Tag: life

In Which I Return to Ramble about Life

Hello! Been forever since I last posted something. That’s partly because I’ve been busy with various things and partly because I just haven’t had much to post about. But there have been some fairly unconnected thoughts knocking about in my head and I figured I might as well write a post about them. So, here goes.

 

Thought number one: I don’t understand humans. I really don’t. The older I get and the more I see of life and what the world is like, the less I feel I understand about humanity. I cannot comprehend how people are able to commit the atrocities that they do. Tormenting others, taking lives, cruel words, raping and stealing and greed. I don’t understand what drives one person to say unspeakably cruel things about another who they have no emotional connection to. I don’t understand what drives some people to look at another and cast aspersions on his humanity because he has skin of a different color, or what gives anyone the gall to say that he is better than anyone else.

Lately, the weight of the exquisite preciousness of life has been pressing down on me. Life can be destroyed by cruel words as easily as it can by physical actions. It is so fragile, and yet it will always return to be beaten down again, fueled by a paradoxical strength. But I don’t understand why some people want to spread death and pain, or how most of the others can do so without realizing that they’re doing it. Life is so unspeakably precious. A human is an eternal being. Everyone you look at is a monster and a saint embattled for all time. Everyone you look at is as good as you, whether they have been born yet or no, whether they have your skin color or no, whether they speak your language, hold to your beliefs, follow your gods, whether or no they have the same level of riches as you. Why is that so hard to see?

The more I see of humans, the less I understand them. I feel like an alien. Of course, I suppose I am; a sojourner in the mortal realm, passing through my childhood of flesh before continuing on to my adulthood of spirit. But I always thought when I was younger that I would understand people more as I aged, not less. I don’t think I want to understand. I don’t think I need to understand every facet of the beast which drives people to commit atrocities; I don’t even know if I’m strong enough to understand it. It’s a good thing, then, that I don’t have to face it alone. God understands it and gives us the strength to fight it.

And that, I suppose, is all there is to it.

 

Thought number two: Everyday life is an unparalleled drama. This is connected with what I wrote a couple of paragraphs up, about the preciousness of life and the eternity of a human being. Humans are not just short-lived primates scuttling around on a world that will die in the incomprehensibly distant future. We are eternal souls, breathed to life and made in the image of the entity who created all things. Therefore, everything we do is important. The act of getting out of bed on that morning when you are crushed by the weight of lost love and do  not see how life could go on–that is an act worthy of song. The slow soldiering on through a world that seems meaningless, your only hope a distant and perhaps unattainable light, there is a story worth sagas. There is an awful solemnity to the love of a mother, who would give her life for her child; a terrible recklessness in the lovers who would give each other their fragile and eternally precious hearts. A divine joy suffuses the acts of imagination and sub-creation. There is no mistaking the gravity of life, but yet, as in all things, a paradox! Life is also full of joy! Glee and laughter can fill the darkest of times. A child’s silliness can bring a smile to the saddest of forlorn mothers–and isn’t that a heroic act in and of itself? Birds sing in the morning and drive you out of bed with their racket. Such outlandish creatures as sloths and okapis exist to wander the world’s jungles. Gold is there to glimmer; the rain is there to sing. There is an undercurrent of levity in the ocean’s resounding waves.

I suppose it is this consciousness I have lately been gaining of the massive importance of normal actions which has been making it harder for me to understand humans. I wish that everyone could see how glorious and wretched their lives are. How glorious to be an eternal soul–how wretched to have fallen–how precious to the one who made us. As a writer, I can say that even the silliest stories I wrote as a youngster are still held safe in my heart. How much more would an eternal God hold us, his words brought to life?

 

~ Jared

A Fairy-Tale Life and the Temptation of Cynicism

“You’re living in a fairy tale.” What a derisive phrase, full of the worst connotations. You’re hiding from reality, you’re running away, you’re lost in your own little world and you don’t care about anything or anyone else. Sometimes it’s not meant so badly; sometimes it’s said in a pitying way, of someone who is absorbed in their dreams, perhaps because the real world is too hard for them to face any longer. But no one ever says “you’re living in a fairy tale,” and means that as a compliment. But I would like to propose that they should.

 

I don’t mean to write a defense of fairy tales here, although that is sadly something that still needs doing. The attitude that’s been prevalent since the 18th century or so, that  they’re just for children, unimportant fantasies, useless and unreal, really seems like it ought to have died out by now. Nevertheless, it’s still around. But fairy tales themselves have been defended more than adequately by the likes of Tolkien and Lewis. Instead, I want to present the idea that “living in a fairy tale,” in a certain sense, is more than just not wrong–it is the best thing a person could do.

 

As I’ve gotten older and matured, I’ve come to see the world in a much less rigid way than I did when I was younger. Where before I believed mostly in what I could see, or in conclusions which could be drawn from logical thinking, now I believe that the world is so much larger than anyone can ever know. I believe in a very certain kind of magic, and I shouldn’t be surprised to be strolling through a forest one day and meet up with an Elf or other Fae. Now that I’m older I’ve become brave enough to think that these things might be real. But more than that, I’ve come to see the beauty of the earth; the power and majesty of true love and the way it permeates life; the ultimate hopefulness of all things; the underlying strangeness and fey quality of the world we live in. The universe has become a much brighter place for me. I’ve put cynicism aside for the childish thing it is, and now my eyes are open to the wonder all around us.

 

Now, an integral part of a real fairy tale is its sense of wonder, but this is a very matter-of-fact wonder. There is usually not much rhapsodizing about it. Nevertheless, it is there, under everything, this sense that the world is strange and mysterious and wonderful, both beautiful and terrifying. And so, if one views life as a fairy tale he is living, than he can’t help but see the wonder in it, even as it becomes tragic and gruesome. He can’t help but see how events are interconnected, how everything  seems to be forming one vast story, as he remembers an event  from his past and sees how it foreshadowed his present circumstances.

 

Then, too, if life is viewed as a fairy tale, you are forced to start taking some parts of it extremely seriously, while other parts might be joked about which you would never have joked about before. I myself have often had trouble taking life seriously. I’ve made the mistake, more than once, of turning something somebody said into a joke, when they really meant it seriously. In fact, at one point, even a fairly recent point, I believed that it was silly to take life very seriously and the only way to get by was to joke about everything you possibly could without being incredibly offensive.  But that attitude is starting to change. Now I think that life ought to be taken very seriously–but not all of it. As I’ve come to see life more and more as a fairy tale I’m  living, I’ve realized that I just need to take different things seriously than are often touted as important. In a fairy tale, a promise is extremely serious. How many fairy tales revolve around a curse which comes into play because someone broke a promise? Finding and knowing truth is very serious, for any number of fairy tales involve an unmasking or revealing of someone’s true self. But if there’s one thing that viewing life as a fairy tale forces you to take extremely seriously, than it is this: consequences. Every action has a consequence, often an unintended one. In a fairy tale, this might lead to someone being turned into a frog or drawn-and-quartered. No choice should be taken entirely lightly; no consequence should be totally disregarded. For there is a price for everything, which cannot be put aside or ignored if life is taken to be a fairy tale. If life is viewed as a fairy tale, then you know that love is the very last thing to be taken lightly, for any spurned woman could turn out to be a dreadful witch, any brokenhearted man could be a werewolf.  In a fairy tale some things are sacred mysteries, not to be unraveled; there is a certain sanctity to things, to wisdom, traditions, history, the land itself, the oldest pacts of nature and of the heart.

 

Living in a fairy tale forces you to look at yourself and at others differently. You are a hero or a villain, a champion of good or an evil sorcerer, and so is the cashier at the grocery store, the friend you play video games with, your boss, your teachers. People are so much more noble, so much brighter, so much braver. But they may also be ogres. The beautiful maiden who has taken your heart might be half-elven. The thuggish mechanic who cheats you every time you visit his shop could have a little bit of troll in him. You must see everything different; you must see that atoms are held together not by the electric force of protons and neutrons, but by magic. Every glade could be the site of a fairy revel.

 

To live life as a fairy tale, one must be both extremely serious and endlessly joyous; for the world is both incredibly unfunny and brimming over with the most wondrous things imaginable. The fairy-tale life embraces the duality of reality. And so, I don’t believe that it can really be said that “living in a fairy tale” is a bad thing. Living in a fairy tale is in fact a supreme acceptance of reality, but more: it is adding another layer of mystery and delight that reality would never have had without us.

 

The opposite of this is the cynic’s view, which is all too prevalent in today’s world, and growing stronger. It is the sneer of the nihilist thrown up against the laughter of the mystic. But there is a certain dreadful temptation in cynicism and the nihilism that underlies it. After all, if reality is senseless, if love isn’t real, if honor isn’t real, if there is no magic and people are nothing more than what they seem, then one can do whatever he wants. But how cold is his pleasure at the end of the day. Of course, cynicism is not, or not obviously, nihilism. To expect the worst of others and the world is not the same as to disbelieve in others and the world. But I would like to assert that cynicism is the child of nihilism. After all, if one always expects others to be bad, then he must have serious doubts about the reality of goodness, whether he acknowledges them to himself or no. Cynicism must ultimately lead to coldhearted acceptance of the lie that says the world is senseless and wrong. Now, I’ve flirted with cynicism in my day, but I could never truly believe that the only real things were the earth beneath my feet and the flesh of the body. Recently I decided to give up cynicism completely. And now here I am, and the world is so horrifying and so beautiful.

 

I don’t claim that this path is right for everyone, but I truly believe it is better to believe in magic, even if that magic is ultimately not real, and to live my life as if I were in a fairy tale, than to cling to material reality, to doubt the existence of love and truth, to view the world coldly, scientifically, and cynically.

 

~ Jared

Balancing Art

Recently, a friend asked me how I balance writing and art in my life. She said that she never seems to have enough time to do both and can’t decide which one she should choose. I gave her a brief response and then decided to let that question stew for a few days while I considered it. I’d never really thought of it much before; writing and art are two things that I’ve always made time for in the past few years of my life. I’ve thought about choosing one or the other in terms of future career, but never as a choice I faced in my present life. But its a dilemma which I’m sure is faced at some point by everyone who both writes stories and draws or paints visual artworks (or who has any other two major artistic passions–writing and music? dancing and drawing? etc, etc)

Honestly, I think the answer is simply that you have to be diligent and form a habit of making time for both every day, if at all possible, or at least every week. I’ve been in the habit for years of writing as soon as I get up in the morning (or as soon as I get off work, if I have to work early in the morning) and drawing or painting in the evenings, during my nightly relaxation time. I don’t usually stress over it if I’m busy for some reason and can’t make the time to do both (or either) in a given day. I really just try to take a relaxed approach to it, although that isn’t to say that I don’t feel guilty and berate myself if I don’t get any creative work done! Anyway, to me, it’s all about being diligent. It is my personal opinion that it’s rare to find a life that is truly so busy that there is no time for art. Your life might be so busy that it’s hard to muster up the energy for art. But there’s almost always going to be enough downtime to spend at least an hour or so each day working on art, whether you want to spend it doing so or not. So, if you truly want to do art and have time for both, then you really just need to discipline yourself and make yourself do it. Maybe you can write one day and then draw the next, or spend half your free time writing and the other half drawing. Everything might take longer that way, but then you’re still pursuing both passions.

But even if you’re doing that, it’s almost certain that you’ll still, at one time or another, be faced with choosing between the two passions. I’ve gone back and forth so many times between writing and art that I finally just decided I had to do both, because every time I picked one I’d suddenly get really passionate about the other. I don’t know that I can really offer any advice for choosing one or the other. It’s very likely that your primary passion will switch back and forth a lot over your life. There have been times of my life where I was focused mostly on drawing, and other times where I hardly drew at all and spent most of my creative time writing. I’ve also gone back and forth a lot on which I wanted to pursue as a career. I wanted to go to school for illustration; I wanted to devote as much time as possible to refining my stories and searching for a publisher. It was and is very hard to choose.

But, speaking from a philosophical standpoint, why should you choose just one? The great thing about love is that it is infinitely expandable. One can never have too many passions. Something Robert Heinlein, the science fiction writer, said comes to mind.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

When I first read this quote, it really struck a chord with me. Why specialize? Why not do everything you want to do? Of course, there are good practical reasons for specializing, such as the fact that no one has quite enough time to do everything. But I don’t see any good reason why, if you have two artistic passions which you are equally fascinated by, you should have to choose one or the other.

I’m not sure if this is any better an answer than the rather brief one I gave to my friend, but hopefully it gives people something to think about.

~ Jared

Pickles

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Pickles.

Love them or hate them, you have to acknowledge their existence. Why rail against the inevitable truth? Pickles are made. Pickles are consumed. Pickles have loomed in the human subconscious for millennia.

I like pickles. They’re delightful, especially homemade ones. That tanginess, that little explosion of flavor… I don’t like them so much on sandwiches, but they’re really excellent by themselves. So I have to wonder, when were pickles invented? According to Wikipedia, “pickling began 4000 years ago using cucumbers native to India.” The Pickle History Timeline of the New York Food Museum claims that pickling began in roughly 2400 BC in Mesopotamia. The Pickle Guys, in the History of Pickles page on their website, say that the earliest known pickles were cucumbers pickled around 2030 BC in the Tigris Valley. With three sources roughly agreeing, I think it is safe to conclude that pickles have indeed been around for over 4000 years. Their tyranny has been virtually unopposed. But as usual, America gets the short end of the stick: in India, there are 20 or more commonly consumed varieties of pickle, while Americans are stuck mostly with cucumbers and sauerkraut!

I think it is time to raise an army for the purposes of bringing the banner of the Almighty Pickle into its place of deserved prominence over the townships and cities of the American nation.

~ Jared

Caring and Not Caring

There are two basic ways of knowing things, or rather, two broad levels of knowledge–there are the things you know in your heart, and the things you know in your head. Sometimes you know something in your head but you need to make your heart know it also. Sometimes it’s the other way around. But you know what I mean: an intellectual understanding of a thing (war hurts people) as opposed to a deep and heartfelt knowledge of it (you have experienced firsthand the way wars tear apart lives). But this goes beyond knowledge–it also goes into feelings. You can feel something in your heart, or you can feel it in your head. You care about that one annoying fellow intellectually–you know he’s another human and you would (it is to be hoped) help him if he needed it. But that isn’t the same as the deep, heartfelt care that you might have for a sibling or a dear friend. Or consider a complete stranger. I will look at that person and think “there’s a human. I ought to care about that person just because he’s human. I don’t. But I’ll act like I do anyway.” Which seems the fairly typical reaction of most people, because let’s be honest, most humans don’t care overmuch for complete strangers. But not everyone is like that. I have a friend whom I was speaking to about this recently. She looks at a stranger and she sees a human, someone who she cares about for his sheer humanity. She does not have to act like she cares. She really does.

 

Hopefully that illustrates the difference I’m trying to point out. The ability to care for someone on a real, heartfelt level without even knowing them is an ability that I envy. I have to know a person before I can care for him on that level, and I have to like him, too. I can be frightfully cold towards those who are not part of my own personal group of friends and family. While this is a trait which, I think, is generally considered to be more natural than bad–who can be blamed for not caring very much about the people they don’t know?–we seem to be, by and large, plagued by the feeling that this is a wrong attitude. Why is it wrong? Perhaps it’s not evil. But I think that most everyone would join me in admiring my friend who can care on a heartfelt level about complete strangers. If we find that trait admirable, then it follows that its absence is bad or at least not to be desired.

 

Some people–myself included, in times past–would say that it’s more wrong to act like you care for someone than to not care for them in the first place. The reason for this is that it seems pretending to care when you don’t would be a sort of falsehood. Better to be honest than to wear a mask, they might say. But this is the wrong way to look at it. Acting as if you care even if you don’t is not wearing a mask and it is not false. Saying that you care and then taking no action is false and a mask. But the acting is the only way to bring yourself to the point where you can care for real. It is like faith; you make a practice of acting as if a thing is true even if you are not sure, and by the practice come to see its truth.

 

And so I suppose all I want to say is that I find in myself and see in others a general absence of heartfelt care for strangers, and that we all ought to act as if we care until we really do. God is love, after all, and if we want to be like God then we should love as much as we possibly can.

 

~ Jared

Equal Exchange

Today my thoughts have been rambling and I thought I’d write a little bit about friendship. I’ve learned a lot about the subject in the past year or so, in large part through my own mistakes. My biggest mistake has perhaps been my unyielding sense of fairness. Since the time I was a little boy, I’ve had this idea that everything should be fair and just and even. Of course, that’s a silly idea. If everything was fair than most humans would be dead for their crimes. No one would ever love anyone else. A fair world would be dreary and dismal and not worth living in. Indeed, it would be absolutely deadly to live in. But even so, I’ve always had this persistent feeling that things ought to be fair. And even as I was realizing that a fair world would be an abomination, I still clung to the idea that friendships, at least, must always be fair and if they aren’t that’s indicative of a lack of love on one side or the other. I had this certainty that friendship was about equal exchange. Love would be equally exchanged; favors would be equally exchanged; assistance would be equally exchanged. I would comfort you and you would comfort me. I would help you write a story and you would help me write one. You would show me something that brightened my world, and I would pay you back with something to brighten yours. That seems well and good and logical. But it is wrong.

 

Friendship, like most of the best things in this world, is illogical. It has nothing to do with equal exchange or with how much anyone can get out of it. The relationship described above is not friendship, but business. In business the terms must be fair to both sides or it would not be good business. One side or the other would go bankrupt. But in friendship, both sides must go bankrupt. Friendship is about giving gifts to each other, gifts of love, compassion, help, kindness, time. And the essence of a gift is that it is given without asking for anything in return. It is not wrong to hope that a friend might give you as much thought as you give her, or to hope that he might buy you a meal in exchange for helping him move something. But to expect these things out of some dark idea that all friendship should be fair is childish and silly, even selfish. And selfish friendship is not really friendship at all, but business.

 

The objection that my own mind raises to this is always “but if my friend loved me as much as I love her, then she would give back the same that I give in!” Maybe that is so, but it is equally likely that everyone shows love in a different way and what seems like love to one person won’t always seem the same to another. At any rate it is a selfish thought. Perfect love asks for nothing in return. Each one loves to the best of his ability, and if that does not manifest as an equal exchange than it does not make the love less perfect or important. Indeed, it only makes it more perfect, for love that can never be fully returned or repaid is the most holy kind.

 

Something I’ve been seeing as time goes by. I fully admit to being a bit hypocritical about this, but hopefully I’m learning and getting better. On another note, this blog has become so much more earnest than I originally intended it to be…

 

Love and peace!

 

~ Jared

Throw Them Overboard

This wonderful Abney Park song shall be the theme song for this post. 

I particularly like this song. In case you didn’t listen, it’s all about getting rid of modern technology and ideas. Which is obviously a good thing to sing about. There is a certain lie modern people are fed from birth that is very insidious, and the lie is that all progress is both inevitable, and a supreme good. I suppose this lie has been around for quite awhile, but people didn’t used to buy into it so much as they have in the last couple of hundred years. The desire for progress is natural. Everyone wants to progress in something, be it deeper into a relationship, further along the path to a black belt, closer to a goal of becoming a physician. On a collective level, those desires might be to progress toward peaceful relations with another country, toward winning a war, toward curing a disease. Don’t misunderstand me: progress is often good. But not all progress. Not all advancements in technology. Not all new ideas. And of course, progress itself is not inevitable, and it seems to me that often a progression in one area results in regression in another.

 

Humans have reached a point in their society where, now more than ever, they must begin making choices about which paths of progression to follow. Do they continue marching forward and developing new technologies? Or do they take a step back and evaluate which technologies are needed, which are not, which can be gotten rid of? It seems fairly obvious that the more technology humans develop, the more technology they “need”–the more they rely on it. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, and the only way out is to have the willpower to defy conventional ideas of progress and realize that a progression of wisdom is more important than a progression of technology. True progress is in having the maturity to make a wise choice, not in blindly accepting everything as it comes.

 

For example, one thing I find frustrating is the Singularity. This is the idea of a greater-than-human superintelligence arising from technology, i.e., artificial intelligence. It’s a big deal because it’s seen as a point beyond which events cannot be predicted, since this hypothetical intelligence would be greater than a human’s and therefor impossible for them to fully comprehend or predict. The Singularity is considered inevitable. They say it’s only a matter of time, and “they” don’t know whether the human race will be safe from this superintelligent machine. It seems pretty obvious to me that this is an occasion to step back and ask why. Why are we doing this? What will we gain from creating such a thing? Why would we want to? Why continue advancing technology to that point? But no, progress is inevitable and good and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. But humans are built to make choices. There is always a choice. One can choose to throw overboard destructive modern ideals and unnecessary modern technology, or one can decide to keep it and the consequences that come with it.

 

Now let’s all go be Luddites and destroy ALL the computers! 8D

 

~ Jared