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Monday, November 25, 2013

Dappled Things and Other Things

I don't think I've yet mentioned here that I started work as an assistant editor for Dappled Things in early September. Most of you might know that magazine already. If you don't, check out their website. Oh yeah, and their blog, because, you see, I get to help with that, too!

I get to do lots of stuff for them like sorting submissions, recommending which pieces deserve further consideration, discussing and voting on final acceptance, and then editing the work when it's been accepted and getting in touch with authors about making any necessary changes. I've really enjoyed the work, even on top of my regular job and school and choir, because it makes me think seriously about the kind of writing I like to think about, and it gets me in touch with some really fantastic people. Also, it turns out that two of the guys I knew in college, Chris Petter and David Harman, do work for them as well. As a result, I get to feel very smug about my alma mater; who doesn't love that?!

All the behind-the-scenes work for the magazine is done online, which is how it can be staffed with people from all over the place -- and I'm talking from different countries, not just Montana or Virginia. Another awesome thing about it is that it's a hardcore non-profit, meaning we all do the work because we love it and believe in it; no paychecks involved. Don't get me wrong. I would be ever so happy to get an extra paycheck every once in a while. But, it also makes me happy to do this work, paycheck or no.

Our founder, Bernardo Aparicio Garcia, recently sent out a short fundraising video and asked the staff if we could spread it around (printing and distribution costs add up, you know). He talks about the mission of the magazine, the role of beauty in our culture, and what we can do in the world of art to rededicate modernity to its proper end. So give it a look-see, wander over to the fundraising page, and think about what you might do.

I'll leave you today with some words from Gerard Manley Hopkins, as it is his poem, Pied Beauty, that was the inspiration for the name of this magazine. I've been thinking a lot this last month about the relationship between joy and sorrow, and our attraction to sad things, and why we sometimes experience desolation when reason tells us we should be joyful. Hopefully, that will come out as a full-length blog post before too long. In the meantime:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Yours truly hiking near Inversnaid, June 2011

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reflections on Reflections

(Shocking disclosure, in case you hadn't picked up on this already: I'm a Catholic.)

I was saying the rosary a couple of weeks ago, and I noticed the shadow of some of the beads on the pew. In a generous estimation, I think I'm maybe at a 2% successful meditation status for the rosary; this day was no different. I started looking at the shadow because it was so pretty. I was really good at focusing on that shadow. There was something attractive, or, shall we say, entrammeling about it. I spent the next little while going over it in my mind, and trying to figure out why I liked the shadow so much more than the rosary in my hand. Because really, though I say it myself, I do have a be-yoo-ti-ful rosary.

This question prompted other questions.
  1. What's the deal with shadow puppets? and other shadow games?
  2. Why are we obsessed with taking pictures?
  3. Why do babies like mirrors?
  4. Why do children play make-believe?
  5. Why do we like books, movies, or other forms of art?
  6. What are the troglodytes focusing on inside Plato's cave?
 (Maybe one of these days I'll start thinking about, you know, Mary and Jesus when I say the rosary. Here's hopin'. . .)

People are all about imitation. That's certainly part of it. There's a fruitfulness, a richness, and a reminder of the power of creation (which is, mind-blowingly, a partly human power) in every copy of something real. As for kids playing make-believe:
Notes on Imagination

There must be a reason to children's building
castles out of blankets,
a reason they're the masters of all
they see, without self-conscious

Are they bridging a vast native gap
as they scale imaginary forts, or is it
merely a blanket, held
down on a rocking horse with a heavy book
they can't read?
I have a special place in my heart for that poem; it was the first thing of mine I ever saw in print for distribution, and it has a great back story (thank you, Joshua Neu). I bring it up now, though, because I think it gets right to the heart of all these questions.

We are powerful. We are the privileged of all God's creations. And men and women are beautiful creatures, physically and spiritually. And that spiritual part, that part we can't disect and touch and put band-aids on, that part we can't fully understand and that sometimes scares the you-know-what out of us, is a good enough excuse for us to try to hide from reality. Shadows, excessive pictures, escapist novels and grown-up make-believe can all become and often are a way of hiding from real life. Some plausible answers to that list of questions:

1. What's the deal with shadows?
I should have been dwelling on the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption of the world. But instead, I was looking at the poor copy of beads that help me count to ten, because I can't even stay focused long enough to do that five times on my own. Way to go, Ellen. Now, more seriously, we're fascinated with them because they are a reminder of our creative power; our shadows can't exist without us, and they'll copy every single thing that we do. And they keep us company all the time. They must really love us, right? So we love them. Just ask Peter Pan.

2. And pictures?
How many times have you heard: can you please just put the camera down? Or have you been to a wedding where you were asked not to take pictures during the ceremony? Too much of the time, our efforts to record reality end up distracting us from reality. We see through a glass dimly.

3. And mirrors?
 Usually I take a baby to a mirror when he's crying. I show him my hand in front of the mirror, and then hold up his hand, and let him see how his mirror-hand and my mirror-hand mimic our real hands. Almost without fail, this stops him from crying, makes him forget about whatever made him upset, at least for a little while. But fascination with mirrors is a dangerous thing, isn't it? Don't forget Narcissus, or the mirror in the Harry Potter books that destroys men with longing and divorces them from reality, or, for that matter, the mirror of Snow White's wicked stepmother.

4. And children's games . . .
Children playing make-believe is a good thing. Stretching their imaginations, learning to think of ways and possibilities outside of their immediate reality, and sometimes connecting their own selves to great archetypes that they'll learn to follow and live up to, all help them to be better people. But even children can use their imaginations to escape from reality in less than innocent ways (yes, I'm talking about lying little mischief-makers). Eventually, though, children grow up, and they'll have to stop living in a world of make-believe, steady the rocking horse, and find out what the heavy book says.

5. Books and movies.
Grown-ups (?) who live in novels and movies, even if they're good ones, are living in a fabricated world. They are the children who never figured out what the imagination is actually for. Imitation of something real is good, but only if it makes you think about the real thing in a new light, not if it's such a paltry or misused imitation that it makes you forget, or wish you could forget, what is actually real.

6. The Troglodytes.
So, Plato's cave-dwellers, chained and watching those images, divorced from reality, thinking they know what is real, unwilling to hear that what they see is a shadowy imitation and not the real article at all, well, that's us, isn't it. They're focusing on what they wish were real, on what they have convinced themselves is real. But if they want to be grown-ups, one day they're going to have to break the chains, stop fooling themselves, and actually come face to face with real truth. A lot of things look real enough, are vague enough and ill-defined enough that we can make of them whatever we need to be comfortable with them. But they're only weak, insubstantial and paltry imitations of what we're really made for.

Reflections, games, books, stories, pictures and art are all good things, oftentimes beautiful things, which is why we like them. But they're not it. They're copies. So don't stop there. Stop when you find out what they're copying, and, more importantly, why it's worth being copied.