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.

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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.]

--------------

Smithy
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.

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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

(b)Rambles

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.

Fin.

[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.

Bedroom
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.]

Kitchen
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.).

Thursday, June 08, 2017

I kinda love me some spiderwebs




A/S/L | Are you Fish or Fowl?

A meme made it's way through Twitter where ya like an image and then the poster of the image tells the world-at-large something about yourself. There were gentle good-naturedly ribbing anti-memes,  some memes that ran with the idea and built on it - unearthing tidbits of history or book recommendations - and a couple of anti-memes with teeth that struck me as, perhaps, over-hasty dismissals.

I derno. I fav'd those personal memes whenever I saw them come out. Since the whole thing wasn't (1) intrinsically sinful and was (2) indicative that the poster wants to share something with the world about themselves, why the deep-seated urge to respond with cynicism? 'cause dismissive cynicism was my first response, albeit, without an urge to vocalize it. But I've learned to distrust some of my immediate tendencies. "I like it because it appeals to my authoritarian nature," I explained to a friend about a proposed rule, "but that's why I don't think it's right."

If it ain't your thing, it ain't your thing. It ain't my thing-as-a-way-to-communicate, either, though I did enjoy reading the facts. The fav-to-fact ratio seems like it could let you in for some hurt if fav-responses are seen as correlating with self-worth or the care-others-have-for-you. The architectonic principle of this meme is problematic for me because of the potential human fall-out NOT because I see it as a meaningless search for connection or ego-stroking (though it could easily be both/either, depending on the poster). Such is the nature of social media.

I was hanging out with some girls a few weeks back, they decided to have a no-judgment space where everyone shared facts or secrets about themselves. That wasn't my thing, either, and I only shared inconsequential things - like the fact that I can burp at will (Why, hello, Gentlemen -- this Lady here is ACCOMPLISHED!). Afterwards, one of the girls, sensing my reserve, asked me what I thought of the whole thing and I replied honestly that "it's a strange way to share things about yourself."

But one girl shared something which would never be brought up in ordinary conversation yet was good for others to be aware of. It allowed an avenue of expression and a means of approach even if the method of conveyance was supremely artificial.

It was like a more personal faccia-a-faccia version of the meme. And, for at least one person, it was helpful. It reminded me a bit of confession, minus the sanctifying grace.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be surrounded by a robust community of people in whom they can easily confide, with whom they share interests, or who they can simply call up on a random night and ask if they want to go out to the pub and chug a beer. Sometimes you need a screaming box with ears or someone to pat you on the back and murmur inarticulate soothing things as you sob on their shoulder. If you can't get that in corporeality, you may seek it virtually. (Or you may seek it in both places. /logic training )

Virtual connections can be authentic connections, too. Some of my friendships originated first on the net and culminated with meeting the individuals in reality. (Hulloa, Fr ---, L---, and S---!) There IS another person sitting across the screen at a distance; your thoughts they might find interesting, your well-being they might care about. For sufferers of autoimmune diseases, for example, there are message boards where we share our struggles and disappointments, set-backs and successes. It is a virtual community, but it is a real one from which comfort and encouragement are derived. Sometimes a person, who you don't even know virtually, says something that brings an illuminating moment of hope or the simple affirmation that you are not alone. Someone across a distance holds you in their mind.

Online friendships can be transient - hastily formed, easily dropped. They can be superficial and based on utility or mutual-ego-stroking. And, here's the thing, it's sometimes hard to TELL what sort of friendship it is at first because everything on the internet is so...shifty. Who even is this other person on the other end of the line? Are they who they say they are? Is their concern or interest real? The only thing you have to go by are their words and their history and the network of friends they build around them. And that network and that history may appear or be equally fluid.

The face we present online is one we cultivate. Are you the Outspoken Truth-Sayer Sayin' It Like It Is, the SMH at All Modern Church-y Things and Especially Pope Francis, the Erudite Explainer, the Defiant Outlier, etc., etc.? Sometimes the face doesn't match the reality so it's hard to trust even those brazenly assumed.

Despite this, we sometimes open ourselves up to this group of relative strangers because it may feel like the only place where we can do so. Our immediate community is lacking somehow. And some of the faces online aren't gross distortions. The Person Who Cares About You might be someone who actually DOES care about you, who talks you out of a bad spot or who shares your joy when you make pancakes and they turn out perfectly fluuuffy.

Yes, there's certainly a problem of people sharing much too much of themselves on the internets before people who have no right or need to know that of which you speak -- and there's the issue of the two-faced.

But an operating assumption should be one of good-will about others' motives unless there exists sound evidence to the contrary. This person may be egotistical, may be seeking some short-lived pleasure of feeling-important, or...they might just think people care about them and their life or want to express something hard to put into other formats. Is that something objectionable? Do I need to knock them for that? Nah. So I fav on. It might not be the way for me (I prefer long rambling revelatory blog posts), but not everything has to be about me.
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This is the image, for reference. And I only saw a couple of dismissive memes, and, really, it's not SUCH a big deal. But I had a reaction and then a counter-reaction and started writing Thoughts and my other blog post is only hiccuping along whereas this one oiled out. You're welcome. 


Friday, June 02, 2017

Lnagugage

Currently cogitating:

Person A says: Your brows, madam, are on fleek.
Person B (Falstaff) says: "...thou hast the right arched beauty of the brow that becomes the
ship-tire, the tire-valiant, or  any tire of Venetian admittance."

Person A judges B to be stuck-up prick.
Person B judges A to be low-life scum.

Both persons are trying to compliment their lady's brows.

Both groups have developed parallel vocabulary and methods of expression.

Are they able to adequately evaluate the worth of a compliment (apart from the obvious...I mean, if someone is shouting at you "YO! CAN I HIT THAT!?! CAN I HIT THAT?!" you get the impression that you're looking good but that the compliment is defective)?

Aquinas says: quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientes recipitur. 

Take three persons and play for them:
1. A piece by Palestrina
2. A piece by Dr. Dre

The first person might understand and appreciate Palestrina but not be able to evaluate the merits of the rap song.

The second person might understand and appreciate Dr. Dre but not be able to evaluate the merits of the choral work.

The third person understands and appreciates both and it is only that third person who is able to make an evaluation as to their respective and comparable merits.

So...to what extent does one need to be versed in both traditions and their nuances in order to make an objective comparison and judgment?

---------
Addendum: the reason this question is interesting to me is because we make judgments based off of insufficient data all the time. Our intellects are amazing but we often confuse insufficient data with insufficient reason and reject accordingly (judgment and without enough apprehension). So, you get people hating a book or a genre without ever having tried to first understand it. It's from a foreign strain of thought.

It's also like missionary work - one prof said something like: "be sure that the other is able to recognize themselves in what you say of them" (which I'm sure is a riff from some Church document). How much do you need to understand in order to make a good semblance?

AND apropos video:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

You're Not the Boss of Me Now - A Brief Review

I finished watching Master of None Season 2 yesterday and was...frustrated.


[Mild spoilers may follow.]

The entire thing comes SO CLOSE to posing deep questions about the nature of the way we live now - but shies off from a long and studied look, never solidly condemning, never solidly endorsing.

It leaves you feeling dissatisfied and a teeny bit rage-y.

As far as the basic plot goes, there isn't much to complain about, a prima vista.* It shows Dev searching for something greater, pursuing his passions, realizing on some level the vacuity of his lifestyle, and finding that what really he really desires is a relationship with his good ol' gorgeous Italian buddy Francesca.

That narrative doesn't capture how much depth there is to his revelation, though. One episode shows him going on multiple dates with women and how the grind of these repetitive motions leaves him hollow. Another episode finds him doing the same promo-takes on a dull show over and over again and how tiresome those are because his passion does not lie thataways.

He wants a food show with integrity and he wants a person with ...whom he can connect...? That seems to be the main given-reason, at any rate, and it sounds like WEAK SAUCE.

The carryover analogy fails a bit because the show seems to be trying to balance both that there is nothing inherently damaging about such transient use-driven relationships AND that for some people it's ok to desire something more lasting. It left me unpersuaded. I might, however, have been too ungenerous of an audience and needing extra convincing or more blatant "HEY, DUMMY,  HERE'S THE MORAL!" moments. But I did get a sense of both/and rather than either/or. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

But I was also not convinced that Dev as a character learned ANYTHING. True, at the end he says the equivalent of everything pales in comparison to her. But it doesn't suggest strongly why and seems more like a feeling than an articulated realization that his life lacks authentic human connection.

Which is another problem - many of the characters that surround Dev are really copies of himself with one facet or another exaggerated so that he can better define himself in their reflections. They speak, think, and act similarly and sometimes the caricature is so over-the-top (*cough*Arnold*cough*) that you don't feel like you're watching a person so much as a walking stage-prop -- like a skull an actor might pick up during a play to really emphasize that this dude here is Seriously Contemplating Mortality. If his life is empty, it's partly because the people around him are as well.

So he wants something more, but he doesn't seem to feel it too deeply, to let it really shake and move him to action. He's simply in a miasma of malaise and is a bit disgruntled but not too incredibly put out. At least, everything is so smooth and glib that by the end you're convinced he'd get over it after a few good sulks.

It was certainly an amusing show, because Ansari has talent, but it was not a great show.

----
*a.k.a. Prima facie.

Forget-Me-Not-the-Have-Nots

He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted... (Is 61:1) 

When I was 6ish, busy with fashioning my own paper dolls (and putting centipedes and Jerusalem crickets in the same container in the hopes that they would FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT... I don't *think* I was a little psychopath [and, anyways, the bugs didn't fight]), I had a garden of weeds.

My mother was (still is) an avid amateur gardener. As spring came round, she'd roll up her sleeves, tie back her dark hair, and begin pulling out the weeds that had sprung up as the garden slumbered through the cold-ish season.

I'd see the limp heads of dandelions in the pile of discarded vegetation, the delicate leafy greens that never bore flowers but whose vibrant alluring verdancy forgave their lack, the flora no one wanted though they were exquisitely beautiful. I determined that I would save them because this was not fair. These weeds had grown up in those bits of dirt, allowed to live brief lives unmolested until their yellow glory burst forth or their leaves unfurled and stretched wide like yawns. Why did they need to make room for more stately flowers, especially just when they'd come into their own with the advent of spring?

There was small secluded corner in our garden and there I tended the earth as best I could. It was rocky with clumps of hardened dirt, so I dug out the rocks with my hands and smashed apart the dirt clumps. Voilà! The perfect spot.

I carefully planted the discarded weeds and hunted through the garden to find more to rescue before my mother did them violence. I'd whisper childish things to them as I watered about how they would be safe here and I would take care of them... a couple weeks later, my mother came upon my carefully tended little plot (how it appeared to me, though it likely looked like a hodgepodge play area) and TORE UP ALL MY WEEDS, THREW THEM AWAY, AND PLANTED IMPATIENS THERE INSTEAD. IMPATIENS!
This is not an analogy for gentrification.

Also, contrary to story-patterns, we did not then have a heart-to-heart talk and make the choice to plant things together or even to preserve the weeds in some fashion. NOPE. I became incensed, yelled at her, and nursed resentment as she, mystified by my anger, shrugged her shoulders and continued with her gardening.

Later, I left my paper dolls out amid the flowers and wandered away to play inside - she watered the garden and my paper dolls were reduced to grey mush including one in a pale green dress that I'd thought was utter perfection. 

There was MUCH for me to forgive that spring. 

My Irish through-n-through babysitter used to watch me and cluck despairingly: "Ach, Deirdre, born with a tear in 'er eye."

----------------

'I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' (Lk 19:26)

Some words in the Gospel have a harsh ring that jars. The parable of the talents is one that I understand, but which, on some level, I still fight with. Taken out of context, it looks like the weeds, the beggar on the street with holes in his socks and no jacket to cover his shivering exposed body, the senior with the fixed pension choosing between medicine, food, and housing, are just sheeet outta luck. It's Job who cries out in the face of his dirt-rubbing friends "...the tents of robbers are prosperous, and those who provoke God are secure...!" (12:6) 

The mail-room in my apartment complex also serves as a foyer where residents awkwardly scootch past each other to get at the elevator or mumble what might (?) be greetings as we check mail. I was peeking into the mailbox alongside a senior and we both had received a letter from the landlord. She took in trembling hands and said, haltingly: "I hope...this isn't another rent increase," before shuffling off to take the elevator up, her legs long past the time when steps were friendly paths instead of jagged biting death drops. 

The missive was letting all tenants know that there would be a cleaning of the junk in the garage and anything left unattended after x-date would be thrown away - but, still, there will be a letter about the rent increasing. Is this the sort of person who will have their pittance removed before being cast into the outer darkness? 

I identify with the servant who went and buried the talent told his master "I was afraid..." I am afraid so often. Afraid of myself and what I am capable of, afraid of what others think of me, afraid of being found insignificant, afraid of trying, afraid of failing. 

I GET the servant with the one talent in a way that I don't get the self-assured servants who, with casual acumen, simply go off and double what they were entrusted with...like it was nothing!

Again and again we hear in the bible "be not afraid..." It is the Lord who stills our fearful beating hearts into tranquility, who is refuge, who holds His hand outstretched for us to grasp because we are structurally mired in an abyss of desire for Him but. can't. get. there. on. our. own. (See Aquinas on worship if curious about this.) It is this same Lord that we fear. I'm not going to get into the two types of fear that we can have, 'cause that would make this ridiculously long. But the movement from the wrong sort of fear to the right sort of fear is...difficult. 

The parable isn't about material things, sure, yeah. It doesn't exactly pertain to the cases above except that the literality of it is borne out by our experiences. However, the physical can serve as a mirror for the spiritual. There are those paralyzed with fear by an impoverished understanding of God's mercy, who are allowed to wilt and wither and die.  

I've read and heard in homilies that we may feel some sympathy for the man with the one talent but, really, we shouldn't feel sympathy for him. It rings to me like Virgil rebuking Dante for having sympathy for the damned - and Virgil was not among the denizens of heaven so perhaps not exactly a 100% reliable guide as to the nature of grace (not that I'm even remotely suggesting universal salvation -- just that being moved to pity isn't something we should necessarily get knocked for). 

Whether or not we should feel sympathy for him, I do feel sympathy for him and for every creature that freezes in a panic before God, afraid and horrified by the two-faced quick-turning brutality of human justice that they see propagated about them, imagining that God is likewise. We need voices telling them, assuring each other, to fear not. 

Captain Obvious? Perhaps. But I'm not attempting any theological exposition that teeters on a diving board at the edge of a limpid pool of revelation.

When thinking of this (which I do now and then), the first line of a poem from Parker keeps sounding in my head: 

Bric-A-Brac, by Dorothy Parker 
Little things that no one needs --
Little things to joke about --
Little landscapes, done in beads.
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore -- little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.

______________________
I feel like this writing is a bit sloppy and overly-sentimental. C'est la vie.