How to Admire God in French

One of my favorite passages from Gertrude Stein’s memoir Paris, France is the excerpt attributed to, I believe, Jean Jacques Rousseau. In this passage, Rousseau explains the greatness he feels in the presence of God, and I love his flow of thought as he describes both the existence of God and the response he, as a human, feels in His light.

Translated from Paris, France:

The Eternal Being is not seen, or heard; it is felt; he speaks neither eyes nor ears, but in the middle we can compete well against his infinite essence, but not the failing to recognize good faith. Unless I see it, the more I love it, I humble myself and said: Being [of] Beings, I am because you are, it is rising to the source than to meditate ever more worthy use of my reason is to annihilate before thee: my rapture of mind, it’s the charm of my weakness to feel overwhelmed by your greatness.

If I take any of this into my life, I would bow before God and say, “‘Being [of] Beings, I am because you are.’ I attribute my being to You.” I love that I am made because of Him. I love that the French are lyrical and flowing in their poetry.

Whenever I think of God, and whenever I hear about Rousseau, I can smile and imagine that God is felt in the words of my friends, family, and pastor. That when I see the kindness of people, I can imagine He is there. Truth is found in more than just words; it is both the action and the words of people that show how God can live.

And I also smile knowing that is found in great French literature.

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Shakespeare, the Unromantic Poet

One would think the master of all poetry would have given his dame a greater sense of beauty, but I was shocked to find this piece of literature terribly unsympathetic and realistic. He gives her not just a bad review, but paints her in such a contrast to the ideal woman that she seems more like a pig than a swan.

But the real motivation for Shakespeare’s sonnet is to contradict and poke fun at his contemporary Petrarch, an Italian poet who created seemingly unrealistically beautiful portrayals of women such as his usual common thread, “My woman’s eyes are like the stars.” I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing with these portrayals, but it’s terribly funny to compare these brilliant poets and their ingenious portrayals of women.

Hence read Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130,” and see whether you agree with his method of flattery:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:    And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare    As any she belied with false compare.

Would any man, in his right mind, repeat this devastatingly funny poem to his mistress? I think not.

As I near the wedding of my brother, I think this poem is a friendly kick in the gut to Petrarch, who would always say the sweetest things about his woman in his sonnets.

It would be a painfully humorous and sarcastic joke to repeat this aloud. I believe my brother would do a better job in complimenting his lover than Shakespeare to his.

Still, it is a humorous topic to show to young literary scholars, who should probably never repeat this to their lovers, but only in healthy jest.

Leave it on your shelf, Shakespeare. I know you created many wonderful pieces, and this sonnet in particular is reserved for literary spite than romantic gestures.

Adieu, Shakespeare.

My Inspiration, the Goose

One would think a goose to be a terribly insufficient role model for a writer, but this goose is a particular inspiration of mine. She is from the novel Whittington, by Alan Armstrong, who has reconstructed the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat in this modern adaptation with farm animals. The best animal among them is the goose, whose name is Lady and who carries herself with such dignity as to command all others’ respect for her.

Here is the excerpt which I found so diverting:

It was a curious thing, the Lady’s authority. The horses obeyed her, along with everyone else except the rats. What gave her power was how steady she was. She never rushed; she was always sure, she took responsibility. When something came up, she said what to do. Presence of mind counts for a lot in this world. The Lady was as confident of her judgment as she was of her beauty. Nothing so improves the appearance as a good opinion of oneself.

It is commanding enough to be a sermon or Sunday school lesson. Whenever there is an inspirational message or motivational piece, there should always be an example of model character. This goose is by no means real, but she is a genuinely wonderful model character.

The curious thing about the Lady is that she’s particularly ugly; though she has clipped wings, a lopsided gait, and an irregular shading of colored feathers, she does command the respect of those around her, and that is the admirable quality which I find so comforting and inspiring.

I think that even the best of preachers would give an example like this to encourage their audience. Thanks to Alan Armstrong for creating such a good character.

What Would Agamemnon Do?

When writing tragedies, one must ask himself or herself: “What would Agamemnon do?”

More specifically, what would be done to Agamemnon, as when his wife Clytemnestra stabbed him to death in a brink of fury.

I enjoy tragedies very little; most often they catch my eye when they have a faint glimpse of hope at the end, as when BBC’s Sherlock showed the return of Sherlock Holmes in “The Reichenbach Fall,” a perfect summary of emotion, tragedy, and intelligent endings.

Currently I have not written much in the art of tragedy, so my limited experience may prove vain in the discussion of how to torment one’s character. I find tragedies suffocating when they squeeze the victim’s life, yet stimulating when they prove intelligent; if the character learns something from his life, there is bound to be a happy, if not satisfied, reader at the other end.

If anything, I have yet another master of tragedy from which I can glean my mastery of literature: Scott Fitzgerald, who has stolen our hearts with The Great Gatsby, has also wringed our heartstrings with the novel This Side of Paradise, in which the lucky Amory Blaine, an aspiring genius teenager in the university of Princeton, is locked by the conventions of his time and cannot, or does not by his own convenience, escape these boundaries.

It would be my pleasure to imitate Fitzgerald, if not to write a sad ending then at least to imitate a probing sense of human psychology. No one has better claim to tragedy than the Greeks like Aeschylus, who wrote “Agamemnon,” or the American Arthur Miller, who has wrought our hearts with “The Death of the Salesman.” But if I am to imitate these masters, I must first choose whether I enjoy to write these tales or not.

I am prone to read tragedies every now and then, but until then my heart is set on happier things, by which I can glean the good from the bad in all forms of literature, both tragedy and otherwise.

Choosing to Imagine for Novelists

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

When writing our novels or stories, we ought to “replenish our imagination,” says Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, the author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. For just as a child has an unbounded imagination to conjure any fairy-tale castle, princess, or ugly monster, so novelists and writers must also carry this imagination if we genuinely yearn to live in our stories.

By living, I do not mean to be caught in a daydream all day, but to feel with our characters and put ourselves in their shoes so that we can most vividly express their plights and delight our readers. I enjoy that McEntyre adds a didactic element to story-writing. She says that stories can teach us “what we can know and what we must do.”

I resonate with stories that can teach me lessons of life, such as choosing a husband for his mettle rather than his beauty. If I were to read the plight of a young maiden choosing a man who seemed gorgeous yet had no character, I would sympathize with her and remember that lesson for when I am about to marry.

The Truth about Fiction and Films–Finding Our Imagination

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

We gaze upon the first sights of a motion picture and are dazzled by the titillating colors or CG-effects. We’re drawn to the screen for having grabbed our imagination and sent it soaring in the air.

When we read novels, we are compelled to have the same reaction. Some find it more difficult to conjure pictures as easily as those on the television screen, while others have little difficulty in exercising their imagination.

The subject of imagination between novels and film is fully explained in Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s nonfiction book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, about the author conveying truth in fiction and recognizing which facets of our culture have been distorted for entertainment.

Here, McEntyre criticizes films for having squelched the imagination that we find more vividly in books. I can agree with her, that with films the imagination of watching a centaur or fairy is already digitized and presented for us, and we do not have to exercise our mental faculties at all.

Yet I also refute her in saying that I glean imagination from those films as readily as I do from novels. When the swell of music or the sight of landscapes sends goosebumps up my arms, I am full of delight and feel the impulse to write. McEntyre’s point that I refute is that the films take away any imagination we would otherwise conjure more clearly on our own when we read novels. I argue, “Can we not also see this imagination in film?”

Journalism: Do We Need to Stay Plugged Into News?

Courtesy of Flickr's Ian Burt; Original art by Roy Litchenstein
Courtesy of Flickr’s Ian Burt; Original art by Roy Litchenstein

Absolutely. But the gossip, the jargon, the pessimism—wouldn’t we rather turn off CNN or Fox News and flip to our favorite book or TV show? Certainly the drama of news may bore us, but in the realm of journalism and writing, keeping track of the news is vital for a writer’s life—actually for anyone’s life.

The fact is this: Our world is becoming more global than ever. People who speak of Ebola or ISIS are already informed on the world’s hottest topics, and those ignorant of these issues are sometimes looked down upon, even though the “ignorance of bliss” seems preferable to the hype of tragedy-driven news.

But I caution you: Don’t worry about the news. Let it inform you of what’s happening. Even if you don’t travel or see people from abroad, let it remind you of your blessings where you live. Sometimes global issues will help you when you meet people. You can relate to their issues and especially if you travel—or if you write journalism—you feel that you are connected with the world.

Perhaps you may pray for the world. Perhaps you are inspired by news for your stories. Perhaps you prefer to stay connected so that you don’t feel isolated. Whatever your reasons, stick to your convictions and never let any gossip filter your thoughts. News and media certainly have habits of sensationalizing topics such as disease, tragedies, murders, and trials, yet these are strategies that newscasters employ to create interaction among readers.

Let no one scare you into thinking that you’ll catch the next epidemic or that a high school’s shooting is going to happen in your hometown. But whatever you do, be informed and know what is going on and why things are happening the way they do.