 'em. In practice...ehhhhh... maybe we'll start building a civilization of love some other day.

There's a second kind of disconnect when we say these things, think we're acting on them, and desiring to be faithful followers/witnesses of Christ. But, although we're sometimes good at separating the sin from the sinner, we're maybe not so good on separating the idea from the person.

So it is that you see people being all about respecting the dignity of others (ad nauseam, gag me with a spoon) while being completely down for Freaking The Eff Out and goin' at someone like a Spider Monkey when that someone begs to differ. The methods used to crush an opponent can be brutal and are sometimes the verbal equivalent of one of the gorier deaths in the Iliad.  I.e.:
Idomeneus skewered Erymas straight through the mouth, the merciless brazen spearpoint raking through, up under the brain to split his glistening skull - teeth shattered out, both eyes brimmed to the lids with a gush of blood and both nostrils spurting, mouth gaping, blowing convulsive sprays of blood and death’s dark cloud closed down around his corpse.
To stand for the good is to reject evil, to not capitulate to either its speculative or practical premises. Error has no rights.

But when you treat people as totems/emblems/visible manifestations of an idea, you identify, substantially, person and idea. In a righteous zeal to confront what is obviously a pig-headed notion, we transfer its being unsound, fallacious, or dangerous, to the person and let loose the with bilious indignation the hounds of heaven. Wrong beliefs smashed to a pulp! Opponent reduced to tears! A relationship damaged! Hooray! You win!?

People cannot be treated like ideas.

Some people do deserve a verbal beatdown, Homer-style. There was one man who insulted the Church in a vile way and I wanted to leap over the table and yell in his face. I only had time for one heated retort before a friend saw it would probably end Very Badly and abruptly, loudly, and decisively headed that off. It wigs people out when I get enraged because it happens so rarely, and friends hit panic-eject mode when that occurs. But there's a difference between being a Condescending Ass about religion (or about anything, really) and someone who is genuinely curious, seriously misinformed, or simply unable to reason well.

Look at comboxes (well, don’t – they're a bit depressing...except, actually, read this combox). In them, you find people trying to get across some point (could be an utterly nutty point, or just poorly articulated), getting piled on, and retreating in a high dudgeon (or persisting, insisting, and getting angrier by the second). Ho ho! We laugh at them. How stupid they are! But many (not all, and perhaps not most, but many) are not ill-meaning. They are reaching for truth and goodness, trynna share what they know, trynna to be helpful. Forcing them into a more radical corner as an intellectual exercise/sign of domination because their ideas or arguments are stupid ain't gonna do no one no good no how. Do you also rev the engine when an animal strays into the street, perchance? People are not their ideas, though ideas (especially about the good/final ends) shape action. I feel like a grasp of that distinction is slowly slipping away and we're becoming calloused and inclined to be callous-forming.

We also tend to forget the advantages that allow to converse in easy familiarity with, say, Aquinas, Benedict XVI, and old Church documents. Because it's easy for us does not mean it's easy for others.  Aquinas, quoting Boethius in the question on whether the existence of God is self-evident, reminds us "that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned..." (ST IQ2A1) Well of course YOU know a number of finer philosophical or theological distinctions. But getting to truth for many entails a slow and weary struggle. Ya don't kick a fellow person on the same trail when they're dyin' of thirst. We'all's with access to books and t’eh internets, with the leisure to read, and the time we need to sit and reflect quietly, are blessed. Don't squander it. Hopefully, the more erudite (relative to wherever we’re at intellectually) aren't going to be treating us as manifestations of our ill-conceived and stupid ideas. And maybe, just maybe, God will accept our pitiful attempts and ideas and meanings in the spirit in which they're offered IF we accept the attempts of others in a similar way. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Further Quick Reflection

Regarding artists and their relation to goodness, it occurred to me that a better correlation might be:

Those who explore human action/moral matters should have some notion of the good.
Those who produce artefacts should have some notion of the beautiful.

A writer is an artist and, when treating of human actions (as opposed to documenting history/etc.), is dealing with characters who either believe that what they do is good/evil or with a character who rejects the notion of good itself and uses some other valuation system for determining action.

But if the author himself is ambivalent, it may do him a disservice when trying to capture a moral dilemma and full range of human responses/emotions. Which isn't to say that the author denies the phenomena of a dilemma (emotions, thought-processes, etc.), but he might not appreciate the soul-gripping-depths of those straddling heaven and hell.

I'm not sure if I'd assert that the atheist-turned-religious (or vice-versa) would be *best* able to put into words the whole-spectrum of characters in world-with and world-without God (which seems entailed from the above).

Maybe it's only that those with experience write about things in a way that resonates more with others who have had the same experience and perhaps authors might have enough imagination/sympathy to surmount the difficulty. Men write about women, women about men, saints about sinners, sinners about saints. By necessity, writers treat of characters who do and say things the author would never do or say, or hold positions the author himself would never dream of espousing. But being-woman or being-close-to-God yields a writing with familiarity, I'd imagine.

So perhaps it's sufficient to say that the author with experience of good and evil (which every human has) and a notion that these forces (though I hate to call evil a force -- evil is lacking and impotent) operate in human lives. And leading a life of virtue, having an eye to the good, might make one more sensitive to that, to those little reverberations of the soul, to its architectonic yearning for something beyond and greater. If you have an eye to the evil, eventually even good becomes tainted and all motives turn into ulterior and selfish ones  - even the man who desires beatitude would be scoffed at as having the ultimate selfish desire.

BUT this only serves to make me more confused in my mind. Clearly, I am not precisely qualified to construct a bridge between morality and art though I'm sure it's there and want to read more on it.

As to dancers and painters, I likewise think a correlation exists between a notion of the beautiful and their ars (and in my sleep-lacking state I'm imagine two people yelling at each other 'IT'S EITHER YOUR ARS OR MINE!'). not quite sure, yet, about this correlation, since a brief dip into notions of beauty reveals a split between transcendental, metaphysical, and aesthetic beauty and their relation to works of art. So, at most, for now, I'll hazard only that *some* notion of beauty is beneficial for an these artists to have. And that beauty does not equate with pretty.


[If there are any recommendations for a direction to pursue in this respect, I'm all eyes.]

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Light Diffusion: Yesterday Morning

Hot and Spicy Lunch Post

Yesterday, I cut up some charred serrano peppers for a tomatillo salsa and got their juices smeared all over my hands and under my fingernails. Cooking tones down the spice, but my hands still were still afire afterwards. The salsa turned out edible, but wasn't the best I'd made. Tonight, I will doctor it up some more with additional raw onion, cilantro, and lime juice to make it taco-worthy 'cause it's Taco Tuesday. I'm not sure I can make much of a good post from that salsa.

UNLESS WE'RE TALKING DANCE SALSA!? (This was a post in the works -- the above is lead in...get it!?)

I started seriously-ish dancing when I was 16. I'm a decent amateur but nothing more, lacking the creative in-the-moment thought process/receptivity to music and exhibitionist tendencies that help make a great performance artist. I began with ballroom dancing which encompasses waltzes and fox-trots as well as the more passion-forward cha-cha, rumba, tango, etc. One Catholic boy I knew was appalled that I would even consider dancing with non-Catholics and he strongly (but vaguely) hinted that men at these disreputable dance halls would take advantage of me on the dance floor... somehow... because, apparently, only Catholic men act decently towards women. HAAAH! Even then, my experience proved him wrong.

[As an aside, a jarred memory: when I was *18* a Catholic guy-friend tentatively asked me if I *ahem* knew where to kick a man if they tried somfin funny. Should'a feigned ignorance. Missed opportunities.]

Corporeality is hard to deal with, in our fallen world: we're rational desirers dealing with darkened intellects and that little thing called concupiscence thrown into the mix. But, in my experience (purely as an amateur), framing the body as something-good and to-be-admired yields a greater delicacy towards and appreciation for it, not an inflaming of the urge to manipulate or exploit. Intimacy in forms of art can lead to a sort of tamping of the passions rather than acting as an irritant - "can" being an operative word since there are the perverse who don't allow themselves to be affected in this way.

When I began taking figure-drawing classes, I kept pretty quiet so as to not scandalize the homeschooling group. Drawing men and women in the nood? How risqué! At the first class, I braced myself for the shocking reveal of full-frontal nudity which was morally questionable!? The model quietly disrobed behind a screen, came out and did some quick poses on an elevated platform, before adopting some classical poses for longer sketches. It was not provocative. I particularly remember one old plump woman sitting on a stool, her shoulders slumped forward as if she were tired from a long day and her white-grey hair in a messy-stringy-bun. She had rolls of fat on her stomach, her skin in other parts was flabby and wrinkled, yet there was about her a refined dignity and elegance that tugged at the heart. She was a fleshly woman - and that reality was good.

Dancing may provide a similar opportunity for realization of the human-being-ness of your dance-partner. When you social dance in Lindy Hop, you put yourself into an incredibly vulnerable physical position, particularly when you follow, so you must watch out for your partner. This is stressed (not necessarily in those words) in many ways in classes and interactions on the dance floor. Once you move beyond the beginner level (in which you are still fumbling to keep in all in the same head-space the triad of music, partner, and steps), you start to realize that there's another person you hold in your embrace and that this other person has a character of their own and, perhaps (likely), a different interpretation of the music. The dance turns into a conversation, into a crescendo of ideas-tied-to-music made manifest by limbs and lines. The other person is a person you create with, whose ideas you ratify and affirm, whose expression you complement or contrast to create a harmonious whole. You are sensitive to the other person - you attempt not to wound them either physically or creatively. You literally and figuratively should have their back.

Yeah, there are those who view social dancing as a pick-up scene and become proficient in the rudimentaries of dance solely in order to gain close-access -- or professional dancers who use their positions to take advantage of others, and so on. With the former, you can FEEL when the dance has ulterior motives: you know what's up.

With latter - as with any professional artist - it is easy to confuse rectitude of an ars with moral rectitude: because the creation is so beautiful, so likewise the creator. With God this may work as a persuasive argument, but not for man. (And I use the term 'creation' loosely, since only God, strictly speaking, creates.) So, in some ways, I suppose when an artist is acting qua-artist he is in some sense amoral, perhaps (I'm not entirely certain on this point - but an artist and the art-produced are separable)? Artists might have the ability to create beautiful things even with an ugly soul - but if you can't see what is good or even that there is good (I'm not talking about a formal understanding, but more like an idea-of-goodness-as-real), seems like it'd make it more difficult to portray both goodness and the depths of depravity. You might be able to relate instances of virtue and vice in vivid detail but not get at their significance except accidentally. Must examine this line further - it's not a formed opinion, but a hazarded one without the background supportive reading. I think I may have toyed with it before, but never pursued it seriously.

BACK TO SALSA! Catholics needn't be afraid of of closeness/intimacy in art. A repeated exposure to respectful treatment of and care for the bodies of others, a drawing-attention-to-goodness, isn't cause for knicker-knotting. Done properly, these forms of art (participated in as an amateur, at least) can help foster a better view of the corporeality of others as caught up in a whole and wholesome creation with a spark of the divine, worthy of respect and admiration. It makes the opposite less thinkable.

For now, not going to go into how some forms of dance deliberately pursue the body-presented-as-an-object-of-sexual-desire aspect (current burlesque/pole-dancing, for example), or about the more passionate/sensual dance forms (tangooooo!), or individual temperaments and characters which should avoid some things for the sake of their own soul --- 'cause those are separate cans'o'worms. Also, I fully realize that my experience is limited at best and what I've gotten out of my experiences aren't what others get or have gotten. So ymmv as an individual when you go out and draw or dance. But, perhaps not and this has probably already been thoroughly gone over elsewhere.

P.s. This is not another TOB see-people-as-subjects-not-objects-for-use. While that's true, it's also a horse that has been beaten to death and sounds like a nice platitude now. What helps the process of seeing people-as-subjects? It's not enough to simply affirm that we have inherent worth, we must also grow habituated to living that reality and the practice of art can help with that. That's what I'm nudging at.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cold, Hard, Practical

I feel I'm veering too much into quasi-pious self-reflective sentimentalist-mouthful territory, so next few posts will be exterior-based or bits of fiction. Told someone the other day that I don't usually write fiction and realized that wasn't quite true since I do write for my DnD group. 

It's a bit different, though, since when you're writing a story for players you're not necessarily trying to write a good bit of fiction but aid the players in imagining a fictional world with opportunity for interaction and improv. Below is a sample of some fictional writing for a game I'm running as a DM.

Addendum: signing up for a creative writing class. I need some initial structure for getting started on fiction-writing.  

Outside Gammage Hill:
You approach the City of Gammage Hill. On the outskirts of town, you espy a well-kept painting of a Golden Nymph with a few tasteful wisps of cloth and the lettering "Welcome to Gammage Hill." A low wall surrounds the city and a gate signals point of entry.

A (bored) guard in an ill-fitting helmet and sporting several days' worth of stubble steps in front of the gate and says: HO! What is your business in the town of Gammage Hill?

[Player exchanges - if a player retorts 'WHO'RE YOU CALLIN' A HO!? a bird poops on that player's head.]

If they head to Whim Woods after conversing with the guard:
The guard lazily leans against his post and chews a bit of baccy. You feel his remarkably keen green eyes follow you as you turn your back to him and head into Whim Woods.

 As you leave the outskirts of the city, the trees crowd around you – stark white  and mottled by brown or black spots (Aspen with bits of moss clinging like slugs to the side). They stand tall and thin, their yellowed leaves whispering as they drift down to blanket the earth. You hear small woodland creatures sporting around you and glimpse a family of foxes through the foliage. The smell of cold winter lingers as a promise on your nostrils. As you tramp along, you wonder about this woman with pre-shadowing, Shammy Tam. Suddenly [Roll against perception, as a group], loud guttural yells assault your ears as X men jump out from the bushes and attack you! [Encounter with thugs]

Shammy Tam's House: 
You come across a small house in the midst of a clearing. A tidy herb garden in front looks like it could use a watering. A gravel path leads up to the door. Over the lintel, a vine twists and snakes in a braided pattern (boogievilla – so called because it boogies in the wind). The vine is already brown.

Living Room
You open the door and stand for a second, stunned. Torn bits of cushion, ripped books, shattered glass bottles, and upended furniture [bench/table/bookcases] are strewn wildly around the room. Obviously, this was some sort of leisure/study room.

The bedroom looks undisturbed. There is a predominant theme of frogs going on. Carved wooden frogs of all shapes and sizes are positioned in the room (one is holding a cocktail glass) and the comforter even has embroidered frogs on it. A set of drawers are by the bed (full of breeches/tunics/undergarments/a few jewelry trinkets [frog earrings]), a book is on the drawers, and the bookcase is full of trashy romance novels including the famous "Her Desire" - part of the famous trilogy: Her Desire, His Desire, Its Desire.  There is a window with some potted plants that look like they need watering. The window is open, providing you with a view of the back of the house where you see a shack.

Back of House
In back, some ways removed from the house, there is a small rickety shack with a closed door that looks like it holds one person. ---- if they approach ---- a terrible stench hits you and you make a constitution saving throw.  ---- if they open the door ---- it’s an outhouse. An embroidered cloth hangs above the toilet ‘if you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.’ A thick book is on the toilet seat (collected works of Tovsky) and about half the pages are ripped out.]

The kitchen appears to be undisturbed. There is a hearth with wood stacked next to it and a small wood table. It smells rich in here. Copper pans, braided garlic, and sides of cured meat hang from the ceiling. A set of shelves has some bags on it (rice/flour/etc.).